Nanak’s meditations – Dialogue 2


By Naginder S. Sehmi

A dialogue presented by Amita Sehmi-Guigoz and Naginder S. Sehmi, at 
Centre Védantique, Geneva, Switzerland, Saturday 22 November 2008

N-This morning we have lovingly and reverently recited or listened to Nanak’s Japu. It is the first poem in the Granth, our Book-guru. We chanted it together at quite some speed. It is the first of the five daily prayers a Sikh is expected to recite. I have often asked myself why I recite it.
A-Isn’t it a prayer?
N- We have a separate formal prayer that is said at the beginning and/or end of a recitation, hymn-singing or ceremony.
A- I’ve been taught that reading and reciting from the Book-guru is praying. I’m confused. Isn’t reciting the Japu or reading the entire Book-guru is a prayer?
N- A prayer is actually an entreaty, an appeal, a plea, a request, a thanks-giving to some object of worship, living or imaginary. If you look closely, you will find that there is no prayer in any of the thirty eight songs of Japu.
A-What is it then?
N-It’s Japu, which means meditation. It contains Nanak’s thinking and ideas. Japu does not mean meditating with closed eyes or repetitious recitations; one has to be alert and make a consciously effort to understand it and act on it.
A-What makes you say that?
N-Nanak wrote admirable and lofty ideas in exquisite songs often in simple language that illiterate people could learn by singing. For example:

ਅਰਬਦ ਨਰਬਦ ਧੁੰਧੂਕਾਰਾ ॥ ਧਰਣਿ ਨ ਗਗਨਾ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਅਪਾਰਾ ॥ ਨਾ ਦਿਨੁ ਰੈਨਿ ਨ ਚੰਦੁ ਨ ਸੂਰਜੁ ਸੁੰਨ ਸਮਾਧਿ ਲਗਾਇਦਾ ॥ 1 ॥
ਖਾਣੀ ਨ ਬਾਣੀ ਪਉਣ ਨ ਪਾਣੀ ॥ ਓਪਤਿ ਖਪਤਿ ਨ ਆਵਣ ਜਾਣੀ ॥ ਖੰਡ ਪਤਾਲ ਸਪਤ ਨਹੀ ਸਾਗਰ
ਨਦੀ ਨ ਨੀਰੁ ਵਹਾਇਦਾ ॥ 2 ॥
(AG 1035/36)


Through uncountable ages, complete darkness pervaded over utter emptiness;
There were no worlds, no skies.
The infinite Will alone reigned.
There was neither day nor night, nor sun nor moon;
But only a multidimensional Force
Forming a perpetual, unfathomable flow in unstoppable trance.

N-In this song Nanak describes how the universe and our Earth in it came into being. This idea is similar to the Big bang that CERN in Geneva is working on.  Note the words: “unstoppable” and “flow”.
The Book-guru often expresses this idea more simply: ਤੂੰ ਦਰੀਆਉ ਸਭ ਤੁਝ ਹੀ ਮਾਹਿ ॥ ਤੁਝ ਬਿਨੁ ਦੂਜਾ ਕੋਈ ਨਾਹਿ ॥
A-You are the River and every thing is in you.
N-That was for the Punjabi speaking.
For Hindi speaking – “Tu Daryao dana bina “
For Urdu speaking – “Man kmeen kamtreen , tu daryao khudaya”
A-Why does he say “tu”, you, and not God?
N-Because he has defined the nature of that River in the introduction to Japu: ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥ In this fundamental definition, Nanak has not used names like Brahma, Bhagwan, Ishvar, Krishna.or Ram.
A- Why?
N-The reason: these names do not convey the image of the Unstoppable River Flow. Nanak wrote the whole Japu to answer one question:ਕਿਵ ਸਚਿਆਰਾ ਹੋਈਐ ਕਿਵ ਕੂੜੈ ਤੁਟੈ ਪਾਲਿ ॥ ?
A-How can one become a knower of the truth and how can one break and pass through the wall of maya?
N-He starts his answer in the next line: ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥
A-Abide by His order; all information (that is in the Flow) is also in you.
Doesn’t it mean that we should know the River and its Flow?
N-Yes it does, Nanak expresses the River Flow also as a Force and often as Guru. As you know, Guru means: any thing that gives light and removes darkness.Songs 2 to 7 describe the nature and dynamics of the Force or Guru and the information it carries. Nanak calls it NAM (lit. Name).
ਜੇਤਾ ਕੀਤਾ ਤੇਤਾ ਨਾਉ ॥ ਵਿਣੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਨਾਹੀ ਕੋ ਥਾਉ ॥
A-As much that He has created that much is Nam; there is no place without Nam.
N-Here arises my second question: In that case what is Nam japna? ॥ ਥਾਪਿਆ ਨ ਜਾਇ ਕੀਤਾ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥
A-It cannot be installed like an idol, nor can man shape its likeness.
N-ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਦੰ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਵੇਦੰ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਰਹਿਆ ਸਮਾਈ ॥ ਗੁਰੁ ਈਸਰੁ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੋਰਖੁ ਬਰਮਾ ਗੁਰੁ ਪਾਰਬਤੀ ਮਾਈ ॥
A-Following the Guru is inner music; following the Guru is the highest all pervading knowledge. The Guru is Siva, Vishnu, Brahma and the mother goddess.
N-You see, Nanak places all these gods within the Force, the River Flow, the Guru.Songs 8 to 11 give us practical advice. What happens if we listen to and understand the Nam:
Through Nam the disciple becomes the master. We get access to the vast store of knowledge, art of yoga, all secrets of body and mind, divine wisdom, and bliss. Bathing in the joy of Nam is to bathe in holy places.Having understood Nam we have to accept and believe in Nam. Songs 12 to 16 describe what happens if we do so.
Songs 17 to 34 describe qualities of the Force or Guru and of Nam and also futile rituals and traditions. ਅਸੰਖ ਜਪ ਅਸੰਖ ਭਾਉ ॥ ਅਸੰਖ ਪੂਜਾ ਅਸੰਖ ਤਪ ਤਾਉ ॥
A-There are countless prayers and worships.
N-ਮੁੰਦਾ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਸਰਮੁ ਪਤੁ ਝੋਲੀ ਧਿਆਨ ਕੀ ਕਰਹਿ ਬਿਭੂਤਿ ॥
A-O yogi, make contentment your earrings, modesty your begging bag, meditation your ashes.
N-   ਆਸਣੁ ਲੋਇ ਲੋਇ ਭੰਡਾਰ ॥
A-The Force or Guru is everywhere and his treasure houses are in all places.
N-Obviously Nanak is referring to Nature that surrounds us, without which we can not survive. ਕਰਮੀ ਕਰਮੀ ਹੋਇ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥
A-We are judged by our deeds and actions.
N-Having described our moral duties or dharma, in songs 35 to 37 Nanak describes the importance of knowledge, gyan.
ਗਿਆਨ ਖੰਡ ਮਹਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਪਰਚੰਡੁ ॥ ਤਿਥੈ ਨਾਦ ਬਿਨੋਦ ਕੋਡ ਅਨੰਦੁ ॥
A-    Gyan allows us to hear heavenly music leading to enormous joy and beauty.
N-  ਤਿਥੈ ਘੜੀਐ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਮਤਿ ਮਨਿ ਬੁਧਿ ॥
A-When we reach this stage, we acquire understanding, discernment, and the deepest wisdom.
N-ਕਰਮ ਖੰਡ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਜੋਰੁ ॥
A-At the stage of Grace, we get supreme spiritual power.
N-ਤਿਥੈ ਸੀਤੋ ਸੀਤਾ ਮਹਿਮਾ ਮਾਹਿ ॥ ਤਾ ਕੇ ਰੂਪ ਨ ਕਥਨੇ ਜਾਹਿ ॥ 
A-At this stage we are completely sawn into His admiration; that is, we merge in the Force, the River Flow, the Guru.
N-In the last Song 38, Nanak summarize his advice in a beautiful analogy. I cannot resist reading it. Some of you might appreciate the force of pure Punjabi words.

ਜਤੁ ਪਾਹਾਰਾ, ਧੀਰਜੁ ਸੁਨਿਆਰੁ ॥ ਅਹਰਣਿ ਮਤਿ, ਵੇਦੁ ਹਥੀਆਰੁ ॥
ਭਉ ਖਲਾ, ਅਗਨਿ ਤਪਤਾਉ॥ ਭਾਂਡਾ ਭਾਉ, ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਤਿਤੁ ਢਾਲਿ ॥
ਘੜੀਐ ਸਬਦੁ ਸਚੀ ਟਕਸਾਲ ॥ ਜਿਨ ਕਉ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰਮੁ ਤਿਨ ਕਾਰ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਨਦਰੀ ਨਦਰਿ ਨਿਹਾਲ ॥ 38 ॥


In the furnace of countenance,
Let patience be the goldsmith,
On the anvil of understanding
Strike with the hammer of knowledge;
The fear (of the Force) is the bellows,
Austerities are the fire,
Love is the crucible,
In it melt the nectar of life;
Thus in the mint of truth,
Make the coin of the Word.


This brings me back to my question: Why do I recite Japu? Is it a prayer? Remembering a real life incident in Africa forty years ago I want to make a confession.  I feel as if I’m a surgeon. I have read many books on surgery and continue reading them. But I have never been able to perform surgical operations on suffering patients. So I do not recite Japu much. I carry Nanak’s ideas with me and not his image. I feel that Nanak is not my Guru, but the knowledge he has left behind is my Guru.


A-So, by the same logic Adi Granth, the Book-guru is not my guru. My Guru is the knowledge that it contains. By acquiring this knowledge I must act on it in order to live a good life.