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In The Present:
Letter & Spirit # 51








Guru Nanak says: “Bless me with the insight that I may sing your glorious praises, that I may dwell in reality, accepting your will” [GGS:795.5].

What is reality? How do we experience it?

Everyone’s reality is not the same. How can we know that our reality is true?

We will realize that there are layers of reality, of consciousness, of experiences, layers of knowledge, and layers of ignorance. There are also layers of spiritual awareness, including levels of comprehension and its interpretation.

The more we discover, the more there is to discover. What appears wise to us today may appear foolish tomorrow.

Most individuals spend their entire lives at the same level. Many spiritual teachers have promoted their teaching as if it was the entire truth. This has generated plenty of confusion and conflict.

But Guru Nanak declared right in the beginning, in Japji, that there is no end to our learning, that someone who truly knows would be struck speechless because reality can not be explained. He did not say this to discourage learning, but so that we stay intellectually humble. Even as scientists, we need to continue to explore new tools and be open to new learning.

A most articulate discussion of reality is only a partial truth at best. Discussion of gurbani is also similarly deficient. There are many layers to the meaning of gurbani. A brahmgyani can share its real meaning but we need to possess the ears to hear that meaning.

Living with the notion that we now know enough, is in fact the most profound state of ignorance. It seals our spiritual ears shut. And the physical eyes and ears are imperfect tools of learning.

Guru Nanak called himself blind. We know that he was not physically blind, nor was he ignorant or a cretin. What form of blindness did he mean?

Do we have that kind of blindness today?

*    *    *    *    *

Guru Nanak says that the one Truth is more important than all other learning. Our upbringing and our education stress objective knowledge. We gradually lose the natural state of an inner awareness that we had at birth as a baby. Being separated from our own reality, we are miserable “just like a king who dreamt that he was a beggar”, in the words gurbani.

Simran makes us aware of our deficiencies. Among other things, gurbani praises the state of innocence of a child when we used to live in the moment. A child does not carry any baggage of past experiences, has no story attached to the present experience and thus a child sees reality as it is. [GGS:214.13]

This childlike innocence does not come easily to grownups, particularly to those among us who are ‘well-educated’. Gurbani says that ‘education’ can thus become a roadblock.

Similarly, wealth and worldly success can also stand in our way. A poor and illiterate farmer is closer to truth because he needs to silently follow the course of nature. The more we know and the more we possess, the greater is our haumai. In matters spiritual, feeling inadequate and totally ignorant, particularly in the Guru’s presence, is the highest state of wisdom, but its practice is difficult.

Gurbani teaches us to reclaim our childlike state of inner awareness. A Sikh, in his heart, is supposed to feel destitute (“deen” in gurbani) in Waheguru’s presence. This opens our heart, enabling us to receive and absorb the lessons from all around us, and from gurbani.

The last time we examined why, upon hearing the roar of thunder, the rainbird and the peacock sing day and night, and why the animals and the birds were closer to naam simran. We live as if we know, and as if we do everything, when in fact 99% of our mental activity is simply ‘spinning our wheels’ that has little to do with the real state of affairs, and it is without any purpose. Our mental noise blocks the silent wisdom that is constantly springing from our soul.

Gurbani calls our mind ignorant because the mind can guide us only according to what it knows, by inferring from its earlier experiences through the physical body, not from the direct perception of reality. We need to reduce our mind’s noise so that we can hear our soul.

*     *    *    *    *

As humans we have mutated into a deranged mental state, a state of urgency to keep thinking, just as a bow that is always drawn taut even when there is no need to shoot the arrow. As a result, we live as if the next moment was always more desirable than the present moment.

Awareness of this error has now resurfaced in various tomes. We notice a growing interest in the practice of ‘mindfulness’ and being ‘aware of the present moment’. Modern education has now enabled us to better define these age-old teachings.

A Zen monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh, says that it takes over an hour to mindfully drink a single cup of tea. There is wisdom here, and as Sikhs we are supposed to absorb wisdom wherever it is found.

Eckhart Tolle explains it differently and describes it as ‘being in the present moment’ because the present moment is all we really have.

Being ‘mindful’ is not a mental activity. Rather, it is a state of awareness that is uncluttered by unnecessary mental interference. Preoccupied by our thoughts, we miss out on the ‘now‘. Various misconceptions, holding on to the past, etc., keep us from living in the ‘now‘. Eckhart Tolle has described various hurdles, and various exercises to break free from a lifetime of faulty thinking.

This requires regular practice. We cannot be mindful without being present. Simran and kirtan of gurbani, particularly in the blessed company or sadh sangat, transport us directly into the present moment awareness. Bhagat Kabir has said, “O Kabir, pray, to whom should I announce this: being in sadh sangat is heaven itself” [GGS:325.11].

But most of us lose this state easily, soon thereafter.

Gurbani says that the real battleground is in our own mind, and it teaches us various methods to retain the state that we attain from sadh sangat. For example, it says that we should live as if this breath was the only breath we had.

How do we practice it?

Being mindfully present in the moment is neither an exercise nor is it an activity, but something that can be compared to regaining a muscle that had atrophied due to neglect. The exercises help strengthen it. So, let us examine some of these exercises.

Starting with the body, learn to let go. Let the bed bear your weight when you lie down. Make sure that each part of your body has completely fallen on the bed. We all know what this means, but we need to consciously practice it. Often you will fall asleep during this practice, and that is okay.

Gurbani teaches us to separate the ‘self’’ from our body and our mind. Gurbani addresses the body and mind as other than the self. So, at odd moments, before meditation, or before the daily gurbani, remind yourself that the body is not you. Observe your mind and see that it is not you, actually visualize yourself as an observer of your thoughts for a few minutes everyday.

Learn being physically aware of the surroundings, the keyboard, the chair, and the activity at hand. We do not need to spend an hour to finish a cup of tea, but practice being present in tasting the tea, coffee, or milk. Be present in your hands holding the cup. Feel the cup.

Consciously stop thinking and feel the water  when you wash your hands and when you take your shower. This exercise of being present in the body, particularly during contact with water brings us back to our inner center and it helps us conquer the tyranny of the mind.

We could take this further, being present to others … but that is a separate topic.

*     *    *    *    *

We will notice that mindfulness is more enjoyable when we are in nature. But avoid these mental exercises while operating heavy machinery, when driving, or flying a plane, because they can cause some absentmindedness. Simple simran is safer during such activities.

Some day simran will take precedence over our surroundings and personal safety, and in that advanced state, being absentminded is also okay. Sant Naranjan Singh ji once fell into a manhole while walking, absorbed in simran. This resulted in a head injury.

Strangers pulled him out, unconscious, and took him to the hospital. The doctor who listened to his chest realized immediately that this was a holy man! Even when he was unconscious the simran was continuing in his breath!

Just as we let the bed support our entire weight, we will learn to deliberately accept the present moment, the now, as it is, without analyzing it and also without anticipating the next moment.

Baba Farid compares this state of acceptance to a flowing stream; it must flow in the channel without fighting with its edges.

What will happen when we do this?


Expecting something is also a mental activity. Mental activity blocks inner awareness. The goal is to break away from our reliance on our mind and our body. The results emerge spontaneously or at odd moments, particularly when we least expect them, leading to further insights.

Gurbani teaches us to accept the present (not this life, this day, this hour or this second) with each breath, exactly as it is, without feeling any need to have it any other way.

Instead of our thoughts, the simran then can dominate our attention and our inner awareness. This is also a form of ‘sehaj’.

*    *    *    *    *

Accepting reality as it is means being totally satisfied, having gratitude for what is at hand at this present moment. But this does not mean being resigned towards the circumstances.

Imagine we are driving, and suddenly the low fuel light comes on, and there is no gas station in sight. There are several ways to react to this situation. We need to accept that moment exactly as it is, without resenting it, feeling any need to have avoided it, or to change it.

We will still look for a gas station and still learn from forgetting to get gas in advance, but we will perfectly accept and enjoy the moment, each moment as it is, instead of being absent from it in anticipation of the time when a gas station or a petrol pump will be in sight.

Imagine we are riding a train. If we trust the train, then we will not carry our suitcase while on that train but will put it down on the floor. Similarly, when we trust the hukam or Waheguru’s established will, we put our mental baggage down.

We need to practice this until it becomes our nature. Just as we relied on the bed, we need to consciously rely on God’s will. When we accept each moment exactly the way it is now, not how we want it to be in the future, and when this acceptance is complete, we can then feel it in our muscles, our breathing, our thoughts, feelings, and our emotions.

*     *    *    *    *

Those who have established a bond with the Guru can sense the Guru’s presence during their simran and this state of sehaj. If it pleases the Guru, the Guru then sprinkles our moments with the sweetness of bhakti, a unique ingredient that everyone talks about but only the Guru has.

We then can learn how to rely on naam, just as a blind man depends on his stick. All our affairs are then arranged in perfect order by the power that is immensely greater than us. We are then soaked with gratitude. In awe of the reality unfolding before us we keep saying ‘wow-guru’!

Gratitude and contentment thus go hand in hand with the present moment awareness. It is quite possible that we lost this awareness during our childhood due to the absence of gratitude and contentment.

*    *    *    *    *

A state when all is well and when all our affairs have been arranged in a perfect order, is called, a “kushal” state. There is no appropriate translation of this word.

Here is the shabad that we have discussed above:

How can kushal be attained, my brother?
How can the support of Lord’s naam be found
? [Pause]

Kushal does not reside in owning wealth, in being at home
Or in having lofty mansions that cast beautiful shadows.
False hopes and greed waste this human birth.
One may be happy owning elephants and horses
And an army, servants and soldiers.
But the noose of haumai remains around the neck.
One’s sway may extend everywhere and
One may revel in pleasures, and enjoy many women
But this is just as that king who was a beggar in his dream.
The true Guru has shown me a way to kushal.
Whatever the Lord does, is pleasing to the Lord's bhagat.
Abolishing the haumai, servant Nanak is absorbed in the Lord.

This is the way to kushal, my brother!
This is how the support of Lord’s naam is found
! [Second Pause]

Guru Arjan, Raag Gauri Guareri [GGS:175.18]

May 1, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), May 02, 2015, 12:25 AM.

Yuktanand Singh jio, your labour of love in translating 'Gurmukh Sikhya/Jiwan' is most appreciated. Those of us who have the original copies would most appreciate if you gave the page and title as well to read the original.

2: Yuktanand Singh, MD (Michigan, USA), May 04, 2015, 6:47 PM.

Sangat Singh ji, the translation project was concluded with the 49th installment. As I said in article #50, two years of translation of a brahmgyani's simple and direct words appear to have no influence on certain vociferous Sikh groups. Controversies have kept the confused mainstream Sikhs going in circles for decades. We need to take a modern approach and go deeper in gurmat. The last installment was about faith in the Guru with faith in gurbani at its core. This week was acceptance of the now as it is, at the core of living in hukam or living in God's will. Please feel free to criticize and point out any errors or omissions.

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Letter & Spirit # 51"

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