Thursday, January 25, 2007

Signing Out

Many of you are still writing to me asking about whats new in the City of Nectar and why I haven't blogged in such a long time.
I have actually been back in Malaysia for almost 2 months now... Sorry! I guess I overlooked letting my online sangat know that this chapter has closed.
My memories of it are as vivid as if it were yesterday. I still bow on that marble floor, lift buckets with Guru Darshan, hear Asa-Di-Vaar, and of course, taste prashaad [:)], in my meditation every morning. Amritsar is a part of my soul's memory now, it cannot fade.
Thank you all so much for embarking on this pilgrimage with me. Knowing you were walking with me gave me strength, and much-needed love.
Signing out, with love,
Hari Kiren

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One Step, One Japji, 100 000 Lifetimes

Mataji and I were on our way to Anandpur when our driver asked if we would like to make a short stop at Goindwal. We did not even know that it was on our route, and weren’t prepared for that experience, but how does one say no to Guru Amar Das?

And so we stopped at Goindwal. And from the moment I stepped into the square, I was overwhelmed by tears. Just like that, without a warning, without so much as a prelude. I have never felt anything so wholly and completely, it always takes a while for an emotion to process through my body before the tears begin. Yet I was taken over absolutely by the intensity of that place.

It took me a while to understand what my tears were expressing. At this spot. Guru Amar Das said that he who recites Japji on each of the 84 steps leading to the Bauli (well) shall clear his chakra of life and death. That’s 8.4 million lifetimes, cleared.

100 000 lifetimes with each Japji, with each step.

And in that aura of freedom and nirvana that encompasses Goindwal, my tears were tears of pain, of unhappiness, of longing; it was my soul crying because it was apart from my Creator.

As I walked down towards the Bauli, each step became harder and harder. I felt a burden on my shoulders, weighing me down, holding me back, pushing me to the ground. I didn’t want to go on, I couldn’t go on. I stopped, I cried, I sneezed, I rubbed my eyes, I clung onto the railing, I leaned my forehead to the wall. And yet I felt the tantalizing sense of peace that waited at the bottom, and it lured me on.

100 000 lifetimes with each Japji, with each step.

And when I reached the first step, right at the bottom, I heard nothing, I heard shanti, I heard OM, I heard joy, I heard a chorus of angels.


They all existed side by side in that space.

I did not have the strength to start the journey of 8.4 million lifetimes that day. I didn’t stand on the first step, recite Japji, dip in the Bauli, move up to the second step, and start all over again until the 84th step.

It was my weakness, my fear, my doubt, my insanity, my apprehension. I do not know how I walked away. But then nothing that was a part of that experience was planned or predictable or understandable.

Now that I have an inkling of what the weight of 100 000 lifetimes feels like, Japji, The Song of My Soul, will never be the same again.
I still have to wait another day to take that first step from the Bauli.
Tav Prasaad, By Thy Grace, let me live to take that first step.
With love,
Hari Kiren

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wrinkles of Joy

Today was my 40th day of seva at Darbar Sahib.
Thank you to the alarm clock that separated me from slumber.
Thank you to the auto-rickshaw vala who dragged himself out of bed and took us to the Guru's door.
Thank you to the sangat that came for seva to help me bucketeer and get my trousers wet.
Thank you to the sevadar in charge who honoured Guru Darshan and me by allowing us to initiate the water-splashing to wash the Seat of Guru Ram Das.
Thank you to the Raagis who sang divinely.
Thank you to the beautiful souls who arranged flowers in front of the Guru.
Thank you to the sevadar who handed out that blissful parshaad.
Thank you to the Squidger who dried Box 28 on the parkarma so that I could sit there again.
Thank you, Mataji, for your warm hug.
Thank you, Guru Darshan, for sharing yet another day of seva with me. You are just as much a part of my seva as the buckets are :)
If I live long enough to grow old, I will take comfort in knowing that my wrinkles are nothing but the lines of joy that have been engraved onto my face from the endless indulgent smiles of today.
Thank you, Guru Ram Das.
With love,
Hari Kiren

Friday, November 17, 2006

Parshaad Addicts Anonymous

I am addicted to Parshaad.

No, really. I am addicted to Parshaad.

Ok so not exactly like I have to have it all the time or I stop functioning. But over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about it all the time, and I swear I can smell the aroma a thousand times a day. And not just any Parshaad. That specific type that we are blessed with at Darbar Sahib every morning.

The thought that helps me wake up at 2.30 every morning is Parshaad.

As I walk along the parkarma after seva the thought of Parshaad makes me walk a little faster.

During the day, at the most random times – while sleeping, while having lunch, while chilling on our balcony - I smell the fragrance of Parshaad. (And my god it’s just out of this world!)

The topic of Parshaad somehow comes up in all my conversations, and if it doesn't, I interrupt existing conversations to bring up the point.

Guru Darshan and I have spent an insane amount of time talking about this Parshaad. Far from helping me out, I think she’s become an addict too!

I don’t really know why this is happening. I’ve had Parshaad all my life, and I’ve always loved it, but this is a different level altogether!! I’m telling you, this Darbar Sahib Parshaad has some pretty special magic. There is just too much love in this Parshaad, so much that its sweetness is immersed in me throughout the day and it won’t let me forget it.

A Parshaad addiction maybe we can handle… but what if this gets out of hand and we then become addicted to Darbar Sahib, and then… to the Guru!?! That is the ultimate addiction, and if we reach that level I don’t think we’ll ever break apart again.

We really need help. I did a Google search to look for Parshaad Addicts Anonymous groups but no luck. So if anyone out there has any experience in this field, please help!!


With love (and in desperation),
Hari Kiren

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pity and Sympathy went out one day, over the hills and far away

I used to think that sight and hearing are the most valuable gifts man can have. I think I could somehow bear being mute - I can hear some of you laughing ;) – and having an insensitive nose does not really seem like such a big deal.

But seeing the smile on a child’s face, following the moon as it rises on a clear night, reading a book, gazing at the shades of a rainbow, observing little boys playing with their dogs, watching casuarinas sashay with the wind – these bring colour to life.

And hearing the call of a mother, the sound of water tripping over stones in a brook, the harmony of a Gregorian chant, the melody of birds chirping, the rhythm of Sukhmani, the laughter of a toothless old man - these bring music.

Anytime I saw someone with black glasses and a walking stick, or noticed someone communicating in sign language, my heart went out to them.

For a moment I would try to close my eyes and shut my ears. I wanted to see what they saw and hear what they heard….nothing. In that blindness and in that silence, a sense of pity and sympathy crept into me. And when I opened my eyes and ears, and I saw what they didn’t and heard what they couldn’t - I felt grateful, humbled.

And then one morning, as I walked into Darbar Sahib after seva, I heard the most beautiful kirtan I have heard in a long time. And when I was close enough, I saw that the raagi was wearing black glasses, which I took to mean that his sight was impaired. And my paradigm shifted completely.

No one sense is more essential than the other. But I, as an individual, chose to develop some and leave out the others. I have been blessed with all 5 senses, yet my dependence on them is disproportionate. I rely heavily on my sight and hearing (which is probably why they seem so invaluable to me), and tend to dismiss the strength of my nose and taste buds and skin. I am challenged when I have to rely on them. To have them and not know how to use them - that is my weakness.

To the person who is blind, he learns to fine tune his receptiveness and responses to his other senses, such that in his mind he still sees what I see, only that his picture is his own and a painter cannot capture it on a canvas.

And to the person who is deaf, he develops a sensitivity to the signals that he receives from his other antennas, such that his heart still hears what I hear, its just that his melody is his own and a composer cannot prepare a score for it.

And then there is me, who can see, and can hear, but I have neither that painter in my head nor that composer in my heart.

The disability is, in fact, mine.

So now when I see someone who is blind or deaf, I am still grateful and humbled.

But Pity and Sympathy are gone.

What’s left in me are Awe, Respect, and Compassion.

With love,
Hari Kiren

Friday, November 10, 2006

Homeward Bound

The marble floors of Darbar Sri Harimandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) are washed every morning at 3 a.m.

The Miri Piri Academy (MPA) bus picks Guru Darshan and me up on GT Road just before that, and along with the 50 or so students who have opted to do seva for the 40 days, we sit and wobble (these Indian roads you know!) all the way to the Darbar Sahib.

Even at day 27 the effect of my morning glimpse of the Darbar Sahib has not worn off. There it sits, so perfectly, in the middle of the sarovar (nectar tank). It makes me think of Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, where upon seeing Pemberley for the first time, she remarked, "I've never seen a house so happily situated."

On some days it is hidden in the mist and barely visible, the lights are off and it really does look so, so small. And yet upon seeing it I feel as though someone is wrapping a warm shawl around my shoulders and placing their hand over my head to bless me. My heart fills up, I melt.

The question of bowing does not even arise. It is not done consciously, because here there is no mind. My mind gets left behind, it does not make it down those steps leading towards the parkarma. Here there is another hand guiding my head to touch the marble. A hand of ancient wisdom that has journeyed through the ages, a hand that holds all my past lives in its palm. You have spent countless life forms longing for this chance, it says to me. Bow.

Tau May Aiyaa, Sharni Aiyaa, Bharosay Aiyaa, Kirpa Aiyaa.
To You I have come, in Your sanctuary I have come, with faith in You I have come, for Your grace I have come.

It never seizes to amaze me how many people come at this hour to wash the marble. It does not seem unnatural to them, to rise at what we would call 'the middle of the night', to give up the warmth of their beds in return for the cold water of the sarovar.

And what is so special about this marble?

Countless have bowed before me. Countless bow with me. Countless will bow after me, after I leave Amritsar, after I leave this world.

They come with their hopes, their prayers, their pleas, their thanks, their confessions, their salutations. They ask for success, for love, for compassion, for kindness, for mercy, for a blessing. They ask that they not be forgotten in the vast sea of Creation.

This marble has heard more prayers than I can ever imagine. It seems silent, still, solid. Yet it is not. It is not silent: all day long it listens to the voices of souls coming its way and whispers comfort into their ears. It is not still: it is moved, time and time again, by the sorrow, gratitude, regret, and praise these voices offer. It is not solid: the tears of joy and pain that have fallen onto its surface have seeped into it and made it gentle.

To let my forehead touch this blessed marble is not only to let my own soul speak to the Guru, but also to listen to what these souls have said, and to hear what the Guru has said to them.With that in mind, how can I remain unmoved?

Seva here works as a crescendo. We move slowly, symbolically, towards the Dukh Bhanjani Beri, the Tree that Dispels Pain. Our fate we cannot change, but as we go along, washing that marble, touching that marble, we are rewriting our destiny. Our slate is being cleared, our karma is being cleansed with every step we take.

We end at the location that Guru Ram Das sat at during the construction of the sarovar, where the sangat gathered and sang the name of the One. I like to step back and try to see what he saw, to understand his vision for this place. Can he have known how this image would become woven into the hearts and minds of thousands, that this place will have an unreal and unexplainable pull on so many? For that is the word to describe it – unexplainable. I cannot tell you why it affects me the way it does. It just does. The connection is so deep that I have not dived that far inside myself to discover the cause of this feeling.

After seva I walk along the parkarma, towards the spot where Baba Deep Singh laid down his head after it was separated from his body 5 miles away, while fighting the armies of Ahmed Shah Abdali, who had attacked Amritsar. There is a photo of Baba Deep Singh; he is standing as tall as ever, a bloodied sword in one hand, his head on the other. Throughout the trips I made to Amritsar over the years, I only saw it as a spot with a historical significance, nothing more.

Tsk tsk, Hari Kiren, you have so much to learn.

We were at breakfast one day, with our dear friend Sada Anand, and she told us that just recently she'd had an epiphany about the significance of that spot. History aside, this message is spiritual.

Here Baba Deep Singh reminds us: Beta, leave your head behind. It has no place on this journey. Proceed with your heart. That is the part that listens to your soul's longing.

I proceed towards the Darbar Sahib. I walk on the physical, and spiritual, bridge that leads me to my Guru. I walk with a gait in my step and a content smile on my face. With every step, I am overwhelmed by the presence of God in me, and the 'I' disappears. The realisation that I am a Being of Light is never as strong as it is at this moment.

As it is still early, parkash has not been done, so I pay my respects to the throne and the sangat gathered there, and head upstairs.

Upstairs. Amritsar is a rainbow and here lies the pot of gold, the handwritten copy of the Guru Granth Sahib. And this is the moment. Bow, Surrender, Tuhi, Only You.

My forehead, the ground, His touch, a blessing.

I leave the Darbar Sahib with some parshaad – this is my Guru insisting that I leave His home with a sweet taste in my mouth to remember the sweetness of my visit.

I sit on the parkarma to meditate and listen to Asa di Vaar. It does not matter if my eyes are open or closed, I can still hold the same picture within myself. Its reflection dances around with the morning light, carrying little golden rays to the ends of the sarovar. I like to think that this is the light of Guru Nanak, being carried to all the four corners of the world, through race, caste, gender and creed.
And then the tap on my shoulder. The signal that it's time to go.

On the way out we read the hukam for the day. All morning I have been talking. I have been saying this, asking that, thinking this, feeling that. This is the moment for me to be silent and to let Him speak to me. And because he takes the time, everyday, to talk to me, I know that I am loved.

Before we leave, there is time for one more bow.

One more chance to say: once again, thank you for this chance.

The next 22 ½ hours whiz past. Then I get to come back and bow again.

And I know what it means to be home.

With love,
Hari Kiren

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Seva: Lists, lists, and more lists

I think I've mentioned that I've joined the school for 40 days of seva (service) at Darbar Sri Harimandir Sahib (the Golden Temple).

These lists are the result of 22 days of experience and observation from seva at Darbar Sahib. Care to look through my looking glass?

Job List

Job Title: Bucketeer
Job Description: You shall stand on the second step in the sarovar (nectar tank). It is your duty to fill up the bucket brought to you by the Bucket Carrier.

Job Title: Bucket Carrier
Job Description: You shall carry a bucket. It is your duty to walk to the sarovar, get the bucket filled up and take it to the Water Splasher.

Job Title: Water Splasher
Job Description: You shall splash water (no, duh!). It is your duty to take a filled bucket from a Bucket Carrier and splash it where you see fit.

Job Title: Water Directors
Job Description: You shall direct water. It is your duty to use your brooms to push water towards the draining holes.

Job Title: Squidger
Job Description: You shall dry the parkarma. Once the Bucketeers, Bucket Carriers, Water Splashers and Water Directors have cleared, you, armed with your own personal 6-foot long Squidgy, will dry off the parkarma by pushing the rest of the water into the draining holes.

Clearly, there is no doubt as to who is at the top end of the food chain. The Squidgers. They are an elite group and you absolutely need to know the right people before you can even get close to a Squidgy. (Once I saw a 3-foot long Squidgy. This was obviously someone on probation. We shall see how he turns out in a few weeks.)

Clearly, there is no doubt as to where I am on the food chain. Right at the bottom!I am a Bucketeer.

Actually I am probably the first bucketeer in the history of Darbar Sahib, seeing as I created the word in the first place and subsequently employed myself first :)

3 Levels of Buckteering

Elementary: To fill up buckets to a respectable level of water.

Intermediate: To fill up two buckets at the same time (talk about a challenge!).

Advanced: To fill a/ two bucket/s without completely drenching yourself and the person in front of you.

After I mastered Level 1, I kind of speeded through Level 2 (read: I've never actually done this yet :p) and am now at Level 3. Which, I might add, is a true accomplishment seeing as I have a regular returning clientele of Bucket Carriers, and unlike my other colleagues, our little group is without a doubt drier than any of the others. So there.

Did I mention that seva is selfless service and we should not let our ego get in the way? That is Super Advanced Level 4... still working towards that one!

After being here for a while, you start to identify the regulars. And not just regulars in terms of who comes for seva. Oh no my naïve dears, not those good, wonderful souls.

I mean regulars in terms of their criminal classifications. We are continuously compiling a collection a mug shots to better our identification process.

A List of Offenses

Hoggers – they struggle with two buckets and unnecessarily spill water because of imbalance, even when there are clearly others who would like a share of the work. They say: You stay away from my buckets you! (In the background: splash, splash, splash, splash).

Flooders – they have no sense of balance whatsoever (even if only carrying one bucket). They tend to be of an over-enthusiastic nature. They believe in literally washing their sins (and the sins of those around them) away.

Punjabi skinheads– they walk away from a white Sikh and wait for a Punjabi to fill their bucket. My personal record is so far having 3 buckets waiting to be filled while my friends Sat Pavan and Guru Darshan stood on either side, jobless.

Head shakers – they disapprove of the women rolling up their trousers to their knees while doing seva. Apparently it's not respectful. Uh huh yeah whatever. And all those Singhs wandering around in their knee-hang kasheras clearly define being proper. Oh please, save the double standards for 500+ years ago, before Guru Nanak was born.

Pigs – they systematically avoid having a woman fill up their bucket. I am not kidding. Apparently we are lesser mortals not worthy of filling up buckets (how ridiculous does that sound?). If there is row of women, they will walk all the way to a man and then backtrack to where they started off. That is such a moronic thing to do it just has to be a man's idea!

Ok I think I'm list-ed out for now.

A prayer: God give them understanding and wisdom and me compassion and patience.
With love,
Hari Kiren

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Closed Doors and Open Windows

I have often wondered about what my greatest fear is. I know what you are all thinking - cockroaches! Lols... and yes, they do freak me out. But I can still muster enough strength to roll up a newspaper or find the nearest broom and give it a good smack. Apologies to those of you who are against roach-killing... I usually like to respect the karmic laws of life and death, but if a roach has enough bad sense (or bad karma!) to cross the path of Kiren the Roach Killer, even divine intervention will be futile!

But seriously, being here has made me realise what I would fear so much that it would render me helpless - poverty. And I don’t mean being poor. I think at some stage or other most of us (with some unfortunate exceptions :p) have been poor (I’m reflecting fondly on the time when I was in London just before I started work at pizza hut and I had 40 quid in my bank account to last me the month! Cereal has never tasted as good since :p)

I’ve always known poverty to be a serious issue in the third world, yet the way that it confronts me in India always makes me uncomfortable. It is in-my-face, so blatant, so absolute, so heart-wrenching. It is so much a fact of life here, it does not hide from me, and even when I try to shut it away by closing the door, the images in my mind keep me awake.

I am not strong enough to stomach the pain of this suffering continent. My neck hurts from looking away, I am running out of rupees to hand out and prayers to say. And what scares me the most is the way in which they have resigned to their fate. The apathy, or perhaps the word is grace, with which they accept what little space the Creator has made for them in this abundant world. That cold, hard look in their eyes that seems to see right through me with such directness that all my superficiality is exposed to find nothing worthy in my core. And life goes on for them as it did yesterday but for me a little bit more has been eaten away in my soul.

And then there is the other side of the coin. The devotion, the reverence for religion and spirituality that I see here I do not see anywhere else. (There are some other parts of the world that also claim this state of affairs but I cannot acknowledge religious fanaticism and the slaughter of creation in the name of God to be worthy of comparison to the practice of simple innocents).

Some call it ritualism, some worship, some piety, some blind faith. It is all those things and none of those things. here is a people, stripped away from the joys this world could potentially bring them, be they running water or fertiliser or rice to eat or a bowl to eat it in or an education for their children or washing liquid or chapals to walk with, and so they surrender to the One that presides over their fate. It is the will of god. Karma. Fate. Destiny. These are words they use to explain why the world has been cruel with them, why the universe is overflowing with riches to fill the pockets of some many times over, and yet others do not even have cloth on their backs, let alone pockets.

And to love and surrender and to accept in the face of all this.

I suppose that is the yin and yang of India. Darkness is not a separate state of being from light; it is merely the absence of light. However, without it we cannot appreciate light. The warmth of a sunrise will have no effect if it is not preceded by hours of darkness. And in the same way, the pains if India go hand in hand with its blessings.

Sometimes I think that India must be full of old souls. To my mind that explains the anguish and hardships they face. Being here is a karma cleansing experience, a journey to clear your debt with the world in preparation to reunite with the One. It is in this lifetime that He hurls every adversity, every ordeal to be surpassed so that your account can be settled.

And this trial is balanced with an avenue where you can seek sanctuary and shelter at His feet. Hence the devotion, the ritualism, the worship, the piety, the blind faith.

'When God closes a door, he always opens a window'.
India seems to be just that, a nation of closed doors and open windows.
With love,
Hari Kiren

Saturday, October 28, 2006

First Contact

Below are excerpts from my first e mail home...

"My main reason for coming was just to be in India. The feeling of homesickness (strange, seeing as I’ve never considered India as home) has been gradually creeping up in me over the last year. Somehow being in London distanced me from India (on a purely psychological basis, I know) and it became this far-off place that one visits in their dreams. My longing to be within the vibrations of Darbar Sahib has been overwhelming... I guess it doesn't help that my laptop wallpaper is a picture of Darbar Sahib and everyday became a constant reminder that wherever I was, I wasn’t in Amritsar.

My sangat here is the Miri Piri Academy (MPA) crew which is probably the most un-Indian experience I’ve ever had of India!! The first few days my diet consisted of toast, pancakes, pasta, salads, yogi tea and tofu. There wasn’t a perantha in sight until I realised how utterly wrong it was to not have achar and aloo gobi and bindi masala and paneer while in India!

Saying that we live in a bubble would not be too far from the truth. I love it though... I’m looking at India through a new glass and I think on some level it serves as a reminder that India has so many dimensions and no two people view it in the same way. From the sabji vala to the IDD booth guy to the Brahmin priest to the tourist to the landowner to the school teacher to the music ustaad to the MPA student - they all have a separate looking glass through which they see.

I’m living in a house not far from Miri Piri Academy (MPA) with Guru Darshan (US) and Sat Pavan (Chile). It’s fascinating that although we are all Sikhs our looking glasses are different too. Being Punjabi, I’m familiar with the more traditional aspects whereas they are more new age. It’s a great exchange; most days are spent in discussion and a sharing of both sides to put the puzzle together.

We live just off GT road and let me tell you that if you think that means big colourful trucks with sardars driving past with bhangra tunes floating through you are very much mistaken. The only music I’ve heard is the honking from the auto rickshaws and the coughing of passers by at the fragrant fumes!

Divali here was..... an experience. I was about to say awesome but then I remembered the power cuts and water cuts and fireworks on our street and I had to refrain from over-enthusiasm! We went to Darbar Sahib in the evening (now that was awesome!).

I guess that’s it for now, will get my grey cells into motion in preparation for the next e mail in a few days.

With love,
Hari Kiren Kaur :)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Greetings from Amritsar

Satnam Jio!


This blog is an avenue for me to share my thoughts and experiences from being in Amritsar. My trip to Amritsar is for 2 months, and with every passing day I feel that it is too short by eternity!

Some weeks have passed already, and so far I have been sharing my thoughts via e-mails to my friends and family, until some friends suggested that I compile all my e mails onto a blog format.

Note to the reader: this blog has a short life span and I'm not very regular. Also, you may already have read some posts on Gurumustuk's blog ( I suppose this blog is just a page to call my own and to jot down my musings, and in the future it will be a sweet memory of my time here.

May the Blesings of Guru Ram Das be with you.

With love,
Hari Kiren Kaur