Monday, July 8, 2019

A Lone Non-Punjabi Sikh in the Heart of the Bible Belt

A Lone Non-Punjabi Sikh in the heart of the Bible Belt

What it’s like to practice Sikhi in the heart of the Bible Belt

Honestly, this is my very first blog post ever…so if it seems scattered forgive me.  I suppose I will start with telling you my story.

My name is Brian, I live in Biloxi Mississippi which by the very nature of it’s geographical location seems like a strange place to be from and talk about Sikhism.  Wait!…It gets stranger, I’m a middle aged man of German descent raised in the Lutheran tradition so there ya have another anomaly  in the matrix, A Lutheran in the deep south.  “So what you’re saying is you’re a middle aged white guy of European descent who somewhere along the line decided all on your own that you’re a Sikh?”  Yep
So I guess you’re asking yourself at this point “How the heck did that happen?”  Well honestly it’s a long story but not a difficult one to understand.  I spent 25 years in the US Military, Active duty, National Guard and Reserve.  I’m third generation military and my son was the fourth so I guess you could say it’s the family business to some degree.  I was raised a military brat, my father retired from the military when I was 15 years old and we settled in Biloxi MS so that’s where the story will begin.

When I was Active Duty I was stationed in the Washington DC area and when I got off of active duty I worked in very large Emergency room at a not so prestigious teaching hospital in the area.  That was literally my first contact with anyone of the Sikh faith and didn’t know it.  A large contingent of our residents were Sikhs that had done medical school in India.  Some wore turbans, some didn’t but the majority of them had the last name of Singh.  Fast forward 20 years or so and here I am in the middle of (for several years) a crisis of faith,  I’m speaking to a friend of mine named James about this crisis and he says to me “Who are the nicest people you’ve ever met? “ (speaking about a faith based group).  I paused and thought about it…the Sikhs I met at the hospital two decades prior.  He said look at what they believe and why they believe it, you may find some answers.  James took his own life several months later after losing his battle with PTSD.  So that’s what I did and a couple of years later here I am…talking to you.

So back to the title “A Lone Non-Punjabi Sikh in the heart of the Bible Belt”,  I live in a county that has over 300 churches of close to just as many denominations and not a single Gurdwara.  There are two Vietnamese Buddhist Temples and a Synagogue.  So needless to say with just those figures alone I’m outnumbered and unsupported locally LOL.  I think there may be one Punjabi family on the coast that owns a liquor store outside of the Air Force base here, at least I have seen a gentleman with a Dastaar going in and out of said store frequently so I’m going to assume he owns it.  That being said I have relied on my internet skills (insert smirk) to reach out and learn as much as I can.  It’s not easy to make Punjabi Sikh friends, I can only speculate as to why but a white guy from the south asking if he is welcome at your Gurdwara didn’t have a positive result when I contacted the closest one to me (it’s an hour from me) and the next closest one to me is three hours away.  Now I’m whining and you don’t want to hear any of that.

I am starting this blog in the hopes that this will help me stay on my path and maybe…just maybe someone will actually read it and reach out.  In the meantime I’ll keep watching my videos, reading my Nitnem and studying the Gurbani the best I can.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Babas, Sants, and Mahapurakhs

I already know just by the title of this blog that some people are not going to be too happy with this piece. But I've been meaning to write it (and there is no other better time than now).

Maybe it's because I've from a different culture. Maybe it's because I use to be Agnostic and skeptical of everything. Maybe it's because I was raised in the West.

But when it comes to saints, babas, etc., I admire them for what they've done for Sikhs/the Sikh community, but I don't follow them. Why? Here's why.

Division Within the Panth

Now, let me just say that they are not doing this on purpose. They are just preaching what they consider to be the ultimate truth. But that's the problem. The people who follow them consider what they say to be the ultimate truth as well. This then leads to the formation of jathebandies (groups). And we know how having jathebandies has affected our Panth. "Well, you're not a real Sikh if you don't or do xyz." "Well, if you don't follow what Baba XYZ says, then you're going to hell. He's a mahapurakh." You get what I'm trying to say.

It's great to have different interpretations of a religion (which is something that happens in every faith), but when it gets to the point that people are completely discounting others based on minor differences in belief, then there's a problem.

The only way we are going to get Ekta (Oneness) within the Panth is if we have these different viewpoints but DON'T push yours onto your fellow Sikh brothers or sisters. Your rehat is your rehat. My rehat is my rehat. We are both Sikhs/Amritdharis at the end of the day. So chill.

Side note: Now that I think about it, it's really sad that Sikhs can coexist with other religions at the end of the day but not with each other. Like, really think about that.


Oh boi. So if all of these people are supposed to be on a higher spiritual plane (or in tune with Ik Oankar), why is it that they all have different answers regarding different subjects within Sikhi? Like, for real? Because the reality is that what they are teaching is not THE truth, but their interpretation of Truth.

Which at the end of the day, our beliefs (well, for some of us) are based on our interpretation of the material we are reading. It is also based on how we were raised, were we grew up at, and what we currently know. We could all be right. We could all be wrong. Either way, I will never say, "My words are the truth and the ONLY truth" or even give that impression to someone. Don't be lazy and do the research for yourself. This leads me to my next point.


Baba: "Sikhs should not do xyz"

Me (In My Head): "Um, where exactly does it say that in Gurbani? Better yet, where does it say that in any of the authentic rehitnamas, Granths, or the puratan janamsakhis?".

That goes to say DON'T be a blind follower. If someone says something (and they don't give a source on where it comes from), automatically a red flag should go up. And no, stories of the supernatural do not count as a source for me. Why? Because supernatural events literally happen to people in every religion (supporting their confirmation bias). And even if they give you a source, make sure they are using an authentic one or are not twisting it. Some people (especially jathebandies) will twist a line in Gurbani to mean something that it does not. Or they take the line completely out of context.

This is honestly why I prefer to learn about Sikhi through academic sources rather than through parchariks or Sants. Authentic sources (for the most part) don't have bias. Parchariks and Saints do. Hell, I do.

Gender Imbalance

Now, go type into Google images "sikh saints". How many women do you see? Maybe one or two. You cannot tell me that there are not more "enlightened" Sikh women out there. It is so embarrassing to me when Sikhi is the dharam that teaches gender equality, but faiths such as Hinduism and Christianity have more women saints (or generally preachers) than us (and it's seen as the norm).

Oh, that's right. Women should just sit down and shut up (as Singhs have told me on the internet).

At the end of the day, do not tell me what Sant "so and so" says or what Baba "so and so" says or what Yogi "so and so" says. Tell me what my Guru Says! Don't tell me what I should do because of what mahapurakh "so and so" says. Tell me what I should do based on what Gurbani says or on what our history shows! 

But you know what, I'll be honest. I'm proud of my generation of Sikhs (and most present-day Sikh converts as well). Because some young people have realized that "Hey, some of what we were taught (or what our parents/grandparents were taught) might not exactly be rooted within Sikhi." And when it comes to the converts (well, the ones who aren't following a certain person), we tend to question everything. I believe this will only lead to the betterment of the Sikh community.

Serve the Saints. Serve humanity. Jap (chant) Naam with the Sadh Sangat. But don't blindly follow anyone.

Forgive me for my mistakes.

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa. Waheguru ji ki Fateh.