My Teacher's Teacher
Over the past thirty years I listened to Yogi Bhajan speak of his many spiritual guides. However, there is only one man whom he called his teacher, and that was Sant Hazara Singh of Gujaranwala (an area of northern India which is now part of Pakistan). Nothing changed the look on his face more dramatically than when he recalled "Santji." Suddenly his features would soften, his eyes looking to the distant past, the pain of separation like a fresh wound. When he spoke of his own spiritual teacher, you knew it is a profound matter.
A while back, I began compiling these stories, not only because they give me a better window on my own teacher, but also because they help me understand that I am indeed part of an eternal Golden Chain. In a real way, Sant Hazara Singh is my teacher too.
It all began for the Siri Singh Sahib at a very young age, when he was still known as Harbhajan Singh. He recalled:
|I was born into a very rich family. I played with diamonds for marbles and I had great authority. I was the elder son of the ruling dynasty, like the Prince of Wales, and I had every opportunity to act like a total idiot. There were thousands of servants to whom my word was the law, and I could have whatever I wanted, like a rich, spoiled kid.|
But I was lucky. I had a very saintly grandfather, and a saintly family tradition and disposition. I met a lot of holy men who would come to our house, and I chose a very saintly teacher. His approval of me was considered the joy of the family. His mark on me is so deep, I love him even now. Do you know that I still do not recognize the face of my grandfather or my teacher? I never, ever, looked at their face, but I can accurately draw their feet. That's the consciousness of it. - Yogi Bhajan
Harbhajan was just eight years old when he met Sant Hazara Singh, a great mystic and yogi of his time. He was also a renowned horseman and a perfect master of Gatka, the ancient Sikh martial art. Harbhajan was deeply attracted to Sant Hazara Singh, who had a manly mastery over all aspects of life, and he asked his parents if he could learn from him. His grandfather, Bhai Fateh Singh, made the proposal and it was with great happiness that the family was told that Santji agreed to take him as a student.
The future Yogi Bhajan packed all his clothes and, with his mother and several of his servants, he went to Sant Hazara Singh's ashram. When Santji saw Harbhajan Singh arrive with the full pomp of aristocracy, he sent him home without even letting him get down from the carriage. He told him to come back alone, with only what he could carry. And when Harbhajan returned, he told him not to come to the main ashram, but to stay at one of the outposts.
There he stayed for several years and while there, intently studied Gatka. Sant Hazara Singh was a legendary sword master, and he oversaw the training of all the students. He was a very hard and strict teacher, and there was no room for error.
|When I was learning Gatka we had an arena in which we practiced this martial art. Upon my teacher's orders I entered the field and thought, 'I'll be just given one or two people to spar with.' It was very unusual because I was not given a shield; I was only given one sword. To my astonishment, six people came out to face me armed with long spears, which are the most difficult to fight against. 'Wait a minute!' l cried, 'This is not fair!' When my teacher heard this, he sent out two more, so I faced eight boys. They began to circle around me.|
My teacher gave me the instructions. He said, 'In any fight, there are always three choices. You can bow out and walk away. You can fight with fairness and reserve, or you can fight fiercely unto victory. If you fight with reserve, then your opponents cannot be aggressive. They will only fight on the signs and signals. That's the way it is.
I said to myself, 'Well, I didn't ask for this! I was very innocent and totally unaware that I would face these boys today. But now that I am here, I won't disappoint them.' In my heart, I pleaded to the Guru. I said, 'You know how rotten I am, but dear God, you've got to stand with me now, otherwise I won't be able to bear it!'
Believe me or not, in half an hour I had the heads of eight spears lying on the ground, but I didn't touch their hands. They understood, and they knew their hands could be cut off if I let loose.
In the evening when we were sitting together, they said, 'Well Bhajan, why didn't you cut our hands?' I said, 'It was the Guru who was fighting, not me. There was no vengeance in my heart even though you were attacking me left and right.' And we laughed, we ate, and we rejoiced. - Yogi Bhajan
When young Harbhajan Singh went to live and study directly with Sant Hazara Singh, his life and his personality went through dramatic changes. Long hours were spent in the study of Kundalini Yoga, practicing postures and kriyas until the students not only perfected them, but truly understood them.
|My teacher was so hard, I wouldn't wish him on my enemy! But the beautiful thing was that since he was so hard, the impossible became possible under his command. One day he had us sit with our hands out straight. We came to understand that this forces the spine to adjust to its originality. Then the sushmana (central nadi or nerve channel along the spine) flows into the brain. We did this for two and a half hours without lowering our arms-and afterwards it took us five hours just to move our hands again. - Yogi Bhajan|
Sant Hazara Singh was very strict, and he demanded total obedience. This discipline was key to the strength he cultivated in his students. When Harbhajan Singh started training, over 250 students were with him, but in the end only 15 finished. Often, if a student slipped up even once, he was dismissed. Once a student failed a critical test and he knew that Santji would send him home. In agony, he threw himself at the teacher's feet, held on as tightly as he could and vowed never to let go. Time passed. For eight hours Sant Hazara Singh merely stood there with the student weeping and clinging to his feet. After a while, the student tired and relaxed his grip. Santji merely turned and calmly walked away. The student was sent home.
|I went through a very tough teacher! One day he said to me, 'Do you think I am cruel?' I said, 'Yes, I think you are.' And he said, 'Do you know why?' I said, 'Yes, I know why. So that nothing will look cruel to me ever again.' He nodded his head and said, 'You are right!'|
That was so true. Once my teacher had my hands tied behind my back, and he asked another student to beat me and not to stop. Then he just walked away! The boy hit me, and hit me. I was bruised and bleeding, my turban was knocked off and not an inch of my body was spared. Finally, the boy was tired and sickened by the brutality, and since Santji was not there, he stopped. I jumped up and cried out through split lips 'I won! I won! You stopped going but I didn't!'
One day I was walking into town with my teacher. I didn't get to go into town much, and I was excited! I was dressed up in Western pants and shirt for the occasion, and I thought myself very stylish. When we were nearly there, my teacher pointed to a tree and told me to climb it, which I did. He said 'Sit on that branch until I return and don't come down for any reason!'
He hung me in that tree in my Western suit for three days. I didn't know how to pee or poop, eat or sleep, or what to do. For three days I sat there, not knowing what had happened, or what was going to happen. Somehow I survived, and to my great relief I saw his familiar figure walking back down the path. I climbed out of the tree and he said, 'Oh, it's you. Let's go. Let's hurry up. You are walking very slow.' I thought to myself, 'Yeah. You sit in this tree for three days and see how you feel!'
But there was nothing I was willing to say. I remember once I went to see my teacher. It was midnight and he said Ah hah! I was hoping you would come.' That made me feel good, and I said, 'Sir, what can I do for you?' He said, 'I need yogurt.' Now, this was a problem. In India there is only homemade yogurt, and at one o'clock in the morning it is never ready. If he had asked me at five or six o'clock, I would have brought him a truckload of it. But people put the culture in the milk at about eight or nine at night, and it is simply not done by 1:00 a.m. So I asked him how much he needed and he said, 'As much as you can bring.'
I just sat down for a minute and thought it through. I realized that this man knows that at this time of night, getting homemade yogurt was impossible. But instead of saying no, or making an excuse, I said 'Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir,' and I left. At about 5:30 a.m., I brought him as much as he needed and as much as he could use in his whole house. He didn't say a word, and I didn't say a word. I knew that there had been a test within this task. He had said to go and get it, but he never said to come back right away. This is what teachers do. They test your intelligence, your ability, and create your sharpness. Dull things never penetrate and dull people don't truly live. A teacher will make you sharp. - Yogi Bhajan
After years of study, there came a day when the student--very suddenly--became the Master:
|When I was sixteen and one half years old my teacher called me into his room and told me, 'Bhajan, you are perfect.' I said, 'No, Sir. Only God is perfect. God does everything.' After two hours of discussion, he said, 'I feel like bowing to you.' I said, 'No, Sir, I bow to you every day. If you were to bow to me one day, you would be teaching me how to bow properly, that's all.' When he couldn't crack me, he laughed and asked, `Don't you have any feelings at all?' I replied, 'I have this feeling: It is the feeling that you have taught me very well. You have given me the experience. Now I understand.' He said, All right. Explain your experience to me!' 'Sir, the experience is like when one is blind all his life, and then one fine day he is given eyes and he sees the beauty of the world. What can he say?' 'Okay,' he asked,' What does he say?' I closed my eyes and said, 'Wha! I have seen the Infinity in experience.' 'Bhajan,' he said, 'aren't you happy?' And I said, 'I am not unhappy. But there is nothing in this to be happy about either, because now the hard work will start.'|
When I came out of his room, all the other students asked me, 'What did he say?' I told them he said, 'You are a master.' They were amazed and exclaimed, 'You are?' And then everybody accepted it. It didn't take a minute. Nobody tested me. Nobody checked it out. He just said it; I explained it to them; and that was it. That's how it worked. I didn't need to do a thing. - Yogi Bhajan
The last lesson taught to Harbhajan at the hands of Sant Hazara Singh was even more painful than the first. By 1946, all of India had risen up against the occupation of Great Britain. Change was certain, and the partition of India was imminent. One day, all the students were called into the presence of their powerful teacher. Sant Hazara Singh announced that they were now about to enter a period of "living hell," a time of danger and a time of war. He declared, "My time as your teacher has ended, and where I now must go you cannot follow. Your final orders are to leave me, and we shall never see each other face-to-face again." Harbhajan was shocked, but he took this directive as he had been trained to do-with utmost obedience.
Sant Hazara Singh went on to spend many difficult and dangerous years as a freedom fighter, moving in secrecy and living in hiding during India's struggle for independence. After partition, he lived a peaceful married life and raised a family in the village of Doraha. Even though Yogiji kept track of where Sant Hazara Singh was, and how he was doing, this devoted and disciplined student strictly obeyed those last orders. The pain of separation was very great. Yogi Bhajan recalled one occasion when he was passing by Santji's village, and sent word through his messenger that he was in the vicinity. Word came back from Santji, "I know he is there. Tell him to proceed on."
|My teacher brought out of me not the man, not the godly man, not the great man, but a real human being. There's nothing in the world I can pay to him in tributes, in compliments and in thanks. He did the most wonderful job. I used to say I was a nut, but he tightened all my nuts so well that I became the best. That's why today I say that calamity is my breakfast, tragedy is my lunch and treachery is my supper. If you can eat all these three things and digest them, you are the best person. That is what my teacher gave to me. - Yogi Bhajan|
And that, in turn, is what Yogi Bhajan has given to us.
Shanti Kaur is a director for Akal Security, a private security company with 15,000 employees in more than forty states. She is also a published historian, and regularly contributes articles on both current events and Sikh history. She has traveled through the UK and India giving inspirational music and lecture programs. She currently lives in Espanola, New Mexico with her husband and son.