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Letter & Spirit:
A New Weekly Column
# 1 - Master and Servant






Sant Naranjan Singh ji used to say: The rain-bird may live on a river bank, but seeks a drop of water from the clouds above. In contrast the vulture flies high in the clouds, but its attention is set on the carcass below.

Similarly, at least in matters spiritual, our intentions determine the outcome.

We spend a lifetime learning to improve and polish our behavior, even meditate and practice simran, but we make little effort to correct our intentions. Gurbani strives to correct our inner intentions, towards God, towards ourselves, towards others, and towards the entire world.

But all the lessons from gurbani could fit on a postcard. In fact, gurbani says that there is only one lesson to learn. There is not much to say and we can spend a lifetime trying to learn gurbani’s lesson.

The spiritual lesson of gurbani is hidden behind the words, in the spiritual state that gurbani was uttered from. Under proper conditions, by God’s grace, the taste of this state slowly trickles into our heart. It transforms us and creates a shift in our priorities. We cannot fully grasp the Guru’s intent until we have tasted it.

Often we try to apply gurbani to answer all questions of the world. This works many times, but gurbani was not written to replace various books and manuals, nor do philosophy, psychology, science, yoga, and other manuals replace gurbani.

Gurbani was written for a very specific purpose: Someone, who is drowning deep in the ocean, needs oxygen. This is not to say that the other needs are unimportant and that they should be ignored. An ideal life is balanced, wise, fulfilled and vibrant, but it must not lack oxygen.

When we are unable to absorb the oxygen from gurbani, we are drawn towards its secondary benefits, e.g., worldly fulfillment, inner peace, relationships, activism and reform, even charity, while living spiritually suffocated.

This new weekly column - LETTER & SPIRIT - is created for learning how to absorb the oxygen, the spirit of gurbani, in a practical manner.

In view of non-Punjabi readers and the youth, while posting your comments, please include explanation of terms in plain English and avoid unnecessary Punjabi words and references. We will attempt to discuss only the spiritual aspect of Sikhi here, in short instalments, weekly if possible.



This week, as our inaugural piece, let us consider a shabad popular and oft sung:

jo maangeh thaakur apne te so-ee so-ee devai” [GGS:681.18]. Meaning: Whatever (a servant) asks for, the master gives it.

The secret is revealed in the beginning: “With his power prevailing in all directions, he has placed his hand upon my head”. The universe runs to the order (hukam) of his power.

Hukam (command) is often translated as God’s will. We could also call it God’s love or his desire. But Guru Nanak says in Japji that hukam cannot be defined. Thus no words can truly describe it.

Some say that ‘hukam’ stands for the laws of nature. This is not correct because gurbani says that if God so desires, even a stone floats on water, a living being survives without breath, etc. Thus, clearly, nature and its laws are manifestation of, but subordinate to, hukam. They are not hukam. Hukam is not subordinate to laws of nature.

Gurbani does not support chance, randomness, or coincidences, in Waheguru’s (God’s) world. Even though they are true, and very useful to us, as any statistician will agree, but this is so only in our world. Just as flowers appear randomly in a field. But from a distance we are able to see that the gardener had a pattern. Similarly, when we have faith in what gurbani says, that not even a leaf quivers without an established order, we are then able to find sanctuary in Waheguru’s hukam. God then places his hand on us.

“Gazing upon me with his mercy, he has dispelled the pain of his slave.”

Wait a minute! Doesn’t gurbani say that God is always merciful? Yes, but without the proper inner state, the state of realizing his hukam prevailing everywhere, we are unable to receive his merciful gaze.

Additionally, God is not a passive reservoir of mercy for us to tap into whenever we are ready. Even when we take God’s sanctuary, mercy is still under God’s own control. He bestows it as he pleases, but he is influenced by various factors. Above is one such factor.

In other words, Waheguru or God is awake and active. We will see that this theme is repeated in gurbani. Further, philosophical understanding can be hopefully supplied by others, or we can discuss it under another topic.

“The Guru, the Lord of the universe, saves his humble servant. Hugging him close in embrace, the merciful, forgiving Lord erases all the faults.”

The only way to successfully get rid of our inner faults is when God erases them.

When the conditions in the first two stanzas are fulfilled then: “Whatever (the slave) asks for from his lord master, the master gives it. (In fact), whatever the slave utters, it becomes true, here and hereafter.”


[The author traveled with Sant Naranjan Singh of Patiala during the late sixties and took notes. He is unable to lose that passion for gurbani. He practices medicine in a suburb of Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A].

July 3, 2012

Conversation about this article

1: Bikram Singh (Ludhiana, Punjab), July 03, 2012, 2:45 AM.

I enjoy the lucidity of your interpretation. Am very much looking forward to your weekly pieces. Welcome!

2: Japnaam Kaur (London, England), July 03, 2012, 2:53 AM.

Ah-h, a breath of fresh air. I agree ... the message of gurbani is simple and uncluttered. I really like how you've put this beautiful line, which rings in my ears all the time, in context and given it added meaning. Can't wait till next week!

3: Jasbir Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 03, 2012, 3:30 AM.

There are so many dimensions to the relationship between Man and God: parent/child, lover, friend, confidant, protector, etc. Certainly the master-servant image adds to the picture, conveying the need to completely let go: to submit and surrender unconditionally.

4: Ranbir Singh (New Delhi, India), July 03, 2012, 4:50 AM.

I like the format ... and your simple approach. Thank you for sticking to the crux of gurbani, and not feeling the need to quote the vedas unnecessarily or give sanskrit origins to show your familiarity with google search engines. Short and sweet ... I like it. More, please.

5: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), July 03, 2012, 5:53 AM.

In a nutshell, whatever happens to an individual in life is in accordance to His Hukam. That must be kept in mind.

6: V. Singh (U.S.A.), July 03, 2012, 8:52 AM.

I have been following Yuktanand ji's writings for many years now. His deep understanding of gurbani has life changing qualities and I owe it to him for putting me on a better path.

7: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 03, 2012, 9:18 AM.

Hukam is simply Divine Command, Divine Order or God's will and that is Eternal Law. It is driven by one's own karam, and every one is subject to be in hukam as said by Guru Nanak. "As we sow, so shall we reap", says gurbani. God controls the world and human beings as well; something we need to understand and be accepting of life as it presents to us. It is simply accepting joy and suffering as God's will or bhaana. In the shabad cited, 'jo' stands for whoever, and not whatever.

8: Nav Kaur (Australia), July 03, 2012, 8:11 PM.

I like where you say that gurbani doesn't replace other manuals and books, nor do these manuals and books replace gurbani. To a beginner this is helpful as it gives everything its own place, and creates less doubt andconfusion. I can't wait till next week and am very thankful for you initiating this forum!

9: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), July 04, 2012, 3:45 AM.

Ref. Comment #7, last line: "Jo" - (jo maangeh thaakur ...) covers both "whatever" and "whoever". In fact, when translated in English, it means 'whatever one prays for ..."

10: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 04, 2012, 7:38 AM.

Well, I am no final authority on gurbani interpretations. What I said re the word "jo" is from a TV interview with Prof. Gurbachan Singh of Thailand, which I saw and heard on our community media channel. He is now the Principal of The Sikh Missionary (Gurmat) College of Ludhiana, Punjab.

11: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 04, 2012, 11:13 AM.

Our education and training entices us to cogently understand everything, but we see that certain gurbani words, e.g., hukam, naam and shabad defy any explanation. Gurbani did not explain them, perhaps because their meaning grows as we grow. Gurbani refuses to stifle their meaning. We should also resist the temptation to limit them to something we know. Rather, it is fruitful to continue contemplating on the Guru's reason for choosing these words and say, Wow Guru!

12: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 04, 2012, 11:15 AM.

We must also resist the temptation to hold God's hukam responsible for our own acts or the acts of others, and their consequences. God does not hold us responsible either. Our acts are judged by the sheer glory of God's love for every being, or naam [GGS:463.18]. Under his hukam we are caught in the machine of karma but his love shines on us, beckoning us to grasp it. Karma is blind. The purpose of karma is to force us to eventually seek God's love. God's love (or naam) has the power to free us from the web of karma, to change bad outcomes into good. Nothing else has this power.

13: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 04, 2012, 11:20 AM.

One component of naam-simran is being aligned with His hukam or His command. Guru Nanak says in Japji that nothing escapes His hukam. If this is true, then everything that has happened so far is exactly the way it was supposed to be: "jo ho-aa hovat so jaa-nai" [GGS:286.7]. Not even an iota was supposed to be any different. Even a speck of dust is right where it was supposed to be at this present moment. This insight releases us of the negativity and it frees us to see his love pulsating everywhere, in every being.

14: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 04, 2012, 11:23 AM.

We must strive to match our understanding with the entire gurbani. The above shabad says that only when we see his hukam prevailing everywhere, do we have the true power. Then we can make changes for a better future. A command does not have to rely on any law, rhyme or reason. Otherwise, it would not be a command. "When Lord of the universe forgives someone, he does not hold that person to his account" [GGS:277.10]. Thus, let us be clear that 'hukam' in gurbani is not bound by any law, karma, etc. Gurbani says that Waheguru is bound by only one thing. And as they say, love is blind!

15: Devinder Singh (India), July 05, 2012, 7:36 AM.

The laws of nature are the means through which hukam works. There must be order in the universe that is created by hukam. This order is ordained through the laws of nature. God is the author of, and acts through the laws of nature.

16: Jaswinder Kaur (Germany), July 05, 2012, 8:41 AM.

"The spiritual lesson of gurbani is hidden behind the words, in the spiritual state that gurbani was uttered from." This is true. I started doing morning nitnem 3 years ago. Though I am a simpleton but bani has opened my eyes. In all the banis, our Gurus have showed us the right path to live by, but unfortunately we don't follow this path. Believe me, if we try to apply bani in our daily life, the world will become a beautiful place.

17: Devinder Singh (India), July 05, 2012, 10:12 PM.

Whatever (a servant) asks for, the master gives it. This is, of course, not to be taken literally. Despite the asking there can still be pain and suffering, for He knows what is best for us, and pain too serves its purpose. It hammers at the resistance within. If there were no pain, we would be content to carry on in our ignorant ways.

18: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 07, 2012, 9:58 AM.

We are all error-prone. Let us all continue to add corrections, and correction of erroneous corrections. We will notice that we must approach gurbani with the simplicity of a child, free of biases created by our upbringing and education. This is difficult. Simplifying gurbani's lessons is a balancing act. I cannot say about others but it does not take me long to be tangled in haumai and to stumble on my own steps.

19: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 07, 2012, 10:00 AM.

Finally, grasp of a spiritual lesson has to emerge from within. "jis aap bujh-aa-e so buj-jh-si" [GGS:706.4], meaning: he alone gets it whom He Himself instructs. This is best achieved in the sangat, through kirtan (singing) and contemplation. Too much discussion can disturb this process, but here we have no choice. Let us pray that, with the sangat's blessing, we can all attempt to simplify gurbani without losing its spirit.

20: Devinder Singh (India), July 08, 2012, 8:22 PM.

The shabad suggests that perfect surrender is the prerequisite. The promise is only consequential.

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A New Weekly Column
# 1 - Master and Servant"

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