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Gurdwara Watchdogs:
Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee

FATEHPAL SINGH TARNEY

 


 

 

 

Through the years, from my experience as a youngster and in my informal conversations with non-Sikhs at interfaith gatherings, I have learned that all faiths have adherents who are too preoccupied with trivial details rather than authentic spirituality. There is often a fine line between important, visible symbols and adherence to one's faith, on the one hand, and superficiality on the other.

In my local sadh sangat, there are what I refer to as constant watchdogs, always on the lookout for real and imagined practices they consider undesirable. There is one fellow, for example, who reprimands elderly sardars who do not completely cover their hair and under-turbans with their dastars. Apparently, he has no appreciation of the fact that senior citizens may well be contending with vision impairments, nerve disorders, Parkinson disease symptoms, and other issues, and therefore may not be able tie their dastars as well as they did in their younger years. I always thought that respect for the elderly was a fundamental value.

I just had an experience with another watchdog who told me that I did not have my rehal (X-shaped foldable book-rest) in the proper place. I have a small prayer book stand on which I have a Nitnem and an English-Punjabi/Punjabi-English dictionary. Of course, I usually have this in front of me in the diwan hall, but when it is very crowded and when I prepare to stand for the ardaas, I place it to my side so that I neither interfere with myself nor anyone else.

This particular fellow chastised me and said that the rehal should always be in front of me. I wonder if he would have said anything to me were I perceived to be a Punjabi Sikh rather than a Westerner. I am sad to say that there are Punjabi Sikhs at my gurdwara in south Florida who still consider me an outsider despite my having been a Sikh for almost 40 years; having been a member of this sadh sangat for 30 years and having been only one of two Western Sikhs to have been presidents of predominantly Punjabi sadh sangats in North America.

Sikhi is not a race; nor an ethnicity; nor a nationality. True, a particular language and alphabet is central to our faith, but our faith consists of a set of universal principles that are meant to be lived by, not dogma or ritual.

We also have a person who is concerned with the position of people's feet relative to our Guru Granth Sahib. A lady at the age of 72, was re-positioning her legs and feet on the diwan floor, when this person who was in the line waiting to mattha-tek said something to her. He reprimanded her for pointing her feet at our Guru Granth Sahib when she was merely changing her body position.

Shouldn't this fellow have been focusing more on his obeisance to Guru Sahib than on the body adjustments of other devotees?

I am reminded here of the story of Guru Baba Nanak in Mecca. His feet, considered unclean, were facing the Kaaba and a mullah was offended and gathered a crowd in protest. Baba Nanak said, “Brothers, why are you so upset?” The mullah replied, “Because the sacred stone represents God and you don’t put your feet in the direction of God. That is bad!” Baba Nanak replied, “If you can tell me where God is NOT, I will gladly point my feet there.”

As I have written many times before, one of my heroes has been the late Khushwant Singh. I have the strong feeling that he would agree wholeheartedly with my opinions here. Sikhi should be about love, forgiveness and humility. What I often see in some amongst us is arrogance and intolerance. We Sikhs experience prejudice and discrimination on a regular basis. Shouldn't we simply focus on being kind and forgiving to each other?

I am reminded of something from an Urdu poem which in translation goes something like, “My face was dirty, but I was obsessed with cleaning the mirror!”


April 17, 2018

Conversation about this article

1: GJ Singh (Scottsdale, Arizona, USA), April 18, 2018, 3:08 PM.

Reminds me of the time when I was standing in a long line to do Mattha-tek on a Gurpurab day. I had my hands behind my back, wrist locked, to push my shoulders back so that it would reduce the extreme back pain I was going through. I suddenly felt somebody strongly unclasp my hands. I almost swore out loudly. Happenstance, during the langar, the older gentleman who did this dastardly deed was standing behind me. I asked him what gives? Could he not have told me politely instead of literally assaulting me. Where was his thinking at that point of time? He then tried to apologize to me and I refused to accept his apology. I told him he should be more ashamed of his actions than his misguided thinking that I was being disrespectful in the Gurdwara. I told him to think for a moment what was the greater sin. I wonder if he realized that it also made me stop going to the Gurdwara as often as I would normally do. More "paap" on the poor soul! No 'mukti" for him for his seva!

2: D J Singh (USA), April 19, 2018, 8:20 PM.

GJ Singh ji, you can pray anywhere. But do not stop going to the gurdwara because of the above incident. Sikhism teaches us to curb krodh, to forgive and move on. Please do ardaas and forgive that person. We all commit trespasses. By forgiving others for their transgressions, Waheguru will forgive us too.

3: Harpal Singh (Sydney, Australia), April 20, 2018, 3:47 AM.

If we want to eat the flesh (guddaa, kernel) of the coconut and drink the liquid from inside of it, then we need to open the outer shell (brown fiber) of the coconut and reach the inside — the essence. If we keep holding on to the outer hard shell and keep biting on it, then we will miss out on the liquid and the kernel. If religion is compared to the outside of the coconut, spirituality is then the inside of it, its Essence. In spiritual ignorance, the majority of us mistake the inside for the outside! Just imagine, if one keeps chewing the husk and the outer skin of the coconut, one will only make one's own mouth bleed. The implication is that if we do not go beyond the body-consciousness, we will never taste our Real Being.

4: DJ Singh (USA), April 20, 2018, 7:55 AM.

Thank you, Fatehpal Singh ji. This essay is indeed double-edged. The watchdogs are instructed to leave more room for the sangat and the sangat is instructed to forgive the watchdog's transgressions. Nevertheless, both parties are Waheguru's children. Let's be kind to all.

5: Mohan Singh  (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 20, 2018, 2:47 PM.

These so-called 'gurdwara watchdogs' are never sevadars or spiritual. They are all greedy and their ultimate goal is Guru ki Golak. Some of our preachers too are not spiritual. Some don't follow gurmat, they are there just for exploiting the sangat.

6: GJ Singh (Scottsdale. Arizona, USA), April 21, 2018, 2:16 AM.

DJ Singh ji - I am not much of a gurdwara person to begin with as I don't believe in organized religion. To see Sikhism become one at the gurdwaras is pretty disturbing. I am more a believer in Sikhi than Sikhism. And I am closer to the One when I am listening to bani at home so it was not a great loss for me. No krodh there. I hope that answers your question.

7: DJ Singh (USA), April 21, 2018, 4:22 AM.

Mohan Singh ji, aren't we all greedy? And we are beggars too! " Hum bhikhat bekhari tere". We want more for ourselves at home and work, then why not at the gurdwara! This is a social issue, not a religious one. Fatehpal Singh ji, you are indeed a wise man. Keep on writing these thought-provoking essays. Hope to meet you someday and learn more from you.

8: DJ Singh (USA), April 21, 2018, 6:39 AM.

GJ Singh ji, I suggest you read "His Last Words" by Prof Puran Singh. It's in the archives of sikhchic.com. Guru Sahib instructed us as follows: "I have entrusted you to the Immortal God. Ever remain under His protection and trust none besides. Wherever there are Five Sikhs assembled who abide by the Guru's teachings, know that I am in the midst of them. He who serveth them shall obtain the reward thereof - the fulfillment of all his heart's desires". Guru Nanak Sahib inculcated a common mode of worship and a common social institute by laying the foundation of Sangat and Pangat. From my standpoint, you are an important ambassador of the Sikh faith. and I mean it. Perhaps, Fatehpal Singh ji should elaborate more on his experience as a non-Punjabi president of a Punjabi Sikh sangat in another essay, focusing on the central importance of being part of a sangat.

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Janam Da Firangee,
Sikhi Mai Mangee"









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