Jasmeet Kaur: Disabilities in Focus - Chronic Illness Through The Lens Of ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ/Gurbaanee

There is space for us all in the ਪੰਥ [panth], but the problem is that this space is not accessible for everyone to claim

The series image created by Sukhjeen Kaur. Body-profile images of disabled individuals without and with disability aids (wheelchair, crutches, guide-dog and ostomy bag) are shown outside Sri Harmandir Sahib on a pastel pink background. Sri Harmandir Sahib has a faint grey glow around it. At the top-centre of the image, the title reads ‘Disabilities in Focus: Punjabi and Sikh Communities’

This is the third installment of a five-part series centering the knowledge and insights of people living with disabilities within the context of Punjabi and Sikh communities. You can read part one, Introducing Disabilities in Focus: Punjabi and Sikh Communities, by Shuranjeet Singh here, and part two, Disabilities in Focus: Accessibility in Sikh Spaces, by Sukhjeen Kaur here.

Jasmeet Kaur
October 27, 2021 | 5 min. read | Disabilities in Focus Part 3

One of the most striking aspects of ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] is the vast level of accessibility that it offers. While some ponder over the innermost gems of ਜਪੁਜੀ ਸਾਹਿਬ [Japji Sahib], others travel swiftly through a dimension of emotions when reciting ਸਲੋਕ ਮਹਲਾ ੯ [Salok Mahalla 9]. 

When it comes to the word of ਗੁਰੂ [guroo], there is certainly something for everyone. However, issues arise when we use these transformative tools of empowerment to marginalise and ignore subgroups within our ਪੰਥ [panth], like those living with chronic一lifelong, incurable一health conditions. As such, where ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] is a praxis for empowerment, we often neglect to even consider it as a tool to uplift/empower our kin with chronic health conditions

Could this be a result of allowing the niche of typical ਪੰਜਾਬੀਅਤ [Panjabiath] based views to scratch the lens of ਗੁਰਮਤਿ [gurmath] inspired living? Has this caused a dilution of both worlds, thus removing us further away from the equilibrium and neutrality that ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] offers us? Some might say so.

Wherever a cultural paradigm collides with a spiritually revolutionary framework, we see a particular pocket of beliefs take centre stage. In this instance, whilst ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] guides us to aspire toward becoming individuals who spend their lives dedicated to ਨਾਮ ਅਭਿਆਸ [naam abhiaas; repeating the name of the One] and ਸੇਵਾ [seva], ਪੰਜਾਬੀਅਤ [Panjabiath] makes heroes out of (mostly) those who look a certain way.

As a result, the few people who do openly share a diagnosis of a lifelong health condition are only included and respected in Panthic spaces on certain conditions. They need to prove that they can still fit the prototype of an accepted ‘normal’ while living with a chronic health condition or that they can be useful as ‘inspiration’ for non-disabled community members. More often than not, the person paints this heroic view of themselves with public declarations such as “I have X disease, but I won't let it stop me.” 

While we normally recognise that ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] encourages us to rise above hurdles in life (such as that of a diagnosis), ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] also guides us to pause and make space for rest, rejuvenation, and renewal through quiet practices such as engaging in a ਜਾਪ [jaap] or ਨਾਮ ਸਿਮਰਨ [naam simran], but we often fail to listen and subsequently, to act. 

Interestingly, those living with chronic health conditions have frequent opportunities for such practices whenever they flare up and fall into social isolation. The chances for spiritual practices with this type of living are plentiful and often, and yet we award very little respect or even space to those who experience this type of living.

Additionally, ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] makes no small feat of continuously reminding us that spiritual stamina is of much more value than any type of physical endurance. This doesn’t mean that we ignore the benefits of having a body that functions in its optimal form, but rather we should work constantly on maintaining our physical health in tangent to accepting that the ਸਰੀਰ [sareer] is temporarily existent, it is a vehicle that serves a specific purpose and has no value in the ਦਰਬਾਰ [darbar] of ਅਕਾਲ ਪੁਰਖ [Akaal Purakh]. 

It might serve us well to remember that it is indeed the ਹੁਕਮਿ [hukam] of the Creator to govern the world. This includes how our bodies function and starts with whether we are to receive a human body at all. 

Every day in ਰਹਰਾਸਿ ਸਾਹਿਬ [rehraas sahib], we are told: 

ਭਈ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਦੇਹੁਰੀਆ ॥ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਮਿਲਣ ਕੀ ਇਹ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਰੀਆ ॥

This human body has been given to you; this is your chance to meet Gobind (Preserver of the World). 

-Ang 12, Guroo Granth Sahib Jee

Here, ਗੁਰੂ ਅਰਜਨ [Guroo Arjan Sahib Ji] doesn’t refer to a particular type of body, almost as if to signal that every version of the human body is valuable, worthy, and accepted by ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ [Vaheguroo]. This isn’t a shocking revelation, for through the lens of ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] we see time and time again that our ਗੁਰੂ [guroos] were forward-thinking and revolutionary in their revelations and beliefs. So, when it comes to acknowledging and addressing chronic illness/disabilities, when did we as a ਪੰਥ [panth] fall so far behind.

ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] always offers us ਆਸ [aas], so how then do we begin to see it as a bridge to reach Sikhs that live with chronic health conditions and disabilities? Well essentially, we learn from their own lived experiences, and this begins with acknowledging disabled Sikhs and including them in Panthic spaces. It begins with the inclusive nature of ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ [Guroo Nanak Sahib’s] ਸੁਣਿਐ [sunieh] – in essence, to ask/listen with intent to make way for spiritual transformation. It begins with truly viewing the world and the body as temporary, simply as vehicles. Further, we do what ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] always requires us to do: we reframe our thinking; we confront our prejudices, and we apply the universal and timeless logic of ਗੁਰਮਤਿ [gurmath] to chronic illness/disability. 

A body does not determine how worthy someone is of the unconditional ਪਰੇਮ [prem] that ਅਕਾਲ ਪੁਰਖ [Akaal Purakh] promises for us all. In fact, ਅਕਾਲ ਪੁਰਖ [Akaal Purakh] is love and that love is beyond the limitations of any temporary ਸਰੀਰ [body]. When we are reminded of this repeatedly through ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee], we should ask ourselves whether there has to be revolution of ਪਰੇਮ [prem] within our ਪੰਥ [panth]. We should, as children of the ਗੁਰੂ [guroo], ask ourselves whether there is no greater time than now to start accepting and loving disabled bodies (genuinely and not just superficially).

ਅਕਾਲ ਪੁਰਖ [Akaal Purakh] has commissioned us to view our bodies as just forms to experience divinity. One’s spiritual status is not determined by the functioning of their body. By adopting this approach, we can break free from the idea that only certain bodies are worthy of/or valuable to the ਪੰਥ [panth].

ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] labels grandiosity as a disease, for the body can be bled dry and broken down bone by bone until there is nothing left, but the ਆਤਮਾ [aathmaa], an extension of ਕਰਤਾ [karta; the Creator], can never be extinguished. And if we really think about what ਗੁਰਬਾਨੀ [gurbaanee] tells us about ਰੋਗ [rog], well we are all chronically sick for we are all riddled with the worst disease of them all -  ਹਉਮੇ [haumai].

ਹਉਮੈ ਦੀਰਘ ਰੋਗੁ ਹੈ ਦਾਰੂ ਭੀ ਇਸੁ ਮਾਹਿ ॥

 Ego is a chronic disease for which the cure for ego is found within the state of ego itself.

-ang 466, Guru Granth Sahib Jee

There is space for us all in the ਪੰਥ [panth], but the problem is that this space is not accessible for everyone to claim. In the House of ਨਾਨਕ [Nanak] all are welcome, for none is higher or lower than another. We are all patterns of ਫੁਲਕਾਰੀ [phulkaari] woven together on the hem of the robe of the ਗੁਰੂ [Guroo]. So when it comes to returning to the ਦਰਬਾਰ [darbar] of ਅਕਾਲ ਪੁਰਖ [Akaal Purakh], let us remember that it is indeed the ਆਤਮਾ [aathmaa] that returns and not the vehicle that carries it. So let them in, no matter what their bodies function like, no matter what their bodies look like, let them in to these spaces gifted by the ਗੁਰੂ [guroo] for they are universal spaces which belong to everyone.

 ਸਿੰਮਲ ਰੁਖੁ ਸਰੀਰੁ ਮੈ ਮੈਜਨ ਦੇਖਿ ਭੁਲੰਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ॥

My body is like the simmal tree; seeing me, other people are fooled.

ਸੇ ਫਲ ਕੰਮਿ ਨ ਆਵਨ੍ਹ੍ਹੀ ਤੇ ਗੁਣ ਮੈ ਤਨਿ ਹੰਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ॥੪॥

Its fruits are useless - just like the qualities of my body. ||4||

-ang 729, Guru Granth Sahib Jee

Following this series we are hoping to continue and build the conversation. If you are interested in getting involved with disability advocacy within Punjabi, Sikh and South Asian communities please complete this form and we will be in contact with further opportunities to get involved, meet new people and build our skills.

The use of Gurmukhee within this piece is purposeful: 1- to demonstrate that we can reach audiences without compromising on our own language and beliefs; 2- to encourage readers to engage with Gurbaanee + Gurmukhee to empower themselves and therefore thrive; (3) to acknowledge that English translations are not universal so it is common to see different translations of Gurmukhee words.

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Jasmeet Kaur (she/her) is a Secondary Education professional, writer, and disability advocate with 8+ years of championing inclusion within school-based settings much before her own diagnosis of a chronic health condition in 2019. Jasmeet is passionate about using gurbaanee as a force for empowerment for those who identify as disabled. You can connect with her via jasmeetwrites@hotmail.com


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