Harbans Lal, PhD, D.litt (hons)
New Years is the time when greeting cards, gifts, and good wishes pour in from friends, colleagues, and relatives. They express warm sentiments, but also, a lot of wealth changes hands. Often times these wishes are wrapped up in costly packages and in psychological hang-ups.
In America over two hundred billion dollars are spent on gifts every year. That comes to hundreds of dollars spent on gifts by every American, and this is repeated every year. These figures do not take into account the amount of time spent in shopping for gifts, along with the intense anxiety and stress that goes with gift hunting.
Is there an alternative to the expense and stress?
Economists, for example, suggest that we abandon the pretense and simply exchanging piles of money in the form of coins, currency, or gift cards. I am not sure that it is a real solution.
Is there a solution in the realm of spirituality to get us out of this stressful rut that we go through every year? Are there gifts that can sooth and heal rather than produce waste and cause anxiety?
There are alternatives.
Why not consider launching a culture of gratitude, that is, appreciation of the spiritual nature of each individual. We could instead highlight the gifts that are continuously being bestowed upon us by life itself. Certainly, we Sikhs consider life as a divine gift, and the most precious of all gifts.
There are so many occasions for gift giving, each with their own justification. Let me limit myself here to birthdays and yearly transitions, which in western cultures are one of the major reasons to exchange gifts. These occasions celebrate the passages of time. But lets take step back – why not simply celebrate living a good life?
While reading about birthday’s and ageing (avadh) in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, I realized that at a birthday, when our circle of friends and relatives are expressing jubilation, we lose another year from our life. This loss may not be insignificant for many of us with salt-and-pepper hair. As we grow older and amass wisdom and wealth, we proportionately give up opportunity to enjoy those treasures. Bhagat Kabir, while writing in the Guru Granth (page 91) brings home this lesson:
ਜਨਨੀ ਜਾਨਤ ਸੁਤੁ ਬਡਾ ਹੋਤੁ ਹੈ ਇਤਨਾ ਕੁ ਨ ਜਾਨੈ ਜਿ ਦਿਨ ਦਿਨ ਅਵਧ ਘਟਤੁ ਹੈ ॥
Every mother celebrates and takes pleasure in believing that her child is growing up with every birthday she celebrates; she does not realize that her son’s or her daughter’s life is actually diminishing by a year per birthday.
Guru Arjan brings this point home with another perspective on page 207 of the Guru Granth.
ਰਾਜੁ ਜੋਬਨੁ ਅਵਧ ਜੋ ਦੀਸੈ ਸਭੁ ਕਿਛੁ ਜੁਗ ਮਹਿ ਘਾਟਿਆ ॥
Power and authority, youth and possessions – whatever is seen in this world, all of them are continuously fading away.
On page 247 of the Guru Granth, Guru Arjan further describes the plight of our shortsightedness in counting our growing wealth and influence as something ever-increasing:
ਹਉ ਸੰਚਉ ਹਉ ਖਾਟਤਾ ਸਗਲੀ ਅਵਧ ਬਿਹਾਨੀ ॥
I think that I am earning profits and getting richer with advancing age, without realizing that my life span is declining in similar proportions.
So, should the New Year or a birthday be an occasion for euphoria or for introspection? The answer could be yes or no. It depends on what aspect of our growth and life we look at.
A considerable amount of research has begun to focus on the concept of measuring life independent of yearly calendars. It is rather counting of a healthy life expectancy, an active life expectancy, a disability-free life span, an altruistic life span, a functional life expectancy, and a purposeful longevity. A life that is a gift to enjoy, and is fulfilling its fundamental objectives.
The yearly thankfulness or gratitude should focus on appreciation of the years that are ahead of us, and they should be calculated as the number of years we can expect to live in reasonably good health, with none or only minor disabling health conditions, and with the ability to wisely use the time and resources we possess.
That number may or may not decline with each birthday, depending on how one lives one’s life and how appreciative one is.
Guru Amar Das wrote in the Guru Granth on page 1418 that people oriented towards divine wisdom do not experience age as ageing like others do.
ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੁਢੇ ਕਦੇ ਨਾਹੀ ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥
Those oriented to the divine wisdom as imparted by the realized ones never become old or senile; within them resides intuitive understanding and spiritual wisdom that are ever youthful .
People of faith, like Sikhs, may celebrate the fact that they will continue to experience divine presence and divine hukam (defined as the sacred blue prints of life drawn by Infinite Wisdom). Year after year, they may go on sharing the bliss of creativity endowed upon them through the Infinite (vahe) Wisdom (guru). Then life, and the years ahead, will be value-imbibed living and certainly celebrating.
The New Year introspection may lead us to a solemn declaration that we will continue building inner bridges to reality so that we may empower our own potential as well as promote others to shift the global mind towards the eternal reality.
To close, I may recite is a prayer for this occasion and, in reality, every occasion. This is a Verse in Punjabi lyric selected from Sikh Sacred Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib – page 268. This is also Sikhs’ daily ARDAS.
ਤੂ ਠਾਕੁਰੁ ਤੁਮ ਪਹਿ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ ॥ ਜੀਉ ਪਿੰਡੁ ਸਭੁ ਤੇਰੀ ਰਾਸਿ ॥
ਤੁਮ ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਹਮ ਬਾਰਿਕ ਤੇਰੇ ॥ ਤੁਮਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਮਹਿ ਸੂਖ ਘਨੇਰੇ ॥
ਕੋਇ ਨ ਜਾਨੈ ਤੁਮਰਾ ਅੰਤੁ ॥ ਊਚੇ ਤੇ ਊਚਾ ਭਗਵੰਤ ॥
ਸਗਲ ਸਮਗ੍ਰੀ ਤੁਮਰੈ ਸੂਤ੍ਰਿ ਧਾਰੀ ॥ ਤੁਮ ਤੇ ਹੋਇ ਸੁ ਆਗਿਆਕਾਰੀ ॥
ਤੁਮਰੀ ਗਤਿ ਮਿਤਿ ਤੁਮ ਹੀ ਜਾਨੀ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਦਾਸ ਸਦਾ ਕੁਰਬਾਨੀ ॥੮॥੪॥
You Are My Icon of Worship;
To You, May I Open My Heart Today.
May All I Am and All I Have, My Body and My Soul,
Are Blessings Alone From You, And ALL Are Within Your Domain.
You Are My Mother, You Are My Father; I Am Your Child.
With Your Blessing I Have Received Abundant Peace And Comfort!
No One Can Comprehend Your Beginning Or Your Ending.
You Are Highest Of the High, the Most Giving; My Creator.
All Creation Is Like a Beauteous Necklace,
Jewels on Your Heavenly Thread.
All Is Created By You and You Sustain It All.
You Alone Know The Breadth And Depth And Stature Of Your Being.
Nanak Asks in Prayer,
May I Be Blessed With Vision To Realize Your Blessings And Your Order!
And Thus Be a Thankful Offering to You.
Send all communications to the author:
Harbans Lal, PhD; D.Litt (hons)
Emeritus Professor & Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neuroscience, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Professor Emeritus, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.
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