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Keeping Up With Nitnem:
The Roundtable Open Forum # 138





I started doing the complete Nitnem - the daily Sikh liturgy, the Five Baanis that every Sikh is encouraged to do, by the Maryada (Code of Conduct) - about a decade ago, in 2004 when I took Amrit.

It was not just one day that I suddenly decided to recite the five baanis in the morning and two more in the evening. It was a process that was instilled in me since childhood - at home, at school. I went to a secular one, but it was mostly populated by Sikh students where the assembly consisted of singing shabads and the zero period was the recitation of The Japji (the number of paurri's depended on how old we were) by the entire class in a chorus.

‘Nitnem’ - by definition means the ‘daily routine’, something you do daily. Sikhs everywhere have been doing nitnem for ages, as they were mandated by Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master, around 1699 AD.

In the last 10 years, during which I have been doing my nitnem, I went from a 45 minute sitting-in-one-place-reciting-nitnem routine to doing Japji while showering, listening to Jaap while tying my turban and doing Sawaiy-ye, Chaupai and Anand
Sahib on the go.

I have experienced the best and the worst of myself while doing nitnem. The best days were when I woke up at 4:30 am, showered and sat in a quiet place reciting and listening to the beautiful baanis in my own voice. The worst were repeating the same "sunniye" and "manney" paurris of Japji 10 times and then realizing that my mind was stuck in a loop fixing a software problem at the office.

Even worse were times when, while doing Japji, I would wander off to Rehraas in the "So Dar" paurri and realize at the end of Anand Sahib that I had initially started doing Japji, and then gone off track.

After the first few years, I knew the baanis by heart and could recite them while sleeping. In those years, I would get preachy and urged others, especially if they were Khalsa, that they do their nitnem no matter what, else they were guilty of breaking their promise to the Guru. In fact, there were days when I felt guilty like hell because I had missed a baani.

I have seen the same in others as well. Some of my fellow Sikhs try to complete the morning baanis any time before the clock hits 11:59 pm, and take a sigh of relief when they are able to finish it in the nick of time.

In the last three years, I have gone from doing all the seven baanis every day to only Japji and Rehraas, and then down to only Japji, and on to none now.

I am still a Khalsa, needless to say, but I do not do my nitnem every day.

Am I proud of this fact? Of course not. In fact, it's embarrassing. But then, why am I writing about it?

At first, when the decline began, I felt guilty. Slowly, the guilt melted away and the awareness -- justification? -- came along. A lot (most?) of the times I was doing nitnem, it was through sheer force of willpower and … fear. Fear that I have promised Guru that I will do the nitnem; otherwise, either something bad is going to happen to me or, at the very least, I am not a good Sikh,

Or, I am breaking my promise to the Guru … and so on.

Then I realized that to God or Guru, it doesn’t matter a bit if I do nitnem or not. God is not going to punish me for not doing the nitnem. Heck, I could do anything, virtually anything, and there's nothing like good or bad deeds.

And, moreover, God or Guru is not going to punish me for this. Importantly, doing it by sheer willpower is not going to help me because all those years when I did the nitnem, I was just rushing through the stipulated baanis without stopping to understand a word. (Yes, it did had a benefit, which I will come to in a minute.)

I had my own share of arguments with my mom and the community at large on doing nitnem or not. My mom was heartbroken when she came to know that I am no longer doing it.

But in my heart, I knew my reasons and I believed that I was a better Sikh than I was before.

At intellectual forums the purpose of Nitnem has been discussed at great lengths. One goal is achieving enlightenment. Some of us think that mere recitation and chanting leads to enlightenment. We think of enlightenment as a goal. That recitation is a path to achieve this goal.

I read an article on The Wall Street Journal by Scott Adams on the subject of Success & Failure -- and another, elsewhere, by the same author on the topic of Goals vs Systems. They brought me an Aha! moment about Nitnem.

That enlightenment as a goal is setting yourself up for a failure. And especially that thinking nitnem only as a means to achieving it is going to disappoint you in the long run.

What I believe is the reason we were given this practice of nitnem is to set up a system. A system of deliberate practice. A system of being in the place of opportunity. A system of being in the run towards the ultimate goal. A system of moving from a place of low odds (no nitnem) to a place of good odds (nitnem), where anything might happen.

So our Gurus and elders created a system for us to recite nitnem every day so that we could be in the hunt.

It's a process and by doing that process we don't know what might open up - enhanced understanding of Gurbani, improved lifestyle, living in the light of the knowledge of Gurbani … the possibilities are endless.

It's the same process that I was instilled with when I was a child - just that I didn't know it was a system.

Will I start doing nitnem again?

I don't know yet.

Looks like the last 10 years have taken a toll on my willpower. I will need to come up with a system that works for me - at least in the case of nitnem.



Please share your own experience with Nitnem and how you deal with it, how it has affected you, how it has changed your life.


[The author is a software engineer, currently working at Broadcom, San Jose, California, USA. When not playing with computers, he enjoys classical music, studying Gurbani, nature photography, travel, and spending quality time with his wife and son. He lives in Fremont, California.]

January 9, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, USA ), January 09, 2015, 11:21 AM.

Some questions come up regarding Nitnem as follows (please know that I'm not against Nitnem per se.) 1) How did Sikhs do nitnem when there were no gutkas around? 2) When Guru Gobind Singh ji did not include his baanis in the Guru Granth Sahib, then why are his baanis in the nitnem? 3) I believe the main purpose of doing nitnem is so the we can learn the teachings of The Gurus, but just reading or reciting them does not help us, does it? I would appreciate it if readers could help with answers to these questions.

2: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), January 09, 2015, 11:44 AM.

The Nitnem, the shabads of the Gurbani and the clarion call of 'Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh' all have the same purpose: that is, to help us, and guide us, to live a divine (gurmukh/nyaara} life.

3: Kulvindder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), January 09, 2015, 3:25 PM.

#1 - I have also questioned many times similar rituals. My personal conclusion is that because the Muslims prayed 5 times a day, the Sikhs felt they too should have their own five prayers to recite daily. Perhaps some of the converts to Sikhism were Muslim and they felt the need to replace the five daily namaazes with five daily baanis. I think studying gurbani every day (e.g., the Mukhvaak) and pondering over it as well as being guided by it through the day will give us more understanding of the gurbani. Just reciting nitnem for the sake of reciting it is an empty ritual. Learning from the lives of Gurus (our history) is something we can devote more time to. My opinion is that daily prayers in every religion were created initially to have us spend some time in spiritual pursuits, to take our mind off the daily grind and dive deeper within ourselves to connect with our inner spirit. Any routine, physical or mental, does inculcate discipline so to all those who religiously do their nitnem, there is benefit in that as well.

4: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, USA), January 09, 2015, 5:21 PM.

My goal for the last several years has been to spend time reading gurbani in the morning, at least four times a week. I came up with this number because there are 7 days in a week and 4 is more than 50% of the week. Out of these 4 days, my goal has been at least 2 days should be morning nitnem baanis. The rest 2 days could be reading Guru Granth Sahib, i.e., doing my sehaj paatth or reading Sukhmani Sahib. The idea has been that I must connect four times in a week at least in the morning. However I must embarrassingly admit that there are weeks when I am not able to meet this goal / commitment. Just like the author of this article, there are days when although I have woken up on time but have not been able to put my mind while reading the baani, be it nitnem or sehaj paatth but then there are a few blissful days when my inner self is connected and on those days I feel like a totally different person all day. I am much more calm, selfless and feel the Guru by my side all day. I have tried to replicate those days by forcing myself to wake up on time but the attentiveness and mind focus is simply not there. I consider those blissful days as the light or a tiny flash of light towards the end of the tunnel.

5: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), January 10, 2015, 10:47 AM.

Ref.#3: Guru Nanak spells out the 'five prayers' on page 141 of the Guru Granth Sahib: Truthful living, Honest Living, Charity in the name of divinity, Clean Intentions, and Praise of The One. The five baanis recommended to us by the Maryada really constitute a conversation with God to whom we pour out freely in full confidence.

6: J Singh (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), January 11, 2015, 6:43 AM.

Nitnem is part of our rehat. If you cannot focus, then try and try again. Get a santhya pothi (interpretive text), spend time understanding. Build your focus. Try to learn vyakaran (grammar). Read the biography of Sant Attar Singh Mastuanewale ... it'll inspire you. Giving up is not consistent with the spirit of chardi kalaa. Remember, 'munn jeetay jugg jeet' -- Conquer thyself, and you'll conquer the world!

7: Harpreet Singh (India), January 11, 2015, 2:05 PM.

The few really true gursikhs I have known or was blessed to have their sangat, they always did their nitnem before sunrise and then proceeded with the rest of their day. It worked for them ...

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The Roundtable Open Forum # 138"

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