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Personal Reflections from an Imperfect Pen

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Location: New Mexico

Publications: Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa. Anand Sahib: The Song of Bliss by Guru Amar Das translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa. Available through www.sikhdharma.org.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Journal: Singapore

There is a mocking bird at the Harimander Sahib in Amritsar with the most sophisticated warble I have ever heard. She flies to the top of the Temple in the early morning sun, and sings her heart. It's a scale - not major, not minor, but an imitation of a scale that a Raagi might sing at the start of his Kirtan. So perfectly on pitch. So subtly in-tune - the notes sung in half or even quarter steps. She sings it so quickly - up and down, up and down the range. In imitation of what she hears around her.

It's one of those moments for me, sitting on the roof of the Harimander Sahib, the fall sun warming the air, that seems almost miraculous. For here is a bird that has a musical talent and accomplishment many humans could never aspire to. There are mockingbirds in Houston, too, and I remember them fondly – the way they would imitate the scratchy caa-caw of a grakle, or the shrill warning of a jay. But to find a soul in the form of a bird practicing raag in the morning light of the Golden Temple - well, one must consider it a very blessed little life.

I am only two days in the holy city of Amritsar this time around. The kind invitation from the Sikh Centre in Singapore to come teach Japji Sahib during Guru Nanak's birthday brought me half-way around the globe. But the picture of the Golden Temple on my bed stand reminded me that I couldn't be so close to Amritsar without a visit. There's vacation time to juggle, and the fact that Singapore Airlines only flies between Singapore and Amritsar a couple times a week. So in some ways it is a little foolhardy of me to make the extra jump for such a brief stay. But how can I turn down the chance to pray one more time at this sacred place?

Walking onto the parkarma the first night, I am overtaken with the strangest sensation. Though it has been two years since I came to the Golden Temple - it feels like I have never left. It's as if it was only the day before that I'd been there. How can two years disappear as if they had never happened? As if all the events between the time I left and this day of returning could melt away - like the image of a dream upon waking?

It is Its own power in Its own dimension, the Harimander Sahib. And for the next two days, struggling with jet lag, I divide my time between sleeping in the hotel room and being here. In this sacred place – where time and space have their own rules.

From the beginning, this trip has felt blessed. I can be a slightly anxious traveler - too worried about who I will sit next to on the plane and whether the wait at the airport will be boring or not. But from the start, the Universe looks out for me. From New Mexico to Los Angeles, a very kind real estate broker interested in minister studies in his own faith sits next to me and we spend some pleasant hours talking about God, family and politics. I bump into a friend I haven't seen in years during the four hour wait for my flight in Los Angeles - and we enjoy a cozy and very satisfying "catch-up-on-your-life" conversation. The flight to Singapore is without any problems, the layover before the plane leaves for Amritsar also uneventful - and even my travels to and from the Amritsar airport are much more gracious and relaxed than the last time I traveled. The city of Amritsar has invested quite a bit of money in the last couple years to make the airports much easier to negotiate.

From Amritsar, I fly back to Singapore and now the focus of the journey is coming into my sights. Teaching.

This is only the second time that I've had the blessing to travel and teach about Japji Sahib – although we have had courses on Guru Nanak's foundation Bani a few times in Espanola. Both of these travel/teaching events have had a profound effect on my life. As Sikhs, we talk about the Siri Guru Granth Sahib as our Guru. We retell the story of how Guru Gobind Singh Maharaj ji gave the Gaddi to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib - and how the Light of Guru Nanak merged into the Shabad. It is a question of faith, perhaps, for many. Experience for some. A profound intellectual debate for scholars - giving them something to publish books about and earn their chair in the university department.

But these weekend courses, for me, have become a spiritual witness to that Light of Nanak present in the Shabad. What a power it is. How real it is. And how deeply It can transform and impact a person's life. The course opened on Friday night, November 3, 2006, with a beautiful musical recitation of Japji Sahib sung by Harminder Pal Singh and Dalveer Kaur Sidhu. About half-way into the recitation, our voices began to blend and merge with each other. We were not singing Japji Sahib. Rather, it began to sing us. In that subtle but profound shift, a Transformative Presence came softly and quietly into the room.

People tell me I am a great teacher. Don’t get me wrong. I have my vanity and like any person, appreciate a compliment. But unfortunately it's not the truth. Perhaps I can be witty in moments and keep the students laughing, entertained. And perhaps I can be wise. Something that sounds good and right might come out of my mouth every once in a while - even if only by accident. But it's no false humility to say that I don't have anything to do with that happens during these courses. That Light is present and It does Its own work. I watch it moving through the room. Reflected in people's smiles, or the luminescent light in their eyes. This Energy, this Light, this Power opens another dimension for all of us - the Realm of Dharam Khand. And suddenly people talk about the most important things in their lives with each other. The longing of their spirits, the secrets of their hearts. Sat sangat – someone explained it to me. This is what Sat Sangat means. When we get together in love and comfort and just share our deepest truths with each other. Trying to find a way to have it all make sense. The laughter, the pain, the love, the hardships – the complexity of being human. The reality of being one with the Divine.

I sit there, sharing my experience of what Gurbani means. And it does help - I understand that. The discussion. The explanation. But I have come to see my role as a teacher like the teddy bear used to distract a child at the doctor's office. The Doctor knows. The Doctor sees. The medicine is given - through the chanting and the meditation. The healing process begins. And I am nothing more than this object in the physical world that looks safe and comfortable and easy to hug. I'm not the doctor. I'm just a really good distraction so the Doctor can do what It needs to do. That Power is real. It is Deathless and Endless. And I am so grateful to be a witness to it. And to get to be the occasional assistant.

The class was a beautiful experience. Nearly 60 Sikhs attended. From what I’ve heard, there are a group of our Kaurs continuing to meet to further their own understanding of Japji Sahib and Guru Nanak. My deep, heart-felt thanks to all those who organized the course. Amandeep Singh at the Sikh Centre - a great yogi and teacher in his own right - whose devotion pulled this course from the ethers to the earth. Bhai Harbans Singh Gholia, Kirpal Singh Sidhu and all of the Sikh Centre Management Committee. I will always remember your graciousness, hospitality and kindness. And so appreciate the 150th Anniversary Coin honoring the life of Bhai Maharaj Singh ji, the Sikh Saint who gave his life for the cause of Sikh freedom, and whose Spirit lives on in the Silat Road Gurdwara in Singapore.

Rajveer Singh and Guru Jaswant Kaur – our Sikh Dharma Ministers in Singapore did so much to be a support during the course and during my stay there. Phupindepal Singh, Christine Plaud, Dharma Kaur and so many others who rolled up their sleeves or participated as a teacher to help make the course a success. And for anyone whose names I might not know or might have accidentally left out, I offer my heartfelt thanks to you all.

Kirpal Singh, his wife Dalveer Kaur (Dolly) and their son Harjas Singh showed me the sights of Singapore. Rajveer Singh and Guru Jaswant Kaur shared their favorite spots, as well. Here are some photos – from the trip for you to enjoy. (Photos Part 1) (Photos Part 2)

May you always find the Light of the Guru guiding you from within on your journey home - to your own dignity, nobility and Divinity.

All Love in the Divine,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

PS. Look for another installment of stories about Sikh Women in the next few weeks. :) There's one heroine I've been thinking about for a few months and her story - sitting so long on the back burner - is starting to simmer.

Photos from Amritsar and Singapore November 2006: Part 1

Praying on the pakarma

Japji Sahib Course in Singapore

Japji Sahib Course in Singapore

Class Photo

Kirpal Singh, Dolly and Harjas Singh

At lunch with Bhai Har Bans Singh

Rope Bridge at the beach in Singapore

Photos from Amritsar and Singapore: November 2006: Part 2

Underwater World! That's a real fish swimming above my head.

From my left to right: Phuperinderpal Singh, Amanadeep Singh, Jasveer Singh, (of Sikh Center) Guru Jaswant Kaur and Rajveer Singh in the middle (of Kundalini Yoga East)

Nightlife in Singapore

Enjoying a Chai with the Youth along the River

Sassy in front of the Singapore coast...