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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, February 01, 2010


There is a story I read once, about a monk who lived on his own on the outskirts of a village. One day, a young woman accused the monk of getting her pregnant. The other villagers believed her. After the baby was born, the illegitimate child was given to the monk to raise on his own. When the villagers presented the baby to him, and explained the woman’s accusations, the only thing the monk said was, “Is that so?”

Years later, the woman had a change of heart. She confessed to the villagers that, in fact, the monk had not gotten her pregnant at all. It was another man who had done so. She and the villagers went to the monk’s home to reclaim the child. When they apologized to him about the misunderstanding and told him that in fact he wasn’t the father, the only thing the monk said was, “Is that so?”

God. Religions. Ritual. Belief in one man’s actions. Faith in another one’s creed. What I think it boils down to is this: we have an innate desire to survive with grace and dignity in the world. Those people who have managed to do so, even in the midst of the most difficult situations, become our heroes.

I remember going to church as a young girl, St. Rose of Lima. The church was a gorgeous , cathedral-style space with echoing vaulted ceilings, and a colossal statue of Jesus that must have been 20 feet high. Of course, I was so small then. My memory might be skewing the perspective. But I remember looking at that statue every Sunday: Jesus nailed on the cross, his head bowed with a crown of thorns, and a spear-wound in his side.

On Good Fridays, the priests would verbally re-enact the crucifixion, and I would often be struck by the line, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Even at that young age, I could sense why this story had been told year after year, generation after generation, for 2 millennia. The human race wanted to remember that there was someone who could say those words in the midst of such cruelty and pain. To me the resurrection was not all that interesting. What mattered was that Jesus could recognize the arrogance and ignorance of the people crucifying him, and then turn around and say, “Forgive them – they know not what they do.” That earned him a place in history forever. That act showed his Divine consciousness more than any story of any miracle ever could.

There is something Jesus knew. Something Buddha knew. Something Guru Arjan, Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh knew. And we see echoes of it reflected in the heroes of our time: Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln. These people understood the cruelty, deceit and betrayal that human beings enact upon each other. And yet somehow, even in the most difficult hardships, they did not respond with hate.

As humans, we are incredibly sensitive. In that sensitivity, it hurts to feel the pain of betrayal and lies. The Golden Rule tells us to embrace that sensitivity, not deny it. And then, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Because the other person is as sensitive as you are, hurts as much as you hurt. Peace in the world begins with acting in a way that completely honors each other’s sensitivity. If we honor others as we would like to be honored ourselves, it opens up the potential for what a human can become.

These heroes to whom we look knew a powerful truth: relate to the potential of another, and don’t get lost in the shadows. As long as there is breath in the body, the human being has a chance to come out of that darkness. When these heroes faced the most inhumane challenges, they chose to relate to that possibility rather than get lost in vengeance and fear.

This is the true evidence of Divinity on the earth. This is all of “God” we need to know.

Throughout my life, I have struggled with the virtue of forgiveness. Either I have forgiven in a way that has set me up to be hurt again by the same person doing the same actions; or I have not genuinely been able to forgive at all. The pain that one experiences is real and difficult to conquer. No matter how much yoga I practice, how many meditations I do, how many hours I spend studying the teachings of the Masters, it remains a challenge.

Perhaps I have been drawn to study spirituality because the stories of these heroes fascinate me so much. I want to understand how they could do it. How they could be tortured, crucified, jailed, beat, denied and yet still not loose the capacity to love. Still not loose the strength to stand by their convictions. Still not loose the sight of the Divine in others, and in their own hearts.

But lately a passage from Guru Arjan’s writings has struck me. It’s a passage where he sees the shadow as purposeful - part of the play of creation, though perhaps beyond our ability to understand it.

“There is no limit
To what the Creator creates.

There are tens of million of people
Living in pride.

Tens of millions of people
Who are blind and ignorant.

There are tens of millions of people
Who act with cruelty and do not share with others.

Tens of millions of people
Who have no maturity, and no sensitivity.

There are tens of millions of people
Who steal and create pain in others' lives.

Tens of millions who cause trouble and distress.

There are tens of millions
Who labor on behalf of Maya.

Tens of millions
Who wander from place to place, chasing after that Maya.

People are focused on what You,
Oh Divine One,
Have engaged them to do.

The Creator fashions the creation
And knows the purpose for what has been created.”

Guru Arjan
Sukhmani – Ashtapadi 10, Stanza 2

It makes it easier to forgive when you don’t take the offense personally. Guru Arjan sees the dark side of the human condition. But he doesn’t attach a sense of blame or shame to it. The shadow is part of the creative play, and the darkness has a purpose - from the perspective of Infinity.

Someone asked me recently what forgiveness means, especially in the context of Sikh Dharma where, honestly, “sin” doesn’t really exist. Forgiveness is “for giving.” It is the ability to give to someone. To give them another opportunity. To give them the benefit of the doubt. To give them a chance to prove their own humanity – not to you, but to themselves.

Forgiveness is “for giving” yourself the space to not hold onto grudges forever. To give yourself a choice to let go of the anger, to heal the pain, to not have to relive the memories of betrayal again and again, day after day.

Forgiving is “for giving” the Creator Its due. To know that this shadow-experience was brought into my life by the same Force that brings everything into my life. By the same Force that brought me life to begin with. And sometimes, I am the shadow for another. This is part of how we grow, learn and evolve. And when I can trust that, I have the consciousness “for giving” all of us a chance.

It is a test of life – the shadow and the pain. But in those tests we have the chance to experience our highest potential if we keep our hearts open, keep the possibility of love flowing, and forgive ourselves and the Universe that this is how the human life operates, after all.

With Divine Light and Divine Love.

Yours humbly,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur