Kids Corner


The Pedagogue:
Letter & Spirit # 50





Guru Granth Sahib says, “Har jan bolat siri raam naama” [GGS:1265.14], meaning: God’s servant speaks sacred naam.

A God’s servant’s words are not tainted with haumai. A gurmukh sees reality as it is, and speaks directly without needing to research or consult any scriptures.

Often, a gurmukh is rather speechless.

Over the last two years we have posted Bhai Vir Singh’s talks from the published collection book titled ‘Gurmukh Sikhia’. But various readers at other sites on the Internet continue to be entrenched in their doubts and questions, disregarding everything Bhai Sahib has said.

We will examine some items in detail. We will start with the role of gurbani, and the care and feeding of those who question the gurbani contained in Guru Granth Sahib.

We have a penchant for declaring our kathakaars (pedagogues) as ‘brahmgyani’ or God-conscious, particularly after their earthly departure. We have failed to understand the meaning of the words ‘gurmukh’, ‘brahmgyani’, even the meaning of ‘sikh’, and we use these words lightly.

A good lecturer can be proficient in explaining gurmat, but a true brahmgyani’s rather simple, sometimes incoherent words, are uttered without haumai. This makes the brahmgyani’s message entirely different from that of a lecturer or a scholar of gurmat.

We need to be able to discern this profound difference. Otherwise, the spirit of gurmat escapes us. This ability is acquired from an entirely different frame of reference than mere academic study of gurbani.

This may appear regressive. But the spirit of gurbani does not lie in attempts to decode gurbani with the help of psychology, science, logic, or the study of its grammar, etc. We find it within our own heart during an emotionally charged state, when our tears simply keep flowing without any logical reason or meaning. This occurs when we are in the presence of the holy.

*   *   *   *   *

Words spoken from haumai are mere talk; words spoken sans haumai can be fragrant with naam. Gurbani further explains that each organism suffers from some unique illness. Only the humans suffer from the illness of haumai.

Most people think of ‘haumai’ as pride, but in gurbani, haumai means seeing oneself as the doer, along with having a sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.

Animals have little or no haumai. They live by instinct. All creatures thus utter naam in their own way. Gurbani says that even the clouds, stones, air, water, fire, all are uttering naam. In fact, to someone who is drenched with naam, everything spoken or heard is only naam.

At birth a baby cries due to separation from naam. The haumai is absent during deep sleep also and thus we often wake up sad but without knowing why.

A baby does not know the value of naam and thus loses it soon after birth. Similarly, the animals and birds cannot grasp their innate proximity to naam simran. They evolve until, as humans, they have acquired the haumai.

In the realm of haumai, the intellect reigns. It provides us with the ability of imagination and abstract thinking. This same haumai senses an inner void, but it cannot comprehend it.

Gurbani says that reality (or God) is unseen and out of our reach. The intellect does not have the eyes or the ears that are necessary to recognize it. So our ego looks for fulfilment in the visible world.

Wise individuals realize the need of the Guru as a lifeline towards true and lasting fulfilment. We Sikhs accomplish this through connecting with the shabad: gurbani in Guru Granth Sahib. Gurbani coaxes us to look deeper than the visible world, to look inside our own self.

The essence of the shabad is hidden in the verses. Our ears cannot hear it and our intellect cannot grasp it. Guru Nanak has said, “My Lord, I have been lost in my own ignorance; I sing only the written words, not knowing the other bani (that was hidden in there)” [GGS:1171.7].

We need to connect with that hidden essence and not just sing the words of gurbani. Tasting this essence is called ‘meeting with the Guru’, ‘hearing the shabad’ or, having ‘darshan’ of the Guru.

This relationship, unlike any other, requires a spiritually mediated bond between our heart and our Guru. This bond is a marriage between the Guru and Sikh where the Sikh enshrines unquestioning deep devotion towards all gurbani.

If this spiritual bond is weakened or missing, then the essence of gurbani is lost to the Sikh. Deep, unshaken reverence must be maintained towards Guru Granth Sahib at all times.

The scholars will succumb to academia. I noticed a Sikh scholar discussing “Sikhism” in his talk titled “From Punjab to California” in a recent video. He referred to our Gurus only as ‘Nanak’ or ‘Arjan’! These scholars must know our Guru Sahiban on a first name basis!

When talking about the Tenth Master during his youth, some people refer to him as ‘Gobind Rai’. To me he was always Guru Gobind Singh. He had become inseparably one with God before he took birth in Patna.

In the Bachittar Natak, Guru Sahib has said, “My light emanated in the city of Patna” [BN:7.2 ].

The Amrit that we get from the Guru changes the Sikh, but the Guru is eternal and immutable.

*   *   *   *   *

Just as one can be a great surgeon except when the patient is one’s own mother, similarly a Sikh can be a great scholar of gurbani, but questioning the contents of Guru Granth Sahib is off limits in this marriage.

When we second-guess devoted gurmukhs like, say, Bhai Gurdas, then blinkers of pride cover our spiritual vision. Our doubts then have no limit. In their zeal, people now question every text found outside of Guru Granth Sahib, saying that Dasam Granth contains accounts of, “Hindu” avatars, of the Guru practicing penance in his past life … or … ”if this was gurbani it would have been included in Guru Granth Sahib” … and so on.

The list of doubts is long and growing by the day. It is true that our granths have been tampered with. Still, we need some wisdom. We must not introduce baseless doubts into the sangat when we sit in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib.

Take penance, for example. Bhagat Sadhna was a butcher in this life. If that was okay, then why practice of penance in a past life was not okay?

Some people bow to Guru Granth Sahib but they avoid some parts of gurbani. Some avoid only the raagmala; others claim that the bhagats were Hindu and thus their bani is not gurbani while some others feel that only Guru Nanak’s bani is gurbani, not the other Gurus’.

Some say that the bards (‘bhatts’) were not Sikh because they compared the Gurus with various avatars and other deities.

Well, Guru Nanak also has said in Japji: “Guru is Ishvar, Guru is Gorakh, Brahma, and the goddess Parvati” or that “Shiva, Brahma and the goddess of beauty, always adorned by you, sing your praises along with Indra sitting on his throne with various other deities”.

Baba Farid has declared that someone who does not visit the mosque for the five prayers or who misses the daily namaaz, is a dog. So, by these zealots’ yardstick, Baba Farid was not a Sikh either and we should stop reading his bani, or we are all dogs!

Such doubts and arguments arise from deep ignorance. We reject our own scriptures in desperation to counter the claims from our adversaries who spread misinformation that the Sikh “religion” (“Sikhism”) was a syncretistic religion or that it was a branch of another religion.

The fact is that truth is never syncretistic. But truth is also never exclusive. A true path will always include anyone who spoke the direct perception of reality, disregarding race, religion, language, etc. It has no need to consult with or adopt ways of any other paths.

The Gurus thus honored all gurbani, regardless of its origin. Some items appear contradictory when we forget that each shabad needs to be understood within its own context, within the framework of the religion of its composer, and it needs to be interpreted in view of its own era.

These debates are no different than arguing if a glass is half full or half empty. Individuals with some agenda or with a constricted view can successfully show “Hindu” or “Muslim” elements present in gurbani. The Sikhs need to politely explain that truth has been spoken by people from diverse religions. This gurbani from diverse sources shares the common goal: reconnecting with our source. Promoting these religions is not the goal of gurbani.

We worship the source, the state gurbani was uttered from. And we celebrate the variety in gurbani.

*   *   *   *   *

Bani in Guru Granth Sahib is ‘Dhur ki Bani’, meaning that its message came direct from its source. But the term ‘Dhur ki Bani’ must not eclipse the fact that its verbal expression, the shabads, were composed by the Guru Sahiban, the bhagats, and the bards.

The bard bani in Guru Granth Sahib is a testament of the tale that cannot be told, the tale of Guru’s mercy erasing all faults, granting the vision of truth and an exalted state to the bards, enabling them to utter gurbani, and enabling them to praise the Guru in spirit.

Several years ago some people were upset that Dr. Pashaura Singh, in his thesis, after researching the earliest recensions of the Adi Granth, suggested that Guru Arjan had edited some shabads.

Some Sikhs believe that each word in Guru Granth Sahib was uttered directly by God himself and thus no Guru would ever edit it or modify it. So, instead of appreciating the effort of such a monumental task required when no word-processors were available, they were upset.

We claim to have complete faith in gurbani. But we quickly forget that Guru Arjan was no different than God himself. If I edit and rearrange my article, it would still be my own writing! We find two versions of some shabads in Guru Granth Sahib today. ‘Sodar’ is a good example. Which version was uttered by God himself, then?

The spiritual message is non-verbal. Gurbani is its verbal expression. The same expression can vary in words.

Guru Arjan himself collated all these compositions, had them recorded in the Adi Granth and sealed it. Each word in this volume is infused with the Guru’s own spirit. Only when we have this faith that we can see its spirit.

As we know, Guru Gobind Singh changed some more words in the Adi Granth, added some more gurbani, and gave the final form to Guru Granth Sahib that we have today.

When we nitpick its contents, then we are left with dry intellectual knowledge only. Cleverness works in all other places except in the Guru’s presence. Gurbani says that either you submit to the Guru or you can keep questioning the Guru’s words. But you must not do both.

A scientist dissects a seed to study germination. But a dissected seed cannot be expected to germinate.

Gurbani is like a seed. We can be critical of gurbani or we can enshrine it in our heart and allow it to sprout and bear its fruit.

We read everyday in Anand Sahib, “kurbaan keeta guru vit-toh”, meaning that a Sikh remains sacrificed to the Guru.

Please also read in Anand Sahib that we get the Amrit from the Guru when we accept the Guru entirely, when everything about the Guru pleases us.

Gurbani calls the Sikh a ‘bai-khareed’ or a purchased slave. Bhai Gurdas explains further that a Sikh must die, only then he or she can merge into the Guru-grave.

This does not mean that we avoid examining and understanding gurbani. We need wisdom to know the difference between the study of gurbani, and skepticism that can block our spiritual connection with gurbani, or the difference between churning milk and churning water.

A Sikh avoids the company of those who question validity of any portion of Guru Granth Sahib. Wisdom sprouts when we sustain deep reverence, awe, and modesty in the Guru’s presence. We need to recognize our sheer inadequacy.

The Guru’s mercy then rains on us with thunder, soaking our heart with the love pouring out of the Guru’s own heart, day and night. The purpose of the bond between the Guru and Sikh is to enable the Sikh to receive and enshrine this rainwater. Everything else follows it.

*   *   *   *   *

Someone once remarked to Sant Naranjan Singh ji that ‘Benti Chaupai’ started with “hamri karo” and ended with only “leho bachaaee”. Sant ji agreed. After he left, I asked why then sant ji recited the “long” form of chaupai, with other verses added at the beginning and the end.

Sant ji’s response was that he followed the routine of his teachers from the gurbani school, the Damdami Taksaal. This showed to me that he had no haumai or personal desire to override it.

I too recite the long form of Benti Chaupai, just as I recite the entire 40 stanzas of Anand Sahib in the morning even though the Rehat Maryada recommends only six.

Do I lose anything by doing this? No.

Similarly, do we lose anything by reading the Raagmala? Or conversely, do we not lose something when we harbor an intent to avoid reading any part of Guru Granth Sahib?

The answer should be obvious.

*   *   *   *   *

Finally, someone may ask how “blind” devotion to Guru Granth Sahib can be different from a cult. The cults also require their followers to have blind faith in their leader.

It is true. The cults exploit our innate need and a spiritual requirement that is as old as mankind: A Sikh must have firm unquestioning faith in the Guru.

Exploitation of this rule is no different than exploitation of love and trust. Exploitation must not diminish the value of love and trust. They are essential ingredients of any true relationship.

Sant Naranjan Singh Ji used to say that love plus faith equals God.

The cults also employ brainwashing. They require blind faith in a person. Following a human could lead to deception and various other faults. The Sikhs on the other hand are free and they follow only gurbani, not a person.

A Sikh is not isolated from the world, family or friends. The cults insist on isolation from everyone who was outside the cult.

Cults are exclusive. Gurbani is all inclusive. There can be absolutely no comparison between the cult-mentality and having unquestioning faith in Guru Granth Sahib.

Here is the shabad that we have discussed above:

Raag Malhar, Mehla IV
Lord’s humble servant speaks the sacred naam; he joins your saadh Sangat, the company of the holy, O Lord.
Deal only in the wealth of the Lord, and gather only the wealth of the Lord. No thief can ever steal it.
Hearing the thunder from the clouds the rain-birds and the peacocks sing day and night.
Whatever the deer, the fish and the birds sing, they speak to the Lord, and no other.
Servant Nanak sings the kirtan of the Lord's praises; the sound and fury of death has totally gone away.

Please CLICK here to hear a musical rendition of this shabad, sung in Raag Malhar.

April 10, 2015


Conversation about this article

1: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), April 10, 2015, 11:57 AM.

We should never lose sight of Sikhi if an adequate approach to spirituality is desired. The Truth revealed in the Guru Granth Sahib is not the result of logical reasoning but a spiritual vision which illumined the interpreters (Gurus and Bhagats) through personal experience. To express that Truth our Gurus used their vision employing metaphors and symbols to communicate with the mankind and promote the Sikh way of life.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), April 12, 2015, 2:58 PM.

Yuktanand Singh ji: an excellent, loving thesis soaked in love but for the title, "The Pedagogue" that somewhat jars and has a literary consonance and out of sync with Bhai Vir Singh Ji's gentle style of writing. I would have preferred something along the linex of: "Ha-o maanga-o saran har naam kee har harmukh paa-i-aa" [GGS:449.6] - "I beg for the sanctuary of Waheguru's Name, please place it in my mouth." [EDITOR: The title is chosen, for better or worse, by, not the author. The latter should be accorded no blame]

3: Aryeh Leib Lerner (Israel), April 13, 2015, 2:41 AM.

It strikes me that the term "Sikh" signifies, first and foremost, that my status as "student" demands the uncovering of the mental obstacles my own self-constructed haumai places in my way; the objective being to expose (to myself) the truth that has been there all along. Only then will the academic and intellectual meaning of the term, "Sikh-student" be applied in its proper perspective. Many thanks, Yuktanand ji, for once again taking up the pen (keyboard!) and allowing us to derive inspiration from your own musings along the Path. They fill a genuine need, and have been sorely missed.

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Letter & Spirit # 50"

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