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?