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Off The Beaten Path:
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 67





mannay mugg na challey panth / mannay dharam seti sanbandh

Faith treads not sectarian ways,
Faith stays steadfast in the Way.

Guru Nanak  [GGS:3]



The 14th stanza of the Japji Sahib, from where these lines have been taken, speaks of the ineffable potency of faith that comes from immersion in Naam.

This week we consider two lines from the passage where Guru Nanak draws a distinction between different religious traditions and the common, underlying essence that animates them. A person of faith, Guru Nanak tells us, does not get bogged down in narrow sectarianism but becomes hued in the true spirit of religion, dharam.

Religious traditions, like different paths, have clear, identified boundaries, a familiar landscape and a known destination. But they are separated from each other by ritual, dogma and belief. Creeds and catechisms provide standard and authorized answers to perennial questions, offering the acolyte with much needed solace (often false) in the face of existential angst. The goal is also pre-determined - God, salvation, mukti, nirvana or what have you.

To get to the true essence of religion, however, Guru Nanak instructs us to go beyond the margins of the familiar - beyond belief, dogma and ritual, into unknown and unchartered territory. This pilgrimage, unlike subscribing to a religious tradition, is a journey inward, propelled and guided by the practice of Naam.

Gurbani calls these two orientations that are available to us as liv and dhat. We are free to choose. Our choices determine the script of our lives and its eventual outcome. In this sense, we create our future.

The way of dhat is the way of the world, of the rat race. Fueled by the spring of impatient desire and driven by blind ambition, the way of the world is represented by organized religion.


What is the nature of the distinction, namely between different religious paths and dharam, that Guru Nanak makes? Would it be accurate to equate the Punjabi mugg (dervied from maarag) and panth (in the first line of the original) which both mean a way or path of a religion, as we understand it today?

Dharam, in religious parlance, equates to both universal laws and moral and ethical imperatives. In the Japji, it is used in both senses - hukam as the cosmic ethical principle and sachiaara as the ethical agent who is morally obliged to uphold hukam.

To be on a path would require, at a minimum, some assurance that we are headed in the right direction. How do we ensure that?

More often than not, the religious path we tread is an accident of birth, circumstance and geography. The markers of our culture, our values and our religious practice are simply given to us - by our parents, our education and by our environment. We rarely question the framework we inherit; rather, we tend to pass it down to our children.

Over time, we find that traditional religion ceases to satisfy. We are witness to this in our young who are seeking answers elsewhere - in science, in new age movements - or just dropping out.

How do we address this?


November 21, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), November 21, 2011, 1:12 PM.

Any religion which forbids an enquiring mind and gets into loggerheads with Science is not a true religion.

2: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), November 21, 2011, 6:41 PM.

Sikhi is a heritage belonging to the whole of humanity. The founders never wanted it to become an 'organized religion' for a certain group of people. Basically, Sikhi is the quintessence of all the faiths that had gone before it.

3: Arvinder (U.S.A.), November 22, 2011, 12:33 AM.

I agree with you, Ajit Singh ji.

4: Prakash.Singh.Bagga (India), November 22, 2011, 3:39 AM.

We should understand the clear difference in the meanings of the words 'dharam' and Religion. Dharam cannot be referred to as religion. Religion promotes a particular thinking about dharam and this thinking differs across society and this results in different religions. The word dharam stems from a vedic concept meaning the "property to be adopted in one's life". While the vedic concept opined that there are seventy two dharams, Guru Nanak sang of a single exquisite Dharam - Naam!

5: Ravinder Singh  (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), November 22, 2011, 11:01 AM.

To Ajit Singh ji's point (#2): My thoughts as well, but Prakash Singh ji (#4) makes an interesting point as well. It seems to me that religions are simply localized expressions of a universal dharam; like the story of the elephant and the blind men, each religion has its peculiar slant on the eternal Truth but insists that it has the only view.

6: Balbir Singh (Germany), November 22, 2011, 6:54 PM.

I do not know anyone who has received Naam by merely reading the scriptures.

7: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), November 23, 2011, 2:28 AM.

Naam can be received from Waheguru only, grace comes through Guru Granth Sahib.

8: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 24, 2011, 9:33 AM.

There are comparative paurris on "sunniye" and "manniye" in Sarang ki Vaar by Guru Ramdas [GGS:1239-42] - they further explain the paurris on this topic in the Japji. (See paurri 5 to 12 of Sarang ki Vaar)

9: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), November 25, 2011, 10:33 AM.

In the scriptural quote, "mannay mugg na challey panth...", Guru Nanak is espousing the conflict between human (born) inclination to not tread the beaten path (first line), and every faith's advocating only one path to everyone (second line). We encounter similar pro-known-path custom in every culture as well. Religious and other teaching mediums advise us to follow known and safe paths. We are not only discouraged, but told that "off-the-beaten-path" approaches are crazy/ill-advised till proven otherwise. Choosing the rare approach is viewed as treacherous and failure-littered. So we end up holding in high esteem those who have ventured "off-the-beaten-path' and succeeded. And to fill in our own unmet void, we treat rare and accomplished examples of others in mythical and inspiring terms. Reciting success stories of others, we imbue ourselves to their titillating appeal.

10: Balbir Singh (Germany), November 25, 2011, 1:23 PM.

'Mannay' is the act where mind is experienced dissolving. This is the result of true Naam Simran. The path (mugg) is received. The panth is subsumed. Through this, the bridge with the core dharam is established.

11: Prakash.Singh Bagga (India), November 25, 2011, 11:21 PM.

In the stanza, if we cosider the grammar of the words, the correct meaning is: "By virtue of accepting the niranjan Naam, one does not move to any specific path other than that of Naam." This becomes further clear by considering the very last line of the stanza: "je ko munn jaaney nunn koi."

12: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), November 26, 2011, 4:21 PM.

We can devise various applications of any verse but such attempts often result in departure from gurbani's intent. When we are not missing any links then we see that gurbani is not separate from modern knowledge and science. But all our approaches need to agree with gurbani's intent. "Mugg na chall-ai panth" means that one is not attached to any path or a way. Of course one has to follow some path. But we tend to lose sight of the destination and thus all paths have a tendency to degenerate into meaningless practices. "One who accepts (the Guru's message) does not belong to any path or a way but belongs only to dharam" [GGS:3.9] or the destination. Gurbani explains dharam elsewhere. "The greatest of all dharam (duty) is living for (or the juppna of) Naam" [GGS:266.13].

13: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), November 26, 2011, 4:22 PM.

The youth will not need to look elsewhere if they understood the gravity of naam in the context of modern knowledge. We should not regard naam as if it was disconnected from modern knowledge. 'Normal' human beings practice the 'juppna' (living for) of our intellectual and physical world. All learning is from only these sources. Naam includes a shift from the objective sources to subjective. Naam juppna includes a shift of our inner attention. This is accomplished through baby steps, practice of meditation, amrit vela, etc.

14: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), November 26, 2011, 4:25 PM.

Naam is not like any other spiritual practice. "Naam cannot be compared with anything else. Only a rare soul, a gurmukh, obtains naam" [GGS:265.8]. A 'gurmukh' has been also described elsewhere, someone who has realized that we are blind and therefore lets the Guru (not education or any other learning) lead the path. Intellectually, we can grasp this only after we have studied all other paths. "Whatever the Guru says is supreme (because) the divine tale is unique" [GGS:667.16]. For this reason, Guru Nanak says that naam is so sublime, that only some rare soul who follows (munn = obeys) the Guru's intent (by becoming a gurmukh) can experience it, within oneself (munn = mind/heart). In my opinion, this is the meaning of "Munn jaanai munn ko-ay" [GGS: 3.9]. Path of naam is always new and full of surprises. It is never a beaten path.

15: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), November 27, 2011, 3:23 AM.

I greatly appreciate the views of S. Yuktanand Singh ji. His explanation is clearly worded for a good understanding of the verse.

16: Aryeh Leib (Israel), November 27, 2011, 5:44 PM.

Is this experience available to one and all? Or, only to those "pre-destined", as I've seen suggested so many times in gurbani?

17: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), November 28, 2011, 12:55 AM.

Aryeh ji, in my understanding, it is not gurbani but our interpretation that alludes to your concern. In Sikh thought, He is uniform in His approach, treats everyone equally and is viewed as a benevolent caretaker of His creation. His nadir is bestowed equally on all. The advice is for the believer to seek/pray for it and earn it. We do come across some members who reflect upon the issue as pre-ordained; or view Him favoring those who demonstrate good deeds. In my view it is either a misguided interpretation, or betrays a lingering influence of pre-Sikh religious concepts, impacting the faithful's views/approach. As humans, we are asked to become faithful and receive His favors; but in practice, we render the concept as complicated as we are. And Sikhs have yet to overcome this universally true human condition.

18: Gurdev Singh Bir (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), November 28, 2011, 1:22 AM.

In my humble response to Aryeh ji, it is only with the unconditional engagement with gurbani that we create the circumstances to receive His grace. Like getting the soil ready for planting. The expert sculptor venturing into gurbani is going to take a while to chip away the unwanted material chips off the true shape that the Guru wants. As that shape eventually emerges, naam then guides the actions of the sculpted munn. All other so-called karams tend to be hindrances on this journey.

19: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), November 28, 2011, 2:20 AM.

Aryeh Leib ji: This experience is surely available only to those who are pre-destined. This is the crux of acceptance.

20: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), November 28, 2011, 7:36 AM.

Re Aryeh Lieb ji's pertinent question and Prakash Singh ji's response, I am sorry, but it simply doesn't make sense. Obviously, something is being lost in translation - the term "pre-destined" means different things to different people, certainly in the West as compared to those using Indian English. If what Prakash Singh ji is saying is correct - and I strongly disagree with it - then no one on this earth has to do anything spiritually, because it is all pre-destined. This is Hinduism at its finest and the very thing that was expressly and vehemently rejected as a belief for Sikhs. Would love to hear from Yuktanand ji and Ravinder ji on this!

21: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), November 28, 2011, 12:50 PM.

It is very difficult for anyone to appreciate the concept of "pre-destination" as it has wide dimensions of understanding.

22: Balbir Singh (Germany), November 28, 2011, 4:44 PM.

Aryeh Leib ji: I believe Gurdev Singh ji has answered your question correctly. This experience is available to one and all. After getting it, one realizes it was "pre-destined." It is suggested so many times in gurbani. For example, 'pre-written' is earned. No one can erase it.

23: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 28, 2011, 7:05 PM.

Guru Amardas: "Within this cave, the invisible and infinite Lord abides. He Himself is hidden, and He Himself is revealed; He is realized through the Guru's Shabad. ||1|| I am a sacrifice to those who enshrine the Amrit Naam, the Name of the Lord, within their minds. The taste of the Amrit Naam is very sweet! Through the Guru's Teachings, (one can) drink in this Amrit. ||1||Pause|| Subduing egotism, the rigid doors (of ego) is opened. The Priceless Naam is obtained by the Guru's Grace. Without the (Guru's) shabad, (no one can) obtain the Naam (Amrit). By the Guru's Grace, it is implanted within the mind. ||2|| The Guru has applied the true ointment of spiritual wisdom to my eyes. Deep within, the Divine Light has dawned, and the darkness of ignorance has been dispelled. My mind has surrendered (its ego illusion); now my light has merged into the Cosmic Light; and I am blessed with the glory of the divine realm. ||3|| Those who look outside the body, searching for the Lord, will not receive the (Naam) Name; they will instead be forced to suffer the terrible pains of material slavery. The blind manmukhs (materialists) do not understand; but, by becoming gurmukhs (spiritual beings) when they return once again to their own inner being, then they find (Naam) within ||4|| By the Guru's Grace, the true Lord is found. Within your mind and body, see the Lord, and the filth of egotism departs. Sitting in that place, sing the glorious praises of the Lord forever, and be absorbed in the true shabad. ||5|| Those who close off the nine gates, and restrain the wandering mind, come to dwell in the home of the tenth gate. There, the unstruck melody of the shabad vibrates day and night. Through the Guru's teachings, the shabad is heard. ||6|| Without the shabad, there is only darkness (of the love of maya) within. The genuine article (Naam) is not found, and the cycle of reincarnation does not end. The key is in the hands of the true Guru; no one else can open this door. By perfect destiny, He is met. ||7|| (O God) You are the hidden and the revealed in all places. Receiving the Guru's grace, this understanding is obtained. O Nanak, praise the Naam forever; by becoming the gurmukh, enshrine it within the mind ||8||24||25|| [GGS:124]

24: Aryeh Leib (Israel), November 28, 2011, 8:17 PM.

Thank you, my friends! I really see and appreciate that with the Guru and the cyber sangat, one is never alone. We don't know whether we're going to "make it" or not. The main thing is ... keep going! How lucky I am to have such traveling companions.

25: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), November 29, 2011, 4:22 AM.

I think that this wonderful discussion should continue. This week's colloquium will try and carry this theme forward.

26: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), November 29, 2011, 8:32 AM.

Parkash Singh ji: I agree that the concept of pre-destination has many facets and dimensions. In fact your view applies to many other aspects of "guru gyan". And it should, because in His design, we are all different, uniquely gifted, and brimming with desires to carve our own superbly designed (haumai) pathway. However, it is disheartening to note your hold-back approach on certain "difficult to appreciate views on pre-destination". Please give us the opportunity to read and dwell on them. May I request you to share them.

27: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), November 29, 2011, 12:56 PM.

Mohan Singh ji: Thanks for posting Guru Amardas' shabad ... it has several befitting thoughts. With an open mind, any one of us can interpret and draw more than one message from each line and beneficially adopt it in one's daily life. That is the uniqueness of Sikh scripture and our Gurus' gift to us. Additionally, with focus on personal benefits, instead of looking for right or wrong aspects of an individual choice, we enrich ourselves, honor the scripture, become role models, and conspicuously broadcast enshrined Sikhi values.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 67"

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