I remember seeing statistics on the values believed in by members of different faith groups. I have forgotten all other details, but what still sticks in my mind is that Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, most of whom were of South Asian background, all put family as the most important thing in their life.
In the South Asian context family is not just Mum, Dad and the children, but includes a whole range of people of both sides of the wider family. Just like Eskimos have different words for snow, Panjabis have different and more specific words for grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles and aunts according to being on the father’s or the mother’s side of the family.
I will not try to describe the position of the family within Islam or Hinduism, but I am going to be my usual disagreeable self about the position of family in the Guru Granth Sahib.
We are all aware that Guru told us not to live in deserts, jungles, ashrams or on mountain tops, but to live the life of a householder. I do not think that this necessarily means that you have to be married, but most Sikhs are convinced that I got that wrong.
The Sikh householder is to make an honest living and is to play a positive role in society. In the dialogue ‘Sidh Ghost’ Guru Nanak taught the Sidhs that they were wrong looking down on the people living in villages and towns while going to them to beg food when they were hungry.
Guru also makes it clear that although the householder should live with her/his family, attachment to family is as bad as any other attachment Guru writes about.
As I understand it real love, love that does not want to own the objects of the love, love that is unconditional, is part of Guru’s teachings. But love of family as it usually manifests is not like this love at all. This love tends to be possessive, this love is all too often conditional.
The family is like the rest of the world. We should live in the family but we should keep clean (unattached), just like the lotus flower keeps clean in the muddy pool. Equally we should do honest work and work hard, but we should not be attached to work.
As I understand it we should not make our dedication to work and family stop us from doing seva in our own and in the wider community. If all the people who are so busy watching the box every night spend one evening a week to work in their local community the world would be a better place. Throw out that awful box and instead go to your local neighbourhood meeting, do voluntary work for a charity and/or help in your Gurdwara.