After following some of the recent on-line debates, and discussing the topic at our local Gurbani Veechar meeting, I’ve been reflecting a bit on the concept of amrit vela in Sikhi.
To summarize the debate, many feel that amrit vela is a specific time of day (roughly three hours before dawn) where one is most attuned to Waheguru. It is the time of day where there are few distractions and one’s mind can fully focus on reflection and remembrance of Waheguru. Then there are others who feel that spirituality and reflection cannot be tied to a time of day…any time is perfect for simran, and amrit vela is more of a “state of mind” rather than a specific time. Both sides interpret various lines from Gurbani to defend their case.
I am by no means an expert on the topic. My only extended period of time waking up at amrit vela was many years ago and only for a few weeks. I’ll admit, I really enjoyed waking up before the rest of the world and designating a block of time to sit and do my paath properly, with full concentration and no other distractions – unlike now, where I often multi-task as a I rattle through my paath. However, with my poor time management as a university student, waking up at amrit vela became tougher and tougher. And after a few scary moments at the wheel driving home late at night…I decided to defer this personal goal of mine until it better suited my schedule…unfortunately, that day has yet to come.
As I got older and broadened my views on Sikhi a bit…I felt we couldn’t look at spiritual matters so mechanically. In my cursory research on the topic of amrit vela in the Guru Granth Sahib and Bhai Gurdas Ji’s Vaars, I saw many references to amrit vela, but very little explanation of it. Maybe that was on purpose. I started to wonder, when Guru Sahib says, “amrit vela sach naao vaddiaaee veechaar“, perhaps we are spending too much time quibbling over the definition of amrit vela and not enough effort on the vaddiaaee veechaar. To me, amrit vela was more of a concept than a specific time…it is in fact the “Ambrosial Hours” the translation often states…and that time of “fragrance”, where one can concentrate on paath and simran could be any time…and certainly shouldn’t be limited to 4:30am.
I remember sharing these thoughts with a group of like-minded Sikh friends years ago…and we all agreed that this was in fact what Guru Sahib meant.
But now I’m not so sure…
Now when it comes to issues of Gurmat, and I remember those rooms full of nodding heads where we all were in agreement, I start to think to myself…what if we were all wrong?
Why do I believe that Guru Sahib was downplaying the idea of amrit vela, when there are so many references to it? Should I really be picking and choosing when Guru Sahib is being literal or not based on my own convenience? Furthermore, If a Sikh is a “disciple” and a disciple is to be…well…disciplined – then what more disciplined way can one start off their day then by waking up early?
When I think about the handful of times over the years at camps and retreats where I did wake up at amrit vela and joined together with my sangat for paath and simran before sunrise…it was so powerful. Isn’t this what my Guru wanted me to experience? And when I think about my elders and other Sikh role models who’ve influenced me over the years, why is it they all woke up before dawn as well? I guess what I’m saying is…maybe there is something to it. And unless I’ve really given it an honest try and experienced it for myself…who am I to really say what amrit vela is or isn’t?
This “literal” view of looking at amrit vela may not be popular with my friends, who still tend to see things a little “grey”, but maybe I need to start looking at my Gurmat issues like I do my politics…a little less republican…a little less democrat…and a lot more independent. It’s refreshing to see so much debate on Sikhi and Gurmat issues on the internet, but I think it’s important to look at each issue in its own context without bias, and form educated opinions accordingly – rather than just blindly attaching to a single school of thought.
So the journey continues…one day at time…and a few hours earlier 🙂
I would love to hear some personal experiences of others who have transitioned to an amrit vela lifestyle…
April 7th, 2010 at 7:59 am
Interesting article veer. In my humble opinion, when one wakes up at Amrit Vela for no other purpose but to meditate upon Waheguru, there is an element of sacrifice on the part of the devotee which eventually makes one deserving of Guru Ji's and Waheguru Ji's Kirpaa. Without Kirpaa, the ego is not dispelled and naam does not reside within one's heart and mind. Perhaps this is why in the Jap Ji, the message is captured as such: "Phir keh aggey Rakhiyeh, Jit Dissey Darbar(?) Muhh Keh Bolan Boliyeh Jit Sunn Dhareh Pyaar (?), Amrit Vela Sach Naao Vadayai VIchaar."Having said that, every breath we devote to Waheguru, any time of the day, is a sacrifice, although apparently not as great a sacrifice as when the devotion is at the cost of depriving oneself of the deep slumber of the ambrosial hour….thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope I have made some sense…Balvinder
September 12th, 2010 at 7:06 pm
Awesome post. I too have wondered about the same thing..One piece of work that really struck me hard about this topic came from a book titled "Meditation as Medicine" by Dr. Dharma S Khalsa.. he discussed briefly the phenomenon of the body's hormone shift from sleep-inducing hormones to wakeful chemicals that occurs around that time of "amrit vela". Apparently, as our biological clock coincides with the 24 hour cycle of the day, our body starts to shift from those "nighttime sleep hormones" to the "daytime wakeful" ones, and meditation at that time facilitates a smooth and effective transition! Side note – in the book, it was much more detailed and well written/explained.. I am working simply from memory. Not sayng that this is THE reason behind amrit vela, but it's a really cool additional fact that kind of left me in awe… crazy how much there is behind our "practices" that we don't even know/understand!- Harmeet Kaur
December 16th, 2010 at 7:32 am
In fact waking at Amrit vela my dear has a patrician sign Itz a way to keep u out of bad dreams btw amrit vela our mind mostly when we sleeping tend to go in bad thoughts that's why Itz necessary