SGGS Conference 2016

Dec 142016

Speeches by Youth

Part 2 –  Is it OK to Eat Meat According to Gurbani?

Ardas Kaur (Yes) and Kiran Kaur Brar (No)

Video of Session:

Text of Speeches:


1  Ardaas Kaur:

Mās mās kar mūrakẖ jẖagṛe gi▫ān ḏẖi▫ān nahī jāṇai.
Ka▫uṇ mās ka▫uṇ sāg kahāvai kis mėh pāp samāṇe.

Wjkk Wjkf

Q1. When we as humans take on a cause, we seem to become part of something bigger. We practice random acts of kindness,, fight injustice, teach the next generation, and sometimes  even start a revolution. But one of the most remarkable things about humans is that we possess the ability to reflect and reason. And along with that ability comes the application of it. But in doing so, We need to take a moment to consider. We as sikhs,  are part of a faith that holds the truth at the highest value—-  Our guru’s message is the simple, wholesome, defined, TRUTH.

And keeping that in mind, What one decides to eat and doesn’t decide to eat is a topic to be considered.

Let’s explore this further through deciphering the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

baabaa hor khaanaa khusee khuaar

jith khaadhhai than peerreeai man mehi chalehi vikaar

Renounce the food that causes body illness and makes the mind filthy                          

Without a doubt Sikhism encourages healthy living. Our body is a temple that we must keep clean and healthy. Although, “Health is not simply the absence of sickness.” Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. But saadsangatji, let me ask you this, Does it matter if this can be achieved by both eating meat and not eating meat?


maasahu ni(n)mae maasahu ja(n)mae ham maasai kae bhaa(n)ddae

In the flesh we are conceived, and in the flesh we are born; we are vessels of flesh

The Guru Granth Sahib ji states one thing in very clear terms, vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism by no means, share a relationship with spirtuality or religion. In a world where everything is temporary and in Maya, Guruji asks only one thing of us, that we not get lost in the worldly pleasures, over indulging on things that we absolutely don’t need to survive, this is an act of disciplining our bodies, And by disciplining our body, we are creating a platform to fulfill our ultimate purpose in life which is to discipline our mind.



jeea badhhahu s dhharam kar thhaapahu adhharam kehahu kath bhaaee

aapas ko munivar kar thhaapahu kaa ko kehahu kasaaee



Guruji says If killing a living being- taking away the beings’ right to life- a life that has been given to the being by Waheguru himself- can be classified as a righteous action then, what can possibly be worse and be classified as an unrighteous action

We call each other sages, while butchering animals in the name of god. Who then would we call a butcher?

However if we keep reading the shabad in the full gurbani context, Guruji is telling us that we are failing to see the precedence in this matter.

raam naam kee gath nehee jaanee kaisae outharas paaraa


He says that we have our priorities mixed up, we fight about the virtues of not eating meat and expend great efforts to show what is right and wrong,yet we do not instead spend our time contemplating Waheguru. He uses this particular example about the righteous and the unrighteous to highlight the level of hypocrisy our society has reached. Let’s not make guilt the foundation of our faith, saadsangatji.



Q3. Now this leads us to the question, for those sikhs that do choose to eat meat, where do the boundaries lie. There are many mixed views about Ritualistic forms of meat, those being kosher or halal.


According to the Damdami Taksal Sikh Rehat Maryada Code of Conduct

The eating of any type of meat is strictly forbidden and it makes one a traitor to the Guru.


According to the Akal Takhat Sikh Rehat Maryada

An Amritdhari Khalsa Sikh is not allowed to eat the meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way, but is allowed to eat jhatka meat, meat in which the animal has been killed quickly without suffering or religious ritual.


The semitic practice of eating the flesh of an animal cooked in a ritualistic manner is not allowed because of the belief that killing an animal with a prayer is not going to enoble the flesh. No ritual, whoever conducts it, is going to do any good either to the animal or to the consumer.


According to the Guru Granth Sahib JI

eik maasehaaree eik thrin khaahi

eik mitteeaa mehi mitteeaa khaahi


Sikhi is a state of mind. And although not eating halal or kosher is a practice we use to discipline our bodies, whether we don’t eat meat at all, eat only jhatka meat, or eat all kinds of meat, does not determine how strong our faith is.

Now, Sadhsangatji, Once we have reached the ultimate state of mind, where our faith becomes


so strong that it consumes all fear, doubt and uncertainty, why would we ever need to question


the relevance of what we eat or do not eat?



Q4. Many of us have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat” —used to emphasise the importance of a good diet as a key to good health. Food powers your life. It fuels all bodily processes. Food affects who you are, what you do and your ability to pursue your dreams and aspirations.

Now, whether one chooses to follow a vegetarian diet or meat based diet, is completely a matter of choice. Yet there are pros and cons to both.

The Human anatomy has evolved to support a primarily vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet delivers complete nutrition and can provide health benefits that are less susceptable to certain diseases than the meat-based diet. A vegetarian diet also is helping conserve the planet, and home that we live on, because it leads to the decrease of greenhouse gas emissions.

While a meat-based diet may provide a better source of protein, may in fact help an individual fight many other diseases, and it may not be entirely increasing our environmental footprint.

The list goes on and on. Either way we are detracting something and gaining something, but the most important thing we are to determine is what we need and do not need to survive. And that is what matters most.


Q5 Vegetarians mistakenly elevate the value of animal life over plant life. Research shows that plants respond electrochemically to threats and may feel fear, so this might mean that being vegetarian is also killing plants. Every organism on earth dies or is killed, at some point, so others organisms can live. There is nothing wrong with this cycle; it is how nature works.

It does not necessarily mean that we should eat meat. Sikhism concludes no injunction against eating meat but also no advice to eat it. Why? Because what we eat should not be a hindrance to us, it’s as simple as that. Do we eat to live or do we live to eat? What is most important is less what enters the stomach, but more what comes out of the mind.

Therefore Guruji tells us to eat for solely survival, because overindulgence is diverting our attention, from the guru’s real hukam




Look into yourselves, saadsangat ji, try to find out the true, deeper reason that compels you to listen to your Guru, to find your true purpose, to connect back with the naam and see if it has spread its roots to your heart. Once you have attained this level of enlightenment, our differences and mistakes will not depend on whether we eat meat or not, but on whether our love for God is the source that fuels us to attain our ultimate purpose.


alap ahaar sulap see ni(n)dhraa dhayaa shhimaa than preeth

eat little, sleep little, and keep Mercy, forgiveness and love in heart

wjkk wjkf

2.  Kiran Kaur Brar

There is a lot controversy when it comes to consuming meat as a Sikh.


According to Shri Guru Granth Sahib ji,

ਮਾਸੁ ਮਾਸੁ ਕਰਿ ਮੂਰਖੁ ਝਗੜੇ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਧਿਆਨੁ ਨਹੀ ਜਾਣੈ ॥

ਕਉਣੁ ਮਾਸੁ ਕਉਣੁ ਸਾਗੁ ਕਹਾਵੈ ਕਿਸੁ ਮਹਿ ਪਾਪ ਸਮਾਣੇ ॥


Foolish ones argue about flesh, but they don’t about meditation and spiritual wisdom. They don’t know the difference between flesh and vegetables, and eating which is sinful.

According to the rehat maryada, kutha meat is prohibited. Regarding other meat, it is silent. It is presumed non-kutha meat is not prohibited for Sikhs. However, any kind of meat is not served in Langar.


I will make my argument to keep meat away from our diet, firstly, on the basis of its health implications.


There is also a lot of scientific evidence that human bodies, on a biological level, are designed to support a plant-based diet. Similar to herbivores, we have a stomach capacity that is 30% of total volume of digestive tract, a need for extensive chewing, carbohydrate digesting enzymes in saliva, and a stomach pH level of 4-5 since we don’t need strong acid to eat meat.


Our body does digest meat, but it comes at a very high cost to our health.


According to Dr. Davis, “animal protein is not one of the healthiest foods around- rather it is strongly associated with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer, the primary killers of our time”.

Heating meat releases toxins which when consumed cause inflammatory response at the cellular level, along with containing carcinogens and heme Iron, which are chemicals directly involved in causing cancer. Iron in plants is non-heme and healthy for us.


Thus, we should stick with food that is healthy and easily digestible.


Bhagat Kabir says:

ਅਬਧਹੁ ਸੁ ਧਰਮੁ ਕਰਿ ਥਾਪਹੁ  ਅਧਰਮੁ ਕਹਹੁ ਕਤ ਭਾਈ ॥

ਆਪਸ ਕਉ ਮੁਨਿਵਰ ਕਰਿ ਥਾਪਹੁ ਕਾ ਕਉ ਕਹਹੁ ਕਸਾਈ ॥੨॥


Guru Ji highlights the hypocritical behavior of the pundits, while giving us a message that those people who are killing animals in the name of God should be ashamed of their act.


Guru Nanak dev ji always criticized the insincerity of the pundits and those who were only religious outwardly only for show, asking them if they are truly righteous and pure and cannot hurt an animal, then how can they justify being deceitful to others?


Guru sahib is telling pundits if killing animals is a sin in their religion, so is taking the rights of others:

ਹਕੁ ਪਰਾਇਆ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਉਸੁ ਸੂਅਰ ਉਸੁ ਗਾਇ ॥


Guru Nanak Dev Ji elaborates on this in another shabad,

ਜੇ ਰਤੁ ਲਗੈ ਕਪੜੈ ਜਾਮਾ ਹੋਇ ਪਲੀਤੁ ॥


ਜੋ ਰਤੁ ਪੀਵਹਿ ਮਾਣਸਾ ਤਿਨ ਕਿਉ ਨਿਰਮਲੁ ਚੀਤੁ ॥


ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਉ ਖੁਦਾਇ ਕਾ ਦਿਲਿ ਹਛੈ ਮੁਖਿ ਲੇਹੁ ॥


ਅਵਰਿ ਦਿਵਾਜੇ ਦੁਨੀ ਕੇ ਝੂਠੇ ਅਮਲ ਕਰੇਹੁ ॥੧॥


Guru ji is giving us the message that renouncing or consuming meat alone does not make one pious, one must also stay away from evil deeds, do naam simran with love, and purify our minds. Otherwise, keeping a certain diet may only increase one’s ego, distracting them from the spiritual path.

ਨਾਨਕ ਜਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਚੇਤਨੀ ਤਿਨ ਧਿਗੁ ਪੈਨਣੁ ਧਿਗੁ ਖਾਣੁ



Sikh rehat maryada strongly rejects meat that is made in a ritualistic manner, such as kosher or halal and is considered a Bajjar Kurehat.


According to Dr. IJ singh, “the reason lies in the view that killing an animal with a prayer is not going to ennoble the flesh.” This also includes killing animals by reading the mool mantar.


ਬੇਦੁ ਪੜੈ ਮੁਖਿ ਮੀਠੀ ਬਾਣੀ ॥

ਜੀਆਂ ਕੁਹਤ ਨ ਸੰਗੈ ਪਰਾਣੀ ॥੩॥


Instead of doing jhatka(done by Nihang Singhs in war), which is a quick strike from the back of the neck in the spinal cord (where all the pain sensors are located), halal is made by killing the animal slowly from the front of the neck to the back to maximize pain .


ਕਬੀਰ ਜੋਰੀ ਕੀਏ ਜੁਲਮੁ ਹੈ ਕਹਤਾ ਨਾਉ ਹਲਾਲੁ ॥


ਦਫਤਰਿ ਲੇਖਾ ਮਾਂਗੀਐ ਤਬ ਹੋਇਗੋ ਕਉਨੁ ਹਵਾਲੁ ॥੧੮੭॥


Even if done reciting hymns or as a sacrifice to God, using force on any animal or human is tyranny and have no place in Sikhism.


As Sikhs, we must also question the underlying practices behind the production of meat. Today, a lot animals go through a lot of cruelty.



ਜਉ ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਏਕੁ ਖੁਦਾਇ ਕਹਤ ਹਉ ਤਉ ਕਿਉ ਮੁਰਗੀ ਮਾਰੈ ॥੧॥


  1. In Bhagat Kabir’s shabad,

ਰੋਜਾ ਧਰੈ ਮਨਾਵੈ ਅਲਹੁ ਸੁਆਦਤਿ ਜੀਅ ਸੰਘਾਰੈ ॥

ਆਪਾ ਦੇਖਿ ਅਵਰ ਨਹੀ ਦੇਖੈ ਕਾਹੇ ਕਉ ਝਖ ਮਾਰੈ ॥੧॥


Guru Ji is reprimanding us for the obvious hypocrisy in murdering other beings for personal pleasure, but pretending to be a religious person.

In order to live a spiritual life, we must have santokh, daya, and dharam. Keeping meat away from our diet supports these virtues.


The purpose of life is not to life for the pleasures of food. A Sikh is content with his simple meal.


kbIr KUbu Kwnw KIcrI jw mih AMimRqu lonu ]

ਹੇਰਾ ਰੋਟੀ ਕਾਰਨੇ ਗਲਾ ਕਟਾਵੈ ਕਉਨੁ ॥੧੮੮॥


Guru Arjan Dev Ji reinforces this idea,

ਤਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਹੋਸੀ ਛਾਰੁ ਜਾਣੈ ਕੋਇ ਜਨੁ ॥

ਰੰਗ ਰੂਪ ਰਸ ਬਾਦਿ ਕਿ ਕਰਹਿ ਪਰਾਣੀਆ ॥

Guru sahib states delicious tastes to be useless, encouraging a Sikh to be content and live a simple life.


Guru Nanak Dev Ji further elaborates and explains the danger of indulging in various pleasures.

ਰਸੁ ਸੁਇਨਾ ਰਸੁ ਰੁਪਾ ਕਾਮਣਿ ਰਸੁ ਪਰਮਲ ਕੀ ਵਾਸੁ ॥

ਰਸੁ ਘੋੜੇ ਰਸੁ ਸੇਜਾ ਮੰਦਰ ਰਸੁ ਮੀਠਾ ਰਸੁ ਮਾਸੁ ॥

ਏਤੇ ਰਸ ਸਰੀਰ ਕੇ ਕੈ ਘਟਿ ਨਾਮ ਨਿਵਾਸੁ ॥੨॥


Guru sahib says, if we are distracted with all these relishes of the human body, then how can God’s Name secure an abode within the heart?


Along with santokh, we must also have daya and sensitivity of what we eat and where it comes from. We should not support infliction of pain on animals. Commercially raised animals today are raised in very inhumane conditions. They are kept in filthy, overcrowded feedlots and inject hormones to make them grow bigger and faster abnormally.



Many make the argument that if can eat plants, then why not animals? Although both are living organisms, the fundamental difference between the two is that animals are sentient being. A sentient being is one that has a mind; they have preferences, desires, or wants.


Plants are not sentient beings because 1. They lack sensory organs which enable them to see, hear, and taste like animals do. 2. Plants lack variability of response. Plants will react the same regardless of different scenarios.


Animals, on the other hand, have a conscious perception which acts as an intermediary between their environment and their many different behavioral responses to it.


There are many others additional differences that make the 2 distinguishable.


Animals have a brain and a strong nervous system and can feel a lot of pain, unlike fungi and plants which have a weak or no nervous system.

Animals have relationships and mothers who look after their young’s just like humans. Animals are also aware of death and will react when there is a threat to their life.


A hukamnama by Shri Guru Hargobind ji states,


ਮਾਸ ਮਛੀ ਦੇ ਨੇੜੇ ਨਹੀਂ ਆਵਣਾ |

Having a plant-based diet is good for one’s meditation and spirit. Eating meat can pass on hormones from the animals to us and biologically and chemically it is not difficult to see why.


                        ਬਾਬਾ ਹੋਰੁ ਖਾਣਾ ਖੁਸੀ ਖੁਆਰੁ

ਜਿਤੁ ਖਾਧੈ ਤਨੁ ਪੀੜੀਐ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਚਲਹਿ ਵਿਕਾਰ ਰਹਾਉ (SGGS – 16)



Sep 212016

Speeches by Youth

Part 1 – Context of Sri Guru Granth Sahib

Joymaneet Kaur, Ekam Singh Brar and Sukhveer Singh Karlkut.

Text of Speeches

1  Joymaneet Kaur

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!


Guru Granth Sahib  is the central religious scripture of Sikhism, regarded by Sikhs as the final, sovereign and eternal living Guru.


Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki, a Sikh scholar, has written many books on Sikhism and Gurbani. On the context of Guru Granth Sahib, he writes, context is the ambience of a text- conditions that precede or follow it, and thereby fix its meaning and determine its significance.


First, the context of religious traditions states that Guru Nanak Dev ji concentrated more on spirituality which is the common core of religious life. He rejected formalism and rituals, prevalent in society at that time. Guru Nanak respected all revelations of God and wrote these words in Guru Granth Sahib.

ਸੂਰਜੁ ਏਕੋ ਰੁਤਿ ਅਨੇਕ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਕਰਤੇ ਕੇ ਕੇਤੇ ਵੇਸ ॥

Guru Nanak considered all men equal in the eyes of His god. He disapproved caste system, individual discrimination, gender inequality and strove to give women their rightful place.

Guru Nanak Dev ji rejected Avtar-vad as set forth in Bhagvad Gita, because God, the creator does not go into the cycle of birth and death.

ਸੋ ਮੁਖੁ ਜਲਉ ਜਿਤੁ ਕਹਹਿ ਠਾਕੁਰੁ ਜੋਨੀ ॥੩॥

Second, context of divine revelations states that Sikh Gurus have been asserting that Guru Granth Sahib is a work of Divine Revelations. The Mool Mantra is an enunciation of the essence of God made by Guru Nanak Dev Ji which occupies the beginning of Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The revelatory nature of Gurbani is testified by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and is preserved in Guru Granth Sahib.

ਜੈਸੀ ਮੈ ਆਵੈ ਖਸਮ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਤੈਸੜਾ ਕਰੀ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ ॥

Third, within Politio-historical context, during the time of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the Lodhis were ruling India. They were very unjust, tyrannical, and corrupt.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji felt that the people were having a lack of morale. He wanted them to get rid of slavery and achieve courage, and be free of fear.


ਤਖਿਤ ਰਾਜਾ ਸੋ ਬਹੈ ਿਜ ਤਖਤੈ ਲਾਇਕ ਹੋਈ ॥


Fourth, the context of scripture asserts that the Guru Granth Sahib is a scripture, as it is a holy text. Guru Granth Sahib has been the light house of the spiritual life of Sikh people for many centuries. It is not merely a scripture, but the living spirit of the Gurus thus designated as Guru Granth Sahib.


ਲੋਕ ਜਾਨੈ ਇਹ ਗੀਤ ਹੈ ॥  ਇਹ ਤੋ ਬ੍ਹ੍ਹਮ ਵੀਚਾਰ ॥


Prof. Owen asserts that the Guru Granth Sahib is both unique and distinctive. The content of sacred books of many religions differ from the content of Guru Granth Sahib.


First, the Abrahamic or Semitic scriptures have historical and biographical contents which tell refer to Jesus and Mohammad. Hindu religious literature is divided into two: Shruti and Smriti. Many other scriptures contain similar material. Those sacred books preach about men through whom the message of spiritual liberation was preached. But, in Guru Granth Sahib, the Sat Guru is Parmeshur, God, the Waheguru.


Second, scripture itself plays a very important role in Sikhism. A Gurudwara is a place where the scripture is installed. It is the Guru Granth Sahib that makes a Gurudwara, and not a place that makes Guru Granth Sahib. Worship in Sikhism is done in presence of Guru Granth Sahib, and it consists of singing or reading the Gurbani and explanation of holy hymns.


ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਇਸੁ ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਚਾਨਣੁ ਕਰਮਿ ਵਸੈ ਮਨਿ ਆਏ ॥੧॥


The Guru Granth Sahib is also unique for its attitudes to other religions by stating that Guru Nanak was remarkable for his validation of other forms of religion and his attitude was one of critical universalism that is not found in other scripture. Sikhs have no need to convert people, but they have a need to practice the life style preached by the Guru.


ਥਾਲ ਵਿਚਿ ਤਿੰਨਿ ਵਸਤੂ ਪਈਓ ਸਤੁ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੋ ॥ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਕਾ ਪਇਓ ਜਿਸ ਕਾ ਸਭਸੁ ਅਧਾਰੋ ॥


Prof. Dhillon correctly says, “The principle of Spirit was the central unifying factor between Guru Nanak and his nine successors.” Although the Gurus are different in physical form, they are of the same spirit. As a lamp lights another lamp similarly the “spirit of Nanak” was enshrined in the successive Gurus.


The first Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji was imbued with the divine light of the Akal Purakh to fulfill God’s will and mission in the world.

When Guru Nanak conferred Guruship on Guru Angad Dev Ji, the same Jot was passed on. In the same way, the Divine Light was passed from 1 guru to the next.

ਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਦੇਵ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਰੂਪ ॥

Guru Gobind Singh Ji named the Pothi Sahib as Granth consisting of two words, Gur and Ant meaning eternal Guru. He asserted: ” In future whoever wishes to seek enlightenment, guidance and solace, let him read the holy Granth. This is your Guru till eternity. “


ਸਬ ਸਿਖਨ ਕੋ ਹੁਕਮ ਹੈ ਗੁਰੂ ਮਾਨਿਓ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ॥


Dr. Ahmad writes on the Guru Granth Sahib as not only spiritual but also relevant in addressing social issues. First is, the dichotomy between between Gurmukh and the Manmukh. A Gurmukh praises the Naam, and the fire of egotism is extinguished. The lord abides within the mind of the Gurmukh.


But, the self-willed Manmukhs are polluted with egoism, wickedness and desire.


ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਲਾਹਾ ਲੈ ਗਏ ਮਨਮੁਖ ਚਲੇ ਮੂਲੁ ਗਵਾਇ ਜੀਉ


Secondly, the Guru Granth Sahib’s attitude on the issue of social equality is marked by contradictoriness. Some passages endorse social inequality and others endorse equality.


ਕੇਤੇ ਤੇਰੇ ਰੂਪ ਰੰਗ ਕੇਤੇ ਜਾਤਿ ਅਜਾਤਿ ॥


This contradiction arises out of the scripture having to deal with existing social inequality and outlining a future vision of equality.


Third, the issue of the distinction between believers and non-believers and their co-existence in society is addressed in the Guru Granth Sahib by separating community and power from their mutual relations.


Guru Granth Sahib teaches us to treat all humans as equal. Sikhism acknowledges and appreciates other religions and accepts their validity. This attitude helps the Sikhs understand and appreciate other religions and live in harmony with other faith communities.


ਫਕੜ ਜਾਤੀ ਫਕੜੁ ਨਾਉ ॥ ਸਭਨਾ ਜੀਆ ਇਕਾ ਛਾਉ ॥


As such, the Gurus gave equal regard to saints from all traditions. Guru Arjun Dev Ji had himself set an example by getting the foundation of Harimander Sahib laid by Saint Mian Mir.


Sikhism seeks to treat all human beings as spiritually equal irrespective of their religious belief. We must know Waheguru is present in everyone. We believe in God’s love for all beings. Therefore, we conclude prayers to Waheguru seeking welfare of all.


ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮ ਚੜ੍ਹਦੀ ਕਲਾ ॥ ਤੇਰੇ ਭਾਣੇ ਸਰਬੱਤ ਦਾ ਭਲਾ ॥

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!

 2   Ekam Singh Brar

Sri Guru Granth Sahib

The intensity and emotion layered in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is evident at first glance. Its exquisite characterizations of Waheguru and extensive lyricism make for a compelling text with universal appeal. But in order to properly understand the purpose of this multi-layered text, we must first contextualize it.


Firstly, it is important to note the spirit of times. At this time in India, there was a galaxy of holy men, such as Dhanna, Kabir, Farid, Ramanand, and Namdev. Their writings are included in Guru Granth Sahib not only to indicate religious solidarity but also to enhance the universal appeal of the Granth.


Additionally, preceding historical traditions played a part in the ambience of this time. Guru Nanak believed that, to an extent, there was truth in all world religions. So he decided to preach spirituality instead of anchoring Sikhism to the dogma of other world religions. He separated elements of other religions that he found particularly distasteful and refused to include them in the Sikh faith. He sought to eliminate the repressive systems of prejudice and class warfare that plagued the society of his time.

ਸੂਰਜੁ ਏਕੋ ਰੁਤਿ ਅਨੇਕ


As a reaction to preceding historical traditions, the Guru Granth Sahib became more than a spiritual text to also become a quintessential example of social equality.

It is impossible to properly contextualize the Granth without also considering its context as a divine revelation– its source is Waheguru himself. It is ultimately a tribute to the glory of Waheguru, one commissioned by the creator himself.

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਸਤਿ ਸਤਿ ਕਰਿ ਜਾਣਹੁ

ਗੁਰਸਿਖਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਕਰਤਾ ਆਪਿ ਮੁਹਹੁ ਕਢਾਏ


So the Guru Granth isn’t just speculation on the nature of the Creator, it actually transcends theology through its status as divine revelation.

ਜੈਸੀ ਮੈ ਆਵੈ ਖਸਮ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਤੈਸੜਾ ਕਰੀ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਵੇ ਲਾਲੋ


Finally, the aesthetic context of the granth is especially notable. Guru Granth Sahib is constructed almost entirely in musical form through various raags. These raags are designed to elicit varying emotions. The language is really simple, but modified to fit the music it is crafted around. And the gurus saw the musical medium as powerful enough to deliver the divine revelation so it’s implemented consistently and expertly in the Granth.

2. Sri Guru Granth Sahib differs from the Abrahamic texts especially in its content, but also in its worldview. The holy scriptures of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and their ilk largely vacillate between discussing matters of historical and biographical content, while the authors of Guru Granth Sahib largely discuss matters of philosophy and spirituality. While the Abrahamic scripts speak of Allah and his disciple Muhammad, of God and his son Jesus, Guru Granth Sahib speaks of man and Waheguru and discusses the elevation of man through the Shabad which culminates with the sublation of the soul into Waheguru. Guru Granth Sahib is thus defined by its discourses on the wonder of Waheguru’s grace.

In other words, those books are about men who preached spiritual liberation, while the Guru Granth Sahib is about us reaching spiritual liberation.

ਹਰਿ ਜੀਉ ਮਿਲੈ ਤਾ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੂਝੈ ਚੀਨੈ ਸਬਦੁ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਹੇ ॥੮॥

In its approach to scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib proves itself similarly unique. While other scriptures are only valuable to the extent that they extol the virtues of their prophets, Guru Granth Sahib extols the virtues of Waheguru and His Sikhs.

The attitude towards other religions depicted in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is respectfully critical. Guru Granth Sahib not only vindicates other religions, but testifies to the light of Waheguru and the lifestyle taught to us by the Gurus.

3. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is consistent in its principle of Spirit. B.S. Dhillon explains that although the Gurus existed in linear succession, they “were one in Spirit.” Guru Granth Sahib is unified because all of the Gurus that wrote in it shared this common experience of the Spirit. All of the Gurus worked for the same end, even as they all had different physical appearances.

ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਮਤਿ ਪਾਈ ॥੨॥੧॥੭॥

Every one of Guru Nanak’s nine human successors recognized themselves as an instrument of God and maintained that they were simply translating the divine experience into hymns. They distanced their personages from their work by humbly referring to themselves as “Nanak.” This selfless devotion to the principle of Spirit over self was a unifying factor for the Sikh gurus.

4. In his essay, Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad mentions three contemporary social issues: a hedonistic society, individuals competing for displays of wealth, and economic inequality. He describes these as primarily the result of duality and the human condition.

The human condition can be seen as the predisposition of humans to do both good and bad, an internal conflict that becomes compounded with the addition of religion. Why? Religion is a force that sees humans as imperfect beings working towards salvation and an ideal of “good.” Dr. Ahmad highlights that without religion to act as a moral anchor to the heavens, the human condition “has a natural propensity to deteriorate.” This is the human condition right here. It’s dealing with the human potential to be drawn to pleasure but simultaneously working towards harmony and spirituality.

This is the duality that Guru Granth Sahib addresses. One of the objectives of the Guru Granth Sahib is to nudge humanity away from vice and towards the pursuit of spiritual ascension.

The duality creates a paradigm. Through this dichotomy, two types of men are made- the Gurmukh and the Manmukh. Although they were both reared in the smoldering ashes of maya, the two are distinctly different. The Gurmukh is devoted to worship of Waheguru and practicing truth, but the manmukh is consumed with anger and egoism

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਚਾਨਣੁ ਜਾਣੀਐ ਮਨਮੁਖਿ ਮੁਗਧੁ ਗੁਬਾਰੁ


  1. Sikhism recognizes that there is validity in all religions and encourages us to treats everyone with kindness. This mindset is the foundation of a healthy relationship with other religions and harmony with other faiths. This is why we pray “sarbat da bhala”- because we respect and appreciate other religions.

Sri Guru Granth calls on humans to tolerate religious pluralism and co-exist peacefully with those of others faith simply because we all have the same light of Waheguru inside us.

ਏਕੁ ਪਿਤਾ ਏਕਸ ਕੇ ਹਮ ਬਾਰਿਕ ਤੂ ਮੇਰਾ ਗੁਰ ਹਾਈ

This isn’t just taught- it’s applied in Sikhism as well. The Gurus preached that we should give consideration to all religious leaders. Guru Arjan Dev Ji even called upon Shah Mian Mir to lay the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib.

The idea that all humans are ethically equal and deserve equal treatment was radical for the time, but seems more appropriate now, in the age of chaos, than it has ever been. This is the core of the Sikh religion. We must pray for the welfare of all. We must pray for each other. We are one in the eyes of Waheguru.


Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa

Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh


3  Sukhveer Singh

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa

Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh


The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji embodies the spiritual compositions of our Gurus and other holy men. Dr. Neki describes many contexts surrounding this monumental work.


In the first context, “Spirit of the times”, he writes that there was great spiritual awareness during the time of the Gurus. Those who met Guru Nanak Dev Ji were impressed by his humility and clear thinking. Furthermore, Guru Ji created models for inter-faith dialog.


In the second context, “Religious traditions”, Dr. Neki writes that Guru Ji accepted religious traditions that concentrated on spirituality or the praise of God. However, any that were sacrificial or ritualistic were rejected. Guru Ji viewed all men and women as equal in the eyes of God and advocated social justice for all.


In the third context, “Aesthetic”, he writes that while other scriptures are to be read or chanted, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is meant to be sung. It is arranged under a number of ragas of a peaceful tempo to match the spiritual nature of the text. Our Gurus recognized that music is the medium which can make an inroad to our soul and cultivate unity in all those that hear it.

In the fourth context, “Divine Revelations”, Dr. Neki writes about Guru Ji’s profound mystical experience from when He was summoned to the Divine Presence, which he then expressed in the Mool Mantra. When God revealed Bani to our Gurus, they shared it with us through verbal expression and preserved it for future generations in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.


sathigur vich aap rakhioun kar paragatt aakh sunaaeiaa ||

He has placed Himself within the True Guru; revealing Himself, He declares this openly.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji, SGGS Page 466


It is these four contexts that form the core essence of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and so justify the title of the paper.


It is clear from Professor Cole’s paper that the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is both unique and distinctive in several ways.

He notes that it is distinctive by being focused entirely on God – and not on any religious leader. While the Gurus are held in the highest esteem and reverence, it is the message that God revealed to them, that is in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.


log jaanai eihu geeth hai eihu tho breham beechaar ||

People believe that this is just a song, but it is a meditation on God.

Bhagat Kabeer Ji,  SGGS Page 335


Professor Cole highlights another distinction from other sacred texts by noting that congregational worship is centered around the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It is the presence of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib that makes a Gurdwara – without it, the Gurdwara becomes just a building.


The Sri Guru Granth Sahib is also distinctive by including Bani of Hindu Bhagats, Muslim Sufis, and other holy men. It exemplifies the message of “religious equality” and offers advice for Muslims to be better Muslims and for Hindus to be better Hindus.


As the sole successor of our ten Gurus, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is truly unique by making the Guru-ship a continuous institution ever since its inception and forever into the future. There is no other sacred text that holds such a position in any other religion.


baanee guroo guroo hai baanee vich baanee a(n)mrith saarae ||

The Word, the Bani is Guru, and Guru is the Bani. Within the Bani, the Ambrosial Nectar is contained.

Guru Raam Daas Ji, SGGS Page 982




Bhai Dhillon’s paper discusses why the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the unified embodiment and teaching of our first ten Gurus.


It is the religious experience of the ‘spirit of Nanak’ that was the central unifying factor between our ten Gurus.


Guru Nanak Dev Ji received revelations from God and delivered them to the world through Bani.


jaisee mai aavai khasam kee baanee thaisarraa karee giaan vae laalo ||

As the Word of the Forgiving Lord comes to me, so do I express it, O Lalo.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji, SGGS Page 722


The sacred hymns from Guru Ji’s Pothi were added to and then passed on by His successors. Guru Arjan Dev Ji proclaimed:


pothhee paramaesar kaa thhaan ||

This Holy Book is the home of the Transcendent Lord God.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji, SGGS Page 1226


Finally, Guru Gobind Singh Ji conferred eternal Guru-ship to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.


All the Gurus being of the same devotion, service, ability, humility, and allegiance to the mission possessed the same spirit.


joth ouhaa jugath saae sehi kaaeiaa faer palatteeai ||

They shared the One Light and the same way; the King just changed His body.

Bhatt Sathaa & Balvand, SGGS Page 966


To emphasize this, the Gurus added Bani that was revealed to them under the name of ‘Nanak’ rather than that of their own name. As Guru Amar Das Ji writes:


eikaa baanee eik gur eiko sabadh veechaar ||

There is One Bani; there is One Guru; there is one Shabad to contemplate.

Guru Amar Daas Ji, SGGS Page 646



Dr Ahmad, paints a bleak picture of a world without religious guidance where our lives would be threatened by social evils and inequalities.


Three of the social issues he mentions are:

  • Duality
  • Gurmukh versus Manmukh
  • Positive virtues versus vices

Many verses in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib speak of the effects of duality and how to overcome it. Duality pollutes the mind and draws us to worldly pleasures and committing sins.


man mailaa hai dhoojai bhaae ||

mailaa choukaa mailai thhaae ||

The mind is polluted by the love of duality.

Filthy is that kitchen, and filthy is that dwelling

Guru Amar Daas Ji, SGGS Page 121


The message of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is that we have access to God provided we live the life of a Gurmukh – and not that of a Manmukh.
A Gurmukh follows the path of devotion and obtains spiritual wisdom, whereas a manmukh is filled with darkness and attracted to worldly goods.


guramukh chaanan jaaneeai manamukh mugadhh gubaar ||

The Gurmukh knows the Divine Light, while the foolish self-willed manmukh gropes around in the darkness

Guru Nanak Dev Ji, SGGS Page 20


The central social message of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is to give up the five vices: kaam, krodh lobh, moh, and Ahankaar. Living by positive virtues such as sat, santokh, daya, nimrata and pyaar, we can live in social balance and harmony.


sath sa(n)gath maelaap kar pa(n)ch dhooth sa(n)ghaarae||

When one joins the True Assembly, the five vices are liquidated.

Bhai Gurdaas Ji, Vaars Bhai Gurdaas




In his essay, Dharam Singh emphasizes that we live in a world of religious pluralism.

There is no place for an exclusivist attitude to religion as it is harmful to our social fabric. The object of religion is to unite mankind and not to divide it.

sarab dhharam mehi sraesatt dhharam ||

har ko naam jap niramal karam ||

Of all religions, the best religion is to chant the Name of the Lord and maintain pure conduct.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji, SGGS Page 266

Our Gurus taught us that everyone is equal, regardless of our appearance. We are spiritually one with God and ethnically equal, no matter our religious beliefs.

Sadh Sangat Ji, it is our duty to respect, understand, and co-operate with other faith communities. Dharam Singh gives us many examples in his essay:

  • Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited places of pilgrimage important to Hindus and Muslims.
  • Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji gave up his life in order to defend the religious freedom of Hindus.
  • Bhai Kanhaiya served water to all those injured on the battlefield.

The Ardas reminds us that the same One God resides within all of us.

ghatt ghatt mai har joo basai sa(n)than kehiou pukaar ||

The Dear Lord abides in each and every heart; the Saints proclaim this as true.

Guru Tegh Bahaadur Ji, SGGS Page 1427



Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa

Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh




Sep 212016

Youth Kirtan Jatha 1

Hari Singh, Jasleen Panesar, Sophia Singh, Gurleen Kaur and Mahima  Kaur.
Trainer: Bhai Nirmal Singh

Youth Kirtan Jatha 2

Aneet Kaur, Keerat Kaur, Gurdip  Kaur, Bhavandeep Kaur,   Tanvir Kaur.
Trainer : Sn. Leena Kaur


Sep 072016

The role of women in building a future for the Sikhs – A panel discussion with young Sikh women

Panel members:

Dr Charan Kanwal Singh
Reshma Singh
Arjot k. Sandhu
Divya Jyot Kaur
Eileen Kaur Alden
Harbir Kaur Bhatia


The panel explores how it is to be a woman with sikh values and looking back at the steps taken today to create success 500 years later. its a process of envisioning and developing a roadmap to a Sikh community working back from an end goal of a vibrant Sikh culture and values. How do you create men and women that enhance the faith and not diminish it.

Video of Panel Discussion

About the Panel Leader

supreetbSupreet is Chairman of SikhNet’s board and creator of SuperSikh, the first Sikh superhero comic. His ongoing spiritual journey brings practical applications making Sikhi relevant in a modern world. A former CIO, Venture Capitalist and Global Partner he has been in IBM, SGI, KPMG, CA and The White House. Post 9-11, with others he founded Sikh Communications Council. Today as a Silicon Valley executive, he helps companies with innovation, Mergers & Acquisitions, IT and strategy.  He is an Adjunct Professor & Executive-in-Residence at University of Tenneessee, Knoxville.

Aug 292016

The Mystique of Ik (One) and its Profound Applicability


It has been stated by authoritative Sikh scholars (Bhai Sahib Singh, Bhai Veer Singh) that Jap Ji summarizes the message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and the essence of Jap Ji has been distilled in the Moolmantra. Furthermore, it has been said that the symbolic imagery Ik Ongkar encapsulates the plurality and vastness of the manifest world that emanates from a single source, Ik (One). In her presentation Jessi Kaur will focus on Ik, and explore its mystique and munificence. She will move from a conceptual understanding of Ik to its experiential aspect, and the profound impact the application of the essence of Ik can have on our life.

Video of Presentation

Body of Paper

The mystique of One and its profound applicability to life

By Jessi Kaur

Legend goes that when Guru Nanak was living in a town called Sultanpur Lodhi, one day while bathing in a river he disappeared into it. Everyone thought he had drowned. He returned after three days and made the proclamation that “There is no Hindu and there is no Musalman”, and thereafter proceeded with reciting the Jap Ji, the first of many divine revelations he received.

Authoritative Sikh scholars (Bhai Veer Singh, Singh Sahib Giani Mani Singh) are of the opinion that Jap Ji summarizes the message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and the essence of Jap Ji has been distilled in the Moolmantra, the opening verse of Jap Ji: “Ik Ongkar Sat naam Karta Purak Nirbhu Nirvair Akaal Murat Ajooni Sehbnahg Gurparsaad.”

Ik or Ek, is germane to understanding the basic premise of Sikhi because the entire expanse of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is an exploration of the mystique and munificence of Ik. I will attempt to move from a conceptual understanding of Ik to its experiential aspect and the profound impact of its application in our lived reality.

Guru Nanak chose IK (numeral one) to describe the essence of the Creator. According to Bhai Veer Singh (Santhya SGGS Pothi 1), Ik is not used as an adjective that describes a noun, but is used as a noun, the name of a person. The rest of the mool mantra describes the uniqueness and vastness of Ik, endowing the Ik of Jap Ji with a depth of meaning that is as fathomless as the nature of Ik.

Ik is placed before Ong, the age old symbol representing the auspicious sound manifestation of the Creator. But Guru Nanak opened the vowel ura at the top to indicate its expanse as Kar (dynamic action). He used the imagery of Ongkar to embody the manifestation of Ik into many.

Ongkar eko rav reha sab ekas mahe samavego

Eko roop eko bahu rangi sab ekat bachan chalavego

Gurmukh eko ek pachhata gurmukh hoay lakhavego (SGGS 1310)

The One and Only Creator of the Universe is all-pervading everywhere. All shall once again merge into the One. His One Form has one, and many colors; He leads all according to His One Word. || 4 || The Gurmukh realizes the One and Only Lord is revealed to the Gurmukh.

Furthermore, Ik is both formless and immanent in creation.

Agam agochar roop na rekheya,

khojat khojat ghat ghat dekhya (SGGS P838)

Fathomless, invisible, without form

Upon searching is found in each and every heart.

Even as Ongkar diffuses in every particle of creation, it remains inviolable and intact as a singular and unique entity.

Ekam ekamkaar nirlala, amar ajoni jaat na jalaa

The One Universal Creator is unique, immortal, unborn, beyond social class or involvement. SGGS P 38

Mool matra goes on to state another quality of Ik which is inherent in its quintessence: Ik is constant, does not vary or change. It is the only truth because anything that changes is not truth, it is transitory. Truth however is stable and unvarying.

Aad sach jugad sach, haibhi sach

Nanak hosi bhi Sach

True in the primal beginning, true throughout the ages,

True here and now, O Nanak forever and ever true. SGGS P1

Sat is followed by Naam which literally means name, but is not intended to give Ik, the nameless cosmic force a name. Naam refers to the vibration, light, the spirit, the essence if you will, of the creative force. Naam also refers to the innumerous qualities of the Doer. Sat naam is the essence of the timeless supreme truth that words fail to describe, eyes are unable to see, and the mind cannot comprehend.

Karta Purakh further explains the doer aspect of Naam that with one utterance manifested a dynamic Universe with infinite forms, immutable laws, held together by the Will of the Creator and infused with its essence.

The moolmantra describes Ik as Nirbhau and Nirvair. Being the Creative force, Ik is also the nurturer, the benevolent provider, the protector with no hatred, angst, malevolence towards anyone. Being above and beyond its creation, the first cause, and indebted to none, Ik is fearless. Furthermore, the creator Ik is not far from its creation; it is a part of it, immanent in it and watches over it. But while creation ebbs and flows, forms and dissolves, shapes and reshapes, Ik remains undying (akaal murat), unborn (ajooni), self-created (saibhang) entity within the churning and outside of it.

It is not surprising that human language is unable to convey the mystical phenomenon of Ik. It can be fathomed only by the grace of an enlightened soul (Guru).

As the creator and nurturer Ik is always kind, forgiving, benevolent, merciful, and endlessly giving. Dynamic creation extends from Ik and reverts back into it. As the rays of the light merge with the Sun, and rivers lose themselves in the Ocean, the dispersive light of the Creator comes back into its fold.

Suraj Kiran milay jal ka jal hua raam

Jyoti jyot rali sampuran thea raam

The rays of light merge with the sun, and water merges with water. One’s light blends with the Light, and one becomes totally perfect.

Such is the playful nature of Ik. In fact SGGS refers to creation as Waho waho ka vadda tamasa, an epic play of the Divine. The play is interactive. We are the performing actors that crisscross with the Divine, and other actors who are part of the caste.

The Creator made the play complex by throwing in some warring elements:

Eho jug aap upayean kar choj vidaan

Panch dhaat vich payean moh zhoot guman (SGGS P786)

The Supreme One created the world and staged this wondrous play

Within the five elements of the body were infused attachment, falsehood and conceit.

As if this were not enough some smokescreens were also added to throw the players off :

Ekam eke aap upayeya dubedha dooja tribadh maya

First, the One created the One; second, the sense of duality; third, the three-phased Maya. (SGGS 113)

We have to out game the maneuvers of Maya (a catch all for everything that distracts) that clouds our mind and take us away from constant alignment with the Divine and Bharam the illusion of separateness from the Divine and our co-actors that propels us to work against each other rather than for the benefit of one another.

The best outcomes are achieved only when we recognize the oneness that connects us – each one of us carries the same spark, is fashioned from the same clay and our goal is to merge back into the Light we come from which is also our true nature.

Ya yug mein eke ko aayea, janmat moehoe mohni maya

We have come into this world to become One,

But ever since birth, we have been enticed by the fascination of Maya. (SGGS 251)

An important step towards clearing the veil of braham is mindfully recognizing:

Bahar bheetar eko jaano eh gur gyan bataee

Jan Nanak bin aapa cheeney mitay na brahm ki kaee (SGGS 684)

Wisdom lies in recognizing that within us and outside of us -there is only One reality.

Without self- reflection the algae of doubt doesn’t go away.

Scientists and spiritualists are converging in seeing the connectedness of all things. We hear phrases like “unified field” form physicists and “ecology of oneness” from Sufi mystics. Our prejudices, biases, violence in words and in action stem from our ego and not from our essence. It is the dominance of ego that over arches the strong hold of kaam, krodh, lobh moh ahnkar (Lust, anger, greed, attachment and arrogance). The conquest of ego entails constant battling of two opposing forces – Ego and Oneness. The role of ego is to create walls, to serve the self, and to perpetuate selfishness. One is all embracing love that simply put brings down the walls. This is the game that is played out, won or lost on the stage of life. The tension is constant. The narrow trail that leads to wining has been described as finer than a strand of hair, sharper than a razor’s edge. The trail takes us away from the swamp of exploitation and steers us towards spiritual responses to daily challenges : choices and decisions that don’t merely serve material gains but help us garner true wealth that comes from preserving and sustaining the unifying presence that ties us to one another and to our eco system. The true wealth is earned by strengthening the sound vibration of naam in our heart through chanting, seeking guidance through prayer, and living by the principles laid out by the sages through the centuries. The synergy of daily practice and grace (gurprasad) enable us to expand our sense of self. Alignment with One enables our actions to be for the larger good of all. We find inner fulfillment and outer peace. Contradictions and conflicts are effaced in the experience of a unified whole.


1.Santhya Sri Guru granths Sahib Ji – Pothi Pehli – Bhai Veer Singh (Publisher Bhai veer Singh Sahitya Sadan 1983)

2.Sidhantik Steek Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Pehli Sainchi – Singh Sahib Giani Mani Singh (Publisher Gurbani Study Society – 1991)



About the Author


Jessi Kaur is the author of three highly acclaimed children’s books.She travels extensively to deliver seminars on Sikhi and is a frequent contributor to populous and scholarly publications. For more info

Aug 242016

Naam Simran – Concept and Practice

Inder Mohan Singh


Naam is at the heart of Sikhi – “Nanak ke ghar keval Naam” – (The house of Nanak is filled with just Naam). The purpose of life, according to Gurbani, is union with God through Naam Simran.

Naam is a very broad and deep, mystical concept. We will look at both the meaning and practice of Naam Simran.

Video of Presentation

Body of Paper


Naam Simran – Concept and Practice
Inder Mohan Singh

Naam Simran is at the very heart of the spiritual message of Sikhi. Gurbani tells us “Nanak ke ghar keval Naam.” In the house of Nanak, or Sikhi, there is only Naam – that is really what being a Sikh is all about.

Sikhi has been described as Naam Marag – the path of Naam. In traditional Inidan philosophy, there are three paths to achieving union with the Divine – Karam marag, Gyan marag and Bhakti marag. Sikhi is Naam Marag, which includes aspects of all three, although it is closest to Bhakti marag.

The Guru tells us that the whole purpose of life is to seek union with God which is achieved through Naam Simran.

Bhaee parapat manukh dehuria Gobind milan ki eho teree baria

Awar kaaj tere kitay no kaam, mil saadh sangat bhaj keval naam.   [SGGS p. 12[

( This human body has been given to you. This is your chance to meet the Lord of the Universe. Nothing else is of any use. Join the Saadh Sangat)and meditate on the Jewel of the Naam.)

Nothing else is as important as Naam Simran. Gurbani has many passages asserting how useless life is without Naam.

Mar na jaee jina bisrat raam, naam bina jeevan kaun kaam    [SGGS p. 188]

( Those who forget the Lord might just as well die.

Without the Naam, of what use are their lives?)

Naam bina nahi jeevia jai                                [SGGS p. 366]

(Without Naam, it is not really living – you are spiritually dead.)

So what is Naam?

The literal meaning of Naam, of course, is Name. You use a name as a kind of handle to refer to someone or something. This has been described as “Akhri naam” the literal word that identifies someone or something. But this word or name brings to mind some attributes or qualities, or the concept you have regarding what it points to – this can be called the “sookhsham naam” or conceptual naam or its deeper meaning. For example, when you say “table” this akhri naam or word makes us think of something with four legs and a flat top on which you can put stuff, the essence or concept of what a table is. Similarly the word Waheguru invokes the concept and attributes of the Diivne that are described throughout Gurbani.

Two other forms of Naam that we will talk about can be called “Vyapak Naam” – the all pervading Divine Presence of Naam, and “Anubhavi Naam” or “Naam anubhav” which is what you experience when you practice Naam Simran and get in tune with the Divine.

With respect to the Akhri Naam, there are sseveral other terms in Gurbani that ae broadly related to Naam – Simran which means remembrance; jap or japna which refers to repeating or chanting the Name; Dhian or dhiawanaa which is more about concentration or meditation. The word “shabad” is also used frequently in a very similar sense to Naam. The word “mantar” or “Gurmantar” is also used in Gurbani

In other religions too, we find “Name” and “Word” come up often for similar concepts. Both of these words are used frequently in Hinduism, particularly in Vedanta, in a very similar way. In Christianity and Judaic faiths, Name and Word come up also. For example, one of the ten commandments tells us not to use the Name of God in vain. So the name of God is something very special to them. “Word” is used a lot too. For example the bible says “In the beginnig was the Word and the Word was God”

Naam is a word with broad, deep, and often mystical meanings. As used in Gurbani, in additon to the literal meaning of Naam as name or akhri naam, there are at least three deeper levels of meaning to the word Naam.

The first is as an aspect of the Divne Himself – a mystical all-pervading Divine Presence or force or vibration – which we can call the “Viaapak Naam

Second, it used to describe a state of being in tune with or one with Naam, or the experience of being in this state of God consciousness or God awareness. When someone practices Naam Simran, the experience is also Naam, or “Anubhavi Naam

Finally, it refers to the process or techniques for actualy achieving this state of God Counciousness, the practice of Naam Simran or Naam Japnaa.

At the deepest level, as discussed above, Naam refers to the essence of Waheguru, an aspect of the Divine.

In Asa-di-Vaar, Guru Nanak Ji tells us

Aapi ne aap saajio aapeenay rachio Nao

Dui kudrat saajeeay kar aasan ditho chao   [SGGS p. 463]

Waheguru created Himself, then He established the creative power or spirit of Naam and through that Naam He create all of kudrat or creation. So Waheguru starts in the Nirgun or absolute state, and then He creates all of kudrat or creation. But before that, somewhere in between, there is Naam.

So Naam is an aspect of God Himself, a Divine force or Presence that is the underlying foundation of all of creation.

You can think of the laws of nature as also being a manifestation of this Naam which is the foundation of everything in the universe.

A couple of other words in Gurbani that are used for the same concept are Jot (or Divine Light) and Hukam.

This all pervading spirit of Naam, the Vyapak Naam, is the underpinning or foundation of everything in the universe:

Naam ke dhare saglay jant
Naam ke dhare khand brahmand   [SGGS p. 384]

It is difficult to get our arms about this concept of Naam and define it in a concrete way because according ot Gurbani, Naam, like Waheguru Himself, is agam, agochar – incomprehensible, unfathomaable and indescribable. You cannot really analyze it, you can only experience it.

Naam as an Experience or State (Anubhavi Naam)

Naam is also used to describe a state or experience – what we may call anubhavi naam– the expreience of being in tune with the Vyapak Naam or all pervading spirit of Naam.

This is a mystical experience or state that is referred to by several words in Gurbani including Chautha pad, or the fourth state – beyond the three gunas or modes in which we normally operate, so it is a state of trancendence. Other terms in Gurbani that refer to this state include Turia awastha, Sehaj awastha and Dasam dwar.

This anubhavi naam is a mystical eperience that is beyond description in words. It is described as goongay the mithai – like a mute person tasing something really delicious but he is incapable of expressing it in words, he can only smile in delight.

The Gurus describe this Naam experience in many different ways, but they have to use metaphor and allegory; they can give us some glimpses but they cannot describe it in its entirety because it is an akath katha – a story that cannot be expressed in words.

This experience is described in various colorful ways in many beautiful shabads not only by the Gurus, but also by all the bhagats. Some shabads describe it using images from Yogic terminology, some in terms of brilliant light, while others refer to Divine music – anhad shabad. Individuals who reach this stage experience it in several different ways.

A key part of the Naam experience is anand – bliss, joy or ecstasy, also described as ras – like drinking something delicious and fulfllling.

When we speak of this Naam experience, it is like being in a constant spiritual high. Gurbani often uses the terminology of driniking and being intoxicated.

Baba man matwaro naam ras peevai

Sehaj anand rach rahia                      [SGGS p. 360]

(O Baba, my mind is intoxicated with the Naam, drinking in its Nectar. It remains absorbed in the Lord’s Love.)

There are many such shabads using the imagery of drinking liquor or wine. Drinking alcohal is not something that is recommended, of course, instead we are encouraged to get intoxicated on Naam.

These experiences are not unique to Sikhi. In every religious tradition, there have been some who have followed a path of Divine medititation or reflection and have described similar mystical experiences. Naam is in fact at the core of most faiths, but they get destracted from it by religious dogma and ritual. Some segment of these faiths have gone after the mystical path of spiritual experience. Within Islam you have the Sufis, the Christians have had their Christian mystics in some of the monastries, and so on.

All the bhagats in the SGGS, not just the Gurus, talk about Naam Simran and this mystical Naam experience, even using the word Naam. The bhagats came from differenct religious backgrounds, so we can see that Naam Simran was already being practiced by some within all of these faith traditions.

The Unitive experience

A key aspect of this mystical Naam state is the unitive experiene, a strong sense of Oneness, that all of creation is one, all are connected and part of the One.

Brahama deesai brahama suneeai ek ek vakhaaniay

Aatam pasaara karan haraa prabh bina nahi jaaneeay [SGGS p. 846]

(I see God, hear God, and speak of the One and only God.

The Divine spirit is seen in the expanse of creation. Without God, I see no other at all.)

And again:

Sabh gobind hai sabh gobind hai Gobind bin nahi koi

Soot ek man sat sahans jaise ot prot prabh soee                     [SGGS p. 485]

(God is everything, God is everything. Without God, there is nothing at all.

As one thread holds hundreds and thousands of beads, He is woven into His creation).

All of creation is like a maalaa or a necklace or rosary, and everything can be thought of as the different beads strung on a string. That string that connects and supports everything is Naam. The beads include all the people that we see. So one of the goals of the Sikh spiritual path is to see the Naam in everybody and to treat every one accordingly. This is a key driver of the ethics of Sikhi.

Na ko bairi nahi baigana, sagal sang ham ko ban aee

sabh me rav rahia prabh eko pekh pekh Naanak bigsaee   [SGGS 1299]

(No one is an enemy or a stranger, I get along with every one

The One God is pervading in all. Gazing upon Him, beholding Him, Nanak blossoms forth in happiness)

Naam Simran – the Practice

Now we get to the practice of Naam Simran.

Some people think of it as Naam Japna – the repetition or chanting of “Waheguru” or other mantra or name of God. There is much discussion around whether Wheguru is the Guru mantra? Some chant the whole of the mool mantar, others chant Ekonkar satnaam waheguru. Many people or groups have different styles of chanting it as well

Then there is meditiation or focussed contemplation. Again, there are many different ways of doing this, with some advocating specific postures of sitting, different breathing techniques, focussing your attention on a specific spot such as the middle of the forehead, belly button, and so on. None of these are wrong, whatever helps to get in the right contemplative state is fine.

What really matters is one’s attitude, frame of mind, dedication and focus.

Some people say Simran is really sifat salaah – praisisng God and singing His praises instead of just repeating his Name or chanting Waheguru. Others say instead of His Name, think of His attributes. In fact Jaap sahib does just that – it takes you through one quality of God after another, addressing hundreds of Divine attributes.

Naam Simran in Sikhi is an integrated, holistic process of getting in Tune with the Vyapak Naam, the Divine Spirit, which can include all of these components. Gurbani, kirtan and nitnem are important parts of the process as well.

Gurbani reminds us constantly of God, praises Him and show us many different ways to relate to Him. Kirtan adds music, which can move us at a deep level, and which provides a whole other dimension of tuning in. In the early stages, these are the most effective ways of developing our concept of God and relating to Him. For someone who has had no exposure to Gurbani, who wants to be a Sikh, if you say just sit and repeat “Waheguru, Waheguru” and tune in to the Divine, it isn’t likely to be very effective. The word Waheguru is not going to mean very much to him. It is through the Guru’s word, in the form of nitnem, paath and kirtan, that we develp the concept of Waheguru and start relating to His Name. It is Gurbani, in its many forms, that helps us to add the deeper meaning to the Word or the Akhri Naam.

All of these: paath, kirtan, nitnem, are forms of Naam Simran that can take us along the path of tuning into the Divine. However, the ultimate part of the process which is really important for the Naam experience is the actual Naam Simran, which consists of dedicated meditation and contemplation, sitting down and focussing just on Naam. Gurbani itself tells us repeatedly to Naam Japo, to do Naam Simran. So we have to take this next step, otherwise we are reciting Gubani, but not actually doing what the Guru is telling us to do.

When you first start meditating on Naam, it can be really challenging to stay focussed. Concentrating on a single word like Waheguru goes against the mind’s tendency to run around chasing one thought after another. Naam Japna can feel difficult and even boring. It has been described as “sil alooni chatna” or like licking a tasteless stone. At the earlier stages, kirtan and paath can be much more enjoyable. But you have to keep at it and after a while, Naam Simran becomes more and more enjoyable, and full of “ras”

Raam ras pia re ram ras pia re       [SGGS p. 387]

Then you actually look forward to your daily time for meditation. If you don’t do it, you feel you are missing something.

The practice of Naam Simran consists of regular, dedicated meditation on some word which is His Name, and “Waheguru” is the favored word. Now Waheguru itself does not appear in Gurbani, except in the Bani of the bhats where it is used in praise of Guru Ramdas. The words “wah wah” or Awesome do appear in many places. There is also this line from Bhai Gurdas where he says “Wahguru Gurmantar hai”. Gurbani uses names like Har, Raam, Gobind, Allah and many others:

Har har naam japo man mere

Raam Raam bol Raam Raam

Saas saas simro Gobind

Many who are not Sikhs, including the bhagats, have used many of these names other than Waheguru, and they have all been doing Naam Simran.

The Name of Waheguru is more importan, in my opinion, than the speceific word one may use. I personally use “Waheguru” when I do Naam simran, because that is the tradition that I have grown up with. I personally like Waheguru becasuse it evokes a sense of wonder and awesomeness of Waheguru.

As we said earlier, there are many opinions on the specifics of the mantar, the posture, breathing techniques, etc. What really matters is one’s attitude and frame of mind, and the dediction and focus with which we approach it.

What is really essential is to fill our hearts with love as we say Waheguru and to feel His love for us, to feel enveloped in love – for Waheguru is all love. That is what adds real meaning to simran – experiencing the love, experiencing the Divine Presence, and blissfully enjoying the ras.

Guru Ji tells us.

Jin prem kio tin hi prabh payo … Guru Gobind Singh

(Only those who love can achieve the Beloved.)

One of the biggest challenges in the practice of Naam Simran is to still the mind and keep it focussed. The mind is inherently very “chanchal” or restless and slippery. You try to keep it focussed but something triggers a thought, then one thought leads to another, and suddenly you realize you have lost it. You then have to gently bring it back on track.

One way to deal with this challeng is to use a favorite line or two from Gurbani and repeat it once or twice before gettng back to “Wahguru”. I usually choose a line about love like

So satgur pyara mer naal hai


Saajanra mera saajanraa, nikat khaloya mera saajanraa.

So as to experience the love as I get back to focussing on Waheguru. You can choose any Gurbani line that appeals to you.

Bliss and joy are a key part of the Naam Simran experience.

Tere ghar anand vadhaee tud ghar                 [SGGS p 965]

(God’s house or presence if full of bliss and celebration)

Anand bhaiaa meri mae Satguru mai paya       [SGGS p. 917]

(I am in ecstasy, O my mother, for I have found my True Guru.)

This is what we must strive to feel as we do the Naam Simran.

Another important aspect of the Practice of Naam Simran is surrender, overcoming our haumai.

Haumai naave naal virodh hai doi na vasai ik thai           [SGGS p. 560]

(Haumai and Naam are enemies; they cannot dwell in the same place.)

Now, Gurbani also tells us that Naam is the best way to overcome Haumai. So it is an iterative process.

When people talk about meditation, they often say you have to make your mind blank, and empty it of all thought. That does not really work. The mind cannot be made blank, and in any case a blank mind is useless. What you have to do is to still it instead and focus it. In fact you have to fill it, not empty it, but fill it instead with loving thoughts of Waheguru and the Divine presence. You do have to stop it from all other thoughtss, the usual chatter in which the mind likes to indulge.

When the surface of the water in a lake is disturbed by a pebble dropped in the water, or by the wind, you cannot see the bottom because of all the waves. But when the waves are stilled, you can clearly look through the water and see the rocks at the bottom, and the colorful fish swimming around. If someone were to throw a stone, suddenly you cannot see anything any more. The stone is the thought, and the beautiful colorful fish deep in the water is the experience of Waheguru and His presence. Only when your other thoughts are stilled can you experience the Divine presence deep within the self.

There is some debate on when we should do Naam Simran. The best time is early in the morning. But the Guru also says

Har simran ki sagli bela     [SGGS p. 1150]

(Any time is good for doing Simran.)

We are told to do simran saas giraas – with every morsel of food and with every breath, that is at all times.

Rain dinas parbhaat toohai hee gavana.   [SGGS p. 652]

(Night and day, morning and night, I sing to You)

But the best time to sit down and do dedicated Simran is at amrit vela or the ambrosial hour early in the morning.

Gur satgur ka jo sikh akhaae so bhalke uth har naam dhavai                [SGGS p. 305]

(One who calls himself a Sikh of True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord’s Name.)

We hear this message not only from Guru Ram Das ji as in this shabad, but every one of the Gurus gives us this same message about amrit vela in their banis. There are also references to simran at amrit vela in the banis of all the bhagats: Naamdev, Kabir, Ravidas as well as Fareed who comes from the Islamic side.

Early in the morning at amrit veal, most people are still asleep and all the daily activiies and the noise and distractions haven’t picked up. Also the body is fresh after a night’s sleep. So it is a the ideal time for Naam Simran, although any time is good.


We have to put in dedicated effort to progress on this path of Naam, but it is ultimately all in Waheguru’s hands, subject to His Grace.

Karam milai aakhan tera nao       [SGGS p. 662]

(It is only by Your Grace that we chant your Naam)

We can only hold up the bowl and pray for the gift of Naam, and it is Waheguru who pours the Naam amrit into it in His Grace.

Naam Simran is like a door. We go through that door to meet Waheguru, but Waheguru also meets us through the same door. So it is a two way process.

In the words of Bhai Gurdaas,

Charan saran Gur ek painda jai chal

Satgur kot painda aagai hoe let hai (Bhai Gurdas)

(Take one step towards the Guru, and He will take a hundred steps forward to receive you.)

Saas saas simran

Gurbani tells us do simran all the time – saas saas, with every breadth. How can we do this as we go about our worldly activities. We have to pay attention to whatever we are engaged in. If you are working on an engineering problem, for example, you have to concentrate pretty intensely on it. What Guru Ji is telling us is to be a constant state of God conciousness or God awareness.

Haath pair kar kaam sabh

Cheet niranjan naaal         [SGGS p. 1376]

(Go through all your activities, but keep God in your heart.)

As you practice Naam Simran, the Naam comes to reside in your heart at a level below the concious level, it becomes a part of who you are and all your actions are guided by this God awarenes. You would refrain from doing anything unethical, for example. Even when you are engaged in mental activities that require concentration, the connection with Waheguru will remain intact.

Rewards of Naam Simran

Let us touch very briefly on a few of the many rewards of Naam Simran. The main objective of Naam Simran is to get past the cycle of birth and death

and to achieve everlasting union with the Waheguru. However, Gurbani tells that you don’t have to wait for the afterlife to enjoy the rewards. The benefits start flowing right away and right here in our life.

Ih lok sukẖī▫e parlok suhele   [SGGS p. 292]

(Be at peace in this world, and happy in the next)

Through Naam Simran, you get peace, stability and strength of character. You are able to maintain an even keel through the ups and downs of life. Whatever life throws at you, you can remain in Chardi Kalaa.

Naam has powerful healing properties. Gurbani tells us

Sarab rog ka aukhad naam     [SGGS p. 274]

(Naam can provide a cure for all ailments of the body, mind and spirit).

Kar isnaan simar prabh apna man tan bhae aroga   [SGGS p. 611]

(Take a bath in the sarovar of Naam amrit and your body and mind are healed].

Naam Simran is the “soap” that can cleanse us of our sins and weaknesses, make us better humans and more worthy of our ultimate destiny of merging with the Divine.

Bhareeay hath pair tan deh
Paani dhotai utras kheh

Bhareeay mat papa ke sang
oh dhopai naavai ke rang       [SGGS p. 4]

( When the hands and the feet and the body are dirty,

water can wash away the dirt

– – –

But when the intellect is stained and polluted by sin,

it can only be cleansed by the Love of the Name.)

Let us close with the words from the end of the ardaas:

Naanak Naam chardi kalaa!

(Through the power of Naam, may we all grow spiritually and live in Chardi Kalaa)



About the Author

InderDr. Inder M. Singh is the Chairman of Chardi Kalaa Foundation, and has served on the boards of several Sikh non profit organizations including SALDEF and Sikh Foundation.
He is the Chairmanof Lynx Software Technologies and was CEO until 2006. He founded Excelan, and served as its chairman, CEO and president.. He was a co-founder of Kalpana, one of Cisco’s early acquisitions. Dr. Singh has served on the boards of several high-tech companies.. He holds Ph.D. and M.Phil. degrees in computer science from Yale University, an MSEE from Polytechnic Institute of New York, and B. Tech (Hons) in Electronics from IIT, Kharagpur.

Aug 242016

Kaljug mein Kirtan Pardhana: How Kirtan Helps in Applying the Message of SGGS

Dr. Inderjit Kaur


We often think of kaljug (an era of vices) as a distant notion that is not of our making. In this presentation I reflect on some of the ways that Gurbani points to our human actions that sustain kaljug – across centuries, cultures, and continents, and then discuss how kirtan helps us overcome the vices.

Video of Presentation

Body of Paper

“Kaljug mein Kirtan Pardhana” :

How Gurbani Kirtan Helps in Applying the Message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib

Dr. Inderjit N. Kaur

We often think of kaljug (an era of vices) as a distant notion that is not of our making. However gurbani tells us in numerous sabad that we are immersed in lifestyles that sustain kaljug, lifestyles caught in a web of greed (lobh) and arrogance (ahankar) to such an extent that we are in denial about them; we live in delusion (bharam). In this paper I discuss how gurbani kirtan (the musical rendering of gurbani) can help us overcome the social ills we perpetuate, often without awareness.

I will make my point with the help of a well-known sakhi (life story) about Guru Nanak, and a sabad by Guru Ramdas, as well as its musical rendition by the most renowned ragi of the last several decades, Bhai Harjinder Singh Srinagar Wale and his brother Bhai Maninder Singh. A thread running through these three that I will focus on will be the gurbani concepts of har-ras (divine sensations) and an-ras (other sensations).

Our guru sahiban not only sang and wrote down gurbani, but also put its message into action in their daily lives to counter kaljug. The painting below is a picturization of a sakhi which describes one of the many ways Guru Nanak confronted actions and lifestyles that sustain kaljug.

In this sakhi, Guru Nanak rejects the invitation of Malik Bhago, a person who is rich in material wealth but poor in ethical values, and accepts the hospitality of Bhai Lalo, a person who is poor in wealth but rich in moral virtues. Through this action, Guru Nanak is leading us on how to conduct our everyday social lives. He is setting an example that we should choose those we associate with on the basis of their ethical values rather than the value of their wealth and power. Indeed, that is the very concept of sadh sangat – the company of the ethical. In this sakhi Guru Nanak is also setting an example of courage, of exposing wrong-doing and standing up against it. He squeezes the food prepared at the homes of both men to expose Malik Bhago’s vices through the blood that oozes from his food, and Bhai Lalo’s virtues through the milk that flows from his. The sakhi uses the metaphor of ras, literally juice and essence.

By comparing the pure ras in the food of the humble and honest Bhai Lalo with the impure ras in the arrogant and dishonest Malik Bhago’s food, Guru Nanak is also teaching us that what we ingest matters. In many sabads in Guru Granth Sahib, we are asked to drink, eat, taste and savor har-ras and amrit-ras – the experience of the divine. These have ethical connotations too. Har is a word for the divine that refers to the divine moral virtue of removing suffering. Amrit is that which does not die, which is everlasting, that is truth and truthfulness. Ras here is then an experiential sensation of divine virtues. By incorporating these divine sensations into one’s body, one render’s it capable of divine actions, such as empathy and compassion for the less fortunate, and courage to speak truth to power, that Guru Nanak is showing in the above sakhi.

An-ras on the other hand is described in gurbani as the experience of other ras, of excessive consumption and worldly pleasures, as for example in the following shabad.

ਗਉੜੀ ਬੈਰਾਗਣਿ ਮਹਲਾ ੪ ॥

Gauṛī bairāgaṇ mėhlā 4.

Gauree Bairaagan, Fourth Mehl.

ਮੇਰੇ ਰਾਮ ਇਹ ਨੀਚ ਕਰਮ ਹਰਿ ਮੇਰੇ ॥

Mere rām eh nīcẖ karam har mere.

My waheguru, these are my unethical actions.

ਗੁਣਵੰਤਾ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਦਇਆਲੁ ਕਰਿ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਬਖਸਿ ਅਵਗਣ ਸਭਿ ਮੇਰੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Guṇvanṯā har har ḏaiyāl kar kirpā bakẖas avgaṇ sabẖ mere. rahāo.

Virtuous, Remover of suffering, Compassionate, bless me with your grace, forgive my vices. Pause.

ਕੰਚਨ ਨਾਰੀ ਮਹਿ ਜੀਉ ਲੁਭਤੁ ਹੈ ਮੋਹੁ ਮੀਠਾ ਮਾਇਆ ॥

Kancẖan nārī mėh jīo lubẖaṯ hai moh mīṯẖā māiyā.

With my being/inclination immersed in the greed for wealth, sexual pursuits, worldly pleasures,

ਘਰ ਮੰਦਰ ਘੋੜੇ ਖੁਸੀ ਮਨੁ ਅਨ ਰਸਿ ਲਾਇਆ ॥

Gẖar manḏar gẖoṛe kẖusī man an-ras lāiā.

And my happiness linked to conspicuous consumption, I am absorbed in an-ras.

ਹਰਿ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਚਿਤਿ ਨ ਆਵਈ ਕਿਉ ਛੂਟਾ ਮੇਰੇ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਇਆ ॥੧॥

Har parabẖ cẖiṯ na āvī kio cẖẖūtā mere har rāiā. 1

I do not remember divine virtues and, not surprisingly, have lost my divine.

As this sabad emphasizes, an-ras leads one away from divine virtues and ethical action. Conspicuous consumption is particularly seen in gurbani as unethical action, because it leads to arrogance, and to further greed. Arrogance deprives one of the ability to see and treat all human beings as equal and deserving of the same human dignity. Greed compromises one’s ethical principles. And both these escape the awareness of the person subject to them, making her/him a contributor to the preservation of kaljug.

To draw people away from the charms that the wealthy and powerful can offer, Guru Nanak travelled far and wide singing his songs that spoke of the divine and divine virtues, of ethics and social justice. Indeed the theme of this sakhi, and of daily ethical action, can be found in many sabad of our guru sahiban, such as:

ਊਠਤ ਬੈਠਤ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਧਿਆਈਐ ਅਨਦਿਨੁ ਸੁਕ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਕਰੀਐ ॥

Ūṯẖaṯ baiṯẖaṯ har har ḏẖiāīai anḏin sukariṯ karīai.

As you go about, contemplate the divine; day in and out, enact good actions.

Guru Granth Sahib: 621

Our guru sahibs not only used the medium of music to communicate their message, they explicitly proclaimed musical rendition as the most effective means of accessing the divine and divine virtues – “Kaljug mein kirtan pardhana.” Why? Why is the musical rendering of gurbani the most efficacious means in an era of vices?

The answer lies in music’s ability to affect us. Music moves us; it creates action tendencies. Some aspects of music that are particularly effective in affecting us are intonation, phrasing, repetition and variation, and voice quality.

Music creates ras in us. This can be har-ras or an-ras depending on the text (lyrics), context, associations, memories and histories. Music, including rāg music, can generate an-ras and lead us away from the divine. For example, music in product advertisements leads to unnecessary and conspicuous consumption, which further leads to arrogance and greed, trapping one in a loop of vices outside one’s awareness.

When music is paired with gurbani, it can generate har-ras. It can move us to enact divine virtues, to ethical actions. Listening to gurbani kirtan, especially with sadh sangat amplifies the message of gurbāni, the ras from gurbani.

In the following short music analysis I discuss how phrasing, and repetition and variation are beautifully executed by Bhai Harjinder Singh and Bhai Maninder Singh in their rendition of the sabad discussed above, ਮੇਰੇ ਰਾਮ ਇਹ ਨੀਚ ਕਰਮ ਹਰਿ ਮੇਰੇ ॥ (Mere rām eh nīcẖ karam har mere.). This rendition can be heard on YouTube at

The first rahao line is sung as two melodic lines. In the first melodic line, the initial sabad phrase, mere ram, is repeated thrice, starting from the tonic note, Sa. Spanning the octave to reach the upper Sa, the melody carries us up toward waheguru. The repetition of ‘mere ram’ intensifies the address and plea to waheguru. Listening and singing along, ram-ras begins to flow in the body, opening one to the rest of the message of the sabad. The second melodic line is used for the rest of the first sabad line, eh nich karam har mere. This sabad phrase is also repeated thrice, but the melodic line starts from the upper Sa and moves down, matching the introspective mood of the sabad text. Both melodic lines end on Ma, tying the two together. As the sabad progresses, a supporting ragi often repeats melodic variations of the phrases sung by the main ragis in call and response form, adding to the intensity of the address to waheguru.

The phrasing in the rest of the sabad is also masterful. Each phrase of each line of the sabad is sung with a well-fitting melodic phrase, the pauses in between aiding comprehension and emotional affect. The overall result is ras-bhinaa (ras-drenched) kirtan that moves the body and fills it with har-ras. This is the hallmark of Bhai Harjinder Singh’s compositions and kirtan singing, which has brought har-ras to millions of Sikhs.

Har-ras brings peace and relief from the injustices rampant in kaljug. It can also move one to action to counter kaljug, to have the courage to be truthful, humble, and selfless, instead of becoming collusive with and participant in dishonesty, arrogance and greed.

However, the effectiveness of har-ras in moving us to ethical action is counteracted by all the an-ras flowing in our bodies from our immersion in a consumption oriented lifestyle. Typically, we spend most of the time in activities that produce an-ras, and very little time in activities that produce har-ras. The music too which we choose or which plays in the background in our everyday environments intensifies an-ras. For example, the background music in shopping malls is designed to increase consumer spending. With the immersion in such environments and activities, the effect of the little bit of kirtan listening is overtaken very quickly by the shift to worldly pleasures, taking us away from har-ras and ethical action. The derivation of pleasure from consumption and egotism dulls our ability to be aware of the compromises we make to Sikh values in our daily choices.

Thus, Guru Nanak’s example from the above sakhi is very difficult for us to follow. Not only are we unable to speak truth to power, we yearn the company of the wealthy and powerful, often irrespective of their everyday ethical values (such as arrogance, greed, and duplicity), and therein lies a significant way that we on a daily basis play a role in sustaining kaljug, because we end up further empowering those with poor ethics.

However, Guru Nanak’s example is not impossible to follow, if we make it a conscious project. If we bring focus and mindfulness into our daily choices and actions, and inculcate the awareness of their consequences on ourselves, on others, and on the sustenance of kaljug, we can be strong agents of our guru sahiban’s vision of an egalitarian and just world where divine virtues prevail.

In fact, the more we practice the guru’s ways, the easier it becomes. And that is the gurbani concept of sahaj. Further, the more we practice ethical action, the more pleasurable it becomes. Our body wants more har-ras, and less an-ras.

Fortunately, guru sahiban gave us the gift of gurbani kirtan. It is a great resource for getting har-ras moving in our bodies, and for moving towards everyday choices and actions that, instead of being self-oriented and supportive of kaljug, are self-less and disruptive of kaljug.

To conclude, in this paper I started with Guru Nanak’s sakhi in which he teaches us through the metaphor of ras in food that our ethical inclinations and actions are linked to the ras that flows in our bodies. I went on to demonstrate, with the help of a sabad by Guru Ramdas, that gurbani tells us that our self-centered daily actions create an-ras in our bodies. Finally, I showed through music analysis of Bhai Harjinder Singh and Bhai Maninder Singh’s rendition of Guru Ramdas’s sabad, how kirtan – the musical rendering – amplifies the message of gurbani, and helps create har-ras in our bodies. This har-ras is essential to our ability to stay away from vices such as greed and arrogance that are some of our daily ills sustaining kaljug. But we have to give har-ras a chance!

About the Author

InderjitKaurDr. Inderjit Kaur is a scholar of Gurbani Kirtan, currently teaching at the music department at the University of California, Berkeley. She holds two PhDs, in musicology and in economics, both from UC Berkeley. She holds diplomas in North Indian Classical Music and in South Indian Classical Dance. Her research seeks to understand the history and contemporary practice of kirtan, and its role in Sikh life. Inderjit has published and presented widely for the academy as well as the community. She is currently working on a book that explores the meaningfulness of kirtan in the everyday lives of Sikhs. She would love to hear from you about your experiences with and views on kirtan. She can be reached at


Aug 242016

Applying The Message Of Sikhi – To Ourselves

S. Ravinder Singh Taneja


The Guru Granth Sahib is a living and eternal Guru (Sabad Guru) whose message of Oneness – IK – is universally applicable. As flag bearers of this message, Sikhs have an obligation to spread the seeds of Guru Nanak’s revolution of the mind across political, cultural and religious boundaries. Sikhs must engage in an honest and collective introspection to gauge their own assimilation and embrace of Sikhi and assess their commitment to serve as foot soldiers in Guru Nanak’s cause. This paper has a two-fold purpose: one, to share some personal reflections on our current state and two, share the outline of a newly launched project “Young Minds: Sikh Global Leadership of the Future” aimed at seeding young minds with the message of Sikhi, preparing the soil for global leadership of tomorrow.

Video of Presentation

Body of Paper


Ravinder Singh Taneja



            Sikhs regard the Guru Granth Sahib as the Living and eternal Guru (Sabad Guru) and rightly believe that its message of Oneness – IK – is universally applicable. Sikhs certainly have an obligation (in the spirit of Guru-Chela) to spread the seeds of Sikhi across political, cultural and religious boundaries, especially in the highly divisive environment of today. How to share the message of Sikhi globally is a challenge. Sikhi remains, for the most part, relatively unknown and Sikhs are a tiny minority wherever they live, always adapting and adjusting to the dominant social and political structure. Sikhs have also experienced a long period of colonization, which has colored their worldview and distorted their own understanding of Gurbani, not to mention the fact that Sikhs have lost intimacy with their mother tongue – obstacles in any honest projection of the Guru’s message.

Here I wish to point out that before we consider spreading the Guru’s message globally, Sikhs require collective introspection and self-analysis to gauge their own assimilation and embrace of Sikhi and their commitment to serve as foot soldiers of Guru Nanak.

The argument I make is that if we wish to spread the message of Sikhi across political and cultural boundaries, then we need to first personify that message. This, I believe, is the most effective way of applying Sikhi universally.

I would also like to offer the outline of a newly launched project, “Young Minds: Sikh Global Leadership of the Future” that is aimed at seeding young minds with the message of Sikhi, preparing the soil for global leadership of tomorrow.


The memory of Guru Nanak that persists in the popular consciousness is best captured in a ditty that is sung even today: “Nanak Shah Fakir, Hindu ka Gur, Mussalman ka Pir.” The Guru is remembered as a universally revered spiritual teacher, whose appeal cut across ideological, religious and cultural boundaries. Guru Nanak is also remembered as a gentle, soft-spoken mystic who sang his way into the hearts of the people, but an iconoclast who called out the humbug in religion. He was also a fiery critic who raised his voice against social inequities and a political activist, who was not afraid to take on the Establishment and dared to speak truth to power. Sikh tradition celebrates the coming of Guru Nanak as the descending of Divine Light on Earth to dispel the mist and fog of spiritual ignorance in Kali Yug – the Age of Darkness. Nanak’s appearance was to be the beginning of a new Way (Tisar Panth) that was based on his mystical experience of IK or ONENESS.

As inheritors of Nanak, the icon of universality, and as standard bearers of his message, it is only natural that Sikhs should feel pressed to answer the call of how to apply Guru Nanak’s universal and timeless message in the world today?

To my mind, this is putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps a more appropriate starting point would be to first reflect on the current state of affairs in the Sikh world. Some pertinent questions come to mind.

Why, despite our global presence, has Guru Nanak’s compelling, universal message remained largely unknown? How did Guru Nanak’s WAY shrink into another narrow ideology or ism, competing for space with others thought systems? How have his flag bearers, the Sikhs, allowed themselves to be painted in not so flattering an image – despite the good they do? What of Guru Nanak himself? Why has a universal teacher been reduced to a reformer or a synthesizer of competing ideas?

These are broad but foundational questions that Sikhs have to reflect on collectively. But there are, I believe, more important personal questions as well that we need to confront: what sort of Sikhi am I living, and what is my personal relationship with the Guru? Is my Sikhi sheer happenstance or am I a Sikh by choice? Is Sikhi center stage in my life or is merely an add on?

Even the most optimistic view of Sikh reality today would be hard pressed to deny that our institutions are in a shambles; that we lack moral leadership and a structure to address issues of global concern. It is also undeniable that our colonial past continues to fetter us in many ways, impacting our mind-set, culture and identity. We are living a derived culture, residing at the edges of power with no real leverage. In the process we are out of tune with the Guru’s real message.

Clearly, we are not ready for prime time. There is a process of self-development that has to be engaged in, both at the individual and social level.

Where does one begin?

 The Gurmukh Ideal

It would be worthwhile to re-visit Guru Nanak’s ideal: a Gurmukh. A Gurmukh forms the foundation on which an ideal society would be based. Let’s examine the Gurmat ideal for clues on the foundations of an ideal society and the world at large.

At the very outset of the Japji, Guru Nanak states that the proper end of human life is to become a “sachiara“, which literally means one who wears or adorns the Truth: our lives must become personifications of the Truth (Sat Nam). The deeper implication, of course, is that there is a way of life that is worthy of living, and another, less desirable mode of existence. Our central responsibility as humans is to fashion a life that is worth living – with purpose, meaning and dignity. To personify the Truth is another way of saying that we must learn to imbue our lives with the qualities or virtues expressed in the Mool Mantar.

How does one achieve such a life?

Guru Nanak’s answer is that we must attune our lives to the “Hukam” of the “Razai.” In common idiom, this means that the Truth of the Mool Mantar (here equated with God as “Razai” or the Owner of the Will) expresses itself in its Creation through “Hukam” – variously understood as Order, Command, Writ or Will. It is to this Divine Will that we must conform in order to become “sachiara” or embodiments of Truth.

This is Guru Nanak’s construction of the Gurmat ideal – described variously as Sachiyar, Gurmukh, Saňt, Bhagat, Gursikh, Jan, Sevak and Brahmgyani in Gurbani. For our purposes, we will use the term Gurmukh, literally, one facing the Guru or being Guru-oriented.

A Gurmukh is a composite and integrated personality, combining knowledge, action and devotion. Of the two ways, or orientations available to us, “Liv and Dhat” a Haumai (ego) laden life or a Manmukh life is fueled by Dhat: that vicious cycle of our daily grind (rat race) that snares us into the worldly web of Maya (constant change) causing us to loose our inner bearing and spiritual compass. Becoming a Gurmukh is to heed our inner voice, to see through the veil of Maya. A Gurmukh balances Dhat with “Liv” or the movement inwards and cultivates his inner environment through the application of Guru Nanak’s recommended spiritual technology of attentive listening (Suniyeh) and immersion in the Shabad (Word).

By choosing the right balance (Liv’ vs. ‘Dhat‘) and invoking the power of attentive listening (also referred to as dhyana), a Gurmukh’s consciousness finds its inner center where the writ of Hukam becomes clear. Hukam becomes the lighthouse, providing clarity of purpose and direction as it guides us across the sea of life.

The practice of attentive listening (dhyana) also cultivates qualities like compassion, contentment and service can flower and bloom. Combined with the self-regulating restraint and discipline that manifests as inner devotion and love of God (bhau) – these form the foundation and the roadmap of a Gurmukh’s life.

The cultivation of inner virtues (devotion) is what gives a Gurmukh the necessary purity of motive, integrity of action and autonomy to transcend dogma (‘mannai mug na chalai panth’), materialistic bias and narcissistic self-obsession (Haumai). A Gurmukh pulls away from the lure and pull of established mental patterns – exemplified by our attachment to instinctive behavior such as “kām,” “kroḏẖ,” “lobẖ,” etc. and moves towards the call of Hukam through the practice of the discipline of Naam.

Outwardly, a Gurmukh life may appear conventional, but inwardly, a very different consciousness is at work.  A Gurmukh does not live simply for individual goals or accomplishments – biological, social, political or economic – but is committed to a higher or larger purpose, namely, to act as an instrument of Hukam to create a new “social blueprint” or social order that is characterized by “Halemi Raj.”

This is Guru Nanak’s ideal person, a model that we have to emulate. This central teaching was amplified and explained by succeeding Gurus in no uncertain terms, and eventually institutionalized as the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh.

Sikhi: World View

Here it would be especially pertinent to ask, “What sort of world did the Guru envision?

In his essay, “The Global Vision That Was,” Dr I.J. Singh makes the point that, Guru Nanak’s message of “hopeful faith tempered with reason, gender and caste equality” was institutionalized by his successors and sealed by Guru Gobind Singh in the institution of the Khalsa, giving Sikhs “democratic institutions of accountability, transparency and participatory self-governance.” Drawing from Gurbani, Dr. Singh suggests that the pact that binds Sikhs is no ordinary one and quite unlike the modern nation-state that is bound by ties of blood, or race and contained in a geographical or territorial boundary. While others may be bound by blood-ties, caste affiliations, or political power, Sikhs have a covenant with Waheguru that “pervades all.”

Sikhs, he concludes, are a nation without borders — a global community founded on the bedrock of institutions of Sangat, Langar and Pangat.

A true manifestation of the notion of E Pluribus Unum!

This is the uniqueness of Gurbani, its universality and applicability to every corner of the world. But for Sikhs to spread this message, they have to become Gurmukhs first.

The KhojGurbani Project

With the Guru as Guide and Mentor, KhojGurbani ( was launched on Vaisakhi of 2014 as an online portal, with the aim of becoming a one-stop resource for anyone wishing to deepen and enrich their relationship with the Guru. KHOJGURBANI’s guiding philosophy rests on the conviction that every Sikh must commit to a lifelong apprenticeship to the Guru by engaging in a holistic, collaborative and social model of learning that includes inquiry, thought, contemplation and discernment.

Through the established kinship of Sangat, KhojGurbani hopes to leverage available technology and collaborative learning models to work towards a common, shared purpose: namely, the creation of a new corpus of knowledge to further our understanding of Gurbani. Specifically, KhojGurbani hopes to generate synergies between Sangats globally to the development of a commentary on the Guru Granth Sahib, a contemporary translation as well as the compilation of a Gurmat dictionary.

The Project

One initiative that has come about is the KhojGurbani Project or Young Minds: Sikh Global Leadership of the Future. It aims to create a collaborative educational framework to provide Gurmat training to children ages 6-18. The goal is to create an ongoing pipeline of contemporary Gurmukhs: the ideal person that Guru Nanak gave us as a model.

A cadre of Sikhs who are grounded and trained in Gurmat, as they are in contemporary science and technology – Gurmat theologians and academic scholars rolled into one. We need such a nucleus of trained people to revisit and re-interpret the eternal Truth of Gurbani in the light of our current understanding. This is an undertaking that successive generations must take on and is implied in the concept of Gur-Chela and Guru Panth. No theology can hope to sustain itself if it does not address contemporary concerns. This suggestion, of course, is not new, nor is the idea exclusively mine.

How is this different from existing training?

The KhojGurbani Project is of the view that education and educational systems should take the lead in questioning, and if necessary, raising controversy over foundational questions of the future of our planet: what kind of future should we strive for? The educational system today unhesitatingly and blindly serves the dominant socio-economic model: a high-tech corporate capitalist model that relies on individualism, competition, consumption and competition. The system is teaching skills that will help students adjust and adapt to a society of large corporations, bureaucracies and institutions.

But is it offering alternatives?

Like Guru Nanak, Sikhs must ask and challenge existing orthodoxies – political, economic and religious. Can we instill the wisdom of a Gurmukh in our children so that they can survive – and thrive – in this structure without being coopted by it? Can they ask the uncomfortable questions? Do students have the capacity to envision another kind of future, one where a fulfilling life is possible without being so dependent on technology?

Guru Nanak challenged the elites of his time – the Yogis, Brahmins and Mullahs and condemned the political and economic corruption and exploitation that he witnessed. Can we create Gurmukhs to follow in his footsteps?


The prototype is to identify five Sangats across the globe that will volunteer five families with children in the desired age range. As of this writing, there is interest in Boston, MA, Columbus OH, Brisbane, Australia, Chicago Il.

The key will be to deliver to the 6-8 year old (or the appropriate age group) relevant Gurbani based material. For each age group, the outcome or expectation will be pre-defined. In the case of 6-8 year olds, memorization of Bani, identification of the Gurmukhi alphabet and Saakhis will be central components.

Each day, the participant will receive the relevant package and be expected to spend no more than 15-20 minutes. The package will, with the help of the volunteer parent, incorporated seamlessly into the child’s regular homework. The aim is that the process should appear seamless to the child.

Incentives will be provided according to age. For instance, a 6 year old might be incented to complete memorization of particular Banis in a certain time frame in return for a gadget that appeals to their age group.

This process will continue until the child is ready to go to College. Between the ages of 6-8 and 18, the expectation is that there will be greater assimilation of Gurbani and Gurmat. Along the way, our hope is to also develop a broader framework that could help children with tutoring, coaching and mentoring with their regular, conventional education. This will have the beneficial effect of also creating a pool of Sikh adults who can function as mentors and tutors.

The objective of the project is to ensure that by the time a child has turned 18 years of age, he/she should have completed one reading of the Guru Granth Sahib with a line by line understanding; memorized the 5 Banis; have the ability to perform Kirtan understands the Sikh leadership model. In addition, the child should have received ongoing development in extracurricular skills: both in sports, training in arms and public speaking ability.

These boys and girls – our contemporary Gurmukhs – should invite the attention of the best institutions in the world and be able to pick and choose their desired professional training.

One beneficial by-product of this process is that adult parents, who may not be that well versed in Gurbani, will also get an education as they help their children.

If we can fire up even a small handful of kids, imagine the global impact!


         The purpose of this Project is to reclaim Sikhi in its pristine purity by creating a new body of knowledge and new approach in understanding Gurbani that will serve as a counter to the subjective identity formation that Sikh children experience around the world because of being a minority. Gurmukhs are not created overnight, nor can future generation of Sikhs produce Gurmukhs if they do not engage with Gurbani daily and incessantly.

That is what this Project hopes to accomplish: to fill the world with contemporary sages who will look beyond their bellies and work in the service of humankind.

Ravinder Singh

About the Author

RavinderTanejaRavinder Singh spent his formative years in Singapore and Delhi and has lived in the U.S. since 1976.

He graduated from the Simon School of Management at the University of Rochester. He has worked with multinationals in Singapore, London and New York and currently works for a Financial Services company.

His consuming passion is Sikhs and Sikhi – in all its flavors and dimensions. He is the founder and convener of the Talking Stick, a weekly online colloquium devoted to a dialogue around Gurbani that appears on the online magazine,

Ravinder has served as the Executive Director of the Sikh Research Institute and is currently on its Board of Directors.

He is also on the Editorial Board of Khoj Gurbani an online crowdsourcing platform that aims to provide Sikhs with educational resources. He moderates a weekly online discussion on Gurbani and Gurmat.

Since 1997, he has lived in Westerville, Ohio, with his wife, Harjit, and his daughter, Simran.

Aug 242016

Implementaion of Enternal Message of Guru Granth Sahib in Context of Solving Universal Human Problems of Modern Age.

Dr. Jaspal Kaur Kaang


In my research paper, I have approached Sri Guru Granth Sahib from the two points of view: theoretical and practical. On the theoretical side, it has been explained at length with the quotes from Gurbaani how Sri Guru Granth Sahib offers solutions for all the maladies arising out of the different aspects of modern life-style and presents a way out of the prevailing tensions which has over-powered the psyche of modern man and has emerged as a universal problem for whole of the humanity around the world. On the practical side, the actual impact of teachings enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib was assessed through the two-year Major Research Project allotted to me by the University Grant Commission, Govt. of India. During the course of the project, implementation of Gurbaani teachings at various situations were made and the impact was studied and documented in a very scientific manner. The results achieved were highly encouraging, thus, proving that implementation of Gurbaani teachings can play a pivotal role in providing solutions to the human problems in various fields. It was seen that such an implementation leads to creating harmony in the innerself and the outside world and ultimately creates environment of happiness and tranquility for the human beings.

Video of Presentation

Body of Paper



Professor of Guru Nanak Sikh Studies
Panjab University Chandigarh

The Paper is mainly focused on the relevance of the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in solving the problems being faced by human beings beyond the limitations of time, space, caste, culture, colour and creed. However, a note on the genesis of Sikh faith is given at the beginning followed by a brief description of the composition of Sikh scripture revered as Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Thereafter, the problems being faced by human beings around the globe are enumerated and a few quotes out of Gurbani have been reproduced in order to emphasize the applicability of the teachings enshrined therein to various situations of human life. Lastly, details of the study conducted during a research Project sanctioned by the University Grants Commission of India to the writer of this Paper on the subject of Gurbani teachings, have been briefly mentioned. The results of the study clearly indicate how Sri Guru Granth Sahib offers universal solutions to all the kind of problems human beings have been facing from time to time.



Sikhism was not initially launched as a religious institution, it was, actually, a movement of revolutionary reformation, not focusing on any particular sect or a single social aspect, it was devoted to the overall development of a human being and reorientation of social set-up in its totality. Addressed as it was to the whole of the humanity, it needed a pretty long duration to express itself completely. As if it were pre-planned, it took nine more generations of leaders and devout followers extending over more than two centuries to preach and demonstrate what Guru Nanak stood for. While going through history, one finds it hard to believe how formidable odds, unparalleled in the world, all the Sikh Gurus and their devotees had to face while upholding the cause set forth by Guru Nanak. Followers of Guru Nanak and those of other Sikh Gurus were known initially as Gurmukhs (those devoted to God). Later Gurmukh was assigned the epithet of Sikh (the one engaged in learning) because the latter term appeared frequently in the verses composed by the Gurus and the other saintly poets. In due course of time the movement got institutionalized as a faith and it came to be known as religion of Sikhs or simply as ‘Sikhism’.


Sikhism is, no doubt, the faith most modern in outlook, philosophy and tenets as conceived, practiced and preached by Guru Nanak, other Sikh Gurus in the lineage and their true followers. The philosophical concepts as propagated and practiced by the Sikh Gurus over a period of more than two centuries have a universal appeal and potential for practical applicability in human life in all parts of the world and for all times to come. In fact, tenets as espoused by Guru Nanak form the basis for Sikh teachings and whole of the edifice of the philosophy of the only Sikh scripture Holy Granth reverberates with the underlying spirit of these tenets.



Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, declared that the Holy Granth of Sikhism would be the next and perennial Guru of the Sikhs.The Holy Granth was originally compiled in 1604 CE by Guru Arjan the fifth in the hierarchy. Original compilation included writings by five Sikh Gurus and 30 other learned personages. Originally called ‘pothi’, later it came to be known as ‘AdiGranth’. Guru Gobind Singh added Guru Tegh Bahadur’s verses to it and the revised version came to be known as ‘Damdami Bir’. Finally, it has come to be revered as ‘Sri Guru Granth Sahib’ (S.G.G.S.).

Present Bir (text of S.G.G.S.), running into 1430 pages, was adopted from the hand-written Birs prepared in the 19th century CE. Taken together, all the verses are called ‘Gurbani’ as the main thrust of these verses is building up faith in God and imbibing ethics out of this faith (the term ‘guru’ or ‘satguru’ is mostly used for God in these verses).Scripted in Gurmukhi, compositions are available chiefly in Panjabi, Sadhukari, Braj or these are mixed expressions. These verses are, further, based on 31 different musical patterns known as ‘ragas’.




The Holy Granth, as a scripture, is a wonderful compilation containing writings of 36 saintly figures who belonged to different regions, different communities, different sects, different professions and different stages of history. In itself it is a unique example of human tolerance, emotional integration and mutual understanding. The philosophy of Shri Guru Granth Sahib lays stress on adoption of high moral standards at the individual as well as social levels. Firm faith in benevolent God was developed in the face of oppressive feudalism, in contrast with cunningness and selfishness of the priestly class, people were blessed with humanitarian approach of the Guru; hollow religious rituals were replaced by direct communion with ever merciful God, instead of material cravings high moral values came to be inculcated, redemption for all was stressed and equality between man and man in every respect was vehemently preached when discrimination on different counts was so prevalent in the society . Hegemony of the elite feudal class as well as corrupt priestly classes was challenged boldly. Even voice was raised against different kinds of social evils.

All of the verses forming part of Shri Guru Granth Sahib, known collectively as Gurbani, contain thoughts which fall in line with the ideas propounded by Guru Nanak. A true Sikh is supposed to put the teachings contained in the Holy Granth in to actual practice in his or her life. This, for a Sikh, is the only way of worshipping God. The only rite Sikh religion prescribes for the devout is choral singing of hymns contained in the Holy Granth.

Main theme of Gurbani is to elevate the moral self of human beings through faith in God. God of Gurbani is formless and non-personal being manifest in whole universe and the laws governing it. For human beings, surrender to god’s being and universal laws (hukam) is the foundation of all ethics.ultimate aim of Gurbani is to enable a human being work for attaining the position of being ‘sachiar’, a really truthful person.

Although compiled in the medieval period of Indian lore, Sri Guru Granth Sahib has relevance in the context of modern people living not only in India but also for the whole mankind across the globe. All the human beings irrespective of their countries and colors are, today, face to face with similar problems born out of situations created chiefly by the modern life-style, intra-communal tensions and disturbances taking place vis-à-vis international relations. Moreover, the Holy Granth possesses potential for offering authentic guidance for all times to come and it will serve as a perennial guide for knowing and practicing universal philosophy for the welfare of the mankind at the global level.

Modern age is the age of science and technology but the advancement in the field of technology has affected the human life adversely to a great extent. It has put the mankind in a mad race for enhancing worldly effluence. Today man is engrossed in cut-throat competition with his fellow-beings in grabbing opportunities for acquiring maximum material possessions and comforts. In fact a sense of greed has overpowered his psyche and has robbed him of peace, happiness and self-control. Not only this, man can be seen adopting unfair means and criminal acts in order to fulfil his greedy designs. As a result crime and corruption have vitiated the whole social network leading to avoidable tensions and restlessness. People are losing tolerance fast and tensions are on the rise at the intra-communal and international levels. Erosion of ethical values and principles is the hall-mark of modern life and it results directly out of the peculiar life-style people around the world have adopted in all parts of the world.

Moreover, the modern life-style has spoiled the food habits of the people. Junk food, adulterated food, chemicals added to the food or fertilizers and pesticides used while growing fruit, vegetables, and other crops are not only proving harmful for human health but are also leading to various diseases in humans as well as cattle. Use of intoxicants and drugs is increasing day by day and is proving instrumental in squabbles and disturbances at personal and social levels. Use of modern gadgets such as computers, mobile phones and other machinery is also proving a big hazard for human health both physical and mental. Environment pollution is on the increase and it is affecting the human life everywhere in multiple ways

The modern life-style has also led to alienation and insecurity not only at the individual level but also at the national and international levels. On the one side all the countries are striving for forging unity through the U N O but at the same time regional polarization is also emerging in the shape of groupings such as G-20, G-8, SAARC, BRICS, ASEAN etc.




Teachings of Gurbani have their relevance to the solutions for almost all types of human problems being faced by the humanity in the modern times. Gurbani highlights the modern trend of craving for more and more of material possessions quite appropriately:

ਦਸ ਬਸਤੂ ਲੇ ਪਾਛੈ ਪਾਵੈ ।।ਏਕ ਬਸਤੁ ਕਾਰਨਿ ਬਿਖੋਟ ਗਵਾਵੈ ।।

ਏਕ ਭੀ ਨਾ ਦੇਇ ਦਸ ਭੀ ਹਿਰਿ ਲੇਇ ।।ਤਉ ਮੂੜਾ ਕਹੁ ਕਹਾ ਕਰੇਇ ।।(P. 268)

Ḏas basṯū le pācẖẖai pāvai. Ėk basaṯ kāran bikẖot gavāvai.

Ėk bẖī na ḏe▫e ḏas bẖī hir le▫e. Ŧa▫o mūṛā kaho kahā kare▫i.


Gurbani advises that it is only through developing contentment that man can overcome his greed for material possessions.


ਅਨਿਕਭੋਗ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਕੇ ਕਰੈ।। ਨਹ ਤ੍ਰਿਪਤਾਵੈ ਖਪਿ ਖਪਿ ਮਰੈ।।

ਬਿਨਾਸੰਤੋਖ ਨਹੀ ਕੋਊ ਰਾਜੈ।। ਸੁਪਨ ਮਨੋਰਥ ਬ੍ਰਿਥੇ ਸਭ ਕਾਜੇ।।(P. 279)

Anik bẖog bikẖi▫ā ke karai. Nah ṯaripṯāvai kẖap kẖap marai

Binā sanṯokẖ nahī ko▫ū rājai. Supan manorath barithe sabẖ kājai



Gurbani finds solution to worries in surrendering to the will of God:



ਨਾਨਕਚਿੰਤਾ ਮਤਿ ਕਰਹੁ ਚਿੰਤਾ ਤਿਸ ਹੀ ਹੇਇ॥

ਜਲਮਹਿ ਜੰਤ ਉਪਾਇਅਨੁ ਤਿਨਾ ਭਿ ਰੋਜੀ ਦੇਇ॥(P. 955)

Nānak cẖinṯā maṯ karahu cẖinṯā ṯis hī he▫e

Jal mėh janṯ upā▫i▫an ṯinā bẖė rojī ḏe▫e.


ਉਦਮ ਕਰੇਦਿਆ ਜੀਉ ਤੂੰ ਕਮਾਵਦਿਆ ਸੁਖ ਭੁੰਚੁ॥

ਧਿਆਇਦਿਆ ਤੁੰ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਮਿਲੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਉਤਰੀ ਚਿੰਤ॥(P. 522)

Uḏam kareḏi▫ā jī▫o ṯūʼn kamāvḏi▫ā sukẖ bẖuncẖ.

Ḏẖi▫ā▫iḏi▫ā ṯūʼn parabẖū mil Nānak uṯrī cẖinṯ. ||1|

Gurbani exhorts human beings to shun unethical practices and to adopt constructive role in the society:

ਘਾਲਿਖਾਇ ਕਿਛੁ ਹਥਹੁ ਦੇਇ।।ਨਾਨਕ ਰਾਹੁ ਪਛਾਣਹਿ ਸੇਇ।।(P. 1356)

ਮਿਠਤੁ ਨੀਵੀ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਗੁਣ ਚੰਗਿਆਈਆ ਤਤੁ॥(P. 470)

Miṯẖaṯ nīvī nānkā guṇ cẖang▫ā▫ī▫ā ṯaṯ.

In the same way Gurbani warns human beings against bad habits

ਨਿੰਦਾਭਲੀ ਕਿਸੈ ਕੀ ਨਾਹੀ ਮਨਮੁਖ ਮੁਗਧ ਕਰੰਨਿ

ਮੁਹਕਾਲੇ ਤਿਨ ਨਿੰਦਕਾ ਨਰਕੇ ਘੋਰਿ ਪਵੰਨਿ॥(P. 755)

Muh kāle ṯin ninḏkā narke gẖor pavann. ||6|

Gurbani takes it very seriously that human beings are suffering from diseases both mental and physical. In this context Gurbani offers the solution thus

ਅਨਿਕਉਪਾਵੀਰੋਗੁਨਾਜਾਇ॥ਰੋਗੁਮਿਟੈਹਰਿਅਵਖਧੁਲਾਇ॥(P. 288)

Anik upāvī rog na jā▫e. Rog mitai har avkẖaḏẖ lā▫e.


ਸਰਵ ਰੋਗ ਕਾ ਅਉਖਦੁ ਨਾਮੁ॥(P. 274)

Sarab rog kā a▫ukẖaḏ nām.


Gurbani advocates love for environment

ਪਵਣੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਪਾਣੀ ਪਿਤਾ ਮਾਤਾ ਧਰਤਿ ਮਹਤੁ॥ (P. 08)

Pavaṇ gurū pāṇī piṯā māṯā ḏẖaraṯ mahaṯ.


ਬਲਿਹਾਰੀ ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਵਸਿਆ॥(P. 469)

Balihārī kuḏraṯ vasi▫ā.

In the face of increasing intolerance, hostile attitude, communal polarization, mutual distrust, strained relations and mounting terrorism at the national and international scenes Gurbani puts forth a model of harmonious and balanced social set up

ਏਕੁ ਪਿਤਾ ਏਕਸ ਕੇ ਹਮ ਬਾਰਿਕ ਤੂ ਮੇਰਾ ਗੁਰ ਹਾਈ॥ (P. 611)

Ėk piṯā ekas ke ham bārik ṯū merā gur hā▫ī.


ਅਵਲਿ ਅਲਹੁ ਨੂਰੁ ਉਪਾਇਆ ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਕੇ ਸਭ ਬੰਦੇ॥

ਏਕ ਨੂਰ ਤੇ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਕਉਨ ਭਲੇ ਕੋ ਮੰਦੇ॥ (P.1349)

Aval alah nūr upā▫i▫ā kuḏraṯ ke sabẖ banḏe.

Ėk nūr ṯe sabẖ jag upji▫ā ka▫un bẖale ko manḏe. ||1||

Gurbani has special message for providing woman with equal status with man. It warns man against showing disrespect to woman


ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ॥ (P. 473)

So ki▫o manḏā ākẖī▫ai jiṯ jamėh rājān.

Gurbani emerges as a great champion of human welfare and human rightsas it declares


ਫਰੀਦਾ ਬੁਰੇ ਦਾ ਭਲਾ ਕਰਿ ਗੁਸਾ ਮਨਿ ਨ ਹਢਾਇ॥

ਦੇਹੀ ਰੋਗੁ ਨਾ ਲਗਈ ਪਲੈ ਸਭੁ ਕਿਛੁ ਪਾਇ॥ (P. 1381)

Farīḏā bure ḏā bẖalā kar gusā man na hadẖā▫e.


ਹਕੁ ਪਰਾਇਆ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਉਸੁ ਸੂਅਰ ਉਸੁ ਗਾਇ॥

ਗੁਰੁ ਪੀਰ ਹਾਮਾ ਤਾ ਭਰੇ ਜਾ ਮੁਰਦਾਰ ਨ ਖਾਇ॥ (P. 141)

Hak parā▫i▫ā nānkā us sū▫ar us gā▫e.

Gur pīr hāmā ṯā bẖare jā murḏār na kẖā▫


Gurbanieven presents teachings which exhort human beings to save themselves from addiction to wine, intoxicantsand other harmful foods:

ਬਾਬਾ ਹੋਰੁ ਖਾਣਾ ਖੁਸੀ ਖੁਆਰੁ॥

ਜਿਤੁ ਖਾਧੇ ਤਨ ਪੀੜੀਐ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਚਲੇ ਵਿਕਾਰੁ॥(P.16)

Bābā hor kẖāṇā kẖusī kẖu▫ār

Jiṯ kẖāḏẖai ṯan pīṛī▫ai man mėh cẖalėh vikār. ||1|| rahā▫o


ਮਾਣਸੁ ਭਰਿਆ ਆਣਿਆ ਮਾਣਸੁ ਭਰਿਆ ਆਇ॥

ਜਿਤੁ ਪੀਤੈ ਮਤਿ ਦੂਰਿ ਹੋਇ ਬਰਲੁ ਪਵੈ ਵਿਚ ਆਇ॥

ਆਪਣਾ ਪਰਾਇਆ ਨ ਪਛਾਣਈ ਖਸਮਹੁ ਧਕੇ ਖਾਇ॥

ਜਿਤੁ ਪੀਤੈ ਖਸਮੁ ਵਿਸਰੈ ਦਰਗਹ ਮਿਲੈ ਸਜਾਇ॥   (P. 554)

Māṇas bẖari▫ā āṇi▫ā māṇas bẖari▫ā ā▫e.

Jiṯ pīṯai maṯ ḏūr ho▫e baral pavai vicẖ ā▫e

Āpṇā parā▫i▫ā na pacẖẖāṇ▫ī kẖasmahu ḏẖake kẖā▫e

Jiṯ pīṯai kẖasam visrai ḏargėh milai sajā▫e


In this way, we can see that Gurbani offers solutions to all types of human problems right from the individual level up to the international level. Gurbani has, therefore, a universal appeal beyond time and regions.



The writer of this Paper was allotted two-years major research project for 2012-2014 by the University Grants Commission (U.G.C.), India on the subject application of teachings of S. G. G. S. in various spheres of human life. The main aim of the project was to study the impact of teachings of S.G.G.S. in solving human problems related to modern way of life. A strong case had been prepared by citing various situations   directly touched in Gurbani.



Two types of problems have been identified: first psychological and second physical.

Both types of problems are the outcome of similar situations such as stressful life, lack of ethics, materialistic attitude, competitive spirit, commercialism, consumerism, onslaughts of globalization, greed, selfishness, fastness in life, hurry involved in work-schedule, strained relations, harmful food habits etc.


Psychological ailments include depression, tensions, anger, intolerance, worry, frustration, pessimism, sense of alienation, nervous breakdown, insecurity, paranoia etc.

Physical ailments include obesity, hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, AIDS, strokes, ulcers, hepatitis, insomnia, snoring, lack of immunity etc.


Human beings in modern times face problems at the levels beyond individual self as well.

Social : caste-system, strained relations ( especially disturbed matrimonial life), drug

addiction, gender discrimination (especially bias against women), neglect of

elderly persons,

National: corruption, regional discrimination, undemocratic set-up, repression

of minorities, uneven distribution of wealth and opportunities

International: racial discrimination, fear of war, globalization, loss of cultural

identity, domination by corporate world



Various techniques were employed to study the impact of gurbani on human behavior such as

  1. Interviewing subjects as well as experts.
  2. Surveys conducted on devotees.
  3. Results attained by other organizations verified.
  4. Lectures delivered and feedback received.
  5. Groups involved in listening to recitation,

katha, keertan and naam-simran in Camps

i.e. over prolonged duration.


The hallmark of the study was to use evaluation techniques such as

  1. Tests based on DASS (depression-anxiety-stress-scale).
  2. Questionaires on normal routine followed for naam-simran, gurbani

recitation, listening to keertan etc.

  1. Psychological tests for emotional study and assessment of different

traits of personality.




Main results obtained out of the study were as shown below:

  1. It was found that Gurbani accepted as Guru surely helps an individual in recognizing his/her potentialities.
  2. Gurbani presents ‘sachiar’ as an ideal model for human-self.
  3. Gurbani offers effective solutions for all the physical and mental ailments born out of modern life-style.
  4. Life-style based on teachings of Gurbani is the best source of peace, harmony and bliss.
  5. Gurbani offers solutions to the problems being faced at the social,

national and international levels.

  1. Gurbani through its ethical humanism works for building bridge between spirituality and scientific approach.


From the above, it is obvious that the implementation of the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib have been proved very justified and relevant in solving all types of human problems at the universal level.


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About the Author

KaangWorking in Panjab University, for the last 38 years, I have translated the universal wisdom and ethical values represented in the lives and works of Sikh Gurus into the interdisciplinary pedagogical modules for the dissemination of value education through Punjabi Language, literature and culture. Moreover, as an administrator (being the member of Senate, Chairperson, Dean, Member of Finance Board and Member of Academic Bodies of various Universities), I gave my best to promote Mother Languages and Indian culture as directed by UNESCO and contributed to the reconstruction and the restructuring the policies, programmes and pedagogic practices to nurture the idea of Indianism. My objective is to spread all over the world, the eternal values symbolized by our great Gurus, which are more relevant in today’s world.

Aug 242016

So Help Me O’ God, Yahweh, Allah, Vaheguru, Et Al……

Dr. I.J. Singh


How do our many religions address the Creator? Every faith tradition seems to endow the Creator with a specific name. How do Sikhs address Him/Her? The paper examines this query of a single moniker for the Creator.

Without much doubt the most commonly used word for the Creator in Sikh parlance is probably Vahiguru. But there remain possibly many regional and dialectic variations in its spelling, exact enunciation and usage. These are mostly minor and not particularly meaningful.

Some literature suggests that the word Vaheguru may have come to us from Hindu mythology, but the evidence is not convincing; furthermore, even if true it is without significance.

It is important to note the very sparse occurrence of this word in the Guru Granth Sahib. It has only been used by the Bhatt Gyand a total of 8 times, 6 times as Vahiguru, and twice as Vahguru. No other contributor to the Guru Granth Sahib has used it. Bhai Gurdas used it in his writings, but no Guru, Saint or Bhatt (except Gyand) who contributed to the Guru Granth Sahib did. It seems to be associated with one hukumnama of Guru Gobind Singh.

Sikhism offers a rich tapestry for the moniker of the Creator. This is not surprising since Sikhi found its voice in the very rich, varied and awesome nexus of Hindu and Islamic mythology and languages over 500 years ago.

How and why did the word “Vaheguru” come to acquire such a central place in Sikh prayer and worship? This question is explored in this paper and the paucity of reliable evidence noted.


Video of Presentation

Note: Dr. I. J. Singh was unable to attend in person. He attended the conference remotely; unfortunately only the audio link was functional.

Body of Paper


The outlandish title of this essay is a fair reflection of my state of mind on this matter. So bear with me awhile.

Today I bring to you an issue that periodically shatters our peace in the virtual world of Internet, sometimes even more brusquely in the real world in which we live.

Sikh teaching repeatedly directs us to constantly remember the Creator and that, in comparison, all other activities in life are futile (“Avar kaaj terey kitay na kaam; mil saadh sangat bhaj keval naam” Guru Granth p. 12). I am convinced that this directive is not to be literally translated to mean that we quit our jobs and meditate on the Creator 24/7. Instead it asks that the awareness of the Creator becomes the foundational and defining principle of life and its actions.

Most Sikhs seem pretty much agreed on these fundamentals.

What seems to divide us – often passionately — is what name to ascribe to the Creator. How to tag him in our worship? I suppose this is important; we can’t really address the Creator by a hearty “Hey You” or “Howdy.”

The Jews have Yahweh or haShem, Christians look to God and Jesus as the Father and his deified Son, Muslims worship Allah, while Hindus have myriad Gods with just as many definable and recognizable entities that collectively direct us to the Creator.

What about us — Sikhs?

We know when the passion and possession of an idea — the love of God for instance – becomes the flashing point of anger. In Malaysia a recently enacted law decreed that the name Allah may only be used by Muslims; its use by non-Muslims would be a crime. I remind you that the word Allah is found in the Guru Granth Sahib, p.1349. I don’t really know how methodically this law is or was enforced. It may be like many statutes in every society that remain on the books for generations but are rarely, if ever, invoked. After some vigorous back and forth with the government, Sikhs were apparently granted an exception to the rule.

The ever present danger of conflict arising from such fragmented identity of the Creator is self evident; human history bears ample and bloody testimony of it. Personally I have problems with embracing the idea of a God who is the micromanager of our puny lives. Believe me I am not attempting to deconstruct the Creator — so help me Yahweh, Ram, Allah, Vahiguru, God, et al!

How many names exist for the Creator? Like any 10 O’clock scholar, I hurried to Google and, just as quickly, gave up. The list is endless, the task daunting.

The Creator in Sikh Tradition

Let’s explore a little history and tradition.

Among Sikhs the verbal battleground on the Internet usually turns on the idea that the most commonly used moniker for the Creator is “Vaheguru.” Its origin and usage have a contentious history like most old world practices of any religion. It is not a word that is unambiguously and clearly coined by any of the ten Sikh Founder-Gurus. So, one may safely conclude that it was not in popular usage at the time of the Gurus.

I offer you an aside: In the Gurmukhi script in which the Guru Granth is usually, but not always scribed, there is only one phoneme for the sound of both “v” and “w;” the two are not distinguishable from each other. Punjabi itself is a perfectly phonetic language; English is not and comes to us with a chaotic history to its structure and rules. Gurmukhi remains our preferred script. Indic languages generally conflate the sounds of v and w.

Also, wide ranging regional differences in enunciation and recording exist when transcribing Gurmukhi and Punjabi into Roman script. So, is it Vaheguru, Vahiguru, Waheguru, or some other minor tongue twisting variant? This remains pretty much a matter of personal or regional preference and no rule governs such usage.

Vahiguru appears to be a combined form derived from “Vahu” and “Guru.” Hew McLeod took note of this and recently, in a well documented essay in The Sikh Review Dalvinder Singh Grewal, pointed out that Guru Amardas used the words “Vahu” (Guru Granth p. 515-516) and “Guru” repeatedly but separately and never in the combined form as “Vaheguru.”

As noted earlier, only one author in the Guru Granth, the Bhatt Gyand, has used “Vahiguru” in the combined form (p. 1402-4). Not that it matters, but in this hymn in Gurmukhi script Gyand spells it so that on transliteration into Roman script it sounds like Vahiguru with an i and not as Vaheguru with an e.

Gyand spells it as Vahiguru six times and as Vahguru twice; the latter variant may reflect the needs of poesy and may not be significant in itself. Some scholars also assert that the word Vahiguru by Gyand was not intended for the name of the Creator but in praise of Guru Ramdas. Of course, in Guru Granth, many examples also exist of “Gur or Guru” to indicate the Creator.

Some literature also suggests that the popularity of the term Vahiguru in Sikhism stems from the writings of Kapur Singh but that seems improbable, hence incorrect. Kapur Singh was a man of the 20th century. The word Vaheguru existed earlier and was used by the legendary scholar Bhai Gurdas (in Vaars 24 & 40). A contemporary of the first six Gurus and scribe of the first recension of the Aadi Granth; his writings are revered in Sikh tradition.

What leaves us in difficulty is that Bhai Gurdas went a step further; he parsed the term Vahiguru and strongly opined that this name for the Creator owes its origin to the defining gods of the Hindu pantheon. He said:

Satijug Satigur Vasdev vavaa Visna naam japavae

Duapur(i) satigur Hari trisan haha Har Har naam japaaavae

Trete Satigur Raam jee raara naam japay sukh paavae

Kaljug Nanak Gur Govind gagga Govind naam alaavae

Chaaray jaagay chahu jugee panchhayan vitch jayay samavae

Chaaray achhar ik(u) kar(i) Vaheguru japu mant(r) japaapavae

Jahaa(n) te upjiyaa phir tahaa(n) samaavae (49,I)

……… Bhai Gurdas Vaar I, Pauri 49

In a rough and ready but brief translation this says that for the moniker Vaheguru, the letter V stands for the Hindu God Vishnu, H comes from Hari, G denotes Govind, and R is for Raam. The problem is that it ties Vaheguru to Hindu mythology in an embrace that is too close for comfort and undermines Sikh identity. But this tale of the complex origin of “Vaheguru” is not verifiable history. This poetic rendition, gives us no clue on when the term Vaheguru was designed or by whom.

My take on this matter is a bit different.

No writing of Bhai Gurdas is Canon; absolutely none is incorporated in the Guru Granth. A fantastic poet, he had a unique insight into Sikhi. Perhaps he was indulging his magical genius for poetry here, not necessarily connecting Sikhi to Hinduism. His poetry is catchy, enjoyable and instructive, even though we recognize that, at times, it may be inconsistent with Sikh principles, as we see them. Don’t forget that elsewhere in his writings he also celebrates the caste and clan of the Gurus. I offer one such example. Says Bhai Gurdas (Vaar I, Pauri 48): “Challi peeree Sodhian roop dikhavan vaaro vaari” where he seems to be celebrating the Sodhi caste of the Gurus.

Keep in mind that Sikhism and Hinduism (with Islam) have always occupied and operated in the same common socio-cultural, ethnographic and linguistic space with overlapping boundaries. In India, where Sikhism arose, Sikhs have always existed as a small powerful minority — a prominent drop in the sea of Hinduism and its practices. It is also undeniable that most of the early converts to Sikhi came from Hindu roots.

Remember that religions do not emerge de novo in a vacuum but find their niche within existing societies. In my view, Bhai Gurdas is celebrating this commonality in this poem and it should not surprise us. So we need to step beyond the literal translation to understand him.

That to me explains why there is such mixed usage; the interpretational confusion is not surprising. Hence, my respect for Bhai Gurdas is not lessened any; the larger body of his work is simply awesome.

History suggests that in at least one Hukumnama Guru Gobind Singh used the word Vaheguru; he is also said to have used it in his last greeting to the Sikhs. In the immediate post-Guru period, Mata Sahib Devan apparently used the appellation Vaheguru in her messages to Sikhs as well.   Additionally, there are copious references in 18th and 19th century literature where the term Vaheguru is prominent.

I leave it to social historians and religious scholars quibble over exactly when, by whom and under what circumstances the term Vahiguru evolved, as I am unable to unravel this convoluted knot. My further take on this comes from an entirely different direction and perspective.

The Many Ways of Connecting to the Creator

Undeniably, the term Vahiguru, Vaheguru or Vahguru for the Creator is now very much an integral part of the Sikh lexicon. This does not necessarily imply that any Guru prescribed or mandated its use in Sikh worship or religious service. These are the all important questions here.

“Let me count the ways…” as Shakespeare said. Look at the Guru Granth; the question is: In how many different ways is the Creator referred to, and why?

Think with me a moment: If every people and their religions speak in a specific language, as they do, and cultural context, as they do, there are bound to be endless names and endless variations on them for an endless entity that is the Creator.

The Guru Granth of the Sikhs speaks of the many Islamic names for an Infinite Creator: Allah, Rahim, Kareem, Khuda… and so on. Hindu names of God are even more plentiful: Hari, Ram, Gopal, Thakur, Bekuntth, Prabhu, Ishvar, Bhagvan, Vishnu, Shiva, and so on … a truly endless list. Sometimes the Gurus address the Creator as Sajjan, meaning a soul mate in contemporary Americanese. I can’t personally vouch for the numbers but apparently, in the entire Guru Granth, the name Hari for the Creator occurs 8324 times and Ram over 2000 times.

This emphatically does not mean that Sikhism is an offshoot of Hinduism as many Hindu scholars like to insist; that would be a horrendously erroneous idea, akin to labeling Christianity a sect of Judaism. What is important: The three faiths, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism, shared the same socio-cultural linguistic, ethnic and geographic territory.

I also ask you to explore the Jaap Sahib, a composition attributed to Guru Gobind Singh that’s not included in the Guru Granth but is read every day by observant Sikhs. It seems to be a catalogue of the many names and endless attributes of the Creator. The many attributive names of the Creator in the Jaap Sahib alone come to an awesome 950. Not having counted them myself I cannot speak for the veracity of this overwhelming number. But having read the Jaap Sahib this number seems eminently credible.

To my mind, this is a confession of the fact that our finite language and limited human imagination can never fully grasp the reality of an Infinite Creator. At the same time, it remains a wonderful tribute to human imagination and proclivities.

Ergo, exactly how many names exist for the Infinite is absolutely immaterial.

Which Name of the Creator Should Sikhs Use?

The operative principle here is simple: Not that it is necessarily healthier, more respectful, or more acceptable to remember the Creator by a specific name but that it is essential to cultivate a relationship with the Infinite. What language, what name or what ritual we use to train our minds is just so much trivia.

On the other hand, such minutia may not always be so trivial a matter. Why? The human mind is fickle. A discipline, a habit of practice is essential to cultivating a life. Hence, the many religions, traditions and ways of worship!

It may not matter if the worshipper is alone; in his solitude he can use any name for the Creator. But what if, in a group of worshippers, the words of the congregants do not coincide?

It cannot be particularly peaceful or fruitful if in the same congregation one person prefers to sing or dance a joyful prayer, another wants to close his/her eyes to the world and merge in silence, while a third needs a celebratory bash. Or just imagine a religious service punctuated by a cacophony of different languages, terms and monikers for the Creator. Surely, this would not help; the congregation would be essentially dissembled.

Yet in human societies all these signal variations exist.

Yes, there is a place for each in God’s green acre, but not within the same congregation and not at the same time. There are times when we need to be on the same page and the same line.

The Sikh scripture – Guru Granth Sahib – is unique in that it showcases many names of God from the different religions of others. The widespread usage of so many names from both Hindu and Islamic traditions is an indication of the diverse, inclusive and rich culture of the greater Punjab at that time — over 500 years ago. If literature and traditions of other religions had been widely available at that time, I am sure they too, would have found inclusion and commentary. The word Vaheguru seems to have evolved from the Sikh community’s need for a common culture, lexicon and practice – indeed the norma loquendi of a people. Thus Sikhs seem to have sanctified the appellation “Vahiguru” more than any other. In summary I would say this: In connecting to the Infinite one may address the Creator by any name or none; this would be entirely consistent with the message of Guru Granth Sahib. But in communal practice (sangat, congregation) a common moniker would be necessary. The Sikh scripture – Guru Granth Sahib –opens with Ik Oankar, an alphanumeric designed by Guru Nanak, the Founder of the Sikh faith. Ik Oankar speaks of Singularity – one Creator of all creation. If one can comprehend this Oneness and Universality there is then no room left for differences in caste, creed, color, gender, religious label or national origin etc. From Ik Oankar (sometimes phonetically rendered as Ik Oangkaar or with other minor variations) to Vahiguru the journey points to a meaningful evolution that seems simple yet complex.   This path towards a working terminology for the Creator from Ik Oankar to Vahiguru speaks of several centuries of a meaningful process that is breathtaking in its simplicity and at the same time rich in its impact on our lives.

Ergo, the evolution of the name “Vahiguru” and its universal usage in Sikhi!

One way to describe the Creator (Vaheguru) would be as the inner reality that our intellect cannot fathom, our senses cannot perceive but with which our inner self can commune. This intimate practice has to emerge from the language, culture and world view of a people. This is what connects us to our inner self.

Theoretically then, any moniker for that inner reality is just as good as any other name. It is not at all a matter of which name is right or wrong.

The idea is to find the Creator in the individual self; discover and nurture this universal connectivity. This then enables us to create a community and a sacred fellowship.

“si volet usus /quem penes arbitrium est et ius et norma loquendi” (“if it be the will of custom, in the power of whose judgment is the law and the standard of language”)

About the Author

IJSingh-300x287Dr. I.J.Singh, in 1960, came to the US on a Murry & Leonie Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He received his PhD in anatomical sciences from the University of Oregon Medical School and a DDS from Columbia University. He is a professor emeritus at New York University. He serves on the Editorial Advisory Boards of the Sikh Review and Nishaan. A prolific writer with many books to hios name, he also writes a regular internet column on Sikhi.