Early History (Part 2)
This excerpt of pages 18 – 33 from the book, “The Man Called the Siri Singh Sahib” published in 1979, includes many stories as told by Siri Singh Sahib Ji and is narrated by M.S.S. Sardarni Premka Kaur Khalsa (who is now Pamela Dyson).
“Harbhajan Singh is a name which actually means the lion who sings the divine glory of God’s Name” ~ Siri Singh Sahib Ji, April, 1979
Harbhajan Singh Puri was born into this world on August 26, 1929, just at the time of sunset, in the little village of Kot Harkarn, Tehsil Wazirabad, in the district of Gujaranwala, in what is now Pakistan, but at that time was still a part of India. He was the first-born son into a family who had prayed for the birth of a male heir for over twenty-five years. With one of those prayers had gone a promise, that such a son would be carried to the shrine of Vaishnoo Devee to give thanks for the blessing of his birth, and to give him the immediate darshan of that holy place. (Read Papaji’s memories of this time.)
So, it was that a tiny infant, Harbhajan Singh, was tied to his father’s chest, nestled under his flowing beard, and carried up the steep slopes to the cave of Vaishnoo Devee in fulfillment of that sacred promise. Although young Harbhajan Singh was but an infant, whose age was measured in days rather than months or years, the impact of that first visit, the sacredness of that prayer and the determination to fulfill that commitment were events which were to shape his entire philosophy and experience of life. Thus, began a practice for the man known as Harbhajan Singh, of visiting every possible holy shrine, and holy person, and of pursuing the study of all the teachings, scriptures, and technologies of the religions of the world.
His father was a medical doctor, Dr. Kartar Singh Puri, and his mother had been named Leela Wanti by birth and Harkrishan Kaur at her marriage. She was a woman of indomitable will and unswerving adherence to righteous principles. Her reputation throughout their village was so renowned that even without locks on the house, no thief dared to even enter the neighborhood. In his own words, the Siri Singh Sahib shares his impressions of this incredibly powerful woman.
“Within my life, I couldn’t do anything wrong, because my mother wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t become egocentric, because she wouldn’t tolerate it.
I remember one instance of my life, which was a virtual turning point. I was to decide a case. As blunt and truthful as I was, the other party knew that the judgement would be harsh. They couldn’t use any tactics of bribery or influence, so they sought out the weakness, and that was my mother. They had approached her with the fear that I would be submitting my report recommending a harsher punishment than anybody else could have given.
That morning I was ready for duty. I had put on my best uniform, and my orderly brought the car, and I was about to get in, when she appeared. She asked me if I was going to the office, and I told her that I was, indeed, ready for the office. Then she asked me what I was going to do in the office that day; she wanted to know exactly what work I would be doing. I said, ‘Well, there is an important case, I have already prepared it, and I am going to submit it.’ She asked me if it was about those particular people, and I told her that she was correct.
She looked at me, then lifted her hand and slapped me. My turban fell off and I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. Normally anybody else who would do that to a government official would have run the risk of being charged with a felony and being arrested on the spot.
Then, I asked her, ‘What was that for?’ She said, ’Do you think it is possible that I should have a son who doesn’t know how to have any compassion which can stand above the law?’
I got myself together and went into the office and I wrote down on the case file that this party has approached my mother, and therefore, as this has created a prejudicial circumstance, I cannot decide the case.
When I returned home that evening, I just asked her what it was that she was doing to me that morning. She said, ‘ I did what a mother should do. I don’t want you to be known as so honest that people should be afraid that you have no compassion left in you’.
And it is amazing, because now I can see this same bluntness in my own life. I also understand that there is nobody else on this earth who can have the privilege to catch me and just slap me in public and still feel it is her right. This privilege belongs to just one person in life.
Once in the middle of the night, she got up and I asked her where she was going’. She told me that she was going to do a job. I couldn’t believe that at midnight she had a job she was going to do. But after about half an hour, I found three police constables walking in front of her. She had found them asleep and brought them to me so I would stand as a witness that these people were not patrolling the area, but rather they were found sleeping.
In the morning, I said to her, ‘This is not your job, it is the job of the local police officer in charge.’ She replied, ’Well, he is my son, you are my son, and I see everybody as a son, and they are my sons too. If their officer had caught them asleep, they would have been dismissed. So, I thought I would catch them and give them a lesson on the spot!’”
Harbhajan Singh had been born into a landlord’s family whose combined holdings included their entire village. Consequently, his birthday was a very festive occasion, one which was celebrated throughout the village. Each year he would be weighed on his birthday and as many kilos as he weighed, that many gold coins, silver coins, and copper coins, along with seven times that number of kilos of wheat, would be distributed to the poor people of the village. From this tradition of feeding the poor on his birthdays, the consciousness of seva, and the practice of feeding people, was established in him very early in his life.
His early education was unique in that he was the only boy attending a girl’s Catholic convent school, a school that provided the finest education available in the area. He frequently unnerved the Mother Superior with his profound and unanswerable questions. On one occasion one of the Sisters reprimanded him for being late for chapel, but could find no words of reply when he simply replied that when the bells would ring for the chapel, he found the sound so beautiful that all he could think of was God, so he went into a meditative prayer and couldn’t find the means to move from that spot until the after the bells had stopped tolling.
Harbhajan Singh also showed a great affinity for healing and medicine and he often inquired about his father’s medical practice and showed a great sensitivity for all types of ancient knowledge including the preventive techniques of yoga and diet, as well as standard remedies including allopathy and homeopathy.
His father, Dr. Kartar Singh Puri, recalled the following story which demonstrated his early association with Guru Ram Das, and some of the amazing curative knowledge which he possessed from his early childhood: “When Harbhajan Singh was seven and a half years old, he suddenly got the measles. He developed a high temperature with dysentery and passed about a hundred stools containing blood and mucus. It was so severe that at one point, the two doctors attending him differed over the injection to be given to him. So, the next morning, I brought him to Amritsar to stay with my sister. There, I consulted with one doctor who had been my old classmate, and upon examination, he gave him one injection.
In the evening, in addition to dysentery, severe pain in the ear made the symptoms still worse. He was weeping with pain and it seemed that every hope for his recovery was fading. He said to me: ‘Papaji, my last time has come.’ I told him that I cannot face this time and I went up onto the roof. There, I knelt down and prayed to Guru Ram Das that he should be kind enough to spare this only son of mine.
I was sorry that I had not obeyed the order of my saintly father who always told me to recite Sukhmanee daily, which was the only remedy for very serious cases. He had told me that if I regularly did this practice, that every trouble would go away, and within one year I would know the entire Sukhmanee by heart. I prayed that if my son could be spared at this time, that I would faithfully recite Sukhmanee each day. Then I came and sat again by his bedside.
“He spoke to me, ‘Papaji, have you no medicine which can cure me?” I had to reply that I had nothing. Then he said,’ Guru Ram Das has appeared to me and he has told me what can cure my sickness. If all of your medicine has all been tried, then you should now give me the medicine which I suggest. Let me drink the juice of two onions and let an onion be fried in oil, and that oil, when it is just warm, should be dropped into my ear.’ It was the mercy of Guru Ram Das which prevailed and God blessed him, so that he began to recover. The next morning, he returned to his mother’s village, and I returned to my summer post at Dalhousi hill station.
His most influential teacher during his formative years was his saintly grandfather. Sant Bhai Fateh Singh Ji, who used to take the young Harbhajan Singh on his lap and tell him inspiring stories, always encouraging him to live righteously, pointing out that true spiritual strength is to renounce the animal nature and the life of the passions when one is still young for, “Of what value is it for the toothless wolf to cry out, ’I am vegetarian!’ when he has lost all of his teeth and has grown too old to hunt?”
Many such object lessons were learned from this venerable man, including this story recalled by the Siri Singh Sahib on January 15, 1978:
“A lot of years have passed since Bhai Fateh Singh, my grandfather, left his body. But his concept has not left me. He was a grand old man, standing straight for the dignity of the human being and the divinity of his reality of religion. He lived straight, he walked straight, and he talked straight.
One day I went with him to Gurdwara. We called it Dharmsala – a house where dharma is taught. That was the original name for the Gurdwaras. I remember that before proceeding that day, I had to go with him early in the morning, outside to the well to take a bath. He did his Nitnem, and I listened. And then I did my Nitnem and he listened. And that was the first day I learned because he taught me that Nitnem is an individual thing. He said, ‘We are two Sikhs, so you do your Nitnem, and I’ll hear it. And then I’ll do Nitnem, and you’ll hear it. And just look, the difference of age was tremendous, but there was no ego involved. There was a concept of oneness, unison.
“Then we dressed up and I remember that day he corrected my cummerbund, because it was a little crooked. He held one end of that length of cloth and I turned around and around and around. And he made certain that one pleat over the other pleat has a perfectly equal distance between them. I said to him, ‘Grandpa does the Guru see this?’ It was a very simple question. And he said “Yes; Ang Sang Wahe Guru. Guru in you is seeing how you are preparing and Guru outside is watching how you look and how finally you come out.’
“He said, ‘My child, we go to Gurdwara much differently than we go to church or a mosque. They may be located in the same place, but I want to teach you the difference today. In a mosque you go and then pray. In a temple, you go before the facet of Bhagavaan and then you pray. But, in the Gurdwara, you are not going there to pray. It totally stunned me. I said, ’My God, I have been going to Gurdwara all these times to do the prayer before the Guru. Isn’t Siri Guru Granth Sahib our Guru and are we not going to pray before Him?’ He said ‘No’. It took me aback.
I said, ‘Grandpa, if Santji will hear you, I think he will punish you. He said, ‘Well, what I am telling you I’ll tell you, and when Santji comes next time you tell him, because he has to learn a lot of things through you.’ I said, ‘Really? But you respect him so much.’ He said, ‘Yes, I respect him, and I teach him through you’. I said, ‘All right, let me learn now. Now, what do you want to say to me?’
He said ‘Look, Bhajan, when a Sikh goes to the Gurdwara, he goes to offer himself. Guru Gobind Singh did not give us the Amrit as the first thing when we gave him the head. He first gave us the Baana. Amrit was given later. He glorified the man unto Godhood. This is the day of offering when we go to the Gurdwara. We offer our beings, offer ourselves and then we listen to the Word of the Guru. In Gurdwara we don’t go to offer the prayer. In Gurdwara we receive. It is a selfish trip. In Gurdwara we feel the blessing of the bliss.’”
As with nearly every person in his life, the Siri Singh Sahib, saw the qualities which inspired him, and he used the examples portrayed by his grandfather as a model for his own life and a lesson to be shared with others:
“Once I came home from college and I met my Grandpa. He was sitting and all he said to me was, ‘Blessed is this precious time when God must be so present, that He has given me the opportunity to see my grandson in a very joyful divine way.’ I looked around and I asked him, ‘Have I turned into an angel?’ ( And with my arms, I pretended like I was flapping some wings.) He knew that I am very humorous, so he asked whether I am finding wings. I said ‘Yes, grandpa, I am just trying to see myself. I thought perhaps wings have grown and you might be seeing them. He said, ‘yes, your radiance is so excellent, that I am seeing through you and your presence the very excellence of His Grace. Come on and sit down and let us talk.’
“Can you believe this language? Just an ordinary meeting with a grandchild, that’s all. It simply shows that you do not always have to quote the scriptures to show that you are very religious. If you can talk like Infinity, live like infinity, feel like infinity and deal like Infinity, then you become a living Infinity. That much can be the impact of the words which we as adults can have upon our children, and all of the people who come within our scope of life.”
Another important teacher in Harbhajan Singh’s life was Sant Ranjit Singh, who taught him universal spirituality in relation to comparative religious thoughts and concepts. Quite profound stuff for a young boy, but he was not an ordinary boy, as the future would demonstrate.
The future Siri Singh Sahib of the Sikh Dharma was to have many, many teachers in his life, as his inquisitive mind and his thirst for knowledge led him to perceive the examples and lessons portrayed by everyone he knew. And even beyond his immediate environment, he sought out the sages, saints, swamis, and sadhus who might have any new knowledge to impart to him. From Sant Ranjit Singh Ji, he also learned Gurbanee Keertan. The first shabad he learned remains fresh in his memory; the words, the message, the music and the rhythm.
Mitar piaare noo haal mureedaa daa kehnaa.
Tudh bin rog rajaeena daa odan, naaraa nivaasaa de rehnaa,
Sool suraahee, khanjar piaalaa, bing Kasaaeeaa daa sehnaa.
Yaararre daa sasnoo sathar changaa, bhath kherriaa daa rehnaa.
Convey to my Beloved Friend the plight of His humble disciple, that a soft cozy bed is a torment without Him and dwelling in a mansion is like living among snakes. My water pot is a spike of torture, my cup is like a dagger and all these worldly riches are like stabs from a butcher’s knife. Indeed, my friend’s pallet or hard ground would be pleasant to me because living in a palace without Him is like living in a burning hot furnace.
Listen to Dya Singh from Australia’s musical version of this shabad.
The Siri Singh Sahib’s paternal grandmother Ishar Kaur was also one of his teachers. He told the following story on July 29, 1976 in Espanola, offering her example to the women of the Khalsa Women’s Training Camp:
“In my life, I have met only one Sikh woman, and that was my grandmother. It is not because she was my grandmother. It is because she was a Sikh woman. In her life, no one in the family ever heard her yelling, screaming, or talking loudly. Yet, I have never seen a single person in the entire family, in the entire village, who could afford to disobey her. Her word was nothing but law.’
She would get up early in the morning at 3:00 a.m., take her bath, do her sadhana and finish by 4:30 a.m. Then she would take yoghurt and churn it , chanting, Sat Nam Wahe Guru the whole while. Then about 6:00 a.m. you would find her with fresh butter, buttermilk and chapaatees (a thin bread). All of the children would come around. She would make us sit down, give us this breakfast, which was the healthiest thing in the world, and ask us to first correctly recite one pauree of Japji. That is how she used to teach us.
Once, I remarked to her that all the time she was working she would be chanting Gurbaanee. She told me, ‘Women are meant to purify and sanctify everything on this Earth. Everything which women touch becomes divine, and the only way to make something divine is to sanctify it with the Word of the Guru so that it will become pure, it will become healthy and it will become ever-living.’
She was the wife of a man who was the head of the village, and everybody respected her. Every little item in the village, and any injustice or justice was brought to her. She was supposed to listen to every appeal and every complaint. I never saw her getting upset and I never heard her talk about about anybody in his absence. Once, I asked her. ’Grandma, how do you decide everything, so it is always right? She said,’ I decide things in the light of the Truth. I never decide things for gain or loss.’
That is the human sentiment, that is human living, and you are supposed to live to that expectation.”
Harbhajan Singh mastered Kundalini Yoga, at the age of sixteen and a half under the direction of Sant Hazara Singh, Master of Kundalini Yoga, and also the Mahan Tantric. From him he learned all the Tantric knowledge which was to serve him so well in later years, when time and destiny would give him the unique responsibility of raising the consciousness of many of the people of this planet in his role of the Mahan Tantric.
The following story was told in the presence of S.S. Mahan Singh Khalsa of Boston.
“Young Harbhajan Singh was attending a sporting event, and, in order to see better over the crowd, he jumped up and hung onto a heating duct. Unfortunately, the duct collapsed and brought down half the wall and ceiling on top of him. He was quite seriously injured, as one half of his body was temporarily paralyzed, (this also caused the scar under his right eye), and he was rushed to a hospital.
“This accident occurred at the time of his ‘final examinations for graduation from secondary school, and under the British system, to miss the finals would require attending school for an additional year.
“At the time of the examinations, Harbhajan Singh’s teacher, Sant Hazara Singh, visited him at the hospital. When he heard that his young student would have to spend an extra year in school, he insisted that such a waste of time for a bright young man could not be tolerated. The tests must be taken!
Harbhajan Singh was not only in great pain he couldn’t write and could barely speak. He protested, the doctors objected, but Sant Haraza would accept no opposition. Harbhajan Singh was packed up on a stretcher and carried to the examination hall. Sant Haraza Singh then proceeded to convince the examiner that Harbhajan Singh should be allowed to take the test and that he be read the questions and have somebody assigned to write down the answers.
The tests were passed. The body was healed. But most importantly, the Siri Singh Sahib was permanently imbued with the reality of “Keep Up”. The uncompromising persistence of his teacher pushed him beyond his self-imposed limits, beyond the limitations others would impose. He learned to Keep up, to never give an inch, to relate to the Infinite, and not the finite- ‘’it’s not the life that matters, it’s the courage that you bring to it.’
The Siri Singh Sahib was sitting casually on the bed as he told these stories of his teacher. At one point, he assumed a posture imitating his teacher. His demeanor resembled a cross between the most regal lion and a powerful volcano. You did not need to see auras to see and feel the incredible energy emanating from the Siri Singh Sahib as he stared into the distance. I just sat mesmerized. Then he relaxed and told some stories about his teacher.
His teacher was incredibly strict. When the Siri Singh Sahib began his training, there were many students. If a student goofed up even once, he was dismissed. Once a student made an error, he was horrified at the possibility of being sent away. He threw himself at the teacher’s feet, held on as tightly as he could and vowed never to let go. Time passed. For eight hours Sant Hazara merely stood there, with the student weeping and clinging to his feet. At the end of this time, the student tired and relaxed his grip. Sant Ji merely turned and calmly walked away. The student was dismissed.
Against this, and other accounts of the harshness of the Siri Singh Sahib’s training, I couldn’t help but compare our own student-teacher relationship with the Siri Singh Sahib. As he told us about some of the stories of the beginning of 3HO and as I looked at us now, I was overwhelmed by the patience and compassion of the Siri Singh Sahib in the face of our ignorance, our insults, our laziness, in the face of our persistence in living our limitations, rather than realizing our full human potential. Yet, there was no question that this man would never give up on any individual who sincerely wished to keep going, no matter what their hang-ups or insecurities, there was a hope. And that hope lay not in a personality, but in a man, who was blessed with knowledge to make people healthy, happy, and holy, and who dedicated his life to sharing this knowledge.”
Another perhaps painful lesson in his life was taught to him at the hands of Sant Hazara Singh when in 1947, he was in the presence of this powerful saint. Sant Hazara Singh announced to his student, Harbhajan Singh, that he was now about to enter a period of “living hell” and he declared, “Your orders are that we will never see each other face-to-face again.” Santji was to spend many years as a freedom fighter and gained great renown among the British oppressors. He went on to live a married life. It has only been a few years since he left his body, but his orders were obeyed by his devoted and disciplined student. The pain of that separation must have been great. The Siri Singh Sahib recollects one occasion when he was passing by Santji’s village, (Doraahaa) and sent word through his messenger that he was in the vicinity. Word came back from Santji, “I know he is there, tell him to proceed.”
The study and practice of yoga was not so uncommon at that time in India, and so young Harbhajan Singh continued perfecting himself in this divine science and at the same time, he attended high school and participated in athletic events, winning prizes in track. He was selected as captain of the soccer team, was always a top player in football and hockey and was an all- around student leader. He was well-liked by all his comrades, and one of his teachers wrote of him: Active, energetic, and well behaved. Takes keen interest in the social activities of the college. He bears a strong moral character. He is a member of the Athletics Club.” (Dr. R.R. Sethi, Acting Principal). He Graduated with honors from Panjab University with a B.A. in Economics and a Masters equivalent, in 1950. Among his personal papers can be found the certificate he won for Excellence in Debate”.
When he used to train for the various college athletic events, he didn’t go out and run, or do usual training routines; instead, he practiced yoga to develop the stamina which made him a consistent winner. He took further training in yoga under Acharya Narinder Dev of Yoga Smriti, who taught Hatha Yoga and” The impact and balance of the nervous system.” The latter subject proved invaluable to him in the United States, where he found most people suffering from disorders of the nervous system. The world renowned Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh where Chidananda, Swami Vishnu Devadanda and Swami Satchidananda studied), served as a spiritual fountain for that flow of eternal Truth, which is known as Vedanta Philosophy. Harbhajan Singh was able to drink deep and fill his heart and mind with Sanatana Dharma.
When the partition of India and Pakistan occurred in 1947, it was Harbhajan Singh, who led his family and his entire village as well as many men, women, and children from the surrounding areas, to safety across the dangerous miles infested with the roving bands of murderous Muslim bandits.
“When negotiation began for India to be partitioned, we had about two years up until the actual situation. And in those two years, I grabbed all the young people, who were my friends, and started giving them parade classes. They would parade every morning. Two miles I’d make them walk; two miles, left right, left right. You can easily walk two miles, and you might be walking two miles every day. But I stared walking them in parade form which started bringing a rhythm in them.
The day we were partitioned, life became impossible to live. Everywhere innocent people were being killed and butchered. And from the surrounding villages, everybody was coming to our village to escape that massacre. There were seven thousand people whom we had to carry out of that region, with those left-right, left-right, left–right people. And we were supposed to avoid every village, every possible clash, because we had women and we had children. There was no road. There were rice fields which we had to cross through, and you know rice grows only in mud, so there was mud to our knees. We were seven thousand people, men, old men, women, children, horses, donkeys, bullocks, bullock carts, and we had to make our own way. You can well imagine, the only water available to us for drinking was that mud water which we would take in a towel and then we would squeeze the towel over a pot, and that was our drinking water. It took us eighteen days to go through it and there were only about three casualties.
As far as being attacked was concerned, there was no possibility that we could have survived. When we came to Lahore junction, there was a River Ravi, there was a huge bridge we were to cross. Just imagine: seven thousand poor, simple people who have lived a very peaceful life, and there across the bridge, were about thirty thousand people, with spears, swords and guns, just waiting to attack us. There was also an Army regiment on our side of the bridge, and the captain of the regiment said, “I have twelve hundred men, the enemy is about thirty thousand, and you are about seven thousand people. I don’t think we can defend you and, also, we do not know what to do.”
I said to him, ‘My, dear, you have nothing to do. I’ll give you half an hour. If in thirty minutes, you can spread those people and disperse them, they will all live. Otherwise, I will blow up that bridge, and I will blowup those thirty thousand people and right now I’ll show you how.’ I simply gave my people and order, ‘trench yourselves! Every young woman lay down, one over the other like logs, to form a trench like a barricade.’ And behind them, the men immediately came down, and they put up their weapons. We put our mortar behind, 25 mm shot guns and long-range guns, and we used human bodies for protections.
All of this demonstration had been in a recorded time of five minutes. That Army captain realized it. I started looking at my watch, and these were his exact words, ‘Sir, give us fifteen more minutes, I’ll see that these people go.’ That man, who before was telling me that we are on our own and we are going to be butchered in the presence of his twelve-hundred armed, disciplined soldiers of the government, when he saw us in a most disciplined manner, totally trained and absolutely active, he realized that we are going to eat up that mob of thirty thousand in no time. Before the half hour was finished, the road was cleared, the bridge was cleared, we moved with our children, and we were escorted to ten miles beyond the city limits.”
Another story, which the Siri Singh Sahib told, covering the time surrounding the partition, demonstrates the impact of his mother’s character upon his life. During the time when the partition of India and Pakistan had been declared, there was virtually no law and order in effect. The Bhatans and the Muslims from Afghanistan were planning to attack the City of Anandpur and so Sant Hazara Singh called upon all of his people who were there at that time including Harbhajan Singh, to defend the sacred city. The Siri Singh Sahib told the story of going before his mother for her blessing before proceeding to Anandpur:
“One day we were to proceed to Anandpur, and I had dressed in all that steel, with kirpans and maalaas and mail on my body, and I just went before my mother to ask her blessing. I told her the news that Sant Hazara Singh Ji had ordered all of his people to get dressed up for the sacrifice; that’s why we had been privileged to come home. The only person I would come and meet was my mother, and so I went to ask her blessing. I said, ‘Guru will be with me or not, that’s not the problem, that’s the question to be decided later. For that, my spirit and soul are answerable. But today I have come to ask something different. I case I choose to die, if God gives me this opportunity to die, I’d like to ask one thing only, that I’d like to die in Grace.’
She wanted to understand what the odds were and I said, ‘Odds at this time are that we are only two hundred some people, and there are fifteen thousand people already there. We have very, very few arms and according to our information, the enemy has been totally equipped. That is why we were given leave for one day to meet whom we want to meet, and I came to meet you.’ And she said, ‘Well, I do not want to bless you to die, because I never blessed you to live. You never were born in my family because we expected a son. You came through prayer, and if this prayer chooses to let you go, I will have no comments. But remember, you have to die one day, and no mother wants her son to die, and neither do I wish it to be so. But, seeing you as I see you, and seeing you so dressed, I feel that you have made your choice. But now, after you have made the choice, I want to tell you one thing: Bhajan, life comes many times.’
It was a new philosophy from her. I never knew that she read the Geetaa every day. I couldn’t believe it, but she did do it. All her life, she did one thing very honestly: she read one pauree of Sukhmanee and one stanza of Geetaa. That was her ‘added Nitnem’. I could see then that I had become Arjuna before Lord Krishna right there. She asked, ‘Do you believe in the theory of reincarnation?’ and then I figured out that this is the time to sit down. And, in spite of all the mail I had on my body, I had no alternative but to sit down. How I managed it, I don’t know myself, even today.
She asked, ‘Do you know that in our family, there was supposed to be no son?’ I said, ‘I know.” She said, ‘Do you know I took you to every holy place where I could take you within my means when you were born?’ I said, ‘Yes’. She said, ‘With all that I could do for you as a mother, today I want to tell you one thing, and that is, you may have been born many times, you may have been my son in a previous incarnation or not, but now I am telling you that you were born out of me.’ I said, ‘That seems to be very, very true. I have nothing else to believe.’ She said, ’Then, if you are going to die for Guru Gobind Singh, don’t come back in disgrace.’
“It was an act that only a mother can do. I was not married, so I had no wife to look to. I went away and with Guru’s grace, the danger of the situation was solved. Those people saw us totally entrenched in the Gurdwara, and they did not attack. Meanwhile, the partition took its toll and everything got settled.”
Fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs, his once wealthy family found itself in New Delhi, homeless and virtually penniless. But soon, with hard work, courage, and the will to succeed, the family was on its financial feet again.
For all of his tendency towards spiritual pursuits, Harbhajan Singh still maintained a balance and was well grounded in his sense of duty and responsibility to his family, as the eldest son, and by the very traditions of Sikh Dharma which encourage the full pursuit of family life, or Grihst Ashram. After completing his schooling and having established his career as an officer within the Indian Government service, at the age of twenty-four, in 1953,he was married to Srdarni Inderjit Kaur, the daughter of Bhai Sahib Kartar Singh Uppal and Sardarni Rawel Kaur. Her father, Bhai Sahib Kartar Singh Ji, was a very simple, humble and saintly Gursikh, with great devotion and compassionate and forgiving heart, while his wife, was the living personification of kindness and service, who never raised her voice to anyone. It was into this pious household that Bibi Inderjit Kaur was born and was marked by destiny to become the wife of the future Siri Singh Sahib.
Even then, Harbhajan Singh had a vision of what his mission in life was to be, and when he was first approached with the possibility of marriage with Sardarni Inderjit Kaur, he looked into her inner being and concluded that she would be the perfect companion, who would serve and assist him in his life of service to humanity. He saw in her pious demeanor and her great capacity for sacrifice, a capacity which would make it possible for her to sacrifice herself an her husband for the sake of the Guru’s mission.
Early in their relationship, he made it his habit to listen to the Guru’s baanee from her as she would recite her Paath each morning, for she had been taught and disciplined from her childhood to recite her daily prayers and to read and understand the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. When Harbhajan Singh would spend his hours in giving spiritual counsel to his friends, neighbors, fellow workers or acquaintances, Bibi Inderjit Kaur would serve them with langar, hospitality and love, following the example of Mata Khivi, the wife of Guru Angad. It was in that spirit that their young and growing household was instructed in the qualities of sevaa, simran, love and hospitality. They raised their three children and talked of the day when they would all devote their lives to serving as missionaries of the Guru, a day which was to come sooner than any of them may have anticipated.
One of the most important experiences in the life of Harbhajan Singh was the final recognition of his own path, his personal Guru, Guru Ram Das, and the turning point which was to mark out his future and his destiny. As a government officer, he had been posted to various districts throughout India, and in 1960, he was assigned to the district surrounding the city of Amritsar. Throughout the duration of this assignment, he was determined to take this opportunity to wash the marble floors of the Harimandir Sahib. As a Sikh, he naturally recognized the special significance of the Golden Temple and the holy city of Amritsar. But, Above and beyond that, his personal spiritual pursuit had convinced him that only through humility and the performance of the most humble seva, could he find the fulfillment which he was seeking.
He had spent many years as a student of spiritual and religious teachers. He had also spent many years functioning in his capacity as a teacher, and he had attained the siddhas (powers) of a perfected yogi. Yet, he knew that there was a need in his life for a teacher, for a guide and Guru to whom he could belong beyond the personal, individual ties of any earthly being. He longed for that final touch of infinite love and understanding, which would make all of the pieces of the puzzle of life fit together.
Every day for four-and-one-half years, the government officer known as Harbhajan Singh went and washed the floors of the Harimander Sahib. By cleaning the floors of his beloved Guru’s House, he came to realize that he was indeed a blessed son of the House of Guru Ram Das.
“What I am today didn’t just happen right away. It took me four-and-one-half-years of washing the marble floors of the Golden Temple, through a voluntary effort, through the Grace of God and Guru. It was the act of mopping the floors of the Golden Temple which mopped all of the dirt out of me. It was nothing else. I could not shine without that rub. The cub shall never rise to the maturity of radiance as a full lion without rubbing the floors of the Golden Temple. Khalsa is the order of the divinity of the lion. Leo, which is the master of all beasts, stands for Singh, which means that you have conquered the beast within yourself.
It is my experience, and I would like to share it with you. The Harimander Sahib is the nucleus of a spiritually powerful center where the heavens and earth meet to bring harmony. Not that it is only in India. The Golden Temple is at two places, not just one place. One is located in the heart of the seeker, the Sikh, and the other is on the earth, in the city of Amritsar.”
It was about the year 1964, during the time when Harbhajan Singh was posted in Amritsar, when he went on a tour to the village Ghagal, near Dharmsala, with two officers, the Deputy Commissioner of Shillong and the Chief Secretary of Assam. These officers had a desire to visit an astrologer there, and so it happened, that he also went along. During their visit, the astrologer turned to Harbhajan Singh and told him that a new phase of his life was going to begin soon, and that he would resign his present job and would travel to foreign lands to teach and liberate the people of the Western World. The astrologer predicted that one day each house would have his photograph, and that he would be served and respected as a king, but would live with the consciousness of a saint. There would be thrones prepared for him, wherever he would go and millions of souls were awaiting his arrival.
From their meeting with the astrologer, they were to proceed further toward the shrine of Vaishnoo Devee. However before departing from him, Harbhajan Singh wanted to give him ten rupees. The astrologer told him that he should keep the ten rupees with him, because that is all he had, and he would be needing them. This was very surprising, but when he checked he realized that it was true. He was without his wallet and only had those ten rupees which his orderly had been instructed to always keep inside his uniform pocket in case of any emergency. Still, he said to the astrologer, “They (the rupees) are all yours.” He was told that he should keep those rupees with him, and instead, he should give that money to the poor people on the way up to the cave of Vaishnoo Devee.
Before beginning the steep ascent, Harbhajan Singh had the rupee note changed into coins and all along the way, he distributed those coins to the people who called out to him, in the name of the Divine Mother. They reached Vaishnoo Devee’s sacred shine after a strenuous climb, and in his own words, the Siri Singh Sahib recounts his experience at that holy place.
“When we reached the top, I just felt thirsty, and so I went to look for a place where I would take a drink of water. The moment I drank that water, which was very cold, that was the last physical action which I remembered. The next thing I recalled, was that I was lying within a kind of globe of light. There was light coming from every side and I began to see the panorama of my life from my birth through every stage of my life, up to the very day when I had climbed up to Vaishnoo Devee’s cave and I came to that moment in that panorama show where I saw myself taking that drink of water.
Then a voice spoke to me: ‘Now you decide.’ Then I found myself being transported within a cylindrical shaft of light, like an elevator it moved me down into the earth, and the further I would go, the more it became calm and pleasant. It was extremely pleasant, like a state of ecstasy, until I reached a place where I was approaching an opening, like coming to the end of a tunnel, where it was all light.
The voice came to ask me to choose my path. There were two ways to go: One side was warm and cozy, like a dwelling place; the other was like a snowy mountain peak with light like bright sunlight. ‘You have to choose which way you want to go’. On both sides, I could feel the magnetic attraction of the ancestors. At that moment, I stood still, and I thought, ‘No, I am not going to either side, because this is a holy place where I have fallen unconscious, and to die here will mean that all people who go to such holy places of pilgrimage will lose the faith.’ I bent down in prayer and I said: ‘Oh Divine Mother, I mean no harm to the faith of the people.’ She replied: ‘Then go back and spread the faith.’
Then I saw myself opening my eyes and I saw that on my body there were lots of blankets and there were people all around and there was quite a commotion when I began to get up. They told me that I had been declared dead, that I had been like that for about forty-five minutes. I had no choice but to believe it, and there was one doctor there also and he assured me that it was true.
Then I just told those two officers: ’Our Yatra has been completed, and now a new yatra is to begin.’ Then we drove back direct to the Golden Temple to just pray and give thanks at the House of Guru Ram Das
Death is not a painful experience at all. It is just going from one airport to the other airport and on the way, you have to go through that customs inspection. Actually, a person condemns himself or herself through his own mental recollection of past actions and behavior. That panorama show is played before you, and if you are not satisfied with your own record of life, you condemn yourself by your own consciousness. And when you have that choice of those two paths, if you choose that warm and cozy dwelling place, then you have just condemned yourself to hell. But if you choose that cool, clear, snowy mountain of higher consciousness and light, that is what is a liberation from the cycle of rebirth. When you have a neutral state of consciousness, you can direct your life as you choose, and that is called the tureeaa state of consciousness.”
Harbhajan Singh had spent a total of eighteen years in the service of the Indian Government. Throughout his service, he had earned a reputation for absolute honesty and integrity and had won the respect and admiration of both junior and senior officers. Once he had made a decision, it was well known that there was no way to move this man, and there was no way to fool him either, for he could read the aura and knew who was telling him the truth.
There were many incidents leading up to the time when Harbhajan Singh, the customs officer at Palim International Airport, would depart from that same airport in September of 1968 to begin an entirely new phase of his life. The final event occurred when a Canadian gentleman appeared at the Customs Depot in New Delhi. He happened to express his dissatisfaction with his efforts to locate a yogi to come to Canada to teach at the Toronto University. The connection had been made. Harbhajan Singh talked to the gentleman about his own yogic training, the position was offered to him, and within the shortest possible time, he was making preparations for his departure.
In September of 1968, Harbhajan Singh turned in his letter of resignation from his government post. Meanwhile, his family was to remain in Delhi until circumstances would make it possible for them to join him. He had the utmost faith in God and Guru that he would be guided towards the fulfillment of His Will. Before departure, he received this hukam from Siri Guru Granth Sahib:
Too gurprasaad kar raaj jog.
By Guru’s Grace you shall enjoy secular and spiritual sovereignty.
As it happened, upon reaching London, the airlines had lost his luggage. All he now had with him, was a small Air France bag, containing a tape recorder and a Gurbaanee Keertan recording of Sukhmanee. He would eventually be given financial reimbursement for the loss, but his luggage was never to be returned. Thus, he entered Canada, with just the set of clothing he was wearing, virtually penniless, only to learn that the gentleman who he was to contact in Canada for his teaching position had been killed in an automobile accident.
The hand of God and Guru are evident as we look back upon these events. Harbhajan Singh had arrived in the West, and now he was to set out to discover the course which the Guru had set for him. He soon secured a job as a clerk in a major book publishing house, taught yoga at a local yoga ashram and a popular housing facility known as Rochedale and became affectionately known to his students there as Yogi Bhajan.
Then, in December of 1968, an old friend from New Delhi, who had settled in the United States, invited Yogi Bhajan to come to Los Angeles for a weekend visit. That visit, as of this writing, has extended itself to more than ten years. Because, Yogi Bhajan could immediately sense that there, in Los Angeles, was the center of youth’s movement towards self-knowledge, self-discovery, and expression of real and meaningful values. He saw that Guru had guided him there because he had been well equipped with knowledge, experience, and technology, which could fulfill the longings of those searching souls. So, he began to teach Kundalini Yoga, first at the East-West Cultural Center and then in Jules Buccieri’s furniture store at 8800 Melrose Avenue.
Each aspect of his life and work had prepared him well for the many-faceted role he was to play in the West, as a spiritual teacher, spiritual father, organizer and administrator of a vast network of ashram communities throughout the world, and finally as the Chief Religious and Administrative Authority for the Sikh Dharma. He was able to draw upon all of the wisdom imparted to him by the many teachers in his life, upon the tried and tested cultural traditions of an ancient and noble society. He was able to utilize his training in the yogic sciences and his knowledge of simple dietary practices derived from a culture which was still in close touch with its own folk medicines. Combining all of these with his own innate wisdom and spiritual enlightenment at the House of Guru Ram Das, the man who had been known as Harbhajan Singh, who had been molded by God and Guru as a messenger of God’s own Love and Truth, was set upon a mission to serve, guide, and mold and shape a spiritual community of individuals destined to evolve themselves into a nation.
He became the Siri Singh Sahib
By his service to God and man.
A leader is made by his sacrifice,
And not by the stroke of a pen.
Dear Mr. Harbhajan Singh,
I am glad you are going to Canada to teach yoga. The interest in Yoga exercises and therapy is growing, and teachers of your quality are badly needed. Having worked with you quite intensively for three months. I know your gifts, and your integrity which nothing can commercialize. You will not need to try to persuade anyone. People will come to you for help and they will not be disappointed, whether it is better health, a more balanced mind/body, or a one-pointed attention that they are seeking.
With my best wishes and grateful thanks always,
Office of the High Commissioner of Canada
New Delhi, India
July 23, 1968
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