Sunday, May 21, 2017

Nagar Kirtan Reflections

I have lots of pictures to upload for the Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan, stay tuned! I look forward to the nagar kirtan all year - 7.5 hours spent remembering Waheguru and celebrating Sikhi. I am thankful to all the sewadaars who make this event possible, and the sangat that travels from far and wide to support our community. I enjoy seeing everyone coming together. There is such a strong sense of love, belonging and fulfillment from being surrounded by people who inspire you. The nagar kirtan is also a time of reflection of how hard the Sikhs in our history fought to get us to where we are today. It is a reminder for us to stay committed on this path of love for God and end the cycles of reincarnation. It is also an opportunity for sharing our knowledge with each other, and with people of other faiths. So thank you again to the whole community for making this possible. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Nagar Kirtan 2017

Reminder for tomorrow's Nagar Kirtan. It starts at 9:30 from the Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh temple at 4298 Davis Road, down Ospika to the CN centre parking lot from 12-2 pm, then back to the Gurdwara Sahib at 3:30 pm. I am going to copy my post from last year below. 

Vaisakhi is the harvest festival in India, but more importantly for the Sikh religion we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa in 1699. It is celebrated April 14 every year but due to cold weather in Prince George we do the Nagar Kirtan in May. 

I’m going to provide a bit of historical background. At the time, Emperor Aurangzeb was an unjust ruler. He was destroying Hindu temples and forcing people to convert to Islam or die. People were being raped and tortured. Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, ninth Sikh Guru and father of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, sacrificed his own life fighting for the rights of all people to be able to practice their religion. After the Guru Ji was martyred, his followers dispersed out of fear of Aurangzeb. There was a big storm which allowed one man to take the severed head, and another with his sons to take the body, of Guru Ji back to their houses to perform the last rites. Guru Gobind Singh Ji became the 10th Guru.

Guru Ji announced a special Vaisakhi for 1699. Sikhs from far and wide came. He stated “The entire sangat is very dear to me; but is there a devoted Sikh who will give his head to me here and now? A need has arisen at this moment which calls for a head”(1). There was a man who was willing to sacrifice his life. Guru Ji took him into the tent and came back with a sword dripping with blood. This was repeated for a total of 5 times. The crowd was starting to disperse out of fear, but the 5 emerged from the tent. These 5 Sikhs, Bhai Daya Singh Ji, Bhai Dharam Singh Ji, Bhai Himmat Singh Ji,  Bhai Mukham Singh Ji, and Bhai Sahib Singh Ji, are known as the Panj Pyare (5 beloved ones), and were the first to be baptized into Sikhism. Guru Ji was then baptized by the five Sikhs himself. Thus the Khalsa was created. They were given a clear identity- kesh (unshorn hair), kangha (comb), kara (bracelet), kashera (underwear) , kirpan (sword) (see my previous post about the 5 K’s for more information), and the last name Singh for men and Kaur for women to unite them. The visual identity of the Sikhs was important because that no one could hide as they had done after the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, the Sikhs would be brave and accountable for their actions. The Panj Pyare were all from different castes, and this was important in establishing that everyone is equal and the caste system should not be followed. 

Every year we hold a nagar kirtan (nagar means town, kirtan is singing of holy hymns) for Vaiskahi. I really liked this article- http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/anupreet-sandhu-bhamra/why-free-food-is-not-the-_b_3129187.html, which reminds us that the nagar kirtan is more than just about food. It’s about the tenants of Sikhism: Naam Japo (remembering God, which we do as we sing the hymns walking along the streets of the city), kirat karo (working hard, which we do when we come together and organize the event), and vand shako( share what you earn, which is why there is free food as there is every week at the temple). 

References

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Turbans in the RCMP

I wanted to share this story about how RCMP Inspector Baltej Dhillon won the rights for Sikhs to be able to wear turbans in the RCMP. I had the pleasure of meeting Inspector Dhillon a few years ago and he is truly an inspirational individual. I was shocked to read about how over 90,000 Canadians had signed a petition AGAINST allowing turbans to be worn, and how he had even received death threats in the mail. I think that we have come a long way since then. On Canada’s 150th anniversary we are not celebrating the achievements of Sikhs like Inspector Dhillon as a contribution to the diversity of our country.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Guru Amar Das Ji Parkash Divas

This weekend we are celebrating the birth of our third Guru, Guru Amar Das Ji. Guru Ji was born May 23, 1479 in Basarke, Amritsar, to parents Sri Tej Bhan Ji and Mata Lachmi Ji. Guru Ji worked as a shopkeeper, and married Mata Mansa Devi. Their children were Bhai Mohan, Bhai Mohri, Bibi Dani, and Bibi Bhani (she went on to marry Guru Ram Das Ji). In his younger days, before Bhai Amar Das Ji became Guru, he was a devout Hindu. At the age of 61, one day he heard the hymns of Guru Nanak Dev Ji being sung by his nice-in-law, Bibi Amro Ji (daughter of Guru Angad Dev Ji). These touched him so much, he went to meet Guru Angad Dev Ji and become a devout Sikh. He would carry water daily, wash Guru Ji’s clothes, and collect wood for langar. At the age of 73 he was named successor to Guru Angad Dev Ji. At the same time, Guru Angad Dev Ji’s son, Datu was jealous and called himself Guru. He went and physically kicked Guru Amar Das Ji off his chair, shocking the entire sangat. Guru Ji, however, said “‘I am old and my bones have grown very hard, I fear they have hurt your tender foot’”(1). He left the city of Goindwal, which he had established, and went to Basarke for meditation. He left a sign on the front door saying that whoever opened it wasn’t a Sikh and that he wasn’t their Guru. A group of Sikhs led by Baba Budda Ji cut a hole thorugh the wall instead and asked Guru Ji to show them direction. Thus he went back to Goindwal. He contributed 907 hymns to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and composed Anand Sahib. Guru Ji also introduced the Anand Karaj (“blissful union”; our wedding ceremony) and the laavan were composed by Guru Ram Das Ji. Guru Ji established “manjis” as a system manage the congregation. He also was a strong advocate for equality and rights of women. He stood against female infanticide, sati, and purdah (including refusing to meet Raja Haripur’s wife because she refused to life the purdah), and said that widows should be allowed to remarry. Guru ji selected the site for construction of Harmandir Sahib, and constructed Baoli (a well of 84 steps) at Goindwal. He also continued to fight against casteism. He convinced emperor Akbar to waive the tax he put on non-Muslims crossing Yamuna and Ganga rivers.
Continuing on our theme from the last few posts about taking care of this body, I will share this small sakhi: “Once during several days of rain while Guru Amar Das was riding by a wall which he saw was on the verge of falling he galloped his horse past the wall. The Sikhs questioned him saying; ‘O Master, you have instructed us, 'fear not death, for it comes to all' and 'the Guru and the God-man are beyond the pale of birth and death', why did you then gallop past the collapsing wall?’ Guru Amar Das replied; ‘Our body is the embodiment of God's light. It is through the human body that one can explore one's limitless spiritual possibilities. Demi-gods envy the human form. One should not, therefore, play with it recklessly. One must submit to the Will of God, when one's time is over, but not crave death, nor invite it without a sufficient and noble cause. It is self surrender for the good of man that one should seek, not physical annihilation’” (1).
So let us celebrate the Parkash Divas of Guru Amar Das Ji. The best way of us celebrating is to learn from the teachings of Guru Ji and continue to incorporate those into our life. We can stand up for equality and women’s rights. All of us have the opportunity to do this in our daily lives. We can remember the true purpose of the Anand Karaj (see my post on Anand Karaj for more information about the real meaning of the Anand Karaj). We can let go of our pride and ego, and learn from Guru Ji’s humility and dedication to sewa. We can take care of our bodies, and connect our minds to God. We can remember that it’s never too late to embark on a new path, because Guru Amar Das Ji even met Guru Angad Dev Ji at age 61.
I also wanted to share this Sikh family tree which I found:
References (including pictures!)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fear

Anything worth having requires hard work, whether it’s our mind’s spiritual union with God, our relationships, or our accomplishments. The game of life itself would be no fun if we didn’t have to challenge ourselves to exercise our minds and overcome maya. One of the most rewarding things that requires hard work is overcoming fears. I’ve been reflecting a lot about the process of discomfort that is involved when we overcome a fear.

I am now just two weeks from being in my last year of studies. When I started off this adventure, it was the uncomfortable process of learning how to live alone and manage the house that has now given me lots of hilarious stories like setting my roti on fire. At work obviously I do things daily that challenge me, from dealing with an angry patient to sitting with the dying, or suturing a face; but I think it’s different to be in a structured learning environment versus free-style learning in life. The greatest depth of my learning since I’ve been in medical school has definitely been outside of school, in my personal and spiritual growth. I am thankful for Waheguru for sending me people in my life who challenged me, inspired me, and reminded me that temporary discomfort is necessary to overcome fears and weaknesses. I have pushed myself very hard so that I could grow. This was only possible with the support of having people who were understanding that it takes time and practice to learn and master anything in life. The first time we do something is never easy or comfortable, but practice makes it so much better and easier next time. I think one of the biggest of these personal growths was learning how to put down all my walls, so that I could learn how to trust in the vulnerability of sharing my feelings and life experiences. It was uncomfortable and difficult, but really the one thing that set the stage for me to be able to deeply accept and love myself in order to reach a realm of spiritual depth I didn’t know existed. That was a feeling of freedom that I don’t think can ever be reversed because I don’t remember now what it felt like to not love this much or feel this free.

Fear gets in the way of our relationship with ourselves and ultimately, I think our relationship with God. We are letting something in maya control us and limit us from being able to enjoy life fully- fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of whatever. I think there is an amazing thing that happens when we learn that even if whatever you feared came true, you would still be okay with God by your side. Guru Ji tells us “O mind, meeting with the True One, fear departs” (Ang 18 SGG Ji), and “You are my Protector everywhere; why should I feel any fear or anxiety?” (Ang 103). So the ultimate way in which we tackle our fears is our connection to God. It allows us to see that our other fears aren’t real: “He alone is fear-free, within whom the Lord abides, and who is delighted day and night with His immaculate Name” (1041). There are people who disliked Guru Nanak and even threw rocks at him. Guru Ji travelled on 5 Udaasis in uncertain conditions of not knowing when he would eat and sleep. Yet through all these situations, there was just trust and faith in God that kept him fearless and living in bliss. I think it's worth it for all of us to both simultaneously examine how our fears are holding us back and working on our relationship with Waheguru so that we become fearless. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Taking Care of Our Bodies

I have often written about taking care of the mind, because firstly the mind’s journey to meet God is what life is about, and secondly, I think in western society we don’t focus enough on health of the mind (like stress reduction and emotional coping). Today I’m going to just write a little bit about the body instead. The mind body connection is strong, so obviously diseases of the body do affect the mind (and your ability to focus on Gurbani for example) and anything affecting the mind, including stress, will affect the body.

Our body is our temporary, but life-long vessel for the mind and soul. Unfortunately on my job I see the preventable effects of people not taking care of their bodies. For example, I see people who have to have amputations from their diabetes, or go blind. Given the prevalence of diabetes in the South Asian community, this is why I spent a lot of time in my younger years educating people in Punjabi about diabetes awareness and the importance of managing their diabetes. I see the end effects of intoxicants- smoking, drinking, and drugs. Unfortunately despite the fact that Sikhism teaches us not to do these things, Punjabi culture seems to emphasize drinking alcohol heavily as being the norm for males and as a result people develop substance use disorders and complications of alcohol use including liver disease or failure.

In the times of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and even the Guru Jis before that, there was extensive physical training in becoming warriors. As I mentioned in my recent post, Guru Angad Dev Ji mentions about how we should be exercising our bodies and taking care of our health. There are so many forms of exercise for us to do. We can do high intensity exercise like sports or running which really has the benefit of feeling just really good afterwards, or things like yoga which are more about being in tune with the body and about building flexibility (which directly affects our ability to be able to sit comfortably during paat), and there’s things like strength training which is simply practical. My dad used to talk about how much physical work they used to do in India, and how there wasn’t anyone overweight because they were working so hard. Unfortunately nowadays a lot of our jobs are pretty sedentary and people simply don’t take out the time to exercise. I think it’s really great when we get people engaged in forms of exercise when they are younger because they are probably more likely to just stick with it through life. Academics is important, but we shouldn’t overemphasize them over physical health and we should teach our kids that their health and physical fitness is important.

In Guru Angad Dev Jis time, Mata Khivi Ji used to prepare a healthy and nutritious langar. Nowadays I feel like we have moved towards putting large amounts of butter and sugar in our langar. I am happy to see recently we have added at least salad, but in reality most of our meal is supposed to be fruits and vegetables and its not. Particularly when I went to Surrey during the Nagar Kirtan I actually didn’t see any healthy food options despite there being hundreds of food stands. Food is what feeds our bodies, and of course affects our energy levels and general wellbeing. 

Lastly, of course comes sleeping, which could be a topic in and of itself!

I think at the Gurdwara we should be also reminding everyone that the Guru Jis taught us to be physically fit and be an example of that, at least in the langar hall. Taking care of this body is important in making us live a long and healthy life in order to fulfill our duties of sewa and meeting God in this lifetime. As a reminder, the Nagar Kirtan is coming up on the 20th, an excellent opportunity to get some exercise! 


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Zameen and Pride in Punjabi Culture

I recently watched the Punjabi movie Shareek. Basically it’s about a family that destroys themselves fighting over rights to land. It’s probably one of the saddest movies I have seen in a long time, because it is only too real and speaks to the problems of ego, pride, jealousy, anger, greed, and seeking revenge. It not only showed the pain caused by revenge, but also how unnecessary it all was.   

Having been born and raised in Canada, I barely have a basic understanding of the importance of land to the culture in Punjab. From what I’ve read, according to the book “Punjab Society: Perspectives and Challenges”, land is important to people because it serves basic needs/security, emotional satisfaction, identification, and most importantly people indicated that it was a symbol of prestige (1). I think another reason land is important to Punjabi culture is that it has been passed on through the generations and is a part of collective memories and our heritage. The problem is that, as stated above, it has predominantly become a “symbol of prestige” and therefore a driving force for dividing people and claiming superiority. This goes to the extent of leading to destruction of relationships and even murder. Suddenly land becomes more important than life itself, even though the purpose of our life was actually to connect mind to God, not collect as much land as possible. How can we say we truly understood Sikhi if a piece of earth is more important than life itself?

This problem of pride also exists here in Canadian society, in a different form. Here, there is pride over how big your house is, what kind of job you have, what kind of car you drive, clothes you wear, and even how “religious” you appear to others. Just like in India, here people still fight over who their children should marry based on how much “power” or “status” it will give their family instead of what really matters. Somehow this even becomes a motive to kill for, which is totally against Sikhi. Image and reputation is all an illusion in the first place but it’s too hard for some people to see when they are wrapped up in ego.

Pride is obviously one of the five dhoots (kaam, krodh, lob, moh, ahankaar). As Sikhi wiki describes, “Pride makes human beings believe that they are more important than others. It makes them treat others badly and unequally, leading to injustice. Pride makes human beings take personal credit for the successes, good qualities, wealth and talents they have. It makes them forget that God is responsible for these things and leads them away from reunion. Pride leads to Haumai because it makes people believe that they are the most important thing in life and leads to self-centredness” (2). I couldn’t have said it better myself. If we were to take even a portion of what we dedicate toward pursuits of pride, into dedicating ourselves to our true purpose in life we would be living in heaven on earth. Guru Arjan Dev Ji says “O pride the cause of our coming and going in the world, O soul of sin, thou estranges friends, confirms enmities and makes men spread out the net of illusion far and wide, and tires men by keeping ever on the round, and making them experience now pleasure, now pain. And men walk through the utter wilderness of doubt: thou afflicts men with incurable maladies” (3). Even in the Zafarnama, the famous letter from Guru Gobind Singh Ji to Aurangzeb, he is not vengeful and spreading hatred towards Aurangzeb, but rather speaking against his actions and telling him to change (quote zafarnama). Guru Ji even talks about the good qualities of Aurangzeb but goes on to say that he has to answer to God for his actions. “Aurangzeb is the king of kings. He is the lord of the world and has all the riches. But he is far from the teachings of his religion” (4). Even after Guru Ji lost his sons and parents at the hands of Aurangzeb, he shows there isn’t space for vengeful and hateful thinking in Sikhi. Out of all the lines in the Zafarnama, the most are actually spent towards praise of God showing again how Guru Ji has taught us to focus on our true purpose.

I would encourage everyone, to just think about how your pride is prevalent in your daily life and is interfering in your relationship with God and ways for you to move beyond it, such as doing sewa and spending time with people who encourage you to focus on spiritual pursuits not material ones. We should focus on developing our honesty, humility, work ethic, compassion and respect for others; on developing relationships and connections rather than divisions and separations. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of who you are and where you come from but when our pride interferes in our relationship to God, our family and our friends, it becomes a problem that needs to be addressed.

References
1 Gill, Manmohan Singh. Punjab Society: Perspectives and Challenges. New Delhi: Concept Pub., 2003. E-book. Page 118.
4 http://www.zafarnama.com/Download/zafarnama.pdf