Kids Corner


Cultivating the Inner Environment
The Talking Stick Colloquium XII, Stanza 21, March 22 - 28





Not surprisingly, "As you sow, so you reap," the topic of our conversation last week evoked some interesting comments.

A point of clarification, that was as timely as it was necessary, was the distinction between the notion of Karma in Indian thought and Guru Nanak's revelation. Traditional Indian thought - both Hindu and Buddhist - posits a law of causality (karma) that is at once impersonal and inexorable, allowing little or no room for divine intervention; indeed, it renders God unnecessary, as in Buddhism, or gives rise to a God of fear who tolerates no digression.

In such a deterministic and causal world, the correct ritual takes precedence over the right action done with the right intent.

Guru Nanak's God is not a God of Fear but a God of Love, Timeless but with a personality (Akal Purakh), revealed in Creation with a sense of meaning, purpose and direction - expressed through Naam and Hukam.

An authentic Sikh life is one of active participation in the Divine Plan (hukam) through the cultivation of divine qualities and expression of right intent. Along the way, mistakes are inevitable, but 'nadar' is just as certainly available - given the right attitude and disposition.

We saw that we enjoy a measure of free will to act but must submit to the outcome - over which we do not always have control. This is submission to the Will.

Karam and nadar become relational opposites and we have to learn to balance between the two.

THE MESSAGE - Stanza 21

There appear to be three distinct but related parts in this stanza. The first part concludes at line 4  (anṯargaṯ ṯirath mal nāo) and is a reiteration of the key message from the previous stanzas: that displays of external piety might win us some worldly praise and recognition but are ineffective for true spiritual formation. The destination is not physical travel to an external pilgrimage but a movement inward into the depths of our own being, "tirath nāvaṇ jāo ṯirath nām hai." [GGS: 687]. The wisdom of the Guru is the true inner shrine.

The mode of travel inward is attentive listening (sunniyeh) or the art of cultivating the inner ear - that leads to communion with the Word (manniyeh).

The second part stresses the need for the cultivation of virtues or qualities becoming of a Sikh and necessary for the spirit of devotion, here referred to as 'bhagti'. Incidentally, Guru Nanak's "Suchahji" and Guru Arjan's "Gunvanti," both in Raag Suhi in the Guru Granth Sahib, are beautiful expositions of qualities that a Sikh should develop.

By listening to the Guru's instruction, a Sikh develops the qualities that result in loving devotion.

The third part raises questions of the origin of creation. By suggesting that answers to these questions are impossible, Guru Nanak is instructing us not to get bogged down in philosophical conundrums.


This is a meaningful milestone in our journey. Before we proceed next week to stanzas 21-24 - which seem to me to be related in their emphasis on the Infinity of creation and our limited understanding - I would recommend that we take a cue from Guru Nanak and pause here to reflect on what we have assimilated and absorbed so far.

Specifically, let's focus on the development of an ideal person within the context of gurmat.

Different terms (suggesting different attributes) have been used for the ideal person in gurbani such as - sachiyaar, gurmukh, sant, bhagat, gursikh, jan, sevak, and brahmgyani. What different attributes do we discern? How do they all come together in an ideal Sikh personality?

A key line in this stanza is "viṇ guṇ kīṯe bẖagaṯ na ho▫e" or devotion is impossible without the right qualities. Let's reflect on these qualities. What is the meaning of 'bhagat' here?


irath ṯap ḏaiā ḏaṯ ḏān

Pilgrimage, austerity, piety and charity

Je ko pāvai ṯil kā mān.

May bring a little recognition - as little as sesame seed.

Suṇiā maniā man kīṯā bẖāo

But listening, believing and loving Your Word

Anṯargaṯ ṯirath mal nā▫o.

Is true cleansing in the shrine within.

Sabẖ guṇ ṯere mai nāhī ko▫e.

All virtues flow from You - for I have none.

Vin guṇ kīṯe bẖagaṯ na hoe.

Without virtues, no Devotion is possible.

Suasaṯ āth baṇī barmāo

Salutations to You, the Creator, the Word.

Saṯ suhāṇ saḏā man cẖā▫o.

The Truth, Beauty and Eternal

Kavaṇ so velā vakẖaṯ kavaṇ kavaṇ thiṯ kavaṇ vār.

What time was it; what day of the week?

Kavaṇ sė ruṯī māhu kavaṇ jiṯ hoā ākār.

What season, what month - when You brought forth Your creation?

vel na pāīā pandṯī jė hovai lekẖ purāṇ..

If the Pundit knew, it would be penned in the Puran;

vakẖaṯ na pāio kāḏīā jė likẖan lekẖ kurāṇ.

If the Qazi knew, it would be recorded in the Quran;

Thiṯ vār nā jogī jāṇai ruṯ māhu nā ko▫ī.

The Yogi is clueless, as is everybody else;

Jā karṯā sirṯẖī ka▫o sāje āpe jāṇai so▫ī.

You, the Creator, alone know the timing of Your Creation.

Kiv kar ākẖā kiv sālāhī ki▫o varnī kiv jāṇā.

How shall I speak in praise, or describe you? How shall I know You?

Nānak ākẖaṇ sabẖ ko ākẖai ik ḏū ik si▫āṇā

Says Nanak, we pretend to know You by making bold claims,

vadā sāhib vadī nā▫ī kīṯā jā kā hovai.

Great Master, great is Your law; what You ordain comes to pass.

Nānak je ko āpou jāṇai agai ga▫i▫ā na sohai.

Nanak, any claim to know Your depths can only lead to regret.

Conversation about this article

1: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 22, 2010, 9:42 AM.

A point that I had wished to make but overlooked was that in our consideration of Karma or Action, we failed to touch on the different nuances attached to the term 'karam' in gurbani. For example: karam, sukrit karam, dhur karam, nadar karam. Perhaps there are others that readers can shed light on. Surely, there must be good reason to use these variations. Can readers ponder over this as well?

2: Manjit Singh Bara Pindia (Canada), March 23, 2010, 12:29 AM.

Last week in my post, I mentioned the term "chitt gupat". Most people are familiar with the term, but a few may not be. So, I think I should add a few lines more on it. Literal translation of "chitt gupat" is "hidden mind/ consciousness". Man's deeds are supposed to leave an impression on the hidden consciousness. Another, similar term used in gurbani is "chitara gupat". The literal meaning of that is a "hidden screen/ window with impressions made on it" ('chitar' means a screen with pictures). Both terms mean the same in gurbani. However, in Indian mythology, "chitra gupt" is an angel/ deity who records every thing that you do. In some parts of India, even today, people worship this deity and make offerings to him. Guru Nanak often takes terms from what were in use and then by using them in many different contexts conveys the sense in which he is using that word. In this case, first he changes the term by writing "chitt gupat", to indicate that it is the consciousness where these impressions are made. Then he writes: "Let the pen that writes on consciousness be made of love, then write ... write the praise of Naam over and over again and seek the deliberation on the writ from the Divine." [GGS,M1:16:5]. By this and other passages, he tells us that it is not an angel who writes it, but, it is man himself who writes it. Another quotation from gurbani [GGS:79:15-17] which is relevant to Karam discussed last week: "O dear mind, load yourself with the precious cargo of God's name and enter His eternal door. There the anxiety of birth or death, and of coming and going is ended. The paper on which chitar gupat has written the account is torn up and the angel of death can do nothing".

3: Manjit Singh Bara Pindia (Canada), March 23, 2010, 12:59 AM.

We usually, read and interpret "Karma" as meaning actions/ deeds. Gurbani also uses the Punjabi word "karam" that has made its way into Punjabi from Persian. (It is still used in the West Punjab, Pakistan). It means "clemency, compassion, generosity, doing a kind favour, and grace". When it is used as 'dhur karam' and 'nadar karam', it is being used in this sense. In 'sukrit karam', on the other hand, it has the meaning of deeds/ action. The term 'sukrit karam' means 'good deeds'.

4: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 23, 2010, 12:37 PM.

Thank you, Manjit Singh ji, for your lovely exposition last week and now. If we could take a similar approach to the different terms used for an ideal (enlightened) person - sachiyaar, sant, bhagat, brahmgyani, etc., do these terms individually stress one dimension of an ideal person? If so, how do they all come together?

5: Jasvinder (Hamilton, New Zealand), March 23, 2010, 1:36 PM.

All the nouns used by Ravinder Singh ji here to describe a personality are worth looking at and pondering. Are they all different or just the same. What are the attributes? I think with respect to any of them or all them - as an ideal Sikh or human being - it depends on how the person is internally in his consciousness rather than what he does outside. Mostly, we judge it by what is done on the outside, which can be true too because what we are inside, we are generally outside too, but in many more cases we are portraying a certain different personality outside that what we think inside. The main attribute for a bhagat should be being true, honest to himself first, meaning what he is thinking, doing or saying, and there is honesty/ truth inside and outside. Kabir says a sadhu/ bhagat is someone who is eager to do seek sadhana/ bhagti, who is ready to change himself, make himself pure, ready for the truth, with no duality. He is a simple and patient person. Many times, in order to become a bhagat, we become very complex. Many times people in search of God and simplicity become very complicated in their thoughts. It is a matter of heart (or vivek) not mind (vichar or logic). Simplicity means that you are living each and every moment as it comes, and are not bound by disciplines too much ... you just say "jo teri marji, daata". For a simple person with no duality and no differences, everyone is equal, be it the devil or a saint: "punni paapa aakhaa naahi". The person who knows no difference is simple, as he is not guided by maya, because that is the reason for duality of the mind. He can only see one way which is the right way, and does not get bogged down by thoughts in his mind, about what should I do? What is right or wrong? Which way should I go? and so on. Bhagats are not blind, they can see which way to go, they have eyes with which they can see which is the right path and the only path, they don't need to be told whether to go right or left like a blind person, they know where the door is to get out of maya. A simple man (sadhu) can start a religion, like Guru Nanak, but the irony is as soon as a religion starts, lot of dharam thekedaar (pundits) appear and overpower it, and make it complicated (in terms of what should be done and how it should be done).

6: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), March 23, 2010, 5:47 PM.

Continuing the theme from stanza 20, Guru Nanak explains that pilgrimages, austerities, penances, and charities that may bring worldly honour and fame are nothing but paltry acts for gratifying the self. On the other hand, when effective listening, accepting hukam and developing discerning love for the Akal Purakh and the creation, are thoroughly internalized, the mind becomes pure by removing intrinsic pollution. The 'naam' in gurbani is given precedence over all other acts of worship or deeds; Guru Arjan wrote: 'pun daan jupp tupp jaetae sabh oopur naam' [GGS:401]. Then he adds, "karam dharam anaek kiriaa/ sabh oopur naam aachaar.[GGS:405] Above all - religious rituals, charitable deeds and religious rituals, etc. - naam is the most important aspect for internalization. The latter is the process by which an experience or learned action becomes part of the mental functions; for example, learning to ride a bicycle, a function once mastered stays for life. Thus, comprehending naam/ Word/ shabad/ gurbani and internalizing it as an autonomous function of thinking and acting can help realize exultation. That is the pilgrimage recommended by the Gurus. The journey taken inwards via internalizing attributes of the Akal Purakh makes one a gursikh, gurmukh and gyaani to experience 'jeevan muqati' - salvation - the purpose in life. A human is born to do karam till death. Without karam/ work/ action/ deed, it is hard for a human to survive. Spiritually speaking, can a human do karam for survival and glorify Akal Purakh at the same time? If so, that person is a gurmukh and a bhagat living a truthful life.

7: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), March 24, 2010, 9:46 AM.

Cultivation of the Inner Environment is most advised (and required), yet the most difficult task for humans to attain. Numerous concepts, customs and codes devised have remained ineffective and the goal as allusive as ever. In our study of the Japji, other than Mool Mantar, which required understanding of an important external conceptual entity, every thing else we have covered is related to the knowledge of the inner self. Inner elements that require cultivation include the mind, five emotions, five senses, thought, intellect (brain), consciousness, sleep, food and rest. I included sleep, food and rest because these affect the functioning of others. Mind and consciousness are related but not the same. As we gain knowledge our mind and intellect establish certain values with self-created boundaries in the conscious corner of our mind. Our conscience acts as an inner siren in our attempt to cross those self-created values. Clear cultivation of our values is a must. We use multiple tools in cultivating the inner self. Knowledge gathering from school, teacher, religion, opinions, natural phenomena, random events, reiteration of self experience, etc., are very important and require diligent use. Cultural mores help the inner cultivation to accept external limits as well. Our aim is to acquire traits/ habits that help us better relate with fellow humans and forces of nature. Our clear understanding of conceptual relationship with Him, hukam and karam also become critical in inner cultivation. Because quite often our concept becomes a source of conflict with others. In this discourse, three approaches appear to be in play. In one thought, the motivation appears to cultivate inner self to pave the way in seeking communion with Him. In another approach, the focus is on serving/ pleasing Him (for after-life benefits, perhaps). In the third approach, the motivation is to become a better human in relating with others through His grace. This is in line with Guru Nanak's view that the attitude/ habits of other people is most troublesome in creating a smoother life journey. Each approach is a personal choice and hence beyond debate. Under this multiple approach, it is difficult if not impossible to develop a list of perfect humanly traits. Yet one thing remains certain and I hope we can agree: our mind is the steward of our life-ship and we have the tools required for steering it. We must cultivate the mind and other related inner elements to have a well functioning steward in command of the ship.

8: Dr. Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), March 24, 2010, 4:54 PM.

I must congratulate Ravinder ji for choosing the title of discussion. Cultivation of virtues leads to 'inner devotion' that is the central message of Guru Nanak's teachings. All external observances, such as pilgrimage, austerities, charity and alms can earn no more merit than paltry sesame. The real transformation in life occurs only when one is engaged in attentive listening and meditative reflection on the divine Word, leading to the 'cultivation of inner environment' - the present theme. This is further described as a kind of 'inner pilgrimage' which washes away all the dirt of evil thinking and doing. Through the transforming power of this process shines the real character of a devout person. Such a one exclaims the slogan of victory (suast athi/ jaikara) of the Akal Purakh: 'All praise to You, made manifest in Words of Wonder, for You are Truth, You are Beauty, You are the One eternally blissful' - ('sat suhan sada mani chau'). Psychologically, one becomes like the object of one's worship. If Akal Purakh is Truth, one cultivates truthfulness in life. If Akal Purakh is Beauty, one becomes beautiful in one's thoughts, words and deeds. If Akal Purakh is eternally blissful, one stays in high spirits ('chardi kalaa') all the time. All the 'Singh Bole' produced in the eighteenth century kept the Sikh community in 'high spirits' in spite of the dark period in their history. This was the power of the 'Singh character' that ultimately prevailed against all odds. External form ('bana') is meaningless without the spirit of a refined character based on the divine Word ('bani'). Why do we display our symbols if we are not cultivating virtues in our life? The process of understanding gurbani begins at the discursive level, at which one deals with the literal sense of a particular word, but goes deeper and deeper as one contemplates the divine mysteries by gradually penetrating into subtler levels of its meaning. Throughout the Guru Granth Sahib, there is a great deal of emphasis upon the recognition of the Guru's Word - ('gur ka shabad pahchaan') - 'analyzing the self through the Word' (shabad chinahi), 'meditative contemplation on the Word' (shabad khoji) and the 'practice of the Word' (shabad kamaiai). In all these interior reflective practices, the role of surati or 'focused attention' becomes primary. The process of reflection on the divine Word, however, goes much beyond simple reciting or reading: it takes on the aspects of inquiring, investigating and contemplating. Indeed, gurbani contains rich metaphors, allusions and hints; it is a subtle code that requires probing and deeper levels of understanding. This is indeed 'cultivating the inner environment'.

9: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 25, 2010, 2:11 AM.

We have seen that the gurmat ideal is a composite and integrated personality: a sachiyaar who is attuned to hukam; a panch whose consciousness is imbued with dharam and a bhagat who embodies divine virtues and qualities. It is only from such an elevated state of consciousness that righteous action (dharam) or 'seva' or 'sukrit karam' can flow. The cultivation of the soil of our consciousness (inner environment) by the means that Guru Nanak has suggested (sunniyeh, manniyeh) becomes our first and foremost duty as Sikhs. The way I understand it, in Sikh parlance, this cultivation or practice is called Naam Japna.

10: Dr. Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), March 25, 2010, 10:31 AM.

There is another insight in the stanza of Japji under consideration which is brought to light in the form of questions: What was the time, what the occasion, what the date and what the day; what the month and what the season when first creation took its birth? No pundit knows, for no Puran contains it; no qazi will find it recorded in the Qur'an. No yogi knows the date or day and no person can tell the season or the month. Only the creator can know the answer; the Creator alone knows when creation began. How can I tell of such wonders, how utter such praise? Everyone tries the art of describing, each claiming wisdom beyond all others. This is the Supreme One, supreme in greatness; also supreme is the Name. The person who claims to encompass Him, O Nanak, can win no glory in the life to come.' Evidently, only the Creator knows all the reasons of why, how and when He brought the universe into being. The Sikh Gurus were not concerned with these metaphysical speculations because their focus was on the experience of the glory of Waheguru who is fully involved in the day-to-day running of the world. It is instructive to note that Sikh ideas of creation do not have any conflict with the scientific theories of evolution. In fact, Sikhs find them congenial to the belief in an expanding universe derived from the mind of God. Their opposition is not to evolution but to a materialism which regards the universe as self-explanatory and self-existing. The people who hold such views are the victims of deception: 'The world without the True One is merely a dream' - 'binu sache jaggu supana' [GGS:1274]. One day they will waken to disillusionment, for 'Waheguru who is eternal, wise and omniscient is the master of destiny, while the world is fickle and impermanent' [GGS:1109].

11: Manjit Singh Bara Pindia (Canada), March 26, 2010, 2:07 AM.

The state of being a sachiyar is not in the form of a man. He "was" someone, who upon passing away from the material world, was judged in the court of the True One to be truthful and pure enough to have received 'nadar karam'. His coming and going ends, all impressions and memory of the material world are wiped clean from his consciousness. And his consciousness merges into the infinite consciousness - the Ultimate reality of all things. Man cannot take the final step on the ladder to become sachiyara by himself. He must receive nadar karam. Bhagats and gurmukhs are living parsons. At best, they can be called as the candidates for becoming sachiyarâ. Consider the following analogy (type of which is given in the Guru Granth.) Consider a drop of water moving in a small stream toward the ocean. As it approaches the ocean there is a small dam. That drop of water must be helped (along with other water) by some means to cross over the dam. Once in the ocean, that drop becomes part of it. When living, even if man has done everything else with clean consciousness, the impression on his consciousness that he is a human remains. He cannot wipe that off himself as he is that one himself. That impression will keep his consciousness anchored, tied to the material world. By granting nadar karam, Akal purkh lifts the anchor and breaks his ties to the material world. "Even without his speaking, God knows who a sachiyara is" [GGS:662-6]. A Bhagat and gurmukh (ideal person) are candidates for receiving the final nadar karam. There are many passages about the bhagats and gurmukhs in the Guru Granth, such as the following: "Gurmukhs have beautiful faces, and love for the Divine. For their truthful devotion and for being infused with Truth, they are found to be sachiyara at the door of the True One" [GGS:66-11]. "When truthful we come and truthful we go, we are not assigned a life-form. Gurmukhs are sachiyara at the door of the True One, and they merge into the True One" [GGS:565-4]. The term 'sant' associated with Sikhism is used for those disciples of Guru Nanak to whom he paid special attention and imparted gurmat to them to a higher level. Their knowledge of gurmat and gurbani was such that that they could teach others who would seek their help in understanding Guru Nanak's message. As Guru Nanak and the Gurus after him were not always available for discourses to all their disciples, the sants were allowed to conduct discourses on gurbani. Quite a lot of gurbani is written as instructions (explanation of gurbani) for sants. After Guru Arjan compiled the Adi Granth, the Gurus after him did not write as much what can be classed gurbani. They preached from the Adi Granth.

12: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 26, 2010, 2:42 AM.

This is longer than I wish so I crave your indulgence. I would like to pause on Dr. Pashaura Singh ji's comment on evolution and Sikhi. During our discussion on Hukam earlier, I had suggested that it appears to be the term used for the creative or regulatory agency that operates at all levels of existence. In today's terms, we could, perhaps, think of it as the spiritual impulse that drives evolution of the species, regulates the natural order, establishes the moral and ethical framework, and exists in us as the sense of self. This impulse or drive can be seen as the intersection of the formless God (Nirgun) and expressed in Time and History as creation (Sargun). Hukam provides direction and purpose to the Universe of Time and Space, and by extension to us. The question is: is this just an alluring philosophy or does it have significance in our daily lives? In Sikhi, the ideal person (gurmukh) is attuned with hukam and lives a life that is free from dogma ('mannai mugg na chalai panth'), materialistic bias and narcissistic self obsession (haumai). We have been very focused on individual accomplishment but to me, a gurmukh does not live simply for individual goals or accomplishments - biological, social, political or economic. A gurmukh acts out of purity of motive, integrity of action and a sense of autonomy (made possible through the cultivation of virtues) and is committed to a higher or larger purpose. In other words, a gurmukh's outward actions may not seem different, but are executed with a vastly different consciousness, not for personal attainment, but for the collective good. This is the leap in consciousness that Guru Nanak is calling for, the awareness that we are but individual instruments playing in a cosmic orchestra. We must execute our part perfectly but harmoniously with the rest of the instruments. Haumai is like playing your instrument in an orchestra where you are not following the musical score. This is, I think, the social blueprint that Dr. Pashaura Singh has alluded to in his posting. The Khalsa, I believe, is the institutionalization of this ideal person.

13: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 28, 2010, 6:07 AM.

We conclude yet another week of stimulating discussion. My hope is that we have all come away with a deeper insight and understanding of Guru Nanak's message. Since we have talked at length about the spiritual technology of "sunniyeh, manniyeh," I have consciously tried to practice attentive listening in reading your postings on this forum. What I have discovered (as part of my learning) is how much there is to learn from EVERYONE if only one could set aside one's built-in filters (read biases, opinions, etc.) that automatically interpret just the pattern of words that appear on the screen; if only one could learn to "step into" the mind of the writer by being fully attentive. I recommend the practice.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium XII, Stanza 21, March 22 - 28"

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