381.The Man in Blue – Hounslow SGSS Sponsored Walk

On Sunday 19 July the Hounslow Singh Sabha held its annual sponsored walk. As I am useless at fund raising I volunteered to be a marshal.

The weather forecast for the day was poor, but it turned out to be a much better day than predicted. There were two ‘sant-babé’ performing in Hayes and it seems that many people prefer sants over a walk with sadh sangat.

The route of the sponsored walk is simple : turn left into Hanworth Road towards the centre of Hounslow and keep going in that direction, along the London Road until you come to Busch Corner. Here we turned left, walked past Syon Lane Station and again left at Gillette Corner into the Great West Road.

From there it is straight on past Osterley Station and Lampton Corner to turn left into Sutton Lane, which after crossing the Bath Road becomes the Wellington Road North. At the Staines Road we turned left and then after a few hundred yards right into Hibernia Road, which brings you to the side entrance of the Gurdwara.

Being a marshal means that you do not just walk the walk, but also check that other marshals/the police are in place at road crossings and that the walkers are all right. On the first stretch to Busch Corner I was in the vanguard and then waited till all had gone past. I then left taking big strides hoping to overtake all before we got to Sutton Lane.

I did not quite manage that, but saw a lot of the walkers who stopped at the free ice cream van. By then I took off my right shoe and noticed that I walked a sizeable hole in my sock, and had the beginning of a blister where the hole was.

I took off both socks and finished the last stretch at a more sedate pace, still overtaking many walkers. Between having long legs and not having a car I am in reasonably good nick in spite of being of the 1947 vintage.

I like walking, I love walking, it is a wonderful way of getting from A to B ! Of course if the heavens open and rain comes pelting down I am not entirely happy. But it is part of living in the UK, it is part of living a natural life. The best part of walking is that you do not need any special kit.

I have seen French ladies go up a rocky mountain path in stiletto heels and smart clothes. I would not advise people to follow that example, but ordinary decent shoes are fine for ordinary walks, ordinary decent clothes, suitable for the climate and the season will be entirely suitable.

Walking with sangat and taking exercise made me feel nearer to God, nearer to Creation. Walking to me is simran, meditation where you do not necessarily have to repeat words that remind you of God. I was on a spiritual high at the end of the day, which was helped by the big chunk of watermelon I was given.

Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 6:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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380.The Man in Blue – Haywards Heath, York & Leeds

On 7 July I visited the Haywards Heath Campus of Central Sussex College. After that I travelled to York for the annual conference on FE Chaplaincy and on the afternoon of 9 July went to Leeds to visit Leeds City College.

I left Southall at 06.50 to be on time for the two 75 minute sessions on bereavement organised by Central Sussex College. I had to introduce ‘faiths & beliefs in further education’ (fbfe) and discuss bereavement from a faith and a secular perspective.

The best part of these sessions is when the members of the college staff get a chance to ask questions and discuss their experiences. We did not only discuss issues around bereavement but also other issues to do with faiths and beliefs and mutual respect. Having a 62 year old, tall, skinny Dutch ‘man in blue’ (me) in front of them was a discussion opener in itself.

Doing this work is helped by Guru’s teaching of respect for all regardless of their background. Guru wants people to be good Muslims, good Hindus, good ‘whatevers’, the Guru is not into conversion. The underlying teachings of the Guru Granth give guidelines valid for people of all dharms, all religions.

I have been to four annual FE chaplaincy conferences, and have enjoyed every one of them. In this year’s conference there were three speakers that I particularly liked. The first was somebody from ‘Youth for Christ’, who said that we should not go into an institution with our own agenda, but should ask the colleges : what can I do for you ? He also said that he was not in favour of faith schools, people of faith should mix with all.

The second speaker was a ‘vicar’ who worked with young people. He told us that he went to the local football club, not to talk to them about faith but to give practical help, like cleaning the terraces after the match. I think both speakers were applying Guru’s teachings on seva.

The third speaker talked about working with people of different faiths, and was mostly factually right and had a common sense approach. On the afternoon of July 8 we had the chance to go for a walk in York and attended evensong in the Minster, about which I will post separately on my weblog.

The last worship at the end of the conference was done by two Christian chaplains and me. The theme was education and I used the meditation on Sikh words linked to education which I have posted on this weblog.

The session about the main six faiths in the UK in Leeds City College went well and I hope that I was a good ambassador for Sikhí. I took pictures of local trains at Leeds station which will appear on the weblog.

379.The Man in Blue – Bhagat Ravidas Panthis II

I have been trying to find out what exactly happened in the Ravi Das Gurdwara in Vienna, but neither I nor the people charged to do this by a meeting at the Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Southall succeeded in this. It is clear that people were wounded and killed, but it is not clear whether the ‘men of violence’ were Sikhs, Ravidas panthis or both.

Babé, our common problem

The baba involved is controversial amongst the followers of Ravidas. I heard that the majority of the Ravidas Gurdwaré in the UK do not like this baba (which of course is no excuse for killing or wounding him or his cronies).

We have to recognise that we have common problems. Fake holy men can be found amongst all traditions in South Asia, even amongst Muslims in West Panjab or amongst Syrian Christians of Kerala.

I do not want to start a rant about sants, but I do think that Ravi Das panthis and Sikhs of good will should join forces and take a stand against the plague of the fake saints.

Caste, the scourge of the sub-continent

I was disappointed by most of the Sikh reactionsto the news from Vienna. It is true that a Ravidas Gurdwara is not a mainstream Sikh place of worship, and caste is not part of the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. But Sikhs do not fully realise that Ravidas is part of the Sikh Guru and do not want to admit that caste still plays an important negative part in the ‘Sikh’ community.

Caste in some shape or form is practiced amongst followers of almost all religious traditions on the subcontinent. Many of our brothers and sisters of Panjabi background fail to translate ‘seeing God’s presence in all’ in treating all as equals.

Equality is also a problem in the UK, where we struggle with the legacy of its rigid class structures and with the present situation where many people are doing quite well, but where there is a growing ‘underclass’.

Sikhs, in the light of Guru’s teachings, should see people of low caste, from sink estates, gipsies and travellers or any other group as their sisters and brothers.

If we really practice this we will become better Sikhs and there would be no more need for Ramgarhia or Ravidas Gurdwaré. It is now more than five hundred years after Guru Nanak taught us about One God and One Humanity, are we actually going to adopt these teachings in 2009 ?

Published in: on July 11, 2009 at 5:22 am  Comments (1)  
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378.The Man in Blue – Bhagat Ravidas Panthis I

In view of the recent tension between Sikhs and the followers of Bhagat Ravidas I want to clarify the position between us Sikhs and the followers of Bhagat Ravidas. Forty sabads of Ravidas are included in the Guru Granth.

‘Guru’ Ravidas

The followers of Ravidas call him Guru, which means ‘teacher’ or ‘bringer of light into darkness’. For Sikhs the word Guru has a specific meaning, but we should not pick a fight with those who use the term in the more general Indian way. The sabads of Ravidas that are included in the Guru Granth are part of our eternal Guru, and as such Ravidas is part of the Sikh Guru.

The teachings of Ravidas are in tune with those of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Sudras & Jats

The followers of Ravidas and Kabir tend be people of low caste. When I visited a friend of mine in a village near Hoshiarpur whose family were of so-called low caste, the Sikhs from the local Gurdwara dominated by Jats would not greet me, as I was staying with Ravidas panthis of low caste.

Saying to each other that Guru teaches unity of mankind is not relevant for the Ravidas panthis, as long as Sikhs do not practice what Guru teaches. When we start practicing Guru’s teachings we can reach out to the Ravidas panthis and share the sabads of our eternal Guru.

Guru Granth Sahib

Because of our ‘respect for the Guru Granth’ Sikhs love to fight with those groups that do not give the same importance to the Guru Granth Sahib as we do. Instead of being happy that non-Sikhs read the Guru Granth and see it as an important source of teaching and inspiration, we want to take the Guru Granth away from Ravidas or Námdhari Gurdwaré / Temples.

I am very happy that we do not set out to convert others in the way that Christians and Muslims do. But the attitude of many Sikhs is not very open-minded either. The Guru speaks to everybody, the Guru considers everybody who is a serious student of the Guru of Gurus to be a sikh. The way of life set out in the Guru Granth Sahib can be followed by all of all ‘dharms’.

Think about these three definitions : 1) a ‘sikh’ is someone who is a serious student of God. 2) A ‘Sikh’ is someone who recognises the leadership of the Guru Granth & Guru Panth as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh. 3) A ‘Khalsa’ is someone who is totally committed to Guru’s teachings and as a sign of that commitment has taken amrit and wears the 5 Ks.

To be continued

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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