I was incredibly inspired recently when one of the Gurmukhs I had a chance to meet from India shared his story of paying it forward. He took the dasvandh (1/10) of the money that he earned from his work in Canada and he used it to pay for the jaw surgery of a young girl who had been in a car accident. One of the most inspiring parts of this story for me was I knew that he is poor himself, and only has a house made of mud brick (a kutcha house), yet he continues to give generously to others.
Dasvandh is part of Vand Shakna (sharing what you earn), one of the pillars of Sikhism. Going back to Guru Amar Das Ji’s time, he asked Sikhs to bring a part of their crops and earnings for langar. During Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s time, Prithi Chand’s dishonesty resulted in a shortage of money for the langar. Guru Arjan Dev Ji then formalized and started Dasvandh. Each Sikh would donate 1/10 of their earnings towards the common pool which would then by distributed by Guru Ji towards projects like the langar, constructing buildings, providing medicine and clothing to the poor, etc. At that time Masands collected the offerings and presented them to the Sikhs. They kept the accounts in writings and explained them to Guru Ji. Unfortunately the Masands system became corrupt and this was discontinued by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Instead, Sikhs would deposit the funds to the Guru’s house themselves. Today, our dasvandh can go towards giving to charity, directly serving those in need such as buying clothes, paying for someone’s education/tuition, projects inside or outside the Gurdwara, etc. Dasvandh is not just practiced in money- for example 1/10 in time is 2.5 hours out of the day, which are practiced towards prayer. Dasvandh is important in that we recognize that our income comes from God, and therefore, we are giving that back to the community. It is important that it is not done in ego, and also that we try to make sure that there is accountability as to where our dasvandh is going.
I think more broadly in terms of Vand Shakna, paying it forward is not just about money. My dad often talks about the individuals and families that helped him get to where he is because of the support they provided when he came to Canada. Similarly, I can look back at my life and identify many individuals who were vital and key in my story and who I am today. This is why I think it is so important to pay it forward. “Paying it forward” means passing on that kindness we receive to another person. It can be, for example, passing on the values that we were raised with to our children.
In success, I think sometimes people forget how they got there. There is pride and ego that gets in the way. I think that it is important for us to remember the roots from which we grew. We received guidance and help from someone, and we should do the same for someone else. Often times parents don’t know how to guide children for college, university or career paths and it is helpful if you can provide as much help as possible. The success of others means success for our whole community. Recently I heard Giani Guljar Singh Ji saying in one of his kathas that one of the greatest things that you can give is to at least be a role model and live a life that inspires others. That is a huge act. To live by Gurbani, to try to be the best version of yourself and to allow others to be a part of your growth and learning is to be a role model. We can all do it.
We have a lot of opportunities, daily, we just have to keep our eyes open. They are moments to extend compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and to give generously with all our hearts. Volunteer. Say a prayer for someone. Hold space for them in the hard moments. Pay it forward.