An article of mine recently published on sikhchic
My Guru & I:In His Presence
by Rubin Paul Singh
This is the eleventh in a series of articles in commemoration of the Tercentenary (1708-2008) of the investiture of Guru Granth Sahib as our eternal Guide and Teacher.
As 2008 comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on all the “300 Saal” celebrations of the year. It was an inspiring year – and the discussion, speeches and sheer emotion of this milestone really gave me a chance to reflect on the role of the Guru in my life.
While volunteering at Gurmat camps, I always made a point to pose a question to the children, prior to leading them in to their first divan: “If you walked into this gurdwara and instead of the Guru Granth Sahib being there, say it was Guru Nanak, or Guru Amardas or Gur Tegh Bahadur, sitting there – how would you act?” How would you carry yourself when walking in? Would your mind-set be any different? Would your muthha tek take on a different meaning? Would you be more attentive and alert during the divan? Would you be more eager to listen to his words and try harder to understand him?
Guru Ram Das says:
Bani is the Guru and Guru is the Bani. And it’s within this Bani, that Amrit is found.
Thus, the Shabad (“The Word”) is, was and always will be the Guru.
History tells us that even during Guru Arjan’s time, the Granth (then referred to as the Pothi Sahib because it was yet to be completed and anointed Guru), was the center of the congregation, the center of the Darbar, even in the presence of Guru Arjan himself.
The saakhis tell us that Guru Arjan had so much reverence for the Pothi Sahib that he kept it on an pedestal elevated even from himself, and joined the Sikhs in paying obeisance to it. This tells me that it is not the person, the attire or the physical attributes that make the Guru; instead, it is the Shabad. But we call the ten physical forms (from Nanak to Gobind Singh) Guru because they were the living manifestation of that Shabad. They lived the Shabad. We sing it, they lived it. Guru Nanak was so immersed in the Shabad that the two became one.
He says in Raag Ramkalee:
Shabad is the Guru that will ferry you across the terrifying world-ocean.
So, if this is the case, how can the Guru Granth Sahib we bow before, be any different than Guru Angad or Guru Amar Das sitting before us?
We refer to the Guru Granth Sahib as the living Guru. But is it really living to me?
Some say we have it harder, because we don’t have a physical Guru simply telling us what to do, particularly since, in Sikhi, we don’t believe in “holy” persons – priests and clergy! – being the official “interpreters” of scripture. Thus, it falls upon us to make the effort to listen to, read, and apply the lessons to our lives.
At camps, I’m often asked, “What does the Guru Granth Sahib say about this or that?”
About life after death, about good and evil, about socio-political issues, such as abortion, divorce, global warming, etc., and the children are often disappointed when I can’t point them to a direct quote – a simple “Thou shalt …” – to answer their question.
To some, this is frustrating; but I find it … beautiful!
The Guru refrains from giving commandments or a list of do’s and don’ts. Instead, He has compiled 1430 pages of divine poetry that provides a structure for our life and a personal map to guide us through our daily choices and challenges. Instead of quick and fast answers – pablum, if you will – the Guru has trusted and empowered his Sikhs, to reflect, discuss and interpret the Word and form our own opinions and make ethical decisions accordingly … for anything and everything.
So, is the Guru living?
I guess that’s up to me. I can go through life and treat the Guru Granth as a mere idol and bow before it out of empty ritualism, or I can take the time to reflect on Gurbani – to think, reason, understand and genuinely act on the Guru’s teachings … and that is when the Guru comes alive.
As a Sikh, do I need the Guru in my life? This is where Gurbani is as direct as black and white:
Bliss! bliss! Everyone talks of bliss! Bliss is but known only through the Guru.
Then he goes on to say:
One who turns away from the Guru and becomes “baymukh” – without the True Guru – shall not find liberation.
The role of the Guru is to enlighten and bring us to a heightened sense of awareness, to establish that connection with the Divine. The forces of kaam, krodh, lobh, moh and ahankaar – lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride – are so strong that it is only through the Guru that we can overcome them.
At a recent camp, I asked the children what they knew about Guru Granth Sahib and I was overwhelmed with the facts and figures they threw at me. Whose writings were included, how many pages it had, what languages it contained, how many raags there were, etc.
But asked if anybody had felt any sort of connection or relationship with the Guru … no hands went up.
Throughout this festive year, there have been many celebrations, kirtan darbars, nagar kirtans, conferences and seminars and symposia, discussions and debates on all aspects of the Guru Granth to mark this special milestone – but I truly hope that we, even if we are small and isolated communities, take this opportunity to develop and strengthen our personal relationship with the Guru. I believe this one-on-one conversation, this spiritual dialogue with the Guru, is essential in our self-discovery – which is fundamental to being a Sikh.
On this very early stage of my journey with the Guru, I have learned that all roads on this path lead to within.
As the Guru says:
O my mind, you are the embodiment of this Divine Light – recognize it, O, recognize your own origin … the true origin of thy self.
I have been the beneficiary of a lot of advice and guidance in my life, but one of the most meaningful things has been what a friend once said to me: “You know, Rubin, many think the Guru Granth’s 1430 pages are about the Guru’s lives and teaching … but, in reality, it’s all about you.” And I believe this. There is not a Shabad I come across where the Guru is not challenging me, where the Guru doesn’t push me to question myself.
I often stop in my tracks while reading the Guru Granth and ask: Is it referring to me? Am I one of those ego-filled beings that it is talking about, that is, obsessed with myself and my own thinking? Am I being humble in my actions, am I truly forgiving to those who have hurt me, do I speak lovingly to others? Am I really walking the walk … or am I just talking the talk?
This is my dialogue with the Guru, and with my Ardaas and his Grace, I continue to strive to improve myself every time I stand before him.
So I hope this year will not end as just a celebration of a historical event, but instead, be the motivation for a spiritual event – for personal change, within me, within each of us … and brings us closer to the Guru.
December 24, 2008