Kids Corner


How To Hear God’s Multiple Voices?
The Silence Of Obedience And Expectation -
Part III









Continued from yesterday …



What would the Guru Granth be if no one responded to it? A mantric heirloom?

It is impossible to read scripture without interpretation. Yet, interpretation is actually the way readers disclose their understanding and connect with others. Interpretation is listening or refusing to listen.

The point of interpretation within the framework of a silence of expectation that connects to someone, is not too discern the truth of the text for all to see and praise. But to interpret the text in such a way that it draws others to the text and inspires them to respond to its deep silent call (Carse).

The Guru Granth, like other scriptures, does not contain great truths as such, but a style of writing and a mode of engagement that searches us and questions us more deeply. Scripture does not lead us to shout its truths from the roof tops, but quite the contrary, it leads us to a richer silence. It is that subtle yet comprehensive silence that yearns to be shared, because that silence is a form of listening without which communication with the other is not possible.

The voices of the Guru Granth Sahib then do not demand that we create a theology of monotheism out of them. The prevailing interpretation of Sikhism as a “moral monotheism” operates in such a way that it speaks over those 37 voices contained in the Guru Granth – in other words this interpretation does not only command a silence of obedience from us, but it also silences those within the text as well.

Rather, the Guru Granth Sahib is solely concerned with the silence of expectation. By speaking to us as a guru, it demands a response from us by creating a new voice in us. The Guru Granth is a Guru that speaks to us directly and personally. It is not a treatise about the nature of God, let alone a doctrine of monotheism. Each new page of the Guru Granth Sahib does not reduce the mystery of truth, god, reality, but shows just how much more inexhaustible that mystery is.

And it is this wonder that is the ground of begging or prayer. When in epiphany you realize that your map of the world was all wrong – simply your map – then you beg for guidance: for the terrain of life is actually experienced as unknowable and unpredictable.

Central to Sikh scripture is not a belief in God per se, but the necessity to lose the self - aap gavaiiai. This is the root to speaking to someone, and as such the foundation of any and all inter-religous dialogue and interaction; this will help us hear God’s multiple voices: losing the self as a mode of becoming-in- the-world; here can be no religious dialogue with selves. Thus interreligoius dialogue must bring into the centre of the picture the egos in dialogue: this should be a moment of acute embarrassment, of fear and trembling.

For it is easy to talk about theology, it is rather more difficult to live one’s beliefs.

Third Pair: Theatrical or Dramatic Speech?

The silence of expectation is a power, and listening is its raw energy source.

Carse writes, “If I genuinely trust you, I can expect you to do exactly what I do not want, but exactly what I need for growth”.

Thus from God, over whom we can exercise no control whatsoever, we can expect only surprise. Turning to God we risk all that we have, not that we will lose our lives, it is rather that we will lose our lives for the sake of new life.

Theatrical speech occurs when we have already determined what the listeners are to hear. We deliver our speech as though it were a script … It does not matter which persons are in the theatre, or if anyone is there at all. On the other hand, Dramatic speech occurs when we relinquish all control over our words as mystics do, and therefore cannot know in advance how they will be received - entering a space of mutual reciprocity and co-creativity.

Theatrical speech leads to the amplification of one voice over others; dramatic speech seeks a resonance of voices. Unfortunately the lecture’s monological form is that of theatrical and amplified speech, rarely do elements of drama enter.

I hope that questions raised by what I have said here will shed further light on what dramatic speech is all about.

Unlike the silence of obedience which institutes a theatrical script, Sikhi (learning how to walk in time without I) operates on an expectation that creates a dramatic address. With Vaisakhi just gone, one is hard put to find a more eloquent and forceful summation of this whole lecture, than in Guru Gobind Singh’s dramatic address to the Sikh sangat in 1699: for it involved a dramatic and direct speech to an attentive audience, and in that silence it expected and was utterly dependent upon individual participation, the whole process was full of surprise and drenched with the immediacy and risk of living now one of those four days allotted to us all.

Inter-religious dialogue can easily turn into a non-dialogue where we get “authoritative representatives” to speak for their traditions in apologetic fashion, having learnt the script of that tradition by heart, turning each opportunity for dialogue into a theatrical performance in which the audience response is only the silence of obedience.

There must be the cultivation of the mode of address and dramatic delivery to create the silence of expectation such that we can begin to say that which we have never heard each other say before – and thus begin to speak beyond our identities as “Muslims” or as “Hindus” or as “Christians”, etc. and speak as the humble beggars we all always are.

Carse argues that if we cannot know God then we cannot ever completely prepare ourselves against surprise. Because of the dramatic silence of God there is nothing necessary about our worlds.

We cannot therefore know for certain the meaning of our discourse with each other. The primary mode of the unnecessary and open is the poetic song; the key form of the necessary and closed is the manifesto – be it theological, academic or political.

The completeness of God’s silence is such that we never encounter that silence within a world, but between worlds of self and other. It is God’s silence that touches us whenever we see our worlds as possible worlds.

One may ask how it is possible anymore not to see our tradition as merely one among many in this increasingly networked and globalized local present. God does not answer within a world, but with a world. (Carse)

That is to say the world is always a process not a thing, what is happening is a world-making. God’s world is always larger than our life-worlds have imagined. Guru Nanak very early in life began to see the Hindu world and the Muslim world as merely possible worlds, not the world in toto – and seemed to understand very keenly that revelation never comes to support a previously existing worldview, tradition, writing, language or culture – but always initiates a new vision, culture, language and people.

Just think about Abraham, the Jews and the Torah, Jesus, his New Testament and the arrival of the Christian, Muhammad, the Quran, the phenomenal growth and the spread of Islam. That is a provocative definition of revelation: that which never arrives without destroying or going beyond that which was there before, revelation is that speech which does not answer within a world, but with a world not yet imagined. The point is not that one day we will arrive with heaven on earth, but that God’s truth is understood as a bottomless mystery which demands a perpetual creativity to make ever-new worlds of praise and petition.

The world of the Guru Granth Sahib has not yet been imagined - a world the ego cannot yet see or configure. The truth is always a mystery to come; newness cannot enter our world without altering its poles fundamentally.

Are we prepared for that?

Sikhi is a spontaneously attuned intervention to the needs of the other in the moment at hand.

Thus all religious dialogue must be inter-religious, as the Guru Granth Sahib demonstrates – because then we gain surprise, we gain a voice beyond the world that the ego surrounds itself within, we gain a perspective unimagined by our own tradition, and thus remember that the silence of God demands a perpetual creativity to voice again and again the praise and prayers that create new life and visions.

Receiving the Guru Granth then cannot be done as receiving an object. It cannot be a passive act. It is always an active transformation of the receiver; it is always the beginning of something we cannot bring to an end. We can never come to the end of the gift of the Guru Granth Sahib, or revelation in general for what is given is a world, a life, not merely words.

Thus we can never finish in receiving its gift which continues to give to us … the death of the gurus does not end the giving of the gurus ... If anything stops their giving, it is not the silence of their deaths but the noise of our lives. One has to forget who one has come to be, to listen.

When did religion’s true voice that cries out for help in intense passion become overshadowed by the grand declarations and theories of the about? In whose interests does this transformation from the raw cry of emotion turn into the stick of law?

The Egyptian exiled Jew, Edmond Jabès gives us a clue about how we should hear God’s multiple voices: “The difference between us is this,” he said. “You believe firmly in a recognized truth, whereas the one which fascinates me has never bothered with recognition.”

How to hear God’s multiple voices?

Well, how to hear each other’s voices might be a start. How to hear the calls of despair, injustice and suffering? How to hear the call of the animal kingdom that is being slaughtered by human beings at such a rate species are fast disappearing? How to hear the call of the earth in all its environments that are also under threat?

How to hear these multiple voices as God’s?

We must begin to recognize the call these multiple voices have upon us and see them as part of one cosmic body of which we are an integral part. We must begin to hear that voice in all beings and events, for the integrity of our own voice and life depends upon it.

Guru Nanak reminds us that love and intimacy follow neither formula nor rule – we should not therefore turn Guru Nanak into a “nice person” for love is demanding and unpredictable: Guru Nanak pulls no punches and speaks directly to the fool - that means me certainly, and perhaps you also:

You fool: chant the Name of God, and preserve your virtue.
Egotism and possessiveness are very enticing; pride has plundered everyone.  Pause.
Those who have forgotten the Name of the Lord, are attached to affairs of duality.
Attached to duality, they putrefy and die; they are filled with the fire of desire within.
Those who are protected by the Guru are saved; all others are cheated and plundered by deceitful worldly affairs.
(GGS: 19 Rag Sriraag M1)

Scolding can also produce the silence of expectation rather than the more common silence of obedience if it is done with wisdom.

There is a huge difference between being nice and being wise. The Gurus weren’t interested in being nice and routine, but expected that one and all could manifest a vision beyond the notion of self-centredness via a mode of uncalculated living that nurtured the voice of every other whenever encountered.

As such Sikhi is a celebration of difference – just as the Guru Granth Sahib itself demonstrates.

How to hear God’s multiple voices?

Listen to the voice of the other everywhere resounding and enter the life of a beggar’s humility, and acquire a voice to speak that which you never thought possible in resonance with a wider collective.

This essay has also argued that tied to asking how we can hear God’s multiple voices, is also the question of how can we speak God’s multiple voices and keep the integrity of life’s diversity flourishing.

The most valuable commodity in the world is … Attention.

*   *   *   *   *


Dr Balbinder Singh Bhogal is the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies, at Hofstra University, New York, USA.

[Courtesy: Academia. Edited for]

July 19,2017

Conversation about this article

Comment on "How To Hear God’s Multiple Voices?
The Silence Of Obedience And Expectation -
Part III"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.