387.The Man in Blue – Sikh Mystics

Sikhs are to be mystics. Being a mystic does not involve dressing up in a dhoti or any other special outfit, it is perfectly possible to be a mystic in a pair of jeans, a kurta payama or a salwar kameez.

Being a mystic means to be in love with God and to feel God’s love for us. God is not just something or somebody the folks in the Gurdwara talk about, you can feel God, you can experience God in your life.

When I was in Amritsar I used to get up very early to join the jatha doing prakarma washing, then did my nitnem and helped carrying the palki to Harmandr Sahib. After the Vák and the Saviye I would be on a spiritual high, feeling very close to God and close to ‘sádh sangat’.

I think that this is essential Sikhí : feeling close to God should go together with, should be the same as feeling close to God’s creation. God’s creation includes all humanity, all the animate and inanimate world, and all the universe with the worlds upon worlds that Guru Nanak wrote about.

In the central area of Amritsar is Gurdwara Tahli Sahib with its own sizeable sarover called Santokhsar. Every Sunday the sevadars used to offer open air langar where most of those attending were not Sikhs, and many were not Panjabis either.

The sevadars did Vahiguru simran while serving, after explaining that this was not just for Sikhs but for all. They addressed this mixed bunch of sangat, some of whom were no doubt scoundrels, as sádh sangat.

These sevadars understood Sikhí and acted upon it. Everybody was not just welcome, everybody was made to feel part of what was going on there.  Everybody was asked to join in the simran, everybody was included in the ‘True Congregation’, there was no ‘Us’ and ‘Them’.

Spirituality in my understanding is not about us Sikhs sitting cozily together and excluding others, spirituality is about having a loving relation with God, feeling Oneness with God and with God’s creation.

In my work I come across people of all faiths and none who work in Further Education Colleges. I feel at one with all of them, regardless of their background, with whom I can work for the welfare of all the students.

Obviously not everybody is good, too many people are not even trying. Guru speaks out clearly against those who are wasting the chance of joining with God that this human life offers us, but Guru has compassion for those that seriously and honestly try. If we are to judge others we should judge on behaviour, not on labels like Sikh/Non-Sikh or Panjabi/Non-Panjabi.

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 6:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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386.The Man in Blue – Hounslow Singh Sabha Youth Programme

As part of the celebration of 300 years of the Guru Granth Sahib as Eternal Guru of the Sikhs, Hounslow Singh Sabha last year launched a year long programme of various activities highlighting our eternal Guru.

One of these activities was a monthly kirtan with kathá in English for and by the Gurdwara youth on Sunday afternoon, and on Sunday September 20 it was already the last one in the series (and one of the best !).

Recently we had a couple of meetings looking back on the last year and forward to the next. We concluded that we have a small group of volunteers who can run this type of programmes in the Gurdwara. Although one of them is a greybeard, the others are young enough to call him dada.

We have also found out that Sunday afternoon is not the best time to put on a programme. There was always some sangat coming in and going out, but it was in trickle and never a stream.

The following ideas have been accepted by the committee. On the last Friday of the month the 6 pm Rahiras, Kirtan and Kathá programme will be organised by the volunteers, using as many naujawán as are able and willing. We will follow the Rehat Maryádá and we will also encourage sangat to take part in the reciting of the Rahiras and in the kirtan.

We hope that the sangat will stay with us for the Sukhasan and accompany the Guru Granth Sahib on its way to the Sach Khand.

On the first Sunday of each month the usual kirtan hour done by the children of the Gurdwara will be extended till 12.00. In that hour the more accomplished students of the kirtan classes and other non-professional kirtanis will come on stage.

In that hour there will also be a presentation on Sikh history, particularly on the lives of our Gurus, demonstrating points of gurmat.

The katha in English on the evenings of the last Friday of the month will combine simran realising the meanings of words we meditate on, with simple explanations of sabads. We will link Guru’s teachings with life in the 21st century in the UK.

All members of sangat, from toddlers to centenarians are welcome, all are encouraged to take part, all are encouraged to share their love for Guru. Sádh Sangat, the True Congregation, is where we will find the strength to continue on Guru’s way. Sikhí is not what you do on Sunday morning in the Gurdwara, Sikhí should be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (And you should have heard the kirtan on the 20th of October !)

385.The Man in Blue – Dutch Islamophobia (II)

008.SMS Camp Bristol

Man in Blue at the Sikh Missionary Camp in Bristol

Pim Fortuyn was the first Dutch politician who made the minorities and their ‘alien’ cultures and/or religions his main campaigning point. He was killed by a left-wing green activist.

The event that was a real bonus to anti-immigrant politicians going for the popular vote was the killing of Theo van Gogh, a relative of the great Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh.

Theo van Gogh made a film called Submission about a Muslim woman forced into an arranged marriage, who is abused by her husband and raped by her uncle. A scene in the film showed an actress in see-through garments with a text from Al Qur’an written on her body, which also bore whip marks.

There is a parallel with the Bezhti case, where the playwright confused the ante-diluvium attitudes of many Panjabis with the teachings of the Guru Granth. In the case of Al Qur’an, whatever it teaches about the role of women, it cannot be blamed for the sort of behaviour depicted in the film.

The ‘Muslim’ who killed Theo van Gogh seems to follow Karl Marx’s Verelendung theory : if you make things worse for your community they will rise up and change the Netherlands into some kind of European Iran. Of course neither the majority of the Muslims nor of the other people living in the country want such a state, but that does not stop this kind of idiot.

Theo van Gogh had a good point, but made it badly. His killer had a valid argument against Theo van Gogh’s film, but by killing Theo van Gogh he made things worse for everybody in the Netherlands, and especially for the Muslims, who form about 5.5% of the population.

As a result Geert Wilders, ex member of the right wing ‘liberal’ VVD and now the Leader of the Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) scored about 30% of the vote in the recent European elections. Note that Geert Wilders’ party does not stand for freedom for all, like Guru Gobind Singh or the Dutch ‘Father of the Fatherland’ Willem the Silent, but only the freedom of those he sees as ‘proper’ Dutchmen.

The worst ‘sin’ of movements like this is that they force Muslims on a heap. They are asked to choose between ‘Dutch values’ and Osama Bin Laden, and of course they might not like either of these choices.  

Living together with people of different cultures and religions causes problems. These problems can be solved through dialogue and better understanding. Slogan shouting does no good and thinking that you can close your borders is an illusion in the world-village. Worldwide justice and better prices for commodities are the only viable anti-emigration policies.

Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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384.The Man in Blue – Dutch Islamophobia (I)

The Islamophobic Dutch MP Geert Wilders is obviously not quite right in the head. He cannot have read Al Qur’an, as its values are no more anti-western than those of the Old Testament of the Bible.

The story of the Netherlands and its minorities is rather sad. When I lived in the Netherlands (I left in 1996) there were three main groups of post 1945 immigrants : Moroccans, Turks and Afro-Caribbeans from Suriname (‘Dutch’ Guyana) and the 6 ‘Dutch’ Caribbean Islands.

For the purpose of this article the Moroccans and Turks and other more recent Muslim immigrants like the Somalis are the most relevant.

On the whole the Netherlands was a liberal and tolerant country, much more open minded than the UK. That liberalism included respect for homosexuals. Amsterdam was full of refugees from homophobic Britain, as especially in the western cities like Amsterdam, Den Haag, Utrecht and Rotterdam, you can be openly homosexual without there being a stigma.

What many Dutch people thought, including politicians and bureaucrats dealing with minorities, was that immigrants would gradually imbibe this wonderful liberal culture, and become like the rest of us. Many Dutch people, for the Netherlands is a very secular country, also thought that Muslims would gradually become less Muslim, just like Dutch Christians gradually became less Christian.

The man who started the Dutch Islamophobic movement was not some deeply conservative person from the Dutch ‘back-of-beyond’. Pim Fortuijn was a homosexual from the liberal urban west.

Of course the Dutch Islamophobes do not all oppose Islam because they are opposed to the discrimination of homosexuals. But it does demonstrate the clash between the liberal culture of many of the Dutch and the extreme conservatism of many of the Muslims in the Netherlands. Most Dutch people will far prefer the company of homosexuals of whatever ethnic background to that of conservative homophobes.

Just like most Sikhs in the UK do not come from towns and cities but from Panjab villages, most Turks and Moroccans come from Turkish and Moroccan  villages.

The Dutch authorities for too long thought that the immigrants would go back home or spontaneously would absorb ‘Dutch values’. There was less engagement with the minorities, there was no CRE.

Next week I will further discuss the present situation and possible remedies.

383.The Man in Blue : One God – One Humanity

During my travels in Belgium and the Netherlands I kept a daily blog, but did not write my usual weekly columns.

1 All Pervading, All Doer : This is how I understand the two opening words of the Guru Granth Sahib. But translating Ik Ongkár as 1 God will do, as the rest of what we call Mul Mantr sufficiently explains God’s qualities.

1 God, not many Gods, only 1 God. ‘There is only One God and that is God’ as Al Qu’ran says. I do not really understand the Christian Holy Trinity, but  Christians also believe in the One. Many Hindus say that the 33 crore (330 million) Gods are all manifestations of the One.

The God of the Sikhs is the same as the God of other religions. There is no Christian God, Jewish God, Muslim God or whatever God, there is only One God. That does not stop different traditions having different understandings of the One. Our vision of the Unity of God and Creation is not what most followers of the Abrahamic/Ibrahimic religions belief in.

There are ‘modern’ or ‘secular’ people who only want to believe in what can be proved. Although this is a bit of a boring view of the world, I mostly agree with it. I cannot prove that God exists, but I have experienced God. My experience is not ‘scientific’ but it convinced me that ‘God is’.

The world is crowded by trillions of beings from tiny one celled ‘thingies’ to big critters like the Rhinoceros, the Elephant, and the Blue Whale (bigger than any animal that ever lived). These creatures all have something that is not physical, and which we think is the Atma, the soul, that comes from the Paramatma, the All-Soul, and longs to return to its origin.

Equally all the creatures and the objects, down to the molecules and atoms and the things that make up the atoms, are the physical expression of the One, All Pervading, All Doer, True Nám, Creator Being, the Fearless, Without Anger, Without Blemish, Without Form, the Nourisher, the Liberator, the Biggest Giver, the Limitless, the Destroyer, The Creator, No Name, No Lust (I could go on and on summing up the qualities of our Mother/Father).

One Humanity should really be One Creation. All and everything comes from God, All and Everything is (part of) God.

We should not just respect our fellow human beings of all varieties as our brothers and sisters, we should respect all the animate and the inanimate universe as all of it is God.

When will we stop polluting Creation, when will stop ‘consuming’ the resources that God has given us ‘enough for all, enough for ever’. Mind you, if we destroy the biotope of our tiny corner of the universe I am sure that there are other ‘children of God’ elsewhere in the Universe.