Over the years I have observed some characteristics that some Sikhs have taken on regarding an effort to reduce ego/pride. As Sikhs we are taught to not get attached to the five "challenges" of Lust, Anger, Greed, Pride and Attachment. In an effort to prevent these feelings I have seen some practices by Sikhs which I think are unnecessary.
The first routine is the overly humble guise. It goes something like this: "I am just a lowly sinner…" , "I am the dust of the dust of the dirt"… "I am a das of the das", "I know nothing…", etc. Most of the time when I hear this type of thing from people it feels just like a cover to try to negate any ego. In reality for most people it feels like a false routine to portray ones self as humble. I know in Gurbani Guru Nanak and other Gurus have used similar words as this…but this was our Gurus expression. It’s one thing if you say this to yourself as an internal thing in your mind…..but to say it to other people is very different. It’s as if you have to say it out loud to prove, or make sure that people know you are humble. It’s sort of a false humbleness. If you are humble people will see it in your actions, words, and in your presence (not by words and statements about your humbleness).
There is the "Please forgive me" Maafi routine ("Bhul Chuk Maaf) – That one starts out apologizing and then getting really heavy. As if by apologizing it makes everything that is said ok.
There is the "I know nothing" routine – Someone gives a lecture for two hours and then ends with something like "I know nothing and am just a servant of you all."
Another routine is the "anonymous sevadhar". This is by far the most common I have seen these days. I think many Sikhs have been taught that in order to prevent ego from coming into your mind that you should remain hidden and unknown when doing seva. While this might work and be great in some situations, I think quite often this is taken to extremes for everything.
Bana, Clothing, jewelry, etc – This is another one where people think that if you are wearing bana that you are showing off and trying to look holy. So they say you should wear very simple clothes that don’t stand out. This routine also relates to jewelry and people feel that by wearing jewelry that you are getting caught up maya. We all talk about being Khalsa Raj, Kings, Queens, princes and princesses. So…are we paupers or are we kings/queens? This is another case of trying to shelter ourselves from feeling ego/pride/etc.
The point of all this is more about finding a balance. As Sikhs we are householders that live in this world. We are not sadhus hiding up in the mountains to escape from all the Maya. Trying to shelter or protect one self from feeling these things is not the answer (in my opinion). We as Sikhs should deal with it head on. God gave us a mind and intellect to feel these things and to be able to deal with them. Beating around the bush trying to hide from it can only work for so long. When you have a feeling of pride/ego/lust/etc….you have a choice. You can dwell or act on it…or you can be conscious of this feeling and "cut" it and change the direction of your thoughts. I think the problem is when you are not conscious of these feelings.
Being a Leader and Examples for others to Follow
Another thing in relation to "anonymous seva" is that there is a need for leadership and good examples for everyone around us. It is a good thing to have role models and be able to see people who are doing good things for the community. If all these people are "hiding out" they might not be available to share and help inspire others to do the same. I think it is great to be out there and help others in a public way. I deal with this all the time being the so called "Mr. SikhNet". Lots of people know me, and I serve and share very publicly. Am I full of ego and pride? I don’t think so. The service isn’t about me…it’s about being of service and helping others. It’s just a medium. It’s not to say I never feel pride or ego, but I watch my mind and catch it if it tries to go astray. It’s just part of the territory. I choose to face these things head on. Some people do this and may fall victim, but this is just part of life and learning. We learn by overcoming these challenges and controlling our mind, not by hiding out.
There is something good about being very personal with people, being honest, and sharing who I am. Having nothing to hide makes one also more conscious of things that they do and say, because you have to take responsibility for everything, which isn’t always easy. On the internet lots of people (Sikhs included) choose to hide behind anonymous names and say/do things that they would never do publicly as "themself". There is a certain character I think in being you, and taking responsibility (good and bad) for your actions and words.
Hopefully all this makes you think about these topics and become more conscious about how you deal with it in the future.
Here is a short video by SSS Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji during some question and answer session with Sikh Youth in Surrey, Canada (March 19th 1996) on the topic of Humbleness and Jewelry.
You can also watch a video with Guruka Singh on the similar topic of "The Five Challenges". In this video Guruka Singh shares his thoughts on this and gives suggestions as to how to deal with these feelings.