The Guru Nanak I Know

As a child growing up, I heard sakhi after sakhi of Guru Nanak Sahib’s life – from his childhood, to his travels, to the odd conversations with various holy men - but for whatever reason, I connected with none of it.  However, at the same time I was developing an interest in social justice and became fascinated with the life and works of activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela.  I wasn’t interested in Sikh history…I was interested in revolutionaries.  But when I was finally able to connect the two and learned about “Guru Nanak The Revolutionary”, it all made sense…and I was hooked!  To this day, there is not a shabad I hear from Guru Sahib’s baani that doesn’t challenge me to rebel.

Rebel against caste discrimination
Rebel against gender inequality
Rebel against the oppressors of minorities
Rebel against empty ritual
Rebel against the inner enemies that keep us disconnected from Him (kaam, krodh, lobh, mob, ahankar)

Every way in which society was designed to suppress an individual, to limit their potential, to leave them powerless, Guru Sahib found a way to take the common man or woman –  uplift them, empower them, and enable them with  a connection to the Supreme, so they could ultimately challenge that very establishment that suppressed them.

This is Guru Nanak the revolutionary…and it’s the Guru Nanak I know.

But this time of year, the anniversary of his birth, is always unsettling for me.

When I look around, I see a celebration – not of Guru Nanak the revolutionary, but a caricature of him…a portly pacifist who’s become the symbol of “inclusivity.”  An old wise man who’s teachings have been replaced with our own anecdotes and opinions.  The image below making its way around the internet is symbolic of this.

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Where did this quotation come from?

Is this the same Guru that said Hukam Rajaee Chalna, Nanak Likhia Naal (O Nanak, it is written that you shall obey the Hukam of His command, and walk the way of His will)

Is this the same Guru that said Bin Satgur Kinai Na Paeeo Bin Satgur Kinai Na Paeea (Without the true guru, no one has obtained Him; without the true Guru, no one has obtained him)

Is this the same Guru that said Jo Tau Prem Khelan Ka Chao, Sir Dhar Thali Gali Meri Aou (If you desire to play this game of love with Me, then step on to my path with your head in hand)

Humble The Poet said it best this week,

This #gurpurb let’s practice some independent thought, and not digest a quote simply because it’s cute & someone put it beside an artist rendition of what Baba Nanak might have looked like. I don’t know who put those words together, but they weren’t Baba Nanak.

Refuting this quotation doesn’t take away from Sikhi’s universal message or seeing the “one-ness” in all of humanity.  But if there is one clear message I get from Guru Sahib’s baani, it is to follow your Guru and live his teachings…and we don’t need to hide from that.

So for this year’s gurpurab, let us not water down Guru Sahib’s message to the lowest common denominator, just so we can be festive and feel good about ourselves, let’s instead take an opportunity to awaken the Guru Nanak inside ourselves….to learn and reflect, to question and challenge, and to fearlessly stand with those who are marginalized, the same way Guru Sahib did and with the same humility and divinity in which he did it.  Perhaps this is the best birthday gift we can offer…

This post was inspired by Jaswant Zafar’s beautiful poem titled “Nanak.”  Never has something that sounded so beautiful felt like such a hard slap to the face.  Take a listen and spend the 4 minutes…you’ll be glad you did.


Walking The Walk

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A little over a year ago, I received a call from my colleagues at the Sikh Coalition requesting to do a Sikh Awareness presentation at a local high school.  My knee-jerk reaction was “What happened?”, “Was a Sikh boy bullied because of his dastaar?”, “Was a Sikh girl suspended because of her kirpan?”, “Are the parents involved yet?”  Surprisingly though, there was no incident.  In fact, there wasn’t even a Sikh attending the school.

Two week later, I stood before a class of 30 excited Catholic school students and delved in to my PowerPoint slides explaining who Sikhs are and what we’re all about.  When I got to the slide titled “Guru”, I asked the class, “Does anybody know what the word ‘guru’ means?”, a girl eagerly raised her hand and said, “One who takes someone from darkness to light.”  I had to pause for a second and collect myself.  Clearly, this wasn’t going to be like other presentations.  I would later find that the teacher spent the last few weeks researching Sikhi on the internet and had already taught three days of material on the basics.  I zipped through the rest of my slides as all my questions were answered with relative ease.  And rather than spending the rest of my time answering questions on “Why do you…” and “Are you allowed to…?”  We instead focused on much deeper questions:

Under what circumstances would you use your kirpan as a weapon?

How does the khalsa panth discuss and resolve issues affecting Sikhs globally today?

Is there a process for repentance in the Sikh faith?

Can someone from the LGBT community take amrit?

If a Singh is a lion and a Kaur is a princess, how is that a reflection of gender equality?

Do you think Sikhs should have a separate homeland?

It was a fantastic discussion, and it forced me to reflect as opposed to giving the “canned” answers I typically give in such presentations.  And in the final minutes, I was asked about my favorite local sports teams and hip hop artists.  Although the teacher was slightly embarrassed, I welcomed it, as clearly the students no longer saw me as “the other” walking in to their class room with a turban and long beard, but someone who was like them and someone they wanted to further connect with.  I have visited the school every semester since, and our presentation is now part of their standard world religions curriculum.

I try to minimize the time in these presentations on “de-mystifying the kakaars” and instead focus on the dangers of “othering”, the practice of looking at people who are different (race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.), as “them” and not one of “us.”  In its most basic forms, it prevents us for learning about one another and finding those mutual values that foster relationships and creates partnerships.  In it worst form, it causes violence where innocent people are hurt or killed.

13 years ago, when I started doing Sikh awareness presentations, it came from a place of fear…fear for the safety of my community.  My presentation sounded like “Hey, we are American just like you.”  Not anymore.  Now my presentation sounds like, “Hey, we are American, and we are different…and that’s okay.”  In fact, every immigrant who steps foot in this country brings a set of values and traditions to their community – and we can either be afraid of it, isolating them, or we can engage with one another, learn about what makes each of our traditions great. When we do this, we then find ways to partner with one another to build better neighborhoods and healthier communities.

In the case of Sikhs, I make it crystal clear to the students, when you see a Sikh…know that they live a disciplined lifestyle, they spend a good part of their day reflecting on God, and they have a passion for service and social justice.  That should be the first thing that comes to your mind.  If you’re going to stereotype us for anything, stereotype us for that.

This experience of presenting at schools has taught me a few things:

  1. We need better materials for non-Sikh educators on Sikhi available for free on the internet.  And we should work with Sikh and non-Sikh educators in doing so.  More to come on that from the Sikh Coalition…stay tuned!
  1. We can’t do it alone.  I have always said (especially on this blog), that the role of educating people on Sikhi is not solely the responsibility of civil rights organizations or public relations firms.  It will take all of us, but what I’ve since learned, is that it will take more than all of us. There are resources outside of our community, all around us, who have the capacity and desire to help…all we need to do is ask.  And where better to start than educators?  I have always had tremendous respect for the teaching profession, but I’m especially amazed at teachers like the one at the school I visited who decided to teach “outside the book”, to do his own research, and bring in speakers face to face, so we can truly break down barriers.  This particular teacher also arranges a trip to the local mosque every semester, where 30 Catholic school students witness Friday prayer.  Over lunch, I had to ask him, “Even after bringing in a Muslim speaker, did you still feel it was necessary to take the students to a mosque?”  He said, “You know, last time we went to the mosque, in the middle of the prayer, a man was so overwhelmed, he broke down in tears…you can’t teach that in a classroom.”  And he’s not alone, months later another inquiry came in from a Social Studies teacher to our Gurdwara’s website with an identical curriculum that we also now contribute to every semester.  These teachers are not simply educating, they are building bridges and creating change.
  1. PowerPoints aren’t enough.  For years I’ve stood in front of students pointing at slides talking about how our faith revolves around service and social justice.  But at some point, I’ll need to ditch the slides and get to work.  It makes me feel so proud when I see gurdwaras and Sikh organizations coming together for a charity event or seva project, but for me personally, I feel I need to take that next step outside of the Gurdwara too, and work shoulder to shoulder with other activists in solving our community’s most pressing needs.  Whatever the cause is – climate change, domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, hunger, I need to join the movement around me and wear my kakaars fearlessly.  Not only does it deliver more impact to the cause, but it educates others about the “students of Guru Nanak” without even uttering a word.  When it comes to educating others about Sikhi, we do not have an “image problem” and we don’t need to re-brand ourselves. Guru Sahib gave me the perfect brand – the god-connected-humanity-loving-injustice-fighting-student…I simply need to live it

Never Broken

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A generation has traditionally been defined as the average interval of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring, which makes a generation around 30 years in length.  This has caused me to reflect on the events of 1984, now that a full generation has passed.  Of those 30 years, it occurred to me that I’ve spent the last 20 making speeches, presentations, and facilitating workshops on 1984.  Early on, we would present to a standing-room-only crowd…folks would drive from neighboring states to see the images or engage in discourse on 1984.  And at camps, it was the night everyone looked forward to.  Since then, crowds have slowly thinned out.  While speaking at a few local universities a decade ago, I would find only the same handful of Singhs attending the event at each location.  And only a few years back, an organizer and I waited around an empty room for 30 minutes, then decided to cancel. I guess you would call that “rock bottom.”  I remember that night on my drive home being so frustrated at the apathy of our community, but it wasn’t until years later that it dawned on me…maybe it was me.  In all those years I presented 1984, I never changed my approach.  It was the same technical description of the attack and stories of bloodshed and loss.  Of course, it was the personalities that inspired everyone (including myself), but even that was overshadowed by a general tone of helplessness and victimhood.  Perhaps that was okay early on, psychologists would say we as a community have experienced trauma and need to emote and express our sadness and grief.  Maybe this is why a quick google of “Sikh 1984” will bring you mostly images of death, blood, destruction, and fire.  But I am convinced that if we want this next generation to connect with 1984…we cannot do it through sadness and loss.  It will need to be a narrative of inspiration.

You may ask, how can we take inspiration from such a terrible event in our history?  For me, there are many.  First and foremost are the personalities and their stories of courage and bravery.  In the 80′s while kids my age were putting up pictures of Superman and Spiderman on their walls, I was putting up pictures of Baba Jarnail Singh, Bhai Amrik Singh, and General Shubeg Singh.  Even today, these images stay in our children’s rooms besides the likes of Baba Deep Singh, Banda Singh Bahadur, and Mai Bhago.   I also remember the spike in amrit sanchars at the time and the hundreds of thousands of people who showed their defiance to the oppressor and their solidarity with the Guru Granth and Guru Panth by making a formal commitment to the Guru.  Each of us can probably trace a family member or friend who took amrit during that time.  And If I think about the conversations with the founders and leaders of the Sikh institutions here in the US today, nearly all of them were deeply impacted by the events of 1984.  This is not by accident.  It’s as though these events were a catalyst for the amazing organizations that serve the panth today.  But my fondest memory of that period of 1984 was going to protests and demonstration and finding myself in a sea of kesri as far as the eye could see.  For that short window of time, it didn’t matter what gurdwara you went to or what jatha you were a part of…we were together.  It was the closest thing I had ever seen to panthic unity.  And although it was short-lived and I have barely seen it since, I take comfort in knowing that it is possible…I’ve seen it.  These are the memories I have of 1984 and not only have they inspired me, they have helped connect me with my community and helped shape the relationship I have with my Guru today.

This idea of taking tragic events and presenting them in an inspiring way is not my own.  In fact…think for a second.  When I say “Baba Deep Singh”, what is the first image that comes to mind?  Is it the destruction of the darbar sahib shortly before his shaheedi?  Or is it how the Mughal army outnumbered the Sikh soldiers?  Or the thousands of Sikh lives that were lost in battle?  No…it isn’t.  It’s the awesome image of Baba Deep Singh wielding a sword with his head on his hand, isn’t it?  And when you think of one of the most tragic stories of our history, the shaheedi of the Chotay Sahibzadae…the gruesome tale of 7 and 9 year old who were bricked alive, what image comes to your mind?  The image of two little boys smiling in the face of their oppressors with their fists raised in the air, isn’t it?  At a recent camp, I asked a group of children between ages 6-10 which personalities from Sikh history do they want to be like, and interestingly enough, it wasn’t Guru Nanak Sahib and it wasn’t Guru Gobind Singh…it was the Chotay Sahizbade.  How could a group of children hear this painful story, yet unequivocally  want to be like them?  It’s because of the way we told the story.  We have taken tragedy and turned them in to narratives that have inspired Sikh children and adults for hundreds of years…and we need to do the same for 1984.

The movement has already begun.  Organically, retreats and workshops throughout North America are drafting children’s books, creating art, drafting poems, writing songs and lullabies, all which present a positive and inspiring reflection of 1984.  And initiatives like the “Connecting with 1984” small grants pool have provided a means to turn creative ideas in to tangible products.  Terms such as the “Battle of Amritsar”, replacing the Government’s code name “Operation BlueStar” and phrases like “Let Them Come” are making their way in to Sikh parlance and give us a new lens in which to view 1984.

As a student of marketing, I’ve learned how logos and slogans are created to give consumers a way to understand and process a brand.  When we see the logo of a brand we love or a brand we hate, it fills us with powerful thoughts, memories, and emotions.  Reconciling this with 1984, I wonder…in its simplest form, what is it that we want to convey?  I’m reminded of a classic movie Lion of the Desert – Omar Mukhtar about the Libyan resistance movement against the Italians in the early 1900’s. After a war scene, Mukhtar returns to the village of families eagerly awaiting their loved ones.  Walking alongside a rider-less horse, he informs one of the women that her husband was killed in battle. He then says to the grieving widow holding her young son, “Do not let him see you crying too much, one day they will carry on the fight. Children should remember us as strong and confident…never broken.”

And that’s exactly it, ”1984…Never Broken

You can attack us, you can destroy our buildings, but our Guru-inspired spirit is so strong, you will never break us…never. ~

 

In this spirit of this post, take a listen to this spoken word piece titled “The 1984 I Remember”, originally performed at Lahir 2009 and re-recorded for the 30th anniversary of the “Battle of Amritsar” https://soundcloud.com/spiritofthesikh/the-1984-i-remember


Just Do It

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Last week, I had the opportunity to teach at a local gurmat retreat on the topic of the Singh Sabha Lahir.  I was excited, as this era in Sikh history is rarely discussed at youth camps, but it captures a unique time in the evolution of the panth.  While driving up to the camp site, reviewing names and dates in my head, I glanced at my Twitter feed (at a traffic light…I promise) and learned that Gurbaksh Singh had just ended his hunger strike upon agreement of further prisoners being released.  Although I’ve been studying the Singh Sabha Lahir for a while, these recent events in Punjab made me re-look at this critical time in history from a different lens and how it affects us today.

The fall of the Sikh Raj in 1849 left Sikhs with uncertainty and fear.  Sikhs were demoralized, leaderless, and our dwindling population became easily influenced by the Christian missionaries and Arya Samajists spreading throughout Punjab.  Then in 1873, a handful of Sikhs decided to do something about it.  An army did not back them, they were not political leaders, nor were they part of the elite, but most importantly…they were not waiting around for a leader.  This was the beauty of the movement; it was a “Just Do It” movement. This small group of Singhs took inventory of their own skills – their education, writing abilities, community organizing, and gurmat knowledge – and marched their way through the towns and villages of Punjab.  The next few decades would see a “back to the roots” movement that would inspire the masses and change the course of Sikh history for the next 100 years.

Although the beginning of the movement is clearly documented, the end is harder to tell.  As I see it, the Singh Sabha movement never dissolved, instead it evolved in to institutions, which all good movements do…many of which still exist today.  In addition to the gurdwaras, schools, hospitals, and orphanages built, the Singh Sabha Lahir led to the foundation of Khalsa College and planted the seeds for the Gurdwara Reform Movement, SGPC, Akali Dal, and even the Rehat Maryada.  Sure, some of these institutions have veered off track of their objectives, but I have faith they will eventually return to their original purpose and glory

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What’s remarkable about the Singh Sabha Lahir is although much is said about some of the early founders – Giani Ditt Singh, Bhai Gurmukh Singh, Bhai Kanh Singh, Bhai Vir Singh, etc.  The further you read about the goals and accomplishments of the movement, the number of names grow.  The number of people and organizations who carried the movement become so many, to the point where you stop reading about individuals at all.  Perhaps this is why the movement lasted over a quarter century…it became bigger than the individuals.

When I look at recent movements, they are largely based on individuals.  And I get it, we are drawn to heroes…I know I am.  Most of my connection with Sikhi began with learning about the lives and sacrifices of amazing personalities.  But heroes can only inspire a movement; they can’t sustain it, that’s on us…that’s our responsibility.  Too many times we have ridden movements on the backs of heroes.  And if the circumstances of the individual change, the movement fizzles out.  We need to be smarter than that.

This is not my idea…why else did Guru Sahib pour his heart and trust in the Guru Granth and Guru Panth? Being the visionary he was, he knew that continuing Guru Nanak’s movement will take more than individuals, it would take the toil, spirit, and ardaas of the entire Khalsa Panth.

As I reflect on the state of Sikh affairs in Punjab and the diaspora, I wonder if the same dark cloud that casted over the Sikhs in 1849 has returned, in fact, many of the same obstacles the Singh Sabhiye worked to eradicate have found their way back in to our institutions - caste discrimination, idols, empty ritualism, factions etc, among a host of many other political and socio-economic issues in both Punjab and abroad.  The challenges are many…we all know it.  We talk about it amongst our circles; blame the lack of leadership in far off lands and retreat to our feelings of fake helplessness, finding fake comfort in the hope that somebody else will take care of it.

Good thing the Singh Sabhiye didn’t think this way.  And if we intend to keep our Nishan Sahib flying high…neither should we.

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Kabeer, that which you have to do tomorrow – do it today instead; and that which you have to do now – do it immediately!

Later on, you will not be able to do anything, when death hangs over your head. ||138||


Between Gap Ads And Hunger Strikes

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It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people…”      - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This time a month ago, Sikhs across the country were engaged in debate over a Gap ad.  Opinions ran the gamut.  Some Sikhs were uncomfortable with the ad as the woman placed her hand on the dastaar, others were vehemently opposed to a Sikh being portrayed in any lustful way.  Some Sikhs thought the ad was cool and took a picture of it at the local mall.  Others were so overwhelmed by Gap’s decision to feature a Sikh model, they organized thank you tributes and facebook pages to express their gratitude to Gap.  And more recently, there’s been debate over the hypocrisy of Sikhs to glorify a company that has a history of poor treatment of its workers.  And then a counter-argument that those who are accusing Sikhs as being hypocrites are really just being over critical…after all, it’s just an ad.  What’s more surprising than the wide range of views, is that everyone had an opinion.  It was discussed, sometimes heatedly, at just about every Sikh event I went to.

In the midst of the Gap ad debate, A Haryana based Sikh – Gurbaksh Singh, went on hunger strike at Gurdwara Amb Sahib (Mohali) near Chandigarh to seek the release of 6 Sikh prisoners who have already served the terms of imprisonment to which they were sentenced by Indian courts…I repeat, “already served the terms of imprisonment.” With all the issues Sikhs throughout the world are debating today, Bhai Gurbaksh Singh decided to risk his own life to bring to light the plight of Sikh prisoners languishing in jails and the imbalance of justice toward Sikhs in India. As I’ve been following the story, I wondered…where is the outrage?  Where are all the tweets, lengthy facebook discussions, signs of solidarity, online petitions and calls to action the Gap ad drew?  Our brothers and sisters in Punjab, UK, and Canada have mobilized their sangats, but Sikhs in the US have been largely quiet in comparison.  As Bhai Sahib enters the 35th day of his hunger strike, those same circles that argued over the Gap ad do not know who Gurbaksh Singh is let alone feel compelled to act.

Over the years, I have engaged in many debates over my views on the state of the panth, 1984, and the dire situation of Sikhs in Punjab.  I would often walk away from these debates in frustration…but not anymore.  I’ve grown to appreciate people’s different views.  Because when you are debating, there is concern and thinking.  People who think and are concerned can change their minds, and even if they don’t, they continue to mould their opinions and help me shape my own.  To me, the biggest threat we face as a panth today are not the people with opposing views, but the people who remain indifferent.  Those who can easily dismiss the current state of Sikhs in Punjab as “not my problem.”

I’m too cynical to believe in complete panthic unity.  As I read through history, I can hardly find a time where Sikhs were completely united.  But there have been times, even in my lifetime, where there have been glimpses.  And when we’ve been united, we have moved mountains.  Let this be one of those times…

Learn more about Bhai Gurbaksh Singh’s fight

Reach out to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations to gain international support.

Call leaders of the Punjab government and Sikh institutions in Punjab and urge them to act!  - Click on the image below:

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Gurpurab: A Celebration Or Call To Action?

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For my 100th post, I’d like to share a speech I delivered at the gurdwara this past Sunday for Guru Nanak Patshah’s gurpurab.  It asks us to reflect on what a gurpurab is…a celebration or call to action?

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Baba liberated all four directions and nine divisions of earth.
Gurmukh (Guru Nanak) has emerged in this kaliyug, the dark age.

As a kid growing up, I never had much interest in Sikh History.  I would sit in khalsa school doodling on a piece of paper or staring out the window as our teacher would read us the same janam sakhis I heard over and over throughout my childhood.  I was, however, very interested in American history, particularly the civil rights era.  Activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X particularly inspired me because of their passion for social justice. I wasn’t interested in Sikh history, but I was very interested in revolutionaries.  It wasn’t until a gurmat camp I attended in my teenage years that I was really introduced to the life of Guru Nanak and came to realize that Guru Sahib was the ultimate revolutionary.

Wherever social injustice existed, Guru Sahib spoke out.

Whereas society was delineated by caste, designed to keep power with the few, Guru Sahib created a parallel society based on equality, sharing, and dignity.

Whereas women were positioned as lower than the lowest caste, Guru Sahib empowered women by prohibiting practices that lessened their role or potential.  And when the manji system was established, women were not only active participants, but also held leadership positions in the sangat and were expected to help spread Guru Sahib’s message.

Whereas religious discourse was only reserved to the highest caste, Guru Sahib spread his new message to the masses, so that everyone could be inspired.

Every way in which society was designed to suppress an individual, to limit their potential, to leave them powerless, Guru Sahib found a way to take the common man and uplift them and empower them, so they could ultimately challenge that very establishment that suppressed them.

Unfortunately, we still live in a world with rigid inequality – all kinds – race, gender, socio-economic, even caste.  And we only have to turn on the evening news for a few minutes to see what dictator is oppressing a minority somewhere in the world.  So I would submit that Guru Nanak’s revolution is not complete.  In fact, it was Guru Nanak in his 10th form that established the khalsa with the intention of continuing Guru Nanak’s revolution in our modern day.  And if you agree with me, then we must re-think what today really means to us and how we celebrate our gurpurabs.

Guru Sahib began a revolution…he did not tell us to go off to the hills in seclusion and meditate all day.  Instead he wanted to us to live in this world, to inspire ourselves through baani, simran, reflection, to live a disciplined life according to his teachings, so we can ultimately continue out his mission…and serve humanity.

So if today we simply listen to shabad’s written by Guru Nanak and all of us wish each other gurpurab di mubarak and go back home and on with our lives, then we will have done a great disservice…we will have missed the point.  In Sikh tradition, we don’t just celebrate…we reflect on the Guru’s teachings and try to live it.  Our gurpurab is not a celebration…it is a call to action.

When I ask the kid’s in our class or at any camp, what do you think of when we say ‘Guru Nanak’?  The answer is almost always the same – Naam Japna, Vand Chakna, and Kirt Karni – the three golden rules.  Although I grew up with these same golden rules, I wonder, where did it come from?  I’ve read books dating back 100 years that refer to these same golden rules, but of Guru Nanak’s entire body of work, who decided on these as the golden rules?  And why did we limit ourselves to these three?  Perhaps it is because they can easily be checked-off – if I do my paath, share, and not cheat people for money, I’ve accomplished all three, right?  But 500 years later, with the challenges we have before us, I argue we need to add to this list of golden rules – for ourselves and for our children…it’s time we up our game.

From my understanding of Guru Sahib’s baani and history, there are some powerful concepts that should also become part of our daily lives and discourse.  I will offer a few:

  1. Social activism.  During Babur’s invasion, Guru Sahib did not sit quietly.  And although he did not have an army behind him, he used his pen and his voice to speak out, and called out Babur for the tyrant he was.  Today, there is injustice all around us.  And I was impressed by the GNFA Khalsa School students who remembered Bandhi Chor Divas  last week by writing 115 letters for Amnesty International to free an innocent political prisoner in Angola because he wore a t-shirt protesting the president…this is the way we celebrate.
  2. Putting our faith in to action.  Whether it was Guru Sahib challenging the worshippers in Hardwar throwing water to their ancestors or Guru Sahib in Mecca challenging the Qazi’s on the focus of their Namaaz…and he could just as easily been talking about me with my mutha tek…when I bow my head am I really submitting my own head, am I letting go of my own ego, am I letting go of my own intellect and accepting his way?  Or is it just an empty ritual?  So what do I need to do make my prayer more genuine, what do I need to do to put meaning to my actions?  Guru Sahib boldly speaks to this in Asa Ki Var when he says:akv
  3. Self-awareness.  Letting go of my ego long enough to look within myself, to reflect on my shortcomings and make change.  Letting go of my ego long enough to see the oneness of all, to see Waheguru in all beings – whether it is people of different races, faith, beliefs, people who love, people who hate…seeing Waheguru in everything and everyone and therefore having compassion toward all.
  4. Humility.  The 1st graders are learning about Guru Sahib’s interaction with Bhai Lalo and Malik Bhago.  I’ve heard the sakhi hundreds of times, but last week hearing it again, it hit home.  When given the chance to dine with a king, Guru Sahib refused.  He preferred the company of Bhai Lalo, the poor carpenter…for what reason?  And it makes me wonder in my struggle for success and to provide the best for my family, am I spending enough time with the Bhai Lalo’s of the world…what am I missing?  What lesson could I be learning?

These are additional golden rules that I need to bring in my life.  What’s challenging about these additional rules is that they are hard.  They require me to get out of my comfort zone and change my lifestyle.  I’ve even tried to “unlearn” these rules because it is much easier to simply be happy with the way things are…but my Guru won’t let me forget, he tells me Jau Tau Prem Khelan Ka Chao, Sir Dhar Tuli Gali Meri Aou – “If you desire to play this game of love, then step on my path with your head on your palm.”

So let this gurpurab be a call to action…before leaving the darbar hall today ask yourself what are you going to do?  What change will you make?  What of Guru Sahib’s principles will you bring in to your life?  And let today’s ardaas formalize your commitment

By bringing these principles of gurmat in to our lives and developing our relationship with the Guru, the personality of Guru Nanak comes alive.  His desire to learn, his pursuit of justice, his compassion, his humility, his love for humanity…what better way to celebrate his life?

Here in America, we are constantly finding ways to explain to people who Sikhs are and what Guru Nanak was all about.  But the best way we can educate people about Sikhi is not by telling people about Guru Nanak, it’s about showing them the Guru Nanak within you.


My Lollipop Moment

Watching Drew Dudley’s TED Talk on ‘Everyday Leadership’ is probably the best spent six minutes I’ve spent in a long time.  Immediately after, I began thinking of my own lollipop moment, a moment someone said or did something that fundamentally made my life better.

I was transported back to the eighth grade.  After a whole summer of contemplating, I decided I was going to begin wearing my dastaar on the first day of school.  I practiced all summer to get it exactly right, and although it was imperfect, it definitely looked more appropriate for a kid my age, more so than a patka or rumaal.  But it was different, it was bigger, and I wasn’t fully comfortable with it.  More so, I was nervous how others would react.  Would it attract undue attention?  Would people tease me? None of my friends had seen me in it before, would they still hang out with me?  All these thoughts went through my head.  I was hesitant, but I knew deferring to next year, when I started high school, would be even harder.  I dreaded the first day of eighth grade, and soon enough it came.

I spent an hour that morning trying to get my dastaar just right, each attempt more frustrating then the last.  And I waited until the very last minute to walk to the bus stop.  Usually I would run in to some of the neighborhood kids on the way, but today, I could see everyone was already there.  It was a cold September morning, but I was drenched in sweat.  And with each step toward the bus stop, I wondered…was I really ready?

As soon as I approached the bus stop, an African American girl in my grade who I shared a few classes with the previous year quickly glanced at me and did a double take.  And she yelled over, “Hey Rubin, nice turban” and went back to talking with her friends.  Immediately, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  Turns out…in all the fears, worries, and disastrous scenarios that went through my head all summer – not once did I consider anybody would think my dastaar looked cool.

Throughout the day, I received many compliments, many questions, a few stares, and a few people laughed and made jokes…but I didn’t care…I was free.  I had already gotten through the tough part.  And I wasn’t going to let the negativity of a few get in the way of the positivity of so many…sometimes it’s like that for a Sikh.

So after watching this TED Talk, I thought a few things…

I thought I should let my former classmate know her encouraging words that day at the bus stop over 20 years ago got me through a tough time…we’re Facebook friends and I will do that as soon as I find a non-creepy way of doing so :)

I also thought of my sangat, and as we make commitments toward the Guru, some of them very physical and external, how important it is to provide that “lollipop moment” for one another.

I thought of the counselors at gurmat camp and the powerful role they play for our children.  They have a tremendous opportunity to provide these transformative moments as well.  My wife and I raise our children with the hopes that their source of courage and inspiration comes from somewhere deep within, and not rely on others for it, but at the same time, we cannot deny the impact on what a few encouraging words can do.

I thought about how I as a Sikh should be more aware of this “lollipop” concept, and how I should try to be a source of encouragement to anyone of any culture around me.  Wouldn’t it be nice for someone to remember that 20 years ago a Sikh man or woman with a dastaar helped encourage them through a tough time?

But most of all, I thought about Dudley’s point about how he never remembered the event at all.

I’ve always believed this about Sikhi…that when we are living in simran, when we are connected with the Divine, there is no room for ego…all that’s left is love.  And where there is love, the everyday leader comes out…so quietly, you hardly notice.


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