Kids Corner

Talking Stick

You Cannot Take It With You:
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 97

Convenor: AMRIT KAUR




“ … [B]y the time Michael R. Bloomberg left Johns Hopkins University, with a smattering of A’s and a lust for leadership, he was a social and political star -- the president of his fraternity, his senior class and the council overseeing Greek life. “An all-around big man on campus,” as he puts it.

“His gratitude toward the university, starting with a $5 donation the year after he graduated, has since taken on a supersize, Bloombergian scale.

“On Sunday (January 27, 2013), as he makes a $350 million gift to his alma mater -- by far the largest in its history -- the New York City mayor, along with the president of the university, will disclose the staggering sum of his donations to Johns Hopkins over the past four decades: $1.1 billion
.” [The New York Times]

Guru Nanak introduced a number of transformational messages which have shaped our DNA.

Not the least of those teachings is the ever recurring reminder: “You can’t take it with you!”

Entrenched deep into our psyche is the saakhi around Bhai Lalo and Malik Bhago; it has inspired us for centuries and encouraged us to not only value work but also to share the fruits of our labour.

I remember following the news-story only a few decades ago, when I was still a school girl in New Delhi, of how one man single-handedly made his immense personal wealth available -- with no strings attached -- to build the modern edifice we know as the magnificent Rakab Ganj Gurdwara in the vicinity of India’s Presidential Palace and Parliament Buildings.

It is one of the historical gurdwaras which honour the memory of the martyrdom of the Ninth Master, Guru Tegh Bahadar.

Two things stand out from that incredibly selfless gesture of Bhai Mohan Singh, then one of the richest men in India’s capital.

First, that it was a donation which was purposely, pursuant to his instructions, given a low profile, to the point that very few know about it today though only a few decades have passed. 

Secondly: is it a coincidence that, following his grand but quiet gesture, his personal wealth and that of his family, has since multiplied a hundred-fold? Today, his sons are even richer and are amongst the wealthiest in the land.

Thought of the Guru’s message and this story from the 1960s and 70s was, of course, triggered by the extraordinary story in the news reports this morning about New York’s Mayor Bloomberg and his life-long philanthropy.

Though similar stories abound in our own community -- Sikhs around the world are legendary for their high civic sense and generosity in nation-building -- we have been somewhat distracted in recent decades by monumental challenges of survival here in the mothership (Punjab), and issues of survival and settlement in the diaspora.

As always, we have met our challenges well and overcome them with aplomb and remarkable success. One of the primary indicia of how far we have come in overcoming our hurdles is the fact that we have more than our fair share of success stories: we are now represented in every corridor of power, and we boast a whole bevy of billionaires and millionaires like Mayor Bloomberg.

The question then is:

Isn’t it time then for our own “Bloomberg”s to turn to building our community, our institutions, our community's infra-structure?

Are we doing enough?

Are our rich and famous doing enough to ensure that the treasures of Sikhi will be nurtured and preserved and enjoyed by the children of our children?

We can’t take any of it with us … so, what are we waiting for?

Any thoughts? Comments?    


January 27, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Ujaggar Singh (Wisconsin, USA), January 27, 2013, 9:18 AM.

There is no dearth of ideas and commitment in our community. What is lacking is financial resources, being a small minority, scattered, etc. If our financially successful brothers and sisters stepped up to the plate -- even a fraction of them -- I'm confident we'd be well on our way to addressing most of our challenges within 12 months.

2: Onkar Kaur (Chandigarh, Punjab), January 27, 2013, 9:36 AM.

It is through giving that we grow. The more we give, the more we have. And the richer we are, the more we can do without and give away because the daswandh (tithing) thumb-rule does not apply any more. That is, the more we are blessed with, the smaller percentage of our wealth is needed by us to live well. For example, if I have $100 million, surely I can do without $50 million of it without making even a dent on my life-style or security!

3: Jasmine Kaur (New York, USA), January 27, 2013, 9:40 AM.

A shower of blessings on our mayor. Such giving and relinquishing of excess wealth washes away our sins like nothing -- I repeat, NOTHING -- else can or does.

4: Jasbir Kaur (New Jersey, USA), January 27, 2013, 11:11 AM.

Every religion tackles the issue of excess wealth and makes no bones about it: don't get attached to it, our Elders have told us over and over again, or else you'll sink under its weight! Sikhs who have been blessed with wealth have always been stalwarts in community building in the past. No reason why things should change now ... and Sikh-Americans and others living in the affluent West can certainly show the way. I'm not letting the affluent Sikh-Indians, Sikh-East-Africans and Sikh-Asians off the hook, though.

5: Rabinder Singh (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), January 27, 2013, 11:47 AM.

If you are ultra-rich, you can indeed be a game-changer. For the community, for yourself, for your family, for your descendants. But one doesn't HAVE to be rich to help change things. If each one of us adopts a Sikh cause and supports it with whatever we can help with, even if it a mere $1000, say, annually, if not more, you can make a measurable difference. So, the trick is in focusing and concentrating on a single cause. It can be anything that moves you - dance, sports, education, art, advocacy, human rights, legal representation, books, films, women, seniors, children, music, theater ... anything! As long as it helps a Sikh project, you have added your shoulder ... things will move as a result! The time is now ...

6: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), January 27, 2013, 2:11 PM.

Although many Sikhs do give substantial money, I think the motivation needs to be better. For example, it must be the foremost duty to take care of poor relatives, friends, neighbours ... helping them out vis-a-vis their children's schooling, or more. Or donating to bodies taking care of poor Sikhs, especially for education of Sikligars must be given priority. On gurpurabs, instead of us putting up large number of unnecessary food stalls, we must distribute, or even better, sell at highly subsidized prices the best books and CDs related to Sikhi so that children and the rest of us can learn more about ourselves.

7: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), January 27, 2013, 2:12 PM.

Wealth without gurmat is an ego trip. Using money to educate and feed fellow human beings is the true greatness of wealth. Guru Nanak set the example with Sacha Sauda -- by giving away his father's "investment" to the hungry!

8: Manvinder Singh Sawhney (Wilton, Connecticut, USA), March 26, 2013, 1:56 AM.

Amrit Kaur ji, It was not Bhai Mohan Singh that gave a portion of his wealth for the Rakab Ganj Gurdwara building in New Delhi, but Sardar Harnam Singh Suri, an industrialist, who was also my maternal grandfather. On his passing, S. Khushwant Singh, son of Sir Sobha Singh, a friend of the family, wrote a eulogy that was printed in April 1988 in the Times of India. I am taking the liberty of informing you, now that he is no longer alive, otherwise, I would be in big trouble with him. He would never acknowledge his contribution and when anyone praised him, he would say, 'kis ka kaaraj tin hi kiya / maanas kya vechaara raam" [GGS:784]. Guru Arjan continues: "jay ko hoye bahey daataar / tis daynhaar / jaane gaavaar" - 'If someone considers himself a donor, the True Donor considers him a fool.' Guru Sahib explains that if the jeeo (soul) and pind (body) are all God's capital (raas), then what belongs to man? Man is only sharing his God-given bounties, nothing more. I enjoy reading your articles. May Vaheguru bless you with more energy to further talk about Sikhi, so that others can benefit from your contributions and live in the Sikh way, because Guru Nanak's purpose was to have his Sikhs live purely. Guru Rakha.

9: Jasmeen Kaur (Sydney, Australia), August 29, 2013, 7:21 AM.

I truly believe that the message of Sikhi starts in your own home and then only it propagates to the community. Money without Sikhi will create ego. I must say that investing the money to built education centres for our future generations along with feeding the poor should be the mission. One such beautiful example is the institute called Pingalwara. I only visited it last month in Amritsar. There is another institution upcoming soon called Uchha Dar Baba Nanak Da (near outskirts of Chandigarh). We all should invest time to learn gurbani. I love reading these articles as it makes me get closer to gurmat.

10: jagraj Singh (Apollo Beach, Florida, USA), December 22, 2016, 5:44 PM.


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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 97"

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