Kids Corner

Below: The Author in China at the age of 21.


The Seed & The Plant





Gardening in the semi-arid desert of New Mexico is not like gardening anywhere else. There is a certain unforgiving relentlessness to the seasons.

The transition from month to month brings different types of challenges. The brutal winds of spring can gust up to 50 miles an hour. The desert summer has temperatures that might fluctuate 40 degrees Fahrenheit or more between the heat of the day and the cool of the night. Fall is maybe the only time that everything is nice for a while before that mountain cold kicks in for the winter.

And the summer is short. A short growing season for food. God knows what would happen if the trucks filling the shelves of the grocery stores stopped rolling into town.

Most people garden and have something to show for it. For me, I consider myself more of an amateur botanist doing experiments. Sometimes the only things I get out of the experience are philosophical musings.

Lately I have been thinking about the challenge of the seed.

Before you plant a seed, everything seems possible. You can look at a seed and see a perfect plant. A perfect life. Strong and healthy. Productive.

That is why a gardener spends time preparing the soil. To give that seed the very best chance it has to express itself in the most beautiful way possible.

But the reality of the seed is very different. Sometimes a seed does not even sprout. Sometimes the seedling has stunted growth. If the seed does develop in a healthy way, so many challenges come along. Grasshoppers eat the leaves. Bugs suck the juice out of it. Or maybe the challenge is just the weather. A hail storm at the wrong moment can create irreparable damage.

Before the seeds go in the ground, each one has the potential of a perfect life. But by the time the seeds have expressed themselves in their life cycles, hardly any one of them matches that image of perfection.

On the contrary, they have manifested what they can, become damaged in certain ways, healthy in others. Conquering challenge after challenge. And those that survive the struggle inherent in life become fruitful.

The idea of the "perfect plant" is a fantasy from the start. Instead, one needs a certain non-attachment. Give each seed a chance and see what they do. Whatever happens during the season, that is what happens.

We can only do our best to serve their process, and let their stories unfold. Sometimes I wonder if the concept of karam had its roots in our need to explain this simple biological reality.

No two seeds will ever sprout the same. No two people will live the same. Each human has challenges to face. Each life has its own trajectory and arc. Does it end early? Does it end late? What damage happens along the way? What inner strength keeps it going? What fruit does a human life create in the end?

One reason I appreciate watching the land is because gurbani uses so many nature metaphors. When we see how Nature really moves in Her own rhythm, these concepts in gurbani take on a deeper, more relevant meaning.

There is a word - saphalu - it means fruitful. One theme in the Guru Granth Sahib is this issue of how the human life becomes fruitful. How does it complete itself and multiply itself, the way a plant does?

Serving the Guru. Meditating on the Divine. Chanting Gurbani. Being in the company of those who live by their spirit. These are the environments that help a human life, no matter how brief or damaged it might be, come to a place of abundance.

Because every seed has a chance. But not every seed makes it. It is true in the garden. It is true in society.

So the Sikh Masters gave a way for the seed of the human to have the best chance possible. The Gurus gave us a way to go through the struggle inherent in life and feel victorious in the end.

One of the reasons I have been thinking about this so much is because I have reached a time in my life where I have to make peace with the idealism of my youth. That idealism is like the time before planting - where every possibility exists for every aspect of life to be perfect.

But then you go through the journey of time. The challenge. The pain. The disappointment and damage.

And, of course. the blessings. The grace. The victory and the healing.

And you step back, more than halfway through the life cycle, and evaluate. How many leaves have made it? What parts have the predators eaten away? What strength remains? What roots, what flowers, what fruits?

You have to make peace with it all. With the good, the bad and the ugly. With the heart-breaks and the triumphs.

Because there are no do-overs. This is it. This one and only chance to be in this particular body, with these particular opportunities.

And when it is gone, it is gone.

My idealism served me as a young woman. It made me reach for something more than what I saw around me. And in that reaching, I became so blessed. My life has taken me down a road I never knew existed, and it has fascinated me - all the ways the Universe can speak to you.

But taking stock now, acceptance of what is - that is the next part of the journey. Because some seeds never sprouted the way I had hoped, or prayed or longed for. And the only way to deal with that is to embrace what is.

Forgiveness may be nothing more then the peace we make with the gap between the potential of the seed and the reality. What we imagined might happen versus what actually happened.

Forgiveness means no blame, no guilt, no shame. No anything except accepting the totality of life as it exists on its own terms with love, gratitude and affection. It is opening one's eyes wide to see what has happened, and letting go of the picture in the mind that we mistakenly compare it with. In that embrace, you can see the value of what has actually sprouted. And appreciate it.

Isn't that what Guru Nanak said was the lesson we had to learn? To see everything as coming from The One Giver. And to never stop appreciating what the Giver has done?

You start with a vision.

You end up with reality.

And life is just the journey in between.


July 22, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 22, 2015, 3:51 PM.

Ek Ong Kaar ji, a thought-provoking piece that touches the fringe of creation. It is “tayraa unt na jaa-ee lakhi-aa / akuth na jaa-ee har kathi-aa” [GGS:435.16] - “Your limits cannot be known, the indescribable Waheguru cannot be described”. Let’s see how Guru Nanak did the farming. This is at GGS:595.10 - “munn hali kirasani karni saram pani tunn khet / naam beej santokh suhaaga rukk garbi ves / bha-o karm kar jammsi se ghar bhagath dekh” - “Make your mind the farmer, good deeds the farm, modesty the water and your body the field. Let Waheguru‘s Name be the seed, contentment the plow, and humble dress the fence. Doing deeds of love, the seed shall sprout and you shall see your home flourish”. What more can we say?.

2: Purnima (Chennai, India), July 22, 2015, 10:10 PM.

This is one of the most thought-provoking articles I have read in recent times. The part of you letting go, is what farmers practice best. They give up their entire year for one crop and look at the vagaries of life. On another level, I loved the fact that you associated it with how a person gets molded by their external factors. We are all seeds in our mother's womb. Our parents nourish us but despite that the vagaries of our external environment makes us what we are. Well expressed. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us

3: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, Connecticut, USA), July 23, 2015, 7:33 AM.

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur, this is truly one of your finest pieces - so thought-provoking. Thank you!

4: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), July 23, 2015, 11:24 AM.

A person's destiny is not in his/her hand. It is being fashioned in some supernatural factory which affects the individual. And this leads us to the old and accepted rut, that fatalism is the law of life.

5: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), July 24, 2015, 7:19 AM.

Guru Nanak says [GGS:937]: "The record of our deeds cannot be effaced because Waheguru has written them.". This is preordination which cannot be changed. The results, wickedness or laurels, are in His hands. We should live as He wills us to live.

6: Ek Ong Kaar Kaur (Espanola, New Mexico, USA), July 24, 2015, 3:50 PM.

Ajit Singh ji: From my studies of the Guru Granth Sahib, there are many lines that talk about how, through simran, meditation on the Naam, the account gets completely cleared and all of our affairs are arranged. I wish I could find a specific line, but this is definitely one truth in the Guru. So while I agree that much is not in our hands - there is something that happens when we meditate on Gurbani that allows the Higher Force to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. This is the one action I believe a human can take which does change the destiny. And that is how the lowest of the low, through the Gurus, become the highest of the high. Grateful for your thoughts and for the dialogue.

7: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texasm USA), July 24, 2015, 10:45 PM.

It is a beautiful illustration from Gurbani by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur to describe the beauty of Creation. Guru Granth Sahib recognizes with reverence the limitless diversity in Creation through another hymn on page 1056 that says (translation is mine): “My True Creator has staged a play. He has created no one like anyone else. He made them diverse, and he watches His creation of diversity with pleasure; he has placed all the flavors in the created body units.”

8: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 26, 2015, 5:12 PM.

#6 Ek Ong Kaar ji: Indeed there are hundreds of shabads that say that we, alone with our efforts, cannot reach Him. It is in the Hands of the Writer to write and erase what He has written. It is only with His 'Gurprasad' can we be saved: "laykhaa chhod alaykhai chootah ham nirgun layho ubaaree" [GGS:713.17] - "P Lord, please ignore my account. Only then may I be saved. I am worthless, please save me."

9: Tavleen Kaur (Australia), July 27, 2015, 2:13 AM.

Dear Ek Ong Kaar: Such a beautiful analogy of the seed and human soul. Absolutely and completely loved reading this article. Thank you for sharing such profound musings of your spirit with us.

10: Ravinder Pal Singh Kalra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), July 27, 2015, 1:35 PM.

"Karmi aavey kaprrha nadri mokh duar ..." Reminds me of a saakhi cited by Bhai Vir Singh ji somewhere in his ocean of work that I haven't yet tasted a drop of (I know I'll get the feedback from dear Sangat Mama ji). A Sikh requested Guru Hargobind Sahib, "Satguru, how do I become a sachiaar"?. The merciful Patshah offered him the choice, "Do you want to know how to become a sachiaar or do you want to become one?" That was the Gurparsad for that Sikh. May we all have that mercy so that there is no more need for any more discussions.

11: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ), July 27, 2015, 4:47 PM.

Yes, Ravinder Pal, that 'Gurprasad' is mentioned in the four volumes of 'Kathriaya Santa' biography of Sant Sangat Singh of Kamalia. Since those books were out of print, I got them photocopied for you for a special reason. Both our families were connected. It was Bhai Shamu Sachar on the maternal side. And on your paternal side it was Bhai Jawaher Kalra who came preordained at the age of nine years, sick and dying, and was sent to Anandpur Sahib together with his parents to do seva, by Bhai Shamu Sachar, and they became stable hands in the Guru's Court. They did seva with such utter devotion that one day during an inspection tour they came to the attention of Guru Gobind Singh Ji who made the child's age of nine into 90 with his 'gurprasad'.

12: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), July 27, 2015, 5:30 PM.

#10 Ravinder Pal Singh ji: "Karmi aavey kaprrha"(Japji). It means that the body that the soul ultimately finds is in accordance with the karam (actions) of the past life.

13: Ravinder Singh Kalra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), July 27, 2015, 5:54 PM.

No question about it, dear Ajit ji. Even with all the right moves and knowledge, all I can ensure for myself is luxuries, fame, kingdoms in this life or the next. But "jey tis nadar na avaee ta vaat na puchhey key"... After gaining all insights, I still can't find salvation without His mercy or nadar.

14: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 28, 2015, 4:04 AM.

"Naanak laykhi ik gal hor ha-uma jhakh-naa jhakh -naa jhaakh" [GGS:467.15] - "O Nanak, only one thing is of any account: everything else is useless babbling and idle talk in ego."

15: R.S. Minhas (Millburn, New Jersey, USA), July 28, 2015, 6:00 PM.

Ek Onkar ji, your articles require multiple slow readings to even begin comprehending their depth. Guru Nanak says (using 'Sikhitothemax' translations): "That Lord does not die; there is no reason to mourn (or He does not mourn)." In essence death itself is meaningless as there is no beginning, no end, and no timeline. Earlier on in the same shabad: "Even if everyone were to gather together and speak of Him, He would not become any greater or any lesser." So what powers do we have of influence? For us, forgetting the True Lord leads to all kinds of disappointments as in: "Those who forget their Lord and Master are vile and despicable."

16: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), August 06, 2015, 10:07 AM.

Thank you for writing. Gardeners are my favourite people.

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