Rehit Maryada

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Excerpt from Victory and Virtue (Chapter 3)

Rehit Maryada means “To live in the constant remembrance of death.” It is a code of conduct for living. “Reh,” from the verb “rehenaa,” means to continue, or to live. Adding “it,” it means “lifestyle.” “Mar” is derived from the verb “marna,” to die, and “yad” means remembrance; thus, “maryada” means “the remembrance of death.” A more common translation is simply a code of conduct for living. The Rehit Maryada is made up of techniques and tools to help maintain the consciousness of the Sikh which is to live like the lotus, with roots entrenched in the mud of the world, but with the flower of consciousness floating upon the surface, pure and spotless.

Bana:  Appearance & Form

The “bana” or form, the personal appearance of a Sikh, is one of the foremost ways that a Sikh maintains his or her consciousness as the Guru intended. The Guru has given his Sikh specific instructions to keep his or her natural form as created by God. Thus, all hair is maintained, uncut, and untrimmed. The Guru has given his Sikh a standard of dress which distinguishes him or her as a human being dedicated to a life of truthful living. The Guru has instructed his Sikhs to maintain high moral character, symbolized by the wearing of the steel bracelet, (“kara”) and to stand prepared to defend righteousness, wearing the “kirpan” or sword. (See page 21 of Victory and Virtue for a more detailed description of each of the 5 Kakaars)

The long hair of a Sikh is tied up in a Rishi knot over the solar center, and is covered with a turban, usually five meters of cotton cloth. (The man’s solar center is nearer the front of the head. The woman’s solar center is further back.) A female Sikh may also wear a chuni (chiffon scarf) draped over it. All Sikhs cover their head while in Gurdwara. With the growing awareness of the non-sexist nature of Sikh Dharma and the Sikh lifestyle, many Sikh women wear turbans on a consistent basis, as the men do. The turban of a Sikh is his or her primary identifying feature. It is a statement of belonging to the Guru, and it is a statement of the inner commitment of the one who wears it. The uncut hair and the turban are a declaration to live in accordance with, and if necessary die in support of, the Teachings of the Sikh Gurus and the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. Regardless of the circumstances or the type of employment or activity, a Sikh keeps his or her form and identity as a Sikh. Clothes are modest, and exemplary of the identity and character of a soldier-saint.

Social and Moral Guidelines

The distinctive dress of the Sikh makes him or her responsible at all times for representing the Guru. Therefore, he or she acts with that awareness, with nobility, as a saint and a soldier.

A Sikh lives in the world as a householder, earning an honest living. In the midst of the impurities and vices of society, he or she remains immersed in the love of God and Guru.

Sikhs are married in the presence of the Guru and their commitment to God and Guru is reflected in their commitment to their family. The lifestyle of the Sikh is the lifestyle of success, and for success in marriage, monogamy is a basic prerequisite. Extra-marital sex is contrary to the science of lifestyle of Sikh Dharma.

A Sikh regards the body and mind as the Temple of God. No intoxicants or drugs which impair the consciousness should be taken into the body. To be “holy,” one is aware of what goes into and out of the body’s nine holes. A Sikh tries to avoid places and people which draw the mind away from healthy and elevating thoughts. A Sikh seeks the company of God-loving beings, who love to sing songs in praise of God, and talk of subjects which inspire and elevate the spirit to be in Chardi Kala.

The diet of a Sikh is the food of the Guru’s Langar (free kitchen) which is lacto-vegetarian. It includes vegetables, grains, fruits and nuts, as well as milk and milk products. Neither meat, nor poultry, nor fish, nor eggs, are part of the Sikh diet.

A Sikh is honorable in all dealings, and earns a righteous living through honest labor. Should any dispute arise which cannot be settled between the parties involved, the Guru has instructed his Sikhs to submit the matter to an assembly of five Sikhs for arbitration.

A Sikh gives to those less fortunate, as well as to give Dasvandh—ten per cent of his earnings as an offering to the Guru. A Sikh is, by definition, charitable, kind, patient, understanding, fearless and tolerant of all people. He or she is prepared to come to the aid of any other human being in need. He is a defender of the weak, provider to the poor, and an inspiration to the down-trodden. A Sikh will not permit any insult to a woman, to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, or to any Gurdwara or place of worship of any religion. He stands prepared to defend each one with his life. He or she is God’s servant and soldier of righteousness.

Devotional Practices

Sikh Dharma (Sikh = student of Truth, Dharma = Path of Righteousness) is a way of life combining freedom of expression and self-discipline:
” Naam Japanaa ” chant God’s Name;
” Dharm dee kirat karnee ” earn an honest living;
” Vandh chakanaa ” share with others.

It is a way of life, a practical practicing reality, rather than a religion or philosophy. The guiding belief and faith of a Sikh is the unity of all things: that the Creator of the Creation is One. This is the opening declaration of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib: Ek Ong Kar.

Rising in the Amrit Vela

The Sikh’s first devotional practice is to rise before sunrise, in the Ambrosial hours of the Amrit Vela, and to bathe or shower in cold water (to cleanse the body and stimulate the nervous system and circulation). Following this, she or he chants and meditates upon God’s Name, (in the Sadh Sangat”the Company of the Holy”if possible) sings God’s Praises and merges her or his consciousness with the Guru. This practice of Naam Simran (meditative remembrance on the Name of the Lord) serves to cleanse the mind of its limiting thoughts, and attunes it to the frequency of the Beloved, God.

Following Ardas, the traditional Sikh prayer, a Hukam”the order of the day”is read from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. This passage gives the members of the Sadh Sangat thoughts for the day upon which to reflect, and teachings by which their lives can be guided. In Sikh Dharma, the Word of God presides over every gathering in the form of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. It is held supreme, and it is to this Word of God that the Sikh bows. A Sikh therefore bows only to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, and never to any man or woman.

After the hukam from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib is read, Prashad (blessed food) is distributed. Guruprashad (also known as called Karah Prashad. See Appendix), is made according to the recipe of Guru Gobind Singh. This tradition of distribution of Prashad was first initiated by Guru Nanak, to eliminate the class distinctions among members of his congregation by having everyone served from the same bowl.

In the Gurdwara (the Sikh house of worship””Gur” = Guru, “dwara” = door), or any gathering before the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, all participants sit together, the men sitting on one side, and the women on the another. In the Guru ka Langar (Guru’s free kitchen and dining hall), all who come eat together without discrimination or segregation by sex.

The Daily Banis

The Sikh recites various daily prayers from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth of Guru Gobind Singh. These Banis serve to impart understanding of life and death, karma, dharma and destiny. They inspire and uplift, and teach us how to live our lives. By repeating the words which the Gurus themselves spoke, the Sikh re”creates, through the vibrations of sound, their state of consciousness (if they are recited with full concentration and devotion, rather than as a ritual performance). The technology of this Naad, this sound current, serves to stimulate the glandular secretions of the glands, affecting the brain (the hypothalamus and the pituitary) and so affects the brain chemistry, and thus consciousness. (See Chapter 4 of Victory and Virtue.)

Akhand Path

There are other ceremonies and observances in which Sikhs participate when the occasion arises. Akhand Path (unbroken recitation of the complete Siri Guru Granth Sahib, taking 48 hours for the original Gurmukhi, or 72 hours in English) is performed on special occasions such as birth, death, marriage, etc. However, no special occasion is required. Sikhs hold regular Akhand Paths to uplift, inspire and elevate the participants, the community and the world. (See Chapter 8 of Victory and Virtue.)

Holidays

Sikhs everywhere celebrate the birthday of all the Sikh Gurus and the martyrdom days of the two Sikh Gurus who sacrificed their lives for human rights and religious freedom: Guru Arjan Dev Ji and Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib. Other important religious celebrations are Baisakhi, when the Khalsa was formed in 1699 and Guru Gaddi Day, when Siri Guru Granth Sahib was proclaimed the Living Guru. Celebrations include kirtan darbaars (kirtan = devotional singing, darbaar = court). Sometimes, stories from events in the Guru’s lives are narrated, poems recited and the teachings reiterated. Although the Amrit Parchar, the Sikh baptism, can be performed at any time, it is especially emphasized as a part of the commemorative activities on Baisakhi Day.
Because these special days are based on the Indian calendar, they fall on different dates in the Western calendar. (The exception to this is Baisakhi which falls every year on April 13.) A listing of when the holidays are celebrated each year may be obtained from The Office of the Bhai Sahiba.

Amrit Parchar

Photo: Ravitej Singh

The Amrit Parchar is a baptismal ceremony administered to a Sikh when s/he declares that s/he is ready to give his or her entire life to the service of Truth and Righteousness. S/he is initiated into the Khalsa, the Brotherhood of the Pure Ones of God. S/he “surrenders his or her head”, ego, to the Guru, and obeys all codes of conduct as God’s servant. (See Chapter 10).
All religious observances and ceremonies are performed for the purpose of joining the individual consciousness with the Universal Consciousness, the Akal Purakh, the Undying Being. The rich traditions of Sikh worship services are not to be corrupted with ritualistic practices void of meaning. The Guru’s Court is not to be used as a podium for political prejudice, manipulation, or personal gain.

Development of the Rehit Maryada During the First Two Centuries of Sikh Dharma

The Sikh Rehit Maryada (the Code of Conduct) developed through the practices and examples of Guru Nanak and the nine successive incarnations of the Guru, culminating in the ultimate form of Khalsa in 1699, during the life of Guru Gobind Singh.

Guru Nanak was the first Sikh Guru, and so it was during his lifetime in particular that the Dharma took its primary shape. The main requirements for the Sikh established during his lifetime, were:

  • Belief in One God and the Oneness of His Creation.
  • Daily meditation upon the Naam, the Name of God.
  • Leading the life of a householder, rather than that of a Sadhu or an ascetic or wandering renunciate.
  • Dismissal of all rites and rituals of existing religious traditions, and the disregard of superstitions and magical beliefs.
  • Abolition of the caste system.
  • Equality of all people, specifically the equality of women and men.
  • Recognition that knowledge and worship of God are open to all.
  • Working at righteous labors to sustain oneself.
  • Sharing with others, as well as those in need.
  • Ultimate reliance upon the Shabad as Guru, and the Word, or Name of God as the means to attain Union with the One Creator.
  • Belief in the continuity of the consciousness of the Guru as it passed from Guru Nanak through Guru Gobind Singh, and to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, where it resides for all time.

When Guru Nanak was about to pass on to his Celestial Home, he invested his Spiritual Light into Guru Angad, then Guru Amar Das embodied this Light, followed by Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjun, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan, Guru Teg Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh, and finally the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. During their lives, the concepts established by the first Guru Nanak were strengthened and built upon, while additional ones were added.

Guru Angad developed the Gurmukhi script, to record the Words of Guru Nanak. By this action, he made it possible for the masses of people to understand the Guru’s Teachings, for up until that time, the language of religion was primarily Sanskrit, and by law, it could only be used and studied by the upper caste Brahmins.

Guru Amar Das appealed to the Sikhs to live a family life, which he called “Grihst-meh-udaas”, renunciation in the midst of family life. Guru Ram Das enjoined all Sikhs to rise in the early hours before dawn, to take a cold bath, meditate upon God’s Name, and sing His Praises.

Guru Arjan provided the example for the concept of non-violent sacrifice as a means for achieving social justice when he gave his life, rather than give in to an unjust tax being levied against the people. Guru Arjan also institutionalized the system of Dasvandh, giving one”tenth of one’s income to the Guru’s Treasury, which had begun informally at the time of Guru Nanak. Guru Arjan compiled the writings of the Gurus before him, included the Hymns of certain Muslim and Hindu Saints, and thus brought Sikh Dharma to the status of a religion with its own Holy Scripture from which Sikhs could derive knowledge and guidance. The Adi Granth, as it was called at that time, became the sacred book of the new faith and created an awareness among the Sikhs that they were a separate and distinct spiritual community.

Guru Hargobind was the first Guru to set the example of the necessity for the Sikhs to be prepared to defend the weak and oppressed against unrighteousness. He wore two swords, representing “miri/piri” spiritual and temporal authority. His statement was that he was a saint/soldier. He instituted the practice of congregational prayers, which increased the religious fervor of the Sangat and strengthened the spirit of cooperation and unity. In front of the Harimandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, Guru Hargobind constructed the Akaal Takht (the Throne of the Undying One). The Harimandir was the seat of spiritual authority, and the Akaal Takht the seat of temporal authority. The Guru created a community having its own government and security, with the Spirit of God protected by the Power of the Sword.

Guru Teg Bahadur went beyond toleration of other religions; he gave his life in sacrifice, so that the Hindus of that time could freely practice their religion.

Elaboration of the Sikh Rehit Maryada in 1699

On Baisakhi, 1699, Guru Gobind Rai tested his Sikhs and set the example for the future generations of Khalsa. Up until this time, the initiation procedure for the Sikhs of the Guru had been the “charan paahul” ceremony; the Guru would stir water with his toes while reciting prayers. The student drank this water with loving devotion. Guru Gobind Rai changed this procedure to the baptism of the double-edged sword, to make his Sikhs fearless and strong.

The Tenth Guru added to the previously established Rehit Maryada a distinctive dress, a set of five symbols (the five kakars known as the five K’s), the requirement to read the five daily prayers (Nit Nem) and the taking of the name Singh (Lion) by men, and Kaur (Princess) by women. He invested the Sangat with the Power of the Guru, and he invested the Power of the Guru in any five Khalsa who gathered together in his Name. Those baptized as Khalsa were to greet one another with the words, “Wahe Guru Ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji ki Fateh!” (The Pure Ones belong to God; Victory belongs to God!).

The Tenth Guru demonstrated the power of devotion and purity by requesting the Panj Piaaray (the Five Beloved Ones) to baptize him through the same procedure. He himself took on a new name from Guru Gobind Rai he became Guru Gobind Singh.

The actions of Guru Gobind Singh on that Baisakhi Day in 1699 solidified the character and the conduct of the Gursikh. The Khalsa was given a specific form, with a standard of dress, specific ceremonies for purification and commitment, and specific devotional requirements. He created a brotherhood, an extended family of all those who are Khalsa. The Khalsa was to recognize Guru Gobind Singh as father, his wife Mata Sahib Kaur as mother, and Anandpur Sahib as their spiritual home, thus eliminating all ties with the past.

Ideally, Khalsa is a highly evolved being, no longer just a Sikh (seeker), but a totally dedicated being, a soldier-saint whose head and heart belong to the Guru, whose actions are purely motivated and who defends righteousness and unity of mankind unto his or her death. Khalsa is a community of people who, living the Teachings of the Guru, rise above all limitations of worldly life, bringing the spirit of the One Creator onto earth through their own actions and example.

The formation of the body of the Khalsa was the formation of a nation of fearless and dedicated humanity who could be the instrument to combat injustice and tyranny, through righteous living and their example of love of God in action.

The Singh Sabhaa Movement During the Renaissance

After great struggles with the Mughal Empire, and through their countless sacrifices, the Sikhs attained their own nation, and the freedom to live the Dharma openly. In the nineteenth century, however, the British conquered India and the Sikh nation. There ensued degradation and the fading of Khalsa values. The Sikh Rehit Maryada was becoming diluted and compromised by the influence of Hinduism and even Christianity.

In 1873, the Singh Sabha Movement was established with the aim of achieving a moral, spiritual and educational evolution of the Sikh people. The basic aim of the founders of the Singh Sabha Movement was to impart knowledge of the glorious heritage of the Sikh faith and its traditions to the younger generations. The movement sought to inspire the young with high moral standards of conduct so that they could become the best models of the community. The leaders were determined to alert the Sikh people to the corruption of Sikh values and practices, and they set about to correct detrimental deviations that had crept into social customs and religious practices. Because the Hindus held such an overwhelming majority, and such an ancient tradition, it was most difficult for the Sikhs to remain aloof from Hindu superstitious beliefs and practices.

The Singh Sahbaa Movement concerned itself with four main areas:

  1. Establishment of Sikh schools and colleges
  2. Organization and management of Sikh Gurdwaras by the congregation
  3. Re-establishment of the Khalsa codes of conduct and lifestyle, as taught by the Sikh Gurus
  4. Promotion of the political rights of the individual

Through publications and newspapers in Panjabi and by going into the villages, the Singh Sahbaa Movement altered and inspired the Sikh people to the urgency of re-kindling the true Khalsa spirit before it was extinguished forever. The Singh Sahbaa Movement’s accomplishments were many, but they did not come without the sacrifice of many lives in the process. Sikh schools were set up in villages and cities. Adults were taught Gurmukhi, to enable them to read the Siri Guru Granth Sahib and other Panjabi literature. The Chief Khalsa Diwan, made up of representatives of various Singh Sabha and Diwans (congregations) in the Panjab, was set up in 1883. Khalsa College was built in Amritsar in 1892. The Khalsa Tract Society was established to publish books, poems, newspapers and magazines. These publications inspired adherence to religious principles, mutual help and infinite capacity to bear unbearable suffering at the hands of adversaries, and self-discipline and the desire to serve, help and guide others.

In order to educate and inspire the Sikh people to live according to the practices and heritage of the Khalsa, the Singh Sabha members devotedly went into the cities and villages and spoke to the masses of the people there. They openly preached against the Brahmanical practices of idol worship, caste prejudice and exclusive food and cooking practices. They condemned the use of liquor, intoxicating substances and tobacco. By this time, different sects of Sikhs had formed, some setting up their own leaders as gurus. Before His death, Guru Gobind Singh gave the Guruship to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, and placed his authority into the Panj Piaaray in every gathering of Sikhs. He declared that after him, there would be no person as Guru. This fundamental principle was preached by the Singh Sabha on the platform and in the press. Bhai Vir Singh established the Khalsa Samachar, a reformist paper which exposed the pretenders of the various sects which had formed.

The Gurdwaras of Amritsar, Nankana Sahib and other places were controlled by corrupt hereditary priests, who allowed and even fostered sordid practices within the temples. They were supported and protected by the British Government. These mahants (priests) would not accept Karah Prasaad offered by the ‘untouchable’ castes or by Sikhs who mingled with them. The mahants allowed idol worship and other Hindu practices forbidden by the Gurus to occur in the Gurdwaras. The Singh Sabha leaders brought these practices to the public’s awareness, and insisted upon a democratic management of the Sikh shrines and Gurdwaras by the Sikh congregation. Thousands of devoted Sikhs were slaughtered in non-violent demonstrations. Finally, however, mounting public pressure compelled the British administrators to give up protecting the corrupt managers. After much deliberation, the Gurdwara Act of 1925 was passed, giving control of the Sikh Gurdwaras and community funds to the Sangat. Also, popular control of the Khalsa College in Amritsar was acquired. In 1950, it was written into the Indian constitution that a religious minority has a right to manage its own institutions. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandakh Committee (S. G. P. C.) was given authority to oversee proper management and protocol in keeping the Gurdwaras pure as the House of the Guru.

Sikhs gained political rights after much struggle and sacrifice. The Sikh presses exposed the British Government’s discrimination against Sikhs in employment in government and public offices. The Singh Sabha Movement fought for the right of Sikhs to use their mother tongue of Panjabi in all aspects of their daily life. They fought for the right to live the Sikh Rehit Maryada which had been established by the Sikh Gurus. Long and hard agitations finally brought the Sikhs their religious right to wear the Kirpan (sword) of any length.

From the S. G. P. C. have come specific definitions of a Sikh:

  • “Amritdhari Sikh” is one who has been baptized by the double-edged sword, who keeps the form and lives the life of Khalsa, as dictated by Guru Gobind Singh.
  • “Sehjdhari Sikh” is one who is preparing to become an Amritdhari Sikh.
  • “Patit” is one who was an Amritdhari Sikh but who has given up his form and practice as Khalsa.

Thus the Singh Sabha Movement kept Sikh Dharma from corruption and ignorance and from being absorbed into Hinduism.

A Code for Living

Throughout the evolution of Sikh Dharma, certain concepts evolved and became formalized and were given to the Sangat in the form of Hukam Namas (written decrees). Another primary source of specific instructions to Sikhs came from the notes taken by disciples who were present when the Guru spoke in answer to a Sikh’s questions, or from the handwritten letters of the Gurus themselves, also usually in response to questions from their Sikhs.

To gather together all the teachings and instructions of the Gurus, it is necessary to study Sikh history, through the writings of the Gurus and their contemporary disciples. It is the combination of these various Hukam Namas and instructions which comprises the Rehit Maryada of the Sikhs.

Sikh Dharma grew out of the inspired Words of Guru Nanak, who himself spoke out clearly against empty ritualism. He gave Sikh Dharma a systematic leadership for a span of 200 years, in which the Dharma evolved as an organic, meaningful way of life, dedicated to God and service to humanity. During this time, certain practices became characteristic of the Sikh community as a whole, and the source of guidance and inspiration to the individual Sikh.

The Gurdwara ceremony which has evolved over five hundred years embodies and exemplifies the application of the technology of devotional worship. It is based on the science of humanology. To study it is to study the nature of the human being, and so understand the Creator in whose Image we are created.

Superstition, and the ritualistic practices advocated by priests to placate imaginary forces, held many people in ignorance and fear. Sikh Dharma gave each person the knowledge that his or her own salvation lay not in ritualistic religous practices, but in the hands of God and Guru. The Teachings of the Gurus evolved into a distinct lifestyle. Those who lived and practiced this lifestyle were guided away from empty rituals which brought them no personal sense of worth. Today, these Teachings guide the individual Sikh to live a practical, worldly, family life while keeping his or her consciousness absorbed in the Ultimate Reality, which is Timeless and Deathless. In this way, the concept of the soldier-saint finds its home in the arena of everyday, a family life, combining the activities of the worldly being, the Soldier, with the virtues of the spiritual being, the Saint.

The Rehit Maryada, as a living lifestyle, develops a highly disciplined, respectful and exemplary individual. The Sikh in the highest sense lives a virtuous life, with a form that makes him or her stand fearlessly for what s/he is.

Living with Values

  1. A Sikh worships only the Oneness of God, and does not indulge in any form of idol worship. Explanation:Sikhs worship the Infinite and Formless Creator of all the creation; God is known by many names, but is ultimately One. Sikhs do not get involved in anything which distracts from the recognition of that One. Therefore, they never worship any person or idol. This instruction also helped people give up ritual practices and superstitious beliefs.
  2. A Sikh lives a life based upon the Teachings of the Ten Gurus, and the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. “Sabh sikhan ko hukam hai, guru maaniyo granth. Explanation: Sikhs study and search through the Words left to them by the Gurus, so that they may achieve the Supreme State of the Guru’s Bani, and be inspired to live the pure life of the Sikh and of Khalsa. Though the Sikh respects all paths to God consciousness, the Teachings of the Guru are not compromised by other practices or philosophies.
  3. Sikhs believe in the Oneness of the Ten Gurus. “Aad ant aykai avataaraa, so-ee guru samajhee-oo hamaaraa.” Explanation: The consciousness and the very spirit and essence of Guru Nanak was transferred, and prevailed through all of the Ten Gurus, and was finally invested in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. This spirit, intact, is the Guru, the Divine Wisdom, the Infinite prevailing through the finite form. There is ultimately no difference between any of the Gurus, except in their physical manifestations.The precept of the oneness of the Gurus, as manifestations of Nanak precludes overly intellectual dissection of their Union which could lead to the creation of factions which show preferences toward isolated aspects of the Dharma.
  4. The Gurdwara serves as the Sikh’s central place of worship. Explanation: The Sikh performs devotional worship in the Presence of the Guru. He bows and seeks guidance from the Guru, the Word of God in its manifested form. To a Sikh, the Guru is the source of Divine Wisdom, the Living Word of God, and it is in the Sadh Sangat, the congregation that this guidance is amplified.
  5. A Sikh has no dealings with caste distinctions, black magic, or superstitious practices. Explanation: The Sikh places his/her faith in God alone, and s/he is resigned to the Will of God. The Sikh performs all duties as prescribed by the Guru and leaves the results of his/her actions up to God. This instruction helped to pull the Sikh away from the prevailing practices which kept the people living in fear and insecurity in their relationship with God.
  6. Sikhs do not partake of alcohol, tobacco, drugs or other intoxicants. Explanation: Sikhs keep the body temple pure and clean as God gave it. The Guru’s Word and seva and simran uplift and stimulate the consciousnness.
  7. Sikhs do not eat meat, fish, poultry or eggs. “Maas machee nayray naahee aavanaa.” Explanation: Sikhs do not eat or take into the body anything which is harmful or will have ill effects upon the body or mind. Meat is a stimulant of the gross passions of the mind and body, and is harmful physically as well. Along with the karmic consequences of killing other animals unnecessarily, a Sikh does not take another’s life so s/he may live.
  8. Sikhs do not gamble or commit theft.
  9. Sikhs do not commit adultery, or have any sexual relations outside of marriage.
  10. A Sikh is to live his or her life from birth to death according to the tenets of his or her faith.
  11. A Sikh teaches his or her children the language of Gurmukhi and all aspects of Sikh Dharma and history.
  12. A Sikh does not cut the hair of his or her children. Boys are given the name Singh (Lion), and girls the name Kaur (Princess).

The Maryada of a Sikh who has taken Amrit
Guru Gobind Singh himself stated that all Sikhs should take the Amrit and the vows of Khalsa. They are part and parcel of the Sikh Rehit Maryada. These vows include the following:

1. Wearing of the five kakars (or five K’s): Kesh (uncut hair) relates to the element of ether, Kara (steel bracelet) relates to the element of air, Kanga (wooden comb) relates to the element of earth, Kachera (cotton underwear) relates to the element of water, and Kirpaan (sword) which relates to the element of fire.

Explanation: The Kesh, (pronounced Kaysh) or uncut hair, is kept intact, as given by the Creator. To keep it is a sign of the Sikh’s acceptance of the Will of God, and a symbol of recognition of God’s Wisdom in creating the human in the form in which s/he was created. Hair has a function given by the Creator, which scientifically can be understood as an antenna for transmitting energy from the cosmos to the individual. As an antenna for bringing solar energy to the brain, hair is important in preserving mental stability.

The Kanga, or wooden comb, is worn in the hair at all times. The hair is made of the purest protein in the body. It channels the etheric energy into the body through the solar center at the top of the head. The kanga is a tool for keeping the hair beautiful and bringing energy into the body. When Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji was asked why we wear the kanga, he said, ” Guru Gobind Singh was the most scientific of all scientists. He gave you the wooden comb so that you would create your own electric energy for your brain, by combing with wood. The kanga is for whenever you feel low on energy. Just comb your hair with it right there on the spot. It works much faster than you can imagine to revitalize your energy. The kanga is a very virtuous thing.” When one combs the hair (ether) with the kanga, (earth) akaasha (heavens) and earth meet.

The Kara, or iron bangle represents prana (life force) and Infinity. It is worn on the right hand of the male and the left hand of the female, as a reminder to dedicate all one’s actions to the service of the One Creator. The steel is a reminder that as a Sikh, one’s steel, one’s strength of commitment, will be tested; the steel metal itself is a conductor of the energy which gives courage and fearlessness to the wearer.

The Kachera, (or kacha) cotton underwear, is a symbol of chastity and purity. Calcium is controlled by the thigh bone through its sensitivity to temperature. The kachera keeps a warm mantle of air surrounding the thigh and protects it against sudden temperature changes. The kachera maintains the polarity of the second chakra in relation to ida and pingala, the left and right polarities of the human energy system.

The Kirpan, or sword, as Guru Gobind Singh explained to Bahadur Shah, (the Mugal Emperor) is an emblem of dignity, power and self-respect. It is not just a “sword,” but a combination of “kirpa” (kindness) and “aan” (dignity). Guru Gobind Singh explained that while the sword is used in anger or to take revenge, the kirpan is used in grace and dignity to protect the honor of one’s self or of those who cannot protect themselves. As a symbol, it inspires respect for weapons and the highest sense of responsibility to God, Guru and humanity. The Sikh is God’s own soldier-saint, and his sword is used only as a last resort when all other efforts towards achieving peace and right actions have been exhausted. One is a saint first, but when one’s sainthood is attacked, one must be a soldier. Currently, in situations in which it is illegal to carry a sword, one can carry a small symbolic kirpan.

2. Daily recitation of the five morning Banis (prayers) and two evening prayers:
Japji Sahib, (with Shabad Hazaaray) Jaap Sahib, Tev Prasaad Swaiyaas, Anand Sahib, and Benati Chaupai, are recited in the early morning hours. They remind the Sikh of the Nature of God and the Universe as thoughts upon which to begin the day’s activities.
Rehiras and Kirtan Sohila are sung in the evening. Rehiras is performed at dusk, the transition time between day and night. It is a peaceful and absorbing prayer which carries the Sikh through this significant change in the energies of the earth, absorbing the mind in thoughts of the Creator. (Please note that Benati Chaupai is also recited at this time as part of the Rehiras.) Kirtan Sohila is recited just before sleeping. It puts the mind at rest and fills it with joyful thoughts of union with God, the Beloved, and recognition of His All-Pervading Nature.
(For more detailed information about the Banis, see Chapter 4.)

3. Khalsa takes as his/her Father, Guru Gobind Singh, and Mata Sahib Kaur as his/her mother, His/her spiritual home is Anandpur Sahib.
Explanation: Through taking Amrit, a Khalsa becomes the brother or sister of every other Khalsa, sharing a common father, mother and place of birth. The individual understands the significance of being born into the Khalsa, that one is an entirely new spiritual being, free of all identification with the past. This conscious, spiritual rebirth is total, and one’s entire identity is now Khalsa.

4. Khalsa greet each other with the salutation, Wahe Guru Ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji ki Fateh! (The Pure Ones belong to God; Victory belongs to God!) This greeting reminds all Khalsa that their first responsibility and duty is to the One Creator, that they belong to no one else, and that Khalsa seek to achieve the Victory of God and of righteousness in every situation in which they deal. The second half of this greeting means that whatever is accomplished is actually accomplished by God alone, and that Khalsa is but the humble channel of that Infinite One.

The Effect of the Rehit Maryada in Developing the Character of the Community and the Individual Sikh

The Rehit Maryada reaches far into the personal life and psychology of the individual Sikh. It also exerts a powerful impact upon the character of the community as a whole. Historically, the individual was lifted out of a state of superstition, ignorance and fear, out of the adherence to empty rituals, out of a restrictive caste system from which there was no escape or elevation, and out of a society which was succumbing to the forces of tyranny and oppression. The individual Sikh was uplifted to a shared equal status, sharing a reverence for One God, the Supreme Creator of all the creation, and an awareness of kinship with every other living creature. S/he was given a right and a means to relate to God in an individual, personal relationship. S/he was given a way to experience God through righteous conduct in the world. S/he was given a way to become aware of God within her or himself and in all of Creation. And finally, s/he was given the means by which s/he could effect change in society and help the downtrodden humanity to lift itself up and fight against oppression and religious persecution.

The following points illustrate the tradition which affected the various aspects of character of the individual and of the community of Sikhs:

  1. Rejection of the traditional Hindu or Muslim ritualism and superstition brought the individual into a direct and personal relationship with God.
  2. Rejection of the concept of caste gave the individual equality, self-respect and dignity. The Khalsa symbols reinforced the new identity and strengthened the commitment to fulfill the identifying qualifications.
  3. Freedom from tyranny and oppression through use of martial arts and self-defense brought the means for the individual and the community to work towards changing society.
  4. Total acceptance and respect for other forms of worship, the responsibility to defend the freedom of others to practice their religious beliefs, expanded the awareness and understanding of the individual, and united the community in a common responsibility.
  5. The misguided practice of self-mortification to attain spiritual rewards was replaced by positive attitudes towards the body and emphasis on physical fitness.
  6. By breaking superstitions against travel, Sikhs became affluent, adventurous, fearless and free of prejudice. They also became skilled horsemen providing a strong base upon which to build the Guru’s Army.
  7. With the emphasis upon seva (selfless service) and sacrifice, the Sikh community was comprised of industrious, hard-working individuals, who were able to construct and maintain free kitchens, buildings to be used for Gurdwaras, tanks, wells and other institutions for the needy.
  8. The distinct physical appearance of the Sikhs led them to be responsible to represent their Guru and the Dharma, and built a strength of character in testing the individual to stand against the norm and the fashion.
  9. The practice of “sangat” (gathering of the Holy) and “pangat” (the sharing of food in the company of the Holy) and the necessity of living together to practice the spiritual discipline (Sadhana) and to reinforce one another, led to a unity and cohesiveness of the community. This practice of living in a group consciousness is another step on the path to universal consciousness.
  10. Along with this strong community and family consciousness, the individual was developed as an aggressive, fearless and adventurous being, with total reliance upon God and Guru. This strong individuality was further reinforced and strengthened by the support of family and community.

Role of the Rehit Maryada in Shaping the Community

As a result of the living presence and guidance of the Gurus over a span of ten generations, the Sikh community developed its unique character, as described above. However, history and events of the time which tested the character of the Sikhs also played a great part in shaping the Khalsa, the ultimate form of the Sikh.

In order to uphold the ideals and concepts of Sikh Dharma, it became necessary for Guru Hargobind to raise his voice against the oppression and tyranny of the Mughal rulers of his time, who were demolishing Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras, and forcibly attempting to convert the population of India to Islam. He prepared his Sikhs as warriors, maintaining his own cavalry. The seventh Guru, Guru Har Rai, also maintained a large personal bodyguard of armed soldiers. The ninth Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur, prepared his son in all of the military arts, and Guru Gobind Singh set out to transform the history of the Panjab and of all India.

Through their training in the military arts, through devotion, sacrifice and selflessness, the Guru’s Sikhs became a most powerful fighting force, manifesting miraculous changes in the religious, military and political life of the Panjab. The Gurus managed to regenerate a decaying people and to create a new nation, based upon justice, freedom of conscience, liberty, equality and fraternity. Women were encouraged to work side by side with men, for the Gurus encouraged equality of the sexes as well, and the strength of the nation was doubled, adding sweetness to daily life.

The Code of Conduct which created men and women of such noble character created a community united in the ideals of Seva (selfless service) and Simran (meditative remembrance of God), and a fighting force which stood to defend the persecuted humanity. Sikh history is filled with stories of battles against the Mughals who were exploiting the people through unjust taxation and usurpation of land, women and wealth. The concept of equality created a democratic base for the governing of the Sikh community. Free of the bondage of superstition, the Sikh was a fearless master of destiny and thus the Sikh people were greatly feared by others. They were persecuted and tortured during the time of the Emperor Aurangzeb and for seventy years after his death. The declaration of the sovereignty of the Guru and his Sikhs, and their open warfare against the tyranny of the ruling powers, gave added incentive to the practice of persecuting the Sikhs. Thus history records the tens of thousands of Sikhs who were martyred for their Dharma. Their absolute refusal to bow before man or accept any other religion again brought martyrdom and sacrifice to the forefront of the annals of Sikh history.

The adventurous spirit of the Sikhs, combined with the continuing persecution and prejudice against them, led many of them to emigrate to countries all around the world, where, as a first duty, they constructed Gurdwaras, and thus spread the Teachings of the Gurus throughout the four corners of the Earth.

The sense of individuality, independence, and the awareness of the power of God and Guru behind them, make the Sikhs dauntless crusaders for their own faith and traditions, as well as for the faiths, practices and traditions of others.

Sikhs do not look to convert others to their religion, but in the spirit of spreading the Word, there are Sikh musicians and preachers who travel throughout the world, teaching the Sikh congregations wherever they go, inspiring the members of the Sangats to live to the Rehit.

Throughout the West, thousands have embraced Sikh Dharma through the inspiration of Siri Singh Sahib, Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji, the Chief Administrative and Religious Authority of Sikh Dharma for the Western Hemisphere as designated by the S.G.P.C. The history of transformation of the individual psychology of the Sikhs throughout India has been repeated in the lives of these Westerners. Adopting the dress and lifestyle of Khalsa, these Westerners have chosen to belong to a brotherhood and sisterhood of those who have dedicated their lives to serving God and humanity. They have established many independent businesses and are building an independent economic base for supporting their communities throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and across the entire world. They are shaping a new page in Sikh history as they work to integrate the ideals of purity and piety into the mainstream of society. Some of the ways they work are: through their efforts in drug rehabilitation, free kitchens which serve the local communities, businesses which are based upon an awareness of the common good of all. These include vegetarian restaurants and stores, publishing and distributing magazines, books and music which spread Sikh Dharma, development of Khalsa schools for young children, establishing a network of lawyers and doctors, psychologists, chiropractors and other healers who work towards developing hospitals to serve the entire community.

The Sikh Rehit Maryada is the core of Sikh Dharma. It is the Code of Conduct of the Dharma. Sikh Rehit Maryada has shaped all of Sikh history and is today continuing to shape the history of a Dharma which is young and just beginning to make its impact upon the world.

Rehit Nama

It is an on-going process: to maintain the razor’s edge of Truth between hypocrisy and fanaticism, preserving the Essence of the Guru’s Teachings.

Rehit Namas are collections of Codes of Conduct for the Sikhs. There are many of these collections, some more detailed than others, and some quite obscure. Many of the admonitions and guidelines pre-date Guru Gobind Singh, but with the establishment of the Khalsa, He verified and formalized the Code of Conduct for Khalsa. In the years following Guru Gobind Singh, many of those Sikhs who had been blessed to hear his words, such as Bhai Nand Laal, Bhai Sukha Singh, Bhai Chaupa Singh, Bhai Daya Singh, and others, recorded them in the various versions of Rehit Namas. Later, the S. G. P. C. published the authoritative Sikh Rehit Maryada.

Pandit Tara Singh Narottam referred to eighteen Rehit Namas in his Guru Teerath Sangreh. Pandit Bhagwan Das compiled thirty-one Rehit Namas under the title of Bibayk Varidh. Bhai Kahan Singh, who compiled the Mahan Kosh, states that although there are many Rehit Namas, written by devoted Sikhs according to their own understanding, only those rules which do not go against Gurbani or the writings of Bhai Gur Das should be followed. Below is a list of the authors of better-known Rehit Namas.

  • Bhai Gur Das (not the same Bhai Gur Das of Guru Arjun’s time)
  • Bhai Nand Laal
  • Sarab Loh Parkash
  • Bhai Chaupa Singh
  • Bhai Prehlaad Singh
  • Bhai Daysa Singh
  • Bhai Daya Singh’s
  • Gur Sobha
  • Rattan Mal
  • Sassakhi
  • Vajabul Araz
  • Mehima Parkash
  • Gur Bilas
  • Bhai Sukha Singh
  • Gur Partap Suraj
  • Baba Sumer Singh

Some common threads are easily discerned in this collection, which show the extent of the self-discipline required to maintain one’s conduct as Khalsa. It becomes apparent that many of these Rehit Namas are of more value as historical documents, than as actual codes of conduct. They show what the Sikhs did to achieve a healthy body and strong spirit. They instruct in a practice to distinguish between the real and the ephemeral, an abiding optimism of faith, and the maintainance of the Dharma. Following is a compilation of these Rehit Namas are organized according to the writer.

There are many variations and different approaches to certain areas of conduct. Bhai Chaupa Singh, for example, writes, “Do not take a bath in warm water.” Later, however, Bhai Santokh Singh writes that one should try to bathe in cold water, although it can be slightly warmed if necessary. The important thing is not to go without a bath. (Note: The word used in the original Indian languages does not distinguish between ‘shower’ and ‘bath’.) Thus, there might seem to be a conflict in the prescribed rules, but the common essence can be discerned. We have tried to present only those quotations which are commonly accepted by all authorities.

Above all, we must remember that we can never, in any manner, modify the basic Command of the Five K’s, or the specific actions prohibited by the Gurus. Other specific customs have been modified frequently over the years; the S.G.P.C.’s published Sikh Rehit Maryada is a step in this direction. To keep the Panth unique and distinct from the ways of the Hindu rituals, and protected from other unwanted influences, it is necessary to present the Codes of Conduct as clear-cut rules. It is an on-going process, to maintain the razor’s edge of Truth between hypocrisy and fanatacism, preserving the Essence of the Guru’s Teachings, not falling into the trap of empty ritualism.

Sikh Rehit Maryada as Issued by Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.)

Today, you have been born in the Guru’s House, and stopped your cycle of birth and death; you have joined the Khalsa Panth. Your spiritual father is Guru Gobind Singh and your mother is Mata Sahib Kaur Ji. Your birth place is Kayshgarh, and your home is Anandpur Sahib. Being sons and daughters of the same father, you are all Amrit Dhari brothers and sisters. You have given up all association with your past caste, color, race, creed, birth place, country, religion or community, and you have become a pure Khalsa. Do not worship any other god, goddess, messenger, incarnation or messiah, other than the One Immortal God. You are not to consider any other agency as the giver of salvation except the Guru in his ten forms, and the Bani of his Word. Recite, at the least, the following Banis everyday:


Always wear the five “K’s”:

  1. Kesh – your uncut hair;
  2. Kirpan – a sword;
  3. Kachhas – cotton underwear;
  4. Kanga – a wooden comb;
  5. Kara – a steel bracelet.

You must never do any of the following four things:

  1. Cut your hair.
  2. Eat meat killed in the Muslim Halal fashion. (Halal is cutting the neck and letting the animal bleed out slowly, i.e. with cruelty).
  3. Have sex with another’s husband or wife.
  4. Use tobacco.

If you commit any of these acts, you will have to take Amrit again.

Be ready always to serve the Panth, and to perform seva at the Gurdwaras. Give ten per cent of your income to the Guru, and do only that which is in accordance with the Guru’s Teachings. Always stay closely knit with one another according to the duties and rules of the Khalsa. If you stray from the Rehit, then confess in the Congregation of the Khalsa, pray for forgiveness and ask for the penalty; be careful from then on.

This post is an excerpt from Victory and Virtue which is available in its entirety from the SDI Marketplace.


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