Dr. Karminder Singh Dhillon
Simran and Sikhi
Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston)
SIMRAN ਸਿਮਰਨ is a Sanskrit word that translates literally as remembrance. Its Punjabi equivalents are ਯਾਦ Yaad and ਚੇਤਾ Chayta. The evening Sikh prayer Sodar (ਸੋਦਰ) contains a verse that uses the word simran to denote remembrance.
ਊਡੈ ਊਡਿ ਆਵੈ ਸੈ ਕੋਸਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਪਾਛੈ ਬਚਰੇ ਛਰਿਆ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕਵਨੁ ਖਲਾਵੈ ਕਵਨੁ ਚੁਗਾਵੈ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਸਿਮਰਨੁ ਕਰਿਆ ॥
Udey Uud Avey Seiy Kosa Tis Pachey Bachrey Chariya. Tin Kavn Khalavey Kavn Chugavey Mun Meh Simran Kareya (SGGS page 10).
Guru Arjun uses the illustration of the florican – a migratory bird which flies out long distances in search of food; leaving its young behind. Despite the distance, separation and the continually arduous task of finding food that the bird has to perform, remembrance of its offspring remains a constant. (ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਸਿਮਰਨੁ ਕਰਿਆ Mun Meh Simran Kareya).
The spiritual equivalent of remembrance is contemplation.
Sikhi places primary importance on contemplating the Creator at all times. Guru Arjun says in SGGS page 263
ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕਾ ਸਿਮਰਨੁ ਸਭ ਤੇ ਊਚਾ ॥ Prabh Ka Simran Sabh Tay Ucha.
Meaning of all spiritual deeds, keeping the Creator in one’s mind and contemplating Him is of the highest order.
The vocabulary of Sikh spirituality that has captured such a principle is Naam Simran ਨਾਮ ਸਿਮਰਨ. The meanings of the words Naam and Simran within the context of Gurbani needs elaboration.
The SGGS on page 803 contains a verse that reads:
ਸਿਮਰਿ ਮਨਾ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮੁ ਚਿਤਾਰੇ ॥ Simar Mna Ram Nam Chitarey
The verse provides the meaning of Simran in the spiritual context. This is the Gurbani definition of Simran. Contemplating the Creator within one’s mind is the starting point of Simran.
Yet the question remains that since the Creator has no discernible shape or form to the extent that the human mind cannot even begin to imagine any shape or form, how then does one visualize, let alone contemplate the Creator? Gurbani thus advises the Sikh that Simran must center on the ਨਾਮ Naam.
Hence the verse above delineating Simran as a function of the mind (ਸਿਮਰਿ ਮਨਾ Simar Mna) and Simran as remembrance and contemplation (ਚਿਤਾਰੇ Chitarey) relates to the Naam of the all-pervading Creator (ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮੁ ਚਿਤਾਰੇ Ram Nam Chitarey). Ram comes from the word ਰਮਿਆ Rameya – meaning all-pervading or present everywhere; omnipresent and omnipotent.
What then is meant by the word Naam? Gurbani makes clear the meaning of Naam. Naam does NOT mean Name. Certainly not proper names that we humans accord to other human beings or things – living or otherwise. Our parents who were in existence well before we came into being have determined our names. Parents and elders undertake naming ceremonies. Those who make or create things also generally name them.
Gurbani says the Creator is self-created – Saibhang. Gurbani also says there was no entity prior to the Creator. He is thus Ajooni. Therefore, there could have been no naming ceremonies per se and no proper name as well.
Gurbani says that names that we humans accord to the Creator in the path of spirituality, inclusive of Sat ਸਤਿ are descriptive and functional attributes. The Gurbani term for descriptive names of the Creator is ਕਿਰਤਮ ਨਾਮ Kirtem Nam). ਕਿਰਤਮ Kirtem comes from the word ਕਿਰਤ Kirt meaning function. A Gurbani verse on page 1083 penned by Guru Arjun makes this clear:
ਕਿਰਤਮ ਨਾਮ ਕਥੇ ਤੇਰੇ ਜਿਹਬਾ ॥ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਪਰਾ ਪੂਰਬਲਾ॥ Kirtem Nam Kathey Terey Jehba. Sat Nam Tera Pra Poorbla
Meaning, the names of Yours that I utter are ਕਿਰਤਮ Kirtem which in turn means functional, descriptive and attribution-al. In spiritual terms ਕਿਰਤਮ ਨਾਮ Kirtem Nam translate as the Creator’s virtues and the Creator’s merits as perceived by those who choose to walk His path.
So the Creator’s descriptive names are in essence given by His bhagats, His children, His devoted souls. Such names are innumerable, uncountable, ever increasing and all of equal stature. They are of equal standing because they are given and accorded by us, humans. It cannot be that one attribute of the Creator is higher or lower than another. It is simply a matter of which attribute(s) a particular seeker finds more fitting in his/her personal spiritual journey.
Guru Nanak illustrates this point in the third pauree of Japji – the Gavey Ko Pauree. Individuals perceive the Creator in attributes that are most relevant to their individual spiritual situations, and proceed to “call,” name or refer to the Creator in terms of these attributes.
The Gurbani term for these myriad attributes of the Creator is therefore Naam. Consequently, Naam refers to the unfathomable virtues, functions, merits, descriptions etc of the Creator-Being.
In short Nam is the Gurbani word for DIVINE VIRTUES.
UNDERSTANDING NAM SIMRAN
Our Gurus, within their spiritual consciousness, LIVED Divine Virtues and have thus prescribed Divine Virtues as the journey of Sikh spirituality in Gurbani.
It follows therefore, that in Gurmat, Naam Simran refers to a spiritual process that BEGINS with remembering and contemplating the Creator’s virtues / attributes. The aim of such remembrance and contemplation is to make Divine Virtues a constant of our life (ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਸਿਮਰਨੁ ਕਰਿਆ Mun Meh Simran Kareya). The remaining components of the process pertaining to Divine Virtues are understanding, appreciating, believing, accepting, acquiring, practicing and ultimately BECOMING these virtues within our practical lives.
The essence of Sikhi is for the Sikh to be Guru-like and Creator-like. The like-ness is in terms of virtues and attributes.
So, for example if the Divine is Nirbhau ਨਿਰਭਉ (fearless), then fearlessness is a Divine Virtue. The ULTIMATE object of the Sikh then is to BECOME fearless. Guru Arjun puts this succinctly in the SGGS page 294.
ਨਿਰਭਉ ਜਪੈ ਸਗਲ ਭਉ ਮਿਟੈ। Nirbhau Jpey Sagl Bho Mitey
Meaning: By contemplating the Fearless, all my fears have vanished: I have BECOME Fearless.
Guru Teg Bahadur ji epitomizes this virtue in a verse on page 1427 of the SGGS:
ਭੈ ਕਾਹੂ ਕਉ ਦੇਤ ਨਹਿ ਨਹਿ ਭੈ ਮਾਨਤ ਆਨ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਸੁਨਿ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਤਾਹਿ ਬਖਾਨਿ ॥ Bhey Kahu Ko Deyt Neh Neh Bhey Manut Aan
Meaning: One who provides no fear to anyone and who fears none – says Nanak, is spiritually REALIZED.
Fearing none is Divine Virtue (and this is so because the Creator has no equal) and the ninth master is asking the spiritual person to acquire it, to BECOME it amongst other virtues.
The BECOMING of any virtue is the end goal of the spiritual equation of the process of Gurbani- based Sikh spirituality or Gurmat. The equation begins with knowing the virtue, contemplating it, understanding it, accepting it, believing it, practicing it, habitualizing it to the point of internalization and realizing it within our conscience to be a Divine Virtue. The end goal is the BECOMING of the Divine Virtue.
The FIRST STEP is REMEBRANCE of the Virtues. The final step it to BECOME the virtue. This process of BECOMING is called Nam Simran (literally, Virtue Contemplation).
But what is the process of Naam Simran? How or what method should the Sikh use in Naam Simran?
NAM SIMRAN TRIVIALIZED AS CHANTING
A vast majority of Sikhs has mistakenly accepted that the repetitious recital of Satnam or Vaheguru is the be-all and end-all of Naam Simran. Nothing more, nothing less. All there is to Naam Simran is to sit still and recite it aloud for a fixed period of time or for a fixed number of recitations.
Some have added the rosary to the process while others have deployed mechanical counting devices.
Some have resorted to repeated singing the words Satnam and Vaheguru to tunes of “Satnam Ji, Vaheguru Ji” or “Vahguru Satnam ” for considerable lengths of time.
Others have created or imported “techniques” from elsewhere – closing the eyes, dimming the lights, coordinating breathing, adopting various sitting positions, pressing the index finger and thumb together, pressing the heel on to the thigh, putting the palm to the heart, placing the limbs in a variety of positions etc.
Many have laid claim to being in possession of the “real” method even if drawn from such meaningless techniques. As if these distractions weren’t enough, Sikhs now have to grapple with the question of where and what to concentrate one’s mind upon, when doing this “technique based” Naam Simran. The answers are as varied as they can get: put a photo of the Guru in front, focus on the third eye (wherever that is), fix your gaze on a lighted candle, concentrate on your forehead, look intensely at a lamp, focus on your need or desire, or think of the feet of the baba are only the tip of the iceberg “techniques” that have found their way into mainstream Sikhi.
GURBANI’S POSITION ON CHANTING
But what does Gurbani say about chanting (“ਰਟਨ” Rattun in Punjabi) defined as the repetitious utterance of a word, a mantar or a particular shabd (with or without a rosary or counter).
To begin with, chanting creates three major problems from the Gurmat and Gurbani point of view.
THE FIRST PROBLEM would be that Gurbani rubbishes chanting. This means that chanting has zero value in Gurmat. Pauree 32 of JUP BANI makes this clear.
ਇਕ ਦੂ ਜੀਭੌ ਲਖ ਹੋਹਿ ਲਖ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਲਖ ਵੀਸ ॥ Ek Du Jebhau Lakh Hohe Lakh Hovey Lakh Vees
If One’s Toungue Should Become One Lakh, and from One Lakh Become Twenty Lakhs.
ਲਖੁ ਲਖੁ ਗੇੜਾ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਏਕੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਗਦੀਸ ॥ Lakh Lakh Gera Aakhyeah Ekh Naam Jugdees
And If (With These 20 Lakh Tongues) One Says the One Name of the Creator Lakhs of Times.
Note: These two verses are a commentary of EXISTING methods of “attaining The Creator”, namely chanting. Guru Nanak is providing a critique.
ਏਤੁ ਰਾਹਿ ਪਤਿ ਪਵੜੀਆ ਚੜੀਐ ਹੋਇ ਇਕੀਸ ॥ Eyt Rah Putt Pavreeah Chareeah Hoye Ekees
The Way to Becoming One with / Realizing The Creator Requires the Elevation (of One’s Mind, Conscience and Spirituality) Rung by Rung.
Note: This verse is a description of GURU NANAK’S WAY. The use of the word PAVREAH (rungs of a ladder) is in line with the flow of Jap Banee. The Banee is a pauree by pauree (rung by rung) flow chart for elevating one’s spirituality to attain The Creator.
ਸੁਣਿ ਗਲਾ ਆਕਾਸ ਕੀ ਕੀਟਾ ਆਈ ਰੀਸ ॥ Sun Gallan Akaas Kee Keeta Aiyee Rees
Upon Hearing the Narrative of Elevated Spirituality, Even The Pretentious Desire to Imitate It.
Note: Guru Nanak is putting the EXISTING methods of attaining The Creator (namely chanting of mantras) into perspective within the REAL method. Guru Ji calls its REES. The meaning of REES is “FAKE IMITATION”. Such can never be the real thing.
Also worth noting are the words AKAAS (the highest elevation) and Keeta (ground insects). There are those who SOAR in the AKAAS, and then there are those who walk the ground and can perhaps fly a few inches off the ground if they tried hard enough. Chanting is thus equated to a lowly insect attempting to imitate the soaring Falcon.
ਨਾਨਕ ਨਦਰੀ ਪਾਈਐ ਕੂੜੀ ਕੂੜੈ ਠੀਸ ॥ ੩੨ ॥ Nanak Nadree Payeah Kooree Korey Thees.
Nanak, the Realization of the Creator Within is Through the Grace of Enlightenment, the Imitated Ways of the Pretentious Are Devoid of Realization.
Note: This is the conclusion. Guru Nanak is saying the ultimate aim is to attain the blessings of enlightenment (which are in the Shabd). The 38 paurees (rungs) of Jap Banee are aimed at elevating the spirituality to be worthy of such blessings in the form of enlightenment. And for the OTHER method (chanting), Guru Nanak says KUREE KUREY THEES. It will remain nothing but a fake imitation, a pretentious emulation, a lie.
Bhai Gurdas Ji has an elaborate composition in the form of Kabit (a poetic measure) as follows:
ਖਾਂਡ ਖਾਂਡ ਕਹੈ ਜਿਹਬਾ ਨਾ ਸਵਾਦ ਮੀਠੋ ਆਵੈ, ਅਗਨ ਅਗਨ ਕਹੈ ਸੀਤ ਨਾ ਬਿਨਾਸ ਹੈ॥ Khand Khand Khey Jehba Na Swad Metho Avey, Agan Agan Kahey Seet Na Binas Hai.
Meaning: Repetitiously chanting / saying “sugar, sugar’” will not bring sweetness to one’s taste; chanting “fire, fire” will not take the cold away. He goes on to provide four more illustrations in the remainder of the composition – chanting “medicine” will not heal one, chanting “money” will not bring wealth, chanting “sandalwood” will not produce fragrance, and chanting “sun” will not produce light.
THE SECOND PROBLEM is that chanting Gurbani or any part of Gurbani makes that which is chanted as a mantar. Within the parameters of chanting, a mantar is a MEANS TO AN END. It is chanted to presumably bring about some desired effect. The truth or falsity of such a presumption notwithstanding, considering Gurbani as being a means to an end puts the end higher than the means and reduces Gurbani to the level of an instrument, tool and contraption – fit for chanting purposes only.
When Sikhs organize chanting sessions in Gurdwaras or their homes – chanting Dukh Bhjanjani Shabads, chanting Jup Banni from 6 am to 6pm, or even chanting non-Gurbani poetry such as Chaupai for 24 hours; the stated objective of each is to bring material gains and remove physical pains. Gurbani thus becomes a means to such gains. There can be no bigger misconception than to consider Gurbani as a means.
Guru Amardas ji is clear in his definition of Gurbani as an end in itself when he says on page 515 of the SGGS
ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁਬਾਣੀ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰ ਹੈ ਤਿਸੁ ਜੇਵਡੁ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥ Vah Vah banni Nirangkar Hai Tis Jevad Avar Na Koey.
Banni is the highest end – it is Creator-connecting – and there is nothing comparable to it. That nothing is higher than Gurbani is the message of the third Master here.
THE THIRD PROBLEM is that if chanting / repeatedly saying / singing of just one word, or a collection of words, or a mantar was the Gurmat way to the Creator, where then does one place the utility of 1429 pages, 5,887 Shabads and some 40,000 verses? Of what use is this immense, rich and vast reservoir of spirituality that we call the Guru Granth Sahib which the Gurus took great pains, sacrifices and time to provide for us?
VAHEGURU AND GURBANI
If the claim is that chanting Vaheguru is the essence of Sikhi, then what does one make of the fact that our Gurus never chanted at all. They certainly didn’t chant Vaheguru. How could they when they did NOT even USE the word Vaheguru even once in their banni? The SGGS contains the Bani of 6 Gurus, 15 Bhagats and 3 local Sikhs and NONE of them used the word Vaheguru even once – as seen from the table below.
Banee Author and Total Number of Shabads
Number of times “Vahgeguru” used
The Bhatts, who were 10 Sikhs from south India during the times of Guru Arjun, and whose banni appears in the final 20 pages of the SGGS (1389 – 1420) used the word Vah Guru in the presence of Guru Arjun to refer to the fifth Master and to call out to Guru Arjun. So to a Sikh the word Vah Guru would mean O Guru, O Wonderous Guru.
The Bhatts used the word “Vah Guru” a total of 16 times within these 20 pages. They also used “Sri Guru” 9 times, “Sat Guru” 25 times and “Guru Guru” 15 times. All of these terms are in praise of the Guru. How, when and why did Sikhs decide that “Vah Guru” alone was fit for chanting?
The fact remains that to the Bhatts, and hence to us Sikhs, “Vah Guru” means “wondrous Guru.”
Our Guru of course is the Shabad and the Wondrous-ness of the shabad is within its message. The content of shabad which is the message is the one that is Wondrous.
Where does chanting fit into this wonder? The message within a Shabd cannot be chanted. In fact, no message can be understood, accepted, believed, applied, inculcated, realized through chanting. One can never BECOME a virtue – any virtue – merely by chanting the virtue repeatedly.
It has to be said that if all that mattered was the chanting of one word or a collection of words (mantar), then the decision would have been so recorded in the SGGS and the Sikh Scripture could have been completed in just one or two pages.
The Bhatt compositions are not in chanting form and not meant to be chanted. The first Bhatt verse is:
ਸੇਵਕ ਕੈ ਭਰਪੂਰ ਜੁਗ ਜੁਗੁ ਵਾਹ ਗੁਰੂ ਤੇਰਾ ਸਭੁ ਸਦਕਾ Sewak Kay Bharpoor Jug Jug Vah Guru Tera Sab Sadka.
Meaning: The Disciple is Eternally (Jug Jug) Enlightened (Bharpur) Completely Due to You (Tera) O Wondrous Guru (Vah Guru)
The other verse is
ਸਤਿ ਸਾਚੁ ਸ੍ਰੀ ਨਿਵਾਸੁ ਆਦਿ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਸਦਾ ਤੁਹੀ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਵਾਹਿ ਜੀਉ ॥ Sat Sach Sri Niwas Aad Purakh Sda Tuhi Vahguru Vahguru Vaheguru Vahe Jio.
Meaning: The Master (Sri) Creator (Sat Sach) Primal Being (Aad Purakh) Resides (Nivas) Permanently Within You (Sda Tuhi) O Wondrous Guru, Wondrous Guru, Wondrous Guru, Wondrous Jio.
The use of the word “Vaheguru” three times is poetic. It is not indicative of chanting.
INSTITUTIONALIZING CHANTING IN SIKHI
Chanting becoming standard fare in our Gurdwara programs is just one of the aspects of institutionalizing this worthless activity.
Chanting has become so ingrained in our beliefs that we often see our clergy (an even lay people) walking around with rosaries as an open and intended display of their piety. The process of rosary spinning ਮਾਲਾ ਫੇਰਨਾ Mala Feyrna has been critiqued in Gurbani because it is a pretentious show of one’s piety and is driven by ego. Guru Nanak says of this display:
ਧੋਤੀ ਊਜਲ ਤਿਲਕੁ ਗਲਿ ਮਾਲਾ ॥ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਪੜਹਿ ਨਾਟ ਸਾਲਾ ॥ ਨਾਮੁ ਵਿਸਾਰਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਮਦੁ ਪੀਆ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ ਭਗਤਿ ਨਾਹੀ ਸੁਖੁ ਥੀਆ ॥ ੪ ॥
Dhoti Ujal Tilak Gal Mala. Antar Krodh Prreh Natt Sala. Nam Visar Maya Mud Piya. Bin Gur Bhagt Nahi Sukh Thia. 832
Meaning: Adorning religious attire, symbols and the rosary, reading scripture in place of worship (Natt Sala) is worthless given that (in so doing) one discards Divine Virtues and is engrossed in worldly matters. There is no bliss sans the devotion of the Guru (shabd).
Guru Arjun ji says
ਮਾਲਾ ਫੇਰੈ ਮੰਗੈ ਬਿਭੂਤ ॥ ਇਹ ਬਿਧਿ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਤਰਿਓ ਮੀਤ ॥ ੩ ॥ Mala Fayrey Mangey Bhibhoot. Eh Bidh Koey Na Tareyo Meet. 888
Meaning: Spinning the rosary and expecting a treasure (of divinity); none reach the spiritual destination this way.
ਮਾਥੇ ਤਿਲਕੁ ਹਥਿ ਮਾਲਾ ਬਾਨਾਂ ॥ ਲੋਗਨ ਰਾਮੁ ਖਿਲਉਨਾ ਜਾਨਾਂ ॥ ੧ ॥ Mathey Tilak Hath Mala Bana. Logan Ram Khilona Jana. 1158
Meaning: Wearing religious symbols and carrying a rosary in the hand; is to toy with the Creator.
We Sikhs are so disconnected from the messages of Gurbani that we have created fake photos of Guru Nanak and adorned the false image with rosaries in the Guru’s hands, over the head, and in the neck. Such photos are perhaps the creation of those who themselves wished to link to the pretenses pakhand of chanting and keeping count with the rosary.
JUP IS CHANTING?
A vast majority of main-stream Sikhs have equated chanting to the concept of Jup. This is perhaps the biggest spiritual blunder anyone can make.
The equating of chanting “ਰਟਨ” Rattun to Jup “ਜਪ” is not supported by Gurbani. Jup is REALIZATION. The ultimate objective of Sikh spirituality is to REALIZE the Creator Within us. This process is called Jup.
Jup as REALIZATION begins with contemplation – the application of the deepest levels of spiritual concentration to understand the inner messages of Gurbani. The equation begins with understanding the messages within the shabd. It flows into accepting the messages, believing them, putting them into practice, habitualizing the messages to the point of internalization and realizing them within our conscience to become Divine Virtues.
This whole process is called Jup in Gurbani.
The philosophical underpinning of what constitutes Jup is outlined in the preceding paragraph is contained in Guru Nanak’s richly philosophical banni titled Jup. The 38 paurees and two saloks of Jup together combine to tell us what Jup is within the Sikhi context.
Elsewhere, the SGGS defines the SUBJECT of Jup in succinct terms:
ਜਪਿ ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ॥ Jup Mum Merey Govind Kee Banni. (GGS 192)
namely that the Jup of the Sikh is the application of the mind to the BANEE of the Guru. This means that Jup for the Sikh is to contemplate the ENTIRETY of the Shabd Guru towards Realization of its messages. The MESSAGES within banni are the SUBJECT of our Jup.
Jup is therefore certainly NOT the repetitious chanting of one word, one mantar or one whole shabd. It is not the chanting of the entire SGGS even.
There are those who have taken the meaning of Jup to levels low and beyond logic. They have mis-understood the title of Guru Nanak’s banee Jup to mean – Jupo Jee – “come let’s chant jee”. They thus repetitiously chant the OPENING composition of the SGGS namely Ek Oankgar, Satnam, Karta Purakh, Nirbhau, Nirvair, Akaal Moorat, Ajooni Saibhang, Gurparsaad. The reality is that this opening composition is NOT part of Jup banni.
Others chant the opining composition together with the first salok of Jup namely Aad Sach Jogaad Sach, Hai Bhee Sach, Nanak Hosee Bhee Sach. They have assigned a self-concocted term for these verses – Mool Mantar. Nowhere in the vicinity of the OPENING composition does the words “mool mantar” appear. In fact, these words do not appear together even once in the entire SGGS.
The sum total of these errors is the erroneous conclusion that the word “Jup” is a command by Guru Nanak for the Sikh to chant these verses.
The fact is that the word “Jup” ਜਪੁ appears with an aungkar to the ਪ in the banni. This means it is a singular noun (and NOT a verb or command) and denotes the title of the banni we call Jup – ji.
Mantars are meant to be chanted. That is perhaps the underlying reason why the term Mantar is added to these verses.
It may appear that there is nothing inherently wrong in using the term Mool Mantar as nomenclature for the OPENING verses (just as we have, on our own, named the final banni in the GGS as ਭੋਗਾਂ ਦੇ ਸਲੋਕ Bhogan Dey Salok).
Yet, it is wrong to allot a spiritual position (mool) and a ritualistic function (Mantar meant to be chanted) where none was intended by the author (Guru Nanak) of the verse concerned. As stated, the words “Mool” or “Mantar” or “Mool Mantar” do not appear anywhere within the vicinity of the above two verses.
In other words, the author of the OPENING composition and the first salok of Jup (Guru Nanak) did not regard them as ‘mantras” and did not term them as such. They also did not regard them as “mool” or root, because to do that would be to classify Gurbani verses in an order of importance. All of Gurbani within the 1430 pages – irrespective of the author – Guru or Bhagat or Sikh – is “mool”.
As if to prove their fixation with “mantars”, Sikhs have invented another non-Gurbani term namely “Gurmantar.” They quote a verse from Bhai Gurdas ji (Var 13) which reads:
ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੂ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਹੈ ਜਪ ਹਉਮੈਂ ਖੋਈ॥ Wahe Guru Guru Mantar Hai, Jup Haumai Khoee.
The correct interpretation of this verse is: O Wondrous Guru, You (Gur) are my Mantar, Knowing You /Contemplating on You (Jup) I have lost my ego.
The error happens when the words Guru and Mantar are combined to make it into one new word – Gurmantar or Gurumantar.
The other often quoted “verses” – in support of chanting Vaheguru – read as follows:
ਸਾਰ ਮੰਤਰ ਚਾਰੌ ਕਾ ਚਾਰ। ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਮੰਤਰ ਨਿਰਧਾਰ॥ ਕਲਪ ਕਲਪ ਪ੍ਰਤ ਅਖਛਰ ਕਹੀ। ਸਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਪਾਯੋ ਸਹੀ।
Sar Mantar Charon Ka Char. Veheguru Mantar Nirdhar. Kalap Kalap Prat Akchar Kahi. Sri Guru Nanak Japayeo Sahi.
The translation: The right mantar for the four ages. Vaheguru mantar is the savior. Contemplation upon contemplations resulted in the putting together of its alphabets. Guru Nanak caused it to be rightly chanted.
There are two points worth considering here. Firstly, these “verses” are NOT Gurbani. They do NOT exist within the Guru Granth. They are taken from a contentious granth whose authorship is both suspicious and unknown. The name of which is Sarab Loh Granth – literally, the Complete Iron Granth).
Since the message of these verses contradict the messages of Gurbani, they need to be disregarded.
Secondly, as pointed out above Guru Nanak did NOT use the word “Vaheguru” even once in his entire banni. So how could he have “caused it to be chanted” if he himself never even used it.
Then there is the matter of the “techniques” – all of which have been critiqued by Gurbani as ritualistic and pretentious pakhand. Unfortunately, some Sikhs have become entangled in these techniques as the end-all of Sikhi.
It never fails to surprise the average intellect that while we perform all other important things with our eyes open, the most important aspect of spirituality – Simran– is to done with the eyes shut and the lights off. It is chanting that requires these pre-requisites – not Simran. But Gurbani says on page 1420 of the SGGS:
ਨਾਇ ਸੁਣਿਐ ਘਟਿ ਚਾਨਣਾ ਆਨੇਰੁ ਗਵਾਵੈ ॥ Naye Suniey Ghat Chananna Anher Gavavey.
Meaning that the Naam is such an illumination, that listening to it dispels inner darkness.
Why then do we put the condition of outer darkness in our spiritual activity of Naam Simran in the name of chanting? It is because we have distorted the meanings and understanding of the concepts of Jup and Naam Simran.
UNDERSTANDING NAM SIMRAN IN GURBANI
What then is Naam Simran in essence? To begin with, it is a spiritual process. A process thus has a starting point and an end goal. In between both, there will be a number of smaller processes.
Let’s refer to some verses from Gurbani. The fifth Guru says on page 803 of the SGGS:
ਸਿਮਰਿ ਮਨਾ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮੁ ਚਿਤਾਰੇ ॥ Simar Mna Ram Nam Chitarey
The first point therefore is that Simran is the process of applying the mind to the remembrance of the Creator by contemplation of His virtues. The term Simar Mna – is worth pondering over. It is to be done by the mind.
There is a myriad of ways in which the Creator can be remembered and contemplated upon. Talking about Him, listening to someone talk about Him, reading about Him, discussing Him are all acts of Simran. This essay, because it is discussing Him – is Simran both in the act of writing and reading. Needless to say, both activities are done with the eyes open and lights switched on.
The second point concerns concentration – what or where to place one’s mind ਧਿਆਨ Dhyaan or focus while performing Simran. Because Simran in Sikhi is banni based, and every single verse of Gurbani contains deep meaning, the understanding of which requires full concentration, the mind has to focus on the Gurbani MESSAGES within the Shabd themselves and not some external object.
The SGGS has a verse on page 296 :
ਗੁਣ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਨਾਮ ਧੁਨਿ ਬਾਣੀ ॥ Gunn Gobind Nam Dhun Banni.
Meaning Naam are the virtues of the Creator and these virtues are found within the listening and understanding of the messages (ਧੁਨਿ, Dhun) of Gurbani.
The third point therefore is that the basis of Naam Simran in Sikhi is Gurbani that is contained within the 1429 pages.
From the above discussion it can be surmised that the basis of Naam Simran of a Sikh is Gurbani; or more precisely, the MESSAGES of Gurbani. Simran entails reading / listening to or singing Gurbani, researching the meanings of Gurbani, understanding the messages of Gurbani, discussing and sharing Gurbani messages within the family and circle of friends, contemplating on the messages of Gurbani, putting the messages into daily existence, internalizing the values within Gurbani.
Equating Naam Simran to chanting, labeling it meditation and touting the “benefits” of such chanting is to miss the point of the spirituality of Sikh Simran altogether. “I feel peaceful, rested, relaxed, tension free etc” are some of the benefits that one hears about from the practitioners of chanting Satnam or Vaheguru or the Mool Mantar.
These (and many other) are physical benefits that can come about from chanting just about anything or any word or even nothing, meditating on something or nothing at all. The benefits are the results of reduced brain activity, reduced muscle tensions and slowed breathing that accompany chanting. Repeating the same thing over and over requires little or no mental effort hence the relaxation. Yet these are physical activities with purely physical benefits. Most importantly, they are not the intended benefits of Gurbani.
Sikh Simran is a spiritual activity of a higher realm all together. The benefits of Naam Simran are of the highest order – to be Guru-like and The Creator-like.
SIMRAN IS GURBANI CENTRED
Sikhi is a journey which is Gurbani- centered. Sikh Simran is similarly Gurbani-centered. Gurbani is the soul of Sikhi. The third Guru says on page 982 of the SGGS :
ਬਾਣੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੂ ਹੈ ਬਾਣੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਬਾਣੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਸਾਰੇ ॥ Banni Guru Guru Hai Banni Vich Banni Amrit Sarey.
All (Sarey) spiritual outcomes are encapsulated within banni. Everything that is Sikhi is within Gurbani. Nothing that is of concern to Sikhi is left out.
The Creator of Sikhi is also within Gurbani; as contained on page 516 of the SGGS:
ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਬਾਣੀ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰ ਹੈ ਤਿਸੁ ਜੇਵਡੁ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥ Vah Vah Banni Nirangkar Hai Tis Jevad Avar Na Koey
The mantar of Sikhi is Gurbani too, as versed on page 562 of the SGGS:
ਸਚੁ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਤੁਮਾਰਾ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਬਾਣੀ ॥ Sach Mantar Tumara Amrit Banni
and again on page 1208:
ਬਾਣੀ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਮਹਾ ਪੁਰਖਨ ਕੀ ਮਨਹਿ ਉਤਾਰਨ ਮਾਂਨ ਕਉ ॥ ਖੋਜਿ ਲਹਿਓ ਨਾਨਕ ਸੁਖ ਥਾਨਾਂ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮਾ ਬਿਸ੍ਰਾਮ ਕਉ ॥ Banni Mantar Mha Purkan Ke Maney Utaran Maan Ko. Khoj Laheyo Nanak Sukh Thana Har Nama Bisram Kao
Meaning: The mantar of elevated spiritual being is banni that is internalized within their minds.
It is clear that the word “mantar” in both verses above refers to “spiritual messages and advice” contained within banni and not to something that needs chanting.
The Jup of a Sikh is to realize the messages within Gurbani, as versed on page 192 of the SGGS:
ਜਪਿ ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ॥ Jup Mun Merey Govind Ki Banni
Meaning: Realize O Mind of mine, the Banni pertaining to the Creator.
If the meaning of Jup is taken as “chanting” for the purposes of this verse; its meaning would be a distorted and impractical one” Chant, my mind, the Banni pertaining to the Creator. How could one’s mind “chant”? and how could one chant 1429 pages of banni that is all composed pertaining to the Creator?
It thus simply can’t be that Sikh Simran be anything other than Gurbani or outside of Gurbani. And because Gurbani is spiritual, the benefits of Naam Simran are also spiritual.
STEPPING OUTSIDE THE SGGS
It would be an irony of ironies to look for the definition, techniques and methods of Naam Simran outside of Gurbani. Yet the irony is prevalent. One such ironical occasion witnessed by the author is worth narrating given that it became the inspiration for this essay (when it was first written in 2013).
An acclaimed Ragi Jatha was given an hour to perform Gurbani Kirtan in a local Gurdwara. They rendered 4 shabads in the most beautiful melodies, appropriate raags and intricate taals complete with parmaans (illustrations) from the SGGS. They completed the final Shabad just when there were 3 -4 minutes left and proceeded to announce to the sangat “Sadh sangat we have 3-4 minutes left NOW let’s do some simran”.
They then proceeded to chant Vaheguru Vaheguru, inviting the sangat to join their chanting. If this is indeed Simran, then how do we describe what they did for the 57 minutes where they sang Gurbani?
When I pointed out to them privately later that the REAL SIMRAN was within the 57 minutes of their Kirtan and not the final 3-4 which was ਰਟਨ Rattun or chanting, their response was feeble, shabby and pathetic: that is how the sangat understands simran, the sangat wants it that way, it pleases the sangat, so we deliver what the sangat wants etc.
I proceeded to ask if it was too much effort on their part to ask if that was how Gurbani explained simran, how the Gurus wanted Simran to be, and if the chanting pleased the Guru. Their final response was: that is how they had been doing it all along.
My final response is that if spiritual beings are going to keep doing what they have been doing all along, there would be no need for our Gurus, their Gurbani and Sikhi even. We could have just keep doing what people were doing for 1496 years. Irony has to have its limits.
This is a revised and re-written version of an article that appeared under the same title in 2013 – Editor.