The other day my friend was introducing me to one of her friends, an older woman. My friend explained that I spent the summer focused on spirituality and finding peace. She went on to describe me as, “she’s religious, but not too religious.” She explained she thinks religious people think they are above everyone else, they are stuck in traditional lifestyles and old thinking. Therefore, as she put it, one should not be too religious.
This isn’t the first time I have heard this. When I came back from Toronto I was dying to share my experiences of visiting all the gurdwaras and attending simran with people. I learn a great deal from other people’s stories, and I know mine have the same power to change lives, spread knowledge and ideas. As people started to ask about my trip I was reluctant to share though. My journey was not just “spiritual” but deeply rooted in Sikhism. (This is where having a lack of Sikh friends becomes a factor!). I knew the desirable trait for someone to have is "spiritual" and not religious. A lot of my friends are atheist and those that identify with a religion still don’t believe that one should be “too religious.” To them, religion is strict. It’s the box they strive to be free of. So the comment my friend made wasn’t just limited to her. If I’m honest, a small part of me three months ago would have said I’m scared to be so religious, which is pretty much the same thing. Having spent this time meeting new sangat, talking with gurmukhs who had met God, and learning more about Sikhism, I realized that my fear of being so religious was because I didn’t know what it meant to be a true Sikh.
To me being religious was going to the gurdwara, being amritdhari, doing your prayers. On top of being a caring, honest, hardworking person. But basically your actions and your appearance defined how religious you were. I didn’t understand the whole mind aspect to it. To me, the people who wore their 5 Ks were the highly religious, despite the fact they might have been consumed in anger, greed, attachment, lust, pride and ego. I didn’t understand the rules of the game God has put us in. I had assumed that these things were indicators of who is religious, and therefore I can understand why one would be confused and say you do not want to be too religious. Spending time with people who we perceive as highly religious but are spreading the poison of gossip or anger would make one not want to be religious! Sikhi is really about making an effort to cleanse the mind. The gurmukhs I had the pleasure of meeting this summer had put the inward and outward appearances together- they had met God. So the comments my friend made about really religious Sikhs thinking they are above others was not accurate. Those that were truly religious had to let go of ego to meet God, and saw everyone equally.
This is why learning is really important. We aren’t in this world to be judging other people’s lives (after all I’m full of sins how can I judge you?) but we can lead by example and we can help remind others about the rules of the game. If we don't know we are players we cannot win. I remind myself that even if I'm sitting in the main hall at the gurdwara but my mind is wandering to other people's clothing or how attractive I find someone, I am not really achieving my purpose of being in the gurdwara. My body may be sitting there but my mind isn't. A large proportion of people are lost in spiritual darkness, but even this is part of God's game: “This world has been deluded by doubt. You Yourself, Lord, have led it astray” (p. 72 Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). Gurbani also tells us it can be overcome: “The spiritual teachers know nothing but the Truth; they obtain true understanding. They are led astray by Him, but they do not go astray, because they know the True Lord. Within the homes of their bodies, the five passions are pervading, but here, the five are well-behaved. O Nanak, without the True Guru, they are not overcome; through the Naam, the ego is conquered.” (p. 425). The Gurus showed people how to conquer the mind. They got people out of the falsehood of superstitions, rituals, caste differences, etc. that people are still lost in nowadays, and showed them Truth (God). We can learn from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and examples in our history, and share our knowledge with others. In my own family instead of saying "no you're wrong," instead I have started saying "let's read this book together" or "let's listen to this katha." We learn and teach each other. Having learned what it really means to be religious, I can say that it’s a beautiful thing to be more religious and there’s no such thing as too religious. I strive for the level of commitment and dedication those gurmukhs have, and the amount of love they have for God and His creation.