Friday, January 19, 2018

Pay It Forward: Dasvandh

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.


Foundation Stone of Harmandir Sahib

Sian Mian Mir was a Sufi Muslim saint. He was close friends with Guru Arjan Dev Ji and went on to lay the foundation stone of Harmandir Sahib. The foundation stone was laid on January 13, 1588. This was key to the uniqueness of Harmandir Sahib as a space for all castes, creeds, and religions to be invited. Manvir Singh Ji describes on his blog "This was a symbolic act which demonstrated that a Sikh shouldn't look at a non-Sikh in terms of his/her laws but instead consider their values and value system. Baba Sai Mir Ji and other Sufi mystics close to the Guru Sahibs had the values and value system of Gurmat and Naam." 


Video on Recognizing the Religious Hypocrite

I wanted to share this great video from on recognizing the "religious hypocrite." I think it is especially important during these times, as there are many people setting themselves up as knowledgeable who are causing others to actually stray from their path. Giani Sant Singh Ji Maskeen wrote about how putting a hurdle in someone’s path of religion is to murder their internal life. We do not want to miss out on the great sources of wisdom that we DO have to help guide us on our path. Thinking about this also helps us think about sangat- spending time with people who inspire us, who build our sense of belonging, love and spiritual connection. Gurbani directly describes the signs of a Gurmukh- who is Sant? Who is Brahm Gyani? These are described in Sukhmani Sahib. Until that knowledge is built, here is a video that describes a few things to be aware of:

Monday, January 15, 2018

What is Love?

“Love is such an eye with which the depth of everything, every person, and the Creator can be seen.” Giani Sant Singh Ji Maskeen

Love is universally something we all need and experience in life. Since Sikhism emphasizes living a family life, I think it is important to understand both the spiritual and worldly (physical/mental) aspects of love, just like we understood the Anand Karaj. To understand the gift of union, we must first understand the gift and necessity of solitude and separation. Maskeen Ji explains in his book “Guru Chintan” (Guru’s Meditation) that when we are alone, we find out who we are. The chance to explore the inner self can only occur in solitude. In my personal experience, I have found a huge depth of growth that I never thought was possible in both separation and solitude. As hard as it was, it was also a huge gift because I never would have looked as deeply inside myself and challenged myself to grow. Maskeen Ji elaborates that it is during these times that we see the 5 lurking within us: “Indeed, the real picture of the person comes before him in loneliness and the real figure is full of worry, pain, anger, greed and fear…. Whenever one is alone, then passion (lust), anger, desire and attachment etc. become visible…With whom we have got very deep relation and fondness, he comes to mind again and again. Mendicants consider solitude as the touchstone of love, because with whom we have love, he comes to mind in solitude repeatedly.” In this solitude, we are also reminded of the virtues of others, and it allows us to experience the ultimate joy of connection.

When we look at it from the perspective of separation from God, it is a great gift to actually realize this separation, because it is from there that we grow a longing for union. Maskeen Ji writes, “The tear which comes out due to separation from God, is priceless because God himself is priceless. Often love-sick people let such pure tears come out of their eyes. Dirt of many births is washed away with these tears. Not only momentary suppressed anger but the whole dirt of mental impressions is washed away.” Many shabads talk about this longing for God, and that is why you will see many people crying when they do simran or listen to shabads. These are very special tears. Gurbani says, “I cannot survive without seeing my Beloved. My eyes are welling up with tears” (Ang 94). Maskeen Ji explains that these tears are like the water that allows a garden to grow: “The love of God also requires the water (tears) of the eyes. The fruit of union only then appears if the sapling of love is irrigated with tears…Love-sickness gets converted into continuous remembrance (simran) of God, then remembrance gets upgraded into ‘love.’ On manifestation of love, God, the owner of the world, takes us into His fold” and that is when we merge.

Now that we have explored the process of separation to union with God, let us explore this process in our other relationships. Just like our mind has to match the views of Guru, for simran to be done with affection, it is also necessary for us to have similar thinking to unite a relationship. Similar to my recent posts about vulnerability and expressing emotion, Maskeen Ji writes about how many people feel like strangers in their own homes because they don’t express their feelings, “The present day man does not open his heart before anybody,” and this results in distancing of relationships. Similarity of views is a far away goal if there is simply no honest heartfelt communication! Conflict (kalesh) ultimately comes from our thoughts being different because of the 5 dhoots/thieves and not being able to put those aside. Maskeen Ji gives the examples of how Harnakash tried to kill his son Prehlad and Aurangzeb killed his father and brothers due to dissimilarity of views. He explains that in a marriage, “If one sees god in her husband and the other sees his wife as goddesss, then the home will become the temple of God… Wife should take care of the brain of the husband that he may not start thinking wrongly by any wrong dealing of mine and husband should be careful that wife’s emotions are not hurt. Man generally becomes angry if his emotions get hurt and woman starts weeping if her emotions get hurt…The relationship of wife and husband is the union of emotion and thoughts. And the palace of life can be built only on the foundation of this union.” Because maya is our thoughts, Guru Ji’s guidance is key to that successful union between partners in marriage.   

Maskeen Ji writes that the mind has knowledge of three tastes: “Taste of passion (sex), taste of love, and taste of worship (bhagati). When a body meets another body, the taste formed due to this meeting is called sex. The meeting of two minds gives the taste of love. The union of soul with God produces bliss of devotion.” I think these points are very important to explore in the topic of love versus lust. Maskeen Ji uses the analogy of a sitar (musical instrument) to describe that just like we tune the strings on the sitar, we need to tune the 5 thieves (including lust) within us, rather than removing them. A lot of people try to talk about getting rid of and removing these parts of ourselves when they are normal. He writes, “It is to be remembered that wire is not to be taken out of sitar, but only is to be attuned. Lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride are not to be taken out of this body, these are brought within limits. We can not throw these out, even if we want. When lust (passion) is attuned, then it puts on the garb of modesty and decency and remains within limits. Anger gets converted into bravery. Attachment becomes love and greed changes into contentment. Pride takes the shape of self-respect.” 

Now let us explore the concepts of love and lust. In love there is a necessity for minds to meet in addition to the body. He writes, “Body attracts another body, this attraction is due to which one body remains in search of another body…if the bodies meet, but there is no partnership in views when minds meet, the ecstasy is not there. Those persons are praise worthy who have got bliss in their lives. On forming partnership of minds, one can get sweetness of love, which is superior to sex-love.” In addition to minds meeting, to have love there needs to be devotion and letting go of ego. He explains, “There is pride in sex[ual] enjoyment. The fulfillment of passion is for the fulfillment of pride. There is ‘I’ present but not ‘You’. In love there is a relationship between ‘I’ and ‘You’. Not only ‘I’ but ‘You’ also exists. Such a conception gives birth to love. Where ‘I’ ceases to exist, only ‘You’ remains, there the flavor of devotion springs up.” One of my favorite lines of Gurbani is, “When the difference between myself and others is removed, then wherever I look, I see only You" (Ang 1375). 

When we are at the level of devotion, we see the Creator in His creation when we look at the beauty of another because we love the Creator not just the creation. In the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji it says, “Chacha (letter in the alphabet) He painted the great picture of the world. Forget this picture, and remember the painter. This wondrous painting is now the problem. Forget this picture and focus your consciousness on the painter” (Ang 340). Maskeen JI writes, “Love, when remains within the four walls of the house, is called affection. To a person, engrossed in affection, only his religion and family looks nice. To others he looks askance. But when love transgresses the house and encircles the whole world within it, then such a love is called God. As the sunlight is not separate from the Sun, so love is the manifest form of the creator.”

It is fascinating to see the parallels between spiritual life and physical life and how they intertwine. I can understand now where a lot of conflicts arise in relationships, old or new. We can use the Guru as our guide to match the views of our partner. We've all experienced love but I think it is very interesting to get to see the layering of relationships based on the union of body, mind, then devotion/removal of ego, and seeing the Creator in the creation. In a recent katha I remember Simer Singh ( talked about how if your love is different for different people (brother, mother, friend), then it isn't true love. That true love comes from the final step of seeing the Creator in the creation. Sewa Singh Ji Tarmala also wrote about how true love manifests when we meet each other in Sunn (the home of the mind). I think a lot of people don’t get married knowing the depth of love that is possible because we don’t talk a lot about the depth of spiritual love which is necessary for that to happen. So let's live in a way to build that level of love in all relationships in our life, and let's spread the message. 

“Out of the gifts bestowed by Creator, love is supreme gift. One comes to know on observing that love is present in the whole existence and by and by it appears in every living being.” Giani Sant Singh Ji Maskeen

Guru Chintan by Sant Singh Ji Maskeen available at Sikhbookclub online:

What is Friendship?

Gurbani tells us a lot about friendship. We must ask ourselves who is a friend? Giani Sant Singh Ji Maskeen writes in his English-translated book Guru Chintan (Guru’s Meditation), “A stranger is like a puff of wind for us, came and gone. We remember either a friend or foe…The great men of our country has told us many criteria of friendship, who is helpful in difficulty, with whom secrets can be shared, with whom partnership of views can be established, who should be tearful on seeing our tears, who would join us in our laugh. He is [a] friend, who is helpful at the time of physical, mental and spiritual adversity.” Many of us have used these features throughout our life to find our friends, the sangat that we spend time with.

Beyond that, it is important to check out whether our friendship is based on maya (something that makes us forget God). Bhai Sukha Singh Ji described in his katha that when our relationship is based on maya, that is friendship with a manmukh (someone who uses their own mind instead of following Guru Ji). Gurbani says, “Friendship with the self-willed manmukhs is an alliance with Maya. As we watch, they run away; they never stand firm. As long as they get food and clothing, they stick around. But on that day when they receive nothing, then they start to curse. The self-willed manmukhs are ignorant and blind; they do not know the secrets of the soul. The false bond does not last; it is like stones joined with mud” (Ang 959 Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). This leads us to understand the downfall of such friendships that are based on give and take. Maskeen Ji writes, “Worldly friendship has its limit. On reaching that limit, friendship takes a turn. Therefore it is seen that every friendship takes the shape of enmity in due course. As much as the height, from which a person falls, so much will be the hurt he gets. As much deep will be the friendship, it is seen, so much deep will become the enmity.” This enmity in turn is poisonous.

Rather than enmity, Maskeen Ji gives us the advice of Sufi Saint Hafiz, “You should grow the plant of reconciliation for your peace of mind and uproot the plant of enmity.” How do we plant the reconciliation? Giani Guljar Singh was giving a katha on TV about the 40 Mukhte yesterday and he said that they remind us that it is possible to restore what was once broken and repair relationships. Gurbani says that God is, “The Restorer of what was taken away, the Liberator from captivity, the Formless Lord, the Destroyer of Pain” (Ang 625). The way to prevent enmity is to place our faith and friendship in God: “If the One Lord is my Friend, then all are my friends. If the One Lord is my enemy, then all fight with me” (Ang 957) and “Whoever tells me stories of my Beloved Lord is my Sibling of Destiny, and my friend” (Ang 862).

We are not disappointed when we put our faith in Waheguru. It is our friendship with God that allows us to see people’s virtues and prevents enmity in our minds. It allows us to recognize that the sangat that we spend time with should be those that are inspired to learn and grow on this path, and to spread the love of God rather than love for maya. 

Guru Chintan by Sant Singh Ji Maskeen available at Sikhbookclub online:
Giani Guljar Singh Ji’s website:
Bhai Sukha Singh Ji’s katha

Harmandir Sahib Documentary

I saw this really neat documentary of Harmandir Sahib with my family. There is an English and Punjabi version showing unique footage. I watched the Punjabi version which is a bit longer so I'm not sure if it's exactly the same.

Punjabi version:

English version:

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Do Sikhs Celebrate Lohri?

I just wanted to write a short post about Lohri. Lohri is celebrated the night before Maghi (the beginning of the month of Magh). It not a Sikh festival, rather it is a Punjabi festival and therefore cultural. I think this is important to recognize because it helps us distinguish and understand that people of many religions celebrate Lohri, and not all Sikhs celebrate it.

Lohri celebrates the ending of cold winter months in India and the beginning of longer days. It is celebrated by dancing, singing, and sweets. Children do something similar to trick or treating, going from house to house and are given sweets and money. Over time Lohri became about celebrating the birth of a boy (or marriage of a couple). It has now been recognized that this is unequal and unfair to female children. Basics-of-Sikhi discussed this and made a great point that if we choose to celebrate Lohri, as Sikhs, we need to remember equality and it should be celebrated for both boys and girls. I saw an article stating that Lohri  is being celebrated for girls everywhere from Brampton to Malwa. Furthermore in India they are using this chance to talk about female equality like female feticide and dowry. Sukhbir Kaur Mahal, (a principal) states, “We need to change the mindset and girls are scaling newer heights, even doing better than boys in many respects. The gradual change is for the good, but a better tomorrow for girls needs extensive awareness. A newborn girl child equally deserves Lohri celebrations, a trend confined earlier to the newborn boys alone.”

In summary, Lohri is a cultural, not religious festival that some Sikhs celebrate. As Sikhs we should recognize that a key principle of our religion is gender equality and therefore if it is celebrated, it should be done for children of all genders.