Recently I went to a Chinese restaurant near work; I have found they make the best ‘vegetarian’ chicken. Being an avid meat eater for most of my life, I still crave meat, even after not having it over a year, I still remember the taste. I despise veggie burgers which ‘claim’ they are just like the meat equivalent and find them lacking in so many regards. But at this Chinese restaurant, their vegetarian chicken is better, it’s still not chicken obviously, but it has the closest texture and taste that I have eaten so far.
This is a small carryout restaurant, sort of a mom and pop place, the workers seem like they are all related and there are a few seats in the front area so you can wait for your carry out order. As I sat down, there was an elderly Chinese man sitting on the seat beside me. It seemed like he was an elderly relative of the family as he was not waiting for food. As soon as he looked at me he said:
“Are you Hindu?” I said "no, I am not," to which he questioned again “Are you Muslim?” I smile and shake my head indicating I am not.
I was waiting for him to guess again but since it was a long pause I decided to tell him “I am Sikh.”
“What do you believe?” was his follow-up, and in my mind I was fully prepared with my answer ready from years of constant questioning of what a Sikh is, what Sikhism is, why I wear the turban, why we don’t cut hair, all these thoughts were on the tip of my tongue but something else came out.
“I believe in Ek Onkar”
He had a confused look on his face, and I was surprised that all of a sudden I had given such an atypical answer. I started to panic a little wondering what did I just say, why didn’t I answer normally? I started to look around the restaurant, a little hesitant, I had completely lost the train of thought of my standard answer.
“What is that?” he prodded further. I had his full attention now.
“It means there is one God. We are all part of one creation and we are all one.” That was the only thing I could think about at that second, whatever came out. I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with my own lack of thinking, how could I forget everything and give such a simple response.
“What else do you believe?” He was directly focused on me, and I was totally brain dead, I was like how come there is nothing else coming to my mind? How could I not do a better job of explaining my own faith?
“That’s it, that’s all I believe, Ik Onkar.” was my quick reply, as I looked away.
By now I was repeating Ik Onkar in my mind and thinking about Guru Nanak. I had sort of left this uncomfortable question and answer session and indulged in my own thoughts. The old man looked away, I figured he was either disappointed with my answer or he just felt that I was not willing or unable to explain my faith to him. Neither was the case I was just stuck. My mind was just, for some reason at that moment, not able to think further.
I sat there uncomfortably next to this old man for what seemed like such a long time, but was only a few minutes. I kept thinking about Guru Nanak and Japji and Ik Onkar and how the Buddha statue was also Ik Onkar; this old man next to me was Ik Onkar; all the workers working at that restaurant were Ik Onkar, and that everything was One, what a great, great start to our religion that was, to bring everything together. Finally they called me for my order; I got up and grabbed the bag, as I turned to walk towards the door, the old man suddenly said “HEY!”
I stopped and was like ok, he’s going to start asking me more questions, and by now I had somewhat come back from my Ik Onkar trance and was ready with my standard history lesson about Sikhism.
“I know why you only believe that one thing…. it is the only thing worth believing!”
At that second I felt myself exhale, I was amazed how this old man, who knew nothing of Sikhism summed it up more perfectly than I could have ever done. All I could do was smile and wave, I didn’t even have a response, and as I sat in my car I kept thinking "wow, what a simple and profound philosophy our religion was started upon, and how in all the messages we try to give, in all the translations and explanations we forget the simplicity of our religion."
The first message, Ik Onkar. There is only One. In the complexities of our lives we sometimes forget; in our intellect and explanations we try to give so much more, yet it is as simple as understanding that in the first two words that Sikhism was founded upon, all questions are answered. Ik Onkar, the only thing worth believing.
picture credit: Channi Phullewalia - DESIComments.com