Interview with Gurpreet Singh
- For me, the major part of my life is where I want to reach spiritually. I feel that is what stays with you forever.
- Basically, we need to be as a lotus flower on top of a pond that lives amidst the pond, but stays above it and doesn't sink.
- Music is very important in this religion because it makes the message easier to understand and gives the atmosphere of focusing in on the Holy Scripture.
- It's very important for people to question and look in front, beside, or behind a person, or a scripture, before they believe in it. That is important because otherwise it is blind faith. Blind faith is when you follow someone, without knowing them fully and full-heartedly
- So, for people to find a spiritual path, they need to find someone, or something, they can have faith in for guidance, someone who is enlightened, and have full faith in them. That will truly help them shed that ego and shed this part of them that doesn't want to submit to what we call “God.”
- With Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikkhism, they are also similar in that they are revealed religions. Revealed, which means direct-encounter with the Ultimate Reality with a person, somehow, such as Moses, or Jesus or Nanak, or Mohammed.
- We don't believe that after you die you'll reach God. We believe that while you live you can reach God.
- . . . for someone who is seeking, Sikkhism says, Follow the path of love." It is a path that allows you to appreciate and love all of humanity. I would say that there is no greater thing than a path of love.
Ann: So let's begin. Would you tell me your name?
Gurpreet: My name is Gurpreet Singh.
Ann: Now, tell me what that means.
Gurpreet: I'll break it down for you. "Gur" is referring to the Almighty God and "preet,” in this sense, means someone who loves.
Ann: So, "The love of God.”
Gurpreet: "Someone who loves God.”
Ann: Now, in my studies, it said that everyone has the same last name?
Gurpreet: That's correct. Well, actually, every male has the same last name and every female has the same last name. So, every male is required to carry the name of "Singh,” which means "lion.” For females, the last name is "Kaur,” which signifies "princess.”
I can give you an understanding of why it is the case that we are given the same last name. From my understanding, it is mainly to break away from the idea of the caste. Back in the days when Sikhism started, people would already be classified as someone with certain authority based on their last names. To break away from that and to say that every human being is equal in God's eyes, we all carry this
last name of Singh. The name "lion" means that we are all leaders, soldiers, and saints and have that power. We cannot be oppressed, or suppressed by any illegitimate power. So, we're all equal. It was basically to signify that. For women, it's the same thing.
Ann: Beautiful. So, this was the tradition you've been raised in?
Ann: For how many generations has your family been Sikh?
Gurpreet: Well, from my understanding, it goes back to when Sikhism started.
Ann: I have an article that has the original date of when it did start?
Gurpreet: Yes, in the 1400s. It was 1469, I believe. In my family, I have been raised in a Sikh family and have been taught the Sikh traditional religious values. This was not actively by my own decision, obviously, because when you're a baby you don't have enough energy to choose a path.
Ann: How old are you now?
Gurpreet: I am twenty-four years old and about to be twenty-five. I'll tell you when I, personally, chose Sikhism as my path.
Ann: That would be wonderful. Tell me about that.
Gurpreet: As I was raised following these religious values, I've always questioned them, tried to understand them, and I asked why it was important and dear to me. So, when I was old enough, after high school and college, and when I found many intellectual friends with whom to communicate, question, and have a better understanding of why it is what I do and what it means to me, that was when I formally started to understand and actually appreciate it. It was then, more than ever before, that I discovered why it is that I do what I do and why it encourages me. So, I can say that it was when college started that I felt that I was actively making my own decision to live as a Sikh and not as someone who was simply brought up as that. Although, I can say that I have been living as a Sikh my whole life, because I've been doing exactly what my parents have taught me. They instilled the values of Sikhism within me.
Ann: Talk to me about some of the values. What do you think is the essence of these values of Sikhism?
Gurpreet: I guess I can break it down into three values, essentially. One is, clearly, praying to God; that He is the giver of all and that everything you have is because of this Ultimate Reality, The Almighty. We can call Him God, or we can call Him any name, because it doesn't matter how we refer to Him. It is still the same Ultimate Being. So, that's the first value, prayer, which is so important. The second one is earning an honest living. That means not cheating anyone, not doing anything wrong, and earning an honest and truthful living by hard work. Obviously, I look up to my parents, because they have worked so hard, all their lives, and that shows me that this is so important. They've gotten so far from their honest and hard work.
Sikhism is what guides them. So, the religion of my parents also guides me in that regard. The third value is sharing the fruits of your labor with the ones that need it the most. This is referred to as "Seva.” So, that means sharing your wealth, or your energy, or your service, in whatever form possible, with the needy. That is absolutely mandated and required by us. Actually, specifically, we are required to donate ten percent of our wealth to those that need it; the homeless, people who don't have any place to live, and that sort of thing. It is our conscious decision to decide where we think the best possible place is to donate this. For instance, to charities, like the Red Cross and other such organizations. Human Rights, also, because they do a great deal of work to help protect people. So, it is up to our choosing and that is our third value, sharing the fruits of our labor.
Ann: Where is your heart about giving your ten percent to other people?
Gurpreet: Actually, I'm very, very careful, because I've heard many things about organizations that are non-profit and I know some of them are corrupt. There is no doubt about that and not everyone will agree. So, I really think twice and I actually sometimes think too much, which causes me to hold up on really giving, because I need to make sure it is going to the right place. Although, of course, I promise myself to do this, because it is something that my conscience will have to deal with, if I don't feel I am contributing to society. So, I will certainly do that and I will find the right place. My Mom and I, we both think about these things together, donate to organizations that help education and with scholarships for students who aren't able to study, because of their finances and that sort of thing. Recently, my mother and I went back to India to visit. One of things she always does is to buy about five hundred blankets and, at night, we just go around the streets handing them out, because there are people who don't have anything, especially in such an impoverished country like India. It's very difficult. That's just a minor thing, but that's one example.
Ann: Yes, but that's consciousness. It doesn't matter what it is, but I agree with you that if you're going to give, you have to be sure that it gets to somebody who really needs it.
Gurpreet: That is why my mother said, "Let's give it directly to those who need it, rather than going through an intermediary.” I'm not saying that there are no intermediaries that are valuable and safe, but we have to find these.
Ann: I like the direct form of giving, too.
Gurpreet: Absolutely, because you also feel that someone is being helped and you're sure of it. There is no question about where it has gone.
Ann: Yes, because you've worked hard and your family has worked hard and you don't want it to just be dissipated.
Ann: What did you take in college?
Gurpreet: I studied finance and information systems for a double major. I studied downtown.
Ann: So, you can use that for the family business?
Gurpreet: Actually, I'm not planning on getting into my family's business. I'm a computer technology consultant for a large corporation and who knows what happens in large corporations, but I'm doing my part and learning as much as I can.
Ann: You're just out of college, right?
Gurpreet: Yes, it's only been about two and half years and I'm just beginning my career. So, I'm not exactly sure where I want to go, as I've just started. I know what direction I want to take, but I don't know where I want to end up, just yet. When I think about it, though, it's really not too much of a concern, because my priority in life is not where I want to end up with my career.
Ann: Yes, it's minor.
Gurpreet: For me, the major part of my life is where I want to reach, spiritually. I feel that is what stays with you, forever. We can make all the money in the world and we can have all these luxuries, but, in the end, it doesn't mean anything. When you pass away, they don't go with you. The only thing that does go with you is God, because He is the only one who takes care of you. I'm not saying don't work and don't make money. We need to.
In fact, I would like to continue to elaborate on with the three values that I mentioned, earlier, and some of the things that are very connected to it. One of the values that is very, very important and inspires me is what we call a "Saint Soldier.” What that means is two things: living a spiritual life, but, at the same time, living a temporal life, as well. So, it is greatly important to pray to God to understand that He is the giver of all and to love Him and, at the same time, love all of humanity. I want to make this clear. When I say, "To love all of humanity,” I mean, "All of humanity,” regardless of what path, religion, creed, caste, whatever it is they take, because God is within all. So, if you can show that love for humanity, then this is showing love for God. This is the spiritual part, showing service and love for humanity.
The second part is living the temporal life. Becoming a hermit, for example, like some spiritual yogis, who may live up in the mountains and break away from society as a way to reach God, is not actually allowed. Sikhism is very clear about this, because what should be done is that the person, who is so spiritual, needs to live among humanity, live in and lead society, not to run away from it. This is because these people are the leaders and if the leaders are not going to lead humanity, then who will?
So, it is really important to live a life with all the responsibilities of having a job. A career is important and, as a result of having a career and making money, I can help others. Living the temporal life goes hand in hand with the spiritual life. This also means getting involved in politics, because if you don't get involved in politics, then you'll have leaders not representing the people.
We have to take a conscious part in getting involved in all humanly affairs, but there is a clear distinction between getting involved and getting trapped in it. We need to stay detached from, let's say, materialism. That's a term many people use, called "Maya,” in our holy text and we need to make sure we don't get sucked in and attached to these things. Basically, we need to be as a lotus flower on top of a pond that lives amidst the pond, but stays above it and doesn't sink. That allows you to survive. So, the ideal is to live this life in appreciation of humanity, living the ordinary life, but not to allow one's self to get sucked in and break away from God.
We, as Sikhs and as humans, have to live socially responsible lives. This is, also, a part of living the temporal life, which means that we have to be soldiers. What being socially responsible means is to go out and, if anyone needs our help, it is our responsibility to help that person out. If their rights are being taken away, it is of utmost importance to help that person out. I'll give you an example. There is a woman, being attacked and potentially raped. Who knows? God forbid, but it is my responsibility to help out.
Ann: Not to just look away.
Gurpreet: Absolutely not. That is not allowed. This is living a socially responsible life, because that is a human being in danger and being oppressed and that is not allowed. I will give you an historical example, a very clear one. I don't know if you know about the Gurus in the Sikh religion? We've had ten Gurus.
Ann: I didn't know that, no.
Gurpreet: Okay, well the first Guru was Guru Nanak. He started the religion and he was the one who questioned the religion and way of life at the time, and thought, "Why is everything this way?" Then, at one point, he had this direct encounter with God. So, it is a revealed religion, as it is a direct encounter with the Ultimate Reality and the message was sent to him and he spread this message. When I say there were ten Gurus, this means that the first Guru passed on the Divine Light to the second person that was worthy of carrying the same message.
Ann: So, it's not done through lineage, but through a chosen person?
Gurpreet: No, in fact, neither of the first Guru's two sons were worthy of carrying this Divine Light and he picked a servant.
Ann: Oh, really?
Gurpreet: Yes, because the servant was the one who truly understood what the message was about and was the closest to God. He felt that this person was worthy of carrying this message and spreading it to humanity. So, when I say there were ten Gurus, this happened for ten generations, possibly through lineage, or not, but it was always to one who was worthy of carrying the message.
Ann: Yes, because it could just be corrupted by lineage, which is wonderful.
Gurpreet: Exactly, it's not from a familial hierarchy.
Ann: It's more a spiritual lineage.
Gurpreet: Absolutely and every single Guru, these ten bodies, all spoke the exact same message, clearly, because it is the same Divine Light. They did not speak from their own mind, spoke from that Divine Light that was passed to them and they spoke it through the ten different generations. In the first few generations, there was not as much war, oppression and tyranny, whereas there has been in the latter generations. So, the same message was shown and spread to the people, based on all the different situations. That is what instilled understanding within people and how to live life with this knowledge. So, through war, how are we to act? Through times of peace, with practices that are meaningless, how do we react to that and how do we guide ourselves in the right direction?
I want to talk about the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, as an example of showing social responsibility. Now, at the time, there were many Moghul rulers who were going around converting with force. There were mass conversions and the Brahmins, who were the upper caste in the Hindu religion, approached the ninth Guru. The Guru was basically everyone's spiritual leader, because everyone looked up to him. Everyone knew this was someone speaking from God, so they had that ultimate respect for him. So the Brahmans had come to the Guru to ask for his guidance and to help them from being converted to Islam. There would otherwise have been a mass conversion and the Hindu religion would have been converted away.
During their quest, the Moghul leaders summoned the Guru, because they thought that if they could convert the Guru, then everyone else would convert, as well. It made the task easier for them. So, the Guru went, because he knew he was up for a challenge and he knew what this was all about. This was a person who had the Divine Light. I'm sure he knew what was going to happen, but he went there and they tried to convince him to renounce his faith and he said, "No. This is not right. This is unjust. You're not allowed to oppress people, or tell people what to choose to follow as a religion.”
Guru Tegh Bahadur did not believe in the Hindu religion, nor follow it. He had his own distinct path, but he gave up his life to protect the Hindu's right to practice their religion and to protect their freedom of choice. That was much more important than life, itself. So, this is an example of living that socially responsible life. I'm not going to tell you that I'm going to give up my life. It's very difficult and I'm not at a stage like that, but this is something that I aspire to be one day. This is what guides me and reminds me to be a good person and to help others, regardless of where they're from, who they are, or what they follow, because inside them is God. So, I will help them and it's not easy, sometimes. Sometimes, it's very difficult, but we're not allowed to look away. This is an historical example of what guides me to live, not just a spiritual life, but a temporal life, as well.
I talked about the ten Gurus. We, also, have the Eternal Guru, which is the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Granth is a Holy Book. It contains the scriptures of our Gurus, as well as Saints of the Islam and Hindu religions. So, when I go and bow down to it, I'm not only bowing down to the words of my Guru, but the words of these other Saints, as well, from the other religions. This shows that there is not one religion,
or one path, that can get you to God. Actually, I could turn that around and say that really there is only one path that can get you to God and that is the path of love.
Ann: Ah, yes. The path of spirit, love and service.
Gurpreet: Absolutely, it's all related. So you live an honest life, follow a path of truthfulness, righteousness, and love for humanity. You have love for everyone, because that is love for God. Our Holy Book contains that and I bow down to it, every day. That is what guides me and that is our Guru. When I say that it is my Guru, it is my Eternal Guru, which contains that Divine Light, wisdom and
Ann: How much time do you spend studying it? Do you read it every
Gurpreet: Well, I do my prayers, every day. In the Sikh religion, there is an official ceremony of Baptism.
Ann: Baptism as a young child?
Gurpreet: No, it's not encouraged as a young child, because a young child is not capable of choosing what is involved and what is right. Parents, who have been baptized and love their religion, want their children to be brought up and baptized with those values. So, as long as the parents are guiding and allowing their kid to grow and understand it, I think, in certain cases, it's all right to do that. However, for the most part, I don't think it should be encouraged and I don't think it is encouraged. It's usually up to a person to decide whether this is the path they want to choose to follow
Ann: What age would that be? Is there a set time?
Gurpreet: No, no time. It's based on a person's personal feeling and when they decide it is the right time.
Ann: Can someone come and become a Sikh?
Gurpreet: Absolutely. Everyone has the right to choose the path they want to follow.
Ann: So somebody could come into it. Do you have a temple, or a church, or a place of worship? What would you call it?
Gurpreet: We have a place of worship. It's called a "Gurdwara.” This means, "the way to God,” or "the path to God.” I think that would be the literal translation of it. So, this is the place we go to form a congregation and the highest seat is of the Granth Sahib, our Eternal Guru. When we initially enter the Gurdwara we have to cover our heads and take off our shoes. Covering our heads is a sign of respect and humility that we are below God.
Ann: Oh, is that the reason for that?
Gurpreet: Yes, that is one of the reasons why we wear the turban. There are other reasons, as well, and they're probably more significant than I'm even aware, but I have enough understanding of it to believe in it and know why I wear it.
Ann: Some wear different colors. Does that mean something?
Gurpreet: You know, in Sikhism, there is no one color that is more important than another. So, you pick what you wear. Traditionally, in the past, to show that they were sovereign and that they would not be oppressed, the Sikhs would carry a flag to signify "The Nation of Sikhs.” Although these flags had different colors, the common element among them was the "Khanda,” which represented the idea of Saint Soldier. Today, the Sikh flag has a saffron color with, of course, the Khanda on it.
Ann: So, you're here, in New York City. Is there one major place where somebody could go and see Sikhs come to pray and to learn about Sikhism?
Gurpreet: There are large and small Gurdwaras, as well as newer ones, and others that have been around for a while. So, there are many Gurdwaras.
Ann: Are there, really, in the City?
Gurpreet: Oh yes, especially here. The majority of the community, I would say, lives in Richmond Hill, in Queens. There are two Gurdwaras, there, and that is where the majority of the congregation goes.
Ann: How many people are in those congregations? Are there hundreds, or thousands?
Gurpreet: Oh, definitely more than thousands.
Ann: How many Sikhs are there in America?
Gurpreet: In America, I would estimate about half a million.
Ann: So, you can travel around the country, yourself, and find places to study, or Gurdwaras.
Gurpreet: Yes. In fact, I can almost say, though I can't prove it, that I could probably go to any state and find a Gurdwara.
Ann: Is there a specific day that people meet?
Gurpreet: There is no one day that is holier than another, but a day, like Sunday, is a day, traditionally, that people would just go and meet.
Ann: Just because of the culture, as it works better that way?
Gurpreet: Yes, culturally. Sundays and I've seen that many go on Friday evenings. Not everywhere, but some places. At other places, it would be every other Saturday. It really depends on the Gurdwara and when people are aware of the schedule. People are allowed to go anytime they want and that's for sure. They can go and pray and they can do that whenever they want, but just so people know when the rest of the community is coming and they can pray together, there are schedules.
Ann: At this time, is there a teacher?
Gurpreet: Absolutely. So, what happens is that we go there, we cover our heads, we take off our shoes, we go inside, and we bow down to the Eternal Guru. Bowing down means a lot of things. It means, "I accept you as my Guru, as my guide, my guidance,” or it can mean, "I am offering you my head, as a sacrifice and I am willing to go all the way for you.”
Ann: Do you put your head right on the floor?
Gurpreet: Yes. So, that all relates. There is a lot of significance in bowing down. Then, what happens is that we will take a seat on the floor. Everyone sits on the same level to signify that no one sits higher, or lower than anyone else. In certain places, where the Guru Granth Sahib is higher, obviously, there is someone sitting next to it, a little bit lower, just to maintain it and to make sure it's clean and all that. That doesn't mean that this person is higher than us, it just means he is a servant, as are we all.
Ann: Do men and women sit together?
Gurpreet: I've seen both. I've seen men sitting on one side and women sitting on the other and, in other places, I've seen them sitting together. I don't think there is any religious value behind that. I think it's just a matter of helping people to concentrate ore on prayer, rather than having some other influence that may distract them. I think that's fine. I've actually questioned it, myself. "Why does that happen? Why do we have to sit separately?" As I grew, I understood that this is not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, it helps us to concentrate on the actual prayer.
There can be a series of things happening at a Gurdwara. A person may just sit down and talk about a part of our Holy Book, talking about history, talking about anything, really. It's a congregation. I haven't seen enough, because it should be more of a two-way discussion, but it gets difficult when you have a large congregation. So, for that reason, they do presentations, read from the Holy Book, try to explain it and base it on history. That's one thing. The other thing that is very common and it is something that anyone would see, if they go to a Gurdwara, is that there will be people singing the hymns and glories that are contained in our Guru Granth Sahib. So, you might see someone with a harmonium, or any traditional instrument, like a drum set. Music is very important in this religion, because it makes the message easier to understand and gives the atmosphere of focusing in on the Holy Scripture.
Ann: Do people sing together?
Gurpreet: Yes, people sing together.
Ann: Do they know the songs?
Gurpreet: They know the hymns and religious verses. If they don't know the words, then they will just listen and learn. So, you'll see singing a lot. Sometimes, speeches are made with regard to community events and this and that, so people are aware. It's a place of learning, discussion, and prayer. It's not necessarily just a house of worship. It's a place of learning. If you go to other levels, there are classrooms where children come and learn to speak and read Punjabi, to learn from the Holy Book and read from the scriptures. We have all that and we have games, where we go outside with the children for sports, to keep them fit, active, and involved in the community. The Gurdwara is the center of the community, our meeting point.
Ann: Has there ever been a time when you've fallen away from this? I can feel your zealousness and I've met your family. They are just filled with light. So, I can see your great respect for them, but was there a time when you questioned it deeply?
Gurpreet: You know, I've always questioned. I think it's good to question. I think what you're asking is, has there been any time when I have moved away, because of some incident. Really, I don't see any time when I might have moved away from this path. I mean, yes, I have questioned it. I've questioned why I do certain things. I can talk to you about the one experience that I do recall, which made me more zealous and more appreciative. It actually made me become a better Sikh, because this is when I truly started to take this path.
Ann: That's so helpful, because I think when somebody is seeking, there can be times when it is not pure. So, can you share that?
Gurpreet: I'll try my best to recall exactly what I was thinking. I remember when I was in college and I was walking down the street, just questioning. I felt distant from God. I did feel that. I felt very distant, for some reason. I didn't do my prayers, every day. I was wondering, "I'm living this life, I'm doing everything that I'm doing, and what's the point?" What I was really questioning was, "What is the point of doing all this, if what I should really be doing is loving God and I'm not doing that? If I'm not doing that, everything I'm doing is worthless and has no meaning." That's what I felt.
So, my initial reaction was, "You know what? I don't want to do any of this. I'm going to go back to my room and all I want to do is pray." I'd see my guitar, but I didn't need it. I wanted to throw my guitar away. I had actually thought that this was telling me to leave everything. I just felt distant and I don't know why. Like I said, I was doing all of this, but I wasn't appreciating God and He who was actually giving me all of this. You know, the Ultimate had blessed me with all of this and everything that I had. So, I went back to my mother and told her what I was feeling. I felt comfortable telling her what I was feeling, but her initial reaction was to almost yell at me! I'll tell you why I appreciate that she did that. It was because she told me that what I was doing was running away from society. You're not allowed to do that. You don't realize that what you're doing is not a waste. So, when you're thinking that you're distant from God, only this will make it a waste. What you need to do is to get closer to God, but, at the same time, live this life. You can't run away from it. It's not allowed, as far as what we're taught. Then, she quoted one of the verses, and I can't recall that, but the meaning of it was, "While you're playing and enjoying life, these things will help to liberate you."
So, I thought, "How could I even think that, leaving everything and to even throw my guitar away, to become a hermit, just praying?" My mother said, "No,” giving me the understanding that people do that and that we're taught that we're not allowed to do this. You need to live here and you need to be attuned to the Almighty, at the same time as living a life that will be an example to others.
Ann: That's the most difficult. It's easier to go and sit on the mountain. I could never see why that was so great, but to live it, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, is a challenge. When you were in college, with all the forces of just living in a secular place, one has to question those forces, so it must have been very difficult. It would have been difficult for me, anyway, because I do try and do what you say, but you're tested.
Gurpreet: So, that's when I became more conscious of what I needed to do and, eventually, that led up to the point where I decided that I would be baptized. I decided, "This is the path that I truly want to take and the path that I believe in, with all my heart and with all my being. This is the path that I choose.” That was probably the happiest day of my life, so far!
Ann: You felt the transition, which is really important to share with people. It is the questioning and the shift to that higher knowledge, or infinite feeling, or whatever you want to use. For people who have never had a spiritual path, sometimes that's very difficult to understand. They'll say, "Well, what does it mean?" Yet, you know, as you've actually lived through the question and made the decision. There is happiness, as something comes in that is quite profound and even awesome.
Gurpreet: It is and I still question, "What is it that truly motivates me, though, to even follow this path?"
Ann: It's a hard path.
Gurpreet: Absolutely and, of course, without questioning these things, you just become a robot following a path without meaning, without questioning, without understanding. So, this is a constant journey I will take throughout life of questioning, understanding, and bringing meaning to everything I do. So, I asked myself, "What is it that motivates me?" That was a big question and actually troubled me, for a while. "Was it my parents? Is it because they've done so much for me that I'm following this path?" I mean it has to be for myself, really. I'm not going to live a life for another being. It's my life and I have to choose and find meaning for it, for myself.
So, I appreciate that my parents have guided me, and they have expectations of their son, but what is it that truly motivates me, other than my parents? Then, I thought back. I thought, "What is it that I think of whenever I question anything?" It is the history. I look back at my history and the history of our Gurus, the sacrifices they've made, and the sacrifices that their sons have made for the cause of righteousness and the truth for higher living. I gave the example of Guru Teg Bahahdur who gave up his life to protect the freedom of choice. I've never seen an example of this, anywhere. Knowing this, this is what guides me. These are the examples that show me that there is a God. It's such a profound and strong example. I don't think it would be done just for show. It would be a waste.
Ann: You couldn't do it. You wouldn't have the courage.
Gurpreet: There has to be truth behind it. That shows me. That's what brings, within me, this belief that there is an Almighty and that there is a Higher Being that is protecting us.
Ann: Have you ever felt that protection? Have you ever had a sense that maybe you were in danger, or going in the wrong direction, and you've felt that Presence come right in with divine direction?
Gurpreet: You know, I don't know.
Ann: For some people, it is very dramatic. It's not important how it comes, as long as you have it.
Gurpreet: Well, the thing is, I'm not going to say there was a point, or any point, and who really knows? What I do know is that I am on this path and that brings that contact, whenever it is, or wherever it is. I do believe it is through that grace. It is by the grace of God that I am here and following it.
Ann: Have you studied any other spiritual paths?
Gurpreet: I've looked into other religions. I have friends of other faiths and we question one another about what we believe in. I can't say I've done any thorough research on any one path. Not yet, at least.
Ann: Can you, personally, see anything harmonious with, say, a friend who is a Jew, or a Christian?
Gurpreet: There are obviously common elements to different religions and elements that aren't so common and are different. So, regarding these harmonious elements, there are many religions that believe in one God, like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism. Correct me if I am wrong. In Hinduism, I've heard there are many different gods. One for different attributes of life and, of course, I've also heard that these are all just the forms of the one same God.
Ann: Yeah, I've heard that, too.
Gurpreet: So, I'm not really one hundred percent sure and I've actually asked many people about it, but I haven't really had a consistent answer. Although, I do see that these are religions that believe in God, in a Higher Power.
Ann: Can you see if somebody has a spiritual path that they live their life differently than someone who does not?
Gurpreet: So, what you're asking is, "How different would someone's life be if they didn't live their life spiritually?"
Ann: Spiritually, right, if there isn't some direction, because there are many secular forces, particularly for people in America. During your experience at college, could you see the difference between young men and women who had some sort of spiritual form that they used to direct their life and those who didn't?
Gurpreet: Well, I guess I will relate back to what I believe and what I feel guides me. People who don't have spiritual guidance, or a spiritual form, whatever beliefs they have, I think it's fine, especially in a society that facilitates questioning and reasoning. People will eventually come to some sort of understanding of what brings meaning into their life. Whether this is spiritual, or not, that's a separate question. I do believe, though, that it's difficult to find this path to God without an example, because I've heard so many things from other people like, "This is what I like doing. It makes me feel good," but if drugs make you feel good, does this mean this is an okay spiritual path? I'm only saying drugs because, at least in my religion, it is something that is forbidden. It will not really help you to have a clear mind to understand this path towards God, whatever path it is.
So, I believe that guidance is necessary, some sort of Guru, and some sort of scripture. Of course, it is difficult for people to find the right scripture to have full faith in. It's important to look and find. Really, what happens is that when you find someone, or some thing that will guide you, it helps you shed your ego. I believe it is ego that really drives people away from God. They're not able to submit their selves to a Higher Power, higher learning, or higher spiritual path. So, it helps to find someone, or some thing, that can guide them towards God. When I say "someone,” or "something,” then it is obviously going to be someone that is guided by God, or someone who is very spiritual, because there are many out there who can fool and guide people onto the wrong path for money, or for whatever their agendas may be.
It's very important for people to question and look in front, beside, or behind a person, or a scripture, before they believe in it. That is important, because, otherwise, it is blind faith. Blind faith is when you follow someone, without knowing them fully and full-heartedly. You've found someone, or some thing, without fully understanding it. I mean, in every path there is learning, but you really have to know to fully accept something and to know everything around it. Once you do that, then you can submit to that person. That's faith, because you've questioned and you know that, whatever message is conveyed, will be the truth.
For me, I will bow down to the Holy Scriptures and will follow it with all my heart. I question it only for the sake of understanding it, but not for the sake of saying, "Maybe I don't want to believe in it,” because I am already at a point where I have full faith. This is not blind faith, but full faith, because I've looked through and understood from where the history of this Scripture has come and I acknowledge it to be the voice of God. For that, I have faith, not blind faith. So, for people to find a spiritual path, they need to find someone, or some thing, they can have faith in for guidance, someone who is enlightened, and have full faith in them. That will truly help them shed that ego and shed this part of them that doesn't want to submit to what we call "God.”
Ann: How about community? Do you think community is important?
Gurpreet: It is absolutely important to have a spiritual community that will guide you and help you to live this life. If you are alone, it is difficult. With a community that guides and supports you and that only strengthens those truthful values that you were brought up in, or were guided to learn. So, in fact, in our religion, it is required to join in with the congregation within the community, the spiritually enlightened community, towards the path of God. I believe in Judaism that it is, also, very important.
Ann: What is lovely is that, in each of the religions, the community does watch over you and protects you, in some ways. Sometimes that may feel oppressive.
Gurpreet: Right! It is watching you.
Ann: There are judgments, but, if some need comes up, there are people around you to counsel and support you, maybe to help you get a job, or whatever. So, community is exceptionally important.
Gurpreet: Yes and this is a very common theme around many of the different religions. We were talking about what was harmonious between the religions, before, and I can say that with this, yes, there is.
With Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism they are also similar in that they are revealed religions. "Revealed,” which means a direct encounter with the Ultimate Reality with a person, somehow, such as Moses, or Jesus, or Nanak, or Mohammed. It's not based on their personal experiences, which is the case in other religions like mystical religions. These are religions that have a more mythological nature, or have developed just through human experience, such as Buddhism, or Hinduism. So, there is that harmony between those religions and, then, there is the harmony with the revealed religions. I just wanted to point that out, as well, because I see and appreciate that. I know where people are coming from when they say, "These are the words of God,” because it is based on that historical religion's history. I absolutely appreciate that.
Ann: What does your spiritual community, or teachings, say about bad things happening to good people?
Gurpreet: That's an interesting question. My first remark would be to say, "Who is good and who is not and who is to judge who is good and who is bad?" So, I don't, personally, really look at anyone as being "bad.” If anything, I look at everyone as being "good.” The only things I consider bad are things like bad influences, or vices like greed, or anger, or ego. These are bad. These are things that will affect the person in a negative fashion, like uncontrolled lust, or any of these things. People, I believe, are good. That's my personal belief. Maybe that's an optimistic way of looking at things, but I want to follow a path of love and never want to judge a person. So, for this kind of question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" I just think that bad things happen to people. There's no doubt about it. It happens, whether they are good, or bad, in the eyes of God. So, the way I look at it is that I accept it. I question it and wonder why, but, in the end, I accept it, because this is what is meant to happen. For one, there is nothing we can do about it, like when someone passes away. I can cry about it all I want, but there is nothing I can do about it and it won't bring them back. So, we can express that sorrow, but, first and foremost, I would look at it and believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe I won't understand that reason, but I do acknowledge and accept that this is all in the hands of God. He does choose what is best and I look at it in a positive light and I learn from it, if anything. If I can grow from it, I'll grow from it. If not, I accept it. So, if something bad happens to me, whether I am a good, or a bad person, someone may initially say, "Well that's a bad thing that's happened to you.” Maybe I am different in this life, but I look at anything bad that has happened, as being something to be appreciated. It is only these sorts of things that will allow me to learn and grow. So, these experiences allow me to question everything and myself and, as a result, I come out even better and stronger. Without experiences like these, you're not fit for the world, because a lot can happen and it will be so difficult to survive. So, through these experiences, you
become a stronger individual and more spiritual knowing that there is a God and that things happen for a reason. That's how I would look at that.
Ann: That's very helpful. What does Sikhism say about life after death?
Gurpreet: That's a question I don't want to give you a definite answer to, because I'm not one hundred percent sure. However, this is one thing I definitely do understand, whether we will come back as another human being, or reincarnated as a little bug, or not come back, at all, I do know that Sikhism stresses that you need to worry about this life. You know, "Take care of the now.” We don't believe that after you die you'll reach God. We believe that while you live, you can reach God. You can live a divine, liberated life, as you live it, like our Guru did. He lived a life like that. He was already dead, as he was living. What I mean by that is that he had no fear of death. So, in the end, he was just living his life by leading a truthful life, by loving humanity and by showing the right way. So, what happens when we die is not really much of a concern, because the concern is really now.
Ann: That's beautiful.
Gurpreet: Work on the now, and make the best of it, now. Do your best to liberate yourself, or reach this enlightenment. That's what people should be concerned about, not worrying about what is going to happen later, or after that. What you do, now, will eventually affect your future. So, worry about now. I do understand that. You know, "What can potentially happen after we die?" I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I'm not really too concerned about it. I'm concerned about now.
Ann: My goal on this site is for people to learn, question, and expand on their own knowledge. What would you say to somebody who is seeking, but doesn't have a path, or they have a path and want to just broaden their understanding? Is there anything that you would want to share with them, personally?
Gurpreet: I think for a person who is truly seeking a spiritual path that they need to seek it fully, because I know that people will say they are seeking a spiritual path, but they do it halfheartedly. If a person's real agenda is to seek a spiritual path, then they really need to do it wholeheartedly and fully. They need to understand it and go into it for the sake of learning. It's very important to question why it is the way it is and to come to understanding. That means you are truly a seeker. You're seeking; you're actually learning and trying to figure out what is the path. You don't do it halfheartedly, looking into one thing, and jumping around.
Yes, you compare different paths and see which path you feel represents you, but, at the same time, you can't pick and choose based on what your ego desires. Either you're going to submit to Higher Power, or you're going to create your own power. You know, "Well, this says this,” or "These words of God say this,” "I don't agree with all of this, or all of that.” I feel that this is a good question, because I feel that people can create their own path, but I do believe that they need guidance. So, they need to choose a guide, whatever it is and, if they choose a guide, they need to believe in it full-heartedly, because halfhearted submission is not really submission, at all.
Ann: No, it's like saying, "I don't want to know" and looking for a way out.
Gurpreet: Exactly, like choosing one just to make someone happy. Really, if you're a true seeker, you will seek it wholeheartedly. I'm not encouraging any specific path, but for someone who is seeking, Sikhism says, "Follow the path of love.” It is a path that allows you to appreciate and love all of humanity. I would say that there could be no greater thing than a path of love. If you do believe in God, that God is within all, then you are serving God, in every way, by doing this. That's a start!
Ann: All right. Thank you very much. I really appreciate your time.
Gurpreet: You're welcome.