Why do Sikhs cut their nails, when they cannot cut their hair?

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Some people wonder that if cutting hair is acting against the Will of God, then is not cutting nails also acting against the Will of God? The following explanation shows why it is necessary to cut nails.

If man reflects on the workings of his body, he will find that excretion of waste and dead matter from the body is part of its normal functioning. The excretory functions are necessary for the well-being of the body; if they fail, the situation becomes life-threatening.

There are various excretory processes in the body that help excrete waste. When man breathes, he inhales oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide. If the carbon dioxide was not expelled from his body, man would die of carbon dioxide poisoning. Besides the excretion of carbon dioxide, the automatic process of excretion continues through millions of pores in the skin. Waste material comprising various toxic chemicals is exuded through the pores as sweat. Furthermore, through this involuntary process, controlled by the central nervous system, waste is exuded in various forms through the mouth, nose, ears, and eyes, to keep the body clean. It goes without saying that the above processes of expelling waste are absolutely necessary for survival. It is not possible for a person to keep track of, and voluntarily control the above excreting processes. They are, therefore, automatic and beyond one’s direct control.

Waste material is also excreted out of the body by way of urine and feces. But these are not discharged from the body automatically; there is some voluntary muscle control involved. If the waste is not released through the body’s excretory organs, then pain results and infections in the bladder and colon occur. Though man has some voluntary control to excrete urine and excreta from his body at will, he cannot retain them in his body indefinitely. When the waste builds up in the bladder and colon, the biological mechanism in man signals him to voluntarily excrete it. The waste has to be expelled by the system, otherwise various organs such as the bladder and colon may get damaged and infected due to the pressure exerted by the waste material. The general health of the person then slowly deteriorates. Eventually, the physiological system works to force the waste material out of the body; it is biologically necessary to keep the body as clean and free from foreign matter as possible. Therefore, man has only partial voluntary control over the excretion of waste material accumulated in his bladder and colon.

There are other ways to get rid of harmful waste from the body. These are under man’s full control; he uses his external motor organs to remove such waste material from his body. He takes baths to get rid of dirt and sweat from his body. He applies soap and rubs his body. In this process, waste material that has come out of the pores of his skin is washed off; dead skin is scrubbed off, and dead and weak hair fall off. One can notice this residual waste material, particularly hair, in the tub after a bath. Can man refrain indefinitely from taking a bath? Technically, he can because these processes of removing waste material are solely under his control, as against those processes which are automatic or under his partial control. However, it is biologically necessary that dirt and waste material are removed from the body. If this biological necessity is disregarded by man, then obviously, he is going to suffer from many skin diseases and infections. He will live an unhygienic and unhealthy life, detrimentalto his general well-being and to the well-being of those around him.

It has been discussed in the above paragraph that when it comes to removing harmful waste material from the exterior body, it is voluntary on the part of man. This is also true with regards to removing dead hair from the scalp and from the beard. For removing the weak and dead hair from the scalp and beard, man uses a comb or a brush. If man lets the dead hair remain and accumulate, the hair on his scalp will get entangled; dirt and dandruff will collect in the hair, thus, providing a conducive environment for the growth of ticks, lice, and germs. This in turn will cause various skin infections and diseases. It is, therefore, necessary that man keeps his hair cleansed and combed. The important point to be noted here is that man uses an external instrument (comb or brush) for removing the dead hair from his scalp and beard.

As is the case with removing dead hair, so is the case with removing the dead part of the nails. According to the principle of biological necessity, anything which is harmful, waste, or dead must be removed from the body. A little reflection will show that keeping the dead part of the nail is unhygienic and harmful to oneself, just as is letting dead hair remain in one’s hair on the scalp. In addition to being harmful to one’s own health, long nails can cause injury to others and can spread diseases.

Another reason which necessitates cutting nails is that of functional necessity; people with long nails cannot efficiently perform general day-to-day functions with their hands. How can a person with long nails pick up objects, type, do up their buttons, wash their hair, or even write with the same ease and efficiency as a person having short nails? There are hundreds of jobs such as gardening, farming, plumbing, carpentry, electrical fitting, automobile repair, nursing, dentistry, and surgery, which cannot be performed with any efficiency by those who have long nails.

Yet another reason which necessitates cutting nails is that long nails can cause injury to oneself during activities such as bathing, playing, and cooking. Those with long nails can also cause injury to children while caring, nursing, feeding, and cleaning them. Keeping long nails is very dangerous for the health as the dirt collected under them can be the source of spreading various contagious diseases as well as food poisoning. While cooking or eating food, the dirt can pass into it, and the food may become contaminated. This is why health inspectors inspect restaurants and check those dealing with food to ensure they are hygienic and that their nails are cut and clean; they also check that their head is kept covered so that hair does not fall in the food. Imagine a person with long nails having worked with garbage and dirt, having scratched his body where there was an infection, or having just come out of the washroom; all the dirt that he has dealt with will stick under his long nails and pass into the food.

In any case, why do people want long nails? Nails are an obstacle in day to day functioning. For hygienic and functional reasons, it is necessary that people cut their nails; only the dead part of the nails needs to be cut, not the whole nails. Just as dead hair is removed with a comb, the dead part of nails, which grow beyond the finger, should be cut with a nail cutter. The nail cutter is as much an external instrument as the comb. It is only a different instrument for the purpose of eliminating the dead, harmful part from the body.

From the foregoing reflections, one can conclude that it is necessary to cut nails. The necessity to cut nails arises from hygienic and functional reasons. Long nails can cause injury and spread diseases. They are an interference in the performance of day-to-day chores as well as daily work done to earn a living. With regards to hair, there is no such injury to anyone. Hair neither causes one nor preads diseases. They do not interfere in the performance of daily chores or work life. In fact, they protect man’s most important organ, the brain, which is housed in the skull. However, in the case of hair, just as in the case of nails, dead hair is removed. The only difference is that dead hair is removed with a comb and dead nails with a nail cutter.

Thus, at the core of the above discussion lies the principle of necessity. It is for the individual to reflect on the necessity of cutting hair, plucking eyebrows, or shaving the beard and legs. A little reflection will reveal that there is no necessity in cutting or shaving hair, but
there is a necessity in cutting nails.

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One Response to “Why do Sikhs cut their nails, when they cannot cut their hair?”

  1. Ben Lund says:

    I’m sure my reluctance to stop cutting body hair is common among westerners. As an octogenarian living in a family situation, I’m sure all those around me would conclude that regardless of my very good state of physical health and wellbeing, I had been cursed with some form of dementia. My being a strict vegetarian already sets me aside to some extent. I try to excercise the old Serenity Prayer, which goes; ‘God grant me the serenity-to accept the things I cannot change– courage the change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference’

    Yesterday I did some volunteer work with a band of good people [nature lovers generally ]. I had a dreadful morning as I watched my fellow gardeners kill every living this that moved along the creek we were cleaning. When one individual went to his vehicle and returned with a knapsack spray outfit to attack the several ant colonies, I found it too much, made my excuses and fled home.
    Loveto all.

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