Bhai Sahib Ji's Transition
It was 1974. Guruka Kaur and I had recently arrived in Columbus Ohio from Brooklyn, New York to serve as the ashram directors here. The ashram was a beautiful old Victorian house near the OSU campus. It had solid copper gutters and a slate roof. There were still gas lines in the walls from the original gas lighting fixtures and bits of coal dust residue still seeped out under the baseboards left there from years of heating the house with a coal furnace. The large living room on the first floor was our sadhana room and beautiful Gurdwara. Guruganesha Singh (now from Herndon) had visited recently and had taken it upon himself to paint the red brick facade of the house gold on the bottom half and white on the top half to resemble the Golden Temple.
The phone rang in the middle of the night. I looked at the clock and it was about 1 AM. I thought, “Who would call this late? It must be Yogiji.” I answered the phone, “Sat Nam!” It was Lehri Singh calling from Washington D.C. He said, “Bhai Sahib Dayal Singh was just killed in an automobile accident. It happened in Indiana. Gurubandha Singh was driving Bhai Sahib cross country from California to New York where he was scheduled to take a plane to India to go to the Golden Temple. The car went off the road. Bhai Sahib was lying down asleep in the back seat and he was ejected from the window, struck a tree and his neck was broken instantly. We need five ministers for the funeral ceremony, can you come?” “When?” I asked. “Right now.”
Guruka Kaur and I rose up, showered and started the drive west, chanting our morning sadhana together in the car as we drove. It took several hours to arrive in the small Indiana town where the ceremony was to take place. We met with Lehri and the others in a motel room. Bhai Sahib’s body was already at the funeral home. “Okay, what do we need to do?” I asked. “We need to wash Bhai Sahib’s body and clean it with yoghurt. Could you go get some yoghurt and bring it back here? Then we’ll go over to the funeral home for the ceremony.” I headed off in the early morning light to look for yoghurt. We were in a small town. I went from store to store only to discover that no one had even heard of “plain” yoghurt. The little cups of strawberry and blueberry yoghurt were just beginning to make their way into the stores. I found a pay phone and called the hotel telling Lehri the story. Although I could imagine seeing Bhai Sahib covered in blueberry yoghurt, this was clearly not what we were supposed to do. “Can you find any buttermilk?” Lehri asked. Sure enough I found that… the odd kind that had little yellow flecks of some unidentified substance all through it. But it was the best we could do under the circumstances and I headed back to the hotel with a quart carton in hand.
Lehri scrounged around in his car and found a quart glass juice bottle. He soaked it in hot water in the sink and painstakingly scraped off the label and then poured the buttermilk into the bottle and screwed the cap back on. Wrapping the bottle in a white hotel towel we headed off to the funeral home. “When we get there, let me do the talking” Lehri said.
At the funeral home, Lehri explained to the undertaker with great solemnity that we were ministers and that we were going to perform the Sikh funeral rites on Bhai Sahib’s body. Showing the bottle in the towel to the undertaker, he said, “as part of the ritual we need to wash the body with this special sacred lotion.” “Ah… looks like buttermilk to me” said the undertaker.
Bhai Sahib’s body was on a stainless steel gurney in a back room. We lovingly washed the body with a washcloth and then washed and rinsed his beautiful black hair. We dressed him in his five K’s and prepared to recite the banis.
At 29, I had never seen a dead body before. And looking at the body of my beloved brother, so young and beautiful, I had but a single thought. “Bhai Sahib’s not here. This is an empty shell… the house where he used to live. It’s not Bhai Sahib."
We begin to read the banis together and as a panj, when one of us faltered in our reading, someone else’s voice filled in the gaps. As I read, slowly and haltingly, I was suddenly flooded with gratitude to this young boy whose body lay before us on the gurney. His spirit, his enthusiasm, his unswerving devotion and patience had brought all of us to recite the Guru’s words for the first time. It was he who had encouraged us, taught us and shown us by his own example the power of the Gurbani.
Then I heard Bhai Sahib chuckle. The sound came clearly and distinctly from the ceiling in the corner of the room. I looked up and there was Bhai Sahib Ji smiling. He said, “Your pronunciation is getting better. Keep up” and then, in a flash, he was gone. My heart smiled.
Aasaa, Fourth Mehl
One who chants the Naam, the Name of the Lord, Har, Har in his mind, the Lord is pleasing to his mind. In the mind of the devotees there is a great yearning for the Lord. Those humble beings who remain dead while yet alive, drink in the Ambrosial Nectar; through the Guru's Teachings, their minds embrace love for the Lord. Their minds love the Lord, Har, Har, and the Guru is Merciful to them. They are Jivan Mukta liberated while yet alive, and they are at peace. Their birth and death, through the Name of the Lord, are illustrious, and in their hearts and minds, the Lord, Har, Har, abides. The Name of the Lord, Har, Har, abides in their minds, and through the Guru's Teachings, they savor the Lord, Har, Har; they drink in the sublime essence of the Lord with abandon. One who chants the Naam, the Name of the Lord, Har, Har, in his mind, the Lord is pleasing to his mind. In the mind of the devotees there is such a great yearning for the Lord. || 1 ||
The people of the world do not like death; they try to hide from it. They are afraid that the Messenger of Death may catch them and take them away. Inwardly and outwardly, the Lord God is the One and Only; this soul cannot be concealed from Him. How can one keep one’s soul, when the Lord wishes to have it? All things belong to Him, and He shall take them away. The self-willed manmukhs wander around in pathetic lamentation, trying all medicines and remedies. God, the Master, unto whom all things belong, shall take them away; the Lord’s servant is redeemed by living the Word of the Shabad. The people of the world do not like death; they try to hide from it. They are afraid that the Messenger of Death may catch them and take them away. || 2 ||
Death is pre-ordained; the Gurmukhs look beauteous, and the humble beings are saved, meditating on the Lord, Har, Har. Through the Lord they obtain honor, and through the Lord’s Name, glorious greatness. In the Court of the Lord, they are robed in honor. Robed in honor in the Court of the Lord, in the perfection of the Lord’s Name, they obtain peace through the Lord’s Name. The pains of both birth and death are eliminated, and they merge into the Name of the Lord. The Lord’s servants meet with God and merge into Oneness. The Lord’s servant and God are one and the same. Death is pre-ordained; the Gurmukhs look beauteous, and the humble beings are saved, meditating on the Lord, Har, Har. || 3 ||
The people of the world are born, only to perish, and perish, and perish again. Only by attaching oneself to the Lord as Gurmukh, does one become permanent. The Guru implants His Mantra within the heart, and one savors the sublime essence of the Lord; the Ambrosial Nectar of the Lord trickles into his mouth. Obtaining the Ambrosial Essence of the Lord, the dead are restored to life, and do not die again. Through the Name of the Lord, Har, Har, one obtains the immortal status, and merges into the Lord’s Name. The Naam, the Name of the Lord, is the only Support and Anchor of servant Nanak; without the Naam, there is nothing else at all. The people of the world are born, only to perish, and perish, and perish again. Only by attaching oneself to the Lord as Gurmukh, does one become permanent. || 4 || 6 || 13 || Page 447 -- Cremation ceremony photos next.
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