Interview with SS Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2023 (Fourth Quarter)
In 2014, SS Harbhajan Singh Khalsa had a traumatic bicycle accident and almost died. After a long time away from Dharmic activities, he attended this September’s Khalsa Council meetings. As he shared his story during our small group check-in, I was compelled to invite him to be interviewed for this month’s newsletter. What follows is partially edited for clarity. But some is simply uniquely Harbhajan Singh at his frank, dry, funny, positive, courageous, spontaneous best!
~ SS Sangeet Kaur Khalsa, Articles Editor
Sangeet: For our readers, could you encapsulate what happened to you?
Harbhajan: On September 10, 2014, I was riding my road bike and hit the ground with my head, at about 27 mph. From that moment onward… when I crushed my skull, broke the right eye orbit and lost right ear cochlea –and did many other things to my body—I had nine days with no memory, yet I was awake. I would try to get out of bed. Har Darshan Kaur* and nurses would help get me back in bed, because I didn’t know I couldn’t walk or keep my balance. I could hardly talk. I couldn’t even keep food down, losing 35 pounds. I had double vision. The brain doesn’t like this. Normally it picks up the light frequencies and puts them together as a picture. A digital process. The brain doesn’t like to see two pictures at the same time and works hard to make it one! I’ve had several eye surgeries to address the double vision—because I have to walk! Ears are made to hear separately. It’s an analog experience. We have double hearing–stereo. With loss of the right cochlea I will always have vestibular balance issues when I move my head. I’m actually talking to you and listening to you on my BlueTooth hearing aid.
When I started getting my memory back, I had no memory of pain. I was protected. The real experience I had out of that was how peaceful my body and mind were. But I realized that I had to move my body and come back. So I had to start working on all those things–my nervous system, my physical body, my mental body, my eyes, my ears. I had to work individually on all of those things.
*Har Darshan Kaur is Harbhajan Singh’s former wife.
Sangeet: Could you please reflect on this quote from Guru Nanak: “I am a sacrifice to my pure friends, the immaculate Saints. This body is attached to them, and we have shared our minds . . .”
Harbhajan: My experience with Nanak is much more inclusive than what we call ‘friends.’ It’s the same as “If you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.” Is there a circumstance, a creature, a part of the creation that isn’t a friend? Even though it may be an enemy. You could still hold that vibration that we call neutral, balanced. That to me is the true friendship—to not bring opinions and so much out of our agenda into our communication.
Sangeet: In this time and space, what do you value most in your Dharmic life?
Harbhajan: The sadhana our teacher gave us. And particularly the banis and Long Ek Ong Kar’s. This reminds me of the experience I interpret as ‘sangat,’ particularly in group sadhana. As Yogiji said, “You have to start where you’re at.” And often where you’re at can sound like a wild animal! How much balance you have to bring into yourself, just to find your own true voice. And in doing that, you’re not just listening to yourself. You’re listening to all that’s around you. We have this idea that everything is so perfect and so harmonious. An act of love. To me that’s just the initial touch of the experience. Holding it when you’re in such deep pain—that’s the whole essence of sadhana. Touching that pain without tormenting yourself. Keeping the pressure there and using your breath, your heartbeat to go through what you can go through. And lo and behold—you’re releasing! And as you allow others to go through–everyone’s releasing. It’s like–Wow! Now I could enjoy that!
Before I almost physically died, I thought I understood many things. They were appropriate, valid experiences, between friendships, etc. And yet, I wasn’t able to understand until that touch of death that I physically went through.
Not only is your body taking on what we call trauma. Why I didn’t get to go—I saw the light but I couldn’t go home because I hadn’t completed everything. We talk about clearing karmas from past actions, etc. But karmic actions are happening all the time. Clearing has an action. We don’t even know what things we are clearing out in sadhana, yet we’re clearing out–not to leave our body but to merge back into the Creator.
We were taught to learn to control our mind and emotions. It’s not that at all. Because you’re a human, so much of the experience is like that of a mother or father. Those are real fundamental experiences with emotions and they are way beyond just the Dharma itself. How you act from a Dharmic house gives you the capacity to not blame yourself or others.
Sangeet: Do you see a pathway forward in your community where some think differently from you?
Harbhajan: One aspect of what Nanak said was: The mind is made with two sides. It has to judge, but it has to un-judge too. So many of us were doing unsustainable things before we found Dharma. I think that part of the gap in communication with the young people is that we don’t know how to be open with them. For us, it had to be “this way.” It had to be structured for us “and that’s the right way.” But that’s not true. Just as we need to be forgiving of ourselves, we need to bring that forgiveness to all our relationships.
What I’m going to say is really hard. Oh my God! How did you create Trump, Lord? And Putin?—How can I bring that forgiveness to them? We have to realize that you can’t have pressure without having two sides. Whether you call it the sun/moon; male/female. The two sides we have are inhale/exhale.
Yogiji once told me to write of the experience of the soul coming to Earth and making the U-turn to go home. When I realized that there is nothing I can do–nothing is done without the Creator…The Creator is doing everything. So in one way, there is nothing for you to do. To me that’s the ultimate experience of death. How relaxed you have to be. How relaxed Nanak was from the moment he disappeared below the surface of the water until he reappeared and began to recite Japji for the very first time. And how, when death is with you, you’re leaving on the exhale. And there will be no more inhale. And guess what? There is nothing else left to do. The exhale is when you’re going into the Creator. You just have to let go! (laughs)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SS Harbhajan Singh Khalsa has been a minister of Sikh Dharma since 1991. He has a long history of serving and protecting the Siri Singh Sahib and the Dharma. Beginning in 1984, he was in charge of security for every winter and summer solstice, and many of the yatras to India. Since 2011, Harbhajan Singh has served on the Board of Directors for SikhNet, applying his master’s degree with project management and IT technical expertise to support the company through all its recent transitions.