Tag Archives: faith

The Golden Temple Continued…………..

I don’t think I am overstating it when I say that Ann, Julia, and I were in awe of the Golden Temple. It is a peaceful place with such a spirit of community about it. None of us really knew too much about the Sikh faith and we walked away absolutely in love with its ideals.

The fact that they have such a commitment to reach out to those in need is amazing. Our guide told us that, beyond each gurudwara having a kitchen to feed those who are hungry,  the Golden Temple also sponsors between 200 and 300 young women each year for their weddings. They select girls who cannot afford dowries and the temple sponsors them. (And, yes, it would be great to get rid of the whole dowry system but it is a reality and every year hundreds of girls can get married who might not have without the temple’s help.)

Another lovely aspect of Sikhism is that they do not believe in the caste system – every one is equal. Someone told me once that every Sikh has Singh in their name and that Singh means lion. I was also told it means brother, signifying that they are all connected to each other. This concept was in practice at the Golden Temple. So many people come to volunteer their time and they all seemed pretty happy about it. (By the by, supposedly the women all have Kaur in their name which means princess. I could totally get used to that. Just call me Princess A Reason To Write.)

The Sikhs have some lovely cornerstone ideas for their faith. According to Wikipedia, there are 10 beliefs in Sikhism. They are:

1. Believe in one God.
2. Treat everyone equally.
3. Live by the 3 main tenets –
Practice constant meditation and prayer.
Make an honest income and do it honorably.
Share earnings and selflessly serve others.
4. Avoid the 5 sins of ego
Pride, Lust, Greed, Anger, and Attachment
5. Get baptized.
6. Keep the code of honor by abiding the gurus teachings.
7. Wear the 5 symbols of faith:
uncut hair, wooden comb, dagger, proper undergarments, silver bracelet.
8. Follow the 4 commandments:
Do not dishonor the creator’s intention by cutting the hair.
Do not harm the body with tobacco or other intoxicants.
Do not eat sacrificial meat.
Do not commit adultery.
9. Recite prayers daily
10. Take part in fellowship
Worship together and sing God’s praise.
Cook and eat together.
Serve each other.

Sometimes things just don’t make sense until you hear and see them first hand. I never really understood the whole growing the hair thing, honestly. But now I totally get it. If God meant for hair to grow – let it grow. It seems very symbolic of really turning things over to God. I am not going to stop shaving my legs but I totally get it!

And this is it – the Golden Temple. It is beautiful.  The founder of Sikhism was Guru Nanak whose father wanted to raise him according to strict Hindu beliefs.  However, Guru Nanak rejected the idea of the caste system and preached that all humans were equal. He believed that life was given as an opportunity to get closer to God and that all humans were afforded that same opportunity.

Sikhism is said the be the youngest of the world’s religions. It is only 500 years old. But the Sikhs have reportedly already grown into the world’s fifth largest religious group. The word Sikh means disciple. Guru comes from two words – Gu meaning darkness and Ru meaning light. So a guru helps fellow believers turn darkness into light. It is estimated that there are about 26 million Sikhs in the world.

Guru Nanak was the first Guru and 9 others followed behind him. The last human Guru was Gobind Singh and he named the holy scriptures as the 11th and final guru – the Adi Granth which then became known as the Guru Granth Sahib. There are over 50 places throughout the temple where passages from the holy book are continuously being read. We were told that priests can wait up to 20 years to have their turn at reading scripture at this Temple. We were also told that women can be priests and are able to take part in the readings. Equality reigns.

The temple is an active place of worship and people of all faiths are welcome there. We saw Muslims, Hindus, and even Christians in reverent prayer throughout the temple. We even bowed our own heads in silent meditation when we sat a top the Golden Temple and listened to the prayers. The atmosphere was remarkably reflective and we felt so much a part of the worship ceremony. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of any part inside the actual Golden Temple but it probably really is better if you just imagine a light breeze blowing thru a picture perfect sky, us on our knees with eyes closed with hands in our laps, our hearts beating slowly, prayers humming in the air, and everyone quiet together except for the very young child playing with the donations box. Normal Rockwell would have painted it for sure.

At first I felt a little uncomfortable taking the spot of someone who practiced Sikhism on the floor in front of the priest reading the scripture. But our guide reassured us over and over that people of all beliefs are welcome at the temple not only as visitors but as active participants. And I must say I felt very comfortable there.

I also noticed that many of the worshipers would touch the base of the doorway as they entered the Golden Temple complex and any of the smaller areas inside. So I did that too. I am not sure what it represents but it seemed very respectful and reverent. And people also fell to their knees when they entered the temple. You could tell some of them just could not believe they were actually finally there.

The day was truly magical. Our hearts opened to a faith we were not familiar with and stereotypes of brutes came crashing down. Beneath the warrior persona lives men who are compassionate about humanity and dedicated to their faith.

And, if you go to the Golden Temple during the day, make sure you go back at night. You will not regret it.

Greeting Children with Trust/Faith…….

Sit back. But don’t get too comfortable…

Now imagine. You are 7.

Your parents have both been lost and there is no one left to take care of you. You are probably scared and hungry. Probably very, very scared and very, very hungry. Your whole world has just become lopsided.

So, you sneak onto a crowded train with no ticket and you run away to a big city filled with 15 million people where you know no one. You are completely unaware of what adventures and dangers are ahead of you. You have probably never seen a train or been very far from your small village. But that does not stop you because you are left alone with no real choices. And there are no movie cameras rolling. It is not some writer’s made-up fantasy about just how bad life can get. This is real.

This young man (the one on the left) is living this story – it is his life. He has been living on the streets of Delhi since he was 7 when he lost his parents. I do not know if that means that they died or that they abandoned him. I didn’t have the heart to ask for clarification. The Salaam Baalak Trust found him when he was 8. They have been helping him ever since. Now he has dreams of becoming an actor.

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The young man on the right grew up here with his family. Behind the railway station. He told tales of running the streets and drinking and mischief. Now he tells tales of a university education and making a difference.

The Salaam Baalak Trust takes kids from the street and gives them safety nets. John Thompson (not of Georgetown fame – but from England) thought of giving these kids some training in giving tours of their “homes” and lives on the streets. He knew it would be important to teach the children strong English skills. And now, some of the children are taught how to give tours and teach others about their lives on the streets of Delhi. To share all that their life involves – crime and poverty and loneliness at first – but then with the help of the Trust – community, education, and finally, hope.

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There is a non-government organization (called an NGO in India) that helps get street kids off street. In fact, there are several. The one I visited is called the Salaam Baalak Trust – it means “greeting children with trust/faith”. It is not a religious organization – by faith, I believe they mean that they have faith in every child – that every child can find a better life.

I went on the city walk tour that the Salaam Baalak Trust offers. It was, to say the very least, humbling, depressing, and exciting.

Humbling because most of us aren’t really doing as much as we can to help each other out as global citizens – as neighbors to everyone. As brothers and sisters of our own human race – we forget that we are all connected and that if one of us is suffering – it’s just too many. We take a lot in life for granted. We should be more generous. And, by we, yes, I mean ME too. I assure you that I am at the top of my own list.

You can hold hands and sing Kum-Ba-yah now. Please be sure to swing to and fro whilst you are singing. But really we can all do more. In my neighborhood in the U.S., I simply cannot imagine a scenario where a child would be left unattended. Really left alone. It is unfathomable. Not that it doesn’t happen in the U.S., I know children are unattended there – but it is just not so obvious. That doesn’t make it better – it’s just harder to ignore here.

It’s absolutely depressing because it is so impossible to ignore – to pretend it’s not happening – that these are children. And they are left unattended on the streets of a big city. Innocents who grow up way too fast. They eat out of trash cans and spend what little money they earn at the movie theater. They learn to be sneaky and how to swindle and how to run away all in the name of survival. They are clever, very clever, and it is criminal that their energy and talents are sucked dry just making it through the day. Finding ways to eat and avoid the repercussions of the trouble they can get into. And trying to avoid the evil that is out there. And it is out there, looking for these unattended children.

But it was also exciting. Really. The energy that these guides shared was wonderful. This Trust is swooping up kids and giving them real opportunities to succeed. And protection. And food. And hope. And a community. They are eating without stealing and learning to read and write. The Trust believes that education is the key to getting these kids off the street and everything they do is in furtherance of that. They are no longer completely unattended.

Here is a little bit of what we saw….

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This is a make shift classroom. Street children can come here and eat and learn for a few hours everyday. They can also get a bath. They catch the water that is used to clean the trains and bathe with that. Unfortunately, I am not kidding. But a bath is better than no bath.

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No matter how run down or shattered a village may be, there is still very much a sense of community and family. Thankfully, we don’t need much to care about one another. I am guessing this is a mother and a daughter.

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These train was rolling down the track very slowly in between the children and the clotheslines and the huts.

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These are some of the kids we saw that day…

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Get it? Kid? I couldn’t resist. These kids live there too.

So, now what. Now you might feel like you aren’t doing enough. What can you do? Of course, the website offers an opportunity to donate. It mentions wire transfers. Yeah, I know, that makes me nervous too. But you can donate to the Salaam Baalak Trust thru Give India. The link for the Trust is here. If you are in Delhi, you can encourage others to go on the walk – raise awareness. If you are not from Delhi, I am sure there are children in need near you. They might even be in your neighborhood. And we can all just be a little more open to others who need our help – whether it is a parent or a friend or a teacher or a child.

Change does not always have to come in big sweeping movements – sometimes a simple kind gesture changes a life forever.

Poverty is the worst form of violence…….Gandhi

In honor of India’s Independence Day, Number One Hubby and I watched the Gandhi movie. It is so sad how much history I do not know. But I learned some today.

62 years ago, Indians were released from British rule and became free to run their country as they wanted – free to keep their resources as their own and to keep the profits generated from them. Congratulations!

The level of violence that was involved is amazingly little, especially given the potential for an all out war. The restraint practiced against the British soldiers and police was almost unfathomable. Congratulations again! It seems there was more internal violence between clashing religious groups than anything else. Unfortunately.

In the movie, Gandhi said this quote, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” Now, I cannot know for sure if this is an actual quote from Gandhi or a Hollywood writer’s scripted idea – but I am fairly sure it is at least a sentiment he must have conveyed at some point. Later in the movie, Gandhi’s wife shared that Gandhi fought against injustices for women and the poor.

Another thing shared in the movie was the idea that material possessions trap you and make it hard to comes to grips with what is important in life. They are distractions that we should relinquish in order to become more resolute in our faith. Gandhi himself seemed to have nothing material. He even made his own clothes.

Now I do understand the distinction between giving up material possessions and being “forced” into poverty – or at least pushed back into it if you try to overcome it. But still, the dichotomy of these two ideas strikes me – especially because they were both echoed by the same man. Their premises are certainly intertwined. I do not know where I stand on it – but which is it – poverty is the worst form of violence – or a lack of material possessions can lead you to a purer life?

Your thoughts…………..