Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Gateway to Sikhism

BENI, BHAGAT is one of the fifteen saints and sufis some of whose compositions have been incorporated in the Guru Granth Sãhib. Very little is known about his personal life except that he spent most of his time in prayer and contemplation. Nabhãji ‘s Bhagatmãl, which includes him in its roster of well-known bhaktas or devotees, narrates a popular anecdote about how Beni absorbed in meditation often neglected the household needs and how the Deity himself intervened and physically appeared to help him. Bhãi Gurdãs ( Vãrãñ, X. 14) has referred to Beni’s single-pointed meditation in solitude en­riched by moments of spiritual edification.

Beni’s three hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib are marked by an intense spiritual longing. They also indicate the various paths tried by him in his quest, his practical expe­rience of life and his mastery of religious lore of diverse traditions. His five-stanza Iabda in Sri Raga, in terse and elliptical form, traces the gradual spiritual degeneration of man from the time of his birth to the end. It so closely resembles Guru Nãnak’s Pahire hymns in the same rãga that Guru Arjan, when compiling the Holy Book, recorded the instruction that Beni’s hymn be sung in the same tune as Pahire. In his hymn in Rãga Rãmkali, Beni, using allegorical expressions of the yogis, dwells upon the gradual process leading to the highest spiritual knowledge which is also the ultimate bliss. This hymn, too, has close similarity with several of Guru Nãnak’s verses in the same measure. It reveals Beni’s knowledge of the practices and terminology of hatha yoga as well as his rejection of them in favour of the cultivation of the Divine Name. In the hymn in Rãga Prabhãti, Beni censures in the general tone of the Gurus’ bani the hypocrisy of the Brãhman who practises outward piety while harbouring evil in the heart. He adds in conclusion that without the true Guru’s instruction way to liberation will not be found.

The devotee Beni chants Guru Nanak's merit who in serenity spiritual bliss enjoys.

Nothing is known about the exact date and place of birth of Bhagat Beni. According to some scholars, he was born in Asani, but nothing is known about the exact location of this village or town. Inspite of all this uncertainty, he can be called a contemporary of Guru Nanak. It seems that Beni lived in this world somewhere between mid-15th century to the mid-16th century. He was a well educated scholar, with a very humble temperament. He was ever ready to serve the true preceptor which provided him real comfort:

Beloved! other than Thee none else have I.
Nothing else do I love;
in Thy grace lies my joy. SGGS-61

Bhagat Beni makes a severe denunciation of the Brahmanical rituals and austerities of Hath Yoga' so that common man learns of the real motive of true religion i.e. cultivation of the Divine Name. He has three hymns on this subject included in the Guru Granth Sahib under Siri Raag (P.93), Rarnkali (974) and Prabhati (1351) musical measures. In these hymns he has severely denounced in an apt and cryptic tone the ritual formalism and advised us to ever remember the True Lord. In his hymn in Ramkali measure, beginning with "The passage ira, Pingala and Sukhmana, all in one place, at the tenth Door abide" says:

The Master's teaching in mind he bears,
His mind and body to the Lord's devotion dedicating.
By the enlightenment by the Master granted, are crushed demons of evil.
Lord! Beni for devotion to
Thy Name supplicates. SGGS-974

This shows that he, who is fully absorbed in the Divine Name, has got rid of his sleep. He who has to overcome his five senses, must love the Lord's Name. The nine doors open only to develop love for and attachment with this manifest world. However, the tenth door is mystical through which one develops unity with God. A proper use of this saves man from failing to the trap of maya. As such, his life is not wasted, and he remains united to his object. The Divine Light kindles within him the four-pronged lamp, a musical measure which comprises of five instruments begins to play in his mind. Thus, in this hymn, Bhagat Beni lays emphasis on discarding ritualism and on developing unity with the Lord through the feeling of devotion. On an analysis of the language of this hymn, some scholars opine that Beni has denounced 'the limbs smeared with sandalwood paste and tulsi leaves placed on the forehead yet the heart be like one holding knife in hand (SGGS 1351). Thus, this hymn is said to stand in binary opposition to the Sikh precepts, but the fact is that he makes a categorical statement that the state of mystical unity with the Lord includes the fruits of Yoga practices and pilgrimages.
The hymn included under Prabhati measure paints a true picture of a man caught in a life of rituals and sham. Beni says: " You besmear your body with sandalwood paste and put tulsi leaves on your forehead, but in the hand of your heart you have a sharp dagger. How deceitful you are! still you pretend to have your consciousness fixed on the Lord. You are a prey to agnosticism. In your heart of hearts you have been conspiring either to kill someone or to usurp the property of the other. You dance before your deity so as to please it, but your mind is ever full of wicked designs. Thus, all that you are doing is futile because you are by nature wicked, immoral and impious. No doubt, you wear a rosary of tulsi-beads, a pastemark on your forehead, but all this is a sham because you have not purified yourself from within. Thus all your actions are futile, deceitful and full of wastage, How can the Lord be pleased with such action? What is acceptable to Him is the prayer offered in a humble and devout manner. Therefore the seeker must make a note that:

Whoever the essence of the self
has not contemplated,
All his action are hollow, blind.
Saith Beni : Let man by the Master's guidance
On the Lord meditate.
None without the holy Preceptor
finds the path. SGGS-1351

Guru Arjan Dev has also said that Bhagat Beni attained enlightenment only through the Holy Word.
Bhai Gurdas has also referred to the life of Bhagat Beni in the 14th stanza of his tenth Var. Therein he says that Beni was so close to the Lord that the latter Himself took the form of a king and fulfilled all his material needs

(The Lord) protects honour of the devotee
and calls on him as a king.
He provides him all solace
and takes care of his expenses ......
He came down from there to the devotee
and showed his benevolent love.
Thus He makes devotees ford Him.

From the above it appears that Bhagat Beni had completely coalesced himself with the Lord. Bhagats generally have in a way, put the Lord under their spell :

Thou to Thy devotees art compliant-
The devotees from Thee have strength SGGS-962

As we have not been able to locate the exact date, year of Beni's birth we have also failed to ascertain the date/Year and place of his death. However, it remains an accepted fact that he has through his pious and enlightened utterances, set new paths for a devotee to realize the spiritual essence.

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The etymology of the term 'gurdwara' is from the words 'Gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'Dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the Guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.
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