Reflections on Shabad as Guru Everlasting
Most of the world religions seek God through visible objects such as idols and pictures in one form or the other. Not, however, Sikhism. Basic tenet of Sikh religion is to adore only the One Formless God – Nirankar. But due to impact of our ancient culture and beliefs prevailing in our country and teaching by some so-called saints and sects, veneration of the Guru’s picture and idols is subtly creeping in. Reverence to Guru Granth Sahib is not a worship of a physical object, it is adoration of the shabad, or the spiritual content embodied in it. Guru Gobind Singh has proclaimed in very clear terms – Guru manio Granth – that the Guruship hereafter is vested in the shabad which is the Divine Light – Jot of the Ten Gurus. He also ordained that Guru Granth Sahib is the visible person of the Guru – Pargat guran ki deh, and that whosoever seeks God, could do so by contemplating on the shabad. Guru Granth Sahib or shabad, therefore, is a living Guru. Bhagat Kabir has also stated that Guru is a living deity – satgur jagta hai deo.
The main aim of Guru Nanak’s mission was to spread the gospel of One Formless God, who could be attained by constant remembrance of Him by simple repetition and contemplation of Naam or shabad. According to him Guru, Naam, shabad and bani are one and the same – Eka bani, ik gur, eko shabad vichar.
Guru Nanak is commonly known as ‘Nanak-Nirankari’. He is so called, as he is the first prophet who laid stress on the formless aspect of God. ‘Nanak-Nirankari’ is concerned with principles, motivation, affection and faith, and not with rites and rituals or other futilities which do not lead us towards God realisation. The whole Gurbani particularly ‘Asa-di-var’ condemns hypocritical reading of scriptures and theatricals of devotion.
The Mul-Mantra spells, in most concise terms, the qualities and attributes of God. One of these is ‘Akal Moorat’ which means that God is beyond time and space (Akal) and His form is eternal (Moorat). This means that He exists and is a reality but without any features, form or colour. In Kirtan Sohila, Guru Nanak says that “God has thousands of eyes, yet he has none. His forms are thousands, yet He has no form,. I am bewitched by this phenomenon. It simply means that whereas all the eyes and forms of the creatures in the universe are His, or belong to Him because He pervades all, yet He has no single specific form. In Japuji, Guru Nanak says that “God cannot be installed nor can He be created" – “Thapia na jae, keeta na hoe, Ape Ap niranjan soe, because “The pure One is self-existent". Self-Existence as an attribute of God is also mentioned as Sai-Bhang in the Mul-Mantra.
Shabad has two connotations – the written form and the sound aspect. Written form is worldly, as it can be read, spoken and studied. The sound aspect is related to hearing, voice, tune, concentration, awareness and understanding. Hearing has direct link with consciousness (surti). Consciousness belong to the spiritual field and is a ray or speck of the super-consciousness which is God. One who hears with devotion and bears it in his heart, gets absorbed in meditation easily – sunye lage sahaj dhian.
Since God is formless he can only be sougt through formless spirit, and not through any material object or a physical person – Jeo jal mein jal ae khatana, tio joti sang jot samana. Unfortunately, there are these days mainly hypocrites and jugglers in the garb of spiritual preachers or redeemers who, for selfish ends, are exploiting innocent people by stressing that a living guru is needed for salvation and that an object is needed for concentration. For this they quote many shabads from Gurbani such as Gur ki moorat man mein dhyan – Guru’s image is needed for concentration.
Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of Guru Granth Sahib, in his psalms which have been blessed by Guru Arjun Dev as the key for understanding of Gurbani, categorically mentions that the form of the Guru is his shabad and not his body. Here are few quotations from Bhai Gurdas’s work:
Gur moorat gur shabad hai, sadh sangat mil amrit vela. [Var 24, stanza 11.]
Guru’s form is his shabad, which can be obtained in early morning holy congregation.
Gur moorat gur shabad hai, sadh sangat samsar parwana. [Var 24, stanza 15.]
Guru’s form is shabad.The shabad and sadh sangat is one and the same.
Gur moorat gur shabad sun, sadh sangat asan nirankari – [Var 11 stanza 2.]
Listen to the Guru’s shabad as the Guru’s form. Sadh sangat is the seat of God.
It is repeatedly stated in Gurbani that shabad is the Divine Light, i.e. Guru, and not the body. Idol worship is decried. Guru Arjun Dev has stated that adoration other than that of God is homicidal. Guru Gobind Singh in one of his compositions has questioned as to how can a dead and spiritless entity bestow any favour? – Jo jee hot, tau det kachhu tohi. He even declared that those who call him as Almighty would go to hell. Bhagat Kabir has very forthrightly said that an idol, if it has any power, should destroy its carver who trampled upon it during its chiselling:
Pakhan ghad ke moorat kini, deke chhati pao
Jeh eh moorat sachi hai, to gharanhare khao.
Shabad is connected with surti which has to be attuned to the melody of shabad to realise God – Shabad surat bhav sagar tarie. In this process, shabad becomes the Guru and surti absorbed in its melody is its follower (chela) – Shabad Guru, surat dhun chela. To achieve union of surti with Gur-shabad, we have to continuously remember God, submit to His Will and try to mould our life to truthful living. This is not a simple affair. The Guru, in his mercy, has suggested an easy way to make a beginning towards this end in the following shabad and its rendering in English:
a. Antar Guru aradhna, jehva jup gur naon.
b. Netri Satgur pekhna, sarvani sun-na gur naon.
c. Satgur seti ratia, dargeh paiye thaon.
d. Koh Nanak kirpa kare, jisno eh vath de.
e. Jug mein utam kadhie, virle kei ke.
Remember God with utmost attention, love and devotion in mind (which should be kept under control and not allowed to wander). Utter God’s Name with the tongue (so that it could be heard).
Visualise God’s presence within and around us. Hear God’s Name being uttered with faith and obey His Command.
Absorbed and imbued with the Lord, we shall find a place in His celestial court, i.e. we shall be accepted by Him.
Guru Nanak says that whomsoever God gives the gift of His Naam, shall also receive His Grace.
Such pure persons who are blessed, are rare indeed.
Guru Nanak has rejected worship of objects and has maintained that concentration can be achieved by chanting and listening to God’s attributes – Sunie lage sahaj dhyan (Japuji Stanza 10). He is more explicit and concise in another verse, Gagan, agam, anath, ajoni. Asthir Cheet Samadh Sagoni (Dakhni Oankar Stanza 20). It means that stillness of mind in samadhi can be obtained (asthir cheet samadh) by contemplating on the great attributes (sagoni) of the Formless (gagan) who is beyond comprehension (agam), Masterless (anath) and Unborn (ajoni). It avers that in the spiritual field there is no place for material intervention.
Meditation upon Formless God inculcates in us Godly qualities, whereas human being and his created objects lead us to worldly attachment and illusion – the very negation of salvation.