January 5, 1940 – October 11, 2019
SS Sat Nam Kaur was a long-time student of the Siri Singh Sahib. She was ordained as a Sikh Dharma Minister in 1981 and served the sangat in Mexico for many decades. This loving tribute was written by Sat Tara Singh Khalsa, founder of IKYTA in Mexico. The memoriam was sent by SS Gian Kaur Khalsa of Guadalajara who, along with Sat Tara Singh, served as part of a panj of friends and students who cared for Sat Nam Kaur in the six months prior to her passing in Mexico City.
Sat Nam Kaur: A Flurry of Memories—Life and Death of a Yogi
by Sat Tara Singh Khalsa
Back in 1993, I was a timid teenager in awe of the deep mysteries of life and struggling to find some reliable sense of direction among the endless possibilities that seemed to open up in front of me. Such freedom seemed to weigh down on me and fill me with anxiety. It was in such a state of mind that I rang the doorbell at some nondescript house in downtown Mexico City, where I thought I was going for an iridology consultation. It was actually a 3HO ashram led by the very person who opened the door.
I was shown in by a large, tall woman of strong demeanor. Her skin was paper-white and she spoke Spanish with a heavy English accent, but what struck me the most was her garb: she was clad in a white robe, a cummerbund wrapped around her waist, and a tall white turban crowning her head. I had never seen anyone like her and I didn’t really know what to think. Was she some sort of magician? A healer? Perhaps a fortune-teller? Her name seemed equally unusual: Sat Nam Kaur.
This person was, indeed, the first student of Yogi Bhajan and member of 3HO I had ever met. She was SS Sat Nam Kaur, secretary to the Siri Singh Sahib for Latin America. At the time she was the treasurer of the 3HO Mexico organization, leader of the Mexico City ashram. so, in addition to the iridology treatment, I was given a numerology reading. She taught me about the Subtle and radiant bodies I didn’t even know I had and, more than anything she said, she left me with the lasting impression of a human being whose very presence was evidence of a real and lifelong commitment to walking a spiritual path.
I don’t feel I knew Sat Nam Kaur that well. We were never close friends, so there is a certain irony that I should be writing these lines about her. Yet, in times of need, we must avail ourselves of whatever comes handy. I know that she arrived in Mexico City many years before our first meeting. (As chance would have it, she worked as a teacher at the same school that I later attended. She became involved with the local 3HO community and eventually met Yogi Bhajan, and became his devoted student until the day she died.)
My first trip to New Mexico took place in 1997. I stayed for a couple of months in Española, where I trained as a Kundalini Yoga teacher and interacted with the ashram community there. Having very little money, I slept in a tiny tent on the grounds of the Khalsa Women Training Camp, and every morning after sadhana, I worked for an hour or so cleaning the small gurdwara there, under the orders of none other than Sat Nam Kaur.
There I learned how she had been attending Ladies’ Camp unfailingly for years. She had helped to transcribe the tapes so that the books from each year’s camp could be written. She was still there, always serving her teacher’s mission, her very being serving as testimony to her unflinching practice of seva and dharma.
Ten or so years later, I was working for the newly-formed Mexican Kundalini Yoga Teacher’s national association. One of our biggest projects was the annual organization of the White Tantric Yoga courses in Mexico City. It was during those days that I learned how for many years before I even knew what yoga was, she had been single-handedly responsible for the event which had eventually bloomed into a gathering of hundreds of practitioners and which took a team of nearly 30 people to put together.
Always a Teacher
Another decade and another fleeting memory. Around 2012 I had become the administrator of Krishna Kaur’s teacher training team in Mexico City. Following my mentor’s advice, I contacted Sat Nam Kaur, who by then had moved to a remote location north of the city, and asked if she would offer a day of teaching for our students, every year. She undertook the long journey from her home and did her duty, as always.
The topics we asked her to teach were usually about the yogic diet and the role of the spiritual teacher. This is when I first noticed how frail she had become. However, She regaled the class with a veritable treasure trove of recipes and remedies and shared her personal anecdotes of the times she spent with the Siri Singh Sahib.
Her memories of his holiday escapades to Acapulco were clearly her favorite. Every student I’ve spoken to since cherishes those moments when they were able to sense in a most direct way the very special bond of reverence beyond time and space that existed between the true devotee and her master.
The last time she taught she explained that she didn’t have long to live and that she would be joining her spiritual teacher soon. She was not totally accurate on that account. Sat Nam Kaur lived on for another decade and even recovered from an encounter with cancer. Nonetheless, she became more and more isolated, taught fewer classes and eventually, I started thinking I was done with learning from her in this lifetime. This was not to be so.
The final chapter began in the summer of 2019 when I heard the news that Sat Nam Kaur was seriously ill and that the help of everyone in the 3HO community in Mexico was needed. She had suffered some incident in her house as a consequence of which she was in a very grave condition.
What ensued can easily be characterized as a modern tale of woe involving the shortcomings of the Mexican public health institutions and the inevitability of age and death. And yet, even as I watched, another narrative unfolded in a subtle, parallel way. This is a story where a seemingly divided and jaded community found a sense of purpose and unison in supporting a needy sangat member. Every caregiver and nurse was uplifted and inspired by the spirit with which Sat Nam Kaur faced her ordeal, and it was a time filled with students and friends of Sat Nam Kaur, brimming with gratitude for her presence in their lives, willing to do their best for her sake.
During her final weeks, Sat Nam Kaur spent time in various clinics and care homes in Mexico City. I was able to see her in one of those homes. I had heard before how well-liked she was by the staff who cared for her. I had always thought this to be an exaggeration until I personally verified it there.
I was told how happy she was to see me and felt inclined to attribute this to some form of dementia, as we were never close friends. Yet, when I was with her, she was in a peaceful and gentle state. She was full of helpful advice and expressed curiosity about my comings and goings. At the same time, she seemed to be engaged in a process of recollection.
She also had clear memories of my mother, whom she briefly met all those years ago, and even more so of her youth in Yorkshire, and her own mother and sisters. She told me she had a longing to go back to a spiritual place. I was very concerned with practicalities at the time and didn’t know what to say, except to assure her that everything would go well.
Soon afterward, what we had begun to suspect became finally clear. We were told by medical experts that Sat Nam Kaur would not recover from her condition and that she would pass from this life, sooner rather than later. I allowed myself some private tears, before going back to dealing with the practical nuances. Among them was the need for someone to break the news to her so that she might make her final preparations for the transition.
I felt some apprehension that it might behoove me to do such a task. As it turned out, I was spared in a most admirable fashion. One of her students visited Sat Nam Kaur at the care home and was told by her that Yogi Bhajan had appeared to her in dreams and told her to get ready to make the crossing. It was now Sat Nam Kaur herself who was filled with an urgency to take practical steps in anticipation of her departure. She told me as much the next time I saw her, which turned out to be the last.
Surrounded by Love
Sat Nam Kaur was moved to Guru Ram Das Ashram at that final juncture. She spent those days in the company of her students, and of people who shared her dharma. On the 10th of October, the ashram community was busy preparing for an Akhand Path—an unbroken reading of the Sikh scriptures—in honor of the birthday of Guru Ram Das.
Sat Nam Kaur was happy to share in such activity, even from her bed. In fact, she was able to recite the opening lines of scripture as the practice began. Her nurses remarked on her liveliness and high spirits that day. Late at night, she began to breathe with difficulty. Her transition took only a couple of hours. In the early hours of the 11th of October, Sat Nam Kaur called out for her dog. She then spoke the name of her spiritual teacher and exhaled her last breath.
As the circle reaches its completion, I see now that Sat Nam Kaur was my teacher and true friend all along, in the best possible way: as a yogi, a Sikh, and a sadhak who walked the path before me. She opened the door of dharma for me and even now shines a light on the way I must follow. For this, I am truly grateful. For her devotion to her master, I honor her.
Her life was an inspiration to many and her death has been a divine example to all of us in the Mexican 3HO community and, as I hope, to many more. This is really no surprise. She was a most stylish, impeccable lady who lived to her very last breath according to the path number of 11 in her numerology.