Sunday, April 19, 2009

Somewhere Out There


It's happened enough times to cause concern.

Whether it's through a group discussion at a Gurmat camp or a talk with a concerned parent, I'm finding more and more Sikh youth questioning their faith. Not as much about the articles of faith, but faith itself - to simply put it...they don't believe in God.

I consider myself a very liberal-minded Sikh and see a lot of grey where others might see black and white. But neither I, nor anyone else, can stretch the definition of a Sikh to include one who does not believe in God. In my dialogue with these youth, there are all kinds of reasons for their uncertainty. Some use their "atheism" as an excuse for the real issue - their disinterest in the keeping the Sikh uniform and discipline. And well, saying you don't believe in God is a shorter and less emotional argument to have. With others, the doubt is more genuine. Some are students of science and base their principles on quantifiable and verifiable evidence, while others have been raised in a technology culture where everything is so here, so now, and so in your face - that contemplating the un-seen is so foreign to them.

I recall having my own doubts about the existence of God in my teenage years. I rejected the concept of "blind faith" and the dogmatic approach to Sikhi that I was familiar with, and I couldn't understand how people I respected so much believed so strongly. That is, until, I stumbled upon Guru Nanak. No, not a "vision" of him...but a history book. I read extensively about his life, his work, and his travels - and I was amazed! At that age, I idolized social and political revolutionaries like Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Che Guevara - but I learned that none of them could compare to my Guru.

It wasn't the story of how he stopped a boulder from falling on him that fascinated me, nor was it how the kabba moved the direction of Guru Sahib's feet; it was how he challenged the caste-based society, how he challenged devotees of meaningless rituals in their own holy places, and how - through his powerful words - he challenged the tyrannical ruler, Babur. He believed in truth and justice...and was completely fearless in defending it. This was the magic of Guru Nanak!

Although I had my doubts about God, one thing I knew for sure... I believed in Guru Nanak - with all my heart. And well, he surely believed in God...so maybe there was something more for me to learn.

After some further study, contemplation and discourse with my sangat - my faith became firm.

Questioning can be healthy, and the journey in finding out answers can actually do more good and strengthen one's faith long-term.

To some, faith and belief come easy. To others, it takes a little work. Some youth are skeptical and are not really willing to put in the effort - to learn, reflect and discuss. To them, I offer a quotation from Dr. King:
"Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step."

Or in Bhai Gurdas Ji's words:
"If you take one step towards the Guru, then the Guru will take a thousand steps towards you."

As a community, I think we focus so much of our spiritual development on ceremonies, competitions and other public displays of faith...but very little on the internal - simran, reflection and vichaar. Perhaps I need to find more creative ways to engage children on these aspects of Sikhi at a younger age, so their foundation is solid and not easily swayed by peer pressure or doubt as they get older.

After a lengthy discussion with an unconvinced youth, he turned the tables on me and asked, "How can you believe?"

I had to reflect...how could I?

How could I close my eyes and fall back on something I've never seen or touched?
How can I look out in to the darkness and pour my heart into something...somewhere out there...into the oblivion, and trust that He has heard me?

How can I believe?

Although I dabble in writing and poetry, I still have a tough time articulating my belief.

I don't have the words to express myself when I hear the elderly man next to me at the gurdwara, who is moved to tears every time he hears the hukamnama.  I cannot explain how I feel when I see a Sikh mother rock her child to sleep, deep in simran, with gurbani on her lips.  I cannot explain how I feel when, for every hundred times I rattle through my nitnem, I connect with a line somewhere that touches my soul. I cannot explain what comes over me when I've looked straight up in the sky at twilight, and see the sun and clouds arranged in a way, where such a masterpiece could only be designed by the Almighty. I cannot explain what it's like to hold a newborn baby in my arms, knowing that only a few minutes before...He was holding her in His own.  I am overwhelmed by his Grace...and to those who doubt it; all I can ask is...

"How can you not?"

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Veerji, I really liked your post, and many times I feel the same way, "how can you not?" When you mentioned the bit about seeing the sky and the sun set in the way they are, it reminded me a lot of Sohila where Guru Sahib discusses the continual universal aarti of Vaheguru that is going on.

    I had written something on a similar topic. The writing is broader though, while still including this bit about Faith and Trust. Your writing reminded me of this, so wanted to share it with you. Please let me know your thoughts. Since it is very long to paste here, I am just uploading it to my weblog and sharing the link here.

    http://www.sevaksingh.blogspot.com/

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  3. Excellent post, Sevak...thanks for sharing!

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  4. This may sound a little selfish. But what if some people lose faith in God because they don't feel justice is served to them. The whole 'Why do bad things happen to good people?' argument. And how can the system be so cruel?
    That I feel is also many times an argument against Faith in God and Sikhi.

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  5. Dear Anonymous,

    The reason your initial reaction tells you that what you're saying maybe selfish is because good and bad are humanly created values, thus they will always remain values that entertain selfish motives/beliefs.

    Good and bad are not divine values. They are created by us to create systems of convenience and control. The core of what is considered "good" starts with what serves human purposes. If three hungry humans decide to kill a chicken for food, the killing of the food is considered good. If three hungry lions decide to kill a human, then the killing of the human is bad. Atleast, that is how we react until someone points out that we react that way; then we start making up moral stories to state that we don't.

    The point is, Gurmat does not adhere to values of "good" and "bad." Theory of Justice in Gurmat is not based on "good" and "bad" actions but the "right" and "wrong" actions. The right actions are those that take you toward Akal Purakh. The wrong actions are those that take you away from Akal Purakh. The Salok at the end of Jap Ji Sahib teaches us this. Then take into accoutn Guru Nanak Sahib's lines that state "hum nahi change bura nahi koe" (i am not good, noone is bad). Beautiful thing about Gurmat and Gurbani though is that it does not force its philosophy upon anyone. It is solely for those that desire it. JO TO prem khela ka chao...Gurbani is filled with conditionals, its quite amazing when one takes the time to read and reflect.

    Anyways, the discussion will continue to extend for a long time and I would probably need to write a thesis paper to properly elaborate on the Theory of Justine contained within Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. At the very least, the point that should be taken from this, is that we need to move away from our Christocentric/Western mentality in viewing Gurmat, because Gurmat has its unique perspective that is worth discovering through the Grace of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. If one takes the time to read and learn Gurmat, atheism begins to look like a child's toy.

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  6. Thanks Anonymous for your comment.

    “Why do bad things happen to good people” and “How can the system be so cruel?” are questions I’m sure those of faith and atheists alike have been grappling with for centuries. I remember once having a discussion with a few Sikhs about the Rwandan genocide. The question arose, “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” One friend replied, “He allowed it to happen, but he gave us (humanity) the ability to stop it...and we failed” It’s an interesting perspective I’ve kept with me. But the follow-up question where the same logic does not apply is when entire cities are wiped out by natural disaster (floods, tsunami, etc.). Is there anything humanity could have done?

    I think Izhaarbir Singh raises an interesting point – the idea of good, bad, cruel etc. are created by us - based on our own parameters.

    Gurmat - right and wrong based on the Guru’s virtues) - however, is well-defined. If we raise to a higher level of awareness through Gurmat (and his Grace), perhaps we will have a better understanding of his Hukam.

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