Saturday, October 29, 2016

Happy Bandi Chhor Divas (Diwali)!

It’s Bandi Chhor Divas tomorrow!

Guru Hargobind Ji, our 6th Guru, build the Sri Akal Takht Sahib and strengthened his army. In 1619, Murtaja Khan, Nawab of Lahore, noticed this and lied to emperor Jahangir that Guru Ji was going to seek revenge for the torture and execution of his father (Guru Arjan Dev Ji). Wazir Khan was sent to arrest Guru Ji, however he instead asked the Guru Ji to accompany him to Delhi to meet Jahangir. Jahangir changed his mind once he got to see and hear Guru Ji speak, and Guru Ji saved his life from a lion.

(I am going to write a little bit of back-story about Chandu Shah. He was the governor of Lahore, and a wealthy banker. His family priest suggested Guru Arjan Dev’s son Hargobind would be a good match for his daughter, however being of upper caste, Chandu Shah refused and made disparaging comments about Guru Ji. These were passed on to Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Over time, Chandu Shah reconsidered and felt this may have been a good match, at which point he asked for the match to be arranged. Guru Ji refused, knowing Chandu Shah’s real nature from his comments. Chandu Shah was enraged and went on to cause the torture of Guru Arjan Dev Ji.)

Then in 1619, when Jahangir fell ill, Chandu Shah wanted to find a way to imprison Guru Hargobind Ji as well. He told an astrologer to tell Jahangir that a holy man needed to pray for him at the Gwalior Fort (prison) in order for him to get better. Chandu Shah recommended this be Guru Hargobind Ji. Guru Ji prayed in the prison, and worked to have the conditions of the jail improved for the prisoners. Hari Daas, who was in charge of the prison was actually a follower of the Guru himself, and helped as much as he could including foiling Chandu Shah’s plan to poison Guru ji.  Jahangir’s health improved but the Guru Ji was kept prisoner. His followers, led by Baba Buddha Ji, became concerned and visited Guru Ji. Guru Ji told them not to worry. Sufi Saint Mian Mir then convinced Jahangir to release Guru Ji. Guru Ji thought of the other prisoners, Hindu Princes who had only been imprisoned due to political reasons and were suffering for years in the poor conditions of the jail. He said he would leave the jail if the other prisoners would be released. Jahangir did not like this idea, but agreed that only those prisoners who could hold the cloak of the Guru could be released.  Guru Ji designed a long cloak with 52 tails for each prisoner to hold, and they were all released. Gurdwara Bandi Chorr Sahib has been created at the site of the Gwalior fort. So Bandi Chhor Divas, translated as “prisoner release day” is the day that Guru Hargobind Sahib and the 52 princes were freed from the prison. When Guru Ji safely traveled home to Amritsar, Diwali was being celebrated by the Hindus, so we celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas at Diwali each year.

Happy Bandi Chhor Divas everyone!

picture from

Friday, October 28, 2016


This has been a really challenging two weeks for me. I have been transitioning back to work/school after a long break, and even though I prepared myself as much as I could, it has been quite difficult. The difficult part is about figuring out how to stay true to my goals, beliefs and values. I am in an environment where taking care of yourself and your health is considered weakness (ironically we are caring for other people’s health but are not encouraged to take care of our own). Dedication in this setting means not taking bathroom breaks, or finding time to eat and sleep. I am trying to keep myself well and whole in an environment where I am expected to put my work as my #1 priority. The assumption is that my time is not as valuable as someone who has done their training. People rush around constantly, and yet ironically, they are waiting to live their lives. They are waiting until the rotation is over, or the year, or medical school, or residency, or until the loans are payed off. 

This is completely upside down from what I have spent this break re-learning. I am done living for tomorrow- the only thing I can use is this moment. I broke the habits and spent time deprogramming my brain from those beliefs. Now I’m back in a place where it’s all reinforced again. I’m sharing this post because I think it’s important to acknowledge the very real struggles of trying to make changes in your life. I have to remind myself frequently that other people are speaking from their values, and those just don’t line up with mine anymore. I guess I just didn’t realize how much has changed for me.

I am glad to have an increased awareness and understanding of the purpose of my life. I am able to practice daily how to simultaneously be working in this world and seeing everything as sewa, and doing simran in my mind. Going to the gurdwara in the evenings to listen to kirtan has made a big difference for me in this transition back to work as well. I know this is going to get progressively more challenging, but at the same time I am able to appreciate that this challenge is part of the game of life and to win I'm going to have to keep practicing.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Changing People to What You Want

I’ve been reflecting over this last week on the acceptance of people as they are.  We often have an underlying expectation that people should change to our liking. This is sometimes even verbally said in arguments “Why can’t you be more ___”?  I believe that there is an important role for talking things out, educating and learning from each other, and inspiring others. I also think that its important to realize that we can’t be constantly wanting to mold people into what we want them to be. This actually speaks to the state of our own mind. Instead of controlling our own thoughts, we constantly try to control our environment and the people in it. If they aren’t exactly as we desire, our minds go out of control and we get angry. Then our state of peace is completely dependent on other people! 

Somehow the timing on the kathas and videos I watch often seems to relate exactly to what I’ve been reflecting on. I was watching the katha “Ocean of Fire part 3” from, and Simar Singh explains this very well. He explains that we cannot control other people, how they feel, and what they think. We can learn to control our own minds, and learn to stop our thoughts through simran. He also explained that although thoughts (remember thoughts are maya) are necessary to function in the world, if we don’t control our thoughts they control us. Therefore, our goal is to get to that spiritual state where things will not affect us anymore. Think about how the Guru Arjan Dev Ji was able to sit on the hot plate with hot hand poured on his body. Training our mind is important in order to achieve this level of inner peace. Remember that is the only real way to conquer our anger because anger is part of the 5 thieves- kaam, krodh, lob, moh, hankaar, and therefore the only way to beat it, is not to create the thought of anger in the first place. This is only possible by being in control of our mind.  It’s also important to develop the mindset of being loving, forgiving and non-judgmental. If we want to meet God, we need to develop the qualities of God. That requires practice. We can remind ourselves, I’m looking right now at a person, and this person is also the child of God.

In the meantime while we work on achieving that state, we can find ways to manage and prevent our anger, like identifying hot button issues, taking time to cool off, and finding ways to communicate our needs. The strategies look different for different people, so I'm going to leave that thought with you. 

Personally, I'm finding that I'm having to un-learn a lot of stuff that I learned over this lifetime. Now I’m learning knowledge about our body and mind from Gurbani, and that’s starting to reveal a different way of living. It’s an uncomfortable process because I constantly am challenging my brain to think differently and it results in a great confusion for a while. Part of me says “but everyone said this was true since I was little, I thought it was right!” I mean even supposedly profound quotes I’ve seen sometimes on facebook or pinterest make my stomach churn because at some point in the past I might have thought “that’s true, that’s how we should all live” and now those same words don’t mesh well with me and the life I am choosing to live. I saw a really long quote from Meryl Streep on pinterest the other day. It didn’t sound too bad at first glance because it was talking about not spending time with people who aren’t uplifting you, which is the equivalent to talking about the importance of sangat. But then it just became a list of things she wasn’t going to put up with, or accept, or tolerate- she even said she doesn’t smile at people who don’t smile at her. I think at some point in the past I would have thought that was a useful quote about how to be a no-nonsense kind of strong, independent woman. Today I think its not very accepting, forgiving, loving, or welcoming and that’s not the kind of woman I want to be. There’s a line there- you don’t have to choose to hang out with people who are constantly bringing you down- she was right about that, but at the same time what happened to seeing people as people and accepting them as they are? So I’m finding now that I’m temporarily in this new territory where things are really uncomfortable for me. I think that discomfort is leading to a lot of personal growth for me but in the meantime it makes it confusing, and I'm hoping to continue to share as I am learning more from Gurbani. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kathas and Upcoming Programs

I wanted to share these links for Akath Katha:
The youtube channel for Gurdwara Prabh Milne Ka Chao Brahm Gyan University:
Their website where you can watch live programs: 
English Kathas

Upcoming programs:
-Next weekend is Diwali/Bandi Chodd Divas at the Gurudwara Sahib
-Naam Simran/Akath Katha event Oct 28-30 at Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, Surrey (for more information see and click events)
-Akath Katha October 28-30 Toronto Bhai Dalbir Singh Tarmala (son of Bhai Sewa Singh Tarmala)
-Akath Katha Nov 5-6 in Vancouver Bhai Dalbir Singh Tarmala
-Akath Katha Nov 11-13 Calgary Bhai Dalbir Singh Tarmala

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gurgaddi Divas

Today was the Gurgaddi Divas of Guru Har Krishan Ji and Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The Gurgaddi Divas of Guru Granth Sahib Ji will be celebrated this weekend at the Gurdwara Sahib.
Guru Har Krishan Ji was our 8th Guru Ji, born July 7, 1656 to parents Guru Har Rai Ji and Krishan Kaur. He became Guru at a mere 5 yrs old. Emperor Aurangzeb summoned Guru Ji to delhi at the request of Guru Ji’s jealous brother, Ram Rai. Upon arrival in Dehli Guru Ji stayed with Raja Jai Singh. This site is now Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. There was a smallpox epidemic in Delhi at the time, and Guru Ji cured the many devotees that flocked to see him. Unfortunately Guru Ji too fell ill with smallpox and named “Baba Bakale” (Guru Teg Bahadur Ji) as his successor. For more information, please visit the websites below.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Damage of "Shame on You"

Shame is a feeling that we have all experienced. I’ve written about shame in the past but I wanted to share more today. I heard someone say not too long ago that they were so ashamed that they thought themselves undeserving to read Gurbani. That’s what makes this an important topic. Shame can make us think we are undeserving, when that simply isn’t true. When we get stuck in shame, it is a serious struggle. We lose our confidence and think we aren't good enough. We lose our motivation to move forward because we feel so bad about ourselves we think we are beyond being able to change. We get stuck in the past and on what we did or said, or our perceived deficiencies. This drives us into depression, anxiety and fear. When we are stuck in shame, we need the most support from people who care about us to remind us that we aren't the awful people our brains have made us out to be. Despite this, we tend to isolate ourselves out of fear of what people would say, and how they would judge and criticize us. This is because we want to protect ourselves because we are already hurting, and having someone else reinforce that pain would only make it hurt worse. People are downright hurtful and unsupportive sometimes, so we do have to choose carefully who we share things with because some people simply don't have the life experience, maturity or knowledge to be able to realize what is needed at that time. I believe in the importance of having a space in which we can talk safely- one in which we can comfortably share our thoughts, feelings and experiences knowing we will be received with empathy and understanding from the other person. 

We all make mistakes, and some bad choices. Me too. It could very well be any of us in the situation we are shaming someone else for. In order to fix things, and work on yourself, though we need to move out of that shame. That doesn’t mean ignoring what we did and just saying “well the past is in the past, too bad” and then wandering around like nothing happened. Looking back can help us break patterns of behavior. Processing the past can sometimes take a long time but that’s okay because the time spent is learning about how to fix things, make things better, improve ourselves, etc. I think of it as an investment in myself and a type of sewa because looking back can break patterns of thinking and behaviour that would otherwise just be carried forward for the years to come. We need to remember though that the past cannot be erased, or redone, and so just thinking about it over and over, without the goals I stated above, is harmful. Then we are wasting our present re-living a past we cannot change. In order to get all this process started, we have to get past our shame. When we are in shame we need these reminders: God loves you, and if you ask for forgiveness and really feel it, He knows that. God is in all of us: “God says, all creatures are mind and I am in all hearts.” (p. 952 Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji) and “The compassionate God is merciful, humble, and is the ocean of peace; He dwells in everyone. He sees, hears and is always with me but I am a fool and I think that He is far away” (p. 612). There are so many stories of people who had done really horrible things in their lives and who had interactions with our Guru Jis and then changed their ways. I think back to those often because it reminds me that if those people were able to do it, it should be no problem for me with the help of Guru Ji. Our ability to learn and better ourselves is a really amazing thing. I am constantly learning each day, and we have to remind ourselves not to judge yesterday from what we learned and know today. 

Lastly I wanted to comment on shame-based teaching. The reason this topic really came up for me lately is I’ve been reflecting on how much shame is used and accepted in medicine. Hearing things like “you are a failure, you aren’t going to make it, why did you want this career” in response to not knowing a fact/concept is really harsh but it happens frequently in medicine. I think the underlying rationale is “I went through it therefore you do too” or “it’s motivating you to do better.” Shame based teaching probably happens in every field but if f there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading Brene Brown’s work in shame research, it’s that shame is not helpful, it is not a motivator, and there isn’t “good” shame. Listen to Brene’s response in this video to “don’t some people [ex. criminals] deserve to be ashamed?” (no!)

Let’s use the example of a teacher telling you “you should already know that!” or “wow you don’t know that already?” I’ve heard teachers say this over and over. Instead of teaching a concept, they will comment on how this should already be part of our knowledge. It deters the individual from asking questions or clarifying concepts. You become afraid to admit when you don’t know something and that's when people become egotistical. You start to pretend to know things you don’t know and just memorize complex information instead of actually learning it. Basically you’ve now got an individual that pretends to know everything, but doesn’t know a whole lot in reality and that’s the opposite of a learning environment.The cycle actually doesn’t end here. I’ve then seen doctors shaming their patients and other students and learners. Instead of educating their patients and bringing the information to a more basic level so they can take charge of their own health, I will hear doctors using complex medical knowledge. Yet all the knowledge is not knowledge we came with when we were born or will take with us when we die! And more importantly, it can be learned. I could ask you a million questions on medicine and you might not know the answer but you could ask me how to make cheese or questions about types of dogs and I won't have an answer for you, so why make anyone feel bad if they desire to learn?

In closing I am just going to leave you with the thought that we need to stop justifying making other people feel ashamed, and instead start helping to support people in the ways they need to make change. One of the wonderful things about Sikhism is that our Guru Ji's made it clear that our relationship to God is a direct one. We don't need people with more spiritual experience to be our interpreter. The language used in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib was made so that it was easy to understand at the time, and used examples that were relevant to what people were seeing in their daily lives so that people could understand (I think it's hard for us now because the language has changed over time and the examples ex. farmhands, monkey traps, etc. are not relevant to our surroundings if we aren't farming or living in areas where those animals are, etc.). The idea was not to create a special caste or elite group of people who have all this knowledge and hold onto it. Rather the Gurus were against this and wanted each individual to be able to gain spiritual knowledge and share it with other people. The more people that understand and know, the better. It's never too late for us to learn and expand our knowledge of Sikhi!