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The Roundtable Open Forum: Round Three

EDITOR

 

 

The Rules of the forum are posted here on the right, and need to be followed strictly by all participants.

The following is this week's (Nov18 - 25, 2009) topic for discussion, which should focus on the questions posed therein:

 

ARDAAS AT A PUBLIC MEETING

THE FACTS

Ardaas - the Sikh congregational prayer - is central to our spiritual, nay, our daily life.

It is not a ritual. It is a direct plea (derived from the Persian word, ‘arzdasht' - literally, a petition, a memorial or an address from an inferior to a superior). It is a conversation, if you will, between Man and God.

It is in the Sikh tradition to begin the day with ardaas. Similarly, it's the only ritual that forms part of any and every important event in one's life - birth, birthday, marriage, death, sickness, celebration, commemoration. Something to thank for, something to plead for, to seek help and guidance - it is an act of submission and surrender by Man to God, invoking the latter's blessings in all that we do.

In this tradition, all of our public events too are commenced with an ardaas.

Lately, a few individuals have objected to an ardaas being conducted in public if the congregation is wearing shoes. [The traditional protocol - when doing an ardaas at home, at a gurdwara, or wherever possible - is to cover one's head and take off one's shoes: all traditional ways of showing respect.]

Taking off shoes or covering heads in a public meeting - such as the annual gala at The Spinning Wheel Film Festival, or the annual Vaisakhi Dinner, where the event is not religious but certainly a Sikh event, and non-Sikhs are part of the gathering - is not possible. Many Sikhs, however, on their own volition, do cover their heads and take off their shoes.

Those who object say: "Better to not do the ardaas, than commit the sacrilege!"

 

QUESTIONS TO PONDER

- Is it sacrilege to perform an ardaas in public, while wearing shoes - if the situation does not permit shoes to be taken off?

- Is it better then not to do the ardaas at all in such settings?

- Are we to limit our prayers only to a time and place where the full protocol can be followed?

- Won't that then turn a simple invocation into a ritual?

- Are we then to disassociate all religious/ spiritual activity from our secular lives? Is that in accordance with Sikhi?

- What if meat is being served at the meeting ... No ardaas? Alcohol ... No ardaas?  [Please refrain from discussion as to whether meat or alocohol should be served ... these are topics for another day, and not the focus today. The question is: if, for whatever reason, a function has one or both of these being served, should one then refrain from doing Ardaas?] 

- If we are to put restrictions and boundaries, where then can one say an ardaas? And do paatth? Nitnem?

 

Conversation about this article

1: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), November 18, 2009, 6:00 AM.

Ardaas is indeed a conversation between the self and God within us all. It becomes a way to quickly focus the mind - indeed our consciousness - to the task at hand. It is not a note nor is it a verbal request to God as if in a commercial transaction for gifts, goods and services. Also, I point out that many of us have seen pictures of Sikh units taking their oath of allegiance in full army uniform, wearing shoes, and raised arms in honour of the Guru Granth that was escorted along the path by a granthi. It is akin to a salute rendered to Kings and Heads of State. How one appears in front of the Guru Granth is shaped by the circumstances. Ardaas is a matter of the mind and the Guru; Guru Granth is often not present at a personal ardaas. Perhaps a public ardaas requires some protocol, much as a public performance or appearance requires that we follow rules of social interaction in a given society.

2: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), November 18, 2009, 8:22 AM.

Taking the shoes off and covering one's head in the sacred space where Guru Granth Sahib's parkash is: is an unquestionable protocol. Removing the shoes leaves the outside dirt outside and covering the head is the ultimate form of respect. Ishnaan before entering that space or at least Panj Ishnaan (cleansing of hands, feet and face) are beautiful actions that prepare you for entering the sacred space that is spiritually cleansing. But for a public space of a panthic function where the full protocol is not possible, why should we deny ourselves of the 1) opportunity of unification of the Panth 2) invocation of God's blessings? "Saas saas simro gobind" [GGS:295]. "Aatth pehar har kaa naam laee" [GGS:287]. "Hasandiaan khaelandiaan painandiaan khaavandiaan vichae hovai mukt" [GGS:522]. Sikhi is not a part time affair. In both personal and public life, a Sikh is attached to his Guru like the vine that clings to its tree for survival. Naam and ardaas are a continuous phenomenon that are imbued in his psyche and automatically happen all the time - he may not use the exact words or it may not be in the formal structure. Why deny ourselves of life-supporting functions in a panthic event?

3: Gurjeet (Washington D.C., U.S.A.), November 18, 2009, 9:09 AM.

To me, Ardaas is a prayer ... talking to my Waheguru. My mother told me once, if you want to pray, don't worry whether you have your shoes on, whether you have your head covered. If you want to talk to God, get your gutka and read it. I find all of these details about wearing shoes and rituals hypocritical. Let's be honest with ourselves and just pray instead of looking for excuses why not to and criticize the ones who do.

4: Tejwant Singh (Las Vegas, U.S.A.), November 18, 2009, 10:22 AM.

The question is, what is ardaas? What kind of ardaas did our Gurus do before taking on any endeavour? Our Gurus never indicated what kind of ardaas shall we do at any particular time. Guru Granth is full of shabads which mention that Guru Shabad is itself the ardaas. In other words, all 1430 pages are full of ardaas. Unless and until we determine what ardaas is, and what kind of ardaas should be used for what occasion, then the process becomes nothing but a mechanical ritual which is against gurmat ideals. [Editor: The preamble to the topic layout couldn't be more clear. The 'ardaas' being referred to is the congregational one used by all Sikhs everywhere, in one form or the other, but within the format recommended by the Rehat Maryada.]

5: Sandeep Singh Brar (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 18, 2009, 10:51 AM.

As a historian, I love the ardaas, finding it to be a fascinating concise encapsulation of our history as it connects us all individually to our past and the tremendous sacrifices made to ensure our identity today. We as Sikhs are asked to stay grounded in humility and the quest for wisdom. Given it's powerful ability to uplift us in everyday life or in difficult circumstances, there is no place or time that a Sikh should not be able to remember Waheguru by performing a personal ardaas for guidance, motivation and inspiration. In terms of performing a public ardaas, there are of course rules and protocol that should be followed. The Sikh Rehat Maryada which is the collective voice of the Guru Panth and covers protocol for Sikh religious practices gives us the following rules governing ardaas: "Sikh Reht Maryada, Section Two, Chapter III, Aritcle IV, paragraphs (c) to (e) - (c) While the Ardaas is being performed, all men and women in the congregation should stand with hands folded. The person in attendance of the Guru Granth should keep waving the whisk standing. (d) The person who performs the Ardaas should stand facing the Guru Granth with hands folded. If the Guru Granth is not there, the performing of the Ardaas facing any direction is acceptable. (e) When any special Ardaas for and on behalf of one or more persons is offered, it is not necessary for persons in the congregation other than that person or those persons to stand up." Anything outside these above mentioned rules in performing ardaas is subjective personal opinion and is not mandated religious protocol. Regarding wearing of shoes while performing Ardaas, we can again turn to the Sikh Rehat Maryada for clarification. Although no mention of shoes can be found in the protocol governing Ardaas listed above, reference to the wearing of shoes can be found in the following: "Sikh Reht Maryada, Section Three, Chapter IV, Article V, paragraph (g)- When the Guru Granth has to be taken from one place to another, the Ardaas should be performed. He/she who carries the Guru Granth on his/her head should walk barefoot; but when the wearing of shoes is a necessity, no superstitions need be entertained." The above rule governing the object of our most sacred veneration, Guru Granth Sahib, can equally be applied to our sacred Ardaas and states that when it is not possible to remove shoes due to circumstances, it is not considered a transgression of religious protocol. Last week at the SikhMuseum.com sponsored memorial service for WWI Sikh-Canadian hero, Pvt. Buckam Singh, we started the ceremony with an Ardaas. Given that we were in the middle of a cemetery with muddy, wet and cold ground, it was a good example of the kind of circumstances mentioned in paragraph (g) of the Sikh Rehat Maryada, where "the wearing of shoes is a necessity". As Sikhs, we live in a imperfect world full of people and practices that we don't necessarily agree with, yet our Guru has mandated that we engage with that world and the greater community and are not to act as an Order of isolated/ segregated religious monks staying only in our monastery or in the forest away from society for our prayers because of the world's imperfections. I am drawn to Guru Nanak's analogy [GGS:990] - "In pure waters, both the lotus and the algae are found. The lotus flower is with the algae and the water, but it remains untouched by any pollution." In the imperfect circumstances that we often find ourselves in almost every day, I can think of no better time or place to say an ardaas and invoke God'a blessings, either individually or collectively, to keep our strength and focus on our beloved Gurus and motivate us to be a better people and better individuals.

6: I. Singh (Chelmsford, MA, U.S.A.), November 18, 2009, 12:46 PM.

It is always best to balance the spirit as well as the letter of the law governing the protocol surrounding the ardaas. The physiological aspects of the protocol are well covered by Sandeep Singh above. The spirit (or bhavna) of the congregational ardaas is best described by the following excerpt taken from "The Sikh Prayer" by Principal Teja Singh (available here: http://www.searchsikhism.com/prayer.html). This article on ardaas, in addition to Sandeep Singh's references to Sikh Rehat Maryada, should answer all essential questions surrounding the instances that generated this discussion. By the way, Principal Teja Singh was the convenor of the committee that worked on the Sikh Rehat Maryada - he would fully understands its import. "In the case of the prayer, the same care has been taken. The Sikh has to bring himself into a prayerful mood before he addresses himself to his God, when we actually pray. We stand face to face with God. But before we enter into the innermost tabernacle of God and reach that consummation, we have much to traverse the ground of moral struggle and spiritual preparation. We have to realize what the communion with God has meant for those who have loved him. What sufferings and sacrifices they had to undergo to be able to see His face. We have to refresh ourselves with the sweet faith of those immortals and fortify our minds with their patient strength and resignation. Prayer does not mean a mere physiological union with God and undisturbed rest in him. It means an active yearning of the soul to feel one with God who is always active and patient, who is always hopeful. Prayer should, therefore, refresh our spirit and make us ready to do God's will. This can be done if we first commune ourselves with the God revealed in History, and reverently watch the organic growth of Divinity in mankind. To do this we have to feel ourselves a part of that congregation of God-like being who represent the best in man. We should steep ourselves in association of those in whose company we feel the presence of God."

7: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brantford, Ontario, Canada), November 18, 2009, 5:28 PM.

Ardaas can be done anytime. For me, its talking, conversing directly with Waheguru.

8: Nav Singh (London, United Kingdom), November 19, 2009, 5:39 AM.

I tend to agree with Sandeep Singh. Our religion is indeed one that "allows" flexibility for the greater good. Interesting topic ... well done, all.

9: Nirvair Singh (New Delhi, India), November 19, 2009, 7:38 AM.

I pray whenever the spirit moves me, wherever the spirit moves me, however the spirit moves me. At home, at work, on the street, in the car. In the shower, on the toilet, at the dining table. In the swimming pool, in the sauna. When busy, or at leisure. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Morning, midday, afternoon, evening, or night. In the sun, on cloudy days, during the monsoons particularly when the heart sings the loudest, and in the cold of winter. When I'm hungry, or well-fed; thirsty or quenched. While walking, running, sitting, lying down ... even when I'm upside down while doing my yoga exercises. Naked, or bedecked in a suit, in shorts, in swimming trunks, in pyjamas too. Barefooted, or in socks, or in shoes. Bare-headed, or in my patka, or under the full glory of my turban. When happy, or sad, or contemplative, or anxious, or grateful. Or bored. Alone, or with my family, in the gurdwara, even in public. In Punjabi, in English. Sometimes, even in gibberish, when my brain can't keep up with my heart. But not all the time, not everytime I do any of the above. Only when the spirit moves me! Sometimes, I simply bow my head and surrender. He knows it all. He knows best ... Ardaas is the greatest gift of Sikhi. It is everyone's. And each ardaas reflects the very soul that surrenders to Him. Nothing else matters!

10: Amrita Kaur (Oshawa, Ontario, Canada), November 19, 2009, 11:36 AM.

Yes, of course, there should be a protocol for the saying of ardaas in public. But we don't need to invent one. One already exists - such as the one for singing the national anthem, or the delivery of a 'benediction' in public. I have attended The Spinning Wheel Film Festival galas in Toronto, and they do it just right: The entire audience is asked to stand up and observe silence. The ardaas is not commenced until there is total silence. It is the very first item on the agenda, followed by the National Anthem. It is always done with grace and respect. I have noticed many Sikhs automatically cover their heads; some even slip off their shoes on their own volition, while standing at the dinner tables. Though I personally think these are not mandatory, nor should they be. Frankly, I have seen nothing ever which was out of order.

11: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), November 19, 2009, 4:48 PM.

In citing the Rehat Maryada, Sandeep Singh has done well to point out that guidelines for congregational Ardaas are contained in the Rehat Maryada; that they are quite liberal and lend themselves to adaptation. Conventions can change to accommodate new situations as long as the spirit of the Ardaas is not violated.

12: Sanmeet Kaur (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), November 20, 2009, 8:14 AM.

I love the way Sandeep Singh has broken it down for us, so practically! The Ardaas is both private and communal. Proper sanctity must be maintained whenever possible for OUR benefit. The Guru does not become more or less due to our actions. It is a vehicle for our intentions. During Ardaas, as we endeavour to harness our intentions, we are gently reminded of our Gurus culminating in the Guru Granth, our history, our religious seats, the virtues a Sikh embodies and aspires towards, our impending and ongoing seva and after all this, we lay forth our hopes and intentions. At this point, we have travelled spiritually and our aspirations come from a higher self. The self-appointed religious police should keep in mind that the means is not the end we seek. And if they have any doubt, they should read the life and teachings of Guru Nanak.

13: T. Sher Singh (Guelph, Ontario, Canada), November 20, 2009, 11:33 AM.

Two monks, while conversing during a stroll, were puzzled when they concluded that one of them had been permitted by the Abbott to smoke, while the other had been expressly prohibited from doing so. They rushed to the Abbott and confronted him with this dichotomy. He asked them to recall exactly what each had asked the Abbott on the issue of smoking. The first had asked him: "Is it okay if I meditate while I'm smoking a cigarette?" The Abbott had said: "Yes!" The second monk had asked him: "Is it okay if I light up a cigarette while I'm meditating?" The Abbott had said: "No!" There is a lesson to be learnt by us too from this little story. It is all in the surrounding circumstances. Of course, the ideal is to be in complete immersion while saying an ardaas - quiet, contemplative, relaxed, respectful, deferential - with head covered, feet washed and bare, clean hands joined in prayer, eyes shut in concentration. But it is also okay to say an ardaas when some or none of these are feasible. If we went to the Abbott and posed him our own questions, I think this is how he would answer. "Should I leave my shoes on, and my head uncovered, while I'm saying an ardaas?" "No!" "Is it okay to say an ardaas when I have to have my shoes on?" "Yes, of course!"

14: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), November 24, 2009, 4:31 PM.

CLOSING WRAP-UP: Enlightening as well as informative. Truly, the Ardaas is a horizontal dialogue that teaches everyone who participates and is not just information transfer. The Sikh ardaas remains an object lesson in history, highlights the fundamentals of our faith and belief, and underscores values that define our way of life, and yet enhances the intimacy that a relationship based on love nurtures and mandates. At one level, then, ardaas remains a very, very private and intimate matter. Issues of protocol then are not a public matter and need not create distracting controversy. Yet, by its content and through Sikh teaching, the ardaas serves to define the commonality that creates a community. In that congregation (sangat) then God and Guru are to be found, says the Guru Granth. In a corporate community's ardaas, therefore, formal structure and rules have a seminal role in defining and creating a sangat. The moral seems to be that when the heart is caught up in the spirit of ardaas, then recognize where you are in time, place and company; celebrate the moment and do not diminish the oneness by needless worries about trivia.

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