by SS Sarb Nam Kaur Khalsa, Espanola NM
2021 (Third Quarter)
In early June 2004, after completing a nine-month Journey into the Heart of Sikh Dharma course, I received a phone call from the Secretary of Religion informing me that the Siri Singh Sahib had approved my application to become a Sikh Dharma Minister. I felt excited and joyful. I believed this was my “spiritual destiny” and that, twenty-four years after my first Kundalini Yoga class and having taken Amrit vows, I was stepping into a new role I felt ready to undertake.
The Guru had swept me into His arms at my first Winter Solstice Sadhana in December 1981. At age 24—three months after I had moved into a 3HO ashram in the San Fernando Valley—I found myself on a cross-country journey with two devoted Gursikhs/students of Yogi Bhajan, driving to Florida.
While on the road, I heard their harrowing stories of hiding until they were of legal age to make their own religious decisions against the will of their families. As we drove for days across the southern United States, I listened to my companions read their banis (daily Sikh prayers) and became transformed by the Guru’s devotional sound current.
We stopped each night to stay in a different ashram; I felt that I was experiencing a family of spiritual seekers—something I think I had longed for in some form or another since my childhood when I would feel envious of my friends who had a religion and special holidays.
A New Life
At that Winter Solstice, I fully immersed myself in the experiences that beckoned me on. After 10 days of White Tantric Yoga, early morning sadhana, karma yoga, and practicing silence, I received my spiritual name from the hand of my spiritual teacher. I tied my first turban and read from one of my first Akhand Paths.
I intended to take Sikh vows and ended up giving my head to the Guru at the Amrit ceremony. I returned home where family, friends, and my fellow yoga students were a bit shocked, but maybe not completely surprised. With a definitive door closing behind me, I left my “old life” and welcomed my new spiritual path with an open heart and mind.
At the next Winter Solstice event in December 1982, I was married before the Guru to my “high school sweetheart” (who had discovered Sikh Dharma and Kundalini Yoga a few years earlier and had introduced me to Yogi Bhajan and the Sikh lifestyle in 1980).
Together, we embraced the grist yoga of the householder (along with three other Sikh couples) as we circumambulated the Siri Granth Sahib. The Anand Karaj (Sikh marriage ceremony) was held in a beautiful, rustic lodge accompanied by the angelic singing of Singh Kaur, whose music first opened my heart to Sikh poetry.
My new husband, Aradhana Singh, and I moved into a larger ashram in Altadena where we had taken our Kundalini Yoga teacher training. During our 13 years living there, we served the sangat, taught Kundalini Yoga classes, ran several of our own businesses, and drove weekly into Los Angeles to attend lectures by Yogi Bhajan. We also attended the weekly Sunday gurdwara services at the Guru Ram Das Ashram on Preuss Road. Thus began my years as a Sikh/yogi/householder.
Deepening the Commitment
Life seemed pretty idyllic, although not without its challenges. In our eighth year of marriage, we decided it was time to start our family, and our son, Fateh Singh, was born in September 1990.
Being a new mother was the most amazing and heart-opening experience of my life. I had meditated on my child’s soul entering my womb during a powerful 120th-day ceremony as I listened to elevating Sikh kirtan played by Pritpal Singh who visited from a neighboring ashram.
While attending 3HO Summer Solstice in the early 1990s, working as the head of the Solstice Toddler’s program, I felt beckoned to become a Sikh Dharma Minister. Somehow, it dawned on me that maybe I was ready for the “next step” in my spiritual commitment. My ashram head was a Minister who attended Khalsa Council meetings and served as a leader in our community. That seemed to be a leadership role that I was also seeking.
I inquired about Minister vows with the Solstice Director and was told: “Just show up in the morning and you can take your Minister vows. Oh, and you probably need to get approval from your ashram head.” So I did that. But just hours before the Minister’s ordination ceremony, I got word that there was actually a more detailed Minister application process.
So my bid to become a Minister at that Solstice was nixed. I was slightly discouraged and decided that maybe it wasn’t the right time. I was busy with a young child; also my husband and I had decided to move our family from California to New Mexico, to be closer to the Espanola sangat and to Yogi Bhajan, who was making Espanola his permanent home.
Moving to Espanola
Once in Espanola, life got very busy. I was working at Akal Security and raising our son. I served for a number of years as the “Sunday School” teacher at our gurdwara, leading the young children each week in performing Celestial Communication at the end of our gurdwara service.
I also fulfilled a longing to serve my teacher at the Ranch and became one of the head sevadars of the kitchen cleanup crew, sometimes going over in the middle of the night to clean up after a last-minute group of guests had arrived. It was an exciting time and I felt I was in the middle of all the action. We were serving, living the teachings, and also preparing to send our son to school in India.
As my son left for his second year at MPA in 2001, an opportunity came up to work with Dr. Sat Kirpal Kaur, who was setting up the Punjabi University. Yogiji had invited a Sikh professor from Patiala University, Dr. Balkar Singh, and his wife Karmjit Kaur (who had taught elementary-age Punjabi).
They arrived in Espanola to teach all of us Western Sikhs the Punjabi/Gurmukhi language and to more deeply understand the banis and the Guru’s teachings.
At this time I also got the opportunity to begin serving as the Recording Secretary of the International Khalsa Council in October 2001, at that very powerful meeting just after the 9/11 horror.
In 2003, I enrolled in the Journey into the Heart of Sikh Dharma course. I knew that my son would be participating in this course (or a version of it) at MPA in a couple of years. I found it to be supportive of my continued understanding of the Sikh way of life. As we got closer to the end of the course in the spring of 2004, I again felt a calling to become a Sikh Dharma Minister.
An Opening Door
It seemed that completing the Journey into the Heart of Sikh Dharma course was like a door opening; so I officially applied to the Office of the Secretary of Religion that spring to become a Minister. After completing the Minister candidate process, I received a phone call from Dr. Sat Kaur in June 2004, which came on my cell phone while I was attending a luncheon for my uncle’s 90th birthday in Sacramento, CA.
When I returned to the luncheon (after stepping out to take the call), I guess I was beaming. My father asked me about it and I told them I was going to be a Minister. My family (I come from a Jewish background) all yelled out: “Mazel tov” (a Jewish phrase of congratulations and blessings).
I wasn’t sure how this would be received by my family and I found myself shedding tears of joy. My parents (who are not religious, but were my first “spiritual” teachers in sharing their values) immediately asked me to preside as their Minister at a “recommitment” ceremony during their upcoming 50th wedding anniversary. I was touched, humbled, and honored that they had come to so deeply accept my choice of spiritual path, so different from their own.
Later that day in my meditation I prayed to the Guru for guidance in my new role. I asked: “What is my ministry?” The answer, which I heard in my heart, felt very clear. “Minister to the Ministers.” I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but I knew that it felt right. I believed that I would be guided to learn what that meant.
A few weeks later, when I was still in the glow of having taken my Minister vows during Summer Solstice up at Ram Das Puri, I inquired about whether there were any Ministers who met on a regular basis. I was told there was a group of Ministers who had begun meeting recently in my sangat.
Fueled by a sense of urgency around the declining health of the Siri Singh Sahib, a group of Espanola Ministers were meeting (see Dr. Sat Kaur’s article) to begin processing their grief and impending loss. We also met with members of the Siri Singh Sahib’s staff, to hear their stories and to understand how they were starting the “letting go” process.
We did some amazing meditations, and, at one point, Dr. Sat Kaur and Dr. Shanti Shanti Kaur asked for Ministers to participate in the making of a training video on the topic of grief recovery. I volunteered, and since I had a video camera, I was recruited to help film the workshop.
Looking back, this was one of my first opportunities to fulfill my “ministry” of ministering to the Ministers, as the DVD was created to support Sikh Dharma Ministers to help their sangats with the healing process. In our Minister group, we also helped organize the memorial service that would welcome the world upon the Siri Singh Sahib’s passing.
Passing of the Torch
On Wednesday, October 6, 2004, I received a call in the early morning from one of the Ministers in our group. She said that Bibiji (the Siri Singh Sahib’s wife) had called and asked her to organize around-the-clock chanting of the Guru Ram Das mantra at the Espanola gurdwara. She said that the Siri Singh Sahib’s passing was imminent.
I helped organize the chanting, including bringing a CD player with the Guru Ram Das mantra to the gurdwara. I could feel the blessing and peace of helping our teacher in his transition; something we had been preparing for months.
I longed to spend the day in the gurdwara, praying for my teacher. I had committed to teaching a children’s Kundalini yoga class and I knew that Yogiji would want me to keep that commitment. I did share about him with the students when I taught my class that afternoon.
Right before midnight, we received a phone call from a sangat member telling us that our teacher had passed. My first instinct was to take a hukam. I had a copy of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib set up in our house, as I was doing a Sahej Path for my son who was at school in India. It was a beautiful hukam, inspiring me to write a poem about my love for my teacher.
In the days and weeks that followed, I could sense an unfolding of my devotion through service to members of our global community who were coming to Espanola to honor our teacher. I did some reporting about the memorial service for SikhNet that they sent out to our global sangat.
Following the memorial (and a powerful funeral and cremation service on Guru Ram Dasji’s birthday), I sensed that the Ministers needed a break. We didn’t meet again as a formal Minister group until 2008.
In November 2006, I received a call from Sangeet Kaur of Espanola. She said that she was part of the Sikh Dharma Minister newsletter team and asked if I would be willing to “fill in” as an editor for a short time while she was away visiting her family. I enjoyed getting to better know Dr. Sat Kaur and Dr. Shanti Shanti Kaur in their roles as newsletter team members and as the Secretary and Assistant Secretary of Religion.
When Sangeet Kaur returned from her travels, I was invited to join the newsletter team as a permanent member. I eventually took on the role of Newsletter Editor, doing the web design and layout. Again, I saw how I was being offered the opportunity to “minister to the Ministers.”
Connecting with the Ministers
In 2008, I felt inspired to contact a number of Ministers in Espanola and we held a few informal gatherings. We shared a bit about our roles as Ministers and discussed whether we wanted to have regular Minister meetings.
Out of those gatherings, Ministers focused on various ways to serve. Several Ministers formed a group that came to be known as Hearts and Hands. Other Ministers found ways to continue their seva projects, such as Food for Kids. I felt called to serve as a Wedding Sevadar, helping to create a manual to guide the ashram sevadars in holding our Sikh weddings.
In 2012, as our organization was re-grouping after the years-long Unto Infinity lawsuits, I recognized that working with the Ministry during those years had given me the opportunity to continue supporting the Ministers who were doing “boots on the ground” work in their local communities.
Through our quarterly Ministry newsletters and at International Khalsa Council meetings twice a year, I learned about what our global Ministry was doing to spread the Guru’s teachings and to heal humanity.
In December 2012, Dr. Sat Kaur announced the retirement of her long-time administrative assistant Ek Ong Kar Kaur of Los Angeles. I knew that I followed in some big footsteps taking over for SS Ek Ong Kar Kaur Khalsa, who had dutifully served the Ministry and the Office of the Secretary of Religion for over 40 years.
I took over as the administrative assistant to the Secretary of Religion in February 2013, supporting Sikh Dharma Ministers in their annual credential renewal and continuing to “minister to the Ministers” as I was inspired to do back in 2004. I am grateful for the legacy of service that I have been able to give during this time, including working on this Ministry newsletter, which provides an archival record of our experiences as Sikh Dharma Ministers.
What Lies Ahead
I realize that none of us can know for certain what the future will bring in the midst of all the upheaval we have seen recently. During this time, many of us have struggled with grief and sadness; we also continue to face many challenges and concerns brought on by the global pandemic and political change. Throughout this time, as in the past, I have witnessed the opportunities for Ministers to continue to serve.
I have seen that some Ministers have moved on. Some have left their earthly bodies. New Sikh Dharma Ministers have taken their vows during this unprecedented year (as we utilize the virtual world to hold online ordination ceremonies).
In the midst of the current uncertainty in the world, I continue to feel gratitude for the gifts I have received in my lifetime. I have gratitude for my beautiful, loving, and supportive family and for spiritual community. I have a lot of gratitude for my journey as a “spiritual being” in this human life and I hope that I will embrace with gratitude what lies ahead.
I also pray that my path will reflect a love of service, love of community, and the love of living one’s unique life journey. I pray to be guided to live and experience the ideal of living as “one in the spirit” and to continue to be lifted up by all of life’s blessings.
About the Author
SS Sarb Nam Kaur Khalsa works as the Executive Assistant to the Office of the Secretary of Religion and serves as the Sikh Dharma Ministry Newsletter Editor and Ministry Webmaster. She has worked for many of the Dharmic entities, including 3HO/Women’s Camp and KRI/The Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings. She is a member of the International Khalsa Council and has been the Khalsa Council Recording Secretary since 2001. She volunteered in her local community as a youth mentor with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, worked on the ashram security team, and served on the staff of the New Mexico State Legislature from 2011-2015. She is a member of the Sikh Dharma of Colorado board and serves as its secretary.