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Kelly Kaur

“Why did you decide to convert to Sikhism?”

This is a question I get asked on a daily basis. The answer is simple, but the journey was long.

I was raised in a family where religion was of no importance. We did not go to church; we did not talk about God. My parents aren’t atheists or anything, they just don’t think about it much. When I started to ask about religion, they encouraged me to find my own path. They gave me books on comparative religion. They taught me to always question, always research, and always learn. Never accept anything until you find the truth.

Growing up in the USA, I was surrounded by Christians. Unfortunately, they did not always present a good image of religion. They said that if I wasn’t a Christian I would go to hell. They tried to push me to convert, to be baptized. They were very involved in politics and supported politicians and policies that I did not like, and then they told me I had to agree with them or I was not being Christian. I guess this left a bad taste in my mouth.

I forgot about religion for a while. Then I started to read about dharmic religions. It started with a trip to Thailand. There I explored temple after temple, talking with the monks, listening to them chant, learning to meditate… the people were so peaceful, so happy, even with the meager lives they lived. So I thought, maybe I should become Buddhist! I started reading more on Buddhism and Buddha’s teachings. While I found the philosophy beautiful, I felt it was missing something. After a while, I realized. That something was God.

So I thought, well, Buddha was a Hindu, right? Maybe they know what’s going on. So I read Gita, started spending time with my Hindu friends, researching the religion, changing my meditation style to fit what I thought Hinduism was. In my American viewpoint, Hinduism was a monotheistic faith, where God just has a bunch of names, and people made images of these names to help them think of these attributes of God. We didn’t have a temple nearby, so I didn’t know any rituals, I just meditated and read a lot. Living in America, the caste system and rituals and superstitions were not something I was really aware of. I mean, I had read about them, but I had not experienced them.

About this time, I started reading about Guru Nanak Dev ji. Baba Nanak (as Hindus call him) had some incredible ideas about religion! He said that God was only one, no matter what your religion is. He said that God is Truth. That these rituals and superstitions were useless, they did nothing to bring us to God. He said that we were all equals in the eyes of God, men, women, everyone! So I started reading more about Guru ji and his ideas. This was my introduction to Sikhi.

I knew that Sikhism was a religion to be respected more than any other. I respected the beautiful poetry of the Sikh Gurus. I respected the courage and strength of the famous Sikh warriors (men and women alike!). I respected the quiet meditation and the beautiful kirtan. I respected the sensible and practical approach to life, the emphasis on honesty, hard work, charity, and chardi kala. But I thought I could never do it myself. I thought I lacked the inner strength, the courage, the discipline. So I admired it from afar and continued to learn whatever I could.

Finally, I had a chance to visit India. I planned out my trip… visit the big cities, some Hindu holy sites, and Amritsar, to see the famous “Golden Temple”. After a few days in Delhi, I had a mishap in my hotel room and fractured my second toe. It turned purple and swelled to twice its size. I couldn’t move it without excruciating pain. I could barely walk, but I would not let this injury impact my vacation, so I decided to tough it out. The next day, with my toe taped up so it wouldn’t move as much, I set out to see Guruwara Bangla Sahib, a famous Gurudwara in Delhi.

When I reached the Gurudwara Sahib, I went inside to listen to the beautiful music coming out through the doors. I sat down and was lost in the kirtan for at least an hour. After a while, I decided to go see the grounds, take some pictures, do that tourist stuff. Once outside, I saw a beautiful pool of water, the sarovar. I walked around it for a while, enjoying the peace and bliss of the place. On my walk, I encountered a very old woman. She looked at me and smiled, then noticed my purple swollen toe. She exclaimed “beta! “ (child) and shook her head sympathetically. Then she took my hand and pulled me up the stairs saying, “chal beta, chal” (come child, come with me). She led me to a pool of water near the entrance of the Gurudwara. The pool was covered by a small building, and there were people with pitchers outside, giving water to people. She pulled me to the pool and showed me that I should drink the water. Now, I had heard all about not drinking the water in India, so I was a bit hesitant… but I figured a handful couldn’t hurt me. So I had a drink. Then she brought me to a man dressed all in blue and saffron, like the warriors I had seen in paintings of old Sikh battles, he even had a huge sword strapped to his side. She said something to him, then smiled at me and left. The man explained to me that this Gurudwara was the place of Guru Harkrishnan ji, the 8th Sikh Guru. He told me that Guru ji was only a small child, but he spent his short life giving aid and water from this pool to the sick during a horrible cholera epidemic. He told me that people who drank from the well were cured of their illness. This is why people come from all over India just to drink from this well. I thanked him for the information and went on my way. Two days later, when I woke, I found that my toe was no longer purple. It no longer hurt. I could walk on it as though nothing had happened. How could this be? I thought of Guru Harkrishnan’s well, but wasn’t sure it was possible. So I thanked God and continued my journey.

Next stop in India was Amritsar, home of the famous “Golden Temple”. I arrived late at night, with no hotel booked, but a nice Sikh lady on the train called her brother, who owned a hotel, and he sent his son to pick me up at the train. My first footstep on Punjabi soil and already I had experienced the famous friendliness and hospitality. In the morning, I woke to the most beautiful sound… it was kirtan, coming from the Golden Temple itself. I found that my hotel was only a few blocks away, so I set out to visit this holiest of places. Walking into the temple complex is like entering heaven. You can immediately feel the peace and bliss of the people around you. I spent some time inside Darbar Sahib (the main temple building), listening to the kirtan, and then made way for more people to sit and wandered around the huge sarovar, the “Lotus Tank”. I spent a few hours there that day, just sitting quietly, meditating, and listening to kirtan, watching people pass by. The next day I woke at 4 AM, and was lucky enough to see the Guru Granth Sahib being brought from its home in the Akal Takht to its seat inside Darbar Sahib. It was an incredible experience. I vowed to wake at 4 AM every morning I was in Amritsar. The problem was, I had only given myself two days to visit, and then I was supposed to travel to Banaras, to see the holy city of the Hindus. Fortunately for me, Waheguru had other plans. I simply could not leave Amritsar. I stayed the whole week. And while I was there, I realized what I had known all along… I didn’t need my own strength to be a Sikh… I needed the strength given to me by Guru ji. And I realized that it was given freely, if only I wanted to accept this gift. So I chose to accept it. A woman I met in Amritsar gave me a Kara- the steel bangle a Sikh wears to remind her of her responsibilities to God, and of her vows to Guru… so that she will not do anything that will dishonor her. The woman said that I should wear the Kara, and whenever I thought of doing something against Sikhi, I should look at the Kara on my wrist, and I would know what to do. I bought a book, a “Sundar Gutka”, a small book of Sikh prayers and stories of the Gurus. I read it each day, trying to learn as much as possible.

Eventually, I knew it was time to say goodbye to Amritsar, but to go where? I was no longer interested in Hindu shrines, especially knowing that as a white woman, I would be blocked from entry to many of them anyway. So I traveled through Punjab, by bus and car, and visited many Gurudwaras along the way. I was lucky enough to visit Fatehgarh Sahib, where I literally cried upon seeing the wall where Guru Gobind Singh ji’s sons were bricked alive for refusing to renounce their faith. And I was able to spend a day in Anandpur Sahib, the birthplace of the Khalsa, where I could touch the very walls that had held out thousands of invading Mughal soldiers while the brave Khalsa struggled to save their home from the attack.

Once back in Delhi, I visited Gurudwara Bangla Sahib faithfully, fondly remembering the old woman who had brought me to Guru ji’s pool, shaking my head in amazement at my healed foot, and chatting with the Akali who had first told me about the pool.

Back in America, I made some very important changes in my life. I stopped drinking, which I had done heavily in the past. I stopped going to parties and associating with people who behaved badly. I started going to the local Gurudwara Sahib on a regular basis. I started to spend more time with Sikhs I met online, and spent every day learning something new from Guru ji. I started to cover my hair, and am learning to tie a turban. I hope to be blessed with Amrit on Vaisakhi day 2008. I still struggle with things, waking before dawn to do my prayers is difficult, and I really need to learn to read and understand Gurmukhi so that I can understand Guru ji’s teachings more clearly. But I try my best to live the life of a Sikh, learning and improving every day.

With Guru’s grace, I’ve finally found my way home.

Waheguru ji ka khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh!

Source - Sikhism and Beyond by Jasdeep Singh