Gurudwaras: Grand or Green
Children, let me first tell you something about myself.
I live in Atlanta, which is in the state of Georgia. I would love to know where you live.
Do you know what I love about Atlanta? I absolutely love its churches. There are the most magnificent churches lining every street of the city.
I love the way they reach up to the skies. And the inside of these churches are so very, very spacious and beautiful. I love sitting on the wooden benches that are inside the church and looking at everything. It is so different from my Gurdwara.
Sometimes, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of envy: “Why do we have warehouse looking buildings for Gurdwaras?” “We have beautiful Gurdwaras in India, why not here ?”, I asked myself.
I understood that we are a very small community of immigrants to this land, “but couldn’t we have just one gorgeous building instead of three really bad ones ?” I asked myself.
But it all changed one day.
One afternoon, I was with my son, who was only six years old at the time, when we drove past another beautiful church, it’s stone walls reaching up the skies. It seemed so serene and inviting; a lavish garden with a waterfall around it gave a sense of sanctuary. Then, there were others not too far away.
This time I couldn’t hold my feelings and said, “Look at these beautiful churches! There are so many of them around. Why can’t we Sikhs have just one really amazing Gurdwara building in this city?”
It was not too long before little Angad broke it. “But Mommy, the other day you read me the story of Guru Nanak, Malik Bhago and Bhai Lalo. Did you already forget what place Guru Nanak chose for his Sangat (spiritual gathering) and Langar (meals)?”
“The rich palace and fine foods of the wealthy city chief or a small hut and simple bread of the humble carpenter? “He continued.
“Why would you want to have a big giant Gurdwara when the Guru himself chose the simple home and food?”
I quickly realized my mistake. Little Angad was right. On his foot travels for years, as Guru Nanak sang with Mardana, who played the Rabab, under a tree here and on a rock there – all people could join in. Rich and poor, men and women, Hindu and Muslim, high caste and low caste…even the birds, animals and trees rejoiced in the soul songs of the Guru.
It has been over 10 years but I clearly remember the place and the moment of that talk with my little one. I have to tell you , that you children are born with purity, whereas we the grown ups get all caught up in the world of ‘competition’. However, you have the wisdom to bring us lost grown-ups right on track.
It is probably nice to have magnificent buildings and tall ceilings in a place of worship that bring a sense of awe and make people feel connected to something big.
But, truly, Guru Nanak’s Sikhi is in small things. In being polite to your parents, in taking the Langar to the homeless or a sick neighbor, doing simran by a water stream, planting a tree, being gentle to the animals, and in a very important thing – living your life in simplicity.
Simplicity – “Why is it important?” you may ask. “What’s wrong with fancy living?”
The problem with fancy lifestyle is that need way more resources. If you think about it there are a finite amount of resources on this earth. Having more for ourselves means taking basic things away from others.
Someone has beautifully said,
“Live simply, so others may simply live”.
The resources that could be spent in grand Gurdwara buildings or fine foods are better spent in caring for the earth and its creatures. God himself lies not in magnificent places of worship but in its creations says the Guru. So if you want to worship God, serve its creation.
In the Sri Guru Granth Sahib on Ang 1349, Bhagat Kabeer says:
And now children, it’s time for you to examine how you can make your personal and community lives simpler, greener and more focused on the message of Guru Ji rather than the outward display of it.
And if you haven’t heard the story of Bhai Lalo and Malik Bhago, please ask your parents about it or read it here.
Interested in more green thoughts by Gurmeet Aunty?