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Images of Guru Gobind Singh (above) and Guru Arjan (below): courtesy, Collection of The Singh Twins. Images of Baba Deep Singh and his soldiers are details from an oil painting by the late S. Kirpal Singh.

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Many a Slip 'Twixt The Cup and The Lip

by I.J. SINGH & MANJYOT KAUR

 

 

Life offers us numerous role models, iconic figures. There are many that we admire - oh so much that it hurts. We revere them; we are even prepared to idolize them.

Many iconic figures come from the world of sports. We look up to them immensely; we stay glued to the tube when they are performing. But we know we can't easily emulate them; this would require talents that we likely do not possess. Some have traits that we don't necessarily covet or would want to flaunt, if we did have them. Many of these personages have a dark side.

Take Tiger Woods, a recently degraded icon, as an example. Many "heroes" of Showbiz, both Hollywood and Bollywood, fit the same bill.

Emulating some of these kinds of iconic figures promises us the dream world of transient material gains that we often consider as "the good life." Many times, these benefits are more enticing - even seemingly more real - than the boons (and the ecstasy) that might result from emulating spiritual/ religious icons. This continues to be how we think, in spite of the fact that many of these worldly iconic figures undoubtedly have feet of clay.

In the spiritual realm that we wrongly persist in considering "unworldly," we admire and even glorify iconic figures, but we don't necessarily want to make the considerable and sustained efforts required to emulate them and follow in their formidable footsteps. They are not necessarily our actual role models, even though they have no feet of clay.

We will argue endlessly over whose prophet is more sublime than any other. We will fight to the death to prove that our leader is greater than theirs, but personally, we would rather shrink away from walking the Path ourselves, even when it is a simple path, simply laid out.

Our lips profess loyalty, but our actions reveal that we persist in hedging our bets.

Yes, the Guru is right, we say to ourselves, when he asks us to step away from superstitions, so-called omens, ritual fasts or by-proxy Akhand Paatth readings from the Guru Granth. Yet, we will still acquiesce to and undertake such dubious practices, just in case it would please a God out there somewhere.

Yes, the Guru taught us that ritual bathing and pilgrimages are meaningless, because the only trek that counts is within the self, but let's take the hike to nearest holy place for a dip in the pool anyway ... just in case. Of course, along the way, we will be meditating on the Guru, who told us we should not be on this road at all.

We declare our admiration of the Khalsa and the inspirational values represented by that discipline. We purport to be in awe of Guru Gobind Singh, who instituted the Khalsa Order.

Be that as it may, while our count of the Gurus and their lessons begins with Guru Nanak, it often stops at Guru Tegh Bahadar, sometimes even earlier in the progression, treating Sikh teachings like a smorgasbord from which to pick and choose to suit our own inclinations.

We pay lip service to our belief in initiation by Khande di Pahul as a major milestone in the journey of a Sikh life, but we shy away from stepping on the Path ourselves and making the ongoing commitments necessary to not only reach this significant marker, but also sustain the lifestyle it requires.

We assuage the annoying naggings of our conscience by telling ourselves (and shrugging off others who dare to prod us) that we will get around to it later - as soon as we have finished having our fun and doing everything else we want to do. We convince ourselves and others around us that this - the prime of our life - is not for spiritual concerns. We will address such matters once we are older, unable to participate in and enjoy life fully. We will then surely, albeit reluctantly, turn our thoughts to life's inevitable end and "cramming for the finals."

It is far easier to glorify Guru Gobind Singh and his teachings that culminated in the founding of the Khalsa, than to realize that this institution was designed for us, not someone else.

It calls on us to actually incorporate these precepts in meaningful ways into our lives.

Of course, it is much less demanding and lots more entertaining to celebrate the Path by a festive public parade down the city streets, than to accept the commitment of actually walking along this challenging road, mile after mile, day after day, in the private recesses of our hearts and minds.

Yes, challenging it is, but let's reassure ourselves that its requirements are much less onerous or inconvenient than we sometimes think.

Yet, we continue to sidestep the need to make the effort to become not merely a cheering bystander or occasional participant, but rather an integral and lasting link on the chain of the Khalsa tradition. That would be a true way to honor the icon by emulating the message.

Is our dedication strictly theoretical, then? What on earth are we waiting for?

A truism: Indeed, 'There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip.'

 

August 13, 2010

ijsingh99@gmail.com
manjyot818@gmail.com

 

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 13, 2010, 6:43 AM.

I had just entered 9th class in a different school, when I met a master who repeated an Urdu couplet that I remember to this day, although my medium of instruction had been English all along. It was: "Girrhtay hain shah swaar hee medanay jung mein, who-o tifal kaya geray jo gutnay ka bal chalay" - "It is the expert horseman who falls in a battle field/ How will a child fall who is still on his hands and knees!" Didn't Farid's mother entice him into prayers and, as a reward let him find 'gurr' - jaggery - under the prayer mat. Didn't Bhais Lehna and Amar Das make ritual pilgrimage for years? Were they all futile? If they hadn't even gone out, how else would they know if it was the right or the wrong path. The first tottering step is necessary. Or, better still, if we go to Bhai Gurdas who said that merely acquiring the knowledge of medicines and collecting the maps won't cure nor take us to the destination. In case of Bhai Amar Das, just one line of the shabad was enough "'twixt the cup and the lip" to transmute him into Guru Amar Das Ji.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 13, 2010, 11:21 AM.

For every human situation there is an apt and succinct shabad to describe whatever the condition of mind is. As a "P.S.", this shabad kept humming in my mid: "Poorab karam anku jab pargatay bhaytii-o puruk raskik bairagee/ mitio andhayr milat har naanak janam janam kee so-ee jaagee" [GGS:204.7] - "When the seed of my past actions sprouted, I met the Lord; He is both the Enjoyer and the Renunciate/ My darkness of ignorance was dispelled when I met the Lord O Nanak, after being asleep for countless incarnations, I have awakened."

3: Aryeh Leib (Israel), August 16, 2010, 12:19 AM.

Many years ago, when I was just a few years into Jewish observance, I held a conversation with a work colleague. He was Jewish, proud of being so, but not observant. His parting remark to me was, "You have the courage of MY convictions!". Another Jewish thinker put it this way: Our problem is that we tend to whittle down our goals to match our accomplishments. If our life's purpose is to make it across this world-ocean, it should be obvious that treading water won't get us there - the current will only pull us backward.

4: Simon (London, United Kingdom), August 16, 2010, 5:23 AM.

A friend of mine visited Baoli Sahib which is in Goindwal Sahib. He told me that he completed the 84 Japji Sahibs. I was intrigued to know how he managed to complete such an arduous fete and how, in doing so, has it effected his life. He mentioned that after about 12 hours he was half way through when he could not take another step and was just about to throw in the towel when some kind of feeling took over and he was told to go on, after which he said he was flying up and down as if time had stopped. His answer to my second question was that, two years ago, he was mortgaged to the hilt to keep his company afloat, barely making a living and now the same company is worth approx. $40M, his focus has become clear, materialistic urges gone and after retiring early will focus his energy on humanitarian projects. Although I personally have not had the privilege to take the same steps as all the Gurus after Guru Amar Das have, and so have many historical Sikh figures since, but I am sure that I would be overwhelmed with emotion and maybe in that state of mind, I may be fortunate to experience some kind of spirituality, as sitting at home is just not doing it for me. Now, would this be described as a pilgrimage? If so, then the ardaas needs to be changed too.

5: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), August 16, 2010, 6:26 AM.

GGS:267 - The spiritual path is not easy. One can work standing up for 10 hours at a stretch, but cannot pray or meditate for an hour or so. Meditation is necessary for abhyaas, to learn to concentrate, and that will also help elevation of the mind, (surt, mutt, munn, buddh, as per realm 3 in Japji). Meditation also helps control nervous diseases. Look into the life of Guru Teg Bahadar, Baba Atal, Baba Gurditta and Baba Sri Chand, these are just some examples, there are many more in Sikhism. "The life energy) rises in the sat sangat, the True Congregation; through the Word of the Guru, they enjoy the Lord of Supreme Bliss." [GGS:1402].

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