Why isn't the Youth coming to Gurdwara?

Gurdwara. The doors to the Guru. The gateway to the Guru. A holy and spiritual place where one can attain peace and tranquility and a connection to the divine. . . .right?

Oh wait.  You mean, you didn't reach Sach Khand last Sunday when that Aunty told you that you gained a few pounds in a the lungar hall?!

Throughout my life, every time I go to the Gurdwara  I am always asked the same thing over and over again by all of the elders. . . .

- Where have you been? We haven't seen you in so long!
- You have gained a few pounds. . . why are you so healthy?
- Why don't you bring your friends? We have a great program!
- You lost some weight. . . why are you so skinny?!
- Why isn't the youth coming to the Gurdwara?

Why isn't the youth coming to the Gurdwara? So many answers. So many reasons. And just one blog. I'm going to try. This one is for all of the Aunties and Uncles. No, no, wait. Not all of them. But a lot of them. But most importantly, this is for all of the lost and confused kids that feel ostrisized, confused, and frustrated upon entering what should be the holiest of all places.

Here goes. . . . .

#1. It's so simple and it's so basic but everyone fails to understand. YOU AREN'T SPEAKING OUR LANGUAGE!!!! I understand that Punjabi is important. I understand that Punjab is the mother land. We should never loose our roots or our heritage or our culture or any of it. I get it. But guess what? We aren't in Punjab. We live in America. We live in the United Kingdom. We live in Australia. We live in Canada. ENGLISH IS OUR LANGUAGE!!!!

Do you watch movies that have a foreign language with no subtitles? Do you listen to songs that are in a different language? (well I do because I love classical Indian music but still . . . !) Do you read books that have an entirely different language or script? No! You get translations. You understand what you are reading, watching, or listening to, otherwise what's the point? It's the same concept.  You know what's even more interesting? The majority of my American born friends grew up in Punjabi households and they know the language but even they cannot understand everything that is being said at Gurdwara. There is Punjabi that is spoken in the village. There is Punjabi that is spoken in the city. And it's like the more hard core Punjabi you know the better off you are. Luckily technology has given us the ability to look up a shabad in 5 seconds so at least I can understand that. But when it's time for katha, I'm screwed! I try really hard to pay attention and pick up on key words but after a while my mind starts tuning out. And I know I'm not alone.

I was very fortunate to be on the Gurdwara committee in 2012. One of the biggest reasons for me to be on that committee was to "bring the youth back to the Gurdwara." I begged the existing Bhaisahib at that time to throw in as much English as he could into his katha but he just wasn't having it. However, we were lucky and fortunate to have some younger guest Bhaisahibs come in and explain things in English. It's just that, we only had that opportunity maybe once or twice a year. . .

Sikhi is a universal religion with a universal message. Let's refresh ourselves on what universal means: Used or understood by all. Present everywhere.  Applicable everywhere. We haven't truly made it universal. It feels like Sikhi was made for only Punjabis and that it is exclusive for only Punjabis.... From Punjab.  :(

#2. The gossip. The drama. The criticizing. The stares. The glares. The comments directly to our face. The comments behind our back. The hidden insults. The not so hidden insults.

In today's world, we get enough of that in our schools or in our jobs (and for some of us, in our homes). Gurdwara is the ONE place we thought we could go that is purified from all that. The one place we think that we'll just get good vibes, and be able to share good vibes. Isn't that what it's all about? We come to gurdwara to feel like, no matter what's going on in the outside world, in THIS world, things are the way they should be. The right way. The True way.

But it's not. In reality, it's just not. As amazing as sangat can be for us, sometimes sangat is terrible for us. I have heard severalllll stories of people my age or younger who have felt victimized by their sangat. They've gone for the right reasons–they just wanted to hear some great kirtan and recenter themselves. At the end after ardaas, we shout out "Bole so nihaal!", "Satsriakal!", turn around to greet and hug the nearest aunty next to us, and we are greeted back with a "Satsriakal beta, ki haal hai? why your suit getting tight?".

And just like that, the whole experience feels tainted.

One of the many stories that broke my heart came from this young woman who wanted to do lungar seva at Gurdwara. One day she went into the kitchen to help make rotis and on this particular day she happened commit the serious crime of wearing nail polish. This Aunty called her out on it and yelled at her in front of everyone. She felt so bad and so ostracized that she never did lungar seva again. When she told me about this experience, I thought about it, and I was like, "I get it. We shouldn't wear nail polish because it can chip off and get into the food." This young woman said, "Yeah I get it too. I just wish that this Aunty explained it to me like that." But because of how this Aunty made her feel, our community lost a bright and beautiful sevadar.

Was it worth it? Was it worth the 2 hours of half understood wisdom only to leave the gurdwara feeling more judged for your imperfections rather than accepted for your sincere attempt to be a good sikh?

That's what holds the youth back. It's just not always worth it.

#3. The Politics.

Lord. Have. Mercy.

The drama. The fighting. The fury! I could honestly write a whole separate blog on this topic.  I could actually write a whole freaking book on this topic. I don't want to dwell on it because thinking about it and writing about it and remembering it is just so negative and it puts us in a bad place.

What I want to say about it is this: We as a community need to learn how to sit down and have healthy discussions in where everyone's opinion is heard and is respected and cherished. To be honest, this tactic should be learned in our homes first. Instead, we think that it's okay to raise our voice, to speak over one another, to pull out our kirpans to assert power and dominance. The absolute worst part is, we think it's okay to do this in front of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. But it is not okay and it has never been okay.

We continue to build more and more Gurdwaras but if our youth stays disconnected, we may have more and more empty buildings in the future. Yes. . .  buildings. Without Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and without the sadh sangat, it is just a building.

We are a smart youth. We know how to find moments of connection and peace in our lives when we need it. We know how to find great teachings. We are fluent in Youtube and everything internet. On-demand kirtan and katha in English and judgement free learning is available to us at the tip of our fingers.
So why would we choose to come to Gurdwara?

As I write, the real reasons of going to Gurdwara whisper behind me. Love. Darshan. Service. Company. The concept of Gurdwara is forever perfect.

It's the reality of Gurdwara that needs to change.

Bhull Chuk Maaf

Mrs. Kaur and Miss Kaur

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