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Bhai Gurdas - The Mission of Guru Nanak
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 27, July 5 - 11





Dr. I.J. Singh's biographical sketch of Bhai Gurdas questioned why his writings did not find a place in the Guru Granth Sahib - given their unquestionably superb poetic quality and deeply insightful exposition of Gurmat. Of course, we cannot second guess the Guru here - nor is that the intent - but the question remains interesting and worth asking.

Another point of discussion was Bhai Gurdas' apparent "silence" about Guru Arjan's martyrdom. History and tradition tells us that Bhai Gurdas was perhaps the only one allowed by the Mughal authorities to meet with Guru Arjan during his captivity and
torture, so his "silence" is all the more intriguing; more so when viewed in the backdrop of his extensive writings.

"Rehnde Gur dariayo vich, meen kuleen het nirbani |Darsan dekh patang jio (n) joti andar jot samani |Sabad surat(i) liv mirg jio, bhirh payee chit avar na jani |Gur Arjan vith(u) kurbani |" [Vaar 24.23]

This is generally cited as evidence of Bhai Gurdas' depiction of Guru Arjan's state of mind and his adoration for the Guru: like a fish in water, a moth to the flame, a deer in peril and a bee buzzing in the petals of a flower, the Guru's consciousness remained
immersed in God through the night of his suffering.

Nonetheless, there is little historical detail and one can only conjecture as to its reason(s).


THIS WEEK - Guru Nanak's Mission

We will try and view Guru Nanak's mission through the lens of Bhai Gurdas' writings - recorded chiefly in Vaar 1, which consists of 49 stanzas (pauris). The first Vaar begins with the existing tradition of an invocation (mangalcharan) offered to the Guru (namasakaaru guradayv ko sati naamu jisu mantr sunaaiaa) for shedding the light of Truth.

The first portion of Vaar 1 essentially provides the background and frame of reference prior to Guru Nanak's arrival on the scene. Touching on existing creation stories and the special significance of a human life, Bhai Gurdas proceeds to examine existing philosophies (readers may recall Guru Nanak's treatment of the six schools of thought in Kirtan Sohila) and the clash between Hindus and Muslims and how Truth eludes them:

bayd katayb bhulaai kai mohay|aalach dunee saitaanay/sachu kinaaray rahi giaa khahi maraday baamhani maulaanay.

He then describes the prevailing conditions on the subcontinent:

kali aaee kutay muhee khaaju hoiaa muradaar gusaaee|raajay paapu kamaanvaday ulatee vaarh khayt kau khaaee. [Vaar 1.30] - "The Age is like the mouth of a dog feeding on a carcass (dishonesty); kings have turned on their subjects (instead of dispensing justice rulers are likened to the protective fence that devours the crop it is meant to protect)

It is against such a backdrop, Bhai Gurdas tells us, that the merciful God commissioned Guru Nanak to come into the world:

sunee pukaari daataar prabhu guru naanak jag maahi patdaaiaa. [Vaar:1.23]

"Guru Nanak's arrival revealed the light of knowledge (manifest as Guru Nanak) and dispelled the fog of ignorance that had enveloped the minds of people" - 'satiguru naanaku pragatiaa mitee dhundhu jagi chaananu hoaa.' [Vaar: 1.27]

From Bhai Gurdas, one gets a glimpse of Guru Nanak's travels to Mecca, Baghdad and his discussions with the Nath yogis as well as mullahs and pandits.



Vaar 39, stanza 11 points to the way of the Guru, which is distinct from existing paths (i.e. Hindu, Muslim, etc).

"This is the path of the special addict (amalee khasay) who drinks from the cup of Love and beholds the Transcendent One!" - 'Amalee khaasay majalasee piramu piaalaa alakhu|akhaaiaa.'

The following lines marks a clear break from existing faiths:

"The rosary of the Imam (tasbee) and Pundit (mala) and their numbers (108 being auspicious) has no significance" - 'Maalaa tasabee torhi kai jiu sau tivai atdotaru | aaiaa.'

"The followers of the Guru make no distinction between Ram and Rahim but follow the One Name." - 'Mayru imaamu ralaai kai raamu raheemu n naaun ganaaiaa.'

What can we infer the nature of true religion to be?

Conversation about this article

1: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 06, 2010, 1:14 PM.

The motivation behind understanding Guru Nanak's mission through the eyes of Bhai Gurdas was two-fold: one, to get a feel for how Sikhs thought of themselves vis-a-vis the two dominant faith traditions (Islam & Hindu) and, two, to compare that picture with the present. We have consistently heard that Sikhi is really a synthetic movement, emerging out of the clash of Hinduism and Islam. Bhai Gurdas' vaars give us quite a different and distinct impression. Clearly, he quite emphatically dismisses existing paths. How do we reconcile this with another, quite popular notion, that Guru Nanak made no claims to exclusivity, that he accepted other religions?

2: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 06, 2010, 2:57 PM.

Readers may have missed comments made in response to the essay on Bhai Gurdas last week due to site maintenance over the weekend. They deserve our attention. Some interesting comments made by Bhai Harbans Lal (on Bhai Gurdas' silence over Guru Arjan's martyrdom) and Nilvi ji's ruminations on our cultural bias for wanting to be the numero uno.

3: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), July 07, 2010, 9:54 PM.

Guru Nanak rejected the ritual of Tasbee or Meru (japmala) as there is no need of counting. Those who attain state of sehaj believe only in ONE God, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. They remain engrossed in Akal Purakh and praise Him. Whether you call 'him' Raam or Rahim, He is the same for all. Going beyond the three qualities of nature, the rajas, tamas and sattv, they attain the fourth stage of supreme equipoise. Guru, Gobind, Khuda and Pir are all one, and the Sikhs of the Guru hold and know the inner truth of the Pir and Murid, i.e., the spiritual leader and the disciple. Enlightened by the true word and merging their consciousness in the Word, they absorb their own truth into the supreme truth. They love only the true emperor (Lord) and the truth. Tasbee has 101 beads, one for Allah, 99 for His other 99 names such as Khuda, Pir, Rahim, Karim, etc. and another one for Imam. In Hinduism they have 108 beads based on the Sanskrit alphabet. 50 for 50 letters and another 50 for the same in reverse order. 4 for the four castes and another four the same in reverse order. Jains have 111 beads. Scholars suggest that Bhai Gurdas started writing Vaars even before compilations of the Pothy Sahib, and he was singing in front of the sangat during the time of Guru Amardas and also Guru Ramdas.

4: Balbir Singh (Germany), July 09, 2010, 12:18 PM.

Did our Gurus do lareevaar paatths of Guru Granth Saahib or part of it?

5: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), July 11, 2010, 6:21 PM.

Ravinder Singh ji has asked a good question about an attempt by some people to lable Sikhi as a syncretic religion of Islam and Hinduism: "How do we reconcile this with another, quite popular notion, that Guru Nanak made no claims to exclusivity, that he accepted other religions?" Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of Sikhi, realized the social and moral degradation of the Indian population caused by the caste system and worship of anthropomorphic gods and goddesses of Brahmanic Vedanta and oppression by the Islamic rulers and religious hierarchy. He originated a unique understanding of the Creator and It's creation pervaded and ministered by the natural laws (Hukam). Guru Nanak promulgated the truth about a new perspective of radical individualism embodied in natural phenomena, requiring merely ethical control over human emotions and passions, helped people to demystify the age old mysticism protected by the dominant religions. The new doctrines introduced by Guru Nanak made the changes in magical and miraculous tendencies of prevailing religions into: 1) rationalism, and 2) individual thought. 1) Rationalism: Guru Nanak realized that logical reasoning (rationalism) provides better comprehension of the natural phenomena and its autonomous development encompasses all creations of civilization. Most of his philosophy, compared to miraculous ventures, promulgates rationalistic Truth in comprehending nature and natural laws. It helps individuals to think methodically and also to conduct their life affairs in a rational manner. 2) Individual Thought: The discriminative intellect (bibek buddhi) promoted by Guru Nanak helps individuals to recognize truth in events to be accepted, and thoughts to be realized for intellectualization and finally internalization. Because intellectualization makes one realize the fallacious aspect of miraculous ventures that are actually insignificant in reality. Although acceptance of events unfolding in life according to the natural phenomena is very difficult at times, when accomplished, proves very rewarding. The objective of human thought is to reach the final stage of realization by 'internalization', where the observer and the observation are one and same. These philosophic diversions plus more initiated by Guru Nanak divested the people with inherent meaning of ultimate Truth that transformed them into the Sikh Faith - a unique realm with its own unique philosophy. Bhai Gurdas joined Sikhi approximately 50 years after the death of Guru Nanak. He did not have first hand information about Guru Nanak's biography. All he had was second hand information from Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas and Guru Arjan. To base uniqueness in Guru Nanak's philosophy on the dictat of the Vaaran by Bhai Gurdas may not be helpful. Instead, Japji Sahib and the rest of bani by Guru Nanak gives enough evidence that his philosophy is unique and stand-alone.

6: Yuktanand Singh (Saline, Michigan, U.S.A.), July 11, 2010, 9:13 PM.

I want to take a break but I feel bad that no one in the five messages above has commented on the nature of true religion. One could write a book, but we can sum it up into two words: Praise God! Nay, one word: Waheguru! But how can we do so when 'God' does not mean the same to everyone? It could be someone remembered only during desperation while for others 'God' is only a mythological idea that fills an unknown blank, waiting only to be made obsolete some day. But the bhagats (those who love God) declare that God is a real being, not just a belief or an idea. God is not dead or sleeping or on a vacation, either. They say that God knows everything and controls everything, secretly (no, it's not Google) in his own divine manner which we cannot understand. God's will or hukam could be also called divine love. Realization of God's presence and hukam/love is the basis of Naam in gurbani.

7: Yuktanand Singh (Saline, Michigan, U.S.A.), July 11, 2010, 9:16 PM.

Guru Nanak did not reject anything religious but he rejected everything that is practiced without the motive of self-realization, or Naam. Bhai Gurdas has enumerated various religions but according to Guru's teaching, practice of Naam is the true religion. Since God is the source of all awareness and God is the only awareness there is, it binds us all together. Acting in haumai (the illusion of being a separate person) or living without Naam translates into errors. This separation results in the various social and personal ailments and in pain. We have been conditioned over several lifetimes with the errors arising from this illusion of separation and thus, we are unable to see the truth. While we are awake, we live as if we were asleep or mesmerized and we cannot realize the magnitude of our errors as long as we are asleep. All this is good in theory but practice and realization of truth is a different (difficult) matter. Various messengers have devised methods to control our 'lower' nature, nature that stops us from practicing the truth. But with passage of time we forget their purpose, rendering these methods into mere rituals. Waking up from this sleep is the basis of all true religions but their implementation is colored by us and by the personal limitations of their founders.

8: Yuktanand Singh (Saline, Michigan, U.S.A.), July 11, 2010, 9:25 PM.

The Guru (God's own light) is the only one who can bridge this gap and awakens us. Only the Guru can infuse our heart with the missing spirit, the emotion that is associated with truth. Gradually, this emotion replaces the worldly passions. The true emotion puts us back on track, on a return to our home. The Guru is a spiritual being, not a physical body. SatGuru is someone who has no haumai to impede the expression of God's light. In the past this spiritual being was found through someone. But Guru Nanak changed this and he freed us from the danger of falling prey to numerous charlatans posing as a Guru. Guru Nanak introduced singing of gurbani as the method of communicating with the Guru. The Guru's spirit is infused into our soul when we sing (from the heart) the verses composed by someone who is spiritually perfect ( Guru). Singing is the best way of sharing this emotion. People meeting with this intention add to it and thus they multiply it. This is called Sat Sangat. If by God's grace (grace is inevitable in Sat Sangat) someone spiritually perfect sits among us, it is then called Saadh Sangat. Guru Nanak claimed that the entire creation consists of music or shabad, and it is in fact singing. Thus, singing is an integral part of Guru Nanak's teaching, the way to transform our soul quickly. This is the basis of Sikh thought.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 27, July 5 - 11"

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