Author: Bhenji Sahibajot Kaur (Sydney, Australia)
As a seventeen-year-old who was like every other teenage girl at the time, I once opened a book before going to bed, and read the first few of its many pages, out of genuine curiosity. I had heard that reading the words within, brought “sukh” (peace) into one’s life.
The book contained Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s Sukhmani Sahib; it was a gutka, presented to me a couple of years earlier, as a gift from an elderly relative. Having no fluency in reading the Gurmukhi script, I, of course, read the Roman transliteration. But more importantly, I read the translation.
I continued this for a few weeks. I would read a few pages each night, in an effort to see what was “so special” about the composition. One night, while reading an astpadi (a hymn of eight stanzas; Sukhmani Sahib contains twenty-four astpadis) its repetitive use of a certain phrase, had me thinking.
Sadh kai sang mukh ujal hote.
In the company of the saints, one’s face becomes radiant.
Sadhsung mal sagli khot.
In the company of the saints, all filth is removed.
Sadh kai sung mitai abhimaan.
In the company of the saints, egotism is eliminated.
Sadh kai sung pragtai su-gian.
In the company of the saints, spiritual wisdom is revealed.
Sadh kai sung bujhai prabh nerr. In the company of the saints, God is understood to be near.
And so it continued, describing the benefits of the “company of the saints”. As a teenager with limited knowledge of the religion that I had been born into, this notion made little sense to me. It seemed so far-fetched and detached from reality. I was an ordinary girl, with ordinary friends, living in Australia. I had only ever seen ‘saints’ in movies and pictures; never in real life. I thought, “How does the importance of their company matter to me?” And with that, I lay my head on my pillow and drifted off to sleep.
Two years later, after having completed my schooling and first year of Architecture at university, I felt spiritually deprived. I called myself a ‘Sikh’, but there was a voice inside me who objected. It said: “you don’t know what it really means to be Sikh”. I couldn’t help but agree. There had to be more to being ‘Sikh’, than simply sporting a long ponytail and listening to kirtan (the singing of Gurbaani – the Guru’s words) every once in a while.
I signed up to Khalsa Camp Australia, 2014. There were a few different camps to choose from, but for reasons unknown even to me, I chose Khalsa Camp. I had never attended a Sikh camp before. I had no Sikh friends (apart from one or two at school, with whom I hadn’t spent much time). I knew no one who was going to be at this five-day camp, three hours away from home, that I had just signed-up to. Being an introvert, it was rather bold of me to say, “Well, so be it.” I knew that this would be a good opportunity to learn more about Sikhism. And that’s all I wanted to do.
“I want to be a better Sikh.”
During the ice-breaker activity on the first night of Camp, I repeated this to a lady who asked me my reason for being there. She looked at me and said, “No – you should say, ‘I want to be a true Sikh’.” I quite liked the idea. All or none.
I sat in bed and reflected on the day that had passed, my new-found room mate and friend of only a few hours on the other bunk. The morning bus-ride had been scenic, and so was the camp site. The quiet of the surrounds was refreshing, as was the breeze that relieved us from the heat of the summer. I had already met a handful of people, and they all seemed very friendly. I was one of very few girls without a dastaar (turban), but that didn’t seem to matter at all. What I had found most surprising, was the dedication of the two younger boys who were seated in front of me on the bus, busily watching a video with their earphones in. I leaned over a little, to see which new music video or movie it was. But instead of seeing Katy Perry, I saw a Gursikh playing a tabla.
But the real amazement was to come the following morning. Our day was to begin at 4am, at ‘amrit vela’ (the hours before dawn). I had never been an early riser, so I was a little nervous. Nevertheless, I was mighty curious to see what these “ambrosial hours” held.
I rose with the help of my roommate, showered, and entered the darbaar sahib, not knowing what to expect. It was still dark, and a little chilly. I was surprised to see the hall full of youth – girls on the left, and boys on the right. Before us, was Guru Granth Sahib Ji, in all His glory. Permeating the darkness, was the glow of His throne. A fellow Singh stood behind, serving his King with the chaur sahib. I bowed my head in reverence, took my seat among the silhouettes, and closed my eyes.
And then it began – the jaap. It rolled over me like a wave; it travelled through my bones with seismic intensity, and my heart welled up with love. “Wahe-guru, wahe-guru!” was the praise on everyone’s tongues, carried through the air along with the chimes of the khartalaan, the melody of the vajaa (harmonium), and the taal (beat) of the tabla. It was a rich symphony of many sounds, all directed at the One. Total harmony. I had never experienced anything like it, before. There was something electrifying about sitting shoulder-to-should with my sisters and brothers, our hearts thirsty for the love of our Father, our souls calling out to the Universe – the one light from which they all arose – and our minds imbued in the sound of the Gurmantar, longing for just a glimpse of His greatness. I still remember the drifts of wind that would enter from between the louvres and blow onto me as if Vaheguru Ji himself, was lifting me up into His arms – an embrace I didn’t want to part with.
“Mohe na bisaarahu; mai jan tera!” we cried out. The translations projected on the screen to the left of Maharaj’s throne, told me that this meant, “Please do no forget me; I am your humble servant!” and the joy that was welling up in my heart rose to my eyes, turned to water, and trickled down my cheeks. “Ramaiya, hau baarik tera!” we spoke in unison. Again, the screen told me what this meant: “Oh, Lord I am your child.”
As we went on to recite our Nitnem together (something that I had never done in my life), all I could do, was wonder what I had done in order to be blessed with such heartfelt kirtan, and why I hadn’t been brought here earlier. I was in the company of the saints. So, this is what ‘sadh-sangat’ was… I was so glad to have found what I never knew had even existed: the Khalsa Panth.
Amongst a handful of other fond memories I carry from this camp – the amazing pizza, capsizing a canoe, learning archery from a skilled archer and evolved soul, hearing hair-raising stories about the unflinching faith and valour of our ancestors while sitting under the stars, witnessing truly selfless service at every meal of the day, and meeting Sikh youth from all over the country – I can’t help but especially mention a lecture on the ‘Benefits of Sikhi’ delivered by a speaker from the UK. Bhai Sahib made us all realise that for most of the people in this world, the week consists of five days of work, and two days of play – in which they go out, socialise and drink as ‘enjoyment’ and ‘relief’, only to dread another working week. And so it goes on. But surely, there must be more to life than this. Surely, there must be a purpose beyond the earning of money, status and a nice house. Surely, there must be a greater happiness than talking, shopping, travel and drinking. Surely. And this is when I realised how blessed we are, as Sikhs, to have been graced with Gurbaani – the words of our Gurus, revelations from the Infinite Intelligence itself, recorded for our benefit – and a Gurmantar: the two things that help us connect to none other, than our own selves. For He is us, and we are Him.
Man, toon jot saroop hai; apna mool pachhaan.
O my mind, you are the embodiment of the Divine Light – recognise your own origin.
Furthermore, the interactive group workshops were the start of my relationship with my Guru. I recall analysing the meaning of, “Aakha, jeevan; visirai, mar jahon,” from Rehraas Sahib, and being told to try to make sense of the words within Gurbani, using our already-existing knowledge of Punjabi. “Don’t read Gurbani like Japanese,” the leader had said. “Try making a glossary of words as you learn them while reading the translations on your phone.”
And with God’s grace, time has seen me transform from who, at the time of this camp, hardly spoke Punjabi, never read paath, and had a brief understanding of the Gurmiukhi alphabet, to someone who now reads Gurmukhi fluently, and is able to extrapolate some meaning from Gurbani without always referring to translations, simply by doing as the workshop leader suggested. If you can relate to my experience, I encourage you to try the same. Of course, at the end of the day, everything happens with Vaheguru Ji’s benevolence.
And this is exactly what Bibi Ji (another speaker from the UK) told me when I expressed to her, that even though I longed to be a Gursikh, I could never imagine accepting my facial hair (and even the hair on my arms and legs, especially living in a Western country, where modernity rules and image is everything). “Don’t worry about the hair,” she said. “Just do paath, read Gurbani, and the rest will follow.”
And it did.
Now, as a twenty-one year-old graduate of Architecture, I am an Amridhaari Gursikh of two months, who has totally accepted the saroop presented to her by her Father. Miracles do happen.
The journey up until this day has been amazing, and I am sure that with God’s never-ending grace, it will continue to be. I still have my good and bad days, and I know that I always will – such is life. We must remember that Sikhi is a journey, and not a destination. It is the greatest journey of all.
And to publicly proclaim myself as a descendent of those warriors whose stories fill me with vigour, I donned a dastaar – my crown – at Camp, and never looked back. It worked wonders for the confidence of a girl who was never bold enough to accept herself. It gives me strength, and it grounds me in righteousness. It is a gift. A gift I had to fight for, as a pair of parents as loving as mine, were naturally worried about the possibility of it attracting racism. But truth be told, I have experienced only blessing after blessing after embarking on this journey. On a worldly note, I have been highly commended for my academics and was offered a job shortly after returning from Camp, while most other students were struggling to find work. My colleagues are such delightful people and my employers admire my story of self-discovery. But I am nothing but a beggar at His Door! His mercy carries me through.
Mai gareeb, mai maskeen; tera naam hai adhaara.
I am poor, I am meek; your Name is my only support.
On a spiritual note, Camp gifted me with friendships that have only grown stronger – friendships with Gursikhs of my age and experience. Sadh-sangat! We share thoughts, troubles, laughs and pull each other closer and closer to our shared goal of unison with the Almighty. They keep me sane with regular kirtan and simran sessions. I could spend an eternity, counting my blessings!
In hindsight, I did nothing, and God did everything. He had a plan for me, and He has a plan for you. All we have to do, is love Him from the core of our beings, thank Him for every little thing, and converse with him with all our hearts. I speak from experience. These are the things that carried me to His Door and into the company of the saints, in the form of Khalsa Camp, so that I could Discover the Spirit Within.