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Metaphor and Reality:
Letter & Spirit #55





Bhagat Ravidas sang, “If you are the mountain, I am a peacock (dancing on the mountain top); with you as the moon, I am a partridge in love with Thee, the moon.” [GGS:658.17]

Why did Bhagat Ravidas say this? Was it logically sound? Absolute reality must not be illogical. Wouldn’t then singing rather philosophically sound statements help us get closer to reality?

Gurbani says that the Guru sees reality directly, without needing any tools or physical senses. The Guru thus talks about reality in axiomatic terms without need of support from philosophy or from scientific analysis. Guru Nanak had no need to hypothesize, conduct experiments to prove what he saw, nor did he need to collect data and do any statistical analyses, etc.

Knowledge, in fact, is incomplete without knowing the knower. Science can study only the empirical phenomena. Education and philosophy sharpen our mind. But reasoning and logic stand helpless in understanding the observer, or the awareness that hides behind the mind and the ego. Guru Sahib is free from these limitations.

Gurbani says that the ‘self’ cannot be seen by the physical eyes, nor heard by these ears nor understood by the intellect. Some people, anxious to put their finger on it, say that the self is some form of energy. But gurbani says that this ‘knower’ is alive, aware, loving, and more intelligent than any other being.

Additionally, a thorough discussion of absolute reality, if at all possible, would have to include and accept contradicting statements as true, and as such it would be logically untenable.

Absolute reality, thus, lies beyond the boundaries of science logic and reasoning.

*   *   *   *   *

Guru Nanak declared in Japji that there were countless skies, realms and inhabited worlds. A holy man named ‘Dastgeer’ questioned this statement. Even today, science is still in infancy and people may ask, “Guru Nanak had no Hubble telescope. Did he just make a lucky guess?”

Guru Nanak took Dastgeer’s son and showed him all these realms within a few minutes. We tend to dismiss such tales as myth because we do not understand how this could occur.

“What force or power holds these worlds in place?”

Guru Nanak stated with authority that it is the same one whose pen has effortlessly pre-written all beings, their traits including their colors and names (as well as their evolution and extinction). Furthermore, everything commenced from just one command.

Guru Nanak had direct perception of reality. All reality was self-evident to him. But we often attempt to see God’s acts with human eyes, wondering how God must physically write with a pen everything down for each being.

Someone visiting America from India during the Seventies was fascinated that a machine could copy a Hindi text. “Wow! So smart! … even in Punjabi?” He exclaimed. An astronomer’s dog may wonder why his master spent long hours looking in a brass tube searching for bones.

We recite at bedtime that in the Guru’s presence we are just like worms and insects. Can we then, expect to rationalize God’s (or Guru’s) methods?

Gurbani describes the unseen reality as well as its paradoxes, ‘sargun and nirgun’ … ‘permeating everything yet being separate’ … ‘being close and yet far away’, etc., in simple statements without attempting to explain them.

Explaining them is not the purpose of gurbani. There are many books that can do this well. Some incidental statements in gurbani support science, theology, ethics and philosophy like few others have done historically, but regarding these as the aim of gurbani is just like someone using a fruit tree for firewood.

*   *   *   *   *

All of us suffer from this limitation: something could be lying right under our nose but we will discover it only when we are emotionally inclined towards it. When we are anxious to purchase tires, for example, among all other advertisements that flood our universe, the tire ads will jump out at us.

Similarly, we spend a lifetime reading articles books and gurbani and we are often satisfied with our comprehension of gurbani. But only a miniscule portion of its import sinks in, if at all. Mere understanding is not enough. Gurbani is not truly fruitful until it sinks into our heart.

It is much easier to teach others instead, than to absorb it and to live by it. Heck, we can’t even resist telling others which road to take when they are going somewhere.

Teaching often helps learning, no doubt. Translation also helps learning. It forces us to ponder upon the writer’s intent. But in this subject, in most cases, it is mere therapy. Mostly we are assuring ourselves that we know.

Gurbani has compared such individuals with ladles (karchhis). A ladle itself does not taste what it serves. It can, however, serve and distribute plenty. Similarly, impressed by whatever they offer to the world - attire and appearance, knowledge, their kirtan or their large following - we honor those individuals with titles of ‘sant’, ‘brahmgyani’, etc.

Does gurbani tell us to do so?

*   *   *   *   *

Gurbani, as we know, has named God’s will, His intent, His love and His methods as the ‘hukam’. Gurbani says that no word or words can sufficiently describe it. We read in Japji that we can cogitate countless times but we are still unable to grasp it.

Is it possible for a drop of water to understand the ocean?

Yes, when the ocean lets the drop merge with it.

We need thus to cultivate a deep, gnawing hunger to taste gurbani. This desire is an essential prerequisite. Sangat (associating with other seekers) and Sat Sangat (holy congregation) kindle it in us. Gurbani teaches us to learn from other gursikhs.

Gurbani is very specific regarding what kind of individuals we must seek, honor and adore. We have discussed their characteristics earlier right here on in the ‘Talking Stick’ section.

My friends are those whose mere sight banishes my evil thoughts.” [GGS:520.8]

Meeting such people awakens in our heart the hunger to remain colored with naam. Even though our intellect cannot fathom the hukam, our heart can. Gurbani emphasizes that the proper and accepted way is to remain mentally and emotionally aligned with this hidden reality.

Those who never stop savoring naam, what are they like?

There is absolutely no difference, they are just like the Lord Master Himself.” [GGS:397.17]

For this reason, instead of dwelling on theology, intricate reasoning, or prescribing various rules and rituals, gurbani dwells upon maintaining a certain inner emotional state and upon staying colored with the taste of this state. Each shabad nurtures us with this food on our journey, just as a mother feeds her baby.

To be continued …

April 22, 2018


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Letter & Spirit #55"

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