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The Way
The Talking Stick Colloquium XVI, Stanzas 32 & 33, Apr 19-25





 "The Socially Active Renunciate"  was the moniker we used to discuss Guru Nanak's ideal person - a Gurmukh. The stanzas under consideration contrasted Guru Nanak's vision of an ethical and moral life (and therefore the basis of an ideal society) with those of the naath yogis.

There was never any doubt - or disagreement - during our discussion that Guru Nanak was unequivocal in declaring that the yogi, like the brahmin and the qazi, had gone astray - "Jogī jugaṯ na jāṇai anḏẖ." [GGS:662]. He dismissed their external symbols and esoteric practices, stressing instead, the need to cultivate virtues like contentment, compassion, reflection and dignity of labor.

Guru Nanak also questions the yogi's abstention from worldly involvement - an impetus that we saw was directly tied to the hindu view of an illusory and unreal world. In contrast, Guru Nanak has persistently - and repeatedly - stressed that the world is the true handiwork of the Creator, "Nanak sachi ke sachi kar," and an arena for the practice of righteous action to achieve a just society.

We are partners and true co-creators with Hukam and alignment with it becomes our true goal.

One strand of thinking that persisted throughout our discussion seemed to lament the fact that "we search for something larger, magical, mystical, vismaadic or divine and it never departs from our consciousness. And in the process very few of us pick up the practical knowledge and wisdom hidden therein, ready for assimilation, use and benefit. Even during the interpretative process, our perception is mostly motivated towards the divine only." Unless I am mistaken it was somewhat evident in this study as well.

This view suggested that ‘like an algebra class, the learning of the Japji text is over. In these stanzas, Guru Nanak is using many more examples to practice what we have learned so far, like a tutorial."

The hope was that there would be some discussion around it. We will return to this topic in our current discussion since this is an important point.

THE MESSAGE - Stanzas 32-33

The generally accepted (traditional) interpretation of stanza 32 is that Guru Nanak is here describing the methodology of what is commonly known as Simran or Naam Japna. The process starts with mechanical repetition of the tongue which in turn triggers a deepening awareness that leads ultimately to the center of one's being. The spiritual accomplishment of those who have practiced this discipline invariably provokes a desire in those less successful to imitate - or put it another way, the real thing always inspires counterfeits. In the end, though, Grace is the clincher.

Like stanza 32, stanza 33 is conventionally thought of as a statement of the degree to which humans have conscious will - that is, the power to effect true change. Guru Nanak here seems to be reminding us that it is the force of the Creator that runs the writ around here. We are able to do the things we do simply because the force of this Creator runs through us as well and gives us our inherent capacities.


The word "jugat," which appears in line 6 of stanza 33, "jor na jugṯī cẖẖutai sansārī," is of special interest. It has various connotations in Gurbani but for our purposes, we will focus on its meaning as method or way of life.

We need to dwell on what this way of life is that will lead us to the Truth - "Sacẖ ṯā par jāṇīai jā jugaṯ jāṇai jīo." [GGS:468] and can be received only from the Guru, "Nānak saṯgur bẖetiai pūrī hovai jugaṯ."[GGS:522]

Could it be that the real import of line 6 in stanza 32 is not what is generally believed - that we have no skill or method to traverse the course of life? I would suggest that if we pause after 'na', as "jor na, jugṯī cẖẖutai sansārī," the meaning changes dramatically - it suggests that success (in any endeavor) rests on the cultivation and practice of the right method which includes the skills mentioned in the previous line, "Jor na surṯī giān vīcẖār," understood as reflection, thought, and knowledge.

There is also the notion of "jot-jugat" in gurbani, alluding to spiritual experience and way of life and how this experience was passed from Guru to Guru, "joṯ ohā jugaṯ sāe sėh kāiā fer paltīai" [GGS:966]. What experience and way is being transferred here?

In looking to the Guru for the right way, one discovers that virtually every reference to "jugat"  or way is accompanied by the need to understand Hukam.  Is stanza 32 a description of a technique or is it a statement against mechanical repetition?



Ik ḏū jībẖou lakẖ hohi lakẖ hovėh lakẖ vīs

If I had a million tongues, multiplied twenty-fold more,

Lakẖ lakẖ geṛā ākẖīahi ek nām jagḏīs

And a million times each tongue proclaimed Your Name.

Ėṯ rāhi paṯ pavṛīā cẖaṛīai hoe ikīs

That is the path, whose steps ascend to You.

Suṇ galā ākās kī kītā āī rīs

Hearing of the sky, crawling ants wish to fly

Nānak naḏrī pāīai kūṛī kūrhai ṯẖīs.

Nanak, through Your Grace are we but received - all else is drivel. //32//


Ākẖaṇ jor Cẖupai nah jor

The power to speak or remain silent is not ours,

Jor na mangaṇ ḏeṇ na jor

Nor the power to beg and grant

Jor na jīvaṇ maraṇ nah jor

Life and death is beyond our control.

Jor na rāj māl man sor

The power to rule, to acquire, or even calm the mind is not ours

Jor na surṯī giān vīcẖār

Nor the power to remain mindful, reason or contemplate

Jor na jugṯī cẖẖutai sansārī

The way to deliverance is beyond our ken

Jis hath jor kar vekẖai soe.

Only You have the power to create and to tend

Nānak uṯam nīcẖ na koe

Nanak, none is low or high in Your presence. // 33//


Conversation about this article

1: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 19, 2010, 12:24 PM.

Some elaboration is needed around Nirmal Singh ji's comments last week where he pointed to the propensity for looking for something "larger, magical, mystical or vismaadic," and in the process missing out on the "practical wisdom." The danger that Nirmal Singh ji speaks of is certainly real. Equally real is the danger on the other side: of developing too mechanistic and material (practical) a view of life. Guru Nanak was not offering a practical "how to" manual in the stanzas under consideration, but preaching qualities which are "feelings" or "emotions" from which actions flow. He is talking about big themes - knowledge, reason, goodness, justice and the Divine. The trouble is that these carry unfortunate connotations: impractical, unworldly or plain esoteric mumbo jumbo. I would submit that it is just as important to first understand the structure of our mental "housing", i.e the thoughts and feelings that animate us. Vismaad finds mention in gurbani as a feeling we should awaken; to me, it is the basis of the highest expression that humans are capable of: music, art, literature and science. And yes, works of art or music are possible only where there is an economic surplus. I guess what I am driving at is that we must indeed look for the magical, the mystical and the divine in our lives - this is what suffuses our lives with fragrance. More later.

2: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), April 20, 2010, 9:29 AM.

In plain and simple terms, we have spent approx. 3 months and 3 weeks, reading, understanding and interpreting a poem titled the 'Jaap', written over 500 years by a man named Nanak. With one significant difference. The poem is not an ordinary poem, as is evident from readers consistently addressing it as Japji out of reverence. The poet also has been transformed into an initiator of a social movement that has blossomed into nearly 30 million followers who have transformed the movement into a religion. And out of their reverence, they have declared the poet a Guru and a founder of their faith. There is one particular aspect worth mentioning on the readers side. They all are the followers of the faith. That means their shared views have significant conditioning of their mind. There is an element of inherent challenge in expressing our closing views of the study. However, the answer can be as simple as the strength of each person's belief in the faith, the ultimate anchor of our sustenance in this life, if that is the outlook we clearly and dearly hold in our mind. This can happen only if we consistently practice most of the tenets imbibed in the faith. That will be possible only if we look for and discover helpful/ beneficial utility in the principles encased in the religious texts. It is in this context that my conscious mind impelled me to propose looking for practical utility in the study of the Japji. We all agree, Guru Nanak has addressed many significant issues of human query, such as, who is the creator of the universe, how it works, what is the purpose of us being here, what are my responsibilities, how to conduct my life, how to relate to others, our relationship with the creator, etc. In my observation, sometimes we have a tendency to look for something higher, mystical, magical out of the religious texts at the peril of missing/ neglecting the practical utility of the message. We are all different in outlook and orientation and have our own opinion about the role of religion in our lives. I respect each approach. And remain convinced that the Japji offers a lot to learn and practice for our own welfare. If used judiciously, there is very little in Japji that can mislead anybody even if someone wants to, without going against the principle included therein. For me it is almost a 'how to' guide for understanding myself, interacting with others, understanding and relating to Him, spiritual knowledge and a shelter during adversity. I believe that ought to look like a complete package. What more can I say.

3: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), April 20, 2010, 11:12 AM.

Every person experiences various instances happening in life that are not aligned with one's thinking or objective. A few people do claim that they have control on every aspect of life happenings and power activities to achieve it their way. Do they really have that much control on anything? May be, I do not know. Those, who believe that they control everything, are deep into their ego and astray from the truth. Their indulgence in 'I', 'Me' and 'Mine' keeps them in a delusional world of their own. It is a rather formidable belief that human endeavor can achieve anything. The majority of us feel that whatever is going to happen will happen; and we have no control on any thing happening in/ with/ without our life. But for some highly achieved yogis, nobody even has control on the functions of the various organs to keep the body going. Similarly, the human has neither control on the atmospheric, geological events affecting our lives nor any control on cosmological ocurrences. Once again Guru Sahib emphasizes that it is Hukam that ministers natural phenomena in every aspect of it's being and we are to accept as it comes. It does not mean that we do not use our blessed faculty of the brain to maintain ourselves. The practical message in this stanza is that do not expect God to feed you the apple sitting in front of you, use your efforts. Do not think that you can force survival by controlling your heart beat or stopping your breath. Nobody can force to win a lottery either.

4: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 20, 2010, 11:19 AM.

In speaking of "jugat" or way/ technique/ method (in sum, way of life), gurbani teaches us that there are two "ways" or orientations available to us. Earlier in our discussion, we spoke about "liv" and "dhat" being the two ways. Gurbani is also very clear that the right "jugat" or way must involve connecting to the Truth by understanding Hukam and how it plays in our life - [GGS:940].

5: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), April 21, 2010, 10:30 AM.

Explanation of the word 'jugat': This word has played a significant role in problem-solving in the subcontinental culture. The most commonly used word is 'jugadd' (d sounds like r) and 'jugat' is a substitute used in Punjab. In our culture, people have taken great pride in their ability to come up with solutions to difficult, puzzling and mysterious problems. Whenever an issue of this type or magnitude arises, the first thing to say is: "Let us use jugadd or an innovative way to solve the problem." In the Guru Granth, the word first appears in stanza 9 of the Japji. Later on, Guru Nanak uses a combination of 'jot' and 'jugat' to make his point that we may have discovered the light to find a way through the darkness, 'jugat' may be a way to solve many problems, but it does not work in our approach to understanding the Universe (Him). Incidentally, the 'jugadd' concept has crept into the American business world as well. It has become a topic of discussion in U.S. business schools and frequently mentioned in business articles as an innovative and cost effective approach to solving complex problems.

6: Jasvinder (Hamilton, New Zealand), April 21, 2010, 2:20 PM.

"Yes, yes, you have read thousands of books ... but you have never tried to read your own self ... you rush in into your temples and your mosques ... but you have never tried to enter your own heart ... Futile are all your battles with the world ... for you have never tried to fight your own desires ..." -Bulleh Shah. Guru Nanak has said the same, and is it saying here too: the way to meet God is to ascend the ladders into His Palace (your heart). He says doing all the outside things will not help us in finding Him. To reach Him, we need to go into our consciousness again. Then, he says - doing all the jugat and jor outside with our five senses and then looking for something divine with our external eyes is futile. Using the senses, we'll only see what is outside, the nature, but He is within us ... whom we have forgotten. When in a dark room, we don't know where the objects or people are, but still know where we are, we can still feel our presence that is where He is. Similarly, if we look inside, we will feel his presence in us, in each breath. I agree with Nirmal Singh ji that we have the tendency to look for these mystical happenings around us, and keep looking outwardly again and again. As Guru Nanak paid attention to his inner consciousness, closed all his windows (senses) to the world and looked inside the house (body) rather looking out of the house, that is where the solution is to this mystery ('mo ko kaha dhunnde re bande mein toh tere pass mein' ... Kabir). I wonder why we look for 'jot' in gurus only, it is in everyone of us, isn't it? "Sab mein jot jot hai soye tis de channan sab mein channan hoye". The jugat is then to understand who we are, then we find the truth. First thing: because he is always with us, that's why we have forgotten him. Second thing: it is difficult to find him because all our senses are facing outside which creates obstacles. And the third thing: we look for Him many times because we feel it is worth looking into, as everyone is doing it. Do we check that are you looking for Him because you have awakened and realized what is around you is not the truth, that he's the only truth.

7: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), April 21, 2010, 2:58 PM.

I am surprised at the silence of the readers to touch the fundamental issue of the repetition of the divine Name. It may be called the 'skillful means' (jugat) to attain spiritual heights. Frequently, we find the condemnation of the mechanical repetition as a useless exercise, like the babbling of a parrot. Is this really the case? How come Guru Nanak himself elaborates this process in the stanza under consideration: "Let every tongue become a hundred thousand; let each be multiplied twice ten times more. Let this multitude of tongues then join together, repeating a hundred thousand times the wonder of the Creator's Name. This path is a stairway which leads to the maker, an ascent to the mystical union. All may follow it, even the lowliest, if they but heed the Word from above. Those blessed by grace will find the path, leaving the braggart to wander away." Undoubtedly, some pretenders do make fake claims in spiritual life and lead people astray. But the whole life itself is a process of repetition. If our breathing, pulse or heartbeat stops, there will be no life. The repetition of the divine Name sanctifies the tongue and in the process each pore of the body becomes a tongue to repeat the divine Name a hundred thousand times: "The Gurmukh meditates on the divine Name with each pore of his body" - 'gurmukh rom rom hari dhiavai'. How do we explain this spiritual wonder in ordinary language? Ordinary things in life do not interest people. It is the extraordinary happenings that bring real transformation in life. The very survival of Guru Nanak's message largely depended on the superior nature of his compositions like the Japji, both aesthetically and philosophically. It is difficult to imagine that a less profound doctrine could have withstood the test of time. If there are now thirty million people in the world who claim Guru Nanak to be their 'Spiritual Guide', it is because of the wonder of his compositions like the Japji. Is it just a simple poem or more than that? Why would the Sikhs vibrate in harmony with its sacred sound during the ambrosial hours with such fervent love and devotion? And, this has been happening for more than five hundred years. I still remember the beautiful voice of a gursikh who would recite the Japji early in the morning from his rooftop in my village. Those were the good old days.

8: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), April 21, 2010, 9:41 PM.

In the stanzas under review, "Nanak uttam neech na koi" leaves no doubt about the equality of everybody in Guru Nanak's view. His use of word 'uttam' which means highly noble, pious, as supported by another quote 'neech jaat har japti-aa uttam padvee paa-ay' [GGS:733.7]. This has me wondering: where will a Gurmukh be in this situation? Is there anything in the Guru Granth may reflect upon such query?

9: Yadwinder Singh (Jalandhar, Punjab), April 22, 2010, 11:31 AM.

I believe 'Nanak uttam neech na koi ...', a message to the gurmukh, is not to be judgmental. It is not our place to judge who is good and who is bad. This is 'dharamraj'`s judiciary after death which looks at your account of deeds and decides who is uttam or neech.

10: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), April 22, 2010, 3:23 PM.

One who entertains any pride, whether of secular power or spiritual power, and considers oneself higher and others lower, is a person who is not yet fit to commence even the initial stage of ethical-spiritual progress described in the Five Realms (panj khand) of the Japji. In this pre-khand stage, the seeker must accept his/her insignificance in the total scheme of the whole universe that is working according to the divine Law (hukam). There is no place for the efficacy of the ego (haumai) or any claim to an exception from the working of the divine Law. Therefore, one who undertakes the journey of spiritual progress must realize that the whole of one's advancement in the spiritual realm is a matter of divine grace and not due to one's power alone. It is no wonder that the stanza of Japji under consideration is of immense value at this stage of complete surrender: "We have no power to speak or be silent, neither to beg nor to give to another. The power to live, the power to die, the strength to possess kingdoms, arrogance of the mind - none is ours to claim or command. We have no power to gain wisdom or enlightenment, nor spiritual skill nor the means of liberation. Power is the Creator's, the Creator's alone. All are equal before the Creator, O Nanak, none exalted and none abased." This stanza makes sense only when it is rightly understood in its unique context. The message of 'Nanak uttam neech na koi' makes sense only from this spiritual dimension.

11: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), April 22, 2010, 9:24 PM.

We agree that we have no control; we have to leave it up to to Him to decide. We had a lively discussion on stanza 16, on "panch parvan, panch pardhan ..." During that discussion, the consensus appeared towards the 'panch' being the chosen ones. Amongst the 'chosen', we considered those who may have scaled the spiritual summit, become noble and iconic figures like Guru Gobind Singh, whom people may look up to. They were chosen by His sanction, honored in His court, considered resplendent in His court ... was our interpretation, if I recall correctly. In that discussion, we did the picking (not Him). Just to make sure there is no potential conflict in two interpretations or approaches.

12: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 23, 2010, 5:07 AM.

Sure, we are all shaped - and sometimes misshaped - by our individual circumstance. Makes for color and diversity, which is reflected here in our approach to gurbani: to some of us, the Japji may be a poem - albeit. not an ordinary one - but to many others, it is the word of God (Bani Guru/ Bani Nirankar hai). Likewise, many may take umbrage at the reference to Nanak as a mere mortal: while Nanak is indeed a man and mortal, he is also Jagat Guru and the Word personified ('aap narayan kaladhar'). Is the Japji like an algebra course that can be completed in 3 - 4 months? I wonder. I digress a bit, but allow me the liberty of sharing my own personal feelings (taken from a piece I wrote for a while ago) about the text and poetry of Guru Granth Sahib. This feeling is not peculiar to me and is shared by many: "Gurbani beckons me, like a lover, to look beyond text into the mystical meaning hidden behind the words; to go past the literal to the allegorical interpretation of bani. The Guru's poetic expressions and captivating melody compels me to read - and re-read - the text over and over again, in an effort to find the "key" or the spiritual sense (antreev bhahv). Yet with every reading, something remains unsaid, making me conscious of the transcendence and mystery of Waheguru. Sounding the words through different modulations and speed of reading, with pauses at the prescribed place and identifying with the different moods, transports me out of myself to an experience that is timeless (Ekstasis). The reverberation connects me to the Divine through the medium of "Nanak, the Guru", because, by his own admission, these words were spoken to him by God (Jaisee me aaveh khasam ki bani). It leaves me with a heightened sense of awe and wonder (vismaad). My engagement with the Guru is devotional, exegetic and mystical." For these reasons - and others - Japji is read over and over again, reflected and absorbed everyday. It is not - at least to me - a tutorial in Algebra. Gurbani is life transforming - nay, it is life itself - and has to be lived in every moment. In the interest of length, more later on the stanzas under consideration.

13: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 23, 2010, 3:57 PM.

For success in any endeavor, preparation is of the essence. In stanza 32, naam simran is the practice that prepares us to be receptive and centered - the caveat here is that no practice or technology will force Grace, yet, practice we must. In stanza 32, the sense that I derive is that we cannot force a conclusion or outcome, that we need to fashion ourselves, develop skills to traverse through life - with the knowledge that we are not the source. To Jasvinder ji: I do not think that looking for "jot" or a mystical being outside is being suggested. Also, remember, that the Creator abides in creation - so look inward so that you may find your center (liv) but don't shut your eyes to the world outside.

14: Jasvinder (Hamilton, New Zealand), April 24, 2010, 4:00 AM.

Indeed for sure, when we are absorbed in gurbani, life is wonderful, meaningful and vismadic. Guru Nanak was someone who had wings and had the ability to fly as well. I think we all have wings but we are afraid to fly or even learn to fly and we keep holding on to our nest and its security. We all are holding on to our mind, but Guru Nanak's flight was towards the heart where love is. Some times I think, like first you have love for someone in your heart, then you find ways to express it, and each person has his/her own way of expressing it. Similarly, maybe we first need to develop immense love for HIM, then we can all find our own way to express it to HIM? ... or do we keep using the ways used by others?

15: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 25, 2010, 8:13 AM.

On Monday, we will focus on stanzas 34-37, which we recognize as a kind of roadmap for spiritual evolution. In the following week, we will examine stanza 38 (followed by the Slok/ Epilogue), which uses the metaphor of alchemy for our own transformation. I would like to thank the participants for their contributions and insights and pray that you will stay engaged as we bring the discussion on the Japji to a conclusion. Stanzas 34 thru the end are extremely significant and your input will go a long way and helping us all in deepening our own understanding. Thanks.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium XVI, Stanzas 32 & 33, Apr 19-25"

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