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Just a few weeks after the release of The X-Files sequel comes verification of the Unidentified Sikh. He proudly goes by Manpreet Singh.

See? The answers are there… you just have to know where to look. Just like Scully said in the pilot episode. I can’t vouch for the recent release, but watching the progression of Scully’s deep skepticism and unwaivering belief in science in Season 1 morph into tolerance of her faith and ultimately a belief in the unknown by Season 6 was fascinating. A neat review of the movie in The Christian Post concludes “that our future is found in joining both heart and mind, reason and faith, science and religion to address all aspects of life is a message that this new X-Files [film] graphically presents.” Looks like the movie may be worth checking out.

I have scoured many a library and bookstore back in the day in an attempt to look for books, articles, anything! on Sikhi. Just imagine your Sikhpulse writer at age 6, a seasoned master of the Dewey Decimal system (or at least she thought she was), learning that the institutions she revered and placed so much faith in had failed her. The smile she usually wore instead resembled the same form as her pigtails: a frown.

She may have transitioned out of the pigtails and gained some command of appropriate expletive usage, but, twenty years later, the frown persists.

Two Sikh pals and I checked out a major bookstore in a major US city that had a major section dedicated to Philosophy and Religion. Six stacks were reserved for Christianity alone. Two stacks were filled completely with Bibles. Judiasm won three stacks and Islam and Hinduism competed for two stacks. There was another stack for Eastern Religions including Buddhism and Taoism. Atheists and agnostics got some love too with their own stack.

How many stacks were dedicated to Sikhi? Brace yourself now.

There were more Sikhs within the bookstore than there were books on Sikhi. Only two books made up the entire Religion and Philosophy section. Not stacks, but books! Both books were tiny and less than 75 pages in length. And both books were awful representations of Sikhi: one even made strange and incorrect correlations to Hinduism.

Is there a dearth of Sikh literature? Is this what resulted in the dismay of three Sikhs over the selection of two books? Perhaps but certainly there are more than two books that could have populated the stacks. The Sikh Coalition’s campaign to supply local libraries with resources about Sikhi is a great start but it shouldn’t be become our endpoint. We, writers and artists of the future, need to keep fresh and new thoughts in the mix by continuing to document our history, past and newly-formed, and think critically about Gurbani in a way that is accessible to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.

Please help me from ever telling a corny joke that starts off with “three Sikhs stood in front of a stack of books…” Work the supply and demand theory by reading and buying our texts. Help the Coalition with their project or speak up with your pen or voice and ask your bookstores and libraries to accurately represent a major world religion through the number of quality books offered on their shelves.

So the last few posts have been pretty heavy which means I probably lost your interest completely. It’s time I get it back.

Twenty-four year old Californian comedian and soon-to-be-movie-star Harvin Sethi is part of a 4-comic comedy troupe in a show that aims to “ease religious tensions through laughter and a healthy dose of political incorrectness.” Titled Make Chai, Not War, the Indian-American comedians (Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and Jewish) threw out jokes to an equally diverse crowd on April 28 in the D.C. area. Co-creator Azhar Usman commented that “some of the comics have a deep commitment to interfaith and bringing communities together. For others, it’s probably just another gig” (newsblaze.com). Although Harvin clearly identifies himself as Indian, here’s hoping he’s also part of the former. And if not, well, it doesn’t bother me much: he’ll win you over with his laughs as well. Here’s a great one from March 2005: The Power of the Jatt.*

*Uh oh, I might have made your Caste-is-Bad bell go off. Remember: this is just for laughs.

A probing public service announcement made by the folks at rethinkbias.org/A More Perfect Union/Virginia Interfaith Center (probably with the help of both SALDEF and Sikh Coalition) is being streamed on TV stations across the Virginia/D.C. area.

Watch “Airplane” here.

Dramaticized? Reactionary? Exaggerated? Yeah, a little bit. (And perhaps I showed my own ignorance when I first saw it and thought hey, why is that Jack Bauer/Kiefer Sutherland dude being such an awful character?) But it relays the message clearly to the viewer: education and outreach are the answers to ignorance and intolerance.

As a mediocre “writer” I look up to and try to learn from publications such as The New York Times. Sometimes they win my complete admiration. And sometimes they make me go up in arms. Why, oh why, do they have to make our relationship so tumultuous and difficult?

The Times apparently likes recycling stories. Especially ones as interesting as the multitude of faiths practiced in the diverse town of Flushing located in Queens, New York. But even I, blogger-unextraordinaire, know it’s possible to freshen up a recycled story by including perspectives and views that may not have been addressed in the past.

Back in 1999, they published an article titled “A Snapshot of World Faith; On One Queens Block, Many Prayers Are Spoken.” The piece briefly acknowledged the existence of a Gurdwara in the first paragraph of a two-page article but nothing more. It made me upset at the time, but I somehow managed to keep it together and get over it.

Fast-forward to 2007. The same topic is drafted into an article for their Travel section. Omitting multifaith options in New York is the best way to describe it. This time around the sangat and Gurudwara aren’t even mentioned. I was pissed enough to write a blog entry, and had begged you to write letters to the editor.

May 2, 2008. I take a moment to check out the main page of the Times website. Oh look: the same topic has now been released as a video report and as an article in the Arts section. And oh look: there’s still absolutely NO mention of our lovely gurdwara and sangat.

Let me once again illustrate where our “forgotten” gurdwara is located in relation to the other religious venues that have somehow managed to capture the attention of three different NYT writers over a span of a decade:

FYI: The Hindu temple and Gurdwara are less than a block away from each other!

  • Sri Shirdi Saibaba Temple = 46-16 Robinson Street
  • B’Nai Abraham synagogue = 75-03 Main Street
  • St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang Roman Catholic Chapel and Center, Evergreen Presbyterian Church, Hazrat-I-Abubakr Sadiq mosque = take my word for it: they’re all close by as well

If I drew a map there would be a bunch of dots within a mile radius of each other and the Gurdwara would be right along side all of them.

This is absolutely frustrating. Should I direct my strikes towards The New York Times or the sangat and sevadars of the Bowne Street Gurudwara who may have not picked up on the ignorance of my typically very unignorant newspaper? I would be crushed if this was recycled again for the fourth time and I didn’t see any mention of our house of worship and spirited, presumably civically-engaged people. I think it’s time for desperate measures… either a stern letter to the editor/op-ed piece or boycotting my once beloved and favorite newspaper.

My Image Description

Taken and adapted from David Ladinsky’s I Heard God Laughing and The Subject Tonight Is Love.

Hafiz (1320-1389) is considered to be one of the greatest lyrical poets of all time. Similar to the way the Gurus sung their message, Hafiz wrote about the stages of spiritual growth in the rhythm of the ghazal making it easy for all– farmers, craftsman, scholars and princes– to learn. Much of his writing reflects themes found in Sikhi: he did not see God as separate from the world (rather wherever there is love, there is the Beloved); he described the path to love as one that began with an awakening, led to pursuit and longing, and unfolded into a new phase of learning and inner growth; and he envisioned God as an all-loving companion, guide, friend and lover.

In My Brilliant Image, Hafiz describes some of the preparations required for the inner Journey of Love. He urges us to let go of habitual negative attitudes and unnecessary attachments which only weigh us down. To make this Journey, we must be light, happy and free to go Dancing:

My Brilliant Image
One day the sun admitted,

I am just a shadow.
I wish I could show you
The Infinite Incandescence (Tej)

That has cast my brilliant image!

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,

The Astonishing Light

Of your own Being!

Hafiz seeks to broaden and deepen our understanding of “real love,” both in human relationships and in our growing obsession with the Divine. He prods us to explore Love’s possibilities and test its apparent boundaries. He says our progress in this Journey can only be measured by the intensity of our love, the living flame that illuminates all life. Begin to love now, he says, don’t wait– let there be no regrets.

I Saw You Dancing
I saw you dancing last night on the roof
Of your house all alone.

I felt your heart longing for the
Friend.

I saw you whirling
Beneath the soft bright rose
That hung from an invisible stem in
The sky,

So I began to change into my best clothes
In hopes of joining you

Even though
I live a thousand miles away

And if
You had spun like an immaculate sphere
Just two more times,

Then bowed again so sweetly to
The East,

You would have found God and me
Standing so near
And lifting you into our
Arms.

I saw you dancing last night near the roof
Of this world.

Hafiz feels your soul in mine
Calling for our
Beloved.

His ability to access the healing and loving dimensions of the divine earned Hafiz the name “The Tongue of the Invisible” by the Persians. How true that is. Like Gurbani, it’s even more beautiful and meaningful when read or sung aloud. I hope these two poems have reminded you of Waheguru and inspired us to read more: both Hafiz and the Guru Granth Sahib.

Caution: debatable word play follows.

  • Newsday: The US Secret Service gave the World Sikh Council a choice: leave your ceremonial daggers at the door or forgo a meeting with the Pope. So the Sikhs will not join a Washington, D.C. interfaith gathering with Pope Benedict XVI in April. The Secret Service considers kirpans a security issue, but Sikhs consider carrying the curved blade one of five sacred duties.

Headlines of nearly every article published in American and British media on this story suggest that Sikhs gave the hand to the Pope. And some continue in their brief summaries to describe the kirpan as a dagger.

I can imagine what editors were thinking when selecting synonyms for kirpan: “hmm, sword, the cutting edge of an enlightened mind, weapon, dagger. Eh, same thing.”

And why is the kirpan still a security issue with the Secret Service? Why hasn’t our work with the TSA carried over to other agencies? How could they not be aware of our panj kakaar when Akal Security provides security services to a range of government agencies including the U.S. Army and the Department of Homeland Security?

The World Sikh Council’s press release is aptly titled “Sikhs To Miss Papal Event, Secret Service Bars Kirpaan.” It has all the elements of a good headline. Catchy. Accurate. Avoids hyperboles. Why couldn’t I have woken up this morning and seen this in the paper instead? Let’s put it this way: if I did you may have been spared from another dull blog post.

The Pew Forum, through their recently released “US Religious Landscape Survey,” provided information regarding a niche that the US Census manages to avoid: religious affiliation. You could imagine my excitement as I clicked on religions.pewforum.org to check it out and learn what the survey found in regards to Sikh Americans.

And that’s when it all started moving in slow-motion.

“Main page.” I scan through it. “Where’s the category for Sikhs? Okay, no worries. Perhaps we’re buried in the ‘Religious Composition of the US’ table in Chapter 1.” I move the edge of my finger over the mousepad ever so slightly so as to scroll down the page inch by inch. “It’s there, it’s there,” I tell myself reassuringly. “Wow, categories for Eclectic, a little bit of everything, own beliefs, New Age and Native American. Okay, seriously, where are we?” I shoot back up to the top and carefully re-scroll downwards. “You wouldn’t want to publicly hate on a survey for no reason. You’re definitely missing it.” I re-read the text. No luck. Re-loading the page doesn’t work either. “This can’t be for real.”

The record in my head came to a screeching halt.

After going through the entire frickin report I feel comfortable declaring that Sikhs were not included as a category in the study. We are neither a religion, an other world religion, an other faith nor an unaffiliated religion. I don’t get it. Out of the 35556 people over the age of 18 surveyed not one Sikh was reached? We weren’t away from our phones having post-Vaisakhi celebrations between May and August of 2007 (the time period the survey was conducted). How we got shafted remains uncertain.

It’s one thing for you and me to not be able to experience the joy that comes from seeing statistical data published on Sikhs. And trust me, our joy is of major importance to me. But it’s entirely problematic when a survey of great political importance snubs a huge percentage of the American diaspora.

…Muslims rival Mormons as having the largest families. And Hindus are the best-educated and among the richest religious groups, the survey found.

“I think politicians will be looking at this survey to see what groups they ought to target,” Professor Prothero said. “If the Hindu population is negligible, they won’t have to worry about it. But if it is wealthy, then they may have to pay attention.”

Experts said the wide-ranging variety of religious affiliation could set the stage for further conflicts over morality or politics, or new alliances on certain issues, as religious people have done on climate change or Jews and Hindus have done over relations between the United States, Israel and India. (NYT, Feb 26)

I hate to admit that certain groups are lobbied in greater preference than others and politicians cater to certain groups for self gain, but it’s sadly the nature of the beast. Our exclusion from this study is a big loss for our community. We must make sure that this isn’t repeated again. Speak up, people.

I was this close (yes, this close) to tearing the media (the Times in particular) apart to shreds. I nearly got sucked into the drumbeat of outright war. CBS, however, prevented the escalation (and my own public embarrassment from future regret) from coming to light with the documentary “In God’s Name” premiering tonight at 9 PM EST.

The Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the Sikhs’ highest authority, is one of twelve spiritual leaders interviewed. Personal moments of prayer and family are included in promotional photographs as seen below:

jathedar1.jpg

The directors describe him as “speaking out strongly for women’s equality in the Sikh faith.”

jathedarfamily1.jpg

So let me get this straight: a major media outlet interviewed, photographed, promoted, and reflected positively on Sikhi and its leaders. Yes, the photos above are placed at the end of the slideshow on the site and perhaps some of the other spiritual leaders will get more air time, but unlike other news that is supposedly fit to print, CBS acknowledged Sikhism as one of the world’s major religions. Although we may be a young faith, they recognize that more folks practice Sikhi than Judaism.

Someone deserves a high-five. Thank you for helping to initiate a temporary halt to my media bashing.

Addendum: As per sikhswim, I should be thanking United Sikhs. Take a look at the promo here.

Bowne Street in Queens, New York makes my inner spirit smile. Three places of worship lie within feet of each other: a gurudwara at one corner, a Buddhist temple directly across the street, and a Hindu temple next door. The sights, smells, and sounds that erupt on that corner during weekends or on holy days lure people of all faiths together. I love seeing the distinct but common beliefs of bald men wrapped in red robes swirl together with long bearded men wielding kirpans.

The sweet nectar of community and remembrance of God that attracts the hungered soul was described in a recent article in the travel section of The New York Times. Why, there’s more to the holiday season than just the birth of Christ. We musn’t forget the devotees of other faiths: Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.

Oh, but wait. Let us opt to not mention the Sikhs. Even better, let us describe the Hindu temple on Bowne Street in painful detail but not reflect on the gurudwara that neighbors it.

This article is screaming letter to the editor. Okay, maybe not screaming. Perhaps just a gentle nudge that Sikhs make up a large proportion of the multifaith milieu as well.

I’m not the biggest Bush fan. And with his approval rating hovering around 24%, I don’t think many of you are either. Yesterday, however, Mr. Bush managed to get my respect. (But only for a moment. Too bad he had to screw it up with his ridiculous press conference banter earlier in the day.)

President Bush became the first US leader to appear publicly with the Dalai Lama despite threats by the Chinese government that such an event would bring about “a severe violation of the norms of international relations.” The White House acknowledged China’s displeasure with the event by not releasing photographs of the two leaders at a private meeting on Tuesday. Yet, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader was presented with the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal as Bush praised him as a “universal symbol of peace and tolerance, a shepard of the faithful, and a keeper of the flame for his people.” Photographs of the ceremony were released this time around. Talk about a diplomatic dance to the death.

So the Chinese are pissed that the US honored a man who promotes so-called secessionist activities and political unrest towards the motherland. And the Chinese may be partially correct in their thinking as the CIA contributed millions of dollars during the 1960’s to support the exiled Tibetan administration in India. We have a lot to lose by further angering the Chinese; they could totally kick our rear-ends by supporting governments we’re trying to destabilize or by diverting their capital surplus away from underwriting our ever-growing debt.

Yet, in the midst of this tortuous love-hate relationship, each party has somehow humbled himself to ascribe to the message of gratitude. We showed our love to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama gave us some love in return. The Dalai Lama passed some love over to India while expressing no hatred towards the Chinese. The Chinese didn’t show much love to anyone but toned down their rhetoric somewhat. I even had a moment where I respected the Bush administration.

Whether Christian, Sikh, or Buddhist, lame duck president, spiritual leader or civilian, we each have unique qualities that can be celebrated and shared. I could have come to a similar conclusion and been spared of the sillyness of this week’s news if I had just remembered that Guru Nanak Dev Ji devoted himself to highlighting the oneness of humanity by exploring the differences that separate people. That he promoted open discourse and interfaith dialogue without press secretaries and journalists meddling in the process. That it is possible to co-exist while respecting what makes each of us distinct. That ultimately all of creation has the same origin and end and that during the short time we experience life through human-form we should practice being tolerant, humble, honest, and compassionate towards one another.