Japji Sahib-The Sikh Prayers
Japji Sahib contains the whole essence of Sikh philosophy. It contains the basic teachings of Guru Nanak. For these reasons it occupies the opening place in the Guru Granth Sahib. It is a treasury of secular and spiritual wisdom and deserves detailed study. It is difficult to say precisely when it was written. According to Puratan Janama-sakhi, it was stated by Guru Nanak, soon after his Divine revelation and benediction. Macauliffe’ however felt that it was the mature work of Guru Nanak, in advanced age, after he had settled at Kartarpur in 1521. Other biographers believe that the verses were written by the Guru at different times and later collected together as a basic prayer, for the benefit of his followers. Japji is written in the sutra or mantra form, like the ancient Indian sacred texts and contains concentrated thought expressed in the minimum words. It Is this economy of words and brevity of expression which distinguish this composition from all others. The expressions used are both pertinent and pithy.
The whole prayer concerns itself with the problems of ordinary. Its theme covers a suggested course of training for an average family-man that would enable him to attain spiritual perfection. It does recommend passive contemplation or living an isolated life. It favours man’s participation in the affairs of the world, combined with an integration of wisdom and selfless activity. In the very first verse, Guru Nanak states its whole theme in question form:
How can one be a man of The Truth? How can one break down the wall of falsehood? He supplies the answer very briefly in the following line. The goal is to elevate ordinary people to the mystic vision of God. Prof. Seshadri explains it thus: The quest is inward and the goal, God-realisation! The sacred shrine is within the heart of man, but the essential precondition for the success of man’s earthly pilgrimage is to overcome his own Ego. Hence the need for Dharma and the discipline of morality.’ There is a constant inner urge of the human soul for Oneness with God, for every person has a Divine Spark within himself.
Japji describes the basic concepts of Sikhism: Firstly, Bhakti or Simran (devotional worship) is given as the best way to God realisation. The best time for devotional prayer or meditation is during the ambrosial hours-about dawn. Secondly Hukam-Divine Law or Will-that which controls and governs the universe, sometimes also thought of as Cosmic Law. This law brings grace as the fruit of good action, and divine retribution as that for bad action. Man’s effort to live a holy and virtuous life may be rewarded by a divine grace which may lead to his salvation. Grace does not come merely by doing good deeds. Devotion and the singing of God’s Name and His praises are also essentials for deserving this grace or blessing. Thirdly the concept of the Creation, which the Guru explains, is the result of God’s command or word (and the world came into being instantly). No one knows the expanse of the Lord’s creation. There are millions of lower and upper worlds. The infinity of the creation and manifestation, is beyond count or measure. Finally, Guru Nanak describes the five planes of spiritual progress by which man may come to God’s abode-in the realm of the Eternal. The last Verse (Salok) of Japji is repeated by Guru Angad in his Manjh-ki-var on page 146 of the Guru Granth Sahib.
The overall excellence of the Japji is not structural or literary, nor is it the step-by-step progression of an argument for a planned thesis. Its unity is obtained by its consistent drive toward a basic vision or goal. Its stanzas are clustered in groups which then lead to unity of idea. The groups of stanzas deal with one topic at a time, for example, Listening to the Holy Name (Suniyai) in stanzas 8 to 11, Faith in the Holy Nams (Mannei) in 12 to 15, the discipline of Yoga in 28 to 31, or the steps of spiritual ascent (Khands) in stanzas 34 to 37. However each stanza varies in its number of lines and rhymes. Such variations are necessary in order to break up uniformity and regulate the flow of thought and rhythm.
Consider the message of the Japji by taking the clusters of verses serially. Examine how these leads to total achievement of their goal. In the Mool-mantra (the introduction) we are told of the qualities of God. This is the basic corner-stone of the Sikh Religious Path. Then, in the first verse, the Guru rejects all the traditional methods of spiritual uplift which
on ritual purity, silence, fasting, speculation and worldly wisdom. pith to spiritual liberation is by obeying God’s Divine Will as expressed by one’s conscience. Verses 2 and 3 deal with the glory of ‘sWill: how each individual has his own way to express his wonder admiration. Many people however, fail to recognise His glory gh their own limitations.
Verses 4 to 7speak of God’s Love and Grace which are infinite and eternal. How can we win God’s love? The Guru says that best way to earn is to contemplate His greatness, in the calm and tranquillity of early dawn Praising God through singing and reflecting on His excellences, trying constantly to live in His presence are also methods suggested for communion with Him. God is not found in idols, temples or places of pilgrimage or by performing sacramental rites, but by one’s own love and surrender to Him, at all times, every where.
Verses 8 to 11 deal with the attentive listening and the contemplation of holy books on spiritual lore. The understanding of holy teaching brings honour and joy to all seekers of The Truth.
Verses 12 to 15 emphasise the importance of faith and total acceptance, of the Guru’s message and of Divine Will. This is the process of confirmation and conviction in the Guru’s teaching. Through reflection on the Holy Word, people establish also preference for the inner peace and joy which it brings.
Verse 16 deals with the stage of spiritual uplift, namely Dhian or Nidhayasan or concentrated contemplation, through which the disciple may discern or learn the true significance of things and find inner enlightenment. He may begin to understand the basis of God’s creation; to comprehend the laws of social harmony which are based on every one doing his duty and not interfering with the work of others. A good social order brings righteousness supplemented by compassion. How ‘Enlightened persons,’ are able to express God’s powers!
The next three verses (17 to 19) deal with the variety of God’s creation; some people become good and wise, others bad and foolish. Some people ask: ‘Why has God, who Himself is good and compassionate created evil?’ The Guru answers that that is part of His divine play-Lila. There is a need for a ‘Villain’, who will try to corrupt people. Only such a challenge can bring out the virtue and courage, latent in all people.
In verse 20, the Guru explains how God’s Name-The Holy Spirit, the perfect Purifier-alone, can cleanse man’s heart. Man’s sin causes a corruption of the heart which can only be washed clean, by His Love and Grace.
In verses 21 to 25, Guru Nanak tells us that God’s Creation is Infinite. That no one could ever praise it enough. Whatever little we came to know or adore it is only His Grace which reveals it to us. We are all subject to the same human limitations as such we cannot of ourselves come to know the lnfinite. Hei s the only Giver; He gives to us, even before we make any demand. All must be grateful to Him for His Generosity.
In verse 26, we are told that God’s Glory excels all things. He is beyond comprehension and words. He is inexpressible. Where is His Mansion from where He watches and controls the universe? The solar systems and galaxies, all sustained by Him in harmony, glorify Him in their Universal Harmony. Our happiness comes from the acceptance of His Will-whether in joy or grief.
In verses 28 to 31, we are told about ‘True’ Yoga, which itself is beyond physical appearance and symbols; it combines the sublime qualities of contentment, spiritual effort, contemplation, chastity and faith. Self-conquest is the highest of man’s achievements. As ‘The’ Lord’s agents~all other gods and goddesses of human origin, all work under His Will. He dwells in all the worlds and creations. All those who share in His work, adore Him because they find earthly bliss as they work for Him.
In verses 32 and 33, the Guru declares that Al! Power is His: He is just and true. Any disciple who utters His Name in sincerity and devotion at every opportunity gently ascends the stairs that lead to His Mansion. Enlightenment comes not through endeavour, but only through His Grace.
Verses 34 to 37 are important, because they deal with the stages of spiritual progress. The first stage is called the Realm of Duty (DharamKhEznd). The world is regarded as an inn-Dharamsal-where man has a temporary stay. As the world is only one stage in man’s spiritual journey, he should react to it dispassionately, in a spirit of detachment. Human birth provides the opportunity for man to fulfil his social, moral and spiritual duties. He has to work with his family and others.-all temporary links, which make up this environment. Think of the many types of persons whose names and temeraments are quite different, but each unique in his own way. The Guru’s disciple must be courteous and polite to all. Secondly, the world is governed by the law of Karma, where every action produces consequences. Actions done repeatedly, form habits, and habits form charecter. So beware of your actions for they affect you as well as others; be tolerant and fair to all. ‘Remember that the relatives for whose sustenance and welfare, you may commit selfish or evil deeds, will not be there to share your ultimate punishment with you.
We shall be judged according to our actions;
The Lord is True; His court is Just
In His Court, the good will be separated from the bad. (34)
The second stage of one’s spiritual ascent leads to the Realm of Knowledge (Gian-Khand). For this, all seekers have to learn of the extent, variety and depth of God’s creation. God has not only created the world in which we live, but also numerous other solar systems and beings. Sir James Jeans, the great physicist, has mentioned that just as it is impossible L to Count the number of plants and trees in our world, it is equally
impossible to count God’s worlds and His animate and inanimate creations. There are as many other earths and stars as there are different kinds of water, air, fire, and beings and different capacities and qualities.
Apart form a basic knowledge of the arts and sciences of this world, there is also higher knowledge,-para-vidya,-of various cultures, philosophies, religions and mystic traditions. This higher knowledge is obtained through reflection and intuition. It opens up fresh vistas of wonder and of new approach to Divinity. It is only when man realises his own ignorance and insignificance that he can lose his self-conceit and narrow-mindedness, only then he can start to appreciate the inter-dependence of secular and spiritual knowledge and the need for establishing harmony between the two. His new extending horizons fill him with joy and ecstasy, as he then realises how!
Many the Indras, Suns and Moons;
Many the stellar and earthly regions;
Many the Siddhas, Buddhas and Nathas;
Many the gods, demons and sages! (35)
He becomes thrilled by his new understanding of the glory and extent of God’s creation and begins to praise God’s vastness and infinitude.
The third stage concern the Realm of Effort (Saram-Khand). Some refer to it as the stage of righteous action or region of inward orientation. In fact after gaining the new knowledge of the second stage, the seekers become inspired to take further steps to make the life richer and nobler. They exercise increased self-control and actively cultivate moral virtue. Through their new found patience and perserverance, their mental power and emotional potentiality are redirected. They are able to direct their thoughts, desires and emotions towards spiritual advancement. This stage requires sustained endeavour on the part of all seekers to probe within themselves, to cast away their egocentricity and replace it with God-consciousness, to become a sort of a super-person whose comprehension, discernment, intuitive cognition and understanding are refined and perfected:
There is moulded in their now discerning mind a recognition and understanding.
Of the consciousness of gods and mystics! (36)
The fourth stage of spiritual progress is called, The Realm of Grace (Karam-Khand). Man’s spiritual efforts on their own end, without God’s grace cannot come to fruition. Heis always a seeker and a devotee whose hope is to receive ultimate recognition by the Lord:
Death or frustration can no longer affect those,
In whose hearts, dwells the All-pervading Lord! (37)
Only if he ever becomes graced by God’s approval could he become a Bhagat or Saint. In this realm exist the heroes who suffered martyrdom for worthy causes or died fighting on the battle field of life with God’s Name on their lips. They are rewarded by God’s blessing and are then beyond this world’s turmoil and tension.
Noble souls are fearless souls, full of power and grace; they show their love of God by working for the public good. They do not mind dying to protect others from tyranny and fanaticism. They are also delighted if they can guide the novice on to the spiritual path. They are constantly awake of the presence of the Lord within themselves
The ultimate stage is of the Realm of Truth (Sach-Khand), where God is always present. Sach-Khand is not a region. It is a state of mind in which the seeker and God are now linked.
In the Realm of Truth,abides the Formless one.
He watches over all he has created with bounteous eyes! (37)
Here God and His devotee are joined in harmony, like melody and rhythm. This is The State of Achievement, with all its splendour and bliss.The devotee now becomes the Saint, in tune with Infinite. It should be realised that this stage of bliss is attainable during one’s ordinary life. The stages need not be sequential. They may be simultaneous. They occur when seeker, while living in the world and doing his daily chores, gains this higher spiritual knowledge and then so disciplines himself that he wins Divine favour and becomes graced by God.
Verse 38 summerises all five stages and additionally examples the achievement of the seeker, to the minting of a gold coin. The process of smelting, refining, moulding and stamping is vividly brought out. In a factory of self-control, where patience the gold-smith beats out the golden ore of life on an anvil of understanding with a hammer of wisdom, the gold then purified, of by the fire of austerity, blown by the bellows of discipline, thereafter the molten gold is pounded in the crucible of love, and cast in the mould of immortality. In this way the gold coin is finally stamped with the Guru’s Name, in the True Mint. This is the way God favours those who win His grace and so come to supreme bliss. This
transformation of human clay into gold in not within man’s choice. Only those who completely surrender to His Will are given the chance to be moulded in this Mint of Truth.
If you wish to play the game of love with me, Then enter into my Path in humility and
With your head held in your hands. (AG, )
In the Salok (epilogue) Guru Nanak stresses, the performance
of good actions, for they are essential to spiritual uplift. Only by altruistic actions coupled with the remembrance of the Holy Name can one hope to win Divine Grace. Our life gives us opportunity. We either do our best to achieve the goal or fritter it away in useless pursuits, this is our own choice. It is possible for people to attain their goal in this life or the next.
Those who reach their goal are like pole-stars which give light and direction to those who still live in the world’s darkness. Such torch-bearers, inspire many others to cross the ocean of life successfully.
The message in Japji has inspired many seekers of The Truth. The late Prof. Puran Singh was spiritually awakened through the recitation and message of the Japji. He wrote: Japji has in it the inimitable rhythm of life, in Nature; it encourages man to flow as a fountain of the milk of human kindness. Japji is a text for the art of living in unison with Nature and with God Nature. Those who carry the likeness of God within them, dwell in their inmost circle of the family that is Nature. Is it not crude to speak of ‘one’s own family’ and not to be of all families? What is the court-yard which knows not the moon or the mountains within its small expanse? It Is miserable to be small. I wonder we do not suffocate in ~nenta1 misery because of our ignorant exclusiveness. But by its rhythm, Japji lifts us to great heights. We clasp the stars in one hand and the roots of life in another. In its vision swing many universes. In its sound,live many beatitiful gods and goddesses. In its movement there is the thrill of the silvered steps of the myriad dancers in the sky. In its repetition is the assonance of the choir heavenly and the companionship of liberated souls. It teaches no philosophy, but imparts the spark of life. Be it true or false, in its chant is the secret of the future esoteric religion of all mankind.
Excerpts taken from: A Book of Sikh Studies: Dr. Gobind Singh Mansukhani 1989