Saturday, March 3, 2012

H. Kaur

Hello and Happy Saturday!

First up I wish to thank Galina Krasskova for her very interesting interview last week. I enjoyed reading her answers and learning more about her faith. Thank you so much for sharing Galina!

Today we have a new interview so please welcome H. Kaur.
H. Kaur is a Sikh and I know you'll enjoy her interview as well!

Here Is H. Kaur's Introduction:

Hello all,

I am H. Kaur, a university student from the lower mainland of BC, Canada.
Thank you all, for stumbling upon this page, I hope you'll enjoy reading it. I want to let you all know that I am toddling on my path towards God and that I am by no means a perfect portrayal of a Sikh girl. I am trying, struggling, hoping and gradually evolving in this path; I therefore want to apologize for any mistakes that I might have made in showing a clear picture of the Sikh way of life. I feel that the essence of spirituality and faith cannot be put into words and there is not enough power in my words to measure or explain spiritual bliss. This questionnaire is based on my path, how I perceive Sikhism from my lens. It might not be universal, but it is my humble attempt at reflecting on my practice and expressing it for the readers of YMR. While answering these questions, I felt the blessing of clarity and knowing myself better- to me, it was a meditative exercise, to see if I can justify for myself, what I try to live by. And for that, I am ever so grateful to Debra at the YMR blog for approaching me with the following Questionnaire about the religion I practice.

“You are my Companion; You are my Best Friend. You are my Beloved; I am in love with You. You are my honor; You are my decoration. Without You, I cannot survive, even for an instant.”
- Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

1) What religion do you practice?
I practice the Sikh way of life. I don’t claim to be perfect in my practice, but I try and seek to become better every day of my life =).

The Sikh faith is a way of life, not a religion per say, because in many ways Sikhism (Sikhi) does not entail any rules and regulations, it has to do more with the willingness to learn and grow and to seek truth, rather than praying or believing in a certain specific kind of God. Sikhs believe in one God, who can be addressed by different people with different names, and who is the creator of all and is omnipresent and omnipotent. Sikhs do not believe that they are better than anyone else nor do they think that people of other faiths are lost.

2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I have always been (from as far in my childhood as I can remember) interested in theology, religion and the idea of a supreme being such as God, directing the world that He/She/It has created.

However, I haven’t been practicing any religion in particular, for most of my life. It would be okay to say that I have been raised within Sikhi. However, I have been raised in a family that practices Sikhi to a very casual moderate level. As children, my siblings and I went to a Catholic school in India from where I picked up a lot of my core values and beliefs. We grew up where most people around were practicing Hindus, we also spoke in Hindi (instead of Punjabi- the language that Sikhs usually speak) and watched TV shows based on stories of Hindu Gods and about Hindu mythology. Our granny used to tell us stories about Hindu gods and goddesses as well as about the Sikh Gurus. There wasn’t a lot of influence of Sikh lifestyle on us; I guess we thought people only practice religion when they are old, because my granny used to pray, from what I remember. It was quite the Indian culture (India is a Hindu majority nation with a lot of cultural practices based on the Hindu faith) that we were living in; in fact I believe that we were distinctly withdrawn from Sikh practices or lifestyle.

I therefore have core beliefs that are very spiritual yet not religion specific. Sikh ideology has helped me condition those beliefs and grow deeper and more integrated with my core values of humanity, equality, loving all, earning an honest living and giving back to the community, which overlap with Sikh beliefs. I therefore already, even when I didn’t know much about Sikhi, held some values and beliefs of the Sikh lifestyle. About 2 years ago I started attending the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) and soon was initiated into the Sikh faith.

Initiation (/baptism) in Sikhism is a ceremony where one makes the commitment to live the Sikh way of life, and wears 5 articles of faith (Kakkars), which all are physical reminders of their practice: staying intact in the Creators form (Kesh- uncut hair), remaining organized and clean (Kanga- a wooden comb), maintaining absolute surrender to Gods will/ having faith- making an unbreakable bond with the God and Guru (Kara- an unbreakable steel bracelet), maintaining continence and a high moral character (Kacchera- a white slightly longer cotton underwear) and courage & power to stand for the rights of the weak and the oppressed impartially (Kirpan- a small blade dagger).

3) Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox, conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
Sikh, literally is the Gurmukhi (the language of the Sikh Scriptures- a kind of old Punjabi) word for ‘student’. Therefore, from that perspective, anyone who seeks to learn could be called a Sikh. However, from the religious perspective, one could be an orthodox, conservative, moderate or liberal Sikh; but we as human beings do not have the faculties to judge another persons’ Sikhi status (or for that matter: superiority based on caste, creed color, religious affiliations, gender, sexuality, or other ideas that separate us as humans), only God (creator) can decide who is better or worse.

A usual distinction that can be seen among Sikhs is based on whether or not they keep their hair and whether or not they have been initiated and whether or not one eats meat (most Sikhs are vegetarians); which, like I said before cannot be clearly established as better or worse by any of us. The tenth Sikh Guru (prophet) - Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaaj established the idea of initiation (baptism) which is a ceremony where one makes the commitment to formally live the Sikh way of life which requires disciplining ones life to specific kind of observance of the Sikh lifestyle, which was and still is purely a choice that one might make- an initiated Sikh does not necessarily live the lifestyle in a better or more effective way than an uninitiated Sikh. Initiation was presented by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, purely as a choice one could make if one wished to, it can be looked at as a leap of faith, a commitment, but not as a recommended lifestyle. Therefore, this might just be a physical distinction (because of the observance of 5 articles of faith stated earlier and daily discipline) for some people, but does not draw a line between levels or degrees of practice.

Therefore, Sikhism is all about making choices which help one walk on ones path of life. Everyone has their own path- some people would rather be baptised and committed, some people will choose to eat meat or cut their hair- hence, my point that Sikhi is not a set of rules and regulations (or religion per say) but a kind of lifestyle based on faith in one supreme creator God. The command (order/ hukam) that all Sikhs have been given is to accept the Sikh scripture- Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji as ones Guru (commander/ leader/ prophet), ones ultimate source of inspiration, knowledge and guidance- that is the one thing that defines a Sikh. Most of us strive to make a personal connection- a relationship with our Guru and give the scriptures utmost respect.

4) Within your religion what degree of observance are you (ie. Orthodox, conservative, moderate, liberal)? Why did you choose this degree of observance?

5) What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
Sikhs believe that there are 8.4 million living species, and each living organism has a soul, which has the light of God within it (that is why Sikh lifestyle is so much about equality and humility). Soul is the living part; the bodies are just material elements. We therefore believe on a Karma based theory- wherein all our souls travel from one life to another completing a cycle of 8.4 million lifetimes, before being blessed with human life. Human life, by no means is superior than the life of any other living being (which is why most Sikhs are vegetarians and eat only the bye-products of plant sources, which usually fall off after a certain point of ripening- fruits and vegetables), but when ones soul is given a human life, it is blessed with a chance and the choice to do good deeds (Karma) and merge back into the One Ultimate God (which can be thought of as Light). The idea is that the tiny light of God in our souls can be made better and purer by good deeds (Karma) and has the potential to ultimately merge with the ultimate Light of God. So we all just need to love each other and do good to be free from the cycle of births and deaths – the 8.4 million lifetimes over and over again.

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
We do not have a clear cut concept of heaven or hell. Based on ones Karma, we all have good times and bad times, all in this life. Therefore, we live our heaven or hell all right here.

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
I am a free-bird, slightly non-conformist i.e. I do not go with the flow, I live what I believe in, regardless of what others feel about me. I personally believe that we as humans are a manifestation of love; we are all born out of love and we live, seeking love, all through our lives. To me, my practice is all about love, the love for God and for other humans (the bearers of the light of god). At the same time, I have the concept of holding space if I don’t agree with what others are doing, but I can still love them – the idea of “Live and let live”. I also believe in always remaining calm and peaceful, regardless of the circumstances- looking at pain and pleasure alike (I’m an optimist). Therefore, in all these practical ways, Sikhi is the perfect fit for me. One of the greatest things that I particularly adore about the Sikh way of life is the humility aspect, wherein we respect all other beings and faith or ideologies, and we are free to (in fact advised to) read any other faiths scriptures (which as a keen theologist, from my childhood years, I really enjoy). Having faith in one God has a very grounding effect on me, it is almost as if I just love God and my soul wants to merge into him, therefore I try to maintain the specific discipline and practice of a baptised Sikh- and try to love all and see God’s light in all. I love this Love relationship with the God and the Guru; I feel that for me, there is freedom in surrender and bliss in meditating onto the feet of the Guru (The Sikh Scripture- Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). Hence, It works very well for me to live the Sikh lifestyle.

8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
For Sikhs, every day is a holy day- Sikhs who are initiated (/baptised) read the scriptures every-day and have a rigorous discipline in their daily practice. However, certain days from the Sikh History are celebrated more than others- Vaisakhi (Khalsa Day- the day when the initiation tradition started.), Gurupurabs (birthdays of the Gurus/ prophets) and other such days from Sikh History. Special celebrations are done by meditating, singing prayers and scriptural excerpts together as a congragation in the Gurdwara, followed by selflessly serving meals or doing charity work together as a community.

9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
Of course, what is the big deal, aren’t we all the same people, with the same dreams, aspirations and interests? In fact I have more non-Sikh friends than Sikh friends =). My bestie is a devout Muslim and her devotion and practice has inspired me so much to realize my love for God and the Guru. Some of my other friends are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostics and Atheist. I often have some of my Christian friends come over at my place for bible readings and hang out (cause I love them! =P ).

10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
Well, I’ve done that. I celebrate Christmas in the same fashion and tradition (except I’m a vegetarian- no egg nog for me =P ) that I did as a child, in my Catholic school. However, some Sikhs may not be too happy with that, mostly because it is about personal preferences, some people have such a deep love and regard for the Guru that they just value each day of life as a chance to work their way towards God and perhaps aren’t so social to go and celebrate, but stay focused and meditative at all times. Such great individuals would also usually not go out of their way to celebrate the Sikh festivities any more than other days- they’re usually all about meditating on the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (The Sikh Scripture and living Guru).

11) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
Yes. Women can hold any clergy positions; there are some Gurdwaras where, on the discretion of the managements, women might not be offered such positions, but that usually is a cultural/traditional thing for that particular institution. It is a religious command (from the Gurus) to give women all the rights that men have and to be impartial and equal towards all, in every circumstance. I love the equality aspect of Sikh lifestyle. In fact, this was one of the features that helped me take my initial leap of faith. (I am a feminist!)

12) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
No, it does not.

13) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
I make my decisions based on how I feel about a particular situation. I think my beliefs do influence my decisions, but the Sikh lifestyle is usually very liberal, especially if you look at everyone as a light of God- and keep their needs and wants higher than your own. Everyone has their own path; from my lens, I don’t think that I am in a position to decide or judge other peoples’ situations. I do have my opinions on these subjects though, all of which are based on “Love all, for they have the light of God in them”, “live and let live” aspects of Sikhi.

14) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
I’ll be supportive of it, as long as my child really loves this person, and is serious about the relationship, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

15) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?

16) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?


17) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
No, not that I can remember. I’ve had people stare at my Kirpan or ask me questions about it or about my head gear, but that’s usually either friendly or often out of curiosity. I’ve had some people think that I’m a Muslim though, which is okay =)

18) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?

19) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
Yes, when I read the scriptures and prayers- I feel that all my problems have faded away in the background and I suddenly have the strength to accept them and deal with them. Meditation has its own blissful feeling. I also think that practicing Sikhism has made me a whole lot calmer and peaceful person, perhaps even more humane and loving. =)

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