My beloved teacher Nanak Dev Singh Khalsa left his body on Friday, February 13th 2015 after three weeks of hospitalization following a heart attack. I finally found words to write about it.
The day when Nanak died I returned home from a meeting in the afternoon. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and the birds sang their songs of the coming spring. Out of the blue the intense thought of Nanak expanded in my mind and tears streamed out of my eyes like two rivers while I was sitting in the middle of the packed bus, staring out of the window directly into the sunlight. “This is goodbye”, the thought hit me all by a sudden, “you are leaving us”. Later I called in the ashram, but didn’t reach my friend. The next day I heard that Nanak breathed his last breath about 30 minutes before I cried for him in the bus.
Nanak teaching Gatka to uptight Germans in Berlin:
How I Became Nanak Dev’s Student
When I met Nanak Dev for the first time at a gong meditation I knew that I wanted to learn from him. I was disappointed to hear that he did not teach yoga at that time, but one or two months later a friend told me that he was about to start a new – his last – class cycle. Overjoyed, I went and did not miss one class since.
Oh, how I enjoyed that weekly yoga class in his private training room! We were a group of 6-12 yogis and yoginis. These evenings were magical. Just entering the room sometimes got me so high that it was impossible for me to think straight and I would just be out of my mind for the rest of the night, absorbing his words and the energy. He would light candles for us and scent the room with aroma oils, and we all sat in a half circle around him. Every week he lectured about a new topic. In discussion with two fellow students it once came out that each one of us had a class that they felt has been “for them”. A class that nailed “their big why”, their major life question of the time.
Nanak Dev’s Teachings
One time Nanak talked about the mountain as a concept of being, a firm and stable attitude towards life, especially beneficial for women. Although we all hung on his lips, my friend - a longtime mountain climber – was moved to the core. Another night, Nanak spoke a lot about his hippie times and psychedelics, unaware that my other friend seriously considered to leave city life for travelling in a hippie bus.
“My” class has been about dharma. Struggling with the questions “What’s my purpose? What should I do with my life?” this very Tuesday my crisis reached its peak. But then I went to the ashram and there he was, giving me all the answers that I desperately needed. Luckily, this talk has been recorded, you can check it out here: Nanak Dev Singh’s Dharma Lecture.
Giving me a sense of direction, of meaning and belonging, Nanak Dev and his yoga group changed my life. I experienced a clarity I have never felt before. Things started to happen in my life. Little challenges, releases, transformations, tons of synchronicities.
These evenings after we finished the Sadhana, he would impishly smile: “Chai Kriya”? And then we put a big thermo in the middle of the circle, filled with the most delicious Indian chai I ever tasted, made according to the original recipe that Nanak learned from Yogi Bhajan. Sharing little snacks, chocolates, dates, some fruit or crackers, we would have our little chai feast these Tuesday nights.
The Teachings Go On
When you meet your teacher you know it. Nanak Dev Singh has been “my” teacher. I suspected it when I first met him and I knew for sure during the first class. Even after he left his physical form, he still is and always will be my teacher. It’s not over. Quite the contrary. The teachings go on. They got a little harder and more all-encompassing recently but they go on.
For instance, when he was in coma after the heart attack he made me overcome my hospital phobia, to pay him a visit. It was bad. Standing in front of the hospital, trying to convince myself to enter, I felt my heart bumping so painfully, I almost got a heart attack myself. But I breathed through it and entered the hall and sat on a bench for about ten minutes to calm myself, before I collected all my courage and took the escalator into the intensive care unit.
He even taught me to let go of what was most important to me: him and his teachings. In the last class, the class before his heart attack, he announced that he wanted to teach us how to teach Maha Yoga and that we were already in the midst of his education programme that consisted of several training blocks. I was on cloud nine! The one thing I had wished for the most was given to me without that I even had to ask for it! It seemed to me just like another part of all that magic that started to unfold naturally since he came into my life.
Four days later I was invited to a birthday party at Triguna that transformed into a healing circle for him – and us – after we learned the shocking news: that he had a heart attack earlier that day. He stayed in the hospital for three weeks in an artificial coma. I was devastated. It still attacks me every now and then, sometimes just walking down the street all of a sudden my eyes fill with tears and I can’t help but cry for Nanak and all the knowledge and experience that leave the physical plane with him.
Nanak’s Death and the Bhagavad Gita
During the last month I occupied myself for the first time in my life intensively with death, a topic that I formerly avoided if possible. Alone the thought of death would give me a tight feeling in my throat. So I used to lock it firmly into a hidden drawer in the basement of my mind. Death. I just didn’t get it. But when Nanak died, it made my life stop and pause for a moment. Memento mori.
There is no separation between life and death. Death is a part of life. It’s just like another chapter of a book. You who read these lines and I who wrote them, we will both eventually be as Nanak is now and as we were before we came into this life: without physical form, pure unrestricted energy. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains to the warrior prince Arjuna that he should not mourn for the body because the soul is undying:
For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. (…) As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones. The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind. This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same. It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body. (Bhagavad Gita, Chaper 2, Verses 20-25)
The Blossom and the Rhizome
Nanak Dev-ji once told us how he learned from observing the desert’s microcosm that there are no extras to life. That everything has its place, every tiny organism does make sense in the big picture. It seems to me that this insight exceeds the material level. There is no energy loss. Nanak is not gone. He has just left his physical form. I like C.G. Jung’s metaphors of the blossom and the rhizome for life and death:
Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains. (C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections)
There is a connection between him and us, his family, friends and students, that exceeds time and space and the physical realm. So I don’t say farewell, beloved teacher, for I know you are still here to guide us and continue your teachings. Your blossom may have passed but the rhizome remains.
I can’t express how grateful I am to have had the honour to have been your student, Nanak-ji! You and the treasure of your teachings will always be in my heart! Wahe Guru! Akaal!
My heartfelt condolences go to Nanak Dev’s family, his wife Sabine and the people with whom he lived as the Ustad – the senior teacher – at Triguna Ashram. I have met many of them in the hospital and at Triguna during the last weeks and at Nanak’s farewell celebration last Friday and I felt their suffering but also their tremendous strength and solidarity.
Nanak Dev Singh and Bibi Nanaki about starting the Triguna Ashram in Berlin in 2008:
Books and Audio CDs by Nanak Dev
For those of you who were not so lucky to meet Nanak Dev Singh and those who want to remember and benefit from his life work, I recommend two gong meditation cds and his gatka manual. The Thundercloud cd even contains a recording of himself chanting Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo. I love it and listen to it whenever I miss him. It evokes memories of his Maha Yoga teachings at Triguna which have been some of the most treasured hours of my life.
Photo Credit: Atma Nam Singh, Sant Subhag Kaur Khalsa (title)