Friday, June 17, 2011

Out Of Service?

Over the long weekend, I had the good fortune to attend a Gurmat retreat out in the Midwest.

The theme for the retreat was the Rehat Maryada and I thoroughly enjoyed spending an entire weekend in workshops that delved in to the various components of the Maryada, like Gurmat Rehini (Living in Gurmat), Shaksi Rehni (Personal Living), Guru Panth, and Seva.

Few camps or retreats spend much time on the Rehat Maryada, and when discussed, it often gets criticized mostly due to its outdated language. And although I do agree the language could use an update and perhaps some of the more subtle points could be debated - honestly though, I don’t get hung up on that. I do feel the Rehat Maryada by and large accurately defines the discipline of a Sikh and Sikh practices. Furthermore, I respect the significant time and patience it took all involved in the process to dialogue, negotiate and ultimately agree on the final document. It was one of only a handful of events in the past hundred years that utilized concepts of 'Sarbat Khalsa' as a means of consensus building - a process and art that has largely been lost.

During the retreat, as we dove in to the correct practices of our Gurdwaras and the panthic process of conflict resolution, I couldn’t help but think how far we’ve drifted. It's almost as though "what Sikhs should do" and “what Sikhs actually do" were topics for two different retreats. How and when did such a gap occur? If such well-thought ideas were put in place with the Rehat Maryada, debated on, then approved by so many institutions – why aren’t we seeing it in action today? Why are we still trying to fix the problems the Rehat Maryada was supposed to solve? Others at the retreat noted this disparity too, and the answer that kept resurfacing was, "Well...the machinery is broken."

To a large extent, I agree.  I believe the Rehat Maryada is just as relevant now as it was a hundred years ago. And those who debated over the initial draft had a desire to bring consistency amongst our practices so we can be more united, advance ourselves collectively, and resist external influences that try to disrupt such unity. All of this applies today, especially the methods of conflict resolution and consensus building that was defined by Guru Sahib.  It simply requires a little bit of learning, humility, reflection, and faith.

But clearly...we're not there yet.

You don’t have to go too far to see it...babas run rampant, maryadas are plenty, we fight over which "jatha" is right, and we deal with conflict through storming in to Gurdwaras and beating people with cricket bats.

I believe in the machinery.  It was inspired by the Guru Granth and built by the Guru Panth.  Unfortunately though...it is temporarily broken.

Or is it? Can it really be possible? Are we as a panthic entity simply "Out Of Service?"

Maybe it’s my post-retreat "high" or the completion of another milestone birthday - I'm not sure.  But for whatever reason...I refuse to see the glass half-empty.

Although I don’t believe we're in the midst of another Singh Sabha Lehar by any means – I do, however, believe there are pockets of movement all around us. It may be scattered, but it's happening.

I suppose there are Gurdwaras and Sikh Institutions who use the Rehat Maryada as a basis for their operations.

I trust there are sangats in small corners of the world who do in fact use principles of 'Sarbat Khalsa' as a means to resolve conflict and build concensus.

Years ago, I heard that after several months of unrest at a Gurdwara on the West Coast, two rivaling factions within the presence of Guru Sahib bowed before the Guru, dissolved their committees, and deferred the leadership of the Gurdwara to an elderly sevadaar that the entire community respected. Since then, I’ve heard so many variations of that story, I’m not even sure it’s true anymore. Maybe it’s just “panthic” legend that people like me hold on to :)

So does this post have a happy ending? Maybe some hope for the future? You tell me...

I need your help...please comment and let me know what you, your family, gurbani group, Gurdwara, or organization does using the Rehat Maryada or the concepts of Sarbat Khalsa as a method for decision-making. Maybe some stories of panthic unity that don’t always make the front-page. Whatever you got...let’s hear it.

Inspire!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Where Do I Begin?

I was terrified.

I didn’t even want to leave the parking lot.
But our presentation was to start in only 10 minutes...there was no turning back.

I've done my share of public speaking - from pitching to executives in a board room, to addressing a packed auditorium...but this one had me a little uneasy.

We were told to "keep it short...no more than 10 minutes...they lose interest after that." But what if they lose interest sooner? Or worse, start heckling? There was no more time to worry...it was "go time." And as my wife and I entered the room, they all turned to look at us - fresh out of circle time...a room full of preschoolers!

Shortly after we enrolled our daughter in her new pre-school, her teachers asked if we had any holidays we'd like to share with the kids in the class. Perhaps it was just their effort to encourage cultural diversity that prompted it...or maybe it was the questions they got after I would leave the room. I once asked my daughter, "Do you explain to your friends why Daddy wears a dastaar?" She would innocently reply, "I tried...but they don’t understand Panjabi!"

We eagerly scheduled our visit around the time of Vasakhi several months ahead, but as the time neared, I got a bit nervous - what could we really explain about Sikhi in 10 minutes...especially to 3 and 4 year olds? Frankly, I'm not sure how successful I've been explaining things to my own children, based on the questions I get re-asked on a regular basis. At the same time, my wife and I try not to get hung up in teaching facts and figures...at this age, it's more about creating an environment of sangat, simran, seva, and keertan...with hopes to build on that foundation in the years to come.  So I can understand how difficult it might be for our daughter to articulate Sikhi to her friends, even though it such a large part of her life.

In preparing for the presentation, we debated over what to cover and what to skip - should we talk about how Guru Nanak Sahib challenged the caste system? What about the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib? The order of the Khalsa? Or our brave heroes like Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and Mai Bhago? What about concepts like simran and langar? Where do we begin...where do we end?

Ultimately, we decided to take a simple approach. After covering the three "golden rules" of Sikhi (Naam Japna, Vand Chakna, Kirit Karni), we briefly explained the uniform of a Sikh and how it reminds us to live by the three golden rules, to treat people equally, and to help those in need. We explained that rather than receiving gifts, we celebrate our holidays by doing seva (self-less service).  A few weeks before, we started a shoe drive where parents were asked to drop off gently used athletic shoes, which are then used to help support families from farming communities in rural African countries (http://www.pppafrica.org/). This really resonated with the children...and their parents too, as many of them dropped off large bags of shoes. Everyone was excited to be a part of this project.

As our ten minutes were up, I wondered if we really did justice to the path of Guru Nanak...I mean, there was so much we didn’t have time to talk about...so much we missed. But at the same time, if years from now all these children remember was a Sikh family came to their school, they looked a bit different - but they were happy, compassionate, and wanted to help people in need...well, then all is not lost.

And as our children get older, perhaps these annual presentations will mature as well.

As were ready to leave, many of the kids ran over to the look at the pictures we brought of Sikh men, women, and families. Other children went to the poster of the "penthi" to try and write their name in Gurmukhi script. The teachers also approached us wanting to get more information about visiting our local Gurdwara…all in all, it seemed like a success.

But most important, was the huge smile on our daughter's face during the entire presentation and the excitement in her eyes as all the kids joined to sing the "Goodbye" song, which today was replaced by the "Fateh" song.

It was though a load had been lifted off her shoulders...and all her friends caught a glimpse of her wonderful world of Sikhi.