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What A Fine Mess We've Got Us Into!


Sep 24, 2004
We are currently getting some wood floors installed in our house; that is how I am spending my vacation. I have to stay home watching the work, and inhaling the tons of sawdust and paint fumes.

Yes, they can be mood altering, but not in the ways described by dope-heads. And the house is in absolute shambles.

I cannot find any books or notes, don't have a dust-free inch of space for my computer except outside in the backyard, nor can I locate a clean cup for a dollop of coffee. The dust is in my hair and in my eyes.

It reminds me of my younger days when, returning from a student party that lasted too long, I could smell the cigarette smoke in my hair and underclothes. And this in spite of the fact that I have never smoked - not even inhaled a la Bill Clinton - unless it was second-hand smoke.

But then, why should it be otherwise? Soon enough, the wood will glisten and shine, such that one can see a face in the reflection. The furniture and books will find their place once again. Considerable junk will be discarded.

It is a cyclical process that will continue, as will life. In time, the floors will age and lose their shine again, and there would be another round of sawdust and paint fumes.
Certainly at this time the house is a work in progress.

My thoughts flew in the blink of an eye from the currently paralyzing disorder in my house to my sometimes equally debilitating preoccupation in Sikhi.

I have friends who argue insistently, unendingly and provocatively.

Some want us to sit on chairs in gurdwaras, others prefer the traditional practice of sitting on the floor during service. Some want only traditional Punjabi food during the congregational meal (langar), others want us to move with the times and allow pizza, pasta and peanut butter sandwiches.

And then there are those who assert that our gurdwara langar is not a langar at all, since it does not make an active effort to feed the homeless; to them, langar has diminished to a hearty one dollar buffet. (If it looks to serve the homeless at all, it is rarer than hen's teeth.)

I admit they have a point.

There are those who enter the gurdwara near the conclusion of the Ardaas and miss most of the service of the day, but they are sure God and Guru have marked them present; others look forward to spending the day in sangat.

Many have argued with me that the only language to be used within a gurdwara, particularly when talking of matters religious, must be Punjabi; to them, God and Guru do not recognize nor hear (or, is that they do not understand?) English.
Others think we need to make our message more accessible, and so must switch to the vernacular of the society - English, in this case.

I wonder: if, as history tells us, Guru Nanak traveled widely over the known world to preach his message, did he speak only in the Punjabi of his native village?

Certainly not! We know because he composed hymns in other languages and freely used local dialects in his writings. Yet, he also transcended the limitations of words by using the language of music.

And heaven help us in managing our dysfunctional institutions - so many of them are caught up in court cases or headed that way. And our young people continue to desert them at an alarming rate.

I have to admit that many of these young people are discovering their Sikh roots in the most imaginatively productive ways, and largely outside the ambit of our gurdwaras.
I am pointing to their initiatives like SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, Khalsa Aid, Sikh Research Institute; also their support of symposia and essay competitions, movie-making, music, art and culture, even their fledgling interest in reading and writing about our lives as Sikhs in the diaspora. They have discovered the virtue in feeding the homeless, in working for Doctors without Borders, Amnesty International and the ACLU.
Some are recognizable Sikhs, others are not. Admittedly, this is where the major fault-line lies in the Sikh community. This is where we often part company.

Some years ago, an equally important line of cleavage was support or rejection of the idea of Khalistan, but even though the cause remains, it seems to have lost much of its voice.

A generation is still caught up in the politics and life in India where we - those living outside it - no longer have a voice and, if you are like me, have less interest. We have put down our roots in this society for over a hundred years and, by now, I would expect our eyes and efforts would have turned away from Punjab and towards our reality here.
Why is the world of Sikhi so chaotic? Where is the sehaj and inner peace that the Gurus talked about and promised us? And wither are we going?

Is this inherent in the message of Sikhi? Is it embedded in our genes? Will we ever find peace and tranquility?

I am sure I am not the only one who has wondered what we have done to deserve this cacophony in our midst.

I have no doubt the message of the Gurus is complete and timeless. The tempest begins in our truncated understanding of it. That's what free will is all about.

These are the growing pains of a people, I know. And that's the way it has always been. Growing up takes time. I just wish we could hurry up a bit.

Sometimes the chaos gets to me. I do go to the gurdwara but I look at myself less as a pillar of our gurdwara and more as a buttress who supports it from the outside.
Last year, The New York Times reported a raid on a kosher meatpacking plant that had pervasive labor violations and in which 389 illegal immigrants were rounded up. I also remember reading a report some years earlier, where a plant was distributing meat as kosher that was not really so.

Obviously the managers and owners were observantly religious people. This kind of a violation of religious regulations is not what one would expect, certainly not from those who look like they ought to be following them.

But is it quite so surprising?

Don't we know outwardly religious Sikhs, some even Amritdharis, manufacturing and distributing X-rated DVD's, running or patronizing businesses that a Sikh shouldn't?
I would expect a higher standard from all overtly religious people. So let's not just put the spotlight on observant Jews who fall short of what life, the world and even they themselves expect.

I even know one Sikh very prominent in gurdwara management who is so fond of his drink that, when he goes to a party, he keeps a bottle handy in his car. Every so often, during the bash, he and a few friends disappear for a while; they go the car, have a quick drink or two and come back to the party, where their credentials as good Sikhs would remain outwardly unquestioned.

The lesson of Meeri-Peeri, one of the fundamentals of Sikhi, is to focus on integrating the inner spiritual discipline with its outer manifestation in our lives.

The point here is that we are all imperfect. Much as my house is, at this time, unfinished business, any life, too, remains a work in progress.

And to be a Sikh is to be a student, so being a Sikh means being continually a work in progress, where the journey itself is the destination.


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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Oops! I am so sorry. Thanks are for Aman ji!

This is awesome and a poetic reflection that tugs at my heart. Thank you.

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
I even know one Sikh very prominent in gurdwara management who is so fond of his drink that, when he goes to a party, he keeps a bottle handy in his car. Every so often, during the bash, he and a few friends disappear for a while; they go the car, have a quick drink or two and come back to the party, where their credentials as good Sikhs would remain outwardly unquestioned.

This reminds me of my wedding reception on March 18,1989, at which no alcohol was served.However, some of the guests used to leave for a few minutes to get a slug or two stored in their car boots.

Tejwant Singh



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