By walking the walk with SGGS and our beloved Gurus, are Sikhs designed to be civic entrepreneurs, public ombudsmen, or leaders?
Harbir Kaur Bhatia
Sikhi’s universal principles of Naam and its birth in a time of turmoil with 200 years of invasions, religious oppression and misuse, and Moghul and Brahman leadership has presented a way of life that is resilient, practical, inclusive, and of high ideals! Sikhi has fundamentally given high value to activism, equality, justice, community service and brotherhood; and empowered all for direct connection with “GOD”, irrespective of identification or religion. “Recognize the human race as one”, said Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and proclaim “the betterment of all, sarbat da bhalla”, said Guru Nanak. From a laymen’s practice of Sikhi, Harbir sites examples from SGGS and our beloved Gurus about the design for leadership, and why more Sikhs are needed for successful societies!
By walking the walk of Sikhi, a Sant -Sipahi, could the future Governor be a Sikh? Could the future US President be a Sikh?
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“By Walking the Walk with SGGS and Our Beloved Gurus, Are Sikhs Designed to be Civic Entrepreneurs, Public Ombudsmen, or Future leaders?”
By Harbir Kaur Bhatia
Sikhi’s universal principles of Naam, social values, and their birth across 200 years of turmoil and invasions, religious oppression by foreign invaders, and religious abuse under Brahmic leadership, have presented a way of life that is resilient, practical, inclusive, and of high ideals! It enjoins the Sikhs to live a God (Divine) conscious, moral, and socially ethical life. Sikhi has fundamentally given high value to activism, equality, justice, community service and brotherhood; and have empowered all for direct connection with the “Divine” irrespective of social status or religious affiliation. “Recognize the human race as one”, said Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and proclaim “the betterment of all, sarbat da bhalla”, said Guru Nanak. By walking the walk of Sikhi, a Sant -Sipahi, could the future Governor be a Sikh? Could the future US President be a Sikh? One doesn’t have to be an expert theologian or have a doctorate in Sikhi to see the opportunity, possibility, and reality. I will cite specific examples from SGGS and stories of our beloved Guru in our history that has designed Sikhs to be activists and leaders. Sikhs can help create successful societies.
To provide a frame and perspective around why I share this view, let me share a little about my background. I grew up in the Midwest USA with my Parents, a brother, and a sister. My educational and professional background has been in Engineering. Our family taught us the values of social service, and Sikhi was a central part of our upbringing. It was a pillar of strength and identification for us as children. Sikhi directly impacted our actions and choices. Through Sakhis of the Gurus and Gurbani we gained most of our fundamentals that weaved into the fabric of who we are. The Sakhis (stories of our Gurus) and examples of Gurbani I will share are not unknown to you, but I hope to provide a perspective on how they designed and developed the character of activists and leaders. I have always found religions interesting and explored many with the empowerment of Sikhi to accept others. This helped my understanding of Sikhi more and also allowed me to appreciate other stories as well. Having worked and served in various forms of public, service, and private sectors across more than 30 years, I share this perspective from personal experience.
People’s and Society’s Challenges and Issues
When we look at the issues affecting modern day society, you’ll see the similar themes to history showing time and time again. An article in the New York Times ‘What Do You Think Is the Most Important Problem Facing This Country Today?’ shares the results by Gallup’s polls from 1935 through Feb 2017, from times of President Franklin Roosevelt to the beginning of President Trump’s term in office. Below, I have shared the 1935 and 2017 results.
1935, Priorities and Issues
February 2017, Priorities and Issues
The themes and issues are surprisingly common through history, and looking back into our Sikh history appears very similar, too, correct?
- Economy & Poverty
- Government and Corruption
- Access to Resources: Education, Healthcare
- Human Rights: Equality and Justice
- Values: Religious and Moral
- International Affairs
- Safety – Security-War
Need For Equality, Liberty, and Justice for All .
The summary of what is affecting us today is lack of those willing to serve the whole community fairly and equally. Even at the time of the presentation, we see the riots in Charlottesville with the open showcasing racism and violence. There is a strong need for independent, fair & just, and inclusive mindset. The teachings of Sikhi provide that.
South Asian History
Let’s examine the times of the Guru’s and South Asian history. For centuries upon centuries Indian Subcontinent had faced constant foreign invasions and with it varied philosophies, traditions, and communities of people. In the earlier phases of invasions, cultures were mostly incorporated and absorbed into the way of life from early BCE, Greeks (Alexander), Scythians, Parthians, Ionians, Bactrians, Huns and others over hundreds of years.
Whereas, the times of late Medieval India, the invasions from Arabs to Moghuls, India’s culture faced two different challenges 1) externally foreign rulers with oppressive regimes and foreign religions and 2) internally a country weakened by ritualism, caste system, apathy, and inequality. In summary, the times were covered with abuse of power and misuse of religion, spiritual and morale decline, poverty, injustice, foreign invasions, divided society, lack of resources and opportunities, powerlessness and lack of security, access, and so much more. There was a need for a fair & socially responsible society.
Sikhi Gave a Way Out:
Through this period what resulted was a new way of life, Sikhi, and a final Guru and guide for all times.
- Courage to Challenge the Norm and Leaders
- Empowerment to impact one’s own future based on good actions
- Self Worth and Hope in People
- A Sense of Belonging to something positive and uplifting
- Spiritually and Morally Awakened People
- Freedom and Equal Access to GOD and Religion
- Simplified Religious Practice
- Inclusive Society for All
- A More Socially Responsible and Community Mindset
- Defend Equality, Freedom, Liberty and Justice
Finally, it laid the groundwork for a complete halt of invasions from North West, and empowered and activated the community to participate in their own future and the society as a whole.
Through the immense challenges and the teachings, we see that the basic and fundamental principles, practices, and stories highlight and promote the values of unity of GOD, unity and equality in all mankind, activism, justice and fairness, higher thinking, and empowerment for bettering one’s own life and those of others. Together Sikhi’s golden rules or three pillars are summarized as 1) Naam Japna–reflecting/reciting Naam (essence of GOD), 2) Vand Ke Chakna–sharing with others, 3) Keerat Karna– honest work
Design – Gurbani
Throughout Gurbani we find examples of the common themes of unity GOD and amongst mankind, therefore we should not ignore harm, inequality, or injustice of others. Instead, help or serve them. There are many examples, and I hope the following provide a perspective and also inspire you to explore more.
Pārbarahm parabẖ ek hai ḏūjā nāhī ko▫e.
There is only the One Supreme Lord God; there is no other at all.
Manas Kee Jaat Ek Ko Pachaniya
Recognize the human race as one
Sarbat Da Bhalla,
We look for the betterment of all
Guraa ik dayhi bujhaa-ee. sabhnaa jee-aa kaa ik daataa so mai visar na jaa-ee.
The Guru has made one thing clear: the One God is the provider for all beings – May I never forget this.
Brahm giānī kai dristi saman.
The God-conscious being looks upon all-alike,
Jaise rāj rank ka▫o lāgai ṯul pavān
like the wind, which blows equally upon the king and the poor
Standing with the Underprivileged
Neecha Undar Neech Jaat, Neechi Hoon Aat Neech!
Nanak Tinke Sang Saath, Baddian Se Kiyya Rees!, Guru Nanak Dev Ji
Nanak says, stand with the lowest of the low class, the very lowest of the low. Why with those that are from the upper-class (rich)?
jithai neech samaalee-an tithai nadar tayree bakhsees.
the place where the lowly are cared for, there the Blessings of Your Grace rain down.
Integrity and Faith
Kahe Re Ma Chitvae Udam Ja Aahar Har Jeeo Paria,
O my mind, why you keep on worrying about livelihood, when God Himself is taking care of it.
(this does not mean that one should not work for a livelihood. What this means is that one should make the honest effort but not worry about the results).
Sail Pathar Me Jant Upaaye Taa Ka Rijak Aagae Kar Dharia
Look, even for those creatures He created in rocks and stones (tiny worms), He provided their livelihood in advance (even before they were born).
Action and Empowerment vs. Entitlement
Jaat Paat Nahin Poochhiae, Sach Ghar Leh Basai!
Sa Jaat Sa Paat Hai, Jaise Karam Kama
Levels of have in society are irrelevant. We are made by our actions
Activism and Defending Rights
Soora so pehchaniye jo lare deen ke het
Purja purja kat mare kabhi na khet
This is the badge of a true solider to fight to the end for justice and freedom
The values of high character were laid down and reinforced in Gurbani again and again in various passages through the whole Guru Granth Sahib. Through the Nitnem, Amrit Kirtan, and SGGS the explanation is provided poetically to help us understand this throughout the 10 Guru’s lives. Sikh character was formed.
- The “Divine” is the same and only one though referenced differently
- See All As Equal
- Courage to Act
- To work in highest order, the ‘Huqam’
- Challenge the Norm
- Think Practically, Innovatively, & Independently
- To Standup, Defend, Care & Serve
- To Be Inclusive and Accessible
- To Work Hard and Excel
- To Do What’s Right
- Togetherness (Langar)
- Stand up for liberty, equality, and justice for all
Design in the Lives of the Gurus
Stories of our history provide examples of the practical applications of these characteristics in religious practice, activism, leadership, righteousness, and service to humanity. Let’s take a look at a set of stories.
Sakhi 1: Bhai Lalo and Malik Bhago
During one of the many travels of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. He traveled to the city of Saidpur (Eminabad). The stories and words about the Guru had reached many through out the region that he may be visiting the town of which Malik Bhago was the Chief. Malik Bhago was known for gaining much wealth from corrupt means of unfairly taxing the poor farmers and taking the majority of the crop for himself. Leaving the famers will little. When arriving to Saidpur, Guru Nanak, chose the house of a poor carpenter, Bhai Lalo, to stay with. With little means, Bhai Lalo was able to offer only little simple food but much love and devotion. Malik Bhago came to know the Guru is in his town and should join him in a feast. Malik Bhago was offended that Guru Nanak refused to join him. “Oh holy Man, I have prepared so many dishes for you, but you are staying with a poor carpenter and eating his dry bread, why?” The Guru replied, “I cannot eat your food because your bread is ill-begotten and has been made with money sucked from the poor through unfair means, while Lalo’s bread is made from the hard-earned money.” Asked to prove how why he believes this, history shows that Guru Ji squeezed one Chapati by Bhai Lalo and the other from Malik Bhago. Bhai Lalo’s Chapati dripped of milk and Malik Bhago’s dripped blood. For the Malik, his life was changed as he realized his failure and shared his wealth to be reborn. The story presents multiple principles and characteristics when looking closely. First, it shows that truth and love are greater wealth than money and riches. Secondly, our methods matter. Thirdly the through art of conversation and a strong argument. Finally, the most important was courage to speak up against wrong, irrespective the power and status!
Sakhi 2: Guru Hargobind ad 52 Princes
Guru Hargobind was arrested by the Mughal king of the time along with 52 other Indian Princes as prisoners. But due to constant protests from his devotees, the King agreed to release Guru Hargobind from Gwalior jail with conditions. He refused to leave unless all other princes were also released with him to be fair. So the authority decided that anyone that could hold his Guru Ji’s garment would also be able to walk out free along with him. So Guru Hargobind creatively had a robe made with 52 tabs that became quite large. Thus allowing all the 52 princes to hold a tab each. Therefore, they all walked out free along with him. Again showcasing the importance of seeing equality in human beings irrespective of their stature in society, and fearlessness against challenging unjust rule.
Sakhi 3: Guru Hargobind and Guru’s Majeet on the River Beas, Sri Hargobindpur
After a Guru Hargobind Sahib victoriously fought a fierce battle even thought the army was heavily out numbered by the Moghuls near River Beas. The Guru decided to stay a settlement was formed and expanded into a town, which became known as Sri Hargobindpur. The town was fortified to with stand the Moghul invasions such that many of the city walls are still visible today. throughout Sri Hargobindpur in Gurdaspur. People of all faiths came to this town knowing that Guru Hargobind’s desire for a secular town off of the Beas. The local Muslims came to ask Guru Ji for support in building a Masjid (Mosque). Since they their limited numbers and resources. Guru Hargobind was known for his equal view of the people, whether Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims and therefore ordered the construction and handed it to the Muslims. This story is a true example of caring and leading one’s community fairly and equally, irrespective of their faith. He was known to defend, support, and serve all the members in a thriving and cooperative community. Seeing oneness of humanity, first, in all.
Sakhi 4: Equality or Religions, Kashmiri Pandits and Guru Tegh Bahadur
At the times of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Moghul regime had been making significant efforts to force conversions. One of the communities Kashmiri Pandits was facing force by the Moghuls to convert or face death. They came to Guru Tegh Bahadur to request protection from the Mughal rulers. The Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, ambition as to make an Islamic country.
Guru Tegh Bahadur had realized that the only way to do this was for him to stand against the Mughal emperor likely would him self killed in the process. Guru Tegh Bahadur suggested the Pandits notify the Emperor they would accept Islam if he could convert the Guru. Guru Tegh Bahadhur foreseeing the risks ahead, selected Gobind Rai as the next Guru to succeed him. On the way to Delhi, Guru Ji was arrested soon after departing at Malikhpur. Together he and Bhai Dayala, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das were sent Sirhind the following day. The Guru Ji was then kept in detained in Bassi Pathana iron cage from July 1675 and moved in November 1675 to Delhi. He was ordered to be kept in chains and tortured until he accepted Islam. Since Guru Ji didn’t change his position, he was then asked to perform miracle to prove his grace. He refused and therefore was beheaded at Chandni Chowk on 24 November 1675. His followers were also tortured and killed, one by boiling in hot water, the other being cut by a saw, and the third being burning alive. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji came to be known as “Hind Ki Chaddar”, “The Shield of India” for giving up his life to protect the religious freedom of others! This story is story helps us see the value that was given to freedom and liberty of all people, irrespective of their faith or identity. This is likely one of the most powerful examples showcasing the importance of fighting for human rights worthy to give up one’s own life. This is a true sign of one that would care for and be an activist for all the people.
Gurugadi and Compilation of Guru Granth Sahib
The Gurus teachings and selected teachings by Hindus and Muslims were included by the Guru’s themselves. Since we are all on our own journey’s to recognize, the human condition is not perfect and we are always in a fight with the five vices, lending to desire for power and greed over other humans. Therefore blind faith in a human Guru is not necessary because the complete messages were completed into the Granth to provide us the way of life necessary to go forward. A universal message that can be applied then, now and forever for anyone without declaration of association or of a particular tradition. Again showing that humanity is the greater association vs., seeking identification and care of only one.
Throughout Gurbani, the Shabads explain the five vices of the ego that play the greatest challenge in our abilities to be truly effective and serving the greater good vs. only self-gain The five vices of kaam (lust), krodh (rage), lobh (greed), moh (attachment) and ahankar (arrogance) are to be overcome, which practically speaking reduces ones own selfishness and rather for greater good of society. That is required in leadership and civic service. At the same time the Gurus also explained the five virtues that are the best of humanity: Sat (Truth), Santok (contentment), Daya (compassion), Nimrata (humility), and Pyaar (love). Together tackling these help the leader be one intended to seek the best for all.
The Guru’s provided us Banis such as in Nitnem that help us be reminded of the basics on a daily basis of the principles and virtues. It resets us to be an in alignment with the teachings beginning the day and ending the day before we shut our eyes.
Sikhi has provided by design the teachings, examples, and tools to allow for the principles to applied to better serve society. Though these sound like common sense principles, these are a unique combination of principles that are needed to lead and serve at at all levels of society for all.
Example: Opportunity and Alignment with American Declaration of Independence
We see through the various levels of leadership and support needed in society from neighborhood leaders, school boards, public servants in City-State- National roles, to be innovators and entpreneurs bringing the best of private and public sector together, and more. There are various forms and opportunities as leaders, civic entrepreneurs, trusted ombudsmen, etc.
Looking at the American Declaration of Independence, we see the practical alignment of the core values, including the right to question the authority and government if it is not in alignment of those values.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Through examples in Sikh history and recent history concerns and the issues have the same and similar themes again and again over time. These issues could be plugged into the past, today, or in the future, and they are all around the same. Which leads to constant need for social service for freedom, opportunity, equality, and justice.
Sikhi has provided by design the principles for social justice to stand for all men and women to live free and fair lives in which they have the liberty to create their own future justly. The inclusive and unifying views of humanity are key to fundamentally bettering society if applied. There are very few traditions or faiths that promote and accept a multicultural and multi-faith world for healthy and successful unified existence. Guru Nanak gave us the tradition of core principle of courage to stand up for right and the defenseless to always serve through leadership, positions of integrity, and positions of activism.
In North America, Sikhs have been here since 1900s and share the common values and a long heritage of building the nation and its industries. It’s now time for Sikhs to participate more in society at all levels to bring courage, equality, liberty, and justice for all by the principles and virtues provided, selflessly!
Sikhi Is Timeless!
Today the need is great!
Today the opportunity is great for global citizens to serve the world!
Be the Sikhs as they were DESIGNED to be!
By Harbir K Bhatia
Image Credits: Little Sikhs, Google Images, and my own.
About the Author
Harbir is a very active community leader in Santa Clara and Santa Clara County. Her background includes 20 years of Engineering and an even longer history of volunteerism and community development. Today she is a Commissioner with the City of Santa Clara Cultural Commission, Board Member of The Chamber of Commerce, a Rotarian, Library Foundation Board Member, founder of Joy of SEWA, and most recently the CEO of HI5 Youth Foundation, amongst others. Harbir was recognized as a ‘Community Hero’ by the State of California and was given “Women’s Empowerment: Inspiring Achievers Award”.
Through community organizing, she has become known for bringing “Sikh Awareness” in City of Santa Clara and South Bay cities. She hopes to help increase Sikh awareness in other cities, and activate more Sikhs to be community leaders. As she is currently paving ways for Sikh community in Santa Clara.