How Sikhism found me.
January 2009 I happily go into early retirement as I am a bit fed up with my job that slowly
shifted from research & development to consulting companies on how to use information and
communication technology in their business process. I want to spend more time on my
March 2009 I am a bit bored and surf the world wide web when I encounter a YouTube
video in which a long bearded turban wearing man in an obvious American accent asks for
donations for something called SikhNet. My curiosity is triggered and as I usually do I look into
things beyond the surface.
Knowing nothing about Sikhism I explore SikhNet on the basics of
Sikhism and find out it is actually a religion. Why haven't I ever heard of it? I do not pretend to
know everything about every religion, I do know something from most religions though, but
Sikhism are new to me.
More than half a century ago I'm born and raised a Roman Catholic but as many of my fellow
believers I lost touch with this church at the end of the 20th century. I was never inclined to
spirituality and I simply lost interest in religion in general and in religious institutions in
particular. The only thing I decided for myself was that there should be something like a higher
'power'. But I didn't know how I related to that. And as said before I actually wasn't interested
in anything that has to do with spirituality, yoga, new wave either nor was I looking for
something like that..
"Ek Onkaar, Sat Naam" and it's translation into English are the first things I encounter. "Ek
Onkaar" - one god - is something I figured out years ago already while "Sat Naam" - Truth is His
Name - I experience as an answer to a goal I pursued all my life.
As a kid I played with construction toys, I "operated" upon
mechanical alarm clocks and was very interested to find out how things work. Through a study
mechanical engineering and subsequent (nuclear) physics I found out how human- made
models are used to describe reality in order to get a better grip on reality. And although that in
itself is very satisfactory it doesn't give the answer to the question on how things truly 'work'.
To get such a simple answer "Sat Naam" to such a difficult question is quite a shock to me and
entices me to delve further into Sikhism.
Next day I read about "Kesh" - unshorn hair. I have always
had a (long) beard which I only trimmed 2 or 3 times a year for split hair. Last couple of years I
grew my hair into a 'pony tail'. Don't ask me why, it just happened.
I find a lot of websites that give me lots
of things to read. In hindsight I must have been close to an obsession. Day after day, no day
goes past that I do not encounter something in Sikhism that I already had, was, knew or that
feels natural, logical, making sense and so on.
I find a dutch website that asks for translators (English-
Dutch) and as I'm a 100% Dutchman I volunteer with the idea that I can learn from it while they
Slowly the idea in my head takes shape that I'm actually a Sikh but I have the rather
simple idea that I just need to 'decouple' my Roman Catholic 'attachment' and attach Sikhism
instead. Being quite a distance from the nearest gurdwara I just plan to quietly become a
'cyber' Sikh on my own.
Then I'm asked to translate the "Rehat Maryada" for the website. I find
so many strange things in it that I need to consult a 'real' Sikh. For this encounter I travel to the
Gurdwara in the Hague. Although the people are very friendly and I'm in my 'own' country this
is a real culture shock for me. I thought I more or less understood the religion but meeting my
first real life Sikh and visiting a gurdwara shows me that in fact I still know next to nothing. I
also realized that my 'cyber' Sikh idea will not work at all.
Despite all this it takes me just 40 days from my first YouTube
encounter with Sikhism to tell my friends and family that I 'changed' faith and became Sikh. To
my surprise and disappointment nobody seems to mind or is interested in that. They just
cannot be bothered. The Catholic priest from the parish I belong to is the one that is most
interested. I go him to tell him I'm going to leave his faith. He is disappointed but understands
and wishes me well.
I keep on studying and try to find where religion stops and culture starts as I want to make a
clean cut between the two in order to keep my very dutch culture. This takes me to Sikh history
and to all kinds of things relating to Sikhs, Sikhism, India, Pakistan, Punjab, Muslims, Hindus and
many more things. In the end I find that religion and culture are to much intertwined and
inseparable I just have to become bi-cultural.
As I read about the importance of the turban and the reasons to
wear one I try to understand but I cannot. So I decide to order some turban cloths from India
just to try it out. YouTube provides the instruction videos on turban tying.
June 2009; I tie my first turban and after 2 or 3 attempts it looks
more or less decent enough to go outdoors wearing it. The next day and the day after that
things improve as I get more skillful in tying. It still takes me quite some time to tie one but that
will improve with time. I'm quite happy with it but for the big scare when after a week or so
when I come to realize that from now on for the rest of my life I will wear a turban. Although,
even now once in a while this idea still scares the hell out of me, it does a lot in gaining
understanding of the importance of the turban for those that wear one.
Wearing a turban in a virtually turban-less and
latent christian environment and culture does really change the attitude of others towards me.
While non of my family, friends or acquaintances was interested or couldn't be bothered by my
changed faith before, now they cannot ignore it anymore. Not that people become violent but
their attitude certainly changes and, lets say, not to my profit. I didn't see that coming but I will
learn to live with it.. I feel I'm on the path and plan to follow it.
One day when I was shopping in town a young man came up to
me and asked if he could have his picture taken with me. I do get this question now and again
as turbans are still rare in the Netherlands. I didn't object and when he found out I was actually
dutch he asked me how I became to be a Sikh. I told him the story above and concluded with
“and so I found out to be a Sikh”. His reaction was “I do not think you have found Sikhism but
Sikhism found you!”. He was right, as that is exactly how it feels; Sikhism found me.