Saturday, November 26, 2016

Shaheedi of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji

This weekend at the Gurdwara Sahib we are remembering the Shaheedi of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji. Guru Teg Bahadur Ji was born April 18, 1621 to parents Guru Har Gobind Ji and Mata Nanaki. He became our 9th Guru on April 16, 1664. Below is the description of the martyrdom of Guru Ji. 

Emperor Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of Hindu temples and Gurdwaras, fired Hindus from their jobs and imposed taxes on them. The Brahmin Pandits of Kashmir were threatened that if they did not convert to Islam they would be executed. Their daughters were raped. They came in desperation, asking for help from Guru Ji to protect them from Aurangzeb. Guru Ji’s son, Gobind Rai, was a mere 9 years old at the time and asked what was happening. Upon hearing that this would require the sacrifice of a great person, Gobind Rai replied that there would be no one else better suited to defending the Brahmins than his own father. Guru Teg Bahadur Ji told the Pandits to tell Aurangzeb if he could convert Guru Ji to Islam, then they would as well. Gobind Rai was made Guru on July 8, 1675. Guru Teg Bahadur Ji set out for Delhi with Bhai Sati Das, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Dayal Das. They were then arrested. Guru Ji was transported to Delhi in an iron cage on the back of an elephant. On the way, he composed the following: “Dohraa: My strength is exhausted, and I am in bondage; I cannot do anything at all. Says Nanak, now, the Lord is my Support; He will help me, as He did the elephant. ||53||” and the reply to himself “My strength has been restored, and my bonds have been broken; now, I can do everything. Nanak: everything is in Your hands, Lord; You are my Helper and Support. ||54||” (page 1429 Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji).

Guru Ji and his followers were tortured. Bhai Mati Das, Sati Das and Dyal Das were martyred in front of Guru Ji. Bhai Mati Das Ji was sawed in half. When Bhai Dyal Das Ji was then asked to convert to Islam, he replied “My misguided friends, do you think that you have killed my brother, Bhai Mati Das? If so you are mistaken. You have not killed him. You have given him ever lasting life. He has become immortal. He will live forever in the hearts of men. He will be source of inspiration to others. Many like him will rise and follow his example. A time will come when you and your emperor will be no more, but Bhai Mati Das will be yet alive. I will not give up my faith. The pleasures which you offer have no charm for me. The tortures with which you have threatened me, have no terrors for me. Be quick and send me to where my brother, Bhai Mati Das, has gone to live forever in the lap of the Lord.”  He was then made to sit in a pot of boiling water. Bhai Sati Das Ji was martyred by being wrapped in cotton and burned alive. Guru Ji was in deep meditation while witnessing these horrific events. He chanted: “Give up your head, but forsake not those whom you have undertaken to protect. Says Tegh Bahadur, sacrifice your life, but relinquish not your faith.” Guru Ji was beheaded Nov 24, 1675 at Chandni Chauk for refusal to convert to Islam. (Gurdwara Sis Ganj has been created at this site). There was a big storm right after the execution. Bhai Jaita Ji took Guru Ji’s severed head to Anandpur Sahib for cremation, and Bhai Lakhi Shah took Guru Ji’s body, setting his house on fire in order to cremate Guru Ji’s body.

This was a huge moment in history. It set the scene for the fall of the Mughal empire and the rise of the Khalsa under the guidance of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Guru Teg Bahadur Ji taught us the body can be tortured but the soul is one with God. Guru Ji sacrificed his life for the rights of Hindus to practice their religion. This teaches us that as Sikhs we need to stand up for human rights as a whole, giving our lives if necessary.


Extra Note for Tomorrow's Program at the Gurdwara Sahib
We are hoping to have Simran upstairs (instead of the main hall) at the Gurdwara at 1 pm. Everyone welcome to join us! 

Monday, November 21, 2016


I've definitely gossiped about people and I realized it was even somewhat automatic as a conversation starter. In the last few months I have made an active effort to stop. That includes reducing my time with people who tend to gossip, mentally filtering what I say more carefully, or walking away from conversations sometimes. In this post I wanted to talk about the Gurdwara Sahib in particular, and why we should not gossip.

The Gurdwara seems to be a central place for gossip. Men will camp out downstairs to gossip, and women will gossip while doing sewa in the kitchen. When one person leaves, everyone talks about her. What people fail to recognize is that we do not come to sit in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib Ji while we speak against God’s creation!!! Each person is the sargun saroop of God, and we should be singing God’s praises.

At one point or another, or sometimes quite frequently, gossip becomes about you. It is painful to hear what people are spreading around about you, even if it's a lie. It is easy for someone (like me right now) to say just forget about what other people think and live your life. It’s easy to say that gossip is constantly changing, and this won’t be a problem for long, etc. In reality, it is really hard to live through it though. This is particularly true in the context of the Gurdwara, which is a place we go to find peace and be uplifted, to sit in sangat and learn from each other. Yet the people who are supposed to be your community/your support, are the ones staring you down, whispering, laughing, or making you feel like an outsider. Instead of helping people, it becomes an opportunity to isolate them and make them feel worse. The Gurdwara is supposed to be a place of inclusiveness and love. We take away comfort and safety in the one place everyone deserves to feel good.

I propose a few things as a solution to this. Firstly, we need to be aware of gossip in its many forms. Second, we can choose not to start or participate in these conversations which can include walking away, changing the topic, etc. At the Gurdwara when we do sewa, we should do simran out loud or sing shabads so people don’t talk about things. Think before you speak. Often times I think gossip is fuelled by insecurity. People try to feed their own egos by creating competition. We are at the Gurdwara to learn to get rid of our ego! Any situation that can happen to another person could be our situation. We are no better than anyone else. We are in no position to judge someone else, and a true Gurmukh does not speak badly of another person. These conversations are honestly wasting away our lives, and destroying other people’s lives. Gurbani tells us, “Your mouth has not stopped slandering and gossiping about others. Your service is useless and fruitless.” (p. 1253). The purpose of the sewa is to be done with love. Our goal of union with God is never going to happen if we are constantly speaking badly about others.

On another level, it’s important to build up an inner strength so that what other people say to us doesn’t matter. This too happens through simran and applying the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. No one can destroy your relationship with God so it doesn’t matter what other people are saying, you should focus on reaching your goal: “Kabeer, how can the wretched people slander me? They have no wisdom or intelligence. Kabeer continues to dwell upon the Lord's Name; I have abandoned all other affairs.” (p. 1366). Remember how many examples there are in our history of people speaking against our Guru Jis. This did not stop them from their purpose. If people can’t see you for who you are, that’s their problem. It says in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, “If you desire to play this game of love with Me, then step onto My Path with your head in hand. When you place your feet on this Path, give Me your head, and do not pay any attention to public opinion” (p. 1412) and “One who is imbued with the Lord’s love is slandered- this is what I have seen in this Dark Age of Kali Yuga” (p. 299).  

Let us all stop gossiping and encourage others to do the same, whether it is inside the Gurdwara or outside! Instead, let us spread the love for God. 

Friday, November 18, 2016


I’m partway through a 88 hour work week (not over yet unfortunately!) trying to figure out how to preserve my physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. I think when you work this much you start to forget what “real life” feels like, what you enjoy, how to spend time outside work. Life just starts to blur together into an unending cycle of sleep/eat/work. 

The fact is, I don’t have control over my schedule, and therefore my body is required to be at certain places during certain times. My mind, however, does not have to be there, and this has been the key to my “survival.” I have been spending as much time as possible doing simran while I’m at work. Some people are able to have the simran going in their minds 24/7, but I’m at that phase I have to actively remember to do it. When driving to work, in between cases, walking from one building to the next, standing in the OR during surgery, I am doing simran. When my body hurts and I’m exhausted, I remember God and it holds me together. 

I think different people get through their struggles different ways and, a lot of people’s approaches seem to be focused on short term and not long term consequences. Even how I handled 100 hr work weeks last year (there were some of those!) was different than I would now- my goal being my wellbeing instead of my schooling. I'm not willing to sacrifice anything and everything for it. One of the big aspects of this has been sitting in sangat at the Gurdwara and reminding myself again what it feels like to be whole. I was sitting at the Gurdwara a couple of days ago, remembering that even though my mind lives in this prison of emotional turmoil, it doesn’t have to. In reality, we are living in Sach Khand and God is everywhere. If only my mind can be awakened, I can see it and this pain would stop- it is painful walking away from work some days wondering how I will make it through another day, or week, etc. It's painful to feel trapped and suffocated by situations that are out of your control. Yet other days I am able to walk away truly appreciating the opportunity to do such great sewa. These ups and downs are difficult and I'd much rather have my mind be at peace. I am continually reminding myself that to practice my simran while I am at work is key in life- not somewhere in isolation on a mountain somewhere, but right here where life unfolds. 

It reminds me of this shabad:
This human body has been given to you.
This is your chance to meet the Lord of the Universe.
Nothing else will work.
Join the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy; vibrate and meditate on the Jewel of the Naam. ||1||
Make every effort to cross over this terrifying world-ocean.
You are squandering this life uselessly in the love of Maya. ||1||Pause||
I have not practiced meditation, self-discipline, self-restraint or righteous living.
I have not served the Holy; I have not acknowledged the Lord, my King.
Says Nanak, my actions are contemptible!
O Lord, I seek Your Sanctuary; please, preserve my honor!
(p. 12 SGG Ji)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Chaar Sahibzaade Movie!

Chaar Sahibzaade: Rise of Banda Singh Bahadur is playing at the theatre this week. Be sure to check it out- I saw the first one when it came out and it was extremely well-made.

Happy Parkash Divas!

Tomorrow is the celebration of the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji! We will have programs at the Gurdwara Sahib everyday this week and over the weekend. Be sure to attend tomorrow evening. Happy Parkash Divas!

Here's a copy of my post from last year:
Guru Nanak Dev Ji is the founder of Sikhism and was born to Hindu parents Mehta Kalu and Mata Tripta in 1469 in Talwandi (now Nankana Sahib in Pakistan). Although he was born April 15, the birth date is celebrated on the full moon in November. He had an older sister named Bibi Nanaki. His unique path became apparent at a young age when he learned at an unprecedented rate and impressed his teachers. I thought I would write a little bit about the life of Guru Ji. 

One morning in 1499, Guru Nanak Dev Ji bathed in the river and disappeared for three days. No one could find him, and people feared he had died. He resurfaced three days later, having spent those days with God Himself. His first words after he emerged were “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim”, meaning that everyone is the same according to God. Guru Ji was respected by all religions and travelled extensively spreading messages of honesty, equality between men and women, and speaking out against the caste system. It is thought he travelled over 28,000 km including to present-day Afghanistan, Turkey, Burma, Tibet, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Persia, and Arabia. Bhai Mardana, a muslim, accompanied him on his travels and played the rabab while Guru Nanak sang the hymns. 

Rabab (a musical instrument)

Guru Nanak introduced the concepts of Naam Japo (remember God), Vand Shako (share what you earn), Kirat Karo (earn an honest living) everywhere he went. He made sure to communicate in simple language so everyone could understand, not just those who had a formal education. He was married to Mata Sulakhani and had two children, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Daas. He emphasized that you can still live a spiritual life at the same time as a family life. The following are some stories from his travels.  

In the town of Saidpur on his travels Guru Ji stayed with Bhai Laalo, a low-caste man, rather than with the weathly Malik Bhago. Malik Bhago questioned Guru Ji on his choice and Guru Ji showed, by holding Lalo’s food in one hand and Bhago’s food in the other by squeezing them that blood poured from the food of Malik Bhago and milk from Lalo’s. This was to demonstrate that Malik Bhago did not earn his food honestly and rather exploited others, but Lalo worked hard.

One famous story about Guru Nanak is when he was in Hasan Abdal. The villagers would come to visit Guru Ji instead of the Muslim Pir Baba Wali Kandhaari. He had a tank of water from which the villagers drank and without it, they had no water. He stopped providing it because he was angered they had been visintg the Guru Ji instead of him. After several requests, he still refused. Guru Ji asked a villager to lift a small stone and under it water rushed out and a new spring was created. Baba Wali’s reservoir dried up and he rolled a rock towards the guru to kill him, which the Guru Ji stopped with his palm. The rock stopped and that rock still exists at Grudwara Panja Sahib. Baba Wali became a follower of the Guru Ji,

Guru Nanak Dev Ji emphasized that we should not be stuck in rituals but rather be true to their religion. For example, he observed people throwing the water from the Ganges towards the sun to reach their ancestors and he started throwing it in the opposite direction, claiming that if their water reached the ancestors then his should reach his fields in Punjab. 

Guru Ji started the tradition of Langar, a free community kitchen where everyone was welcome to sit and eat next to each other as equals. This was extremely important given the emphasis on caste status at the time. This continues on in Gurdwaras (sikh temples) everywhere today. After his travels he built the village Kartarpur. 

When Guru Ji passed on from this world in 1539 it is said there was arguments between the Hindus and Muslims about whether the body should be cremated or buried but under the sheet, instead of a body there were only flowers, half of which were burned and half buried. He was succeeded by Guru Angad Dev Ji.

Book: Illustrated Life Stories of Guru Sahibs’ 

Friday, November 11, 2016

When Life is Crumbling Apart

When I used to have stressors and difficulties in my life, it felt like I was swimming in an ocean and barely staying afloat. It was the feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to look past the goal of survival. Now life feels more like balancing a seesaw. The more stress that gets loaded on, the harder it is to balance. I think it’s different now because I can see beyond the stress. I used to believe that one day life would get easy- I would get a break and things would go smoothly. This is also constantly fed by other people telling me to just “hang in there” until my schooling is over. Supposedly after my schooling is over the challenges will just disappear. I have realized that this is never going to end- the outside challenges changes shape and form but it will never go away. It can evolve from writing exams into other things like staying up late to take care of my children, but its never going to disappear. Accepting that fact helped to refocus so that I'm not waiting for my life to get easier, but rather focusing on my response. Instead of waiting for external situations to change, I am figuring out how to stay in Chardi Kala no matter what.

Life has been getting cumulatively more difficult these last two weeks. All the emergencies and challenges and even the little things have kind of just added up into one big tangled mess. There are very few moments in my life I have faced as much as I am right now, and yet I’m okay. I am functioning to my very best to serve in the ways that God has given me the opportunity to in each day. I can see that God is with me no matter what and that I will undoubtedly make it through today like I have every other day and every other challenge. There is no longer a question of survival when you have faith. There are still tears and moments when I have to remember to just breathe. In those times I feel like again I'm alone in the ocean, and it feels scary. But at least I know that I am building the skills so that these moments reduce, and its working. I have a more realistic goal of focusing on inner peace rather than situations outside my control. I got the chance to do kirtan the last three days at the Gurdwara- the days when I needed it the most, and it just reminded me of how much God provides for us when we need it. Waheguru is there for us day and night and we just need to be able to wake up the mind to see Him. 

Lastly, I saw this half hour (english) documentary about Simran that I thought I would share. It's a really touching video, especially when he talks about how the sagan in the Anand Karaj is usually money, but that a real sagan is for a Gursikh to ask God to give you a little bit of their Naam.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Lessons from Katha

I learned a lot yesterday and I want to share it, but first I have to give a bit of background.

A couple of weeks ago my mom told me that Bhai Dalbir Singh Ji Tarmala was coming to Vancouver to do Akath Katha. His father, Bhai Sewa Singh Ji Tarmala started the Gurdwara Prabh Milne Ka Chao in Moga Punjabi where hundreds of people live and do sewa while taking courses on how to meet God. They do Naam Simran and learn Gurbani. I’ve met quite a few people who have attended these courses and have met God. It’s really inspirational. After Bhai Sewa Singh Ji passed away, his son took over for him at the Gurdwara Sahib.  I got to meet Bhai Sewa Singh Ji’s daughter and son-in-law in Edmonton this summer and they did a great job of answering my questions and sharing their knowledge. When my mom initially told me Dalbir Singh Ji was coming to Vancouver, I told her I was way too busy to be able to go. I didn’t want to be stressed by missing a day studying and then be tired the next day from the traveling. I looked again at my priority list on my wall and the decision was easy- this was more important than a day of studying. We booked the flight. 

So I woke up at 4:30 am yesterday to get ready (to which my mom said- “you work overnight on call for 24 hours why can’t you wake up at 4:30 to go do simran?” Okay mom, good point…). We flew to Vancouver and did simran at the Gurdwara. I learned a lot from Bhai Dalbir Singh’s katha. I’m going to highlight a few points that he shared. (Bhul chuk maaf karni).

He started by explaining we read our 5 banis in the morning, but the mind that we are trying to give knowledge to and teach, is not getting that knowledge. The mind tends to run away and not pay attention. The “dirty” mind is one that has lack of knowledge and lives in spiritual darkness. In this state it slanders, gossips and lives in duality. To clean it we need to actually not just read, but understand Gurbani. We need to sit in sangat as well. In order to be able to hear the voice of God (Naam) we have to leave behind the three gunas of maya (rajogun, satogun, tamogun- see my old posts about these). Gurbani tells us God is beyond these three qualities “He has no form, no shape, no color; God is beyond the three qualities. They alone understand Him, O Nanak, with whom He is pleased” (p. 283 SGG Ji). We are unable to get Naam if we don’t go to the Gurdwara- this gurdwara is actually inside of us (the home of the mind- see my post “Where is the Home of the Mind?”). Amrit Sarovar (pool of nectar) is inside of us too and when we start doing more simran, we actually taste that sweet Amrit in our mouth. 

He went on to explain when we were in our mother’s womb, we did training about how to get out of maya. We didn’t get burned by the heat inside the womb because of Naam. This heat is the same as the heat of maya. We came to do one karam in this life so don't get lost in other tasks: “This human body has been given to you. This is your chance to meet the Lord of the Universe. Nothing else will work. Join the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy; vibrate and meditate on the Jewel of the Naam” (p. 1 SGG Ji). Worldly work is important to feed the body, but do not forget what we came here to do! He also explained that the family we are born into/who we marry and the kids born into our family have sanjog (union of souls). Based on many past lives, God decided to put you together because you are destined to do simran and reach God together so we should use the time we have together to support each other in fulfilling our purpose.  

I thank God for blessing me with the chance to go sit in sangat and listen to the Kathas and do simran. Changing yourself, your routine, how you live your life isn’t an easy task. Certainly I’ve had a really hard time- but I have to say it’s the most worthwhile and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. It’s taking me time to reassess how to adjust my responses to situations and stay at peace not only externally but also inside. The simran is helping a lot. I am finding by listening to kathas I’m changing how I look at life, how I interact with other people, and how I solve problems. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

I'm So Confused!

I have to say one of the most common thoughts for me in any overwhelming situation is “I am SO CONFUSED!!!” It’s that confusion we all experience about why things happen the way they do, or about making an important decision and not being certain about it. We can often rationalize and use logic to find answers, but confusion itself is actually about something deeper.

I think confusion is really a symptom of duality. Duality is not seeing ourselves and everything in this world as part of God, and as part of God’s Will. Our ego causes us to think that we know what’s right and we become attached to our thoughts (maya). Our mood rises and crashes instead of being at constant peace. In duality, we do not live under God’s Will because we don’t chant God’s praises 24/7. We repetitively get caught up in the work of this world and forget what we came to this earth for. We stop having full faith and trust in God, and start to doubt. It says in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, “In the love of duality, he suffers in pain forever; he is deluded by doubt, and confused by the three gunas” (1066). The three gunas mentioned being Rajogun, Tamogun, and Satogun (see my past posts for more about those). Ultimately, this confusion and doubt are a build-in part of the game of life. We have to overcome these in order to meet God.

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji tells us that “The healthy person is very sick, if he does not remember the Lord, the Embodiment of Mercy” (p. 1356). So most of us are sick, yet most will never recognize the sickness and learn its cure. It is by God’s grace that you and I have had the opportunity to learn this. We are so fortunate to be able to recognize that our cure is Naam. It resolves our doubt and confusion, and gives us ultimate peace and fulfillment. Gurbani tells us “Confused and deluded, I wander around, but no one shows me the way. I go and ask the clever people, if there is there anyone who can rid me of my pain. If the True Guru abides within my mind, then I see the Lord, my best friend, there. O Nanak, my mind is satisfied and fulfilled, contemplating the Praises of the True Name” (p. 1087). 

Instead of taking our medicine, though, we tend to go deeper and deeper into our thoughts (maya), looking for a solution. The reason we do that is because it is easier to be lost in thoughts than to do our simran and read our Gurbani with full concentration. What is seemingly so simple is actually hard work and the rare person actually puts in that work. Guru Ji tells us, “To be imbued and attuned to the Word of the Shabad; to be kind and compassionate; to sing the Kirtan of the Lord's Praises - these are the most worthwhile actions in this Dark Age of Kali Yuga. In this way, one's inner doubts and emotional attachments are dispelled” (p. 1354 Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). 

So each time you are doubtful, confused and lost, take your medicine!