The War Against the Body

Golden is the body and pure the swan-soul, if within there is even a particle of the Name.

Our body carries us. Our body holds us. By the unique characteristics of our body, each of us are recognized. Without our body, we could hardly be said to exist. Our sentient body is the vehicle and the medium of our life's experiences.

Gurbani states:

ਗੁਰ ਸੇਵਾ ਤੇ ਭਗਤਿ ਕਮਾਈ ॥
Gur sevā ṯe bẖagaṯ kamā▫ī.

ਤਬ ਇਹ ਮਾਨਸ ਦੇਹੀ ਪਾਈ ॥
Ŧab ih mānas ḏehī pā▫ī.

ਇਸ ਦੇਹੀ ਕਉ ਸਿਮਰਹਿ ਦੇਵ ॥
Is ḏehī ka▫o simrahi ḏev.

ਸੋ ਦੇਹੀ ਭਜੁ ਹਰਿ ਕੀ ਸੇਵ ॥੧॥
So ḏehī bẖaj har kī sev. ||1||

ਭਜਹੁ ਗੋੁਬਿੰਦ ਭੂਲਿ ਮਤ ਜਾਹੁ ॥
भजहु गोबिंद भूलि मत जाहु ॥
Bẖajahu gobinḏ bẖūl maṯ jāhu.

ਮਾਨਸ ਜਨਮ ਕਾ ਏਹੀ ਲਾਹੁ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Mānas janam kā ehī lāhu. ||1|| rahā▫o.   SGGS 1159

By serving the Guru with devotion, this human body is obtained.
Even the angels long for this body, so dedicate yourself
to the service of the Lord.
Dedicate yourself to the Lord of the Earth and leave the errors of your mind.
In this way, you will profit from this human life. SGGS 1159

The body is invaluable and irreplaceable. If even a part of it were lost to accident or disease, a man-made prosthetic would fall far short of the qualities of the God-given body.

The human body as it is, has evolved over millions and millions of years. In a sense, it is the pinnacle, the high point of all creation, for only in the human form can the self be fully realized. As Sikhs, we recognize our body as Akaal Moorat, the flesh and bone incarnation of eternal being because God lives inside.

And yet, if we look around us from this pinnacle, this great height in this Kal Jug, this Age of Delusion, we can see that for thousands of years, people have been engaged in a war against the body.

In most ancient cultures, the shaven head was a mark of humiliation. The person with a shaven head was either a slave or a monk. Even today, Jains monks pluck every hair they can find. Buddhists shave their head hair. Catholic monks shave their faces and clip most of the hair from the top of their heads.

Up to the time of Alexander, the men of Greece proudly kept their beards. When Alexander made the shaving of the beard a condition of men joining his military machine, the philosopher Diogenes would challenge them, "Have you shaved because you are disappointed you were created a man instead of a woman?"

In response to people's attempts at obliterating it, the hair naturally grows back, thicker and stronger than ever. It is Nature's way of saying, "You may think you know what you are doing, but really you need to have this hair." We may never fully understand her, but Nature does not invest her finite energies without some good reason.

Gurbani says:

ਕਬੀਰ ਮਨੁ ਮੂੰਡਿਆ ਨਹੀ ਕੇਸ ਮੁੰਡਾਏ ਕਾਂਇ ॥
Kabīr man mūʼndi▫ā nahī kes mundā▫e kāʼn▫e.

ਜੋ ਕਿਛੁ ਕੀਆ ਸੋ ਮਨ ਕੀਆ ਮੂੰਡਾ ਮੂੰਡੁ ਅਜਾਂਇ ॥੧੦੧॥
Jo kicẖẖ kī▫ā so man kī▫ā mūʼndā mūnd ajāʼn▫e. ||101||  SGGS 1369

Kabir, you have not shaved your mind,
so why have you shaven your head?
Whatever is done, is done in the mind.
Shaving the head is useless. SG 1369

MonksShave.jpg

Middle Eastern religions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam - have also instituted the practice of cutting off the foreskin of an infant's penis. In some Arabic cultures, girls too are "circumcised" - their clitoris removed or vagina stitched partially shut. Islam goes further than other religions in also requiring the removal of the hair from the armpits and genitals.

All of these practices are intended to help keep an individual from "sin." Gurbani offers another perspective:

ਸਭੇ ਵਖਤ ਸਭੇ ਕਰਿ ਵੇਲਾ ॥
Sabẖe vakẖaṯ sabẖe kar velā.

ਖਾਲਕੁ ਯਾਦਿ ਦਿਲੈ ਮਹਿ ਮਉਲਾ
Kẖālak yāḏ ḏilai mėh ma▫ulā.

ਤਸਬੀ ਯਾਦਿ ਕਰਹੁ ਦਸ ਮਰਦਨੁ ਸੁੰਨਤਿ ਸੀਲੁ ਬੰਧਾਨਿ ਬਰਾ ॥੭॥
Ŧasbī yāḏ karahu ḏas marḏan sunaṯ sīl banḏẖān barā. ||7|| SGGS 1084

At every hour of prayer and at every occasion,
remember the creator Lord in your heart.
Let modesty and temperance serve as your circumcision.
SGGS 1084

Many of the body's natural inclinations are under attack through social pressures. Older people undergo hair and skin treatments to appear younger than they are. Younger people dye their hair different colours or have tattoos engraved on their skin in an effort to express their unique personalities. Some make great efforts to keep their upper lips hair-free and their eyebrows plucked. Some men and women have hairs planted into their bald scalps.

Some people do not guard their health, thinking that in extreme circumstances they can always undergo an organ transplant, not knowing the serious side effects of such an operation. Some women have their breasts artificially enlarged not realizing they will likely not be able to breastfeed. Some convince themselves that they are born the wrong gender and undergo extensive surgeries and treatments, not realizing that - for all its wonders - medicine cannot fully render a man a woman, or a woman a man.

Many of these behaviours involve considerable expense and some are risky as well. Moreover, habits that are dictated by fads and fashions are always in flux, as fads and fashions are constantly changing.

Gurbani offers a liberating perspective on the anguishes associated with the body:

ਮਲਾਰ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ॥
Malār mėhlā 1.
Malar 1st Guru.

ਦੁਖੁ ਵੇਛੋੜਾ ਇਕੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਭੂਖ ॥
Ḏukẖ vecẖẖoṛā ik ḏukẖ bẖūkẖ.

ਇਕੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਸਕਤਵਾਰ ਜਮਦੂਤ ॥
Ik ḏukẖ sakaṯvār jamḏūṯ.

ਇਕੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਰੋਗੁ ਲਗੈ ਤਨਿ ਧਾਇ ॥
Ik ḏukẖ rog lagai ṯan ḏẖā▫e.

ਵੈਦ ਨ ਭੋਲੇ ਦਾਰੂ ਲਾਇ ॥੧॥
vaiḏ na bẖole ḏārū lā▫e. ||1||

ਵੈਦ ਨ ਭੋਲੇ ਦਾਰੂ ਲਾਇ ॥
vaiḏ na bẖole ḏārū lā▫e.

ਦਰਦੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਰਹੈ ਸਰੀਰ ॥
Ḏaraḏ hovai ḏukẖ rahai sarīr.

ਐਸਾ ਦਾਰੂ ਲਗੈ ਨ ਬੀਰ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Aisā ḏārū lagai na bīr. ||1|| rahā▫o.

ਖਸਮੁ ਵਿਸਾਰਿ ਕੀਏ ਰਸ ਭੋਗ ॥
Kẖasam visār kī▫e ras bẖog.

ਤਾਂ ਤਨਿ ਉਠਿ ਖਲੋਏ ਰੋਗ ॥
Ŧāʼn ṯan uṯẖ kẖalo▫e rog.

ਮਨ ਅੰਧੇ ਕਉ ਮਿਲੈ ਸਜਾਇ ॥
Man anḏẖe ka▫o milai sajā▫e.

ਵੈਦ ਨ ਭੋਲੇ ਦਾਰੂ ਲਾਇ ॥੨॥
vaiḏ na bẖole ḏārū lā▫e. ||2||

ਚੰਦਨ ਕਾ ਫਲੁ ਚੰਦਨ ਵਾਸੁ ॥
Cẖanḏan kā fal cẖanḏan vās.

ਮਾਣਸ ਕਾ ਫਲੁ ਘਟ ਮਹਿ ਸਾਸੁ ॥
Māṇas kā fal gẖat mėh sās.

ਸਾਸਿ ਗਇਐ ਕਾਇਆ ਢਲਿ ਪਾਇ ॥
Sās ga▫i▫ai kā▫i▫ā dẖal pā▫e.

ਤਾ ਕੈ ਪਾਛੈ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਖਾਇ ॥੩॥
Ŧā kai pācẖẖai ko▫e na kẖā▫e. ||3||

ਕੰਚਨ ਕਾਇਆ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਹੰਸੁ ॥
Kancẖan kā▫i▫ā nirmal hans.

ਜਿਸੁ ਮਹਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨ ਅੰਸੁ ॥
Jis mėh nām niranjan aʼns.

ਦੂਖ ਰੋਗ ਸਭਿ ਗਇਆ ਗਵਾਇ ॥
Ḏūkẖ rog sabẖ ga▫i▫ā gavā▫e.

ਨਾਨਕ ਛੂਟਸਿ ਸਾਚੈ ਨਾਇ ॥੪॥੨॥੭॥
Nānak cẖẖūtas sācẖai nā▫e. ||4||2||7||  SGGS 1256

The agony of separation is my one pain and hunger.
Another torment is my knowledge of the mighty angel of death.
Another anguish is the disease consuming this mortal body.
Doctor, don't give me the wrong medicine.
Doctor, don't give me the wrong medicine.
The aching goes on and the body is racked with pain.
This kind of remedy will not work, my brother.
Pause and reflect.
Forgetting the Master, people delight their tongues,
then their bodies are taken over by disease.
Those of blind understanding receive their just deserts.
Doctor, don't give me the wrong medicine.
The sandalwood is appreciated for its fragrance.
Man is only appreciated so long as he breathes.
Once the breath goes, the body rots.
After that, no one takes any food.
Golden is the body and pure the swan-soul,
if within there is even a particle of the Name.
All pain and disease are finished, O Nanak,
and the mortal is liberated through the True Name.
SG 1256

The Gurmukh, the true Sikh of the Guru, does not allow themself to be stressed by social pressures surrounding their very human body. They realize that all the real issues of life - whether issues of personal virtue or beauty, social acceptance or self-esteem - must first be resolved in the mind. For this, they devote themselves to meditation daily and seek out the company of like-minded Gurmukhs.

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