Nirbhau – Attempting to Live Without Fear
Most of the decisions we make in life are driven by various types of fear. Turning to the Guru, we can understand where this fear comes from and how to deal with it. Addressing stumbling blocks such as Haumai and working on Naam shows us the path. And of course, with Gur Parsaad, we can attempt to live a life devoid of fear.
Video of Presentation
Body of Paper
By Jagjot Singh
Our Condition Today
Most of us live our lives in fear. Our decisions, actions and behavior seem to be dictated by fear of losing what we have, not getting what we want, looking bad, dreading the unknown and so on. You get the idea. So how does it feel to live in fear?
Ang 1357 – Mehla 5
ਅਜਾ ਭੋਗੰਤ ਕੰਦ ਮੂਲੰ ਬਸੰਤੇ ਸਮੀਪਿ ਕੇਹਰਹ ॥
The goat enjoys eating fruits and roots, but if it lives near a tiger, it is always anxious.
ਤਤ੍ਰ ਗਤੇ ਸੰਸਾਰਹ ਨਾਨਕ ਸੋਗ ਹਰਖੰ ਬਿਆਪਤੇ ॥੪੧॥
This is the condition of the world, O Nanak; it is afflicted by pleasure and pain. ||41||
As Guru Arjan Dev ji states on Ang 1357, our condition is like that of a goat which looks to be peacefully grazing but is anxious that a tiger is near. We go about our daily lives with this nagging tension that is always there. So how is fear defined? What is it? And how do I conquer it? Many such questions plague our minds and perhaps what we are asking is – What does it mean to be Nirbhau and how can I achieve that state?
Definitions: ਡਰ vs ਭੈ Vs ਭਉ
To understand fear, it is worthwhile to understand the differences between Dar vs Bhae vs Bhau. Let us first look at Dar.
Bavan Akhri – Ang 341
ਡਡਾ ਡਰ ਉਪਜੇ ਡਰੁ ਜਾਈ ॥
DADDA: When the Fear of God wells up, other fears depart.
ਤਾ ਡਰ ਮਹਿ ਡਰੁ ਰਹਿਆ ਸਮਾਈ ॥
Other fears are absorbed into that Fear.
ਜਉ ਡਰ ਡਰੈ ਤ ਫਿਰਿ ਡਰੁ ਲਾਗੈ ॥
When one rejects the Fear of God, then other fears cling to him.
ਨਿਡਰ ਹੂਆ ਡਰੁ ਉਰ ਹੋਇ ਭਾਗੈ ॥੧੯॥
But if he becomes fearless, the fears of his heart run away. ||19||
My Guru, in bavan akhri on Ang 341, says when you feel the fear of God, all your other fears get absorbed in this fear. However, if you are not in fear of God, then all the other fears get you. And if you become Nirbhau (fearless), then all your fears depart. Now this got me to thinking – I have always believed that god is not to be feared, then what is this “fear of God”?
Asa ki Vaar – Ang 464 – Mehla 1
ਭੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਪਵਣੁ ਵਹੈ ਸਦਵਾਉ ॥
In the Fear of God, the wind and breezes ever blow.
ਭੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਚਲਹਿ ਲਖ ਦਰੀਆਉ ॥
In the Fear of God, thousands of rivers flow.
ਭੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਅਗਨਿ ਕਢੈ ਵੇਗਾਰਿ ॥
In the Fear of God, fire is forced to labor.
ਭੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਧਰਤੀ ਦਬੀ ਭਾਰਿ ॥
In the Fear of God, the earth is crushed under its burden.
In Asa ki Vaar on Ang 464, Guru Nanak Dev ji clarifies that this Bhae is the law of Waheguru under which the whole universe revolves. This is the Bhae under which each human also lives. We understand the laws of the universe created by Waheguru and live our lives within these laws. It is while living under this Bhae that one can begin to understand Nirbhau.
Laavan – Ang 774 – Mehla 3
ਹਰਿ ਦੂਜੜੀ ਲਾਵ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਮਿਲਾਇਆ ਬਲਿ ਰਾਮ ਜੀਉ ॥
In the second round of the marriage ceremony, the Lord leads you to meet the True Guru, the Primal Being.
ਨਿਰਭਉ ਭੈ ਮਨੁ ਹੋਇ ਹਉਮੈ ਮੈਲੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ਬਲਿ ਰਾਮ ਜੀਉ ॥
With the Fear of God, the Fearless Lord in the mind, the filth of egotism is eradicated.
ਨਿਰਮਲੁ ਭਉ ਪਾਇਆ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਇਆ ਹਰਿ ਵੇਖੈ ਰਾਮੁ ਹਦੂਰੇ ॥
In the Fear of God, the Immaculate Lord, sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord, and behold the Lord’s Presence before you.
In the Laavan on Ang 774, Guru Amardas ji further clarifies that this Bhau of God is actually a Nirmal Bhau – which is a very respectful Dar and not a “fearful” (as in everyday language) Dar. We all know what this Nirmal Bhau is, as my Guru tells me to wake during Amrit Vela, do Nitnem every day, etc. By letting go of one’s ego, this Nirmal Bhau is attainable.
Ang 465 – Asa Ki Vaar – Mehla 1
ਨਾਨਕ ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹ ਮਨਿ ਭਉ ਤਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਮਨਿ ਭਾਉ ॥੨॥
O Nanak, those whose minds are filled with the Fear of God, have the love of God in their minds as well. ||2||
And as Guru Nanak Dev ji says in Asa ki Vaar on Ang 465, if you have this Nirmal Bhau in your mind, then you shall also have true love of Waheguru. Simply put, if you are in his Bhau, you are full of love.
So all said and done, how do I get to ਭਾਉ ? And my Guru says..
Ang 11 – So Purakh – Mehla 4
ਜਿਨ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਜਿਨ ਹਰਿ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਜੀ ਤਿਨ ਕਾ ਭਉ ਸਭੁ ਗਵਾਸੀ ॥
Those who meditate on the Fearless One, on the Fearless Lord-all their fears are dispelled.
Ang 293 – Sukhmani – Mehla 5
ਨਿਰਭਉ ਜਪੈ ਸਗਲ ਭਉ ਮਿਟੈ ॥
Meditating on the Fearless Lord, all fear departs
Ang 539 – Mehla 4
ਜੋ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਦੇ ਮੇਰੀ ਜਿੰਦੁੜੀਏ ਤਿਨਾ ਪੰਚੇ ਵਸਗਤਿ ਆਏ ਰਾਮ ॥
Those who meditate on the Lord’s Name, O my soul, overpower the five passions.
Ang 646 – Mehla 3
ਜੋ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਵਹਿ ਤਿਨ ਡਰੁ ਸਟਿ ਘਤਿਆ ॥
Those who meditate on the Lord’s Name, cast out their fears.
Ang 985 – Mehla 4
ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਤਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹ ਚੂਕੇ ਸਰਬ ਜੰਜਾਲਾ ॥
Those who meditate on the Name of the Lord – all their entanglements are ended.
As is evident from the various shabads above, there is a remedy for fear. And that is – naam japna. By meditating on Naam, worldly fears depart, our five passions can be controlled, and we can be truly free of all entanglements. A person who represents these qualities is Kabir ji.
Ang 1162 – Kabir
ਗੰਗ ਗੁਸਾਇਨਿ ਗਹਿਰ ਗੰਭੀਰ ॥
The mother Ganges is deep and profound.
ਜੰਜੀਰ ਬਾਂਧਿ ਕਰਿ ਖਰੇ ਕਬੀਰ ॥੧॥
Tied up in chains, they took Kabeer there. ||1||
ਮਨੁ ਨ ਡਿਗੈ ਤਨੁ ਕਾਹੇ ਕਉ ਡਰਾਇ ॥
My mind was not shaken; why should my body be afraid?
ਚਰਨ ਕਮਲ ਚਿਤੁ ਰਹਿਓ ਸਮਾਇ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
My consciousness remained immersed in the Lotus Feet of the Lord. ||1||Pause||
ਗੰਗਾ ਕੀ ਲਹਰਿ ਮੇਰੀ ਟੁਟੀ ਜੰਜੀਰ ॥
The waves of the Ganges broke the chains,
ਮ੍ਰਿਗਛਾਲਾ ਪਰ ਬੈਠੇ ਕਬੀਰ ॥੨॥
and Kabeer was seated on a deer skin. ||2||
ਕਹਿ ਕੰਬੀਰ ਕੋਊ ਸੰਗ ਨ ਸਾਥ ॥
Says Kabeer, I have no friend or companion.
ਜਲ ਥਲ ਰਾਖਨ ਹੈ ਰਘੁਨਾਥ ॥੩॥੧੦॥੧੮॥
On the water, and on the land, the Lord is my Protector. ||3||10||18||
On Ang 1162, Kabir ji tells us of a time when he was chained and thrown into the Ganges to be killed. But his chains were broken and he found himself safe. He simply believed that no person could harm him as Waheguru was his sole protector everywhere. He was truly Nirbhau.
Ang 394 – Mehla 5
ਗੁਰੁ ਮੇਰੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਦਾ ਹੈ ਨਾਲੇ ॥
My Guru is always with me, near at hand.
ਸਿਮਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਿ ਤਿਸੁ ਸਦਾ ਸਮ੍ਹ੍ਹਾਲੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Meditating, meditating in remembrance on Him, I cherish Him forever. ||1||Pause||
ਤੇਰਾ ਕੀਆ ਮੀਠਾ ਲਾਗੈ ॥
Your actions seem so sweet to me.
ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਮਾਂਗੈ ॥੨॥੪੨॥੯੩॥
Nanak begs for the treasure of the Naam, the Name of the Lord. ||2||42||93||
Guru Arjan Dev ji, on Ang 394, provides us another perfect example of Nirbhau. As he sat on the tatti tavi and moved on from this world, he exemplified living in Waheguru’s Bhau and called all His actions sweet.
As we think of these great Gurus and Bhagats, a question comes to mind. But what can I do? After all, these were great men and they were true recipients of Gur Parsad. Compared to a lowly me, still trapped by daily affairs and still grazing as a goat. What specifically can I do to become Nirbhau? Once again I turned to the Guru in my confusion.
Ang – 206 – Mehla 5
ਓਹੁ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਰਾਇਆ ॥
He is the Eternal King.
ਨਿਰਭਉ ਸੰਗਿ ਤੁਮਾਰੈ ਬਸਤੇ ਇਹੁ ਡਰਨੁ ਕਹਾ ਤੇ ਆਇਆ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
The Fearless Lord abides with you. So where does this fear come from? ||1||Pause||
–ਏਕ ਮਹਲਿ ਤੂੰ ਪੰਡਿਤੁ ਬਕਤਾ ਏਕ ਮਹਲਿ ਖਲੁ ਹੋਤਾ ॥
In one person, you are a Pandit, a religious scholar and a preacher, and in another, You are just a fool.
–ਕਾਠ ਕੀ ਪੁਤਰੀ ਕਹਾ ਕਰੈ ਬਪੁਰੀ ਖਿਲਾਵਨਹਾਰੋ ਜਾਨੈ ॥
What can the poor wooden puppet do? The Master Puppeteer knows everything.
This shabad on Ang 206 by Guru Arjan Dev ji, captures my confusion perfectly. I truly feel like a puppet and have no idea what the master puppeteer will do with me.
Ang 1376 – Kabir
ਕਬੀਰ ਮਨੁ ਜਾਨੈ ਸਭ ਬਾਤ ਜਾਨਤ ਹੀ ਅਉਗਨੁ ਕਰੈ ॥
Kabeer, the mortal knows everything, and knowing, he still makes mistakes.
ਕਾਹੇ ਕੀ ਕੁਸਲਾਤ ਹਾਥਿ ਦੀਪੁ ਕੂਏ ਪਰੈ ॥੨੧੬॥
What good is a lamp in one’s hand, if he falls into the well? ||216||
But Kabir ji, on Ang 1376, clearly says – You know what to do! Don’t try and hide behind this façade of “I don’t know anything” when you fully understand the difference between right and wrong.
So perhaps we could start with simple steps and lay out a strategy to get to Nirbhau.
Step 1: Start with – I am nothing…
Ang 547 – Mehla 5
ਤੂ ਸਮਰਥੁ ਵਡਾ ਮੇਰੀ ਮਤਿ ਥੋਰੀ ਰਾਮ ॥
You are great and all-powerful; my understanding is so inadequate, O Lord.
ਪਾਲਹਿ ਅਕਿਰਤਘਨਾ ਪੂਰਨ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਰਾਮ ॥
You cherish even the ungrateful ones; Your Glance of Grace is perfect, Lord.
ਅਗਾਧਿ ਬੋਧਿ ਅਪਾਰ ਕਰਤੇ ਮੋਹਿ ਨੀਚੁ ਕਛੂ ਨ ਜਾਨਾ ॥
Your wisdom is unfathomable, O Infinite Creator. I am lowly, and I know nothing.
ਰਤਨੁ ਤਿਆਗਿ ਸੰਗ੍ਰਹਨ ਕਉਡੀ ਪਸੂ ਨੀਚੁ ਇਆਨਾ ॥
Forsaking the jewel, I have saved the shell; I am a lowly, ignorant beast.
On Ang 547, Guru Arjan Dev ji states, that compared to Waheguru recognize that “I” am nothing. My understanding, comprehension and knowledge are nothing. I am truly a lowly beast. I think this eradication of ego and self is the first step.
STEP 2. Trust him … he gives you everything .
Ang 266 – Sukhmani Sahib –
ਬਾਰ ਬਿਵਸਥਾ ਤੁਝਹਿ ਪਿਆਰੈ ਦੂਧ ॥
In your infancy, He gave you milk to drink
ਭਰਿ ਜੋਬਨ ਭੋਜਨ ਸੁਖ ਸੂਧ ॥
In the flower of your youth, He gave you food, pleasure and understanding.
ਬਿਰਧਿ ਭਇਆ ਊਪਰਿ ਸਾਕ ਸੈਨ ॥
As you grow old, family and friends are there,
In Sukhmani Sahib, on Ang 266, the Guru says Wahegur uhas always taken care oif you. From the beginning of your life when you were an infant to the time you grow old. He has fed you. Taken care of you. So trust Him. Completely.
Step 3: Develop discerning intellect
Ang 641 –
ਪਿਆਰੇ ਇਨ ਬਿਧਿ ਮਿਲਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ਮੈ ਕੀਏ ਕਰਮ ਅਨੇਕਾ ॥
O Beloved, this is not the way to meet the Lord; I have performed these rituals so many times.
ਹਾਰਿ ਪਰਿਓ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਕੈ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਦੀਜੈ ਬੁਧਿ ਬਿਬੇਕਾ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
I have collapsed, exhausted, at the Door of my Lord Master; I pray that He may grant me a discerning intellect. ||Pause||
On Ang 641, Guru ji says that I am exhausted and I collapse at your door. Please give me Bibek Budh – or discerning intellect. Help me understand what is wrong or right – not in the eyes of other humans but in the eyes of the Guru. Let me not over analyze everything and always calculate benefits. Rather help me keep it simple and remain in your Nirmal Bhau. Let me always take the guidance of gurbani.
STEP 4: Realize that my Guru is with me always
Ang 2 – Jap
ਮਤਿ ਵਿਚਿ ਰਤਨ ਜਵਾਹਰ ਮਾਣਿਕ ਜੇ ਇਕ ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸਿਖ ਸੁਣੀ ॥
Within the mind are gems, jewels and rubies, if you listen to the Guru’s Teachings, even once.
ਗੁਰਾ ਇਕ ਦੇਹਿ ਬੁਝਾਈ ॥
The Guru has given me this one understanding:
ਸਭਨਾ ਜੀਆ ਕਾ ਇਕੁ ਦਾਤਾ ਸੋ ਮੈ ਵਿਸਰਿ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥੬॥
there is only the One, the Giver of all souls. May I never forget Him! ||6||
On Ang 2, in Jap, Guru ji says let Waheguru be with me always. Perhaps one of my biggest realizations is that – my behavior should be such as if the guru is with me always. I ask – will he like it? In everyday work, if I win at something by being dishonest – is that win worth it? I should only do what He will like. I am finding that my vision is too narrow – I want short term praise and have no idea what is beneficial in the long-term. Rather, I now want praise of my Guru. I ask – what will my Guru like? And I turn to gurbani to understand right from wrong.
STEP 5: Udham Karo
Ang 405 – Mehla 5
ਉਦਮੁ ਕਰਉ ਕਰਾਵਹੁ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਪੇਖਤ ਸਾਧੂ ਸੰਗਿ ॥
I make the effort, as You cause me to do, my Lord and Master, to behold You in the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy.
ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਚਰਾਵਹੁ ਰੰਗਨਿ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਰੰਗਿ ॥੧॥
I am imbued with the color of the Love of the Lord, Har, Har; God Himself has colored me in His Love. ||1||
Ang 522 – Mehla 5
ਉਦਮੁ ਕਰੇਦਿਆ ਜੀਉ ਤੂੰ ਕਮਾਵਦਿਆ ਸੁਖ ਭੁੰਚੁ ॥
Make the effort, and you shall live; practicing it, you shall enjoy peace.
ਧਿਆਇਦਿਆ ਤੂੰ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਮਿਲੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਉਤਰੀ ਚਿੰਤ ॥੧॥
Meditating, you shall meet God, O Nanak, and your anxiety shall vanish. ||1||
These two shabads by Guru Arjan Dev ji point out that Udham is absolutely essential. Listening to baani and reciting baani are great – but without good actions life may be meaningless. We have to exert the effort to improve ourselves. Getting up in the early morning, doing Nitnem, and spending the whole day earning an honest living are well known pre-requisites of Sikhi. Obviously this requires Udham. And how does it feel when one exerts Udham while living in Nirmal Bhau?
Ang 274 –
ਕੇਵਲ ਭਗਤਿ ਕੀਰਤਨ ਸੰਗਿ ਰਾਚੈ ॥
He is absorbed in devotional worship and the singing of Kirtan, the songs of the Lord’s Glory.
ਮਨ ਤਨ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਨ ਗੋਪਾਲ ॥
Within his mind and body, he meditates in remembrance on the Lord of the Universe.
ਸਭ ਊਪਰਿ ਹੋਵਤ ਕਿਰਪਾਲ ॥
He is kind to all creatures.
ਆਪਿ ਦ੍ਰਿੜੈ ਅਵਰਹ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਾਵੈ ॥
He holds fast to the Naam, and inspires others to chant it.
ਨਾਨਕ ਓਹੁ ਬੈਸਨੋ ਪਰਮ ਗਤਿ ਪਾਵੈ ॥੨॥
O Nanak, such a Vaishnaav obtains the supreme status. ||2||
On Ang 274, Guru ji says that a person who is absorbed in meditation and kirtan all the time, who is kind to all, and who chants the Naam and helps other do so – such a person is of the highest status. So is this “supreme status” the same as success?
Ang 534 –
ਰਾਜੁ ਨ ਚਾਹਉ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ ਚਾਹਉ ਮਨਿ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਚਰਨ ਕਮਲਾਰੇ ॥
I do not seek power, and I do not seek liberation. My mind is in love with Your Lotus Feet.
And then there is the stage of contentment.
Guru ji, on Ang 534, explains that the ultimate state of contentment is to be in Waheguru’s hukam. In our everyday lives we define success as a state in which we are happy and content. But we mistakenly tie this success to money, thinking that with money we will obtain happiness and contentment. Guru ji points out that true contentment comes from being in love with Waheguru (and not from pursuing worldly goods).
As I move towards implementing some of these strategies, a nagging doubt creeps in. What if I do it all and nothing happens?
Ang 1139 – Mehla 5
ਰਾਖਹੁ ਰਾਖਹੁ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਧਾਰਿ ॥
Save me, save me, O Lord; shower me with Your Mercy.
ਤੇਰੀ ਸਰਣਿ ਤੇਰੈ ਦਰਵਾਰਿ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
I seek Your Sanctuary, and Your Court. ||1||Pause||
ਜਿਸੁ ਊਪਰਿ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰੇ ਕਰਤਾਰੁ ॥
That person who is blessed by the Creator’s Glance of Grace-
ਤਿਸੁ ਜਨ ਕੇ ਸਭਿ ਕਾਜ ਸਵਾਰਿ ॥
all his affairs are resolved.
On Ang 1139, Guru Arjan Dev ji explains that without Waheguru’s Nadar nothing is possible. So the key is that we have to make ourselves worthy of his Nadar.
With these simple-sounding but doable steps we could move towards being Nirbhau. Starting with the admission that we know nothing, trusting Waheguru compeletely, developing a discering intellect, acting as if Wahegur is with us constantly and exerting our best effort, we can start living in his Nirmal Bhau. As we grow spiritually, and our worldly fears get absorbed in our love for waheguru, we move closer to the state of Nirbhau. Our definition of success becomes finding a place in Waheguru‘s feet. And, of course, we do ardaas to obtain his Nadar.
About the Author
Jagjot Singh is an investor and advisor to several Silicon Valley software companies. He is the CEO of Service Associates and advisor to Stanford University’s Startx incubator. He plays an active role in Sikh affairs including being CEO of Sikh Communications Council and advisor to Sikh Coalition. He has an MBA and MS in Engineering-Economics from Stanford University and a BE in Mechanical Engineering from Panjab University, India.