Fearlessly to Preserve Life, Love, and Human Dignity
In this ever-changing world there are timeless
principles at work, sometimes beneath the surface, sometimes quite
apparent. There are also special
creations, enduring pieces of art, that reflect these principles in a way that
captures our imagination and turns our attention inward. Flying back home to Canada from a yoga
festival in Europe, I was recently reminded of one such piece of art in the
form of the classic western film, High Noon.
The basic story line is that a town marshal in the
American west retires his badge in order to marry a Quaker woman, whose
religion forbids violence. No sooner is
he married however, then word arrives that an outlaw he had captured years
before has been released from prison and is returning with his gang to take
revenge. Under these strained
circumstances, the man feels compelled to take back his duties as marshal to
defend both his future with his wife and the security of the town.
The plot of the movie echoes the theme of one of
Yogi Bhajan’s earliest talks in America, given on Baisakhi Day 1969. In it, Yogiji explains the saying Ahimsa
Parmo Dharm (Nonviolence is the highest way of life.) in the context of
Indian history, describing how, in the name of pacifism, India’s great
civilization allowed itself to be conquered by fierce warriors from the north
and west. People had forgotten the
second part of the proverb, “When one’s way of life is threatened, it is proper
to fight to defend it.”
As Yogiji relates it, the decline of Indian
civilization was arrested by the mission of Guru Nanak, culminating in the rise
of Guru Gobind Singh, dedicated to the defence of the good and the uprooting of
tyrants, and by the founding of the Khalsa.
In his talk, Yogi Bhajan relates how the degradation of society affected
the condition of India’s women, who were captured by the thousands and sold for
a pittance in the slave market of Ghazni, Afghanistan.
The heartrending situation is described by
Guru Nanak in the Babar Vani, as he witnessed the invasion of Babar.
women whose hair was beautifully adorned
have their heads shaved and their throats choked with dust…
have lost their headdresses and veils running here and there to safety,
have stabbed themselves; some, their spouses killed in battle, cannot sleep.
Siri Guru Granth Sahib,
Asa Mahala 1, Ang 417
In the early talk, Yogi Bhajan conveys the heart
of Sikh teachings. Sikh Dharma, after
all, is not a path dedicated to personal salvation alone. It is a meditative way of life dedicated to
preserving the essential social conditions of harmony and justice that allow
for individuals, families, and communities to flourish and prosper, even when
doing so might put one at risk of dying.
Grant me, O God, this blessing: May I
never refrain from righteous acts.
May I fight without fear the foe in
life’s battle with full confidence in your victory.
As the film progresses, the marshal’s defence of
the town proves increasingly difficult.
His wife urges him to flee and start a new life where they will not be
recognized. As he packs his belongings
and prepares to leave the judge tells him that the man he sentenced is only
coming to kill him and not the marshal, and that the town is not worth
defending anyway. The town’s previous
marshal, now retired, advises him that it takes time for people to appreciate
the value of law and order, and that events have taken place too suddenly for
them to recognize the need of preserving it.
The mayor pleads against a gunfight saying it would hurt the town’s
reputation. The marshal’s former friends
are reluctant to stand by him as they fear for their lives and their families’
also a telling gender divide in people’s response to the marshal’s plea for
assistance. While the townsmen make
excuses, a few even recall with fondness the years of lawlessness before the
marshal. The women in the story however
are unanimous in appreciating his bringing security to the town.
The situation of the town marshal is not that
different from the situation faced by Guru Nanak and every great sage of every
time. In taking on the bullies and
bigots of his time, the great Guru put his own life in danger. His mission continued through the sacrifices
of all his successors, the martyrdoms of the fifth and ninth Gurus, and the
legacy of the Khalsa. In each case,
brave Sikhs faced down cruel and insolent authority for the sake of peace and
righteousness. In no case was it a
personal fight. Every time it was an
exertion for timeless principles and for the good of all.
Compared with men, women are not weak. At their best, they are the inspiration of
every home. Women are leaders of
conscience, leaders of religion, potential leaders of every walk of life, even war. As our first teachers, everyone relies on
their wisdom, patience, and decency.
When the home is at peace, life, joy, and creativity abound. But for mothers and children to flourish and
blossom, there must be peace and security in the land.
In High Noon, as the character of the marshal’s
wife unfolds, we see that in her life she had been traumatized by the killing
of her father and her brother, events which led to her adoption of the
nonviolent creed of Quakerism. She is no
coward however, and in the end she too conducts herself bravely in the face of
Like Guru Nanak, Yogi Bhajan conducted himself as
a feminist. “God lives not in a
monastery or a cave, but in a cozy home,” he said. He named the feminine principle “Adi Shakti,”
the inspiration of all. Not unlike the
great Guru, he took on his teaching mission unasked. Nobody told him to come to the United States
and teach Sikh values, spiritual discipline and respect of womankind. His family missed him. His colleagues advised against it. Mostly, he was on his own.
Like the marshal in the movie, Yogi Bhajan stuck
to his principles. He lived for others,
not for himself. He faced betrayal so
often it became a common occurrence, one to be expected. But he also kept going, despite every
reversal, despite every discouragement he kept on building the foundations of a
spiritual nation in the West. Like the
great Gurus before him, Yogi Bhajan was sustained and preserved by the eternal
spirit of womankind, Pritham Bhagauti.
meditating on the eternal spirit of womankind, meditate on Guru Nanak…
I won’t give away the end of the movie except to
say that despite every adversity, the marshal stays and awaits the killers
coming for their revenge. He writes his
will and prepares for the worst, but somehow destiny saves him. And like the true sevadar he is, when his job
is done, he gives up his badge and gets out of town. He does not wait for appreciation or
congratulations. With his loving wife at
his side and the timid townspeople still amazed at the outcome, the marshal
just gets out of town.