By Binkles, New Age Islam
03 January 2017
“What are you planning to do for New Year’s?”
You may have been asked this question sometime, some year or the other. Or, equally possibly, you may have asked somebody else the same question, even if maybe just as a formality!
Ushering in a new year has become an expensive, wasteful affair, and big business, too. For many, it is an orgy of consumerism and mindless hedonism.
Every day is a new day, and I don’t think the first year of a new year is in itself anything special. So, I don’t believe in celebrating new year’s eve or day in a special way. But this year, I am happy to report, I did something different as the year drew to a close—I had a wonderful interfaith learning experience!
It started off by attending a Christmas programme organized by an interfaith group (there were talks there, and carols, games and food, too) and then by dropping in, on Christmas Day at my Catholic friend Margaret’s place, where I munched delicious cake and cookies! Then, on the last day of last year, I visited a Sufi shrine, where I spent some time in quiet reflection and remembrance of God.
On the morning of the first day of the New Year, my friend Trinkoo and I visited a Buddhist monastery. It was wonderful to see how many people had come for the service—a truly beautiful way of marking the arrival of the New Year! We were treated to a wonderful discourse by a senior monk, a gentle soul who is known for his wisdom. Trust yourself and go ahead in doing good. Let go of the past and all negative thoughts and memories and see what a relief that can be, the monk explained. As you may agree, that is wisdom that everyone in the whole wide world could tremendously benefit from.
A lunch was hosted later that day for the entire congregation present, monks as well as laity, which was hosted by an elderly devout woman in memory of two individuals who had given her shelter when she was in school—which must have been decades ago! These people were in no way related to her and yet she was doing this to commemorate them! What a wonderful lesson in kindness and generosity!
I have always been fascinated by the serene, uncluttered ambience in a Gurudwara. As soon as you enter, you begin to feel the soft shower of kindness and the positive glow you see on people’s faces. I suppose it’s their unflinching faith in ‘Wahe Guru”, one of the names that Sikhs address God by and which means “The Wonderful Lord” that gives them that gentle light. The systematic and orderly way in which the devout walk into the Gurudwara and bow before the Holy Granth Sahib, draped in lovely cloth, reflects the inner devotion in their hearts. The melodious Kirtans instilled joy in my heart! Praising God joyfully through singing hymns in His praise reflects a positive relationship with God as merciful, compassionate, and kind.
The generosity of the Sikhs is really amazing! They open out not just their hearts to people of other faiths but also the doors of their place of worship to a healthy Langar every single day, and it’s open for anybody and everybody!
As Trinkoo and I sat down on the floor mats at the Langar, one important value I learnt is humility. The manner in which the food is served at the Langar is pure worship. Taking the name of Wahe guru before eating and also treating the food as Prashad, as an offering to God, makes eating a form of worship, and not something that’s done just to fill your stomach.
Seva or service, which is another virtue among the Sikhs at the Gurudwara, has many lessons to teach all of us. It’s easy to cook your own food and clean your own plates at home, but is it not really great to lend a helping hand to cook for others and clean other people’s plates—which is what happens in the Langar at every Gurudwara throughout the world?!
Later that day, Trinkoo and I headed to a Hindu ashram named after a mystic who taught the fundamental oneness of all religions. There, we listened to soulful Bhajans, a beautiful way to commune with God, like Qawwalis in some Sufi shrines. The spiritual energy there was amazing, as people thronged to lose and find themselves in the remembrance of God.
Being at places of worship of different faiths helped me to reflect on my own devotion to God or the lack of it. As I laid out my prayer mat to complete my night Namaz, I was filled with immense gratitude to the people at the Gurudwara, the Bhajan singers at the ashram, the gentle Buddhist monks at the Vihar and my kind Christian friends for teaching me the values of service, devotion and generosity. I am hopeful these values will help me become strong in my connection to Almighty Allah! There may be many paths that people follow, but the goal is the same: to connect to God every moment.
While sharing this beautiful new year prayer (below) by the renowned Sufi, Hazrat Inayat Khan, I, too, have a prayer—that people from my faith will open their hearts out to others in kindness and generosity and accept all people as fellow creatures of God (and, therefore, as brothers and sisters to each other), and, in the process, learn valuable lessons from people from them!
A prayer for the new year by Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan:
O Thou who abidest in our hearts,
Most Merciful and Compassionate God, Lord of Heaven and Earth,
We forgive others their trespasses and ask Thy forgiveness of our shortcomings.
We begin the New Year with pure heart and clear conscience, with courage and hope.
Help us to fulfil the purpose of our lives under Thy divine guidance.