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Talking Stick

The Talking Stick Colloquium # 50:
Intimations of The Divine




At the beginning of this month, I committed myself to doing a complete reading of Guru Granth Sahib over the course of the month - a practice that I have undertaken off and on over the years. The trigger this time around was a promise I made to myself while on a recent trip to India.

Why on earth, you might ask (believe me, I ask myself that) would I subject myself to the rigors of systematically reading (on average) almost 50 pages a day, requiring approximately two and a half hours a day. Especially when we are constantly complaining about being two hours short - and I am no exception.

Not only that, but one could also justifiably be critical of such an approach: what merit is there to be gained by zipping through the Guru Granth? Isn't it all about vichaar, one might ask?

Well, I am mindful of all these objections, but commit myself to doing it anyway.

I recognize that it can be hazardous to share a private practice publicly, but I do so with the view that our individual, meandering, spiritual journeys must be anchored in the sangat - or in this case, a cybersangat. Much like a solo mountain climber remaining fastened to base camp to prevent floating away into self-delusion or hallucination.

It is in this spirit that I share my experience and pose some of the questions that have surfaced in my mind.

Let's consider them together.

Like many of you, I generally set aside time for a daily reading of the Guru Granth Sahib but these sessions are quite unstructured. They vary in duration (depending on time availability) and there is no order to how I proceed. I don't aim to read a set number of pages and the reading itself is often interrupted - either by the verbal beauty of a passage which causes me to read and re-read it again; or by the sharp message which often appears to be aimed directly at me, making me stop and squirm; or by a word that requires a look-up in the Mahaa(n) Kosh.

This engagement, as you have guessed, tends to be analytical or exegetic: trying to look beyond the text's literal meaning (akhri arth) to an allegorical or spiritual interpretation of bani (antreev bhahv).

But I do get tired of too much analysis. Even the Guru reminds me (as I am analyzing) that reason and the intellect are insufficient, if not actual barriers, to that mystical experience which finds mention over and over in Gurbani.

I discard my analytical frame of mind and approach the Guru devotionally.

Systematically reading of the text for prolonged periods of time is an experience all its own. It has brought me the most unexpected of delights, leading me to wonder if such an exercise shouldn't be an integral part of our spiritual discipline.

Not on a daily basis, perhaps, but to be practiced once or twice a year, like a boot camp or retreat.

Sounding the words with different modulations and speed; pausing at the prescribed places (vishram); reciting with the right feel (bhav); identifying with the different moods; pushing through the physical discomfort of sitting cross-legged - all this combines to produce breakthrough moments that transport me into a realm that can only be described as mystical and overcome me with a feeling best described by what the Greeks call ekstasis - from which the English word 'ecstasy' is derived.

The reverberation of the sound so created connects me to the Divine through the medium of "Nanak, the Guru", because, by his own admission, these words were revealed to him by God (jaisee me aaveh khasam ki bani).

Such a reading introduces me to the transcendent, something whose presence can be felt but cannot be described, leaving me with a heightened sense of awe and wonder (vismaad).


The questions I wish to ask may have been posed before, but could be asked again.

Spiritual formation, after all, is a spiral journey and we are likely to re-visit the same spots, again and again, to deepen our understanding - and practice.

How might we approach the Guru Granth Sahib?

Is it enough to be armed with translations, commentaries and guides to grammar and apply reason and logic? I am certainly not suggesting that we abrogate reason; my point is: reason is a little over-rated in matters of the spirit.

All creative process begins deeper than reason, in the intuitive realm. This is true even in science, where a new discovery or insight usually begins as a "hunch."

Reason is just an intellectual tool that harmonizes (makes sense of) what appears as intuition.

A Sikh's engagement with the Guru Granth Sahib has to be creative - to birth in oneself the same consciousness that Guru Nanak experienced. For this, a Sikh has to have a spirit of reverence that fosters a certain attitude to life.

For me, this occasional retreat - or should I call it total immersion - when I read the Guru Granth Sahib receptively (with bhav) is what brings me intimations of the Divine in an otherwise mundane existence. It is truly an awesome experience, bringing a sense of wholesomeness and exaltation.

I will concede that reading without understanding can also render this experience no more than babble.

Perhaps we need both - reason and intuition. Where is the balance?

Would love to hear your thoughts - not to mention your personal experience.


April 25, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: H.S. Vachoa (U.S.A), April 25, 2011, 11:21 AM.

You said: "Even the Guru reminds me (as I am analyzing) that reason and the intellect are insufficient, if not actual barriers, to that mystical experience which finds mention over and over in Gurbani. I discard my analytical frame of mind and approach the Guru devotionally." Where does gurbani says that we have to undermine our intellect and discard our analytical frame of mind? "All creative process begins deeper than reason, in the intuitive realm. This is true even in science, where a new discovery or insight usually begins as a 'hunch'." Science and Nature are not based on reason because reason is a faculty of consciousness and nature has no consciousness and our understanding of nature is based on empirical observation and not reason. So, what do you mean by "All creative process begins deeper than reason"? ... "Reason is just an intellectual tool that harmonizes (makes sense of) what appears as intuition." That seems unclear. Reason is a definitive faculty of rationality and if we can't be rational and reason, we will never be humans. Reason and analysis are definitive features of human nature and to say that we have to discard them is to accept that we should discard our human nature and become irrational.

2: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), April 25, 2011, 12:13 PM.

In the last few years, I have been blessed to read the Guru Granth Sahib several times in a Sehaj/ Khulla Paatth form where, just like your earlier experiences, I am not committed to any certain number of pages or times in a day. There are days when my mind is fully attentive to what I am reading and during those days I can feel the bliss all day long. However, sadly, there are also days when I am less attentive and cannot focus my mind while reading. The mind wants to run in several different directions and is thinking of the endless chores/ errands/ tasks I need to do. I am nearing completion of the khulla paatth we started around six months ago. In the last few weeks, I have been thinking if we should do something different than this khulla paatth style of reading to connect more with gurbani and get more spiritual experience. Firstly, I want to get a good translation of the entire Guru Granth Sahib. Fortunately I can read and understand Punjabi - I have heard Bhai Sahib Singh's ten volume set is a good one. Any ideas or opinions? I like your approach of doing a boot-camp-like reading once a year where I commit to reading the entire Guru Granth Sahib over a month. If the Guru wishes, I'll follow your footsteps!

3: Devinder Singh (India), April 25, 2011, 1:38 PM.

H.S. Vachoa ji: "Science and Nature are not based on reason because reason is a faculty of consciousness and nature has no consciousness...", you say. I would like to understand what you mean by Nature and by consciousness. Ordinarily we mean by consciousness a mental waking consciousness such as is possessed by the human being during the major part of his bodily existence, when he is not asleep, stunned or otherwise deprived of his physical and superficial methods of sensation. And man is in possession of reason only in such a state. Empirical observation tells us that consciousness is the exception and not the rule in the order of the material universe. But we know that there is something in us which is conscious when we sleep, when we are stunned or drugged or in a swoon, in all apparently unconscious states of our physical being. Necessarily, in such a view, the word consciousness changes its meaning. It is no longer synonymous with mentality but indicates a self-aware force of existence of which mentality is just one part. This is the concept of 'Chit' which, as energy, creates the worlds. Nature (shristi) in this conception is the organizing force of the one and only consciousness that organizes itself differently in all things, including the seemingly unconscious. The mind in such a conception is the middle term; inconscient, conscient (mind), and super-conscient. The mind is not an instrument of knowledge. It is an instrument of organization. Knowledge lies in the higher realms, says bani. What brought me to this page was the title, "Intimations of the Divine". I agree with Ravinder Singh ji that the purpose of scripture is to put us in touch with the higher consciousness and mere vichaar in a dry, analytical fashion does not serve that purpose. And flashes of intuition provide just a hint of the higher consciousness that is the abode of the masters. Reason is certainly necessary, but just as a tool to organize what has been brought down.

4: H.S. Vachoa (U.S.A.), April 25, 2011, 3:32 PM.

Davider ji: You said: "But we know that there is something in us which is conscious when we sleep, when we are stunned or drugged or in a swoon, in all apparently unconscious states of our physical being." Just because we feel "something in us" doesn't imply that same 'something' also exists in nature. Does it? Feelings are part of consciousness. Nature doesn't have emotions, cognition or feelings of this "something" that are part of human experience. This is what separates one from Nature. "Necessarily, in such a view, the word consciousness changes its meaning." - Again, what we experience is part of ourselves and is due to our ability to experience it. That's doesn't imply that consciousness applies to Nature also. "It is no longer synonymous with mentality but indicates a self-aware force of existence of which mentality is just one part." - How can you not be mentally aware and still be self-aware? It is impossible. "The mind is not an instrument of knowledge. It is an instrument of organization." - Organization itself is knowledge too. We can't consider anything as Knowledge or true if it doesn't exist as an empirical fact or can be substantiated by reason in our mind. The basic point I am raising here is we have been told by many we have to undermine our intellect and our own nature in front of gurbani. This is ethically reprehensible and can only lead us to our own moral subjugation. Since what you are talking about seems to fall outside of the realm of consciousness, reason, empirical understanding and mind, it surely leads us into wilderness where we give up to explore our human nature.

5: Devinder Singh (India), April 25, 2011, 11:20 PM.

The point I am making is that consciousness exists irrespective of us, whether we are aware of it or not. Consciousness has two aspects, illuminating and effective state, and power of self-awareness and state and power of self-force, in its creative action it knows by omnipotent self-consciousness all that is latent within it and produces and governs the universe of its potentialities by an omniscient self-energy. Consciousness is 'chit' but also 'chit shakti'. God pre-exists before the world can come into being, but to our experience in which the senses act first and only the the finer workings of consciousness, the world seems to come first and God to emerge out of it. Consciousness is all there is. We along with all other things are the creation of Nature and lie within it. "How can you not be mentally aware and still be self-aware? It is impossible." Well there are paths of self-inquiry that tackle this question head-on. They concentrate on the question 'Who am I'. By elimination; not-this, not-this, the path leads to self-awareness. Organization is a tool. Knowledge is experiential. Gyani Sant Singh Maskin once told an argumentative questioner, you do not have knowledge of your father, your mother told you. Spiritual masters have always told us that most people seem to look upon surrender as an abdication of the personality; but that is a grievous error. When personality is purified of all the influences of the lower nature which diminish and distort it, then it becomes more strongly personal, more itself, more complete. But to have this sublimating change, he must first give up all that, by distorting, limiting and obscuring the true nature, fetters and debases and disfigures the true personality; he must throw from him whatever belongs to the ignorant lower movements of the ordinary man first of all he must give up his desires; for desire is the most obscure and the most obscuring movement of the lower nature. First of all he must give up his desires; for desire is the most obscure and the most obscuring movement of the lower nature. It is the same with all the lower impulses, jealousy or envy, hatred or violence. These desires, these passions have no personality, there is nothing in them or their action that is peculiar to you; they manifest in the same way in everyone. The obscure movements of the mind too, the doubts and errors and difficulties that cloud the personality and diminish its expansion and fulfillment, come from the same source. They are passing waves and they catch anyone who is ready to be caught and utilized as their blind instrument. And yet each goes on believing that these movements are part of himself and a precious product of his own free personality. We find people clinging to them and their disabilities as the very sign or essence of what they call their freedom.

6: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), April 26, 2011, 12:19 AM.

"Tyaag suggal syaanapaa bhaj parbrahm Nirankar" [GGS:405.2] - 'Renounce all your cleverness and remember the Surpreme, Formless Lord'. Read any good sakhi lately?

7: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), April 26, 2011, 10:04 AM.

To enjoy the Divine words written in Guru Granth, one needs commitment, time, energy, resources, but most of all, to be 'purposeless conscious' to seek and learn the Guru's message. Doing paatth repeatedly in the hope of fulfilling aspirations is simply an unproductive way of consoling the mind. Ravinder jio, you are doing good and may Akal-Purakh bless you to dig deeper and learn 'gur-gum gian' and be able to comprehend the Guru even better. Bhagat Kabir has written an excellent shabad [GGS:343] that you have read several times already, describing the ways to comprehend the Divine: "gur-gum gyaan bataaweh bhaed oulattaa rehai abha(n)g ashhaedh". And, to immerse in that Naam and understand the mystery of it, may I please suggest to read the shabad by Guru Ram Das [GGS:494] where he is writes about how to be with Naam. I have been constantly wondering what is the meaning of or what is that 'Naam', that gurbani is recommending again and again. I have done paatth of Guru Granth Sahib many times but never paid attention to these words of Guru Ram Das. I am absolutely astounded to finally learn the secret of Naam. Guru Ram Das wrote: "jun Nanak bolae GUNN BANEE GURBANI HAR NAAM SMAAAEIAA." The name of God (Har) is in the utterance of Har's attributes that are incorporated in gurbani. Thanks for sharing your personal experience with gurbani.

8: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 26, 2011, 10:04 AM.

My intent was very simple: to share a personal experience, hoping that others would do likewise - like Chintan Singh ji has. Individual experiences need a community of listeners (sangat) for growth and development. We tell our stories and, in the telling, we learn. So let's not escalate this into a philosophical discussion on Consciousness and its possible implications.

9: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 26, 2011, 10:31 AM.

To Vachoa ji: perhaps I could have said it better or perhaps you missed my point; in either case, I was not suggesting "undermining" our analytical frame of mind, or denying that reasoning is a feature of humans. As to your question on whether we should discard rationality and become irrational, my suggestion is that we are, in fact, largely irrational, and only have occasional moments of rationality! But seriously, though, recent research in the sciences appears to bear this out. A much talked about recent book, David Brook's "The Social Animal," and a more scientific study, David Wegner's "The Illusion of the Conscious Will," tell us that emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, character traits and social norms, play a much larger role in decision-making than previously thought. But this is an aside. I hope this helps.

10: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 26, 2011, 1:16 PM.

To Chintan Singh ji: there are quite a few translations and commentaries around. English translations I generally avoid, preferring, instead, the Punjabi or more traditional renderings. Prof. Sahib Singh is almost the standard these days, especially with diaspora folks who are allergic to more traditional interpretations (too Vedantic). Since you read Punjabi, you might find Bhai Harbans Singh's commentary (14 vols, published by Punjabi University) useful; and then there is Sant Kirpal Singh's commentary (Galli Sattowala, Amritsar) which is grounded in the old Nirmala/ Udasi traditions. Worth a read because you see how our understanding of gurbani reflects where we are located in time and place.

11: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 26, 2011, 1:29 PM.

Ravinder ji, thanks for sharing your joy of achievement. Reading Guru Granth Sahib within whatever time is great, but understanding gurbani is really a big task and perhaps never-ending. It took over 36 years for Prof. Sahib Singh to translate Guru Granth Sahib with full interpretation and published his 10 volumes of Darpan in 1972. Still, he was not fully satisfied, as he said some more intellectuals will have to come along and do a better job, and truly few more 'steeks' (translations, expositions) are around today, but Sahib Singh's Darpan still commands respect and readership. Fortunately, as of today there are plenty of on-line tools and materials available for us to do some research and understand gurbani. I am using Darpan, Mahan Kosh, Gurbani search-engine and dictionary of Guru Granth. Also Vyaakhya of major banis by intellectual katha vaachaks are also valuable in understanding gurbani. Vyaakhya of banis such as Japji, Rehras, Sohila, Sukhmani, Asa di Vaar, Baavan Akhri, Barah Mah, Slok Farid, Kabir and Mahalla 9, and some other important banis are available by Maskeen ji, Prof. Darshan Singh and others. All these have great interpretations, and can be of great help in understanding gurbani. Since over a decade, my wife and I are into it, with all these available materials, and it has changed our life. At the same time, we feel that we're still nowhere, as gurbani is a vast ocean of knowledge, addressed to our munn and soul.

12: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 27, 2011, 5:16 AM.

It is heartening to see readers share their personal experiences. Mohan Singh ji, I quite agree with you that understanding gurbani is an endless task because, like its source, it is unfathomable; perhaps we should not even use the word "understand." I personally like "absorb" or "immerse" or "soaked" because it gives me a better sense of the Punjabi, "bhij jaana." To Chintan Singh ji: here is another form of engaging with gurbani that I practice on an almost daily basis: I print a page (or two) from the Guru Granth, double spaced, and then write in the meaning of the line above (in English or Punjabi) in my own hand. This helps me understand my own understanding and very often there are those "aha!" moments which bring their own joy. My goal is to complete the Guru Granth in this fashion before I croak.

13: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 27, 2011, 5:26 AM.

Guravtar ji: you hit the nail on the head by saying that all this should be done by remaining "purposeless conscious." Absolutely. This has to be done (indeed, can only be done) for the love of it. And there is no telling how or when the seeds of love get sowed.

14: Balbir Singh (Germany), April 27, 2011, 10:14 AM.

Reading the Guru Granth does not constitute Naam Simran. True Naam is received as Gur Parsaad.

15: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 27, 2011, 1:24 PM.

Guru Nanak: The seed sprouts only if the seed is whole (undivided, saabat), and if the season is proper (similarly, the Naam-seed sprouts within only if the mind and consciousness are one: whole, complete, unfragmented, total, saabat) [GGS:468]. Guru Arjan states: "Which is the place where there is ever consistency, and which that Word (God's Light) that cleans our evil mind? The state of contemplation of the Lord in His Praises is the highest state of the mnd of sehaj, the essence of worship, which takes man to the highest eternal wisdom, joy and eternal truth. In that realm of the Holy One, one utters and relishes the praises of the Lord, and ever abides in the domain of fearlessness. There is no fear there, no doubts, and no sorrow of any kind. One is then redeemed from the cycle of repeated births and deaths. There, one is in the state of eternal joy, which springs from the celestial melodies. There, the devotees lean on nothing else but on the Lord's praises." [GGS;237]. Sehaj is the ultimate positive state of mind in all perfection, where God abides in humans. The aim of Sikh teachings, in a nut-shell, is to attain this state of mind in union with Him.

16: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), April 27, 2011, 2:32 PM.

Ravinder ji: Thanks so much for the various suggestions. I have had a little bit of exposure with Bhai Sahib Singh's steek, so wanted to continue in the comfort zone. I also like Mohan Singh ji's approach of reading/ listening to translations of specific banis. If I may ask, where do you print the double spaced Guru Granth Sahib page from? Also, when you do write the translation in your own words on the same printed page, do you go back to Bhai Sahib Singh's or another translation to validate what you've come up with?

17: Devinder Singh (India), April 27, 2011, 3:18 PM.

Gurbani says: "When the dear Lord grants His Grace, one meditates on the Naam, the Name of the Lord. Meeting the True Guru, through loving faith and devotion, one intuitively sings the glorious praises of the Lord. Singing His glorious praises continually, night and day, one blossoms forth, when it is pleasing to the True Lord. Egotism, self-conceit and Maya are forsaken, and he is intuitively absorbed into the Naam. The Creator Himself acts; when He gives, then we receive. When the dear Lord grants His Grace, we meditate on the Naam." [GGS:690]. Naam is received as Grace, says the verse, with the consequence that the receiver begins to distance himself from the obsession with his little self. But this is one aspect. The subsequent verse says: "Deep within, I feel true love for the Perfect True Guru. I serve Him day and night; I never forget Him. I never forget Him; I remember Him night and day. When I chant the Naam, then I live. With my ears, I hear about Him, and my mind is satisfied. As gurmukh, I drink in the ambrosial nectar. If He bestows His glance of grace, then I shall meet the True Guru; my discriminating intellect would contemplate Him, night and day. Deep within, I feel true love for the Perfect True Guru." The second consequence of the touch of grace is that there begins a constant remembrance of the Lord. A third consequence follows: A state of desirelessness reigns when peace dwells in the heart in the aftermath of the constant remembrance: "The Lord has become merciful to meek Nanak, and through the word of the shabad, his desires are quenched." So there are observable results that follow. As you have rightly pointed out, Balbir Singh ji, ritual chanting or reading that is not accompanied by a state of change of the inner nature, does not, according to the guidance of the bani, constitute simran. It is the contrary comments like yours that add value to a discussion like ours by broadening our perception of the subject - provided the discussion itself remains friendly. Very little value is added if everyone is in agreement or conveying familiar thoughts that the group is already exposed to through its common culture. I hope Vachoa ji will take heart to pick up the thread again and keep on till our understanding itself deepens. And Sangat Singh ji, I hope, will keep up the spirit of the discussion by contributing any new sakhis he may have read.

18: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 28, 2011, 8:36 AM.

Chintan ji: I print out pages from a version of Guru Granth Sahib in WORD format that I have. I try NOT to go back to translations, but needless to say, there are times when I have to.

19: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 28, 2011, 10:11 AM.

To share my experience: the first time when I felt the urge, I started with the shabdarth of Guru Granth Sahib in 4 volumes. It took over 26 months for me to complete the reading as I read each single page 3 times all the way (read once, read again - checking the meaning of words given on the opposite page - and then read again). Once again practiced reading Guru Granth Sahib online and simultaneously listening an audio version to check my uchaaran. After all such experiments, I brought Guru Granth Sahib home to continue reading and research so as to live life as per the Gurus' teachings. All we need is "gaaviye sunniye munn rukhiyye bhaau", and the gravity of the bhau will generate vibrations within you, or even bring tears of joy in your eyes. We do experience this several times while reading gurbani. The ocean of gurbani is so vast and deep, immersing in it is really full of joy. Chintan Singh ji, I suugest you read 3 or 4 pages from Guru Granth Sahib and repeat the same from darpan of Prof. Sahib Singh, available free on line, including the Mahaa(n) Kosh. Also try, a real good interpretation in English. A search engine for matching shabads and dictionary of Guru Granth is - also a great help. If you need it, I can share an audio DVD of Guru Granth Sahib, (Gurbani Ucharan); the playback time is 78 hours. I also have an audio DVD of GUru Granth Vyaakhya, a full interpretation in Punjabi - the playback time is over 400 hours. Please let me know - it'll be pleasure to share these with you. After listening and reading several vyaakhyas and interpretations, I feel comfortable in explaining gurbani in my own words, though I am not a preacher; I love to do it while in a gathering of friends and relatives.

20: Devinder Singh (India), April 29, 2011, 4:01 AM.

Vachoa ji: As to your question - knowledge to be knowledge must exist as empirical fact or be substantiated by reason. I dug up an old e-mail someone had sent me. Here it is: "PROFESSOR: Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son ... Have you ever seen God? STUDENT: No, sir. PROFESSOR: Tell us if you have ever heard your God? STUDENT: No, sir. PROFESSOR: Have you ever felt your God, tasted your God, smelled your God? Have you ever had any sensory perception of God for that matter? STUDENT: No, sir. I'm afraid I haven't. PROFESSOR: Yet you still believe in Him? STUDENT: Yes. PROFESSOR: According to empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son? STUDENT: Nothing. I only have my faith. PROFESSOR: Yes. Faith. And that is the problem science has. STUDENT: Professor, is there such a thing as heat? PROFESSOR: Yes. STUDENT: And is there such a thing as cold? PROFESSOR: Yes. STUDENT: No sir. There isn't. (The lecture theatre becomes very quiet with this turn of events.) STUDENT: Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don't have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it. (There is pin-drop silence in the lecture theatre.) STUDENT: What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness? PROFESSOR: Yes. What is night if there isn't darkness? STUDENT: You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light ... But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? In reality, darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you? PROFESSOR: So what is the point you are making, young man? STUDENT: Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed. PROFESSOR: Flawed? Can you explain how? STUDENT: Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood, either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey? PROFESSOR: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do. STUDENT: Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir? (The Professor shakes his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument is going.) STUDENT: Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher? (The class is in uproar.) STUDENT: Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor's brain? (The class breaks out into laughter.) STUDENT: Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor's brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir? (The room is silent. The professor stares at the student, his face unfathomable.) PROFESSOR: I guess you'll have to take them on faith, son. STUDENT: That is it, sir ... The link between man and god is FAITH. That is all that keeps things moving and alive." It would seem, the existence of God is substantiated by reason but it is not established as empirical fact. So it is still disputed. Those who believe simply put their reason aside. They do not discard it. As to your other question about Nature being conscious or unconscious, that is a question that must be considered by itself.

21: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 29, 2011, 12:27 PM.

Wow, Davinder Singh ji. That was quite a round-about way of teaching us about the limits of human knowledge. That is the perennial question: how do we know that we know anything?

22: Devinder Singh (India), April 30, 2011, 1:18 AM.

Ravinder Singh ji: Reason is limited as a conduit of knowledge because, while it affirms to one what is the truth, it equally affirms to another the very same as untruth. As Mohan Singh ji points out at comment 15, "Sehaj is the ultimate positive state of mind in all perfection, where God abides in humans." It is in that state that we can affirm that we have knowledge. What is that state? Can we achieve it? The Guru says: "Ih jag sachai-ki hai kothari sache-ka vich vas" - 'This world is the True-One's house in which the True-One Abides.' [GGS:463:11.1-9]. "The Lord of man and beast is working in all;/ His presence is scattered everywhere;/ there is none else to be seen./ One talks, another listens; God is in both./ He is the Unity and Himself the Diversity." [Sukhmani:XXII.1] How can we find that state in our experience? It may seem an impossible task, but what has been experienced by one can be experienced by another. H.P. Blavatsky says in her "Secret Doctrine": 'The idea of Eternal Non-Being, which is the One Being, will appear a paradox to anyone who does not remember that we limit our ideas of being to our present consciousness of existence; making it a specific, instead of a generic term. An unborn infant, could it think in our acceptation of that term, would necessarily limit its conception of being, in a similar manner, to the intra-uterine life which alone it knows; and were it to endeavour to express to its consciousness the idea of life after birth (death to it), it would, in the absence of data to go upon, and of faculties to comprehend such data, probably express that life as "Non-Being which is Real Being." In our case the One Being is the noumenon of all the noumena which we know must underlie phenomena, and give them whatever shadow of reality they possess, but which we have not the senses or the intellect to cognize at present. The impalpable atoms of gold scattered through the substance of a ton of auriferous quartz may be imperceptible to the naked eye of the miner, yet he knows that they are not only present there but that they alone give his quartz any appreciable value; and this relation of the gold to the quartz may faintly shadow forth that of the noumenon to the phenomenon. But the miner knows what the gold will look like when extracted from the quartz, whereas the common mortal can form no conception of the reality of things separated from the Maya which veils them, and in which they are hidden. Alone the Initiate, rich with the lore acquired by numberless generations of his predecessors, directs the "Eye of Dangma" toward the essence of things in which no Maya can have any influence. It is here that the teachings of esoteric philosophy in relation to the Nidanas and the Four Truths become of the greatest importance; but they are secret.' They are secret no longer. The Guru Granth is accessible to all. But let us not consider it the sole authority to Truth, as many of us are wont to affirm under the coercive influence of a restrictive religiosity. I was pleasantly surprised on visiting at the recommendation of Mohan Singh ji, to find S. Rawel Singh writing on his blog: "I am a Sikh writer currently based in the United States. My interests include the exegesis of the Guru Granth Sahib, along with the comparative study of the Qur'an, Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Hindu texts. This blog is intended to engage in a dialogue with wider audience mostly on theological issues." That is an open approach that surely leads to the state of consciousness that is sought.

23: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 01, 2011, 8:10 AM.

Devinder Singh ji, thanks for the response. My remark was half in jest, but the limits of human knowledge is a question that western (scientific) thought wrestles with. Actually, you have implied a distinction between empirical knowledge (the domain of science) and mystical knowledge - a difference that I also wish to make. Scientific insights/ discoveries can be replicated and proven; mystical insight cannot. The assertion that in a state of sehaj, I can affirm that I have knowledge remains a subjective experience, not transferable or repeatable. My point is simply to point out that these are different but equally valid modes of knowledge that require a different approach. If you go back to the essay, I have made the point that each one of us can and should experience the same consciousness (sehaj) that Guru Nanak did and invited us to experience. Gurbani/ gurmat is universal and cannot be confined to the printed page.

24: Devinder Singh (India), May 01, 2011, 3:37 PM.

Ravinder ji: If by your last sentence you mean that gurbani conveys a universal consciousness that is larger than and inclusive of the mental, then we are in agreement. The knowledge it conveys is discoverable by anyone who can enter into the universal consciousness. The mystic experience is certainly verifiable by repeating in me, else what the gurbani conveys is not knowledge at all. In the words of a great spiritual master: "One may very well imagine that the universe is only an entity in something which is still vaster, as the individual is only an entity in a much vaster totality. Now, each unit has its consciousness and its own spirit which contains all the others, as a group consciousness is made up of all the individual consciousnesses which constitute it and as a national consciousness is made up of all the individual consciousnesses which constitute it, and something more. The individual is only an element in the whole, even as the earth is a part of the solar system, and the solar system makes a part of all the systems of the universe. So just as there is an individual consciousness, there is a group consciousness and a consciousness of the system, a universal consciousness which is made up of the set of all the consciousnesses composing it, plus something, something - something more subtle. Just like you: you have lots of cells in your body; each cell has its own consciousness and you have a consciousness which is the consciousness of your total individuality, though made up of all these small cellulary consciousnesses." The Bible refers to the fall of man when he entered into separative knowledge, which came with the appearance of mind in him. Earlier, he lived in a consciousness that was undivided from the ONE. The fall into ignorance of the duality was the reason for him to be driven from Eden. At comment # 15, Mohan Singh ji says, the aim of gurbani is to re-attain union with the highest consciousness: "Naam-seed sprouts within only if the mind and consciousness are one: whole, complete, unfragmented, total, saabat". The wholeness lies within, it has to be rediscovered by breaking up the walls of ignorance we have built around it by seeking knowledge through a fragmented consciousness that is the mind. Michael Talbot puts this in a different perspective in his book, "The Holographic Universe": The "whole in every part" nature of a hologram, he says, provides us with an entirely new way of understanding organization and order. For most of its history, western science has laboured under the bias that the best way to understand a physical phenomenon, whether a frog or an atom, is to dissect it and study its respective parts. A hologram teaches us that some things in the universe may not lend themselves to this approach. If we try to take apart something constructed holographically, we will not get the pieces of which it is made, we will only get smaller wholes. Reason is a lower mode of the process of the discovery of truth, the truth that is to be found in the universal consciousness. Before the discovery we have Faith. 'Faith is a thing that precedes knowledge, not comes after knowledge. It is a glimpse of a truth which the mind has not yet seized as knowledge.'

25: Gurnam Singh Gill (Michigan, U.S.A.), May 01, 2011, 10:56 PM.

Ravinder Singh ji: rest assured, like lots of other mysteries, material or mental, this one will also fall under the persistent efforts of the researchers. With improved instrumentation and technical study of the neuronal functions, what is subjective today may not be so in the future. In the 1930s, during the development of quantum mechanics, a number of counterintuitive results were predicted. Even Einstein called one of these 'spooky'. At that time, appropriate experiments could not be carried out because required instrumentation was not available. It was in the 1980s those predictions were verified and these are spooky no more. Currently, in neurobiology, people are asking the hard question: What is the biological basis of consciousness? So, stay tuned.

26: Devinder Singh (India), May 02, 2011, 10:06 AM.

What is the biological basis of consciousness? Good question. According to Teilhard, Consciousness and Matter are aspects of the same reality, and are called the "Within" and the "Without" respectively. Evolution is the steady increase in the "within" or degree of consciousness and complexity, through a number of successive stages: the various grades of inanimate matter; life or the "biosphere"; man or thought or mind, the "noosphere" consciousness. Teilhard thus follows the evolutionist understanding of an evolutionary progression from inanimate matter through primitive life and invertebrates to fish, amphibia, reptiles, mammals, and finally man; always an increase in consciousness. With man a threshold is crossed - self-conscious thought, or mind, appears. But even humans do not represent the end-point of evolution, for this process will continue until all humans are united in what Teilhard calls a single Divine Christ-consciousness, the "Omega Point" (so-called after the last letter of the Greek alphabet - hence the Hellenistic statement attributed to Christ), but unlikely to be said by him, as he would not have known Greek - "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end". Teilhardian cosmology thus revolves around the idea of an evolutionary progression towards greater and greater consciousness, culminating first in the appearance of self-conscious mind in humankind, and then in the Omega point of divinisation of humanity. However it is Sri Aurobindo who explains clearly in his 'Life Divine' the evolutionary basis of consciousness thus: "An involution of the Divine Existence, the spiritual Reality, in the apparent inconscience of Matter is the starting-point of the evolution. But that Reality is in its nature an eternal Existence, Consciousness, Delight of Existence: the evolution must then be an emergence of this Existence, Consciousness, Delight of Existence, not at first in its essence or totality but in evolutionary forms that express or disguise it. Out of the Inconscient, Existence appears in a first evolutionary form as substance of Matter created by an inconscient Energy. Consciousness, involved and non-apparent in Matter, first emerges in the disguise of vital vibrations, animate but subconscient; then, in imperfect formulations of a conscient life, it strives towards self-finding through successive forms of that material substance, forms more and more adapted to its own completer expression. Consciousness in life, throwing off the primal insensibility of a material inanimation and nescience, labours to find itself more and more entirely in the Ignorance which is its first inevitable formulation; but it achieves at first only a primary mental perception and a vital awareness of self and things, a life-perception which in its first forms depends on an internal sensation responsive to the contacts of other life and of Matter. Consciousness labours to manifest as best it can through the inadequacy of sensation its own inherent delight of being; but it can only formulate a partial pain and pleasure. In man the energising Consciousness appears as Mind more clearly aware of itself and things; this is still a partial and limited, not an integral power of itself, but a first conceptive potentiality and promise of integral emergence is visible. That integral emergence is the goal of evolving Nature."

27: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 02, 2011, 10:11 AM.

Devinder Singh ji: broadly speaking, we are really saying the same thing. The mystical experience is verifiable by the experiencer, but not by an outsider; unlike a scientific experiment, one cannot - through instrumentation - measure this experience (at least not yet, according to Gurnam Singh ji). I might also add that gurbani is very clear that this "peak experience" is ultimately dependent on nadar and not on individual effort, which is a necessary but not suffiecient condition. To Gurnam Singh ji: there is no established theory of consciousness (yet) in the west, this is still a relatively new area of investigation. It is conceivable that these mysteries will eventually reveal themselves. My personal sense is that all this is a kind of self revelation of Akal Purakh - an unfolding, if you will, through the Agency of Hukam which operates through creation (of which we are a part).

28: Harnam Kaur (Chandigarh, Punjab), May 02, 2011, 10:32 AM.

I am sorry to say this but I find some of the navel-gazing above as pure bunkum ... and nothing to do with Sikhism. These endless and convoluted mind-games I see some you involved in are nothing but chaturta, and take you anywhere but on the path of spiritual progress. Sikhi is simple, straightforward and uncomplicated. The moment you get into things that need to be defined interminably, you have got onto the wrong bus and entered the realm of esoteric mumbo-jumbo. I wish the convenor would rein in the participants from time to time and anchor them to solid ground ... please!

29: Prakash.Singh Bagga (India), May 06, 2011, 1:08 PM.

There is very good conclusion in gurbani: "Nanak ke ghar kewal naam." So, in fact we are required to learn to tune ourselves with Naam only. Very few people know exactly what we have to know from gurbani. My personal view is that from gurbani, first of all, we should try to know and meet SatGuru. Then, we get gurmat naam from this SatGuru. This should be the end of the search for Naan, and that is all.

30: Prakash.Singh Bagga (India), May 07, 2011, 7:10 AM.

I agree with the views of S. Ravinder Singh (# 27). What we all talk about the so-called consciousness is referred to as Akal Purakh in gurbani. There are other references to this consciousness such as Parbrahm, SatGuru, etc.

31: Devinder Singh (India), May 09, 2011, 8:56 AM.

Tell me, can you ever pronounce on your own pool without investigating other pools. These are conversation stoppers, the last three.

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