As I stood before the Panj Pyare, they told me: “If you take Amrit, (1) You cannot remove your hair in any way. (2) You cannot smoke, take drugs, or drink alcohol. (3) Unless you have a husband, you must treat a man as either you father, brother, or son. (4) You cannot eat meat that is prepared in a way that the animal suffers.
For someone like me who was born into this lifestyle, I could have gone through life without shifting a single behaviour and still not have disobeyed those instructions. This stagnation makes me uncomfortable… because if being a Sikh means To Seek, then maybe the way I internalise the kurehat cannot remain locked in the past. My understanding of Baani is maturing, my appreciation of Kakaar is growing, my practice of Rehat is evolving, so why not that of the kurehat?
I wonder if we have gotten so stuck at the strict list of don’ts, that we have not looked further to ask of ourselves: what is Guru Gobind Singh really asking of us? What is happening in our world today that we can turn to these 4 kurehat for wisdom?
I'm now trying to reconnect with the kurehat not merely as puritanical abstinences, rather as sources of constant self-reflection, discomfort, and subsequent growth. The kurehat are, in a way, inspiring a new personal “rehat” for me.
This is probably a good time to mention that these are just reflections from my personal journey. I am not attempting to replace, rephrase, or rewrite what Guru’s actual instructions were. I am merely pushing myself to become better.
So here goes… my extrapolation of Guru’s hukam from 1699.
(1) My relationship with my BODY
[You cannot remove your hair in any way]
I AM AKAAL MOORAT.
I am sovereign. I choose to not be ruled by ever-shifting standards of beauty, especially the one first popularised by a 1915 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Because the Truth that I’m trying to live by predates magazines. And paper. And trees. And the Big Bang. And that’s where I’d like to take my cues from.
Akaal Moorat. I have been created in the image of the Divine. Before I can see “God” in all, first I need to see It in myself: what I see in the mirror is my first impression of the Divine. If I cannot accept that, then it is something I need to work on. I have been custom-made to best serve my life’s journey and purpose; I cannot think of a more empowering thought.
So there is hair, and then there is everything else. Since I am a physical manifestation of Ek Oangkaar, my conduct needs to reflect that. I need to behave consciously, to dress gracefully, to speak sweetly, to age lovingly. SO. DAMN. HARD.
This kurehat is teaching me about self-love and existing beyond transient and temporal barometers of physical appearance. It is giving me a way to look at myself as an expression of the Divine. With that intimidating ideal to live up to, hair seems like yesterday’s issue. Or maybe 1915s.
(2) My relationship with my MIND
[You cannot smoke, take drugs, or drink alcohol]
I AM PRESENT.
I take responsibility for my thoughts, actions, and decisions. Anything that gives me short-lived injections of comfort, or short-term relief from anxiety, is unreliable. I cannot act in awareness if I’m intoxicated, so I need to protect myself from substances that dull my mind and senses.
So tobacco, drugs, or alcohol are not what’s on my mind… I’m thinking more along the lines of caffeine, chocolate, sugar, and social media. Can I function without these modern day enslavements? What is driving my moods?
Oh… and what about behavioural addictions that might affect my conduct? Can my radiant self really shine when I’m angry? What attachments restrain my ability to be infinite? Is ego intoxicating me and clouding my capacity for compassion? Is gossip and deprecating self-talk dominating my inner dialogue?
I’m unfolding this kurehat from a short list of harmful external substances to understanding all the things that poison me: both the ones that I consume, and the ones I am cultivating within.
The list is so long that I’m going to need some chocolate to help me think. BRB.
(3) My relationship with HUMANKIND
[Unless you have a husband, you must treat a man as either your father, brother, or son]
I AM SACRED… AND SO ARE YOU.
This one is often simplified to a commandment on fidelity, which brings the entire focus to the husband/ wife/ partner relationship. Building conscious relationships is something most devote a lifetime to and there is widespread consensus on the significance of this connection. Nothing for me to add.
But what about that father, brother, or son? Aren’t we also being taught to experience all relationships as sacred? To see every human interaction as divine, to relate to each other as spiritual beings, to engage humankind with dignity, and to connect with people as our own kin.
From being an instruction on how to conduct myself with just one person in my life, this has become an exercise on how to conduct myself with every person in my life.
Maybe it’s easier to just be nicer to my husband, eh?
(4) My relationship with all of CREATION
[You cannot eat meat that is prepared in a way that the animal suffers]
WE ARE ONE.
This one has nothing to do with the Sikh attitude towards meat during the times of the Gurus. This is about pain, and my part in inflicting it today. What am I consuming, where does it come from, and who suffers in the process?
Maybe several hundred years ago, when we hunted for our table, planted our own produce, and honoured the elements as ingredients to our food, maybe then the only cruel form of food production was meat prepared according to certain religious customs.
Not anymore. Ours is now a world of factory farming (an innocent phrase for cruel industrial livestock production), monoculture (replacing the wisdom of permaculture), pesticides (and all the other “cides”), deforestation (cutting trees to make space for growing food for animals that are then killed for culinary delight), water wars (drought in communities where water is diverted for large-scale food production, most of it for livestock), hunger and malnutrition (how twisted is it that the very people who grow our food lose access to it).
The living, breathing world around us is our lifeline, and the way we are living in it is unsustainable.
I used to think that the answer to all of the above was to become a vegetarian (which I already was, so again, I thought I’d aced this one). Then I read about dairy farming, battery cages, corn and soybean patents, plantation slavery, child labour in cocoa harvesting… So I thought… I should go vegan. But then there was all that plastic packaging of dairy-alternatives, cashew damaged fingers, avocado drug cartels, neo-colonisation of the Global South through native food commodification (this list grows every day) – all of which have huge environmental and societal impacts too. On the flipside, there are many communities who hunt and fish sustainably as a way of life, such as islanders and those living in difficult terrains (desert/ snow).
I do not have this one figured out. This conversation extends beyond food into every single thing we buy or consume. I may never live a footprint-free life, but I can still take what I need with mindfulness and with gratitude. And I can make better choices every day.
How unexpected that the kurehat that was the easiest for me, the one I never thought about, has now become the one that’s driving me the most. Because, well… Ek Oangkaar. Everything is interconnected. How apt that Guru Gobind Singh’s hukam takes us right back to the Beginning.
May we remember that our road didn’t end the day we received Amrit, rather it becomes our commitment to rise higher every single day. May it reveal that Amritdharis don’t have it all figured out, and us waving our “perfect-score” rule books at others does not make us better people.
Each of us, all of us, are on a road to somewhere. The only question is: are we still taking steps forward, or are our compliance trophies weighing and slowing us down?
He said: Khalsa Meri Jaan Ki Jaan. So much to do, so much to change, to become worthy of that praise.
Start with something? Start with Ek thing?