Football and the Sikh way of life

In his final blog for newstatesman.com Harwinder compares a Sikh approach to life to watching a foot

Watching a game of football is a national pastime in the UK and one that I partake of as regularly as possible. The atmosphere, camaraderie, competitive-nature is as good an indication of modern English culture as you would care to find.

In football, there are certain footballers, not just at the highest stage but also in amateur leagues, who gain a much greater exposure than their team-mates and have more of a public profile. These are almost always players who are involved in the most intense instances of a football match such as goal scoring opportunities or penalty decisions.

From a fans point of view (armchair or season ticket holder) these players are the ones whose names are mentioned the most and whose skills are debated at grounds up and down the country. But there is another type of player, lesser well known and certainly less mentioned, who makes a football team what it is.

Sometimes described as the ‘engine-room’ of a team, these players are involved in building up possession, running off of the ball into space, closing down opposing players etc. The list of tasks that they fulfil is incredible. They get credit from the fans of course, but often their talents go unappreciated when held in contrast to the popular players.

I’ve always felt that this is due to the perspective in which we watch a game of football, that is to say the televised format of following the ball. If we were to also watch a game of football from above the stadium in a blimp and see the bigger picture our post-match conversations might redress the balance of focus where players are concerned.

So what has any of this got to do with religion? Or the Sikh way of life for that matter too? Well, quite simply it is the concept of perspective. Watching a game of football from a number of different vantage points aids our ability to understand how the game transpired and to better appreciate the talents on display.

Our perspective of life works in a similar way to assist or disturb the way in which we perceive the World. In reading these blog entries you might have noticed that I always refer to my faith as the Sikh way of Life. This is how Sikhs interpret and practise the teachings of Guru Nanak: it is a lifestyle that encompasses your entire being. There is no compartmentalisation of our lives into categories that distinguish between our spiritual life and for example our social experiences. We are Sikhs at all times, representing the Sikh Way of Life, but most importantly learning and acquiring experience all of the time.

Thinking as a Sikh in every part of our lives, we are able to broaden our spiritual experiences and comprehend our beliefs in differing contexts. A Sikh will try not to refrain from any part of life, but to embrace it and gain from it.

If a Sikh were a tree, his/her trunk would be Gurbani (the words contained in The Guru Granth Sahib,) whilst his/her branches would be the experiences that they gain in life. Some are high and some are low, but they have all helped to make the tree what it is. The fifth Guru Nanak, Guru Arjun depicted it best: “O Nanak, meeting the True Guru, one comes to know the Perfect Way. While laughing, playing, dressing and eating, he is liberated.” Guru Arjun explains that when a person starts on the path to realisation they are soon met with a kind of Divine intervention, a mini-realisation if you will.

As they progress along this path, what they do becomes of less importance as they are nearing or have gained a realised state of mind and that itself is the fundamental function of being a Sikh: realisation of Truth. Although Sikhs live by a broad code of conduct, it is implemented in varying ways. The unique entity which binds Sikhs is the Gurbani of The Guru Granth Sahib and the path to realisation that it leads us to. The Guru Granth Sahib is not merely a Holy book, rather the culmination of Guru Nanak’s philosophy, established for all eternity. The words are dynamic as is this way of life, where interpretation holds the key to realisation.

In writing this blog I hope to have enhanced your perspective of the Sikh way of life. I wouldn’t class myself as a typical Sikh as I believe there is no such thing, but hopefully what I have written over the past few days has inspired you to ask further questions of your beliefs and even yourself. Looking at the bigger picture, the content of this blog at this point in my life is quite different to what it would have been 5 years ago and is probably very different to what it could be in 5 years time. Looking at the even bigger picture, my life is very different to any previous or future experiences that my soul will encounter. Realisation, or enlightenment, for a Sikh is the culmination of countless lifetimes of experience and learning. At the point of enlightenment a soul becomes at one with… well with everything and merges with The Truth. I purposely omitted an important part to the Sikh-tree that I mentioned earlier: the root. It is of course that which binds all of us together, the human experience. Furthermore, it is all life and existence that is around us. In fact, it is much greater than that still: existence that we can see, that which we can’t, reality that we understand and realities that we have yet to find. Put simply, The Truth.

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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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.