Destined to Stay

Here is another excerpt (story) from the upcoming book on Sikh Dharma by Shakti Parwha Kaur and Sikh Dharma International. I love how the book is presented with personal stories and showing Sikhi from an experiential perspective, rather than in a scholarly or intellectual way; coming from the heart rather than the head.

By MSS Sadasat Singh Khalsa

My first encounter with the Guru (in this lifetime) was in February, 1973.

I was living at Ahimsa Ashram in Washington, D.C. doing Teacher Training. In those days Teacher Training in Washington meant teaching the morning Kundalini Yoga class and then going to the restaurant, The Golden Temple Conscious Cookery, to wash dishes and scrub pots and pans until midnight, then go home, get up for sadhana and repeat the process day after day.

It was a 40-day program and I was there because the teacher and Ashram director at Panj Pyare Ashram in Baltimore where I had been living, suddenly just disappeared. He was with us for an evening meditation and then just didn’t show up for sadhana the next morning and that was that. We found out later that he actually went off and joined the Merchant Marines but that’s another story.

So, Lehri Singh, the Ashram Director and the Eastern Regional Director in Washington D.C. asked me to come to Washington for 40 days of Teacher Training so I could return to Baltimore to be the new Ashram Director there, but the Guru, who I had not yet met, had other plans for me.

I arrived in Washington, very excited to begin the Teacher Training program. It was a bit of a let down when I found that my main teacher was going to be two very large pot sinks, a dishwashing machine and thousands of plates, pots and pans to wash daily. As Lehri told me, “You already know everything you need to know about Kundalini Yoga, we just want to see if you can keep up.” Having just been in the Army, including being a cadet at West Point, I was eager for a challenge and determined to show that I could certainly keep up.

In D.C. at that time we were also being introduced to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib and to Sikh Dharma, so we had begun doing Akhand Paths in the Ashram. In those days, we were pretty innocent and uneducated about the Guru. But what we lacked in knowledge and experience, we made up in raw devotion…and it was raw. We didn’t have a Gurdwara so we did the Akhand Path in a corner of the sadhana room/yoga room/dining room. There were two rules: 1) keep your head covered, and 2) don’t stop reading until someone comes to relieve you. Also, don’t fall asleep.

With our long workdays and too little sleep, the biggest challenge was staying awake. If you stopped reading, you slept. So you did whatever you needed to do to just keep reading – stand, walk, shout, sing, do frog pose holding the Guru… just keep reading, don’t fall asleep and don’t stop until someone comes to relieve you. That was it, plain and simple.

But, sometimes in the “busy-ness” of the restaurant someone might forget their time slot and not show up. That was the one unknown about reading… you just never knew if or when the next reader would show up. Of course, it was also an unforgivable act to not show up, so there was a strong commitment and a whole lot of judgment about anyone who didn’t show up or forgot their time slot.

After being at the Ashram for about a month, I decided to give this Akhand Path thing a try. Also, it sounded like a good break from washing dishes so I signed up. My dishwashing partner was a little skeptical and worried as in, “What if your relief doesn’t show up and then I’m stuck here alone. I don’t like this.” I assured him that all would be fine and, “Hey if no one comes, there’s this big bell there that I can ring if I need relief and there are always people at the Ashram, so someone will come to relieve me — don’t worry.”

Then, a funny thing happened on my walk from the restaurant to the Ashram. I realized I had had enough of washing dishes… 30 days was long enough, and after a good dose of negativity, Shakti Pad (The stage in one’s spiritual growth when the ego takes over.) or whatever, I figured that this Teacher Training was just a clever way to get cheap devoted labor for the restaurant. (We worked in exchange for Teacher Training.) So I decided to pack my bags and head back to Baltimore.

But, I had committed to read in the Akhand Path and there was that stigma about not showing up, plus I had that military training commitment thing, so I knew I couldn’t just not show up. So I went down to the basement to the single men’s quarters known as the “Nanak Room” (that room is another whole other story!), and I packed my stuff, which in those days took about 5 minutes, and went upstairs to read from the Guru. After my hour, the allotted time, the strangest thing happened, no one showed up. Okay, I thought, they’ll be here in a few minutes… no problem. But after 10 minutes, no one had come.

I started ringing the bell. It was a Saturday afternoon so there were a lot of people coming and going, but still no one came to relieve me. I heard a few comments like, “Keep Up… we’ll find out who is supposed to be here and go get them.” This gave me some hope, but still no one came. So, I began ringing the bell louder and louder and reading as loud as I could to try and get as much attention as possible, but still nobody’s responded. And now as I’m ringing, I’m noticing people are leaving… to me it looks like a mass exodus from the ashram, and I’m thinking, “They don’t want to get stuck here either.” In the meantime, I just go on ringing and reading and singing and two hours go by and no one shows up.

And now, the Ashram is empty and I’m home alone and I can only think, there will be no relief. I’m going to go on reading forever! So, I kept up. Every time someone would come into the Ashram, I’d start ringing the bell, reading at the top of my lungs but no one would come. Two hours became three and then three became four. After four hours had passed, an interesting thing happened… I got into it. I felt as though I could read forever – which was good, because at that point, I didn’t think anyone was ever coming. The four hours then became five, and as the sixth hour arrived, finally someone came. I was relieved! Free at last! But, free to do what?

My bags were packed and I was ready to go, but all I could think was… okay, already, I got the message! I’ll stick around. So, I unpacked, which again took only five minutes, and I made my way back to the restaurant walking on a cloud to be greeted by a loud chorus of, “Where have you been! We thought you’d never show… get back to work! We need clean dishes!!!”

I could only smile. I had decided to stay. So I rolled up my sleeves and was back at it. I never did return to Baltimore. Those six hours with the Guru put my life in a whole new direction, but as they say, that’s another story….

Note: Sadasat Singh and his wife, Sadasat Kaur now live at Borgo Rurale di Passano, Casa di Guru Ram Das, in the grace and warmth of beautiful Umbria, Italy where they teach and run a Kundalini Yoga center.