Kids Corner


The Story of Bhai Joga Singh
Part II





Continued from yesterday …

Joga returned home. In time, the day of his marriage arrived. The story goes that just before the conclusion of the marriage ceremony, an emissary of the Guru’s court interrupted the marriage, shared the Guru’s greeting with Joga Singh and informed him that the Guru needed his services and that Joga should return to Anandpur Sahib immediately.

Joga’s parents and his future in-laws (and very likely the bride, herself) strenuously objected. But the young man, committed to his Guru and to his promise, left his wedding before the ceremony completed and began the journey towards Anandpur Sahib.

Maya is a tricky thing. And spiritual Maya is perhaps the trickiest of all. Whether we like to admit it or not, even the journey towards the Guru involves the creation of a Spiritual Persona. We watch how the Guru and the sangat reflect back our behaviours and words. And we cultivate those traits that earn praise and approval, while suppressing those which do not.

Joga Singh had a reputation for service, devotion and loyalty. And to his mind, obeying his Guru’s command, even when that command interrupted his own wedding, affirmed the spiritual image he had created within himself. He was holy. But perhaps not yet whole.

Eventually, the young man came to the town of Hoshiapur. There, while going through the town’s center, he heard the beautiful voice of a woman singing sweet music. And sexual longing overcame him.

Let’s be human about this for a moment. Joga Singh had grown up in the Guru’s own home, under the Guru’s eye, doing the Guru’s service. He almost certainly lived a celibate life. Whatever else marriage would be, it would include an initiation into sex. And any young man, especially a virgin, would have thoughts about his wedding night - simultaneously excited and apprehensive about his first sexual experience.

It would not be surprising, therefore, if Joga Singh felt some level of disappointment that the Guru had called him away from his wedding, so close to him having the opportunity to experience sex for the first time. He may not have allowed himself to acknowledge his disappointment. But it is realistic to conclude that some disappointment would have existed.

This is how the shadow operates. We suppress aspects of ourselves that do not fit with our Face. Yet the act of suppression does not get rid of these feelings. It only makes us blind to them. And when we are blind to some aspect of ourselves, it empowers that aspect to take over our thinking, and direct our behaviour, without us realizing it.

This is why, in Gurbani, the Guru never talks about getting rid of the Five Thieves of lust, anger, pride, greed and attachment. Rather, the Guru talks about controlling them. By being aware that they exist in us, we can manage those tendencies. The Shabad becomes a tool through which the capacity of awareness and restraint gets cultivated. But by believing we don’t have these tendencies or wanting others to believe we do not have them, we fail to deal with them. And this failure to see actually empowers the ‘thieves’ to overtake us.

Joga Singh was caught by those very desires that contradicted the Spiritual Persona he had conceived for himself, after being the Guru’s own ward for so many years.

And so began Joga’s descent into the VOID. He inquired about the singing lady. Who was she? He discovered she was a courtesan. He longed to sit in her presence, and just listen to her music. He became so lost in his passion, that he abandoned his journey towards Anandpur Sahib and disguised his appearance so no one would recognize him as a Sikh of the Guru. When he approached her apartment, a guard stood sentry there. The guard told him that the lady in question was practicing for the evening, and that he should come back later.

These stories from Sikh history get carried through the centuries, and it is important to understand WHY they get retold again and again.  Oral traditions can vary when it comes to details, but remain consistent with the moral. Whether we can establish their historical accuracy is a different issue. But these stories have power because they illustrate profound truths about the human condition, and the psycho-spiritual journey of the soul. The Guru ultimately is not a teacher in the way we think of a school teacher. The Gurus taught through the Gestalt paradigm - you have to experience what is within you. That is learning.

Whether Joga Singh kept coming back to the lady’s apartment over and over again for one night, or one week, or one month … who can say. The key human dynamic memorialized in the story is that Joga kept seeking entry, and kept being denied.

For the purposes of this essay, let us say that this all happened in one night.

Joga loitered in town, waiting for his chance to engage with the courtesan. When evening came, he returned to her dwelling. The guard denied him entrance, saying she had a guest and could not be disturbed.

But his desire would not abate. He became enslaved by the sexual longing he felt. He kept coming back to her door, over and over again, seeking to gain access to her court. But the guard prevented him from entering.

Finally, as amrit vela dawned, the guard confronted Joga Singh about his true identity. “Aren’t you a Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh? Isn’t this the time of day when you do your spiritual practice? Why are you wasting yourself pursuing this woman?”

On a psycho-spiritual level, the real question that the guard asked was, “WHO ARE YOU?”

It is moments like this when the Hidden Self becomes visible to the Conscious Mind. When the contradiction between the persona and the shadow can no longer be side-stepped, we become AWARE of the shadow-self. This moment of awareness causes the Persona, or Face, to shatter. We realize we are not who we think we are. It is our own darkness that betrays our own light.

And the Guru causes us to realize this.

When we talk about these stories, too often I believe we engage in fantasy. We tell these stories like they are fairy tales. Where something scary happens, but everyone lives happily ever after. And that masks the profound psycho-spiritual crises that these stories portray. Where the shadow becomes visible and the Face gets irrevocably destroyed.

We imagine that the student simply withdraws back into their original persona and everything is right with the world. That the guard who, according to the story, turns out to be Guru Gobind Singh himself - confronted Joga Singh. Joga realized his mistake, corrected himself and continued his journey to Anandpur Sahib. As if all of that cognitive processing can take place in a moment in time.

More likely, from a human perspective, this experience of deep contradiction between the persona and the shadow cast Joga into a crisis. And it took the remainder of his journey to Anandpur Sahib to sort through that crisis. Maybe he fought with himself about presenting himself to the Guru. Maybe he went slowly. Maybe he realized he was in deep spiritual danger and ran as fast as he could to the Guru’s court. The story doesn’t record how this transformation took place. But, what is important for us to see is that it is a story of transformation. It is not a story of “making a mistake.” It is a story that illustrates the genuine journey the Guru has to take us through on the path of spiritual development.

As we examine these stories, from a psycho-spiritual perspective, and see the crisis of self-identity that happens, then the true awesomeness of the Guru’s mystical grace becomes visible.

Bhai Joga Singh, I would offer, had the latent tendency to lose himself in the experience of sensual desire. And the initiation into sex with his wife on his wedding night would have awakened that latent tendency. The Guru, out of love and his commitment to the young man, had an obligation to set his student up to fall. Joga Singh needed to see and experience his own darkness in order to be able to integrate it. Which is what the concept of “controlling” the ‘thieves’ ultimately means. We have to own and integrate the shadow into our psyche, into our awareness, into the daily routines and disciplines of our everyday lives. We can only command the shadow when we stop denying it.

This state of Vairaag, when we go VOID to the taste of Divine Love, drives us either away from the Creator or gives us the paradoxical strength to go deep within ourselves, and do the hard work of wrestling with our demons. The journey through this stage, which can neither be scripted nor predicted, leads to wholeness, self-acceptance and self-trust. It is a process of spiritual maturity. And it requires the Guru’s guidance and the Guru’s grace to navigate. Without the Guru, that VOID will swallow us up.

When I meditate upon this story, I do not believe that Bhai Joga Singh “got it” right away. I believe that he had to go through some serious soul-searching, see and own aspects of himself that he would have preferred to avoid. And when he eventually presented himself at Anandpur Sahib - he did so, not as a guilty child caught in some mischief. But as a more mature spiritual being who could acknowledge his strengths and weaknesses both, and could present himself, with all his flaws and all his devotion, to his Guru.

This to me is what humility means. Total self-acceptance. The good and the ugly. Without needing to dress up our darkness and pretend it doesn’t exist. And without needing to denigrate our gifts and pretend that they are not awesome. To embrace all that it means to be human. To become whole.

This way of interpreting the story has helped me on my own journey through the swamp. However, I am sure there are other interpretations, as well. And I am not seeking to create any final definitive statement on the story of Guru Gobind Singh and Bhai Joga Singh. But to simply offer a perspective.

Bhai Joga Singh eventually returned to Anandpur Sahib. When he walked into the Guru’s court, Guru Gobind Singh just smiled. The Guru had created the set-up. The Guru had played the part of the guard. The Guru had brought him into the VOID and remained in Union with his student, never leaving him for a second, until Joga found his way back to himself.

This, then, is Gurparsad. The gift of the Guru. When the Guru stays with us and helps us in our times of self-blindness. Even when we cannot perceive that Force, the Guru is there, helping us anyway.

And when we finally make it through the swampland, and return a more mature and sober to the Guru’s service, there is no animosity. There is no judgement. There is just the fun of the play, and the joy of FATEH.


June 5, 2018


Conversation about this article

1: Mehar Kaur (Albany, New York, USA), June 05, 2018, 3:57 PM.

A wonderful re-telling of the Bhai Joga Singh story. Particularly loved your interpretation of it.

2: Jagdish Singh (California, USA), June 05, 2018, 5:30 PM.

A brilliant rendition of the saakhi indeed. It makes so much sense, compared to the age-old 'magic' version described by the run-of-the-mill parcharaks. Please do re-visit the other saakhis as well; it is time we had non-Hinduized and corrected versions of the stories. Thank you.

3: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), June 05, 2018, 11:36 PM.

Ek Ong Kaar ji, you exhibit great skill in storytelling. It certainly has an impact on the reader. We look forward to more story-telling from you. Joga Singh’s saakhi tells us about a lesson. Let readers discover those lessons. Looking forward to continuing contributions from you.

4: Tavleen Kaur (Melbourne, Australia), June 06, 2018, 6:56 AM.

An amazing interpretation of vairaag. Loved the article. Please keep sharing your insights.

5: Japa Kaur Khalsa (Espanola, New Mexico, USA), June 06, 2018, 11:01 AM.

Amazing understanding of the Shadow/Void and to understand Vairaag and the depth of this experience for our spiritual maturity. Thank you for your creative storytelling and for what you went through to be able to continue to bring light.

6: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), June 06, 2018, 12:19 PM.

Our Gurus were as impersonal as God Himself, and a personal guidance from a Divine Guru had its own value and merit. But now, it becomes a limitation when a person of the GURU is merged into the Khalsa or the Panth. An individual has to go through the combination of Guru Granth and Guru Panth to draw such a guidance and inspiration to control the 'evils' of lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego.

7: Saibhung Kaur (Peterborough, New Hampshire, USA), June 06, 2018, 5:33 PM.

Too often we approach the stories in fantasy mode, like they are about some other poor fool. From the way you tell the story, I’m inspired to get right within myself and really make it my own. I’ve enjoyed singing gurbani kirtan and experienced myself come to life in this way ... where it’s not just singing that song, but immersion in the mood, images and feel of the Bani. Any meaningful daily practice is the same way. I’m also inspired by the owning of the vulnerablility. The maturity of accepting one's perfect imperfections ...

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The Story of Bhai Joga Singh
Part II"

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