By Dr. J. Das
Let us try to understand something that is dear to the hearts of all of us, and that is the family.
A year is dedicated as the Year of the Family. We must try to understand what the family means. In some cultures the family means all the people who belong by blood relationship; in other cultures the family means only what is called the nuclear family i.e. mother, father and children. There is also the extended family that includes the nuclear family plus other members such as grand parents, uncles, aunts etc. But in modern society there is so much fragmentation of the family that we have single parent family, blended family, adoptive family and even separated family.
Why should we have to set aside one year and call it the “year of the family”? I think that is to recognize the fact that the family unit is a very important and essential one in the lives of all people. Were it not for family, then we will not have the love and respect and mutual support system that are built in into the family. Unfortunately, in our modern society, because of the fragmentation of the family, there is not the same built in support system, the same love, respect, caring and sharing any more. You all have heard the saying: “the family that prays together stays together”, but you can add any number of other variables. “The family that shares with each other stays together”, “the family that shares common ideals will stay together”, “the family that respects one another will stay together”, “the family that is supportive of one another will stay together”. Add many other qualifications like these, and you will realize the value of the family. And the importance of the family is not just to pray together, but also to do everything together. Express love for one another. Try to understand that God has created family, and the importance of the family, as all of you know, is to raise the young and to impart to the growing person certain values in life, and those values, when shared by the young people with the grown ups in the family, help to cement a strong family bond. But as the young person is growing up, if he does not adhere to the common family values, then there will be discordance, misunderstanding and fragmentation. Guru Kabir has said: jagra nitahi barayie, jagra buri balai; dukh upje chinta dahe, jagra me ghar jai (Always avoid quarrel for it is evil; it creates suffering and worries, and destroys the family). How beautifully Guru Kabir states the fact that we must always avoid misunderstanding and dissention. It is an evil force that can creep into a family. When that happens, only suffering ensues. And when there is quarrel and misunderstanding, the whole house can be ruined. Now, none of us really want our homes to be ruined; we do not want our families to fall apart; but how can we prevent it when the prevailing modern forces acting upon our lives are so strong? Individuality wants self-expression. Our permissive society allows people to do whatever they want to do. When society begins to take this direction, then family disintegration is inevitable. Family disintegration is really a curse on society, because we lose the strength of the family. There is a saying that “united we stand and divided we fall”. If as a family we are all united, we can be strong, but if we have our own ideologies, and pursue our different ways as opposed to the ways that are common to the family, then there will be disintegration. So we must try to understand that as a family unit we must pull together and try to stay together, or else we will be facing a lot of dark consequences down the road. For the family year I have composed a poem I would like to share with you. It is called: “Year of the family”.
The family, the backbone of society,
Has lost its pristine gaiety.
What was plain for all to see,
Is now observed by political decree.
How far have we wandered,
From family beauty now squandered?
The good old days of family unity are gone,
And families now scatter hither and yon.
Dignified love and respect was the rule,
But now they are almost topics of ridicule.
Each now vies for his own rights,
Causing squabbles and family fights.
The beckoning call of modernity,
With sensual pleasures aplenty,
Lure the fickle mind with gratification,
But earns sorrow and dissatisfaction.
Strong family bonds are a treasure,
Where each is loved in equal measure.
May the year of the family,
Strengthen all families equally,
And allow God’s divinity to manifest,
Making each family truly blessed.
Those were my thoughts as I was thinking of the year of the family. Does our family include only the few members that are living in a household? Don’t we have a human family? Just as we are taught to love our family, our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters, we are also taught by Sat Guru Kabir to love everybody. He says: sab se hiliye, sab se miliye, sab ko lije nam (be cordial and friendly with all people, and call their names). That is the way human beings are supposed to behave because we have an instinct within us that tells us love is important. The saying has been coined: “where love is God is”! It is also said that “God is Love and Love is God”! Let us try to understand that there is no greater force in the world than love. If we truly loved, we will feel happiness in our own hearts; we will feel happy knowing that we can share our lives with one another in the family. We are not going to be selfish, because selfishness will not be there. The family is stronger than its individual members. If one of you want to fight an enemy you may not succeed, but if the whole family fights an enemy, that family is likely to succeed. There is a very interesting story given by an old person who was about to die, and he wanted to show his seven sons how unity is important. He asked each son to bring a piece of stick. He then asked each one to break his stick, and each did so. He then told them to tie all of the seven sticks together in one bundle. The father then asked each son to break this bundle, and none of them could break it because there are seven sticks. By that he showed them the strength of unity in facing any adversity. Each may face defeat and humiliation, but if they acted together, they will have strength, power, self-esteem, prestige and respect. What is more important than these qualities that a family can share? Basically, God created man and woman to procreate, but that is not the whole function of human beings, just to make more people. The function of human beings is to express love for one another. It is to recognize God as the source of all of us, and to recognize that God is the same for all beings, for all people. We cannot divide God; neither should we divide ourselves and create artificial barriers and divisions. Guru Kabir has taught one essential truth that we are all one family called humanity. We are not “different families” identified by different family names, traditions, and cultures. If we divide ourselves according to certain clans, rules, and traditions, then we are causing separations between one another, and in separations lie weakness, defeat and sorrow. In unity we see all of us as brothers and sisters. We are all one before God. No matter how we try to separate ourselves we cannot really be separated, because we all belong to the human race. But we have cunning minds which tell us we are either superior or inferior, or we feel rejection, or are too proud or our different values. This kind of attitude is prevalent, and so we do not have a common denominator that can strengthen all of us as belonging to one family. We can say we are a “religious family”, because we belong to a certain religion or a certain church, or we follow certain dogmas or doctrines. Or we can say we are an “economic family” because we are all in the same occupation, or we have a certain degree of wealth. Or if we are teachers, we can say we are all a “family of teachers”. Priests we can say they are all in the same “family of God” spreading the word of God. So what does the word “family” really mean? As we are to observe the “year of the family”, does it just mean we try to cement a bond with our immediate family, of mother, father, and children? I think we will be very narrow minded and short sighted if we limit family only to the nuclear family. We must extend ourselves to include the “extended family” but beyond that, we extend ourselves to include our society, our whole community, as our family, because the common denominator is that we are all human beings, and should not hold things against one another. We should not take to task other people because of certain values or traditions they follow. Let them be what they are, but let us have acceptance and mutual respect. Human beings are bound to vary according to their own actions, their temperament, their geographical location, and their cultures, but that does not defeat the fact that we are all human beings and, as human beings, we share certain things in common. We all need food, shelter, clothing, love, respect, and self esteem. Why don’t we ‘give’ these things to one another? We know that by doing so, happiness will abound. If we love, we get love in return. If we hate, we get hate in return. We know from common experience that what is hateful, what brings suffering such as anger, revenge, and hurt feelings, cause suffering for us and for others. We know instinctively that we want love, compassion, understanding, respect, and self-esteem. Let us accord this to one another. Let us truly be human beings so that when we are celebrating the year of the family, we truly understand what the family means. It means to be united, and to hold certain values that are dear to all of us. Certain values are held to be common, and they are called “inalienable rights” by the government, such as the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness; freedom of worship and freedom of expression. But we are not really a government when we are talking about the spirit. The spirit is the same in all of us, and it cannot stand separations. If we accept that God dwells in the hearts of all beings, for God is life, then we cannot truly be separate. So we rise above the political definition of rights, and go to the spiritual, the metaphysical, rights that we have as human beings, with God as our parent, and we as brothers and sisters. This makes one big family called humanity, and Satguru Kabir has taught us this. Let us therefore try to abide by this exalted definition of the family. Be friendly and loving towards all people, and never criticize other people for what they are, because what they are is dependent upon what they are thinking, saying and doing. For the thought is the father of the action, and the action is the father of the character. According to what you sow, that is what you will reap, and no one can escape that. So let us sow good seeds of family strength, family unity, family love, family coherence, family sharing, and family self-esteem. These are the things that will make us happy and will keep us together. So when we say “the family that prays together stays together” let us add all the other things that can be with us if we stick together as a family, for in unity as a family we have strength, but in fragmentation we can have only weakness. Let us then strengthen our families, and let the year of the family become one in which all of us strengthen ourselves in a spiritual bond which nobody can break. If we are all bound together spiritually, and have that strength of God given to us, and we unite ourselves, we will also be strong, and that strength will give us meaning in life, solidarity, brotherhood and all the other great qualities we want to achieve. So dear brothers, sisters and children, let us resolve to remain as family. Let us share in family ideals and goals, trials, tribulations and sorrows. We will add to our strength, and will be able to support one another into the future of this spiritual life.