Meditation is a sophisticated expression of what is commonly called concentration. Man has been trying various methods to improve the focusing ability. At one time, it was supposed to be a great feat to remember texts verbatim. Scholars were trained to recite long texts of Vedas, Koran, Torah and the Buddhist sutras from memory. Writing the scriptures came much later when expertise in memory began to lose its shine. People found writing and preserving easier than remembrance as an essential attribute of the learned.
Definitions change with progress in civilizations. In various cultures in east and west, at one time, it was fashionable to stress on meditation as a great virtue. All ancient religions and schools taught the pupils the art of meditation. Various postures and asanas were strictly prescribed for the wholesome concentration, even as the modern scholar, instead, draws late night concentration by sipping cup o’ tea or coffee, a puff of smoke, or a draught of hard drink. The mind responds and with a little practice, one may get fixed into meditation mode. It is a state of relaxation when one is relieved of tensions of daily humdrum life. It is what psycho-analysts call self-hypnotism. But the question remains, what is the core issue of meditation.
The devout insists that in the state of meditation, one approaches the presence of God and a sort of peace descends on the devout. It is not certain if actually one experiences God, void or relief from tensions or gets into rhythm of anahad musical notation. How does one measure the depth of others’ meditation in comparison to one’s own intensity of it? How does one decide about being in God’s presence or being subject to illusion? Void is not God. In practice, it is not easy to face God that is sheer reality, because once one reaches that state, self gets lost for ever. One does not return to the mundane jealousies and rivalries. God is purity and it eliminates the sham.
Meditation occurs as one concentrates. Bowing in passing by a church, temple or a mosque brings about a split second of that state that sitting cross-legged for hours one craves for. Many people cannot manage more than that. More often, people induce meditation by force of habit in the same way as the regulatory ceremonies of worship enjoin in various religions as routine. But that may end up in mechanical practice in lulling the mind in false satisfaction. Same happens to fastings or pilgrimages which have no merit except individual contentment, as hunger gnaws at the vitals or as the pilgrim undergoes hazardous and long journeys in a wishful expectation of rewards. If it had any worth, it would be so easy for any ruffian to clinch the value. The same goes for meditation too.
It would be found that great practitioners of meditation in the Hindu mythology were shown as singularly easy prey to machinations of gods and their apsaras with least resistance. It gave them no strength in their character to be way above the wayward desires and they readily succumbed to covetous urges, anger or licentious intentions. That cannot be the method to accomplish the spiritual objective. Everyone cannot be grouped into a single caliber as there are variations. Some persons bow in passing the temple or mosque and that keeps them in good cheer for the whole day. There are others who start a day’s transactions by praying in front of the locked premises before they open the locks or burn incense before the images of their deity before talking shop. Others devote time in the morning to specific recitation of Holy Scriptures and meditation before they accept a morsel of food or stop to bow again at the temple while returning home.
We find various instructions spread in the pages of the Guru Granth Sahib, contrary to the practice of the firm Vedic and Koranic codes set for all uniformly. We are told at one place that rising early in the morning to contemplate on the Holy word is essential and bathing and reading scriptures (305). At another place, (35) it is enjoined to remain merged in remembering God at all time, as for a God-centric person there is no limit to contemplation. Yet again, it is the common refrain that God is not secured by any stipulations unless God’s grace lifts one to the state of blessedness. Instead of a rigid code specified as essential for every body, Sikhism diagnoses prescriptions according to the spiritual condition of each and every case. There are God-centric gurmukhs and self-centered manmukhs at various stages. Recipe has to be different for each one. We are advised that ਕਰਨ ਕਰਾਵਨ ਕਰਨੈ ਜੋਗੁ॥ਜੋ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਵੈ ਸੋਈ ਹੋਗੁ॥ Sukhmani (Canto XI; 1) He is capable of doing and is the performer. It happens as He wills. That is the attitude of the gurmukh. Again, in Jap (20), it is stated: ਆਪੇ ਬੀਜਿਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਖਾਹੁ ॥ Reap what you sow. That concerns the manmukh until he reforms. Sikhism is tolerant and free thinking as it opens its portals to whatever method suits each person, even to other religious points of view to enable a person to obtain salvation according to his/her competence.
For the individual, it is said: ਕਿਨਕਾ ਏਕ ਜਿਸੁ ਜੀਅ ਬਸਾਵੈ॥ ਤਾ ਕੀ ਮਹਿਮਾ ਗਨੀ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥ (SGGS-262). It means that meditation in Sikhism is distinctly different from other religions where they extol long spells of meditation as panacea for all matters. Here, total commitment in meditation-in-a-wink produces the desired result. Even a split-second of concentration empowers high level of intelligence and satisfaction to a person. It would mean that the level of concentration in long samadhis, meditations may be lacking in that level of dedication. Dalai Lama has quipped that sleep is the best meditation (RD-Sept. 2006) Guru Nanak said:
ਇਕੁ ਤਿਲੁ ਪਿਆਰਾ ਵੀਸਰੈ ਰੋਗੁ ਵਡਾ ਮਨ ਮਾਹਿ ॥
ਕਿਉ ਦਰਗਹ ਪਤਿ ਪਾਈਐ ਜਾ ਹਰਿ ਨ ਵਸੈ ਮਨ ਮਾਹਿ ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 21
Forgetting the beloved even for a split-second is a big malady
How to get honors at God’s court if He dwells not in the heart?
Guru Amardas makes it simple and straight:
ਇਕੁ ਤਿਲੁ ਪਿਆਰਾ ਵਿਸਰੈ ਭਗਤਿ ਕਿਨੇਹੀ ਹੋਇ ॥
ਮਨੁ ਤਨੁ ਸੀਤਲੁ ਸਾਚ ਸਿਉ ਸਾਸੁ ਨ ਬਿਰਥਾ ਕੋਇ ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 35
What sort of meditation, forgetting the beloved for even one instant,
Mind and body must be tranquil in truth, not a breath to waste!
The point is that salvation is attainable in all cases where honesty and sincerity is practiced. To help the seeker of truth, values of various religious observances have to be redefined to clarify the objective. It is, indeed, a game of pure, unadulterated love. It extends beyond the limitations of code, regulations and conventions of formal religion. Sikhism is perhaps an exception in its tolerance towards other faiths despite the harsh treatment it received equally at the hands of Hindu conservatism and Muslim orthodoxy. Guru Nanak and the successor Gurus sifted the spiritual literature to select the very best. Guru Arjan took steps to preserve texts of the saints of other faiths, duly incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib, for eternity.
It is strange when people ask for methodology to attain the truth in the Guru Granth Sahib. They have been unable to decipher the solution after repeatedly reading through it. Each one has to select the method according to one’s spiritual state of being. There is a passage, a stanza, suited to each one. One has to pick and choose. Reading the whole text through means divergence; it is to be read with a purpose. It becomes more confusing because lay men try desperately to fit in the methods of other faiths in the messages in the Guru Granth Sahib. Finding the right passage is a matter of Divine grace. Grace it is, in any system while one continues to make efforts. Take the case of the composer sitting in a hot chamber creating lilting and soothing music while others suffocate and curse the weather. There was the case of the famous sarangi player, Bandu Khan, who was poor, unable to afford an electric fan. In scorching heat of Delhi summers, he played on his instrument and the visitors were so involved that they never felt the suffocating heat while the music was on. There is no logical explanation of such phenomena. However, it has a spiritual logic that is clearly understandable. Our Seventh Guru Har Rai Sahib had such sensitive nature that he was deeply touched by the disintegration of a flower while ordinary persons do not even notice it. Such sensitivity may be individual and not uniformly found in other members of a family. It is, indeed, a matter of Grace. The Sikhs in general eagerly crowd the Sant-Babas to ask for the way to reflect, and that too after going through the 1430 pages of the Holy Scripture. The Sant-Babas certainly have no clue. They look around and hand out the Brahminical formula of deep meditation on shunie, or link God’s name with breathing exercises.
In the corpus of Guru Granth Sahib, clear instructions are repeatedly and amply available. For instance, Guru Nanak says in Raga Bilawal on page 844:
ਕਿਰਪਾਲੁ ਸਦਾ ਦਇਆਲੁ ਦਾਤਾ ਜੀਆ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਤੂੰ ਜੀਐ ॥
ਮੈ ਅਵਰੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਨ ਧਿਆਨੁ ਪੂਜਾ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਵਸਿ ਰਹੇ ॥
ਭੇਖੁ ਭਵਨੀ ਹਠੁ ਨ ਜਾਨਾ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਸਚੁ ਗਹਿ ਰਹੇ ॥
O Lord, ever kind; You prevail in all living beings,
I know not any other wisdom, meditation or worship,
God’s name habituates in my mind,
Nanak subscribes not to any ruse, trickery, austerity;
And sticks firmly to truthfulness.
In a simple statement, the Master reveals that high intellect (gyan), meditation (dhyan) or worship (pooja) avail not. God’s name submerges and annihilates the ego lurking in the interior. No amount of deception, artfulness or mechanical means can ever approach that stage of cohesion with God in truth. There is absolutely no need to appease God by all these efforts as He is beparwah, unconcerned with human toil. Instead, let there be total liberation from all such efforts. Be honest with yourself and imbibe integrity as a basic aptitude instead of subterfuge. There remains no scope of wittiness, ploy, stratagem or a forced, mechanical effort in this game plan. Equally redundant are claims of bibek budhi or logic which are manifestation of ego. Logic dictates that it becomes mechanical and without purpose to repeatedly utter Lord’s name. But it is a common experience that a lover never tires of his imagination, aspiration and desire for the beloved. Love of God as the beloved is no exception; it is not induced. It is God’s grace to some human beings; others may not understand that state of craving and ache.
The Guru has not kept any secrets. None of the ongoing practices of established old faiths bear any positive results. Guru Nanak has, in a telling sabad (1237), detailed various methods employed by different religious denominations, without merit or desired result, but:
ਲੇਖਾ ਲਿਖੀਐ ਮਨ ਕੈ ਭਾਇ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਭੀਜੈ ਸਾਚੈ ਨਾਇ ॥
Accounts are rendered by mind’s obeisance
Nanak, He is impressed by true affection.
Whether it is the bowing person at the temple door in a rush or one taking out time to go inside and pray for goodies, the early morning meditation expert or the reader of scriptures, dissecting philosopher or the doubting scholar, they all miss the core point of attainment of God. They mistakenly approach the subject loaded with old formulae and methods prevalent since ancient times; their definitions all wrong and their scope lacking in innovation.
Meanwhile, the ancient faiths added more complexities and intricacies to the practice of meditation. Guru Nanak has condemned it along with its awe-inspiring confidentiality as unrealistic. ਚਾੜਸਿ ਪਵਨੁ ਸਿੰਘਾਸਨੁ ਭੀਜੈ ॥ ਨਿਉਲੀ ਕਰਮ ਖਟੁ ਕਰਮ ਕਰੀਜੈ ॥ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਬਿਨੁ ਬਿਰਥਾ ਸਾਸੁ ਲੀਜੈ ॥ (SGGS 905). One may control breathing sitting on his berth; perform several rituals under Nyoli rites, but without God’s name, breathes without purpose.
The same refrain has been voiced by the successor Gurus. Guru Amar Das threw a challenge in asking the devotee to attain salvation by any methodology suited to his/her temperament: ਜਿਤੁ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਉਬਰੈ ਤਿਤੈ ਲੈਹੁ ਉਬਾਰਿ ॥ Even supremacy of any method is given up.
Guru Ramdas said: ਮੈ ਮੂਰਖ ਅੰਧੁਲੇ ਨਾਮੁ ਟੇਕ ਹੈ ਜਨ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਪਾਇਆ॥ (p. 1319). I, a silly, uninformed fool of the subtleties of rituals have attained by Naam, the exalted stage of perfection from the true master.
The Fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan Dev, has confirmed it in his famous sabd:
ਪਾਠੁ ਪੜਿਓ ਅਰੁ ਬੇਦੁ ਬੀਚਾਰਿਓ ਨਿਵਲਿ ਭੁਅੰਗਮ ਸਾਧੇ ॥
ਪੰਚ ਜਨਾ ਸਿਉ ਸੰਗੁ ਨ ਛੁਟਕਿਓ ਅਧਿਕ ਅਹੰਬੁਧਿ ਬਾਧੇ ॥ ੧ ॥
ਪਿਆਰੇ ਇਨ ਬਿਧਿ ਮਿਲਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ਮੈ ਕੀਏ ਕਰਮ ਅਨੇਕਾ ॥
ਹਾਰਿ ਪਰਿਓ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਕੈ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਦੀਜੈ ਬੁਧਿ ਬਿਬੇਕਾ ॥
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 641
Recited scriptures, delved in Vedas, practiced nivli austerities,
Could not rid of the five evils, it led to furtherance of ego,
My Dear, this leads not to the fusion, try as hard as you may.
I surrendered my will at the steps of the Lord, to bestow wisdom.
The concept of bibek budhi has been interpreted by some scholars to claim better knowledge than most. They stress that God has bestowed brain power to man which must be used. But in this assertion there is no mention of the Guru’s abject surrender of haume, ego to God, of one’s will, one’s endeavor, one’s motivation, self, entity. By giving up one’s person, God assumes charge. That is the state of Bibek Budhi in Sikhism. In the very first stanza of the Guru Granth Sahib, in Jap, Guru Nanak declares: ਸਹਸ ਸਿਆਣਪਾ ਲਖ ਹੋਹਿ ਤ ਇਕ ਨ ਚਲੈ ਨਾਲਿ. . Individual melts into God and there remains only One entity of God, with which Sikhism begins its existence.
The eastern folk lore abounds in many everlasting classics depicting true devotion towards the object of love. One common point in all such cases is the elimination of all desires except the beloved and extinction of self. Guru Gobind Singh aptly expressed it: Jin prem kio tin he prabhu payo, they who love, get to God. The problem commences right from the definition of Love, since each person has personal definition and parameters of love, classified above. Till such time, one is not clear about the perspective of love, it is futile to expect correct measures to be adopted towards it. A person chained to the tri-guna mundane existence views love purely on a self-centered plane. The common man loves for gain/benefits to him; otherwise he would drop it right away, whether it is the parents, spouse, friends or colleagues. Where self-preservation is at stake against the villainous machinations of others having over-riding concern of their own safety and advantage, Love becomes an exercise in covetous adventure. That is why, Guru Nanak, in his path-breaking creed, strongly advised purity of character as an essential condition to spiritual ascendancy, so that mere contemplation and meditation have no value till one’s character develops based on all virtues, rejecting vices of all types. That is the key: Developing virtues God-wards. It was never made firm base of society by any old religion, instead they promised to condone sins and lapses by enjoined prescribed routine of prayers. Guru Nanak promised deliverance on sincerely shedding of vices and healthy development of virtues. He asserted that the cycle of cause and effect was obliterated of such emancipated persons. This was a leap forward to the development and formation of a society based on righteous moral precepts.
Guru Nanak’s approach to an ideal world order was, thus, based on the rule of law, compassion and sensitivity, not on superstitions or theoretical conjectures. Karma or karam in Punjabi, on which Buddhist and Jain hypothesis rests and Hindu philosophy depends, symbolises in Guru Nanak’s vocabulary more often as Godly beneficence and blessings. So far that the self or ‘I-ness’ or ego predominates and one seeks more individual freedom of action without the test of morality and virtue, the society will remain mundane in character with clash of egos, and trivial objectives will roost over serious issues of a perfect society and the ideal citizen, the gurmukh. The main thrust of Guru Nanak’s system was the creation of a law-abiding social order of the Khalsa. That ideal was pursued by the succeeding Gurus till Guru Gobind Singh created the society of committed souls, who readily sacrificed their all to sustain that ideal.
Guru Nanak’s sikhi prefers sincerity, empathy, all virtues and humility over mere meditation which has limited application. By meditation, virtues and noble traits do not develop automatically. The Sikh way is designed to groom selflessness to willingly sacrifice for the cause. Tendency to sacrifice is only possible at the highest pitch of cherishing an ideal, the love of the true master and perfection. Such excellence inspires extreme responses which have been immensely demonstrated in the Sikh history. It is evident that Gurbani leads to spontaneity of exhilaration and ecstasy so that small-minded concerns are left behind. It nourishes in the person compassion, courteous and well mannered behaviour. A sense of elation and deep love for all is experienced by the preferred soul. Prophet Mohammed used to get lost in spiritual reverie in the midst of mid-night prayers for the whole night till the muezzin’s early morning call to prayer, his face drenched in tears of adoration and longing for God. That elation, joy and exultation is worlds apart from humdrum life and its hold on the ego-centric.
It is not difficult for the common man to feel the pull of that sense of belonging; the cases of the Sikhs like Bhai Mati Das, facing the preparations being made for his cruel execution with offers of reprieve on eschewing his faith but standing firm, desiring as his last wish just to keep in sight his master while being sawed alive. And, the villager women, little educated, with limited knowledge, who calmly saw their infants tossed in air and stuck on spears or torn apart by fiendish soldiers in a vain bid to stun them to yield to the worst barbarism. Those atrocities are daily recalled to salute their strength of faith and steadfastness in the Sikh prayers. They had crossed into the realm of equipoise where nothing was important than their total ecstasy of conviction.
It is love in its full intensity, in its ferocity and abandon, the gist of the call of Guru Nanak, je tohe prem khelan ka chao. Then one involuntarily shuns evils, is elected to the elite group and never turns back, if one is, indeed, committed. Mere sitting in peace of a time bound meditation, though sublime for those moments, neither fixes the direction nor the ultimate destination. The essence of the Sikh religion is condensed in the following guruvak of Guru Nanak:
ਆਖਾ ਜੀਵਾ ਵਿਸਰੈ ਮਰਿ ਜਾਉ ॥
ਆਖਣਿ ਅਉਖਾ ਸਾਚਾ ਨਾਉ ॥
ਸਾਚੇ ਨਾਮ ਕੀ ਲਾਗੈ ਭੂਖ ॥
ਉਤੁ ਭੂਖੈ ਖਾਇ ਚਲੀਅਹਿ ਦੂਖ ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 9
I am alive saying His name, forgetting is (like) death,
It is (indeed) terse to remember this (fact),
One gets pangs of hunger for the True Name,
By imbibing it, the travails are cast out
It is certainly not enough to regularly mumble regulatory scriptures as a routine. It is ceaseless hunger, as the Guru implicitly explains in above quoted verse. It gnaws at one’s mind, not satisfied until the True Name takes hold. Till such time that the spontaneous remembrance of true Name becomes standard, the mechanical reading may be a substitute but not the real thing. It does not occur by force or repetition, not even by a stratagem. That hunger is a genuine spiritual, spontaneous yearning; indeed, it happens by God’s Grace.
ਕਿਆ ਹੰਸੁ ਕਿਆ ਬਗੁਲਾ ਜਾ ਕਉ ਨਦਰਿ ਧਰੇ ॥
ਜੇ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਵੈ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਕਾਗਹੁ ਹੰਸੁ ਕਰੇ ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1384
What of the swan and what of the crane,
He willing, Nanak, crow turns into swan!
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All