Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh’s statement at Fourth bi-lateral Catholic-Sikh Dialogue (Nishkam Centre, 15th June 2013)

Catholics and Sikhs: Service to humanity as a contribution to peace

Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh

Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh

Dear brothers and sisters, Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh, a most warm welcome to you all – we feel privileged and honoured with your visit.

I would like to start by reflecting upon human life’s spiritual purpose and context:

It is vital that as mortals, we do not forget to reflect upon our life’s purpose and context without which, planning of our life and being useful to others, becomes difficult and deficient.  Without this lead, our actions will be non-compliant with targets and goals.

Drawing from Guru Granth Sahib Ji’s wisdom, humans are asked to answer three cardinal questions: kitho upjae, keh rahae, keh mahae samaavae .

  1. What are our roots, what is our origin?
  2. What are we supposed to do here?
  3. What is our destination or goal?

The answer to these will define our life’s mortal mission, that is, what are we required to do whilst living on this planet which is referred to as a Dharamsaal?  The Guru’s answers are that the human spirit emanated from God.  Its ultimate goal is to fuse with the Almighty and to complete the basic mission, we are required to move closer to God through accumulation of ‘true wealth’.  The currencies that comprise true wealth are three-fold:

  1. Prayer and contemplation (Naam Japna)
  2. Service (Sewa Karni)
  3. Singing God’s praises (Keertan Karna and Sunana)

This true wealth is referred to as ‘Kamai’ in Punjabi.  It is thus important to pray and serve in equal measure.  Reciting Keertan becomes value-added.

Praani to aya laha laaen… Oh mortal being, remember that you are born into this world for a worthy cause.  Earn true profit by generating godliness and goodness in all your dealings.  If you don’t realise and practice this now, you will squander your continuously diminishing life, engaged only in futile unbeneficial tasks.

The Sikh Dharam rests on the three-fold principle of:

  1. Naam Japo (remember the Divine Creator with each breath, bringing a spiritual dimension to all that you do
  2. Kirat Karo (earn your livelihood through sincere effort, rather than resorting to laziness, exploitation and extortion
  3. Wand Shako (share the fruits of your labour with others with humility and compassion).

Service should be a labour of love, filled with gratitude towards our Creator – doing Kirat (earning a livelihood) without remembering Kartar, loses blessedness, barkhat, or grace.  By joining service with prayer and worship, we unlock the latent Divine spirit of ‘joy of giving’ which rests in abundance in us all.

Har ka naam ridhae nith dhiyaee, Sangee sathee sagal tharaee

Meditate continually on God’s Name in your heart, and you shall also save your family and companions

Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p.394

Sewa karat hoi nihkamee, tis ka hoth paraapat swami

One who serves selflessly, without any thought of reward, shall attain God

Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p.286

Vich duniya saev kamaiyai, ta dargeh besan paiyai

In the midst of this world, do service, and you should be given a place of honour in God’s Court

Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p.25

The Millennium Declaration endorsed in 2000 by the world’s international community framed a new agenda for the 21st Century, engaging all countries in global partnership for peace and development.

It set eight (8) goals, namely: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; create a global partnership for development.

To the 8 MDGs above, GNNSJ has further added 3 more issues to work on: global extremism; global financial crisis; and the global erosion of values.

GNNSJ aims to nurture individuals with a new consciousness, new ethos and mindset coupled with empowering them with values, for the delivery and achievement of the aforementioned blueprint for humanity, at global, international, national, regional and local level.

The 21st Century, with its media, information, communication and travel improvements revolution, is a unique period in humanity’s history, where local has become global and vice versa.  Thus, the working from ‘whole to part’ principal becomes imperative for the organisation.

GNNSJ is thus internationally and nationally engaged in trying to make a difference.  Its current activities, directly or indirectly relate to the following:

  1. Youth / gender empowerment
  2. Family values and community cohesion
  3. Primary education
  4. Intrafaith / interfaith dialogue, cooperation and engagement
  5. Heritage conservation
  6. Public health, provision of medical assistance
  7. Development – infrastructure development, urban regeneration
  8. Mobilising values such as volunteering, selflessness, self-help and community participation to bring about change for the common good

GNNSJ’s ethos is one of empowering individuals with values in order to generate a new consciousness in the 21st century, and to engender change both locally and globally.

  1. Youth / gender empowerment
  • Engagement in conferences and symposiums etc.
  • Promoting gender equality and empowering women – GNNSJ is represented in the global Religions for Peace Women of Faith Network
  1. Family values and community cohesion
  • Strengthening of marriage values
  • Alleviation of domestic violence
  • Participation in conferences and symposiums etc.
  1. Primary education – Promotion of values based, values led education at all levels.

Establishment of Nishkam Nursery in 2009, Nishkam Primary School (one of the Government’s first 16 flagship Free Schools projects) in September 2010 and Nishkam High School in September 2012.  These were the first Sikh ethos, multi-faith schools in the Midlands.

  • Establishment of Nishkam Saint Puran Singh Institute, Kericho, Kenya providing technical skills and vocational qualifications to over 200 students from the indigenous population.
  • Support of Guru Ki Kashi at Damdama Sahib, Akal Academy, Baru Sahib, Guru Nanak Mission Medical and Education Trust and the provision of student scholarships for primary and secondary education at Khadur Sahib, Punjab.
  1. Intrafaith / interfaith dialogue, cooperation and engagement
  • GNNSJ’s is currently a member of the Department for International Development’s (DfID’s) working faith group which formulated partnership principles between DfID and faith based organisations.
  • GNNSJ’s is also a passionate supporter of Jubilee Debt Campaign
  • GNNSJ participated at the UN General Assembly on the occasion of the World Interfaith Harmony Week on the theme of ‘Common Ground for the Common Good’ at the invitation of Religions for Peace and the Temple of Understanding.
  • GNNSJ engages nationally through affiliations with the following organisations: British Sikh Consultative Forum; Sangat Trust Television Channel; Religions for Peace (UK); Council of Dharmic Faiths (UK); and United Religions Initiative (UK).
  • GNNSJ’s international activities and memberships include: European Council of Religious Leaders; Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders; Council for a Parliament for World Religions; Religions for Peace; and the Fetzer Institute.
  1. Heritage conservation
  • As well as completing conservation and restoration on four out of five of the Sikh Takhats, seats of authority, GNNSJ is poised to undertake Kar Sewa (conservation and restoration) of Takhat Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji, Patna Sahib, Bihar for the 350th Anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Parkash Divas (December 2016 / January 2017).
  1. Public health, provision of medical assistance
  • Assistance by GNNSJ to Dukh Bhanjan Trust and Bhai Lalo Foundation in providing free medicines and corneal transplants to poor patients.
  • Support and donation from GNNSJ to Make a Wish Foundation (£6000).  The Foundation is providing hospital care for terminally ill children in Sri Lanka and South India.
  • Support and advice from GNNSJ to Hope and Compassion charity that works with other organisations in India to improve the lives of children with Special Educational Needs and their families living in poverty in developing countries.
  • Support of Divine Onkar Mission (DOM) – a charity and voluntary organisation with the aim of helping the most needy in some of the most remote parts of India
  • Support of eye camps through Sangat Trust
  • Support of and donation to Sun Foundation whose charitable activities in India include an education home for deprived children; save the girl child campaign; an education centre for disabled and handicapped children; EcoSikh programme in response to climate change and global warming in partnership with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and the United Nations Development Programme.
  1. Development – infrastructure development, urban regeneration
  • The Kar Sewa for the 350th Anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Parkash Divas (December 2016 / January 2017) will include the urban regeneration of part of Patna as well as investment in the conservation and improvement of Takhat Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji, Patna Sahib, Bihar.  There is also a project regarding the redevelopment of the south bank of the River Ganga with ETI Dynamics – Economics : Trade : Investments, for a ‘Ganga River Basin Environment Management Programme’, the world’s largest environmental programme being match funded by the World Bank with $20billion dollars.
  • Support of Sant Seechewal Trust, with a mission to clean up pollution, establish sewage systems, promote environmental enhancement and establish educational institutes.
  • Support of tree planting and projects on environmental sustainability with Nishan – E – Sikhi Charitable Trust, Khadur Sahib.
  • GNNSJ has also been overseeing and administering the rural development of village Mohiwal, Punjab and preparing plans for the establishment of an alternative therapies centre and herbal medicinal provision through training the local inhabitants.
  1. Mobilising values such as volunteering, selflessness, self-help and community participation to bring about change for the common good
  • Every year 250 volunteers travel to Punjab, India to prepare and serve Langar at Anandpur Sahib to tens of thousands of Sikh devotees for several days over Hola Mohalla.
  • Working towards a Museum of World’s Religions in Birmingham – In brief, the proposed Museum is intended to be a major world class educational and cultural institution which will be inspiring, outstanding and innovative.  Its purpose is to provide information and act as an educational resource for individuals and groups to reflect on the meaning and role of religion amidst the many different challenges confronting humanity in the 21st Century.  It will provide space of dialogue and encounter for the diverse multifaith and multi-ethnic communities in Europe to come together, and celebrate faith and spirituality, and to explore and show how religion can be an avenue for community cohesiveness and mutual respect as well as a positive force for social transformation and individual growth.
  • Formulating a Charter for Forgiveness – The idea behind the Charter for Forgiveness is that forgiving is an activity necessary for healing and reconciliation to take place, enabling the overcoming of legacies and memories of injustice, conflicts and wars, thereby liberating people from being imprisoned in the past and allowing the grace of the Divine to restore peace and harmony amongst individuals and communities. It draws attention to the activity of ‘forgiveness’ which arises from the quality of compassion. It would be a ‘next step’ from the existing Charter for Compassion formulated by Karen Armstrong, pointing us towards concrete actions resulting from compassion and their transformative power. The focus on tangible examples of forgiveness in action will help to identify and promote forgiveness as an effective solution to conflict situations. It would draw attention to the ability to forgive which has long been associated with capability and strength of women.

The proposed Charter will draw on values and examples from sacred texts and from spiritual traditions, religious and spiritual communities and lives of outstanding individuals.

  1. Global extremism – extremism cannot be combated with retaliation.  We cannot extinguish fire with more fire.  We need water.  Even hot water can do the trick! Every time I board a plane, a thought crosses my mind.  I haven’t met the pilot, yet, like hundreds of others, I’m putting my life in his hands.  Without this basic trust, there would be no aviation industry.  Whilst violent extremism has threatened our sense of security, we face another danger – of criminalising passengers and slipping into a quagmire of mistrust and blame.  As extremism becomes more sophisticated, it demands increasing creativity from us to overcome it, by appealing to the best, rather than the worst, in human nature.   In the ‘war on terror’, perhaps it is time also to declare a ‘Charter on Trust’.
  1. The financial crisis – I believe that the financial crisis presents us with very real prospects to rethink and remake the global order.  It has revealed to us the disconnection and void between policy-making and moral practice which lie at its root.  Out of sheer necessity, human greed and uncontrolled yearning now need to be controlled.  On what foundation can we rebuild sustainability within our financial systems and re-establish trust?  My conviction is that we must empower the human consciousness with values.  Such transformation will enable this century to go down in history as a ‘century of change.’  The times in which we now live demand value-based, value-led change.  Doom and gloom must be shed; hope and faith resurrected.  Subscribing to a culture of blame does not help and must be avoided.

Before us is a golden opportunity for good to arise from the economic crisis we are witnessing.  I see its glimmer and remain optimistic.

  1. Global erosion of values – There are two simple facts about human life. We are born, and then we die. What sort of learning is important in between? Children have innate qualities which education can draw out and cultivate – curiosity, wonder and awe, a capacity for love, contentment, sharing, a sense of caring and responsibility towards others.Call them human values, though I would describe them as God’s divine gifts to us.  We should aim high but what is sacred in us must also flourish, and guide our worldly actions.

Conclusion

The Dalai Lama’s program for the promotion of inter-religious harmony and understanding based on four key elements, resonates unreservedly with me and serves as a reminder of what we are working towards today:

  1. Dialogue between scholars of religion on the academic level regarding the convergences and divergences of their respective faith traditions and – more important – the purpose of these different approaches
  2. Sharing of deep religious experiences between genuine practitioners
  3. High profile meetings of the religious leaders to speak and pray from one platform and
  4. Joint pilgrimages to the world’s holy places

Throughout history, civilisations, societies and communities have grounded their religious beliefs and practices with sacred sites, which reflect a diverse religious and spiritual landscape of vast significance.

The collective safeguarding of these sacred sites is inextricably linked with the need to actively and concretely achieve spiritual solidarity.

From the treasury of Sikh scripture, we are called to examine and reform our negative impulses to become active agents for good – ‘Uplift the wrongdoer, answer evil with goodness; do not harbour anger in your heart.’ Taking the agricultural metaphor, another verse offers a recipe for reaping a harvest of goodness: ‘Consider your body as the field, your mind as the plough, and in it sow the seeds of Naam (God’s Word); irrigate it with the waters of modesty and use contentment as the leveller; maintain a humble disposition to nurture and safeguard such farming.’

Let us learn to take greater responsibility for the thoughts we entertain and actions we commit to.  Like a wise farmer, let us devote ourselves to cultivating seeds of love (as opposed to hate) for goodness to grow all around us on this planet.

Who doesn’t want peace?  We all want peace: within ourselves, the world around us; peace within families and within communities; national and international peace; global peace…. All 7 billion of us have a shared responsibility to chalk out pathways to peace.

Thank you.

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