The following remarks were delivered by Inni Kaur, Chair Sikh Research institute, at the Pentagon’s second Vaisakhi event to commemorate the Sikh faith on May 1, 2015. Hosted by the Office of the Pentagon Chaplain, the program was organized by Major Kalsi, Captain Rattan, Corporal Lamba, and the Sikh Coalition
May 1, 2015
I’d like to thank the Pentagon Chaplain and Chaplain Corps for gathering us here to commemorate Vaisakhi, a spring harvest festival which is celebrated by many South Asian communities.
However, Vaisakhi has a very special significance for the Sikh community.
It was the Vaisakhi of 1699, when the tenth Guru inaugurated the Khalsa Panth (a community of committed Sikhs) and entrusted them with a calling to eradicate human suffering.
The just war theory of the Khalsa is: when all means fail, it is just to pick up the sword.
It would not be right for me to expand on this today, for the theme for today’s commemoration is seva.
So what is seva?
Seva – Selfless service; spiritually-grounded service; ego-less service.
Yes, it is all this and more…
Seva in Sikh thought is embedded with social and political responsibility, with a strong focus on standing in service of the defenseless.
Seva flows from the principle that, “The Divine Light is in all; and that Light is the same.”
Therefore, there are no strangers, for the One resides in all.
I invite you to journey with me….let’s go back in time.
The year is 1704.
We are in Panjab.
Sikhs are under attack.
Skirmishes and battles are the norm of the day.
On one such battlefield, we find Bhai Kanhiaya serving water to all, including the fallen enemy. His act of compassion angers his companions.
And how can you blame them?
For the enemy has surrounded the camp and stopped their food supplies. And there is Bhai Kahniaya sharing their meagre water supplies with the enemy.
They demand he stop; but he continues. And before long, he is hauled in before the 10th Guru.
The Guru speaks, “These brave Sikhs tell me that you are serving water to the wounded enemy. Is this true?”
“Yes, my Guru,” he replies, “what they say is true. But I see no enemy. I only see the divine radiating in all faces.”
The Guru smiles, “Take this balm and apply it on the wounds of all who need it.”
This living example from Sikh history continues to act as a beacon in our lives.
Now more than ever it needs to be shared, it needs to be remembered.
That is exactly what the Sikhs in Canada have done. They have formed a special Cadet Corps in his name.
A historic charter was signed on April 10th of this year with the Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps forming the 3300 British Columbia Regiment (Bhai Kanhaiya).
It is the first of its kind in the world bearing his name.
I ask, can my country follow suit?
But this is not simply about forming a Sikh regiment. Rather a regiment that remembers the one Sikh who redefined, through his Guru, what service means even in the most challenging of human circumstances – war.
It is a learning on how to be compassionate on the battle-field while serving the human spirit, even in war.
Bhai Kanhaiya’s spirit lives on. For it flows from the principle that the Divine is in all.
This highest form of seva arises only when one is in the constant awareness of the Divine (simran).
Seva and simran go hand in hand. They are two sides of the same coin. Both equally needed for one’s growth.
Our training ground for seva begins at our gurdwaras (places of learning).
From childhood, we are taught to cook, clean and serve all who come there, regardless of their beliefs. One could say, that this is where we develop true self-esteem from dignified work.
The largest serving free food kitchen is at Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar (popularly known as the Golden Temple). It feeds about 40,000 people a day. However, on historical days and weekends, it can feed up to 100,000 people. What is interesting to note, is that 90% of its kitchen staff is made up of volunteers.
And the volunteers are pouring in, for the need of the hour is great. The people of Nepal need us now, more than ever. The kitchens of Harmandir Sahib are working 24/7 so that 100,000 individually wrapped food packages can be sent daily to Nepal. Many of the other gurdwaras have followed suit.
This is seva.
We truly believe that when you remove the fear of starvation from people’s lives, you make it possible for them to think about their existence on a spiritual plane.
It is like putting them a little closer in their reach of the divine.
Seva is physical.
Seva is mental.
Seva is material.
With our hands we serve, as we do with our check-books.
With our minds immersed in the Teachings, we serve creation – for the Creator is within the creation. Never seeking conversion, for the Divine Light is in all and that Light is the same.
Seva is becoming the voice for the voiceless; the shield for the oppressed.
Seva is fighting for justice; but never for revenge.
Seva is using your pen to raise consciousness.
By no stretch of the imagination is seva easy.
For it must be rooted in honesty, humility, without desire for recognition and with the purest of intentions.
A deep surrender needs to take place within oneself for seva to truly flow.
For only then, does seva become a state of mind?
Major Kalsi you asked, “What does seva mean to me?”
Seva is an intrinsic part of the faith that I have chosen to follow. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that seva is a personal calling. Whether I am sweeping the floor, teaching the children, writing parables or picking up the sword, I struggle to serve with the purest of intentions. Seva is making myself available to all, and doing the thing that needs doing in each moment, whatever that may be.
Do I always succeed?
But the one thing that I do know, is that seva for me begins and ends in Love.
For I truly believe that when:
One is immersed in Love
Words become hymns
Actions become worship
Hands and feet become instruments
No longer does one perform seva
But becomes seva.
Flowing like a river serving all
Laboring and gathering bread for all.
In Sikh thought, the journey is the destination….
And the journey becomes beautiful when we become our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
I wish you all an enriching Vaisakhi!
Vahi Guru ji Ka Khalsa
Vahi Guru ji Ke Fatih