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Images: details from "Vaisakhi", a painting by Kanwar Singh. [Copyright -]


Making Choices





In February of this year, my body graciously agreed to play host to one of those winter bugs that leaves you on your back for weeks.

I can’t remember the last time I had been so sick. Temperature spiking at 103 degrees. Two rounds of antibiotics. I spent my days lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling, feverishly contemplating the mysteries of the Universe.

During that period, I found myself drawn to reading about Guru Gobind Singh’s “Last Stand” at Anandpur Sahib, and his subsequent journey to the south of what is now India.

The Sikh Religion” by Max Arthur Macauliffe is my go-to source when it comes to stories about the Gurus. Even though the English is a bit archaic, Macauliffe’s commitment to telling a compelling narrative without too much additional commentary is what I enjoy most about the book. The dialogue he creates among these historical figures draws me into the moment in a very personal way.

I have no doubt that everyone reading this column knows the story of the siege of Anandpur Sahib, and many probably know the details far better than I.

But there was one particular moment in my reading that has stayed with me in the months since.

“I can’t protect you if you leave.”

The Sikhs had been driven almost mad by the punishing hunger inflicted by the siege. Many were ready to accept the false offer of safe passage given by the Mughal forces. Even though Guru Gobind Singh knew it was a trap, he had a difficult time convincing his Sikhs, including his own mother, of the fact.

He pointed out that within the fort he still had the power to protect them – even though the circumstances felt so dire. But once the Sikhs left, his protection would no longer work.

“I can’t protect you if you leave.”

I wonder how many times something not nearly as drastic, but still difficult, happens in our own lives. And staying with the Guru, staying with our intuition, staying with our discipline and faith does not seem like a path out of the pain.

Rather, it seems like a road to being even more uncomfortable, unhappy, confused or desperate. Those moments come to all of us at one point or another.

Being rejected due to the turban.

Economic opportunities withheld.

Marginalized because our values may challenge the ‘mainstream‘.

Then something or someone comes along claiming that everything will be OK if we just walk away.

“It’ll be so much easier. You’ll fit in. You’ll make more money. There will be more opportunities for relationships. Just … give up.”

And there is the Guru, in the center of that painful storm, demanding us to stay with him. Not because the storm will end if we stay, but because he can’t protect us if we leave.

Because the tragedy and the difficulty is part of our karam, and the Guru’s job is to be present until the karam clears.

Because life does not promise that things will always go our way. It only promises that when things go wrong, the Guru is the best shelter we can hope to find.

Well, history tells the story clearly. The Sikhs did not stay within the fort. And once they left, the Guru could no longer protect them.

The Mughals revealed their true colors. And the Guru’s mother had to endure the most horrific tragedy. To watch her own grandchildren be killed in the most brutal way imaginable before she, herself, left her body.

300 years later, people still sit around debating what would have happened if the Sikhs had obeyed the Guru, instead. If they had stayed, and trusted.

Would the Mughals have been defeated, in the end?

Would the Khalsa Raj have grown from the event?

In life, if we are blessed the guidance of the Guru, the idea is that it’s the Guru’s job to see further than we can see ourselves; to know more than we can know; to be that voice to steer us through the crazy times and the calmer days.

That is the Guru’s job.

And our job is simple: have a practice, have discipline, and have trust.

Simple, of course, does not mean easy.

When the most horrible tests come, even the most devoted students waiver. Still - that is the fundamental relationship. You are my Guru. Therefore, you are wiser than me, and you know better than me. Tell me what I need to do.

No one can go back in time and change the choices that were made during the siege of Anandpur Sahib. We can only witness the tragedy, and the Guru’s amazing power to resurrect himself from those crushing circumstances.

But we can take a lesson from history when our own, much smaller “sieges” happen. We can remember that staying with the Guru does not mean things will be easy.

But it does mean that the Guru has promised his protection to see us through the challenge.


June 6, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, Connecticut, USA), June 06, 2013, 8:19 AM.

Exquisite meditation! This week, the Sikh world commemorates the assault on its mind, body and spirit. This week we also renew our commitment to uphold the vision of the Gurus of a society where no person is a slave of another person ... where no person is exploited by another person ... where no person is excluded from the bounty and joy of life.

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), June 06, 2013, 6:56 PM.

The sacrifices, the knowledge, the love ... we have it all, but ONLY if we have complete and true belief in the Guru!

3: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), June 06, 2013, 9:16 PM.

Beautifully written. Guru Sahib was not fighting for any material possessions or for any kingdom. He was resisting oppression by the Mughals and the Hindu Hill Rajas against the populace, and putting a stop to the tyrannical forcible conversions and the subjugation of the so-called lower castes.

4: Kirpal Singh (Daytona Beach, Florida, USA), June 06, 2013, 10:06 PM.

Ek Ong Kaar has done an immensely beautiful and practical analysis of a very important historical incident and its application to modern realities to our lives. A commendable job indeed!

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