Thursday, January 26, 2017

Superstitions and Empty Rituals

I know a lot of people who are superstitious, follow rituals and black magic. It’s everything from donating specific items during the new moon, to wearing special bracelets, having pandits tell horoscopes, to a story I heard about half a pomegranate being buried in the soil of a plant at the Gurdwara! Unfortunately a lot of us have forgotten what Guru Nanak Dev Ji has taught us. In the search for easy solutions to get what we desire, we blindly follow what people tell us to do instead of Gurmat. In the Guru Granth Sahib Ji it is written, “The mind is diseased with doubt, superstition and duality” (p. 416).

There are many sakhis about these topics, for example, the well-known Sakhi about the Hindus throwing water towards the sun to reach their dead ancestors. I’m going to share the Sakhi about the Janeau here. A janeau is a thread that’s tied around the neck of a Hindu boy. Without this thread, the boy is considered of the lowest caste and is not allowed to read holy texts. Thus it divides people into castes. Brahmins wear cotton jeneau, kshatriyas wear hemp and vaisya wear wool. It allows one of these castes to get an education and marriage. It is also worn for protection against gods/goddesses. At the age of 9, Guru Nanak Dev Ji was at an age to have this janeau tied. When the ritual was started, he asked the priest why this was performed and the priest explained. Guru Nanak further asked why women were not allowed to get the janeau, and the priest explained that women are only allowed to get a janeau through marriage, and a husband wears it for her. He insisted that these were all the rules according to the scriptures and that Guru Ji was committing a great sin by questioning the holy books. To this Guru Ji replied that it is important to use our intellect to question what is written in order to gain an understanding of the religious texts or we will not learn. Guru Ji pointed out that the janeau is discriminatory and we should not divide people among castes. He also pointed out that such a physical thread cannot help us achieve our purpose:
“Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist. This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me. It does not break, it cannot be soiled by filth, it cannot be burnt, or lost. 
Blessed are those mortal beings, O Nanak, who wear such a thread around their necks. You buy the thread for a few shells, and seated in your enclosure, you put it on. Whispering instructions into others' ears, the Brahmin becomes a guru. 
But he dies, and the sacred thread falls away, and the soul departs without it. 
He commits thousands of robberies, thousands of acts of adultery, thousands of falsehoods and thousands of abuses. 
He practices thousands of deceptions and secret deeds, night and day, against his fellow beings. The thread is spun from cotton, and the Brahmin comes and twists it. The goat is killed, cooked and eaten, and everyone then says, ‘Put on the sacred thread’. When it wears out, it is thrown away, and another one is put on. O Nanak, the thread would not break, if it had any real strength. Believing in the Name, honor is obtained. The Lord's Praise is the true sacred thread. 
Such a sacred thread is worn in the Court of the Lord; it shall never break.
There is no sacred thread for gender, and no thread for woman.
The man's beard is spat upon daily. There is no sacred thread for the feet, and no thread for the hands; 
no thread for the tongue, and no thread for the eyes. The Brahmin himself goes to the world hereafter without a sacred thread. Twisting the threads, he puts them on others. He takes payment for performing marriages; reading their horoscopes, he shows them the way. Hear, and see, O people, this wondrous thing. He is mentally blind, and yet his name is wisdom.” Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 471 (translation on discoversikhism.com).

This is a well-known sakhi but I feel that a lot of people don’t actually incorporate what it teaches us. We listen and nod and continue to look for people to give us what we want, and tell us what to do. Yet we read in Japji Sahib daily, that God is the only giver. Sometimes people even take it one step further and say if they read a certain number of prayers in this timeframe, they will get what they want. The ironic thing is that instead of reading quickly for the sake of reading, if we sit down and understand the Gurbani, it tells us everything we need! We would stop searching elsewhere. Let’s remember to be patient, follow Gurmat, and put in the effort towards our life purpose instead of blindly following superstitions and rituals. 

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