I mentioned a little bit about the idea of “freedom” in one of my recent posts. I got to thinking about this because it’s one of the things I hear and read about often from our Sikh youth, especially in the late teens/early 20s. It is a critical time of transition as people change friend groups, transition into jobs or university, and shape their futures. For some people it is a realization that people live their lives in very different ways and we all make a choice on how to live our lives. For this reason it is also a very vulnerable time. Unfortunately it seems to be the time when people ask themselves why they are the only ones living the disciplined life- “everyone else is enjoying life freely, why can’t I?” We’ve all either heard this or said this ourselves at some point. It seems like everyone else is enjoying every pleasure of the world while suddenly your own way of living seems like a burden of rules. I think parents struggle at this point too because some parents don’t know exactly how to navigate increasing independence, or allowing children to find their own way, in their desperate attempt to protect their children from what they see as a wrong path. I have seen some families in which it can come across forcefully, leaving youth feeling trapped.
I think one of the problems is seeing Sikhi as external rules instead of a flowing way of life. It is seen as static instead of something to be explored and learned. Without an understanding of the purpose of life, of maya, of God, or a strong relationship with our family (our main sangat), everything crumbles when we are tested. Bhai Sewa Singh Ji Tarmala wrote in his books about how we are blinded by maya, how we don’t hear anhad bani (the voice of God); and how we wander naked with our hands and feet in shackles, suffering as slaves of the 5 thieves because we don’t have Naam. In the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji it says, “Some are self-willed manmukhs; they do not love the Word of the Shabad. Bound in chains, they wander lost in reincarnation” and “O mind: without the Lord, whatever you are involved in shall bind you in chains.” So while we may appear free to the physical eye, we live as prisoners. We were royalty, God’s children, but we are not awake to see that reality. So when we understand this and if young people were to see the world from this lens, we no longer see “everyone else is free and gets to do whatever they want.” Most people aren’t awake to the chains that they are bound in that traps them into the cycle of reincarnations. I learned a couple of years ago from mysimran.info’s kathas, that we can really only make a choice on how to live, if we have experienced God and Naam. Otherwise, by default, we are living the path of dhaat (path to maya). True freedom, liberation, comes from God. Gurbani describes how the Gurmukh is free of disease, ego, pleasure and pain, suffering, desire, fear, doubt, conflict, hatred, and the list goes on. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji says, “The Guru has shattered the shackles on my feet, and has set me free” (Ang 1002) and “One who realizes his Lord and Master is set free, and not bound by chains” (Ang 937). This is jeevan mukhti.
When I look back, discipline has shaped my life, and yet this type of self-discipline is undervalued in Kaljug. I learned discipline really young. I started Tae-Kwondo when I was 4 and I quickly learned that not listening and not doing things properly means a lot of push ups! My favorite scene in movies is usually when the person works hard to achieve their dream. These days it seems like there is a focus on doing things easily and effortlessly, as if it comes naturally. I have seen people underplay how much effort they put in, or brag that other people had to put in so much work to get there but they didn’t. It’s supposed to look easy, even if it isn’t. No one wants to hear about rules and discipline. Yet it is these things that have saved me from a path that I’m glad I’m not on. I remember entering high school in grade 8, I thought I knew everything (like we all do at that age) and it was really my family’s way of living that way that saved me from sangat that was really a horrible influence for me in my friend group. We don’t even know enough at that age to make a real informed choice about most of our decisions, and I think that’s why parents play such an important role in setting up a disciplined life (they can't make those decisions for forever!), because it is about the way they live their own life as a role model too. It is easy for us to say that this is an issue just in childhood but its not. Like I mentioned earlier, many people never do realize there are two paths- liv and dhaat, and that’s God’s Will too: “With the mind caught up in playful pleasures, involved in all sorts of amusements and sights that stagger the eyes, people are led astray.” It is by God’s grace that we realize it.
I remember the day I made a choice to start doing simran and walk a new path back in the summer of 2016. It was a life-defining moment. I was sitting at the kitchen table at my uncle’s house at it was late at night. I was listening to a katha from mysimran.info on my phone and taking notes in my journal. In the katha, I don’t remember the exact wording but he said something about just try this and see what happens in your life. I thought to myself, yes I can try this. If it doesn’t go well, I just go back to my old life anyways. Believe it or not, I was terrified to walk into the unknown because I knew that it was more than just about simran… it was about understanding the journey of life in a way that I had never seen it and I didn’t know if I had it in me to do it. It was those words to “just try it”, that changed everything for me and redefined what is pain, what is pleasure, what is suffering, why am I here. As Sikhs, we have been taught to spend our time doing nitnem, sewa, working, and to balance our lives. It is not possible without discipline, but it’s also not a set of rules if it is a core value of our life. Sikhi flows naturally when we know why we are here, because God does our work for us. I don’t think that you can do this for anyone else very long- for your parents, or for other people, and I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong. It’s not for someone else, its for us, and you can't force someone else, it happens out of love alone. Simran feeds you, kirtan feeds you, in a way that our mind has forgotten that it is hungry for. God created this world for us to enjoy it! The way to enjoy it is if we are not slaves to it.
In moments of confusion from the illusion around us, it is easy to doubt ourselves and wonder if everyone else indeed has it right. While writing this post I read an article called “Self-Discipline or Just Uptight" (1). This Veer Ji describes his moment of confusion, “Perhaps I am too uptight, conservative, insecure, narrow-minded, or misguided. Maybe I am not having as much fun as the other guys and girls because I place too much importance into my faith which may or may not even exist. Maybe my moral compass is pointing to radically in one direction. The question is not whether I am right or wrong, the question is whether I am inhibiting many of life’s experiences by being too black and white. Am I missing out on a fun life by being too traditional or ‘faithful’?” (1) He goes on to describe an example of a young woman who asked him to go clubbing, “I told her that clubbing was not my thing and that I would not be going. Little did I know that this was going to open up an even bigger barrage of intrusive questioning. She began asking me quizzically, so what do you do for fun?... She had the guts to continue jabbing into my personal life in a sneaky manner, so how will you please your wife when you get married. You have to have fun in life, blah, blah, blah… otherwise, she will ‘boot your ass'" (1). He concludes how he realized it is important to just be true to yourself and not swayed by other people’s version of how you should live. It reminded me of the time an aunty told me I was closed-minded for only wanting to marry someone of my own religion. I solidly know that I want to spend my mind-journey with someone who has the same core values of Sikhi and therefore understands the same purpose in life (!) and yet it still threw me off because she said “closed minded.” Like Veer ji, I was disoriented. Because we will be challenged, we need to be that much more certain of what freedom is, what fun is, what our direction in life is. Life is supposed to be fun and joyful, and in fact maya is painful. In true freedom we have broken the chains maya and the cycle of reincarnations, so let us not be fooled by the illusion of freedom.
Lastly, to share this shabad, “Har Jan Naacho Har Har Thayi. O humble servant of the Lord, let your dancing be meditation on the Lord, Har, Har” and continued into the shabad “It Rang Nacho rakh rakh bhao. So dance in this love and keep the beat with your feet”
Words to the shabads (go to display at the top to see transliterations): http://beta.igurbani.com/shabad/1432?verseId=16906 http://beta.igurbani.com/shabad/1375?verseId=16034
you can also download it from (Delhi 2017 Rainsbhai)