I’ve always enjoyed a good story…and amongst all the depressing news lately of our declining economy, raucous town hall meetings, and corrupt politicians…I often turn to StoryCorp
’s podcasts for a quick “pick-me-up.” A few months back, I came across a beautiful piece titled “Finding El Dorado.” It’s the story of Gus Hernandez and the unique friendship he developed with Siddiqi Hansoti as a result of the current economic crisis. I was moved by this simple story of compassion and the power of the human spirit. Take a listen…it’s only 3 minutes [link
This story got me thinking about compassion and what it means to a Sikh. After some brief research, I found dozens of references to Daya (and its variations – Dayal, Dayala etc.) in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Depending on the context, it is loosely translated as compassion, mercy or pity. Several times it is used as an attribute of Waheguru:
miharavaan kirapaal dhaeiaalaa sagalae thripath aghaaeae jeeo
He is Merciful, Kind and Compassionate. All are satisfied and fulfilled through Him.
Other times it is used in the context of an Ardaas:
jath sath chaaval dhaeiaa kanak kar praapath paathee dhaan
Please bless me with the rice of truth and self-restraint, the wheat of compassion, and the leaf of meditation.
But what I connected with the most was how compassion was described as a necessary attribute of the GurSikh:
dhaeiaa kapaah santhokh sooth jath gantee sath vatt
Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist.
eaehu janaeoo jeea kaa hee th paaddae ghath
This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me.
If this line sounds familiar, it is because it is often associated with the saakhi of Guru Nanak Patshah at the age of 9, when he refused to wear the janeeoo that discriminated him against the rest of humanity. By rejecting it, he rejected the ideology of the caste system that pervaded throughout society.
It’s fascinates me that he cites “compassion” in this act of rebellion. In fact, wasn’t the act itself an act of compassion? Not only empathy toward those who suffered from the rigid caste system, but a genuine desire to alleviate it? Was it not through compassion that Bhai Khanaiya committed the rebellious act of serving water to wounded soldiers of the enemy’s camp? And was it not through compassion that Guru Tegh Bahadur Patshah gave his life for all those suffering religious persecution, and to protect the freedom of choice?
It makes me wonder…in my own small acts of rebellion or activism, have I ever felt such compassion?
After listening to Mr. Hansoti’s act of kindness to a stranger and the examples of compassion throughout our history…I wonder if, outside of my family, I have ever completely let go of my ego and truly been compassionate toward someone else…or if there was a time I could have been more empathetic?
I am convinced that compassion brings us closer to the Guru and helps break the barriers of ego that separate us from Him. As a dear GurSikh friend of mine has said to me, “If there is compassion in your heart, you will never be alone.”
In all my ponderings and analysis of compassion, I’m reminded of a quotation from Saint Thomas Aquinas, where he said, “I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it.” Hoping to “feel”…striving to be a better Sikh…