The other day, I was at home looking through old boxes with my mom, attempting to clean up old papers and pictures that had collected over the years. As we were sifting through everything, my mom found a letter addressed, in my handwriting, to myself. Confused, I opened it up to find two pages of childlike handwriting on bright, rainbow-colored stationary. I had written to myself about eight years ago as a camper at Camp Sikh Virsa in Wisconsin. In the letter, I talked about how I had realized during camp that, despite how alone I felt, Waheguru was always with me, and that He was my best friend, too.
For a moment, I just sat there, re-reading and soaking in the letter. When I finally could recognize what I was feeling, it was something I didn’t expect: shame. As an 11 or 12-year-old, I had been able to realize my relationship with Waheguru. But, in the past year or more, I was struggling to find a connection. After a shooting at my childhood gurdwara in August 2012, the tragic deaths of family friends in Atlanta the following February, and many other losses, I struggled to maintain my relationship with Waheguru. Even more so, I struggled to see how Waheguru had created and existed in people who made me sick to my stomach.
As I continued to think about this letter I had written to myself, so confident and reassured, an old theme shabad from the same camp came to mind:
ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਆਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥
Man ṯūŉ joṯ sarūp hai āpṇā mūl pacẖẖāṇ.
O my mind, you are the embodiment of the Divine Light – recognize your own origin.
ਮਨ ਹਰਿ ਜੀ ਤੇਰੈ ਨਾਲਿ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮਤੀ ਰੰਗੁ ਮਾਣੁ ॥
Man har jī ṯerai nāl hai gurmaṯī rang māṇ.
O my mind, the Dear Lord is with you; through the Guru’s Teachings, enjoy His Love.
ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣਹਿ ਤਾਂ ਸਹੁ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਮਰਣ ਜੀਵਣ ਕੀ ਸੋਝੀ ਹੋਈ ॥
Mūl pacẖẖāṇėh ṯāŉ saho jāṇėh maraṇ jīvaṇ kī sojẖī ho▫ī.
Acknowledge your origin, and then you shall know your Husband Lord, and so understand death and birth.
ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੀ ਏਕੋ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਤਾਂ ਦੂਜਾ ਭਾਉ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥
Gur parsādī eko jāṇėh ṯāŉ ḏūjā bẖā▫o na ho▫ī.
By Guru’s Grace, know the One; then, you shall not love any other.
ਮਨਿ ਸਾਂਤਿ ਆਈ ਵਜੀ ਵਧਾਈ ਤਾ ਹੋਆ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ॥
Man sāŉṯ ā▫ī vajī vaḏẖā▫ī ṯā ho▫ā parvāṇ.
Peace comes to the mind, and gladness resounds; then, you shall be acclaimed.
ਇਉ ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਅਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥੫॥
I▫o kahai Nānak man ṯūŉ joṯ sarūp hai apṇā mūl pacẖẖāṇ. ||5||
Thus says Nanak: O my mind, you are the very image of the Luminous Lord; recognize the true origin of your self. ||5||
Another lesson I received growing up was that there are no good people or bad people, just those who have listened to the Guru’s teachings and remembered Waheguru. People are bad for their karma, or actions. Someone who does bad things has simply forgotten Waheguru and strayed off the path. I never had any problems applying this, until I had to consider it with individuals like Wade Michael Page (whose name I still cannot say aloud). How can I see Waheguru in someone who killed people that look just like me, and would have wanted to do the same to me if given the opportunity?Although it seems to me like one of the most difficult concepts of Sikhi to grasp, Guru Ji spells it out quite simply in this beautiful shabad: recognize that Waheguru has created you and lives within you, and you will be content. I think the difficulty in seeing Waheguru in others also comes from not being able to see Him within myself.
At the end of the day, this is still one of my biggest struggles. I fail to see how incidents like this can be hukam, and how any of these people could have come from Waheguru. But, I also know that I have a long way to go on my own journey. There are things that I do on a daily basis that take me away from Waheguru, and staying connected to my Sikhi as a college student is difficult. The most we can do is ask Waheguru to give us the strength to recognize our own origin and our own divinity. Once this happens, we will have the strength and darshan to comprehend the rest.
Harleen Kaur is a writer in our forthcoming print collection Her Name Is Kaur: Sikh American Women Write About Love, Courage, and Faith (available for pre-order at Amazon). She is a rising senior at the University of Michigan, studying English and minoring in Community Action and Social Change. In April, Harleen was also featured in an interview on this site, which can be read here.