Sikh Duties | Rehat Maryādā
6. The Sikh Rehat Maryādā
A sub-committee of Sikh conduct conventions was set up with its terms of reference prescribed to consolidate the rules for the individual Sikh and the Sikhs’ Gurdwara (place of worship).
The report was submitted on 1st October, 1932 by Teja Singh, convener of the committee.
Various bodies of the Sikhs considered this report and suggested some amendments and finally the report was approved in the year 1945, that is, after about 14 years of its submission and was subsequently published by Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.
One is indeed impressed by the number of persons consulted and the dynamism of its compilers for whom the main consideration appears to have been to judge whether or not any particular tradition was in conformity with the general tenets of Sikhism:
Consequently one finds some of the details of the Rehatnāmas dropped from this code.
A fruitful result of this long and important work by the committee is that we have now a code comprising of 37 pages of text laying down general principles meant to guide the Sikhs in the performance of their organisational duties.
The principle of having such a convention for the Sikhs to decide about their duties themselves is provided for, in addition to other sources, in the Rehatnāmas by Dayā Singh who envisages deliberation by the Sikhs themselves about codes of conduct.
The Sikh Rehat Maryādā, which is the result of the deliberations by the Sikhs themselves, by virtue of the above principle, occupies a highly respected place and validity in Sikhism.
This formulary, however, does not attempt to lay down all the detailed principles of the Sikh ethics for the obvious reason that its role is mostly explanatory and in the ultimate analysis the Ādi Granth is the final and complete guide.
7. Duties enjoined in the Sikh Rehat Maryādā
This code defines a Sikh as he who:
1. has belief in the word of the 10 Gurus,
2. the baptism prescribed by the 10th Guru and
3. regards Ādi Granth, the Sikh Holy Scriptures as Guru and
4. does not have belief in any other religious tradition.
The code lays down both categorical and conditional duties: The former are required to be carried out always while the latter apply only in case of some special ceremonies.
The code envisages 2 aspects of a Sikh’s life, namely personal and organisational.
8. Personal aspect of duties
The personal aspect is comprised of various prayers, living according to the teachings of the Gurus and service to others.
Nām bāṇi dā abhyās refers to various prayers in Sikhism:
It includes a standard form of supplication which ends by praying for the good of all (sarbat dā bhalā) and for the regulation of passions by reason (mun neevaṇ, mut ucchi).
The second part of the personal duties enjoins that the views and living of the Sikhs should be according to the teachings of the Gurus.
Some duties are enumerated which every Sikh is required to perform.
It is not difficult for us to trace the origin of these duties to various Rehatnāmas, even though the compilers of the Sikh Rehat Maryādā do not refer to the Rehatnāmas, with the exception of Premsumārag.
The duties may be stated as follows:
(1) Right belief:
This duty requires of a Sikh to have belief in One God (Akal Purukh, that is, Timeless Entity).
The Sikh should not believe in the existence of gods and goddesses. He should regard only the 10 Gurus and their teachings as the medium of salvation.
He should not practise caste, untouchability and magical rites. The injunctions require a person to accept the unity of existence in terms of One spiritual Entity and reject all superstitions.
The compilers require of a Khalsa to maintain his distinctive way of life and not to lapse into superstitions. But the Khalsa should not injure the feelings of the followers of other faiths.
A Sikh should seek the blessings of God in his acts.
The supplication, which requires him to pray for the good of all, is meant to remind him that he should desist from acts which are inconsistent with this prayer. The prayer is meant also to reinforce his will and exert a healthy moral effect on his activity and conduct.
The duty of right belief is thus a great aid in guiding moral actions apart from being a moral duty in itself.
In this code, baptism (Amrit) is another requirement for the Sikhs. It is a provision whereby the person elects to fulfil all the duties enjoined in Sikhism:
It is the affirmation of a voluntary choice by the person, by which the duties become self-imposed on him and not externally imposed. It, thus, signifies freedom associated with self-imposition.
Education for right belief:
The compilers, in order to spread literacy and right belief as embodied in the Ādi Granth, have stressed the learning of Gurmukhi language. According to the formulation, however, the Sikhs should get all other forms of education as well.
(2) Prohibition of the use of narcotics and intoxicants: According to this code a Sikh should not take intoxicants and narcotics, such as, hemp, opium, spirits, tobacco, and like stimulants.
(3) Respect for life and women:
The code requires that the Sikhs should not commit female infanticide and they should also refrain from social relations with the one who commits this immoral act.
Child marriage is prohibited as immoral. Monogamy is normally the ideal. Widow remarriage is permitted.
There are also injunctions against adultery, both by men and women.
Extra-marital relations are declared immoral.
Men are directed to respect women and regard daughters of other men as their own and other men’s wives as their mothers or sisters. It is only such a Sikh who carefully follows this injunction also that is considered to be a moral man.
(4) Right livelihood and helping the needy; According to this formulary a Sikh should earn his livelihood through right and honest means.
A Sikh should also help the needy. He should regard such a help as an act of service to the Guru.
A Sikh should not steal and should not gamble.
(5) Duty of serving others: The third aspect of personal duties covers the injunctions concerning social service.
9. Other organisational duties
Discussion of ethics of the Sikhs would remain incomplete if a reference was not made to the organisational duties which have partly come to distinguish the Sikhism from other traditions.
The compilers explain that a Sikh must live his life as an altruist:
Altruism does not merely mean service in the community kitchen or among the congregation, even though such service is covered by it.
Social service, in order to be wider in scope and more effective, must be processed through an organisation. That service can be described as successful which achieves more with relatively lesser effort. However, this can be possible only through a well-knit organisation.
The organisation of the Sikhs is called panth.
The guru panth, according to this code, consists of all the baptised Sikhs:
This panth has been made the leader of the Sikhs. Thus leadership among the Sikhs has been vested by the Guru in the Sikhs themselves.
We have already referred to baptism in Sikhism, which represents an individual’s acceptance of the duties through self-imposition.
We may now refer to some of the duties enjoined by the code upon the members of the organisation. The duties are laid down in the positive as well as the negative imperatives.
The Sikhs, apart from performing some religious duties, should also wear the following five:
(1) Kesh (unshorn hair)
(2) Kirpan (sword)
(3) Kachera (short breeches)
(4) Kangha (comb) and
(5) kāra (a steel bangle).
These are called the five Ks, as the initial alphabet of all the items is a k.
The code expressly prohibits the committal of the following 4 acts, which may be termed as negative prescriptions:
(1) removing of hair (keś)
(2) eating of (halal) meat prepared by the process of a gradual and painful slaughter of the animal
(3) adultery and
(4) use of tobacco.
The code lays down that in the case of a violation of these imperatives the defaulting person may himself appear before any religious congregation of the Sikhs, seek their award and be re-baptised.
Even if the defaulter be a priest he must present himself before a congregation of the common Sikhs and go through the same process.
Negative injunctions regarding social relations:
The code forbids social relations such as marriage, etc., with the following defaulters:
(1) Certain categories of persons who sought to create schism in Sikhism;
(2) persons who use tobacco; those who commit female infanticide; and those who have removed hair;
(3) the Sikhs who have not been baptised or those who eat with non-baptised ones;
(4) those who dye their hair;
(5) those who sell or buy brides or bridegrooms;
(6) the users of intoxicants and narcotics; and
(7) those who act against the Sikh way of life (gurmat) and are, therefore, defaulters in Sikhism.
The compilation also contains injunctions about the manner of disposal of appeals, the prominent characteristic of which is the democratic approach to such matters.