#45:  Seeking the Sikh’s, Richmond VA

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chunni

chunni

For prayer #45 I ventured into the Richmond Gurdwara located on 4500 Marty Boulevard in Chesterfield, VA.  Before attending, I had educated myself briefly on any traditions and customs to ensure my ignorance of Sikhism didn’t cause me to show any disrespect while in their house of worship.  When looking on their website, there was specific protocol about respecting the Living Guru, Granth Sahib, while in the Gurdwara.  For example, you shouldn’t point your feet toward the guru during worship, you must wash your hands before seeing the guru, and you need to cover your entire body and hair in respect of the guru.  Apparently, this guru is highly revered.  

For days leading up to the service, I kept picturing myself being warmly invited into the enlightened guru’s home nestled somewhere deep in the woods.  I’d take off my shoes and place them on the guru’s front stoop and then make myself comfortable in his living room by sitting like a child on his floor in front of a wood burning fireplace.  Then, the man (who of course had a long grey beard that came to a distinct point) would brew me up a cup of hot Chai tea as he imparted on me some words of wisdom that would raise my inner consciousness.  Looking back, the man in my image looked a whole lot like Mr. Miagi.

Of course, this was nothing at all like what I had anticipated.  It rarely ever is when I try to project my ideas onto some experience that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I drove through a fairly suburban area in the Southside of Richmond, down to the end of a cul-de-sac.   Planted at the end of the street past several ranchers was a fairly new cement building located on an open grassy lot of land. 

gurdwara

gurdwara

I walked in, and just as the website had instructed, I took off my shoes and placed them in the cubby.  I then washed my hands in the sink.  Afterward, I followed my ears to the sound of some pretty great live music playing.  I admit, much like the mosque, I was incredibly nervous to enter the area where the Sikhs were worshipping.  I didn’t even know what I was nervous about, but I was certainly anxious.  I think it’s just the act of being in an unfamiliar environment doing something that I’m not accustomed to that gives me the jitters.  The best thing I can liken it to is sky diving for the first time.  It’s completely frightening because you have no idea what to anticipate and at the same time, it’s totally exhilarating because you are stepping out of your comfort zone to do something foreign.  I know, you don’t have the whole “you could die at any moment” thing hanging over your head so it’s not exactly the same thing, but trust me, it’s the same rush.

approaching guru

approaching guru

As I stood in front of the open double doors that led to the worship area, I took a deep breath in, said a little prayer silently asking God for peace and put one foot in front of the other.  The temple had cathedral style ceilings and the floor was covered in light blue carpeting with a dark blue strip running down the center.  On the altar covered with gold, red, and green colored blankets were several Sikh men playing instruments, a book and a sizeable open chest to place offerings.  Knowing that it was a sign of respect to walk up front and bow before the guru, I did exactly that.  As I made my way down the aisle in the center of the room, I secretly hoped my chunni head covering, and appropriate attire (clothing covering everything but my face and hands) would enable me to go unnoticed by the rest of the congregation.

There were approximately 50 people attending.  The men wore turbans and sat on the floor to the left and the woman wore head coverings and sat on the right.  When I finally got to the foot of the altar I realized something… I didn’t know which one of these cats was the Living Guru.  Not one of them resembled Mr. Miagi and none of them seemed to have more of a presence about them than the other.  And so, without being able to identify the guru, I kept my eyes fixed on the leather bound book that was placed on the center of the chest, and in one swift motion I fell to the ground on my hands and knees and slowly put my face to the carpet.  After bowing down, I quickly found a place on the floor with the rest of the Sikh woman.

The next few hours were pretty uneventful but quite relaxing.  The Sikhs banged on their drums reggae-esque music and sang soothing hymns while I fought the urge not to dance in my seat.  Every so often I searched around the room, looking for some sign of this guru I had expected to see.  But no guru for me. No one got up and preached a powerful sermon, guided us in meditation, or gave any type of deep, inspirational talk.  Instead, a power point communicated different messages behind the men as they played instruments and sang in a foreign language.  I continued to enjoy the music as I eagerly waited in anticipation of the great guru reveal. 

shoes

shoes

What I found interesting is the Sikh themes I read on the power point seemed very “Christian.”  Now, I know most religions have Christian (or better yet Jewish) roots, but I’ve found during these 52 weeks that most find salvation through their works, while Christianity and Judaism are unique because they find it through God’s grace.  The Sikh’s ideas on this subject are quite similar. 

For example, the screen portrayed following statements;  "I am in the Refuge of the Lord; Bless me, O Lord with your Grace, so that the lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego may be destroyed" Guru Arjan Dev, Gauri Sukhman

"The disciple of the True Guru (God) dwells upon the Lord through the teaching of the Guru and all his sins are washed away" (Guru Ram Das, Var Gauri)

“There is only one God, he is the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer.”

While I certainly don’t consider myself a Sikh, it was nice to find common ground there. 

After the service, they typically hold a vegetarian lunch where seekers share food and conversation.  I had every intention of breaking bread with them but after about 2 and half hours of chillin’ on the floor in the temple with no guru to grace me with his presence, I didn’t feel like sticking around.  So I left.  But not before coaxing a few Sikh girls into taking a picture with me first.

It wasn’t until I sat down, almost a month later to write this post that I had an “aha” moment.  Guru Granth Sahib was absolutely present in the temple that day.  Much to my surprise, he was not out sick, nor on vaca.  Actually, I had even respectfully bowed down before the great guru on the altar when I came in just as I had been directed to by the website. The Living Guru was not a man.  Guru Granth Sahib is the name of the Holy Scriptures that were placed on top of the chest which held their offerings! I’m glad I didn’t ask my Sikh neighbor where he was.  That could have been quite embarrassing!

If you’re interested in attending a service where a group of believers get together to share their love for one another and for the God of All, check out their website.  http://www.richmondgurdwara.org/

Some interesting facts about Sikhism:

  • Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak who shaped a new, unique and distinct religion during his lifetime.
  • Under the stewardship of the Ten Gurus, Sikhism originally established that anyone can achieve salvation irrespective of the religion that they follow if they endear God in their heart and daily actions.  
  • Sikhism doesn’t believe Heaven or Hell are physical places. Hell is equivalent to the cycles of births and deaths and heaven is equivalent to the soul merging with God.
  • Guru Gobind Singh abolished the priestly class making Sikhism free from their weaknesses and egos, the only priest is the Living Guru (the Holy Scriptures) the Guru Granth Sahib which contains all the knowledge and which is available for reading by any Sikh.
  • Sikhism is now the World's 5th largest religion with 26 million followers worldwide.
  • Sikhs don’t cut their hair, because they like to live the way God has created them.
  • Sikhism consists of practical living, rendering service to humanity, and engendering tolerance and brotherly love towards all.

 

 

 

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