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Images below: first from bottom - "Singing the Guru Shabad", from a photo by Gurumustuk Singh.


My Guru's Chardi Kalaa



This is the third in a series of articles we have asked a wide variety of personages to pen in commemoration of the Tercentenary (1708-2008) of the investiture of Guru Granth Sahib as our eternal Guide and Teacher. 



I remember when I first left home for college.

The insecurity of making new friends. The longing for connection. Searching to tell a story about myself that would capture people's interest, create the relationships. Age eighteen, wandering through the dorms, knowing no one, seeking to invent an identity different from what I had as a child - an identity that would work in this boundless and unknown new life.

Slowly, over time, the conversations began. And I remember that so many people found connections with each other, not necessarily by what they loved, or enjoyed; but by sharing their pain with one another. What they had experienced as a child. What injustices they felt in their own lives, and in the world.

Through the months and years, some bonds formed from shared interest. But other bonds formed from the opposite - from what people felt angry about. What they rebelled against. What they wanted to see altered in themselves or in society.

A few years later, a window began to open up inside of me.

A small little glimmer of a voice said, "It is not my wounds that make me beautiful". I began to resist my own self-definition that was rooted in painful memories of the past, or anger at the state of the world. I could feel something else inside - something that didn't need any of that anger or pain - to be worthy, to be special, to be strong, to have friends and create connection.

There was another Identity deep within - pure, happy and light.

Eventually, the Shabad Guru came into my life. And this feeling of defining myself by my inner negative feelings versus defining myself by my inner positive Light took on a whole new dimension.

What I have found by meditating on the Shabad Guru as manifested in the Guru Granth Sahib is that the Guru does not relate to the negative at all. In fact, there's been many a time when I've come across a line and said to myself, "The Guru can't say that, can He?"

The Guru's sayings totally challenge the way I think about the world.

A couple of examples:


The one whose touch pollutes the world,

Even he knows Your mercy.

       [Ravdas, GGS, p 1106]


So many are

Continually beaten down

By endless pain and hunger.

Even these

Are your Gifts to us,

O Great Giver.

         [Guru Nanak, Japji: 25]


This poisonous world   

That you behold

Is really simply

The Divine

In form.

      [Guru Amar Das, Anand: 36]


In my journey since my college days, I have been able to redefine "me" to myself in much more positive terms. But the teachings of the Shabad Guru challenge me to go even further.

The Shabad Guru asks me to see the positive aspect of every and any situation. That no matter how negative it may appear or seem on the surface, the Light of the Divine is at the heart of it. The hand of the Creator is guiding it. It has purpose beyond what my mind can know or imagine.

We see a lot of ugliness in life. We see a lot of pain. And what happens is that when we see this ugliness, somehow our mind decides to live there. To wallow in it. To think that happiness, peace, and bliss rests outside of ourselves. We complain bitterly, or feel victimized when the physical environment does not act the way we want. Or worse - when the environment harms us.

But the Guru's wisdom is a defense against that. The Guru's words ask us to enter into a direct, transcendent experience that the Divine lives in the essence of all things. And whatever is happening is happening by the hand of the One, which guides all and does all. It's a difference of horizon. The mind can have a very finite, limited horizon. This moment. This lifetime. What I want. What I don't want. Constantly measuring every person and event against an idealized fantasy of what would serve "me".

Or the mind can have an infinite horizon. One that sees this life in the context of a vaster, much larger play. One that sees all things, including oneself, being carried along. Even the ugliest, most terrible, awful experiences can be re-framed in a positive way.

That is what the power of the Shabad gives, so that the mind can feel genuinely positive even in the face of the worst situations. That is victory. That is Fateh! And that is a human life worth living.

So, as we celebrate the 300th Anniversary of Guru Gaddi, we learn and re-learn to appreciate the Guru's message of Chardhi Kalaa!

May the songs of Guru Granth Sahib transform our thoughts so that we may leave every negative feeling behind and bask in the bliss.


August 6, 2008


Conversation about this article

1: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), August 07, 2008, 10:46 AM.

It is so true that as one begins to recite and understand the Guru's words, one starts to look at life's troubles and problems from the Guru's perspective and slowly starts taking them as the Guru's hukam, and that's how the healing from the past pain beguns. I have had those phases where I have begun to feel the bliss or Anand in everything happening - even problems, but then when I get away from my routine of Nitnem, I loose sight of the Guru's words and comeback to the complaining and my own little world. This type of experience has taught me that walking on the path of the Guru is a process of daily battling with yourself and your mind, and taking encouragement from those of you all who have reached the elevated state of being attached to the Guru and the teachings.

2: Mai Harinder Kaur (Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.), August 07, 2008, 1:25 PM.

When one is very young and unfamiliar with real suffering, it is easy to say, 'Chardi kalaa!' to everything. It is easy to believe that all is according to the Hukam of Vaheguru. When the sufferings of life crowd in, it becomes more difficult. My husband, my son, two of my brothers and other family members, as well as my two unborn daughters were murdered - achieved shaheedi - in the Delhi Pogrom of 1984. I myself was gravely injured, injuries that plague me to this day. So when I say, with the joy of chardi kalaa, that everything really is according to the Hukam of Vaheguru, I think it carries some weight. Being a Sikh is a 24/7 proposition. Chardi kalaa means that we never give up, no matter what! I have had other tragedies in my life as well, although none quite so dramatic. Always, my Guru Ji carries me through and here I am today. Alive. Joyful. Remain in Chardi Kalaa! It really is possible. It really is necessary.

3: Tejvansh Singh Soni (Fremont, California, U.S.A.), August 08, 2008, 2:42 PM.

My comments will most certainly highlight my ignorance. I am still trying to understand how "Hukam" and "Karam" interplay. If one faces adversities in life, are these the result of bad "karam" carried over from previous incarnations or are these the "hukam". What about folks who commit bad deeds against someone - are they accumulating bad "kKaram" ? Everything is within Guru's Hukam - so how can accumulating bad Karam be within His Hukam? I have listened a few times to Giani Sant Singh ji Maskeen's discourse on the Japji Sahib and have still not been able to grasp these concepts.

4: Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa (Espanola, New Mexico, U.S.A.), August 09, 2008, 11:55 AM.

Sat Nam and blessings. So grateful to read everyone's comments. Chintan Singh ji - thank you so much for writing. Mai Harinder Kaur ji- your words brought tears to my eyes. You are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your experience and for giving us your personal example of how the Guru's words can help someone heal from even the most terrible of tragedies. You are a brave and courageous soul. Tejvansh Singh ji - grateful to share my own still-unfolding understanding of the dynamic between hukam and karma. Very often, hukam gets translated as "the Will of God". This can be confusing because it implies that God is a personality somewhere. And everything happens because He wants it to. In Gurbani, the Divine is much more subtle and sophisticated than a "Deity Personality". The Divine simultaneously dwells in everything and contains everything. The Divine lives in you - the True You is the Divine Light in your heart. And the creation around you is also the Divine in form. The purpose of the human life is to be aware of your own Divinity while you are in form. The Universe is a huge University in which each soul learns its lessons. How the Creation works and how those lessons are learned are governed by certain laws. These laws that govern creation are "hukam". When the sun is right and the water is right and the season is right, the roses will bloom on the bush. Everything that happens in time and space is governed by these laws, by these Universal commands - hukam. Karma and Dharma are two approaches a soul can take in its learning. Both approaches are within hukam. A simple example. You can tell a child - don't touch the stove when it is hot or you will get burned. If the child listens, he will not touch the stove and will not get burned. That is Dharma - and we have the right to learn through Dharma. By trusting with love the words of the Guru, we do as the Guru teaches and that guidance is the boat that carries us across the stormy ocean of life. Or the child can say, "I don't want to listen to you - I want to experience it for myself." And then he touches the stove when it is hot and he gets burned. That is karma. That is a soul that chooses to learn through the action and reaction of time and space. Touching a hot stove = pain. The lesson is learned. The beauty is that whether you learn by karma (time and space) or Dharma (Guru's teachings) it's all within hukam. It's all part of the way the learning is set-up. The choice is yours. This is my own current understanding and far from perfect. But I sincerely hope it can be of help.

5: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, Connecticut, U.S.A.), August 10, 2008, 6:17 AM.

Ek Ong Kaar: An enlightened explanation of Dharma and Karma. In gratitude ...

6: Bhavjit Singh (Singapore), August 10, 2008, 10:49 PM.

Dear Ek Ong Kaar Kaur ji: Many thanks for your explanation of Karma and Dharma.

7: Tarsem Singh (Punjab), August 11, 2008, 2:58 AM.

Satnam ji.

8: Tejvansh Singh Soni (Fremont, California, U.S.A.), August 11, 2008, 2:48 PM.

Dear Ek Ong Kaar Kaur ji: I agree with your simplified model where Hukama is in summary a set of golden rules which govern all entities. Dharam is a composite set of the "right" code of conduct and Karam is one's actions - a degree of freedom provided to all creation by the Creator. A real test for my comprehension arises when I try to use an example a bit more complex than the one that you used above and as a generalization, these would be the ones where the response for one's Karam is not instantaneous, like getting burnt by a hot stove. The '84 genocide, and the ongoing genocide in Rwanda, are some of the extreme cases where it becomes pretty difficult to reconcile our understanding of Hukam, Dharam and Karam - a life-long quest.

9: Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa (Espanola, New Mexico, U.S.A.), August 11, 2008, 7:15 PM.

Dear Tejvansh Singh ji: Very grateful for this dialogue and for you bringing up these crucial questions. If I might offer a re-framing here - It seems to my mind from what you are writing that the question is not so much about hukam, dharam and karam. But rather how, as human beings, can we handle our own emotions in the face of extreme abuses of power and the immense human suffering created in their wake? It is natural for us to want to have the power to just stop these things from happening. And because we believe we don't have the power to stop them - then we want someone to have that power. And finally what we really want is for God to not create these experiences to begin with - why does the Divine allow it? Why doesn't the Divine stop it? Forget about the deeper question of who is playing out what karam - there's just a simple basic compassion within us that knows this suffering is completely insane and irrational. I believe that we all have to go through our own journey to find our own inner balance with the issue of human suffering. Gurbani gives us some guidance that even a life filled with endless sufferings and beatings is still a gift. The reality is that the ones who die in those tragedies, they are dead. It's done and their souls are moving on. So what can we say about that? For those who have to keep living, yes there is tremendous pain, but healing is possible. And positive action coming out of that healing is possible. It's not guaranteed, but it is possible. You have the power to make a difference. The spiritual warrior is one that does act in the face of injustice; it's just that person doesn't act from fear or revenge. The spiritual warrior acts from clarity and love. If you can find the love in you and not let these events cloud your senses with anger, hatred, fear or despair, you can be part of the healing. You can be part of what comes after. And in some ways that's the calling of the Khalsa to my mind: you give your life to be part of the healing of the world. That healing starts by healing your own inner pain through the Guru's wisdom. You are tremendously powerful and God can only act through you. If you chose love, if you chose to heal yourself, if you chose to be part of the healing for others, you can make the kind of difference you want to see in the world.

10: Aradhana  (Arizona, U.S.A.), August 10, 2009, 7:38 PM.

While it looks as though the feedback chain on this is somewhat old, I feel compelled to respond. Not to upstage Ek Ong Kar Kaur ji, I had a similar insight in my late teens - that friendship/association had to mean more than (as I more gauchely put it at the time), "wading through emotional vomit" with others. It is true that spiritual gifts and wisdom give those blessed in that way a degree of maturity and insight, an ability to see the forest for the trees, that people who are living entirely in their emotions do not have - absolutely true. But what is also true is that that wisdom can become detatchment from humanity and judgment, also - and a way of making oneself pompous. The spirit of seva is really to meet other human beings where they are, and to, in a spirit of humility, offer them bread for the journey. Seva is not just about taking on icky jobs because they are icky - it is about transformation and justice as well. And to those notes about transformation and justice I would also add to the discussion concerning hukam, karam, and dharam above. People may be acting out the worst elements of their unconscious selves - when tens of thousands do that at once, the effect is certainly multiplied exponentially. But the goal of seva in that instance should be to offer a witness for transformation and justice.

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