Aug 242016

Sukhmani Sahib: The Jewel of Peace


In the study of wisdom traditions, no matter what path one takes, the ultimate destination leads to the experience of non-duality. Many meditative and yogic paths prescribe severe practices to help the mind access this vision of the One behind all things. Yet, in the Sikh tradition, we have the exquisite teachings of Sukhmani Sahib by Guru Arjan Dev ji.

In Sukhmani Sahib, Guru Arjan Dev ji speaks to the mind from various angles, slowly chiseling the mind into understanding that everything happens because of the One. The ego is never the doer. That is simply illusion. But it is the illusion that creates suffering and pain in our lives. This paper will explore the theme of non-dualism within Sukhmani Sahib, using a new English poetic interpretation of this beautiful Bani.

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Body of Paper

Sukhmani Sahib: The Jewel of Peace

Relating to Non-Duality

By Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa

It was a great blessing in my life that the Guru gave me the opportunity to spend eight years meditating upon and doing a poetic interpretation of Guru Arjan Dev ji’s Sukhmani Sahib. I wanted to begin today by sharing some of my experiences while doing this translation.

I cannot speak to what other translators go through, but for me – translating Gurbani has been a profoundly challenging and emotionally intimate act. The reality is that “I” don’t translate Gurbani. Gurbani translates me. And by that I mean, in order to find an English rendition of a line of Gurmukhi, there is a need to go deep into the original, with whatever linguistic and meditative capacity is at my disposal, to get it. To get what the Guru is saying.

While working on Sukhmani Sahib, I became acutely aware of how much this particular bani speaks to the issue of non-duality. Guru Arjan Dev Ji challenges us on multiple levels to get our egos out of the way and to see the One in absolutely everything.

Now, while this may sound mystically very correct and proper – actually, in the emotional truth of life – such a perspective is brutally challenging. And while working on Sukhmani Sahib, it was not unusual for me to go into various “healing crisis” in relation to different passages. In other words, what the Guru said provoked me so intensely, that I would cry or be angry for days, struggling to accept the meaning.

I remember one evening while watching Public Television – there was a show about women from Eastern Europe being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. And I started screaming and crying at the television. Really? This is You? This is You?

Slowly, over time, what I came to understand is that the Guru stands with us through all our trials and tribulations. And that yes – the Light of the Divine still exists within every player, no matter how painful the game.

Even now, when I go back and re-read this translation, I watch my ego get provoked by the simple truth Guru Arjan Dev Ji is trying to share. It’s all One. So do not get caught in the play of illusion. Just remember and merge with the One.

Today – I wanted to share some passages from this particular translation and offer some reflections about what those passages mean to me, in light of the Guru’s guidance about non-duality.

The first passage I would like to reflect upon– is the Third Ashtapadee, Sixth verse.

ਸਗਲ ਪੁਰਖ ਮਹਿ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਪ੍ਰਧਾਨੁ

ਸਾਧਸੰਗਿ ਜਾ ਕਾ ਮਿਟੈ ਅਭਿਮਾਨੁ

ਆਪਸ ਕਉ ਜੋ ਜਾਣੈ ਨੀਚਾ

ਸੋਊ ਗਨੀਐ ਸਭ ਤੇ ਊਚਾ

ਜਾ ਕਾ ਮਨੁ ਹੋਇ ਸਗਲ ਕੀ ਰੀਨਾ

ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਤਿਨਿ ਘਟਿ ਘਟਿ ਚੀਨਾ

ਮਨ ਅਪੁਨੇ ਤੇ ਬੁਰਾ ਮਿਟਾਨਾ

ਪੇਖੈ ਸਗਲ ਸ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਸਾਜਨਾ

ਸੂਖ ਦੂਖ ਜਨ ਸਮ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟੇਤਾ

ਨਾਨਕ ਪਾਪ ਪੁੰਨ ਨਹੀ ਲੇਪਾ ॥੬॥


Among all people.

That person is the greatest leader

Who erases his pride

In the company of those

Who live by purity, grace and discipline.

Consider that person the highest of all

Who knows within himself

What his weaknesses are.

The mind that becomes the dust

Beneath everyone’s feet

Such a mind constantly perceives

The Divine Reality in every heart.

When the darkest, most difficult thoughts

Within the mind get destroyed

Then a person shall look upon the entire Universe

As a beloved friend.

Happiness and sorrow

Become equal in his eyes.

Then, Naanak,

Neither vice nor virtue can affect him.

One of the most powerful concepts offered within this passage is that the person who is the highest has created an awareness within himself or herself of their weaknesses, of the worst parts of themselves.

And when the darkness of the mind gets destroyed, then the sight arises where everything and everyone is Beloved.

This speaks to something very powerful in the human condition. Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji used to say, “Everyone knows your weaknesses except you.” In other words, humans are uncomfortable seeing the worst aspects of ourselves. We have a natural defense mechanism to block the sight of our own “stuff” and that defense mechanism comes from a sense of shame. To see our worst creates so much shame inside, that we have to block, hide or run away from it in order to protect ourselves.

But when we refuse to own our shadow, that is actually what creates the dualistic vision. We project our shadow out onto other people. The difficulties in our lives, which come from our own darkness and weaknesses, we blame others for the effect. And it is that process of projecting the shadow out “there” that blocks us from experiencing the One in everything.

So in this verse, Guru Arjan Dev Ji puts the problem of duality where it belongs – squarely on our own shoulders. That we have a responsibility to work through the shame and see our own weaknesses. To confront and destroy our own darkness. Because when we do that, the Truth can reveal itself.

When everything becomes Beloved, it means everything we see – we see as part of the dance of the Once. Which means that the polarity of happiness and sadness, vice and virtue no longer create a reaction within us. I feel happy. I see You. I feel sad. I see You. Someone acts virtuously – I see You. Someone acts in vice. I see You. I see the Beloved in all.

Another challenge to the mind to perceive non-duality is anger. And Guru Arjan Dev Ji addresses this poison of anger in the 5th Ashtapadi.

In the first verse of the fifth Ashtapadi, Guru Arjan Dev Ji writes:

ਦਸ ਬਸਤੂ ਲੇ ਪਾਛੈ ਪਾਵੈ

ਏਕ ਬਸਤੁ ਕਾਰਨਿ ਬਿਖੋਟਿ ਗਵਾਵੈ

ਏਕ ਭੀ ਦੇਇ ਦਸ ਭੀ ਹਿਰਿ ਲੇਇ

ਤਉ ਮੂੜਾ ਕਹੁ ਕਹਾ ਕਰੇਇ

ਜਿਸੁ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਸਿਉ ਨਾਹੀ ਚਾਰਾ

After receiving ten objects,

His confidence gets destroyed

Because of one object he did not receive.

If the one was not given,

And the other ten were taken away, as well,

Then what would this idiot have to say?

No remedy exists

Outside the Master.

And then, in the 5th Ashtapadi, 2nd verse,

ਅਗਨਤ ਸਾਹੁ ਅਪਨੀ ਦੇ ਰਾਸਿ

ਖਾਤ ਪੀਤ ਬਰਤੈ ਅਨਦ ਉਲਾਸਿ

ਅਪੁਨੀ ਅਮਾਨ ਕਛੁ ਬਹੁਰਿ ਸਾਹੁ ਲੇਇ

ਅਗਿਆਨੀ ਮਨਿ ਰੋਸੁ ਕਰੇਇ

ਅਪਨੀ ਪਰਤੀਤਿ ਆਪ ਹੀ ਖੋਵੈ

ਬਹੁਰਿ ਉਸ ਕਾ ਬਿਸ੍ਵਾਸੁ ਹੋਵੈ

You, Yourself, are the Banker

Whose wealth cannot be measured

And You bestow Your capital upon us.

Eating and drinking,

We use it for our pleasure.

Then, Banker, from the deposit You made,

You take something back,

Causing the ignorant mind

To become angry.

Because of that anger, we lose Your trust

And then our own confidence disappears.

One of the illusions we have in life is that our own ego, our own will, is responsible for gain and loss. For what we have and don’t have. For what comes and goes.

And when we lose something, when something gets taken away, the mind that cannot recognize that the One is responsible for what we receive in life – reacts with anger. Anger creates a block in the flow of communication between the finite and Infinity. And when the trust breaks between the finite and Infinity through that anger, we loose our own confidence. Why?

At the level of the Ji – the level of the Inner Being – it knows that life comes and goes by the Hand of the One. But anger destroys our sensitivity to see and feel the One. And so ultimately, when we become angry for losing something, we make ourselves highly insecure. We lose the sense of that touch of the One. And it is only that touch that can give us a true sense of security throughout life.

It is only through that sight and touch of the One that a person can find true security.

This insight is offered at the end of the 2nd verse:

ਜਿਸ ਕੀ ਬਸਤੁ ਤਿਸੁ ਆਗੈ ਰਾਖੈ

ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕੀ ਆਗਿਆ ਮਾਨੈ ਮਾਥੈ

ਉਸ ਤੇ ਚਉਗੁਨ ਕਰੈ ਨਿਹਾਲੁ

ਨਾਨਕ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸਦਾ ਦਇਆਲੁ ॥੨॥

Whatever your capital, place it

Before the One.

Trust and accept

The order of the Creator

On your forehead.

By doing so, you shall flourish

Four times over.

O Naanak,

The Master’s kindness

Extends forever.

So the key lesson for the mind is to surrender, accept, trust – whatever the One does. To not fight or argue or manipulate. But to live in acceptance. And that spirit of acceptance – that what comes and goes is controlled by a Loving Consciousness much greater than our Ego – that surrender ultimately creates prosperity.

This Ashtapadi completes with an amazing affirmation. That the kindness of the Creator never ends. So it encourages the mind to trust and accept the order, and see what unfolds in life as part of a plan created by a Master who is kind – not vengeful.

Sukhmani Sahib is filled with verses that go into ecstasy about the One in all. And so the last verse that I would like to examine today is one such passage.

ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਬਿਸਰੈ ਜਿ ਘਾਲ ਭਾਨੈ

ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਬਿਸਰੈ ਜਿ ਕੀਆ ਜਾਨੈ

ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਬਿਸਰੈ ਜਿਨਿ ਸਭੁ ਕਿਛੁ ਦੀਆ

ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਬਿਸਰੈ ਜਿ ਜੀਵਨ ਜੀਆ

ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਬਿਸਰੈ ਜਿ ਅਗਨਿ ਮਹਿ ਰਾਖੈ

ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ਕੋ ਬਿਰਲਾ ਲਾਖੈ

ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਬਿਸਰੈ ਜਿ ਬਿਖੁ ਤੇ ਕਾਢੈ

ਜਨਮ ਜਨਮ ਕਾ ਟੂਟਾ ਗਾਢੈ

ਗੁਰਿ ਪੂਰੈ ਤਤੁ ਇਹੈ ਬੁਝਾਇਆ

ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਅਪਨਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਨ ਧਿਆਇਆ ॥੪॥


Why forget the One

Who does not deny anyone’s efforts?

Why forget the One

Who knows what you have done?

Why forget the One

Who gives absolutely everything?

Why forget the One

Who is the life of every creature?

Why forget the One

Who protects You in the fire?

Through the gift of the Sound of Wisdom,

Some rare person realizes this.

Why forget the One

Who draws the poison from you –

Who breaks through the cycle of rebirth?

The perfect Teacher gives me

The understanding of the Essence of Truth.

Servant Naanak meditates

On the Creator, alone.

The title of this bani is Sukhmani. This means that the mind is directed to peace. This passage speaks very simply and directly to the underlying instructions of non-duality. Mind – focus on the Creator. Do not focus on the Creation. Watch the creation, sure. Enjoy the creation – absolutely. But do not let your mind get lost in that creation. Stay focused on the One who has staged the show.

When the mind can anchor itself to the One – then it can create ease and relaxation. Because why should the ego hustle and hassle, when there is a Doer? Let the Doer go. And let you not forget. This is the ultimate formula to attain peace.

Sukhmani Sahib is the most outrageously positive spiritual exposition. That was another shock that I had to metabolize while translating Sukhmani Sahib. There are so many amazing, incredible positive statements about the possibilities of human life and the human condition. And this set of incredibly positive affirmations challenges the mind to see life in the true spirit of Chardi Kalaa.

It made me realize what a test Guru Arjan Dev Ji had to go through at the end of his life. That he channeled this beautiful prayer, asking the human race to see the One in everything, to view the One as the Doer of everything. And then, while sitting on the hot plate, Guru Arjan Dev Ji had to prove this to himself. He had to sit there and take the torture, the pure, raw, hot torture, that was going on around him – day after day after day after day – and just keep seeing the One in all of it. No matter what the personal cost to him. To smile through the suffering and only see the One.

When it comes to the issue of non-duality – there are many extreme yogic practices to get the mind to enter into that point of view. Dark retreats, for instance. Yes – Sukhmani Sahib opens a portal for the every day person to enter into the practice of non-duality simply through the normal ups and down, trials and tribulations of everyday life. That seeing the One – in the good times and the bad times, in the pleasure and the pain, in the love and the heart-break – gives us the ability to go through life with equanimity. And in a world filled with terrifying, difficult, challenging situations, grace and equanimity is what the mind needs most of all.

Wahe Guru Ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh


About the Author

EOKK for Sikh SymposiumEk Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa converted to Sikhi at 30. She graduated Rice University in Asian Studies, with a concentration in English Literature. This lead to a scholarship in China, exploring issues of translation with sacred texts. She worked as a Journalist and marketer unitl she met SSS Harbajan Singh Khalsa (Yogiji). Under his guidance she began translating the writings of the Sikh Gurus into English. She also teaches Sikhi. She has published poetic translations of the Japji Sahib, Anand Sahib and Sukhmani Sahib. Ek Ong Kaar Kaur is the Program Manager for

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