Interview with SS Guru Sangat Singh Khalsa, Great Falls, Virginia This interview was conducted over the telephone by Guruamrit Kaur, Newsletter Editor, on August 25, 2023
2023 (Third Quarter)
What are ways that we can support ourselves during times of challenge?
For me, personally, Sadhana in the Amrit Vela is the whole deal. Including banis as well. These technologies of Banis, Simran and Sadhana. The technology is amazing—it offers different practices for different challenges. Psyche of the Golden Shield is a great resource for this as well. At times when I feel conflict or people coming at me with aggression, I use Aap Sahai Hoa. I actually use this pamphlet that SDI sent out about the Aap Sahai Hoa Shabd. I now do it 11 times every day because I got used to it. I got used to not being in confrontational situations, and I liked it so much that I just kept going. And the interesting thing is I have found that it takes away not only the animosity of others around me, but also my own animosity. And so life is so much more peaceful. It’s an amazing, miraculous Shabd.
How can we support our communities during difficult times?
For community—I see that some people’s strength comes from getting together as a sangat. And the happiest people I know are the people that do a lot of seva. So it kind of builds from there. I believe that humans are social animals, and they really thrive best when they have a community that they’re actively involved in. The sangat is like the ultimate form of a community. Because in the Sangat, all you are supposed to do is serve each other and praise God and Guru. So then you’re doing that together with other people, and it develops this beautiful group consciousness. So that’s where I see the strength in community, and this is where I spend a lot of my time and energy.
How was Raj Khalsa Gurdwara successful in continuing operations following COVID and community challenges in 2020?
We did actually close the Gurdwara for a number of months following COVID. But we sustained some types of services live on Facebook. Bibi Amarjit Kaur kept these facebook live broadcasts going every day. There was also daily Sadhana live on Facebook, which is organized by Satwant Singh and Nam Sadhana Singh. And there were Gurdwara Kirtan programs, and Rehras Sahib in the evenings, also on Facebook. This kept people going during the time when the Gurdwara was closed.
We have had some loss of attendance over the issues about the Siri Singh Sahib but most of our Sangat does not seem to be particularly interested in those topics.
In your capacity serving the Gurdwara, how do you help bring community together at Raj Khalsa Gurdwara? How are you fostering community there?
We haven’t invented anything new. It’s the same stuff that Sikhs have been doing since the time of the Gurus. The Sikh model of worship and langar and seva is a perfect technology for building community. It is so natural because people want to connect with the Guru and be with the sangat. All we do is just try and serve them. We try and eliminate distractions and just make it purely about Seva, Sangat and Simran. Everyone is equal and welcome. As few rules as possible. We try and keep it very simple.
There’s another side to it, which is the broader community of people of all different religions, who live in our neighborhoods. There’s a lot of interfaith activities, and we try to participate as much as we can. And also we try to do community service that is outwardly facing, to help hungry people get food and things like that. It’s hard to have enough time to do it all. I think that interfaith activities are very helpful, in pulling together with other faith groups to magnify our efforts in different areas.
Adarsh Kaur, one community member, has taken this on and goes to 2-3 interfaith and community events each week, representing our community. And that’s a huge benefit.
Can you identify any points of unity that can bring sangats together during these times?
What we try to do is the same thing we do all the time—make the experience at the Gurdwara about people just worshiping together, doing simple seva and singing Guru’s bani together. Which is incredibly powerful. And it doesn’t have anything to do with all the differences. Singing God’s praises together makes any disagreements and differences seem trivial and inconsequential. I do see this actually healing rifts and relationships.
The children’s camp at Raj Khalsa Gurdwara is a very successful program that has been continuing for a number of years. Can you talk more about what you feel draws families to have their children participate in this?
There are a lot of children in our community. That’s probably the biggest factor that keeps our camp going. The size of the community coupled with the fact that generally parents want their children to have some experience of spirituality, and learn something about how to connect with the Guru—how to pray, how to meditate, how to be happy, how to cope with life’s challenges, and so on. And this is what we strive to deliver to these children through the camp experience.
In your work managing the Gurdwara behind the scenes, do you have any observations to share in terms of the pulse of the sangat these days, and going forward into the future?
Interesting question. To me, the Gurdwara remains exactly the same. Humans are humans. I believe we all have a basic need to connect with God to be happy. And sitting in the sangat together helps us to feel and tap into that. The Siri Guru Granth Sahib says that two of the highest actions a human can take are: sitting in the Sadh Sangat and singing God’s praises with an open heart and the other is serving that same Sadh Sangat. So it does not feel like anything has changed at all. The cycle of life goes on. We have a constant flow of weddings, births, deaths, and memorial services in our community. And children growing up and becoming adults etc…. But the basic spiritual needs of humans have not changed in any way that I can tell, nor are they likely to in the future.
What do you see as your role on the SSSC with regard to building community?
I see my role—and the duty of the SSSC—as serving the community. Hopefully everything SSSC does has the effect of building up the larger community, or strengthening the community, or supporting the different communities around the world. In my view, the job of the SSSC is to try to get as much help and support to as many different parts of the community as it can.
Sometimes it seems that there are people who think that the SSSC should only serve certain people and not others, or certain groups of people and not others. To me, that doesn’t make sense. Our mission is to serve everyone in our community equally. People can become polarized about specific issues but hopefully we can all learn not to let that harm our basic sense of unity. The SSSC’s job is to serve all and strive to get to a place where we can all coexist harmoniously.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SS Guru Sangat Singh Khalsa has been an ordained Sikh Dharma Minister since 1978. He is the Manager of Raj Khalsa Gurdwara, in Sterling, VA and a member of both Sikh Dharma of Virginia and the Administrative Council for the Herndon ashram. He currently serves as a Trustee on the Board of the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation, as well as a member of the International Khalsa Council.