Monday, December 24, 2012

A Paradigm of Gratitude


"Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul." 
~Henry Ward Beecher


About a month ago, many of us participated in the American tradition of Thanksgiving where we pause for a day of gratitude and express thanks for all we have and all we've been given.  Hours later, many of us participate in yet another American tradition, Black Friday, where we venture out in the middle of the night and stand in line at stores to hunt for deals on things we really don’t need.  This year, however, I refused to let go of "Thanksgiving" so easily.

I recently came across a pauree in Asa Ki Vaar  that I had heard hundreds of times before, but only now connected with.  To me, it shares Guru Sahib's perspective on thankfulness:


After reading this, I started to think about the loving yet critical conversation Guru Sahib would have with me about my "day of thanks."  With as many gifts as we receive each day, each minute, each breath...is one day of thanks really enough?  Instead, this pauree  tells me that thankfulness is not a day or a moment...instead it is a lens in which you view life.

Truth is, we often cannot control the events that happen around us, but we can control how we view them.  Personally, I've come across a handful of individuals in my life who have experienced tragedy or immense hardship, but when asked about it, they only emit thankfulness for the challenges Waheguru has entrusted them with.

This is where I want to be.  To be so connected with Akaal Purakh and in acceptance of his will...where all I feel is thankful.

And as a parent, with any lesson I try to teach myself, I ask what I can do to pass this lesson on  to my children.  How do I help my children view life through a paradigm of gratitude?

My wife and I have recently begun a tradition at home with our kids where right before bed, immediately after Sohila Sahib paath, each of us tell Waheguru Ji what we are thankful for.  In the first few weeks, the answers the kids gave were typical:
Thank you for my house
Thank you for my school
Thank you for my friends 

However, after several months of this, the answers have evolved:
Thank you for the heat in our home
Thank you for the dinner we ate today
Thank you for the time we spent as a family today
Thank you for making me brave
Thank you for making me a Sikh

Interestingly, I notice a similar change in my own Ardaas.

The hope here is by expressing thanks for all the big things, little things, and everything in between...thankfulness no longer becomes something you even have to think about...it simply becomes a way of life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How Unique It Is

"In 28 years of law enforcement, I have seen a lot of hate. I have seen a lot of revenge. I've seen a lot of anger. What I saw, particularly from the Sikh community this week was compassion, concern, support. What I didn't see was hate. I did not see revenge. I didn't see any of that. And in law enforcement that's unusual to not see that reaction to something like this. I want you all to understand how unique that is." 
--Oak Creek, WI Police Chief, John Edwards

I was late to Gurdwara on Sunday...

A visiting kirtani had just finished a shabad and was about to begin anand sahib, when our local Bhai Sahib gently interrupted him. Bhai Sahib then took to the stage and led the sangat in one more shabad, followed by simran and asked us to keep the Milwaukee sangat in our thoughts as there was a shooting at their local Gurdwara.

I thought I misheard...I wished I did.

I immediately pulled out my phone and saw my Twitter feed to find out in fact a shooting and possible hostage situation was in progress at a gurdwara right outside of Milwaukee.

It’s strange the way the Sikh psyche works. Even though a shooting was in progress at a gurdwara, for some reason, in hearing this tragic news...a gurdwara was still the only place I wanted to be.

The next few hours were a blur of tweets, emails, phone calls and conference calls...all with CNN running in the background. All of this kept me distracted...just enough to ignore the emptiness I was feeling inside. But later on that night, when I read a tweet stating “Sikhs at Oak Creek temple are providing water, food to journalists and police as part of religious tradition of hospitality”...I was overcome with emotion.

Like many of you, there are so many thoughts and emotions I’ve experienced over the last few days, nothing I can summarize in one post, but for now, I would like to focus on the resilience of the local Sikh community of Wisconsin.

From the calm and collected interviews, to the hospitality shown to journalists, police, representatives of Sikh organizations, to the resolve of the victim’s families...the only thing that comes to mind is 'Chardi Kalaa'

Over the last few days, I’ve been so amazed by the response of all the Sikh organizations and community members across the country who have so eloquently explained our way of life, our practices, and our experience in the media – on TV, radio, and print...but I believe it was the Sikh community of Wisconsin who set the tone. Before any of us could even process what happened, the eyes of America were on them in their darkest hour...and they made us proud.

Even in this tragedy, some good will come of this...we’ve seen it already. Our nation will have been educated about Sikhs at an unprecedented level. Partnerships and alliances may form between Sikh institutions and other local community and interfaith organizations, and perhaps we will some broader unity across the Panth that we’ve so desperately been lacking. And the Sikhs of Wisconsin will have had a huge hand in all of this.

Even now...only hours after after the gurdwara has re-opened, the sangat has already begun seva of cleaning up and serving langar...amazing!

Anybody who has even skimmed through a Sikh history book knows that we are a community that has experienced struggle, not just recently...but throughout our existence. And it is through this spirit of Chardi Kalaa, the collective strength of our community, and guidance from our Guru that has helped us overcome struggle and grow stronger. It always has and it always will. We all know it...but thank you Sikhs of Wisconsin for reminding us.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Leading Us Forward


Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.
--Khalil Gibran

It is tradition here during Vasakhi at our Gurdwara to ask all those who had received Amrit during the week to stand and be recognized by the sangat. This year, as the jakaaray echoed throughout the hall, I noticed an interesting pattern of those standing before me; most of the new amritdharis were girls. And last week, when all the amrithdhari students attending the Khalsa school were asked to stand and be recognized by the sangat, 25 kids stood up, and 22 of them were girls. I couldn’t help but feel inspired...for a couple reasons. I was proud of these young Kaurs, many of whom challenge American and Punjabi societal pressures to take this step toward the Guru, but more so, as a father of Kaurs, I was happy to see what great role models our community has.

As I was lost in thought during that Vasakhi day, I was quickly shaken by yet another jakaara as the Panj Pyaarey entered the divan hall. I'm always moved by the presence of the Panj Pyaarey. I am reminded not only of my Guru’s ideals, but the struggle and sacrifice our people have endured to preserve it - and most importantly, our panthic responsibility to do the same. The sangat quickly followed the Panj Pyaarey out of the hall for Nishaan Sahib Seva and a Nagar Kirtan.

As the days events came to a close, my mind wouldn’t sit still...

I wondered why is it that we have such a large number of amrithdhari Kaurs, but in my 30+ years going to this Gurdwara, I’ve never seen a Kaur in the Panj Pyaarey.

I realize this is a contentious issue, so much so that at a retreat many years ago, locals had violently threatened to disrupt an Amrit Sanchar after finding out one of the Panj Pyaarey was a woman.

Where did we lose our way?

Is it the Rehat Maryada that prohibits it? Remember...the document written in the 1930’s that so many of us criticize for being outdated and gender-exclusive. Well, under the ‘Amrit Sanskaar’ section, it states:

There should be Parkash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. As a minimum, six Singhs in full readiness should be present out of which number one shall sit in tabiaa and the other five shall be available for administering Amrit. These could include Singhnis as well. All of them must have washed their hair.

Despite the clear encouragement from the Rehat Maryada, the common argument here is “no women were part of the original Panj Pyaarey, why should we change that tradition now?” Although I’ve heard a lot of passionate counter-perspectives to this, the one that resonates with me most is that the Panj Pyaarey today are not representing the gender of the original Panj Pyaarey. If so, why stop at gender? Shouldn’t then the current day Panj Pyaarey represent the village the original were from? What about representing their castes too? No...the Panj Pyaarey should instead reflect the discipline, ideals, and spirit of the Khalsa...and if we are implying that women cannot meet that standard...then we have a lot of baani and history to re-read.

Often times, the resistance is more subtle. I recall years ago, a planner of a local Nagar Kirtan asked me to be a youth speaker at the event. I’m not sure what came over me that day, but for whatever reason, I quickly responded..."sure, as long as you can promise me that one of the Panj Pyaarey leading the procession will be a woman." UncleJi gave me a confused look and said, “Beta, I understand this is important to the youth...I will do much better than that...all five will be women!” Immediately I thought to myself, “what a cop out!” I knew what he meant by “all five will be women.” Yes, there will be five women dressed in baana, perhaps even carrying Nishaan Sahibs...but they will be somewhere several rows back from the Panj Pyaarey who are really leading the Nagar Kirtan. My ask is simple...why can’t the Panj Pyaarey be a mix of Singhs and Kaurs so that those who are representing the panth actually look like the panth.

Now...if you’ve been reading carefully, you may have noticed a flaw or two in my argument (it wouldn’t be the first time). On the one hand I’m saying that Sikhi should be gender neutral, so in that regard, why should I care if the Panj Pyaarey are men or women...the guru is the guru. On the other hand I’m adamant that the Panj Pyaarey should include women. Is this a contradiction? Perhaps. But at the same time, I believe that all of our ceremonies and panthic events, whether they are Nagar Kirtans, Dastaar Bandis, Amrit Sanchaars, or Anand Kaaraj’s should be examples for the community. Guru Sahib entrusted the Khalsa Panth to evolve in such a way that we are continuously motivating and inspiring the Sikh nation. And I raise this issue knowing that the decision of who is and who isn’t part of the Panj Pyaarey is not sacrosanct. I know...I've been a part of those discussions, and from my experience, it tends to be good-hearted sevadaars of the community who calls on his peers (typically the same ones year after year) to do this seva. They are our uncles, brothers, fathers, grandfathers...we know them. And all we need are those good-hearted sevadaars to shift their paradigm. Perhaps one or two may be reading this blog :)

I feel strongly about women being a part of the Panj Pyaarey, because I don’t believe my observation that day of the disproportionate number of amritdhari girls is merely an accident...rather, it is a manifestation of the Guru’s message. It is inspired by the wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters of the Gurus. It is inspired by Mai Bhago and her rallying of the soldiers to battle. It is inspired by the mothers from Mir Mannu’s prison. It is inspired by the women who rose above the countless abuses by the state in 1984.

This movement is not a recent phenomenon. It is the toil of our mothers, grandmothers, great grand-mothers, and their ancestors for hundreds of years.

And it is beautiful

And it is progress

So let's not stand in the way

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Reaching The Pinnacle

A few days ago, I had the honor to join the Sikh Coalition for a first-ever policy briefing held by the White House for the Sikh community. During this briefing, we heard from representatives of several executive agencies – Dept of Ed, EEOC, and the TSA - as they spoke about issues pertaining specifically to us. We were also given the opportunity to ask questions and offer recommendations to the officials. Unlike some of my Sikh Coalition colleagues, this was my first time at the White House, and I was as excited as a kid on a field trip. I was equally thrilled to be surrounded by Sikh activists and community leaders from around the country for this momentous day.

As the first words of the opening remarks were uttered, “Welcome to the White House…” my mind began to wander.

I thought to myself, how did we make it to this historic event?

I first thought about the Sikhs who migrated to the United States in the early 1900’s, working tirelessly in the lumber mills and railroads in Oregon. I then thought of my parents (who sat a few rows in front of me) and their generation, many of whom came to this country without a penny, but were armed with a strong education, a dream, and an incredible work ethic. How easy it would have been for them to leave their articles of faith back then when Sikhs were few and far apart.

I then thought of the small business owners, cab drivers, and gas station owners – those who serve on the “front-line” - representing Sikhi not only by their uniform, but through their courtesy and professionalism. I thought about all the people who have faced harassment and discrimination and challenged it through the legal system rather than simply give up. Then I thought about the Khalsa School teachers, camp directors and counselors, for all their work in keeping our youth connected to our heritage and filling them with the spirit to deal with all the daily challenges they face. I thought about all the children who have stood up to their bullies and made it clear the Sikh uniform is not to be disrespected.

Then I thought of my own generation, those who’ve benefited from our parent’s hard work, excelled in our education, engaged with our local communities and built institutions to preserve our rights and our way of life. I thought about all the parents, like us, who educate our communities through our children‘s schools, leading presentations about Sikhi, so that our kids will have the confidence to excel far beyond our imagination.

How did we make it here?

It took all of us.

And it was the Guru’s grace that held our hand along the way.

Ruminating on these thoughts while walking through the East Wing of the White House, I began to recite the mool mantar under my breath with hopes that it will not be the last time these walls hear the Guru’s words. Perhaps, years from now, a Sikh will be walking down this same corridor reciting the same mool mantar surrounded by secret service and staff on their way to meet heads of state or to make a speech to inspire the nation.

A Sikh president...can you imagine?

A leader of the free world, grounded in the ideals of Guru Nanak’s philosophy – equality, courage, justice, compassion...how beautiful.

This day at the White House made me realize that it will happen...maybe in my lifetime, maybe not.

But when it does, the story of the Sikhs in America, from its humble beginnings on the railroads of Oregon, will have reached a pinnacle.

And if I am so lucky to ever come face to face with the first Sikh President...I would be so overwhelmed.

I would proudly greet them with Guru’s Fateh, thank them for their service...

and wish her the best of luck.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

2084 & I

A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend Saanjh.

Saanjh is a Bay Area based NGO, that has been running community focused events for the last 4 years. One of their main initiatives, the Saanjh Leadership Retreat, explores subjects like an individual’s personal relationship with the Divine, identity and culture issues, history, literature and present day challenges before the panth. This Memorial Day weekend, they brought Saanjh to the East Coast.

I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive to attend at first. It’s been a while since I’ve attended a conference or retreat. Over the last several years, I’ve mostly volunteered at gurmat camps for children and teenagers. And at such camps, the expectations are pretty standard. Let’s face it...you can only accomplish so much with one week a year. Kids are mostly influenced by their parents, their home environment and their peers. So the week in the woods is mostly a “re-charge” to be with sangat, hang out with friends with similar experiences and have a fun, spirited time...and if you learn something about gurmat or history along the way, it’s an added bonus.

Retreats attract a slightly older crowd, mostly young professionals. And with that level of education, maturity, and advanced skill sets, I wonder...shouldn't we expect more than we do of our camps? In my opinion, the Sikh nation currently faces way too many challenges for us not to. When I attended retreats in my college years, I learned a lot about the issues facing the panth, but rarely did the experiences at the retreats carry over to any meaningful panthic work after it was over. Most of the retreats focused on gurmat, history, and social issues, but only a few hours on the last day for specific project work. And during that time, projects are quickly thrown together with a lot of spirit and enthusiasm, email addresses are exchanged, and a few weeks later...nothing. I’m sure some of you reading this have been the one sending that first post-retreat email to your project group and after no response think to yourself, where did all that spirit go? I know I have, so I wondered...was I to expect the same of Saanjh?

The theme of the retreat was ’2084’ – where we asked ourselves, where do we see the Sikh nation in the year 2084? What institutions do we hope to leave our grandchildren and great-grandchildren? From this ‘2084’ mission, we discussed goals, milestones, specific projects and the capital required (social, financial, human) to make such goals a reality. This 2084 institution-building theme led to lively discussion throughout the whole weekend while gurmat, history, and gurmat sangeet were interspersed. But does this approach really work?

Surprisingly, although Saanjh is only in its 4th year, it has already established several significant initiatives. Some projects are organic, like the Saanjh Scholarship, which aims to award $20,000 this year to students based on merit and financial need. Other projects like ‘Adopt A Family’ are strategic partnerships with established organizations like Baba Nanak Educational Society (BNES), which provides aid to families of farmer suicides in Punjab. The Saanjh community aims to spread awareness on the issue of farmer suicide and serve as a fundraising vehicle for the amazing work BNES is doing. Other projects getting off the ground are a “living history” that documents individual’s experiences around 1984, and a gurbani veechar resources initiative.

I believe much of Saanjh’s success has to do with limiting the scope and focusing on making few projects successful, rather than constantly inventing new ones. Another important factor is having a dedicated group of volunteers who help provide infrastructure and resources to the projects to ensure they keep moving in between the retreats. Sure, only time will tell which projects stick and which do not, but from what I’ve seen, the ones that stick have a good chance of becoming long-lasting institutions to benefit our community for decades to come.

At the retreat, some of the activities focused on personal development and discipline, while others focused on building institutions and moving the panth forward. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to connect the dots, Saanjh reminded me that as Sikhs we have so much to offer the world - look at our role models - Guru Sahib built cities, brought in commerce, organized communities, helped the under-served and advocated for social justice all while maintaining a connection with the Divine. And if I intend to a be vehicle of Guru Nanak‘s philosophy, if I intend to be his ‘sevak’, then I too must strengthen that bond and cultivate my relationship with the Guru.

Thanks Saanjh for the sangat, inspiration, and for reminding me of this important lesson!

The next Saanjh retreat will be held on October 18th – 21st in Santa Cruz, CA.

If you’d like to donate to any of the Saanjh initiatives, please visit http://www.saanjh.org/donate

Sunday, February 19, 2012

For Those Who Wonder Why



My children are in the “why” stage.
 
I’m sure many parents can relate...this is when your 3, 4, or 5 year old peppers you with questions about anything and everything –

“Why do I have to go to school?”
“Why do I have to sleep?”
“Why do I have to eat vegetables?”

Then to some of the more challenging ones...

“Why is the sky blue?”
“What happens after we die?”
“How come I can’t see Waheguru?”

But recently, after clarifying a song lyric for my daughter, it occurred to me that despite all the "whys", my children rarely ask me the meaning of a shabad.  We go to gurdwara nearly every week and listen to kirtan at home or in the car just about every day.  They are so inquisitive and I know they don’t know the meanings of the shabads we listen to...but still, they rarely ask.  So I’m left to wonder..."why?"

Perhaps they feel distant from the Guru.  Is this something the larger Sikh community feels as well?  Despite our Guru’s efforts to free us from a "priestly class", maybe there are some remnants left in our psyche that leaves religious discourse and ceremonies to those that are "holier than me."
  
At a recent gurmat camp, I facilitated a workshop on the Guru Granth Sahib and maryada.  I asked the group of high school and college students how many had ever stood or sat behind the Guru (to take hukamnama, chaur sahib etc.) and I was surprised to find more than half never had, some of them also have Guru Sahib Parkash at home.  And when I asked for them to sit close and watch as we did parkash, sukhasan, and hukamnama in this structured learning environment – they quickly sat around, were extremely attentive and asked tons of questions...they were so engaged.  I wondered, what would have happened if they had not attended the camp?  Some may have gone through their whole life without physically being that close to the Guru.  And if we’re too afraid to be close to the Guru, how do we expect to develop a relationship?  I’m inspired by a fellow khalsa school teacher who says "My job is to bring the Guru close…to teach the children that the Guru is your friend"

After spending most of my life in gurmat camps and working with Sikh children, it never ceases to amaze me...there are some kids who excel in all the camps, retreats, competitions and are just absolute superstars!  Their parents do all the "right things" to groom them as Sikhs, but somewhere during the college years or shortly thereafter, they choose to leave the path of Sikhi altogether.  Many of them choose this because they never really believed in God.  I was discussing this with another concerned parent recently and he said something that resonated with me.  He said "Our camps and khalsa schools can only do so much to teach Sikhi.  At some point, one must experience a moment in their life where a shabad brings them to tears."

I believe this.  I’ve experienced it before.  Not as frequently as I would like, but enough to know there is no other path for me.

I cannot force my children to have this experience, but as parents, it is me and my wife’s responsibility to create such an environment.  We can begin by explaining the meanings of the shabads we listen to...even without their asking.  I realize that sounds daunting, as it does for me too.  But say for a shabad like "Tera Keeya Meeta Lagae" perhaps all I need to explain is the line "Guru Meray Sang Sada Hai Naaley" (My Guru is always with me, near at hand)...what a wonderful thought a child can go to sleep with.  Maybe by continuously providing these themes, our children will be inclined to start asking on their own.  My hope is that a child who has a desire to understand gurbani eventually becomes an adult who has a desire to understand gurbani.

All the Sikh parents I know have their own approach when it comes to gurmat education.  Some leave it to the khalsa schools and camps to guide their children’s Sikhi, after all, it’s more than what we had.  Others focus on the daily and weekly rituals and instilling pride in their children, while deeper concepts of gurmat can wait until later.  Which is the right approach...who knows?  But I do know when I sit and talk to some of those youngsters who’ve moved beyond their doubts and formalized their commitment to the Guru...those who I would consider role models for my children and ask them what inspired them, there is a commonality amongst their answers – they all talk about their parents.  How their parents inspired them, guided them, and taught them - not as much in what they said...but in what they did.  So in the end...it’s on my wife and I to set that example.

Some have asked me...why does it matter?  Why are you so concerned?  Your children will eventually make their own choices in life.  No matter what you do; it may never be enough...there are no guarantees.
 
And they are right - there are no guarantees. 

But forgive me...

On this journey of the Guru’s path I’ve come across such beautiful moments of inspiration, glimpses of humanity’s wholeness, and a completeness with the divine that I can barely articulate.  So I would be remiss if I did not try to foster an environment for my children to get to know Guru Nanak.  And for those who question why it matters, I can only respond...how could it not?

Monday, February 13, 2012

It Must Be Basant

It must be Basant

I know...a Shabad reminded me so
And thank God for that, or else I never would have known

When I look outside, there’s no Basant. It doesn’t feel like Spring
It is cold...frigid even. There is no blossoming, no blooming, no rejuvenation, no growth
When I look inside, deep within my soul, there is no Basant either
It is cold...frigid even. There is no blossoming, no blooming, no rejuvenation, no growth

But I fear not

For my Guru shakes me out of my malaise, and says to me “Bholiya!” (Ignorant One)
Haumai Surat Visaar” (Let go of your egotistical intellect)

He tells me to check my ego, reflect on His name, and absorb the virtues of the divine

Then...a warmth comes over me

And for a split second, I find myself lying under a tree.
A tree made up of my deeds,
With branches made of Simran
Upon this tree grows fruits of knowledge and flowers of discipline
Leaves are made of awareness
And my egoless mind shades me from the sun
A beautiful Spring day, a warm breeze touches my face, a silence so deep…all I hear is the vibration of His name

And in a moment...it all disappears

When I am filled with hurt and sadness, all I can offer the world is hurt and sadness
When I am filled with Basant, all I can offer the world is love

SatGuru, grant me this wish -

Please let my Basant last forever...
 
Inspired by Guru Nanak Sahib's experience:

Among the months, blessed is this month, when spring always comes.
Blossom forth, O my consciousness, contemplating the Lord of the Universe, forever and ever.
O ignorant one, forget your egotistical intellect.
Subdue your ego, and contemplate Him in your mind; gather in the virtues of the Sublime, Virtuous Lord. Pause.
Karma is the tree, the Lord's Name the branches, Dharmic faith the flowers, and spiritual wisdom the fruit.
Realization of the Lord are the leaves, and eradication of the pride of the mind is the shade.
Whoever sees the Lord's Creative Power with his eyes, and hears the Guru's Bani with his ears, and utters the True Name with his mouth, attains the perfect wealth of honor, and intuitively focuses his meditation on the Lord. 
The months and the seasons come; see, and do your deeds.
O Nanak, those Gurmukhs who remain merged in the Lord do not wither away; they remain green forever.

Please take a moment to reflect on Guru's Sahib's experience in Raag Basant.  Keertan seva by Bhai Avtar Singh  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Out Of Respect


When going to the gurdwara as a child, I would always sit at the very front of the darbar hall. And as my mind would wander off (like most kid’s do), I would observe the people in line to "mutha tek." Being the curious kid I was, I would notice the peculiarities in the way people bowed before the Guru. Although everybody may have the same reason for it, nearly everybody had a slightly different way of doing it. Some would quickly press their head against the floor and in one quick move bounce back up and spin the other way, others would kneel for nearly a minute before bowing, some would press their heads or rub their noses on the floor repeatedly, or touch the ears and eyes as they stood up - and the most intriguing to me, were the ones who would walk backwards, sometimes 30 or 40 steps exiting the hall so they would never “turn their back” to the Guru – fascinating!

As I’ve gotten older and visited many gurdwaras and homes, I still see many of the peculiarities I did as a child – mostly around how we keep Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The rehat maryada outlines a very basic protocol of how to keep Guru Maharaj in our homes, yet what I’ve seen is a lot more elaborate. Some use space heaters and lay heavy blankets over Guru Sahib in the winter or place fans nearby in the summer, some wash and change rumaalay every day, others cover their mouths and bodies up so much when near the Guru, so that no pollutant from their body could mistakenly touch a page. When I’ve asked people, especially those with very time-intensive routines, as to why they do the things they do, the answers are always the same...”I do it out of respect.” Years ago, I remember at the end of a gurmat camp, all of us campers followed Guru Sahib’s procession outside as Maharaj was being transported from the main hall to someone’s car. The space around the car was tight so many of us kids crowded around the hilly areas nearby. An Uncle scolded us for standing at a higher level than the Guru, and ordered us to “show some respect”. I thought to myself, huh? When the car drives downhill from the campsite, are we supposed to run alongside it, so we don’t remain higher? And what about gurdwaras with balconies (like darbar sahib) where sangat sits, would this be considered “disrespectful?” There was once a time where I would argue that much of this is out of ritual than respect...but not anymore. As I’ve matured a bit, I’ve learned that people’s relationship with the Guru is quite personal, and after all, who am I to stand in the way of their respect?

I can understand why someone would create an elaborate environment and routine for Guru Sahib - He is our king, so shouldn’t the setting and protocol be that of a king’s court? Or does caring so much about the external aspects drive us away from what’s important? Could this be a reason why Guru Gobind Singh Ji did not name one physical successor?

We come from a part of the world where there is an abundance of holy men, where one can serve their spiritual leader through gifts, luxuries, comforts, and service towards him. In a sense, it is easy...as long as you labor your way through the physical routine and pay your forms of ‘respect’ - you’re done. In return, the spiritual leader provides you the answer to life’s mysteries.

The Guru’s paradigm (as I understand it), is quite different. The answers lie inside you...and through baani, you will realize it. We serve our Guru when our every day actions line up with baani...not just through ritual. So if we truly want to respect him, then start with baani – read it, understand it, reflect on it, and live it!

Then what now becomes disrespect toward the Guru? There are all kinds of finger pointing these days about individuals and institutions doing “beyadbi” toward the Guru...and some of that may be true. But in my opinion, the single-most disrespectful thing I can do to the Guru...is ignore Him. When I choose to tune out the hukamnama at the gurdwara or on my drive home when I cannot remember what the hukamnama was...or if I choose not to look up a translation when the hukamnama was unclear to me.  These are the things I do that are most disrespectful…this to me is “turning my back” to the Guru.

What I love most about being a Sikh, is that outside a few boundaries in the rehat marayada, I am free to define my own relationship with the Guru, so if that means I change rumaalay every day or my mutha tek routine takes 15 minutes...so be it. That said, Guru Sahib challenged us, not to be mere devotees...but to be students (Sikhs). And as we all know, no matter how much you impress or praise your teacher or how many gifts you give them...at the end of the day, it is how well you studied and understood what your teacher taught you and how you apply it to your life that counts...this is where respect begins.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Love Does That


All day long a little burro labors,
sometimes with heavy loads on her back and sometimes
just with worries
about things that bother only burros.
And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
than physical labor.
Once in a while a kind monk comes
to her stable and brings
a pear, but more
than that,
he looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears
and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh,
because love does that.
Love frees.
--‘Love Does That’ by Meister Eckhart

The further I journey through my adult life, I find myself getting entangled in worries
All kinds really
And as a parent, I’ve come to know a whole new set of worries that I never knew existed...perhaps it comes with the territory

And every now and then, on the more difficult days
when I feel like I am drowning in my worries...
A shabad will find me, reach out its hand...and pull me out

I often wonder...why did Guru Sahib give us his baani?

Sometimes I think he gave it to us as a lesson...from teacher to student
Other times, I think it is clearly the Guru self-reflecting on his own experience – and we are eavesdropping

Then there’s times where I think he gave us baani, for it his way to look us in the eyes...and ‘touch our ears’

He gave it to us as an expression of His love...

Thank you, Guru Sahib
Thank you for reminding me that it will never get too dark, for my Beloved shines too bright


The Perfect Guru has saved me.
He has enshrined the Ambrosial Name of the Lord within my heart, and the filth of countless incarnations has been washed away.
The demons and wicked enemies are driven out, by meditating, and chanting the Chant of the Perfect Guru.
What can any wretched creature do to me? The radiance of my Beloved is gloriously great.
Meditating, repeating, reflecting in remembrance, I have found peace; I have enshrined His Lotus Feet within my mind.
Slave Nanak has entered His Sanctuary; there is none above Him.

Please take a minute to experience this shabad in raag bilaval.  Kirtan seva by Bhai Onkar Singh