The Practice & Culture of Naam: Convenor: RAVINDER SINGH
Siddh Gosht Part IX
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 85
A recurring thread in the messages that readers have posted on this series is that we are trapped in the structures of our
own minds and therefore “interpret gurmat in the light of our own understanding instead of grasping the Guru’s insight.”
True enough. But that is stating the obvious.
On the other hand, how else would one be expected to interpret gurmat if not from one’s own understanding? No matter how feeble and biased, our perspective and personal understanding must serve as a starting point.
Intertwined with this strand of thought is the notion that the subject matter of gurbani is ineffable and yet we are subjecting it to words.
Even though we refer to shabad as Word, we must recognize that shabad itself cannot be captured in words, which is why in gurbani, one finds not precise definitions of shabad but intimations of shabad, and especially, its effect on the life of a gurmukh.
One suggestion, which I think gets to the heart of the matter, is that if we cannot capture the essence of gurmat in propositions, we can at least sing along.
Indeed. The spirit of gurmat is best conveyed in song (kirtan) and poetry because it is, in essence, less about words and
more about getting one’s rhythm and the beat (taal) of one’s life in tune with hukam.
Gurmat is about the inspired life: about peak experiences, about the ecstasy of living - which is why music (kirtan) is so conducive.
A forum like sikhchic.com's Talking Stick simply offers a sense of community and a forum for dialogue – vichaar. It is through vichaar that we learn about the deep and unfathomable experience of our Gurus and begin to slowly grow deeper in our own experience.
But mere vichaar is not a substitute for the discipline and practice that we must incorporate to experience the fragrance of naam in our lives.
Let us look at the implications of the Siddh Gosht for our day-to-day living.
How do we knead the ecstasy of the spirit (naam, to my mind) into the ordinary humdrum of our lives? How do we merge naam or shabad into the day-to-day minutes of our life?
The flip side of this is, to put it in the context of the Siddh Gosht, is how do we attach our consciousness (surat) to shabad? How do we lead a gurmukh life? How do we experience what a gurmukh experiences, as described by Guru Nanak.
Guru Nanak has not handed down a step-by-step “how-to” manual, but gurbani gives us "do-it-yourself" intimations such that we can construct a framework for an inspirited life. The experience and lives of gurmukhs also provides us examples to emulate.
I start by offering some of my thoughts – based on my experience and understanding. They are in no particular order; some require physical effort, others serious introspection and some require us to do nothing, which is an art in itself.
Taken together, the list can be constructed into a framework for living for an individual that is gurmat-based. This is directed at the individual because that is where we have to start. The symbiotic and dialectical relationship between individual and community, however, constantly remains at play.
The list below is meant simply to suggest how I have tried to live – not always successfully. But the closer I have gotten to this framework, the more joyous and blissful existence has become. So I feel that it is worth a shot.
It would be wonderful if readers can share personal experiences and add to this list.
1 Arise early (amrit vela).
2 Take your time. Don’t be a slave to speed and its twins – the clock and caffeine. Understand the difference between having a compass (principled direction) and the clock (calendar/ to-do list).
3 Adopt a life-long apprenticeship to the Guru. Spend time reflecting, reading and even writing (copying) gurbani. Incorporate the practice and culture of naam (abhyaas), nitnem, kirtan and vichaar.
4 Understand your purpose in life. Work on it. Realize that it is not about you. You are not in control.
5 Celebrate gurpurabs with enthusiasm – at home and at the gurdwara.
6 Give thanks before a meal and don’t watch TV while eating.
7 Be generous and forgiving. Don’t hold grudges. Be nice to strangers.
July 2, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), July 02, 2012, 10:07 AM.
Without love for the Creator and its creation and understanding the Guru's timeless message of recitation of naam in any format throughout the day, nothing is really achieved and this life is wasted!
2: Amandeep Kaur (Calgary, Alberta, Canada.), July 02, 2012, 12:17 PM.
Here`s my amrit vela routine: - Get up at 3:00, give or takr 15 minutes. - Check email and other stuff in bathroom. Shower, play some katha or vairaag kirtan alongside. Or do paatth of Mool Mantar alongside. - Do jaap of Waheguru gurmantar for about 60 to 70 minutes. Generally, I cannot go beyond this time and there's a massive loss of concentration. Perhaps, I can't sit beyond this duration withot a massive assault on my mind. So it responds by starting a chain of thoughts with no semblance to the subject (shabad). - When doing jaap, the focus and attention is on the shabad. Nothing else. All effort is placed to get the gurmantar into you. Like in golf where there's just one rule for the beginner (get your head down), there's only one lesson for the beginner (and we all are in this) - just listen to the shabad. While your tongue says Waheguru, your ears should listen to it. And more abstractly, as Guru Sahib says, "gian shabad surat dhun chela." - I take a break for about 30 minutes to 60 minutes. Do some news reading, have a cup of tea, along with some snacks. Catch a bit of work as well. - Ready for session 2. I start again with gurmantar or Mool Mantar and go for m 30 to 45 minutes. - Then I do a hukamnama and reading of a few pages from the saanchiyaan (translations of bani). - My amrit vela lasts until about 6:30 am. - Then I complete my sleep for a few more hours. - Then it`s time to go to work. - During the day, I try to do paatth of Mool Mantar whenever I have the opportunity. - Or listen to kirtan when my hands can work but my mind can listen to something deeper. - Go to gurdwara at least once a day and listen to kirtan. Based on my experience, the more naam juppna one does, the lighter the grip of vices becomes. You get less angry, less greedy, more forgiving. It`s not you, it`s the strength of naam. And one more thing - you cannot deliberately begin to start loving everyone, as Guru ji says. The love germinates from within when the seed of naam has been sown and is nurtured everyday with abhyaas.
3: Prakash Singh Bagga (Indore, MP, India), July 02, 2012, 2:01 PM.
We have Guru Granth Sahib at home. I get up at normal times as per my schedule and the first activity starts with seva of Guru Granth. I read from gurbani as much as I can. On an average, my engagement with my Guru is nearly 3-4 hrs/day. I don't follow the conventional practices in this regard. This has been my routine for the past 25 years. I make my ardaas before my Guru to keep me attached to gurbani till my last breath.
4: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), July 02, 2012, 5:08 PM.
Ravinder ji, I like your list. Watching TV when we eat can not only lead to obesity, it robs us of the mindfulness, enjoying the moment and savoring the food. Thich Nhat Hanh once said that it takes him over an hour to finish one cup of tea, savoring each small sip and meditating on it. Mind you, he was not talking about a Punjabi-size cup of tea!
5: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), July 02, 2012, 5:18 PM.
But why give thanks only before a meal? One who lives in gratitude with each breath and with each sip or morsel, does not need to meditate on his tea like a Buddhist monk. Even a Punjabi-size cup of tea can be finished quickly, enjoying it fully, while adding the flavor of the Guru's mindfulness. That is why we call it "saas-giraas simran."
6: R. Singh (Canada), July 02, 2012, 5:54 PM.
Naam juppna in gurmat is something that is constant, like the mother who may be fetching water from the well, but is constantly aware of her baby, or like the cow of its calf. Time for simran is set aside when mind is fresh and alert, ready to absorb; that is the ideal foundation one can build upon.
7: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 02, 2012, 7:18 PM.
Last Sunday I was at our weekly satsang. I routinely check the back pocket for my wallet, the side pocket for my phone, before settling down for the Guru's Word. This time, the phone was missing. Did I drop it in the car? I even got someone to ring my number. Not a beep from the errant cell. I spent the rest of the time doing phone-jupp with the deepest of concentration. On reaching home, there it was, happily charging itself with single-minded devotion. Wasn't that the way of naam juppna? Indeed it was, and there is a whole shabad, also mentioned by R. Singh ji on #6, starting with: "aAnneelay kaagad kaatee lay goodee aakas madhay bharmee alay / punch janaa si-o baat bata-oo cheet so doree raakhee alay" [GGS:972.13] - "A boy takes paper, cuts it and makes a kite out of it, and flies it in the sky; while talking with his friends, he never lets his mind veer off and keeps his attention on the string and kite." Naam juppna is qualitative, and not quantitative.
8: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 03, 2012, 12:16 PM.
Prakash Singh ji (# 3), to me it sounds that you are on the right track; devotion and dedication are the primary requirement. One's entire life span is meant for reciting the true naam as well as to deliberate upon God's glory and virtues. One does not have to get up at 2-3 am; we should remember the Almighty at all times. By virtue of God's blessings, this life is bestowed upon us and accordingly we should endeavor to attain emancipation. Guru Nanak advises us that this is the only righteous way to understand how God pervades everywhere in the entire Universe. Guru Amar Das also says: "By thinking all the time about the right moment when to worship the Lord, then when we will we actually worship? Night and day, one who is attuned to the Name of the True Lord is true. If someone forgets the Beloved Lord even for an instant, what sort of devotion is that? One whose mind and body are cooled and soothed by the True Lord - no breath of his is wasted." [GGS:35]
9: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), July 03, 2012, 5:05 PM.
To my mind naam simran is to meditate on 'jayta keeta tayta naa-on bin naavay nahin ko thaa-on.' Whatever has been created is naam. No place is devoid of naam.
10: Sarjit Kaur (Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.), July 03, 2012, 7:41 PM.
11: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 06, 2012, 8:52 AM.
Thank you for sharing personal routines - we are not, generally speaking, given to sharing such information in public, so it is doubly appreciated. The first item on the list, 'Arise Early,' is one I have based on experience and observation. I have had the good fortune to be around individuals (Sikh and non-Sikh) who I would have no hesitation in calling gurmukhs. Without exception, they were early risers (3-6 am time-frame). I recall an incident as a kid when I complained to Sant Sujan Singh (a well-known figure in the Sikh community) that getting up that early was difficult. His response, "Don't you get up early if you have to catch a train or have to attend to important business?" I nodded in agreement. "Well," he went on, "for a Sikh, what could be more important than naam juppna at amrit vela?" These words have stayed with me. I consider this to be the first basic foundation of a Sikh life-style. Apart from those who work shifts or are too ill, there really is no excuse (in my mind) for not getting up early. If you call yourself a Sikh, then arising early to do "vaddya-ee vichaar" is a duty. Sometimes I think of all the trouble I took and the great lengths I went to in order to please my girlfriends. Can't I sacrifice some sleep to be with the Guru? Sure, the Guru is all merciful and does not demand anything from us, but this is one expression of love - to arise early and be in exclusive conversation with the Creator, to be giving thanks for a magical ride - all free of charge!
12: Prakash.Singh Bagga (Indore, MP, India), July 06, 2012, 12:21 PM.
One can see that in gurbani the period of amrit vela is not defined as any specific period. There is reference to 'parbhat', a time when daylight just about starts gaining over darkness. This is cited as the most ideal time for jaap and simran or gurbani contemplation.
13: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 07, 2012, 9:56 AM.
There are no definitions in gurbani or axioms - just intimations. What we make of these messages is upto the individual. Amrit vela has no definition and is used traditionally for clock time (which it really is not) but can be interpreted as human birth as well. I should have been more specific and said that the usage of the term for our discussion refers to clock time - because we are talking about a model day-to-day Sikh life style.
14: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 07, 2012, 3:03 PM.
I believe that some important definitions are missing because, with direct guidance from the Guru, the meaning of these words was common knowledge. We can find them in other Sikh writings. But rejecting these writings is in vogue today because they do not meet the modern standards. The meaning is now a free-for-all. I agree that there is no set time to eat food. But for physical health we stick to a routine, breakfast, etc. Similarly, amrit vela is also called the last part of the night or the fourth watch of the night (three hours before sunrise). Gurbani leaves no room for doubt here. Or, maybe someone could explain why gurbani even mentions this period of the night.