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Talking Stick

Wings & Flight
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 42




A New Beginning

In a few days, we will be ringing out the old and ringing in the new: a New Year is upon us and, like any new year, brings with it much fanfare and celebration, not to mention promises and resolutions.

Amidst all the festivities, we need to also pause and reflect on the year gone by and contemplate on the possibilities in the time to come.

For a Sikh, turning to gurbani would be the obvious - and logical - place to begin the New Year. Hence, to mark the beginning, I wish to share the message of a shabad, in the form of a salok, a four liner composed by Guru Arjan.

The salok is a familiar one, especially the last two lines - generally read as a prelude to a Hukamnaama.

The shabad reads as follows:

If wings could be bought, I would pay with my flesh
Carving them into my body, I would fly in search of my friend ||21||
My friend, the True King, the King of kings.
In whose presence we are exalted, the support of all. ||22|| [GGS:1426]

The Message

The urge to fly, so poignantly expressed by Guru Arjan, is a timeless human aspiration that finds expression in virtually all cultures - the Greek legend of Daedalus and Icarus, the depiction of the Persian King Ahura, the Chinese Emperor Shun flying with oversized reed hats, Hindu gods on their "vimaans," or flying machines, and of course, angels in the Christian tradition.

Humans are earthbound creatures: our physical structure grounds us, and our conditioning moulds us into definite and constricting shapes. But deep within us, we are also of the spirit, which feels trapped like a bird in a cage - flapping its wings, pining to rise above it all, to soar to the heavens.

The familiarity and conventional repetition of this salok makes us miss its lyrical beauty and message. It is romantic poetry at its most sublime, expressing a passionate longing for ones beloved. It also shows Guru Arjan's clarity of purpose, his determination and resolve in finding the right tools (wings), and a willingness to pay any price (his flesh) to achieve the goal.

In the New Year, let us take a cue from the Guru Arjan and renew in ourselves the urge to fly, to transcend boundaries and to forever keep our horizons open by pushing them.

Flying is also a metaphor for a leap of faith. It requires us to trust, to overcome fear and in a fundamental way, it requires us to let go, of not clinging to what is familiar and comforting.

Let us take that leap of faith every day.

Like Guru Arjan, let us become passionate in our longing. Passion must forever nurture our spirit. As the philosopher Sam Keen put it, "when passion no longer waters and nurtures our psyche, fear springs up like weeds on the depleted soul of abandoned fields."

'Sajjan' literally means friend and is used as such here, the friend being referred to being Guru or God. Can we look at sajjan as a metaphor for knowledge (as the Guru stands for) or godly virtues that we need to inculcate for a successful life.

Like Guru Arjan, let us make knowledge our sajjan - the beacon to guide our purpose and direction.


December 28, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), December 28, 2010, 6:49 PM.

Ravinder Singh ji, what an exquisite, lovely present to kick start the New Year, despite the debt balance of unfulfilled promises if any, made in 2010. At least we have some vestige of good intentions. How about this promise that we could collectively make and leave the stock-taking at the end of the year. "Sabhay gulla(n) vissran ikko vissar na jaa-o/ dhandhaa sab jalayaa-ay kai gur naam dee-aa such su-o/ Aasaa sabhay laahi kai ikaa aas Kamaa-o" - "Let me forget everything, but let me not forget the One Lord, Give up all other hopes and rely on the one Hope." [GGS 3.15]. Wish the family a very happy New Year.

2: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), December 30, 2010, 11:21 AM.

Thank you for your comment, S. Sangat Singh ji. I don't doubt for a moment that a debt balance exists of unfulfilled promises; beyond specific promises that we may have made - to ourselves and others - there is the promise of fulfillment that always beckons!

3: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), December 30, 2010, 2:48 PM.

Sajjan is a pious and revered friend. In gurbani it refers to Akal Purakh as well. Guru Arjan says: "The True Guru, the Primal Being, is the True Friend who shall drive out pain and subdue your ego" - [GGS:41]. Guru Ramdas: "You are my only True Friend, O my All-knowing, All-powerful Creator Lord" - [GGS:759]. Guru Arjan also says: "The Lord who is above all kings is my true friend; meeting with Him, I am so happy" - [GGS:1094].

4: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), January 01, 2011, 10:48 PM.

I view the onset of a New Year as an inspirational tradition to appraise our entire approach to life and living. It is a good way to find personal areas to improve, change direction or add options. Use of gurbani-based approach is a good vehicle for such evaluation for a Sikh. What actions, approaches or conduct we should evaluate becomes a personal choice, but in my view everything should be on the table for a sincere and worthy approach. Japji Sahib promotes concepts dealing with learning about ourselves, others and our relationship with Him and His creation; it provides vast grounds to decide our perceived approach to living and achieve desired goals with minimum mistakes. Learning His attributes and His role in our lives as outlined by Guru Nanak is a must for me to include in the evaluation. It is an effective way to cope with failures which is an integral part of our lives, and the Sikh approach to His role in life provides a comfortable anchor to deal with such common failures. Our intent for-self evaluation may vary, but a truthful approach is critical to the process; otherwise why waste time or go through the charade. So is the case if there is doubt about our ability to implement needed changes. Gurbani is knowledge in my humble view and reading it is accumulating a knowledge base. "Naam juppna' that accompanies reading is a good way to remember Him and improve peace of mind as prescribed in Sikh thought.

5: Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), January 02, 2011, 11:21 AM.

The metaphor of flying is interesting as it involves seeking freedom and absence of restrictions in finding the way towards a goal. Sikhi always stood for no restriction in search for truth. Our Gurus stood for rejecting the handcuffs imposed by ancient myths, customs and traditions that were imposed by brahamanic or clergy class to restrict the common man's search for truth or the ways towards the truth.

6: Prakash.Singh.Bagga (India), February 05, 2011, 12:56 PM.

For an accurate understanding of gurbani, we need to differentiate between gur and guru in our interpretations.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 42"

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