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Talking Stick

What Makes Good Deeds Good?
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 91

Convenor: AMRIT KAUR




It is almost a daily occurrence.

Someone or the other will come along and deliver a version of this: “I am a good man (or woman). I do no harm to anyone. I help my friends when they need me. I speak no ill of anyone … I need to do no more. Why do I need God in my life?”

It’s a sexy argument, which I have found difficult to respond.

I never do. I don’t see my mission in life to be to lead the horse to water, because I know that I can’t make him drink. Nothing will make him drink, unless he wants to.

But, I must confess, I have struggled with the same question on my own, from time to time.

Until I stopped one day when I came across this verse and tried to fathom it. I had read it before several times, even sung it, but never felt its import.

tapey tapisar jogee-a teerath gavan karey 

Books of wisdom you might know by heart, and recite
Prayers and practice the penances of the yogis, all pilgrimages undertake
And twice perform the six good acts
(Learn and impart learning to others,
Sacrifice and make others give in sacrifice
Give alms and accept charity),
Bathe in holy water and do worship.
If you love not the Lord with all your being,
It is all in vain and for you there is nothing but hell.
  [Guru Arjan, GGS:70]

A bit harsh, I thought, at first reading. If you do good and be good, it can still come to nought?

I have searched within and without for the answer, and have come to realize that all of the “good” deeds that we tend to do, come with baggage … a selfish goal, an egotistical reward.

Not by accident, either.

We seek them and savour them. If denied, we sulk and resent and turn away to other things which give more satisfaction.

I think what Guru Arjan is trying to say is that without doing it for God, everything we do, no matter how good, turns into a selfish or ego-driven exercise.


Not some bearded potentate sitting atop a throne somewhere high upstairs, hungering for praise and tribute and hosannas. But the One, the all pervading Being within us … and in all Creation.

By remembering the Oneness in all that we do, especially the good deeds, we do them in humility. Seeking no return, expecting no reward.

Doing it just for the love of God, if you may.

Without that core, that anchor, it stands diminished and quickly crumbles into dust.

Not unlike the “charity” we practice for the benefit of a tax-deductible receipt. The tax-save is all the reward you get. Beyond that gratification, there is nothing.


Humility, it appears to me, is the central core of all things spiritual: the starting point and the end-point. Without it, it is all dust.

If that includes all ‘good’ deeds, charity, compassion, everything, then what makes deeds truly “good”?

Just humility?

Do you agree?

Would love your thoughts on this shabad.     


[Shabad translation by Khushwant Singh.]

September 20, 2012

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 20, 2012, 10:36 AM.

This shabad is awesome. True good deeds are love-oriented and are not to be based on gratification!

2: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), September 21, 2012, 12:35 PM.

The above article and the other articles by this author clearly bring out that the shabad Guru is a way of life. It is for this reason that Sikhi is the universal religion of the modern world.

3: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), September 22, 2012, 9:23 AM.

"Hukam razai chalna Nanak likhia nal" is the first and foremost message. One who lives in the hukam does not harbour pride. Only outward humility without the love of the One will not meet the test. Ultimately, truth is certainly high, but truthful living is still higher.

4: Kamaldeep Singh (London, United Kingdom), September 25, 2012, 10:07 AM.

God is the One principle from which everything is derived and this is especially the case when it comes to matters which relate to the moral and ethical aspects of life. When one breaks from this source, it causes virtue to deteriorate within oneself: "You have forgotten the Lord; your virtues shall wither away." [GGS:12.4]. The individual then begins to run off the finite momentum that remains in society and naturally this will run out overtime to the point that it is no longer present. In extreme cases the antithesis of a particular value is then wrongly accepted as the new norm only for dire consequences to follow. The proceeding generations are then required to spend tremendous amounts of effort to remedy the situation only hoping to to return to half of its original glory at best. Having God in one's life helps to ensure that one stays connected to the very source from which the values have been attained resulting in one not only remaining steadfast in oneself and being minimally effected by the changes of society, but also ultimately becoming a beacon exuding them. This in itself causes a change to take effect in society to such an extent whereby its very fabric is changed for the better and its foundations become dyed in them. A deed is a good deed when the individual is motivated by altruistic sincerity whilst being linked to God in both heart and mind. Note that this is not something that can be switched on and off at will, rather it is a state of mind from which one operates from.

5: Yuktanand Singh (USA), September 26, 2012, 2:40 PM.

There is not much to say after #4 above. Gurbani is goal-oriented. Even humility does not make a deed good if that humility was not for the aim of union with God. In gurbani, true goodness starts after, not before, one's union with God.

6: Prakash Singh Bagga (Indore, MP, India), September 30, 2012, 8:42 AM.

As per gurbani, the prime good deed is 'hari kirat' - or simran of prabhu. In the shabad under consideration, there is reference to wordly deeds which are stated to be helpful in achieving union with the Lord.

7: Manvinder Sawhney (Wilton, Connecticut, USA), April 05, 2013, 1:27 AM.

Yuktanand Singh ji says it well. True goodness starts after union with Waheguru.

8: Dr K N Singh (Johor Baru, Malaysia), December 28, 2013, 6:09 PM.

Doing goodness for the sake of goodness always starts with the satisfaction that one gets from doing goodness. This is the only reward sometimes. If you do it often enough, then the satisfaction of the reward is taken for granted and doing goodness for the sake of goodness becomes a habit and second nature. This is how saints evolve amidst general humanity. Then again, there are many unsung saints in this world.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 91"

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