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Still On The Unbeaten Path:
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 68





mannay mugg na challey panth / mannay dharam seti sanbandh

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

Guru Nanak  [GGS:3]



Last week, this topic led to an interesting exchange and I see that readers continue to offer comments into this week. I therefore propose that we continue this discussion, rather than switch to the next topic.

Here's what motivated me to draw on the 14th stanza of the Japji as our subject last week. The distinction that Guru Nanak drew between different paths and ways (mugg and panth) and dharam was important. It suggested to me that true religion was concerned not so much with our ideas and beliefs about God, but with our experience.

Dharam is the essence (goal, or destination, if you will) of all religions - their outward differences simply a result of culture, geography, time and historical experience.

The message of Sikhi speaks to that essence, as a reader put it: “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.”

Guru Nanak’s stress on dharam is very consequential. It is a caution against sectarianism and its consequences that he witnessed (and we continue to, to this day). It is also a reminder, as another reader puts it, that “we tend to lose sight of the
destination and thus all paths have a tendency to degenerate into meaningless practices.”

In Guru Nanak’s estimation, a Sikh, or a seeker must strive to consciously rise above cultural conditioning (DNA) and always keep the goal (dharam) in mind.

Gurbani alludes to dharam in many places, but in the context of this discussion, it would help to refer to Guru Nanak [GGS:1128] where he asserts that there is only one dharam and that is to be witness to the Truth by becoming its ethical agent (sacchiyar).

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

The answer, it seems to me, is inherent in Guru Nanak’s message. If dharam is not about belief, ritual, custom, catechism or creed, then surely it is about experience. The experience is that of a sacchiyar - an experience we all must strive towards.

Pre-destined, pre-ordained or pre-written are loaded terms and it is best to skirt around them for this discussion. The important thing to remember is that personal effort (udham) is just as necessary as grace (nadar) and there is a symbiotic relationship between the two.


And, now, lets ask the difficult question.

Dharam, used in its dual meaning (as truth and duty) in gurbani, requires us to become a sacchiyar (one who is an embodiment of truth or one who acts on behalf of hukam, the Will, by realizing it within one's person), and points to Naam as our highest - and most noble - of duties.

In other words, naam, dharam, sacchiyar (or gurmukh) are all inextricably bound together - as the path, the practice and the end.

Why aren’t we practicing naam in our daily lives?

Why do we continue to walk down the beaten path?


November 29, 2011


Conversation about this article

1: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), November 29, 2011, 3:23 PM.

It is as simple as that when we consider the two points with question marks in the message. "Dhandhaa karti-aa nihfal janam gavaa-i-aa sukh-daata man na vasaa-i-aa / Naanak naam tinaa ka-o mili-aa jin ka-o dhur likh paa-i-aa" [GGS:644]. That is, "We are attuned to slavish wordliness and do not enshrine the bliss-giving Lord in our minds. Guru Nanak says, they alone are blessed with the gift of naam in whose destiny it is so ordained by Him". Naam is God and, in harmony with Him, we want to attain sehaj which, in turn, translates into peace and happiness. We fail to realize that Waheguru, the source of all happiness, is embodied within, in each one of us. We wander outside in search of happiness.

2: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), November 30, 2011, 7:34 AM.

From gurbani we learn that naam can be received only from the True Guru.

3: Gurnam Singh Gill (Michigan, U.S.A.), December 01, 2011, 11:36 AM.

On the possible interpretations of 'pre-destined' and 'nadar', I would like to offer a somewhat different perspective. I believe a possible explanation lies in the way our brains are wired, and that is dictated by the rules (Hukam) of genetics. The human brain has about a trillion (10 to the power of 12) neurons and a quadrillion (10 to the power of 15) synaptic connections. Synapses are connections between neurons that allow them to communicate with each other. Genetic studies in different species indicate that the overall circuitry of the brain is hardwired and no two circuitries are the same, not even in identical twins. Built into this wiring is what is called synaptic plasticity which is defined as the experience - dependent sculpting of neuronal connectivity. It is this plasticity that is thought to underlie learning and memory. This massive connectivity is what gives rise to human perception, emotion, thought and behavior. At one end of the spectrum, with everybody in between, any steps going awry in the wiring could result in an individual with severe psychiatric disorders. At the other end, optimal wiring and environment (nurture) could produce a genius or a Gurmukh. So what is 'predestined' and 'nadar' in this scenario? As mentioned earlier, the wiring is governed by rules of genetics. Therefore the 'predestined' and 'nadar' has to be mediated through inheritance of the genes whose products do the brain development and wiring under appropriate environment, be it in utero or postnatal. So what about the in-betweens! That is where plasticity comes in. A little perseverance (uddham) could move them towards the Gurmukh side. I think this approach also answers the two questions posed in the current colloquium.

4: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), December 01, 2011, 1:49 PM.

Parkash Singh ji (#2): Do you mean to say that the True (Sat-)Guru should be a human Guru from whom Naam can be received? Our scripture is our only Guru. The love of the Naam can be generated by simran. And with continuous simran of the Guru Granth will awaken the person that "his/her" self is now in the purest form of a spirit, which means God has merged, Naam has been acquired and dualities of this world are destroyed.

5: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), December 02, 2011, 1:17 AM.

Ajit Singh ji: I never meant to refer to the True Guru as a human Guru. Sukhmani Sahib says: "satgur sikh ko naam dhan deh."

6: Devinder Singh (India), December 02, 2011, 10:44 AM.

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when it's still the dawn - writes Rabindranath Tagore. The enemy of faith is doubt, and yet doubt too is a utility and necessity, because man in his ignorance and in his progressive labour towards knowledge, needs to be visited by doubt, otherwise he would remain obstinate in an ignorant belief and limited knowledge and unable to escape from his errors. This utility and necessity of doubt does not altogether disappear when we enter on the path of Naam.

7: Aryeh Leib (Israel), December 02, 2011, 5:54 PM.

"Why aren't we practicing naam in our daily lives? Why do we continue to walk down the beaten path?" The short answer would seem to be that we fail to live up to the challenge that the Guru has placed in our path - the manifold distractions of Maya - which constantly try to steer us off-course. We forget that Maya is also a servant of the Guru; that we should give real meaning to our uddham, our personal effort, by seeing it within the overall context of Hukam. When we practice naam, we automatically think less about the me and I, opening our hearts and minds to the Guru's constant immanence. This requires surat on a minute-by-minute basis - but we so often fail to believe in our own capabilities and are overwhelmed by the realization that it requires a paradigm shift in our habitual patterns of thinking. "The beaten path" requires little effort and less thought, and seems altogether the safer course of action. But no one, as far as I'm aware, ever became a gurmukh that way. By underestimating our (God-given!) abilities, our false modesty cons us out of the very purpose for which we have been placed in this life.

8: Devinder Singh (India), December 02, 2011, 8:14 PM.

Man is given faith in himself, his ideas and his powers that he may work and create and rise to greater things and in the end bring his strength as a worthy offering to the altar of the spirit. This spirit is not to be won by the weak. All paralyzing self-distrust has to be discouraged, all doubt of our strength to accomplish, for that is a false assent to impotence, an imagination of weakness and a denial of the omnipotence of the spirit. A present incapacity, however heavy may seem its pressure, is only a trial of faith and a temporary difficulty and to yield to the sense of inability is for the seeker of naam a non-sense, for his object is a development of a perfection that is there already, latent in the being, because man carries the seed of the divine life in himself, in his own spirit, the possibility of success is implied in the effort, the uddham, and victory is assured because behind is the call and guidance of an omnipotent power. At the same time this faith in oneself must be purified from all touch of egoism and spiritual pride. The seeker should keep as much as possible in his mind the idea that his strength is not his own in the egoistic sense but that of the divine universal power and whatever is egoistic in his use of it must be a cause of limitation and in the end an obstacle.

9: Devinder Singh (India), December 03, 2011, 1:55 AM.

When one starts on the path, it is not usually on the strength of experience, but on the strength of faith. It is so not only in spiritual life, but in ordinary life also. All men of action, discoverers, inventors, creators of knowledge proceed by faith and, until the proof is found or the thing done, they go on in spite of disappointment, failure, disproof, denial, because of something in them that tells them that this is the truth, the thing that must be followed and done.

10: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), December 03, 2011, 10:30 AM.

Most enlightening. Thank you, readers, for your insightful input. A point that Yuktanand ji made needs reiteration, namely, the degeneration of all paths into meaningless ritual. The implication, an important one, is that over time, we begin to experience an increasing disassociation between belief and faith. The result is visible around us. Most Sikhs, for instance, have a strong belief in the Guru Grant Sahib, but very few make it the basis of their day-to-day life (for all of the reasons that readers have provided, and more).

11: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), December 03, 2011, 11:57 AM.

No doubt, in worldliness and in spiritual life, self realization is the way to liberation.However, in spiritual life, the mind is turned more inwards and negligibly outwards to realize the self within. The mind of a person concentrates on the spirit within to realize the divinity of his/her own soul. He/she looks for union of the soul with God. This kind of enlightenment comes by itself when one's self yearns for realization of naam through simran. And not by study or through intellect.

12: Devinder Singh (India), December 03, 2011, 10:29 PM.

Religion is more a habit than a faith and it rarely tells you why you are on earth. One lives from day to day the events of each day. When one is very young, one thinks of playing, eating, and a little later of learning, and after that one thinks of all the circumstances of life. But to put this problem to oneself, to confront this problem and ask oneself: "But after all, why am I here?" How many do that? There are people to whom this idea comes only when they are facing a catastrophe. When they see someone whom they love, die or when they find themselves in particularly painful and difficult circumstances, they turn back upon themselves, if they are sufficiently intelligent, and ask themselves: "But really, what is this tragedy we are living, and what's the use of it and what is its purpose?" And only at that moment does one begin the search to know. There is still not the faith, much less confidence in the Divine.

13: Devinder Singh (India), December 03, 2011, 10:38 PM.

What is the difference between faith, belief, conviction? Faith is a dynamic entire belief and acceptance. Belief is intellectual acceptance only. Conviction is intellectual belief held on what seem to be good reasons. Faith is a feeling in the whole being, belief is mental. Confidence means trust in a person or in the Divine or a feeling of surety about the result of one's seeking or endeavour. Reliance comes much later. It is dependence on another for something, based on trust. And Trust is the feeling of sure expectation of another's help and reliance on his word, character, etc. Confidence is the sense of security that goes with trust.

14: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:26 AM.

I feel obligated to respond because I do not like my name taken in vain! The 'difficult' question above has no short answers because it deals with the heart of Sikh philosophy. Here is a short version of some philosophical answers to the questions raised, as I understand them so far.

15: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:28 AM.

Having spent some time with a sant, I have seen the fruits of actual practice in several Sikhs. As we know, the real walk is inner. It requires a shift, as noted above. But most of us will do anything (even teach others) to avoid spending time in our own company, being mentally quiet for some time everyday, do self-examination and take those inner steps. Following the outer dogma unburdens us from this nagging guilt. It frees us to continue living as we are. This is why dogma and rituals are so popular.

16: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:30 AM.

On the other hand, walking off the beaten path is also as old as humanity. It is not new. Postmodern Sikhi requires that we implement the new knowledge to hone our understanding of the age-old truths. New discoveries should not make us start anew and reject the ancient truths. But regardless of the direction we take, it would be unwise to walk on an unbeaten path without a map and a compass (or a GPS). We could say that as Sikhs, bhagti is our map and the Guru is our GPS.

17: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:32 AM.

All learning, all worldly success, spiritual disciplines, or spiritual powers have no value on this path. We read this in Japji: "One could live millions of years, even ten times longer, be known in the entire universe and be followed by everyone, be called noble and be praised by everyone; but without receiving His favor, one is worthless." [GGS:2.13-15]

18: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:34 AM.

For starters, we should not expect to develop a meaningful relationship with God (or Waheguru) any time soon, as long as we think that He/or She enjoys seeing us praise him and obey him. God has no such need. We have the needs, God has none. Gurbani says so. As we have discussed earlier, our relationship with God is compared to a marriage. A marriage should start in the kitchen ... sharing the chores, honest interaction, and honest communication before bed time. A marriage based only on pleasing your partner by acceding to the partner's desires is bound to fail. This is why Guru Nanak has asked, how can we be sacchiyaar or sincere with God?

19: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:36 AM.

Another common misunderstanding: In my opinion, living in hukam is indeed the crux of acceptance. Doing God's will is living in tune with what God does (which, is everything) but, it does not mean accepting the status quo. Gurbani says, "One sees Lord's hukam by accepting whatever has happened and is happening." [GGS:286.7]. But this does not mean that we wait for his hukam to unfold and not take any action. The difference lies in acceptance of whatever occurs, not inaction or being resigned towards the events. This inner state is different than just surrendering to God the outcome of our own acts. It is seeing God as the doer (karta) of everything we all do.

20: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:39 AM.

Truth is available to everyone but it is also true that some are predestined to fail due to lack of proper effort. The notion of predestination arises from the fact that some rare individuals can see the past and future (I do not mean the psychics). Such people see that success and failure due to proper effort or a lack thereof, and whatever else (karma, genetics, nature, nurture, and a myriad other factors), were already established. We are not free. Some are predestined to make the effort to succeed. Some will succeed but we do not know who. Some others are predestined to ask, and to receive the vision of truth.

21: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:41 AM.

We are judged, not by our success or our failure but whether we were sincere (sacchiyaar). Sant Naranjan Singh ji used to explain that there are two paths. One is the path of karam or the action and reaction. The entire world is revolving in this circle of karam. There is no escape. The other is the path of God's mercy, of grace, or kirpa. When we step inside the circle of God's mercy then: "My papers were torn in that court and my account is now settled." [GGS:698.1]. God's mercy (gurparsad) allows us to jump off the merry-go-round of karam. His mercy soaks us with his love. It opens our inner vision so that we are not deceived.

22: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:43 AM.

The difference between reality and deception is like an optical illusion. Once recognized, there is no way back. Bhagat Kabir ji says, "When my heart agreed with the wizard, the trick disappeared and the trickster was recognized" [GGS:331.3]. We are, then, in a sincere relationship with the magician. But the sweet poison of sleeping in the state of deception has immediate (though evanescent) reward of pleasure (and subsequent pain). This prevents us from seeking the reality and making an effort to see behind the appearances, except whenever we are, on purpose, jolted with some serious misfortune or sorrow. Often, the effect of such a jolt is short lived and misdirected. This is why we need to scrub our heart and soul with gurbani, kirtan, seva, simran, and sangat. We need to ask for release from the deception (maya).

23: Yuktanand Singh (Mi, U.S.A.), December 04, 2011, 5:46 AM.

Thus our long and arduous journey has very simple solution, a solution that was always here, right under our very noses. Before we saw it, our journey was uphill. Once we recognize it, it is downhill, but it is still a long journey. Here is another way of looking at it: we are like bubbles in a sea of love. The purpose of our life on this earth is to dissolve our bubbles and to merge with the sea. This is our dharam, our duty. Everything else is secondary. Sikhi accepts diversity. Guru Nanak prayed, "Save us by whichever means we can be saved" [GGS:853.11]. While the world is satisfied only with dogma and external acts, when we sincerely seek truth we are always walking alone, off the beaten path. "The journey of the bhagats is always different and arduous" [GGS:918.18].

24: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), December 05, 2011, 10:28 AM.

By focusing the consciousness on the divine teachings in gurbani, we can awaken the Guru's grace within; then the intuitive peace will come to abide in our minds. Hence, the shabad-gyaan is the divine door (gurdwara) leading to the infinite consciousness. When the light of the Akaal Purakh flows into the seeker through the shabad-gyaan, it becomes the cause of his liberation from worldliness (maya or false ego). It's not that the light of the Akaal Purakh isn't flowing in us at the present moment. In truth, it is; but due to the covering of our false ego, we are unaware of it.

25: Devinder Singh (India), December 06, 2011, 12:07 AM.

Once we begin to recognize that there is this inherent contradiction involved in positing on the one side an all-knowing, all-pervading, sole and absolute existence; and on the other an unreal, illusory consciousness imposed by the action of maya, we recognize that our framing of the issue, and our understanding of the issue must be the cause of the contradiction. It becomes clear that what we have called 'maya' and considered to be an imposition, is actually a power and action of the One.

26: Devinder Singh (India), December 06, 2011, 12:11 AM.

We begin to envisage reality as an eternal oneness, status, immutable essence of pure existence supporting an eternal dynamis, motion, infinite multiplicity and diversity of itself. The immutable status of oneness brings out of itself the dynamis, motion and multiplicity, the dynamis, motion and multiplicity not abrogating but bringing into relief the eternal and infinite oneness. If the consciousness of the absolute can be dual in status or action or even manifold, there seems to be no reason why it should be incapable of a dual status or a manifold real self-experience of its being. The cosmic consciousness would then be, not a creative Illusion, but an experience of some truth of the Absolute.

27: Devinder Singh (India), December 06, 2011, 12:14 AM.

Whereas the concept of an imposed illusion leaves us with a lot of contradictions, the concept of the One being able to manifest itself and sustain multiple standpoints and statuses of consciousness, preserves the essence of the Absolute, All-Knowing, All-Powerful Timeless One.

28: Devinder Singh (India), December 06, 2011, 12:21 AM.

The explanation of the different states of consciousness from waking, to deep sleep with the dream-state joining the two is described as an experiential analysis of the transition from the human to the superconscient realms which is possible not only in dream, but also in trance, or through conscious action to link the awareness and thus experience the omnipresent reality in all its phases. If we make the transition, not through dream-trance or sleep-trance, but through a spiritual awakening into these higher states, we become aware in all of them of the one omnipresent reality; there need be no perception of an illusory maya, there is only an experience of the passage of the mind to what is beyond it so that our mental structure of the universe ceases to be valid and another reality of it is substituted for the ignorant mental knowledge. In this transition it is possible to be awake to all the states of being together in a harmonized and unified experience and to see the reality everywhere.

29: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), December 07, 2011, 1:21 AM.

"Maa-i-aa ta mohnee tinai keetee jin thag-ulee paa-ee-aa" [GGS:918] - 'Maya, the tempter is the creation of Him who has caused every illusion.' All that appears to a person as good or bad has origin in Him because He is the only permanent reality. It is further said in gurbani: "Burraa bhalla kichh tay jaani-aa aapas ay-ee sagal vicaaraa/ih furmaa-i-aa khasam kaa ho-aa vartai ih sansaaraa" [GGS:993] - 'To believe that good or evil comes from any person is the root of all evil. All that happens in this world is His will'. No doubt this divine maya operated by Him is hard to overcome. But those few who seek refuge in Him by practicing self realization, cross over the illusion. The belief is that all events that happen in this world are pre-ordained. Now, the ego to which we do not look favorably is also His creation. But the ego provides to a person a choice to determine right from wrong. If we attune our ego to His will, the ego too will become divine. Naam simran is indeed crucial to self realization.

30: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada.), December 07, 2011, 11:46 AM.

Guru Ramdas: "Praise of the Lord does not come to dwell in the minds of the mortal beings. Day and night, they remain engrossed in maya. Tell me, how can they sing God's glory? In this way, they bind themselves to children, friends, maya and possessions. Like the deer's delusion, this world is false; and yet, beholding it, they chase after it. Our Lord is the source of pleasures and liberation; and yet, the fool forgets Him. O servant Nanak, among millions, there is scarcely anyone who attains the Lord's meditation." [GGS:219]

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 68"

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