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The last couple weeks, I have been staying up way past my bedtime – watching too much television and scrolling through social media. Maybe it’s because the rest of my day is packed with responsible, structured activities, that I need the late night/early morning space to “zone out”. Late Friday night, I found myself watching the first reports of Hamas’ attack on Israel bubbling up through my social media feeds. First a mention. Then a warning about the graphic nature of the videos surfacing. Then Al Jazeera with their updates. Then (a couple hours later) the Washington Post sharing their updates.

Watching the first sparks of the war unfolding in real time was paralyzing, mind numbing and surreal.

I made myself sit and watch. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, but I tried. I think it’s important to engage in an inner dialogue about external events. To not let other people create the narrative for you, but to find a narrative based on your own values and perspective. In that spirit, on Saturday morning, after getting only a few hours of restless sleep the night before, I posted the following statement to my social media accounts:

"In this time of profound trouble, I stand by Guru Nanak's message. All religions, all paths, all faiths, all people come from the same One Source. And our common humanity is our highest bond.

Divisions based on religion - whether political, economic, material or violent - have nothing to do with God and have everything to do with the greed and ego of humanity. Recognizing that we are - all of us - brothers and sisters of a common humanity is necessary to create a world of peace, prosperity and possibility.

I cannot change what is happening on the world stage today. But I can remind myself and bear witness to the Truth that these miseries are of our own making. True worship comes from service to each other, and the love and friendship such service brings. If you want to see God - never break anyone's heart for it is in the heart of the other person that God lives.

May we pray for peace of mind, peace among people, peace across societies, and peace in the world.”

After posting this statement to social media on Saturday, I have continued to watch the war unfold.  I am no expert on the Middle East. I have no “hot takes” about the situation. Being a US citizen, I know that the United States government has unconditionally supported Israel since before I was born. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. I also know there has never been real peace in that part of the world in my lifetime. 

Yet as a Sikh, I also know that Guru Nanak came to spread a message of how we are, all of us, children of the same One God. Our common humanity is our highest bond and obligation. 

My colleague and dear friend, Bhai Dr. Harbans Lal ji, tells a story of a special building in his hometown of Haripur when he was a child, before Partition. The building had three rooms: one room was a Muslim Mosque, one room was a Hindu Mandir, and one room was a Sikh Gurdwara. One building housed all three.

On special occasions, villagers would gather together to collectively celebrate in whichever room was appropriate. Coming together in community, as neighbors, they worshipped in the Mosque when it was a Muslim event, the Mandir when it was a Hindu event and the Gurdwara when it was a Sikh event.

Can you imagine this? 

This is such a beautiful image to me. Guru Nanak attracted students (Sikhs) from every path: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Yogis. His attitude was – don’t let these religious identities take you away from your highest identity – the humanity that you all share with one another. This is how I have understood his writings and life.

But what do we do? We say only certain types of people can join in this particular building for this style of worship. Then that separateness, that spiritual ego, extends beyond the house of worship to a neighborhood, or a community, or a region or eventually a state.

All this division because we cannot tolerate prayers that are different from our own.

In my humble view, and please forgive me in advance if this is offensive, but religions don’t need “homelands.” The Divine is everywhere – so why confine It to a specific location? The Muslim religion doesn’t need one. The Jewish religion doesn’t need one. The Sikh religion doesn’t need one. The Christian religion doesn’t need one. The Hindu religion doesn’t need one. 

We need societies with tolerance as a core virtue.

Guru Nanak saw the same Light in every house of worship. Can we do the same? Can we invite people into our homes of worship, whether they belong to our particular faith community or not? If we had the habit to welcome others into our houses of worship, if we had the habit to visit other houses of worship and respectfully participate, then perhaps this proclivity towards separation could disappear.

But if the house of worship remains a place of segregation, if the land on which that house sits is exclusive, if the money collected belongs in the hands of a few to pursue their political agendas, then this attitude will spire outwards and infect humanity. Rather than Love, religions will be grounds for hate. Rather than Healing, religions will spawn wars. It’s been happening for hundreds of years and it is happening again right now, before our eyes. This need to separate and compete with each other when it comes to the Divine doesn’t have anything to do with God, at all.

Sikhs could set a different example. We have the philosophical base for it. We have the historical record for it. But when is the last time a Muslim played kirtan in the Golden Temple? Even though the musicianship of a Muslim was inseparable from the songs Guru Nanak first sang.

I have been an idealist my whole life. The older I get, the sadder I sometimes feel. I want the Sikhs to be something we are not (yet), just like I want the world to be something it is not (yet).

I want the highest religious sect on earth to be our common humanity – just as Guru Nanak teaches us in Japji Sahib.

I want the common humanity Guru Nanak talks about to be the heart of everything we say and do.

I want the Sikhs to break out of their own religious separateness and inspire the rest of the world by our example.

The murder of innocent, unarmed civilians is wrong wherever and however it occurs. The human suffering taking place right now is horrifying. Generational scars are being created in this moment and people will need support for years to recover from the trauma. I have no expertise to offer anything to Israel, Palestine, or the world-wide Jewish and Muslim communities except prayers for peace.

But I can ask myself if I am ever going to live Guru Nanak’s teachings for real. Can I live my life in such a way that I truly see our common humanity as the highest spiritual reality?

I believe that Guru Nanak’s message can bring healing to the world. Those of us who aspire to live Guru Nanak’s teachings need to set the example and have the courage to live it.


PhotoCredit: Portrait_of_Guru_Nanak_and_Bhai_Mardana_from_a_folio_within_a_Guru_Granth_Sahib_manuscript_dated_to_1780_B.S._(1723_C.E.)_housed_at_the_Amar_Chand_Joshi_Library_of_Panjab_University_Chandigarh

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