Do I Have to Be a Sikh to Practice Kundalini Yoga?

Q: Where on the web would I find Sikh devotional hymns? I remembered you mentioned a website but I can’t seem to find it. I have downloaded some music but do you have other info? Do you consider yourself a Sikh? I know you gave up the turban but Kundalini seems bound to Sikhism in a way. I am just curious. Also, most Kundalini yoga teachers I have come across are Sikhs.


A great website is: Sikhnet.com/radio You can listen to Sikh sacred music there 24/7. Let your home resonate with this high vibe music and let Heaven unfold around you.


I (Ravi) have chosen not to identify as a Sikh (although there are yogic reasons for keeping one's head covered, keeping one's hair long, etc.). I have come to feel that being more approachable accords somewhat with the Boddhisattvic ideal of meeting people where they are. Some might call this line of reasoning a cop-out, but I've learned that one can only be what one is. To mandate that someone be something that they don't feel called upon to be, is a form of violence. In Sikhism, there have never been forced conversions. The main sacred site of Sikhism, the Golden Temple, has a door on each side. This symbolizes that as long as one comes with respect, everyone is welcome. It's very important to remember that one doesn't have to feel obligated to be a Sikh to practice or teach Kundalini Yoga.


That said, I deeply resonate with everything about the Sikh tradition. It is the custodial tradition for the style of Kundalini Yoga we have come to know. I have come to believe that from a yogic standpoint, the inner schools of Sikhism represent the apotheosis of yogic evolution. Guru Nanak was a World Teacher, and the Teachings in Sikhism are meant for the world. I also feel that it's imperative that Teachers of Kundalini Yoga cultivate a deep reverence for this tradition and study it, because one can't truly understand Kundalini Yoga unless one understands the historic and Spiritual precedents of the Sikh tradition.


As to whether committing to a "religion" represents a higher or necessary step on the Spiritual Path is a question I haven't completely answered for myself. I have seen that for many, taking on a religious identity can enable spiritual sidestepping rather than real devotion. Of course, there are many people who immerse themselves in a religious path who are absolutely the real deal. As with everything else in this life, each of our "truths" is not a matter of absolutes.


There are many aspects of the various religious traditions that are purely cultural and others that are Spiritual. For instance, having grown up Jewish, I was never that interested in the cultural traditions of Judaism, i.e., bagels and lox, etc. I was interested in core spiritual teachings, but growing up, as was the case for so many fledgling seekers in the 60's, I was never able to find what I was looking for in the context of organized religion.


In many ways, religion represents a sacred stance. The reverence that I have seen Sikh people demonstrate towards their Holy Book, the 10 Gurus in their lineage, and to the music and prayers that the Sikh Gurus wrote or compiled, is awe-inspiring. I have had the opportunity to discuss all of these issues with a tradition holder in an inner school lineage which is very much in alignment with Kundalini Yoga. He believes that when Kundalini Yoga became a cultural staple here and was commoditized and modernized, something essential was lost in translation and as these sacred mantras and practices are taken out of the Sikh temples and practiced in the bendy/trendy context of the American yoga scene, it's extremely disconcerting. (One thing us Western yogis might consider is to cover our head in some way when chanting sacred Sikh mantras.)


He feels that the essence of yogic practice is transmission and that in order for us to be in that flow, we need to be full-on Sikhs. He feels that if we don't become Sikhs in this lifetime, then we will invariably be one in a life to come as a pre-requisite for realization and Liberation. That may have some credence, but I'm not sure I agree. The bottom line: we don't know what we don't know. How many times have we discovered something unexpected and previously unknown to us and all we can say is: who knew? I'm sure that there will be a number of "who knew?" moments for all of us.


Our Sikh friend agrees that the Universe obviously wants us to practice these things because these fast-track methods are the medicine that's needed so that life on earth can remain viable. In times of greatest need, the Universe graciously provides antidotes to suffering, both personal and collective. Part of Guru Nanak's Supreme Revelation was that in the context of life as we know it, what can shift our mind away from suffer-centric tendencies and towards true happiness, not to mention, true Spiritual growth, is immersion in the sound current. It's an acquired taste for many, but when we begin to resonate with the Beautiful Names (Sat Nam...) our crutches and compensations fall away and our positive addiction to the inner nectar of Self eventually illuminates and redeems us.