Mystics Magazine: Sikh Mystical Theology: A Conversation with Guru Nanak

Interfaith Friendship: insights from the Sikh tradition
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Humans are all one! Izzat honour calls for special mention, as concern with family status and reputation motivates decisions and behaviour. Family honour is enhanced by professional and financial success and finds expression in lavish hospitality. Friendships both how one conducts oneself and with whom can affect izzat both positively and negatively.

Alliances and factionalism constantly play out in intra-community relations, as illustrated by Sikh politics and the history of many gurdwaras. It would be misleading to overestimate the Sikh-specificity of Sikh understandings of friendship. Necessarily, Sikh approaches to friendship need in a social rather than in a theological context to be seen as part and parcel of South Asian society more generally, and of Punjabi life specifically.

Thus it is true of Sikhs as also of Punjabis who identify with other religions that the family provides one framework for friendship. One effect of living in modern western societies, however, is that Sikhs and others of South Asian background increasingly adopt the mainstream usage.

Guru Nanak's God Realization Prayer

In context the scriptural vocabulary of friendship variously evokes companionship and affection. What is crucial is the direction in which, metaphorically, one is looking.

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For friendship to be spiritually supportive the orientation of all concerned must be Guru-ward and so God-ward. Such persons will live lives of seva selfless service and daya compassion. One example is Bhagat Puran Singh [37] who dedicated his life to caring for destitute and disabled people. Moreover, the Sikh is called to be ever ready to protect the oppressed and vulnerable.

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As military ideology became more prominent from the time of the sixth Guru, Hargobind , so too did the call to be a sant sipahi saint-soldier. My mind and body yearn but my Lover is far away in foreign lands. The Beloved does not come home, I am sighing to death and the lightning strikes fear in me.

I lie alone on my bed, tormented; mother, the pain is like death to me. Without the Divine One, how can there be sleep or hunger? What clothing can soothe the skin? Nanak says, the bride is truly wed When she is embraced by her Beloved. In exploring the Sikh context for inter-religious friendship it is noteworthy too that Sikh history affords examples of categorising some people as inappropriate for the social interactions that enable friendship. Famously, the rahit attributed to Guru Gobind Singh appears aimed at minimising contact between his Khalsa and Muslims.

Moreover, Sikh Rahit Maryada outlaws contact with members of heterodox groups. One can detect a continuity between these codes of discipline and the rahit of one currently active Sikh minority group, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha literally a band of people who sung hymns continuously. Their rahit requires initiated members of the Jatha to eat only food that has been prepared by other initiates and to eat only what has been prepared in and served on iron utensils.

Dating from the time of the first Gurus, langar denotes the free vegetarian meal that is cooked in the gurdwara premises and shared by all who come, sitting together regardless of caste, rank or religious affiliation. In other words, the Guru prioritised the requirement that all those who came for an audience with him must sit down for a shared meal, with no preferential seating or treatment for those of high rank or caste. What is a tradition?

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In this regard words attributed to Guru Nanak can bear divergent interpretations. He emphasised the irrelevance of religiosity and religious labels to attaining mukti moksha , liberation from the cycle of rebirth. At the same time, the history of sikhi has been the ongoing formulation and reformulation of distinctiveness. A history of conflict has characterised Sikh-Muslim relations: fighting with Mughals and Afghans [59] and the death of three Gurus at Muslim hands, were followed by in the inter-communal slaughter, rape and displacement that ensued the Partition of India and Pakistan.

Moreover, while the spiritual basis of the Sikh community is the Guru Granth Sahib, its geographical and architectural heart is the Harmandir Sahib Golden Temple, Amritsar , and this likewise affirms inter-religious friendship. Significantly, its ground plan is described in terms of its openness on all sides to all peoples, and Sikhs relay the tradition that it was the Sufi, Mian Mir, a friend of Guru Arjan Dev see below , who laid the foundation stone.

Artists have painted this picture into the Sikh consciousness as a popular calendar print.

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Later Gurus too had Muslim friends. Dara Shikoh was committed to finding common ground between the Upanishads ancient Sanskrit texts of the Hindus and Islam. What is evident in these friendships is the mutual sympathy of fellow questers for a reality beyond externals and communal divides.

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One also needs to reflect that these friends are individuals of some standing, whether as spiritual master or as royal prince. It is with Bhai Ghanaiya, the battlefield water-carrier, that we encounter the dynamic of human solidarity between less prominent figures in the very different context of the battlefield. During conflict between the army of Guru Gobind Singh and Mughal soldiers his follower, Bhai Ghanaiya, was rebuked and then highly commended by the Guru for giving water to assuage the thirst of the fallen of both sides.

For many, the supreme instance of interfaith friendship was the readiness of the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadar, in , to be executed, thus sparing the Kashmiri pandit s i. Hindus of Brahmin caste from forcible conversion to Islam. This act of ultimate self-sacrifice was acclaimed in the exchange 18 October between Kiran Kaur Rana and Archbishop Rowan Williams. Moreover, as history has repeatedly illustrated, friendship between religiously and culturally related communities can be as problematic as friendships spanning more obvious religious and cultural distances.

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In the early twenty-first century two scholars of Christian background have paid tributes in their autobiographies to Sikhs whose friendship spanned religious boundaries. Certainly the inter-communal bloodshed, as thousands of Muslims on the one hand and Hindus and Sikhs on the other inflicted and suffered painful, humiliating and often deadly acts of violence, was in the mid-twentieth century a frightening challenge to any friendship between them.

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The jivallmukfa becomes perfect in every respect. The endowment supports the appointment of a faculty member in Sikh Studies, helps build the University Library's holdings in Sikhism, provides scholarship assistance to students interested in Sikh religion and culture, and funds annual conferences and lectures directed toward the academic community as well as the general public. Likewise, the light of Naam is flooding our body incessantly. All of these events promote and enculturate the young and novice Sikhs alike. Some religions have chosen the path of abstract philosophy which is beyond the comprehension of ordinary human beings of average understanding and intelligence. Narain Singh. All hymns are written in a prescribed raga musical mode , which should be adhered to in all performance.

However, in the Guru Granth Sahib, there is no suggestion that devotees should distance themselves from others on the basis of communal demarcations. Rather, the Gurus caution against friendship with those who are preoccupied with ego haumai , lost in m?

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There is a widespread suspicion e. Similarly, perceived Christian preoccupation with conversion may on occasion affect Sikh views of friendly gestures from Christian organisations. Christianity was the religion of European colonialism and of the British empire, and Sikh attitudes of distaste for conversion are infused too with admiration and emulation e. The majority of Sikh marriages continue to be between members of the same zat caste despite often-voiced insistence that Sikhism has jettisoned caste.

Recent research shows some friendships, especially between males, crossing caste divides, while inter-caste marriages are only very seldom risked and often result in one or both spouses being cut off by their parents. In line with an increasing emphasis in the social sciences on reflexivity, I have also pondered the ways in which my research changes me and also impacts on those whose community I happen to be exploring. This led me to seek out the experiences of fellow Quaker scholars in Sikh and Hindu studies and to report their narratives, including friendships with Sikhs.

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But I am unaware of a high-profile example of religiously grounded Christian-Sikh friendship to parallel the example of Mohandas Gandhi and Charlie Andrews offered by Rambachan. One concern is the gender imbalance in what I have reported and discussed: all the human Gurus and all the other poets whose work is included in the Guru Granth Sahib were men. While some women played significant historical roles, Sikh women authors only began to emerge in the twentieth century.

All of the instances, cited above, of friendship between Sikh and non-Sikh were friendships between men. In future efforts need to be made to seek out evidence of friendship between women of different faiths. Moreover, ethnographic research could well focus on the reasons for Sikhs of a range of backgrounds and groupings participating or not in the local interfaith and multifaith groups that have formed in the UK and elsewhere.

This is available in several translations. Online it can be consulted at www. Ballard, R. Singh and S. Barnett, J. Cole, W. Mandair, A-P. McLeod, W. Nesbitt, E. Wolffe ed. Morgan and C. Bindra's wife and family matriarch, Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra. The chair was established to promote the academic study of Sikh religion, culture and history.

The endowment supports the appointment of a faculty member in Sikh Studies, helps build the University Library's holdings in Sikhism, provides scholarship assistance to students interested in Sikh religion and culture, and funds annual conferences and lectures directed toward the academic community as well as the general public. Skip to Content. Site Menu. Issue 4 NY, September pp Editor-in-Chief: P.

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