Thursday, March 25, 2010

Another Sikhi Story

The Journey towards Sikhi

Author: Dorian Gordan-Bates

Although I was not born into a Sikh family (or even an Indian one) I grew up listening to stories from ancient Hindu epics such as the Ramayan, and stories about the legendary bravery of the greatest warriors ever, the Nihang lions of the Punjab. My mother is French and my father is English, and I have been living in France most of my life. My father’s ancestors were in India during the days of the Raaj, and my great great grandfather, who was a soldier, fought in the Anglo-Pathan wars. After leaving the army, he got married to a Punjabi girl called Amrita. My ancestors have therefore had a direct relationship to Sikhi, and perhaps this is how I discovered it.

In the 1980’s, my parents lived in New Delhi for five or six years. In 1984, my father (who was a journalist at the time) was sent to the Punjab to write about the infamous Operation Blue Star. I have been told about the massacre of the Sikhs that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination, and this has profoundly touched me as a child. How could such peace loving people, who had always been willing to lay down their life for justice, be targeted as terrorists and treated in such a horrendous way?

I also could not understand why Sikhs were portrayed as comedians in almost all Hindi films, and so many jokes were told about them. Why are they shown so much disrespect? The reason for this, is that they do not dress or act like other people. They are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in, to wear their turban with pride and dignity, and to live according to their own standards, not to blindly follow vane fashions and trends like most people in this superficial world that we live in. A true Sikh concentrates on pleasing God and serving mankind, and not on his or her physical appearance and selfish desires. For me, Sikhs are a beacon of hope in this world of materialism and godlessness.

The exemplary lifestyle of Sikhs has always inspired me, and although I have not started wearing the 5 K’s (which I hope to one day, with Guru’s grace) I try to adopt as many aspects of Sikhi into my life, such as Naam Simran, Japji. Although I have never touched alcohol or tobacco in my whole life (who knows, perhaps this was a sign?), but I try to give up eating meat and other bad habits. I keep a beard, but leaving my hair uncut is still a challenge which will take some time to overcome. I guess I am still afraid of being different.

It is amazing that despite being the world’s youngest religion, Sikh history is so rich and contains so many great heroes and martyrs compared to other faiths. Reading about these saints has changed my life, because through their amazing sacrifices, I have discovered the strength and power of faith. When I am in trouble or in a difficult situation and I feel afraid or tempted to abandon, I try to remember the great heroes of Sikhi such as Baba Deep Singh, Banda Singh or the Sahibzade who all showed exceptional courage in the face of adversity. What better role models then them?

Sikhi is more than a religion; it is a wonderful and perfect way of life which leads to the Supreme Being, to Waheguru who is the Lord of all Creation. It is a complete religion with a simple message that anyone can understand and follow. It matters not whether one is born into a family of scholars or into a family of farmers: Sikhi teaches people to respect everybody irrespective of one’s social class or ethnic background. In fact, this is one of the first things that attracted me to Sikhi: the beautiful message of love, respect and tolerance that the ten Gurus taught the world.

Born in a time when religion was in decline, when Muslims hated Hindus and when Brahmins hated the so-called low-castes, Guru Nanak’s divine mission was to remind mankind that it matters not what religion one follows or what family one was born into. It matters not whether one is dark or fair, or whether one is female or male. We are all brothers and sisters, equally children of God. Therefore, Sikhi is unique in the way that it emphasises on a beautiful word that unfortunately the world has forgotten: equality. There is no other religion which regards all mankind as equals, as brothers and sisters. Usually Muslims would regard their fellow Muslims as family, and in the same way, Christians would regard their fellow Christians as brothers and sisters. For those who are outside the faith, there is no salvation. But Sikhi preaches an unconditional love for all mankind, irrespective of religion, nationality, race, caste or creed. It is the duty of all Sikhs to serve humanity selflessly, and to disregard any differences between men.
According to the religion of Guru Nanak Devji, the blessed Lord is both within and beyond His Creation. He resides within all living creatures, and that is what makes Creation so beautiful. To serve humanity is to serve God, and one cannot love God if one does not love his fellow man. As the saying goes, if one cannot see God in all, one cannot see God at all. This is what is so beautiful and unique about the Sikh Dharam. It is a humanist religion which teaches love and brotherhood. What the Gurus have taught us is very relevant today, and I believe that anybody can learn from Sikhi in the same way that the Sikh Gurus learned from great Islamic sages like Kabir or Hindu sages such as Ravidas.

When people force their religion on you, it is difficult to accept it. But when people are happy to teach you about their religion but without trying to trick you into converting, you feel much more comfortable and willing to learn. This is what led me away from Christianity and Islam, and led me towards Sikhi. I explored various faiths including the 3 religions of the Book (Judaism, Islam and Christianity). Each of these religions teach truths (such as ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’, an ideal which is crucial in Sikhi), but also falsehoods.

For example, I was lid by Christians that if I did not accept Jesus as my saviour, I would go to hell. And I was told by Muslims that if I did not accept Muhammad as Allah’s final messenger, I would go to hell. How can this be the truth? According to their way of thinking, it is more important to follow these dogmas than to be a good person. For example, many Christians believe that if a non-Christian is good and kind to others, compassionate and generous he will still go to hell if he does not believe in Jesus, and similarly many Muslims believe that even good people go to hell if they do not believe in Muhammad as final messenger. This can only lead to arrogance and hatred.

Sikhi on the other hand, teaches the beautiful idea that all paths lead to God.
God is like a vast, infinite ocean and all faiths and creeds are like rivers. Like all rivers lead to the ocean, all religions lead to the Eternal Being. Sikhs believe that all souls are divine, because all personal souls (atman) are part of the Supreme Soul (Waheguru). Therefore, compassion and loving kindness are the essence of true religion, not rituals or dogmas which come second. And this is the case in Sikhi, as illustrated by the great Guru Tegh Bahadur Dev ji who sacrificed his own life for people of another religion. This is because he did not see them as Hindus, as Pandits or as Kashmiris: he saw them as fellow human beings, as God’s children, and they needed his help.
I am forever grateful to the Lord that He has made me discover Sikhi. Nothing has been a coincidence, and I feel that it is Waheguru who has led me to Sikhi, that it was according to His will, and that everything had already been planned by the Master of Life. Once I began studying the Sikh religion, I simply could not stop. I have fallen in love with Sikhi thanks to God, and thanks to Sikhi I have fallen in love with God. Sikhi has taught me how to live my life as a good human being and as a humble servant of mankind. I pray to Waheguru for help in following the path of the blessed Gurus and that I may one day become a true Sikh of the Khalsa Panth.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Inspiring Article Posted in

On Common Ground

Posted by RP Singh in General, Sikhi on 27th May 2009

Years ago, I attended a Sikh retreat far from home – outside of the United States and outside of my “normal crowd.” It was interesting to experience Sikh life in a different country…and I think Bono had it right when he said, “We are one, but we’re not the same.”

The first morning we all woke up at Amrit Vela and joined in Nit-Nem and Shabad Keertan. Everybody was in to it and nobody seemed distracted. It was one of those powerful “Sangat” experiences where you lose yourself and become part of the whole. I loved it! I was so energized after that Deevan and was excited for all the weekend’s activities to come…then came breakfast.

It was a little chaotic as we entered the dining hall. Although the meals were vegetarian (God help us if they weren’t), a group of Singhs were arguing with the aunties demanding to see the packaging for the bread. They were convinced that this particular brand of bread had an animal byproduct as an ingredient. I skipped the bread and quickly moved pass, but finding a place to sit became an ordeal in itself. Although there were at least 50 people at the retreat, less than half were eating in the dining hall. I looked around and saw a handful of Singhs back in the kitchen sitting together eating from Sarab Loh (iron) bowls, cups, and plates. Another group of Singhs were heading back to their dorms to eat the food they brought, as their maryada only permitted them to eat food prepared by other Amritdharis who followed their same maryada. As for me, I felt like the new kid walking in the cafeteria on the first day at school trying to figure out which group I could fit in to. What happened to that warm and fuzzy feeling I had sitting in the Deevan? Now this Sangat, who couldn’t share a meal together, felt cold and distant.

Turns out mealtime wasn’t the only time we found ourselves at odds. We spent much of the weekend arguing over how many Baanis (prayers) one should read daily, or whether Raag Mala is Baani, or the authenticity of Dasam Granth, or whether Keertan should only be sung in Raag. We even debated over what colors should be prohibited for Sikhs to wear. Considering I grew up in a Sikh community that still argues over whether keeping “Kesh” is necessary, this was all quite a culture shock. The whole experience was difficult for me to swallow.

I thought to myself…with all the challenges we as a community face in the real world, it is disheartening to see how disjointed and fragile we really are. If we can’t agree on some of the most basic of Sikh principles and practices, how can we really progress as a community?

Mid-way though the retreat, I became frustrated. I mentally checked out and just waited for the whole thing to end.

However – on the last morning, one of my dorm-mates, who I spent much of the weekend arguing with, arose at Amrit Vela to wash his hair and begin his Nit-Nem. He must’ve done this every day, but on this particular morning, it woke me up. Although we both criticized each other’s maryada, I was impressed with his discipline and moved by the way he personally connected with the Guru in this way. And then it dawned on me,

“Who am I to judge or criticize, when he is up at Amrit Vela engrossed in Simran and I am lazily lying in bed.”

There is, after all, one thing we do have in common – and that is the love for our Guru. But our Sangat, experiences, and influence are different. Therefore, there are differences in the way we practice. The way we practice is tightly aligned with our belief, and belief is not something we take lightly. Most are unlikely to change. But does this mean we have to settle for Panthic disunity?


But I ask, have we ever really been united as a Panth? Only a handful of historical events come to mind where Sikhs from various groups had set aside their differences and shared a common goal – Banda Singh Bahadur’s conquer of Sirhind, and the immediate days after the 1984 Darbar Sahib attack come to mind, but for much of our history, there has been such disparity – even during the Guru’s time. It did not seem to prevent the Gurus from accomplishing their mission, so why should it prevent us?

There are some groups of Sikhs I disagree with, but they do the most amazing Keertan that touches my soul. There are some groups of Sikhs I am critical of, but I envy their sense of discipline. There are some groups of Sikhs I don’t see eye to eye with, but their passion for activism and social justice is inspiring.

So it begs the question…is it possible for us as Sikhs to embrace our commonalities and dare I say, “learn” from each other’s influences, yet be mature enough to accept each other’s differences…and agree to disagree?

Rather than spending our energy challenging one another over maryada and being critical of each other’s practices…can we instead focus that energy on living up to our own maryada and bettering our self? I, for one, have long ways to go.

I guess I’m starting to see the glass half-full. At this year’s Nagar Keertan, I passed by several aunties and uncles complaining of how chaotic the event was and how disorganized we were. But what I saw were thousands of my brothers and sisters…in different clothes, speaking different languages, some from different cultures, and even with slightly different practices…all marching the same direction. And I can’t help but wonder…rather than fight over our differences, is it possible we can rise above…and celebrate the beauty in our diversity?