Building Bridges Between Sikh Communities

Thinking back to my early teenage years I remember struggling to come to terms with my identity as a Sikh in a "Western World". It was also different being born and raised a Sikh from parents who adopted the Sikh lifestyle (which is very different from the normal Sikh originating from Punjab/India).

As I got older and worked through these issues I started the SikhNet website in an effort to share the things I learned with other youth. My goal was also to provide a way for people to connect and share their experiences with each other, so that we can all learn and support other.

 Now that I am older and have had much more experience as a Sikh, and interactions with Sikhs all over the world. I find myself facing a new goal of trying to help bridge different Sikh communities together (particularly mine with others). Over the past 10 years since I have been doing work on SikhNet I have faced and seen quite a bit of division, anger, hate from other Sikhs. This was mostly a result of people judging another’s lifestyle, practices, etc. Most of the people in the communities I lived in originally were from a non-Indian background. Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa (Yogi Bhajan) initially came to help the American/Canadian youth of the hippy generation who were rebelling against society of the day, looking for spirituality and a "High" which many got with drugs. He taught them Kundalini Yoga, how to meditate, to live a Healthy, Happy and Holy Lives (3HO). Showing them a different kind of "high". Many of those people became interested in why he wore a turban and what Sikhi was about. Over the years as he continued to teach the science of Kundalini Yoga he also taught a lot about Sikhi. As a result many were inspired by the teachings of the Guru Nanak and the Siri Guru Granth Sahib and became Sikhs. In fact, most of the people I know first started doing yoga and later went deeper and became Sikhs. So, for most of us Kundalini Yoga and meditation was a gateway towards becoming a Sikh, and a big part of our every day life and "culture" in addition to being a Sikh.

This is where the criticism, negativity, hate, etc. comes in. I find that many people tend to have a very jaded opinion of Yoga, and relate it to Hinduism without much knowledge or experience of it. I get people all the time bombarding me with quotes from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib saying that Yoga should not be practiced and is against Sikhi. To me this very act shows the narrow minded view. When I read the words of the Gurus I hear a very different message.

I have been raised to keep a very open mind and to be accepting of everyone. I find that the more open and loving you be, the more joy and closeness to God you feel. A famous quote by Yogi Bhajan sums this up: "If you cannot see God in all, You cannot see God at all."

My purpose of this post is not to start a debate about yoga and Sikhi. I wanted to show one example of a situation where Sikhs do something a little different from the rest, and people start condemning/criticizing, without seeking to understand or accept differences. We all hear about different Sikh groups or "Jathas" who have certain practices which are different. As with my previous example, some can be quick to judge them. It is not that you have to agree with or practice in the same way. It is just that if Sikhs are to be more united we have to learn to be more accepting and open hearted. Why would any young person want to stay a Sikh if at every turn they are judged, criticized, and all they see are people fighting about every little thing. It’s no wonder many chose not to stay a Sikh.

The next time you come across someone and a critical thought comes to mind, be aware of it. Recognize that you are thinking like that. Try to shift how you are thinking and attempt to give the benefit of the doubt. No one has the right to judge others. We are all on a path trying to be better people, and no one is perfect. We all make mistakes and learn through the hands of time.

I have found in my personal life that when I have negative thoughts towards other people, it is generally a reflection of anger or irritation IN ME and that it’s not really about the other person at all. I see the world based on how I feel and what is going on in my life. I remember coming to this conclusion and it was like a lightning bolt hit me. I was like "WOW! so this is why I feel that way and why other people do weird things". This awareness gave me even more understanding and acceptance towards others. So, when I see someone who shouts with anger "Go back to Iraq you $%$#" or does something hurtful, I can be more understanding and compassionate rather than reacting.

Part of my goal with this Blog is open a door into my every day life/community and the things that I have been raised with. To create more awareness. I have much to learn myself and try to do the best that I can to lead a life based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and the 10 Gurus.

For many years I have wanted to travel to different countries and network with other Sikhs. To help build a larger network of people in a united mission. In September ’05 some young Sikhs in the UK all pitched in money for a plane ticket so that I could come for a visit to England. This was so inspiring and touching for me. Because of this seva I was able to learn so much in England and meet many really awesome people.

A big part for me was also learning more about different Sikh Jathas. I was able to participate in Khalsa Camp which is run by many of my Gursikh brothers and sisters from the Akhand Kirtani Jatha. (You can see some beautiful pictures by my photographer friend Jagroop Singh). I had a great time learning, getting up early in the morning, doing banis and simran together. I made a lot of friends and I really got to understand and experience Sikhi as practiced by other AKJ Sikhs; which was great. It was different in many ways for me…but I enjoyed the experience and it brought me closer to them.

Later during my UK visit there was a huge Samagam (in Northolt) organized by the Nishkam Sevak Jatha, which was also awesome. I met one of the sevadhars (Hari Singh) who has been helping quite a bit on the SikhiWiki.org project. He arranged for me to meet with Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh Ji of GNNSJ in Birmingham. I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss different things related to the Sikh youth and SikhNet and learn more about the work of GNNSJ.

So, as you can see I am just starting my journey and have a lot to learn. My hope is to travel more and share the torch of love and acceptance. To encourage more people to build bridges so that we can be more unified as a Sikh Panth. You CAN help make a change!

So, are you ready to take the torch and pass it on? Change starts with you.

16 Responses to “Building Bridges Between Sikh Communities”

  1. Angad Singh says:

    Beautiful Post GMS..i totally agree with you ..and i believe that one should try and see the positives rather than the negatives..

    guru rakaha

  2. Shane says:

    Good writing, and a graet inspiration !

  3. Sham Kaur says:

    This was a very inspirational post, i think that we need to use our compasion when we deal with the situation u mentioned, and since this is my first post,, congratulations for all this amazing seva u r doing, I myself visit almost everyday your blog,, I am from Bolivia, southamerica and is a way to be close the sangat, all the blessings for u sat nam!!

  4. SikhsRus says:

    “reflection of anger or irritation IN ME and not really the other person. I see the world based on how I feel and what is going on in my life.”

    and

    “torch of love and acceptance”

    Yes! very beautifully said Gurumustuk Ji. This is major part of what real Sikhi is and should be in people’s lives! I am trying to get there myself! Its that Indian/Punjabi harshness which is taking longer to polish off. One of these days.

  5. flyingSingh13 says:

    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
    Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

    Just to let everyone know, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sevak Jatha are doing a Samagum in Glasgow Scotland (my home town!) at the end of April 28-30th.
    We would like everyone, far and wide to attend, its gonna be great!

  6. Ghanaya says:

    Thankyou for the post Gurumustuk, it was so inspiring. It was great to see you when you came to the UK and i still remember our little trip to central London ! I always get inspired when i see Western Sikhs or any Sikhs for that matter, and try and remember the story of Bhai Khanaiya who saw Guru Ji in everyone. How can we possibly pick faults in people when God resides in all……

    satnam

    Ghanaya

  7. j s sidhu says:

    Sat Sri Akal!
    The reason why people are negative has to do with themselves and that’s very true! Anyone who thinks bad about something as beautiful as Sikh Dharma has to be a loony. The people from Sikh Dharma that I have met are nothing but inspirational for me, the desi Sikh. They are lovely and have such beautiful souls.
    Sikhs are NOT prohibited from excercising their body and/or mind. Yoga does both. Also Gurus wanted us to do sports. Yoga is like a sport.
    I also wonder why don’t we have Yoga competitions? Hmmm! Maybe that’s the difference between East and West. If it was a western art then it would an Olympic sport. I mean Yoga would be no different to judge than gymnastics. Grace, execution, timing, program, music selected/ created, artisitc/aesthetic value!!!
    I think I am on to something.
    Come on GSK! Do something!

    Maybe Sikh Dharma should hold competitions! I know Yoga is to be used to kill Ego rather than create Ego.
    Hmmm! Maybe those Yoga bashers need to take Yoga to check their ego! How about that!

    jagwinder singh sidhu
    Edmonton

  8. Anonymous says:

    When I first came in contact with the 3HO community back in the early 70′s I did not experience it as friendly or inviting. I did experience it as judgemental, guarded, somewhat exclusive and aloof. As I was talking about this years later, the comment was “It is true. We were afraid back then. Our fears and insecurities were much deeper” The dogmatic, militant nature seems to have shifted quite a bit and there is a warmth present now which was not generous in the beginning. Fear and insecurity cause us to wrap ourselves fairly tightly out of protection. It is interesting how the “White Sikh” community has some of these similar experiences with Indian Sikhs….guarded, cautious, wary, judgemental, misunderstood, misrepresented. White Sikhs were raised up for many reasons, but the main impetus behind Yogi Bhajans teaching was to create Teachers who could carry this formula into NOW and support fully the entry of the Aquarian Age. The technology of the science of yoga is vital. It supports all the shifts as we, all of us, come present with our fears, doubts, insecurities, addictions, instability etc. in a world which is rapidly changing. It is not so much to accept each others differences, yet to allow. It is not important that I understood as much as allow. Not to know, but to see. It is not in the knowledge or information, this is not about the mind. It is about the heart. May we all breath to live more fully in a heart centered world.

  9. Prabhu Singh says:

    Just today I read a comment on somebody else’s blog that said a specific track of kirtan was for the pleasure of the ear and not for the spirit because it was performed in front of non-Amritdhari. Can you believe this? Who teaches this?
    I don’t see a Sikh when I see intolerance. I’m proud of being a Sikh and I think the Guru’s path is perfect. I don’t believe in alterations to anything. However, people seem to believe that they know everything and that an alteration to their way is an alteration to traditional Sikhi. Who knows tradational Sikhi 100%? I would like to meet the person who can claim this. That person will have to reach to my soul and speak to me without words for me to believe it.
    My question to those who judge other Sikhs is, how do you know you are right? What happens if there is an exception? Is your faith shattered or strengthened? People seem to avoid learning until something happens to them that forces them to see the other side.
    Sikhs are supposed to be united with all of humanity. ‘Recognize the whole human race as one.’ Does anybody remember this? As far as I can tell there’s only one reason the Sikh community is divided… EGO.
    Would you ask Guru Nanak if he sleeps with his kirpan on? and reprimand him if he didn’t? Some people may think this question is disrespectful, but if they saw the light of Guru Nanak in all they may realize they have already done this.
    EK ONG KAR!
    There is only one. Everything that is different from you and wrong in your eyes is part of the universal truth that is one.

  10. Navtej Singh says:

    DEAR MR. SINGH,

    I am Navtej Singh. Maybe you have forgotten, but I sent you an email in the past praising and admiring your work. Thanks for responding!Your work inspired me to start my own blog! Thanks very much, again.

    I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU. Negativity is an unwanted evil in this world… We should do everything in our powers to destroy it. If you ever need help ( I am sure you’re capable enough, but we would be very happy to help you anyways), contact Sikhs of Michigan or “Sikh Society of Michigan”. We can do informational presentations and demonstrations, helping to build a bridge between our worlds.

    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
    Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

  11. Waheguru jee kaa khalsa
    Waaheguru jee kee fateh

    I was brought up in punjab but recently i migrated to south india for job purpose in the city of Hyderabad. There are lot south indian sikhs here (khalsa of deccan, as they proudly call themselves), We now do lot of intermingling with them as per your wording “Building Bridges beween sikh communties”

  12. JaeSingh says:

    wjkkwkkf
    Its truly shameful that you had to face anger, hate from fellow Sikhs. Ive come across many people who call themselves Sikhs but dont know much about Sikhi at all. They might know bits and pieces but some are so arrogant its kinda funny. I see Kundalini Yoga as a practice which blends perfectly with Sikhi. Though it may be related to Hinduism, as do many aspects of Dharmic religions (inc. buddhism and jainism). we share aspects but we’re unique, we are not bound by the same restrictions. I, too, do not see SGGS to reject yoga in any way, in fact yoga and meditation (simran) go hand in hand. (I’m actually planning on taking up Kundalini Yoga this summer) i hope others can open thier minds and see things as they actaully are, rather than be caught up in medieval thoughts. pul chuk maaf. DGN

  13. waheguru ji ka khalsha

    waheguru ji ki fateh

  14. H Singh says:

    That's spot on with the Yoga, only on the internet did I find people condemning it, saying it's a Hindu practice, etc etc.

    Personally I looked at the lines in japji sahib, to the effect all souls come from one creator, and through my conditioning by society and culture there was a massive conflict.

    Only through Yoga have I had even so much as a brief taster of peace, and came to gain a better understanding of the words I was reading.

    It's a shame a lot of the religious authorities in various religions are in fact just in it to use and manipulate people, and then they say reciting prayers won't work, why? Becuase they don't get it.

    Peace to all

  15. INDERJIT SINGH says:

    wahe guru ji ka khalsa
    wahe guru ji ki fateh,

    i am from india at delhi, we want to tell you, we all friend to going to make a jattha, which work against young boy's wrong working and will show then right way. so now we are working on same. i want to make it on international lavel. we want that all sikh young boys wear turban on the place of cap and other small patka.

    so if you want to give any type of suggestion to our jattha, so please contact me on my mobile-91+9250517541 or [email protected].