I love this time of the year.
The harsh east coast winter is now a distant memory, flowers are blossoming all around, and the warmth of the sunlight on my face is revitalizing.
My community is rejuvenated as well.
Our gurdwara is busily preparing for Vaisakhi celebrations – nagar kirtans, gatka demonstrations, and special kirtan programs are all in the works.
But out of all the celebrations, festivities and ceremonies to come, there is one that often goes quietly unnoticed, yet holds a special place in my heart – the annual amrit sanchar. Week after week, announcements are made for aspiring Sikhs of the Guru to sign up and be ready to “offer their head.”
It is always inspiring to see members of my sangat prepare for this special day. Seeing all of this reminds me of my own experience.
Although I grew up with many Sikh friends, none of them were amritdhari, so learning about the discipline and lifestyle of an amrithdhari at camps was fascinating to me. I used to think how cool it would be to join the Order of the Khalsa…the Guru’s army! At the same time, the whole process and experience was a bit of a mystery to me.
So when I reached adolescence and started going to camps with amritdhari counselors and attending retreats with amritdhari Sikhs my age from all over the world, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t wait until the classes and lectures were over, just so I could sit and talk with folks and learn about their experiences. I tried to absorb as much as I could.
I would ask all kinds of questions…What inspired you to take amrit? What was it like? How did you prepare? When did you know you were ready? Has it been difficult to maintain your rehat? Have you ever had second thoughts about your decision?
The answers I got varied…which shows how unique everybody’s individual experience is. There were some who took this step because they had a deep connection with the shabad, others were encouraged by their friends and had been “practicing” for years. Then there some whose family members were all amritdhari, so it was just “expected”…they really didn’t know any other way. Then there were others who simply had a “revelation” and walked into the amrit sanchar clean-shaven and have kept their rehat ever since.
Many I spoke to felt they had a void in their life…I remember one response vividly in a group discussion that I really connected with. When a young man was asked why he was going to take amrit the next morning, he said: “With the Guru by my side, I know I will never be alone.”
Some might argue that there are right or wrong reasons to take this step…personally, I do not. I mean, no matter what your circumstances are, if your answer is to bring the Guru in to your life…does it really matter how you got there?
Sometimes the questions I asked about amrit provoked hour-long answers laced with bani, history, and personal experience…others were brief. I recall one person stopping me mid-way through my first question and answering everything with three simple words…”Chhakko, hor ki?”
During that inquisitive time in my life, I learned so much. I surrounded myself with such inspiring people and stories, I took advantage of every opportunity I could and tried so hard to learn, connect, reflect and experience. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I was a “seeker.” During this time, it became harder and harder to sit in a divaan and listen to kirtan. Just about every time I heard a shabad, it brought me to tears, it was like Guru Sahib was speaking directly to me…asking me, that if I love him so much…why do I not commit to him?
It was a combination of these dialogues, experiences with my sangat, and personal reflection that led me to finally formalize my commitment and receive the Guru’s amrit.
In all the congratulatory calls and emails that came to follow, I remember one friend saying something to me that stuck in my head for weeks. She said, “Be careful, although your spirit may be very high right now, somewhere in the next few months, the emotion of the event will eventually lessen and you might even hit a slump.”
I couldn’t imagine such a thing happening, I felt as though I was on top of the world…but sure enough, I did. After a while, I found my paatth becoming more of a ritual…something I had to squeeze into my busy schedule rather than something I enjoyed and focused on. Sometimes I would close my gutka and not even remember if I had finished the baani or not. My amrit vela discipline slowly faded away and, after time, I struggled just to meet the “bare minimum” the rehat had asked of me.
For whatever reason, I didn’t feel that same “thirst” as I did prior to receiving amrit. I was purely focused on keeping my rehat and not on connecting with Waheguru. Perhaps I set my expectations too high of what life as an amritdhari would be like, maybe I was not as ready as I thought I was…or maybe I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Perhaps there was a part of me that grew complacent being an amritdhari, as though I had “accomplished” something…and there was no need to “seek” any further.
Many years have passed, and although I still haven’t matched the inspiration and strength I felt in those “inquisitive years”, there have, however, been moments of absolute beauty. Every so often, as I race through my daily nitnem, I’ll connect with a line that touches my soul. At random kirtans, I’ll hear a shabad I have translated and studied before, and I will completely lose myself in it. At times, I will listen to a child recite the Mool Mantar or sing a shabad, and I’ll feel the presence of the Sahibzadey around me…my eyes will well up in tears.
These experiences may be short…but I thank Waheguru for them. I pray that these “beautiful moments” will happen more frequently and string together for longer periods of time.
I now realize that receiving the Guru’s amrit is not a “graduation” or really an accomplishment of any kind … It is only a beginning. It’s when a Sikh stands before the Guru and declares, “I am yours…” and the Guru lovingly replies, “…and you are mine”, and everything else begins from there.
In my effort to rekindle my spirit, I have again begun asking questions.
Last April, I was chatting with a college student several years younger than me who had just received amrit a few weeks earlier. I was particularly intrigued by him as he had recently started keeping his kesh too. When I asked what inspired him to take this step, he looked at me and paused for a moment. I waited eagerly to hear his story and his experience, but instead he gave me a simple answer I will never forget.
He said, “Veerji…I’m a soldier…and this is where I belong.”
For a moment, I began to think of all the soldiers who came before him. I thought about the fearlessness of Banda Singh Bahadar in the conquest of Sirhind, I thought about the bravery of Mai Bhago in the battle of Mukatsar, I thought about the courage of Baba Deep Singh in his battles with Ahmed Shah Abdali. I thought about all the countless warriors and warrior-poets who came to follow…all of whom knelt before the Guru and received his embrace.
I’m so far from all these personalities.
There is so much to learn…there are so many questions.
But one thing I do know for sure.
This is where I belong too.