Sunday, February 19, 2012

For Those Who Wonder Why

My children are in the “why” stage.
I’m sure many parents can relate...this is when your 3, 4, or 5 year old peppers you with questions about anything and everything –

“Why do I have to go to school?”
“Why do I have to sleep?”
“Why do I have to eat vegetables?”

Then to some of the more challenging ones...

“Why is the sky blue?”
“What happens after we die?”
“How come I can’t see Waheguru?”

But recently, after clarifying a song lyric for my daughter, it occurred to me that despite all the "whys", my children rarely ask me the meaning of a shabad.  We go to gurdwara nearly every week and listen to kirtan at home or in the car just about every day.  They are so inquisitive and I know they don’t know the meanings of the shabads we listen to...but still, they rarely ask.  So I’m left to wonder..."why?"

Perhaps they feel distant from the Guru.  Is this something the larger Sikh community feels as well?  Despite our Guru’s efforts to free us from a "priestly class", maybe there are some remnants left in our psyche that leaves religious discourse and ceremonies to those that are "holier than me."
At a recent gurmat camp, I facilitated a workshop on the Guru Granth Sahib and maryada.  I asked the group of high school and college students how many had ever stood or sat behind the Guru (to take hukamnama, chaur sahib etc.) and I was surprised to find more than half never had, some of them also have Guru Sahib Parkash at home.  And when I asked for them to sit close and watch as we did parkash, sukhasan, and hukamnama in this structured learning environment – they quickly sat around, were extremely attentive and asked tons of questions...they were so engaged.  I wondered, what would have happened if they had not attended the camp?  Some may have gone through their whole life without physically being that close to the Guru.  And if we’re too afraid to be close to the Guru, how do we expect to develop a relationship?  I’m inspired by a fellow khalsa school teacher who says "My job is to bring the Guru close…to teach the children that the Guru is your friend"

After spending most of my life in gurmat camps and working with Sikh children, it never ceases to amaze me...there are some kids who excel in all the camps, retreats, competitions and are just absolute superstars!  Their parents do all the "right things" to groom them as Sikhs, but somewhere during the college years or shortly thereafter, they choose to leave the path of Sikhi altogether.  Many of them choose this because they never really believed in God.  I was discussing this with another concerned parent recently and he said something that resonated with me.  He said "Our camps and khalsa schools can only do so much to teach Sikhi.  At some point, one must experience a moment in their life where a shabad brings them to tears."

I believe this.  I’ve experienced it before.  Not as frequently as I would like, but enough to know there is no other path for me.

I cannot force my children to have this experience, but as parents, it is me and my wife’s responsibility to create such an environment.  We can begin by explaining the meanings of the shabads we listen to...even without their asking.  I realize that sounds daunting, as it does for me too.  But say for a shabad like "Tera Keeya Meeta Lagae" perhaps all I need to explain is the line "Guru Meray Sang Sada Hai Naaley" (My Guru is always with me, near at hand)...what a wonderful thought a child can go to sleep with.  Maybe by continuously providing these themes, our children will be inclined to start asking on their own.  My hope is that a child who has a desire to understand gurbani eventually becomes an adult who has a desire to understand gurbani.

All the Sikh parents I know have their own approach when it comes to gurmat education.  Some leave it to the khalsa schools and camps to guide their children’s Sikhi, after all, it’s more than what we had.  Others focus on the daily and weekly rituals and instilling pride in their children, while deeper concepts of gurmat can wait until later.  Which is the right approach...who knows?  But I do know when I sit and talk to some of those youngsters who’ve moved beyond their doubts and formalized their commitment to the Guru...those who I would consider role models for my children and ask them what inspired them, there is a commonality amongst their answers – they all talk about their parents.  How their parents inspired them, guided them, and taught them - not as much in what they said...but in what they did.  So in the’s on my wife and I to set that example.

Some have asked me...why does it matter?  Why are you so concerned?  Your children will eventually make their own choices in life.  No matter what you do; it may never be enough...there are no guarantees.
And they are right - there are no guarantees. 

But forgive me...

On this journey of the Guru’s path I’ve come across such beautiful moments of inspiration, glimpses of humanity’s wholeness, and a completeness with the divine that I can barely articulate.  So I would be remiss if I did not try to foster an environment for my children to get to know Guru Nanak.  And for those who question why it matters, I can only could it not?


  1. Beautifully expressed!
    I agree to the thought that one must be moved to tears for a lifelong bond. Or, at least have deep emotions swell in your heart. As a child growing up in a Sikh family, my strongest emotions were not associated with shabads. But with 'taddhi vars'. We had this exquisite collection (on tape) of vars penned by Sohan Singh Sheetal brought to life by a 3-member group led by Kulwant Singh Ahluwalia. The stories they told of the wars fought and sacrifices made by our gurus cemented my relationship.

  2. Thought provoking & inspiring as always.

  3. Thanks for your feedback @gurdas. I can definitely relate. The dhaadi vaaraan on tapes played a large role in my upbringing also. Any chance you've found Kulwant Singh Ahluwalia's work on-line? @KaurStyle, thanks for your support and encouragement! Keep doing the great work you do!

  4. Perhaps it is also cause most of the Gurudwaras and the Granthijis do not understand the true meaning of the Shabad themselves. They don't usually preach Anhad baani or understand Shabad as the word of the lord.

    Perhaps it is also because we, who are parents, teachers, spiritual guiders and religious preachers, never sit down to wonder why we are here? Where did we come from? Where do we go? And most importantly what is the purpose of life and why are we taking this journey?

    Our religion was not born merely to tell us the right lifestyle. I promise you, there were plenty doing that already. And yes it was in many ways, but it was born for a far bigger cause - to show us the Path back Home. .. and that is exactly what we have forgotten. We have forgotten to go back home, meet our real father everyday, learn to die while we live, so that we may go back home finally when the day arrives. Most of us today are not preparing for the final test - the death, we are merely trying to live it right by rules like lifestyle - maryada. That is good - but not enough.

    Your children do not identify with it, because younger the child, more likely she/he still knows how to go back home. You would often see the connection in a baby, when it keeps smiling in its sleep. When the child sees the non-spiritual interpretation of the same Shabad in the gurudwara, there is nothing for him to take home out of it - he is already innocent and knows it all and also in many ways not corrupted yet by the world.

  5. A well thought out personal note by the author. @Harpreet, good response.

    I'd add, with all due respect, that many of us parents are not far enough along on the Sikhi path to properly guide our kids. We need to build our own jeevan, if we hope to build one for our kids. Just sending them to gurmat camp isn't enough, though it's definitely a good thing to do. Such camps are worthwhile.

    We parents need to go beyond just following a routine. We should listen to the words of realized souls who are best equipped to help us walk on the next steps to the path back to God. To that end, here's some excellent videos by Sant Waryam Singh Ji of Ratwara Sahib:

    If a family sits down together to watch even one of these videos, the parents will soon realize that there's a lot to understand here. Once understood, we can explain it to our kids.

    There's also additional audio from various saints available at

  6. Thanks for your insightful comments @Harpreet and @Anonymous. I completely agree that gurmat camps are worthwhile. They are one of the many tools we need to guide our children - but as you say, it isn't enough. I like your comment that we as parents must "build our own jeevan" To me, a Sikh is always learning, changing, and challenging one's self toward the path of Gurmat...and I believe the process in getting there could be a child's most important lesson - for them to witness our process of learning.

  7. I think parents are a huge inspiration to kids as veerji mentioned. I have often come across mothers who are devastated when they find out their kid is cutting/trimming or drinking and often a parent in that scenario is doing the same. I feel parents in that situation have no real way to express to their kids what they should do b/c in doing so they come off as being hypocrites.

    Every one makes their own choices and each situation is unique from the next but exposing kids to Sikhi through various avenues since each person is inspired by various ways, giving them an example to replicate at home and being understanding of where they are coming from and supporting them through it all is what I hope I'll be able to do as a parent. I might not know what I'm talking about since I'm still in grad school and do not have my own kids but thought I'd add my two cents.

    Thanks for you insight. Always enjoy reading your blog

  8. Gurbani is not given to everyone to know or understand, a rare Guru's sikh is born to do that, from many crores. The rest are lead away by The Lord Himself to love, cherish and pursue Maya.

    That rare sikh, has The Guru & Gurbani fated before their birth here, again by The Lord Himself.

    What can you do, but watch & weep? The Gurdwaras sell Gurbani for a price, like do Ardas, Parth, Kirtan, Katha or get married with Lahvaan. These so called gianis line up to eat the money, like dogs to bones. These gianis dont know Gurbani, they just recite it. Reading Gurbani wont make you understand it, accept it, or make you realise its true meaning.

    Only the fated ones understand, realize and know Gurbani. How is that possible?

    What most sikhs or singhs fail to realize and understand is, that Gurbani was given by God to The Guru, it belongs to ultimately to God. To whomsoever that God wishes to give the Divine Essence or Amrit of Gurbani, only that person will get it. The rest are left with nothing but empty rituals, ceremonies & a show of clothes. These are done tirelessly year after year till death eats them up.

    Yes, even the rituals, ceremonies, dressage of Dharma are a pain, suffering and grief imposed by that Ultimately Clever God to give you 'water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink'.

    Thirsty they come, thirsty they live in their desires, needs, hopes and wants and still thirsty they die ! What a travesty Lord !


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