What A Weird Life! by Kamalla Rose Kaur

kamalla-pirate.jpg

Kamalla Rose Kaur

Fall 2000

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!”

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22 Comments

Filed under Fighting Authoritarian Groups, Kamalla Rose Kaur's Writings, Multicultural, My Unitarian Universalist Roots, Sikhi

22 responses to “What A Weird Life! by Kamalla Rose Kaur

  1. Life in Maya is weird. I think we all have had weird lives of one sort or another.

    I had a picture perfect childhood – well, my mother ran off with this guy and then came back and chopped off my kesh and tried to kidnap me and tried very hard to coerce Dad into making me into a Catholic – that part wasn’t so perfect, but I did have a great life and a happy childhood in a very Sikh – but not fanatical – home. My Dad wasn’t the greatest man who ever lived, in fact not even in the top 10! (But he might have been #11.)

    This was followed by a perfect marriage with a perfect husband, soon followed by a perfect son. We were very happy. Then –

    It was just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I guess. (Maya is like that.) We were visiting relatives in Delhi during October-November, 1984. In our little family, I was the only survivor.

    For the next 20 years, I outwardly lived a pretty normal life, but I was really sleep-walking, trying to forget I had ever been a Sikh-Khalsa. But since Guru Ji refused to give back the head I had given him, eventually I wandered back into the Saadh Sangat.

    For the past few years, I have been rebuilding a life, far from a perfect life, with a far-from-perfect husband married during those 20 years, no children. And I, of course, am very far from perfect. But it is a good life. I have rediscovered Chardi Kala. I have also rediscovered the joy of being Sikh.

    So life remains imperfect and weird, but one of my favourite quotes, from James Michener’s The Source:

    Life isn’t meant to be easy; it’s meant to be life!

    Chardi kala , Sister Kamalla Lotus Kaur!

  2. Oh, I just noticed, you’re Rose, not Lotus. My apologies.

    But lovely flowers both!

  3. kamallarosekaur

    Biggest of hugs, Mai Harinder Kaur. Your life has not been weird, rather it has been profound. My life has been privileged; and also “weird” like kooky; a TV comedy show.

    Which is not to say I have not faced death. I have done hospice work as a job, but I have not lost a spouse or child. There is no greater grief, of course.

    I am 53 now and I have many friends and family on the otherside, and I do not fear my own Death Day like I once did. Life is exquisitely painful at times, also exquisitely beautiful. Thank you for sharing your life-story here. It is very powerful.

    Guru Arjan
    page 391 SGGS

    The Beloved One does not die,
    so I do not fear.
    The Beloved One does not perish,
    so I do not grieve.
    The Beloved One is not poor,
    so I do not hunger.
    The Beloved One is not in pain,
    so I do not suffer.

    There is no other Destroyer
    other than the Beloved One.
    The Beloved One is my very life,
    Giver of life.

    (Pause and reflect)

    The Beloved One is not bound,
    so I am not in bondage.
    The Beloved One has no occupation,
    so I have no entanglements.
    The Beloved One has no impurities,
    so I have no impurities.
    The Beloved One is in ecstasy,
    so I am happy.

    The Beloved One has no anxiety,
    so I have no cares.
    The Beloved One has no stain,
    so I have no pollution.
    The Beloved One has no hunger or thirst,
    so I have no thirst or hunger.
    Since the Beloved One is immaculately pure,
    so I correspond with the Beloved One, only.

    I am nothing; while the Beloved One
    is the One and Only.
    Before and after, it is only the Beloved One
    who actually exists.
    O Nanak, Guruji has taken away my doubts
    and mistakes.
    The Beloved One and I,
    joining together,
    are of the same color.

  4. Dear Kamalla,

    Thanks as always for your well written and self-revealing article. The Chinese saying sometimes quoted as “May you live in interesting times” comes to mind. When I went through Fairhaven College in the 80’s, we shared a saying: “Being Wierd is just enough!” You have a great ability to translate your experiences understandably, extracting wisdom that is applicable to the varied circumstances we all may find ourselves in.

    Cheers, Julie C.

  5. kamallarosekaur

    Thanks Julie.

    I sure appreciate you too.

  6. kamallarosekaur

    Yes, to answer the question sent in an email, yes I wrote this flash biography back in the year 2000 and my son is now grown, age 19.

  7. Profound, weird. I’m not sure there’s a difference. It’s all the Hukam of Vaheguru, or in the Western vernacular, ‘Whether it is clear to you or not, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.'(The Desiderata)

    Next month, I will be 56. And my son would have turned 37 last month. Time…

    I have heard that ‘May you live in interesting times’ is a Chinese curse.

    Thank you for the lovely Hukamnama from SGGS Ji. But they are all lovely, eh? (Rahao, indeed).

  8. tracey

    I love your courage…. I love your story. I have just read the article magic soup and wanted to see if I could put a face to your name and read more about you.

    We all have a story….We all have both happy and sad times… I have always been blessed to hear my inner voice… Of course because of that great gift of freewill I choose not to listen to the one that will guide me on the smoothest journey…but I know I am a good person and even with choosing not the best path… it is always a path where much learning can be accomplished a path to experience compassion, faith and love… I have just discovered Kudalini Yoga and love it… I am not an extreme, but when I get to take the time…I am always grateful. I have also discovered Snatnam Kaur and love her music…. I believe that everything has both good and bad or nothing is good in bad…. that we should strive to have pure hearts and learn how to both give and receive…. thank you for your service to our world and the human race.

  9. kamallarosekaur

    Thank you Tracey, I so appreciate your kind words. Staying healthy and flexible and vigorous is good. This is a fact, with almost universal agreement.

    But I think that “Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan” is harmful and unhealthy and I have lots of testimony to share about that.

    Beyond that “Sikhi as taught by Yogi Bhajan” is not the same religion as Sikhs practice either.

    Do not fund them (don’t buy their products or pay for their trainings) and do not associate your name with their enterprises – that is my advice. Yet don’t take my word for it either, do your own research, of course.

    Myth About Cults
    http://www.spiritwatch.org/cultmyths.htm

  10. Nirmal

    Kamalla ji… I have seen many western Sikhs, mostly 3ho, some others who claim to be mainstream Sikh. They both have one thing in common…they are pretending they love the religion for false reasons of some kind. You are different. You show us the model of how western Sikhs can indeed do good and be good. You love Sikhism, and are a good Sikh, and you also stay connected to your own culture. You have seen those false times, have learned from them. You are very good for Sikhism, and I wish other western Sikhs would follow in your footsteps…respect Sikhi, keep their western culture, and not try to get invloved where they don’t belong for false things. You have a great family, and as I’m sure, they are very proud on you, and they should be. Anyway, best of luck, continue being a great model!

  11. kamallarosekaur

    Nirmal Kaur,

    Thank you for your kind words, they mean so much to me. My “secret” to being a good student or “Sikh” is that I read the SGGS more than most Sikhs appear to. At this point I do so in English because that is the language I understand best. Learning Gurmukhi is important too.

    I am forever asking questions of the Sikh scripture. Guruji keeps helping me over rough ground.

    In many ways being a Sikh has been one big pain this life and very hard on my family. They can fear for my safety. They can feel it is pretty racist of me to preach to people from other cultures about their own religion, and about racism and sexism. Sikh activism can seem like a waste of time given the global issues facing humans.

    They can come to accept that I turned out vcry weird this life. Since age 18 I have been off doing this “Sikh” thing, in one form or another, in bad ways, in crazy ways, in sad ways, and maybe even in good ways.

    They don’t understand about Guruji, but they can love me because they do love me and I love them, very much.

    Likewise, I am equally “foreign” to many of my Sikh readers.

    Guruji assures me that what other primates think about me is none of my business.

    It is a grand life. That is what Guruji shows me – not easy, life is not easy, but wonderful.

    Guru Amar Das
    SGGS Page 947

    The True Guru is a field of intuitive wisdom.
    One who is inspired to love Guruji,
    plants the seed of the Naam here.
    The Naam sprouts up,
    and s/he remains absorbed in the Naam.

    But egotism is the seed of cynicism;
    it has been uprooted.
    It is not planted here,
    it does not sprout!

    Whatever Creator/Creation grants us, we eat.
    When water mixes with water,
    it cannot be separated again.

    O Nanak, the Gurmukh is wonderful!
    Come, people, and see!

    But what can the poor people see?
    They do not understand.

    You see, whom the Beloved One causes you to see;
    when the Beloved One comes to dwell in your mind.

  12. Kamalpreet Singh

    Thanks for your blog Bhen ji. It is a real eye opener. I don’t practise yoga (actually I try to and that is naam simran, highest form of yoga) but I think that it is good if you want to maintain your health but not for spiritual reasons.

    It is amazing how simplified Sikhi Guru Nanaks Dev Ji has made and yet look what we have turned it into. Pyaar (love, Devotional worship) for the creator is the most important thing in Sikhi and that comes through Naam Abhiyaas (naam simran) and Bani.

    Maharaj ji kirpa karan so that we can be good sikhs.

    Vaheguru ji ka Khalsa, Vaheguru ji ki Fateh

  13. kamallarosekaur

    Nice to meet you, Kamalpreet Singh.

    Staying flexible and fit is very good.

    Huffing and puffing to make your Kundalini rise, getting high on your own internal drugs, cold showers and strange fasts and miraculous mantras….whatever. A waste of time.

    Sikhi as taught by Yogi Bhajan is very strange combination of New Age-ism and Kundalini Yoga and Sant/Baba style Sikhism. For instance:

    Tribute to Guru Ram Das and the Siri Singh Sahib

    http://www.jazzy-yogi.com/tribute.html

  14. Daya Singh

    Guru Fateh,

    Guru Nanak was an iconoclast, he broke and mocked at all irrational traditions and Sikhism also is supposed to be that, a forward looking religion, with no cast system and no hidebound traditions. Sadly Sikhism today be it in India or anywhere else is not what it was meant to be. We have traditions, different Sikh sects and the cast system within Sikhs in India is as entrenched as it is over the rest of India. Female infanticide still goes on with the help of ultra sound scans, instead of killing girls after they are born now we abort the fetus itself. The SGPC is no different than the Massands that Guru Gobind Singh destroyed. Our religion is controlled by self serving individuals that pretend to be Sikhs and are after making as much money as they can, Sikhism be damned. Sikh heritage in India is being destroyed without a thought, for the purpose of making money. If Guru Nanak was alive today he will certainly say, “Na ko Hindu na ko Muslamman, na ko Sikh”. This is my sad observation as I see Sikhism being practiced and I try to bring to the Sikh community’s notice. Your experience is truly in the Sikhi tradition, I was moved to read it and commend you.

    Daya Singh

  15. JV

    Kamalla Didi..
    It has been so many years since i came across your writings (i think 2003 when i first came to know about your remarkable life story). This article refreshed all those forgotten pieces.
    Why haven’t you written in such a long time? And where are all your old essays from the ‘Love & Light’ column on sikhe.com – that site seems to be permanently down for the past few years now.

  16. kamallarosekaur

    Blessings JV,

    Thanks for your warm greeting.

    I have not stopped writing.

    After Sikhe.com went down (five or six years ago now) I tried to hook up with several other Sikh organizations and projects, but all attempts have ended with me standing alone; wiser and poorer. So I just write for Guruji. I lurk and post lightly on a couple of UK Sikh internet forums and I inhabit this blog. When I write something that I wish to get published to a wider Sikh readership for some reason, I submit it to “Sikh Times” or other venues.

    But most of my energy is spent writing for people who pay me for my skills and talents, and/or writing for academic reasons. I have returned to university and am currently working towards my Masters degree in Creative Writing. After that I am considering getting a PhD in Sikh Studies focusing on the Great Guru Granth. I am 53 year old, so it isn’t about training for some future tenure track or professional career, rather I am retiring from being a starving-artist-writer into academia where I qualify for grants and scholarships and such.

    Being a writer is a difficult career and few succeed, but in my case it is one of my only and best skills. Had any other really successful career ever come my way, I probably would have quit trying to make it as a writer but it didn’t, so I just keep on writing….

    Many of my Sikhe.com articles are posted here at “Soulbrides’ Kitchen”. Click on the “Categories” menu (right side top of each page), choose “Kamalla Rose Kaur’s Writings”

    Let me know what you think of “Soulbrides’ Kitchen”.

  17. Harpreet

    Hi Kamalla

    Just recently I have been reading your posts and writings. You are a very interesting and knowledgable person. I would say that I am a sikh girl trying to learn and find her way. You have helped me quite a bit. Please email me if you have a chance, I would love to talk to u some more.

  18. Thanks for this. I think everyone time one of us speaks up, it makes it easier for the next cult survivor to get back on their feet and in control of their minds again.

    I’ve been thinking of UU as a possibility. (I’m an atheist and my son’s too young to know what he is yet.) I’m glad they were able to provide social and emotional support for you and your mother during her illness and since.

  19. Ann

    Hi KamalIa!
    The other day I happen to read the article you wrote ”In the Magical Soup” and I was surprise by your statements. However, I am surprise since there is not many opposing info on the case of Yogi Bhajan, not because I don’t believe you. It was a very interest text and I’m curious to know more about it. I would like to know if it would be possible to contact you by e-mail (if you have one), because I have personal questions to ask related to Kundalini yoga, since I also joined that group not very long ago. I fell it would be important to know if it is a fraud. I would definitely appreciate if would could shed some light on my doubts.

    Thanks a lot,
    Ann

  20. Gagandeep Singh

    Sat Sri Akal,
    From where you got to know that “Guru Gobind Singh ji maharaj concluded that the human Guru-disciple relationship was not, ultimately, a good thing.”” ???

    • kamallarosekaur

      Guru Gobind Singh could have made another human the next Guru, like Hindus do, but he passed the power onto the Great Guru Granth, the Sikh scripture. Sikhs bow to no human, rather they bow only to the Great Guru Granth.

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