Friday, April 29, 2016

Conflict Resolution

I think everyone could learn a thing or two about conflict resolution. In a typical Punjabi or Hindi film we see people hitting each other, yelling, and life-or-death situations due to conflicts (sometimes these are not too far off from reality!), so they don't usually model a good way for us to solve our conflicts. Here are some tips that I’ve found useful. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments. 

It’s important to have a neutral setting where you can talk about it. Usually its better to be able to have a back and forth conversation about it. If you write a letter for example, the words may not be perceived as you had intended and then the other person doesn’t get a chance to share their side.

Take some time to think about it first
Often times when a conflict arises, we tend to react immediately and say things that we later regret because they came from a place of pain or anger or other strong emotions. Taking a step back and processing the information is fine. It allows you to have some time to think. In the heat of the moment we have many thoughts ping-ponging in our mind and I find it helpful to write down those thoughts and then figure out how they are connected to the feelings. That gives you time to put some thought into what you will say to the other person.

Good communication
A lot of conflict comes from miscommunication and misunderstanding and the inability of people to simply sit down and listen to another person’s perspective. It takes a lot of patience, but it’s important to have all the information before coming to a solution or understanding. So I believe the first and most important thing in conflict management, no matter how small or big the conflict, is good communication. That involves active listening, not cutting people off, and making sure you understand for example by paraphrasing what the person has said and asking if that’s accurate. It’s usually nice to set up some ground rules, for example "let the other person talk without interrupting" and then having a pen and paper to write what you need to remember when you respond. Also, good communication is in body language and the way you speak. Remember to lower your voice because yelling doesn't help get the point across any better, it just escalated the conflict. 

The other person
When speaking try to focus on how the actions of the other person have affected you rather than making statements about the person. Making a statement such as “You are like this”, especially with the modifiers- “always” or “never", just adds to the conflict. Talk instead about how you feel about the incident/action.  There is a great youtube video (see references below) about this. If you understand hindi and have a half hour to spare, it’s worth it. It’s part of a series called Being Bliss, in this episode Sister Shivani uses the example of a computer that falls down to explain the difference between telling someone “what you did was wrong” vs. “you always do things wrong!” and the damage it does.

In some situations its useful to have a neutral third party to mediate the conflict and ensure that it stays on task and the ground rules are being followed.

After a solution is discussed, the conversation isn’t over. Sometimes what happens is the “big discussion” is over and then small little things build up again until it’s ready to explode. It’s good to keep having continual discussions after the conflict to ensure things are on track and you are on the same page so that doesn’t happen.

References: (the video I was talking about above)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Figuring out Your Values

I decided to write a blog post about finding your own values and beliefs because I see a lot of topics on Sikhnet discussion forums (a great space for people to learn from each other and talk about important issues) about how people are concerned about seeing young people losing our Sikh values.

I am a Canadian born Sikh with immigrant parents, like many Sikhs in my generation across the country. I grew up hearing varying messages about who I should be and often those were conflicting messages. I’m going to generalize some messages that are out there (forgive me for that!) In western society there is an emphasis on the individual person and making decisions for your own self rather than a larger group/family, socialization and friendships, social pressures to drink alcohol/do drugs/party, focus on being authentic inside, a sense of entitlement and belief in challenging or questioning authority. For females we also deal with pressures to be sexy and are subjected to sexual violence and unwanted sexual attention from a young age. In our Punjabi/East-Indian culture, there is an emphasis on the family unit and sacrificing/making decisions for the good of the group rather than the individual, respect for authority (and accepting the opinions without question), focus on appearances and outward success, honour and reputation, as well as social pressures to drink and party for males, pressures for females to find a man and be people-pleasers, modest and obedient. As you can see there are a lot of differences that affect how the individual would live their life. Then we have our beliefs systems and values in Sikhism- to be honest, hard working, practice equality, focus your life on your relationship to God, and treat each other as brothers and sisters. So now we have all these belief systems. Even within the Punjabi culture and Sikhism there are differences like “Punjabi men should drink a lot” vs. “A Sikh does not drink.” Okay so now what is a person supposed to do growing up with all these different messages? Often times, we get lost or we just pick a side out of pressure. I see a lot of issues in our generation- people in gangs, doing drugs, cheating, lying, drinking, whatever. In general, just lost from Sikhi. But I can appreciate how difficult it is to figure out your own values now. Our parents came from generations of raising their families in more-or-less the same environment and suddenly, they had to change their parenting style and adapt to everything being different here. It’s a difficult task for them too, especially to see our generation struggle.

When we see a person who we feel isn’t representing Sikhi well, a lot of us react with anger, and that comes from the pain of seeing that individual lost. In knowing ourselves how much Sikhi means to us, the sacrfices made for us to be here, and seeing how this person has not following the values instilled by our Gurus. In that pain, we judge others. Our ego might get in the way and we start to feel superior. Do you see a pattern here? These are the very things Sikhi teaches us not to be. Not to be angry and egotistical, etc. In that pain, we also often shame people. In East-Indian culture, shame is often used as a motivator for change. I recently read in Brené Brown’s Book “I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame” (1), that the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt motivates a person to change because the person compares what they did to their values and decides they want to change for next time, and in shame, the person just feels bad about themselves as a person, and therefore the behavior actually continues or worsens. So forcing our own value system on someone else doesn’t really solve anything for that person. Often times, parents or friends express their disappointment and try to emotionally manipulate the person to changing their behavior. It’s done with the best of intentions so the other person doesn’t suffer the same pain or make the same mistakes. But basically that person will probably choose to suppress that part of themselves temporarily. Think about what that teaches. Firstly, it denies the opportunity for that person to figure out their own path, it forces a decision upon them. Which isn’t a long term effective way to get someone to do something. In essence, you are denying them the opportunity to live for themselves and they are living “for” someone else instead. Second, it says someone else’s value system is more important than that person’s value system. And that might be fine for the time being, but later on when say a parent dies and someone else comes along in their life and says my values are more important, it sets it up so that that person is dependent on other people’s values. They never really made a decision about what they believe themselves, so they are probably going to follow someone else, no matter how ill-intentioned. I’m not saying that you can’t offer your advice or opinion as a friend, as a parent, but you should unconditionally love and support a person too, and you should be willing to listen with compassion before jumping in with your own agenda.

So now what can we do as we watch our children, our friends, our family struggle through these issues? These are complex problems. But one thing we can do is find ourselves first- examine our own beliefs and see if they are relevant and let go of the ones that hurt us. It takes a lot of work, and that type of work is generally not valued because you don’t get to actually hold it up and say look at what I did. But instead YOU are the end result, a changed person and that means so much more. Then live our lives well. That’s a huge inspiration for other people. Offer to mentor and support, but also just standing up for your own beliefs and path in Sikhi allows other people to see that it has importance and people can be happy and successful living with those values. In order for a person to believe in those values, they need to see and feel the benefit otherwise why would it be a priority? I once read on Sikhnet Guruka Singh writes in response to a question
Every person has their own relationship with their Guru. Either the Guru has chosen that person as his Sikh or not. It is between Guru Ji and that person. We cannot judge that relationship. Sometimes someone has to lose something in order to understand the real importance of it. We cannot know that. It all happens in His hukam. When we are real, direct and authentic with everyone; when we serve everyone regardless of their appearance or attitude, then, and only then, can we touch people's hearts. Transformation happens when the heart is open.”(2). I thought that was a beautiful way of putting it and I couldn’t have said it any better.

1 Brown, Brené. I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. New York: Gotham, 2007. Print.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Happy Khalsa Da Sajna Divas/Happy Vaisakhi

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

Happy Khalsa Da Sajna Divas/Vaisakhi Day

Today is the Anniversary of the Founding of the Khalsa. Congratulations to everyone and we hope that you enjoy the celebrations wherever you are.

History from

On Vaisakhi Day, March 30, 1699, hundreds of thousands of people gathered around his divine temporal seat at Anandpur Sahib.  The Guru addressed the congregants with a most stirring oration on his divine mission of restoring their faith and preserving the Sikh religion. After his inspirational discourse, he flashed his unsheathed sword and said that every great deed was preceded by an equally great sacrifice: Then calling out to the assembled crowd, 'My sword is hungry for a head', He demanded one head for oblation. After some trepidation one person offered himself for the Guru's 'great sacrifice'. The Guru took him inside a tent. A little later the Guru came out of the tent, his sword dripping with fresh blood only to ask for another head. One by one four more earnest devotees offered their heads. Every time the Guru took a person inside the tent, he came out with his sword dripping fresh blood.

Thinking their Guru had gone mad and afraid He would ask for more heads some of the congregation started to disperse when suddenly the Guru emerged with all five men dressed piously in white and in a new ceromony that changed the way that one became a Sikh the Guru now initiated the five into a new and unique order of Sikhs. The ceremony was called pahul, what Sikhs today know as the baptism ceremony or Amrit Shakna. Then the Guru asked the first five Khalsa Sikhs to baptise him, in the same manner. He then proclaimed that the Panj Pyare -- the Five Beloved Ones -- would be the embodiment of the Guru himself.

At the same time the Guru gave his new Khalsa a unique, indisputable, and distinct identity. The Guru gave the gift of bana, the distinctive Sikh clothing and headwear. He also offered five emblems of purity and courage. These symbols, worn by all baptised Sikhs of both sexes, are popularly known today as Five K's: kesh, unshorn hair; Kanga, the wooden comb; Karra, the iron (or steel) bracelet; Kirpan, the sword; and Kachera, the underwear. By being identifiable, no Sikh could never hide behind cowardice again.

Some Shabads:

Deh Shiva Bar Mohe (translation from Sikhnet)
O Power of the Supreme Lord! grant me this boon, that I may never falter in performing righteous actions.
When I go to fight my enemies, I may not be a bit intimidated by them and may certainly become victorious.
And I may give this instruction to my mind inculcate me with a consistent craving that I may ever utter Your praises.
When my lifespan comes to an end, then I may lay down my life fighting fiercely in the war.(231)
I have narrated this Chandi Charitra (the wonders and the chronicle of Chandi) in poetry. It is full of violent sentiments.
The Stanzas, one and all are deliciously composed and from head to foot, novel similes have been given (the poet says):
"I have composed the epic of Durga of seven hundred Shaloks for the pleasure of my mind and it is now complete.
Any person with a specific purpose, reads it or listens to it with determination, Durga shall grant him the same(232)

Inhi Ki Kirpa Ke (translation from Sikhnet), to the tune of Sant Anoop Singh Ji’s shabad
It is through the actions of the Khalsa that I have been victorious, and have been able to give charities to others.
It is through their help that I have overcome all sorrows and ailments and have been able to fill my house with treasures.
It is through their grace that I have got education, and through their assistance I have conquered all my enemies.
It is through their aid that I have attained this status, otherwise there are millions of unknown mortals like me.

Jai Jai Jag Karan
I actually learned this shabad from this website
(translation from Sikhnet)
The sword hacks and breaks ruthlessly into pieces and fragments the hordes of fools. This vigorous (weapon) adorns the battlefield.
Its long (forceful) arm is unbreakable. Its awesome splendour overshadows the lustre of the Sun.
It looks after the welfare of the Saints and pulverises the wicked. It destroys the sins and I seek Its refuge.
Hail, hail to the Creator of the world, the Saviour of
 the creation. My protector Scimitar, hail to Thee.(2)

Jaagat Jot
To the tune of shabad by Bhai Niranjan Singh (translation from Sikhnet)
Such a man, in whose heart shines the full Divinely Radiant Light is a true a pure Khalsa.
He the Khalsa meditates on the Ever-radiant Light, day and night, and rejects all else but the one Lord from the mind.
He decorates himself with perfect love and faith, and believed not in fasts, tombs, crematoriums and hermit cells, even by mistake.
He knows none except the one Lord in the performance of acts of pilgrimage, charities, compassion, austerities and self-control.
 O Durga, they who will ever meditate on you (at dawn)
They will attain the fruit of salvation at the end and will merge into the Lord.(6)(262)

Meaning of the 5 K’s

Given that it’s Vaisakhi I think it’s a great time to remember the meaning behind the 5 K’s (Panj Kakkaar).

Kara (bracelet)
The kara is circular reminding us God has no beginning or end, it is our link to the Guru, and the Khalsa. It is made of iron (helps add iron to the body) or steel (strength).  It reminds us of our commitment to God and to think twice before we act, so that we use these arms to do good acts, not bad ones. Back in the times of the Guru Jis, it protected the wrists of the Sikhs when struck by a sword.

Kanga (wooden comb)
It reminds us to take care of our body, and the importance of cleanliness of the mind and body.

Kesh (uncut hair)
Keeping our hair on our whole body in it’s original condition reminds us to accept ourselves as God has created us. Hair also helps us regulate body temperature. It is covered out of respect for God, and solidifies the identity of Sikhs.

Kacchera (special undershorts)
Symbol of chastity/modesty, reminding Sikhs to remain faithful. It’s practicality comes from it’s usefulness when Sikhs were running and riding horses in warfare.

Kirpan (sword), from kirpa (kindness) and aan (dignity)
Reminds us to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves (protecting the weak/oppressed, fighting against injustice, self-defense).


Sunday, March 13, 2016

More Shabads!

I’ve posted some shabads with harmonium (vaja) keys for the first two so if you’d like to learn them you can follow along. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to record keys for others soon as well.  

Shabad Hey Gobind Hey Gopal

Harmonium Keys for Hey Gobind Hey Gopal
*many thanks to Gyani Gurcharan Singh Ji for teaching me this shabad

Shabad Jyon Jyon Naama

Harmonium Keys for Jyon Jyon Naama Shabad

Shabad Man Mero Gaj Jehba Meri Kati

Shabad Mit Bolda Ji (*many thanks to Gyani Gurcharan Singh Ji) 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Suffering, Karma, Free Will, and Destiny

Everyone experiences suffering (Nanak Dukhiya Sabh Sansaar). In times of crisis some find comfort in faith, and some find themselves more lost or confused because their previous beliefs are challenged. Questions such as “Why does God allow us to suffer?” fill the mind as a way of trying to rationalize what has happened. I’ve been reading a lot about this topic and decided to summarize what I have learned because it’s an important topic that needs to be discussed. Please forgive me if I make any errors, I am just learning too. Page references to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji given in brackets.

God created everything. “He Himself created Himself; He Himself assumed His Name. Secondly, He fashioned the creation; seated within the creation, He beholds it with delight” (463). His creation also includes pain and suffering. “You created pain along with pleasure; O Creator, such is the writ You have written” (787); “You Yourself created the entire universe, and having fashioned it, You Yourself shall destroy it all” (11). God created Maya (lust, greed, anger, attachment, pride) as well. In some other religions, evil is explained as being from the Devil, antithesis to God. But in Sikhism, there is none other than God, and all of His creation (including this world) runs on His will (which we call Hukam). All things happen according to the Will of the Lord God. No one can erase the pre-ordained Writ of Destiny” (41). Some people take this to mean that since it is all under God’s will, then there is no ability to make choices to change our lives/no ‘free will’. But if we read carefully and understand, we see that this is not the meaning. 

If nothing was in our control, Sikhs would not have fought oppression and the Gurus would not have taught us to do Naam Simran,etc. Guru Ji tells us: “That alone is a good deed, O Nanak, which is done by one’s own free will” (787). So what then is pre-ordained destiny? “That which is pre-ordained, cannot be erased. Those who met the True Guru are very fortunate and blessed; through perfect karma He is met.” (110). The ‘pre-ordained destiny’ is the framework for our life (circumstances we are born into), and results from the fruits of our own actions in previous lives (karma). In Sikhism we believe God does not live in the sky, but right here in our hearts and all around us. You could visualize yourself as having two lamps burning inside yourself, good and evil, and the oil is the karma we do in each moment. The good deeds feed the good lamp and doing the bad deeds feed the evil lamp. God has given us power to think and ability to decide which side to feed, which determines if we become closer to God or continue in our reincarnations.

In our lives many people seek to explain or understand the explanation for tragedies they experience and witness such as murder, abuse or rape. These questions are sensitive topics and difficult to answer, leading people to avoid addressing them altogether. I’m going to try to shed a little bit of light on these matters here from what I have learned and my understanding. The murder victim is one who has suffered due to the free will of another individual, not because they had “bad karma” and “deserved it.” For example Aurangzeb was using his free will to kill people- he chose to do that and he will be farther away from God for those actions. The person who has died will be in the spiritual “level” of closeness to God (based on their actions in their life) and will be re-born accordingly. It would be wrong to say that it’s all His Hukam so we do nothing about the murderers and rapists in this world. Our Sikh history shows us that it is necessary to stand up for those suffering from injustice when we have the opportunity to do that. This is what we have been given our minds for under His Hukam. God is the truth, and if our purpose is to be one with Him, then we must defend that. God’s Will means that he has given free will to us, free will to choose your actions and reactions to what you are presented with. Guru Arjan Dev Ji had the choice to cave into oppression and live, or fight oppression and not give up on his beliefs, but die. He chose death because he believed the human body is borrowed by our soul for a fixed amount of time, and the body is going to die one day but the soul will be one step closer to God by doing the right thing. When Guru Ji was martyred, sitting on a hot plate with hot sand pouring over his body, he stated “Your actions seem so sweet to me. Nanak begs for the treasure of the Naam, the Name of the Lord” (394). The Guru did not want to undermine God and start doing something opposite of God’s Will- he wanted to fight oppression, protect the feeble and show the emperor that he could not change his decision by killing his body. Guru Ji’s words show us that in his higher state of consciousness he was so filled with the love of God that he was able to transcend the physical suffering inflicted on his body. From Guru Ji’s sacrifice, we also realize that we are also responsible for our responses to other people’s actions. It is necessary to do what is required of us with the situations that present themselves.

The Babar Vani (360, 417-18, 722-23, 1288) is written by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who witnessed firsthand the atrocities committed by Babar during his invasions. Guru Ji and Bhai Mardana were imprisoned by Babar in Saidpur. While Guru Ji sang, the grinding mill he was given to grind corn was working by itself and word was sent to Babar who came to witness this himself and asked for forgiveness, promising to be a just ruler. Guru Ji describes the state of the people and their pain but reminds us not to blame God: “The Creator Himself does not take the blame, but has sent the Mughal as the messenger of death” (360). “The Creator Himself acts, and causes others to act. Unto whom should we complain? Pleasure and pain come by Your Will; unto whom should we go and cry? The Commander issues His Command, and is pleased. O Nanak, we receive what is written in our destiny.” (417-18).

Ultimately, only God is all-knowing and all-seeing. We are limited by what we can understand by our own lens. “Tell me, who should I call good or bad, since all beings are Yours?” (383). So it’s less about sitting down to assign blame and more about what actions we can take in the situations presented: “O Siblings of Destiny, let none think that they have any power. Old age, death, fever, poisons and snakes. Everything is in the hands of the Lord. Nothing can touch anyone without the Lord’s order. Within your conscious mind, O servant Nanak, meditate forever on the Name of the Lord, who shall deliver” (168).  

What can we do about our suffering?
“Suffering is the medicine, and pleasure the disease, because where there is pleasure, there is no desire for God” (469). At the beginning of Japji sahib, it says God is “nirvair,” without enmity. God loves all of us, and is forgiving of our mistakes. We went through 8.4 million reincarnations to get to human life so we could achieve jivan mukhti (liberation while you are still in this life). In that state you give up your will and accept the Will of God, allowing you to move beyond the pains and pleasures of the world: "Remembering Him in meditation, a profound peace is obtained. Pain and suffering will not touch you at all" (44). In your other life forms you were not able to meditate on the Lord to get to this higher state, or make choices to do sewa and simran instead of falling into kaam, krodh, lob, moh and hankaar. Human beings are the only beings on this planet with such and advanced stage of thinking and decision making power. The ultimate destiny of all of our souls is be one with God and is achieved through many reincarnations. “In the month of Katak, do good deeds. Do not try to blame anyone else. Forgetting the Transcendent Lord, all sorts of illnesses are contracted. Those who turn their backs on the Lord shall be separated from Him and consigned to reincarnation, over and over again”(135). Our life is similar to journey of a drop of water that left the ocean and longing to join with its creator one day. For some the journey is easy, and for others, which have become ice, the journey is very long. It is same for human beings. The pain and suffering is only to this body which our soul is borrowing, like the drop of water that borrowed the wind for a short period of time and traveled to different land. The karma is what we are doing in present and immediate past- it’s feeding who you are right now, and the person you’ll be before you die. God gave us a mind to exercise our free will, whether it’s choices to feed our ego, or the choice to rid ourselves of it. “Where does the ego come from? How can it be removed? This ego exists on the Lord’s Order; people wander according to their past actions. Ego is a chronic disease, but it contains its own cure as well. If the Lord grants His Grace, one acts according to the Teachings of the Guru’s shabad. Nanak says, listen, people: in this way, troubles depart” (466). You can’t change the past and who knows whether you have one more breath- all of life is really lived in this one breath right now. In this moment, you have a choice to remember the God that created you and serve Him with love, and do whatever is required of you.

by Manpreet Kaur