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The Jap Ji of Guru Nanak : Its Doctrinal Basis

Discussion in 'Jap Ji Sahib' started by Admin Singh, Nov 21, 2010.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    The Japuji of Guru Nanak : Its Doctrinal Basis
    Sirdar Kapur Singh

    The Japu is the first text included in Guru Granth Sahib. It is held by many scholars that the Japu contains the main thesis of the Sikh religion and that the rest of the Guru Granth is merely exegetic. This is the reason why a careful study of the Japu is necessary, before anything else, for those who would understand Sikhism and the Sikh movement.

    Some modern readers, however, experience considerable difficulty in following the meaning and significance of such texts as the Japu for the reason that they are not well acquainted with the ancient spiritual traditions of India, while the Japu assumes such an acquaintance.
    The Vedas, by common agreement, contain the most ancient religious and philosophical lore of mankind which has been the corner-stone of all religious and metaphysical thought of India during the last three or four millennia.

    Gautam, the Buddha, when preaching his precepts twenty-five hundred years ago, declared as the Dhammapada, records, ‘Esho dhammam sandatanam’ - “What I preach is the ancient Truth.”

    The ancient religious lore of India is collectively called the Veda, and the Veda, therefore, is very old indeed. The ontological status of the Veda, according to the Mimansa, which is Vadanga, a limb of the Veda, is that the Veda is God-inspired and eternal. What does this claim mean? The Nyaya Sutra of Gautam, the Rishi, which is another Vadanga, recognises four categories of epistemology, that is, the means whereby knowledge is obtainable: Pratakshya (sense perception), Anuman (inference), Upman (analogy) and Sabd (testimony).

    Pratakshya furnishes the material with which the physical sciences deal, while Anuman and Upman, do not independently furnish facts. They can only examine and analyse the facts furnished by the Pratyakshya.
    The material of the Sabd are the regions inaccessible to the normal human senses, it being taken as demonstrable that such regions exist. The man who categorically denies the existence of such regions is a Nastaka - denier. With him there is no further argument in the ancient Indian philosophy. He is the Manmukh, in the Sikh terminology - the man who refuses to go beyond the normal human sense-perception, in contradistinction to the Gurmukh who accepts the Sabd, the testimony of the Guru.

    The Veda, technically, is the Sabd, containing, in verbal sounds, the facts pertaining to regions beyond the range of human sense-perception.
    “Mysticism,” “numenon,” etc. - vaguely signify, in the West, the kind of knowledge which is the subject matter of Sabd.

    In India, the Veda, the repository of the Sabd has been commonly identified with the textual records known as the Rig Veda, the Sam Veda, the Atharva and the Yajur Veda. Also, the numerous Upanishads are treated as the last chapter of the Veda and therefore it is called the Vedanta.

    This Veda, that is, the Veda understood in this specific sense, has six limbs, six Vedangs, the knowledge of which is necessary for understanding the Veda. These limbs are prosody, grammar, etymology, pronunciation, astrology and the ritual.

    The facts given in the Veda are not perceived or formulated through human reason but are believed to have been revealed to men of extra-sensitivity - the Rishis - and, therefore, the Veda is Sruti.. revealed knowledge, as distinct from the Smriti.. knowledge derived through sense - perception and reasoning. The Veda is its own proof of its truth; it is what is technically called svatah-praman.

    Gautam, the Buddha, twenty-five centuries ago repudiated the claim and validity of this Veda in its specific sense and he also denied the validity of Sabd as a source of true knowledge. Buddhi, the disciplined and enlightened reason, was the source of all the truths that Gautam, the Buddha, preached.

    As is recorded in the Mahaparnib-bansuttanta of the Pali Dighnikaya, when Subhadra, the Brahmin philosopher, met the Buddha at the banks of the river Hiranayvati, at the time when the Buddha was about to pass away, in answer to the question as to whether there were any other truths beyond those mentioned in the Veda texts, the Buddha replied:

    “This is not the time for such discussions. To true wisdom, there is only one way, the path laid down by me... O, Subhadra, I do not speak to you of things I have not experienced. Since I was 29 years old, until now, I have striven after pure and perfect wisdom....”

    It is for this reason that Gautam, the Buddha, is described as a Nastik .. a denier, an heretic.. in the Indian writings.

    The disappearance of Buddhism from its native soil about fifteen hundred years ago is synchronous with the re-assertion of, the doctrine of Sabd and the identification of the Sabd with the Veda in its specific sense. This is the corpus of the ancient Sanskrit texts, the four Vedas and Upanishads.
    It also includes the aphorisms called Brahmsutra of Badrayan, the Rishi. All the mighty religious currents of Hindu thought of the middle ages originated from the interpretations of, and commentaries on, these Brahmsutras by such outstanding figures as Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhava, the three great Acharyas of Hinduism.

    These Acharyas are the founders of the great philosophical systems known as Advait, Vasisht Advait and Dwait. These philosophic system became the foundation of the great Bhakti movement presided over by such mighty figures as Chaitanya, Tukaram, Jnaneswar, Tulsi and Kabir down to Vivekananda and Ramatirath. It may truly be asserted that all these philosophical systems, the great Bhakti movement in all its nuances, the whole of this philosophico-religious thought and activity are based on logic and grammar, the Bhashyas of the Brahmsutras.

    Two thousand years after Gautam, the Buddha, Guru Nanak is a milestone in the philosophical and cultural life of India comparable in principle to the phenomenon of the revelation of the Vedic texts and the formulation of the psychological discipline of Buddhism.

    Guru Nanak proclaims the validity of the doctrine of the Sabd with a certain modification, and claims that the Sabd testimony which he adduces is independent of the ancient scriptural texts called the Veda, both in its genesis and validity.

    Beyond that, he does not explicitly go. He does not repudiate the truth enshrined in this specific Veda, as Gautam, the Buddha did.

    Unlike Gautam, the Buddha, Guru Nanak does not repudiate the validity of the Sabd testimony. Like Gautam, the Buddha, he asserts that the springs of Truth have not dried up forever for mankind, and denies that mortal may do no more that interpret, with the aid of logic and grammar, the truths stratified in the ancient texts.

    With regard to the genesis of the Sabd testimony, the Guru asserts the human beings are capable, each one of us, of experiencing the truths which he speaks, provided he submits himself to a sustained rigorous physical and spiritual discipline and provided certain extra-terrestrial condition called the Power of Grace, are favourable to him. The last hymn of the Japu clearly enunciates this modified doctrine of Sabd.

    This modified doctrine is of tremendous significance to the religious thought of India and, indeed, the whole of mankind. It preserves the transcendental character of Truth but substitutes the concept of a growing knowledge of this Truth within the ken of human minds. Its primary interest is centred around the problem of the quality of living.
    This doctrine of Guru Nanak is of such a basic philosophic nature that it would be difficult to conceive of any historical or philosophic discovery which would seriously affect it. The essential teaching of Guru Nanak, the essence of Sikhism, therefore, has nothing to fear from the two basic and revolutionary activities of the human mind, or, more precisely, the modern Western mind, higher criticism and scientific investigation.

    Higher criticism consists of the examination of previous ideas and their alleged authorities, while scientific investigation examines all things dispassionately and objectively, assuming nothing and testing everything.
    Guru Nanak bases his testimony on previous authority and concedes the possibility of the truths that he reveals being tested by human mind, provided certain experimental conditions are fulfilled.

    The Japuji has thirty-eight hymns or Pauris, i.e. the stairs, containing a systematic and complete statement of the basic philosophy of Guru Nanak. all the hymns of the Japu are metrical, on the pattern of Rig Veda, with a severity of expression and economy of words, making the stanzas related brothers of the ancient Sanskrit Sutras. This has made the Japu the most difficult of Guru Nanak’s compositions to understand.

    The line which forms the metrical unit consists of varying number of syllables and in each line the number of syllables is constant in all the hymns. The concluding lines of a hymn are often of a different syllabic length. The metres, like those of classical Sanskrit, have a quantitative rhythm in which long and short syllables almost alternate. The rhythm of the last four or five syllables is rigidly determined. In their structure, they come half-way between the metre of the Zend Avesta where the principle is the number of syllables only, and the classical Sanskrit in which the quantity of every single syllable is fixed in every line. The Epilogue, the last Sloka, however, is an exception to this rule.

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  3. sunmukh

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    (Previously Himmat Singh)

    Feb 19, 2010
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    Some content on this thread is under moderation. Any attempt to question the status of any Guru Nanak 1 through 10 will be deleted. Any effort to cast Sri Guru Granth Sahib Maharaj as an opinion will linger in moderation or will be deleted. spnadmin

    Ek OnKaar Sat Naam

    There is a section on SikhiWiki giving a brief biography of the author of the article, The Japuji ofGuru Nanak: Its Doctrinal Basis. The biography is at this link: Sentence edited to improve clarity of references by spnadmin.


    It would be interesting to know when this particular article was written.

    It suggests Japuji is the most difficult of Guru Nanak's compositions to understand.

    It would also be interesting to know if others find difficulty with understanding japji Sahib.

    Is there any problem in understanding at all?

    If difficulty is being experienced have members wondered why? -
    - are differences down to natural differences of ability to understand ;
    - are there problems with grammar and/or language?
    - misleading comment about Guru Nanak was deleted

    According to Sirdar Kapur Singh (added by spnadmin)

    One other thing, the article refers to the last "hymn" of Japuji as enunciating a modified version of the Sabd. Is he referring to the salok, or is he referring to pauri 38?

    Sat Sri Akal
  4. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Jun 17, 2004
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    Neither. He is referring to the Divine Essence as Shabad, often described as vibratory energy, which is always present in creation and beyond time. Gurbani is this vibration translated into poetry.

    Sardar ji is referring to this, in the thread starter:

    Please also refer to this explanation
    There is greater elaboration at this link:

    Guru Nanak describes the idea this way in Pauree 36:

    ਗਿਆਨ ਖੰਡ ਮਹਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਪਰਚੰਡੁ ॥
    Gi▫ān kẖand mėh gi▫ān parcẖand.
    In the realm of wisdom, spiritual wisdom reigns supreme.

    ਤਿਥੈ ਨਾਦ ਬਿਨੋਦ ਕੋਡ ਅਨੰਦੁ ॥
    Ŧithai nāḏ binoḏ kod anand.
    The Sound-current of the Naad vibrates there, amidst the sounds and the sights of bliss.

    What did Karpur Singh mean by "modified?" Do we know what Punjabi word he used for that term?

    Some scholars would argue that Shabad is "modified" because it is transformed into Gurbani as verse.

    Also from gurbani.org
    In my opinion all of Gurbani is Shabad transformed. But in response to the questions you raise, Sardar Karpur Singh has already described the "paurees" as hymns. What is Guru Nanak saying in pauree 38, the last pauree

    ਜਤੁ ਪਾਹਾਰਾ ਧੀਰਜੁ ਸੁਨਿਆਰੁ ॥
    Jaṯ pāhārā ḏẖīraj suni▫ār.
    Let self-control be the furnace, and patience the goldsmith.

    ਅਹਰਣਿ ਮਤਿ ਵੇਦੁ ਹਥੀਆਰੁ
    Ahraṇ maṯ veḏ hathī▫ār.
    Let understanding be the anvil, and spiritual wisdom the tools.

    ਭਉ ਖਲਾ ਅਗਨਿ ਤਪ ਤਾਉ ॥
    Bẖa▫o kẖalā agan ṯap ṯā▫o.
    With the Fear of God as the bellows, fan the flames of tapa, the body's inner heat.

    ਭਾਂਡਾ ਭਾਉ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਤਿਤੁ ਢਾਲਿ ॥
    Bẖāʼndā bẖā▫o amriṯ ṯiṯ dẖāl.
    In the crucible of love, melt the Nectar of the Name,

    ਘੜੀਐ ਸਬਦੁ ਸਚੀ ਟਕਸਾਲ ॥
    Gẖaṛī▫ai sabaḏ sacẖī taksāl.
    and mint the True Coin of the Shabad, the Word of God.

    ਜਿਨ ਕਉ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰਮੁ ਤਿਨ ਕਾਰ ॥
    Jin ka▫o naḏar karam ṯin kār.
    Such is the karma of those upon whom He has cast His Glance of Grace.

    ਨਾਨਕ ਨਦਰੀ ਨਦਰਿ ਨਿਹਾਲ ॥੩੮॥
    Nānak naḏrī naḏar nihāl. ||38||
    O Nanak, the Merciful Lord, by His Grace, uplifts and exalts them. ||38||

    Sardar Kapur Singh ji has already enunciated what he believes is the turn the Guru Nanak took which makes japji uniquely revolutionary

    We can see the connections with pauree 38. Ordinary humans are capable of experiencing the truth through rigrous discipline (fan the flames of tapa, the body's inner heat) and the glance of grace (O Nanak, the Merciful Lord, by His Grace, uplifts and exalts them).

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