Where Unity Is Strength
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The UN Climate Change Conference or COP26, is underway in Glasgow this week with heads of nations who face the worst impact of climate change being the most vocal about the consequences of global warming. Rising temperatures are resulting in rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions – and island nations like Barbados face serious consequences with the rise in global temperatures. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley told COP26 that for Island nations like hers a 1.5C rise in global temperature, ‘is what we need to survive’, while ‘two degrees is a death sentence’.[i]

Meanwhile, speaking at the opening ceremony The Prince of Wales told world leaders and delegates that a ‘war-like footing’ is necessary to tackle the climate crisis. He said, ‘I know you all carry a heavy burden on your shoulders, and you do not need me to tell you that the eyes and hopes of the world are upon you’. He talked of the need for countries to come together for a ‘global systems levels solution’.[ii] How nations work together to solve the climate conundrum remains to be seen.

Sikh scriptures tell us, ‘Air is the Guru, Water is the Father, and Earth is the Great Mother of all’ – thus we are encouraged to respect our environment and care for our planet. We have a responsibility like others to work to combat climate change, and initiatives such as EcoSikh are both important and commendable. Whilst considering COP21 and the global climate crisis, we happened to unearth a BBC Thought for the Day broadcast by our Director Lord Singh from March 1989.

Despite being over thirty years old, it is as relevant today as it was then.

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16 March 1989 – TFTD Lord Singh (then Dr Indarjit Singh)

There is a saying in Sikhism that ‘We love the gift but forget the giver’. The words are used in a spiritual context, but they are also true of every-day life.

I’ve long forgotten who it was that gave us a present of a re-chargeable electric toothbrush, some ten or twelve years ago. It was never really suited to the sturdy demands of the Singh family – but it did give rise to a most unusual dream.

The dream started with isolated reports about a strange and deeply upsetting noise. Doctors blamed stress and prescribed tranquilisers. But without success. The complaint became more widespread not only in this country but also abroad, and soon became the subject of major world concern.

An international conference of scientists was called to consider the situation, and, after days of intensive deliberation, came up with a solution – specially designed earmuffs to filter out the offending noise:

It worked at first, but soon people complained that the earmuffs were beginning to lose their protection and that the noise was becoming even more distressing.

In despair, a conference of religious leaders gathered and, after much discussion, concluded that the noise was in some inexplicable way, nature’s reaction to the way in which human-beings were treating each other and destroying the environment in the process. I’ll never know what happened next. At that moment, I woke up to the noise of the toothbrush holder on charge in the bedroom.

This strange dream occurred many years before the current concern over the environment. Today it’s not nature that’s making a noise of protest but people all over the world, alarmed by the potentially lethal gap in the ozone layer, the hazards from excess carbon dioxide and other known forms of pollution, too numerous to mention, as well as others still unknown, undoubtedly lurking around the corner waiting to be discovered. It all adds up to the inescapable fact that the human race is proving far too clever and short-sighted for its own good.


[i] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/world-59103425

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPUFxzD-D5k

We at the Network of Sikh Organisations UK offer the Sikh community warmest greetings on the auspicious occasion of the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh ji, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs.  

Guru Gobind Singh’s life was one of an unwavering commitment to uplifting ideals; a life dedicated to the pursuit of social and political justice, freedom of belief, and the equality of all human beings, including importantly, the dignity and complete equality of women. The message of his life and teachings carry invaluable guidance for all humanity and are of particular relevance to a world gripped with fear and uncertainty during the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

At such times it is easy to ignore the needs of others. The Guru in applauding Bhai Kanhaiya for looking to the enemy wounded in battle, reminded us of our responsibility even in the most difficult of circumstances, to always look to the needs of others. It’s a message taken up by Sikhs throughout the world with the media recognising the huge contribution of Sikhs in helping those suffering in various parts of world. This includes feeding hungry lorry drivers stranded in Dover, and giving food, medicine and clothing to farmers shivering in the winter cold of Delhi in a mass protest against new agricultural laws which risk depriving them of their livelihoods.

Today, we remember how Guru Gobind Singh in his quest for truth and justice lost his mother and four sons but never became despondent, nor gave up. He however gave us the important Sikh teaching of ‘Chardi Kala’, or eternal optimism.

Today it is important that we reflect on the Guru’s life and teachings. They can carry us to a better future.

With best wishes for a safe and happy 2021.

Indarjit

Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE

Director, Network of Sikh Organisations

A Gurpurab message

November 29th, 2020 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues | Press Releases - (0 Comments)

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh

Gurpurb vadhiya on this anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak the founder of Sikhism.

At the time of Guru Nanak’s birth, religions both in the West and East were engulfed in bitter rivalry with each claiming a monopoly of truth and a special relationship with God. In his very first sermon Guru Nanak taught:

Na koi Hindu, na koi Mussalman

That is, in God’s eyes there is neither Hindu nor Muslim. That God is not interested in our different religious labels but in what we do to make the world a better place.

Guru Nanak taught that to move in this direction, we must be committed to freedom of belief and respect for those of different faiths, the equality of every human being, gender equality and a life committed to the service of others. Guru Nanak’s uplifting teachings were not only for the people of Punjab or India, but for the whole world.

Today with a virulent COVID-19 pandemic engulfing the world, and with democracy and human rights under assault in many countries, we need to reflect on the Guru’s positive guidance for a fairer and more peaceful world.

This year’s commemoration comes at a difficult time for Sikhs in India with the Modi government’s discriminatory action against farmers in Punjab in an attempt to destroy their livelihood by reducing prices paid for crops to facilitate land take over by big business. Sikhs abroad have a particular responsibility to speak for those who cannot speak in India. 

Sikh teachings on tolerance and respect for others are a powerful antidote to narrow-minded intolerance, today, we should pledge ourselves to living and promoting Sikh values in ourselves, our children and in wider society. The best way we can celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak is to follow his uplifting guidance in working for a fairer and more peaceful world.

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh.

Lord Indarjit Singh of Wimbledon, Director – Network of Sikh Organisations

Guest blog: Reporting on Sikhism

August 12th, 2019 | Posted by Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

In a guest blog for the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), our Deputy-Director explains Hardeep Singh, explains how the NSO’s media guidance can help journalists get a clearer understanding of Sikhism.

Link to blog post can be viewed here and media guidance for journalists here.

At the start of a New Year, we all look to our concerns and hopes for the year to come. For me, a major concern is the potential for populism rooted in xenophobia that looks only to economic prosperity for ‘me and my’.

Last weekend, Sikhs throughout the world celebrated the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, who through his life and work, taught us to look beyond narrow sectarian interests and work for the wellbeing of wider society,

Guru Gobind Singh was the last of the founding Gurus of Sikhism whose role was to show that the teachings of Guru Nanak stressing the equality of all, including gender equality and a willingness to put others before self, were not impracticable ideals, but a necessary, though demanding, blueprint for a fairer and more peaceful society.

The task of Guru Nanak’s successor Gurus wasn’t easy, and two were martyred for stressing the need for tolerance and freedom of worship at a time of intense religious bigotry. A similar fate was suffered by many of the early Sikhs, but despite such persecution, the resilience of the infant Sikh community continued to grow to such an extent that Guru Gobind Singh decided he could now end the line of living Gurus and ask Sikhs to commit themselves to following the teachings of his predecessors, contained in the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, as they would a living Guru.

The Sikh Gurus were not the only ones who taught that ethical living, with concern and compassion for those around us, was the way to true contentment. Centuries earlier, Jesus Christ had taught much the same in parables like the Sermon on the Mount, and the story of the Good Samaritan. It is important that we recognise the common thrust for more responsible living found in our different faiths and work together to make these central to life.

Today’s populism can lead to such imperatives being ignored, encouraging a drive to self-interest. Rather, I would suggest an alternative movement rooted in common ethical teachings across faith traditions and secular society, while acknowledging and respecting differences between cultures and religions. But we need to look beyond mere lip service, and begin to walk the talk if we want to move from the bigotry of 2017 to a better 2018.

Sikh teachings on gender equality are “way ahead not only of society at that time, but of much of society today”, says Lord Singh

Marking International Women’s Day last week, peers debated the role Britain plays in promoting gender equality across the globe following a question tabled by Tory peer Baroness Shields.

Talking about this year’s theme “Be Bold for Change” The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Home Office said, “In some regards, it is a sad indictment that despite the integral role that women play in every aspect of life, we still struggle to be considered equal. In the opening years of the 20th century, courageous women joined hands and stood beside each other in solidarity.” She went on, “Outside this very House, suffragettes fought for women’s rights in our democracy, yet more than 100 years on, we are still striving to become a society that is truly equal.”

Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) told peers true equality is reflected in a society where opportunity and respect is given parity for both sexes. Lord Singh stressed greater equality in society had moved on from the traditional view of men being ‘bread-winners’ and women the ‘main carer’. This he told peers, had resulted from an acceptance that there is nothing demeaning in men playing a greater role in the home.

Reflecting on his own faith Lord Singh said, “Sikh teachings place a strong emphasis on the equality of all human beings. Right from the start, Guru Nanak—the founder of the faith, born in 1469—made clear that this teaching of full equality and dignity included women. In a memorable line, the guru criticised prevailing negative attitudes to women, saying, “How can we call those who give birth to kings and rulers, lesser beings?”In 1699, when Guru Gobind Singh gave Sikh men the common name Singh—meaning “lion”, to remind us of the need for courage—he gave the name or title “Kaur”, meaning “princess”, to women, to remind them and others of their elevated status in Sikh society. On reflection, that seems to be a bit more than equality. I would rather be a princess than a four-legged beast.”

He went on, “The Sikh gurus were aware then—as is sadly still true today— that war is often used to justify brutal treatment of enemy women. Sikh teachings remind us that in times of conflict, women and girls should, as appropriate, be regarded as mother, sister or daughter and be treated as such. Sikh teachings on the equality and dignity of women were way ahead not only of society at that time, but of much of society today.”

Lord Singh warned of being complacent, adding, “In some Sikh families, the still-negative culture of the sub-continent sometimes overrides religious teachings, with girls being treated less favourably than boys, promoting a false sense of male superiority. Today, Sikhs and non-Sikhs need to do much more to make the dignity and complete equality of women the norm, within our different faiths and in wider society.”

 

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