Interpretation Of Gurbani-Views On Karma And Transmigration

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Oct 21, 2009
W. H. McLeod’s Interpretation of Guru Nanak’s Bani

by Baldev Singh

Professor W. H. McLeod has claimed that Guru Nanak accepted the theory of karma and transmigration, but Aad Guru Granth Sahib, which is the only authentic source of Guru Nanak’s teachings, rejects these beliefs unequivocally.


Misinterpretation of the bani (sacred hymns) of Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) and the misrepresentation of Sikhism is not a new thing in the history of the Sikhs. It started right during the time of the Sikh Gurus and is still going on with no letup in sight. Non-Sikh scholars are not the only ones who indulge in these pursuits, but many Sikh scholars have taken this burden upon themselves, either ignorantly or innocently or for personal reasons.[1] Recently, while browsing through the religious section of a library, a reviewer’s comments on the cover of McLeod’s Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion caught my attention.[2]

”W. H. McLeod is widely known as being among the foremost scholars of Sikh studies in the world. …Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion is a book, which may be recommended unreservedly, and Dr. McLeod is to be warmly congratulated on his magnificent achievement. … in his analysis and comparison of his sources Dr McLeod’s touch is so sure, his critical faculty so acute, his zest in unraveling the truth so patent and the sheer scholarly honesty of the enterprise so palpable that the turgid and sometimes the puerile fables acquire a new interest, and the very process of exact scholarship which can be so tedious becomes fascinating and absorbing (Times Literary Supplement).”

Notwithstanding this laudatory review, I found several statements and the elucidation of Guru Nanak’s bani[3] in Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion to be inconsistent with the fundamental principles of Nanakian philosophy (Gurmat) enshrined in the AGGS[4]. McLeod’s controversial works have received in-depth scrutiny from many Sikh scholars [5, 6, 7, 8], however, to my knowledge his interpretation of Guru Nanak’s bani has remained unnoticed, [9] except for my earlier communications [10, 11]. This article examines his interpretation of bani on the touchstone of Nanakian philosophy as enshrined in the AGGS.

Discussion on Karma and Transmigration

While elaborating on the differences between Sufis and Guru Nanak, McLeod remarks, “The obvious example of this is his acceptance of the doctrines of karma and transmigration”[12]. However, later he says that Guru Nanak rejected the caste system:

“Guru Nanak denounced the caste system and the notions of purity and contamination arising out of caste distinction, and above all, any suggestion that caste standing was either necessary or advantageous in the individual’s approach to God” [13].

It is difficult to fathom that a “skeptical historian” [14] like McLeod is not familiar with the history of the caste system. The theory of “Karma and Transmigration” was invented to justify the caste system [15]. Contrary to McLeod’s assertion, Guru Nanak’s message stood for love, respect, justice and equality for all, in short, universal humanism. Moreover, he declared solidarity with the lowest of the low unequivocally and denounced religious bigotry, tyranny of the rulers, caste based oppression and religious exploitation of the masses by unscrupulous religious leaders -- Brahmans, Mullahs, Qazis and Yogis. Further, the Guru rejected all essentials of Hinduism in his composition on the creation of the cosmos.

“Nanak will stand by the lowest of lowest, not with the elite. Societies that take care of the downtrodden have the blessing of the Merciful”. AGGS, M 1, p. 15.

“For immeasurable length of time there was darkness. There was neither Earth nor sky nor day or night nor moon or sun, except the Creator and Its Hukam (Cosmic Law or Divine Law). The Creator was in a transcendent mode filling the void like fog fills space. The cosmos was brought into being according to the Hukam without any visible support upholding the vast expanse….

“There was neither heaven nor Earth nor the nether world.* There was neither hell nor heaven* nor the destroyer--time. There was neither hell nor heaven nor birth or death nor anyone being born or dying. There was neither Brahma, nor Vishnu nor Shiva. There was no one else except the “One and only”. … There was neither caste nor caste based birth.” AGGS, M 1, p. 1035. (* Guru Nanak rejected Hindu and Muslim ideas of hell and heaven.)

Guru Nanak’s successor, Guru Angad amplified the same message by pointing out that it is the Vedas that are responsible for creating the concepts of karma and transmigration, hell and heaven, sin and virtue, and caste and gender inequality.

”It is the teachings of Vedas, which has created the concepts of sin and virtue, hell and heaven, and karma and transmigration. One reaps the reward in the next life for the deeds performed in this life--goes to hell or heaven according to the deeds. The Vedas have also created the fallacy of inequality of caste and gender for the world.” AGGS, M 2, p. 1243.

According to Guru Nanak “soul” is God Itself, the Transcendent One that permeates the entire cosmos and it is called Jyoti (light), Atma or Jio (spirit), Sabad-Surat (God-consciousness) and moral principles that guide life (conscience). Guru Nanak rejected the idea that soul is something separate from God and that it leaves the body after death to receive punishment or reward depending upon the person whose body it inhabits.

“You are the Creator of all lives as well as the Jio within all.” AGGS, M 1, p. 1254.

“Within all there is Jyoti (light) and it is Your Jyoti which is in all.” AGGS, M 1, p 663.

“The “One Creator” sustains all and the “Sustainer” is also the Atma within all. In other words Atma is the Transcendent One. Nanak is at the service of one who understands this mystery, as such a person is God-like.” AGGS, M 1, p 1353.

“God is in Atma and Atma is in God.” AGGS, M 1, p 1153.

“O my mind, the Universal Light is within you, recognize your roots¾the source of your origin¾the Primordial Light¾Energy,” so says Nanak. AGGS, M 3, p 441.

“One obtains comfort through Sabad-Surat (God-consciousness) by contemplating on God’s excellences, which are the source of bliss.” AGGS, M 1, p 62.

“Listen! O enlightened beings (bhagtoh),” warns Beni, “Who finds salvation after death?” In other words salvation is achieved while being alive by living in harmony with Hukam. AGGS, Beni, p 93.

Moreover, Guru Nanak explicitly rejects the concept of transmigration or “soul” as preached by other religions.

“The body is made of earth (various elements) and the breathing of air makes it alive. O wise one, try to understand who has died here? The body and the air it breathed are still here. It is consciousness that has died along with disputes caused by self-centredness. The One Who (God, Atma) watches (takes care of all) does not die. AGGS, M1 p 152.

The meaning of the four pithy verses becomes more understandable when we consider that God is both Transcendent and Immanent. Cosmos is the Immanence of God, which is continuously changing, but it does not change in Its total content: The Creator neither increases nor decreases in totality (AGGS, M 1, p 9).

Death of the body is a change of form. The matter that constitutes the body goes back to earth. The Transcendent One (Atma), which is present in all living beings, is everlasting. It is remarkable that Guru Nanak defines death as the loss of consciousness, which is the same as the modern definition of medical death. “After death some bodies are burnt, some are buried and some are left to be devoured by animals/birds (dogs). Some are thrown in water while others are thrown in a dry well. There is no evidence/proof where the so-called “soul” goes after these different methods of disposal of the dead body,” opines Nanak (AGGS, M 1, p. 648). Furthermore, “Neither the Jio dies, nor It transmigrates. The One, Who has created the cosmos, also controls its working” (AGGS, M 1, p. 151).

According to Guru Nanak God is Ajuni (does not incarnate, beyond birth and death), that is why he rejects the beliefs that so-called “soul” undergoes transmigration or goes to hell or heaven according to one’s deeds. Moreover, there are other hymns in the AGGS that question the theory of karma by asking its proponents:

“One earns what one does here, but do not believe that the benefits of deeds performed in the current life will be rewarded in the next world.” AGGS, M 1, pp. 729-730.

“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. For God creation is a game and It continues to play”. AGGS, M, 5, p. 748.

“You say that the body is made of five elements, but 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 mother, nor father, nor body, nor karma, or when neither I was there, nor you were there, who knows what came from where? When there was no Veda or Shastra, there was no karma? How did the karma originate?” AGGS, Namdev, p. 973. Besides, AGGS rejects the concept of past or future life and it lays utmost stress on the present life with a clear warning that this is the only opportunity to realize God.

“O my mind, my dear friend, this is the time for you to meet the Creator. Moreover, this opportunity will last only as long as the body is healthy and full of vitality.” AGGS, M 1, p. 20.

“This is your opportunity, this is your turn to meet God, ponder and seek within.” AGGS, Kabir, p. 1159.

“Being born as a human is a blessing and this is your only opportunity to meet God.” AGGS, M, 5, p. 378.

“Don’t look to the past, make efforts to make your future life successful by meeting God, because you won’t be born again,” says Nanak. AGGS, M, 5, p. 1096

“Guru’s teaching is like nectar that imparts immortality; one who imbibes it receives Divine grace. Why should one, who wants to have a glimpse of the Beloved, bother about going to paradise after salvation.” AGGS, M I, p. 360.

“You won’t be born again, take some measures to obtain salvation right now. Praising the Merciful One will take you across the ocean of worldly temptations,” says Nanak. AGGS, M 9, p. 220.

“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.

“Human birth is difficult to obtain because the dead person does not take birth again like a ripened fruit once fallen on the ground does not get attached to the branch,” asserts Kabir. AGGS, Kabir, p. 1366.

“When we know that after death we are not going to come back then why waste our lives in the pursuit of perishable worldly things?” AGGS, Farid, p. 488.

These verses clearly emphasize again and again that one’s current life is the only chance to realize God. On the other hand according to the theory of karma and transmigration there could be many chances to meet God, theoretically unlimited chances.

Notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence against karma and transmigration, McLeod has elucidated Guru Nanak’s bani according to his assumption that Guru Nanak accepted the theory of “karma and transmigration”. The following five examples should suffice the point I am making with respect to McLeod:

1. karmi aaway kapra nadir mokh duar - Karma determines the nature of our birth (lit. cloth), but it is through grace that the door of salvation is found [16]. There are three mistakes in this interpretation.

First, a single verse from a stanza of seven verses, which are interconnected, has been interpreted out of context. Second, karmi is not derived from karam (Punjabi) or karma (Sanskrit) meaning actions; it is derived from karam (Persian) meaning kindness or favor. Third, though kapra has been used as a metaphor for human body in the AGGS, in this verse it means cloth or clothing, a metaphor for God’s love. Moreover, there are numerous verses in AGGS in the form of questions and answers. Lack of attention to such verses could lead to wrong conclusions. In contrast to McLeod, almost a century ago, Macauliffe interpreted this verse quite accurately [17].

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 favuor we shall reach
the gate of salvation.
Nanak, we shall thus know that God
is altogether true.
AGGS, Jap 4, p. 2.

The examination of the stanza reveals that the first two verses describe the greatness of God. God’s bounty is unlimited, people keep begging for more and more and the Giver keeps giving. The third and fourth verses are questions: then what should we do or offer to win God’s love? The fifth and sixth verses are answers to the third and fourth verses: meditation on God constantly will win God’s love resulting in union with God. In this stanza there is no mention of past or future life. Professor Sahib Singh has also interpreted this verse the same way as Macauliffe has done [18]

“(This way) the Gracious One gives a scarf of (meditating on His greatness). (The wall of falsehood) is eliminated by God’s kindness and the door of salvation is opened to the devotee]”.

Both Macauliffe and 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. Additionally, the meaning of kapra as cloth becomes abundantly clear from Guru Nanak’s use of this word in another stanza: I was an unemployed minstrel (dhadi), but the Master gave me an occupation. He called me to His abode of Truth and ordered me to sing His praises day and night. And honored me with a robe (kapra paya) of “propagating His true glory.” AGGS, M 1, p. 150.

On several other pages - 42, 398, 470, 962, 1094, 1098 of the AGGS, kapr has been used for clothes. Moreover, Pashaura Singh has cited the interpretation of this verse by Giani Badan Singh as follows:

Through the Lord’s gracious glance one achieves the robe of honor in the form of loving devotion (bhakti), by means of which one reaches the door to liberation in the form of knowledge].[19]

Pashaura Singh’s comment is worth noting as it contradicts McLeod’s interpretation: “Here there is no mention of the role of the past actions (karmi) in the interpretation of this line from Japji. Rather, the emphasis is placed on the dual function of divine grace which paves the way for the loving devotion in the first place and then for the knowledge of the door to liberation.”[19]

2. McLeod has interpreted expressions like avan jan, ava java and bhavaya as cycle of birth and death or cycle of transmigration. However, in the AGGS, these expressions are used as metaphors for spiritual death and regeneration or they represent the Hindu belief. According to Nanakian philosophy there are two types of people, gurmukhs (God-centered beings) and manmukhs (self-centered beings). A gurmukh is a person who dwells on God’s attributes constantly and does every thing according to God’s Hukam. Such an individual achieves perfect union with God and is called a jiwan mukta (liberated one). Whereas a manmukh is a degenerate person who does every thing according to his/her own will under the influence of Haumai (self-centeredness). Such a person is entangled in Maya (material world) and leads a life of duality. Being separated from God one can’t decide to choose between God and Maya, and thus keeps experiencing spiritual death and spiritual regeneration.

”If It pleases Thee Thou art a Lord of joy and I am rapt in Thy praises, Thou storehouse of excellences. If it pleases Thee Thou art a fearsome Lord and I go on dying in the cycle of transmigration”.[20] AGGS, M 1, p. 762.

Here Guru Nanak is talking about God’s Bwxw (Hukam). Bhana and Hukam are used interchangeably in AGGS and it means Cosmic Law (Divine Law or Divine Will). In the beginning of his composition of Jap (Japji) on the opening page of AGGS, Guru Nanak has described God as Sach, meaning Everlasting or Truth. Then in the first stanza of Jap on the same page he has enunciated the purpose of human life in dramatic fashion by first raising the question and then answering it.

“How could one become a sachiara (Godlike, truthful) and how could one get rid of ignorance and falsehood? “Live in harmony with Hukam, is the answer,” says Nanak”. AGGS, Jap, p. 1.

How could one get rid of ignorance and falsehood? The answer is through knowledge based on Truth. When the yogis asked, “Who is your Guru or whose disciple are you?” “Word (Divine knowledge, Truth) is the Guru and my mind, which is focused on the Word and comprehends it, is the disciple,” replied Nanak (AGGS, M 1, pp. 942-43).

Thus, Guru Nanak has put forward two conditions for the realization of God. Understanding of the Bhana and faithful submission to Bhana. So the couplet cited by McLeod should be interpreted in light of what Guru Nanak says about Bhana.

”Husband (God) is the storehouse of goodness. The spouse (gurmukh) who abides by His Bhana enjoys His love and sings His praises constantly. Whereas a manmukh (self-centered) who is ignorant of Bhana thinks that He is frightening. Driven by Haumai (self-centeredness) a manmukh suffers from spiritual death”.

3. “Many times I was born as a tree, many times as an animal, many times I came in the form of a snake, and many times I flew as a bird”.[21] This couplet is from the stanza described below, which he has translated except the top two lines to depict the nature of the unregenerate man (manmukh): “This is the condition of pride, of self-centeredness, of sin, and so of death and transmigration.” [21]

Here he has depicted the unregenerate man undergoing transmigration, which is contrary to the Nanakian philosophy. This hymn is about a sinful individual (manmukh), who is separated from God due to Haumain (self-centeredness) and preoccupation with Maya. He is repentant, as he has recognized his folly. Guru Nanak advises him to understand Hukam and live in harmony with it.

”When did someone become my mother or father and from where did I come? I was conceived and nurtured in the amniotic fluid in the womb, but for what purpose was I born? O my Lord, who can comprehend Your virtues? None can count my sins? Pause. I have seen numerous plants, trees, animals, snakes and birds, who do not commit sins whereas I steal from city shops and fortified buildings and bring home the stolen goods. I look around to make sure that no body sees me, but how I can hide it from You? I visit sacred places on riverbanks all over the land and religious houses in city markets to wash my sins. “However, while weighing my merits and demerits in my heart, I realized that my sinfulness is as immense as the water in the ocean. O Merciful one, bless me with Your kindness. With Your kindness stonehearted people can cross the ocean of worldly temptations. My mind is burning with the fire of Haumai and the temptations of Maya are cutting it like a knife. Nanak says, “Those who live in harmony with the Divine Law attain eternal bliss.”

4. According to McLeod: “The truth may be there for all to grasp, but few there are who do in fact lay hold of it. … Why are there so few? One explanation is that karma determines the issue. Those who in their previous existence have lived lives of relative merit acquire thereby a faculty of perception, which enables them to recognize the Guru. This theory has a logical consistency and in one place it would appear to be explicitly affirmed”.[22]

Here McLeod has quoted the lower verse of the following couplet to support his explanation.

If it is inscribed in the record of one’s former deeds then one meets the True Guru.[23]

As already discussed, the theory of karma pertaining to deeds of past life is unequivocally rejected in AGGS. However, in Nanakian philosophy (Gurmat) karma means accepting full responsible for one’s actions. It is one’s reaction to one’s actions which determines whether one becomes a gurmukh (God-centered being which) or a manmukh (self-centerd). Becoming a gurmukh is primary objective of human life according to Gurmat.

One earns what one does and what one sows, so shall one reap. AGGS, M 1, p. 662.

We earn what we do day and night. Why blame others, it is our own doings that lead us astray. AGGS, M 5, p. 745.

Nanak, vices are the chains around our necks, which can be cut only with virtues, which are our only, loved ones. AGGS, M 1, p. 595.

Good and bad deeds determine the relationship with God. According to their deeds some are drawn closer to God, whereas others move away. AGGS, M 1, p. 8.

There are two types of human activities, the ones that bring about union with God and others that cause separation from God. AGGS, M 1, p. 6.

The one who realizes union with God is called jiwan mukta, the liberated one (gurmukh), the other who is separated from God is called degenarate (manmukh), the self-centered being. So the verse cited by McLeod needs to be to understood keeping in view the meaning of karma in Gurmat.

”One profits by performing righteous deeds. It is the merit of such deeds, which brings about union with the True Guru (God)”. AGGS, M 1, p. 140.

5. “Make mercy your mosque, faith your prayer-mat, and righteousness your Quran. Make humility your circumcision, uprightness your fasting, and so you will become a (true) Muslim”.[24] AGGS, M 1, p. 140.

Here McLeod has interpreted saram as humility whereas here it means sharm or shame. Since the comment is about male circumcision, it is about sexual morality of man. Thus the interpretation of saram should reflect that: make fidelity your circumcision. Guru Nanak has used saram in the same sense in his rebuke to the hypocrite Khatris who regarded Muslim rulers as malesha (unclean, polluted), but were working for them and in his Babur-bani.

They (khatris) have no shame and sense of duty. AGGS, M 1, p. 471.

O Lalo, both shame and sense of duty have disappeared and falsehood has overtaken. AGGS, M 1, p. 722.


Throughout Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, McLeod has used the name “Adi Granth” for the current Sikh scripture, which is not the proper name. Adi Granth (Awid grMQ is the first Sikh Scripture compiled by Guru Arjan via incorporating the compositions of his predecessors, his own and that of bhagats (devotees). It is also known as Pothi (sacred text) and Kartarpuri Bir (sacred text of Kartarpur) as it in the possession of a Sodhi family of Kartarpur. Bir means Jilad, binding of a book. Since the Adi Granth was a bound manuscript, it acquired the name Adi Bir. Later on Guru Gobind Singh added the composition of Guru Tegh Bahadur to the Adi Granth and the resulting sacred text was (is) called Damdami Bir. It is Damdami Bir, which was consecrated as Guru by Guru Gobind Singh. The current Sikh Scripture is a copy of Damdami Bir.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which is responsible for the printing and distribution of the current Sikh scripture, has named it as “Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Awid sRI gurU grMQ swihb jI).” In literature it is referred as Guru Granth Sahib or Guru Granth or Granth or Sikh scripture or even Sikh Bible. However, quite often people not only call it Adi Granth but also pronounce it as Adee Granth erroneously. From the time of Gurus, the Punjabi language has undergone evolutionary change in pronunciation. For example the vowel ‘i’ (sihari) of Awid (Adi) in modern pronunciation is de-emphasized and Awid (Adi) is pronounced as Awd (Aad). In Adi, i denote i (sihari). In my writings I use the name, Aad Guru Granth Sahib [24], as Aad (Awid) which means eternal and primal (first in importance), is very important to distinguish it from other Granths or Guru Granth. I have dropped Sri (Mr.) and Ji (yes, Sir) as the use of Sri before Guru and Ji after Sahib is redundant. Recently, some malicious people have started calling “Dasam Granth” as “Guru Granth.”

This article unequivocally demonstrates that there is categorical rejection of the doctrines of karma and transmigration in the AGGS. It is astonishing that McLeod, one of the foremost scholars of Sikh studies, reached the conclusion that Guru Nanak accepted the doctrines of karma and transmigration. Besides, Adi Granth is not the proper name for the modern Sikh scripture (Aad Guru Granth Sahib).


1. Chahal, D.S. Causes of Misinterpretation of Gurbani and Misrepresentation of Sikhism. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 2001, 3 (1), 12-23 & 39.

2. McLeod, W.H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, Oxford India Paperbacks, 1996.

(devotees) recorded in Aad Guru Granth Sahib. Gurus’s bani is called gurbani to distinguish it from bhagat- bani.

4. Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i.e. succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Nanak, for the composition of bhagats M is substituted by the name of the bhagat, P = page of the AGGS).

5. Perspectives on the Sikh Tradition, Ed., Gurdev Singh, Siddharth Publications, Chandigarh, 1986.

6. Planned Attacks on Aad Guru Granth Sahib: Academics or Blasphemy, Ed., Bachittar Singh, International Centre of Sikh Studies, 1994.

7. Invasion of Religious Boundaries, Ed., Jabsir Singh, Surinder Singh Sodhi and Gurbakhash Singh Gill, Canadian Sikh Study & Teaching Society, Vancouver, 1995.

8. Singh, B. Latest Tracking of W. H. McLeod, Abstracts of Sikh Studies, 2005, 7 (3), pp 6–77; Understanding W. H. McLeod and his work on Sikhism,, August 2005; Global Sikh >> Home Page.

9. McLeod, W.H. Discovering the Sikhs: Autobiography of a Historian, Permanent Black, 2004, p. 72.

10. Singh, B. Misinterpretation of Gurbani by W. H. McLeod, Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 2002, 4 (1), pp 32-36.

11. Singh, B. Misinterpretation of Gurbani by W. H. McLeod, Abstracts of Sikh Studies, 2003, 5 (2), pp 72-80; Abstracts of Sikh Studies, 2003, 5 (3), pp 66- 78.

12. McLeod, W.H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, Oxford India Paperbacks, 1996, p. 159.

13. Ibid., pp. 209-210.

14 McLeod, W.H. Discovering the Sikhs: Autobiography of a Historian, Permanent Black, 2004, pp. 206-208.

15. Singh, J. The Sikh Revolution: A Perspective View, 4th reprint, 1998, pp. 34, 38, 40, 54, 86.

16. McLeod, W.H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, Oxford India Paperbacks, p. 205.

17. Macauliffe, M.A. The Sikh Religion, Vol. I, 1990, p. 197.

18. Singh, S. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan (Punjabi), Vol. I, 1972, pp. 58-59.

19. Singh, P. The Text and the meaning of Adi Granth, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Toronto, 1991, pp. 225- 226.

20. McLeod, W.H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, Oxford India Paperbacks, p. 170.

21. Ibid., p. 177.

22. Ibid., p. 204.

23. Ibid., p. 212.

24. Chahal, D.S. System of referencing Bani from the Granth: The Sikh Holy Scriptures. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 1999, 1 (1), 9-15.

Copyright©2006 Baldev Singh.


Feb 3, 2010
India, Canada
<o:p>The references given above by the writer have many misinterpretations. Just check the original gurbani and prevalent translations to see this.<?"urn::eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />
For example .
It is written above - ”It is the teachings of Vedas, which has created the concepts of sin and virtue, hell and heaven, and karma and transmigration. One reaps the reward in the next life for the deeds performed in this life--goes to hell or heaven according to the deeds. The Vedas have also created the fallacy of inequality of caste and gender for the world.” AGGS, M 2, p. 1243."

Here are the words of Guruji :
salok ma 2 ||
Shalok, Second Mehl:

ਕਥਾ ਕਹਾਣੀ ਬੇਦਂ* ਆਣੀ ਪਾਪੁ ਪੁੰਨੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ
kathhaa kehaanee baedhanaee aanee paap punn beechaar ||
The Vedas bring forth stories and legends, and thoughts of vice and virtue.

ਦੇ ਦੇ ਲੈਣਾ ਲੈ ਲੈ ਦੇਣਾ ਨਰਕਿ ਸੁਰਗਿ ਅਵਤਾਰ
dhae dhae lainaa lai lai dhaenaa narak surag avathaar ||
What is gi
ven, they receive, and what is received, they give. They are reincarnated in heaven and hell.
ਉਤਮ ਮਧਿਮ ਜਾਤੀਂ ਜਿਨਸੀ ਭਰਮਿ ਭਵੈ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ
outham madhhim jaatheen jinasee bharam bhavai sansaar ||
High and low, social class and status - the world wanders lost in
ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਬਾਣੀ ਤਤੁ ਵਖਾਣੀ ਗਿਆਨ ਧਿਆਨ ਵਿਚਿ ਆਈ
anmrith baanee thath vakhaanee giaan dhhiaan vich aaee ||
The Ambrosial Word of Gurbani proclaims the essence of reality. Spiritual wisdom and meditation are contained within it.

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਆਖੀ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਾਤੀ ਸੁਰਤਂ* ਕਰਮਿ ਧਿਆਈ
guramukh aakhee guramukh jaathee surathanaee karam dhhiaaee ||
The Gurmukhs chant it, and the Gurmukhs realize it. Intuitively aware, they meditate on it.

ਹੁਕਮੁ ਸਾਜਿ ਹੁਕਮੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਰਖੈ ਹੁਕਮੈ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਵੇਖੈ
hukam saaj hukamai vich rakhai
hukamai andhar vaekhai ||
By the Hukam of His Command, He formed the Universe, and in His Hukam, He keeps it. By His Hukam, He keeps it under His Gaze.

ਨਾਨਕ ਅਗਹੁ ਹਉਮੈ ਤੁਟੈ ਤਾਂ ਕੋ ਲਿਖੀਐ ਲੇਖੈ ੧॥
naanak agahu houmai thuttai thaan ko likheeai laekhai ||1||
Nanak, if the mortal shatters his ego before he departs, as it is pre-ordained, then he is approved. ||1||

The guru's words here convey a different meaning.
Another example are this reference :
“You won’t be born again, take some measures to obtain salvation right now. Praising the Merciful One will take you across the ocean of worldly temptations,” says Nanak. AGGS, M 9, p. 220."

Here are Gurbani words :
ਮਾਨਸ ਦੇਹ ਬਹੁਰਿ ਨਹ ਪਾਵੈ ਕਛੂ ਉਪਾਉ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਕਾ ਕਰੁ ਰੇ
maanas dhaeh bahur neh paavai kashhoo oupaao mu
kath kaa kar rae ||
You shall not obtain this human body again; make the effort - try to achieve liberation!

ਨਾਨਕ ਕਹਤ ਗਾਇ ਕਰੁਨਾ ਮੈ ਭਵ ਸਾਗਰ ਕੈ ਪਾਰਿ ਉਤਰੁ ਰੇ ੨॥੯॥੨੫੧॥
naanak kehath gaae karunaa mai bhav saagar kai paar outhar rae ||2||9||251||
Says Nanak, s
ing of the Lord of compassion, and cross over the terrifying world-ocean. ||2||9||251||
<o:p> </o:p>
The meaning may here be reference to not getting human body again so to make best use of the opportunity.

On the same page Guru ji says :

ਦੁਰਲਭ ਦੇਹ ਪਾਇ ਮਾਨਸ ਕੀ ਬਿਰਥਾ ਜਨਮੁ ਸਿਰਾਵੈ
dhuralabh dhaeh paae maanas kee birathhaa janam siraavai ||
Having obtained this human
body, so very difficult to obtain, it is now being uselessly wasted.

These words were ignored by the writer as these give a different meaning.
<o:p> </o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>
Here are some othere quotes from SGGSji.

ਭਗਤਾਂ ਸਰਨਿ ਪਰੁ ਹਾਂ
bhagathaan saran par haan ||
Taking to the Sanctuary of His devotees,
ਜਨਮਿ ਕਦੇ ਮਰੁ ਹਾਂ
janam n kadhae mar haan ||
he is no longer subject to birth and death.
SGGS 410

ਬਿਰਥਾ ਜਨਮੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ਮਰਿ ਜੰਮੈ ਵਾਰੋ ਵਾਰ ੧॥
birathhaa janam gavaaeiaa mar janmai vaaro vaar ||1||
They lose their l
ives uselessly; they die, only to be re-born, over and over again. ||1||
ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਸੇਵਿਐ ਸੂਤਕੁ ਜਾਇ
sathigur saeviai soothak jaae ||
Serving the True Guru, pollution is eradicated,
ਮਰੈ ਜਨਮੈ ਕਾਲੁ ਖਾਇ
marai n janamai kaal n khaae ||5||
and then, one does not suffer death and rebirth, or get devoured by death.
SGGS 229
ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹੁ ਖੁਆਇਅਨੁ ਮਰਿ ਜੰਮੈ ਵਾਰੋ ਵਾਰਾ
maaeiaa mohu khuaaeian mar janmai vaaro vaaraa ||
The love of Maya has ruined the world; people die, to be re-born, over and over again.
ਮਰਿ ਜੰਮੈ ਵਾਰੋ ਵਾਰਾ ਵਧਹਿ ਬਿਕਾਰਾ ਗਿਆਨ ਵਿਹੂਣੀ ਮੂਠੀ
mar janmai vaaro vaaraa vadhhehi bikaaraa giaan vihoonee moothee ||
People die to be re-born, over and over again, while their sins increase; without spiritual wisdom, they are deluded.
SGGS 583
The prevailing interpretation is that having obtained this human body in this life it should be better utilised as only in an human body liberation can be obtained. Next life may or may not be human .
This article is to be checked further to see whether what is being proved is actually correct. I seek opinion of others.
<o:p> </o:p>

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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
gur_meet ji

The late Dr. Baldev Singh had a very definite view on this subject of reincarnation. One that continues to be debated. Thanks for your input because I look forward to a an informed discussion of this subject. Thanks for posting.


Feb 3, 2010
India, Canada
Narayanjot ji

You are right .

This article presents a restricted view , so it has to be examined for the correct picture to emerge.
For example it mentions -

"According to Guru Nanak “soul” is God Itself, the Transcendent One that permeates the entire cosmos and it is called Jyoti (light), Atma or Jio (spirit), Sabad-Surat (God-consciousness) and moral principles that guide life (conscience). Guru Nanak rejected the idea that soul is something separate from God and that it leaves the body after death to receive punishment or reward depending upon the person whose body it inhabits."

No doubt soul is not something separate from God but so is the entire creation. The entire creation is his roop . If soul is the mool then so is every part of creation. Within the creation the human soul comes near to God and merges.

The Shalok at the end of Japji says

ਕਰਮੀ ਆਪੋ ਆਪਣੀ ਕੇ ਨੇੜੈ ਕੇ ਦੂਰਿ
karamee aapo aapanee kae naerrai kae dhoor ||
According to their own actions, some are drawn closer, and some are driven ****her away.<?"urn::eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

ਜਿਨੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਗਏ ਮਸਕਤਿ ਘਾਲਿ
jinee naam dhhiaaeiaa geae masakath ghaal ||
Those who have meditated on the Naam, departemade the effort.

ਨਾਨਕ ਤੇ ਮੁਖ ਉਜਲੇ ਕੇਤੀ ਛੁਟੀ ਨਾਲਿ
naanak thae mukh oujalae kaethee shhuttee naal ||1||
Says Nanak, their faces are radiant in the Court of the Lord, and are freed.

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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
gur_mit ji


You know there are regarding the subject of karma and reincarnation -- probably more than one lingering question. I am hoping that other forum members will post some of them.

If they don't then I will because I am aware that there are passages in Gurbani that seem to be contradictory on this subject, and concern that the view from Sikhism on karma and reincarnation is not identical to that of the Vedantic belief systems. Thanks.


Apr 4, 2005
At present their are 3 theories about What happen's after Death

No.1 Atheist theory-Death is the end no soul no god

No.2 Transmigration of soul .Soul transmigrate to other bodies

No.3 permanent heaven or hell - abrahamic religions

If someone studies guru granth sahib he/she will find that only theory That Guru granth sahib accept is transmigration of soul.The one who reject this theory should first explain what alternate theory they have with shabads from Guru granth sahib.Are they trying to say that sikhism believe in First theory?


Jan 22, 2005
At present their are 3 theories about What happen's after Death

No.1 Atheist theory-Death is the end no soul no god

No.2 Transmigration of soul .Soul transmigrate to other bodies

No.3 permanent heaven or hell - abrahamic religions

If someone studies guru granth sahib he/she will find that only theory That Guru granth sahib accept is transmigration of soul.The one who reject this theory should first explain what alternate theory they have with shabads from Guru granth sahib.Are they trying to say that sikhism believe in First theory?
There are hundred sabd which supports transmigration theory. I would love to hear if author can give one pankti which dismisses transmigration theory. In addition Dr. D.S. Chahal is the most controversial scholar of our times. He rejects bhagat and bhat baani. If we leave upto him, he will tear SGGS into pieces. Gurabani can only be interpretated by those who get absorbed into it. Gurbani clearly tells us, '
Dn ipr kw iek hI sMig vwsw ivic haumY BIiq krwrI ] guir pUrY haumY BIiq qorI jn nwnk imly bnvwrI ]4<?"urn::eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />
The soul-bride and the Husband Lord live together as one, but the hard wall of academic wisdom (egotism) has come between them. The Perfect Guru demolishes the wall of egotism; servant Nanak has met the Lord, the Lord of the World. ||4 thus interpretration of gurbani is not subject and their interpretation is nothing but waste paper.
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Oct 21, 2009
There are hundred sabd which supports transmigration theory. I would love to hear if author can give one pankti which dismisses transmigration theory. In addition Dr. D.S. Chahal is the most controversial scholar of our times. He rejects bhagat and bhat baani. If we leave upto him, he will tear SGGS into pieces. Gurabani can only be interpretated by those who get absorbed into it. These so called scholars are full of ego thus it is not their subject and their interpretation is nothing but waste paper.

The translation is not only defective but the conclusions arrived are absurd. The position of sikhism in regard to transmigration and Karma is fairly clear. The learned author has not taken pains to make his writing that is in sync. with the current philosophy of sikhism but has indulged in that can be called as interference with bani.

All the translators owe a lot to sikhism. There is no scope of making guess in this. It can be very harmful. Anyone who is new to sikhi is likely to seek guidance from the papers like this and is likely to be misled.It seems that Mr. Baldev has intentionally mis-interpreted the Bani. I also do agree that Dr. Chahl too is of the same class.He also comes out with novel ideas about the meaning of Punjabi words.

I shall be careful while posting the articles of these authors.

I am posting a small write up on The karma from Sikh-encyclopedia and hope that it would explain the position of sikhi so far as these two items are concerned. I hope members will not find any discrepancy in the following so far as the sikhi and its philosophy is concerned.I am grateful to Gur_meet jifor pointing out the flaw.
I again seek forgiveness of the members to whom it might have caused agony.

With Regards!

KARMA, THE DOCTRINE OF, closely connected with the theory of rebirth and transmigration, is basic to the religious traditions of Indian origin such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. The term karam, as it is spelt in Punjabi and as it occurs in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, has three connotations. As an inflection of Sanskrit karman from root kri (to do, perform, accomplish, make, cause or effect) it means an act, action, deed. It also stands for fate, destiny, predestination inasmuch as these result from one`s actions or deeds. Also, karam as a word of Arabic origin is synonymous with nadaror Divine grace or clemency.

It is with the first two connotations that the doctrine of karma is mainly concerned, although karam as God`s grace is also relevant to the ultimate eradication of karma bringing moksa or liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. According to the law of karma, every action, physical or mental, has its own consequence which must be faced either in this life or in the lives to come. In the Indian religious traditions, the doctrine of karma, for this reason, is linked with the doctrines and processes of reincarnation and transmigration. Some western philosophers of yore also believed in transmigration, but for them it was associated with the concept of immortality of the soul.

In Indian religious thought, on the other hand, transmigration is an essential concomitant of karma. It is to reap the consequence of his previous karma that an individual self (jiva) takes his next birth, but, in the very process of acting out this consequence, the jiva creates further chains of actions thus setting in motion an endless cycle of birth action death re-birth. This has been described as the "karmic wheel" of alternating birth and death with fresh karma keeping the wheel in endless motion until the cliain is broken through the annihilation of karma, and the jiva attains moksa (liberation or release from transmigration).

Different traditions within the Indian religious system recommend different means to break the karmic cycle-ranging from austerities, renunciation and non-action to ritualism, philosophic knowledge, devotion and fruitful action. The Gurus accepted the doctrine of karma not as an immutable law but as a system of Nature subject to hukam (Divine Order) and nadar (Divine grace) two concepts which might be described as Guru Nanak`s characteristic contribution to Indian religious thought. Hukam, a Persian term meaning command or decree, control or direction, sanction or permission, occurs in Guru Nanak`s hymns in several different but related connotations such as Divine law, Divine will or Divine pleasure {bhdnd, raza); Divine fiat (amar, farmdn); Divine power or Divine creation {qudaral).

Nadar, though justifiably translated as grace, is somewhat different from its usage in Christian theology where the stress is upon its universal nature and absolute sufficiency for salvation. In Sikhism, nadar`is related to Divine pleasure (razd) and somewhat close to "election" of neo-Calvinist theology except that it leaves no scope for individual`s free will. The doctrine of karma, according to Sikh belief, is a part of the Divine law (hukam).

"The whole universe," says Guru Arjan, Nanak V, "is bound by action, good or bad" (GG, 51). Guru Nanak declares in the Japu that "all forms, beings, greatness and lowliness, pain and pleasure, bounties and wanderings are subject to the indescribable hukamsind there is nothing outside the realm of hukam," (GG,l) and then adds that "karma determines the kaprd, i.e. body or birth we receive and that it is through nadar (God`s grace) that one secures the threshold of moksa" (GG.2). Sikhism, moreover, distinguishes between karma and kirat. The latter term applies to the cumulative effect of actions performed during successive births and is somewhat akin to sanchit karma and prdrabdh karma of Hindu the orcticians.

But the operation of karma in Sikhism is not irresistible; its adverse effects can be obliterated by a proper understanding of hukam and proper conduct in accordance with that understanding as well as by God`s grace. While the actions of other species are mostly regulated by instinctive response to environmental stimuli, man, endowed with a superior brain, is capable of having a proper understanding of hukam and choosing a course of actions (karma) favourable to progressive spiritual growth deserving His nadar. Human birth, therefore, is a precious gift and a rare chance for the individual soul (jivdtmd). Guru Nanak says: "Listen, listen to my advice, 0 my mind! Only good deeds shall endure, and there may not be a second chance." Certain points in the Sikh view of karma are noticeable.

Sikhism docs not stipulate heaven or hell wherein good and bad actions of men are rewarded or punished. Moreover, according to Sikhism, human birth is the result of God`s will as well as of past actions. Further, past actions do not determine the caste or status of the Jiva taking birth. All human beings are born equal. What are "good" deeds (sukril) that help man`s quest for moksa, his ultimate aim? The Gurus deprecated self mortification and non-action and pronounced ritualism as useless. They recommended a householder`s life of activity and responsibility lived with humility, devotion and service guided by proper knowledge of hukama.nd submission to God`s will (razd).

Here Sikhism synthesizes the three paths to union with the Supreme soul, vi/. jndnd mdrga, bhakli mdrga and karma mdrga. A Sikh is called upon to seek gidn (jndnu), knowledge spiritual as well as secular, mundane and moral, practise bhakti, loving devotion, while leading a normal life of a gurmukh or one whose face is turned towards the Guru. His actions (karma) guided by discernment that comes from gidn and with the dedication and complete self-surrender of a bhakta, should be performed earnestly and honestly, doing full justice to his worldly duties.

Yet he should not lei himself be so much attached and entangled in the bonds of present life as to ignore the hereafter and to forget his ultimate goal which is reunion of his individual soul with its original source, the Supreme Spirit. Such disinterested actions help annihilate man`s haumai (Incss, ego) and, when blessed by God`s nadar or mihar, he can overcome the effect of past karma and become jivanmukta, i.e. one liberated while still living.

References :

1. Snhadarth Sn Gum Grunlh Sahib. Anu`it.sar, 1964 2- Jodh Sirigh, Bhai, Gunnat Nirnaya. Lahore, 1932
2. Sher Singli, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
3. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
4. Shiv Kumar, Muni, The Doctrine of Liberation in Indian Religions. Panchkula, 1981

The Sikh Encyclopedia(???? ???????) - KARMA, THE DOCTRINE - Philosophy - The Sikh Encyclopedia(?

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