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Quiet Time - 4:
Ready To Go, Ready To Stay





marnai ki chinta nahi
jeevan ki nahi aas …

I fret not over dying,
Nor do I crave for life …


A few years ago, having newly moved to the village I live in now, I had the good fortune of being introduced to the local Mennonite community -- an ‘old order’ Christian community which is like the Amish in its simple and ancient ways but like no other.

I was quite taken by them because, though I didn’t personally agree with or would want to subscribe to some of their beliefs and practices, I saw much similarity between their lifestyle and those of the puraatan (historical) Sikhs who I believe were closer to the ideals of Sikhi.

I befriended a number of them and often sought them out -- as I continue to do now -- to learn more about them. One early visit was with a minister I had heard give a sermon in one of the services I had attended. I was intrigued that even though they did not have a priesthood, they had deacons and ministers who led each congregation in prayer: how did the two facts jive with each other?

He told me that the selection was by lottery, with a number of names thrown into the basket by other members of the community without any consultation with or knowledge of the ’candidate‘. No public discussion whatsoever. No canvassing. No advocacy. No politicking. No mention of anything to anybody.

On the morning of the selection, a name would be pulled out of the proverbial hat -- the procedure was a bit more convoluted to allow total secrecy and anonymity -- and to the utter surprise of everyone, including the person named, voila! he was now a minister.

This is exactly what had happened to my friend in his middle age, only a few years earlier. He had no special education -- he had gone no further than Grade 8, as was the norm with all others in the community. He was a life-long farmer, with no extraordinary interest or special training in the scriptures.

As he explained to me, he had had no desire to become a minister. Had never thought about it, never aspired to be one. He had never spoken to anyone about it, nor had anyone raised the issue with him.

Now, suddenly, he was a minister. From the following Sunday, he was expected to stand up whenever the spirit moved him, or the occasion necessitated it, and give a short sermon. On a topic of his own choosing.

Come Sunday, he would stand to speak in public for the first time in his life. No training was given to him, or even offered or recommended. No salary. No special status, even though he could hereon preside at weddings and funerals, etc. He was expected to continue with his regular work as a full-time farmer six days a week, and the preparation for his ’sermon’ -- really, no more than a meditation on a passage from the Bible of his own choosing -- involved reading over the verse in question the night before and ruminating on it for a while.

I have heard him speak in his church several times and am moved by his words each time: words marvellously untouched and untainted by institutional skill and artifice. 

How do you handle the added burden of the position, I asked him. Could you have said no and withdrawn your name? Or later, once you found it too onerous?

In answer, he described to me the Mennonite concept of ’gelassenheit’ -- literally, calmness, coolness, composure. Not unlike what Sikhi teaches us through ideas such as chardi kalaa, sehaj (equipoise), ’tera bhana meettha laagey’ (Sweet is Thy Will), hukam (submission and surrender to the Natural Order) …

“We take with a smile everything that comes our way and then do our best with it”, was the gist of what he said. And quoted from a hymn:

Ready to go, ready to stay,
Ready my place to fill,
Ready for service, lowly or great,
Ready to do His Will.

Those words, “Ready to go, ready to stay,” have haunted me ever since, and get triggered whenever I come across Guru Nanak’s shabad from the Sri Raag section of Guru Granth Sahib. Here's its opening line:

I fret not over dying,
Nor do I crave for life …

Anxiety over dying and all that it entails -- aging, sickness, retirement, financial security, family’s welfare, etc -- along with the endless cravings that come with living, have to be the two primary sources, if not the only ones, to all of our stress and distress.

I envy my Mennonite friend’s serenity and have realized that living fully in the present, putting our all into what we set out to do in accordance with our three life-goals (which, incidentally, are no different from the Mennonite way of life) - naam jupna, wund chhakna, kirat karni (prayer, work, sharing) -- is all that is needed to achieve a life of contentment. 

A caveat: it doesn’t mean ignoring the ever-hovering Damoclean sword of death and pretending it’s never there, but ever acknowledging it, respecting it, and using it as our North Star. And then, living life on our terms, but not being led by the nose by our constant companions -- kaam, krodh, lobh, moh, ahankaar (lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride).

All of the above is encapsuled in my mind's eye by the image of a Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh sitting in the recommended bir aasan -- the warrior’s position: ever ready to go, ready to stay.

January 24, 2016

Conversation about this article

1: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 24, 2017, 6:48 PM.

"Kabir, the world is afraid of death - but that death fills my mind with bliss. It is only by death that perfect, supreme bliss is obtained." (Once you immerse in spirituality, fear of death goes away!)

2: Ajit Singh Sahota (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), January 24, 2017, 8:00 PM.

A question: In case that selected priest gets sick or has to be engaged in some other urgent task, do they again put names in the hat to select another to preside at religious functions? Although many of such biblical verses can be interpreted and meanings stretched to fit many a stance, I don't believe they have the ambit and universality of the teachings of gurbani. Nowadays, you can even see Hindu apologists stretching the meaning of certain Hindu beliefs and practices, trying to make them look more acceptable to progressive sensibilities. I'm curious if the Mennonites and the Amish subscribe to the mainstream Christian belief that Jesus Christ was the only son of God, and that all non-Christians have no hope for 'salvation' in the next life?

3: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), January 25, 2017, 7:57 AM.

In answer to S. Ajit Singh ji's questions: 1) A minister or deacon is thus selected whenever the need for another one arises, whether it is because of the retirement of an existing one due to age, or a vacancy caused by sickness or death. Or if the growth of the congregation demands it. 2) Mennonites too believe that Jesus is 'the only way', but that has never bothered me or proved to be a stumbling block for me to enjoy the company of those who are pious and decent. Every time I am amongst them, as is the case with any other group that exudes human decency, I learn more about myself and understand and appreciate Sikhi all the more. It is akin to leaving the shores of your country to go to a foreign land, only to fully appreciate what you have left behind at home.

4: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), January 25, 2017, 6:27 PM.

If one wants Sikhi in its intrinsic form in simple terms and how it goes down to business without trying, we have to hold Baba Naudh Singh’s hand to walk us through effortlessly.

5: Dr K.N.Singh (Johor Baru, Malaysia), January 26, 2017, 4:35 PM.

Sadly we all overlook that Sikhi is a way of life and was bundled into a religion just like Buddhism. Like Sher Singh ji, the more I interact with other religions, the more I learn about and am drawn to Sikhi.

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Ready To Go, Ready To Stay"

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