Guru Nanak’s Concept of Sahaj
The concept of Sahaj is central and pivotal inGuru Nanak’s mystical thought. It relates to the highest spiritual state humanly attainable and has thus deepest connotations attached to it. Though outcome of a most advanced and recondite experience within the innermost sanctuary of the soul, the ordinary meaning of Sahaj is ‘just what it should be’ or ‘just normal’. In other words, a simple human proposition, thata man should become a man par excellence; a real man; no adhesions, no defaults, no accretions, no deviations. But this paradoxical word Sahaj does not go with mere ‘saying’ orverbal expression. It is an actuality, a real human state, a tangible, workable human achievement. Bearing in mind the baffling nature of this term, it can safely be said that the concept of Sahaj belongs to the realm of ‘Esoteric-mysticism’, in as much as the meaning of Sahaj is invariably associated with its manifestative aspect or its expressive quality which, in figurative terms, we call Anhad Sabad. Thus both the mystical content and its configuration are essentially linked together in our ubiquitous reality.
It is only the experienced who can apprehendthese two unitive states within his soul, without
being able to express them because these are entirely ineffable realizations. Guru Nanak himself, having experienced directly the blissful union with God and the concomitant divine manifestations attending such Beatitude, has mystically expressed these visions in symbolical language, incorporating and using esoteric terms already current in Bedanta or Yoga mysticism and in higher Buddhism, investing them with new meanings. As Niharranjan Ray says: ".in whichever manner one seeks to describe the Sahaj experience, its real nature must elude understanding in humanly communicable language. The articulation of an experience which was essentially a mystical one and hence, according to Guru Nanak himself, was incapable of being translated in communicable terms, was indeed beyond human expression, had necessarily to be in traditional mystical terms made current and somewhat understandable by his predecessors belonging to various mystic orders of sants and sadhus, and in well-known traditional symbols and images that had some meaning, however vague and generalized, to those whom his words were addressed to." In order to consider the concept of Sahaj in its mystical connotation, it would be useful first to study its etymological meaning. Sahaj is originally a Sanskrit word which means ‘having been born together’ (just as human ‘twins’) and thus something inwardly perceived or intuited along with one’s birth as a human being – a sort of indwelling mystical principle of divine perception given to man as his birthright and therefore, a natural and effortless heritage of divinity ingrained in humanity. Properly speaking, Sahaj is the very ‘mysticality’ (to use a new term) of religion. It is the acceptance of inwardness and ‘intuitionism’ as the true basis of religion, to the negation of all ritualistic externalities. In Guru Nanak’s thought, Sahaj comes to imply the acceptance of Hukam as the first cardinal principle of Sikhism. Sahaj in this meaning would be the mystical state of a man who has accepted the divine will (Hukam, Bhana, Raza). Sahaj, thus, is the highest spiritual state attainable in Sikhism. It is the highest bliss. Another writer on Guru Nanak defining Sahaj says: "The word ‘Sahaj’ means natural fulfilment. Just as vegetables cooked over a slow fire retain their flavour, in the same way gradual and voluntary discipline of the mind and body will bring out the essential goodness inherent in the individual." In the meaning expressed above Sahaj connotes a natural slowness and steadiness required for perfect action. Haste makes waste, has been truly said, Sahaj is the opposite of inordinate haste. Sahaj is compactness and self -sufficiency, while haste is flippancy and inner weakness. A sure man is the ‘poised’ man. In this anthropomorphic sense (as distinct from the mystical one, discussed earlier), Sahaj would mean equipoise, equanimity and equilibrium. It may be called "balanced perspicacity" or sambuddhata, in the psychological sense. All true balance and true actions (which may be called Sahaj-karam, as distinct from the self-willed actions) engender aesthetic as well as spiritual pleasure, while spiritual fulfilment produces infinite bliss. Sahaj which is "the state of enlightenment.achieved through self-discipline" has been generally accepted to be "the ultimate goal
which is the religious and spiritual disciplinelaid down by Guru Nanak was supposed to leadto." Hence this term has been used to denote the ineffable union with God. Various expressions have been current as synonymous with Sahaj, such as Sunn-samadh, turia-avastha, chautha pad, amar pad, param pad, maha-sukh, param anand, dasam duar, Anhad and, sach Khand, jiwan-mukti and so on. The term sahaj samadh has also been used by Kabir and the Sikh Gurus.All this terminology connected with Sahaj was commonly used by all the Nirgun-Sampradaya saints, Kabir, Namdev, Dadu, and others, along with Guru Nanak, having borrowed it from the Sahajayani Buddhists (who in their turn inherited it from the Mahayana-vajr ayana Buddhist tradition) and also from Tantrie Hathayoga and the Nathpanthi-Kanphata Yogis with whom Guru Nanak came into direct and close contact. TheSahajiya Vaishnavas and Bauls of Bengal also adopted this esoteric terminology. The patent meaning of Sahaj has been the abnegation of duality and the perception of unityin God as well as the creation. Devoidness, isalso the primordial state of the Nirgun BrahmHimself. Mohan Dingh Uberoi describes theSikh Sahaja Yoga as "unification with Selfthrough cultivation of a state of natural, easySelf-Hold, Self-Rest." Again: "Sunn is a state inwhich there is no movement, in the receptacle,of any type, no sound, no wind, no object orobjectivity, the subject God, is there as thecontainer, the presence."
Guru Nanak has copiously used esoteric termsand expressions such as sunn, shiv-shakti,trikuti, unman, sas-ghar-sur, bajar-kapat, ira-pingla-sukhmana, ajapa-jap, dasamduar,dhundhukar-niralam, sache amerapur, sachinagari, bij-mandar, sunn kala, satsar, panch-sabad, akul niranjan, purakh-arit, gagnantar dhanakh, sunn-samadh, bis-ikis, dubmue-vinpani, surat-dhun, nijghar, guptibani, anhat sunnand surat-sabad in all his compositions, specially in Ragas, Ramkali and Maru. These are purely mystical terms common to all Indian religions. As Nirharranjan Ray observes, Guru Nanak’suse of these tantric and yogic terms does not logically follow that he actually practised or inculcated their practice among his followers, since he has used them only as figures of speech or technical esoteric terms which were current and handy for use and were generally understood among advanced mystical orders of his time. He had actually many discussions during his travels and at Kartarpur with Yogis, Sadhus and ascetics of various mystical cults and denominations. Guru Nanak, in fact, had his own mystical message to convey to humanity and it was original with him and had no conceptual reference to the mystical philosophies of saivites, vaishnavites, yogies and even to Kabir, Dadu, Namdev and others, though many of them were accepted as allied co-mystics and their compositions included in the Adi-Granth more with a view to illustration and elaboration than to identification and syncretism.
The achievement of Sahaj-avastha in the form of maha-sukha or jiwan-mukti which was the ultimate goal of all the mystical cults using esoteric terms concurrently during Guru Nanak’s times, was to Guru Nanak a matter of inner discipline and direct experiential contact with divine Reality. Mere esoteric niceties or intricacies, specially ofTantric Yoga were quite alien to his mystic temperament which was fundamentally Dynic, ethical and synthetic.
N. Ray remarks in this context:
"God-experience is an inner experience; one
must therefore, cleanse and purify one’s inner
being. How does one do it? Guru Nanak’s clear
answer is, by loving devotion and adoration of
God and by endless repetition and remembering
of His Name, Nam Simran."
Summing up, this eminent scholar says:
"Guru Nanak’s position and statements are
precise, clear and unequivocal and their ethical
import and socio-religious significance deep and
Guru Nanak’s mystic thought is easily distinguishable from the Natha-panthi and Kanphata Yogi cult, as also from Tantrism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, though a general fallacy exists to equate or identify it with Kabir’s mysticism. But as Mcleod has lucidly discussed, much of Kabir’s mystical jargon remains obscure and personal whereas Guru Nanak’s postulation especially of the mystic path and discipline is clearer and more cogent than that of Kabir. Concluding his analysis of Guru’s Nanak’s mystical contribution to Indian religious thought as represented by Sant Tradition (i.e. Nirgun-samparadaya tradition), Mcleod says:
"The system developed by Guru Nanak is.essentially a reworking of the Sant pattern, a
reinterpretation which compounded experience
and profound insight with a quality of coherence
and a power of effective express."
There is much inconsistency and incoherence in Kabir’s thought, as Ray observes, from which Guru Nanak’s mysticism is absolutely free, with the result that whereas it is difficult if not impossible to construct a theology out of what Kabir says, it is not so with Guru Nanak. "He was also a mystic, but his mysticism was limited to the final goal of sahaj experience which at the ultimate analysis was a mystical, ineffable, unanalysable, inexpressible experience."
Another eminent writer observes:
"The Sahaja Yoga, according to the Guru, consists in subduing the mind through the grace of the Guru and in the extinction of all troubles and ills in the company of the Guru and the saints. This is the Bhakti Yoga of the Guru."
Among the more technical esoteric (Tantric) terms may be included the ‘Chhat-chakra’ or the six nerve-plexuses, the kundalini, the sahansar-dal kanwal, the sas-sur complex, the
dasamduar, the opening of bajar-kaput or trikuti. These are the well-known yogic terms which Guru Nanak adopted and reinterpreted to suit his own mystic realization. They are, thus, of illustrative value. The idea of the immersion of ‘sun’ in the house of ‘moon’ (sas ghar sur samauna) is typically mystical and has been adopted by Guru Nanak to express the subservience of the creative energy (called shakti – the female symbol) to the spiritual element (called shiva – the male symbol). The sun and moon also stand for the right and left nerve channels (called ira and pingla, respectively) of the Hathayoga. Connecting the allied states of Sahaj and Anhad N. Ray says: "Apart from the characteristics of peace and tranquillity, of wonderment and bliss and of ineffable radiance by which one recognized the sahaj state of being, Guru Nanak recognized another, that of anhad sabad, an unstruck sound which he used to experience within himself as that ultimate state of being.: While sahaj is the highest blissful state attainable by man as a result of mystic discipline and realization, anhad is the mystical expression of that radiant state in terms of divine music esoterically heard within the soul and which the experienced only knows in his own experience and cannot describe in human language. Guru Nanak has treated the concept of sahaj in its varied aspects, as is evident from the following references from his poetry:
1. We come by sahaj and left by Hukam; Nanak, there is eternal obedience (to God).
2. "By hearing the Name, one attains sahaj contemplation."
3. "By hearing Guru’s word, one attains sahaj contemplation."
4. "Those who apprehended Him, they recognized the Sahaj. When I pondered over this, my mind was appeased."
5. "One who met the Lord in Sahaj, was accepted. he has neither death nor rebirth."
6. "In fear one found the Fearless. Then he entered the house of Sahaj."
7. "To see Nature, to hear Gurbani, and to utter your true Name. Thus the treasure of honour was filled and we got Sahaj contemplation."
8. "O Yogi, consider the essence with Sahaj. In this way you will not be r eborn in this world."