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The Portal
The Talking Stick Colloquium XIV, Stanza 27, Apr 5-11





In constructing the picture of an ideal person in gurmat - a gurmukh - we have seen that by choosing the right orientation ('liv' vs. 'dhat') and invoking the power of attentive listening (also referred to as 'dhian'), a gurmukh's consciousness finds its inner center where the writ of hukam becomes clear. Hukam becomes the lighthouse - providing clarity of purpose and direction as it guides us across the sea of life.

We also discovered that the practice of attentive listening cultivates a gurmukh's inner environment (consciousness) so that virtues like compassion, contentment and service can flower and bloom.

Combined with 'bhau' - the self regulating restraint and discipline that manifests as inner devotion and love of God - these form the foundation and the roadmap of a gurmukh's life.

A gurmukh, then, is guided by hukam as it plays out in our individual lives and acts out of a sense of dharam - duty and righteousness - and is imbued with inner devotion ('bhau') in service to society and love of God.

Experiences like 'vismaad' (awe and wonderment), 'vairaag' (inner withdrawal) and 'biraah' (separation), are feelings that gurmat views as necessary components of spiritual formation. These experiences - or feelings - should be viewed as markers on the road to becoming gurmukhs - a goal that we should all aspire to. 


THE MESSAGE - Stanza 27

The interesting thing about pauri 27, also called 'So Dar' is that it appears three times in the Guru Granth Sahib, albeit with minor variations. Traditionalists believe that it signifies the importance of the message in this verse and that the insertion of additional or different words in the other two variants (in the 'Bani So Dar' on page 8 of the GGS and Rag Asa on page 347) is simply an attempt to meet the requirements of the respective meters.

Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that the central message remains unaltered.

Another point to note is that in our translation, we have used "Where is the door" for "So dar keha," instead of "What kind of a place," which could have been justified as well.

The purists (traditionalists) amongst us will doubtless caution (rightly, I think) against reading "So Dar" as "SodaR," since 'So Dar' is not one word, as is usually pronounced, but two, meaning 'The Door', although I have chosen the word 'Portal' instead.

In this stanza, one can feel the absolute sense of awe, wonder and ecstasy that Guru Nanak must have felt in experiencing Reality.

Guru Nanak speaks repeatedly of One Reality that is too vast in its dimensions and countless in its attributes for us to grasp. Despite that, he does not shy from asking a fundamental question: "Where do you live," or "What kind of a place do you dwell in?"

His answer, for us to ponder, suggests that Reality is all around us - within and without; it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

For us humans, Reality can be grasped in all its expressions that Guru Nanak lists: the elements, gods, goddesses, seekers of all stripes; in short, everything. Everywhere this Reality is expressed through sound and form - infinite in number, endlessly and forever.

Guru Nanak describes the entire creation as "singing" to this Reality. Singing here should be understood to mean the sound created by the dance of life expressed in carrying out the purpose for which a thing was intended: air to blow, fire to burn and water to run.

"Singing" can also be understood to mean in praise of, which implies a kind of seeking: thus we are all seeking our source - the ascetic, the sage, the pundit, and the gods.

"Singing" can also be seen as the pursuit of excellence in each one of us as we try to reach beyond ourselves. Here Guru Nanak appears to be pointing to excellence in speech and language, music, knowledge and above all awareness of the world around you.

In this stanza, it appears that Guru Nanak appears to be saying this Reality creates and rules over its creation - everyone and everything serves the purpose for which it was created.

Quite evidently, this Reality brooks no interference, "Hukam na karna jaa-i //" - No one can order You around."


As noted, the overwhelming emotion in this stanza is awe and wonderment, 'vismaad' in gurbani parlance. This emotion is triggered in line after line. Can we reflect on why it is important to capture (or, re-capture) our sense of wonder?

Similarly, why are the feelings or 'bairaag' (withdrawal) and 'birhaa' (separation or longing) valued?

Why don't we consciously aspire to be gurmukhs? Why is it more important (evidently) to chase a million bucks, start a successful business or aim to be the CEO?


So ḏar kehā so gẖar kehā jiṯ bahi sarab samāle

Where is the portal, where the dwelling,

From whence You watch over Your creation?

Vāje nāḏ anek asankẖā keṯe vāvaṇhāre

There, endless sounds, instruments and players abound,

Keṯe rāg parī sio kahīan keṯe gāvaṇhāre

A divine symphony of melodious sounds.

Gāvahi ṯuhno pauṇ pāṇī baisanṯar gāvai rājā ḏẖaram ḏuāre

Air, water and fire all sing your song;

Dharam Raj, the angel of death, sings at Your door,

Gāvahi cẖiṯ gupaṯ likẖ jāṇėh likẖ likẖ ḏẖaram vīcẖāre

Chit and Gupat, the recording angels, sing in tow.

Gāvahi īsar barmā ḏevī sohan saḏā savāre

Shiv, Brahma and their consorts sing in Your praise,

Gāvahi inḏ iḏāsaṇ baiṯẖe ḏeviṯiā ḏar nāle

Indra seated on his throne with attendants in tow sing of You.

Gāvahi siḏẖ samāḏẖī anḏar gāvan sāḏẖ vicẖāre

Ascetics in long meditation, sages in deep contemplation

Gāvan jaṯī saṯī sanṯokẖī gāvahi vīr karāre

Celibates in self denial, the content in self surrender,

Dauntless warriors - all sing to Your praise.

Gāvan pandiṯ paṛan rakẖīsar jug jug veḏā nāle

Pundits absorbed in scripture, reciting the vedas through the ages

Gāvahi mohṇīā man mohan surgā macẖẖ piāle

Women of bewitching beauty, in the worlds below and above,

All sing to Your praise

Gāvan raṯan upāe ṯere aṯẖsaṯẖ ṯirath nāle

Jewels and gems of Your creation, the sixty eight places of pilgrimage,

Gāvahi joḏẖ mahābal sūrā gāvahi kẖāṇī cẖāre

Mighty heroes in battle, the four sources of creation,

Gāvahi kẖand mandal varbẖandā kar kar rakẖe ḏẖāre

Worlds above and below, created and sustained by You,

All sing to Your praise

Seī ṯuḏẖuno gāvahi jo ṯuḏẖ bẖāvan raṯe ṯere bẖagaṯ rasāle

Steeped in divine love, the bhagats sing odes to You

Hor keṯe gāvan se mai cẖiṯ na āvan Nānak kiā vīcẖāre

And countless more that Nanak cannot recall.

Soī soī saḏā sacẖ sāhib sācẖā sācẖī nāī

You are Eternal, True Master, forever True the Name

Hai bẖī hosī jāe na jāsī racẖnā jin racẖāī

You always were, always will be - You, who fashioned all creation

Rangī rangī bẖāṯī kar kar jinsī māiā jin upāī

With diverse colors, forms, species and maya too.

Kar kar vekẖai kīṯā āpṇā jiv ṯis ḏī vadiāī

You behold Your works,

Jo ṯis bẖāvai soī karsī hukam na karṇā jāī

As it pleases You, so runs Your writ - none can order You around!

So pāṯisāhu sāhā pāṯisāhib Nānak rahaṇ rajāī

You are the King of Kings, Nanak walks in Your Will.

Conversation about this article

1: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), April 05, 2010, 1:49 PM.

Guru Nanak's 'So Dar' hymn presents his personal experience of heavenly joys in the company of all liberated ones, who sing in eternity the praises of Akal Purakh at the door of his ineffable court. There is divine music everywhere and in everything. The appearance of the 'So Dar' hymn three times is unique in the Guru Granth Sahib, one in the Morning Prayer (Japji), the other in the Evening Prayer (So Dar Rehras - Supplication at That Door) and the third in the beginning of the Asa Raag [GGS:6, 8-9, and 347-48]. Also noteworthy is the presence of additional vocatives (tera -'Yours, O Lord!' and tudh-no - 'To You, O Lord!') in the 'So Dar' hymn and the opening hymn of Asa mode, which are absent from the Morning Prayer (Japji). The vocatives are considered musical devices that form part of a singing tradition. Since Japji is a contemplative composition and is meant for recitation during the hours before dawn, vocatives are unnecessary. The Evening Prayer, on the other hand, is meant for congregational worship. The 'So Dar' hymn, therefore, is sung at the evening 'sitting' in Asa mode at the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple, Amritsar). Thereafter, the recitation of the remainder portion of the Evening Prayer is done by the granthi. It is followed by the congregational prayer (ardaas) and the reading of a vaak from the Guru Granth Sahib. The evening 'sitting' of 'So Dar' ('That Door' - "So Dar di Chaunki") takes its name from the first word of the first hymn of the Evening Order. Its actual performance takes place at sunset. The traditional singing of 'So Dar' hymn is preceded by evening melodies such as Sri, Gauri, Purbi, Madhuvanti, and so on. The tradition of the singing of 'So Dar' hymn in the evening had originated during the Kartarpur period of Guru Nanak's life. The first testimony about it comes from Bhai Gurdas, who refers to the 'devotional chanting of Jap (Japji, - 'honoured recitation') in the ambrosial hours of the early morning and the singing of 'So Dar' and Aarti ('Adoration') in the evening." [Vaaran:1:38]. Evidently, the performance of the 'So Dar' hymn enjoys a particular place of honour in the Sikh tradition since the days of Guru Nanak. Its message is that of musical harmony in which the whole creation is enraptured. No discord of any kind can break this divine harmony (hukam): 'Ever eternal, our blessed Creator, with Truth as Your Name and unfailingly true; all that exists in its forms and its colorings, all is Your handiwork, all You sustain. None may command You, none challenge Your purpose; whatever You choose comes to pass. You the Creator, Our Monarch all-powerful, before whom all creatures must bow.'

2: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 06, 2010, 7:24 AM.

Wonder, awe and amazement! Without these qualities, no learning is possible, because they underlie the sense of inquisitiveness which fuels learning. The thing to note also is that there are multiple ways of learning - direct illumination of the kind that Guru Nanak received; learning from nature (as indicated here) and, of course, empirical learning that relies on logic and reasoning - and the one we are most familiar with. All of these modes of learning require "dhyan" or attention that Guru Nanak has emphasized so much. Let's examine our lives to see how attentive - or sensitive - we are to your environment. For the most part, we are like zombies executing habitual tasks mindlessly (not a bad thing for habitual tasks) but also stuck in habitual patterns of thought (harder to break) that color the world for us. And herein lies the problem, in my estimation. Thoughts?

3: Jasvinder (Hamilton, New Zealand), April 06, 2010, 3:08 PM.

Wonderment is a rarity in our lives generally these days, probably because we are so habitual. The kinds of learning as mentioned by Ravinder Singh ji, the first two might lead us to a sense of wonderment but the most prevalent one, the reasoning based, hardly leads us to awe-stricken moments. These moment are very few and in-between because we seldom go with the flow. Rest of the time, we are machines, sometimes I wonder like the idea canvassed in the "Matrix' movie. The kind of learning we do can't be called education, it is more like a vocational training to be a certain kind of machine - i.e., engineer, doctor, and so on. We don't know who we are, we need certificates these days to prove it, a piece of paper given by someone else to say this is who I am. There is nothing wrong or right about it, this is how it is. Wonderment will probably only come when we go with the flow of life, and when we stop expecting a particular result from a particular action, otherwise we just get calculated results. How can a sense of wonderment arise then? Even when we do something different, like go on a holiday or going out somewhere, we are going with certain expectations, that even ruins our sense of getting amazed at new things too. So maybe the problem lies in thoughts, or maybe in expectations that keeps us away from a sense of wonderment.

4: Yadwinder Singh (Pickerington, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 07, 2010, 2:01 PM.

When we talk about ME or I, in fact these are two things. One is our body and the second is the 'jeev atma' which is part of Akal Purakh, which pervades in all. We relentlessly work toward our careers, family, wealth and material aspects of life. Also plastic surgey is done to substantiate an aesthetic look of the body. We hardly put any effort to uplift our jeev atma which resides in us. The gurmukh way of life helps to nurture that jeev atama or the Waheguru within us. The trick is to be surrounded by the fire of the five evils around us and not get burnt. Then we can see 'So Dar' and eventually the 'So Ghar' inside us. I feel that through the gurmukh way of life, the atma will become part of parmatma and give us salvation. And we will become free of the cycle of life and death.

5: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), April 07, 2010, 9:09 PM.

The human quest to know its origin, the origin of the universe and how it operates, remains as enigmatic as ever. The concept of God is the latest in a series of beliefs constructed by humans in their desire to seek a reasonable answer to the above mysteries during the long arduous journey and history of their existence on this planet. All humans wonder not only where they come from but also where they go and what happens to them. Most major religions have created a concept of heaven and hell as the answer. Guru Nanak has sought a more realistic and practical approach and it is vividly at display in this stanza. In the first two lines of the stanza, he raises the most common question asked by people about a path to Him and His location. In the next ten lines, Guru Nanak provides his answer in a unique way by combining two universally used soothing/ pleasing human (and universe) faculties of sound (instruments) and singing. The musicians and singer in his approach include everybody - the high and mighty, low, pious, ordinary; natural elements of wind, water, fire; many other creations, all in attendance and dutifully engaged in singing His praise. The approach has an element of earthly practice which is so different and refreshing. Projecting Him in command is evident. The environment of music and singing is a stark contrast from commonly held view of raging hellish fires. There is a believable depth of thought in the answer. The approach includes emotional and psychological dimensions of responsibility, duty, freedom, equality, continuity, humanity, inspiration and hope. It breeds and conveys a sense of solace and contentment: we may not be equal in this life but end up equal after all. In the remaining lines, Guru Nanak reiterates his views that this unknown, all-pervasive force is everywhere ans nowhere. It has been here for all times and will remain here for ever. There is nothing we can do about it except to accept its forceful presence, the way it operates, its known and unpredictable impact, etc. We must learn to accept it willingly and without rancor for our own good. Being Guru Nanak's ardent disciple, like many others, I find this earthly practical approach to human issues most inspiring and believable within the religious domain. The most commonly used interpretation quoted in the introduction perhaps generates more awe and amazement for its reverential impact.

6: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), April 08, 2010, 12:43 PM.

Guru Nanak in stanza #27 describes the awe and wonderment in the house of the Akal Purakh, providing a portal for a gurmukh to realize them further. Since, it is very difficult to define the indefinable, describe the indescribable, or limit the infinite, Guru Sahib has written it only in metaphors. Unfortunately, being entrapped in daily life indulgences, we often forget that gurbani is written metaphorically, and we start hallucinating into our ideas of what could be, instead of what really is. Every religious and non-religious person often recognizes inner inclinations toward feelings of wonder, awe, gratitude and love that defy even the definition of these words. According to modern physicists, we cannot even define all that composes the visible world, because even that is fluid, and, therefore, indefinable. The invisible world of feelings and values eludes definition. Guru Nanak, realizing the plight of humanity in recognizing reality, has written in metaphors to talk about elusive things, those things experienced at the level of feeling, intuition, or longing. So that by comprehending metaphors and symbols, we can enrich possibilities to speak of our insights into the visible presence. Modern spiritual metaphors for the Great Mystery includes the Akal Purakh and Inner Wisdom showing that what we experience is both beyond and within. The metaphor is our way of learning about the unknown qualities and richness of something we sense by singing the language of what we know and the image with which we are familiar. The metaphor is our only valid language and the natural language of the soul. By comprehending the subtleties hidden in the applied metaphors in gurbani, we can certainly learn to appreciate what is the truth and accept it. We need to recognize and think about our personal metaphors for that Presence we sense guiding us through life. Identify ways in which we speak about the Presence. Have any of our metaphors become meaningless, damaging, or too limiting because we have fallen into using them too literally? Loosen them up. Expand them. Vary them. Breath freshness into our relationship with the precious, boundless, loving Presence we sense within us and beyond us. Keep it clear and keep it simple. Instead of hoping for the wonderment in the after-life and beyond.

7: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 08, 2010, 3:12 PM.

In the face of such a raw encounter with an incomprehensible universe, is it any wonder that Guru Nanak should break out in such rapture. One would be moved by a sense of wonder to behold that there exists something out there rather than nothing! This, I think, is the wellspring of all religious feeling - not what religion has come to be confused for. This is the fuel for creativity in any sphere. This is what makes a person available to life.

8: Gurdev Singh Bir (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 08, 2010, 10:23 PM.

Guru Nanak gives a detailed and loving description of the state of vismaad (wonderment) he experiences. He sees the creator's manifestation in all that he observes. If we, up to this point in the Jap bani, have been listening and practicing attentively, we surely should be in that state of wonderment. We are so caught up in our daily grind to create that 'safety net' of wealth and success, that we do not have time to reflect on Guru Nanak's message. We carry on with our cursory religious duties, and when our bodies are old and our strength is sapped, we seek salvation. How then are we to get to that state of vismaad which is also extensively depicted in Asa di vaar: 'Vismaad naad vismaad vaedh || Wonderful is the sound current of the Naad, wonderful is the knowledge of the scripturess' [GGS, MI:463-18]. Also lovingly said in: 'thoohai hai vaahu thaeree rajaae | Waaho! - You are Great, and Wondrous is Your Will' [GGS, MI:1329-11]. In that state of vismaad, there are no questions and there is nothing but a complete sense of surrender and unquestioned acceptance of hukam. The five thieves and excessive entanglement in maya (more than we need or necessary), surely are the biggest hurdles to get to this stage.

9: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 09, 2010, 6:10 AM.

Would like to elaborate further on wonder being the wellspring of genuine religion from which inner qualities or virtues can flow: gratitude or "shukraana" for the gift of life; understanding that life was given to us out of "love" or "prem." Life - here and now - becomes sacred and the quest for "God" then is not "out there" but right here in the midst of ordinary life and expressed in living creatively or "sirjanatmak jivan" because it is only in creative moments that there is bliss (anand); this is when the sense of self is lost and one feels one is in the "flow." The particular activity becomes irrelevant. I think the stanzas we have been considering the past few weeks are a call for active engagement but with a spirit of reverence. So, we need to rediscover the sense of wonder by reconnecting to authentic religion (dharam).

10: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), April 09, 2010, 8:33 AM.

In these deliberations, the word 'vismaad' has propped up frequently. All participants appear to understand its meaning. Everybody recognizes the power of vismaad to evoke feelings and a state of mind that sets in inner balance, peace, quiet and a sense of contentment. It is a state of mind humans have sought for ever, yet they remain as deluded as ever in attaining it. Humans have been devising ways ranging from intoxicants, herbs, medicines, holistic, exercises, prayers and yoga postures to achieve it. These efforts are a proof of our genuine need to have such mind conditioning. Most readers have made us believe how it is achieved in their writings. I have not noticed anybody pointing out any specific hindrance in attaining it. I have a question. In this prozac wrapped world, why do people not take the approach frequently suggested in this discussion to bring inner peace of mind we crave so much. The approach appears so close and easy to achieve. In fact, many will be happy and satisfied with the level of peace well before reaching the vismaad stage. Does this vismaad come from religious exercises only? If so, why are gurdwaras and religious places not opening clinics to provide daily doses of vismaad and relieve millions from their chronic malady. These sufferers in fact would be glad to pay for the service. Or is it easy to mentally construct than developing in reality. If so, what are the road blocks and can something be done? It will be helpful to know the opinion of our accomplished readers. I also hope the readers will consider this a reasonable question to ponder and enhance the purpose and utility of this discussion from a practical angle.

11: T. Sher Singh (Guelph, Ontario, Canada), April 09, 2010, 9:16 AM.

In answer to the questions posed by Nirmal Singh ji: It's a lonely, personal life journey. There are no short cuts, except those received through Grace. It can't be done by proxy. It can't be bought, it can't be sold. It can't be loaned, it cannot be borrowed, leased or rented. It cannot be shared. Each one of us is on his/her own on this - we have the benefit and support of the sangat, the guidance of elders and mentors, and the little finger of the Guru to hold on to ... but the buck stops at our feet for each one of us! No beauty, no learning, no wealth, no status, no honour, no chaacha, no bhatija can help us on this.

12: Jasvinder (Hamilton, New Zealand), April 09, 2010, 8:11 PM.

Nirmal Singh ji: your question is thought provoking. Why is it hard to achieve the state of vismaad or even peace, for that matter, for some of us? Isn't it even so hard to describe it in the first place, as Gurvatar Singh ji said, even Guru Nanak resorted to metaphors in dexcribing it. Then T. Sher singh ji mentioned it is a personal journey, so it different for each one of us. There are as many worlds around us as there are number of minds around us. Each one us has his own world inside and outside, and each of us will have a different description of vismaad again. Why is it hard to attain, then? Maybe a lot of us don't know what it is, or where it is? Maybe we're all looking for answers outside rather than asking what it is it for me? I think it needs a personal effort first to understand what it is, then the effort on how to achieve it. Like I first have to decide on what kind/ colour of kitchen cabinet flat-pack I am going to buy, and it is easy till this stage of buying and reading the instruction on the flat-pack, but when you go to assemble it, we all face different difficulties, depending on our abilities. There is such a big industry out there about self-help books, everybody would have been a beautiful person by now after reading them, if we judge on the basis on how much money is spent on these books, courses and seminars. It is not about knowing, reading or attending seminars, that is the first step but generally the second step is missing, there is a lack of personal, individual effort that takes us, very very slowly, towards change, or a state of vismaad. Each one of us is standing at a different milestone in our journey and each one has do this journey personally by application of the knowledge, which is where we lack. A lot of people don't want to know about this journey (inner journey) or do it even, and the one who wants to do it lacks in effort or even gives up easily. At a certain point in our life, we realize that the manmukh path chosen by us has not taken us anywhere and hasn't given the satisfaction, but we don't want to be called fools having 40-50 or even more years of our life living this path and then turn back and go the other way. So I think it is lack of effort towards application of the knowledge with discipline that hinders us. And another thing I can think of is the "comparison" that binds us from enjoying life and living wonderfully. Generally, I am happy with my lot but the moment I compare myself to someone who has more than me, all the happiness fades away, and I start running and racing again. If someone is not ready do this effort, then they will not get anywhere or change. It is like climbing the ladder. Still wondering though, I think the best way may be is that we should climb two ladders at the same time, manmukh one on the outside, and gurmukh one on the inside, rather than getting to a certain age, then turn back like a pendulum.

13: T. Sher Singh (Guelph, Ontario, Canada), April 10, 2010, 4:03 AM.

Dear Jaswinder ji: Ever tried climbing two ladders at the same time? I don't think it gets one anywhere - except back to the ground, real fast!

14: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), April 10, 2010, 5:45 AM.

A human, fraught with complexities of daily life activities, keeps his 'self' entangled in greed, anger, and ego, so much so that he forgets even to think: what is one really seeking in and from life? One who keeps indulged in false speculative assertions and having grandiose feelings is always on the run for the unknown. As discussed in previous stanzas of the Japji, Guru Nanak advised humanity to actualize introspection and accept 'As It Is' (Hukam). The mind stays occupied with all kinds of intricacies in life so that no time is left for 'conscious awareness' of the self by self-analysis (atam-cheenan) or cognizant self-realization (atam-pehchaan) within phenomenal nature. Guru Amardas wrote the advice centuries ago. He stated: "aap pehchaanae munn nirmal hoie" - 'By self-actualization, the mind attains peace and equipoise' [GGS:161]. Hopefully, by self-analysis and self-realization, we can become aware of the difference between real and unreal, and then comprehend personal responsibility in our relation with the extrinsic environment and attain peace of mind.

15: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), April 10, 2010, 7:00 AM.

Nirmal Singh ji has raised important questions that have received good responses from the readers. The experience of the divine portal (So Dar) offers significant clues to the centrality of devotional singing (kirtan) in the Sikh tradition. Why is kirtan the 'supreme' (pradhan) Sikh performative practice? Does it reflect Guru Nanak's own mystical experience? Notably, religious music has always been described as the source of spiritual elation, social cohesion and empowerment in cultures around the world. The sacred music of the Sikhs is the heart of their devotional experience, and shabad kirtan ('singing of the divine Word') has always been an integral part of Sikh worship from the very beginning. The founder of the Sikh tradition, Guru Nanak, was himself a musician who spread his message through music and song. The primary objective of Sikh kirtan is spiritual discipline, which is why it is kept free of secular characteristics that may be in vogue at any given time. Any kind of music that might contribute to the arousal of sensuality has no place in the Sikh tradition. For Guru Nanak, the ethical and spiritual aspects of devotional music must always take precedence over its technical performance: 'Merely singing devotional songs in melodic modes (raags) is of no use if one's heart is full of hypocrisy' [GGS:1342]. We need to address the following questions to understand the centrality of Sikh kirtan. What makes a musical sound sacred? Why is it that the musical or tonal dimension of sound unites religious communities more fully instead of dividing them? Is it the emotional appeal of music or the transforming power of the divine Word with which it is used as an aid to ethical and spiritual development? Can the theory of Indian aesthetics about nine sentiments (rasas) be legitimately applied to explain the significance of such experiences based upon one's deeper understanding of naam rasa ('mystical experience of the divine Name') or vismaad ('the sense of wonder') produced during the performance of or listening to Sikh kirtan? The aesthetic experience may only be a partial understanding of an ineffable mystical experience of sacred sound. Is it possible to cultivate the sense of wonder (vismaad) in life with the help of some experts in the field or is it a divine gift bestowed upon certain individuals? Each one of us needs to explore this question from our own personal experience. Guru Arjan is quite explicit: 'Why to count one, two or four, when the whole lot is ruined with worldly pleasures? It is only a rare person who is enamoured with the divine Name, blessing the very place where he/ she dwells' ('ikkas duhu chahu kia ganii sabh ikatu sadi muthi// ikku adhu nai rasiara ka virli jai vuthi//' [GGS:218]. Such saintly people can promote the spiritual life of many more with their blessed company (sangat).

16: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), April 10, 2010, 7:29 AM.

T. Sher Singh ji and Jasvinder Singh ji: thanks for your meaningful input. A few personal reflections on the issue. No doubt, life and vismaadic journeys are lonely. Others provide company and support as much as we are willing to reciprocate. Something to remember. Do we know what vismaad truly is and if so, do we want it? I personally doubt it because it is not worth it's mentally contrived value. A purpose-driven life provides many more satisfying moments than conceptual, harder to obtain, vismaadic moments. Knowing what we want and why: this simple mind maneuvering usually eliminates many wants. And those we really want, we mostly get. The importance lies in enjoying those moments with a sense of contentment to put one's mind into vismaadic mode. In this deliberation, we have exalted Guru Nanak out of our reverence for his inspirational thought in his writings. Have we ever given a moment's thought to the basic challenges he faced and how he overcame them during his extended journeys. I am not talking about his debates with the sidhs or mullahs. His basic necessities, like meals (who provided them?), how many clothes he carried, where he bathed, who provided the soap, where he slept, etc.. The stuff we believe we must have and work hard to acquire. With our intellect as vast as the universe, we have the ability to accomplish anything on a piece of paper and often do as evident in this study. That in itself is vismaadic, I hope. Life lived is different. There is a razor thin gap between reality and fiction. Just replace 'will' with 'should'. And fiction turns vismaadic as well. The Japji study has been a worthwhile journey. I have struggled to be truthful and practical: we all should. This approach has a potential to be vismaadic, with His grace.

17: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 10, 2010, 11:37 AM.

Let me offer a pittance -- my two cents worth -- on the idea of vismaad. As I see it, it is reflective of the fact, repeated a zillion times in gurbani, that the ultimate reality is such that our intellect cannot fathom and our senses cannot perceive it, but with which our inner core (call it soul if you wish) can commune. This concept of the limits on our efforts (of senses and intellect) immediately evokes a sense of vismaad and awe. Ever see a child's face and eyes when he/she discovers something entirely new and never before thought of or encountered? That feeling is vismaad. It is the proverbial "AHA" moment in life; not something that can be forced. A feeling, by definition, cannot really be forced. All it requires, I suggest, is opening the self to the experience - uncluttered by the many things and ideas that do clutter it.

18: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), April 10, 2010, 12:59 PM.

Thanks, I. J. Singh ji, for making it simple. If vismaad, by definition in Sikhi, is as simple as you suggest, the 'aha!' moments, situations and opportunities are plenty in every day life. As you suggested, we do not need to force it: the 'aha!' feelings come out naturally. All we need is attentive observation and let the expression flow as the opportunity presents. Just be as natural as nature intended us to be and savor the moment. Even moments of awe, which may not be as frequent as the 'aha!' moments every day, occur regularly with or without religious environment. Unless we condition ourselves to more easily realize such moments in religious setting than otherwise. The thought is to recognize our biased mind's capacity to limit the expression of such feelings of awe in preferred situations. This means religious minds have awe moments within religious and in non religious environment and the vismaad state is not religious specific.

19: Jasvinder (Hamilton, New Zealand), April 10, 2010, 3:13 PM.

Thank you, T.Sher Singh ji. I was wondering myself too, whether it is possible to climb two ladders at a time. If not, then how do we live in the world and be gurmukh, as mentioned by Guru Nanak, and not take "sanyaas"? Don't we have to look after both aspects of our life?

20: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 10, 2010, 3:29 PM.

Nirmal Singh ji states: "This means religious minds have awe moments within religious and in non religious environment and the vismaad state is not religious specific." I wish the answer could be as simple and direct. The altered state of mind can result from meditation but also from mind-altering drugs, as well as from running a marathon. Which one of these do you think would be more preferable and why? In the religious experience, the state of vismaad (awe) is the result of grace and requires a life of humility. Grace, as you know, cannot be commanded or earned. If one thinks of having earned it - as a sense of entitlement - grace promtly disappears.

21: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), April 11, 2010, 12:20 PM.

I.J.Singh ji and other respected readers, it is a privilege to be your colleague in this study. Every branch of the study coins certain words to better explain the work. My mundane research indicates that 'vismaad' belongs to the religious field. To attain the vismaad stage of mind is only possible in the religious metaphoric context. The chance of its attainment in daily, ordinary life is remote, at best. This assumption is augmented by the frequent advice that in religion, use of metaphors is a must to grasp the meaning. Poetry also uses human imagination for its impressive results. Guru Nanak was a poet par excellence. The proof is in the formation of our religion and our engagement in this study. Under the influence of these mind powers and after frequent sighting of the word 'vismaad', it is the meaning which I understood. I wanted to implore your opinion about the lack of potential application of vismaad phenomena as a solution to most common human sufferings. It is in that spirit I raised the question. I thank you for your participation and still hope we will continue pondering the issue; and who knows, some utility may sprout out of the effort.

22: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio. U.S.A.), April 11, 2010, 4:28 PM.

Thank you for a lively discussion - yet again. I would submit that vismaad, although used in a religious context here, need not be confined to religious experience. The scientist, as much as the mystic, experiences vismaad during breakthrough moments. Religion as a social phenomenon can be a branch of study, but the religious experience that Guru Nanak is describing here is not a branch of study. That is why intellectual discussions (like this one) of mystical experiences have limits that we must recognize and accept. Nor can such an experience be compartmentalized - especially when Guru Nanak talks about dharam in terms of inner qualities. These qualities should suffuse our entire existence. Vismaad should be the mode of existence, the state of our being, not an intellectual category. My two cents. More next week.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium XIV, Stanza 27, Apr 5-11"

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