A Sikh's spiritual journey

This week the Faith Column focuses on the Sikh religion with Harwinder Singh describing his religion

“The Lord works in mysterious ways!” declared the preacher at Piccadilly Circus. Many of you may know who I am talking about as he seems to have become a fixture of the hustle and bustle at London’s most famous intersection. Middle-aged, white and somewhat street-wise, he looks a little like Robert Redford… until you hear his voice over the PA.

When I had first started commuting into central London to gain work experience at a myriad of film and production companies, I was cold and oblivious to my surroundings. I marched along in unison with my fellow Englishmen, muttering under my breath at the tourists who slowed our pace down to their own snail-like strolling. I would never have listened, nor tried to listen to the words that were being bellowed across the traffic over a simple wireless microphone.

Five years on and although my pace has not slowed, I have begun to take in the sounds and pictures that bombard me and my fellow Londoners at every turn. This is partly due to a hard-grafted education gained from working within the media industry and in particular an independent record label where I met some amazing individuals. But it is my journey in life as a Sikh that has mostly influenced the change in me to notice the Piccadilly Circus preacher.

A Sikh is described as a student or a disciple. But a student of whom, or what? Most of us can surmise that a Sikh is likely to be a disciple of Guru Nanak, the founder of The Sikh Way of life. But as I have come to find, it is what Guru Nanak represents and embodies that the Sikh is a student of: The Truth. This should not be misunderstood as a single, righteous proclamation of divinity, rather it is a reference to that which we call existence, reality and knowledge.

Everybody and everything is subject to the same principles and is governed by the same laws, it is simply that we have found differing ways over time to interpret these. Since graduating from University I began to spend more of my time reading and understanding the Guru Granth Sahib, the scriptural incarnation of Guru Nanak.

Little by little (sometimes merely a word at a time!) I have begun to recognise and practise Guru Nanak’s philosophy in my everyday life. Heightening my awareness to the beautiful game that is being played out around me is one such tenet that I have managed to harness.

Today, it is amazing to think that I had spent so many teenage years in slumber. My eyes were open and my ears could hear, but I was not listening nor was I able to see.

There is a wondrous thread of Divinity that weaves its way through our lives and our paths if we could just take the time to notice it. In my understanding, noticing precedes appreciation, which itself is a fore-runner for realisation.

If that is the case, then there are many stages of enlightenment that I am yet to achieve. Ten years from now, I will look back at this moment and wonder how I could’ve been so presumptuous to believe and write as I have done! With time comes experience and greater learning. Truly, the Lord does work in mysterious ways, but perhaps one day I will understand what those ways are and they won’t be so mysterious then. But as the Piccadilly Preacher, I along with the rest of the World continue to declare my knowledge and perception of reality as it is today. If I learn from it, then it has been worthwhile.

Harwinder Singh is a 26-year-old Law graduate turned film and TV producer. He is also a record label boss. Born in the UK to Punjabi parents, he been practising and studying the Sikh Way of Life for about 20 years.
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Leader: The angry middle

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern.

Two months after the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, it remains conventional wisdom that the referendum result was largely a revolt by the so-called left behind. Yet this is not the full picture. Many of the 52 per cent who voted Leave were relatively prosperous and well educated, yet still angry and determined to deliver a shock to the political system. We should ask ourselves why the English middle class, for so long presumed to be placid and risk-averse, was prepared to gamble on Brexit.

Populism has long appealed to those excluded from political systems, or from a share in prosperity. In recent years, however, its appeal has broadened to young graduates and those on above-average incomes who also feel that they have not benefited from globalisation. The sense of middle-class victimhood has become a major strand in Western politics.

In the United States, middle-class anger has powered support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The former drew his activist base mostly from young liberals. And while Mr Trump’s success in the Republican primaries was often attributed to a working-class insurrection against “the elites”, exit poll data showed that the median yearly income of a Trump voter was $72,000, compared with a national average of $56,000. (For supporters of Hillary Clinton, the figure was roughly $61,000.) It is not the have-nots who have powered Mr Trump’s rise, but the have-a-bits.

In the UK, similar forces can be seen in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, research shows that three-quarters of Labour Party members are from the top social grades, known as ABC1. About 57 per cent have a degree.

Mr Sanders, Mr Trump and Mr Corbyn have very different policies, ideologies and strategies, but they are united by an ability to tap into middle-class dissatisfaction with the present order. Some of that anger flows from politicians’ failure to convey the ways in which society has improved in recent years, or to speak truthfully to electorates. In the UK and much of the West, there have been huge gains – life expectancy has risen, absolute poverty has decreased, teenage pregnancy has fallen to a record low, crime rates have fallen, and huge strides have been made in curbing gender, sexual and racial discrimination. Yet we hear too little of these successes.

Perhaps that is why so many who are doing comparatively well seem the most keen to upset the status quo. For instance, pensioners voted strongly to leave the EU and are the demographic from which Ukip attracts most support. Yet the over-65s are enjoying an era of unprecedented growth in their real incomes. Since 2010, the basic state pension has risen by over four times the increase in average earnings. 

Among young people, much of their anger is directed towards tuition fees and the iniquities of the housing market. Yet, by definition, tuition fees are paid only by those who go into higher education – and these people receive a “graduate bonus” for the rest of their lives. Half of school-leavers do not attend university and, in a globalised world, it is their wages that are most likely to be undercut by immigration.

However, we should not be complacent about the concerns of the “angry middle”. The resentment exploited by Donald Trump is the result of 40 years of stagnant median wages in the United States. In Japan and Germany, median wages have not increased in the past two decades. In the UK, meanwhile, the median income for those aged 31-59 is no greater than it was in 2007, and those aged 22-30 are 7 per cent worse off, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

To compound the problem, the wealthy keep getting wealthier. In 1980, American CEOs were paid 42 times the wage of the average worker. They are now paid 400 times as much. In the UK, the share of household income going to the top 1 per cent has more than doubled since 1979. Because of our hyperconnected, globalised media culture, we see more of the super-rich, fuelling feelings of resentment.

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern, with voters oscillating between populists of the left and the right. The political centre is hollowing out. Rather than pander to the populists, we must do more to quell the politics of victimhood by addressing the root of this corrosive sense of grievance: entrenched inequality. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser