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Talking Stick

Kirtan Sohila
The Talking Stick Colloquium XXIV, Stanza Four, June 14-20





We paused longer than anticipated over the meaning and use of the term "Baba" in stanza 2, and some of that discussion spilled over into last week - only to discover the different shades of implied meaning were not that far from each other.

The term "Baba," we all agreed, is an invocation and it would be safe to conclude that the call is to each one of us.

The central point in Stanza 3 (judging from the "rahao" line) is centered on: "kaisie aarti ho-ey." This can be interpreted as a question (what is the right mode of worship) or an expression of awe (vismad).

In either case, the message was neatly summed up by our brother from Israel: "Why dumb down, in the form of symbolic, man-made ritual, that which God has created? Expand your perception and tune in to the original, instead!"

Guru Nanak leaves no doubt that the best worship, indeed the only worship, "is what pleases You!"  - reminding us yet again, that walking in Hukam is the only religion.


The fourth Sabad in Kirtan Sohila is in Raag Gauri Poorbi - another variation of Gauri. Sikh tradition believes that the fourth Nanak, Guru Ramdas, composed this shabad during a meeting with a landlord on the way to Goindwal from Amritsar - as a way of instructing him (and by extension, us) on the need to strive for moral excellence through habitual striving and devotion to Truth.

The body/ mind - metaphorically referred to as a township - is described as overrun with teeming hordes (of lust and anger) eating away at its inner fabric. Such a description of the body/ mind is frequently used in gurbani to reflect an untrained and uncultured mind. Here, for instance, is Guru Amardas speaking of the five thieves - lust, anger, greed, attachment and self-conceit - plundering our body/ mind: "iss ḏehī anḏar pancẖ cẖor vasėh kām kroḏẖ lobẖ moh ahaʼnkārā." [GGS:600].

The only way to break their hold is the Grace of the Guru's wisdom that "lights" the darkness of our inner mind where these thieves operate.

Striving for the Guru's wisdom and knowledge becomes a moral imperative and the highest good.

Haumai has been likened to a thorn in the flesh, pricking at us constantly because we act out of conceit. In considering stanza 3 last week, Guru Nanak identified walking in Hukam as being the only true worship - an injunction that we encountered early on in the Japji as being the fundamental underpinning of a Sikh life.

Here, the message of the Japji is being re-enforced and amplified. It is haumai that stands in the way of walking in Hukam.


How does one meet the sadhu - the term used here for Guru. The answer in the shabad is "pÅ«rab likẖaṯ likẖe gur pāiā," which suggests destiny over which we seemingly have no control. In other words, I have no control over meeting the Guru.

In my conversations with fellow Sikhs, many find such an explanation (it appears repeatedly in gurbani) unappealing, if not discouraging. I am told it puts a damper on any desire to strive.

What do you think?

THE TEXT - Rendered in English

Rāg gaoṛī pÅ«rbÄ« mÄ—hlā 4.  
Raag Gauree Poorbee, Fourth Nanak

Kām karoḏẖ nagar baho bẖariā mil sāḏẖū kẖandal kẖanda hey.  
Lust and anger grip my mind

Meeting the Guru, I break their hold,

PÅ«rab likẖaṯ likẖe gur pāiā man har liv mandal mandā hey. ||1||  
Graced by the Guru's wisdom, my mind is imbued with divine love.

Kar sāḏẖū anjulÄ« pun vadā hey.  
Praiseworthy it is to recognize the Guru with folded hands, 
Kar dandauṯ pun vadā hey. ||1|| rahāo.  
Better still, to humbly bow ||1||Pause||  
Sākaṯ har ras sāḏ na jāṇiā ṯin anṯar haumai kandā hey.  
The faithless know not Your essence;

Like a thorn in the flesh is their Haumai*

Jio jio cẖalÄ—h cẖubẖai ḏukẖ pāvahi jamkāl sahÄ—h sir dandā hey. ||2||  
Pushing deeper with every selfish act, bringing only sorrow and Death.  
Har jan har har nām samāṇe ḏukẖ janam maraṇ bẖav kẖanda hey.  
The faithful, absorbed in Naam, escape the pangs of birth and death, 
AbẖināsÄ« purakẖ pāiā parmesar baho sobẖ kẖand barahmandā hey. ||3||  
For they have found You, the Imperishable Supreme Being,

Honored in the here and hereafter. 

Ham garÄ«b maskÄ«n parabẖ ṯere har rākẖ rākẖ vad vadā hey.  
We are poor and deprived, beggars at Your door,

Protect and secure us O Greatest of the great!

Jan Nānak nām aḏẖār tek hai har nāme hÄ« sukẖ mandā hey. ||4||4||  
Your servant Nanak finds sustenance and support in You and Your Name.

In Your Name, he finds rest and comfort. ||4| 


* ego, conceit, self pride; collectively refers to our sense of ‘I"  or the apparition of an "I"

Conversation about this article

1: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 14, 2010, 3:25 PM.

A Guru who is under MY control?! Who needs such a Guru? It's enough to know that, "When a Sikh is ready, the Guru will come." We do what we have to do; the results are not up to us.

2: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), June 14, 2010, 6:27 PM.

The fourth hymn of Kirtan Sohila is set to Gauri-Poorbi raga, a mixed melody which was the special creation of Guru Ram Das. In fact, the fourth Guru himself was an accomplished musician. He introduced another musical dimension to the Sikh tradition by adding 11 new raags to the set of 19 raags that he inherited from his predecessors. He was an expert in partal (rhythm changing melodies) and sankar (combined) raags. In the present hymn, Guru Ram Das proclaims: "Though my heart is filled with lust and anger, faithful souls can conquer all evil. Fate decreed the Guru's coming; all my past misdeeds were erased when my mind was absorbed in the divine. Refrain. Fold your hands and praise the faithful, merit thus we gain. Humbly prostrate lie in meekness, great the merit earned! Worldly souls who scorn your sweetness suffer pain from self-conceit. Deeper and deeper pricks the thorn [of haumai, self-conceit] as Death prepares to strike. They who love your sacred Name shall break the bonds of birth and death. Thus they find the One Eternal, thus they win supreme renown. Poor am I and ever humble; save and keep me in your care. Grant the aid your Name can bring me, grant its peace and wondrous joy." This hymn beautifully contrasts the life-styles of manmukhs (self-willed sakats, the worshippers of worldly power and delights) and gurmukhs, the ones who faithfully follow the teachings of the Guru. The imagery of a thorn is employed from the Punjabi rural setting, how it becomes painful in the foot when it pricks deeper and deeper. In a similar vein, haumai (self-centeredness) painfully pricks one's heart, mind and soul. This is the root-cause of all suffering. The only remedy is the constant remembrance of the divine Name (nam-simran), accompanied by the cultivation of humility.

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 15, 2010, 8:11 AM.

I chanced upon Yuktanand ji's comments on stanza 3; unfortunately, they appeared towards the very end of the previous week's discussion and may have been missed by many. I share some pertinent points (in short installments) that he made and my responses: 1) The term "Baba" in stanza 2, according to Yuktanand ji, is being used for Waheguru. I find myself (personally) now inclined to agree with him. Despite the fact that Prof. Sahib Singh, Prof. McLeod and some traditional commentaries have interpreted the line to be an exhortation to the individual to earn merit (vadiya-ee to-ey), it seems to me that Yuktanand ji has a point: gurbani is very clear that the giving of praise to that One is a gift from Waheguru, not the result of any self induced activity. With that in mind, clearly, Guru Nanak could only be calling out to Waheguru "Baba" or 'Father' with a "plea," or a request befitting a child - to take us or to place us in that "house" where praise is given. 2) Stanza 3, 'Kirpa jal deh Nanak sarang kao' reinforces the same idea as does stanza 4, 'Har raakh raakh har vada hey'. Thoughts?

4: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 17, 2010, 7:27 AM.

Another point made by Yuktanand ji (in the previous week) was that "karta" should be translated Doer and not Creator. We have used both terms interchangeably on this forum (as in the explanation on karta during the discussion on the Mool Mantar). Perhaps the term should be Creator-Doer.

5: Yuktanand Singh (Saline, Michigan, U.S.A.), June 17, 2010, 12:16 PM.

Let us not fret over one or two words. Sometimes, several meanings apply to the same word in their own ambience. Baba (just as, Nanak) is one such word. Comprehending the message in gurbani is like peeling an onion. A new layer emerges after a protracted period of analyzing what we know today. This is often accompanied by also discovering another layer of our own haumai. As we know, haumai is also implicit and multi-layered and it permeates all our acts. Often, people write books based on such a single discovery. Guru Nanak says that there is no limit to what we can discover and how much we can understand. This keeps us humble. We will also notice that if we do not understand something, it does not register even when we recite it all our life. This is expected, but we shoot ourselves in the foot when we redefine the words that we do not understand. Additionally, words that lack a good equivalent or, where the intent is not clear, are best left un-translated, perhaps with a footnote. Just as 'baba', 'karta' surfaces as another such word because calling God the 'doer' does not fit established vernacular. On the other hand, I have difficulty finding where it would be preferable to translate 'karta' as creator. 'Creator' is represented by words like 'kartaar' and 'sirjanhaar'. Sometimes these words are used together with 'karta' to indicate that they have a different meaning. One purpose of gurbani is to convey God's truth to us in simple language. We void that purpose when we teach that Guru Sahib must have meant something else, as if we know better. There is nothing wrong with various poetic renditions but when discussing the meaning, I humbly submit that we must strive to understand gurbani as it is.

6: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 18, 2010, 10:07 AM.

Yuktanand ji, your point is well taken: our intent is not to get entangled in semantics or grammar - important as they are - but to deepen our understanding and experience of gurbani. Nonetheless, there are times when pausing over a word is beneficial; for instance, it was certainly enlightening for me personally to recognize the particular meaning of Baba in these verses. I was able to see a consistency and continuity in these verses that I had not seen before - a personal deepening of understanding for me! Agreed, gurbani is a fathomless ocean and we grasp it to the degree that our Waheguru-given ability allows us.

7: Yuktanand Singh (Saline, Michigan, U.S.A.), June 18, 2010, 5:49 PM.

Ravinder Singh ji: It takes wisdom to see things from another's point of view. I am glad that you can appreciate my view even though I could be wrong. Pausing is good, but it appears that I may have thrown in a monkey wrench with my opinions. So, here are some more items with the hope that others will join us. There is so much more to understand and to share. Please excuse the details. They are included for the benefit of the non-Punjabi readers. Guru Sahib uses the model of a city here, a city that needs some demolition (khundden), new building (munnden), and charity (punn). Instead of the various thieves, God needs to govern this city. The words 'har liv', 'har rung' and 'har rus' in gurbani are synonymous with Naam. I could be wrong but 'liv' is spiritual reverie or inner link, while 'rung' (color) means emotions. 'Rus' (Sanskrit: rasa) means an enticing pleasure or juice. Their usage indicates that Naam is to be savored, physically, emotionally and spiritually, not just remembered mentally. Haumai prefers other forms of rus. Strong emotions, particularly kaam and krodh displace the har rus. Thus, haumai is compared to a thorn (Eckhart Tolle's 'pain body'?). Saakat is someone who rejects the Guru's message. Guru Sahib uses the shabad to remove this thorn: 'Gur ankas maar jeevalanhara' [GGS:159.7]. Once Naam reclaims our city, it becomes our sole sustenance and support.

8: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 20, 2010, 2:40 AM.

Yuktanand ji, a monkey-wrench is, in the final analysis, a tool! I much appreciate your deft use of this tool to build a picture from this shabad that makes sense to my untrained mind. The "details" are, as you mention, precisely what I, as a non-Punjabi need to see, so I'm grateful for your kind indulgence. I agree - Naam as a mere mental exercise doesn't cut it. It requires personal involvement on the intuitive level, running in the background while the analytic mind is busy, ever ready to be brought to the foreground. To live with the feeling and knowledge that Waheguru is always there at the edge of my consciousness, looking over my shoulder, ready at a moment's notice, should I turn to Him/Her, to enfold me in His/Her warm embrace!

9: Yuktanand Singh (Saline, Michigan, U.S.A.), June 20, 2010, 10:31 AM.

'Running in the background' is an insightful observation. We associate simran with our breath, to train our body, to engage in it while we talk, eat or sleep. Naam is meant to, eventually, take over, and to dominate our entire being. Guru Sahib says: 'Mannai surt hovai munn buddh' [GGS:3.6]. Meaning, when our mind agrees one hundred percent ('bees bisuay') with the Guru's mind, then our inner spiritual perception (surt) dominates our mind (munn) and our intellect (buddh) because then, Guru's wisdom takes over. Experience of Guru's wisdom is often accompanied by tears. I did not want to overload the discussion, because some views will appear dogmatic before we all understand the basics, but Naam is an intense force. In the end, it dominates our entire being. For example, krodh (wrath, antagonism, vexation) dyes our entire personality, our thinking, our actions, even the breathing and blood pressure. We may do extremely foolish things and then we say, 'I am sorry, I was just angry.' Kaam (desire, lust) changes our thinking and judgment, and our bodily functions too, until the hormones have done their job, only to start this fire all over again. Naam fills the same slot, and more. Thus, living in Naam is like being intoxicated. Often, we overlook all this. We will fail to see how Naam transforms us until we meet someone who lives Naam, breathes Naam and talks Naam. We seek to meet such real Sikhs, not the keyboard Sikhs like me.

10: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 20, 2010, 10:55 AM.

A monkey wrench - to interrupt habitual patterns of thinking - is precisely what we need, and it is the purpose of this exercise! The metaphor of a city (township) that must be ruled by God reminded me of St. Augustine's City of God which, from what little I know, touches on a similar theme. To Aryeh Leib ji, I would say: Waheguru is not at the edge of our consciousness but at its center, the very core of our existence - it is this awareness that should guide us as we go about the business of life. Practicing the presence of God. Personally, I see our sense of separation as apparitional - a creation of Haumai. Haumai - which is being singled out in this shabad, as elsewhere in gurbani, to be at the root of our troubles - is by its very nature "apparent", not real.

11: Manjit Singh Bara Pindia  (Canada), June 20, 2010, 1:27 PM.

What S. Yuktanand Singh ji has stated in his post # 7 above reflects the same as what Guru Nanak has summarized in pauri 38 of the Japji. In that pauri, Guru Nanak seems to be telling us to listen less to the shabad emanating from haumai but instead develop our consciousness such that it is capable of listening to the shabad of naam. This also means that one should act, do deeds, by listening to the voice coming from the depth of consciousness rather than the voice coming from haumai. The voice from the haumai is coloured highly by the 'group of five negatives' (kaam, krodh, lobh, moh and ahankaar). So controlling of hamai, controlling the group of five negatives, and developing intuitiveness about the world around us, is one way. The other is by meditation on naam - naam being the attributes, the virtues, of the Creator who created us and sustains us. Acting and leading one's life by listening to the voice of deeper layers of consciousness can be said to be is living by hukam. The translation of the word 'liv' as 'spiritual reverie' of a sort by Yukanand Singh ji is remarkable. That mystic state is supposedly developed through meditation and developing intuitive understanding of the world around us. However this mystic state is the 'inner link' to naam and is thought to be much clearer in its contents than the simple 'reverie' or dreamlike state.

12: Yuktanand Singh (Saline, Michigan, U.S.A.), June 21, 2010, 12:10 AM.

We could draw many similarities between St. Augustine's City of God and the city above, except that in gurmat, God's Kingdom is inside our heart. This kingdom results also in civic benefits (halemi raaj) nonetheless. Before finishing this week's discussion, we need to consider a couple of questions raised in the beginning. One of these relates to: 'Purab likhat likhe gur paia' - 'We met the Guru due to our prior destiny' ('purab' here means prior.) In my opinion, various conventional terms in gurbani have an unconventional meaning. 'Purab karam' is commonly interpreted as our destiny that cannot be changed. Let us remember that first, purab karam is not karma. It did not result from something we did. Second, God is 'nirvair' (free of rancor) and thus, if God wrote something in our destiny, it must be only good. We should celebrate and rejoice then, and not be discouraged. For example, a child may long for some toys, discouraged that he does not have the money. He would be no longer discouraged if he finds that his own father owned that store. 'Yes, but what can we do if something was not written in our destiny since we cannot change it?' we may say. This would be true if God was controlled by some laws. Guru Sahib says God has no limits, we do. What would that child do next? Something may be already written but God is not bound by time, we are. In God's time, there is no past, and no future. Thus, to God, our 'prior' destiny is like a running ledger, being written in the present moment. We do see various versions of the term 'purab karam' in gurbani, because Guru Sahib is free of ego. God is the karta. Ego causes distance from God. Gratitude towards God for whatever we received or did not receive reduces this distance. Additionally, prayer for spiritual favors put us in a proper frame of mind and makes us ready to receive. Thus, I believe that God has given us everything. He has written it in our destiny but we need to claim these gifts. If we do not claim them or ask for them, then they were not written in our destiny. The only significance that I can see in God having preordained something is that, for all results, good or bad, the credit must go to God. This is not because God craves our praise. In fact, "If everyone joined in his praise, He would be no greater and no smaller". [GGS:9.18].

13: Rajesh (India), August 13, 2010, 11:55 PM.

Nice post. Look forward to following your future postings.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium XXIV, Stanza Four, June 14-20"

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