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.

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