AKBAR AHMED

IBN KHALDUN CHAIR OF ISLAMIC STUDIES AND FORMER PAKISTAN HIGH COMMISSIONER TO UK AND IRELAND AT AMERICAN UNIVERSITY WASHINGTON DC

Tell us about your work. How does what you do relate to Sikhism and this film?

As the Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, I have been promoting the Dialogue of Civilizations by reaching out to the world’s great religions. With my Pakistani background I have always been fascinated by the Sikh faith. Not only was the great founding father, Guru Nanak Devji, born in what is now Pakistan, he is widely revered in that country. In my interfaith work I had the opportunity of getting to know the Sikh faith better and discovering its true noble nature. I was deeply honored when I was asked to give the keynote address on his birthday at one of the larger Sikh temples in Washington DC. It was a very special moment: a Muslim being invited to address a congregation in a Sikh temple. I felt very comfortable and welcome to be there. 

How did you become involved in the documentary project?

The father and son team of Gerald and Adam Krell had produced two important documentaries in which I was featured in the last two decades. One was on the Abrahamic faiths and the other on non-Abrahamic ones. I appreciated their thorough research and professional approach. I noted their commitment to interfaith understanding. I was busy when they asked me to participate in the Guru Nanak film, but I readily agreed and made time. 

What do Guru Nanak’s teachings mean to you personally?

The most important lesson I take from Guru Nanak’s teaching is the humanity which is at the core of the Sikh faith. He synthesized the two great religions of India – Hinduism and Islam—and created a third way, the Sikh religion. I appreciate the sense of community of the Sikhs, the democracy which you can see in the temples, the respect for and participation of women in community activities and the generosity of spirit. I also admire the Sikh respect for knowledge and learning – I was told by many Sikhs that the word Sikh comes from the Indian word to learn.

What do you wish Americans knew about Guru Nanak, and about Sikhism in general?

As there are so many Sikhs living in America and many doing so well I think it is high time that   Americans learnt something about the founding father, Guru Nanak, and the faith of Sikhism. Guru Nanak should be studied and taught in educational institutions so that his story can inspire Americans and he takes his place alongside other American iconic figures. The attitudes of the Sikh faith towards the environment, gender and minorities, the poor and interfaith appreciation are all reflected in the best of American ideals. Centuries before American leaders were talking about these issues the Sikhs had already put them into practice. Knowing about the Sikhs will engender respect for the community. Today there is still ignorance about the Sikh faith and we constantly hear of tragic incidents where Sikhs have been attacked by ignorant and hateful men. The recent terrible killing in Houston of police officer Sandeep Dhaliwal, the country’s first Sikh Deputy, is an example. Perhaps the cowardly killer–he shot the officer in the back of his head–mistook the Sikh turban and beard as associated with Muslims which fed into his Islamophobia. Many Sikh taxi drivers have told me that even today, so many years after 9/11, random Americans will shout at them, “go home, Osama bin Laden”. 

What would you say you want people to take away from this film?

I hope people will see this film and appreciate the relevance and beauty of the message of Guru Nanak Devji that he introduced to the world. I hope too they will say: this is a South Asian faith but now it is also very much an American faith.

Is there anything you’d like to add to what you said in the film that may not have made the final cut?

As a scholar of religion and someone promoting understanding between faiths, I note that members of the Sikh community see the world through the wise and profound teachings of Guru Nanak Devji. 

Take the example of Tridivesh Singh Maini, the Indian public intellectual and former student at my University. Along with   his distinguished family, he welcomed me and my American students to India with hospitality. He is dedicated to building bridges between India and Pakistan. I recall his affection and cheerfulness which would attract   attention as we walked about the campus and people asked, “how are you two related?” and he would say with a chuckle, “Sir is my chacha or uncle!”

Or take the example of Pawan Bali, who, a few years ago, was attached to my office as my Teaching Assistant (TA) at American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC. A noted Indian journalist and TV producer, she said there are three core principles of Sikhism which move her: Naam Japo, remember the Supreme being; Kirat Karo, work righteously; and Vand Chakko, share with others. 

Knowing how much she revered Guru Nanak, and knowing how much she yearned to pay homage to him at his birthplace at Nankana Sahib in Pakistan when her daughter was born, I made it a point to go there with my family when we visited Pakistan next. We took flowers to place on the site and prayed for Pawan and her daughter. We were warmly received by Sikh elders and we sent photographs to Pawan who was moved by the gesture. 

To meet Pawan is to see the spiritual beauty and gentleness of the great South Asian religions (see “My Splendid Sikh TA”, The Daily Times, Pakistan, January 12, 2019). She hails from   Kashmir, the land of mystics, poets and powerful women, and is very much a composite of the rich Kashmiri culture that is influenced by the great faiths of South Asia. Like me she   is heart-broken, troubled and saddened by its current tragic situation.

I asked Pawan to reflect on our time together. “You have been a mentor, a friend and someone who has led me to view not only Islam, but my own religion, Sikhism, with a new perspective,” she responded.  

“With you I have learned to discover the commonalities of faith, and the embracing power of human bonding. Our discussions on Sufi Islam, the teachings of Guru Nanak, my time with you teaching the courses of the World of Islam and Judaism and Islam, all have demonstrated the powerful message of humanity, equality and justice that underlines each faith. 

Being a fellow South Asian, we both have shared our disappointment on the growing chasms between faiths in India and Pakistan, our concern for minority communities; we both have shared grief over young girls being brutally raped in Kasur or Kathua; we have shared hope and pride in our common South Asian heritage, our love for music and poetry. All this is, and will always be special to me. 

Some of my fond memories with you include the time you said a prayer at Nankana Sahib, when my daughter was born and you sent me a photograph: the time when we walked into a mosque in DC, with our class of American University students, only to discover how divides dissolve across faiths, identities and culture.”

Not long ago I received an email from Pawan which perfectly captures her South Asian vision: “Recently, I read a story about two Muslim sisters from Pakistan who met their Sikh brother for the first time after 71 years; heartening photographs. That is the story of India and Pakistan….just like estranged siblings, hoping to one day reconcile their distances. Also, my mom today at breakfast related an incident at the Golden Temple, where she saw a Muslim worshipper offering namaz on the roof top, and a Sikh Nihang stood guarding him. Beautiful.” 

She concluded, “Wish I could capture that moment in a photograph.”

What projects are you currently working on?

I am working on two big projects: First, I am completing a play on Mahatma Gandhi and Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Second, on the back of my quartet of studies for the Brookings Press, the last of which is Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Identity, I am also starting another study  and film project called, “The Mingling of the Oceans: How Civilizations Can Live Together.” The title is from Dara   Shikoh’s seminal study in which he dreamt of the Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religions in confluence. In fact I wrote a play, The Trial of Dara Shikoh, which was directed by the celebrated   Manjula Kumar and widely staged. The Cosmos Club in DC will perform it in spring. I am finding incredible links between the faiths through the life of Dara Shikoh. For example, Mian Mir, the Sufi who Dara Shikoh revered, laid the foundation for the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Akbar the Great, Dara’s ancestor, had special respect for the Sikh community and honored it with presents of land and gold.  Tragically the relationship deteriorated and by the time of the bloody partition of India was almost destroyed by the violence. Now I am seeing a rebuilding of that relationship. Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, has just laid the foundation stone of the Baba Guru Nanak University at Nankana Sahib ahead of the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor. What an exciting moment in history. 

Faced as we are by the real and imminent dangers of climate change, religious and ethnic wars, mass poverty and vast gaps between the rich and the poor, our world civilization has no choice but to reach out to each other through the spirit of “mingling” and jointly tackle the problems we face. Knowing something of the Sikh faith, I believe its great spiritual leaders will give me their blessings as I set out on my journey in the footsteps of Dara Shikoh.

REVEREND JOHN BRYSON CHANE

BISHOP AT EPISCOPAL CHURCH

Tell us about your work. How does what you do relate to Sikhism and this film?

I have been engaged in interreligious dialogue between the Abrahamic Faiths since 2002 through my work as the 8th Episcopal Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC. This work continues as Senior Advisor for Interreligious Dialogue at Washington National Cathedral even after my retirement in 2012 as the 8th Bishop of Washington 

During this work it came to my attention that Guru Nanak’s life and  work directly were connected with the monotheistic studies undertaken in Abrahamic theological studies between Jews Christians and Muslims. It is clear in the teachings of Guru Nanak that he was not only a monotheist, but that his teachings on love, compassion, equality, goodness and virtue closely resemble those contained in Judaism, Christianity and Islam as offered by the Old Testament Prophets of Judaism, the teachings of Christianity by Jesus, and those of the Prophet of Islam, Mohammad. Guru Nanak would not consider himself a prophet but rather a soul illuminated by the Holy presence of God in his life. It is my belief that the travels of Guru Nanak brought him in contact with the great scholars and teachers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam who had a direct impact on him as a Holy man and teacher. This film brings to light for all believers and non-believers the very core of Sikhism and its true nature as a monotheistic religion that has many similarities with my own Christian faith that must be intensely understood.

How did you become involved in the documentary project? 

I know Director and Auteur Productions head Jerry Krell quite well through my involvement as a participant in two of his previous documentaries; Three Faith’s One God and The Asian and Abrahamic Religions: A Divine Encounter in America. Jerry is a very talented and passionate film maker often addressing theological issues and beliefs that have a significant impact on the lives of most of the world’s population. When he approached me about participating in the production about Guru Nanak and his impact on the world and on Christianity as Sikhs celebrate his birth some 550 years ago.  I was honored to be asked to be involved and said I would be delighted.

What do Guru Nanak’s teachings mean to you personally?

His teachings are important to me and to those representing the monotheistic Abrahamic Faith traditions to embrace the important work of Interreligious Dialogue as our work continues. Guru Nanak’s teachings must be deeply studied and presented as Holy gifts received and presented during future global Interreligious Dialogues.

What would you say you want people to take away from this film? 

I would like anyone who views this film to understand that   Sikhism is not a “foreign” or unusual religion but rather a partner in the tradition of great monotheistic religious belief systems. And that in the current climate in this country where we are experiencing so much division between the races, cultures, religious beliefs and traditions that Sikhs are no different than any other believers of monotheism. Too often in our country we see those who don’t look like white skinned Western Europeans as being suspicious or a threat to America and its identity. Too often we fail to understand that difference in race, appearance, language or culture does not separate us from the love of the same God that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship. My Jesus teaches me that the power of love overcomes the judgement too often rendered by other monotheistic believers because someone else, “the other,” looks different in appearance and sounds different because of their language. Guru Nanak was a champion for equality, acceptance and uplifting behavior to others as compassionate and all embracing. Jesus taught “love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus also taught “love your neighbor as you would love yourself.” Jesus also taught that all of life is encompassed by an always present and active God.

Is there anything you’d like to add to what you said in the film that may not have made the final cut?

There were many things. I think the most important is that now more than ever, Christians must learn more about their own faith traditions and the teachings of Jesus. How can they understand the teachings of Guru Nanak, if they have very little understanding of their own faith? Also, this film raises the need for all Americans and others to begin to understand that if we do not take seriously the teachings of the Guru Nanak, then how can we take seriously the teachings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Given the current violence that has incapsulated our own country through gun violence, the division by race, religion and the ongoing violence and threat of potential war in the Middle East and in regions within the Oriental religious context, it is imperative to understand that Sikhism brings to the table an important teaching to be embraced by all believers in the name of the one God. Also, stewardship of the earth and its resources are an important understanding taught within the theologies of all monotheistic faiths at a time when climate change and the raping of the earths resources by a few without thought about those who in future generations that will follow us is a grievous sin and violation of God’s teaching about the compassionate care for all of creation. 

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently studying whatever scholarship is available that would shed more light on the engagement that Guru Nanak may have had with other monotheistic religions that he was exposed to during his years of travel throughout Iraq, India, Pakistan, Iran the lower Arabian Peninsula, Mecca and Afghanistan. This is important as we look to the future and the healthy impact and reconciliation that all monotheistic religions can provide in finding the sweet spots in ending conflict between nations, states and peoples. 

MARK JUERGENSMEYER

DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY AND GLOBAL STUDIES, FELLOW AND FOUNDING DIRECTOR, ORFALEA CENTER FOR GLOBAL & INT’L STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA

Tell us about your work. How does what you do relate to Sikhism and this film?

I am a scholar of global sociology of religion who has lived and worked in the Punjab for several years, including teaching at Punjab University, Chandigarh, and as a research fellow at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. I helped to create the first conference on Sikh Studies in the United States in 1976 at Berkeley, and co-edited the book, Sikh Studies. Several of my other books relate to religious and social movements in the Punjab. 

What do Guru Nanak’s teachings mean to you personally?

As I say in the film, each of the 10 Gurus have the same spiritual essence but evoke different elements of spirituality. With Guru Nanak it is not only his meditative core but his remarkable global reach that appeals to Sikhs around the world who see in him a global Guru. 

What do you wish Americans knew about Guru Nanak, and about Sikhism in general?

It is a rich and distinctive tradition, one of spirituality and service, that ennobles all who learn about it. 

What would you say you want people to take away from this film? 

Sikhs will find it confirming; non-Sikhs will find it inspiring, since it evokes a sense of spirituality and service that brings out the best in all of us.

What projects are you currently working on?

Comparative studies of religion and social movements around the world.

JJ KAPUR

STANFORD UNIVERSITY STUDENT:

Tell us about your work. How does what you do relate to Sikhism and this film?

Throughout high school, I focused on advocating for civil rights through public speaking. Speech and debate provided me the tools of logical reasoning and persuasive rhetoric with which I can amplify the voice of marginalized groups. Through competitive Original Oratory, I bought my experiences to the stage and discussed the challenges that youth encounter living in an environment rampant with hate and racist rhetoric.

My goals throughout high school and now as an undergraduate at Stanford deal with how I can use my voice to break down stereotypes and build connections with my fellow Americans. A lot of what I do relates to spreading a truthful, humanizing message about Sikhism, often through a sense of humor. Guru Nanak Dev Ji has always been an inspiration for me, as he represents someone who was incredibly gifted at storytelling, breaking down barriers between others in a light-hearted way, and shedding light on what it means to be fully human. So when I heard about the opportunity to be involved in this film, I jumped on it!

How did you become involved in the documentary project?

Initially, I was invited by Dr. Rajwant Singh to speak about Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s impact on my own life at a fundraising gala event in Los Angeles last year. It was at this event where I learned more about the film’s message and significance and I expressed an interest in contributing to it. I was later asked to be a part of the film by Gerry Krell, one of the film’s producers. I felt so blessed, honored, and humbled, to be asked to contribute my voice to this larger project. In other words…I was STOKED.

What do Guru Nanak’s teachings mean to you personally?

What strikes me about Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings, particularly his demand for tolerance and equality, was when he began to formulate and voice those beliefs. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was not even a teenager yet at the time when he broke with tradition – the iconoclastic move of refusing to wear the traditional Hindu Janeu thread as it entrenched social inequality. I remember listening to my parents tell me that story as a child and just thinking to myself: wow! Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s example inspires me to spark social change despite my own youth. 

What do you wish Americans knew about Guru Nanak, and about Sikhism in general?

I wish my fellow Americans learned that one of the most notable messages from Guru Nanak Dev Ji which is at the core of the Sikh faith was his belief in oneness and unity: “Na Ko Hindu, Na Muselman.” 

The idea being that before we can become a Sikh, a Hindu, a Muslim, or a Christian, we must become human first. Guru Nanak Dev Ji had a revolutionary idea, one that is still relevant today, that the divisions we create for ourselves are nonsensical. We are one people.

What would you say you want people to take away from this film?

I want people watching this film to realize that fighting for social change is not solely a serious endeavor. Staying in high spirits, keeping a light-hearted attitude, and maintaining a sense of humor, even when the proverbial “curry hits the fan,” is essential. I think Guru Nanak Dev Ji understood the Sikh concept of Chardi Kala – maintaining relentless optimism even in the face hardship – very well. Countless times in history, Guru Nanak Dev Ji maintained high spirits and even used a sense of humor to poke holes at the established order and to fight for justice. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was an expert at using humor for a cause, and we can learn to do the same.

Is there anything you’d like to add to what you said in the film that may not have made the final cut?

This film is largely about how one individual learned to become fully comfortable in their own skin, something each of us should aspire to achieve. This is because the beauty of being comfortable in your own skin is you stop caring what everyone else thinks and you do what you think is right, and what makes you happy, and I think the minute you do that: there is no stopping you. 

What projects are you currently working on?

 At Stanford, I have become more interested in studying Psychology and learning about Mental Health. In particular, I am in the beginning stages of working on a student-run project called  “Sikhs in the Spotlight” that uses theatrical skits to show Sikh youth and their parents how to  have healthier conversations about issues encompassing academics, dating, maintaining kesh, etc. If you are interested in learning more about this project and/or hosting an event near you,  you can send me an email: [email protected].

SNATAM KAUR

SINGER, SONGWRITER & AUTHOR

Tell us about your work. How does what you do relate to Sikhism and this film?

I am a recording music artist and a peace activist. The music that I record essentially comes from the Sikh tradition. I was born and raised as a Sikh and found that the sacred chants of the Sikh tradition brought much relief to people of all walks of life. Our music is used in yoga classes, it’s used in peoples own personal private space for stress reduction; I’ve gotten a lot of emails about that. People will listen to our music at home, during work and during significant life events. For example, women have written to me saying that they use our music to help facilitate their birthing process or when a loved one is passing away to be able to ease the feelings and stress during that time. I really feel that the gift of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh tradition, in giving us the technology to use sound for healing is a basis for my work. Guru Nanak taught through sacred poetry and people learned these sacred poems because they were beautiful and also catchy and they shifted peoples’ minds. And I feel that a lot of what Guru Nanak gives is a sense of self-esteem that yes, the divine exists within me. Yes, I can be a good person. These chants infuse our beings with that and I don’t feel it always has to be a thought out process where someone understands mentally what is happening, but that it shifts vibration within people, and it certainly shifts vibration within me through the chanting. 

How did you become involved in the documentary project?

I received an email from my friend Gurmukh Kaur, who was contacted about the documentary and she recommended our music for this documentary. And I am pleased that I was asked and it was definitely a big stretch for us because the only time that I had available to participate in the documentary was during a tour, which was perfect because our music is so related to the mission of Guru Nanak. And Guru Nanak’s mission was to really go out and travel and share the teachings that: “God is one and The Divine is one within all beings.” And we really strive to do that with our music, our musical concerts, to give people this experience and of singing the words of Guru Nanak. First of all, many of our chants are actual poems from Guru Nanak. But also, what we sing and what we share, I feel, is my best effort to share the core teachings of Guru Nanak: that The Divine exists within us all, and especially for empowerment for women during this day and age, that women can gain the self-esteem to be in their power. There is the line: “So kyun manda aakhiye, jit jamme rajaan.” — “Why call a woman bad who from a woman kings are born?” And I feel that these words of Guru Nanak are an essential question to women ourselves: why do we call ourselves bad? And to instead drop all of our self-doubt and come into that place of empowerment as to who we are. 

What do Guru Nanak’s teachings mean to you personally? 

I feel that Guru Nanak’s teachings essentially are why I am out touring the world, sharing music with people of all walks of life. I feel that Guru Nanak never put a comparative study up where this one religious path is better than the other, or worse than the other,  but that he said that The Divine exists within all walks of life, within all beings. And that we really have to let go of our rituals, let go of doing things that really just don’t come from the heart and in this modern day and age we have so many things that get us out of our heart center and get us out of being present in our lives. So, for me on a personal level, because of the teachings of Guru Nanak, I try to bring as much presence and awareness to my life, to my family. Instead of getting distracted by worries or fears, I found that a daily practice is super key, which is an essential teaching of Guru Nanak – having a saadna, a daily meditation and chanting practice; this also includes Kundalini Yoga as well and this allows, I find, for myself to remain calm, to remain present and to come from a positive place for my life. So, this has been key and a beautiful blessing of Guru Nanak’s teaching into my life so that I can do things from the heart. Also, I feel that it is important to come from a place of respect for all walks of life, all traditions. Throughout my life, I have been involved in difference interfaith work, interfaith symposiums, interfaith prayer gatherings, where people of different traditions can come together and pray together. This has been so empowering to me, has brought so much hope into my heart to connect with people of other traditions and learn from people of other traditions. I feel so grateful to Guru Nanak for his example in my life that has led me to these kinds of choices. Once again as a woman, I feel empowered by the essential teachings of Guru Nanak to walk with strength, to walk with courage and to live as a woman in a spiritual life. I know how important his relationship was with Bibi Nanaki , his sister, and how much she loved him. I know from his writings how much respect he had for women as he lived in his physical form and I feel like his message is important to women as I referenced before in the earlier question. 

What do you wish Americans knew about Guru Nanak and Sikhism in general? 

Well, I’m hopeful and I’m already seeing this happen, that Americans are beginning to understand how service is an essential part of the Sikh way of life, not just serving each other but serving others as well. I also hope and pray that Americans come to know how the Sikh way of life embodies courage — our energy of the warrior that manifested in the form of Guru Gobind Singh comes from the first Guru, Guru Nanak – that essential energy of courage to stand up and say no religious way of life is better than the other. In fact, we are all one. I think this took an incredible amount of courage and I hope that this message of Guru Nanak gets out there more and I feel that it is essential in this day and age, especially in America, when we are so divided based on religion. Guru Nanak’s message is important for the health of our country and the health of our society to see that The Divine exists within all walks of life. 

What projects are you currently working on?I am currently working on creating a new album that includes new sections of Japji, a sacred poem by Guru Nanak. So, I’m currently studying those sections and creating a tune for them. And I am also in the process of preparing for our world tour; we tour all over the world and there is a lot of work that goes in on the front end of those plans. I also teach an intensive workshop at the end of the summer on Shabad Guru, for people that wish to dive into Shabad Guru, which is an essential teaching of the Sikh tradition for people that want to learn more and have a more in-depth experience. This course takes place in Massachusetts. All of our tours and our music are available on my website: www.snatamkaur.com and I’d like to refer people to that website to stay in touch with me. I’m also available on Facebook at Snatam Kaur and on instagram as @snatamkaurkhalsa. Thank you very much.

K SINGH SAHNI M.D.

F.A.C.S.,F.A.A.N.S., CHIEF OF NEUROSCIENCE| MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF GAMMA KNIFE CENTER

Tell us about your work. How does what you do relate to Sikhism and this film? 

I have been practicing Neurosurgery since 1983. My subspecialty is brain tumors. This  field battles with life and death . Patients seen by me are as young as 18 and as old as over 90 . My patients are of different races, different religions and may have  different financial status . Some have excellent prognosis while others have only a few days to live after I see them. Every aspect of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teaching affects my daily practice. Guru Nanak Dev  Ji’s teachings are based on equality, sharing, humility, hard and honest work.

Compassion  & Humility : I have to talk to my patients and care for them exactly the way  I would want my own family taken care of. Share a smile , share a tear, Care for their family, the child , the parent or  the spouse who may be left behind if the patient faces a tragedy. This compassionate approach over and above the surgery, chemotherapy or Radiation treatment is what we have been taught by Guru Nanak Dev ji. We face this daily in my profession.

Vand Chakko:  I am active in sharing my good fortunes with Child hospice services and with kids with cancer . If I come across a patient not fortunate enough to be covered for his healthcare I will do the best I can to help them. This is what we have been taught  by Guru ji’s ” Sacha Sauda”.

Kirt Karo: I am 67 and everyday in the morning when I take a shower , pay my respect to Guru Granth Sahib and do my Ardaas and get in my car to go to work  I thank the good Lord for blessing me with the opportunity to go to work. Being able to go to work, and still averaging 10 hours a day of hard work gives me the biggest pleasure of my life . When asked : What’s your hobby ?  My answer is I am a boring person : My hobby is WORK. I mean it Hard work , honest work and healing the sick is not just what we have been taught ,it’s our faith. The teacher of this faith is Guru Nanak Dev Ji. 

Naam Japna:  Guilty . I am guilty of this inadequacy as a good Sikh.  While I think I do a fair amount of Sewa I do not meditate as much . My Naam Japna is limited to the following:  Doing my Ardas in AM, listening to Keertan on the way to work and saying the Mool Mantar quietly in my mind when facing a hopeless medical situation . When  sitting across a patient and knowing what a horrible prognosis is facing that patient I quietly in my mind say ” Sat Naam Waheguru” . I am looking the patient in the eye and reciting this without the patient knowing that I am praying for them. So in the conventional  Sikhi way I am guilty of not doing the daily Nit Nem or the Paaths or the meditation but I do a little in my own way as mentioned above. So, I accept that I am not doing Naam Japna as I should . 

What would you say you want people to take away from this film?

Overall the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the Sikh life can be adopted by any human being regardless of their faith or their nationality . Honest living, hard work , sharing and humility are the pillars of the Sikh faith and I hope this documentary will help spread this message.

DR. BRAHMACHARI V. SHARAN

DIRECTOR FOR DHARMIC LIFE & HINDU SPIRITUAL ADVISOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

Tell us about your work. How does what you do relate to Sikhism and this film?

I serve as the Director for Dharmic Life and Hindu Spiritual Advisor for Georgetown University, in their Campus Ministry. Georgetown University is the USA’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit University, grounded in the Catholic Christian faith, but we have a number of students from a variety of different backgrounds. Dharmic Life was created to bring depth to the students’ understanding of their own spiritualities, whether they have a heritage in the Dharmic traditions (Jain, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh), or are interested in learning about them. In 2018, our Sikh students gathered together and founded the Sikh Student Association, and they bring awareness of Sikhi to the campus community. So, in that way I have a very direct connection to the Sikh community’s representation on campus. However, I have a personal connection: my order of forest monks is from India, is part of the numerous groups which make up what is known as the Sant Movement, which, during the tumultuous times of the 11th – 20th centuries and beyond, sought to highlight the fact that the timeless teachings of compassion and freedom from suffering were the main goal, in contradistinction to the people who had turned spirituality into vehicles for their financial or political advancement. Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the other Gurus of Sikh Dharma stand as grand examples of this ideology – and worked in their region to live out the ethics of devotion and service of humankind, regardless of identity or affiliation. I feel, therefore, a strong affinity to the teachings of Sikhi, and the fact that I grew up with numerous Sikh friends who were invariably sisters and brothers, only strengthened my deep appreciation for Sikhi. 

What do Guru Nanak’s teachings mean to you personally?

Personally, Shri Guru Nanak Dev ji is a shining example. He showed where society itself had fallen away from the universal compassion that each taught, and was instead involved in all sorts of meaningless squabbles, all of which distract from the ultimate goal. He was able to bring back to the focus equality and equity in a manner that very few have been able to do in the Indian subcontinent since the various empires, both domestic and foreign, chose to prioritise politics over ethics. His care for each person in society will always be one of the lights that guide my life.

What do you wish Americans knew about Guru Nanak, and about Sikhism in general?

I wish that Americans could read and understand the mindset of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji as a means to help soothe the feverish temperatures of society, that are encouraging division and fear in a manner similar to that of his own context. I also hope that the Sikh community can be valued for its numerous contributions to the American story and also for its deep respect for everyone. 

What would you say you want people to take away from this film? 

I hope people can begin to see why I think Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji is one of the world’s most important figures in history. 

I want to say that it is not about what tradition Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji belonged to at birth or whether he was radically different. It is about the desire he had to live the truth that he experienced to the highest ethical degree, something which was exceedingly rare at that time in the Indian subcontinent.

What projects are you currently working on?

Currently, I am working with the student groups to create a space for the various Dharmic traditions on campus where they can understand and experience these traditions – the four Hindu Dharmas, the Buddhist Dharmas, the Jain Dharmas and Sikh Dharma. My heart’s desire is that one day, the various communities will support the Sikh students on campus enough for us to be able to establish a Sikh Spiritual Advisor position to really focus on developing programmes and resources for Sikhs in 21st century USA.

SHAMINA SINGH

FOUNDER & PRESIDENT OF MASTERCARD CENTER FOR INCLUSIVE GROWTH

Tell us about our work. How does what you do relate to Sikhism and this film?

I lead the philanthropic efforts of Mastercard and have always been involved in service of some sort.  As the daughter of Sikh immigrants to the U.S. my sisters and I were raised with Sikhi values.  I think my work at Mastercard as well as my previous work with social justice and political organizations is all related to a grounding in Sikhism.

What do Guru Nanak’s teachings mean to you personally?                           

His philosophy of multi-culturalism, faith, service all resonate with me personally. I read or listen to the Japji Sahib almost every day – sometimes more than once a day.  I love what it says about the world, our role in society and also the pragmatism of fulfilling one’s obligations to community and family. 

What do you wish Americans knew about Guru Nanak, and about Sikhism in general?                              

I don’t know if its Americans specifically, but I think one of the most interesting things about Guru Nanak’s teachings is that he didn’t preach about the need for an intermediary between the individual and the Creator.  One’s relationship with God or whatever you call your Higher Power belongs to you, is inside of you and also surrounds everything you do. It doesn’t require rituals or permissions and is without judgement. He was an extraordinary teacher.

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