What I’ve Learned From A Sikh

 There’s an old saying that I’ve always loved.  I first heard it in my 20’s and it’s echoed again and again as the decades have morphed into my 50’s.  “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”  It’s a simple saying packed with deep meaning.

     Today, it came me to again after talking to my neighbor, Swarnjit, as he walked home from the local university, where he’s a professor of Economics.  Swarnjit and his wife, Nimmi, are Sikhs and it’s a little more than 48 hours since 6 of their fellow Sikhs were gunned down inside the holy confines of their temple on a beautiful Sunday morning in Oak Creek, WI.   In this whirl of time, their lives have simultaneously been filled with acting as spokespeople for the Sikh religion as well as helping their faith community plan for funerals, grieve, and hold community-wide prayer services to honor the dead and praise the first-responders, who prevented further carnage.

     Earlier in the day, I had listened to Swarnjit speak on Wisconsin Public Radio about his religion (click here for the audio archive) – how it started and what the main principles of Sikhism were.  He spoke of how his religion began because there were people who didn’t believe in the caste system of India.  They felt that all people were equal under the eyes of god.  In my sidewalk conversations with Swarnjit, he’s talked about how they believe in the goodness of everyone and how they pray for everyone.  In the interview, you will hear him say that they embrace the beliefs of equality, tolerance and patience, and in spite of the atrocities that befell them recently, they still believe in the goodness of all people.  I think you’ll be moved at his humility and dignity. 

     It takes a strong, spiritual person to be able to push away anger and accept the recent shootings as part of god’s plan and pray for his soul.  As the student, I watched the Sikh’s talk to the local/national news media as Sunday’s horror unfolded.  Most were calm and their beliefs were fully integrated in watching them offer the news people food or water, as they bright sun of the day poured down on them.  Who among us non-Sikhs, in our grieving, would find the grace to care for others while our heart breaks for those who are gone?

     Tonight, some neighbors and I listened, huddled closely around Swarnjit on the sidewalk, as he reconfirmed his belief that all are good – that environments people are raised in can make them do horrendous things.  I saw a young 13 year old boy, that had recently done a school report on Swarnjit’s life, tear up as he watched him speak about forgiveness.  I felt as if instead of us comforting him, he was comforting us!   His melodic speech and warming eye contact attracted our attention to his every word.

     At that moment, everyone’s god was present in our midst and I felt as if god speaking directly through Swarnjit.  Standing there, we were all students, listening to our neighbor, the teacher.   He was teaching us that in spite of all he’s been through, his inner peace was strong enough to blanket us with a peace that tolerance and understanding can bring – even if we’ve been wronged. 

     It futile for me to understand why someone targeted such a peace-loving, faith community.  Swarnjit told us tonight to love everyone, everyday.  To accept everyone, everyday.  To pray for everyone, everyday.   This student is thankful for my neighbor, the spiritual teacher.

     Your comments are welcomed.


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