If it helps anyone to know of days gone by in my experience, then here it is:
Mother is spiritually enlightened, simple humble housewife, who works and raised the kids like most loving mothers. Since a very young age, Nam-dharee Sants used to hold monthly programs in their village house. Mum got into the habit of waking up at 2am, doing many hours of simran, mool mantr, japji sahibs and then going to the gurdwara offering some food for langar. She loved the way the village giani told stories of Beloved Guru Nanak Ji, it always made her cry. She did not know anything about "sects being wrong", only about loving God.
She got married, came to cold, grey England, husband was not into Sikhi, hard times came. (Dukh daru..pain is the medicine). Parents did a lot of selfless seva for the local gurdwara, dad had cut hair but did many readings in Akahnd Paats and realised that a strong message was "Become the Guru’s". Close Radhoa-swamee relatives persuaded Dad to get "naam" from their Guru. Dad resisted for a long time as it was not the sikhi he understood, finally did ardas and said "guru nanak ji, if this is not right then protect me" There was a long line to see the Radho-swamee Guru, he asked Dad, "how long have you been vegetarian" to which dad replied "3 months", the Radho-swamee Guru refused to give him "naam", saying "come back after 6 months". Dad was happy inside, Guru Nanak had protected his honour…he wouldnt be coming back at all! What kind of Guru turns away the ones in need?
Sant Ishar Singh RaraWale was the first major preacher to come to the UK in the 70s. Alot of people came into Sikhi through there efforts. People that were depressed were given hope, people that were alcoholics become devoted sevadars of the Guru, people that swore and cursed,began speakiing sweetly and meditating on "naam". Before that time, any Punj Pyare were hard to find. I remember being a kid and going to Sangats held in school halls, there was hardly any space to sit, but a brilliant atmosphere. I still love watching the old videos, especially that wondrous tune they played right at the beginning. I did not know anything about "tarna(adding punjabi words to Gurbani) being wrong" only that they were inspiring sangats.
In 1976, parents turned up for amrit-ceremony Nanaksar punj pyaray. the Punj pyaray couldnt make it and it was rearranged for the next day. Some people that turned up on the first day, weren’t determined enough to turn up on the second day…and even to this day they have not been blessed with amrit…they were so close but still so far away. Parents received the great gift of amrit, the punj pyare said that it was OK for them to wear small necklace kirpans, if big one was uncomfortable, plus meat was a major sin, and mool mantr was upto nanak hosi bhi sach. I was a kid and given "choola", just a sip of amrit and no discipline nor 5Ks to wear.
Parents continued doing lots of seva of Gurdwara and Akhan PAats, later that become seva of Sants. Many Sants came to our house, langar was served to one and all. It felt very special to have holy people coming to our house. One Sant was old and quiet, everyone bowed at his feet. Men sat near, women sat far away. Men did kirtan and akhand paat seva, women did not. Our parents told us kids to go and bow to him, the whole room was watching us. Me and my brother were hesitant, not used to it. We obeyed. The sant surprised everyone and said "touch your parents feet". We did. We didn’t know about "touching Sants or Parents feet is wrong" only that we were being humble.
Mum always said even though Sants and sangat bless our house, Guru Granth Sahib Ji is my Guru. Because of Guru Granth Sahib Ji’s infinte blessings we are lucky enough to serve the holy ones just as Guru Nanak Ji did when he spent the 20 rupees feeding the saints. Mum did ardas to be blessed with sangat of the Sant of Sants. The next day, Guru Granth Sahib Ji blessed our house and since that day we sit and mediate in Guru Ji’s precence. I recognise the blessing now.
Dad was elected Gurdwara President in the 80s. There was alot of political infighting in those days, swords had been used in a nearby gurdwara. The madness was about to errupt when Dad became President. He took a lot of abuse and beard-pulling, his so called friends let him down. When no-one else was around Guru ji himself came and sorted out the gurdwara problems. Dad says, the blessings I received from Guru ji after that hard seva, have never left me.
I only wanted one thing in life, LOVE. But soon realised worldy Love hurt too much. So leaving home for Further Education, n 1987 I enrolled into 2 Universities…one for worldy knowledge and the other by receiving amrit. I knew nothing about Juthas, Sects, Controversies. I knew there was a Gurdwara holding Amrit Sinchar, so I turned up. didn’t understand a word, didnt realise that they punj pyaray had given me "naam". Only that If I wanted to reach God, then I had to take Amrit. Simple as that. Had no Sikh sangat in those days. But read alot of books on sikh history and used to cry after reading about the hard times Guru Gobind singh and the Khalsa saw…compared to how slack the I and the Sikhs were nowadays. I read that the Khalsa used to eat meat, and started eating it again. But for a year of being vegetarian and fighting the cravings and desire of meat, meat now tasted disgusting. As I ate the steak and kidney Pie, I could only think of the suffering of the cow I was eating. Gave it up again. I Had a minor knee operation, and they shaved the hair on my leg, so I turned up to the nearest amrit ceremony as I had broken the rules. It was beautiful, this time I understood everything. Unknown to me there was a Nanaksar Sant who was supposed to be in the Punj Pyare, but had slipped in langar and was unable to attend. On hearing the news, some of the women waitng for amrit got up and left, saying they onyl wanted amrit form baba ji. A tough Bibi from langar came and told them Amrit is from the Punj Pyare. They still walked away.
A few years later in about 1993, I had another minor knee operation (I’m not lucky in sports!). So I turned up to the nearest amrit ceremony, the punj pyare were inspired by Dam Dami Taksal. I received my punishment for allowing my hair to be shaved. It was a beautifuly ceremony, many inpsired people.
For years I had heard about Akhand Kirthani Jatha, I loved the rensbhai (all night) kirtan they did seva at. Many of my friends had received amrit from panj pyare inspired by them. They told me that I hadn’t received "naam" until the punj pyare showed me the technique. And as no other punj pyare shows the technique for chanting waheguru, then I wasn’t going to get very far spiritually. Plus they believed the 5th K was Keski, rather than Kes. I resisted for a long time.
By Guru’s kirpa I went to India many times in the 1990s. And several minor spiritual experiences were had at Hazoor Sahib were we were close to Baba Sheesha Singh. HarMandir Sahib and Taran Sahib had a magic of their own. Here I noticed Baba Sheesha Singh prmoted the chant "satnaam waheguru" for 2hrs in the morning and 2 hrs at night. Langar was served 24 hrs a day. It was a holy place. However, people from abroad were given the best accommodation (me included), wereas the really poor and needy, were filthy and crippled, yet not allowed in the gurdwara complex. Twice a day they would sit in lines outside the gurdwara and be served langar separately from the "tourist sikhs" (from punjab and abroad).
When I came back, I did ardas that I needed someone holy to help me understand Guru Granth Sahib and the path of spirituality even more. Some spiritual things happened and between about 1994 and 1996 I ended up serving a family man, a "sant" in disguise you could say. He was very spiritual and very, very strict. He was not amrit-dharee when we first met. Infact, even though he was so incredibly spiritual, it was still a trace of spiritual ego in him that made him think he didnt meed amrit, because the punj pyare were less spiritual than him. I was there to learn, not to criticise. Anyway, after a few years he did overcome his spiritual ego and kneeled down infront of the punj pyaray.
In my obsession to do as much seva and simran in my spare time, I had neglected my health, to the extent that my whole jaw ached when saying waheguru. But I was prepared to die than to give up. Infact, most of the holy sants that I have been blessed to meet are very spiritual and dedicated to doing seva and simran. Yet they have not been lucky enough to have been taught about healthy diet and fitness. Many have heart problems or diabates, but accept it happily as God’s Will. Then I read about Yogi Bhajan and met many of the American Sikhs. They were very radiant and pure. Even though I read much against yoga, I went regularly for 6 months to find out for myself. My breathing and simran co-ordination improved immensely. My tension went, the exercises did release alot of spiritual energy. It was different from just doing any old exercise. Visualisation and relaxation made me feel radiant and healthy too. However, they emphasised the use of non-sikh mantras, were overly into Yoga techniques than naam, and I understood when Guru said that ego only goes by serving sadh-sangat. So I learnt what I had to and moved along.
By Guru’s Kirpa I met the leaders of AKJ at that time like Bhai Jeevan Singh Ji, Bhai Rama Singh, Giani Nahar Singh Ji and was greatly inspired by their love and humility. Some AKJ friends said that as I was already amrit-dharee, I would not have to take amrit again, merely appear infront of the panj pyara at an AKJ program and they will give me "naam Dhrir". So as I am a learner, I went. I was taught a powerful breathing technique by the punj pyaray. Some sisters had powerful spiritual experiences in the amrit ceremony just by chanting waheguru with their breaths. I was very happy, but when I came out people told me that now I had received amrit in the "right" way. This disheartened me. The ceremony was pretty much the same as all the others I’d been to, just with more emphasis on naam and a technique.
Having done yoga, I already knew the technique the Punj Pyaray taught. Except the Yogis say "sat-Naam" and the amrit-dharees say "Wahe-Guru". The Yogis teach that technique along with many others to one and all. But obviously, being taught by the Panj Pyare is supreme.
So to bring this saga to a close, there are many groups doing seva and simran. Their amrit ceremonies are over 90% the same. Most Sikhs get on happily with each other like my mum, and do not waste time with politics or controversies…they serve the holy and do their bhagatee (devotion).
Saintliness abounds. But the Warrior side, the political united Sikh Army is nowhere to be seen. As a Sikh learn as much as you can from each and every holy person, get rid of your ego, stop criticising and start serving. Accept no-one is perfect and improve oneself. Take the good from everyone you meet and become the Khalsa you want to see in the world. Become as spiritual as a true sants, become fit and healthy like the Yogis, become trained warriors like the Nihangs, educated in Gurbani like Dam Damee Taksal and as disciplined in amritvela like Akhand Kirtani Jatha.
I haven’t abandoned any group, they have 90% things in common. When ego goes, controversies melt away and we can unite under one core Rehat Maryada – code of conduct and that is Gurbani, every other Reaht Maryada was not written by the Gurus but by sikhs later on and they only cause people to get caught up in externals and controversies. But gurbani is the code of conduct that takes our soul on the inner pilgrimage, the real Nirmal Panth or gurmukh Panth or Khalsa Panth is the inner journey to become Nirmal (Pure), to become Gurmukh (enlightened), to become Khalsa (pure). From what I have seen all of the groups have some really blessed and devoted souls. But no-one has the "only ticket" to God. Instead of arguing and dividing, the Sikhs need to get together and just follow Gurbani as their Maryada which is still 100% truth and still 100% relevant for this day and age. In the same way the external ways of dress and prayers recited at Guru Nanak’s time and at Guru Gobind Singh were different, but the Gurbani was one and the same. So unite by being tru to Gurbani. All Sikh Groups nowadays claim to be following the original way of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, but they cant all be right, can they? So they must be man-made and less than the Truth. So only follow Guru Granth Sahib Ji to the letter and that will lead you to the Sants and they will make you into a Brahm-giani, a real pure Khalsa like them.
There is an example that a lump of iron can be made into scissors that divide, or a needle that unites. Our words and actions are that lump of iron. Its upto us if we divide or unite humanity. Bhai Gurdas Ji writes that Guru Nanak Dev Ji made the 72 sects of Islam, the 6 Schools of Hindu Philosphy, the 4 castes and many others all realise their unity under Ik Onkar. Guru Nanak united the whole world, it shouldn’t be so hard for Sikhs to unite under practising Gurbani and becoming pure Khalsa. The world is waiting for us.
Forgive my mistakes,
sarbatt-da-bhalla – good will to all.