669. How does one become a Sikh ?
To become a Sikh one must declare his total faith in the Guru's word, surrender to the Lord's Divine Will and accept the baptism of the sword administered by the five Sikhs in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib (The Holy Scriptures). Having been baptised he or she will have to adopt (and faithfully adhere to) the five K's, accepting the overlordship of none but God alone, acting and behaving strictly according to the Guru's instructions imparted to him or her at the time of baptism.
670. Is Western culture bringing about degeneration in Sikhism ?
Different cultures and way of life to affect one another but religion is more than mere culture. The strength or weakness of a person lies in his faith and convictions. Only those fall who have a wavering mind or faltering faith and there is no dearth of such people in any religion. A religion does not stand by numbers but by principles. The history of the Jews and that of the Sikhs bears witness to this fact. True Sikhism is as strong now as before. It is better to have only a few faithfuls than to have even one Judas iscariot instrumental in impaling a Christ or a faithless Gangu being the cause of bricking up the master's sons alive. A wavering mind and pretentiousness are dangerous for any person and any religion. I feel Sikhism has always been shaking off its undesirable paraphernalia and is even now putting faith to the test. Don't forget that only five could pass the great test set by Guru Gobind Singh to a gathering of 80,000 in the year 1699. I have heard of very few Sikhs who have renounced their faith and accepted any other religion and perhaps as many have accepted Sikhism by renouncing other religions. It is erroneous to think that those who cut off their hair are no more Sikhs. As long as they believe in the Gurus and the Gurubani and are ready to follow Sikh way of life they are as much the members of Sikh community as the baptised Sikhs but of course they are not true "Singhs." To be a true "Singh" they must follow the Guru's instructions in their entirety. The writer knows quite a number of shaven Sikhs who are very deeply devoted and pious have a very firm faith in the Gurus and their philosophy. What we can say about these brothers is that under some circumstances they have been compelled to take a retrogressive step and are not lost to Sikhism for ever. There is already a marked trend towards coming back to the fold like the prodigal son and the well-known forty disclaimers of Guru Gobind Singh. It is never too late to mend and never too late to get baptised. "To fall is neither dangerous nor disgraceful, but to remain prostate is both." (Konrad Adenauer)
671. Do the Sikhs believe in the caste-system or untouchability ?
Sikhs do not believe in either caste or untouchability. The Sikh Gurus adamantly fought against these social maladies all their lives and even suffered ostracism and scathing criticism. In order to counteract these undesirable traditions of society they invented the institution of Langar (Common Kitchen) where Hindus and Muslims, Brahmans and Shudras, princess and paupers all sit down in rows and take food. In the Sikh kitchen a high-brow Brahman may have to eat the food cooked by the so-called untouchable Shudra. Even Emperor Akbar of Dehli had to sit and dine with sweepers and beggers in the Guru's kitchen before he was allowed to see the Guru in person. Sikhism is a great leveller of people and emphatically declares the equality of all. "Your actions betray your caste my friend" said Guru Nanak. Perhaps this is one reason why Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, was branded as an iconoclast and even stoned for the courage of his convictions. In order to demonstrate practically that the Gurus meant what they said, Guru Arjan also included in the Holy Granth Sahib we find the so-called low-caste Kabir challenging the high-caste Brahmans thus : "How is it that you claim to be a Brahman And brand us as untouchables? Do you dare call yourself milk-white And label us as polluted blood? If you claim to be a Brahman because you were born to a Brahman woman; So you also dare to claim that you were born differently?" Side by side with Kabir is Guru Nanak explaining what a Brahman really means:- "Let no one take pride in his caste; Understand ye that a Brahman is only he who seeks Brahman (God)."
672. Is there a priestly class in Sikhism ?
There are no professional priests or monks in Sikhism nor any vows of celebacy for any person acting as such. Sikhism is essentially egalitarian. Any special treatment or concessions allowed to a priest mitigate against the very basic principle of equality so vehemently preached by the Sikh Gurus. Anybody having a reasonable proficiency in Punjabi language and script can conduct the service and there is no need of any particular dress, collar or mat etc. Women can also conduct service and act as Granthis (readers).