Prelude to what happened.

My discussion with the two young boys in the old langar hall.

When I sit to eat langar, I usually greet the people that sit beside me. Sometimes, a conversation occurs.

In this case, my conversation happened with two teenaged boys. They were of high school age and wore black coloured patkas. They were sitting on my left side close to the kitchen counter.

I began the conversation by asking for permission to ask a question. After I received permission, I asked them if they had attended the recent Gurmat camp. The boy sitting immediately on my left side, responded to my question.

He replied that he had not but did attend the one last year. As for this year, he remarked that his parents wanted to do a lot of traveling and that’s why he couldn’t attend. I asked him if he had learned anything from last year’s camp.

About this time, while all three of us were into our conversation, a lady that looked quite old, walked by and while looking directly at the boys, she told them in Punjabi, “Go and do sewa.” But the boys never got up. Instead, they became distracted and forgot the question I had asked.

Then, we began to discuss the posters ( that were on the walls of the old langar hall. These posters presented various facets of Sikhism such as for example, “Uniqueness of Sri Guru Granth Sahib”, “Universal Appeal” , “Travels of Guru Nanak”, and “The Khanda.” The posters were written in English with excerpts from the Guru Granth Sahib in Punjabi.

As we sat on the floor just underneath the area close to the kitchen counter, I pointed to the poster facing us directly across the hall. It was about “The Khanda.”

Then, I asked a question to the boy sitting to the left side of me (the other boy was a little farther away from me).

I said, “How do you know that what you read on those posters is true or not?”

After giving a few answers, this boy asked the other one for help. I told both of them that the answers they gave, were all incorrect. Then, I asked, “Have you given up?” The boy finally admitted that he did not know the answer. Then, I asked the other boy. He too, said he did not know the answer. I said that was a good sign. I asked him what grade he was in. He replied, “Grade 10.” I asked the other boy and he said, “Grade 11.” Then I asked one of the boys, what kind of an average do you get. The one in Grade 10 said, “78.” I said that is excellent.

As our conversation continued, I said to him, “When you are in school and your teacher asks you a question and you do not know the answer, what do you do?”

He said, “The teacher will look at me with a focused gaze. Then, I tell her that I don’t know the answer to her question. When I do this, she does not give me the answer right away. She gives me a few clues. Then I think about those clues. I try to answer the same question once again. When I don’t get the right answer, the teacher gives me a few more hints. Then, I think about those hints, once more. I know the teacher wants me to think and arrive at the correct answer. When I understand the hints given to me, then I give another answer and the teacher says it is correct.”

After he finished describing the interaction he has with his school teachers, I asked him the same question once more. This time, I made the question specific to the posters.

I said, “How do you know that what you read on those posters is true or not?”

He replied, “I would ask someone in the gurdwara.” I could tell from his response that that he was feeling a little more open with me. I sensed a camaraderie between the three of us.

Then, I asked, “How would you know whether what that person told you was true or not?”

The boy became silent. I could tell from observing his facial expression that he was thinking. Usually, this is the same expression that a school teacher observes when she looks at her students. A school teacher can also tell when any of her students are paying attention or not.

I told him that he could talk to the boy sitting beside him and ask him for more hints. Yet that boy was silent, too. This boy had already said he was in Grade 11. I had thought that because of his higher grade, he might know the answer. But when I asked him the same question, he was silent. For a school teacher, silence usually means the student does not know the answer. I am not a school teacher but I still recall how my teachers use to teach and what I felt when it was my turn to answer questions.

About this time, a tall man, wearing a blue turban walked by and stood in front of the teenaged boys and myself.

He told them in Punjabi, “Go and do sewa.” It was exactly the same set of words that the elderly woman had used earlier.

While he stood in front of them, I observed he had a noticeable beard. It was a tightly pressed beard alongside his cheeks. But what was on his chin made it all the more noticeable. The chin had several streaks of white hair. This contrasted with the blackness of the beard on the sides of his cheeks.

But the boys did not say anything or move. I said nothing either. Eventually, this man walked away.

The three of us were enjoying the discussion we were having. I had a lot in common with them.

By their accent and the way they carried the conversation and the inquisitiveness they demonstrated, I could tell that they were born in Canada.

Though I wasn’t born in Canada, my upbringing took place in Canada. Just like these two young boys, I too, use to go to high school. During my summer holidays, I recall how bored I use to feel.

In the time I grew up in Toronto, there were no Sikh camps. Instead, I use to accompany my father to the gurdwara, which I found to be quite a boring place.

Then I asked the boy that was in Grade 10, another question.

I said, “How do you know whether or not what I am telling you is true or false? If I were lying, how could you tell?” He said, “You have not lied to me.”

The boy beside him was quiet.

Like any teacher who teaches well, I gave both of these teenaged boys, a little hint to reinforce the conversation we had thus far.

I said, “When you feel hungry, do you believe or do you know that for sure?”

Immediately, the boy sitting beside me said, “I know.”

And just to make sure that he understood my question correctly, I gave him another hint.

I said to him, “If you told me you were hungry and I said that you were not, who would know this for sure?”

Within a second, he quickly replied, “I would know for sure.”

Then, I said to him, “If I had told you that you were not really hungry but only believed you were and even perhaps this was all in your head, what would you think about what I had said?” He said, “I would not believe you.”

When I asked him what he meant by what he said and why. He said, “I can feel the hunger inside my stomach.” That’s why when he feels hungry, he said, “I ask my mom for some food.”

I told him, “This was an excellent answer!”

Though I used other examples to illustrate my point, I moved the discussion to a more deeper level by telling them about a question people ask me.

I said, people ask me, “Do you believe in God?”

“When people ask me this question, I quickly draw their attention to the word “believe” and its dictionary definition.” I stressed the importance of being careful with the kinds of words one uses. I told this boy, that “Most people use words but never think about what they really mean.”

Then, I asked these boys: “Did you know the dictionary meaning of the word “believe” is not the same as the word “know”?

Again, both boys said nothing.

I could tell from the look on their faces that they felt stumped. When my teachers use to ask me questions and I didn’t know the answer for, I felt the whole classroom was staring at me. I would feel embarrassed for not knowing the right answer.

Then, I went on to say that in the word “believe” there is an element of doubt. But in the word “know” there is no such element. When you are doing the act of knowing, this is a fact. It is real. No one can deceive you. They may try but you’ll already be aware of what’s going on. On the other hand, if you do not know then there is always the possibility that someone could deceive you. I stressed the importance of making an effort to know about things instead of just simply believing whatever others may tell you.

Then, I went on to say that when we do our congregational prayer known as the “Ardas”, we always pray to the Creator to give us the gift of being able to discern the difference between something that is true and something that is false. It is one of the many boons that we ask for and it is called “Bibek daan.”

[For Internet readers, See: ਬਿਬੇਕ ਦਾਨ – “Bibek” See: ਬਿਬੇਕ – meaning in English – “Daan” refers to “gift” – See: ਦਾਨ – meaning in English “Bibek” is also spelled as “Vivek” – ਵਿਵੇਕ – Vivek]

Just before we ended the conversation, I encouraged both boys not to merely believe what I had discussed with them but to go and look up in a dictionary, the meaning of the words “believe” and “know.” At this point, we ended the conversation. The two of them got up and left. Shortly thereafter, I walked out of the old langar hall and went upstairs to make a free phone call.

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