Thursday, May 31, 2018

Lessons from Bibi Santi

A couple of weeks ago, the dhadhi jatha told the inspirational story of Bibi Santi. She was born into a Sikh family but married into a family that followed a Muslim Pir. She was kicked out since her in-laws did not support her reading Gurbanii. She lived in a hut with her husband, who died soon after the birth of their son, Palla. Bhai Palla Ji was raised as a Sikh. He grew up with a strong desire to meet Guru Ji and would do Ardas for the Darshan of Guru Ji. One day, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji did indeed pass through their village accompanied by some Sikhs. Bhai Palla Ji immediately recognized Guru Ji, with his two swords representing Miri and Piri. Bhai Palla Ji had spent many years carrying around gur (solid piece of sugar) which he wrapped in a cloth as an offering for Guru Ji, but was having trouble opening the knot. Guru Ji opened the knot, and at the same time, also spiritually liberated Bhai Palla Ji. The Sikhs went to Bhai Palla Ji’s home for langar. The villagers all agreed that it would be very humiliating for Bibi Santi and Bhai Palla Ji if they had no langar to feed Guru Ji. Bibi Santi and Bhai Palla Ji already used to have barely enough food, how would they be able to feed langar to Guru Ji and the Sikhs? The villagers refused to lend any flour. When Bhai Palla Ji came home Bibi Santi was overjoyed and started to prepare langar. Guru Ji watched the scene as the villagers wanted to see the humiliation of Bhai Palla Ji and asked asked Bhai Palla Ji to invite the villagers to join! The villagers agreed, thinking that this would be even more humiliating. Guru Ji asked Bhai Palla Ji to put two kerchiefs- one over the flour, and one over the dhal, and then Bibi Ji prepared the langar. The langar was limitless! The villagers continued to eat until they were full. At this miracle, they fell at the feet of the Guru Ji who had protected the honor of his Sikhs. These villagers became followers of Guru Ji and just one woman, Bibi Santi, was able to transform the whole village to Sikhs. 

This Sakhi teaches us many things. Bibi Santi and Bhai Palla Ji may have lived in a hut, but they were rich in love for their Guru. Although the whole village including her in-laws discouraged her, she continued to walk her path and in fact helped to guide them to their paths as well. Individuals like Bhagat Kabir (people tried to drown him), Namdev (people tried to crush him with a drunk elephant) and Prehlad (Harnakash tried to kill him) were also similarly discouraged by others but continued on their path and were protected by God. 

Kaljug meh kirtan pardhana, “In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, the Kirtan of the Lord’s Praises are the most sublime and exalted.” (Ang 1075)

I have always gotten the same words from Gyani Jis who come to visit- “don’t stop.” They say, “never stop doing kirtan, praying, or doing Simran.” I kind of wondered why this message was being delivered to me again and again. Why would I ever desire to stop? Singing kirtan is what I love and enjoy. It is during these last couple of weeks, coincidentally around the time of hearing Bibi Santi’s sakhi that I came to understand how this all came together. They were reminding me that just like in Bibi Santi’s story, there is also adversity from the outside (not just the internal challenge of continuing this path). It is a feature of Kaljug. Gurbani tells us “Those who act like tyrants are accepted and approved - recognize that this is the sign of the Dark Age of Kali Yuga… If someone chants the Lord’s name, he is scorned. These are the signs of Kali Yuga.” (Ang 902). Since they had also faced this, they were reminding me that even though others will try to stop you, just keep walking the same path. I used to think that it just my perception that people were sweet to your face and were gossiping jealously behind your back. Now I was directly faced with the fact that It was happening and exists as a part of life no matter how you treat or think of other people. Even if you don’t have enmity against anyone, they may still have enmity towards you. Our history shows us that the Guru Jis had no enmity against people, but there were still many people who had enmity against them like Chandu Shah and Aurangzeb. This is especially true for powerful figures who speak up on important issues of truth and justice; the more vocal they are, they end up having lots of people rise against them. Malala Yousafzai comes to mind, as she was shot for standing up for female rights. It is not just these figures though, its present in the daily lives of people like you and me, and even Gyani Jis. The gossip and slandering come in the face of a person’s ego being faced with someone else’s success whether it is spiritual, social, physical or otherwise.  

Jealousy and competition are dividing forces that bring us further away from each other. Combined with people’s insecurities, they fuel gossip that makes assumptions about other people’s thoughts, intentions, and actions. It’s more important we create an environment of collaboration. My dad was telling me about how when his uncle came to Canada, there used to be Sikh families hosting newer immigrants for free in their homes. They would feed them, offer them support and shelter until they got on their own feet. Then those people would go on to do the same for others when they had the chance. This collaboration is in the spirit of the Khalsa as we are brothers and sisters and meant to work together. At the Gurdwara Sahib we can use the loving inclusiveness of the environment to grow and learn together, and it can inspire others to do the same.   

Hearing discouraging things about yourself isn’t pleasant (and kind of surprised me) but I think it’s also important to always have compassion for where other people are in their journeys. The observer’s criticisms speak about where they are on their own path and their ability to see you. I recently met some Gurmukhs who were able to understand, within moments of meeting, what it had seemed to take others a lifetime to know. I have rarely seen so much love overflowing from an individual and I almost cried. It is overjoying to meet the servants of Waheguru even if it is for a short time. It reminded me that when people are connected to God they are really able to dig deep into the experiences of others too and see them. When they are struggling in superficialities of maya, that’s the level at which they deal with the world and see others as well. That is why it’s important for us to stop looking at others and what they say or don’t say, what they want, and what their opinions are and rather look into our own path and journey. When I started recording shabads, I used to want everything to look right, and not want to move around. The more I sang kirtan with the Gyani Jis in the evenings, I moved beyond my body and stopped singing for others. Who was watching and whether anyone at all was watching didn't matter. I started singing from my heart to God, the shabads that resonated with my mind. When the shabad addressed my mind, I listened to the words of Guru Ji with my eyes closed as I sang. I think it is the process of bringing everything from other people to inside myself that allowed me to experience kirtan and is something I wish to pass on as a message about life. People talk, the chatter continues but our journey is fruitful when we stop worrying about others and walk our path as Bibi Santi taught us. I’ll pass on the same words I was given- don’t stop.  

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