by SS Harbhajan Kaur Khalsa, Millis MA
There was a time when I could not have imagined that big business would be given legal precedence over the rights of citizens or that the prophesied “war over water” would ever come to the United States. But neither is a stretch of the imagination now. Change and challenge are non-stop.
June of 2020 began with the pandemic taking a back seat to the global protest, “Black Lives Matter.” And July has brought protests in response to not being able to protest without a militarized response. It is not only difficult to believe all the ways human beings prove themselves to be less than humankind toward one another and creatures; it is equally difficult to know the real motives and methods behind each character on our world stage.
In Dark Ages, lies are promoted until they are believed, and those who promote truth and unity are called liars and persecuted. In over 70 years of life, I can’t remember a time when community values were more polarized. Reports of injustice come so frequently that it seems there is insufficient time to respond to one incident before the next one arrives. And the answer to “What’s next?” is often so much more outrageous than “what was” that it’s fair to wonder if Dante’s “seven layers of hell” were ever intended to represent any other place than Earth.
Bolstering the Spirit
These are times in which we can be grateful for whatever tools we have to keep up fearlessly, with some ability to serve. Amidst the challenges, relying on miracles and counting each blessing—or even each instance of comic relief—bolsters the spirit.
In the early days of the quarantine, I have felt grateful that Mother Earth and its creatures were being allowed at least a bit of healing respite. During June, I felt grateful to be able to laugh out loud upon reading a meme posted by a distant Kentucky relative: “Did we skip the murder hornets? It feels like we skipped the murder hornets.”
I expressed my gratitude to her for giving me a laugh and added, “It’s like watching a serial horror movie—’Escape from Egypt’. Make one trip to the restroom and you could miss an entire plague!” [In truth, I’m guessing the murder hornets have simply been delayed by taking a scenic route.]
One of my favorite quotes from Alan Watts is, “The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves so lightly.” That advice could be a companion piece to the yogic advice, “If you’re feeling angry, you’re in your ego.”
That’s one of many things Yogi Bhajan said that has stuck with me. The energy of each tattwa can be directed in positive ways or negative ones. Anger can also become the zeal that ignites positive change.
Those of us who consider ourselves part of the 3HO family or Dharmic community have had to face an extra challenge/opportunity to test the strength of our hearts, minds, and mastery of unity. As with any other reality, the “eyes of the beholder” will likely afford different perceptions and descriptions of “the elephant in the room.” Whenever I am faced with differences in perception or values, on either a personal or communal level, the words that come to mind are “Respectfully keep what is Unknown unknown until it becomes known.”
Facing unknowns of any kind can be an uncomfortable test of faith. It’s a natural tendency to seek to know what is unknown. But there is seldom any lasting advantage or virtue—on any “side” of a communication—in mind-reading or projecting motives onto another person in order to “fill in the blanks” between what is known and what remains unknown. In our calmest, most reasonable moments, I doubt any of us would disagree that “shooting first and asking questions later” is a less effective practice than actually investigating why the other person has taken a particular position. When questions arise, it’s a less risky exercise to ask for answers than to jump to conclusions.
In my experience, “Keeping the Unknown unknown until it becomes known” is a critical stance for maintaining a peace-giving or neutral perspective. It’s a value I adopted some years before I met Yogi Bhajan or came into the Dharma. I can remember keeping a journal many years ago as a way to understand my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
After filling an entire journal, I went back to read it; the gestalt impression I had of it evoked a response to myself, “Have some faith! Trust the Unknown.” So a few years later when I heard Yogi Bhajan use the phrase “trust the Unknown” it was not so much a revelation as a resonance. It dwells in the same neighborhood as another quote I read recently: “Truth does not need an introduction. When the sun rises, is there any necessity to announce it?”
A Creative Response
Zen philosophy offers the perspective that neutral or Zen mind is not necessarily always achieved or evoked in some idyllic pastoral setting. As I understand it, maintaining a neutral mind is neither for the faint of heart nor the bleeding heart. As a person committed to personal integrity—within a perceived reality of the One in everyone—I have seen that challenges can sometimes manifest as subtle psychic or spiritual battlegrounds, within and without, replete with a cast of characters that can include the nine virtues and/or the five “deadlies” interacting in countless combinations.
Where primal values or beliefs are involved, there is the possibility that everyone who shares the same beliefs or behaviors will be seen as an ally, and those who think or feel differently will be seen as an enemy…or not. It’s always possible to look for a non-polarized perspective. Though we may be able to sense “battlegrounds” in nearly every aspect of life, we always have choices. Faced with a line drawn in the sand, do we cross over it—or refuse to engage? Do we become numb—or zealous? hardened or sensitive? angry or fearful? emboldened or withdrawn? Or all of the above? We can intentionally opt for a creative response—or fall into a destructive pattern.
There is a paradox, as I experience it, in maintaining a “neutral mind” in any active sense. It requires more than sitting in silent stillness, revisiting shuniya. The “space” of stillness must “travel well” to serve well. Sometimes it might manifest in taking a counter-balancing action; sometimes it may seem more suitable to “pen” a response—with the belief that a true and elevating word could prove mightier than the sword.
Truth spoken from the heart has the potential to penetrate a walled-in mind with surgical precision—and more positive and lasting results than the buckshot of battle. There can even be a time when it feels wisest to communicate through silence. A moment’s pause to “let go and let God” in the face of something seemingly “immovable” within God’s own creation has at least some chance to invoke a victory in surrender.
Some energy “stand-offs” require more “water under the bridge” rather than increased efforts to “push the river.” In this Aquarian Age, it seems that so many psyches in search of individual sovereignty prefer to be approached with a humble question than the answers of another uninvited “teacher.” I understand and respect that, preferring not to cross words with someone in some unnecessary “losing battle” that inflicts harm on all sides.
In each moment, we enact God’s play with whatever scripts are at our disposal. Each time the curtain falls upon some Act or “scene” in our lives, questions may linger: “What really happened? Do I find it believable? satisfying? disturbing? elevating? illuminating?”
Gratitude for Divine Freedom
No matter the “passing show,” an unchanging truth remains: We are One. Because that is so, it will also remain true that we as humankind would be wise to find the heart, inspiration, and means to work together toward mutual and future benefit, while working around or through our apparent differences.
Ultimately, the most “neutral” space from which to begin, in my opinion, is with “seeing God in all,” and in all things done. From the legacy of Sikh Dharma, Guru Arjan’s vision of “God pouring God on God”—as he sat on a hot plate for five days—is an unforgettable example. There are also daring poems by mystics like Hafiz and Rumi. All of these examples go beyond mere “neutrality,” “to Infinity and beyond,” manifesting unshakeable power to sacrifice in a deep state of gratitude for one’s own divine freedom fulfilled in peace.
The angry or fearful or those who identify with any particular “division” of creation will not like to hear such stories or poems of Unity. While those who dwell in a world where there is no “other” may only be able to speak of it in poems or songs.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.”—Rumi
There are scriptures that speak of a time to kill and a time to heal; seasons to laugh and seasons to weep. Perhaps the Aquarian Age may yet become a season to know and to be sacred.
Now Is The Time
Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God?
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you finally live
Hafiz is a divine envoy
Whom the Beloved
Has written a holy message upon.
My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
Now is the season to know.
About the Author
SS Harbhajan Kaur Khalsa first arrived at Guru Ram Das Gurdwara in Los Angeles on Baisakhi Day, 1977 and took Amrit in 1987 with the inspiring Baba Nihal Singh present at the Summer Solstice ceremony. She became an ordained Sikh Dharma Minister in 1998 at Khalsa Council, fulfilling a requirement of the International Khalsa Council as a long-time member. She is a KRI-certified Mentoring Lead Trainer of Kundalini Yoga / Meditation, with an acknowledged specialty in Mantra and Shabd Guru. She has done extensive training in classical Gurbani Sangeet and finds joy in learning, singing, and teaching Sikh shabds in raag. With deep appreciation for the liberating capacities of both Kundalini Yoga and meditation and Gurbani Kirtan, she enjoys the opportunity to share the art and science of these disciplines whenever and wherever possible. In recent years, she has focused most of her teaching and community-developing at Guru Ram Das Ashram in Millis, MA, where she has lived for 40 years. Both the Gurdwara and Yoga Studio are just steps away in a beautiful 20-acre setting (a blessing she deeply appreciates during the Coronavirus quarantine!).