Perfection is a Goal, Not a Pre-RequisiteSIMRAN JEET SINGH
I know this is a strange thing for a Sikh to confess, but it's true: I used to be really intimidated by the Guru Granth Sahib.
I would feel unworthy sitting before the Guru, and I was absolutely terrified of making mistakes while reading gurbani. And even though I learned to read Gurmukhi from a young age, I never even read from the Guru Granth Sahib until I was eleven years old.
I still remember the first time.
I was at a gurmat camp in Houston (Texas, USA) and one of my counselors – Jasvir Bhain ji – asked me to take hukam during divan. I was reluctant, but I finally agreed after she convinced me that neither the Gurus nor my peers expected me to be perfect. She explained that making mistakes was part of the learning process and that we all have to begin somewhere.
This was a life-changing moment for me.
I had always been so scared of messing up in the presence of my Guru, especially in a divan setting. As Sikhs, we all have deep-rooted respect and reverence for our Guru; it is deeply entrenched within us.
However, I have found that these notions of reverence and respect often cross over into fear. And for me, crossing that fine line was problematic because it kept me from building a relationship with my Guru.
Fortunately, my relationship has matured in many ways since childhood and, as with any good relationship, increased familiarity, interaction, and trust have led to the displacement of fear with love.
I have gotten over the fear that the Guru judges us and condemns us for our mistakes and, as this relationship has progressed, I have picked up on countless examples from our scripture and history that evidence the Guru’s benevolent and compassionate nature.
I have also observed a unique aspect of the Sikh belief system: Sikhi does not incentivize religion on the basis of fear, but instead, on the basis of love.
For example, Guru Angad explicitly critiques the notion of service as a fear-driven action: “What kind of service is this in which fear of the master remains? O Nanak, one is considered a servant who becomes one with the master” [GGS:475].
In this verse, Guru Angad suggests that actions inspired by fear do not compare with actions inspired by love. His measure is not related to specific actions or specific results. Rather, he focuses on our underlying motives.
Actions inspired by love can only emerge from relationships of love, and therefore the personal relationships we develop with our Guru are critically important. The degree of trust and intimacy we cultivate directly correlates with the quality of our
lives as Sikhs.
This lesson has been a crucial step in my own journey. It has helped me go beyond the divisiveness of fear that separates us from our Guru, and instead has compelled me to embrace the integrative and uniting force of love.
In many ways, this relationship building has become a centerpiece of my growth as a Sikh, and it’s something I hope will continue to develop.
I would love to hear from others as to their own experiences.
What are some of the obstacles you face in connecting with your Guru?
What do you do to help build and nurture this relationship?
July 16, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Jaswinder Singh (Brier, Washington, U.S.A.), July 16, 2012, 11:32 AM.
Thank you for sharing your relationship with Guru Sahib. My story is very similar. I grew up in Punjab, so Gurmukhi was not the issue for me but intimidation was there. What if I mispronounced, I will be doing disservice to the Guru, it will be a sin, etc. When I was 39, Bhai Gurnam Singh (kathavachik at our local gurdwara in Bothell) encouraged me to recite, learn and enjoy. From my experience, about 90% of people who can read Gurmukhi are intimidated to read from Guru Granth Sahib. The mind set of fear has to change.
2: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), July 16, 2012, 12:05 PM.
To my understanding, 'Khalsa' by definition means a direct relationship between the Guru and the Sikh. I have been very fortunate in that I have access to the Guru Granth Sahib at my house, thanks to the Guru and my parents. The best moments for me are the time I spend with the Guru during the day. Yes, I am far from perfect. For me the term 'Sikh' implies learning from the Guru. I strongly believe a person who believes oneself to be a Sikh should learn from the Guru directly as per one's understanding, just as we learn knowledge from the respective sources. I do not know how, but easy access to the Guru Granth for every person who wants to learn from the Guru should be possible. The spreading of gurbani without any inhibitions is, to my understanding, the propagation of Sikhi itself.
3: Gobinder Singh (USA), July 16, 2012, 10:40 PM.
How about the flip side of it? In my experience, the intimidation is also fed by certain individuals, granthis and bhais who don't want you to read from Guru Granth Sahib unless you are amritdhari or from the gurdwara itself. We had akhand paatth at a relative's house and luckily granthis were very open and encouraged family members to participate. But then all of a sudden one family friend jumped in stating there is no way anyone else can participate in reading as it is "shudh paatth" going on. Only granthis who were assigned to do akhand paatth could do it. I never knew there was anything called ashudh paatth!
4: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), July 17, 2012, 2:19 AM.
Yes, many a times you come up with the issue of reading and reciting the sacred gurbani with perfection. Many of us hesitantly step up to experience the joy of being with our Guru and I feel this should not be so. Rather, we should accept the fact that as an infant commits so many mistakes in acquiring his understanding of the environment around him under the tutelage of his parents, we mortals would always be pardoned for our mistakes when we communicate with the Almighty. He is forgiving and only He can guide us truly, so I believe that committing mistakes in His presence is seeking His guidance in correcting ourselves and in understanding Him for our betterment. Lastly, we learn only through mistakes but we should be ready to correct them with the guidance of our Guru.
5: Karan Singh (United Kingdom), July 17, 2012, 7:21 AM.
I think on the journey of building a relationship with the Guru, one is trying to better oneself in all aspects of life. So why not try to aim for shudh uchaaran of gurbani? Why does one have to take a hukamnama straight away to build a relationship? Is it not better to learn it right? What I feel is an issue is that people just don't want to put in any effort. Learning things properly step by step, helped me build a relationship with the Guru Granth Sahib. Gurbani actually made sense to me and my recitation wasn't just ritualistic. Another important thing is that most people who can read Punjabi/Gurmukhi cannot pronounce most letters correctly. Finally, there are pre-requisitites to everything in life from driving a car to getting into a college, to reciting gurbani from the Guru Granth. For example, one must cover the head, take off shoes, wash hands, etc. So why not an additional one requiring everyone to get instruction in how to read gurbani correctly?
6: Taranpreet Kaur (United Kingdom), July 19, 2012, 6:53 PM.
No doubt reciting gurbani correctly is important but I think to understand and follow what we are reading and reciting every day is much more important. I believe that is the link that we are missing, due to which the essence of Sikhi gets diluted in our lives.
7: R. Singh (Canada), August 07, 2012, 4:41 AM.
Keeping people in perpetual fear of themselves, preventing a person from cultivating and blossoming one's potential, is not the intent nor prerequisite for rules. These are man-made guidelines to facilitate connection. When they become a hinderance, they become empty ritual. No one needs to police the relationship with one's Guru. Very positive and inspiring attitude. Really appreciate your sharing it. Compassion is the mainstay of religion, arrogance its enemy. Those who get so embroiled in minding others, and go so far as to interfere rather than facilitate, are not very spiritual, in my opinion.
8: Kanwer (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), September 08, 2012, 3:44 PM.
This article really pertains to the problem which I have been facing for not taking part in 'akhand paatth', because of my hesitation over so-called 'shudh' pronunciation while reading Guru Granth Sahib. I feel connected with my Guru anyway. Thank you ... I feel full support from this article.