Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Brotherly love...

Sadly, in recent times it seems that many Sikh youngsters are going towards dividing themselves in groups and stressing their group is the right group and the other groups are not legitimate, mistaken, or worst still not Sikhs because they don't believe what they believe. Throughout Sikh history, Sikhs have enjoyed the support of being in Sangat in the forms of small groups (jathas), but no one believed that their group was the Panth - the Panth is much greater than any group.

Many Sikh Saints who may have had differences in their interpretation and observance of Maryada (Code of Conduct), shared the one common thing - the love of the Guru and the thirst and hunger to please the Guru. Looking back at the lives of the Great Sikhs, you realise that they agreed to disagree with fellow Guru-fearing-and-loving Sikhs and had a mutual respect with one another. They still considered those with perhaps different beliefs, like whether Dharnas should be sung or not, whether Rag Mala is read or not, or what school of thought they followed in pronouncing Gurbani, as fellow Sikh brothers and sisters.

One more recent example in history is Baba Jarnail Singh jee Bhindran Wale, who showed that the authority of the Sri Akaal Takht comes before our own respect-worthy personal Maryadas we follow and practice. Whilst staying at Sri Harimandir Sahib (Amritsar), Baba jee instructed his Sikhs not to impose their Dera's Maryada there or in any Gurdwara and instead uphold and respect the Maryada of Sri Akaal Takht Sahib. Why? It showed Baba jee's reverence for the One-Panth and believing we are all - whether individuals or groups - members of this One-Panth.

May Guru jee do kirpaa on us all that our Sikhi is built on pursuit for Guru jee's kushee (happiness) and kushee of the Panth and avoid getting stuck enmity and poison filled anger over the way someone else recites Paath or where they got santhiyaa from or not, how someone does Simran, whether someone can do Swaas Swaas simran or not, where someone recites Mool Mantar up to, how someone else does Keertan, which length Rehraas someone recites etc. Isn't it more important that someone recites Paath, someone actually does Simran (whether it is just repeating Waheguru with their Rasnaa (tongue) or with their Swaas (breaths)), someone actually meditates on Guru's Word whether up to GurPrasaad, Nanak Hosee Bhee Sach or even just meditating on one-single word of the Guru! Raag keertan is part of our history and culture that the Panth should preserve, but aren't we all capable of singing the true Raag - love? Should we get annoyed with someone else's Nitnem (daily prayers) and become negative whether they recite long, short, or medium-size Rehraas - isn't it praise-worthy that they are doing Nitnem?

May Guru jee bless us all.

Recently I came across an inspiring article on TheLangarHall.com:

On Common Ground
Posted by RP Singh in General, Sikhi on 27th May 2009 |

Years ago, I attended a Sikh retreat far from home – outside of the United States and outside of my “normal crowd.” It was interesting to experience Sikh life in a different country…and I think Bono had it right when he said, “We are one, but we’re not the same.”

The first morning we all woke up at Amrit Vela and joined in Nit-Nem and Shabad Keertan. Everybody was in to it and nobody seemed distracted. It was one of those powerful “Sangat” experiences where you lose yourself and become part of the whole. I loved it! I was so energized after that Deevan and was excited for all the weekend’s activities to come…then came breakfast.

It was a little chaotic as we entered the dining hall. Although the meals were vegetarian (God help us if they weren’t), a group of Singhs were arguing with the aunties demanding to see the packaging for the bread. They were convinced that this particular brand of bread had an animal byproduct as an ingredient. I skipped the bread and quickly moved pass, but finding a place to sit became an ordeal in itself. Although there were at least 50 people at the retreat, less than half were eating in the dining hall. I looked around and saw a handful of Singhs back in the kitchen sitting together eating from Sarab Loh (iron) bowls, cups, and plates. Another group of Singhs were heading back to their dorms to eat the food they brought, as their maryada only permitted them to eat food prepared by other Amritdharis who followed their same maryada. As for me, I felt like the new kid walking in the cafeteria on the first day at school trying to figure out which group I could fit in to. What happened to that warm and fuzzy feeling I had sitting in the Deevan? Now this Sangat, who couldn’t share a meal together, felt cold and distant.

Turns out mealtime wasn’t the only time we found ourselves at odds. We spent much of the weekend arguing over how many Baanis (prayers) one should read daily, or whether Raag Mala is Baani, or the authenticity of Dasam Granth, or whether Keertan should only be sung in Raag. We even debated over what colors should be prohibited for Sikhs to wear. Considering I grew up in a Sikh community that still argues over whether keeping “Kesh” is necessary, this was all quite a culture shock. The whole experience was difficult for me to swallow.

I thought to myself…with all the challenges we as a community face in the real world, it is disheartening to see how disjointed and fragile we really are. If we can’t agree on some of the most basic of Sikh principles and practices, how can we really progress as a community?

Mid-way though the retreat, I became frustrated. I mentally checked out and just waited for the whole thing to end.

However – on the last morning, one of my dorm-mates, who I spent much of the weekend arguing with, arose at Amrit Vela to wash his hair and begin his Nit-Nem. He must’ve done this every day, but on this particular morning, it woke me up. Although we both criticized each other’s maryada, I was impressed with his discipline and moved by the way he personally connected with the Guru in this way. And then it dawned on me,

“Who am I to judge or criticize, when he is up at Amrit Vela engrossed in Simran and I am lazily lying in bed.”

There is, after all, one thing we do have in common – and that is the love for our Guru. But our Sangat, experiences, and influence are different. Therefore, there are differences in the way we practice. The way we practice is tightly aligned with our belief, and belief is not something we take lightly. Most are unlikely to change. But does this mean we have to settle for Panthic disunity?


But I ask, have we ever really been united as a Panth? Only a handful of historical events come to mind where Sikhs from various groups had set aside their differences and shared a common goal – Banda Singh Bahadur’s conquer of Sirhind, and the immediate days after the 1984 Darbar Sahib attack come to mind, but for much of our history, there has been such disparity – even during the Guru’s time. It did not seem to prevent the Gurus from accomplishing their mission, so why should it prevent us?

There are some groups of Sikhs I disagree with, but they do the most amazing Keertan that touches my soul. There are some groups of Sikhs I am critical of, but I envy their sense of discipline. There are some groups of Sikhs I don’t see eye to eye with, but their passion for activism and social justice is inspiring.

So it begs the question…is it possible for us as Sikhs to embrace our commonalities and dare I say, “learn” from each other’s influences, yet be mature enough to accept each other’s differences…and agree to disagree?

Rather than spending our energy challenging one another over maryada and being critical of each other’s practices…can we instead focus that energy on living up to our own maryada and bettering our self? I, for one, have long ways to go.

I guess I’m starting to see the glass half-full. At this year’s Nagar Keertan, I passed by several aunties and uncles complaining of how chaotic the event was and how disorganized we were. But what I saw were thousands of my brothers and sisters…in different clothes, speaking different languages, some from different cultures, and even with slightly different practices…all marching the same direction. And I can’t help but wonder…rather than fight over our differences, is it possible we can rise above…and celebrate the beauty in our diversity?

ਜਿਨ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਹੈ ਤੇ ਜਨ ਸੁਘੜ ਸਿਆਣੇ ਰਾਮ ਰਾਜੇ ॥
jin anṯar har har pareeṯ hai ṯe jan sugẖaṛ siaaṇe raam raaje.
Those whose hearts are filled with the love of the Lord, are the wisest and most clever people, O Lord King.

ਜੇ ਬਾਹਰਹੁ ਭੁਲਿ ਚੁਕਿ ਬੋਲਦੇ ਭੀ ਖਰੇ ਹਰਿ ਭਾਣੇ ॥
je baahrahu bẖul cẖuk bolḏe bẖee kẖare har bẖaaṇe.
Even if they outwardly say something mistakable, they are still very pleasing to the Lord.


Anonymous said...

This is exactly what i was thinking about a while ago, veer jee. i was asking myself that if Maharaj made the Khalsa to end all differences between each other - to eliminate the caste system and to unite us all as a community - then why is the Khalsa divided?
i have been questionned by so many people about what 'jatha' i belong to and what marayada i follow, and i reply with a question: why does it matter?
i really wish that one day, we'll all see the Guru in each other, and see that we're all Sikhs at the end of the day.

Anonymous said...

sorry but , who are these gurmukh ?