Sunday, August 11, 2013

We're Moving!

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!!

Just wanted to thank everybody for reading and commenting on the Spirit Of The Sikh for all these years.  It's been an amazing experience learning and growing with my sangat through this blog.

In order to take advantage of some cool features, I'm switching over to a new site and will be closing down this site in the next 30 days or so.

I hope I can count on your continued readership and contribution!

Please visit, follow, and update your links to:

Thanks again

Akaal Sahai,
RP Singh

Monday, June 17, 2013

There's No "I" In "TEAM"

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."  -Michael Jordan

It was bound to happen at some point.

I was hoping somewhere in my graduate studies I would bump in to some concept or idea that I could relate to my interest in Sikh thought, and sure enough it happened in the oddest of places...a business ethics seminar.  In reviewing David Brook's New York Times article titled "If It Feels Right", Brooks finds that young people in America are mostly disconnected from any moral sources, and as a result find youth in an “atmosphere of extreme moral individualism -- of relativism and non-judgmentalism.”  This doesn't mean they are immoral, but their morals are based on "what feels right."  

At first, I was relieved that this phenomenon was not limited to Sikh youth.  As one who has been working with Sikh youth for a good part of my life, I've noticed this growing trend of "moral individualism" and "non-judgmentalism" when it comes to their Sikhi and dynamics within the larger sangat.

I've seen it time and time again...a young Sikh makes a commitment to further their Sikhi development, say grows out their hair, receives amrit, charni lagna, or begins wearing a dastaar.  They are happily willing to receive the support and encouragement by their sangat as they begin this new journey.  However, if they fall off the path, or back out on their commitment, all bets are off.  That same sangat feels threatened to say something at the risk of being "judgmental" and often times the struggling Sikh themself casts everybody off with a "hey, leave me alone…this is my personal journey" attitude.  But is it though?  And is that all your sangat is supposed to be?  Just people to listen to kirtan with and cheer you on during good times?

Sure, I do believe the journey of a Sikh is largely personal.  It’s about building and developing that relationship with the Guru through personal discipline, simran, and reflection on gurbani.  However, there is a very public aspect of Sikhi too that is quite unique.  Let's face it, Guru Sahib gave us a distinct uniform that not only reminds us of our principles every time we look in a mirror, but it also proclaims to the world who we are and what we believe in.  And if I am going to publicly don the uniform of my Gurus and the heroes that followed, shouldn't I be held accountable by my sangat when I misrepresent it?  If I have willingly knelt before the Guru and offered my head, shouldn't my sangat challenge me when I break that commitment?  So It begs the question...where does accountability end and judgment begin?

Some say it depends on the approach...those who are humble, loving, and compassionate in their criticism are okay, while the others are just being judgmental.  As I've stated in previous posts, I do believe sangat should be kind and compassionate when trying to guide their fellow brother or sister back on track, but realistically, it won’t always happen that way.  And how often are most of us willing to graciously take criticism regardless of how it is delivered, especially for something that means so much to us as our Sikhi?

There is one thing about being a student I know for sure...I will fail at some point or another.  Maybe once, maybe many times...It's inevitable.  But if I believe my path is true, I simply cannot throw my hands in the air and give up every time I fall, nor can I dismiss everybody around me in fear of being judged.  I need to check my own ego at the door, and humbly take the criticism and advice from my sangat…because if I believe they are my sangat, than I have to believe their intentions are good and that we're all in this together.

In my days playing football, I recall what it's like to have the ball slip through my hands on an important play and feel like I've let my team down, as we'll as myself.  But something interesting happens immediately after that.  The coach rarely puts you on the bench after a botched play, instead he puts you right back in.  Why?  So you don’t dwell on your mistake and instead get right back out there and rebuild your confidence.  Similarly your teammates may be disappointed, but they'll still give you some tips on your technique and cheer you right back on to the field.  And on the way back to the huddle, you have no time to wallow in despair or let your ego get the best of you - because after all, it's not all about you…you play for a team.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Where Are You From?

Over the past week, the following video from YouTube's Comedy Week (Co-directed by David Neptune and Ken Tanaka) made the rounds on the social networks.  I thought it was brilliant as the beginning dialogue perfectly captures a conversation that I, and apparently many other Asians, have on the regular.

As Sikhs, this dialogue happens all the time without much notice.  After all, as interactions with strangers go, these are not so bad.  But what's troubling about the question of "Where are you really from"  is the assumption that we really can't be Americans and that an American must look a certain way.  Perpetuating the idea that we are "the other."

Now the video portrays the male as a complete buffoon, but in reality, I don't think it's that easy.  Let's take a minute to think about how we answer this question of "where we are from."  For years, I've run a workshop called "Who Am I?" at camps and retreats for both children and adults.  It consists of a role-playing exercise where I play the ignorant passerby asking the kids about who they are and what Sikhi is all about. The goal of this workshop is to come up with our own "elevator pitch" - concise yet thoughtful answers to some of the most common questions we're asked.  It never fails when I ask the question where are you from, the majority answers "India."  Some of the adults I probed further have lived in the US for 25 years and have no connection to India.  Others were actually born in the UK, but still answer "India."  And when asking a group of 10-12 year olds, they in unison replied "India" and when I followed up with "How many of you have ever been to India?"  no hands went up.  I'm not sure if it's something innate in us that when a non-Punjabi asks us a question, we feel compelled to give the answer they want to hear rather than well…the truth.

So as I recommend in the workshop, when someone asks you where you are from, tell them where you live or where you grew up.  If they probe further asking about where your family originates from…make sure you kindly ask them the same question afterwards.  As the video excellently portrays, unless you are native american, no on is really from here.

Some may think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, what's the big deal to tell them what they want to hear, avoid the awkward interaction, and just move on.  But what's become abundantly clear to me is Sikhs are viewed as "the other" in this country.  And our civil rights organizations and celebrities like Gurpreet Singh Sarin can only do so much to change that image.  It takes each of us - one by one, face-to-face - to turn these interactions in to teachable moments.

Our appearance will always make us stand out, and proudly it should.  But that shouldn't make us any less American.  We as Sikhs have contributed so much to this country for over 100 years…in all aspects of laborers, farmers, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, politicians, scientists, taxi drivers, truckers, entrepreneurs, educators, social workers, volunteers, and the list goes on and on.  We've contributed greatly to the fabric of America and are part of what makes this country great.  We've earned the right to be acknowledged as Americans...let's not let anyone take that away from us.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Your Embrace

"God breathes through us so gently we hardly feel it...yet, it is our everything."  -John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

Long ago there was a holy and devout man named Pandit Shivdat.  He was an idol worshipper and practiced renunciation.  Despite the deep respect so many had for him, he grew tired of his ways and felt something was missing in the objects he had worshipped.  He was looking for something to fill this void in his heart.  As the story goes, early one morning Pandit Shivdat sat quietly with his eyes closed on the bank of the Ganga with his heart and mind in search of God.  At that moment, a young Guru Gobind Singh Ji (at the time Gobind Rai) walked up behind him and sweetly whispered in to his ear "Pandit Ji Bo!"  After seeing Guru Gobind Singh's charming face, Pandit Shivdat forgot about the idols and gods he had prayed to, for he saw in Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, the manifestation of the one and only Waheguru.  The Pandit was liberated.  He had found the Beloved in the child.

Sharing this story with our class yesterday, I was reminded of a time many years ago wrapping up my counselor duties for the day at a gurmat camp.  As sohila ended and our kirtani led the sangat in simran, it was my job to quietly dismiss each group from the divaan hall back to their dorms for bedtime.  After motioning several groups to leave I noticed one of the boys, with eyes closed deep in simran, was left behind by his group.  I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to catch up, but he just closed his eyes and returned to his simran.  A few minutes passed and the last group had left, I tapped the boy on the shoulder again...but he wouldn't budge.  A few minutes later it was just me, the boy, and the keertani left in the divan hall - both of us waiting for him to leave.  I started to get upset at the boy for ignoring my instruction, after all, I had a lot to get done to prepare for the next day.  As I walked over to him for the last time ready to order him back to his room…I paused.  He was maybe 9 or 10 years old, engrossed in simran, and there was a look of contentment on his face that I simply couldn't interrupt.  In fact, it was a contentment that I so lacked.  Looking at this child so in tune with the divine made me realize the void I've been feeling for so long...going through the daily motions of a Sikh, yet failing to connect.  Frozen and unsure what to do, I put my things down and sat next to the boy...joining him in simran.  I'm not sure if it was minutes or hours that passed, but it didn't matter.  In that moment, all I wanted was to feel what he was feeling and wished that perhaps by proximity alone the light that shined through him would somehow shine in me.  Eventually the simran stopped.  At least it did for me, for the boy, I'm not so sure.

Looking back at that experience, I wonder...maybe that was my moment.  
Maybe that was the child-Beloved softly whispering in to my ear

And to think how close I was to missing it altogether 

Oh Waheguru, grant me the state of awareness so I that I never miss your embrace...

(Introduction adapted from Kartar Singh's Life of Guru Gobind Singh and SikhRI's Sojhi Curriculum)