When I was about 12 years old or so (when I had my cut hair and not yet walking on the Guru’s Path), I remember my brother and I going to a Tae-Kwon-Do tournament in Hitchin. A person from our Tae Kwon Do class kindly gave us a lift to the tournament. There were five us. My brother and I, and three Gore.
On the way back from the Tournament we stopped off somewhere to get a quick snack. I remember sitting there enjoying a burger and sipping my milkshake, and one of the Gore asked, “So what religion are you?” We proudly replied, “We are Sikhs.” The man replied in a puzzled manner, “O right! …I thought Sikhs don't cut their hair and they wear turbans?”
It’s one of those 'shock horror' moments when you don’t know what to say! There was an uncomfortable pause and then we ended up saying, “Ermm…. Yeah. Religious priests who keep their hair long and they wear turbans. Most Sikhs cut their hair though. Ermm… Buts it’s good if you keep it…. It’s up to the individual.” The man was surprised and taken aback by our response and said, “O really?” And then he commented that he had seen some Singhs before and thought they looked good.
Some experiences from life remain stuck in one's head! I remember that day I came back home and discussed with my brother, “What did we say to the Gora? It was not right.” We both agreed. However we came to the conclusion that “What else would we have said? It’s too hard to explain to a Gora that we cut our hair but we are Sikh.”
Its one of those situations where you can either be honest by realising one’s own shortcomings or one can choose to twist information in order to save one’s 'sharam' (shame) and feeling of guilt. From that day I thought to myself, “If someone asks me: “Are you a Sikh”, then what will I reply with, because I am proud to be a Sikh but at the same time I don’t practice, behave or live like a Sikh.” Waheguru.
ਸੋ ਸਿਖੁ ਸਖਾ ਬੰਧਪੁ ਹੈ ਭਾਈ ਜਿ ਗੁਰ ਕੇ ਭਾਣੇ ਵਿਚਿ ਆਵੈ ॥
so sikh sakhaa banDhap hai bhaa-ee, je gur ke bhaaNe vich aavai.
That person alone is a Sikh, a friend, a relative and a sibling, who walks in the Way of the Guru's Will.
ਆਪਣੈ ਭਾਣੈ ਜੋ ਚਲੈ ਭਾਈ ਵਿਛੁੜਿ ਚੋਟਾ ਖਾਵੈ ॥
aapNai bhaaNai jo chalai, bhaa-ee vichhuR chotaa khaavai.
One who walks according to their own will, O Siblings of Destiny, suffers separation from Waheguru, and shall be punished.
When going to sleep that night I realised that how could I demean Sikhi to “priests” (which actually doesn’t exist in Sikhi because every Gursikh man and woman is a 'Priest') when Guru Jee blessed Sikhi to anyone who chooses to follow it. But Kesh (our hair) is not even a choice! We are blessed with it at birth. It something we are born with! How can I say that "Sikh priests have Kesh", when God actually gave Kesh to all humanity? But it’s our choice to maintain that gift given to use with respect, dignity and grace or whether we choose to dishonour them and mow them down with razors and blades.
ਹੁਕਮਿ ਮੰਨਿਐ ਹੋਵੈ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ਤਾ ਖਸਮੈ ਕਾ ਮਹਲੁ ਪਾਇਸੀ ॥hukam manni-ai hovai parvaaN taa khasmai kaa mehal paae-see. Obeying the Order of Waheguru's Will, one becomes acceptable, and then, that person obtains the Mansion of the Lord Waheguru's Presence. (Ang 471)
From then on if someone asked me “What is your religion,” I would reply “I am a non-practicing Sikh, who hopes and wishes to live the Path one day.” The response from non-Sikhs at school and outside of school was much more positive and people were less confused when I used to say this. They would respect the answer and realise the beauty, value and preciousness of Sikhi which I was obviously proud of, but at same time realise that I am not claiming to be a practicing Sikh.
Rab Bhalla Kare (God help us). From my past mistake I realised why non-Sikhs sometimes have the wrong and misinformed impression of Sikhs that we drink alcohol till we are senseless, we are allowed to chop up and mow down our Kesh, that every Sikh wedding has gallons of beer flowing in glasses, and that we promote and discriminate on the basis of caste. We behave in a way so opposite to the way Guru Sahib wants us to act, but then we proudly label ourselves as “Sikhs” without clarifying to the world that our actions are not those of a Sikh.
Guru Gobind Singh Jee says:
ਰਹਿਣੀ ਰਹੈ ਸੋਈ ਸਿਖ ਮੇਰਾ ॥ ਉਹ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਮੈ ਉਸ ਕਾ ਚੇਰਾ ॥rehiNee rehai soee sikh meraa. ouhu saahib mai us kaa cheeraa.One who lives their life in accordance to (the Guru's given) Rehit, way of life, is my Sikh. They are my Master and I am their slave.ਰਹਿਤ ਬਿਨਾਂ ਨਿਹ ਸਿਖ ਕਹਾਵੈ ॥ ਰਹਿਤ ਬਿਨਾਂ ਦਰ ਚੋਟਾਂ ਖਾਵੈ ॥rehit binaa(n) neh sikh kahaavai. rehit binaa(n) dar chotaa(n) khaavai.Without Rehit, don’t call yourself a Sikh. Without Rehit one will suffer hardships in the hereafter.ਰਹਿਤ ਬਿਨਾਂ ਸੁਖ ਕਬਹੁੰ ਨ ਲਹੇ ॥ ਤਾਂ ਤੇ ਰਹਿਤ ਸੁ ਦਿ੍ੜ ਕਰ ਰਹੈ ॥rehit binaa(n) sukh kabh-hu(n) na lahe. taa(n) te rehit su driR kar rehai.Without Rehit one shall not achieve peace and happiness. So, remain firm in practicing Rehit.(Rehitnaamaa Bhai Desa Singh Jee)
A Rehitnaamaa is a Hukam, Order, of the Guru which has been scribed down by the Beloved Sikhs close to the Gurus at the time. Just as a Judge announces a judgement but the the Recorder or Secretary records the judgement on paper, similarly Rehitnaame are the judgements and instructions of Guru Sahib which have been scribed and recorded by the GurSikh companions of Guru Sahib at the time. In this Rehitnaama, Guru Gobind Singh Jee shows the pyaar, love, he has for a Sikh who walks the walk, talks the talk and lives Sikhi rather than calling himself Sikhi. May Guru Sahib do Kirpaa, Grace on all us, that we are blessed with such a Jeevan (life) that we can live in accordance to the Guru's Path.
Note: My intention in this post is not to look down at anyone; rather it’s a reflection of my personal experience and personal shortcomings.
Bhul chuk maaf.