The 84 Steps To Liberation (Goindwal Sahib)Jan 10, 2024
Originally Published in Amber Magazine Issue II
As I enter Goindwal Sahib in India I bow down and fully wipe my hand on the marble floor - right where everyone walks. Then I bring my hand to my head.
This is a way to connect to the dust of the feet of the holy. The precious energy of those who have crossed this threshold before me. I can’t believe I am actually here.
The Gurudwara was constructed by Guru Amar Das in the 16th century. It was the first Sikh pilgrimage site.
He also built an 84-step well called a Baoli. It has a shining golden dome on top and marble archway to stairs that lead deep below ground to a blessed reservoir at the bottom.
Countless devotees from around the world – and the Sikh Gurus themselves – have performed ablutions in these sacred waters.
It is believed that anyone who chants Japji Sahib on each of the 84 steps with a pure heart and bathes in the holy well can be liberated from 8.4 million lifetimes.
It is a practice so powerful that it liberates you and 7 generations forward and back.
I first heard about this practice from my late mentor Guru Jagat. She mentioned - in a way that was very easy to miss – that to even know about “the steps” is considered a very high incarnation.
And to actually complete them is the highest incarnation.
To become a “liberated being.”
Well in 2020, when the world shut down, I felt like anything but that. Locked at home, I reflected on how there are certain things that you can only do with a human incarnation.
At the top of this priceless list is practicing Dharma and completing the steps at Goindwal.
But now I can’t even leave my house.
I console myself: At least I am blessed to know about the steps. Maybe in my next life I’ll do them…
I kept the prayer strong. And I know that even the best prayers require participation.
So, I formulated a plan one day of how I could get into India - even though there were strict quarantine and travel rules. I pitched it to my husband, Dan, to try to get him to join me.
He convinced me to wait it out a little longer - and also promised he would come with me to support when it was time.
Then Guru Jagat died.
I honestly always thought she would be at the top of the steps.
Like a magnet. Pulling me up them. In the same way that everything in my life was easier, brighter, clearer inside of her physical prayer field.
I decided I really couldn’t wait for anyone to bring me there. That the moment we could travel again I would book our tickets.
And in November 2022, I did.
For the first time in 6 hours, I stop chanting and assess where I am.
Okay. I am soaking wet, but (thankfully) warm enough.
My mouth feels very dry from chanting, but I can’t do much about that.
I have a piercing pain on my left foot – that yup, that’s a callous that has opened and might bleed any minute.
I briefly triage my foot by visualizing it healed and praying to Guru Ram Das for support.
I already decided when I came to India that there is nothing that will stop me from completing this mission.
This could be my only chance.
And this isn’t about me. I’m doing this on behalf of countless others.
I look up at the number on the wall.
I’m on step 30.
That’s 54 more to go.
I keep chanting.
The echo indicates the space inside the Baoli is much more vast that it appears. The eternal sound of Japji chanted countless times has carved out an infinite pure realm of devotion and liberation.
My watch anchors me to the physical reality. Reminding me which step I’m on. And that it is almost midnight.
The other devotees have gone home but their damp smells still linger in the air.
The hum of prayer - coupled with the steady running of my husband Dan up and down the steps on the men’s side of the well - continues all night.
The seva team arrives around dawn to clean the steps – and us, it seems. Part of the purification process.
Then some devotees begin to trickle down the steps. As the sun comes up it becomes a steady flow of company of the holy again.
By this point I am in another realm.
There’s another person following me on each step – or is there?
It is blissful and painful. Somehow – perfectly – simultaneously.
Between recitations of Japji I chant out loud and carefully hobble down each marble step handing it all over to Guru Ram Das:
GURU – GURU – WAHE – GURU – GURU – RAM – DAS – GURU
I dunk in the blessed – and thankfully warm – Baoli waters. I splash the nectar over my head and pray to Guru Ram Das.
Sometimes I float – for a moment – suspended in time. In total surrender to Guru Ram Das and Japji, I offer my own tears of devotion to the holy waters.
I am lucid to the fact that I have prayed for this opportunity many, many (life)times.
And that I am doing it for so many others.
Then I hobble back up on my torn-up feet.
GURU – GURU – WAHE – GURU – GURU – RAM – DAS – GURU.
One sound on each sacred step.
I have just a few more steps to go and Dan is about to finish. I meet him at the top and in this moment I know everything for him and his family is forever changed. All because I met him at swim practice in college. Our paths are humbly and hilariously unpredictable. And now he’s the first person I’ve helped complete the steps.
He did it so that I wouldn’t be here alone.
I – and the countless people who will benefit from this – am eternally grateful to him.
I still have two steps left.
Now I’m weeping. Because I know that I’m about to finish. More than 17 hours later.
And while Dan will be at the top of the steps – my late teacher Guru Jagat will not.
But now I can feel her.
And all the others before me who have made it to this final step.
The dust of the feet of the holy… collapsing time and prayers all into this one divine moment.
She left her deep prayers for all beings’ liberation right here.
And now, so did I.
Once I finished (and recovered) from the mission, it was clear that helping others to do the same was the next step.
In April 2023, I supported 5 incredible women on their journey to complete the steps.
I intend to support another small group of devotees April 2024 and as long as there are those wishing to be liberated.