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Archive for May 2012

Driven by Conviction: Sikhi, My Core Conviction


I gave a talk at the invitation of the Sikh Sewaks of Singapore ( at the Central Sikh Temple yesterday as part of a Speaker Series for Sikh youth. I would like to encourage Sikh youth from all walks of life to come to the Gurdwara (or Silat Road Gurdwara or any other close to where you live) and make enquiries and participate in the programs offered that cover a wide range of subjects from education to religious classes, or even to hook yourself up to a professional mentor. There are many Sikhs in Singapore who would like to give back to the next generation and I would certainly urge Sikh youth to tap on the network and resources available within the community. Once again, thank you to the Sikh Sewaks for the kind invitation.

Driven by Conviction.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji ki Fateh

Good evening everyone, and thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share some of my thoughts by you about the Sikh faith and how it has helped to shape the person I am.

Like some of you, my earliest memories of Sikhi were going to the temple, bowing before the Guru Granth Sahib, without knowing much about what I was bowing down to. What I did know, was that I was bowing down to “babaji” and that babaji would take care of you if you did good things and were a good person. It was a very simple relationship and in many ways the contours of this relationship remains the same today. From a very young age, I could recite 5-poris of the Japji sahib, even though I did not quite know what they meant. I am not so proud to share with you that I still don’t know what all five poris mean in Gurmukhi – although I think this is an honest reflection about my shortcomings in Punjabi rather than Sikhi.

However, I nevertheless find an incredible sense of peace and calmness in the Japji sahib. More recently, when my fiancé recites the Chaupai sahib, a similar sense of calmness and peace overcomes me. Now I cannot really describe to you why I feel this way – finding peace and calm in words that I do not wholly understand. I suspect it is because I am moved by what our gurus believed in, stood for and fought for.

When I was in secondary school, all students had to do an examinable subject called religious knowledge. My Chinese friends sat for Taoist or Buddhist or Confucian studies, Christians studied Bible knowledge, Muslims did Islamic Studies and Sikhs, Sikh Studies. Unfortunately, my batch was the last batch that had to take religious knowledge. After that, the government ceased this program. This was the book, which gave me a good solid foundation in Sikhi, and it was taught by a lady who also made Sikhi very accessible. Her name was Mdm Pregass Kaur, who is today a Vice-Principal at East Spring Secondary School. Around the same time, the government allowed for five minority Indian languages to be taken for the O and A levels – these were Punjabi, Gujerati, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu. I duly dropped Malay and took Punjabi from a zero base at Secondary 3. Two “masterjis” made the personal sacrifice of time twice a week for a good three hours each time to provide intense Punjabi classes for free. They were Master Harbans Singh, who later would become the Head of the Inter-Religious Organisation in Singapore and Mr Surjan Singh, who in his retirement years has become author of a wide genre of Sikh works.

Unbeknown to me those two years, of religious knowledge and intense Punjabi together probably represented the foundation of the values I hold dear as a Sikh. Let me read out some simple belief that I was socialized to as a student of Sikh Studies which is found on page 9 on this book (show Sikh Studies book).

“The word Sikh means follower, a learner, a seeker of truth. A Sikh is he who is clear in his mind about the goals of his life. He wants to lead a happy and purposeful life. He strives to live his life accordingly to the Guru’s code of discipline. He aims to gain wisdom to be able to serve his fellow men better. He tries to understand his own nature and desires to be a complete man, namely a man of excellence in body, mind and soul. He tries to establish a close relationship with the Guru and follows his exemplary conduct. He avoids bad company and the corrupting influences of modern civilization. He always looks up to the Guru’s teachings for guidance during crises and on joyous occasions.”

As I grew up, more in-depth questions did crop up. Some of these are quite divisive and controversial. In raising them, I want us to remember that we do not live in a perfect world but we must to strive to live in it according to values we believe as Sikhs.

Since my childhood there have seen some very optical changes to the Sikh faith in Singapore. I realised that Sikhs also have sub-communities which practice the faith differently. An article on the Sikh Missionary Society of the UK website page ( has loosely classified these communities as Amritdhari Sikhs, Keshdhari Sikhs, Sahajdhari Sikhs, Nirankari Sikhs, Namdhari Sikhs, Radhasoamis and yet there are other Sikhs who follow the teachings of saints as closely or even more closely than the teachings of the Guru Granth Granth Sahib. 

It is also not uncommon today, not just in Singapore, but also in Punjab and elsewhere around the world to see many Sikhs making a conscious deicison to cut their hair, but retain their faith; while yet others retain their kesh and get on with their lives as upright Sikhs. And of course we have other local realities to face, as a result of living in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society: inter-racial and inter-religious marriages. Another more recent issue that has unusually cropped up in Gurdwaras in Singapore – should we sit on the floor or on tables when we partake in the langar? There is also the lesser problem of Sikhs leaving the faith – I say lesser because I deeply believe in freedom of choice – the one thing we can do is to inform these friends of ours that Sikhs believe in one God, and He is for all of humanity.

The one historical fact that explains a key reason why Guru Nanak founded Sikhism in the first place has not gone away – our unusual fixation with caste, which exposes a human being’s weakness for status, privilege and preferential treatment. Singh and Kaur was the only sufffix Guru Gobind Singh Ji annointed us with, but village and in some cases, caste extensions have crept back into the picture. Sikhism’s high water mark of believing in egalitarianism, a belief in equality for all has proved to be a lifelong challenge since the days of our Gurus.

Time is not static, and like life, it evolves and Sikhs will undoubtedly face new challenges going forward. The question is this: are we prepared for those new challenges? As Sikhs, what convictions must we hold dear to prepare for them?

I do believe that many answers are found in the fundamental tenets of Sikhism. Not fixed answers that specifically address queries, but a framework that allows Sikhs to reflect and analyse and take the right step forward. Sikhism is a new faith, only around 550 years old, one of the newest of the major worldwide religions, founded by Guru Nanak. What did Guru Nanak believe in?

At a very fundamental level, Guru Nanak respected human beings. Guruji did not impose his teachings by threat or punishment. He believed in our capacity to live a meaningful life and at the centre of this belief was a capacity for forgiveness and the demand that we live full and honest lives. On refusing to take on another article of faith at the age most Hindu boys do – the sacred thread – Nanak asked – “Will the sacred thread make me a good man? Will it strengthen my love for God? Will it enable me to serve my fellow beings?”  These are fundamental questions I find we often forget in the heat of debate. 

We forget the tolerance that is supposed to be a hallmark of our faith. If one needs a lesson in tolerance consider the example of Guru Tegh Bahadur, an example which makes me real proud to be a Sikh, who gave up his life for freedom of worship, regardless of faith. Putting your life on the line for the Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or a Buddhist or anyone else, even an atheist who lives his life in service of mankind, must count as one of the central belief systems of Sikhism. 

We can either get entangled in issues that distract us; such as – do we call it derwaza or buha  – or focus on the essence of Sikhi. There is so much in our faith that we cannot help but to appreciate. Our faith is not one that is in-your-face, we do not wave our faith like a flag in the wind for all to see. We do not need to. But what we do have is a deep belief system, faith in Babaji, without the need to be overly proud about Sikhi – for too much pride opens the door to other unwanted elements like ego and false-righteousness, shutting the doors that Guru Tegh Bahadur sought to open.

I will not be able to, nor do I want to – justify why I cut my hair, why a fellow Sikh is a Namdhari or why another married out of the faith. But if we Sikhs focus on being good human beings, are able to strengthen our love for God and serve humanity like Guru Nanak ordained, I think Sikhi is doing very well both for its followers, and that the questions that bedevil us and make us insecure, are put into perspective.

There are many more fundamental lessons we can draw from our faith and find commonality with, rather than focus on the matters that divide us. Many of tomorrow’s problems will not lend themselves to direct answers that can be found in the Guru Granth Sahib. The Granth is of course, more than just our compass and guide. But I am also sure that if we remember why the Gurus did what they did, our faith and our values will continue to guide Sikhs confidently into the next century.

This should not be translated as over-confidence, because the path towards being and maintaining one’s faith as a Sikh is not easy and comes with challenges. But if our community continues to move in that direction – over-coming challenges with a Sikh framework guided by the Granth Sahib, while acknowledging that every Sikh has to traverse his or her own personal journey and choices, and must constantly struggle to remain true to the values the Gurus sought to impart on us, I am convinced we will be ok. But for that to happen, the doors of our Gurdwaras should never be closed to anyone who sees himself or herself as a Sikh. 

I have tried to live my life according to the Guru’s values. I have been distracted and waylaid by my personal goals and the usual sins that the Gurus warned us against, and I will have more challenges to overcome in future – this I am sure of. But I am also very sure that I would not have succeeded, overcome or even managed these challenges if I did not have Babaji by my side. The same Babaji I believed in as a child – who I am convinced, would take care of me but only if I did good things and strove to be a good person and lived his life according to the Gurus values.

Thank you.

P.S. During the Q&A session, someone asked me which was my favourite shabad. Well, here it is, sung by the Ragi Jatha of Bhai Gurmeet Singh (Delhi wale). You will find it in the 500th birthday celebrations commemorative CD of Guru Angad Dev Ji put together by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board. Why is it my favourite? I reckon for the same reason why Guru Angad was attracted to Guru Nanak’s hymns – I was captured by its tune.

3-07 Thaapi-Aa Lehna

Written by singapore 2025

06/05/2012 at 2:59 am

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