I want to share with everyone this beautiful mural that is in the back of the Gurdwara here in Espanola, New Mexico. The picture here doesn’t do the real painting justice.
I know for many people, at first glance all kinds of questions come to mind, and possibly criticisms. So, If you are one of them, I ask that you stop your judgmental mind for a few minutes. Open your mind to other perspectives and read on….. (Thank You!)
“When beyond the faith, in interfaith, God is seen and recognized, that is where man rises above the clouds and sees sunshine. With this Christ consciousness, Ed O’Brien worked with Sikh Dharma and predicted and depicted, through the mural, the future events of the world, through which mankind will be grateful.” – Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji
Lady of Guadalupe Mural (1975 Fresco)
Painted by Edward O’Brien in The Singhasan e Khalsa Gurdwara, Espanola, NM
Take a moment and close your eyes and travel back in time to 1971. The delicate seeds of Sikh Dharma lovingly planted by the Guru in the fertile Western soil and tended by his gardener, Yogi Bhajan, were just beginning to sprout. There was no Gurdwara in Espanola. We didn’t understand Siri Guru Granth Sahib. There was only a dedicated band of about 20 young settlers, living on the land and rising in the amrit vela to chant the Naam together in the cold dark morning. We had a single old unheated adobe building on the property, and it was there that we gathered and huddled in our shawls for warmth to do our morning sadhana together by candlelight.
A man came and said he had a vision of our future and that God told him to paint a fresco in the wet plaster of our cozy little meditation room… our little incubator.
He was an amazingly humble man and a very talented artist. He painted his divinely inspired vision on the wall.
Today, 34 years later, our little community numbers nearly 400 Khalsa and we have been blessed to build together a large beautiful Gurdwara. The roof is supported by eleven vigas (tree trunks) representing the 10 Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib. The walls are three foot thick adobe. A huge gold Khanda decorates the Guru’s platform and the interior floor and walls are covered with beautiful white marble imported from India and set in place by skilled artisans. Here an Akand Path takes place every week, year round.
And way in the back, behind the main Gurdwara our little incubator still remains. The cozy little room where we were moulded by the Guru and where we set our consciousness upon this sacred path. And on the rear wall of that room (which was crowded with only 20 people in it) is Ed O’Brian’s fresco. The seeds of Guru’s vision sprouting in the West. It is a most sacred and divine vision. It is our childhood. A beautiful reminder of our sweet beginnings.
This is all Guru’s work, and our hands are his hands. We are very blessed.
If you study sacred art it’s interesting that when a spiritual tradition moves into a new culture, that culture creates artwork which combines the symbols of the new religion with familiar symbols of their own. Study Buddhist art from India through to Japan and you’ll see what I’m talking about. As the symbols of that faith moved from one country to another, each culture found a unique way to artistically express their experience of the Buddhist teachings. But despite the varying cultural expression of Buddhism through artwork, at heart, the tenets remain the same.
With that framing in mind, I’d like to share the story of the painting that has the Lady of Guadalupe merged with the Khanda. It’s a beautiful mural that adorns the back wall of the Gurdwara at the Hacienda de Guru Ram Das community in Espanola, New Mexico.
First – a little background about the artist. His name was Ed O’Brien. He studied a unique form of fresco paintings in the 1930’s – an artistic technique that’s not very well known today. The fresco is painted in layers in such a way that, as the paint ages, the mural will take on the characteristics of stained glass. After World War II, Ed went to Mexico City to the Basilica and saw the Guadalupe. He had a great religious experience there, and, in order to share his religious experience, he decided to dedicate his life to painting Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was a spiritual mission for him. He would be guided to different places to paint murals and he always included Our Lady of Guadalupe in those murals. Ed did paintings in churches all over the United States. And then he came to New Mexico.
While living in New Mexico, he met some of the younger people from the Sikh Dharma community living in Espanola and spent time with them learning about the Sikh tradition. His experience when the symbolism of the Khanda was explained, was that the notion of the Adi Shakti – the Primal Creative Power of God – matched the spiritual experience he had in Mexico with Our Lady of Guadalupe. Even though he had spent his life painting murals for churches, he felt guided to do a mural at the Gurdwara. So he approached the community and requested permission to paint. We didn’t have any money to pay him, but he wasn’t looking for payment. He slept in the Gurdwara. The sangat fed him meals. We bought the materials he needed and for days on end he painted that mural from his own inspired vision of the relationship between his experience of our Lady of Guadalupe and the Sikh Khanda.
The mural is complex and beautiful and there are all types of symbols in it. Ultimately, though, it is a painting that harmonizes East with West, Past with Future, God with Humanity.
Ed O’Brien died within one week after completing the mural. It was the last work he did. For the members of the community who had fed him and supported him while he worked on the painting, it was a deeply spiritual experience. He came to us from his own spiritual vision, he spent his time working tirelessly without asking for payment and then, somehow, in the act of doing this painting for the Sikhs, his soul had completed its mission and it moved on. It’s a sacred work to us, not just because of the painting itself, but because of the way the painting came to be.
What happened was that a man of Christ and an artist, through the symbol of the Khanda, had a chance to move into truly Universal consciousness and realize that his symbol of the Lady of Guadalupe and our symbol of the Khanda point to that same Divine Power which mothers all of Creation. And ultimately, isn’t that what our Sikh faith is about – giving people a chance to move beyond a one-aspected understanding of the Divine into an understanding that every faith, every culture, every symbol is trying to describe that one Indescribable Power behind Creation?
I just wanted to share the story behind the fresco so you can understand what it meant to a man and a community and why we cherish it so very much.
Ed O’Brien painted murals that always included the Virgin of Guadalupe in Wisconsin and Chicago and then came to New Mexico. Here he painted a mural at St. Catherine’s Indian School and a mural at a church in Pecos. While he was in Pecos, he met some young Sikhs who lived in the ashram in Santa Fe. Mr. O’Brien asked them about their religious faith – Sikh Dharma, which originated in the east, in the land of India. While speaking, the conversation turned to Adi Shakti (The Khanda.) Adi Shakti is the representation of the feminine principle in Sikh Dharma. Mr. O’Brien realized that this symbol of the Adi Shakti (Khanda) represented Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the center of the Adi Shakti is the two-edged sword – the feminine principle, surrounded by the circle representing God, on either side, swords, representing spiritual and temporal sovereignty – to be in this world, but of the spirit at the same time. So, Our Lady is in the center of the mural as the feminine principle. She stands on the crescent, which represents the two swords. Mr. O’Brien was impressed that the same universal principle meant the same in the east as in the west. In the mural the same concept from both ends of the world become one. On the right side of the mural is the Golden Temple of the Sikh faith in India. On the left side, the Basilica in Mexico. The image of Our Lady on Don Diego’s shawl is filtered and projected through the Adi Shakti. On the left, is Yogi Bhajan, who brought Sikh Dharma to the western hemisphere. On the right, is an American Sikh bringing Sikh Dharma back to the east. So, Adi Shakti, after being blessed by Guadalupe is being reintroduced back into eastern culture.
The twelve astrological symbols frame the mural, showing the all-encompassing effect of the universe and its influence upon man’s life. At the top there are four sections showing the universe in creation and repose, and showing life taking form from the cellular world to man. Here the universe is seen in macrocosm and microcosm and in past, present and future, showing Ek Ong Kar – the constant process of creation.
The basic structure of the mural is formed by two equilateral triangles forming a six pointed star, one rising from the earth towards the heavens, the other bringing energy down to the earth. The center is the western symbol of Our Lady of Guadalupe combined with the eastern symbol, the Adi Shakti. This combined symbol is the Universal Mother for all mankind, the purity and power of the feminine principle. It takes form as it comes from eternity through the sphere of sound, down through the color spectrum, into physical form. Above her shoulders are two eastern goddesses, Saraswati and Bhagwati who represent the aspects of beauty and balance in the life of a God conscious being.
On both sides of the Adi Shakti are portraits of the ten Sikh Gurus, and to the side of each portrait is a miniature painting detailing a virtue from a significant event in the life of each Guru.
The left side of the mural represents the formation of Sikh Dharma in the western hemisphere. Here is a picture of Yogi Bhajan with no pillow of rest behind him, showing the time and work spent in preparing the destiny of this country. His right foot rests on the United States and his left foot rests on the original building at Hacienda de Guru Ram Das, symbolizing his mission of coming to this country to train teachers and inspire many to a new way of life. The right side represents the activity and projection of the Khalsa into the next 5,000 years. The man represents a Sikh man of the future with the attributes of Guru Ram Das. The pillow behind him symbolizes his comfort in the east and the prophecy that our generations would return to teach the Indian continent and to prosper for the next 5,000 years. His left foot rests on India. Next to this figure is the Golden Temple with its nectar tank in the foreground.
The last scene painted by Mr. O’Brien was the Lady of Guadalupe appearing to Don Diego and telling him of her mission to crush the evil serpent of misunderstanding and abuse of mankind. Her image is imprinted on his poncho to prove her presence and her intentions to the Catholic Church, and in the painting. This is filtered through the Adi Shakti symbol to show the universality of her mission.
The Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogi Ji (Yogi Bhajan) said of Mr. O’Brien and his work, “When beyond the faith, in interfaith, God is seen and recognized, that is where man rises above the clouds and sees sunshine. With this Christ consciousness, Ed O’Brien worked with the Sikh Dharma and predicted and depicted, through the mural, the future events of the world, through which mankind will be grateful.”