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Gurbani's Correct Interpretation: A Rejoinder

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by Neutral Singh, Aug 16, 2004.

  1. Neutral Singh

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    Gurbani's Correct Interpretation: A Rejoinder by Baldev Singh
    Contributed by VaheguruSeekr (Tejwant Ji)

    Joginder Singh, a retired principal from Chandigarh, in his article Gurbani's Correct Interpretation published in the Abstacts of Sikh Studies (January - March 2003, p. 34-38), has accused Gurbaksh Singh Kala Afghana and I of damaging Sikhism. This short article is poorly written out of anger, and it is full of errors and misinterpretations. The editors published it without any comment, which does not reflect well on the journal. Moreover, the editors did not even acknowledge the receipt of my rebuttal to Joginder Singh's article.

    Joginder Singh has criticized my interpretation of ardas (Sikh congregational prayer) and the concept of "aape gur chela."1 I would like to draw the kind attention of the editors of Abstracts of Sikh Studies to some of the statements made by Sardar Joginder Singh.

    "There is no count of snipers targeting Sikhism from without. Weren't our mod-parents, politicians and clergy enough from within? A new crop of removers of distortions has now arisen to confuse Sikh religion further. Their doings are further fraught with the worst type of consequences. This humble write up has been necessitated by the articles of two such removers of distortions, Sardar Baldev Singh and Sardar Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afgahana. The writing or unwitting travesty of truth contained in this statement, I shall discuss later. If I had not been stung by what I am going to discuss now, I would not have lifted my pen. It can be possible that neither the author nor the editor have ever heard or read through the Guru Ji's towering divine composition, sukhmani Sahib? Are they really not conversant with, "Bhagauti Bhagwant bhagat ki rang"?

    "I leave it to the judgement of the readers to divine what will happen to our religion when our scholars and magazines will begin to commit blasphemy of ignoring the gurus word and high lighting the vague definitions in order to trifle with our basic heritage? My humble appeal is that without adequate knowledge of our heritage let us not fall into the trap of creating new fissures and schisms in our much-wronged religion. Instead of wasting our energies on trivia let us concentrate our efforts to solve the solid problems which face us today. If he is not, then, the author is and the editor guilty of blasphemy.

    "Now I am constrained to express my feeling of deep hurt caused by these rigmaroles. Our so-called pathfinders choose a fallacious subject and then, to confuse the Sikhs, weave an endless rope of sand around it. Being the humblest of humble, Sikh who is unable to measure upto Guru's wishes (though he has not given up), I appeal to our writers and editors not to make a mockery of our sesiphire - We used the word mockery with a heavy heart knowing that progressiveness being the basic attribute of a Sikh, Guru and God."

    These statements speak for themselves and need no further comment. However, in my opinion, such statements have no place in an international religious publication like the Abstracts of Sikh Studies. The narrative in this journal should reflect the language of a gurmukh (Godlike person). Moreover, the author has misread my statement and imagined views not present in my article. Besides, his article is loaded with extraneous matter, which is not relevant to my article or his criticism.

    That being said, let me say a few words about my article, which is the subject of Joginder Singh's criticism. I had written a general article under the title Unresolved Theological Issues Facing The Sikhs, which was published in Sikh Virsa of August 2002 and The Sikh Bulletin of July 2002. However, the editor of Spokesman, without my consent, published only a portion of the article under a different title Distortion of Sikh Philosophy and History: The Sikh Writers More to be Blamed. The purpose of writing this article was to start a rational dialogue in the Sikh community to better understand issues and find rational solutions. I had sent a copy of the original article to the editors of Abstracts of Sikh Studies and requested them to point out all material, which Sardar Joginder Singh found hurtful, confusing, and a distortion of Nankian philosophy (teachings of Aad Guru Granth Sahib).

    I am fascinated by the ardas approved by the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) not only for its language, which flows in poetic rhythm, but for the way it encapsulates Sikh history and philosophy in a pithy composition with a beautiful ending that reflects the universality of Nankian philosophy. However, I am not comfortable with the second and third lines and pritham bhgauti as I find it inconsistent with Nankian philosophy.

    Ikonkar Sri Wahiguru ji ki Fateh
    Sri BhgautiiJi shae
    Var Sri Bhgauti ji ki Patshahi dasvein
    Pritham Bhgauti simarkai...

    This inconsistency prompted me to find out how and when these words came to be associated with the ardas. It is clear from Macaullife's translation that second and third line were not part of the ardas when he translated it.2 His interpretation starts and ends: "Sri Wahegur ji ki Fatah! Having remembered the Sword meditate on Guru Nanak. Through Nanak may Thy Name, O God, be exalted, and all prosper by Thy Grace! Sri Wahegur ji ka Khalsa! Sri Waheguru ji ki Fatah!"

    He translates Bhgauti as Sword. Up to "May the tenth King, the holy Guru Gobind Singh, everywhere assist us" is the same as the modern version of ardas. However, it differs elsewhere. For example, there is no mention of "five beloved ones", "four sons of the tenth Guru," "forty immortals" and the gift of long hair. Also, it is much smaller in size than the SGPC ardas.

    Dr. Gopal Singh's translation of ardas is noteworthy and revealing.3 In his translation, he completely ignores the first three lines and this is how he starts and ends: "Having first remembered Lord the God, call on Guru Nanak. Blest by Nanak, the Guru, may our spirits be ever in the ascendency. O God, may the whole world be blest in thy Will and Mercy." It is shorter in content than the SGPC ardas but larger than Macaullife's translation. His interpretation of the last line is different from that of Macauliffe. The footnote says that Guru Gobind Singh composed the first six lines. I think his start of the ardas is proper and consistent with Nankian philosophy. Sikh panth (community) should replace Bhgauti by Akal Purkh.

    Why did Gopal Singh not include the first three lines in his translation? Dr. Singh is no more with us otherwise I would have asked him the question. We can only speculate! Dr. Gopal Singh was the first Sikh to translate the entire Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) into English. I think it was his understanding of Gurbani (sacred hymns of AGGS), which prompted him to drop the second and third line, as they are inconsistent with Gurbani.

    Kapur Singh avoids the second line; otherwise it is a faithful translation of SGPC ardas4. His translation follows. "Formless-form, to God, the abiding Victory. Var Sri Bhagauti, composition of the tenth King. To begin with we invoke the Divine spirit of God and we remember Guru Nanak. May Thy Name, the Religion preached by Nanak, prevail and prosper forever and forever. May Thy Will be done wherein lies the good of all."

    His interpretation of the last line is similar to that of Macauliffe. He translates Bhgauti as Divine spirit of God without giving any reference or reason. Moreover, it is confusing why he didn't use this meaning of Bhgauti for the second line he dropped and the third line in the translation? Nonetheless, on page 286 he says, "The opening part of this prayer, relating to the invocation of the nine predecessor Gurus, is an excerpt from a Punjabi composition of Guru Gobind Singh. It is called Var Sri Bhagauti JI Ki, which is abbreviated metrical version of a chapter of Markandeya purana called Durgasaptasati, seven hundred verses of which have been condensed into 55 stanzas."

    If Var Sri Bhagauti JI Ki is a Pujabi version of Durgasaptasati then who added the first stanza relating to the invocation of the first nine Gurus as Markandeya purana was written long before the time of Sikh Gurus? Does Kapur Singh say that Guru Gobind Singh did the interpolation? Does he understand the implications of his statement? Probably, not as kachi bani (apocryphal composition) is condemned in AGGS. So Guru Gobind Singh cannot be the author of Var Sri Bhagauti JI Ki. Then who is the author?

    Dr. Tharam Singh, a brilliant man with an analytical mind, who was a frequent contributor to the Abstracts of Sikh Studies, provides the answer to this question.

    "The words, 'Padshahi 10th' have been used to deceive Sikhs into believing that these are the words used in supplication (ardas ) to the Almighty. Since the whole Var is dedicated to the goddess Chandi, there is no reason to believe that the first Pauri is not so intended. If Guru Gobind Singh is not the author of 54 od the Pauris, he can't be the author of the first Pauri either, the one that begins with pritham bhgauti simarkai. This is confirmed by Bhai Kahan Singh's explanation of the term Bhgauti in Mahan Kosh.

    So this form of ardas from the first Pauri (stanza) of the Ballad has been foisted on the Sikhs just by adding the words 'Padshahi 10' to the title. We don't know just when this form was introduced. It must have come up after the death of Bhai Mani Singh, at the time these so-called Bachittar Natak Granths first surfaced." 5

    According to Bhai Kahan Singh, Bhgauti means devotee, Bhagwati, Durgadevi, sword, and Mahakal.6 Mahakal is the name of Shivji in Hindu scriptures. In light of these doubts about the meaning of Bhgauti, I had included ardas among the "unresolved theological issues facing the Sikhs."

    My comments on the first three lines and on pritham Bhgauti, which are subject of Joginder Singh's criticism, are given as:

    First line: Victory to the Ineffable Almighy God, the Wonderful One. This expression is consistent with AGGS, however, it is not found in the AGGS.

    Second line: Sri Bhgauti ji shae (invoking the blessing of Sri Bhgauti ji).

    Third line: Var Sri Bhgauti ji ki Patshahi 10 (an ode to Sri Bhgauti ji by Patshahi 10).

    Fourth line, the beginning: Pritham Bhgauti simarke (to begin with we dwell on Bhgauti).

    The second and third line and the start of the fourth are not consistent with Nanakian philosophy.

    My point by point response to Joginder Singh's criticism

    Statement: "There is no count of snipers targeting Sikhism from without. Weren't our mod-parents, politicians and clergy enough from within? A new crop of removers of distortions has now arisen to confuse Sikh religion further. Their doings are further fraught with the worst type of consequences. This humble write up has been necessitated by the articles of two such removers of distortions, Sardar Baldev Singh and Sardar Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afgahana."

    Response: If the author had read and understood the opening paragraphs of my article, he would have been assured that there is no danger to Nankian philosophy. Besides, he would have found out why I wrote that article in the first place.

    Earlier this year the Sikh-Diaspora-Yahoo Group discussed the position of Guru Nanak on the Bhagti Movement Lineage Chart. From the discussion I gathered that the members of this group were upset due to the position assigned to Guru Nanak on this chart. This reminds me of Bhai Bale Vali Janam Sakhi wherein the author has placed Handal Jateta (Hundal Jat) at the top, followed by Kabir and then Guru Nanak. Since the discovery of this janam sakhi, Sikhs have been reading it and preachers have been using it to tell mythical stories contradictory to Guru Nanak's teachings. As a matter of fact this is the most popular Janam Sakhi (biography) among preachers. In spite of the fact that Bhai Gurdas, who has listed the name of prominent Sikh associates of Guru Nanak, does not mention the name of Bhai Bala, though the name of Bhai Mardana is near the top. Bhai Bala was either a fictitious character or he was a member of the Handalia sect.

    Generally, Sikhs are not bothered by the distortion of Sikh philosophy by janam sakhis and other literature: Dasam Granth, Gurbilas Patshahi 6, Hukam Namae, Rehitnamae, Gurbilas Patshahi 10, Sau Sakhi, Sarab Loh Granth, Suraj Parkash, Mehma Parkash, Bansawlinama, Bhagat Ratanawli and Bhatt Vahis. I forgot to mention the current false and mythical literature being generated by sant / babas (country preachers). Sikhs hear sakhis (stories) from this literature in Gurdwaras every Sunday but they never protest. Furthermore, they are not bothered by the destruction of the architectural heritage of Sikhs - the destruction of historical Gurdwaras by illiterate sants / babas in the name of kar-sewa (selfless service). However, when some non-Sikh slights Sikhism, they get upset.

    Let me ask two questions and please reflect on it dispassionately. Does it really impact the importance of Guru Nanak's philosophy or his status as a Guru if somebody out of ignorance slights him in any way? Does it really affect our understanding of his Bani (composition) if somebody assigns him a spot on the heritage chart, which we don't like? We must understand that the interpretation of Sikhism depends on the level of intelligence of the people and other factors - like their knowledge of Sikhism, their own culture and religion, all of which influence their interpretation. Of course, there are malicious people, who do it intentionally.

    Guru Nanak tackled such people by using humility as his shield and knowledge as his sword. On the other hand, we who lack proper understanding of Gurbani (sacred hymns of AGGS), get riled up and resort to other methods. It is much easier to shout or raise slogans and hold demonstration than to challenge an opponent with an intelligent and logical rebuttal. I think we should not worry about what others say about Guru Nanak, we should worry about our own ignorance of his philosophy. Guru Nanak's philosophy is based on Truth, it can withstand any attack. It is like a noble metal, no body can tarnish it. For example, did the derogatory remarks of Reverend Trumpp or Swami Daya Nanad about Guru Nanak and his Philosophy deter others from becoming his followers or understanding and lauding him and his philosophy? Certainly not, in my opinion.

    Within few decades of Swami Daya Nand's attack, this is what the renowned philosopher poet Professor Iqbal said about Guru Nanak. "After the light of Buddha was extinguished in India, people's conscience went into deep slumber for hundreds of years making the life of Shudaras (members of the lowest caste) a living hell. Eventually, a call of 'unity of mankind under One and Only God' rose from the land of Punjab. And a 'perfect man' awakened the conscience of the people of India.7

    More recently, Swami Ram Tirath Danda Sanyasi, a Sanskrit scholar, who studied Hindu and other religious scriptures, wrote a book declaring Aad Guru Granth Sahib as the superior most scripture and its contents as the most superior religious philosophy.8 I find Sri Osho Rajnish's translation of japji more accurate than most of the translations done by Sikhs.

    Statement: On the title page, the following zeal provoking words: "Who introduced spurious wording in the Sikh prayer?" are printed in bold relief and refer to Sardar Baldev Singh's article.

    Response: These are not my words and they are not in my article. These are the words of the editor of Spokesman. I can understand why he put them on the front page.

    Statement: Now let us look at the meaning of Bhgauti. The word has been used few times in AGGS and means bhagat (devotee). (Sardar Baldev Singh has given no reference relating to this meaning).

    Response: I did mention the name of Mahan Kosh of Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha. Students of Gurbani know that it is one of the most useful sources of information for understanding Gurbani. For example, under Bhgauti the first meaning is devotee (bhagat) and there are three references to Gurbani where it has been used in that sense; and then there are other meanings, like Bhagwati, Durga Devi and kharg (sword).

    Statement: In the last fourth line p-37, the author translates "Var Sri Bhgauti ji, Patshahi 10" as "ode to Sri Bhgauti ji, Patshahi 10." So for as I know, there are no Odes in Gurbani.

    Response: The discussion was about ardas not Gurbani. I can't help if the author considers ardas as Gurbani. Besides, Var is translated as ballad or ode. Two well-known scholars, McLeod9 and Sangat Singh10 have translated it as ode.

    Statement: In para one of page 37, the author says, "Some think that Guru Nanak Dev ji composed it (The ardas ).

    Response: The author misread the statement. This statement is only about the last line of the ardas. The last line is very precious. However, there is confusion about it. Some think Guru Nanak Dev composed it, and others think it is sacrilegious to connect Guru Nanak's name with it because he did not write it. According to my understanding, it is neither of the two.

    What it means is that the devotee beseeches the Almighty God to bless the ascendancy of Nanak's philosophy (religion) of Naam and the well-being of all according to His Will (Bhana). In earlier times, Sikhs were called Nanak Panthis or Naam Margiea. Naam is Guru Nanak's favorite name for God, though it has also been used as a synonym for God and Shabad. It is unfortunate that Sikhs have started ignoring the last line in public.

    After the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States, Sikhs participated in many interfaith services. On two or three occasions, which were telecast on TV, the Sikh representatives essentially repeated what others said before them. I can vividly remember an inter-faith meeting in New York city where Dr. Inderjit Singh said, "God bless President Bush, God bless Mayor Guliani, God bless Governor Pataki, God bless America." I think as a Sikh he should have ended by saying "God bless all of human kind."

    Statement: The author has given the meaning of the word Bhgauti from the Punjabi dictionary Bhai Kahan Singh's Mahan Kosh. The references from AGGS, he gives are not concrete. The editor has highlighted all this in the face - and in utter contradiction of the meaning to the word Bhgauti by no less than the 5th Prophet of Sikhism, Satguru Arjan Dev Ji.

    Response: First, Punjabi dictionary and Mahan Kosh of Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha are two separate things. Second, what is wrong in consulting a Punjabi dictionary and/or Mahan Kosh of Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha. Did not the author himself consult "World Book Dictionary" to enlighten us about the meaning of ode? Third, Mahan Kosh refers to sukhmani Sahib wherein Bhgauti means bhagat (devotee). Fourth, I did not give any references from AGGS; all I said was that the word Bhgauti has been used a few times in AGGS and it means bhagat. Fifth, Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha is one of the giants among Sikh scholars, who prepared the Mahan Kosh (Encyclopedia of Sikhism) when the vast majority of the Sikhs couldn't read or write. It is one of the most useful sources of information about Sikhism. Moreover, when the Sikhs were confused about their identity, Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha was one the few scholars -- like Professor Gurmukh Singh, Giani Dit Singh, and Max Arthur Macaullife -- who awakened the community by writing: Ham Hindu Nahi (We Are Not Hindus).

    Statement: It can be possible that neither the author nor the editor have ever heard or read through the Guru Ji's towering divine composition, sukhmani Sahib? Are they really are not conversant with, "Bhagauti Bhagwant bhagat ki rang?"

    Response: I can't speak for the editor of Spokesman, but I have read sukhmani Sahib many, many times and I understand it quite well. Hereunder are quotes from AGGS, which prove beyond any shadow of doubt that Bhgauti mean devotee (bhagat), not God.

    bhgauti bhagwant bhagit ka rang
    sagal tiagai dust ka snag

    "A devotee who is deeply in love with God gives up all bad habits and influences."

    Bhgauti means devotee (bhagat), bhagwant means God, and bhagit means love for God. Literally speaking the first line means: bhagit rub di bhgauti vich rangia hunda hai, that is, devotee is in deep love with God. Sagal dust means all bad habits and influences.

    sadh sang papa mal khovai
    tis bhgauti ki mati ootam hovai

    "A devotee, who gets rid of evil ways in the company of gurmukhs (God- centered beings), he develops higher level of conscience."

    hari ke charn hirdai bsavai
    nanka aaisa bhgauti bhagwant kau pavai

    "A devotee, who dwells upon God's attributes with dedication realizes Him," says Nanak.

    hari ke charn means God's attributes, and hirdai bsavai means to dwell.

    AGGS, M 5, p 274.

    so bhgauti jo bhagwant janai
    gur parsadi aap pshanai

    A devotee, who understands God, recognizes the purpose of his life by His grace.

    AGGS, M 3, P 88.

    It is clear from the above discussion that Bhgauti in AGGS means devotee, not God. According to my knowledge, in no place in AGGS, the word Bhgauti is used for God.

    Statement: Translation, says a Chinese proverb is treason. When it comes to interpreting Gurbani, the eternal word of God the problem becomes several times more daunting.

    Response: This argument is not valid. How do hundreds of different governments, speaking different languages communicate with each other every day? How do scientists interpret Egyptian and Babylonian scripts, which are thousands of years old? How did Dr. Gopal Singh translate the entire AGGS into English? Professor Sahib Singh, another renowned Sikh scholars devoted all his life to the study of Gurbani. First, he prepared its grammar and then he translated the entire AGGS in a series of ten volumes. Now millions like me enjoy the bliss of Gurbani every day because it has become readily understandable.

    Statement: Taking heart from the XIX Pauri of Japji Sahib: "akhri nam.." and after humble prayer for guidance I proceed in spirit of learning from and sharing my thoughts with the reader.

    Response: Citing an incomplete verse of Gurbani without reference or for that matter, any quote or scientific term is not proper. Prayer, according to Nankian philosophy, is Naam Simran (dwelling on the virtues of God constantly). Praying at specific times of the day or occasions for selfish reason does not lead to spiritual progress.

    When I read Gurbani, I get myself situated in a very relaxing and comfortable position with Professor Sahib Singh's translation of AGGS, Mahan Kosh, Punjabi and English dictionaries at hand and then I read Gurbani. The Yogis asked Guru Nanak "Who is your Guru or whose disciple are you?" The Guru replied, " The Shabad (Divine Knowledge) is my Guru and my mind, which is focused on the Shabad and comprehends it, is the disciple (AGGS, M, 1, p 942)." Here Guru Nanak makes it abundantly clear that Guru is the Shabad (Divine Knowledge), not the Guru person. For the proper understanding of Gurbani we must pay heed to the Guru's advice.

    A rare enlightened being (gurmukh) reflects on Bani, which is the Word of God.
    One who imbibes it becomes one with the Almighty.
    AGGS, M 3, p 935.

    Unlike other religions, Sikhism is based on knowledge and logic, and it has been made abundantly clear in AGGS.

    First, evaluate a substance, then buy it. In other words, first evaluate an idea or a philosophy (teachings or religion) then accept it (AGGS, M, 1 p 1410).

    Deliberation and discussion of Guru's teaching is higher than any achievement.
    AGGS, M, 1, p 904.

    Use wisdom in the worship of God and earn respect through intelligent conduct. Learn by intelligent reading and use common sense to practice charity (AGGS, M, 1, p 1245).

    One who applies discerning intellect understands the subject in its real perspective.
    AGGS, M, 5, p 285.

    One who is endowed with discerning intellect is indeed a wealthy person.
    AGGS, M, 5, p 285.

    Statement: My humble appeal is that without adequate knowledge of our heritage let us not fall into the trap of creating new fissures and schisms in our much-wronged religion. Instead of wasting our energies on trivia let us concentrate our efforts to solve the solid problems which face us today.

    Response: The only way that I know to adore and glorify Guru Nanak is to have a proper understanding of his teachings. That way I can pass it on to my children and share with my friends and neighbors. I can't practice it without understanding it. Practicing without understanding is like putting a cart before the horse and that won't take me anywhere. It is my sincere appeal to all, who want to glorify Guru Nanak, to use their talents and time to translate Gurbani as accurately as possible into English so that we could present this unique philosophy as a gift to mankind and leave it as an inheritance for the future generations.

    Statement: Talking of trivia S. Baldev Singh tells us on page 36 that it is Lie, I repeat that he says that it is a Lie to call Guru Gobind Singh ji 'ape gur chela'. His argument- If one may call it so: Guru Gobind Singh did not transfer Guruship to the 'five beloved ones'. He asked them to baptize him. After his baptism he was the Guru and a member of the Khalsa fraternity.

    Response: It is not trivial. The author did not understand what I meant. Let me explain. There is a painting which shows Guru Gobind Singh kneeling before the "five beloved ones" with hands folded like a cup asking them to baptize him. Most Sikhs associate "ape gur chela" with this act of Guru Gobind Singh which in not correct. Guru Gobind Singh did not transfer the Guruship to the "five beloved ones" when he asked them to baptize him. After his baptism he was the Guru and a member of the Khalsa fraternity. It was Guru Nanak, who started the "ape gur chela" tradition when he transferred the authority of the Guru to Bhai Lehna and called him his own limb (Angad). All his successors followed his example. Guru Gobind Singh was "ape gur chela" when he transferred the spiritual authority of the Guru to the teachings enshrined in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib and the temporal authority to the corporate body of the Sikh community. In my article I had explained the sinister meaning behind the following verses, which had gone unnoticed not only by ordinary Sikhs but even by Dr. (Bhai) Harbans Lal8, Dr. Gopal Singh9 and Sardar Kapur Singh.10

    Let us look at the following verse: gur simar mnaee kalika khande ki vela, vah vah Gobind Singh ape gur chela. While most of us are absorbed in enjoying the kirtan (chanting of sacred hymns) we fail to realize the meaning behind the words. We listen to Guru Gobind Singh invoked the blessing of goddess Kalika (Kali Devi) before the baptism of Khalsa by Khande Di Pahul (baptism with double a edged sword). With this single verse the composer of the Var (ode) has repudiated the Sikh philosophy, which is against the worship of gods and goddesses. Here the writer says that Guru Gobind Singh was a worshiper of goddess Kalika. Besides, the second verse distorts Sikh history, as it is a lie. It is interesting to know that Dr. Sangat Singh has taken note of these two verses and this is what he says about their author of these verses.11

    "Koer Singh proved himself to be a successful infiltrator and subverter of Sikh theology. From the internal evidence, it is obvious that it was he who under the pen name of one Gurdas composed a Var, Ode, and had it added as 41st Var to the compositions of Bhai Gurdas, whose compositions are considered as the key to Adi Granth. In this war, Gurdas sang of the sublimity of Khalsa baptism and hailed the unique place of Guru Gobind Singh as both the Guru and disciple at one and the same time. As a matter of fact, there was nothing new to this concept which was extant since Guru Nanak's bowing before Lehna as his successor. Amidst his lyricism and wah wah (hail), he asserts that Guru Gobind Singh worshiped and appeased Kali on the eve of the creation of Khalsa."

    Statement: The editor has printed these words in bold. Is Guru Gobind Singh a successor of Guru Nanak?

    Response: This statement is not there in the article.

    Statement: I wonder why the Editor's pen, when he had accepted the write up didn't remove the obvious statement in observations like the following on page 35. "Guru Nanak did not talk about the past life or reward in the next life (heaven), what he emphasizes is the present life. He urges us to realize God in this life and become a jiwan mukta."

    Response: What did the author find wrong with this statement? Didn't Guru Nanak make it clear in the first stanza of Japu that the purpose of life is to become a sachaiara - an enlightened being - Godlike (gurmukh)? A gurmukh is a jiwam mukta (the liberated one), who is in perfect union with God. Gurbani urges us again and again that it is our only chance to realize God.

    This alone is your chance to meet God, ponder and seek within.
    AGGS, Kabir, P 1159.

    Human birth is a blessing, this is your opportunity to meet God.
    AGGS, M, 5, P 378.

    "Don't look to the past, make efforts to move ahead," Nanak, says, " This is the only chance to meet God because there won't be a birth again for you."
    AGGS, M, 5, P 1096.

    Why should he, who wants to have a glimpse of the Beloved, worry about salvation in paradise?
    AGGS, M, 1, P 360.

    This is your chance to meet the Lord of the Universe, meet Him. It took a very long time for the human body to evolve."
    AGGS, M 5, p 176.
    (These verses are from a stanza about the evolution of life.)

    Kabir, human birth is difficult to attain because the same person is not born again and again. Like a ripe fruit fallen on the ground does not get attached to the branch again.
    AGGS, Kabir, p 1366.

    If the Gurus believed in past life or a life after death then there could be many chances to realize God, theoretically unlimited, but AGGS urges again and again that this is the only chance.

    Statement: The whole Gurbani is full of references to the past and future life. Random thoughts as they strike my mind, in the last but one hymns of Kirtan Sohila, for instance Guru Nank says: purab likhe guru paya.", and in the Asa Di Var, "agey karni kirat wachiye..", and hundreds of such references could be quoted.

    Response: Nanakian philosophy does not believe in past life or a life after death, as I understand it. Joginder Singh's statement implies that Guru Nanak believed in the theory of "karma and transmigration" and "hell and heaven." However, Nankian philosophy unambiguously rejects "hell and heaven" and the theory of "karma and transmigration."

    Continued in next post...

    Copyright©2004 Baldev Singh. About the author
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  3. Neutral Singh

    Neutral Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    ...continued from Original post contributed by Tejwant Ji....


    What does past and present life mean? From my present to my birth is my past and from my present to my death is my future. Purb does not mean past life, it means past. It is true that the idea of "as you sow, so shall you reap or why blame others, it is our own doing that lead us astray" is there in the AGGS. However, the Sikh Gurus did not accept the doctrine of karma in any fatalistic or deterministic sense. Their idea is of a Creative God with Will and Purpose, who is greatly concerned with the improvement and evolution of His creation and the imperfect beings. The Aad Guru Granth Sahib clearly rejects the theory of transmigration based on karma by asking its proponents:

    When there was no creation, how did the first being inherit karma, or who created karma initially. The reality is that it is God Who created the world and for Him creation is a game and He continues to play (AGGS, M, 5, P 748).

    You say that the body is made of five elements, from where were the elements created? You say that the law of karma determines man's fate, but who created the law of karma? (AGGS, Kabir, P 870.)

    When there was neither father, nor mother, nor body then who was creating karma? Or when neither you were there nor I was there then who knows who came from where? From where did the karma originate, as there was no karma before Veda and Shastra? (AGGS, Namdev, P 973)"

    These questions were clearly directed by Nam Dev ji, Kabir Ji and Guru Arjan to the Brahmins, who invented the theory of "karma and transmigration," "hell and heaven," and the caste system. The Brahmin invented these theories to justify and perpetuate the caste system.


    There are expressions like avan jan, ava java and bhavaya in AGGS, which people have interpreted as cycle of birth and death or cycle of transmigration. However, in the AGGS, these and other related expressions are used as metaphors for spiritual death and spiritual regeneration or they represent Hindu beliefs. According to Guru Nanak, there are two types of people, gurmukhs (God-centred) and manmukhs (self-centred). A gurmukh is a person who dwells on God and His attributes and does every thing according to His Will. Such a one who achieves perfect union with God is called a jiwan mukta.

    Whereas a manmukh is a degenerate person who does every thing according to his own will under the influence of haumai (self-centredness). He is entangled in maya (material world) and leads a life of duality. He is separated from God. His mind is unsteady and he can't decide to choose between God and maya (material world). Thus he keeps experiencing spiritual death and spiritual regeneration and terms like avan jan, ava java and bhavaya describe his situation. The following verses clearly demonstrate that Nankian philosophy does not accept the theory of transmigration and it emphasises that present life is the only chance for man to recognise the Primordial source of his origin.

    "You won't be born again, make efforts to realize God now. Praising the Meriful One will take you across the ocean of worldly temptations," says Nanak
    AGGS, M 9, p220.

    This is your chance to meet the Lord of the Universe, meet Him. It took a very long time for this human body to evolve."
    AGGS, M 5, p 176.

    Hell and Heaven

    Hey (Qazi) make your daily actions as your field, sow the seed of the of the Word and sprinkle it with the water of truth. Endeavour like a farmer to grow a crop of firm belief, then you will understand the meaning of hell and heaven, o ignorant one (AGGS, M1, 24).

    As long as one longs for heaven, there is no union with God.
    AGGS, Kabir, p 325.

    O the Sustainer of all, wherever you keep me is heaven for me.
    AGGS, M 5, p 106.

    Wherever Your praises are sung, is heaven. It is You who create the reverence for You in the devotee.
    AGGS, M 5, 749.

    Where people are engrossed in countless spectacles and amusements and don't remember the Almighty, is desolate place like hell.
    AGGS, M 5, p 707.

    Those who are blessed by the Almighty to follow the saints are not afflicted (hell) because He is present in their mind and body all the time and they don't see any thing without Him.
    AGGS, M 5, p 531.

    The attachment shackles one to the material world (maya). It is the business of maya, which causes one pain or pleasure (hell or heaven).
    AGGS, M 5, p 761.

    The evil person separated from God suffers much pain. He suffers spiritual death in the darkness of ignorance (hell).
    AGGS, M 1, p 1029.

    What is hell and what is that poor heaven, the saints reject both. We are not dependent on any body due to the grace of our Guru (God).
    (AGGS, Kabir, p 969).

    Hell and Heaven represent states of suffering and happiness, and moral and immoral life, respectively. Joginder Singh has quoted three single verses loosely to prove the existence of past life and future life. And he implies that this fact could be understood through simran and sewa. However, he didn't explain the meaning either of the verses or of simran and sewa.

    First, we must observe the rules of Hermeneutics to interpret any religious text. It is the interpretation of Sikhi (Nankain philosophy) by single verses, which is responsible for the distortion of Sikhi to such an extent that modern day Sikhism essentially has no connection with the teachings enshrined in AGGS. Interpretation of a single line should be avoided as far as possible. For proper interpretation of Gurbani, one must keep in mind the fundamental principles of Nankian philosophy described by Guru Nanak in the opening verse of AGGS, the theme of the whole shabad containing the verse and the meaning of the verse of rhau (pause). The interpretation of the verse done this way is generally consistent with Guru Nanak's philosophy.

    Joginder Singh quotes "karmi aavai kpra nadri mokh duar", to prove the existence of a past life and a life after death. Professor McLeod also made the same mistake in interpreting this verse in Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion.

    On page 205 McLeod has interpreted "karmi aavai kpra nadri mokh duar" as: Karma determines the nature of our birth (lit. cloth), but it is through grace that the door of salvation is found. He has made three mistakes in the interpretation of this verse. First, he has taken a single verse from a stanza of seven verses, which are interconnected. Second, karmi is not derived from karam (Punjabi) or karma (Sanskrit) meaning actions, it is derived from karam (Persian) meaning kindness or favor. Third, kapra does not mean birth; it means cloth or clothing, a metaphor for God's love. Contrary to McLeod, almost a century ago, Macauliffe interpreted this verse accurately as: 11

    True is the Lord, true is his name; it is uttered with endless love.
    People pray and beg, 'Give us, give us'; the Giver giveth His gifts.
    Then what can we offer Him whereby His court may be seen?
    What words shall we utter with our lips, on hearing which He may love us?
    At the ambrosial hour of morning meditate on true Name and God's greatness.
    The Kind One will give us a robe of honour, and by his favour we shall reach the gate of
    Nanak, we shall thus know that God is altogether true."
    AGGS, M 1, p 2.

    The first line describes God's attribute of greatness and the second one says that God is the source of all treasures; people keep begging and He keeps giving. The third and fourth lines are questions. If God is the source of all treasures then what material gift can we offer to see Him? What language we should use to communicate with him so that He would love us. The fifth line is an answer to third and fourth line and it says, "Dwell on His virtues." The sixth line explains that by so doing God will honor us with a robe and allow us to enter the Divine court. What does it mean? It means that by dwelling on God's attributes, one develops understanding of these attributes and starts identifying with them and reflecting them in our own character. Guru Nanak calls such a person a gurmukh, and a jiwan mukta.

    Guru Hargobind Sahib calls such people mir and pir (one who is both spiritually and temporally sovereign). The lord of the white hawk and rider of the blue steed (Guru Gobind Singh) informs us that such a person free from: varana ashrarma dharama (color/caste based religion), karm kand (Hindu rituals and ceremonies), bharam (superstition), kul (family lineage) and krit (caste based occupation restriction. Salvation in Nankian philosophy means total emancipation from ignorance and the deleterious effects of the material world (maya).

    Professor Sahib Singh has also interpreted this verse the same way as Macauliffe did.12 (This way) the Gracious One gives a scarf (of meditating on His greatness). (The wall of falsehood) is eliminated by His kindness and the door of salvation is opened to the devotee). Both, Macauliffe and Sahib Singh have interpreted kapra as cloth. However, due to cultural differences one calls it a robe of honor and the other calls it a scarf of love. Both robe and scarf are metaphor for God's love. And what is God's love? It is identification with His attributes.

    Additionally, the meaning of kapra as cloth becomes abundantly clear from Guru Nanak's use of this word in another shabad. For example, in his discussions with the Yogis Guru Nanak said:

    I was an unemployed minstrel (dhadi), but God gave me an occupation. He ordered me to sing His praises day and night. And He called me to His abode of Truth to honor me with a robe (kapra paya) of "propagating His true glory" (AGGS, M 1, p 150).

    In several other places in AGGS, pages, 398, 1094, 1098, 42, 470, 962 of the AGGS, kapr (has been used for clothes. Thus using the correct meaning of karmi and kapra the verse "karmi aavai kpra nadri mokh duar" should be translated as: Then the Bounteous One will reward us with His love and by His grace the door of salvation will open for us.

    Moreover, careful examination of Mcleod's book reveals that whereas he has discussed most of the concepts of Nanakian philosophy lucidly, for some reasons he has not discussed the most important concept of jiwan mukta (liberated one), though, he has mentioned salvation (mukti) many times. Had he explored the concept of jiwan mukta as defined in AGGS, he would not have made the wrong assumption that Guru Nanak accepted the doctrines of karma and transmigration.

    McLeod has interpreted salvation as "A condition of ineffable union with the Eternal One in which all earthy bonds are dissolved and the cycle of death and rebirth is finally brought to an end (p 150-151). Or physical death, far from being something to be feared, is for the gurmukh a joy to be welcomed when it comes, for it means a perfecting of his union with God (p 187-188). Or he passes into a condition of union which transcends death and cycle of transmigration (p 193)." These interpretations by Mcleod clearly mean that salvation comes after physical death.

    In support of his interpretation, McLeod asserts, "Guru Nanak's Gauri Dipki, which is recited every night by devout Sikhs as part of Kirtan Sohila, the Evening Prayer, is a sublime expression of the contentment with which a believer awaits his physical death and final release." A careful study of this composition reveals that the union of a gurmukh with God is beautifully depicted in the imagery of a Punjabi wedding culminating in the union of the bride with the groom on the joyous occasion. There is no mention of death in this composition. It is difficult to imagine how McLeod construed from this composition that the union of a gurmukh with God takes place after the physical death. If ignorant Sikhs have interpreted it wrong, it does not mean that a scholar of the caliber of McLeod should do the same!

    Salvation in other religions means going to heaven after death. This type of salvation has been clearly rejected in AGGS.

    I don't crave for the worldly kingdom or salvation (heaven) I crave for the comfort of His soft feet.
    AGGS, M 5, p 534. It means that a Sikh does not hanker after material wealth or going to heaven, salvation for him is to merge his identity with God's attributes.

    Every body prays for salvation to go to heaven and always hope to get there, but the devotee who longs for His glimpse does not want that type of salvation, he is satisfied to have His glimpse.
    AGGS, M 4, p1324.

    Kabir, the merciful true Guru has saved me from the temptations of heaven and the fear of hell. I have always enjoyed the comfort and pleasure of being at His beautiful feet."
    AGGS, Kabir, p 1370

    Getting back to the other two verses Joginder Singh has cited to prove the existence of past and future life, here is my interpretation: poorab likht likhe gur paia. As I have made clear earlier that Nankian philosophy does not accept the theory of "karma and transmigration" and "hell and heaven," so I am going to interpret this verse in that light. The key to understand its inner meaning is to understand the meaning of poorab, likht likhe and Gur. The literal meaning of this verse is, "One finds the Guru according to the previous written record."

    First, consider the meaning of Guru as it is used in AGGS. Guru Nanak has called God as his Guru at several places in AGGS and Guru means the destroyer of ignorance. It is knowledge, which destroys ignorance. Guru Nanak has also called shabad (Word) as his Guru. Shabad is also knowledge. It has been made abundantly clear in AGGS that Guru is Shabad, not Guru person. Guru persons were the medium for the propagation of the Shabad. It is unfortunate that when Sikhs see the word Guru or Gur, they immediately connect it to Guru person, which is totally wrong. As a matter of fact there are not many references in AGGS to Guru persons except the compositions of Bhats. I can understand why some Sikhs might have mistaken Guru person for Shabad during the Guru period. But, what is the justification when Guru Gobind Singh has made it abundantly clear that after him Guru is the Shabad enshrined in AGGS. Poorab means past and likht likhe means "the process of acquiring knowledge or accumulation of knowledge or learned experience." Let me explain what I mean by these expressions.

    As soon as a child is born he starts acquiring knowledge, which helps him to face the world as he grows. For example, good preparation in high school leads to admission in college and then good preparation in college leads to admission in medical college. The acquisition of competent skills and knowledge makes him a successful doctor. The whole process would be thwarted if there were no preparation in high school. In light of the foregoing discussion here is the interpretation of the verse:

    Past efforts lead to understanding of the Shabad. It is the past experience, which leads to future success. In other words, it is the process of evolution of an ordinary man into a gurmukh

    vada hoaa dunidar gal sangal ghat chlaia
    agai karnee keerat vachiai baih lekha kar samjhaia
    AGGS, M1, p 464.

    This verse "karnee keerat vachiai baih lekha kar samjhaia" is from Guru Nanak's composition of Asa Di Var. Those, who have studied AGGS, know that Asa Di Var is a commentary on the society of that time. Guru Nanak has described the behavior of the rulers and their administrators and religious leaders, activities of various religious orders and religious beliefs and customs people observed. He has also expressed his own reaction and thoughts on what he observed.

    In the Pauri (stanza) containing this verse, Guru Nanak has described the religious beliefs of Hindus and what happens when a Hindu dies. The angel of death puts a chain around the neck of a dead person's soul and drag it to the court of Dharamraj (mythical justice), who decides its fate of the on the basis of the records of dead person's deeds kept by Chitr and Gupt, Dharamraj's assistants. It is not Guru Nanak's belief, it is the belief of Hindus. Guru Nanak has expressed his views about this belief in the bottom line. The ignorant fool has wasted his life (man andhai janm gvaia), as the purpose of man's life is to become a gurmukh.

    Statement: Being the humblest of humble, Sikh who is unable to measure up to Guru's wishes (though he has not given up) I appeal to our writers and editors not to make a mockery of our sesiphire - We used the word mockery with a heavy heart knowing that progressiveness being the basic attribute of a Sikh, Guru and God."

    Response: We must bow to the memory of those who showed compassion and tolerance to the shortcomings of others, dekhke andith keeta. I don't understand the meaning of sesiphire.

    This article is dedicated to the memories of those who upheld the principles of Nankian philosophy without flinching or wavering under the pressure of heinous and unspeakable tortures: "Were cut alive limb by limb, skinned alive, boiled alive, sawed alive, carded like cotton and forced to bear necklaces made up of the cutup pieces of the bodies of their children."

    Sardar Gurdial Singh Lumma, a self-taught man with no formal education, who used to discuss books like Katik Ke Vaisakh with me when I was a student of eighth class. A man who taught me what is discerning intellect. He used to say that without discerning intellect even a doe eyed person is blind. 13

    And to my parents Sardar Bhajan Singh and Sardarni Bhagwaun Kaur. My dear mother's sweet ant precious words echo in my ears all the time. "Son, I will miss you very much, but don't worry, I will be alright. It doesn't matter if you settle down over there. But remember, wherever you live, your neighbours should know you as an honest person and wherever you work, your colleagues should know you as a dependable, competent and dedicated worker."


    1 Singh, B. Distortion of Sikh philosophy and history: The Sikh writers more to be blamed! Sopkesman, July 2002, p34-38.

    2 Macaullife, M. A., The Sikh Religion, V. 5, 1990, p 331-332.

    3 Singh, G., Guru Gobind Singh, 3rd edition, 1968, p 126-128.

    4 Singh, K., Parasaraprasna, 1st edition, Eds. Piar Singh and Madanjit Kaur, 1989, p 287-288.

    5 Singh, T., The Chandi Chrittar, Spokesman, October 1999, p 39-42.

    6 Nabha, B. K. S., Mahankosh (Punjabi), 1996, p 910.

    7 Mohammed, I., Nanak, a poem in Urdu.

    8 Danda-Sanyasi, S.R. T., Sarvotam Dharam - Khalsa Panth, reviewed in Abstracts of Sikh Studies, April - June 1997, p 4-8.

    9 McLeod, W. H., Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 1996, p 246.

    10 Singh, S., The Sikhs in History, 4th edition, 2001, p 112.

    11 Lal, B. H., Sehajdhari Sikhs and Vaisakhi of 1699. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 1999, 1 (1), p 37-41. And my response to it: Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 1999, 1 (2), p 47-48.

    12 Singh, G., Guru Gobind Singh, 3rd edition, 1968, p 1, 24.

    13 Singh, K., Parasaraprasna, 1st edition, Eds. Piar Singh and Madanjit Kaur, 1989, p 46, 157, 189.

    14 Singh, S., The Sikhs in History, 4th edition, 2001, p 113.

    15 Macaullife, M. A. The Sikh Religion, V. 1, 1986, p 197.

    16 Singh, S., Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan, V. 1, 1972, p 58-59.

    17 Sardar Gurdial Singh Lumma was an exceptionally tall man, so people in the village called him Lumma Gurdial or simply Lumma. He was a very dear family friend. He was the one who got me interested in serious study of Sikhism when I was in high school. We used to discuss historian Karam Singh's Katik ke Vaisakh wherein he has collected very strong evidence that Guru Nanak Dev was born on the day of Vaisakhi not on Katik Pooranmashi. He was an enlightened human being (gurmukh).

    Generally, people use the words that, them and their, however, he always used the words our for every one whether a family member or a friend or a stranger. The beauty of a deer eye is part of Punjabi folklore and the deer has very keen eyesight and is capable of seeing far away things much more clearly than humans can see.

    Copyright©2004 Baldev Singh. About the author

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