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.