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Talking Stick

Religion & Spirituality
The Talking Stick Colloquium X: Pauris 17 to 19 - March 8 - 14





We continue to be dogged in our attempt to find suitable English translations for terms in gurbani, and the term "panch" was no exception. I bring this up repeatedly only to serve as a reminder that finding the appropriate word may well nigh be impossible - after all, words are soaked in culture and change over time - and we live in a very different culture and time.

These limitations notwithstanding, gurbani has an inner consistency (as far as I can tell) that we should use as our guide. That is how I have attempted to find words that I feel most closely approximate the original intent. In the case of using 'exemplars' for "panch," I offered my reasoning last week during the course of our conversation.

While the discussion got wrapped up in meanings of "panch," comparatively little was said around the moral and ethical imperatives (dharam) that guide a "panch." Guru Nanak linked dharam to compassion as being the basis of all ethical and moral action. We need to explore this further.

Haumai consists of the layers of conditioning that envelope an individual, giving the illusion of an encapsulated, self-sufficient individual self that is at the center of its universe. Sunniyeh or attentive listening is a metaphor for the inner journey or exploration that shatters this illusion of a separate self and leads us to "mannai" or illumination, which is characterized by the shift in orientation we spoke of last week - from manmukh to gurmukh.

Mannai becomes a state of complete consecration to the Divine because the myth of a separate self has been exploded. We are divested of the conditioning (myths, stories, education) that family and culture (cultural memes or cultural DNA) impose on us and see no alienation between the self and the other - all is one.

Compassion is what arises out of this state and becomes the inner compass of the "panch," and dharam becomes the path.

THE MESSAGE - Stanzas 17 to 19

These three stanzas have a common theme, namely the spectrum of human activity and the countless ways or paths that people undertake - for good or for evil. The first two stanzas contrast the sacred and the profane. The third reiterates what Guru Nanak has emphasized all along: that no accounting of the Creation is possible; that everything is the writ of the Creator.

The significant thing to note here is the continuity and consistency of Guru Nanak's insistence on submission to Hukam ('jo tuDh bhaavai saai bhalee kaar) as being the right way.

It is in this context that the role of the panch as the chosen ones of importance comes into play, because they are the very embodiments of Hukam.


Some readers brought up the question of religion vs. spirituality - a topic that we would like to explore further.  

On the face of it, there is an apparent tension between the two: cultural and religious conditioning ensures our physical survival, gives us an "identity" and provides us with worldly purpose. Paradoxically, the very conditioning process that ensures our survival also coagulates or thickens our sense of self (haumai) - effectively shutting off our capacity to experience our true source or Reality. Gurbani alludes to this in various places. 

-   How does one resolve the conflict - between the limiting and circumscribing demands  of our empirical self and ego consciousness (haumai) and the compulsion of our spirit (jot Saroop) to soar and be freed from the very restraints that tether us to our haumai? 

-   Does this reflect the inherent tension between the path of the Spirit and Religion? Guru Nanak also appears to have made such a suggestion ('mannai mug na cẖalai panth')?

-   Can religion be separated from spirituality? 

-   With reference to stanzas 17-19, how does one make the right choice?  

THE TEXT - Rendered in English

STANZAS 17 tp 19

Asaʼnkẖ jap asaʼnkẖ bẖāo.

Countless chant Your Name; countless are filled with your love. 

Asaʼnkẖ pÅ«jā asaʼnkẖ  ṯap ṯā▫o.

Countless perform rituals; countless practice austerities. 

Asaʼnkẖ garanth mukẖ veḏ pāṯẖ

Countless recite the Vedas aloud. 

Asaʼnkẖ  jog man rahahi uḏās.  
Countless practice yoga, having renounced the world.

Asaʼnkẖ  bẖagaṯ guṇ giān vÄ«cẖār.  
Countless practice devotion, contemplating Your virtues.  
Asaʼnkẖ saṯī asaʼnkẖ ḏāṯār.  
Countless seek the Truth; countless are the benefactors.  
Asaʼnkẖ sÅ«r muh bẖakẖ sār.  
Countless warriors, with battle-scarred faces.  
Asaʼnkẖ mon liv lāe ṯār.  
Countless practice long spells of silence.  
Kuḏraṯ kavaṇ kahā vÄ«cẖār.  
How can Your Creative Potency be described?  
vāriā na jāvā ek vār.  
I cannot even once be a sacrifice to You.  
Jo ṯuḏẖ bẖāvai sāī bẖalÄ« kār.  
Whatever pleases You is the only good done,  
Ŧū saḏā salāmaṯ nirankār.  
You, The Eternal and Formless One. ||17||

*   *   *   *   *
Asaʼnkẖ mÅ«rakẖ  anḏẖ gẖor.  
Countless fools live in blind ignorance.  
Asaʼnkẖ cẖor harāmkẖor.  
Countless thieves usurp from others.  
Asaʼnkẖ amar kar jāhi jor.  
Countless tyrants rule by force.  
Asaʼnkẖ galvadẖ haṯiā kamāhi.  
Countless cut-throats profit from killing.  
Asaʼnkẖ pāpÄ« pāp kar jāhi.  
Countless sinners keep on sinning.  
Asaʼnkẖ kÅ«á¹›iār kÅ«á¹›e firāhi.  
Countless liars, wandering lost in falsehood.  
Asaʼnkẖ malecẖẖ mal bẖakẖ kẖāhi.  
Countless wretches eat others' filth.  
Asaʼnkẖ ninḏak sir karahi bẖār.

Countless slanderers are burdened by their calumny.  
Nānak nÄ«cẖ kahai vÄ«cẖār.  
Nanak, the lowly, speaks his mind.  
vāriā na jāvā ek vār.  
I cannot even once be a sacrifice to You.  
Jo ṯuḏẖ bẖāvai sāī bẖalÄ« kār.  
Whatever pleases You is the only good done,  
Ŧū saḏā salāmaṯ nirankār. ||18||  
You, The Eternal and Formless One. ||18||  

*   *   *   *   *

Asaʼnkẖ nāv asaʼnkẖ thāv.  
Countless names, countless places  
Agamm agamm asaʼnkẖ loâ–«a.  
Inaccessible, unapproachable, beyond reckoning - celestial realms.  
Asaʼnkẖ kÄ—hahi sir bẖār hoe.  
Even to call them beyond reckoning - is to carry the weight on your head.  
AkẖrÄ« nām akẖrÄ« sālāh.  
From the Word comes the Naam; from the Word, comes Your Praise.  
AkẖrÄ« giān gīṯ guṇ gāh.  
From the Word comes spiritual wisdom, singing the songs of Your glory.  
AkẖrÄ« likẖaṇ bolaṇ bāṇ.  
From the Word come written and spoken words and hymns.  
Akẖrā sir sanjog vakẖāṇ.  
From the Word comes destiny, inscribed in us.  
Jin ehi likẖe ṯis sir nāhi.  
But the One who wrote these Words of destiny - no words are written on His forehead.  
Jiv furmāe ṯiv ṯiv pāhi.  
As He ordains, so do we receive.  
Jeṯā kīṯā ṯeṯā nāo.  
The created universe is the manifestation of Your Name.  
viṇ nāvai nāhÄ« ko thāo.  
Without Your Name, there is no place at all.  
Kuḏraṯ kavaṇ kahā vÄ«cẖār.  
How can I describe Your Creative Power?  
vāriā na jāvā ek vār.  
I cannot even once be a sacrifice to You.  
Jo ṯuḏẖ bẖāvai sā▫ī bẖalÄ« kār.  
Whatever pleases You is the only good done,  
Ŧū saḏā salāmaṯ nirankār.

You, The Eternal and Formless One.  ||19||  

Conversation about this article

1: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), March 09, 2010, 9:11 AM.

To discuss religion vs, spirituality, a brief background is a must to grasp the concepts. Colloquially speaking, when we talk about spirituality, our instinctive thoughts connect us to the scriptures. Because culturally and in other ways, our mind has been trained in this manner for centuries. The terms 'religion' and 'spirituality' have evolved out of our mind's capacity to conceive positive and negative images within split seconds. Human history can be summed up as a struggle between these two sides of our mind or thoughts. The positive spirits of the mind, guided by the five life-sustaining emotions, propel us to live long, inspire, soar, build, accomplish, reproduce. The negative spirits imagine ghosts, darkness, bad spells, self destruction. In this struggle to sustain life, we also learn to utilize our other five faculties (see, hear, see, touch, smell) to expand our knowledge base to overpower and drown the negative spirits. This struggle is not over but we are succeeding in our goal. From the time (unknown) of our emergence till a few hundred years B.C., life remained under the spell of perceived negative spirits. We blamed bad spirits for all human misery, from natural calamities to man-made disasters. To overcome this, ancient cultures established many deities to protect their people from these spirits. They devised the practice of worship/ praying, gratitude/ belief for continued support and celebratory customs to renew hope/ good spirits. With advancement in knowledge, the deities were replaced with religious concepts as we know today. God became the supreme and holy protector (replacing all deities), the devil the evil entity representing the negative spirits, and the preacher the healer to free the human mind from evil spirits. In this evolving process, religion assumed a considerable role in our attempt to overcome/ eradicate the impact of bad spirits. We have accepted God to be our ultimate source for hope and survival. In the knowledge-based modern culture, the role of the spirits has diminished among the educated masses, but the concept remains part of our thought and customs. Its role among people in developing cultures is still substantial. By establishing education branches like philosophy and metaphysics, we have expanded the knowledge base beyond religious institutions. Regardless of these developments, the perception of religion and spirituality being one and the same remains etched in our psychic minds. In reality, today, spirituality has emerged as a state of mind. Some may call it a higher state of mind due to its religious connection. Technically, spirits and spirituality are congruous and have been with us all the time, because spirituality is critical to renew and recharge the spirits in our mind and brain. Therefore, we have been practicing spirituality in many ways without realizing or understanding the techniques used due to lack of knowledge in ancient times. A spiritual state of mind, in my opinion, is induced by activities and situations where the mind is engaged in idle or carefree pursuits. Such as walking in the woods, admiring nature's creations (flowers, snow, skies, seasons), human activities (sports, monuments, satellites, moon landing), human creativity (arts, crafts, writing, travel), humanistic aspects (worship, singing, socializing, charitable/ compassionate pursuits) and others. Many of these activities were available to our ancestors and they used them, as is evident from historical facts. In our spiritual quest, Naam Simran, for example, has been a religious based approach to induce positives spirits and provide relief to the brain by concentrating thoughts on a single object. Similar advice may be prescribed by a psychologist today, on the basis of his modern clinical education. These alternatives were not available long time ago. By reciting these two approaches, I am not undermining the importance of religious institutions. Because religion provides many other necessary and critical functions such as emotional comfort, hopeful beliefs, moral skills, compassionate traits, including spiritual enrichment. Yet in our pursuit of spirituality, religion is no longer the exclusive source to fulfill this need as it may have been before. I look forward to other views on this sensitive but critical topic. (Note: I could not keep it short to preserve clarity).

2: Mohan Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 09, 2010, 9:49 AM.

Every one is a spiritual being deep down, under this material world. Whatever makes you feel peaceful,joyful and content is spirituality. While walking through the path of your religion, all the acts of kindness you do or encounter, that's spirituality. Meditating, reading, listening or singing gurbani will inspire you and touch your heart - that is your personal spirituality. What the individual is doing is being watched both by the material world and by the spiritual world. God is formless, what we call Akal purakh is Nirankaar, so the 'Dargaahi' (Court of God) can be understood as the Spiritual World. There are countless people involved in rituals as religious karamkand, but Nanak says, their intention is to search for God, trying to live in hukam, so they are better then other countless people who live in Haumai. Modern society, dominated by technology, suffers from great strains and a sense of frustration. With science, man has power to destroy his own civilization and the human race. Only religion alone can save the society, because moral and spiritual foundations can correct the lopsidedness of science.

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 09, 2010, 10:40 AM.

"Thoughts to Ponder" this week was specifically a response to Nirmal Singh ji's comment last week that seemed to imply that religion and spirituality were different, if not opposing paths or tendencies. Nirmal Singh ji, I hope I got your comment right. Regardless, I thought the distinction - or apparent distinction - between religion and spirituality was worth pursuing in our dialogue this week. One often hears the fact that religion is all dogma; that it requires unquestioned obedience; that it is static. Spirituality, on the other hand, is exploration, asking questions, seeking knowledge and going wherever it takes you. Guru Nanak, for instance, was a free spirit - he rejected the religion he inherited. Yet, his message has become institutionalized into a religion that seems to have sucked some of the "spirit" out of it in day-to-day practice. Do the readers feel this way?

4: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), March 10, 2010, 12:33 AM.

Ravinder ji, I appreciate your intent to discuss 'Religion & Spirituality' in response to my comments on the issue last week. There is a misunderstanding in what I said last week and let me clarify. I made three comments on the connection between Religion and Spirituality. 1) Spirituality is a mind set. 2) This is a faculty we are born with. Humans were spiritual before Religions were created. 3) Religious forces have taken over the concept of spirituality as something only scriptures offer, which is not true. That is what I tried to convey in my post last week. I am particularly sensitive to your understanding of me saying that the two are different. My posting for this week provides details of the rationale behind my thoughts. Religious writings contribute and promote spirituality. One of the reasons to establish the religious concept was to help keep the mind more engaged in the positive aspect of the spirit. Unless I am mistaken, that is not the core of their mission for existence. I hope a spirited discussion will help develop a better understanding of the connection between the two.

5: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 10, 2010, 3:00 PM.

Thanks for the clarification and correction, Nirmal Singh ji. However, there remains a distinction in the minds of many. It is not uncommon to hear the line, "I am not religious but I am spiritual." It was to this distinction - real or perceived - that I was trying to nudge the discussion. You are quite right in pointing our that we tend to equate scripture with spirituality - a good many of my Sikh friends appear to think that reading gurbani is all that needs to be done. But it would be nice to hear readers' take on spirituality? Is there "bhao" or feeling in religion, without which all religion (and ritual) becomes meaningless?

6: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), March 10, 2010, 3:32 PM.

Since the manifested aspect of nature comes into visibility demonstrating its sustenance managed by forces beyond human comprehension, it becomes obvious that the controlling force is something greater than nature itself. Talking mythologically, Guru Nanak considered pervasive Creator-designed nature secondarily to be delighted by the natural phenomena. In marvelling nature in its entirety and beyond, Guru Nanak was stricken with awe and alludes to natural phenomena in his shabada: "Apnnee kudrat aapae jaannae aapae karann karae" [GGS:1:53,743). Bhai Gurdas explains the cause of haumai and related problems by stating, "kaadar man(h)u visaariaa, kudrat andar kaadar vassae [37]. Religion is a disciplined organization that binds people together and each individual's freedom is bound for sustainability of a particular social hierarchy. Whereas spirituality is a personal experience of sanctity and holiness of the Akal Purakh. Religion plays a role in expressing the purpose of life and comprehension of fundamentals. A spiritual person, however, realizing God's grace, is liberated from worldly entanglements. Can religiousity and spirituality co-exist? May be, but only to the extent that the creation, Creator and natural phenomena are the same, in which both exist. Can one do without the other? Certainly, lots of people (40% in Europe and about 25% in U.S.A.) claim themselves spiritual people, liberated from every religion. They accept natural laws that serve to nurture, preserve, and safely guide human activities. The human in his/ her ego, however, ignores these laws and gets penalized by the laws in return. Examples of righteous living people are found in both religiousity and spirituality. How to resolve the conflict ...? Space and time is limited for details. Guru Nanak wrote, "sunnyaa manyaa munn keethaa bhao anargath teerathh mul naoe." Having accomplished comprehension of the Guru Shabad, realization, introspection and self-analysis can help alleviate the enigma/ confusion and the conflict is resolved.

7: Gurdev Singh Bir (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A..), March 11, 2010, 12:51 AM.

Mohan Singh's point that religion alone can save our planet from scientific dominance needs further contemplation. To my assumption, religion was or is meant to be a set of guidelines and system of belief and practice, started by a spiritual master or prophet. Let's bear in mind that more deaths and misery have accrued due to religious differences than all the other wars put together. From the anti-Jewish pogroms by Christians to the Muslim/ Hindu killings to the Muslim/ Muslim killings (Shia vs. Sunni) and the never ending Muslim/ Jewish killings. Let us not forget our 'religious' Brahmins who for ages kept a very significant section of society from their spiritual needs. Religion has a tendency over time, especially when not run by the spiritual leader, to be distorted or ambiguous in nature (Ravinder ji's keen observation that words soaked in culture, change in time). This is very evident even today with the fanatical Muslims who feel they have a right to eradicate anybody who doesn't believe in Islam. This is not to say that there aren't very good and observant Christians and Muslims around, it is more of whoever wants to interpret the ambiguity to serve their so called 'enlightened' intentions. Religion is important to provide the needed discipline and is an important catalyst towards spirituality, but the part about religion being unbending and dogmatic is sadly true. Spirituality is more a conviction from within a human being, where his or her feelings are of a compassionate nature (daya) towards God's beings. There is also an inner hunger for enlightenment in spirituality. Whereas in spirituality one is slowly morphing into the 'bhao' sphere, the ones who label themselves as being religiously observant don't do it without a good dosage of haumai.

8: Himmat Singh (Leicester, United Kingdom), March 11, 2010, 3:34 AM.

In pauri 17, Guru Nanak runs through various practices of people who portray their practices as acts of worship. He ends the pauri with his recognition that it is impossible to describe the nature of Creation, and so he knows not how to worship, but that the right or proper deed could please the ever formless Enactor who is to be thanked. In pauri 18, Guru Nanak then describes the ones who engage in unpleasant deeds, and by doing so, sets out his moral standards. He again ends the pauri, as he ended pauri 17. In pauri 19, he emphasizes the infinite nature of Creation and so gives the reason for man's inability to describe it. He refers to the limitation of language in the attempts to describe the whole, which itself has no language. All that happens is just as is destined to happen. Bathe, or revel, in what is; there is no place where one cannot so revel.

9: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville Ohio, U.S.A.), March 11, 2010, 8:58 AM.

Nirmal Singh ji, thanks for providing the background and context. With the evolution of our collective knowledge and consciousness have evolved the meanings we ascribe to words - a quandary expressed by Guru Nanak himself in these stanzas (17-19). Take spirituality, for instance: it derives from the word Spirit, which originally meant the animating principle of life, and was synonymous with breath. Today, we induce good spirits instead, not to mention the fact that we also imbibe spirits to muddle our minds! Your suggestion that Naam Simran is an approach merely to bring relief to induce 'positive spirits and provide relief to the brain' makes it sound like popping an Advil to relieve a headache. 'Sadaa Vigaas' or the positivity you seem to allude to is a by-product of Naam Simran, not its aim. To me, the fundamental distinction between religion and spirituality (as we understand the terms today) is that religion gives meaning and spirit gives experience. Religion translates, spirit transforms. Religion is like the base camp, the anchor needed for the solo climb up the spiritual mountain. In the interest of length, more later. Comments?

10: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), March 11, 2010, 11:55 AM.

We need time to internalize the connection between Religion and Spirituality. To retain sensitivity to the existing mental outlook, but nudge the issue ahead, dictates a careful and diligent approach. Therefore, let us become aware of many parallels that exist between the attributes of Akal Purakh in Guru Nanak's Mool Mantar and the human mind. Both are fathomless ('munn ki gat kahee na jaa-e'); formless; not location specific; the mind is born or trainable to be fearless and/or with no enmity; etc. Karta Purakh is Guru Nanak's connection between the two. In Japji, Guru Nanak is diligently nudging us to understand ourselves by understanding the natural order of this universe. There are many similarities in the functions of the two. Both have beauty, awe, creativity, order and even fury: Akal Purakh in the universe and the Human Mind. We need to learn from Him to emulate His gracious and good attributes/ actions to improve ours. The destruction resulting from His fury should serve as a fear-laced reminder to eradicate our mind's inner fury to protect us from destruction. To keep this post short, we will connect the common and the differentiating dots in the next post. In the meantime, I hope the views on parallels between Akal Purakh and our Mind will help better understand the functions of Religion and Spirituality. It is perhaps appropriate to restate the uniqueness of this connection between mind and Akal Purakh in the Japji; that lends to the universal appeal of Sikh doctrine. In blending the cultural influence of existing Indian religions and the superior Sikh doctrine, we have failed to achieve the intended universal impact by failing to formulate clear, well-defined and befitting religious practices.

11: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), March 11, 2010, 1:06 PM.

Ravinder ji, let me thank you first to help start connecting the dots between our perception vs. reality of our understanding of Religion and Spirituality. I appreciate your example of me viewing Naam Simran like popping a pill and find it very supportive to my contention of our poor understanding of these two concepts. Please correct me if I am wrong: in my view Naam Simran in the Sikh Faith and similar practices in other religions have only one clearly intended purpose - to pray, worship, recognize God and His Hukam or similar objective. Religions treat Naam Simran worse than 'popping a pill to treat the headache', as in your example because they don't even bother to establish a connection between such a practice and spirituality. I would encourage you to reflect upon these comments and hopefully revisit your opinion.

12: Himmat Singh (Leicester, United Kingdom), March 11, 2010, 4:10 PM.

The connection between spirituality and religion is queried. In my opinion: Sensations that can be considered as spiritual, can be inspired and enhanced by practice of religion. These sensations can also be created without following any religion whatsoever. Merely gazing into a clear night sky, or listening to the wind in the leaves, or watching flames dance in an open fire, perhaps with background rhythmic music, can lead to such sensations. Singing the Lord's name, maybe with music and with others engaged in the same, with reverberating echoes due to the particular architecture of the building one is in, can elevate one to what is also said to be a higher spiritual state. Religion is much more than just about raising the spirit. Even without any element to provide spiritual satisfaction, or to give a sense of awe of the nature of creation, it is a proven way to bond communities, and gives them a way to form an identity. They can then discriminate their community from others. This discrimination need not be negative, but often it does degenerate into negative discrimination, and so methods are incorporated to keep the ego in check, if one has a sense of compassion. Abandoning religion is also abandonment of belonging to a community, and so other methods are then sought to attach to groups. This could be attachment to sports teams, to a nation, to a political party, etc. Sometimes religious leaders try to abandon others that also claim to be part of the same religion, and this leads to splits and regrouping. Group behaviour is an innate human trait, common to primates. The methods used in religions can do more than bond people. It can lead to an organized way of life. Saying a prayer five times a day (as with observant Muslims), or doing nitnaym twice a day, can lead to a well disciplined way of life, and increased productivity. The mind is stilled when it knows what's coming next, and other events can be fitted around foundations. It is the difference between someone who uses a plain notebook, and someone who uses a structured appointment diary. Reciting alone with no reflection on what is being said, is likely to limit how much the spirit can be elevated, but even reciting can raise the spirits and create a sense of achievement, especially if one does it regularly, in a rhythmical way, and in a quiet environment, perhaps in a particular room set aside for the purpose. The mind is satisfied when one knows one has actually done what one has previously convinced oneself is the absolutely right thing to do. The mental reward is self-satisfaction and self-contentment. Spirituality and religion are two separate entities; spirituality existed before any religion; religion can exist without any spiritual element as it is a grouping tactic that can unify people, but it can also incorporate spiritual elements. God is all-pervading and does not attach to one religious order, neither is God found by following practices of a particular order. Pauri 17 highlights this. Religious institutions suffer little when the spiritual element is abandoned, but people would be wise to reflect on what they wish to gain from the practice of religion, as there may be more productive methods to achieve their spiritual goals if they are not interested in social networking. Throughout gurbani, Guru ji requests the spiritual seeker to look within, into one's own mind. As one learns to manipulate the mind, one can raise the spirit to high levels, and ensure one accepts even the most dire external circumstances.

13: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), March 11, 2010, 4:12 PM.

In every area of human activity, whether it is soldiering, surgery, philosophy, plumbing, mathematics, or making widgets, there is a discipline involved - training the mind and/or body. If the aim is to learn the art and science of introspection, how do you go about it? I think that is the raison d'etre for naam simran, for nitnaym and for sangat - interaction with fellow travelers on the path. That's what it is all about. That is the fundamental purpose of worship as well which brings together all these aspects towards developing a sense of one's essential self. In fact, the word "worship" may then be somewhat misleading and inaccurate, or at least, limiting.

14: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), March 11, 2010, 8:51 PM.

The stanzas of Japji under consideration in fact destroy the distinction, often touted popularly in contemporary debates, between religion and so-called 'spirituality'. Although 'spirituality' is often opposed to 'religion', their similarities strike us as far more prominent than their differences. Both move in a world that honours reverence, sacredness and holiness, and that despises evil, transgression and the forbidden. Both suggest realms of being not exhausted by the world of everyday life. Both imagine a cosmic frame of reference for human action. With an extreme sense of wonder ('vismad') Guru Nanak exclaims with joy: 'Countless those who repeat your Name, countless those who adore you. Countless those who offer you worship, countless those who perform austerities. Countless those who intone the scriptures, countless the ascetic practitioners of yoga.' Evidently, in Guru Nanak's vision, all religious practices are worthy of honour that invoke divine glory and power. This is all about goodness in the world. Then Guru Nanak is awe-struck by the existence of evil in the world: 'Countless the fools, the thieves, the swindlers; countless those who rule by force. Countless the cut-throats, violent murderers; countless those who live evil lives.' The remarkable beauty of this stanza reaches its climax when Guru Nanak identifies himself with this category: 'Nanak the lowly, having pondered, now declares: Worthless am I to be offered as sacrifice. Worthy is that which pleases You, O eternally constant Nirankar.' Thus both good and evil exist in the divine plan. Only those who are spiritually evolved rise above the duality of good and evil. For them, pains and pleasures, gold and dust, matter and spirit, are the same. It is no wonder that Guru Nanak exclaims: 'Whatever is made gives form to the divine Name. Nothing exists except that which expresses it.' - 'jeta keeta teytaa nau// bin naavai nahin ko thau//'. Indeed, the process of Nam-simaran cultivates an awareness of the divine presence. Guru Nanak's criticisms were directed at the conventional forms of contemporary religious practices representing hypocrisy. In most instances, it was not the religious institutions themselves which became the target of Guru Nanak's reproach, but rather hypocrisy which these institutions came to represent and disguise: 'False is the ablution of the wicked man, and vain are his religious rites and adornments' [GGS:1343]. Here, Guru Nanak is not condemning ablution or rites per se, but rather the idea that they are any indication of moral rectitude. For him, 'a bath at a pilgrimage site is meritorious if it pleases the Lord; if it does not please him, it is worthless.' [GGS:2]

15: Mohan Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 12, 2010, 7:53 AM.

Religion comes from outside of you, Spirituality comes from within you. The world is surrounded by several doctrines, beliefs, philosophies and endless sects in the name of religion. Each one of them has its own particular and peculiar code of conduct. The proponent of these doctrines is named a saint, braham gyani, kaazi, master, guru, prophet, son of God, etc. They proclaim themselves to be the intermediates between humans and God and people thinks that, being their disciple or firm follower, is fulfilling one's religious obligations or needs. But somewhere in our mind, with a little logic and rational approach, a thought prevails that mere propagation, preaching or following a flock is far away from real spirituality. Centuries ago, prophets and gurus gave advice on how to be happy and harmonious and to live with contentment and compassion, but people failed to do so. If a person dwells only in so-called dharam khand, he will gain nothing; rather he will become jealous, envious and hateful. One has to step further into gyan khand and to shram khand, to attain spirituality via karam khand to sacch khand. By and large all are religious but very few are engrossed deep into it. Hardly few follow the codes of conduct; the rest are involved in physical and fake karam khand. A real spiritual being will never think of jealousy, envy and hatred. In fact, his love for mankind is limitless, being soft spoken and sweet to every one is his way of life ('Jin prem kiyo tin hee prabh paayo'). His life has no room for rituals, superstitions and blind faith. He is never afraid and doesn't even attempt to frighten others. Simran and seva become his religion, working for the needy and downtrodden is worship for him. Such a person will share all his achievements and accomplishments with his fellow beings and the sparkling effect of spirituality is visible from his blissful state. He accepts the Will of God - Hukam - happily. Thus one's deeds, actions, gestures and behavior with others are the touchstone of spirituality.

16: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 12, 2010, 10:34 AM.

I was flipping through an old note book of mine and came across this scribble - a little off the main topic but relevent, nevertheless for all of us arm-chair preachers: From St. John of the Ladder (7th century CE Christian monk) - "If some are still dominated by their former bad habits, and yet can teach by mere words, let them teach ... For perhaps, by being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin to practice what they preach."

17: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), March 12, 2010, 11:45 AM.

On 'Religion and Spirituality', the general thought appears to be in line with the suggested approach. Sometime it veers off when we lose track of our intended purpose of discourse. Our intent is not to reflect on our individual beliefs, but to visit on the differences between the two concepts from its intended utility vs. its use and practice today. Take for example my use of 'Naam Simran'. I have used it in the context of highlighting the differences between the two concepts. Hence, Naam Simran is not and should not be the point of discussion. Similarly, Ravinder ji states: "Religion is like a base camp, the anchor needed for the solo climb up the spiritual mountain". His conceptual understanding is correct on both the base camp part and the purpose of the climb. It is also the point in my analysis of the issue. There is only one difference. In my understanding, our intent is to discover and highlight our individual perspectives of the concepts, spell out our differences if any - is the concept in use, is it beneficial, etc. In Ravinder ji's example, religious practices and forces are not on the path, do not appear to promote the intended path, the followers do not appear to question or demand focus on the purpose, the benefits of the concept are lost and the struggle that may ensue later, is likely to cause more harm than good in the final analysis. Our views on all these aspects of the topic will make this dialogue meaningful, if we all agree. Just a suggestion to retain our aim to discover similarities and differences on the issue of our common interest.

18: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 12, 2010, 2:24 PM.

The spiritual ascent is always individual but is tethered in sangat. Purely solo climbs can lead to disorientation, if not hallucination. Sangat remains the anchor. That is how religion and spirituality are intertwined. But when religious practices are devoid of "bhao", they become hypocritical - it is this hypocrisy that Guru Nanak is attacking, not any practice per se. I would extend Dr. Pashaura Singh's statement and say that spirituality flows out of vismad and leads to the joy that Nanak describes - except that 'Joy' (a spiritual concept) is now also a detergent!

19: Himmat Singh (Leicester, United Kingdom), March 12, 2010, 5:43 PM.

It seems this discussion is now degenerating somewhat. This is very disappointing as, to date, whilst the discussion was focused on Japji Sahib, it was very illuminating. It was very interesting reading the various interpretations of the same text. There are countless forums in which general points about religion can be, and are, discussed. I am also guilty, as I have also posted above on spirituality vs. religion, when there was no need to. I have found it is best to stick to what one believes in, and practice it, but not preach it, as the very next person who we think believes the same, actually doesn't, and is offended by the different views. Every day, Sikhs are pitted against Sikhs, and there are endless claims of disrespect or be-adbi. Maybe it is better to stay quiet and merge into the background, i.e., stay chup chaap, and let others squabble. [EDITOR: I suggest all of us look at the rules again, please. Let's please be short in our comments. If we can't say it in a minute, it means we need to go back and grasp the idea a bit better. Let's stay focused - if we stick to the Points to Ponder as recommended by the Convenor, we'll find we won't veer off the track. Let's be simple - if we find we have to give detailed explanations of what we're trying to say, then it is time to go back and rewrite it, before we post it. And, please, let's not get preachy. All we want to know is how each person sees it. This is not an opportunity to win over people to any side - because there are no sides. Thanks.]

20: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 13, 2010, 7:18 AM.

Himmat Singh ji, I am sorry that you are getting the impression of squabbling on this forum. While your concern is understandable, rest assured that is not the intent or aim. We are a community of seekers on a spiritual quest and doubt, question and disagreement is part of the journey. Please do not sit back "chup chaap" but continue to give us your valuable insights. Looking forward to your continued participation. Incidentally, this topic stemmed from the Japji, "mannai mugg na chalae panth"

21: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), March 13, 2010, 9:39 AM.

On reading the disconnect between spirituality and religiosity posited by some readers, a thought comes to mind. It seems to me that the spiritual values and development of individuals is reflected in the religious institutions and their practices that they establish or manage. If the spirituality of the individual(s) is of a high order, it would be reflected in the (religious) institution founded and managed - such as the community of Kartarpur founded by Guru Nanak. If the spiritual values are poorly developed or apparent, then the institution would function like the S.G.P.C. today. Religious institutions are not divorced from their spiritual underpinnings. They seem to be joined at the hip. The monikers - spirituality and religiosity - are not so simple to decipher and deserve a fuller discussion. Here I look at the fact that even the simplest, most basic values of citizenship in a secular non-religious society - honesty, courtesy and respect for your neighbour and the law - require institutions to transmit and teach them. Hence the essential connection between spirituality and religious institutions in my mind.

22: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas. U.S.A.), March 13, 2010, 10:33 AM.

Himmat Singh ji, and dear participants: in my zeal to learn others' perspectives on Religion & Spirituality, I hope I did not turn out to be the preacher Himmat ji has alluded to in his post. If I did, it was unintended, innocent and I regret it. I am not an ideologue, have no agenda, do not believe in controversy but also not the shirking type in raising issues of concern to Sikh faith we love and want to see flourish. I intend to participate whenever I can in similar topics of common interest. I have learned to respect basic values of other persons' beliefs, no matter how questionable those principles might appear to me.

23: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), March 13, 2010, 12:24 PM.

I agree with informed readers that the text of Japji must be the focus of our discussion. The most important insight that emerges from stanza 19 relates to the significance of linguistic words ('akhar') to describe the divine message: 'By words (akhari) alone can we utter the divine Name; by words alone can we give You glory. With words alone can we tell of Your wisdom, with words sing hymns of praise. With words we write and recite scriptures, and words must be used to record our destiny. The One who records it is free from its trammels; whatever is commanded must surely come to pass.' Clearly, Guru Nanak maintains that the glory of Akal Purakh is sung under such aspects as are relative to the endowments of the seeker. In other words, Akal Purakh reveals himself to the devotee in terms of the constitution and faculties of the human mind, and in accordance with the needs of the age. The divine message is thus conveyed in common parlance reflecting the cultural code of the time. Indeed, no mode of cognition is capable of expressing reality-in-itself; what is apprehended is relative to the mode of apprehension, which determines the form in which reality is known. These points are made explicit in the clear distinction which Guru Nanak makes throughout his works between the divine message (bani) and its expression in actual words (akhar). In his Patti Likhi ("Thus was the Slate Written"), for instance, Guru Nanak proclaims that "those who through the grace of the Guru understand the divine mystery behind these letters (akhar) erase the debt [of karma] from their heads" [GGS:432]. Thus it is the meaning behind the words (akhar) and not the words themselves that constitute the locus of revelation in Sikhism. Similarly, in his Bavan Akhari (the "Fifty-Two Letters") Kabir maintains that "these letters (akhar) will vanish whereas those [mystic] syllables are beyond these letters" [GGS:340]. These scriptural passages clearly indicate a differentiation between the medium of expression (akhar) and the divine message, a message which is by its very nature inexpressible. More precisely, language is primarily an instrument for articulating an approximation to the divine message.

24: Mohan Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 14, 2010, 9:46 AM.

The three pauris of 'asankh' under riview enhance our surt, as pauri 17 and 18 increases our awareness about the kind of people around us and their way of living in our society, so we can justify our own way of parmarth. Pauri 17 and 18 are about uttam and neech, or flowers and thorns type people. In # 17, Guru ji says these people are more into physical rituals, still they are good as they are religious and in search for the blessings of God. Next is the list of people (# 18) that belongs to the category of the neech, they live in our society, may be even next door, they never put their name plate outside as some doctors or engineers do. They are not good friends, but simply greedy and criminals and pretend to be religious (pakhandi). Here in this pauri, Guru Nanak does not identify himself with this category as neech, but simply Guru ji describes the kind of neech people they are. Finaly in pauri 19, he says God has no name, no languages but all His creation is given a name by us. Letters and all kinds of maps and measurements are our creation, so also religions are our own creation, while spirituality is creation of God within us. Here in the Japji, Guru Nanak is teaching Sikhs how to progress from Dharam Khand to Sacch Khand as we will see in pauri 34 to 37, with his clear message in shram khand. One has to be engrossed in religion and surrender to God. As regards my previous interpretation, I had no intention to hurt any group or individual. The whole world is Dharam Khand; and still there are asankh people as in pauri 17 and 18. Clashes between Jewish/ Christians, Muslim/ Hindus, Shias/Sunni, Brahmins/Shudra, etc., happen because of such people. Their journey on the path of religion was/ is superficial, and most of these are so called dharam ke thekedaars, we cannot blame the whole community. Look at the current situation at the Akal Takht and in Punjab, the whole Sikh community is not responsible for it, but only a few chaudhries. Such kind of brahmins, khatri and vaish together fight in the streets of India for hindutva and continue attacking on minorities even today, they also belongs to dharam khand.

25: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), March 14, 2010, 12:41 PM.

Many thanks for another week of keeping our minds attuned to the message of gurbani. Tomorrow, we will turn to stanza 20 while keeping the text of stanzas 17-19 in context.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium X: Pauris 17 to 19 - March 8 - 14"

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