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A Path to God


Time, Sep. 14, 1959

A man's search for a faith can be long and arduous, and it can end in unusual vocations, unusual affiliations. Last week Eric Mellor, 28, sometime British soldier, became a full-fledged member of a faith that, beyond its name and warrior tradition, is little known in the West.

A London boy whose parents were killed in the Blitz when he was ten, Eric, had spent his years in the British army and in a variety of civilian jobs, exploring the paths man has made to God. First he tried the Salvation Army but left after two years, 'because they were always criticizing and condemning people who didn't follow their own views.' He became a Roman Catholic, joined the Third Order of St. Dominic and had notions of becoming a priest, but he gave that up because of his disgust at what he termed 'commercialism.' He studied the Baptists, the Anglicans, the Methodists, the Hindus, the Buddhists, and pondered them all while he hitchhiked toward Australia, through Europe and the Middle East, through Pakistan, Burma, Thailand and Malaya. By the time he reached Singapore, Eric Mellor had decided to become a Sikh.

Every Man a Lion

Like Eric Mellor, Nanak, the founder of the Sikhs, who died in 1539, was troubled about religion. From boyhood, in a village near Lahore, he disputed with both Hindus and Moslems. He took to wandering and meditating until at last he arrived at his own synthesis of the two. Among the peasants of the Punjab he had many followers; they were called shish (Sanskrit for disciples) - eventually corrupted to Sikh.

Under the nine great gurus (teachers) who followed Nanak, the Sikhs developed into a monotheistic, militant sect, the symbol of whose God is steel. Each Sikh wears a steel bracelet on his right wrist and carries a sword, lets his hair and beard grow, carries a small comb under his turban and wears short trousers. Sikhs are not supposed to smoke, drink alcohol, must not eat meat prepared in the Semitic fashion, may have no sexual intercourse with Moslems. All Sikhs bear the same last name: Singh, which means 'lion,' and the British lion made crack troops of these tough, turbaned fighting men in the days when India was under the British raj.

Like the Hindus, the Sikhs believe in karma - the influence of present actions on future lives - but without the resigned passivity so often associated with Hinduism. Like the Moslems, they revere a sacred scripture, the Granth Sahib, which is displayed under a canopy in all Sikh temples. Worshipers approach it barefoot, their heads covered; young people receive baptism (pahul) in front of it. Wedding couples walk around it four times, the dying have it read aloud, and when they are cremated, hymns from the Granth are chanted as the flames rise.

Five Sikhs & God

Important decisions are reached by majority vote - a resolution passed by the elected representatives of the Sikh community can even rescind the rules laid down by the revered gurus themselves. As one saying expresses it:

Where there is one Sikh, there is one Sikh.
Where there are two Sikhs, there is an assembly of saints.
Where there are five Sikhs, there is God.

In Singapore last week, just before sailing for Australia, where he plans to study agriculture at Queensland University, Eric Mellor donned shorts, turban and sword and entered the temple to take five sips of holy water and repeat five times in Punjabi, 'The victory is of God.' The Granth Sahib was opened at random; the first letter on the page was H, and Mellor was asked to choose a Punjabi name with this initial. His choice: Harbans, meaning 'a member of God's family.'

'This is a genuine religion with no hypocrisy about it.' said Harbans Singh. 'Once you become a Sikh you are one of them, no matter what color you are or what you were before - something few other religions can claim to practice.' (At Kuala Lumpur, a second young Englishman also became 'one of them' last week: 19-year-old National Serviceman William Broadley, who chose the name Gopal Singh. His only doubt: Will he be able to grow a beard?)