Saturday, January 28, 2017

Embarrassed to Ask

Having been born into a Sikh family I think that a lot of things have sort of become a routine and I find myself on “automatic mode.” A few years ago I remember one of my friends asked me to take her to the Gurdwara. I was nervous because I knew she was going to ask me questions about what was going on and why, and I was afraid I wouldn’t know the answers despite the fact that I had been coming to the Gurdwara since I was born! I was scared also that she’d ask me to translate what Gyani Ji was saying, after I either didn’t understand or wasn’t paying attention (which usually happens when you don’t understand). I ended up doing quite a bit of homework beforehand, and it was a great learning experience for both of us.  I didn’t remember this until this week, when I realized again the importance of going back to the basics.
This week when I was listening to kathas I realized that there is a lot of basic terminology in Gurbani that I don’t fully understand. It feels kind of embarrassing to now be asking these questions, after so many years of both hearing them and saying them. For example, understanding what Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh means. What does meeting God mean? What is the mind? How were we created? What is maya?  What is the meaning of sakhat? Manmukh? Gurmukh? I’ll tell you, in all honesty, I still don’t know the full answers to all of those questions, and I only started learning the deeper answers in this last year. I may have been doing kirtan and reading Gurmukhi since I was a little kid, but I still have a lot of learning to do. I think it just points out that it’s never too late. I remember one Gyani Ji telling me how he didn’t ever go to school and didn’t know the alphabet, and people told him he wouldn’t amount to anything. He started on this path and he is now not only able to read the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, but also teach others the meaning behind it and do kathas. We shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask questions. If we don’t ask or seek out the knowledge, we won’t find the answers and we will continue to pretend to know instead of actually gaining real knowledge. We shouldn’t let our ego and pride get in the way of our learning.

I think not understanding what’s happening at the Gurdwara is one of the big reasons why people of my generation don’t attend. I have been attending the Gurdwara my whole life and as I mentioned earlier, a lot of it was my parent’s example and inspiration. There were a couple of years of university, though, where I felt like well I’m busy and I don’t understand the katha anyways, so I didn’t make it a priority to go each week. I kind of started to lose interest. The reason I went back wasn't that I suddenly had more time- actually I had less time because I sometimes had to work at the hospital on weekends, and I had more to study. The reason I went was because one of my friends kind of made me feel guilty about not going as much, and said that I should set an example for other people, so we both agreed to start going more often. After attending more, I learned more, and the more I learned, the more I understood and I made it a priority. So it’s nice to encourage others to go too. I probably wouldn’t be this passionate about Sikhi if I hadn’t gone back because someone encouraged me. Now I'm excited to go and the learning never stopped. This last Sunday I was sitting in the Gurdwara and just had this amazing realization that we sit together each week, for years, and pray together. Some of us, young and old, have been praying together for our whole lives, and perhaps we don’t know each other or we otherwise would not know each other outside of the Gurdwara. God puts us all together based on our past associations (having spent time in meditation of God together in our past lives) and gives us the opportunity to spend the most powerful, deep and meaningful moments together in the sangat. I just found it really heartwarming to realize that we are all learning together and working towards reaching God together.


So I’m going to share with you what I learned about Naam and Gurmantra. “Waheguru” is our Gurmantra. It is a tool given to us by the panj pyare, for us to reach God. Gurmantra is also referred to as Gurshabad in Gurbani. Naam is often translated as “Name of God” in English translations, but rally refers to the sound of God’s voice from which all of creation was created. This sound cannot be described. Naam is referred to by many names in the Gurbani as well including Shabad Guru, Shabad, or Ong (in Ik Ong Kaar). It comes in multiple forms- we can experience it as a sound (anhad shabad), taste (amrit ras), and jot (light). When Gurbani refers to Hukam (translated in English translations as God’s will/command), it means Naam. When we have Naam, we are in Hukam and without it, we are not in Hukam. Naam can only be found within ourselves. We stop using our physical senses, close the 9 doors of the body, and shut off our thoughts through simran (repeating the Gurmantra) to experience it. Learning also comes through practical experience and we also must simultaneously do the simran in order to understand what cannot be explained with words. 


There continues to be simran upstairs (not in the main hall) at the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara at 1 pm on Sundays.  Feel free to join us! 

Bhul chuk maaf karni

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Superstitions and Empty Rituals

I know a lot of people who are superstitious, follow rituals and black magic. It’s everything from donating specific items during the new moon, to wearing special bracelets, having pandits tell horoscopes, to a story I heard about half a pomegranate being buried in the soil of a plant at the Gurdwara! Unfortunately a lot of us have forgotten what Guru Nanak Dev Ji has taught us. In the search for easy solutions to get what we desire, we blindly follow what people tell us to do instead of Gurmat. In the Guru Granth Sahib Ji it is written, “The mind is diseased with doubt, superstition and duality” (p. 416).

There are many sakhis about these topics, for example, the well-known Sakhi about the Hindus throwing water towards the sun to reach their dead ancestors. I’m going to share the Sakhi about the Janeau here. A janeau is a thread that’s tied around the neck of a Hindu boy. Without this thread, the boy is considered of the lowest caste and is not allowed to read holy texts. Thus it divides people into castes. Brahmins wear cotton jeneau, kshatriyas wear hemp and vaisya wear wool. It allows one of these castes to get an education and marriage. It is also worn for protection against gods/goddesses. At the age of 9, Guru Nanak Dev Ji was at an age to have this janeau tied. When the ritual was started, he asked the priest why this was performed and the priest explained. Guru Nanak further asked why women were not allowed to get the janeau, and the priest explained that women are only allowed to get a janeau through marriage, and a husband wears it for her. He insisted that these were all the rules according to the scriptures and that Guru Ji was committing a great sin by questioning the holy books. To this Guru Ji replied that it is important to use our intellect to question what is written in order to gain an understanding of the religious texts or we will not learn. Guru Ji pointed out that the janeau is discriminatory and we should not divide people among castes. He also pointed out that such a physical thread cannot help us achieve our purpose:
“Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist. This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me. It does not break, it cannot be soiled by filth, it cannot be burnt, or lost. 
Blessed are those mortal beings, O Nanak, who wear such a thread around their necks. You buy the thread for a few shells, and seated in your enclosure, you put it on. Whispering instructions into others' ears, the Brahmin becomes a guru. 
But he dies, and the sacred thread falls away, and the soul departs without it. 
He commits thousands of robberies, thousands of acts of adultery, thousands of falsehoods and thousands of abuses. 
He practices thousands of deceptions and secret deeds, night and day, against his fellow beings. The thread is spun from cotton, and the Brahmin comes and twists it. The goat is killed, cooked and eaten, and everyone then says, ‘Put on the sacred thread’. When it wears out, it is thrown away, and another one is put on. O Nanak, the thread would not break, if it had any real strength. Believing in the Name, honor is obtained. The Lord's Praise is the true sacred thread. 
Such a sacred thread is worn in the Court of the Lord; it shall never break.
There is no sacred thread for gender, and no thread for woman.
The man's beard is spat upon daily. There is no sacred thread for the feet, and no thread for the hands; 
no thread for the tongue, and no thread for the eyes. The Brahmin himself goes to the world hereafter without a sacred thread. Twisting the threads, he puts them on others. He takes payment for performing marriages; reading their horoscopes, he shows them the way. Hear, and see, O people, this wondrous thing. He is mentally blind, and yet his name is wisdom.” Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 471 (translation on discoversikhism.com).

This is a well-known sakhi but I feel that a lot of people don’t actually incorporate what it teaches us. We listen and nod and continue to look for people to give us what we want, and tell us what to do. Yet we read in Japji Sahib daily, that God is the only giver. Sometimes people even take it one step further and say if they read a certain number of prayers in this timeframe, they will get what they want. The ironic thing is that instead of reading quickly for the sake of reading, if we sit down and understand the Gurbani, it tells us everything we need! We would stop searching elsewhere. Let’s remember to be patient, follow Gurmat, and put in the effort towards our life purpose instead of blindly following superstitions and rituals. 

References:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Self-Criticism

The highlight of my week was getting to listen to hours of katha while I was driving. In one of the kathas I heard (akath kathas from mysimran.info), Simar Singh explains that if you forget to do your simran, instead of feeling guilty just say okay now I remember, and do it. This was a light-bulb moment for me because I’ve been struggling a lot with that lately and it’s been getting in the way of being able to do more simran. I find in the winter, the work days feel like they last forever. By the time I go to bed, I usually start to feel bad about how little I got done outside of work. I find myself wasting quite a bit of time thinking about what I should have been doing (for example thinking about how I should have woken up earlier to do prayers), instead of actually just spending the time I do have in the evening. After I absorbed what he said, I decided to implement it. So yesterday every time I was at work and I remembered to do my simran, instead of feeling bad about not having done more, I just remembered God in that moment. At lunch time, I told myself it’s okay if my thoughts don’t stop entirely but I’m going to try to reduce them at least. I sat alone and closed my eyes, and I started doing simran out loud. I found myself so relaxed that I almost fell asleep! Every time I lost focus, I didn’t feel bad about it or keep dwelling on it, I just simply refocused on remembering again. I found it really helped me in maximizing the time I have.

Often times we are too hard on ourselves and we expect too much from ourselves right away. I’ve often heard people being self-critical about their lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride, to the point that all they can think about is the past. They feel so bad about themselves that they aren’t able to use THIS moment. That’s why I think it’s important to remind ourselves just not to be so self-critical, and to remember that you are learning and it’s okay!!! If we constantly feel bad about simply having thoughts then we won’t be able to move into actually using the present moment to practice simran and learn from Gurbani. We’ll be miserable. Simar pointed out in another katha that it takes practice to sit for long periods, to keep your eyes closed, to keep your attention on your voice. It doesn’t come right away. So just keep practicing a little bit each day and be kind to yourself (and understanding of other people’s life journeys too of course).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Pressure to Fit In

I’ve spent the week living with complete strangers in the middle of nowhere. It was a very new experience for me, but it gave me lots of time to listen to kathas and do some reflections (especially thinking about how much I love Prince George!). I decided to write about my struggle with finding my place in medical school.

When I first got into medicine, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I was confident that I was going into the right career, but I didn’t feel that I was on the same page as the other students. Many were true type A personalities, and the expectation was that I had the same mindset as them. I’d never been in school with so many competitive people. All top students crammed into one class. They were quick to deny their competitiveness and jealousy, because they knew these were perceived as bad qualities, but the reality was different. I was afraid I would be perceived as the weak link and get stepped on. In small group discussions where we were supposed to talk about our feelings and our lives, I’d often feel like an outsider. It was as if everything I said was getting misinterpreted. People struggled to relate to the most simple things like family being very important to me, and missing them because they had moved away. I couldn’t understand why people were unable to see me as I am, and what I was doing wrong. Since I was living alone and didn’t have any time for friends outside medicine, I was pretty isolated. The only people that would see me in the day were people that didn’t understand who I am, and what I’m about.

When I started working in the hospital as part of my training, it felt more and more like I was being forced into a box that I simply didn’t fit into. For example, my life is not just about work. I know I won’t reach God living at my job 24/7. Of course I knew I would have to make sacrifices for my training, and I was willing to do that because the certainty I was in the right career deepend with each patient interaction. What I didn’t realize was that this was a LIFE-LONG expectation that I put my work before anything else; that for the rest of my life I’m supposed to put my loved ones and my spiritual life behind my job. This is what everyone else had done and was what I was supposed to do too. Frequently, I was told that whatever I was required to do was in my best interest even if it was harmful to me. I was told that going to work while I was sick was necessary because it was all for MY benefit. I remember in particular one night staying up to study until 2 am and showing up at work 7 am. I was told that I am not making an effort in my studying and I am not working hard enough. Here I was, having given up basic necessities like sleep and health, and I was told I was lazy. I was stuck in an environment where people not only didn’t see me for who I am but didn’t value me. The more I worked, the more I realized that who I am conflicts with who I am training to be. I wanted to be a well-balanced, compassionate, caring doctor who takes the time to listen. My training valued emotional detachment, fast work and ego. Each day felt like a rejection of me, and I started to think that maybe I don’t belong.

I started spending a significant portion of time in my training trying to shake people’s false images of who I am and who I am assumed to be. I tried to prove myself. I tried to show I wasn’t sheltered, reserved, just a pretty face. It seemed that no matter what I did, people still came in saying things like “your English is pretty good, where are you from.” (This individual, who had literally just met me said my parents must be dictators and when I would be married I would be a slave to my husband’s parents because that’s just how it is). I tried to fight the assumptions and stereotypes, the racism, the sexism, but I got tired of the constant battle. It drove me crazy to feel like the only person who saw the injustices I saw when a doctor didn’t think that mental illness existed, or thought that certain groups of people in society don’t deserve the care that others do. I started to feel like I was wrong about everything. Wrong for refusing to become a robotic workaholic, wrong for caring too much. It seemed like I simply saw the world wrong, like I was walking around in a blue shirt but everyone was saying it was red. Too many times I got sucked into the trap of doubting myself and focusing on what others thought of me.

I’ve realized that when we focus on proving things to other people- even if it’s your boss, it makes your life about other people. This applies even to when you are trying to “prove them wrong.” This is my example of when that went wrong for me. I spent a long time considering a particular specialty and a few months ago I realized my heart lies in family medicine. I couldn’t admit it though. I had been told by so many times that as a woman, I MUST become a family doctor, not a specialist. It made me angry, and I wanted to prove them wrong and show them that as a female minority, yes I can successfully do whatever I want and be a specialist. You can’t stop me. But I didn’t want to do a specialty anymore. If I ruined my own life trying to prove other people wrong, I would be miserable forever for nothing. It’s not my lens that needs to be changed, it’s theirs and its not my responsibility to fix it! When other people don’t recognize you for who you are, when they don’t acknowledge your story, when they twist your story, at the end of the day it isn’t you. It took me a really long time to be able to understand this properly and realize that if they aren’t able to listen and relate, it’s because they are lacking the skills to be able to do that, not because there is something wrong with me.

So what did I take away from my experiences? Keep fighting and don’t give up. Find people who support you in achieving that. It has taken me a really long time to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay if I don’t share the same ideals as my colleagues and if I don’t fit into the culture of medicine. I don’t value the same things they do, and I don’t like the culture of medicine. I want to work to change that. At the end of the day I’m trying to re-focus on my own story, and not veer into the wrong direction because everyone else is telling me to. It is extremely difficult to resist that pressure just like it’s hard for a person whose friends and family all drink alcohol, not to take a drink. Environment influences us strongly, so if you are being told you are something you aren’t, its hard not to believe it. What’s really helped me the most has just been finding the right sangat. That in itself was hard and it took two years. The first time I met someone who just “got me” it was really comforting. I felt so blessed. I didn’t have to keep explaining myself and what I’ve been through. I was believed. Getting through this has been about finding people who remind me what real compassion and empathy means, and what it means to be a Sikh. People who share my values, and remind me what’s right and wrong. It's a rare couple of people who have been able to play this role in my life, the type of people who can take my anxiety and stress about what other people have said about me and remind me how to re-channel my energy. In Gurbani it says “If you wish to swim across the water, then consult those who know how to swim.” I just think to myself, are the people that are telling me to stop caring so much, that I don’t belong in medicine, people who know how to swim? Do I desire to be like them? No. I don’t need someone who is drowning to teach me how to swim. So it’s really helped me to have people reminding me of what’s real and important in life, and how not to lose the qualities that make me who I am under the pressure of my environment. We've all experienced pressure to change ourselves, and it can be really hard to resist. Next time I get caught up in the cascade of thoughts trying to prove myself, I’m going to use the tools I have in my toolbox to remind myself of what’s true and what is false: simran, Gurbani, and Sangat with people who are on that path. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Thieves


I guess I've been doing more art than writing the last little while! I'll try to get back to writing again soon. I have such a hard time focusing on simran when I am away from home and/or without sangat. The 5 win again and again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Live from Patna Sahib

Live Asa Di Vaar happening now from Patna Sahib for the 350th Prakash Divas of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It can be viewed via sikhnet.com or Sikhnet's Facebook page.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy Prakash Divas! Celebrating Guru Gobind Singh Ji's Birthday

This upcoming week we will celebrate the 350th Anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Birth. There will be programs every evening at the Gurdwara Sahib.

Our 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji was the son of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and Mata Gurjri Ji. He was born December 22, 1666 at Patna Sahib. His early education in Punjabi, Braj, Sanskrit and Persian was in Anandpur Sahib. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s shaheedi occurred when Gobind Rai was only 9 years old. He had not hesitated in telling his father to make this important sacrifice-“None could be worthier than you, father to make a supreme sacrifice.” Guru Ji went on to write great works such as Jaap Sahib and Chaupai Sahib which we read in our daily prayers. Guru Ji was married to Mata Jito (also known as Sundari) and Mata Sahib Devan (the mother of Khalsa).

It is Guru Gobind Singh Ji who created the Khalsa in 1699, and this is celebrated on Vaisakhi every year. Thus came the image of the Sikh you see today, with the 5 symbols of faith (Kesh, Kangha, Kara, Kirpan, Kacchera) and ready to give their life to defend the innocent at any time. Guru Ji writes in the Zafarnama “When all other means have failed, it is but lawful to take to the sword.” The Rajput chiefs of Silvalik hills were disturbed by the formation of the Khalsa as the Sikhs did not believe in their system of discrimination based on caste. They felt threatened and tried to force Guru Ji out of Anandpur Sahib, but were unsuccessful for five years. They got help from Emperor Aurangzeb and in 1705, he promised the Sikhs a safe exit if they left Anadpur Sahib. As discussed in previous posts about the history of the Chaar Sahibzaade, the Mughals did not fulfill their promise. Many Sikhs, including Guru Ji’s four sons, Ajit Singh Ji, Jujhar Singh Ji, Zorawar Singh Ji and Fateh Singh Ji were martyred. Many manuscripts were lost while trying to cross the Sarsa river.

Guru Ji spent time in Dina where he received a letter from Aurangzeb asking him to come to Deccan to meet him, however Guru Ji rejected his offer and wrote him the Zafarnama in response, delivered to Auranzeb by Daya Singh and Dharam Singh. In the battle of Muktsar on December 29, 1705, Guru Ji, Mai Bhago, and 40 Sikhs who had previously deserted the Guru Ji, faced the Mughal army led by Wazir Khan. These 40 became known as the 40 Mukhte (saved ones). Guru Ji spent 9 months at Damdama Sahibn (Talvandi Sabo) finishing the Sri Guru Sahib Ji. It is said that the Zafarnama touched Aurangzeb and he invited Guru Ji for a meeting, however Guru Ji had already left for the south. Guru Ji helped Bahadur Shah gain the throne after the death of Aurangzeb. Nawab Wazir Khan ordered the murder of the Guru Ji to be carried out by Jamshed Kahn and Wasil Beg. One of them stabbed Guru Ji, however Guru Ji killed the attacker. With the help of the Emperor’s surgeon, he was on the path to recovery. Several days later the wound burst open and started bleeding, but was again treated. Knowing that these were his last days, Guru Ji declared the Guru Granth Sahib Ji as his successor.
 
Guru Ji showed us what it means to overcome all odds and fight against injustice. Despite the martyrdom of his parents and children, and many many other Sikhs, all of which he considered his family, he stayed committed to his purpose in life and didn’t lose hope. He served as a brave and courageous warrior as well as a saint. May we remember Guru Ji’s contributions to our history as we celebrate the Prakash Divas of Guru Gobind Singh Ji!

References

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