by SS Har Simran Kaur Khalsa, Los Angeles CA
2021 (Third Quarter)
Guru Ram Das Ashram in Los Angeles is located in a diverse, affluent, peaceful neighborhood that, in 2006, was rocked by gang violence. Across the street from the gurdwara, Robertson Recreation Center was all but abandoned by its usual fleet of nannies with babies in strollers, as it had become a staging ground for drug dealing and turf wars.
In the summer of 2006, an article in the Aquarian Times called on 3HO Sikhs to celebrate the United Nations’ International Day of Peace by sponsoring peace-related events for our greater communities. Along with this came the reminder that the Siri Singh Sahib had warned us to be “known for our seva” by 2007 or we would be persecuted.
It made sense to me. How can we be walking around looking like saints and not be sensitive to others’ suffering? But what would be the best way to serve our neighbors in the name of peace? There were ample yoga classes that already reached many souls.
The questions were: “How could we reach the non-yoga folks in our immediate neighborhood, so that they would come to know us as peaceful, serviceful people? What could counter-balance the fear and mistrust that had arisen in response to the gang activity? And what could bring everyone together, across their diversity?”
One effective method for bringing people together comes from our basic practices of sangat and pangat, singing together and eating together. The kirtan and langar offered at the Harimander Sahib/Golden Temple translated for our community into music and food at an event that came to be known as the Peace Picnic.
An Event for All
It was not just for Sikhs, nor was it meant to be an interfaith event for the Jews, Christians of various denominations, and Muslims who live and worship in the neighborhood.
The Peace Picnic was an event for all. The music was provided by an eclectic mix of local bands, a church choir, and other voices, all singing for peace.
A dozen local restaurants donated a rich variety of dishes. Neighborhood businesses that resonated with the theme of peace contributed the funds for tents, tables, chairs and other needs.
The Peace Picnic continued to bring the friendliness and goodwill of Guru Ram Das Ashram out into the neighborhood every year until 2020, when the COVID pandemic imposed a pause on it. Now its mission is the same, but its methods are getting a fresh look.
With the Black Lives Matter movement, the daunting plight of homelessness, and the global changing of the times, it is time to take a fresh look at the needs of the neighborhood and reassess how best to respond to them.
With prayerful inquiry and discussion with other leaders in the neighborhood, it will become clear how to update the Peace Picnic to continue to be relevant, meaningful, and peace-giving for all who live in the community around Guru Ram Das Ashram.
About the Author
SS Har Simran Kaur Khalsa is an ordained Sikh Dharma Minister. She discovered the teachings of Yogi Bhajan in the late 1970s. She joined the Boston area 3HO Ashram community in 1980. She was married at the 1983 3HO Summer Solstice Celebration to SS Dr. Manjit Singh. They have lived in the Guru Ram Das Ashram of Los Angeles community ever since. Other milestones include being ordained as a Minister in 1995 and joining the KRI Aquarian Training Academy in 2013. For the past seven years, Har Simran Kaur has served as the Executive Secretary of the Guru Ram Das Ashram Community in Los Angeles.