What I Learned in a Sikh Temple

11 Aug
Sikh Temple-Red Eye Family

Sikh Temple in New Delhi

If Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist who murdered six people last weekend at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, had felt compassion, would he have committed the murders?

I don’t think so.

How do you get to the point where you feel no compassion? I’m not sure. But, I think it must start very early in life.

As I’ve said in other posts, I feel a huge burden to teach my kids certain life lessons. Compassion for others is one of those.

If you’re like me, I don’t come in contact with any Sikhs at home. But in April, we visited a Sikh temple in India.  And here’s what we found.

Worship and Compassion

Sikh temples aren’t just a place of worship, but also a place of compassion and volunteerism. At the temple in New Delhi, volunteers prepare food daily for 5,000 people. Yes, that’s right. They feed 5,000 people a day. For free.

Sikh Temple- New Delhi

Sikh Temple-New Delhi

Entering through the large gates, we left our shoes in a small room, covered our heads with orange scarves, and walked into a large dining room.

Sikh Temple Dining Hall-Red Eye Family

Sikh temple dining hall

Volunteers work throughout the day cutting vegetables, rolling roti (similar to pita bread), and washing dishes.

Sikh Temple

Sikh Temple volunteers cutting vegetables

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served to anyone who needs or wants a meal. Poor and rich. Young and Old. Everyone eats together.

Sikh Temple Kitchen

Sikh Temple Kitchen

No one is turned away based on appearance. Anyone is welcome to share a meal. Food programs are funded by the church and others around the world.

Sikh Temple Kitchen

Lighting a fire in the Sikh temple kitchen

Our guide, Mr. Singh, explained that all Sikhs are named Singh, but not all people named Singh are Sikhs. The first Sikh guru came from a Hindu family.

Little Guy and Me rolling roti

Rolling roti

Raising a Compassionate Child

It’s really hard to feel compassion for people we don’t know, even if they look just like us.  And it’s especially hard to teach kids that concept. On one hand, we teach our children not to talk to strangers. Then, we turn around and teach them not to judge people by their appearance.

How confusing. Even to me, and I’m an adult.

Little Guy rolling roti

Little Guy rolling roti

Cautious Compassion?

How do I teach the difference between danger and something that’s simply different? Even as adults, we let fear and caution override feelings of compassion. I’d like to think that’s why I don’t stop to help a stranger whose car has broken down on the side of the road. I’d hate to think it’s because of my lack of compassion.

And if I teach them to be compassionate towards those who are different than us, does that mean I have to teach them to feel compassion for people like Wade Michael Page? Or, do you teach them to feel empathy for only those who deserve it?

Is it possible to teach cautious compassion? Would that be a good thing?

It’s hard.

Before hating a group of people, I want my kids to know what the group stands for, getting to know the members individually.

Little Guy with Sikhs at the Temple

Little Guy with Sikhs at the Temple

Maybe if I begin by teaching them to feel empathy for those around them, as they grow, they’ll be able to decide for themselves how to balance compassion with judgment.

And, as the Sikhs in India have shown, you can’t really hate someone you help. That’s why I want my kids to volunteer, giving them the opportunity to interact with many different people.

Sikh Temple- New Dehli

Sikh Temple-New Dehli

While I still don’t truly understand the tenets of the religion, I am sure about one thing. They believe in helping others and feeding the hungry. Both honorable goals.

Thanks to the Sikhs, I got a lesson in compassion. I just hope I can pass it along.



13 Responses to “What I Learned in a Sikh Temple”

  1. Danielle August 12, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    If you manage to teach your children compassion, and not to be fearful of “otherness” then you will have done a great job. Placing it on your agenda as a parent, as you obviously have is a great example.

  2. redeyefamily August 12, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    Thanks Danielle. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they eventually understand that concept.

  3. Kathy August 12, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Nice stuff Amy. I have no doubt you’re raising not only compassionate children, but children who won’t be the least bit fazed by people who act differently or believe differently. They’ve seen more ‘different’ in their few short years than most see in a long, long, lifetime.

  4. redeyefamily August 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Thanks Kathy. Yes, they’ve seen a lot. There isn’t much that seems to surprise them, except seeing me in a burqa, but that’s a whole other story!

  5. NewLifeOnTheRoad (@NewLifeOnRoad) August 13, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    It is a funny world we live in. As a child we make friends easily, yet as an adult we are taught not to talk to those we dont know.
    As a child we are taught to be kind to others, to share, to say please and thankyou, to think of other peoples feelings, to say the truth, to listen to our elders, to respect our elders.
    yet as an adult we dont do most of those things…wonder when we lose our childhood belief’s and learn new ways of being? Wonder if we could ever get back to our childhood ways – maybe then we would all have a better place to live in 🙂
    Love how you are teaching your children through volunteer work and to accept others.

  6. redeyefamily August 14, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    Good questions. These are things I’m wondering as well. Motherhood makes you question a lot.

  7. Lisa August 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Such a thoughtful post, Amy. I have no doubt that your children will grow up to be compassionate adults because you are taking the time to demonstrate to them the importance of treating others with kindness. Traveling and discovering that people are very much like us even if they look or talk differently goes a long way to establishing compassion as a character trait.

    I think for someone to commit such a heinous act against strangers that they must have been taught hate and bigotry as a child rather than compassion and kindness and it saddens me to think that careless parenting can lead to such tragic consequences. I believe that teaching our children empathy is one of the most important things that we can do as parents. More than anything else I want my children to grow up to be people who don’t judge others based on how they look or what group they belong to but to see them as individual people and judge based on individual behaviour and actions. Perhaps the hardest thing to do is to feel compassion for someone like Page as a person because he has quite likely had a very unhappy life but at the same time to judge him very harshly for his actions.

  8. redeyefamily August 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    You said it beautifully. I feel the same way.

  9. Angel September 5, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    Amy- I know you and Phil are doing an outstanding job with your kiddos. The fact that you even contemplate teaching them compassion, for those who are different from themselves, speaks VOLUMES…indeed they will be compassionate! I think it is a balance between practicing compassion, while praying for wisdom.

  10. redeyefamily September 24, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Thanks Angel!

  11. Nomadic Samuel October 4, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    It’s wonderful the lessons you’ve learned from this experience. Compassion is something that is lacking in the world these days.

  12. Sonia May 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Hi, I enjoyed reading your post and would like to publish it on our webpage http://www.sikhfoundation.org with due credit to your blog. I hope that will be ok with you?

  13. redeyefamily May 7, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    I’m glad you liked it. I would be happy for you to publish it on your website.

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