Harsimranpreet-Whom do We Serve?

The idea that still sits in my mind, after a year of experiencing different sites, is that we have all these communities...

langar (19K)I find myself back in the Pacific Northwest after a sunny 6 weeks in Texas. I had the opportunity to attend a few different gurdwaras there and was so warmed by the welcome at each one. Each had a unique energy and presentation and I liked each one for a different reason. One had an amazing raagi that spoke right to my soul. In another, four beautiful Khalsa sisters, who looked like they walked right out of Guru Gobind Singh’s army, came walking up saying “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!” and offering big hugs. At the smallest one, located in a house, we hung around after langer dancing to Bhangra music and laughing. The idea that still sits in my mind, after a year of experiencing different sites, is that we have all these communities, unique in their own beauty and we are keeping to ourselves this Guru’s gift of langar and sangat.

What I hear when I ask about different gurdwaras to visit in each new area in which I live is that this one is political, this one doesn’t have good food, this one has no good musicians and on and on. I am a guest in all of these places so to me, the fact that a group of individuals is putting out the effort to maintain a gurdwara is a huge gift. It is a lot of work, a major commitment of time and money and an organizational challenge. The fact that politics get involved is not a surprise. People are very passionate about what they do and how they serve the Guru so this will be an everlasting battle of wills and egos. We’re human and Sikhs so we’ll just have to keep working toward peace. I wonder, however, if we might relieve some of our tensions on how we run the gurdwara by moving our focus to how we can allow the Guru to impact other people.

Guru Nanak piloted the inter-faith programs of his time and I feel, as Sikhs, we have contracted that legacy to continue to build understanding and community. There is a general void in the minds of most Americans regarding Sikhs which includes both the religious leadership and the average citizen. On my flight into Portland from Houston, I sat in bana next to an elder Baptist Christian minister. We weren’t originally scheduled to be on the same flight, but his flight got bumped so his wife was given a seat farther back in the plane and there he sat next to me. After a little friendly discussion he inevitably asked me “What are you?” and then had to ask “What do you believe?” As luck would have it, this man was very hard of hearing so for about twenty minutes a good portion of the passengers heard us discussing God and faith. It was very hard not to laugh at the comedy of yelling “GOD IS EVERYTHING!” in an enclosed space full of people to the man sitting next to me, but the power of such a discussion does not escape me. We were both instruments of the Divine that day and only the Infinite knows how it affected anyone in hearing range.

guruamardasandakbar (14K)Had I been returning to a home sangat, I would have offered to do an exchange of community or to work on a service project together. Why not ask some of his congregation to join us for langer or kirtan? Why not offer to visit and share the commonalities of faith? Why are Sikhs coming together each weekend to revel in the vibrations of Guru’s kirtan without offering others that opportunity? Aren’t we proud of who we are? Don’t we want all to have the chance to enter and be blessed? We don’t need to try to change people’s minds. If we truly believe the Guru’s songs are for all people we do the world a disservice in keeping them to ourselves.

Everytime I sit down for langer now at a new place, I feel increasingly uncomfortable. I don’t need to come to gurdwara to eat. Even if I were to get up and serve my fellow Sikhs I know I still wouldn’t feel the meaning. Can we invite people who actually need to feed their souls or bodies into our communities? We know what a blessing our sangat is and how we were meant to come together and be grateful that we can share food. Can we step out and interact with other communities of faith and share our Guru’s teachings? We don’t need to proselytize, we just need to act as Sikhs. There are inter-faith forums in every major city. How many of them are hosted by Sikh gurdwaras and how many include Sikhs? I went to one forum back in Oregon where all the Muslims sat at one table. How did that help to build understanding? Guru Nanak studied and interacted with all and we can also be students of other faith communities. In doing so, we can build allies in the world and spread awareness of ways to live in the world with faith.

I’m in Washington for a month as a civilian in medical training with the U.S. Army. With a surgical cap over my dastar last week, I had the very strange experience in the operating room of discussing how I came to Sikhi while closing an inguinal hernia repair. That conversation might have come about because the Army has just inadvertently promoted education about Sikhs by admitting an enlisted man with his beard and turban. What a beacon of service that man is to our community and what a tremendous example of what a son of Guru Gobind Singh can be. He made the U.S. Army alter their policy! If this is the power of one Singh, how much greater can the power of an entire sangat be?

I am so grateful that at every gurdwara I’ve attended people have been so kind as to reach out to me. We are still Sikhs outside the gurdwara. How much farther can we reach?


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