Kids Corner

Talking Stick

The Talking Stick Colloquuim # 51:
Lectio Divina & The Guru Granth





Last week, a reader from Chandigarh admonished some of the commentators for "navel-gazing", and for getting caught up in "chaturta" (cleverness, mind games) and urged me to "rein in" participants and "anchor them to solid ground."

The point is well taken.

The reader also made a point about Sikhi being simple and straightforward. I hear that a lot and some contributors are often taken to task for inserting needless complexity when Sikhi is simple.

Just the other day, a young friend of mine, after hearing me give out some "brotherly" advice on the virtues of engaging with the Guru, remarked, "Veerji, eho jaeehaa(n) gullaa(n) karniyaa(n) ne te ambarsar ja ke karya karo." (Brother, if want to talk like this, then you should go to Amritsar and do it there!)

That is, 'I don't have time for this esoteric mumbo jumbo.'

In my defence, I would say that the matter is not quite so simple as some of my friends make it out to be. Perhaps we are being simplistic.

Let me explain myself.

Yes, at one level Sikhi is quite simple and straightforward to understand and live, and can be summed up as "Hukam rajaaee chullna," made possible by "naam juppo, kirt karo, wund chhukko." (Walk in Hukam by staying centered on Naam, living a productive life and sharing the fruits of your labour.)

But abiding by Hukam does not happen automatically.

It calls for an ever-deepening and faithful response to the Truth (Satnam) - the One. It requires that we be transformed by Akal Purakh's grace (nadar) and cured of the delirium of haumai by its creative presence (naam).

Only then can we awaken to Hukam.

This transformation requires work, a deep inner and private practice that is to be rooted in a broader social practice (sangat).

It is a lifelong apprenticeship to the Guru.

Guru Nanak refers to this transformation in the last stanza of the Japji. Cultivating discipline, exercising patience, steadying the mind, receptivity to knowledge and resolute determination - all these qualities that are listed by Guru Nanak.

This process can difficult and uphill, at times both frightening and exhilarating, but above all, intimidating. It threatens to dismantle and deconstruct our familiar world, our daily habitual patterns and places demands on us that few are willing to accede to.

As for esoteric mumbo jumbo: inherent in a discussion of this nature is the difficulty of definitions. We are trying to speak of the Unspeakable, using imprecise tools in the form of symbols (words) and hoping that the reader will understand precisely what we mean.

I do concede that each one has to be guided by our own understanding and there is no one way that works for all.

The important thing is to remain engaged with the Guru.


My motive in sharing the experience of an intense spiritual reading of the Guru Granth Sahib was to draw your attention to a practice that I believe should be an integral part of individual Sikh practice - that is, part of our apprenticeship to the Guru.

Such a practice is common to all the major faith traditions, especially their mystical dimensions.

In the Christian tradition, for instance, it is called Lectio Divina, a time-honored way of becoming familiar with Christ.

In Sikhi, we have similar practices, except that they are not as clearly marked in stages or explained to the neophyte.

In my own practice, the equivalent of Lectio Divina has served me very well in developing, first, an understanding and then an intimacy with the Guru that I cherish.

Lectio Divina is the discipline of spiritual reading and has four distinct components, each of which is recognizable in Sikh practice as well, but not classified with the same exactness as in the Christian tradition.

The four components - lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (mystical contemplation) - combined, form a holistic spiritual discipline that combines thought/ analysis with feelings/ emotions.

Reading gurbani (lectio) aloud nurtures the emotional/ feeling side of our temperament. Our ears hear the words and our tongue literally can taste the words, much like we taste food. This is basic nourishment.

Meditating (meditatio) is reflecting on what we have read - like chewing on the food we eat. This satisfies and nurtures our analytical side. Personally, this is the time I spend looking up the Mahan Kosh or a santhiyaa(n) (commentaries) to unpack the very dense and philosophical meaning of some gurbani terms. This is where we move beyond the literal meanings (ukhri arth).

Prayer or ardaas (oratio) is a natural extension of the first two components and leads us into dialogue with Akal Purakh. This satisfies the feeling or emotional side because we can express feelings that have been aroused as a result of reading and meditating.

Mystical intuition (contemplatio) happens through nadar. It is an experience that one just waits for (in hukam).

The process serves as a great reversal of sorts, since it challenges our usual conditioning. Our cultural DNA (memes) shut us off from listening to the voice of the Guru, encouraging us, instead, to be functionally oriented and performance-driven and goal-driven. Everything must have a purpose or motivation or a good return on investment (ROI).

We don't have the inner structure to be attentive listeners (sunniyeh) or the patience to allow the Guru to speak in His own good time. Like addicts, we demand instant gratification.

Even in matters of spirit, our approach has become bottom-line oriented.

The process of patiently reading the Guru Granth Sahib, over and again, in different ways and different modes (much like Lectio Divina) without expecting immediate or any returns, will gradually make us supple and flexible and we will find ourselves yielding to Akal Purakh in a way not experienced before.

Guru Granth becomes the trigger and mechanism for our transformation.

I realize that we have spoken largely of individual practice. But individual practice needs institutions like the sangat (congregation, community) to foster such practice and to provide sustenance in spiritual formation.

The admonition of fellow brothers and sisters is necessary and welcome for it serves as Akal Purakh's nadar - troubling sometimes, comforting at other times, but always a catalyst for our spiritual growth.


It would be wonderful if more readers share their individual practice and experience. Does it resemble what has been described above?

How do we build a supporting sangat in our gurdwaras? Sunday gurdwara is really social, which has its place but how does one develop a lasting sadh sangat?

In our gurdwara, for instance, a few of us created a 'Gurbani Vichaar' group three years ago with a view to do some true vichaar. We started out with an interpretation of the Japji, then moved to some other banis.

Not surprisingly, a few dominated the discussion that got contentious at times. Over time, the sangat dwindled to a core group of about 8 - 10 persons. The good news is that we have continued to meet weekly (Friday evenings) and have witnessed each other's growth. Our routine has moved away from discussion to a collective reading of the Guru Granth followed by meditation.

Happy to report we are now at page 610.

Each participant has admitted to being enhanced by the experience. We hope to continue.

Does any reader have a similar experience to share? 


May 9, 2011


Conversation about this article

1: Brijinder Singh (New York, U.S.A.), May 09, 2011, 10:52 PM.

I think you are taking the right approach. Interesting how your group dwindled to 8 or 10 people. I think that this statistic would hold true for most gurdwaras. You can lead a horse to water ...

2: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 10, 2011, 4:08 AM.

Sikhi is simple and straightforward provided we have grasped the true meanings of gurbani. I find that our scholars and learned preachers have made understanding gurbani complicated just by avoiding the significance of certain matras which dictate the meaning. An example of this is related to the significance of the matras 'aukad' and 'bihari'. I feel the day we shall understand the role of these two matras, gurbani will become simple and straight-forward, otherwise it shall remain complicated as ever before. It is gurbani that teaches us what is Sikhi - "sikhi sikhia gur sabad vichaar". It is critical we understand what SABADu is - that is, not SABAD, but SABADu.

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 10, 2011, 9:40 AM.

Prakash Singh ji, perhaps you should explain what SABADu is and what it signifies, as opposed to 'SABAD' - for our benefit. Thank you.

4: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 10, 2011, 10:56 AM.

This can be explained in pure Punjabi and not in English; the latter is a poor vehicle for gurbani.

5: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), May 10, 2011, 11:11 AM.

I am sorry, but I'll have to strongly disagree with the comment by Mohan Singh ji. Our inability to explain gurbani adequately in English, or any other language for that matter, is our failing, not the language's, be it English or whatever. There is a dire need for people today who are perfectly fluent in English and equally fluent in Gurbani. A number of people are already out there with these combined qualities. One such example that immediately comes to mind is Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal, who occupies the Chair in Sikh Studies at Hofstra University, Long Island, New York. My heart sings every time I read an essay by him on any aspect of bani.

6: Prakash.Singh.Bagga (India), May 10, 2011, 11:28 AM.

Ravinder Singh ji: The difference in the meanings of the words SABADu and SABAD seems to be related to the grammar of these two words. According to Gurbani Grammar as enunciated by Prof. Sahib Singh or By S. Joginder Singh Talwara, for example, any gurbani word with matra of AUKAD is SINGULAR and the same word without AUKAD is PLURAL. The difference is the same way as the English words PENCIL or PENCILS. On the basis of this grammatical consideration, we should try to find out the true reference meanings of various gurbani words.

7: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), May 10, 2011, 11:36 AM.

If I may jump into the fray once again - the words "GUR' or 'GURU' are prime examples of how the meaning of a Gurmukhi word changes drastically, depending on the vowel being used and where. Because the vowel used in Gurmukhi is in symbol form and not in the form of a separate alphabet letter, we who are oriented to English and other languages which have specific letters assigned as letters, tend to ignore the vowels in Gurbani and forge ahead with the basic word. I know I have tended to do exactly that, until I was corrected by Dr. Pashaura Singh when he was teaching a course on the grammar of the Guru Granth, based on an excellent book on the subject by Dr. Christopher Shackle.

8: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 10, 2011, 12:00 PM.

It is surprising to note that none of us differentiate in the reference meanings of the words GURU and GUR. In Gurmukhi script of Guru Granth Sahib, we come across three distinct words like GURU, GURu and GUR. But we tend to ignore the word GURu and talk about the words GURU and GUR only. Whereas the word GURu seems to be the key term in understanding the message of gurbani. In this way, we need to pay greater heed to the grammar.

9: Gurnam Kaur (Chandigarh, Punjab), May 10, 2011, 12:11 PM.

I get the most out of my time with Guru Granth Sahib when I read it slowly, no more than a few pages a day. When I come across a line which intrigues me because I do not understand it or which touches a chord, I make a quick note on a pad which I always have sitting beside me, noting the line and page for future reference. When I'm done with the paatth, I then sit down elsewhere with a number of translations, both English and Punjabi, of the line or passages that have aroused special interest that day, and then I try and fathom their meaning. All in all, the whole process is an extremely pleasurable one. Yes, "pleasure" is the word that describes it best for me.

10: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 10, 2011, 12:27 PM.

On Sikhi, Guru Amardas said: The devotees of Akal Purakh have a unique and distinct lifestyle; they follow the most difficult path. They renounce greed, avarice, egotism and desire; they do not talk too much. The path they take is sharper than a two-edged sword, and finer than a hair. By Guru's Grace, they shed their selfishness and conceit; their hopes are merged in the Lord. Says Nanak, the lifestyle of the devotees, in each and every age, is unique and distinct." [GGS:918]. The bani of Guru Nanak is elaborated and explained in a simple way by Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas and Guru Arjan in the same stream of gurbani, and profoundly concluded by Guru Tegh Bahadar.

11: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), May 10, 2011, 6:22 PM.

Yes, the principles of Sikhi are simple and the life-style recommended for a Sikh doesn't seem like rocket science or brain surgery. But the issue is dealing with reality as it exists and how we develop a sense of self and our relationship to the creation around us. These matters can lead to profound thought and discussion because what could be more important than shaping a life. Hence the importance - and essential necessity - of discussion, exploration, history, exegesis, solitude to meditate and the company of fellow seekers. The journey then becomes the destination in a never-ending path.

12: PrakashSingh Bagga (India), May 11, 2011, 4:16 AM.

The idea of forming small groups to discuss and deliberate on gurbani is the need of the time.

13: Kanwaljit Singh (Canada), May 11, 2011, 6:45 PM.

I think this spiritual experience is very well captured in the first 5 pauris of Anand Sahib.

14: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 12, 2011, 10:31 AM.

Aa a matter of fact, the whole of gurbani is a treasure of spiritual experience.

15: Devinder Singh (India), May 12, 2011, 11:41 AM.

I got a curious explanation from S.N. Goenka, a meditation teacher, for "Hukam rajaaee chullna," which he says lies deep within, adding - "Nanak Likkya naal." There is no place in the technique he teaches for nadar - grace. Goenka insists that there is only one path to salvation, that is through the "sampragnya vignayn" taught by the Buddha and God's presence within can only be found by self-effort. I disagree. The path is shown and doors are opened but everyone must follow the path, pass through the doors and go towards his personal realisation. Divine Grace is not a universal Divine Compassion, acting impartially on all who approach it and acceding to all prayers. "It is a power that is superior to any rule, even to the Cosmic Law - for all spiritual seers have distinguished between the Law and Grace. Yet it is not indiscriminate - only it has a discrimination of its own which sees things and persons and the right times and seasons with another vision than that of the Mind or any other normal Power." And sangat need not necessarily be a community of seekers, though that helps. You can have sangat with the Guru Granth.

16: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 12, 2011, 2:09 PM.

Devinder Singh ji: I fully agree with the last two lines of your recent post.

17: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 12, 2011, 3:11 PM.

Devinder Singh ji: Like Prakash Singh ji, I would like to comment on your last point. I am afraid I have a different view. Let me put it this way: when you do sangat with Guru Granth Sahib (i.e., you are reciting it or trying to understand it) what is the Guru Granth saying to you repeatedly? Go find the company of sadh sangat for it is only in the company of those who have seen beyond (pargarami) that you will find Akal Purakh. There is a real danger of slipping into narcissism by remaining isolated from community.

18: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 12, 2011, 4:50 PM.

Guru Nanak: "In the sadh sangat, the company of the holy, the subtle essence of the Lord is obtained; meeting the Guru, the fear of death departs." [GGS:598]. Bhagat Ravidas: "Without the sadh sangat, love for the Lord does not well up; without this love, your devotional worship cannot be performed." [GGS:694]. Guru Arjan: "With the support of the sadh sangat, one falls in love with God." [GGS:966]. Says Kabir" "Listen, O Saints: in the sadh sangat, you shall be saved." [GGS:1106].

19: Devinder Singh (India), May 13, 2011, 12:06 AM.

You are talking of blows received to the ego - self righteousness is a form of it - through contact with people. That can happen at the workplace. How many pargarami people do you find in the sangat? A case of ignorant guiding the ignorant. A far superior sangat is that of the realized Master, even if a silent one. It can be through His writing, alone with yourself. Understanding comes if you have a deep enough aspiration.

20: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 13, 2011, 12:17 AM.

Ravinder Singh ji: I appreciate your apprehension with respect to being isolated. One cannot or should not isolate from the community as there are many benefits of being in community. Isolation is with respect to one's spritual journey and you will appreciate this journey one has to complete individually only. Secondly, if we give a serious thought to bani's messages, they refer to the individual journey: "safal safal bhahee safal yatra/ aawan haan rahae miley saadhaa' - [GGS:687]. Here, the word 'saadhaa' does not refer to the company of seekers.

21: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 13, 2011, 1:36 AM.

There are three important words that we come across in gurbani quite frequently: SAADH SANGATi, and SATiSANGATi. It is important to explore the true meanings of these words according to gurbani.

22: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 13, 2011, 4:25 AM.

We generally take the meaning of 'saadh sangat' as the company of seekers. Here I differ because the word 'saadh' in gurbani refers to prabh that is GURU JOTi. Since the word is SAADH SANGATi {SANGAT is with matra of sihari}, it means through/by or in the company of SAADH that is GURU JOTi. Now the company of SAADH can be one to one only.

23: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 13, 2011, 9:46 AM.

Perhaps I should have been clearer. I refer both Devinder Singh ji and Prakash Singh ji to the text above, which I repeat for their convenience:"This transformation requires work, a deep inner and private practice that is to be rooted in a broader social practice (sangat)." I hope this clarifies for you that I am not discounting individual effort, which to me remains at the core of this journey. Sangat has an important role to play and it can be the sangat of the Guru or even the sangat of seekers where the Guru is present. As to how many pargaramis are out there, I would say they are out there and to be found in the most unexpected of places. We have to be receptive.

24: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 13, 2011, 11:11 AM.

Gurbani tells us about the quality of sangat as: "SATiSANGATi KAESI JAANIAE JITHAE EKO NAAMu VAKHAANIYAE". We all may be together in the presence of the Guru, but it is a challenge to find the sangat as defined in gurbani. Being in SATiSANGATi and being in SAADH SANGATi or SANT SANGATi, these are entirely different things. One can have SAADH or SANTSANGATi alone too, which is the ultimate in the spritual journey of any individual.

25: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 13, 2011, 11:45 AM.

Ravinder Singh ji, you have given a very clear concept of sangat. For a true gursikh, the GURu is the only paragraami. From gurbani, we know that: "GURu JAHAJ KHEWAT GURU GUR BINu TARIA NA KOE" - [GGS:1401]. A gursikh is required to be on board the JAHAJ of the GURu. Not merely talk about it all. So we should not look for any person as our paragraami.

26: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 13, 2011, 4:41 PM.

The messages of gurbani are for the 'first person' only. This aspect makes the individual role all the more important. However, the collective role of the sangat in understanding gurbani is equally important.

27: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 13, 2011, 7:07 PM.

We have all the recipes but never cooked a meal. Or, "Barmecide Feast", if you like.

28: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 13, 2011, 8:09 PM.

A grammarian fell into a well one day and had difficulty climbing up the slippery sides. A little later, Nasruddin chanced by and heard the man's cries for succor. In the casual language of everyday life, he offered aid. The grammarian replied, "I would certainly appreciate your help. But by the way, you have committed an error in your speech," which the grammarian proceeded to specify. "A good point," acknowledged Nasruddin. "I had best go off awhile and try to improve my skills." And so he did, leaving the grammarian at the bottom of the well.

29: Prakash Singh Bagga (INDIA), May 14, 2011, 12:16 AM.

It is always easy to derail any concept rather than understand and or accept it. I just fail to understand as to why we are so averse to the consideration of grammar. After all the grammar indications have been put in and approved by the Guru himself.

30: Devinder Singh (India), May 14, 2011, 2:33 AM.

Prakash Singh ji makes a good point. Sikh scholarship is sloppy. Commentators do not have sufficient spiritual experience behind them. Understanding is an important part of practice, and posts #19-21 amply elucidate the discussion.

31: Balbir Singh (Germany), May 18, 2011, 6:43 AM.

Grammar may be important to understand or express through a language. Grammar plays no role in true One Naam Simran.

32: Devinder Singh (India), May 18, 2011, 9:39 AM.

If you are in mystical "contemplation", no problem, but if you are in vichaar (interpretation), meditation, or reflection mode, looking up the Mahan Kosh or a santhyaa (commentary) "to unpack the very dense and philosophical meaning of some gurbani terms", you need to very carefully look at the grammar.

33: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 18, 2011, 11:15 AM.

Balbir Singh ji (#31) makes the point that I have been trying to put across. Thank you, Balbir Singh ji. Devinder Singh ji (#30): nobody knows what spiritual experience (avastha) anybody else is in, so let's refrain from commenting on people's lack of spiritual experience. It is a quick and facile way of dismissing others - which we should not do. All viewpoints are important. If grammar was such an absolute requirement, how does one explain "padiya anpadiya param gat pavey," from gurbani. The bottom line: Sikhi is about experience (anubhav), not intellectual understanding (tarak) - although I hasten to emphasize that understanding is important.

34: Prakash Singh Bagga (INDIA), May 18, 2011, 1:12 PM.

Ravinder Singh ji: If we pay careful attention to gurbani, we will find that all the messages therein can be classified under three types: 1) Messages related to the basic concept of gurbani - NAAMu. 2) Messages related to the art of living and general effects and benefits of gurbani. And 3) Messages stemming from historical incidents. I am of the view that there is great significance of grammar in understanding the messages under the first category. There is very little or no significance of grammar for the other two. Since your quote from gurbani in your last post belongs to the second category, you may be correct in your views.

35: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 18, 2011, 1:26 PM.

I am of the view that there are five basic words which encapsule much of the teachings in gurbani: GURU ... GURu ... GUR ... HARi ... RAAM. It is important that we understand the intrinsic meanings of these words and their relationship with grammar.

36: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), May 18, 2011, 2:13 PM.

Ravinder Singh ji: I agree that there is great importance of vichaar of the SABADu. But, how would you define 'vichaar' in the context of gurbani?

37: Balbir Singh (Germany), May 18, 2011, 6:06 PM.

Vichaar of the SABADu is possible after experiencing it. Everything else is imagination or soch.

38: Prakash Singh Bagga (Indore, India), August 15, 2015, 10:15 AM.

We had this interaction in 2011 and now again 2015 I would like to make a point in context of 'SABADu' in gurbaani. First of all, our general understanding about its pronunciation itself is a big question mark. This word starts with pure "S" not as "Sh", therefore its pronunciation as Shabad is perhaps incorrect. Secondly, there is a difference in the meanings of the words Sabad and Shabad. The word SABAD is reference for A VOICE whereas Shabad is reference for a Word. This makes a vital and important point in understanding the message of gurbaani in its correct sense.

Comment on "The Talking Stick Colloquuim # 51:
Lectio Divina & The Guru Granth"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.