Sikh Identity

December 20, 1979 |

This passage by M.S.S. Gurutej Singh Khalsa (Tej Steiner) from Toronto, Canada appeared on pages 286, 288, 289 of the “Dharma” section of the book, The Man Called the Siri SinghSahib, which was published in 1979:

There is a pathetic irony in the fact that the ten Sikh Gurus created a religion by giving people an identity and a form, while today the main preoccupation of most modern-day Sikhs is to argue about their identity: “Who is a Sikh and who isn’t a Sikh?” 

The Gurus answered this question by giving specific instructions on how to live the life as a Sikh or seeker.  They challenged their students to sacrifice complacency and self-indulgence for strict adherence to disciplined living.  They demanded that their students stand out, stand up, and understand how to sacrifice in the Name of Truth.  They laid down Rahit Maryaadaa, and proclaimed that a Sikh is a Sikh only if he follows the basic Sikh tenets, thus living the lifestyle of a Sikh.  They challenged all people to live their beliefs, not talk their beliefs.   

When the Moslem sword was raised over the head of a Gursikh, there was no question of identity.  When the train into Mianwali, Uttar Pradesh, was about to crush the bodies of those Gursikhs in its path, there was no question of identity. Guru Gobind Singh’s sons had no problem with identity.   

Identity is established through action.  That is the message of all Gurus and, further, it is the message of all the saints and sages who have lived on this planet throughout time.  Either you fly like an eagle, or you crawl like a snake.  You speak the Truth or you lie, you are sensitive to the Infinite or you are not.  It’s your actions which tell you what you actually believe.   

The Gurus gave their Sikhs an identity; that of Khalsa.  They gave a form and a practice to maintain that identity throughout any time; be it in the sixteenth century or the twentieth century; be it in the Punjab, India, or Ontario, Canada; be it in times of peace or times of war.   

Why then is there such a preoccupation amongst some Sikhs today with establishing who is a Sikh and who isn’t a Sikh?  Because those people have stopped practicing the daily disciplines of their religion, and religious identity is a problem for people who want only to “believe” in their religion, not practice their religion. 

Perhaps the greatest example of this preoccupation centers around the controversial figure of Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji.  In ten years, he gave hundreds of thousands of belief-ridden refugees of other religions and purposeless philosophies an opportunity to practice the basic lifestyle of a Gursikh.  He challenged the youth of America to earn by the sweat of their brow instead of relying on the welfare state.  He taught them to replace cynicism and defeatist chatter by chanting Sat Nam. 

He showed them how to create communities where people live for each other instead of at each other.  He taught people the significance of keeping their hair and wrapping their heads with the crown-like turban, thus giving them back their lion-like dignity. 

He challenged them to rise before the Sun rises, in order to chant God’s NameHe gave to women the vision of Aadee Shaktee, and a revalued appreciation of modesty and grace.  He taught people to repair their bodies through physical exercise and discipline, into a state of health and strength.  He gave them names to remind them of a destiny that was theirs, if they but lived to the power held within that name.  He introduced them to Dharma and led them to the feet of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.  He did all this as no other Sikh has ever done in the West…. And yet it’s still the favorite past-time of many Indian Sikhs to wonder whether or not even he is a true Sikh! 

As long as Sikhs refuse to practice daily the lifestyle set down by the ten Gurus, there will always be ignorance in-fighting, slandering and lack of cooperation and communication among Sikhs as well as between Sikhs and non-Sikhs.  Politics will continue to take precedence over prayer, because people forget how to pray, or else become so comfortable with material possessions that prayer becomes redundant. 

It is only through daily saadhanaa, doing paath, living together as a community, refraining from alcohol and drugs, singing Gurbaaanee Keertan, chanting God’s Name and living in God-given form, that a Sikh becomes a Sikh.  To discuss beyond this, who’s a Sikh and who’s not a Sikh is meaningless.   

The tragedy in the current Sikh argument about identity is that it keeps Sikhs away from understanding the nature of the times that we live in right now.  The current time demands leaders, people who know who they are.  It demands a people who can work together as  

One body for the good of all humanity.  It demands a vision of the future so that solutions to existing problems can be clearly seen and the problems resolved.   

Sikhs have an appointment with the Maker of history.  As Sikhs we’re being called upon now to comprehend the power, the resources, and the potential that we possess as a Dharma; for our religion is a recipe to take people from belief to action, from confusion to order, from hopelessness to hope, from separation to unity.  What we have been given as Sikhs is a technology of consciousness that culminates in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib itself.  This technology is applicable to all people, at all times, in all situations.   It is truly a universal religion.  It is not an “ism” but a formula for righteous living that the world is literally dying to possess.     

We are the bearers of this technology and it’s our responsibility to bring it to those people of the world who have little hope without it.  But we cannot preach it, we cannot pretend it.  We must live it! 


These quotes by the Siri Singh Sahib, Yogi Bhajan appeared on the same pages (287 and 288) of the book,The Man Called the Siri Singh Sahib.

I believe that on the way we are going to be a very rich community.  After all, my father’s house (Golden Temple) has a golden roof.  And so, I’ll stand behind that concept of divinity and prosperity.  In my father’s house today, ten thousand and more people are fed every day with grace and love.  I believe each house of the Sikhs in the Western Hemisphere shall represent that spirit.  I believe that in my father’s house, even the sickest person, mental as well as physical, is welcomed to His Grace.  I believe each individual house in the Western Hemisphere shall represent the dignity and divinity of the domain of my father’s house.” (April 16, 1978) 

“The Hunsalee, the canal which brings waters from the river Ravi to the Golden Temple, is the product of an Udassie yogiHe went to a village and said, ‘Fresh water from the mountains has to go to the Golden Temple.’  They said, ‘What do you want?’  He said, ‘I want the entire village to do this sevaa, to dig a canal which can carry the water to the next village.’  Village to village, to village, to village, to village, to village he went, and eventually the water came all the way from the purity of the top of the Himalayan mountains to the Golden Temple tank.  This divine shrine, the altar of the Khalsa, the Harimandir, has a message to every Sikh heart: the spirit of Guru Gobind Singh is a living reality.  It gives us the comparative value and comparative study.” (January 15, 1978)

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