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Talking Stick

The Razor Edge
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 56




Bẖagṯāa(n) kī cẖāl nirālī
The pious march to a different beat

Cẖālāa(n) nirālī bẖagṯāh kerī bikẖam mārag cẖalṇā
Off the beaten track they trod, a difficult path

Lab lobẖ ahaʼnkār ṯaj ṯarisnā bahuṯ nāhī bolṇā
Renouncing greed, avarice and selfish desire, they speak sparingly

Kẖunniaho(n) ṯikẖī vāloh(n) nikkī eṯ mārag jāṇā
Sharper than a razor's edge, finer than a hair, is the path they tread

[Anand Sahib]



Let's pause and dwell a bit more on the game of love (prem khelan kā chāo) before we walk 'the razor's edge', the topic for this week’s discussion.

Many of you have no doubt read Somerset Maugham. His novels, especially Of Human Bondage and The Razor's Edge, were de rigueur during my school days in Delhi.

I was moving some books around over the weekend when I came across an old copy of The Razor's Edge. It instantly evoked Guru Amardas’ kẖunniaho(n) ṯikẖī from Anand Sahib.

Guru Amardas’ challenge of walking the razor's edge and Guru Nanak’s stipulation for the 'head on the palm' suggest how difficult this game is: jan nanak eh khel kathan hai.

Games typically have a desired outcome, winners and losers, rules, choices (and consequences) and, of course, challenges. At the same time, games are also fun, rewarding and a means of forging character through discipline, skill development and practice.

Our cẖāo for a game is proportional to how we see the game: if too challenging, we are likely to be overwhelmed; if too simple, we are likely to get bored. In either case, we will likely walk away from it - resulting in non-participation. When opponents are evenly matched, that's when the game is most alluring and fun.

The game of love is ultimately the game of life - one that even the Creator delights in (kheleh bigseh antarjami) and actively participates in. We have no choice but to participate in life, but our success or failure will rest on how we choose to engage with it.

So how good are we as players in the game of life?

Are we enjoying the game by embracing it wholeheartedly? Or are we resisting, choosing to sit on the sidelines, whiling the time away by complaining about how unfair life and everything in it is?

Or have we been distracted by other games that people play?


In Sikh parlance, winners in the game of life are referred to variously as gurmukh, panch, bhagat and rasiya - they have walked the razor's edge.

What kind of a game do these winners play? What path do they adopt?

Does the razor's edge make Love an extreme sport?

When Guru Amardas speaks of walking a narrow path, one that is finer than a razor's edge, what is he recommending?


August 8, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), August 08, 2011, 9:03 AM.

Existentialist author Thomas Hardy, in his novels and poetry, presents the image of Man pitted against Fate in a 'hunter versus hunted' mode. The outcome is invariable and inevitable, he says, but the victory lies in how the 'hunted' fights back, despite the odds! It's a game, he too implies, and it all takes place on, yes, the razor's edge!

2: Devinder Singh (India), August 08, 2011, 10:09 AM.

There is always a struggle going on between the forces of light and the opposing forces, all of which are within our nature. The Bible quotes Christ as saying, 'hard is the way and narrow the gate by which one enters into the kingdom of heaven', and also, 'many are called, few chosen', because of these difficulties. But it has also always been known that those who are sincere and faithful in heart and remain so, and those who rely on the Divine will arrive, in spite of all difficulties, stumbles or falls. Walking the razor's edge alludes to the danger of the fall from the path. The real danger lies in believing we are progressing along the path, even when we know that we are acting in, for example, greed, avarice and selfish desires.

3: Manjit Singh (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), August 08, 2011, 4:52 PM.

There has been reference, in this and the previous colloquium, to the line from Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Nanak - "prem khelan ka chao ..." and also to "jin prem keeyo ..." by the Tenth Guru. I note that the 'prem' in these lines has been translated so as to refer to a "game of love". I don't believe this is an appropriate rendering of the real meaning of these words. A game of love has physical connotations in the contemporary context. I believe the word 'prem' has a spiritual dimension that is not captured by the word 'love'. I propose that the right English expression to capture the spirit of the word 'prem' should be 'commitment'. In a deeper sense, love is a matter of commitment and the Gurus used this word to inspire their disciples to make a commitment and not merely love.

4: Ravinder Singh  (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 08, 2011, 7:52 PM.

Manjit Singh ji, your suggestion (#3) is certainly a worthy one. My thought is that Love can denote physical love, certainly, but it also includes kindness and compassion, which would be missing from commitment. Besides, the Gurus were not rejecting physical love, although I agree with you that the word 'prem' does point to spiritual love. Commitment has the benefit of suggesting engagement and a pledging. Let's hear it from others.

5: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), August 09, 2011, 5:25 AM.

I am drawn to the idea of commitment because that's one act I can't seem to get my head, heart and soul around to. I think the reason people (just me, for starters) lose the mojo for life and work, maybe, because they have not learned to commit to the time-consuming mental training to feel love, to serve humanity and to give up life as the ultimate show and gift of love. The Tibetan meditation to be a happy, enlightened person takes years and years and I have not even started yet. Right now I feel like the wounded stag and need to withdraw into a quiet corner of the world forest to heal.

6: Ravinder Singh  (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 09, 2011, 7:29 AM.

Manjeet (Shergill) ji: Your candid response is refreshing. We are all in the same boat. We are accustomed to thinking of Love as something that just "happens" or Love as something we fall in. Maybe Love is an "extreme" sport that requires walking the razor's edge. Commitment will lead to Love?

7: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 11, 2011, 10:33 AM.

Offering constructive criticism is also a balancing act. The sharp edge cuts both ways. I have always admired the exquisite, and appropriate, art on this site, with two exceptions. The picture of a shamsheer on this page is contrary to this topic. The 'razor's edge' is something we walk on, not something we hold. The second exception is off-topic, but this site should promote open dialogue on Sikhi, not people. In my subjective view, promotion of Prof. Darshan Singh ji (someone who is trying to exterminate mice in the house of Sikhi with a blowtorch!) on the main page, is not appropriate.

8: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 11, 2011, 11:45 PM.

It appears to me that lack of balance is worse than a fall. The path is difficult, no doubt. But contemplation of the path is no less difficult. "It is easy to talk, but difficult to comprehend your path" [GGS:51.17]. It would be better to fall than to continue without maintaining the balance. This balance is required all the way and its need is never exhausted. After we walk a certain distance, the burden turns into a "sweet sorrow" or labor of love. Thus, commitment leads to love and love leads to commitment! A discussion of this path is just as difficult as walking on a razor's edge. Since no one else has said anything, let us examine a couple examples of the 'razor's edge' below.

9: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 11, 2011, 11:47 PM.

We are in a territory where the destination lights our path. When it permeates all our talk and all our thoughts, then we call it inspiration. This is a form of naam simran. At the same time, it is not possible to talk about it without our ego. When our ego is active, this entity withdraws. All our thoughts are then not genuinely inspired any longer. How do we keep the balance? Guru Nanak sang it. Sweetness of song and the inspiration hidden in gurbani sprinkles our heart with the 'ras' or inebriation that is necessary to overcome our ego, but without losing our mind. "A heart that forgets gurbani, cries out like someone with a terminal illness" [GGS:661.18].

10: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 11, 2011, 11:49 PM.

Gurbani also tells us: "Someone whose body, mind, wealth, are not his own, only he is wise and is a learned scholar" [GGS:671.16]. When something belongs to us, then it is always ours. But we are asked here to give something that was never ours. "A miser is loaned some wealth, but the fool calls it his own" [GGS:479.19]. How then, do we give something that was never ours? How do we accomplish this balancing act?

11: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), August 12, 2011, 7:31 AM.

Yaktanand Singh ji: Re your question - "How then do we give something that was never ours? - The wisdom that nothing is mine comes through the grace of the Guru only.

12: Ravinder Singh  (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 12, 2011, 1:40 PM.

To the question in #10, "How then do we give something that was never ours? How do we accomplish this balancing act?" I can only offer my own experience - wrong or right, I don't know, but it seems to have helped me. Fundamentally, this is a matter of self-awareness, a realization that I am not the source of my own existence. I am not a "karta" but a "krit" (creation). Take children, for instance: we get possessive and walk around thinking we own them. My sense is we are just custodians; our job was to ensure their physical survival and development to the best of our ability. Similarly, our worldly possessions: again, we are mere custodians. So what is that we are giving back? The notion, the belief, the idea and even the conviction that we are actually "something." My name, for instance, is just like a navigation tool. What does 'Ravinder Singh' mean? If you begin to peel away all the cultural layers/ conditioning that have created this sense of myself as 'Ravinder', nothing is left. I think it is this realization that must first dawn on us before we can even think of balancing.

13: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio,U.S.A.), August 12, 2011, 3:54 PM.

To continue from my previous thought. So, how do winners play the game of life? First, I think, is self awareness that because we are in human form, we are here to play the human game. Then we must play the game, not just sit on the sidelines, complaining. Don't look for fairness; instead, look for fun. Setbacks are part of the plot. Life is a grind but make it interesting and fun. And it is for a limited time, so don't waste time.

14: Ravnder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 12, 2011, 5:27 PM.

Part of my motivation in choosing the Razor's Edge as the title was also because it signifies avoiding extremes and adopting the middle - the extremes of self abnegation and self-indulgence, for instance. These are polarities that a Sikh must avoid. The middle is the balance, where extremes become One. After all, the One is the source of everything.

15: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), August 13, 2011, 10:09 PM.

Ravinder ji: "Razor's Edge" is an excellent choice. Sher, I love Thomas Hardy's works and the characters he creates - basically those you have fun and fall and those who calculate the fun, the interest of the game, and those who neither fall nor live. Yuktanand ji - I am convinced that it's all grace - to have fun, to fall, to heal, and to give it all up.

16: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 14, 2011, 1:24 PM.

Our romantic self admires these great novels. Realization of truth is also a romantic milestone. If it is not, then this is not the truth we are discussing here. All the messages above exude wisdom. Each one of us will view the same topic in a different context, and this is okay. It is important to be sincere, and no one is too wise to learn from others. It worries me to see us use the key words like 'naam', love and grace with a resigned acquiescence, as if it was all a matter of chance. Is grace accidental or, are we supposed to ask for it? Should we actively seek it? Is winning important?

17: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 14, 2011, 1:26 PM.

Coming back, the meaning of "razor's edge" appears to be both falling off the narrow path versus losing one's balance. The former is a traumatic jolt while the latter is also a fall that continues without its awareness and thus, an imbalance is worse than falling. It appears that when we are truly in love, losing is more important than winning. This determines what we can give back to our family and to the world.

18: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 14, 2011, 1:28 PM.

What makes this path so delicate? In my understanding, the balance required here is of our self-concept. In other words, how successfully have we lost ourselves in the presence of (our Guru and) God. Worry of falling assumes that we are already on the path, and that we are on our own, etc. Gurbani rejects this thinking. "As long as he considers himself as the doer, he will roam in the cycles of birth and death." [GGS:278.17]. "Karta" here (and in almost all other places in gurbani) does not mean creator. Also see GGS:255.3-5.

19: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 14, 2011, 1:39 PM.

I request that we study the entire shabad of each reference. Here is one way of looking at what gurbani says to us: Our Guru sells us insurance in exchange for our breath. This insurance policy expires with each breath (we are aa-dami). Thus, if we forget to renew it (with simran), we have fallen off the path. Neither our failure nor our success is assured and permanent until we reach the stable state of sehaj. Our Guru makes the simran possible, we cannot. A Sikh thus, is excited, because "The guru invokes 'Har Har' naam in my heart and I am now on the path" [GGS: 449.10]. In the end, only the Guru wins. We always lose. Sorry!

20: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 14, 2011, 6:23 PM.

Speaking for myself: this colloquium has been (and continues to be) a great learning experience. I feel like I have the best role here. I simply ask questions, and you, dear readers (and fellow travelers), share your deep and unique insights - some of which I understand, others challenge me and some become clearer with the passage of time. What more could one ask for? Thank you.

21: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), August 14, 2011, 9:08 PM.

Is Grace accidental or are we supposed to ask for it? Should we actively seek it? Is winning important? I don't know. Sorry ... but I think (sorry, if I am wrong) ... the answer to all of the above is YES!

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 56"

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