544. The Man in Blue – Simran – Meditation – Thinking about

I have written about meditation before and made a YouTube video in which I meditated and explained the meaning of the words of the meditation.

The first word I meditated upon was ‘Vahiguru’, followed by ‘Ik Ongkár, Sat Nám, Kartá Purkh, Nirbhau, Nirvair, Akál Murat, Ajuni, Saibhang, Gurprasád. Finally I sang a short passage from the Jáp Sahib : Gubinde, Mukande, Udáre, Apáre; Hariang, Kariang, Nirnáme, Akáme.

Although these meditations are by different authors, and have slightly different ‘positions’ in the Sikh tradition, they are all about qualities, aspects of God.

Words like God, Allah, Har or Prabh all mean the same: God. They are generic words for God. Words like Vahiguru, Gobinde, the Merciful or the Allmighty represent different qualities of God. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhi are monotheistic traditions, they all believe in the One, but they all use words that describe qualities of God. God is One, but She/He has many aspects.

If you were to know and understand all the words used in the different spiritual traditions to describe aspects of God, you might begin to understand something of the greatness of God.

Nám simran, meditation on Nám, remembering Nám, is about getting nearer to God by understanding and repeating words that try to describe aspects of God.

Vahiguru
Wonderful bringer of light into darkness
Ik Ongkar – Satnám – Kartá Purkh – Nirbhau – Nirvair – Akál Murat – Ájuni – Saibhang – Gurprasád
One Omnipresent, All-powerful – True Name – Creator Being – Without Fear – Without Enmity – Undying – Does not die, is not born – No Needs – Guru’s Blessing

Gobinde – Mukande – Udare – Apare;
World Sustainer – Liberator – Keeps Giving – Without Limit.
Hariang, Kariang, Nirname, Akame.
Destroyer – Creator – Without Name – Without Lust.

Simran, Meditation, thinking about God is not a question of saying certain words as often as possible, as fast as possible. Slowly saying a word, in a loving manner, tasting the sweetness of God on your tongue is what I try to do. It is essential to understand what you hear, Guru tells us again and again that we should do vichár.

Nám, godly essence, is in all the shabads of the Guru Granth Sahib. Reading, listening to, trying to understand the shabads and applying what you learned, is also meditation. Think about God with everything you do and you will be honest, you will share and you will see God in all, without which you will not see God at all. It is that simple and that complicated. But it works, results guaranteed!

http://www.sikhnet.com/news/man-blue-simran-meditation-thinking-about

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542. The Man in Blue – The Sikh Manifesto

During this year’s National Sikh Convention in Wolverhampton it was decided to launch a Sikh Manifesto, just like the political parties are putting together manifestos for the 2015 General Election.

But the Sikh Manifesto is not like the manifestos that political parties publish. Our Sikh Manifesto is not a document that the Sikh Community or UK politicians have to accept in full or reject.

If you are a Sikh or a politician you can decide that you agree with one of the points of the manifesto, and campaign on that. Others might feel happy to join on two, three, four or on all the points raised.

We have been told that some of the points in the draft manifesto are controversial, like campaigning for the right of self-determination. But ‘self-determination’ is a human right. Countries that lock up people because they campaign peacefully for more autonomy or independence of their state, have no right to call themselves democratic.

The people involved in the Sikh Manifesto are ‘Sant Sipahi’ who want to fight for their rights and those of others peacefully and through working with politicians, governments and international bodies.

We have been consulting Sikhs in areas with substantial Sikh populations, asking for suggested changes in the draft manifesto, and whether we should leave out some issues or include new ones.

We also encouraged Sikhs from England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to react via the internet (Facebook, email) in order to get opinions from all over the UK.

This Manifesto is written with the 2005 general election in mind, but some ssues can also be raised with members of the assemblies or parliaments of London, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and with members of the House of Lords and the European Parliament.

It looks likely that in 2015, just like five years ago, neither Labour nor the Conservatives will have an overall majority, and both these big parties and smaller ones like the SNP, UKIP, Lib Dems and Greens will compete strongly for every vote.

With the manifesto we can test the commitment of politicians to the Sikh community and we can advise the Sangat to vote for certain parties or for specific MPs, if they have a good track record in looking after the interests of the Sikhs or if they committed to work with Sikhs on points raised in the Sikh Manifesto.

More of us vote than people of other communities, but to make this vote count we should not blindly give our vote to one party or one candidate, but go by their record and by their commitment to the Sikh community.

If you want an ‘electronic’ copy of the Sikh Manifesto, please email me at
harjindersinghkhalsa@yahoo.co.uk

541.The Man in Blue – Sikhs and other traditions

I have noticed that many Sikh authors who write about other traditions compare the bad practice of others with the wonderful teachings of Guru.

Many people who have come into Sikhi from ‘outside’ notice how little of these wonderful teachings are practiced by present day Sikhs, regardless whether they are amritdhari or not.

The person who ‘honour killed’ Amritpal Kaur from Sint-Truiden, Belgium, was an amritdhari Sikh, the people responsible for the killing of Jagdish Singh’s sister from Coventry were amritdhari Sikhs.

In both these cases there were many voices in the community who stressed the disobedience of the girls killed, but not the disobedience to basic Sikh teachings of those guilty of murder.

Those who broke the legs of Jasvir Singh thought they acted on behalf of Guru.

Christians who claim to be the followers of that wonderful enlightened person Jesus, the son of Joseph, have persecuted those amongst their own who did not agree with the ‘main stream’, in a most horrible manner.

In the late 16th century, Philip II, husband of (bloody) Mary Tudor, who was amongst other things the Lord of the Netherlands, punished protestant males with being burnt alive and protestant females with being buried alive.

You should read about the crusades in East Prussia and the Baltic, in the Middle East or in the south of France where non-main stream Christians were massacred. And yet Jesus gives not even the slightest excuse for such behaviour.

I have read Al Quran from cover to cover more than once, and could not find any excuse for Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban or the present ‘Islamic State’.

Through my interfaith contacts I know that many Muslims want nothing to do with any of the organisations that I mention above.

I was recently in East London at a meeting about Gaza, mostly attended by Muslims of Bangladeshi background. There was a lot of anger, which is unfortunate, but nothing was said against Jews or Israelis that would be punishable by law.

They, like Sayeeda Warsi, like me, just cannot understand why so many in the west do not condemn the appalling way in which the people of the West Bank and Gaza are treated by Israel.

The Shoa does not give Israel the right to lord over the Arab inhabitants of Israel/ Palestine. Injustices by westerners are no excuse for the behaviour of above mentioned Muslim organisations, who often kill more Muslims than ‘unbelievers’.

We should be like Guru and look for good people of all faiths !

539. Man in Blue – Religious Symbols, Clothing and Headwear

In the public space (e.g. the street): There are rarely problems about religious symbols, clothing and headwear worn in public spaces, with the exception of the niqab and the burka. A general ban on niqab or burka is not the right way of tackling the issue of identification of people wearing face covering clothing.

There should be regulations on how people wearing face covering items of clothing can be identified, both taking into account the security aspect and the respect for the persons who have to be identified. Security checks based on face recognition should only happen when there is a real security issue and should take place inside an enclosed space, eg a police van, and in the presence of female officers only.

I do not understand why some Muslim woman feel that they have to wear a niqab or a burka, but it is not down to us to decide what others do.

When discussing wearing of religious symbols, clothing and headgear we should start from ‘first principles’: why ban anything if there is no harm to others, why ban if there is no negative effect on the service given/work done. Banning does not make the affected person ‘neutral’. Health and safety issues can be solved with some flexibility and creativity.

In employment (business, factories): Declaring a business or factory ‘neutral’ should not be used as an excuse for discrimination of people who wear religious symbols, headwear or clothing. General bans should be declared to be against any kind of liberal equalities law.

In public institutions (eg schools, hospitals, municipal offices): The laws on disability allow discrimination based on the ability/inability of a person to do a particular job, not on the basis of the fact that they have ‘a disability’.

The same principle should apply to employing a person wearing religious symbols, headwear or clothing. The public institution does not become Islamic, Sikh, Christian or Jewish by having employees of these faith traditions on the staff, and these staff members are Islamic, Sikh, Christian or Jewish, symbols or not.

The criterion should be: are they doing a good job, do they give a good service? The judge wearing a hijab, yarmulke or turban should deliver justice to all. In most European countries it would be very unequal if people who wear religious symbols, headwear or clothing were not part of the police, the army or the judiciary.

We want the people of different backgrounds to fully take part in society, but at the same time put up barriers that excludes people of minorities. This is counterproductive. Young Sikhs and Muslims in Belgium often feel that whatever they do, the country does not want them.

I do not claim that the above addresses all aspects of the religious symbols issue, but my piece contains arguments that are based on the principles underlying the EU directives on the various strands of diversity. Those that oppose the wearing of symbols often believe that being equal means that we should all be the same.

The article was written after discussions between people of faiths and humanists from different European Countries

537.The Man in Blue – Nám Karan

Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) – Ceremonies pertaining to Birth and Naming of Child

In a Sikh’s household, as soon after the birth of a child as the mother becomes capable of moving about and taking bath (irrespective of the number of days which that takes), the family and relatives should go to a gurdwara with karhah prashad (sacred pudding) or get karhah prashad made in the gurdwara and recite in the holy presence of the Guru Granth Sahib such hymns as “parmeshar dita bana” (Sorath M. 5 ,Guru Granth Sahib p. 628 ), “Satguru sache dia bhej” (Asa M. 5 , Guru Granth Sahib p. 396 ) that are expressive of joy and thankfulness.

Thereafter, if a reading of the holy Guru Granth Sahib had been taken up, that should be concluded. Then the holy Hukam (command) should be taken. A name starting with the first letter of the hymn of the Hukam (command) should be proposed by the granthi (man in attendance of the holy book) and, after its acceptance by the congregation, the name should be announced by him. The boy’s name must have the suffix “Singh” and the girl’s, the suffix “Kaur”.

After that the Anand Sahib (short version comprising six stanzas) should be recited and the Ardas in appropriate terms expressing joy over the naming ceremony be offered and the karhah prashad distributed.

This is from the English translation of the SRM, as found on the SGPC website.

The first thing that struck me is that there is no fixed time span given for the day on which the ceremony is to take place. Go to the Gurdwara as soon as the new mother has sufficiently recovered. I also like the idea of making the karhah prasad at home. Why leave it to the Gurdwara if we can do it ourselves.

According to this clause of the SRM you can give the child any name, as long as it starts with the first letter of the vaak. When I got my name the Granthi told me that the first word was Har, and asked if I knew a name starting with Har. I told him to choose a name for me and he suggested Harjinder.

Recently in Belgium the Granthi and I did the ceremony in the Sint-Truiden gurdwara as the hospital wanted a name straight away, and again ‘Har’ was the first word of the vaak, and I texted that to the parents.

Going by all the names starting with Har, Gur, Man, Jag etc this is what most people practice. If you just go by the first letter than you can choose any name, whether this name has a spiritual meaning or not.

There is no need to restrict ourselves to ‘Indian’ names. If Devdata (God-given) is acceptable then Deodatus (Latin) and Theodorus (Greek), names that have the same meaning, should be acceptable too.

Sikhs should obey Guru’s order and not use their family names but instead use Singh and Kaur. No more Gills, Sidhus, Sehmis or Kalsis, just the name given by the Guru Granth Sahib followed by Singh or Kaur.

I often call myself Harjinder Singh Amritsar, to avoid confusion with the other Harjinder Singhs. My Sikh ‘birthplace’ was Amritsar. This type of addition is acceptable as long as it is not used to make you more important than others!

534. The Man in Blue – Is it enough to be a good person ?

This question is often asked by young Sikhs who are trying to avoid having to wear the five Ks and the turban. But I am approaching this question from a different angle : what if people do not believe in God, but show all the good behaviour as expected from a Gursikh ?

I have a lot of experience of working with people who do not believe in God, who call themselves agnostics or humanists, but whose values are very similar to those expected from a Sikh (a student) of the Guru (Guru Granth Sahib, or God, the ultimate Professor).

And I understand what motivates these people. They recognise the oneness of humanity; they agree with us that we are all sisters and brothers. Just like we call each other bhai and bhain, many who do not believe in God are comfortable with the idea of the sister/brotherhood of mankind.

They do not acknowledge the Oneness of God, but they recognise the oneness of humanity, or even of all the creatures in the universe.

This is the spirituality of the humanist, and practising this kind of spirituality is an absolute condition for making further steps to what Sikhs and others who believe in the One would see as a higher level.

For me seeing humanity, seeing creation as one is closely connected with having a link with God. God is present in all creation, God is the common factor in all living creatures, plants and in ‘dead’ material. God is All – All is God !

What God would think about a good humanist ? I do not think that God is a human being and I am therefore quite sure that God does not ‘think’ like we do.

What the proverbial Chitr and Gupt would make of a good humanist ? There are no answers to this question in my data bank. I would think (as René Descartes wrote: I think, therefore l am) that Chitr and Gupt would prefer a honest humanist over a hypocrite who claims to be a Sikh of the Guru, but who secretly does all kind of bad or useless things.

We should realise that when we do good deeds, we should not show compassion, should not meditate in order to get liberation as a reward. We try to programme ourselves, with the help of the One, to automatically stay clear of bad or useless thoughts and deeds.
Replace bad or useless thoughts with good, positive thoughts, replace bad or useless deeds with good, positive deeds. And 10th Guru said : I will serve that Khalsa that serves all !

This attitude brings with it its own reward: inner peace, inner strength.

As far as ‘liberation’ is concerned, liberation from the cycle of birth and death, it is Guru’s blessing to us. We cannot force God to liberates us !

533. The Man in Blue – The Vote in Gent (Ghent) Council

I have lived and worked in Belgium from June 2010 till June 2013. In that period a lot of time and energy was spent by Sikh activists on trying to get more access to secondary schools for those of our youngsters who wear patkas or turbans.

In 2010 there was only one secondary school that allowed students wearing religious ‘headgear’ in Sint-Truiden. When I left in 2013 there were none. When I arrived most primary schools allowed patkas, now only the ‘free’ (Roman Catholic) primary schools allow them.

Instead of going forward we have gone backward. The history of Belgium is quite different from that of France and the Netherlands. Belgium only became an independent country in 1830. During the time when what is now Belgium was ruled by the Spanish and later the Austrian Habsburgs the state, and therefore education, was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Initially after independence the same condition applied and it was only after a long struggle that ‘neutral’ state schools were founded, and there is still in the state school sector a tendency to keep all things ‘religious’ outside the schools. The schools are not really neutral, they are humanist or agnostic schools.
Add to this the modern factors of xenophobia/islamophobia and you understand why there is such a strong movement for neutral schools and neutral government services.

But it is not all bad news. The current chair of the socialist party of the Dutch (Nederlands) speaking region has proposed abolishing of bans on the wearing of religious symbols. This was followed up in Gent, where employees of the city who in any way deal with the public could not wear religious symbols.

Since the last local election the city is ruled by a coalition of Socialists, (conservative) Liberals and Greens. They had agreed to leave the ban in place, but their hand was forced by a petition against the ban. The petition had sufficient signatures to force the council to have a debate followed by a vote.

As Greens and Socialists have a majority in the council and there was also some support from others (but not from the Liberals) the ban on the wearing of religious symbols was abolished.

The Liberals indentify strongly with the fight for neutral state schools, but also many members of the Socialist members identify with it. The debate in the socialist party is far from over, although even its Antwerpen branch has come out against the ban.

But the political reality in the Dutch speaking part of the country is that there is a good chance that the nationalist NVA will win up to 40% of the vote in the 2014 elections. And that party is totally against the wearing of religious symbols in ‘neutral’ schools and government buildings.

532. The Man in Blue – Should we follow the messengers or should we follow God ?

Recently when travelling to Hasselt by bus I met a man who had served in a major Roman Catholic Monastery on the Dutch-Belgian border. And on the return trip from Hasselt to the Sangat Sahib Gurdwara I met him again.

He was friendly and open-minded. We agreed that the problems that face the Christian churches these days have nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus. Most of the Christian churches have emphasised too much on their structures, their hierarchies and neglected the inclusive spiritual message of Jesus.

On the way back he asked me what role Jesus played in my life. My first reaction was that that I now understand Jesus and his teachings better than before I became a Sikh. I see Jesus as a great spiritual teacher, whose teachings mostly agree with the core teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib.

I love reading the ‘dharmic’ stories (the parables) that Jesus used to teach his disciples (chelé), which like the Guru Granth emphasise Godly behaviour rather than complicated belief systems.

But I also said that I first and foremost believed in God, who is the source of the power, the insight of the great spiritual teachers. I hear God speak through the Sikh Gurus, through the Bhagats, through the Guru Granth Sahib. Similarly I hear God through Jesus and through other spiritual teachers.

I am now staying in Iver, in between Hillingdon and Slough, and I brought a small picture of Guru Nanak which is on the little press next to my bed. So I have a connection with Guru Nanak, and with the Nanak who signs off the shabads by the Gurus in the Guru Granth Sahib.

But the Nanak that speaks to me in the Guru Granth Sahib is the conduit through which I can hear the One, the All-Powerful, Omnipresent.

Many Sikhs do hero worship, and I try to avoid that. Our Guru and famous personalities from Sikh history were heroes, but they were heroes because they walked in God’s way. Their power comes from God, the words they spoke or wrote come from God.

The Guru Granth Sahib stresses this again and again. Be with God, listen to God, try to understand God’s word and apply it in your delay life. We should not follow people, we should follow God. Guru Gobind Singh also explicitly told the sangat not to worship him. Respect for the Guru leads to love for God.

This is what gives me strength, this is what keeps me happy. This is what makes me, in spite of being an ‘old age pensioner’, return from a comfortable life in Belgium to new challenges in the UK.

I also came back to enjoy the beautiful Kirtan that you can daily hear in the Southall Gurdwaré, and which help me to stick to the path, that is as narrow as the cutting edge of the sword, that leads to God.

530. The Man in Blue – Panj Ab = Five Waters

I wrote this article after hearing a lecture at the KU (Catholic University) of Leuven, Belgium, by Christophe Masson, India Desk Officer at the European Commission. He mentioned a water related project in Rajastan, which made me think of the Indira Gandhi Canal, and from there of the ever lower groundwater level in Panjab. Man in Blue

The historical Panjab, from the river Indus in the west to the river Yamuna in the east, was called the Panj-Áb, the five waters after the five rivers that flow from the Himalayas to the Indus.

Panjab is not as dry as Rajasthan, but without the five rivers most of its territory would be a dry steppe, fit for grazing but no good for arable land.

Since the green revolution the standard crop pattern in the Indian Panjab and in Haryana is wheat – rice. Wheat is the early crop and after its harvest most of the arable land is converted to paddy fields. Panjab became the rice provider of India.

Due to the paddy fields the farmers were using more water than the rivers could supply and they started to pump-up ground water to irrigate their fields. This costs money, as hand pumps are not adequate for the job. The Panjab state government decided to supply the farmers with free electricity for their tube-wells.

As the state government has the habit of either not paying or late paying the state electricity provider, one semi-state company has already given up the ghost, and its successor is struggling. Somebody has to foot the bill !

But the most alarming result of this scheme is that the groundwater table is going down fast, the tubes are getting longer and with that the energy use goes up too.

At Harike, in the south-west of the Indian Panjab starts the Indira Gandhi canal, which takes vast amounts of river water to Rajasthan. This water is obviously no longer available for either the Pakistan or the Indian Panjab. How much of this water evaporates before it gets to the Jaisalmer area I do not know.

Whether it is useful to infiltrate this water in a desert area I do not know either. I have heard reports of salinization of the irrigated fields, which does not surprise me at all.

But my main issue is with the madness of having paddy fields in a dry area like Panjab. After independence it made some sense as the rice eating states were not able to grow enough rice for their needs. Now these states have become self-sufficient and it is high time for a new green revolution in the Panjab.

The farmers are reluctant to change, but if the Panjab is to survive as at least the main provider of wheat, the paddy fields have to go. Alternative crops, dairy farming, market gardening (growing of vegetables) are the answer.

On the rich clay soils of Panjab many crops will thrive. With temperatures ranging from a minimum of near 0 degrees in December/January to a maximum of 50 degrees in May/June both crops that we know in Western Europe and subtropical to tropical ones can be grown.

In view of the above and the diminishing flow of water from the Himalayan glaciers, continuing with the present practice just is not an option.

529. The Man in Blue – ‘Headscarves’ in Belgium

Many secondary ‘Free’ schools (mostly Roman Catholic) and Community (GO!) schools in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium have measures in place that ban religious symbols or the wearing of head-cover.

The result is a ban on the wearing of turban, patka, hijáb, yarmulk etc. Most primary schools either do not have this type of restrictions or do not implement them.

From the 1st of September of this year the GO! Schools are banning religious symbols from all primary and secondary schools under its jurisdiction.

The Sikh community in Belgium joined a front of 25 organisations formed by BOEH! (boss on your own head) and ‘Justice and Democracy’ to act against this blatant discrimination.

We will petition the Raad van State (Council of State) asking it to declare the ban unconstitutional and against the freedom of religion. Some previous rulings by this body give some hope. But we have learned from experience that going the legal way in this country is often costly and ineffective.

In this case we had not much choice as GO! seems no longer interested in dialogue. Because the BOEH! lawyers are very familiar with the subject and can use previous formats in this case, they decided to charge us 4000 Euro only. Although the Raad van State is slow and unpredictable we decided to take the chance.

The Sikhs have collected 1360 Euro so far, with 200 more promised. We are financially supported by two organisations that help the minorities, which means that the Sikhs only have to collect 1500 Euro. We have also two promises to finance any shortfall.

Why are the people in the Dutch (Nederlands) speaking part of Belgium so afraid of the religious symbols of minority religions ? As the northern Dutch speaking Belgians were themselves a discriminated group in the past you would hope that they would have sympathy for other minority groups.

The nationalist NVA party, which might get up to 40% of the vote in the 2014 elections in the Dutch (Nederlands) speaking region, indulges in negative rhetoric both about French speaking Belgians and about immigrants and descendents of immigrants.

The key-problem in this country is that there is no robust anti-discrimination legislation like we have in the UK. This combined with islamophobia and xenophobia leads to escape clauses like the ‘neutrality’ principle which allows companies and organisations to discriminate the wearers of religious symbols.

The message to the religious minorities is that we have to integrate, but also that we are not really welcome. This does not mean that all Belgians have this negative attitude, but those that do seem to have public opinion with them and other parties lack the courage to oppose the NVA.