Kamalla Rose Kaur
My son, Harpal, age 11, tells me that I am weird several times a day. I get a little sensitive, “Am I weird or did I simply end up with an unusually weird life? It could happen to you too, you know!”
I was raised on a university campus, the only daughter of scholarly parents, both in love with the art of being teachers. I attended an experimental elementary school on the campus of the university where my Dad taught in the Education and Psychology Departments. My parent’s many professor friends were my pseudo-Uncles all around me, and I had many emancipated and powerful Aunts too!
At Campus School the teachers were working on several levels. They were teaching 25 kids per class, as well as training 4 or 5 student-teachers in the classroom. And they were often lecturing in the Education Department as well. When this got tiring for them, there was an ocean of professors who clearly enjoyed having a troop of young kids skip over to their classrooms, or labs, to learn something about electricity, or potter’s wheels, or basketball, or how concert organs are built, and much more.
This magical, enriched, paradise childhood was rudely dispelled when I entered the USA public school system at puberty. It was 1966 and instantly, age 11, kids coming from the Campus School were, despite our youth, perceived to be Leftist Radicals, and soon, Hippies. I was actually more like a European socialist, and given my extreme youth, I would tend to say that I was a “flower child” but Hippie works too. My only problem was that most of the adults in my Middle School and later, many of adults in my High School clearly didn’t like Hippies one bit! The war was on.
Thankfully it was also in 1966 that I found the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship which became my guiding light, security, and inspiration through the social upheaval and strife taking place in these un-United States, 1966-1973.
Despite this UU support, by age 18 (1973) I was pretty burnt-out; defeated and scared, and fried, as were Hippies everywhere. Contemplating the mega-resources the Military-Industrial-Complex was pouring into killing the Peace Movement, and the environmental movement too – and also gazing into a future of being a destitute activist artist in the USA – I suddenly took the path of the spiritual renunciate. Shocking my family and UU community, I joined an Eastern religion, Sikhi, and moved into an Ashram.
Or at least I thought I was a Sikh. I had no way to perceive, back then, that most Sikhs would say that I was a member of a Hindu-ish group, following yet another self-proclaimed Saint, merely calling ourselves Sikhs.
Thus during my 20s and 30s my most pressing concern was whether I could manage to awaken and rise at 3:30am, take a cold shower, and then do fanatic yoga and meditation practice for 3 or 4 hours- each and every day. I fasted a lot. I wore all white clothes, at all times, and I taught very popular, large, yoga classes and did lots of public speaking in the Bay Area CA. I was married to a fellow Yogi Sikh, a Semiconductor Engineer working in a start-up company, 50-60 hours a week, in Silicon Valley. And after his company went public, I got to experience having money! I raised two very talented and successful daughters, home-schooling them quite a lot, and towards the end of those two decades I went back to university in Religious Studies.
Then I had Harpal, an eleven pound baby, birthed at home. Soon after this powerful event I wrote the series of articles that got me kicked out of the pseudo-Sikh spiritual organization that I had been part of for almost 20 years.
I got kicked out because I had finally let myself see the truth that my former spiritual teacher was a conman and crook and that my spiritual organization was a cover for organized crime.
I am proud to say that I remained Unitarian Universalist and Sikh enough to NOT take this news quietly and serenely!
Of course, I received “The Phone Call” where I felt distinctly threatened with harm by my former teacher’s highly trained bodyguards. Thus I came to understand that I had joined a cult and that I was in danger.
After that, I went through an ugly divorce and I had a nervous breakdown. I lost everything for a spell: my children, the money, status, my community and support system, my self-esteem and my faith.
I retreated again, this time to a small non-profit healing center outside of Washington DC where I taught classes and designed multicultural events, and did a whole lot of healing. I was laying low and being quiet- not giving my X-teacher any reason to worry about me and my big mouth. I studied Tibetan Buddhism and let Sikhi go.
In Spring of 1998 I returned to my hometown to makes amends to my Mother and be with her during her last months. After my Dad’s death in 1987, my Mother discovered the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship too, and she threw herself into church service. Mom was the Fellowship’s Board President during a difficult time and she did an excellent job. She ran the Great Books discussions groups and rarely ever missed a Circle Dinner.
Since my return to the “Real World” and my hometown, I have been embraced in love and acceptance by my UU Fellowship- as an artist, and as someone going through tremendous culture shock, and as a daughter standing beside her brilliant and independent mother through an intense time of sickness- 10 hospitalizations in 20 months. And recently the UU Fellowship has deeply mourned Mom’s death with me.
Am I still in danger? My former spiritual teacher, his henchmen and lawyers are still at large and prospering. But I feel very safe because UUs and Sikhs have adopted me. These two liberal traditions, Sikhi and Unitarian Universalism, have taught me about social justice as spiritual practice since leaving the cult. They have filled me with courage and they have empowered me.
You may not think of the Sikh religion as being a liberal tradition but it is! Sadly, however, it is a liberal tradition that is having huge troubles right now, and getting lots of negative PR in the West.
Yet 500 years ago, a poet-musician named Nanak put on half Muslim clothes and half Hindu clothes and set off walking all over Indian, and into the Middle East, teaching and singing about Universalism. Nanak was a troubadour and he believed deeply that humans can live in peace, even when our beliefs are as different as Islam and Hinduism! And Guru Nanak (as he came to be known) was fundamentally and actively against the caste system and he fought for women’s rights. He passed his Guru-ship down to his lower-caste servant.
Ironically for me, Nanak was also very adamently against doing extreme yogic practices like I used to do and teach. Nanak taught that we should sing praises to the Creation/Creator, and it doesn’t matter one whit what religion we follow. Just open our hearts and minds in Love, and do service for all beings.
The Sikh lineage of Gurus was passed down for 10 generations.Then Guru Gobind Singh, the last of the embodied Sikh Gurus, concluded that the human Guru-disciple relationship was not, ultimately, a good thing. (Again, ironically, I had to learn this for myself, the hard way!) So Guru Gobind Singh transferred the Sikh Guru-ship to the Sikh scripture and to the Sikh congregation. The Sikh scripture is called “The Siri Guru Granth Sahib” and it is a collection of Nanak’s songs, and the ecstatic poetry of other Gurus in the Sikh lineage. It also includes beautiful writings of Hindu and Muslim Saints, making it a truly Universalist scripture.
Historically Sikhs took up the sword against the Muslim Inquisition in India, quite dramatically and successfully, and thus Sikhs became known and acclaimed for being some of the greatest warriors in the world. In more modern times, when Gandhi was still in South Africa, Sikhs were already practicing non-violent resistance to British rule in India. And to establish peace between Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs allowed the boundary of Pakistan and India to go through Sikh territory at the time of Partition.
Since 1984, when the Indian Government troops attacked and demolished much of the Sikh’s most Holy and Sacred Ground, Darbar Sahib (aka the Golden Temple), Sikhs everywhere have been in a bit of an uproar and panic. Sikhs say that the present government in India is fundamentalist Hindu in nature, caste-driven, and that it is persecuting all minority religions in India right now, even Christians. Sikhs also say that Western business interests are supporting this corrupt government.
“OK, so I am weird!” I admit to Harpal, as I attempt to see my life through his eyes….and the eyes of others.
“But I really believe, as a Sikh and as a Unitarian Universalist that it is OK to be weird! We are all children of the Divine, and as diverse as can be!”
Harpal throws his arms up between us in mock defense.
“Hey, I didn’t say that you aren’t lovable!” Harpal chides, dancing around me like a Martial Artist, “I just said that you are WEIRD!”