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A Sikh Perspective on Body, Health and Diet

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This body is the Temple of the Lord, in which the jewel of spiritual wisdom is revealed.

(SGGS 1346)

 

The body is considered the most superior of Guru's creation and it is the ultimate honour to be granted this life form.

 

In the first watch of the night, O my merchant friend, you were cast into the womb, by the Lord's Command. Upside-down, within the womb, you asked to be free, O my merchant friend, and you prayed to your Lord and Master.

(SGGS pg 74)

 

Sikhs are taught that the body is a gift from the creator deep within which all spiritual activity takes place:

 

This human body has been given to you. This is your chance to meet the Lord of the Universe.

(SGGS pg 12)

 

An unpolluted body

 

As part of the daily ritual of looking after the temple, Sikhs must take a bath in the early hours of the morning and meditate.

 

After taking your cleansing bath, remember your God in meditation, and your mind and body shall be free of disease.

(SGGS pg 74)

 

Many young Sikhs struggle to adapt and adopt the rules for the body which is that it must be well taken care of and not polluted. This means the body must be drug- and alcohol-free. Most Sikhs will also have a simple vegetarian diet. The idea was to preserve what is naturally given by Guru and to be aware of what is put into the body.

 

As a child is born with hair on the head, Sikhs are instructed to look after their kesh (uncut hair) too. Therefore you will find that practising Sikhs do not remove or dye their hair, they do not tattoo or pierce the body either, they live a natural lifestyle.

 

The Guru talks to the yogis and questions their bodily rituals in the shabad below:

 

Make contentment your ear-rings, humility your begging bowl, and meditation the ashes you apply to your body.

(SGGS pg 6)

 

The idea is to take care of all the gifts given by Guru and not modify them in anyway for personal preference. There is lots of controversy nowadays both in India and the West over the fact that young people would like to change themselves as they do not 'like' the way they 'look'. I am not really sure whether plastic surgery or having a sex change was around at the time of the Guru or what they would have said about these issues. What is clear however is that Sikhs are invited to decorate and adorn themselves daily and look good but not with things that don't last such as make-up or perfume but with wisdom, contentment and truth:

 

With the body of saffron,
and the tongue of a jewel,
and the breadth of the body
pure fragrant incense;
with the face anointed
at the sixty-eight
holy places of pilgrimage,
and the heart illuminated with wisdom
– with that wisdom,
chant the Praises
of the True Name,
the Treasure of Excellence.

(SGGS pg 17)

 

Guru Nanak's teaching

 

There is a story of the time when Guru Nanak was a young boy and boys in India were invited to partake of a ceremony that marked their entrance into manhood. The pandit was called and, as part of the ceremony, the priest placed a string (janayu) around Guru Nanak's body. Guru Nanak, being the rebel he was, asked the priest to put around him a string of contentment. He questioned the practice asking for a string that would last and not wither away as this piece of cotton, one that would go with him after death.

 

Some sing that He fashions the body, and then again reduces it to dust.

(SGGS pg 6)

 

Without virtue, it is useless; the body shall crumble into a pile of dust.

(SGGS pg 20)

 

By questioning this ceremony that had been practised for hundreds of years, Guru Nanak took a stand about rituals with the body, inviting people to work on issues of virtues and reflecting on developing strengths within:

 

Make this body the field, and plant the seed of good actions. Water it with the Name of the Lord, who holds all the world in His Hands.

(SGGS pg 23)

 

In fact there are more shabads which reinforce the idea that bodily rituals, performing difficult practices, or putting the body through suffering to attain the divine, does not necessarily work on the issues in the mind:

 

The self-willed manmukh performs religious rituals, like the unwanted bride decorating her body.

 

You may torment your body with extremes of self-discipline, practice intensive meditation and hang upside-down, but your ego will not be eliminated from within.

 

One of the most significant parts of Sikhi is to share and help others, it is easier to be involved with seva (selfless service) projects and acts of charity when the body is in its youth. There is more energy as well as dynamic and creative strengths. The Guru challenges the individual and reminds us of the time when we need a stick to walk and glasses to see, as we grow old, we remember the one who gave us the gift of the body but have still not understood why the body gift was given:

 

The head shakes, the feet stagger, and the eyes become dull and weak.

Says Nanak, this is your condition. And even now, you have not savored the sublime essence of the Lord.

(SGGS pg 1428)

 

 

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