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The Alchemy of Transformation
The Talking Stick Colloquium XVIII, Stanza 38, May 3-9




The Alchemy of Transformation - From Psychological Lead to Spiritual Gold 



The inner mountain as a metaphor for spiritual growth is commonly used across different faith traditions and also influenced our choice of the term, 'spiritual ascent',  as the moniker for our discussion on stanzas 34 -37.

The metaphor, I believe is an apt one, in that it reminds us to live life at an existential peak - that is, living life fully and intensely.

In speaking of the five "khands" or realms that a human needs to traverse - metaphorically speaking - we understood this journey to be an inner one and not to a physical location.

The five "khands" or spheres of activity were understood to be fluid boundaries of different psychological states of the mind that lead, ultimately, to an experience of the Truth that is ineffable.

We saw at the start of this dialogue on the Japji (in the Mool Mantar) how all human faculties are enlisted in praise of God - walking the way with open eyes, with attentive ears, singing and savoring the Word and tasting truth, contentment with Love.

The five "khands" extend that notion by emphasizing that the human faculties can be enlisted fully only on the broad highway (gadhi rah) of daily life - it is a daily affair.

Guru Nanak's message, if correctly understood, has profound implications on how we live individually and socially.

For an individual who experiences this journey, living becomes an existential peak: ordinary living, driven by narrow interests, anxiety, craving and quest for "more living," transforms into a transcendent affirmation of life, where mere living becomes more than living. 

An individual becomes an active agent of Hukam

THE MESSAGE - Stanza 38

The final stanza (pauRi) of the Japji which we will consider this week, can be thought of as the essence of the entire message of the Japji. 

The allegory of a goldsmith using an alchemical process to transform baser metals to gold beautifully illustrates Guru Nanak's foundational message: that we have to transform our "manmukh" nature into that of a "gurmukh" by aligning to Hukam.

This central teaching has been amplified and explained by succeeding Gurus in no uncertain terms. It is only from this existential fulcrum that a truly fulfilling, purpose-driven life is possible.

The fact is that we too often tend to lose sight of this central message and get side tracked - which serves only to exacerbate the underlying problem.

While we justifiably pride ourselves in worldly knowledge acquired through education and skills, the knowledge being talked about here is knowledge of the self, without which all else is to no avail -  in Guru Nanak's estimation. 

In this stanza, Guru Nanak lays out the process.

Again, it is to the cultivation of inner virtues that he points to. This is, indeed, the process of becoming a truly cultured and integrated personality, a necessary condition for a successful life.

What is the process? What should we carry in our toolbox?

First, is the cultivation of restraint or a reining in of the senses (jut). Put another way, this implies shifting the focus of one's faculties in the proper direction. Guru Amardas has very beautifully illustrated the right orientation for our senses in Anand Sahib: for instance, eyesight must be accompanied by the insight of seeing the same spark in all sentient beings; hearing must learn to filter out unnecessary noise and listen to the Truth; the tongue must avoid gluttony and so on.

Patience (dhiraj) is a necessary pre-requisite to restraint of the senses and acts as a check to impulsive and addictive tendencies and teaches us how to defer gratification - the underpinning of all creativity and civilization. In an age where speed is of the essence, this is virtue that may be difficult to cultivate.

Patience and restraint must be accompanied by discernment (mut) and knowledge (ved). Discernment is a Christian term but its meaning is not wholly out of place here: it describes the search for one's true vocation or what God has willed for us. In gurmat parlance, the mind (here described as the anvil) must develop this sense of discernment and or discrimination (mut / bibek) for what hukam has in store for us. This is made possible by conditioning the mind with Gurmat (ved) or the way of the Guru.

The inner fire (tup) is ignited by the bellows of divine awe (bao).  Point to be noted here that "tup" is generally associated with the fire of austerities; in Sikhi, the austerities are primarily two: walking in hukam and service as social concern.

An authentic Sikh life can thus be likened to a lifelong alchemic process of apprenticeship to the Guru where psychological lead (manmukh) is cast in the mold of love to become spiritual gold (murmukh).

A gurmukh walks in hukam and serves society selflessly.


Congratulations are due to all the readers and participants for a lively and enlightening discourse. What has been especially gratifying is that we have managed to steer clear of the usual pitfalls and maintained the decorum essential for such an exercise.

Needless to say, we have had to move at a fairly swift clip and there were times when one wished to linger a little longer over a point of special interest.

As we conclude our discussion on the Japji, we would like to do a sort of retrospective and spend time (this week and the next) re-visiting topics that have recurred with some regularity.

Let's start by visiting a question that was raised this week but has appeared in various forms previously:

What is the purpose of religion and what is its utility in our lives? A broad and perennial question, so please try and be brief. Ancillary concerns expressed which can be subsumed under this question:

Why are religions (including Sikhi) fixated on the divine and rituals?

"In our zeal to demonstrate the higher divine and spiritual quotient in the Japji, we have adopted mediums and channels to preach mostly a ritualized divine angle; instead of making it a valuable knowledge source and guide to enrich life lived every day. It has been evident in this discussion as well. " Comments? 


Jat pāhārā dhīraj suniār

In the smithy of continence, patience is the goldsmith

Ahran mat ved hathīār

Hammering the strokes of knowledge on the anvil of the mind

Bao khalā agan tap tāo

Blowing the bellows of divine awe, igniting the inner flame

Bhāʼndā bhāo amrit tit dhāl

Pouring the gold of Amrit in the crucible of Love

Gharīai sabad sachī taksāl

In the mint of Truth is the coin of Life cast

Jin kao nadar karam tin kār

For those who are so graced, it is their daily task

Nānak nadrī nadar nihāl

Says Nanak, they live in unalloyed bliss ||38||

Conversation about this article

1: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), May 03, 2010, 7:51 AM.

The inspired utterances of the Gurus embody the divine Word. As such, these compositions have the power to transform the consciousness of human beings who are able to experience harmony with the divine Word. In this process of transformation their spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical faculties are sharpened. In the last stanza of his Japji, for instance, Guru Nanak maintains that the divine Word becomes manifest in the life of a person based upon the cultivation of eight-fold ethical virtues of continence, tranquility, intelligence, knowledge, fear, austerities, love and the nectar of divine Name. He employs the celebrated metaphors of furnace, crucible and mint to describe the purgatorial process, from which the redeemed emerges purified like metal in a smelting operation. In fact, it is described as the coining of the divine Word (ghariai shabad) in the true mint (sachi takasal). In this whole process of spiritual development, personal effort and divine grace go hand in hand, although the latter is of primary importance and the final arbiter. The nature of grace is such that it is a matter of divine free choice that does not depend upon any kind of previous growth in spirituality. No amount of austerity can force it out of Waheguru's hands. If Akal Purakh chooses to withhold his gracious glance from a particular person, there can be no hope of liberation for that person. Ultimately divine grace is a mystery that is absolutely beyond human reasoning and calculation. Nevertheless, human effort has spiritual and social merit, but one must recognize its limits and acknowledge the primacy of divine grace over personal effort. Indeed, Waheguru's gracious glance is a doorway to liberation (nadari mokh duar). It is open to all, but in order to enter it, every seeker has to bring his/her nature under control by defeating the temptations of self-centered pride (haumai). Again, one must continue to perform disinterested actions at all stages of spiritual development to prevent a 'fall from grace' and to set an example for others. All human actions presuppose the functioning of divine grace. In order to respond to the divine initiative positively, one must engage with the inspired utterances of the Gurus. In actual practice, it means to enter into a 'living relationship' with the divine Word that transforms and unifies one's consciousness.

2: Kartar Singh Bhalla (New Delhi, India), May 04, 2010, 4:09 AM.

I tried to translate pauri 38 in simple English, and have come up with this: (In this pauri, the simile of a goldsmith minting a coin is used to describe how an ordinary human can become an enlightened soul.) "Let purity of conduct be the goldsmith's shop; patience be the goldsmith; intellect be the anvil; divine knowledge be the tools (hammer). Let God's fear be the bellows (air blower); and austere living be the fire; love of God be the crucible. Pour the nectar of God's Name in the crucible of love. This is the true mint where God's name is minted (This is the way a person can mold himself to become spiritually enlightened). This is accomplished only by those who are blessed by His Divine Grace. Nanak says: Those blessed ones achieve eternal happiness by the gracious glance of God."

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville , Ohio, U.S.A.), May 04, 2010, 10:11 AM.

The term "purgatorial" in Pashaura Singh ji's post caught my eye because it has christian connotations of temporary punishment associated with souls that are being "readied" for heaven. Pashaura Singh ji, how would one make the distinction in Sikh parlance? Similarly, the term austerities suggest body denial if not torture of the body by ascetics. We tend to use these words freely. Do you think there is a way to get around these connotations or are we stuck with the limitations of language?

4: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), May 04, 2010, 3:23 PM.

Thanks, Ravinder ji, for raising the issue of the use of certain terms in my post. I have used the phrase 'purgatorial process' in the general sense. It has no christian connotation in my usage at all. If you can watch the purifying of metal (gold) at the goldsmith's shop, you can see how the fire can burn all the impurities off the metal. This is the original sense of this operation. The word 'austerities' is again the translation of 'tap tau' in the text. Nothing can be achieved without 'tapassya' that Bhai Gurdas is mentioning about in the context of Guru Nanak's discipline ('bhari kari tapassya vadde bhag hari siu bani aa-ii'). It is indeed the problem of language. Even the term 'God' has its christian connotation but we frequently use it. We should use the Punjabi terms like 'Akal Purakh' / 'Waheguru' confidently. Our discourse is taking place in the English language. We will have this problem frequently, as the term 'religion' has become the focus of discussion in this debate. If you want to completely secularize this discussion, you can do so. But much of its original appeal will be lost. Guru Nanak frequently used Islamic, Hindu, and Nath terminology in his hymns. The context clarifies his usage, but he was not averse to using those terms. Why should we feel that this is a 'christian' term or meaning or that is a hindu term and meaning. Have not we encountered the various gods and goddesses singing the praises of Akal Purakh at the divine gate ('So Dar') and his palace? They again appear in the Realm of Knowledge (Gyan Khand). Can we say that these Hindu / Nath/ Buddhist figures have no right to be in the Sikh Realm of Knowledge? Or are these spiritual stages particularly Sikh? Contemporary Sikh scholarship has wasted so much time and energy on meaningless discussions on these points.

5: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), May 05, 2010, 7:19 AM.

Stanza 38 is a summary of the knowledge embedded in the Japji. The way it is presented is most practical, motivating and inspiring. Some aspects are worth highlighting. The delivery of his message in the poetic medium is superb. Use of goldsmith's work is most appropriate, easy to understand and assimilate for any human mind. Gold being the most coveted commodity and its ornaments the most desired and adoring, add a receptive allure to the human mind. The message delivered in the most simple and practical terms can be comprehended in many ways as desired by varying mind orientations. In the first line, the advice is to consider 'jut' (literally means control upon the urges of human 'inderies') like a furnace of a goldsmith with capacity to generate as much heat as the goldsmith wants but requires restraint. The approach in the example signifies several aspects with impact on the human mind. In the culture of the sub-continent, common thought is to somehow eradicate the natural but necessary urges arising out of human 'inderies'. Guru Nanak advises restraint upon the mind in managing these life supporting urges and a goldsmith's work is the most practical and perfect simile for patience and restraint. Gold is something that is malleable but retains its alluring luster no matter how often transformed. In the lines that follow: utilizing understanding and contemplation like an anvil and knowledge/ wisdom as tools; considering care/ caution like in a bellow to usher inner energy for inertia and warmth; viewing the inner mind like a crucible to fill with love/compassion and nurturing elements; crafting (speech) words which represent/convey truth. These are the traits and deeds/ actions, one must develop and those who do achieve, do so with His grace, everlasting/ fulfilling contentment. The message has all the elements essential to live a life with a purpose. It provides freedom with responsibility for fulfilling wishes and desires, well meant and noble in intent, with only one caveat: not to forget or overlook longing for His grace. Nothing more, nothing less. How more simple or easy can it be made as a concept, sacred or otherwise?

6: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 05, 2010, 8:15 AM.

Your point is well taken, Pashaura Singh ji. The use of Punjabi terms (or at least terms as they appear in the Guru Granth) like Akal Purakh, Haumai, Hukam and Guru would be a step in the right direction. I recognize that we will always borrow words. I was not thinking in terms of whether "christian" or "hindu" figures can co-exist within the Sikh realm of knowledge. Far from it.

7: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), May 05, 2010, 12:31 PM.

In stanza 38, Guru Nanak refers to Akal Purkh as 'nadar' one time. In reality, however, every interpretation of this stanza appears to orient his thoughts towards the Akal Purakh even when he provides no such hint in his writing. That is a quandary for me. There has to be a reason, utility and a purpose for this practice. Without coming across as questioning the beliefs of anybody, it will be helpful to learn from the perspective of someone like Pashaura Singh ji and others for this approach. Some interpretations appear to contradict the values shared by Guru Nanak. Take for example Akal Purakh, who he defines as benevolent, loving and compassionate. Yet, in interpreting 'bao' (which means fear) in the third line of this stanza, we invoke the fear of Akal Purakh in our translation. How can He need to be feared? Guru Nanak does not say that, then why do we? It appears more appropriate to refer 'bao' towards our internal fear or the fear of others because the impact of fear from these sources is more evident almost daily. In the same way, we are advised to love Akal Purakh instead of suggesting respect/ love for our fellow humans which we desire, need and can benefit from equally well. Why do we tend to interpret his bani by orienting more towards the Akal Purakh or the divine rather than towards other beneficial uses as suggested by him. And often his suggestions imply better benefits while we are alive and here.

8: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 05, 2010, 1:02 PM.

I would recommend the writings of Ken Wilber, the contemporary philosopher, for an exhaustive treatment on religion and its role in our lives. In a nutshell, Wilber sees religion serving two roles - translation and transformation. Translation implies making sense of the world, giving us a sense of meaning and purpose, serving as the glue for social cohesion; above all, giving the individual a sense of belonging and security. Translation is a matter of belief and is soothing. Transformation on the other hand involves questioning the very self that requires meaning, purpose, security, etc. Where translation fattens and coagulates our sense of self (ego), transformation destroys it. Translation is necessary, serves a purpose and is subscribed to by a majority. Transformation is for a miniscule minority - it is elitist. Thoughts?

9: Jasvinder (Hamilton, New Zealand), May 05, 2010, 1:59 PM.

I will like to know what is the purpose of religion. Is it to inform us that Waheguru is there, is it to teach us what is the way to live this life, or both? Is religion a theory class or practical lab? Guru Nanak is asking for restraint on desires, cultivation of patience, acquiring knowledge, igniting an inner fire, when all is said and done. What should we do next? How do we and where do we find answers as to how to do it. Having gained immense knowledge here, where do we go to get the how-to manual now. The way we are these days, influences by society and by our outward and physical world, even Guru Nanak would have a hard time teaching it to us? I think it is important to have the right knowledge first, then only we can apply it, and application is the task we don't pay attention to. I have gained so much knowledge from this forum, Any tips or techniques of how to apply it too, lease. "Maya maha thaghani hum jaane" - maya is the mind that plays games with us. Is gurbani telling us how to control this maya and its games, or is it saying to us: become the observer and watch its games? Please excuse me if this not the right kind of forum to ask these questions - my apologies for this.

10: Bhai Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), May 05, 2010, 6:46 PM.

I noticed that discussion of amrit to be dhal was skipped in this discussion of stanza 38. The relevant line was originally translated as pouring the gold of amrit in the crucible of Love to undergo the alchemic process. It suggests that amrit is something raw or an unfinished element that needed to go through a special and rigorous processing before it may become useful in the spiritual path. Amrit, derived from the Sanskrit "amrta", is defined variously but in our tradition as nectar, ambrosia, immortal, imperishable; beautiful, beloved; world of immortality, eternity, tool of emancipation, etc. In Sikhi, it is mostly used as a metaphor for an elixir consumption of which imparts everlasting life or immortality. In gurbani, this term is often used for naam and a substance of the highest value and potency. I do not know any verse in gurbani where it is suggested to be a raw material for further processing using rigorous treatment such as smelting or sublimation, or melting processes for which we may need a crucible. Let us consider alternate translations that are consistent with Sikh theology around Amrit. I need help here. Could it be that Guru Nanak is showing us a way to melt down or amalgamate the Amrit into our 'bhaanda' - dish - (human heart, intellect, hirda, surat) already prepared with adoration for that Amrit?

11: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), May 06, 2010, 4:59 AM.

Having described human inadequacies and misguided religious ritualism in detail, with alternatives to become gurmukhs and spiritually exalted personalities following certain fundamentals; Guru Nanak in stanza #38 elaborates the metaphor of a goldsmith and a mint. Because the melting down in the minting process eradicates all impurities gathered in the raw metal, the result is a pure metal - Gold. The same is the advice for the human mind laced with impurities like ego and other vices while living in the world of ignorance and falsehood. Guru ji is giving us the crux of truthful living amongst maya's indulgences by minting the Naam-Shabad as the purest form of metal (gold). The various steps (crucible, fire, bellows, anvil, most important - knowledge of the procedure applied with patience and endurance of the goldsmith) required in purifying gold are also needed for the mind to purify itself. That is the objective of life.

12: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), May 06, 2010, 8:03 AM.

Every concept loses its momentum and utility with time. It is a historical fact. Ken Wilbur may have a point within a well educated society burdened with rigidly established religious rituals, and he perhaps has rendered his thoughts in such ideology context. I seriously doubt there is a strong 'translation vs. transformation' conflict going on in Sikhism or in this discussion. As a religion, we are still at an early level trying to better understand a complex but highly valuable script like Japji. It has been transformative since Guru Har Rai's time. We should complete the Japji interpretation task in the best way we deem appropriate. Then we can have a discussion on Ken Wilbur's thoughts and its impact on any sociological undercurrents within Sikhism. That is my view. Our approach in this endeavour should raise questions where we encounter doubts in understanding Guru Nanak's intent vs. our commonly understood existing view, if we feel mentally primed for such an approach. About Ken Wilbur's opinion on what is elitist and what is common, it is an age-old human phenomenon. It has existed in every religion including Sikhism from the Guru period and continues and should have no impact on this discussion. Unless I missed it, I have not detected its existence in this discussion. I have raised questions where I find gaps between Guru Nanak's writing and our continued acceptance of a stretched interpretation where it is appropriate to understand our rationale. I hope it is not coming across as elitist. Being elitist is the last thing on my mind. Japji, being the script of an intellectual, mystic and poetic mind, has often been misunderstood by all of us. If we can make it more easily understood by revisiting its practical and valuable aspects, it may be a positive outcome of this deliberative collective approach.

13: Aryeh Leib (Israel), May 06, 2010, 8:29 AM.

Ravinder ji, I would disagree with your last statement. Just because one member of that "minuscule minority" pursues a course that, by definition, makes him/ her one of the elite, it doesn't (and shouldn't) necessarily follow that he/ she should become an "elitist". Quite the contrary - to subjugate the sense of self is the diametrical opposite of elitism. If, as you say, transformation is elitist, is it not, rather, the perceptions of others, as a defensive expression of their own personal insecurities, that make it seem so?

14: Atika (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 06, 2010, 10:31 AM.

Intelligence, for instance, is not just knowledge. It is the ability to use the knowledge to adapt to changing environments. Similarly, to me, the practice of spirituality or transformation is the application of 'universal religious wisdom' to an inner adaptation - a self evolution. Transformation may be practiced by relatively fewer individuals - depending on how we define the term - but it is not so because there is something inherently different (or superior) about those who subscribe to it. It may simply be the case that individuals who engage in transformation have had different experiences and were raised in different contexts.

15: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), May 06, 2010, 3:26 PM.

Ravinder, translation, as you say, is making sense of the world. It is essential and comes largely from effort and prayer. Transformation comes from grace when the understanding becomes internalized. If we accept it as a result of grace, then it is not and cannot be elitist, even though it will touch only a few at a time.

16: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), May 06, 2010, 4:57 PM.

Thanks, Atika ji, for differentiating between 'intelligence' and 'knowledge' in the present discussion. In the original text, it is desired that intelligence should be like an anvil which can receive any number of arguments as serious blows but not be affected by them. It should stay firm like an anvil. Knowledge is like a tool which can be used to refine the metal to become an ornament. We can also look at the attitude of a goldsmith who must be patient and involved in the minute details of shaping the final product of a gold ornament. He cannot afford to lose his concentration and skillful handling of this whole operation. By contrast a blacksmith is always hammering the metal with a heavy hand in a state of agitation. Nirmal Singh ji has beautifully explained the simplicity of the message of the final stanza. In fact, simplicity is the climax of all achievement. In this world, it is hard to find people who can be simple and gracious.

17: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), May 07, 2010, 5:37 AM.

Introduction of the term 'elitist' is intriguing and wise at this stage of the study. For two reasons perhaps. Its closeness to 'haumai' and its widespread practice. We may add snobbery and discrimination as its cousins. Generally, we rightfully associate elitism with money and power. In reality, it exists in many forms, levels and contexts including religious. The worst and most damaging is the elitism among the intellectuals and those closely associated with knowledge dissemination: publishers. Because they can (and do) choke the flow of relevant knowledge and deprive many from the most sought and critical human need for growth and blooming. I.J. Singh ji has made a critical observation on elitism. Because elitism cuts both ways. Others can and have used this term to malign innocent bystanders to exploit the situation. More thoughts please.

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

Lovely to see some friends chime in - and they know who they are! Quite a few points have been made around the the stanza under consideration. I offer my understanding. On the matter of "bao" as fear: Nirmal Singh ji, in case you haven't noticed, "bao" in the third line has not been translated as fear, but for lack of a more appropriate term, as divine awe. This was a very conscious and deliberate decision, in large part due to the reasons you have brought up. I personally don't think there is any need to fear God - fear in the ordinary sense of the word that is.

19: Aryeh Leib (Israel), May 07, 2010, 7:03 AM.

If the concept of "fear" relates to God, it shouldn't derive from fear of punishment; this is the lowest level of relating to a Superior Being. Rather, if I have established a loving, personal relationship - with God, or with any person - then, it is entirely proper and consistent to "fear" doing anything that would jeopardize that relationship.

20: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 07, 2010, 7:10 AM.

A note on my role as convenor: I try - as far as it is possible - to avoid inserting my own viewpoint (although it may be quite clear to the readers!) but to instead stir up a discussion, sometimes even by playing the devil's advocate. It was in this spirit that the term elite/ elitist was used because it was certain to draw attention, and I am glad it has. The pursuit of excellence, regardless of domain, is always left to a few, the elite. In this sense the Panch we talked about constitute the spiritual elite. Elitism has another, not favorable connotation. Are we reacting to elitism or just the idea that there can be no elite? Similarly, Ken Wilber's view was offered, not because it is gospel but because it is provocative. In the interest of length, more on stanza 38 later.

21: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), May 07, 2010, 7:31 AM.

Aryeh Leib ji has made a persuasive observation which is hard to disagree, on elitism. Let us add one more element to augment his view. Nature (our Creator) has equipped us with a critical faculty of 'inituition' which we use frequently to filter out introduction or acceptance of questionable, superfluous or even fanciful ideas and concepts. This is the first line of defence against elitism. With one exception, perhaps. We may have a tendency to cross limits under emotionally charged 'mob mentality' type of situations (two major insinuators - faith and honor violation) or under frightful frenzy. But a large majority regret such behavior later on: acknowledged or otherwise. A supportive thought on Pashaura Singh ji's wise observation on 'simplicity and grace': those who fail to attain these two traits may have read Japji, but failed to understand its message and ought to reread it. In Guru Nanak's view, our entire goal in life ought to be to become simple and gracious. Because the simple state of mind is the ultimate proof of attaining His grace. It further provides us the inner comfort and security we seek and wish another day will pass without encountering unusual perceived or real threats for survival. And the simple mind acquires the judgement and confidence to resolve the challenges or conflicts arising out of other desired or imposed situations.

22: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio. U.S.A.), May 07, 2010, 10:35 AM.

Some thoughts on stanza 38: Bhai Harbans Lal ji: my understanding of amrit as a synonym for naam here is similar to yours. It follows that amrit (naam) is the transforming agent/ catalyst/ solution that is poured/amalgamated into our 'bhanda' or vessel to dissolve the impurities of our haumai. Guravtar ji: your assertion that we are minting naam shabad is a bit questionable (see Bhai Harbans Lal's point). The shabad to be minted (fashioned, if you will) is the human vessel (read mind); here shabad is being used for the individual (mind). Pashaura Singh ji: to your comment that intelligence (mutt) should be able to receive the blows of any argument and remain unaffected, I would suggest that the whole point of hammering it is to cultivate discernement (bibek). But the hammer here is gurmat.

23: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), May 07, 2010, 11:09 AM.

We have been learning the latent meaning of the Japji, with a highly devotional mind, in an utmost religious spirit and in the most sacred religious environment. How much of its meaning we have grasped from institutional or individual perspective? I am not qualified to comment. However, in humility, I can say without any reservation that Jap was admired, understood and embraced by our ancestors well before it became sacred. It must be read as Japji and an essential part of our religion. This truth we cannot ignore no matter what angle or prism we deploy in our viewing. Our ancestors must have found that something in it that we are struggling to seek.

24: Atika (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 07, 2010, 11:27 AM.

I would like to admit that I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of 'nadar'. We do agree, I believe, that 'nadar' (i.e. Waheguru's grace) cannot be attained by pleasing or bribing Waheguru. In other words, nadar is unpredictable. Right? Okay, so now, what if I think of 'nadar' as sheer luck or the unpredictability of nature. Those who are more deeply attuned to religious wisdom (i.e., the spiritual elites), may simply be so because they got lucky! They were in the right context at the right time. This is my viewpoint at the moment, and it makes sense to me. It might not gel well with some of you. However, if I were to think (hypothetically) of being a 'spiritual elite' because I was 'chosen' by Waheguru to have His/ Her nadar, then I feel I already have an underlying ego at work.

25: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), May 07, 2010, 2:05 PM.

Ravinder ji has questioned about minting the 'naam-shabad' by internalization/ actualization in the mind. The two words 'bhuoe' and 'bhaaoe' used in stanza 38 have different meanings when interpreted properly. The word 'bhuoe' or 'bhaie' means fear; and the second word 'bhaaoe' translates as affectionately revering. When combined with 'khalaa', it is interpreted by Prof. Sahib Singh as the affectionately revered mind that has internalized and actualized the divine wonder described previously. Prof. Sahib Singh further translates the sentence: "bhaandaa bhaaoe amrit thit dhaal/ gharriyaae shabad sacchee taksaal", as "prem kutthaali hovae/ ta(n) (hae bhai) oos kutthaali vich Akal Purakh da Amrit Naam glaavoe, (kio(n)ke eho jehi hee) suchee taksaal vich (guru da) shabad gharrhiyaa jaandaa hae." If there is an affectionately revered vessel (actualized-mind), then only the amrit-naam can be melted down in such a vessel (mind); and in such a mint of Truth, the Shabad is created. The gold coins thus produced are naam-shabad. Bhai Harbans Lal ji has brought out an interesting point of an implied misinterpretation that Guru ji is talking about creating an elixir (amrit) to be imbibed by the revering mind. Bhai Sahib is right in the interpretation that it is naam-shabad that the Guru is referring to in these lines. Ravinder ji, you have mentioned about translation and transformation as two steps necessary for comprehending the truth. I agree with you that unless we have appropriate translation (correct interpreatation of applied words by Gurus), we cannot transform our minds in the same direction.

26: Nirmal S. Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), May 08, 2010, 6:49 AM.

In our Japji study, the idea of living a life of higher purpose recurs frequently. A brief discussion on this topic is worth pursuing, because the thought is integral to the Japji. If we do, let us be specific with reference to quotes in the Japji and the rationale for the reader's belief. It will be nice if the reader shares some progress made towards incorporating his belief in his daily routine. This approach will help sort out gaps between theoretical knowledge we all have and ongoing experience. Jasvinder ji has raised some issues in his last post. Some reflection on those may be in order. I am still thinking out loud about the intent and the benefit of Ken Wilbur's thought. If it can help sort out elitist tendencies harmful to the faith, let us have a shot at it. Because these are natural and normal and we acknowledge them in our Japji study. I have not read Wilbur's book.

27: Manjit Singh Bara Pindia (Canada), May 08, 2010, 3:49 PM.

The literal meaning of 'bhau' is fear. But in in the Guru Granth, it is used (as Aryeh Leib ji has indicated) as an expression for fear of falling from grace, a fear of losing a loving relationship, or the fear of not coming up to or maintaining the standard in the eyes of someone who we love. It can also be looked in other ways. When one makes a commitment or resolution to do something, in his mind the person makes a promise to himself or to someone else that he shall do such and such thing; the fear that develops in him then that he may not be able to keep that resolution is bhau. This feeling plays an important part in maintaining a persistent disciplined effort that may be needed to keep that promise. Many achievers in the field of sports develop that kind of sense also, and so do children with respect for their parents to show them that they are worthy children. So, implicit in the sense that word conveys is that there may be a need for a persistent effort on one's part to maintain that trust and respect and also that there is someone higher than himself to whom he wants to show himself worthy of his approval. The other word 'bhaauo' (with an extra 'aa' sound) means reverence. We have already seen a word 'nir-bhau (without bhau), which in the Mool Mantar is translated as 'without fear'. In many places in the Guru Granth Sahib, it conveys the meaning of 'supreme' authority which is not subjected to any influence (fear) from any thing higher than Him - meaning nothing is higher that Him. For example in "O let's sing the praises of my Nirbhau (Supreme Lord) - [GGS:157.10]. Another quotation that may be relevant in translation of stanza 38 is "Because of the fear, the body burns with fire of fear, (But) With the fear of 'bhau' (fear of falling from grace), mint an ornate (carefully crafted) shabad. But without this fear the minting will be half baked and full of faults; the mold and the hammer will be used blindly." [GGS:151.4,5]

28: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 08, 2010, 4:24 PM.

Atika, I am not so sure that the spiritual elite - a term we have used for the sake of this discussion - would view themselves as such. Then again, Guru Nanak has a very keen sense of being "chosen" by Akal Purakh for a mission [GGS:150]. Is that assertion ego? Don't know. Nadar, as I see it, means that one cannot do it all alone. Yet, preparation (in any field) yields openings and insights that are not discernible to those less prepared. Is that Nadar? Nirmal Singh ji, thanks for your suggestion - as we conclude the Japji next week, it would be worthwhile exploring some of the questions that surfaced but could not be addressed because of time constraints.

29: Aryeh Leib (Israel), May 09, 2010, 4:29 AM.

Atika ji: I would have to ask you, are we working from the assumption of the Deists? That Waheguru created the Universe, then sat back and watched, without any direct intervention? That the Ten Gurus were just "lucky" to have been in the right place at the right time?! I was once told that either there is Divine Providence or coincidence; and there isn't room for both concepts to co-exist in the same Universe. Because, if Nadar boils down to "sheer luck or the unpredictability of nature", what's the point of any worship or seva, if it will make no difference in the long run? That we don't know which of our thoughts, speech or deeds will trigger the granting of Divine Grace - this is something I can embrace, and being "chosen" by Waheguru should, for the true gurmukh, only be a spur to greater humility and sense of personal responsibility to strive to reflect, through his/ her own character traits, those values which Waheguru has revealed through the Ten Gurus, as brought down in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. To one and all: this has been a most stimulating discussion. That said, I feel that we've only just begun to plumb the depths of the text of the Japji. I'd love it if we could go back to the beginning and deepen the groundwork we've laid thus far. Thoughts?

30: Atika (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 09, 2010, 2:09 PM.

Ravinder ji: Was Guru Nanak's poetic assertion that he was summoned by God, a manifestation of his ego? I don't think so. Guru Nanak, in those lines [GGS:150], is sharing his experience of how he perceives his relationship with God. On the topic of 'nadar', I completely agree with your comment that preparation leads to new insights, but, if I conceptualize 'nadar' in that sense, then it is not entirely unpredictable, is it?

31: Atika (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 09, 2010, 2:17 PM.

Aryeh ji: I was only sharing my views on this forum, with no intent to persuade anyone to agree with my perspective. In fact, on the contrary, I feel spiritual matters like one's relationship with God (however you define it - theism, deism or pantheism) are highly personal, and thus bound to have differences. The Ten Gurus and the Bhagats were definitely sagacious men, with enviable talents and qualities. But were they also lucky? I think so. Guru Nanak was born at a time when the Bhakti movement was taking its hold in Northern and Central India. To me, it seems likely that he was influenced by the spiritual zeitgeist of his time. (The reader has the right to disagree.) Born in a Hindu family, Guru Nanak dared to challenge the ritualistic practices of that era using common sense examples. If we were to truly follow his example, we would not hesitate to challenge some of our ritualistic beliefs based on what is the current day common knowledge. After all, it has been more than 500 years!

32: Manjit Singh Bara Pindia (Canada), May 09, 2010, 3:30 PM.

The translation of this stanza can be summarized as: Guru Nanak is telling us that if, with persistent effort (with bhau), man can develop the personality that is radiant with shabad that is in consonance with naam, he is very much likely to receive divine grace.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium XVIII, Stanza 38, May 3-9 "

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