Interview with Jaswinder Singh
- When we go to church, we take off our shoes, we cover our head, and we go in humility. We don’t’ wear fancy clothing, or jewelry. Why would we do that? Everything is the Lord’s. We don’t have to impress anybody. We go as simply as possible. We go there, we bow our heads, and we sit down. The greatest thing about it is having the unity of other people who are praising the Lord. You need that. You need other people to unite with.
- To keep a connection with God is not an easy thing. A lot of things keep going through your mind.
- I don’t think any religion, or Prophet, taught bad things. It’s people who translate the holy words of the prophets to their own ends, accepting it the way they want it to be.
- I’m sure that Jesus Christ did not intend for Christians to do things to separate us. I’m sure Mohammed didn’t tell his followers to do this. I haven’t read a lot of other Scriptures, but I know that Saintly people did not tell their followers to go and blow up others and curse them.
- We are told to wake up in the early morning, at two or three o’clock, because, at that time, the world is calm. Everybody is sleeping and it’s a peaceful time, a good time to pray and connect with the Lord. You believe in vibrations? Well, all the external noises, like traffic, talk; all of these things are in the air, but, in the early morning, everything is calm and there aren’t so many distractions. So, this is our true time to pray. This has been stressed throughout the Bible. “Wake up, wake up. This is the time for prayer.”
- When the child is upside-down in the mother’s womb, he or she is attached to the Lord and is attached to life. It’s hot in there; it’s burning. This is what we call hell. There is no heaven and hell. Hell is to actually go through the cycle of being born, going through life, passing away, then repeating the cycle, over and over. So, we want to finish this, go to the Lord, and our true home. We don’t want to continuously repeat the cycle.
- We have five enemies that are lust, pride, anger, greed, and ego. All these are our true enemies. Our enemies are not people. These are the things that keep us from the Lord.
Ann: I came to interview you, because you were highly recommended by Eric Wenzel who just traveled with you. I hear that you both have traveled throughout India and have just got back?
Jaswinder: Yes, we’ve been on a Thailand and India tour, and he went on to Japan. Eric has toured the world, experiencing different cultures, people, and faiths. He is more experienced than I, right now, but, overall, I remain a part of my faith and he is observing everything.
Ann: So, you chose to go with him and connect him with people in India. What was the purpose?
Jaswinder: Well, he was seeking to connect with people from the Sikh faith, in India, to learn more. However, I had different motives. I just went with him to try to help other people in my own way. I couldn’t help them much in India, because I’ve been here for twenty years and this was only my second return visit. I don’t know many people or the area much.
Ann: What was it like going back to see the roots of your culture and religion?
Jaswinder: Wonderful! I have a very strong cultural background and I recall that from India. However, I’ve forgotten a lot, so it was very nice to go back in the sense that it is a very different way of life, especially after having been raised here for twenty years.
Ann: What part of India did your family come from?
Jaswinder: Actually, we were born in Afghanistan.
Ann: You were born in Afghanistan?
Jaswinder: Yes, this was prior to the India and Pakistan split, when the British ruled India. When the British left, in 1947, Pakistan was created, but, prior to that, Pakistan was a part of India and Afghanistan was a border country. My grandfather used to go back and forth between Pakistan and India and that is how we migrated, also, and had roots in Afghanistan. However, my roots really belong to India, even though I was born in Afghanistan.
Ann: How about your family? When did they come to America?
Jaswinder: We all came from India in 1984.
Ann: So, it was your Mom and Dad, your brother, and you?
Jaswinder: My three younger brothers, my Mom, and my Dad. We all came here.
Ann: So, it’s a big family.
Jaswinder: Yes, it’s a very big family. It was tough, at first, when we arrived.
Ann: Did you have anybody to connect with in the community?
Jaswinder: My uncle used to live here. However, before living in the United States, he lived in Germany. He used to send us nice pictures of beautiful farms and all that and I used to fanaticize about these places. No one told me and I just presumed it was America! I thought that America was so beautiful, with nice people, and it all looked very nice, but, when we came, we arrived in Flushing. So, there was a big difference between where I was hoping to get to and where I actually arrived. That wasn’t much of a problem. However, we were young when we arrived. I was merely eleven years old, my other brother was nine, Gurpreet was six, and my youngest brother was five. So, when we got here, the problem was that we didn’t know much English, going to school, having both parents working, and I was taking care of my brothers whereas, in India, my Mom used to stay home. There, when we got home, she would cook for us, make us study and give us math lessons. We used to be the number one students in the school and we’d get awards, but things changed within the first week of coming here. We didn’t come with anything and my parents had only about fifty dollars in their pocket. They had nothing. We shared a one-bedroom apartment, the six of us. So, my parents started working and providing, which left me in charge.
Ann: You were young.
Jaswinder: Yes, whereas, before, I used to have time to play, I now had to be more responsible. So, we saw hardship, for three years, and it was very different from our previous life. There were, also, kids teasing us, because of our turbans and they would beat us up. Five, or six kids have beaten me up, all at once, when I was young. On one occasion, Gurpreet didn’t come home. I think he had gone to his friend’s house, but he didn’t tell me. So, I went to the school, climbing up to the windows to try to see him, and I was so nervous wondering where he could be. I was afraid somebody had beaten him up, or something else had happened. Eventually, when he got home and told me he was at his friend’s house, we had a big fight and I told him that he should have let me know where he was. At that time, we were very tense and scared. We were just kids. I mean, kids do tease kids, even nowadays. It’s in kids’ nature to do that, but it got us more, because we were strangers in a strange land. It wasn’t pleasant. For three years, our life in the United States was hell, especially for me. I can’t say that for the others, but for myself, it was.
Ann: Yes, because of all that responsibility; everything.
Jaswinder: Yes, but responsibility aside, there was a lot of teasing and harassment. I recall when a guy threw a stone at my Mom’s head and she started bleeding. They used to curse us, saying, “You Hindu”, but we are not Hindus. It doesn’t matter who we are, but it was their way of taunting us by saying that. On my brother’s birthday, we were walking and a guy, with a baseball bat, hit him on his head and they took our money. These kinds of things happened and it wasn’t pleasant, as you can imagine. So, it was a big difference from India, with Mom being home, to where we then came.
Ann: When you said “Three years”, what happened after that time to change things?
Jaswinder: Things began to change when a guy, a Sikh from my country, spoke to me. He hadcut his hair. He told me that he’d seen me get beaten up and harassed in elementary school, every day, and that I was about to go to Intermediate and High School. He said that people would continue beating me up and would kill me, so I should cut my hair and the problem would be solved. I told him, “No, I can’t do that. You’ve done it, but I can’t”. I was young, but I don’t know where I got the will. Maybe it was because of my family’s faith and that we had been raised that way, so that we can’t imagine being without our identities. This guy kept telling me the same thing, but, one day, I just got frustrated, even though he was a friend of mine, and I beat him up in front of the whole school. After that day, things changed and nobody ever bothered me. When I was quiet and didn’t say anything, people pushed me, more and more. When I spoke up and said something, everybody started to become my friend. I thought, “I beat up one guy and everybody wants to be my friend”. I don’t know, I was young, but you can imagine. I did it in frustration, but things began to change around then. I knew how to speak English, how to communicate, and I had a couple of friends. My parents settled and we got a nice place to live and things changed. My Mom didn’t have to work as hard. She took care of us and nourished us. These things evolved, as we went on. Frankly, I am at a stage where I love India, because, at that time, I was missing it so much that my homeland and culture are still in my heart. There is a saying that says, if there is a lamp giving light to the whole place, there is always darkness underneath. So, that’s how it was for me. You can’t appreciate the things that you have in your hand and everybody is seeking other things. Nobody appreciates what God has given us. We always want something that we don’t have and, I guess, this turned out to be the case for me. Right now, I am in the situation where I go back, I enjoy it, but I don’t know if I could live there, because I am so used to being here. I’m talking about my life perspective, not really my religious, or spiritual path. I have the best of both worlds. I have a lot of things that I have brought back from there, which are still with me and I have a learned a lot of things, here, which are contributing to my where I am going in this life.
Ann: Are you married with children?
Jaswinder: I am married with two boys, aged three and five.
Ann: Do they have the problems that you had growing up?
Jaswinder: Well, they haven’t started going to school. We live in a beautiful area. Our eldest has just been registered for kindergarten. They ask for special requests, so I wrote down what I had been through and that I didn’t want my kids going through it. I want the school to take care of these matters and educate everybody, because, back then, nobody took care of me, or did anything about it. The school didn’t do anything. I’m not going to let that happen to my children. That’s one reason I don’t want to move out of New York City, because, at this time, the diversity and the type of people living in New York might not be seen living in Atlanta, or Alabama, or any other state. New York is a place where I could have that acceptance, because of the diverse environment. However, I still reiterated that to them and said, “Listen, I don’t want this happening. I’m sure it won’t, but - (I just want to make them aware?)“
Ann: Yes, but you had a right to say it.
Jaswinder: Yes, I had a right to say it.
Ann: Now, with your sons, there is a special way that they wear their hair, right? Are there any other Sikhs that are in the school?
Jaswinder: Right now, in pre-care, there was one Sikh boy, but he is no longer in the class. It’s a day-care-type-pre-kindergarten and I send him there, because I want him to get accustomed to other kids and I want him to be open and not always sticking to Mom. So, he’s adjusted to that. There is a Sikh girl, but a girl is not as obviously unique as a Sikh boy, because we wear turbans.
Jaswinder Singh (center) with relatives in Punjab, India
Ann: Does a little boy wear a turban, too?
Jaswinder: Yes, but like the small scarf I am wearing, right now. It is a small headscarf, or headband. We don’t put a big turban on kids. There are no restrictions, or anything, but that’s how we used to do it, in India, and that’s how most small children wear it. There is no set age when you wear a big turban, as you can do it any time. So, he does have a small scarf that he wears on his head. We are required to cover our heads, all the time. So, he’s okay, right now. He’s going to be going to school, soon, and I take him to soccer, and other places. I go out and have him mingle with other kids. That helps to represent who we are by meeting other parents and I’m not afraid to go out and introduce myself to other people. It’s who I am. So, hopefully, the two kids will be okay.
Ann: So, when you’re little you don’t cut your hair?
Jaswinder: No, we never cut our hair.
Ann: What is the symbolism of that?
Jaswinder: There are many reasons for not cutting our hair, but one of them is to keep yourself in the form that God has intended you to be in. Women don’t have beards. In God’s creation, God has given us a lot of valuable things like eyes, hair, or whatever, and that’s how we should keep it. It was intended to be that way. The Lord is very powerful. He could have done anything. It’s above our imaginations and no books, or words, can describe what the Lord is. So, His creation is far greater than anything in this place. I think about it, sometimes, and I go nuts at how big creation is, where it ends, the space, and all that God has done, but I just leave it to Him. His intent with creation is pure. I don’t disturb that. The biggest thing in my life is that I will live in His order. Whatever is happening is the will of God. I firmly believe that and this is what keeps me going, every day of my life; the will of God. That’s one purpose of not cutting our hair. I don’t know about all of Asia, but, in India, usually our daughters, or young kids, don’t go in front of adults with their hands open, or in revealing cloths. Rather, they cover their head in respect of their elders. Respect for elders is very much appreciated and I don’t see that very much, nowadays. In the same way that children listen to their parents, we listen to the Lord. Parents give while you are here, but the Lord is our giver forever. So, we respect our elders. In the old days, whenever the older generations used to go in front of their elders, they would bow their heads, with hands down, and the older person would bless them saying, “God bless you and may you live long”, or whatever blessing they would give. This would be how children would receive blessing from their elders. When we go to church, we take off our shoes, we cover our head, and we go in humility. We don’t’ wear fancy clothing, or jewelry. Why would we do that? Everything is the Lord’s. We don’t have to impress anybody. We go as simply as possible. We go there, we bow our heads, and we sit down. The greatest thing about it is having the unity of other people who are praising the Lord. You need that. You need other people to unite with. This is called “satsun”
I can recall another reason for keeping our hair uncut. We had ten prophets, just like Jesus Christ is considered a prophet and the Son of God. Mohammed was also a prophet. We had Guru Nanak Dev. He was a prophet who led the way to God. After Guru Nanak, he gave his seat to the succeeding nine prophets. Our ninth prophet was called, Guru Tegh Bahadur. At that time, Moguls were ruling India. They were converting people to Islam by force, by bribery and offering money. For instance, giving women houses to convert and if they didn’t, then they were forcefully converted. At that time, the Hindu pundits, the highly sainted people, came to Guru Tegh Bahadur and told him what was happening, saying that their religion was in jeopardy with the forced conversions. So, Guru Tegh Bahadur said, “Go and tell them that if they can convert me to Islam, then we will all convert”. So, the King at that time said, “Wait a minute, this is easy. We don’t have to go through all these people. This is their spiritual leader and let’s just convert him, then everybody will have to follow”. So, eventually, they captured him and they tortured him in front of his followers. They threatened to cut him in half with a saw and this was all to scare people enough to convert. However, the Guru was a highly spiritual person and no one could convert him. Finally, what happened was that he was executed and this place is in Delhi. I don’t know if I took Eric there, but this is where they chopped his head off. Up to the Ninth Guru, a lot of people had hair and they didn’t cut it. However, around this point in history, the fashion was to cut your hair to look good. They didn’t really wear turbans, though, and nobody could really tell the difference between Muslims and Sikhs. So, at that time, the King said, whoever is a Sikh can claim the Guru’s body, but nobody was willing to come, because everybody had cut hair and nobody could tell if they were Sikhs, or not. Everybody was scared. Then, a storm came, with high winds, and a father and his son took the body to their house and burned the whole house down. You see we don’t bury the body; we burn it. So, he did this just to get the ceremony done. Then the son took the head to the Guru’s son, who was Guru Gobind Singh, who was to be our Tenth Guru. He told him what happened and why he had brought the head. So, the Guru said that he would create a “Khalsa”, a person who, if he is standing in front of thousands of people, nobody will ask who is a Sikh. Instead, they will say, “Look, there is a Sikh, wearing a turban, with a long flowing beard.” Looking this way, you would be able to identify a Sikh from far away. This is the other reason we wear our hair long, but, mainly, we keep it for the will of God. This is what God has created and we don’t want to change it.
Ann: So, there have been many generations that have followed the Sikh religion?
Jaswinder: Oh yes, the Sikh religion was formed some five hundred and thirty-seven years ago.
Ann: How long has your family followed it?
Jaswinder: I can recall only up to my Grandfather, but the family went back long before that. The biggest thing in Sikhism, at the time when Guru Nanak Dev came, the Moguls were taking control. There was a caste system in Hinduism and Sikhism didn’t exist, then. Guru Nanak’s father was a Hindu and he was a very high caste person. The higher caste pundits would not allow the lower castes to come into the same church to pray with them. It was a time of blind faith. The pundits performed all the religious ceremonies and others were not allowed to do it. So, our Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh, finished the caste system. He created this by saying we must have turbaned hair, we must have a sword, a bracelet, decent underwear to cover us, and a comb to clean up our hair. These were the five things he gave us. We, also, have a special celebration on April 13th, called “Vaisakhi”, where all the Sikhs get together for a big parade in the city. We celebrate it in our churches. This day symbolizes the day where Guru Gobind formed a “Khalsa”, which means “a pure one”. He took five Sikhs of different castes and businesses and gave them all one amulet, or bowl, from which to drink. So, they all drank out of the one bowl and he told them, “You are the pure ones. You have no caste”. Then, he gave all of them the last name of “Singh” and everybody, from that point on, when they are baptized, takes on the last name of Singh. “Singh” means “A lion”. A woman is given the last name of “Kaur”, meaning “Princess”. So, the caste system was abolished for whoever takes the amulet, is baptized, and has the last name of Singh. You asked me how far back my family goes in Sikhism. Well, if we go back to the caste system; Guru Nanak’s family name was “Bedi”. His father was called, “Bedi”. My father says that we are the eighteenth generation of Guru Nanak and that we are his descendents. It means a lot to us that Guru Nanak was related to us, but that doesn’t do anything for me. It is the individual who must achieve salvation, by praying, meditating, and all that. It’s a great honor to have this connection, but I don’t like to say, “Oh, I am the son of this person”. I don’t want to go into that egoism.
Ann: It would be like another caste system.
Jaswinder: Yes, Guru Gobind Singh has abolished that. However, I just wanted to tell you about my family background, but I don’t want to go into that. My father had mentioned, when my son was born, to give him the last name “Bedi”, because a lot of people know my father as that. People used to bow to my Grandfather, in Afghanistan. He was so spiritually advanced that people used to come to him for blessings. My father told me that he did have a lot of spiritual powers and I knew him until I was nine. He was a very spiritual person. People, who are associated with my father, all know my Dad, because of my Grandfather. My Grandfather was very highly appreciated and was called “Bedi Ji” and my father took that name. However, I took that out from my name. All my brothers did. My father tried to tell me that, after he had died, that if I named my son that then people would know the connection, in the future, but we said that we didn’t want to do it, because Guru Gobind Singh had set us apart from that. Nowadays, things are different, especially living here and not in India. Nobody cares and there is no caste system.
Ann: Why did your family leave? Your brother told me a little bit in his interview that the community is very harsh. Why did they live India?
Jaswinder: Well, we were living in Afghanistan and Russia had invaded, at that time. I recall the tanks and bullets and when we had to lie on the floor. There was fighting going on with the Afghani people and we had to leave, because we were refugees. We left with nothing. We had no land in India and our Uncle was already here.
Ann: How did you get the money to come?
Jaswinder: My uncle helped us.
Ann: So, you came with nothing.
Jaswinder: We had nothing. We had to work hard, but we did get refugee asylum, because the United States got involved and they knew about the situation. So, they were helping people.
Ann: Did you find a religious community here, of which you could be a part, right away?
Jaswinder: When we arrived, it was about a month before we saw another Sikh. We saw him in a playground and we started hugging him, because it had been a long time since we had seen another Sikh. We said, “Wow!” You see, at that time, there weren’t many Sikhs, here. I was the only one wearing a turban in my whole school, but, as time progressed, more Sikhs arrived. We had an Indo-Pak club, where we would get together to play and all that. This was nine, or ten, years later and a lot of people had come from India and Pakistan and the community grew. Many Indians came to live in Flushing, for example.
Ann: Are you living in Flushing, now?
Jaswinder: No, we live in Long Island. There was a church we attended. Not many people were there, but we were very happy to go to see our own people.
Ann: What would you say makes you spiritually distinct? What makes you remain a Sikh and not give up your religion? What is the essence of that religion?
Jaswinder: About five, or six months ago, my son came to me. He was about four and a half. He said that his friend, from next door, asked him at school, “Why don’t I have hair and you do?” I don’t ever recall asking my parents that question, ever, because where we were living, there were so many Sikhs. We went to school, we saw our own people, and we didn’t care. I didn’t know anything about religion, because my father was a Sikh and there were so many of my own kind, it never entered my mind. I never asked the question, “Why?” My son asked me why, because he doesn’t see his own people. That’s why a kid asks a question. I was born and raised in a Sikh community in Afghanistan. I didn’t care. I just wanted to go out and fly kites and play with my friends, so I never bothered asking that question. So, when my son asked that question of me, I think that is one reason why I want to follow my faith. I’m not as good as Gurpreet. I still have a long way to go, but I am very strong in my faith, because I am away from it and I value it. Generally, you have value of things when they aren’t in your hand. Say it’s a big house, or a Mercedes, or whatever you want to achieve. When you get that thing, it will never be completely fulfilling. A human will never be satisfied, if they go after things. So, I didn’t have that thing. My religion and my faith were away from me. I was in a strange place, in a strange land. I was missing it. It kept me closer and stronger to always be thinking about it. I began to learn more about my religion through those things that I left behind and missed. I asked questions, just like my son is asking me questions. It’s not because my father is a Sikh that I am a Sikh. When I went to India, I saw my cousins and they had never opened the Sikh Bible to read anything and they are fifteen and sixteen. Gurpreet went there and he asked them to get up and do prayers together, every morning and evening. He taught them, even though we should be doing it, but, there, they are just living their life. They’re home and it’s no problem. It’s no big deal, because nobody cares, whereas, if you’re away from something, then you appreciate it more. That’s what I meant before. It’s like a lamp. You have the light radiating outwards, but underneath the lamp, it’s always dark. They are there in the heart of the light, where our roots and religion lie, but they are under the lamp and they don’t see it. So, by living here, we see the light. I’m not talking about myself. I am nobody. I don’t think I have achieved anything. I have a long way to go. I try to go and meet people who praise the Lord’s glory and, by doing that, hopefully I can attain something, otherwise I, myself, have no value. I am just another human being. When you don’t think of the Lord’s name, you are away from it and go into materialistic things, like tension. However, when you’re a spiritual person, you forget everything. You forget when you’re praising the Lord’s name. You forget everything.
Ann: The world is there and you don’t care.
Jaswinder: I don’t care. Personally, I strongly believe in the will of God, whatever is happening. I am not always this strong, but when a person believes in the will of God, then when he is happy, he doesn’t dance like a crazy monkey. Also, when there is sadness, the person doesn’t cry, like, “Oh my God, what happened?” He is always in that state of mind where everything remains even, throughout. For him, happiness and sadness will not affect him, because he’s attached with God. In our Bible, Guru Nanak Dev said, “All these things, our sisters, brothers, wife, everything, is fake and the only true thing is the Lord’s name”. This is like a resting spot where we all come to meet, but you make it your home. However, it’s not really your home, your home is someplace else. You achieve that after you die and that is a whole other issue about death and where we go after that!
Ann: So, how do you stay connected to God? You have the same values as the others of your faith, but how do you keep that centeredness and stay connected with God?
Jaswinder: I’ll tell you. I work here at the store and sell dresses. When I am doing that, we have religions songs playing all day. Gurus told us that when we’re working, sleeping, eating, or whatever, we must do the worldly things, like having a family and kids, but always stay connected with God, because God is your real model. In Guru Nanak’s time, spiritual people used to leave their community, without marrying, and go up in the mountains and sit there, praying. However, Gurus told us to go and live in the world and do worldly things, living the will of God, but never forgetting God. So, how do I stay connected? I get lost many times, but the only thing that keeps me connected are friends who are always singing the praises of the Lord. I don’t have many friends, maybe two or three good friends, but every weekend we get together and go to one another’s houses. We tell the community that we’re doing religious hymns that night, if anyone wants to get together. So, there are maybe fifty or sixty people, every Saturday night, and we get together in somebody’s house. So, people start taking turns. My turn comes on May 12th, for example.
Ann: So, you will have fifty people come to your house?
Jaswinder: I will have two hundred people, maybe, because we have a big family and my parents know people. We all live together, so we will all call our friends and we will have that many people, at least.
Ann: What will happen that evening?
Jaswinder: We only pray to our Guru, right now, after Guru Gobind Singh declared the Guru Granth Sahib to be our bible. It was formed and written by our Gurus. It contains the hymns that came, supposedly, from the Lord. So, our present Guru is the Guru Granth Sahib. It is this book that leads us and he is living for us, our living Guru.
Ann: Is he a spirit?
Jaswinder: He is a bible, so the book, itself, is our living Guru. Anything we do, like when a child is born, or we buy a new house, we open the Granth Sahib. For example, in naming a son, we open the book and open to a random page. Whatever the first letter on the left page, on the top, then the son’s name would begin with that letter. Also, if we’re going someplace, we will stand up, we will pray, remembering all our Gurus and say, “Oh Lord, we are going to this occasion. Please bless and guide us through this occasion, giving us your order of how we should perceive it”. Then, we will sit down and someone will go behind the Bible, open it up respectfully, and then turn the page. Whatever page opens, we read it. Then, we will follow that for the day. This is done, every morning, in every temple. We are blessed to have our Guru Granth Sahib at our house. So, every morning, we get that order and we try to live it throughout the day.
Ann: So do you and your family sit together and open it?
Jaswinder: Well, my younger brothers haven’t started doing it yet. They aren’t too fluent in reading Punjabi, though they understand it. My wife and I can do it and my Mom and my Dad are also able.
Ann: Do you all live together?
Ann: So, your family must be very close.
Jaswinder: Yes, we are a very close family. My brother got married, so his wife, my wife, our kids, my parents and younger brothers all live in the same house. So, when we open the Bible, someone will be sitting behind it and we sing the words. Guru Nanak uttered the holy words and he sung them. Music is a very powerful thing. Music, unto itself, is a religion. In every part of the world, we can all come together with music. So, he took the holy words and music and he combined and sung them. It’s a beautiful mixture of music and these very holy words. Our Bible is not a story about a person or our history. This isn’t included in our Bible.
Ann: What is in your Bible?
Jaswinder: The Bible contains only praise to the Lord. It’s only about God’s praises. The Gurus have written, in the Guru Granth Sahib, that there are good words collected from Islam and there are good words collected from Hinduism. He (Guru Nanak) went about and added many good scriptures from highly spiritual people and included these in the Guru Granth Sahib. There were many reasons for that. It’s not a religion that Guru Nanak formed. It’s not like he came and decided to create a religion. He was guiding the people, at that time. He went to Hindus and questioned them about what they were doing, for instance. They were throwing water towards the sun, so that it would get to our ancestors who have passed away. Guru Nanak turned away and started throwing the water towards the fields and these guys asked, “What are you doing? Where is your field?” He answered that his field was thousands of miles away. So, they started laughing, asking how the water could possibly get there and Guru Nanak replied, “Well, look at what you are doing. If it’s not getting to my field, how is it going to reach your ancestors?” He meant that we shouldn’t go into blind faith, idol worshipping, and bowing our heads in front of stones. So, he guided them, taking them out of blind faith. He also went to see Muslims in Macedonia, Baghdad, and all over, to try to teach these things. The Muslims knew that he was a spiritual person and asked him to go and do prayers with them and Guru Nanak replied that he would do that, only if they also prayed with him. So, they went and Guru Nanak kneeled with them to do the Muslim prayers, but the head of the mosque saw that Guru wasn’t praying. After the prayers, they came to him and asked him why he didn’t pray with them when he said he would. Guru Nanak replied, “I said that I would pray only if you pray, but you were not praying. In your minds, you were selling your horses in a field, trying to make money. Your minds were wandering and you were someplace else. You were not attached to and praying to the Lord”. You know how, sometimes, we read a book and our mind is someplace else? We don’t realize we have read so many pages. We have just read, without taking it in. Have you ever had that happen?
Ann: Oh yes!
Jaswinder: To keep a connection with God is not an easy thing. A lot of things keep going through your mind. It separates you and Guru Nanak saw that.
Our biggest and most important temple is in Amritsar, called The Golden Temple. The way it was constructed is that there are four entrances to the temple. People, can enter from the different entrances, but, when they walk in, they have to meet at the center to go all the way in. The construction was done in this way to represent the fact that the Gurus would welcome people from all over the world, of every faith. Also, that they might arrive from every side, but we must all walk in together, to come together. Another Guru, Guru Amar Das, created “Langer”. This is a food that is given in church, every day. In the old days, a high caste person would not sit with a lower caste person to eat. So, he created Langer and he said that if anyone wanted to come and see him, they would, first, have to sit down and have food together. Demolishing the caste system was not a one-person job. Guru Gobind Singh Ji demolished the caste system by having everyone use the name “Singh”, but it took ten Gurus to create Sikhism and the Holy Bible, the Guru Granth Sahib. So, we look to their examples. When the Emperor came to see the Guru, the Guru said, “I will not see anybody unless they sit down and have food”. So, the Emperor, a Mogul King, sat down on the floor and had Langer with the rest of the people. This is just an example. It’s not about religion. Guru Nanak did not say it was about religion. When Guru Gobind Singh was born, a lot of spiritual people knew that somebody great had been born. They all came to meet our Ninth Guru, wishing to see the child. Hindus and Muslims came and they put a bowl of milk in front of the child, saying, “Please tell us. Who are your people? Are they Hindu, or Muslim?” The child put a hand on top of the milk, saying, “I belong to both and there is no distinction”. Another example is that, one day, Hindus and Muslims got together and they asked Guru Nanak, “Please, tell us. Who is better, Hindus, or Muslims?” Guru Nanak replied, “It is the people who do bad deeds who will be punished.” He meant that it’s not about who is better. If you are doing bad deeds, whether you are a Muslim, or a Hindu, the Lord makes no distinction. This means that it doesn’t matter who is bigger, or better. With God, both will cry. So, after this, even Hindus and Muslims started following Guru Nanak. “Guru” means, “a teacher”, and “Sikh” means, “a learner”. I am a Sikh learner of the Guru, who is a teacher. So, Guru Nanak did not tell anybody to convert, because he was just shedding the light. Light, meaning that there is one Supreme God. There are not many gods, only one, and we are all His children. There is only one God and we should live like that. There is no distinction between you, or myself. I, personally, think if you are a Hindu, then be a good Hindu. If you are a Christian, then be a good Christian. If you are Muslim, then be a good Muslim. I don’t think any religion, or Prophet, taught bad things. It’s people who translate the holy words of the prophets to their own ends, accepting it the way they want it to be. Our minds are very small and the Lord’s words are very gracious. No pen and no paper can describe how great he is. We can only pray and, with love, we can know God. There are good people from all religions. One of my best friends is a Christian. His name is Bert Sturtsman . He used to work with Eric and myself and Eric knows him very well. One day, we were having discussions with him. He goes to church, every day, he doesn’t have a television in his house, and he doesn’t want to watch anything that may corrupt his family, only reading the Bible. He’s a Saint and a very nice person, but he mentioned to me, one day, that if I didn’t believe in Jesus Christ, then I would go to hell. This didn’t make a difference in my friendship for him, because that is his belief and I have my beliefs. I respect every belief. If you believe in something, believe it, live it. There is one thing I want to tell everyone. There is one God, one Lord. We should not divide ourselves for these things. I’m sure that Jesus Christ did not intend for Christians to do things to separate us. I’m sure Mohammed didn’t tell his followers to do this. I haven’t read a lot of other Scriptures, but I know that Saintly people did not tell their followers to go and blow up others and curse them. You understand?
Ann: God did not teach destruction.
Jaswinder: No, God does not teach destruction. Let me give you one more example. Somebody told me it and it’s a beautiful thing. We are like a cup, or a bowl. Some are upright and some are upside down. God is giving to everybody and He doesn’t distinguish between anybody. God gives to everybody. We are all His children. Our Father loves us in the same way as a parent loves their child. Parents do not give one child more love than their other children. They all get the same love, because they are all the parents’ children. In the same way, we are all God’s children. God gives to everybody and it is we, ourselves, who need to wake up. If I am like an upright bowl, then I can receive God’s spiritual water and it will overflow. If I am upside down, with my face turned away from the Lord, God is still giving to everybody, but it is I who won’t accept it.
Ann: It’s our responsibility.
Jaswinder: It’s our responsibility and to attain that is very difficult. It’s a deep thing and I could keep going on and on.
Ann: That’s okay, keep going.
Jaswinder: I have a million stories and I don’t want to interrupt your questions.
Ann: So, for you, do have regular practices? Talk to me about that, because it is important.
Jaswinder: I do have regular practices. Well, in the morning, I am a heavy sleeper. We are told to wake up in the early morning, at two or three o’clock, because, at that time, the world is calm. Everybody is sleeping and it’s a peaceful time, a good time to pray and connect with the Lord. You believe in vibrations? Well, all the external noises, like traffic, talk; all of these things are in the air, but, in the early morning, everything is calm and there aren’t so many distractions. So, this is our true time to pray. This has been stressed throughout the Bible. “Wake up, wake up. This is the time for prayer”. However, I would love to do it, but I am a heavy sleeper. I don’t wake up until 7.30, or 8 AM. I wake up, get ready, and I don’t even drink tea. I get in the car, turn my prayers on and just go right to work. At work, religious music is on and, when I’m at home, I listen to it on my pc, all the time. However, in the evening, since our Guru has blessed us with the Guru Granth Sahib in our house, we all go home and sit together with the family to do our evening prayers. After the prayers, we will get up and do “Ardas”. This is our final prayer where we put our hands together, in the prayer position, and one person will pray. We close our eyes and join in with the prayers. For instance, my mother will say, “Lord, thank You, the day has gone in Your will. Let the night be done in Your will and thank You for everything. Please bless us with Your order.” Then, she will bow down, go behind the Bible and open it, turning the pages. Whatever page opens, she will read that to us. Then, we will take our translation books, because the language has changed a bit since that time. At that time, Gurus used Farsi, Pashtu, Punjabi, Gurmukhi, Sanskrit, and many languages were used and, sometimes, we don’t understand. So, we use ten small translation books, which give us the full meanings of each line on each page. You can, also, get this on the Internet, but we use our books. So, my Mom will use the translation book, for the page she just read, and she will describe to us what this passage means and how we should follow this. This is how we do this, as a family.
Ann: How long a period of time is that?
Jaswinder: This would be for about forty-five minutes.
Ann: Every night?
Jaswinder: Yes, every night for forty-five minutes. Then, after that, we will go and have dinner.
Ann: Do you have dinner as a whole family group?
Jaswinder: Yes, as a whole group. We usually get home by eight o’clock. Sometimes, my wife cooks it, in advance, so that we’re on time. If not, then she will just join in. Eventually, at some point in the evening, we all get together.
Ann: You have a long day. You leave at eight in the morning and come back at eight o’clock.
Jaswinder: Yes, so by the time we’ve finished prayers, it is eight forty-five, and at nine o’clock we will all have dinner. It’s a long day, but that’s the daily routine.
Ann: Then, you’ve got the holy music during the day, being played all the time in the store.
Jaswinder: All the time. I have set up speakers, so if you want to listen to it – it’s not for everybody – you can just go behind the counter to listen.
Ann: So, the music is really a teaching, too.
Jaswinder: It’s a teaching and it’s praising the Lord. There was a Saint and his name was Kabir. He was poor and he told the Lord that he could not do prayers on an empty stomach. He said, “What I need is some rice, some salt, a pillow, a blanket, and a shed. I don’t ask for more. I don’t want luxury and I don’t ask for anything above what I am, but these are the things I need. So, if I have these things, I can live and pray to you. This is the purpose of my life and, to do these prayers, I need only these things.” It was a simple life for which he asked. He didn’t ask for much, only these simple necessities, so he could praise the Lord’s name. That was his sole purpose in life. I love that, because what he is asking for is a simple life. Our whole purpose, at least my purpose, is to pray. That is the only reason I am here. In Sikhism, we attain the human body after eighty-four thousand life spans. Before this life, we may have been anything. We could have been animals, or anything. There are eighty-four thousand different types of species described in the Bible, before you attain a human body. The human body is the most supreme. So when the child is upside-down in the mother’s womb, he or she is attached to the Lord and is attached to life. It’s hot in there; it’s burning. This is what we call hell. There is no heaven and hell. Hell is to actually go through the cycle of being born, going through life, passing away, then repeating the cycle, over and over. So, we want to finish this, go to the Lord, and our true home. We don’t want to continuously repeat the cycle. This is what our religion says. It’s not my beliefs. So, when you are in the womb, you are upside-down and attached, you are praying to the Lord, “Oh Lord, please get me out. I will cherish and love You.” So, with the Lord’s blessing, the child is born. At birth, a child is the most pure thing in this world and doesn’t know good from bad. Everybody is equal. When the child arrives, as parents, we try to keep them in check, telling them what to do. The child gets clever and grows up. We’re all like that. It’s the way life is and how God intended it, but we forget the whole purpose of our life. The whole purpose of life is to pray. It is the only way. My wife and kids will not go with me when I pass away. Nobody is going to go with me. I am not going to take a single pin with me when I die. I am going to go the way I came and everything else will stay here. Life is like a dream. I was eleven when I came to this country and I am almost thirty, now. In this life, I have wasted so many of those years, I don’t think I’ve achieved anything, but I wish to achieve that (connection with God), by going to holy prayers with my friends, being with people who pray. That is the only purpose of my life. I wish that I could always think about the Lord when I am doing everything, but sometimes I wander.
Ann: Well, you are raising your family and running your business.
Jaswinder: Yes, and there is nothing wrong with that. Guru Nanak Devji set an example. He married and people said, “Oh, how can you be a saintly person? You’ve got married and had kids. You can’t be a saint!” However, Guru Nanak said, “Do everything, but always remember the Lord. Live in His order and, whatever is His will, accept it.” Guru Gobind Singh Ji had four kids. Muslims massacred his two youngest kids, because they refused to be converted to Islam. They cut the heads off of two small children. The two older children, who were adults, fought in the war against the Moguls, and they were, also, killed, but Guru Gobind Singh Ji said, “Thank you for the time you blessed me with my children. They are all gone, but I have so many more.” This was how he gave us “Khalsa”. So, our purpose is to do worldly things and there is nothing wrong with this, as it is God’s word, but, if all you do is think negatively, then all you will see will be negative. Likewise, if all you do is think positively, then all you will see will be beauty in every single person, every single soul, and every single thing. We have a lot of things going on, nowadays, with a lot of distractions. It’s very, very important for people, nowadays, to pray and to unite. There is one God in whom we all believe, one giver, one Lord. There may be different paths to get there and there is nothing wrong with that. As long as a person has that in their mind, that there is one Lord and our whole purpose is to achieve His blessings to unite with Him, then that is good enough. We just have to be strong and go for it. A person who believes that will not harm, cheat, or steal from anybody. Guru Nanak Dev Ji gave us three things. He said, “Share your earnings, work hard, and live your truthful life.” Everybody knows that, but we get distracted in this materialistic world by ego. We have five enemies that are lust, pride, anger, greed, and ego. All these are our true enemies. Our enemies are not people. These are the things that keep us from the Lord. You know, when you put milk into a bowl, you want to clean the bowl, because milk gets sour, very fast. You have to put it in a pure container. The same thing happens with our body. If we keep these five enemies inside our body, then God’s words will never reach us. You have to clean your body, as you clean the bowl, so you are pure enough to hear, understand, and absorb the Lord’s words. We can’t do it, if we have all these distractions. Nobody can.
Ann: So, how do you clean it?
Jaswinder: You clean it with prayer to become a saintly person. You have to get together with others in your community. It doesn’t matter what faith you follow. My friend is a follower of Jesus Christ and he says that Christianity is the only way. I love him, because he is committed and is doing good things. It doesn’t matter what his personal beliefs are, because he is doing good things. He’s a very good friend of mine. Ultimately, in the back of his mind, he is talking about God, or being at a place where he is pure. It doesn’t matter what religion. It’s just a path to the one thing, the Divine.
Ann: Yes, and letting that light in.
Jaswinder: So, for every human in this world, it is important to keep your body pure and keep all these distractions away. We all seek satisfaction, but you can never be satisfied. We all waste our life, trying to achieve things, but, one day, we must realize that we are not going to be taking anything with us. Your life is already gone. A young person is able to spend a long time praying. As you get older, the body won’t allow for long periods of prayer. So, while you are young, this is the time when it is important to seek out community. You can’t wait till the last second of your life, wasting your youth on materialistic things and, then, expecting that you can do all your praying when you’re old.
Ann: It’s too late.
Jaswinder: Yes, but aside from being too late, Guru Nanak’s Dev Ji’s asked his follower, Armazana “How close do you think death is?” Armazana answered, “Well, I am living today, but I may not see tomorrow, or even this evening.” So, Guru Nanak said, “With every single breath you don’t know when your life will end, so you don’t want to waste it”. Nobody can guarantee they will be alive in their next breath. This is the single most important truth in the world. Everybody should realize that we are all going to die, one day. We shouldn’t waste a second not thinking about God. I don’t want to die thinking about money, women, or anything like that. When I die, I want to be in the state where I am thinking about God.
Ann: That’s wonderful. Although I had a list of questions, I think that you’ve covered it all in other ways.
Jaswinder: I would have liked you to go through the questions.
Ann: Well, you hit all the points, because you talked about meditation, community, being connected to the Divine, so you really did answer all the questions. It wasn’t in order, but I felt your love, your commitment and your passion. I just trust that your spirit, your light, is going to come through in this particular interview, because God is using you as an aspect of the Divine.
Jaswinder: Thank you. That’s wonderful. I’m glad you got what you needed.