Project Conversion

Project Conversion


My Last Day as a Sikh

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I didn’t sleep well last night. Today is my last day as an honorary Sikh and I feel as if I’m floating between two worlds. We’ve talked about how jarring each transition is, but it’s especially difficult with a faith that bonds to you so well. Another unique aspect of my month as a Sikh is that out of all the months so far, this was the most visual. I physically changed over the month and wore the Five K’s, articles of faith within the Sikh religion. They are: Kesh (unshorn hair), Kanga (comb), Kachaira (undershorts), Kara (steel bracelet), and the Kirpan (a blade).

Here is a before and after image of my transformation into Sikhi:

Beginning of the month/End of the month

I’d say that was a pretty dramatic change. Understand though, that this is more than just walking around carrying various religious objects. These are part of a uniform which represents religious independence and a duty to protect/fight for those who are under the heel of tyranny. Each article of faith holds great significance for the Sikh and reminds him/her of their relationship with Waheguru (God) and humanity. Such a great responsibility weighed heavily upon me every day as I wore each article. I wasn’t just slipping on some impractical article of faith, I was dressing for battle.

Because this is such a visual faith and I’ve changed so much over the last 30 days,  I wondered a lot (probably why I couldn’t sleep last night) about how difficult the transition into another faith would be. Will I feel lighter, less prepared, without these pieces of my identity? How many razors will I go through while shaving this beard? I assume that it will physically hurt to stop being a Sikh. What’s sad yet inspiring to me is that many Sikhs have died rather than cut their hair or remove their dastaar (turban).

Earlier in the month, I encouraged Sikhs to stand up for their identity–especially when it comes to the physical implements–and wear them with pride. This was difficult for some to hear, coming from an outsider, but I would say the same to anyone in that position. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of who/what you are.

The dark side of honoring one’s identity is that sometimes, you are a minority. More than any other month, I felt the gaze of exclusion every time I went out in public. The dastaar attracted many stares and who knows how many whispers. I knew I was officially part of the Sikh Panth (global community/congregation) when someone refered to me as “Taliban.” Though I took that with a grain of salt, it got me thinking about others. Were they calling me names behind my back (maybe even right in front of me)? Was I being equated with one of “them,” whoever “them” may be? The irony is that while many judge Sikhs as a fringe element because of their dress or beliefs out of ignorance, a Sikh’s code of conduct demands that a Sikh defend those who are marginalized and/or oppressed. This includes those who judge them. That takes guts, and just opening yourself up to questions is the best form of combat against ignorance.

Meditation and Service

These two words, in my humble opinion, fully describe the Sikhi faith. Sikhs are called to meditate on the presence of Waheguru (God, meaning the awesome light which dispels darkness) in everything.

In the ambrosial hours of the morning we should meditate on His True Name and ponder His greatness.” –Japji Sahib

There is no duality then, no evil spirit vs a good one. God is in everything, everywhere, at all times. Our “salvation” comes in recognizing His (God is genderless, by the way) Order and prescence in the cosmos. Waking up at 4:30 in the morning when all the house is still, silent, makes this easier. I liked thinking about God as light cutting through the darkness both literally and metaphorically. Sometimes, I’d meditate in the dark and light a candle to represent this ideal. Amazing what a little votive candle can do to a dark room. Is this not the world we live in today? Guru Gobind Singh said that the Khalsa (initiated Sikhs) is a special group of saint-soldiers, “One among millions.” Sikhi taught me to be a single point of light in the vast darkness.

 Serving both the earth and humanity are Sikh essentials. Because Sikhs observe the divine in everything, this concept reinforced the respect I already had for the environment. This also plays a role in how we treat one another. My Mentor this month taught me that when I look into his eyes, I gaze at God and He gazed at me. In this way, every opportunity to listen closely, to smile, to serve, is a form of worship of the divine.

My Mentor and me. Yes, that's a huge turban...

Few places illustrated the idea of service better than the langar (free kitchen/shared meal) at my Mentor’s gurdwara in Charlotte, North Carolina. Everyone, regardless of social status, sits in line on the floor while weekly volunteers serve food. Here we talked about Sikhi and it was just great being among the people I tried so hard to emulate. Thank you, Gurdwara Sahib of Charlotte, NC for welcoming me into your faith and your way of life. Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh!

So here we are at the end. I’m told that, while I will not go on looking like a Sikh, a Sikh is one who searches for truth and meditates of the divine in all. In reality then, even though today I shave the lion’s mane (unshorn hair) of the Kesh I wore so proudly, I am still one of them in spirit. In fact, that description sounds a lot like many of us, doesn’t it? We are so much more alike, so much more like a family than we realize…

I wish I could stay a while longer, but I have many more miles to go before the end. Many thanks to my Mentor, the sangat at Gurdwara Sahib, and to all the wonderful Sikhs who’ve joined the Congregation and left comments of insight, wisdom, correction, and encouragement for me this month. I’ve learned so much and many who weren’t previously aware of Sikhi now know who you are. With all my heart, I hope my seva (selfless service) through Project Conversion was a blessing to you and your faith.



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kanwarjeet

posted November 12, 2014 at 1:25 pm


Amazing how I had to read your article to realign my life as a practicing Sikh. Thank you for sharing your experience – I guess when one is looking for answers Waheguru has a strange way of pointing one to it i.e. your article in my case. Stay in chardi kala.



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DD

posted October 31, 2014 at 9:43 am


The path of truth is all alone and very hard. One will require the assistance of great minds(SATSANGAT) in the path to reach the truth. And only truth reaches the truth. I am not an Baptised Sikh, yet I know 5Ks were given as gifts by Guru Gobind Singh to make it easier for those who seek truth and reach the truth.



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abowen

posted December 3, 2011 at 11:22 am


Ajay,

Thank you!



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Ajay

posted December 3, 2011 at 3:16 am


Good article written from the heart. Just one thing that needs to be clarified- you can be a Sikh for life even if you do not support the 5 K’s. These are symbols for a SINGH.
But Sikhism is much beyond the physical aspects and identity. It’s about your soul and God, and where symbolism is immaterial and irrelevant. It’s this journey that is more difficult and hard to accomplish. SSA



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abowen

posted December 1, 2011 at 2:10 pm


Kamal,

Thanks for reading, and you are very welcome.



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Kamal Saran

posted December 1, 2011 at 5:42 am


Andrew,

I don’t know what to say or I have too much to say, but wow and thank you.

PS wish I could’ve gone through those 12 months with you

Very sincerely,
Kamal



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abowen

posted November 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm


Fred,

Thank you so much for this message, Fred. I’m so glad I was able to meet you and that you made a connection with my story. If you’d like, I’d love to connect you with my Sikh Mentor. He was a fantastic teacher for me and he would be more than happy to help you with whatever you need. If interested, please send me an email with your contact info and I’ll try and help you with your search.



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Fred Byrom

posted November 8, 2011 at 5:47 am


Andrew,

Several days ago you came and spoke to my intro to religion course at UNCP. I personally had a bad morning, and came into class quite late. I did not expect you to be there that day, even though Mrs. Ulrich had warned us several days in advance. When I walked in and interrupted your lecture you ask me if I was your “wiccan brother”, and jokingly I said “I could be”, and sat down to listen to your experiences. The last thing I expected was to truly be enlightened by your experiences, but as your story progressed, I truly got heavy hearted, and will take a piece of that day with me for quite some time.
I like you was a strong Christian through my childhood, even though my parents never took me to church. I pursued religion myself, and tried to find answers at a young age. I too tried the military route; going to a military college out of state. There I met many great people, many who had the same questions I did about religion and inner peace. As my intellect grew, I too started to question Christianity and took an agnostic view of religion.
Towards the end of my stay at the military college I met a retired senior chief in the navy, who was also a former seal who practiced in combatives and trailed in japan for several years in the art of shurite. This man was an all American, but yet trained in very foreign techniques. I took interest in his leadership, and signed up to learn more about the art. Meditation with the chief gave me a broader aspect of religion, and it really clicked for me when you started to talk about the life of the Indian Sikhs, and others who formed a life of morality, along with a life of defending the weak.
In conclusion I want to thank you for coming and speaking to us, it might have seemed mundane to you, but your simple action has given me a spark to pursue religion as a major part of my life again. I am going to dig deeper in the ways of the Sikhs, and see if I can find a way to incorporate the ideology of Christianity, with the style of morality, and the code of the warrior that the Sikhs live every day. Your project has influenced me to blend religions in a way I never would have considered even weeks ago. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, and hope you continue to reach out to people like me.

Thanks again,
Fred Byrom



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abowen

posted November 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm


Puneet,

Thank you for reading. If you have any publication suggestions, I’d be happy to consider.



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Puneet S. Braich, MD

posted November 2, 2011 at 6:58 pm


I came across this link from a friend’s post on facebook.

This is really well written. If you submitted your work to some newspapers or magazines there is a good chance of acceptance. In the literal and broader sense as well.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh



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abowen

posted October 30, 2011 at 3:15 pm


Akashdeep,

You said it best, brother.



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abowen

posted October 30, 2011 at 3:12 pm


Rob,

Thank you.



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Akashdeep Singh

posted October 30, 2011 at 8:46 am


I bow to you , to your thoughtfulness , understanding and interpretation.With every step that we move towards understanding others we move two understanding ourselves.



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Rob

posted October 29, 2011 at 10:52 pm


Much respect to you.



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abowen

posted October 28, 2011 at 11:15 am


Deepa Singh,

Thank you! Peace and blessings to you.



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Deepa Singh

posted October 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm


WaheguruJi ka Khalsa WaheguruJi ki FATEH!!! You said, Singh – a Sikh is he who never stops learning – Sikhia is his nourishment. I wish you the very best for your path and may Mahraj guide and bless you whereever life takes you.
WaheguruJi ka Khalsa Waheguru ji Fateh!!



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abowen

posted October 21, 2011 at 1:52 pm


Dalip,

I hope so too!



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Dalip Singh

posted October 20, 2011 at 10:54 am


Respect where it is due!

hope the world can see us sikhs for our true colours.

WAHEGURU JI KA KHALSA WAHEGURU JI KE FATEH



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abowen

posted October 16, 2011 at 11:45 am


Lady sikh,

I will become everything : )



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abowen

posted October 16, 2011 at 11:43 am


Your Name,

Very kind. Thanks!



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Lady sikh

posted October 15, 2011 at 11:49 am


Wow, i wud love to speak to u about what u have become.. It’s brilliant



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Your Name

posted October 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm


Brother-

All of your posts have been so thought provoking. You look mighty handsome there in your after picture!



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abowen

posted October 14, 2011 at 1:35 am


hearthesound,

Ah sister, you are too kind. Sat sri akaal!



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abowen

posted October 14, 2011 at 1:31 am


Parampreet,

Thank you for that! Those two words indeed sum up the Faith!



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hearthesound

posted October 14, 2011 at 12:37 am


veerji – don’t worry. you can come back when you’re done exploring :).

b. kaur



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Parampreet

posted October 13, 2011 at 3:08 am


I saw the title and just had to read it. Very well presented. You have managed to capture the essence of Sikhi without sounding like it is a “how-to”.

If someone ever asks me to describe Sikhi in 2 words, I plan to use yours – meditation and service!

God bless!



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abowen

posted October 7, 2011 at 10:35 am


Nav Aman Deep Singh,

Thank you! Peace through understanding. Brotherhood via experience. That’s what I’m looking for. May we one day find it…



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abowen

posted October 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

Nav Aman Deep Singh

posted October 7, 2011 at 1:02 am


Yours posts have been inspiring.
This is a small world. Hope to meet you somewhere sometime and may you achieve what you are aiming for.



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tesing

posted October 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm


are comments moderated?



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abowen

posted October 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm


Manjit,

The seva and kindness by the fine Sikhs I met and the Panth was the far greater gift. Everything I said and shared was inspired by their patient teaching. Thank you for reading. Sat sri akaal!



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Manjit Kaur

posted October 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm


It is emotional to see you leave and Yes, your seva is indeed a gift to all sikhs and non-sikhs. Thank you, Andrew!
Waheguru ji ka khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh!



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abowen

posted October 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm


Harman,

I posted my reply. Thanks!



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harman

posted October 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Inder

posted October 2, 2011 at 5:41 am


Truly inspiring!



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 11:46 pm


Ishna,

Thank you for joining along!



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Ishna

posted October 1, 2011 at 11:16 am


Thank you Andrew ji for such awesome seva. You did such a wonderful job of it. Blessings to you!

Gurfateh
Ishna



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 11:12 am


harman,

Wow…that is…wow. Where was this written? Do you have a link?



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harman

posted October 1, 2011 at 7:13 am


hi Andrew ,

thanks for your Sikhi related articles , Yesterday an unknown friend who also follows your blog wrote somewhere

“”Without PC, I wouldnt know about Sikhism and all its glory. I had never heard of Sikhism before this past month, but a good friend Andrew taught me (and hundreds of others) about your faith, and I have to say that it is inspiring, to say the least. Protectors of the wronged and oppressed, strong warrior-saints, and yet so humble. And as a feminist, I very much enjoyed the equal treatment of women. I would be a proud Khalsa. “”

blessing for your next journey .

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa
Waheguru ji ki fateh .



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:09 am


Marco,

I appreciate that! Hope to hear from you soon.



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:09 am


gupt,

Thanks!



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:09 am


B,

Gorgeous, isn’t it?



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:08 am


jk,

That means a lot, my friend. Thank you.



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:08 am


Austin,

Thanks pal! See you there!



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:07 am


anon,

It is a tough business, isn’t it? Especially because many people who wear dastaar and kesh face stereotypes anyway. Hopefully more people will start to ask respectful questions instead of base their opinions on false information. I truly did my best to portray Sikhi as best as possible. Thank you for your confidence in that result! Sat sri akaal!



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:05 am


Erik,

My pleasure! Thanks for learning along with me.

You are spot on with the transition aspect. It is tough each month, but yes, moving from a faith that sees no use in forms or rituals and going into one that honors them is quite jarring. Thank you for availing yourself for questions! Much of what I ask is placed on the Facebook page for all to take a crack at. Hopefully I’ll see you there!



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:02 am


Tilotama,

Thanks!



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abowen

posted October 1, 2011 at 3:02 am


JSH,

Haha that was our first attempt at the dastaar. It’s so big because my Mentor had just filled my head with new Sikhi material ; )

You are so welcome. My time is a seva to each faith. I spent so much time in my past bashing other religions and now I just want to bask in them all. Thank you for spending your time and insight this month. I hope to hear from you again!



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Marco

posted October 1, 2011 at 2:43 am


Good job dear Andrew, & good luck as a wicca follower :)



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gupt

posted October 1, 2011 at 12:51 am


you did a good job!! :)



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Editor B

posted September 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm


A great month. So much to admire in this tradition. I especially like the steadfast egalitarianism.



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jk

posted September 30, 2011 at 7:35 pm


Thank you for sharing that wonderful story! It reminds us that Sikhism is not a religion, but a way of life. Whatever your path may be, you will be part of sikhism.



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Austin Faux

posted September 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm


Good Job, it’s been a informative month. I look forward to this next month!

Austin-



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Erik

posted September 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm


Hi Andrew,
This month has been particularly interesting for me, as Sikhi is a faith that I knew very little about… I see a lot of very appealing aspects to it. Thank you for broadening my horizons yet again!

I suspect the “gear shifting” you are about to undergo tomorrow will be much greater than what you’ve seen the last few months, in moving basically from one monotheism to another… because even if the form of Wicca you are entering is of the “soft polytheist” variety (seeing the Gods as either symbols or manifestations of an underlying unity, as some schools of Hindu thought do, rather than as truly independent Persons) it’s a radically different worldview.

As someone who has spent over a decade negotiating the borderland between an active Paganism and a strong interest and outsider participation in a monotheist tradition (Judaism in my case), I think I have some idea of what you’re about to go through… I know you’ll have a mentor, but if for any reason you feel the need to talk to someone else who’s been through some of this same territory, please feel free to drop me a line at the address attached to this comment… good luck! As always, I will be following your progress with great interest.



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"anonymous"

posted September 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm


Hi Andrew, Just wanted to say you did great with your articles everyday this month. Sometimes as a Sikh, i personally don’t know how can I spread awareness about my identity to the people stare & wonder who I am. It makes it easier if they ask me why i wear a turban (most visible article, ya beard in men), but usually people refrain to ask, either they ‘re just not comfortable or not interested in asking about it? Even at my work place, a very few of them ever asked me what do i wear and what does it represent and what faith do i follow, etc. I don’t wanna go around preaching or telling everybody about what i wear & what does it represent unless they ask or show interest. So it is difficult “spreading” awareness about your identity when you don’t get a decent chance to explain and talk about it. However, project like this and you being a non-sikh explaining and writing articles about Sikhi, definitely made a tremendous difference i think. I really admire your seva. You ‘ve done a wonderful job in “becoming” a Sikh this month, i think you done absolute justice to Sikh identity and representing Sikh faith this month. Thank you so much for all your seva & everything you did to spread knowledge about Sikhi this month!! May God bless you.. Vaheguroo jee ka khalsa Vaheguroo jee kee fateh!!



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Tilotama Productions

posted September 30, 2011 at 12:42 pm


This film might be of interest to you –
ROOTS OF LOVE
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0uzQJ0IBv0&feature=player_embedded)

Look at the significance of Hair and Turban in Sikh community.



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_JSH_

posted September 30, 2011 at 11:27 am


That is a big saffron turban indeed (even bigger than your mentor) but are you sure you don’t have any drugs, weapons (other trinkets) hidden under it that can undermine our safety? Such an irony considering you chose them as are part of a uniform which represents religious independence and a duty to protect/fight for those who are under the heel of tyranny.

I love your “End of Month picture”. Very nice and that size suits you more as of now.

Thank you, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart for publishing such beautiful articles and helped me and everyone else understand more about Sikhi. Really really appreciate it.

And in Sikhi, when we are able to do some good work towards humanity, environment, other, we say: “Thank-you God, for providing me this opportunity and ability that I could do what was required.” Needless to say, this God is not a Hindu God, or a Muslim God, or a Christian God or even a Sikh God. We refer to THE God, the one and only one who blesses us all.



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