Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Music

Along the same theme as my last post, I heard a This American Life program a few months back called "Music Lessons." It's a mildly amusing story that perhaps musicians can appreciate more than I. However, in Act 3, about 45 minutes in to the program - a woman reflects on a recent experience she had at her church and how music created a "miracle." Her poetic account of this experience is brilliant.

When I originally heard this, I immediately thought about Keertan, and the profound impact it has had on me and many others. Gurbani is not simply words on a page, but Guru Sahib specifically prescribed a raag to each Shabad - to convey it's mood, to create that feeling and emotion he felt when writing it. How beautiful!

After listening to this, I thought about those rare moments at a Keertan Darbar or Samagam where I felt a sense of connection with the Sangat and how Keertan created that connection. It can be powerful!

I'm curious to hear what others think of the program and if anyone else has had a similar "Sangat Moment."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Amandla!


Years ago, I watched this beautiful documentary called Amandla (Xhosa word for “power”)

It chronicles the struggle of the Black South Africans when the apartheid government came to power in 1948. It also covers the decades of increasing violence and repression, then finally "victory" in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically chosen president.

I've always been fascinated with the Black South African movement against apartheid and have read, listened, and watched much about it. What was so unique about this film was it focused on the music of the movement, and how the power of song was used to communicate, motivate, console, unite and, ultimately, beget change.

I really connected with this film as it made me think about Shabad Keertan and in particular - Vaars, and how it may have been used to motivate and inspire the Khalsa during battle. I would strongly recommend this documentary for a film discussion at any Gurmat camp or retreat. If anyone has seen it, I would love to hear your review!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Remembering Dr. King


Through the years, I've had many debates with Sikh friends over Dr. King's non-violent philosophy, but regardless of what one might feel about his beliefs, there are several apects about his life and work that are of note.

He was an amazing orator and had a remarkable ability to articulate the struggle, and inspire people to action. He was not simply a demagogue or a symbol of the movement, but lived on the front lines. He participated at the grass-roots level, whether it was marching in Selma or courting arrest in Birmingham. He was not a "self-professed" leader, but he worked…tirelessly…and was the first to take a risk or make a sacrifice when called upon. And through this, he earned the respect of his peers and became a leader. To quote a line from my favorite movie Braveheart, "Men don't follow titles, they follow courage."

What I admire most about Dr. King was his vision - and his ability to pour himself completely in to a movement that he knew he would never see the outcome of. But the foundation he laid was so strong, it was able to carry on without him. This was the genius of Dr. King. And over time, so much of his "dream" has been realized, even in our present day.

Perhaps this is something Sikh leaders and "leaders-to-be" can reflect upon.
What can we learn from Dr. King's life and work for the Sikh Nation to realize it's full potential?

His famous "I Have a Dream" speech will likely be played on television and radio stations all day throughout the country. I've heard it in its entirety several times and it still gives me goose bumps. But another one that I find particularly powerful was his famous "Mountaintop" speech. Amidst several death threats, he delivered this on April 3, 1968 at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. Here is a video of his closing words, which would turn out to be his last public speech, as he was assassinated hours later.



Sunday, January 18, 2009

Saroop


Place your hand upon my head, my Friend
That I may be an embodiment of your wisdom
That I may epitomize your strength
That I may personify your courage
That I may represent your virtues
That I may be an example of your character
That I may be an expression of your grace
That I may be an incarnation of your truth
That I may be a manifestation of your love

Monday, January 5, 2009

Floetry


An article of mine recently published on sikhchic under the title, The Mane of a Lion. I prefer my original title...

Floetry
by Rubin Paul Singh

While on a road trip this past summer, my seven-year-old niece asked me a question that caught me off guard. She asked:

"Mama ji, why don't you tie your beard?"

To be honest, it wasn't something I had thought much about, so it wasn't easy to come up with a quick answer, let alone one that would satisfy an inquiring seven-year-old.
With little thought, I quickly responded: "Because I want to look like my heroes." She didn't ask any more questions. The answer seemed to satisfy her, but I wasn't sure if it satisfied me; perhaps it needed a little more thought.

Like many young boys born and raised in the U.S., my bedroom reflected all of my interests, and its walls paid homage to many of my heroes. I was an avid sports fan - so, the likes of Michael Jordan, Walter Payton and John Riggins adorned a wall.

But as the mid-80's approached, my interests shifted. Unrest was growing in Punjab and I became inspired to learn more about my faith and my history.

From the moment I began delving into our rich past, I was captivated! The more I read, the more fascinated I was, not only by the Gurus and their lives, but also by the brave generals who came after the period of the Gurus. They fought intense battles against injustice and for the sovereignty of the Khalsa Panth. Soon enough, the pictures of my sports heroes came down, and images of Banda Singh Bahadur, Baba Deep Singh, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh made their way onto my walls. My room became a shrine to Sikh leaders and battlefield heroes, like Hari Singh Nalwa, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, and Akali Phula Singh.

Given the political climate at the time and my study of the Sikh struggle of the 1980's, the likes of modern-day generals such as Baba Jarnail Singh, Bhai Amrik Singh, and General Shubeg Singh made their way to my wall.

As I got older and broadened my learning, pictures of Giani Ditt Singh, Prof. Puran Singh, and Bhai Vir Singh were also proudly displayed. Often times, I would daydream gazing at my wall, and I would think of all that these charismatic leaders, brave soldiers and amazing personalities had in common - their sheer courage, their ability to overcome adversity, their commitment to their faith, and their passion for Sikhi. But at a quick glance, you would notice the one thing that stood out automatically - they all had long, flowing beards!

Since then, I have found the "khullih-dharrih" look to be both regal and impressive. I know you cannot judge a book by its cover and "baana" alone does not define your character, but at a completely superficial level, I find it beautiful!

The flowing beard is like poetry to me ... or, as I call it, "Floetry."

Perhaps because it reminds me of what my Gurus must have looked like, and of their personality and their character, and their ability to re-mould society.

Whenever I see someone similar at the gurdwara, at a nagar kirtan, in downtown, or at the mall, I feel a connection. I am overwhelmed - and I find a deeper appreciation for my own kakaars.
People may have many theories as to why Guru Sahib gifted this to us, but to me, I believe it is to give me just this feeling and emotion. I remember years ago, while on a business trip in New Zealand, stopped at a traffic light, I looked over and spotted another driver with a beautiful kesri dastaar and a khullah dharrah! I don't know what came over me - but it brought tears to my eyes. There I was, far from home, far from my sangat - but this image alone, connected me to my Gurus, to my heroes, and to my history.

Although I have chosen to let my beard flow at Sikh functions for years, I finally decided to stop tying it at work, as well. This may seem like a small deal to most, but regardless of my admiration of the khullih dharrih look, it was still something I was conscious about for myself. But with my wife's encouragement, I was able to "take the plunge" and can say that I've been gel- and hairspray-free for over a year.

Thank God!

It's been an interesting transition. When walking through the mall or in the city, sure, I do get a few extra stares, and maybe a few more ignorant comments than before, but for every negative, I receive just as many positive comments. Sometimes children will come up to me and tell me they like my beard. Often times the "follicle-challenged" would explain how hard they've tried to grow a beard like mine and failed. And I especially like it when fellow bearded-men smile and nod with a look of camaraderie and brotherhood, as though we are part of some secret society.
It's pretty amusing. I never had these interactions before.

So, when I think back on when my niece asked me why I didn't tie my beard, I wish I could say there was something philosophical or spiritual to it, but the truth is, there isn't. Perhaps it is the kid in me who just wants to look like his heroes, or it is the adult in me who is trying to live up to what his heroes stood for, or maybe just the Sikh in me, who loves his faith, and wants to shout it out from a mountaintop.

January 2, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Low Hanging Fruit


In my study of Sikh History, there are certain events I’m marveled by. More than any other, I’ve been fascinated with how the Guru’s challenged the caste ideology. Whether it was young Nanak at the age of 7 refusing to wear the Janeoo (scared thread) or the establishment of Langar, where people of all castes and creeds sat together and shared a common meal – these ideas challenged the status quo and re-molded society. Perhaps these were the precursor to Guru Gobind Singh forming the Khalsa, a caste-less brother/sisterhood, where regardless of what background you came from, by receiving the Guru’s amrit, you were elevated to the family of the Guru.

How amazing?

Anyone who understands how the caste system influenced all aspects of society for thousands of years, can appreciate how significant a milestone the establishment of the Khalsa was. And how fitting, on that day in 1699, Sikhs were given their uniform, and were given the name Singh and Kaur as they began their lives on the Guru’s path.

I believe our tenth Master gifted us the surname of "Singh' and "Kaur” to erase any last trace of what was once a caste-based society. I often wonder…if Guru Sahib gave us this Hukam of using Singh and Kaur at the same time and on the same day as he did our Kakaars, then why do we value this Hukam any less? Guru Sahib, through his bold stances – in words and in actions, released us from the shackles of slavery, yet today, we choose to stay as slaves willingly. We struggle so hard to find our identity and cling on to our caste, family, clan, or tribal heritage. But isn’t this why the Khalsa was formed? To break down those barriers, to lose “ourselves” and become part of the whole? Personally, I take great pride in being a "Singh" and losing my “self” within the Khalsa Panth. I feel proud knowing that any of my accomplishments are shared with all "Singhs" and exercise caution knowing that any negative actions may adversely affect other "Singhs."

When getting married, my wife and I consciously chose to keep our names separate as Singh and Kaur. Many complain that the process to get a last name changed is very difficult, but I know there are many out there who have taken this step, and perhaps some can comment on their experience. It's especially easy for women when they get married, as name changes are quite common. Some complain that a married couple having different last names is inconvenient - not at all. Besides...this is America, I'm sure women taking their husband's name will be a "thing of the past" sooner than you think.

I take great pride in my wife and daughter being "Kaurs" and can't wait to explain to my little Kaur why she and I have different last names and this great gift the Guru has given us. Aside from occasionally being called "Mr. Kaur" at some of my daughter's functions (which we all get a little giggle out of), there has been no inconvenience at all. Personally, I get tired of having conversations with non-Sikhs, having to explain what Sikhi is about, and then explain what Sikhs "really do." There are many issues like this, but to me, keeping the name of Singh and Kaur seems like "low hanging fruit."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Heretics

While living in Chicago, I was a loyal listener to Chicago Public Radio's "This American Life." No matter how many different types of media are out there, I still find the radio documentary to be a powerful medium. After leaving Chicago, I made a point to subscribe to their weekly podcast. A few weeks ago, I heard this fascinating story about Reverend Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This story talks about his rise in the evangelical arena, and his eventual fall because of his doubts in the belief of hell. He wondered if a loving God would really condemn most of the human race to burn and writhe in the fire of Hell for eternity. He started preaching the theology of "inclusion-ism" which believed God was all-loving, regardless of what path he or she chose. He was ultimately declared a heretic by the church. Take a listen...I'd be curious to hear what others think
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1273