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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This election has sparked a weird debate – one in which no one seems to want to talk

 The noise level hasn’t risen above a low gurgle in the background.

If this is a general election in which the tectonic plates are shifting, they’re the quietest tectonic plates I’ve ever heard. All the parties are standing on pretty radical platforms, yet the noise level hasn’t risen above a low gurgle in the background, like a leaking tap we can’t be bothered to get fixed.

Big issues are being decided here. How do we pay for care, or health, or education? How do we square closed borders with open trade, and why isn’t anyone talking about it? Democracy is on the line, old people are being treated like electoral fodder, our infrastructure is mangled, the NHS is collapsing around us so fast that soon all that’s left will be one tin of chicken soup and a handful of cyanide capsules, and we face the prospect of a one-party Tory state for decades to come. All this and yet . . . silence. There seem to be no shouts of anger in this election. It’s a woozy, sleepy affair.

I knew something was afoot the moment it was called. Theresa May came out of No 10 and said she was having an election because she was fed up with other parties voting against her. No one seemed to want to stand up and tell her that’s a pretty good definition of how functioning democracy works. Basically, she scolded parliament for not going along with her.

Why were we not stunned by the sheer autocratic cheek of the moment? With news outlets, true and fake, growing in number by the day, why was this creeping despotism not reported? Am I the only one in a state of constant flabbergast?

But the Prime Minister’s move paid off. “Of course,” everyone said, “the real argument will now take place across the country, and we welcome,” they assured us, “the chance to have a national debate.”

Well, it’s a pretty weird debate – one in which no one wants to talk. So far, the only person May has debated live on air has been her husband, as Jeremy Corbyn still wanders the country like an Ancient Mariner, signalling to everyone he meets that he will not speak to anyone unless that person is Theresa May. Campaign events have been exercises in shutting down argument, filtering out awkward questions, and speaking only to those who agree with every word their leader says.

Then came the loud campaign chants – “Strong and stable” versus “The system’s rigged against us” – but these got repeated so often that, like any phrase yelled a thousand times, the sense soon fell out of them. Party leaders might as well have mooned at each other from either side of a river.

Granted, some others did debate, but they carried no volume. The Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, achieved what no one thought possible, by showing the country that Nigel Farage had stature. And there’s a special, silent hell where Tim Farron languishes, his argument stifled at every turn by a media bent on quizzing him on what sort of hell he believes in.

Meanwhile, the party manifestos came out, with titles not so much void of meaning as so bored of it that they sounded like embarrassed whispers. Forward, Together; The Many Not the Few; Change Britain’s Future: these all have the shape and rhythm of political language, but nothing startles them into life. They are not so much ­clarion calls as dusty stains on old vellum. Any loosely connected words will do: Building My Tomorrow or Squaring the Hypotenuse would be equally valid. I still pray for the day when, just for once, a party launches its campaign with something like Because We’re Not Animals! but I realise that’s always going to stay a fantasy.

Maybe because this is the third national vote in as many years, our brains are starting to cancel out the noise. We really need something to wake us up from this torpor – for what’s happening now is a huge transformation of the political scene, and one that we could be stuck with for the next several decades if we don’t shake ourselves out of bed and do something about it.

This revolution came so quietly that no one noticed. Early on in the campaign, Ukip and the Conservatives formed a tacit electoral pact. This time round, Ukip isn’t standing in more than 200 seats, handing Tory candidates a clear run against their opponents in many otherwise competitive constituencies. So, while the left-of-centre is divided, the right gets its act together and looks strong. Tory votes have been artificially suppressed by the rise of Ukip over the past few elections – until it won 12.6 per cent of the electorate in 2015. With the collapse of the Ukip vote, and that party no longer putting up a fight in nearly a third of constituencies, Theresa May had good reason to stride about the place as cockily as she did before the campaign was suspended because of the Manchester outrage.

That’s why she can go quiet, and that’s why she can afford to roam into the centre ground, with some policies stolen from Ed Miliband (caps on energy bill, workers on company boards) and others from Michael Foot (spending commitments that aren’t costed). But that is also why she can afford to move right on immigration and Brexit. It’s why she feels she can go north, and into Scotland and Wales. It’s a full-blooded attempt to get rid of that annoying irritant of democracy: opposition.

Because May’s opponents are not making much of this land-grab, and because the media seem too preoccupied with the usual daily campaign gaffes and stammering answers from underprepared political surrogates, it falls once again to the electorate to shout their disapproval.

More than two million new voters have registered since the election was announced. Of these, large numbers are the under-25s. Whether this will be enough to cause any psephological upsets remains to be seen. But my hope is that those whom politicians hope to keep quiet are just beginning to stir. Who knows, we might yet hear some noise.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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