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Sikhism is a religion that originated around 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India. It has since grown to become the fifth-largest religion in the world. One notable aspect of the Sikh community is their commitment to selfless service. It is a common sight to see Sikh volunteers rushing to the scene of any disaster, providing aid to migrants, helping victims of riots, and rebuilding homes after earthquakes.

This commitment to service extends beyond their local communities. Whether it's the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, the Paris terror attacks, farmers' marches in India, or protests in America against George Floyd's killing, Sikhs around the world have made it their tradition to help strangers in need during their darkest times. With a global community of 30 million people, the impact of their efforts is significant.

Sikhs gained worldwide recognition during the pandemic 

During the raging COVID-19 pandemic, a gurdwara in the western Indian state of Maharashtra provided food for an impressive two million people within a 10-week span. In addition, various other gurdwaras in India have utilized the gold they had accumulated over the past five decades to establish hospitals and medical colleges. Sikh non-governmental organizations also stepped up to provide "oxygen langars" - which are essentially community kitchens in gurdwaras - that distributed free oxygen to individuals amid India's devastating second wave of coronavirus.

How did Sikhs become the Good Samaritans of the world?

Many religions advocate for acts of kindness and doing good deeds. However, the Sikhs have been particularly effective in turning their beliefs into action. This can be traced back to the teachings of their founder, Guru Nanak. He emphasized the importance of selfless service, known as "seva," as well as hard work.

When Sikhs visit their place of worship, known as a gurdwara, they not only spend time in prayer but also serve their community. For instance, they take turns in cooking and serving meals, known as "langars," to anyone who visits the gurdwara. They also take care of the devotees' shoes and clean the premises. This way, the Sikhs practice what they preach, and their faith becomes an integral part of their daily lives.

Gurudwaras: The Sikh centres of seva and worship 

Sikh temples serve more than just a religious purpose. They also serve as soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and community centres. In fact, for those without a home, the temple can be a place to call home. This focus on service, or "seva," was instilled in the Sikh community by their founder, Guru Nanak. This value is so deeply ingrained that even a Sikh vegetable vendor, Baljinder Singh, spends every Friday afternoon for the past 40 years looking after the footwear of Muslims praying in his local mosque. He believes that humanity should come before any religion. Research indicates that focusing on helping others instead of dwelling on our own problems has many benefits, including improved mental health, lower blood pressure, lower mortality rates, better moods, and higher markers of happiness.

Working with our hands can also be a powerful and calming experience. And different sevas at gurudwaras, whether be langar, jal seva, cleaning seva or joda seva, the act of serving with hands goes a long way in serving as meditation. 

Author Jasreen Mayal Khanna shares Sikh tales of Benevolence 

Jasreen Mayal Khanna is the author of Seva: Sikh Secrets on How to Be Good in the Real World. Through anecdotes, interviews with Sikhs and using Sikhism’s history and fables, Sikh journalist Jasreen Mayal Khanna shared stories of Sikh good Samaritans. She talks about Nisharat Kaur Matharu, a 97-year-old who has been busy cooking for a homeless shelter in Southall, London, despite her age. She strongly believes that as long as her hands and feet are functional, she should use them to serve others. For her, the work is a source of satisfaction and peace, almost like meditation.

Another inspiring individual is Hasmeet Singh Chandok, a dancing Sikh residing in Nova Scotia, who was frequently mistaken for being Muslim. Instead of becoming resentful, he decided to raise awareness and created bhangra videos that became viral. He found happiness by helping others, despite the initial challenges he faced.

Sikh teachings 

The key to being a good person is not a secret at all. It comes naturally from certain attitudes and behaviours. Sikhs have two daily prayers that help them cultivate these qualities.

The first prayer, "sarbat da bhalla," is focused on the welfare of all beings. By practising this, Sikhs accept and value all individuals equally. This belief is the foundation of "seva," or selfless service, and it's why gurdwaras (Sikh temples) are open to everyone.

The second prayer is about maintaining a positive attitude, which is called "chardi kala." Sikhs repeat this phrase during all aspects of life, including visits to the gurdwara, weddings, and even during tough times. The purpose of cultivating a positive mindset is to find meaningful happiness in life.

Psychologists have identified two types of happiness: hedonic and eudaimonic. Hedonic happiness comes from external factors, such as receiving compliments or buying material possessions. Eudaimonic happiness, on the other hand, comes from within and is derived from learning new skills, spending time with loved ones, and serving the community. Sikhs are skilled at integrating both types of happiness into their lives.

Does that mean all Sikhs are joyful and joy-giving?

The Sikh community, like any other, has its share of flaws and problems, including drug abuse and related crimes which are more prevalent in Punjab than in other Indian states. It's important to acknowledge that Sikhs are just as human as anyone else, and not inherently better or worse than other people.

However, Sikhism places a strong emphasis on doing good deeds and helping others, which is why many Sikhs are known for their charitable acts. For them, doing good is not just a duty, but a cause for celebration. This is why people like Chandok create videos to showcase the positive impact of seva, or selfless service.

Acts of seva may seem like grand gestures, but they bring a sense of tranquillity and meaningful joy to those who practise them. This is why Sikhs at the Indian farmers' protests against new farm bills fed the police. It's a simple but extraordinary solution to the problems we face as a society.

 

*Based on an opinion article by Jasreen Mayal Khanna, published in BBC on 16th July 2021

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