Words of Wisdom

The elections are over, but even after the last card has been punched and the last absentee ballot counted, the political fervor that they ignited is still alive. While the country took two steps forward on its march towards complete civil rights by electing its first African American president , it took a step back by taking away the rights of particular individuals. California’s Prop. 8 received national attention (no surprise with more than $70 million in campaign spending). The proposition reversed a ruling from the California Supreme Court, which earlier this year declared that banning same-sex marriages was discriminatory. Prop. 8 – which passed albeit by a hair – will for the time being change the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

People feel really passionate about this topic. Really really passionate. What interests me the most, however, are the arguments for and against same-sex marriages and particularly what it does or does not say in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib about this topic. People are actually using words from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib to make their point – and I’m not sure that’s legit. In fact, I’ve been following a heated discussion on a certain social networking site where young Sikh individuals have been going back and forth about what voting for or against Prop. 8 means. The most common argument against same-sex marriages is that in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib it states that marriage is the union of two souls, husband and wife, man and woman, male and female. The other side of the argument is that Sikhi advocates equal rights for all and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib does not specifically make any comment on same-sex marriages. However, there seems to be a lot of ambiguity as to what is actually said. One reference states,

[The Sri Guru Granth Sahib] is seemingly silent on the subject of homosexuality; however, married life is encouraged time and time again in Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Whenever marriage is mentioned, it is always in reference to a man and a woman. Some Sikhs believe that Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the complete guide to life, and if a marriage between two of the same sexes is not mentioned, it is therefore not right. The counterargument to this is that man and woman are only mentioned in this way to give light to the relationship of the soul and the soul force as being one. This denies gender and sex as an issue. Thus, Sikhism is more concerned with ones attainment of enlightenment rather than habitual desires such as sexuality. True love is attained through the Guru and no man speaks on behalf of the Guru as the Granth is open to interpretation and misrepresentation. [Link]

Another commentary on this refers to the words used in the Lavaan, or the Sikh marriage vows,

The four verses of the Lavaan are non-gender specific. The only references made to gender are of the two human souls of the people entering the marriage as being the bride and God as being the bridegroom. The use of gender within the Lavaan is metaphorical. [Link]

My point in posting about this is that I strongly believe that we should look to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib for wisdom. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib is our Living Guru and answers to many of the questions we ask can befound (both directly and indirectly) by reading it. So how do we make decisions when the Guru Granth Sahib doesn’t specifically comment on certain issues (such as homosexuality and same-sex marriages)? In the above quote it states that the “Granth is open to interpretation and misrepresentation,” which I think is an essential aspect of formulating our views on certain subjects because often times, a few people speak on behalf of the collective.

One last thing…. the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is timeless. The teachings contained within these timeless scriptures should set the very foundation that each of our principles (both personal and civic) are based upon. Yes, for a Sikh to contradict the message of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is completely oxymoronic. However, we should be wary of the way that we extract such lessons, especially those that are easily taken out of context. For example, one might read a shabad and say that since the relationship between mortal and Immortal is likened to the relationship between a man and woman, respectively, then Sikhi must be advocating that a man is more than a woman. Au contraire. The more careful student would recognize the context in which the Sri Guru Granth Sahib was written and interpret the lessons for what they are – ones of spiritual enlightenment that draw upon the unruly environment during which they were composed. The analogies within the Guru Granth Sahib are to assist our ascent from the wordly, not vice-versa.


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21 Responses to “Words of Wisdom”

  1. Publius says:

    Whether same-sex marriage is either contemplated or condoned by the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a very interesting question. It appears to me that those opposing same-sex marriage would have the stronger textual argument. To my knowledge there are several references in the Adi Granth to a father and mother that are gender-specific and thus would not seem to admit of a same-sex parental relationship. For example, "Tu Mera Pita Tu Mera Mata," and "Puta Mata Ki Asis." Given these references, the absence of language specifically mentioning a same-sex relationship is particularly damaging to those looking at the text of the Adi Granth for support of same-sex marriage.

  2. Publius says:

    Whether same-sex marriage is either contemplated or condoned by the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a very interesting question. It appears to me that those opposing same-sex marriage would have the stronger textual argument. To my knowledge there are several references in the Adi Granth to a father and mother that are gender-specific and thus would not seem to admit of a same-sex parental relationship. For example, “Tu Mera Pita Tu Mera Mata,” and “Puta Mata Ki Asis.” Given these references, the absence of language specifically mentioning a same-sex relationship is particularly damaging to those looking at the text of the Adi Granth for support of same-sex marriage.

  3. The right or positive ways of living always preached versus the named individualistic, sadistic or negative style of living anytime and anywhere without hurting third party and each other could always not be unacceptable, might be said unprogressive and non-developing in the modern or idealistic world and such ways are not denied or out rightly condemned in Sri Guru Granth Sahib rather discussed for balancing humanly living as there are five vices (habitual desires) outlined in the Guru Granth Sahib that one should try to control.. Sometimes, the same people realized that the sorrowful songs and actions and the joyful are equally entertaining for them. The individuals and the intellectuals, in the context, are free to interpret the Sri Guru Granth Sahib to make their point on the subject of marriage either way. But when the concept or institution of marriage is to be literally glorified, it has to be done as the union of two souls, husband and wife, man and woman, male and female, the most natural recognized model of marriage in the world as well as by the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The marriage is like interpreting the Words of Wisdom and Foolishness differently according to the suitability of individuals and the intellectuals. Submission by Balbir Singh Sooch; http://www.sikhvicharmanch.com

  4. The right or positive ways of living always preached versus the named individualistic, sadistic or negative style of living anytime and anywhere without hurting third party and each other could always not be unacceptable, might be said unprogressive and non-developing in the modern or idealistic world and such ways are not denied or out rightly condemned in Sri Guru Granth Sahib rather discussed for balancing humanly living as there are five vices (habitual desires) outlined in the Guru Granth Sahib that one should try to control.. Sometimes, the same people realized that the sorrowful songs and actions and the joyful are equally entertaining for them. The individuals and the intellectuals, in the context, are free to interpret the Sri Guru Granth Sahib to make their point on the subject of marriage either way. But when the concept or institution of marriage is to be literally glorified, it has to be done as the union of two souls, husband and wife, man and woman, male and female, the most natural recognized model of marriage in the world as well as by the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The marriage is like interpreting the Words of Wisdom and Foolishness differently according to the suitability of individuals and the intellectuals. Submission by Balbir Singh Sooch; http://www.sikhvicharmanch.com

  5. sonny says:

    anyone interested in taking action against california's proposition 8 and institutionalized homophobia should check out: http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com/ to see what's going on in your area. there's a protest tonight in nyc at

    125 Columbus Avenue at 65th Street (Map)

    Wednesday, November 12

    6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

    and another at City Hall this Saturday at 1:30pm.

    it is our responsibility as the khalsa to stand up against all forms of injustice and tyranny.

  6. sonny says:

    anyone interested in taking action against california’s proposition 8 and institutionalized homophobia should check out: http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com/ to see what’s going on in your area. there’s a protest tonight in nyc at
    125 Columbus Avenue at 65th Street (Map)
    Wednesday, November 12
    6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
    and another at City Hall this Saturday at 1:30pm.

    it is our responsibility as the khalsa to stand up against all forms of injustice and tyranny.

  7. Mewa Singh says:

    I think the attempt for a Sikh equivalent of some sort of 'theological law' as we find in Christian and Islamic history, seems to be a misplaced endeavor.

    For me, personally, I do have a "why deny others approach." If we want to have the conversation of Same-Sex marriage in the Gurdwara, then let us have it. However, the state should not interfere in this matter. Let us not conflate the Gurdwara/Church/Mosque with the State. The state is a completely separate matter and should not make these sort of distinctions amongst its citizenry. Proposition 8 is a separate matter than what occurs in our Gurdwaras.

    I think my opinion is best reflected by the words of Keith Olbermann in his commentary last night.

    "I am not personal vested this, yet this vote is horrible. Horrible… This is about the human heart." After going through the history of marriage in the United States, and reminding viewers not only that marriage between black and white people used to be illegal in 1/3 of the country, but illegal between slaves, he made a plea for love and the spread of happiness.

    "The world is barren enough… with so much hate in the world, so much meaningless division… this is what your religion tells you to do?… this is what your heart tells you to do?… You are asked to stand now on a question of love."

  8. Mewa Singh says:

    I think the attempt for a Sikh equivalent of some sort of ‘theological law’ as we find in Christian and Islamic history, seems to be a misplaced endeavor.

    For me, personally, I do have a “why deny others approach.” If we want to have the conversation of Same-Sex marriage in the Gurdwara, then let us have it. However, the state should not interfere in this matter. Let us not conflate the Gurdwara/Church/Mosque with the State. The state is a completely separate matter and should not make these sort of distinctions amongst its citizenry. Proposition 8 is a separate matter than what occurs in our Gurdwaras.

    I think my opinion is best reflected by the words of Keith Olbermann in his commentary last night.

    “I am not personal vested this, yet this vote is horrible. Horrible… This is about the human heart.” After going through the history of marriage in the United States, and reminding viewers not only that marriage between black and white people used to be illegal in 1/3 of the country, but illegal between slaves, he made a plea for love and the spread of happiness.

    “The world is barren enough… with so much hate in the world, so much meaningless division… this is what your religion tells you to do?… this is what your heart tells you to do?… You are asked to stand now on a question of love.”

  9. Publius says:

    I think the attempt for a Sikh equivalent of some sort of ‘theological law’ as we find in Christian and Islamic history, seems to be a misplaced endeavor.

    I don't seem to follow — it's a misplaced endeavor to try to extract from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji rules by which Sikhs are to live and behave in society?

    If we want to have the conversation of Same-Sex marriage in the Gurdwara, then let us have it.

    Is there some tension between the first-quoted statement — that we shouldn't try to fashion from the Adi Granth some identifiable norms — and the second — that we should discuss in Gurdwaras whether one of those rules is that two Sikhs of the same sex cannot marry?

    These questions have nothing to do with the relationship between the State and religion, or about Prop 8 in particular.

  10. Publius says:

    I think the attempt for a Sikh equivalent of some sort of theological law as we find in Christian and Islamic history, seems to be a misplaced endeavor.

    I don’t seem to follow — it’s a misplaced endeavor to try to extract from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji rules by which Sikhs are to live and behave in society?

    If we want to have the conversation of Same-Sex marriage in the Gurdwara, then let us have it.

    Is there some tension between the first-quoted statement — that we shouldn’t try to fashion from the Adi Granth some identifiable norms — and the second — that we should discuss in Gurdwaras whether one of those rules is that two Sikhs of the same sex cannot marry?

    These questions have nothing to do with the relationship between the State and religion, or about Prop 8 in particular.

  11. Blue says:

    I think the point the above commenter is trying to make is…

    The state, whether according to the American constitution or even Sikh political traditions, should guarantee equal rights to all citizens and this includes a marriage license. A marriage license should not be denied to people based solely on whether they are homosexual or heterosexual.

    At the same time, churches, mosques, mandirs, gurdwaras, etc. should be protected from any and all legal action if they refuse to conduct homosexual marriages. It should be the right of any homosexual couple to be legally married, but it should also be the right of any faith group to decline conducting the marriage ceremony of a homosexual couple in their place of worship.

  12. Blue says:

    I think the point the above commenter is trying to make is…

    The state, whether according to the American constitution or even Sikh political traditions, should guarantee equal rights to all citizens and this includes a marriage license. A marriage license should not be denied to people based solely on whether they are homosexual or heterosexual.

    At the same time, churches, mosques, mandirs, gurdwaras, etc. should be protected from any and all legal action if they refuse to conduct homosexual marriages. It should be the right of any homosexual couple to be legally married, but it should also be the right of any faith group to decline conducting the marriage ceremony of a homosexual couple in their place of worship.

  13. Mewa Singh says:

    Publius,

    I don’t see a tension, but maybe we can open up the discussion some more.

    I think that it is highly problematic to find ‘rules/laws’ and ‘dos/donts’ in the Guru Granth Sahib [a blogger on TLH once wrote on this same issue].

    The Guru Granth Sahib gives us siddanth or principles that are Akaal or timeless. Law is the creation of man/woman and just as man/woman is mortal and finite, so will be his/her laws.

    However, the Gurus in their infinite wisdom did not bequeath us anything even remotely similar to shari’a or did not designate an office or a position as a principle adjudicator in such matters, as later Roman Catholic ideology developed around a pope.

    Guruship was bequeathed to the Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru Khalsa Panth (and not to a Jathedar as some Sikhs mistakenly believe as well).

    We can have these conversations on same-sex marriage in our local sangats and come up with some collective decisions on protocols and procedures that we want/don’t want in our Gurdwara. (We can also revisit these same decisions later and change them if we so desire). This is for local sangats to empower themselves [and I do emphasize sangat, not parbhandak committees].

    Even in the Sikh Rehit Maryada, it explicitly states that local sangats can pass mattas. However, no one should think that these mattas are somehow timeless laws.

    Now moving to the issue of Proposition 8 and how Sundari opened up this discussion, this COMPLETELY has to do with the state. This proposition is seeking to make an amendment into the STATE constitution.

    I hope this clarifies some of my statements and positions.

  14. Mewa Singh says:

    Publius,

    I don't see a tension, but maybe we can open up the discussion some more.

    I think that it is highly problematic to find 'rules/laws' and 'dos/donts' in the Guru Granth Sahib [a blogger on TLH once wrote on this same issue].

    The Guru Granth Sahib gives us siddanth or principles that are Akaal or timeless. Law is the creation of man/woman and just as man/woman is mortal and finite, so will be his/her laws.

    However, the Gurus in their infinite wisdom did not bequeath us anything even remotely similar to shari'a or did not designate an office or a position as a principle adjudicator in such matters, as later Roman Catholic ideology developed around a pope.

    Guruship was bequeathed to the Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru Khalsa Panth (and not to a Jathedar as some Sikhs mistakenly believe as well).

    We can have these conversations on same-sex marriage in our local sangats and come up with some collective decisions on protocols and procedures that we want/don't want in our Gurdwara. (We can also revisit these same decisions later and change them if we so desire). This is for local sangats to empower themselves [and I do emphasize sangat, not parbhandak committees].

    Even in the Sikh Rehit Maryada, it explicitly states that local sangats can pass mattas. However, no one should think that these mattas are somehow timeless laws.

    Now moving to the issue of Proposition 8 and how Sundari opened up this discussion, this COMPLETELY has to do with the state. This proposition is seeking to make an amendment into the STATE constitution.

    I hope this clarifies some of my statements and positions.

  15. Mewa Singh says:

    Blue,

    You explained it much better than I did!

    Thanks!

  16. Mewa Singh says:

    Blue,

    You explained it much better than I did!
    Thanks!

  17. Phulkari says:

    Mewa Singh,

    You write:

    Now moving to the issue of Proposition 8 and how Sundari opened up this discussion, this COMPLETELY has to do with the state. This proposition is seeking to make an amendment into the STATE constitution.

    For clarification, are you saying that religion should not even be brought up in this discussion about Proposition 8 because of the separation of church and state?

  18. Phulkari says:

    Mewa Singh,

    You write:

    Now moving to the issue of Proposition 8 and how Sundari opened up this discussion, this COMPLETELY has to do with the state. This proposition is seeking to make an amendment into the STATE constitution.

    For clarification, are you saying that religion should not even be brought up in this discussion about Proposition 8 because of the separation of church and state?

  19. Mewa Singh says:

    Phulkari,

    Now I have a feeling my point may not be made well in this comment, but bear with me.

    The problem with this issue is that the State has incorporated religious vocabulary (i.e. the word 'marriage' has a religious connotation) into it (thanks Reema) and this is why people have a difficulty understanding this issue. However if we focus on the STATE'S role it becomes much easier to understand.

    Proposition 8 is about how the STATE views its citizenry. The STATE MUST NOT discriminate against its own citizenry. It has to treat all citizens equally.

    Now whether individual Sikhs as part of a sangat want to allow/disallow same-sex marriages in their Gurdwaras, well than that is a conversation we should have in our sangats or here in The Langar Hall.

    Having a conversation where we entertain STATE discrimination seems to me largely problematic.

  20. Mewa Singh says:

    Phulkari,

    Now I have a feeling my point may not be made well in this comment, but bear with me.

    The problem with this issue is that the State has incorporated religious vocabulary (i.e. the word ‘marriage’ has a religious connotation) into it (thanks Reema) and this is why people have a difficulty understanding this issue. However if we focus on the STATE’S role it becomes much easier to understand.

    Proposition 8 is about how the STATE views its citizenry. The STATE MUST NOT discriminate against its own citizenry. It has to treat all citizens equally.

    Now whether individual Sikhs as part of a sangat want to allow/disallow same-sex marriages in their Gurdwaras, well than that is a conversation we should have in our sangats or here in The Langar Hall.

    Having a conversation where we entertain STATE discrimination seems to me largely problematic.

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