Reflections on Guru Nanak’s Illumination
It was about 5:30 in the evening on Wednesday, the twenty-eighth of November. My wife, Gurpreet Kaur, collected our two kids from The Preschool Place & Kindergarten. Our evening supper ritual was hurried as we had to get our son, Jodha Singh, to his Tai-Kwon-Do class by 6:30. Then we were all headed over to the nearby gurduara (place of learning) in my new zip code in New Jersey. I have to admit, I wasn’t feeling quite up to going that night. I had more than enough reasons not to: Isn’t the Gurpurab (day associated with Guru’s legacy) historically located in Vaisakh (April) not Kattak (November)? Like any Gurpurab today, haven’t the majority of celebrations been reduced to an annual excuse for a feel-good mela (fair)? Am I physically still too weak seeing as I just got out of the ER due to a horrendous infection? And so on and so forth.
I walked into Garden State Sikh Association, Inc. (Yes, a corporation! Though tax-exempt), popularly called Bridgewater Gurduara Sahib. The sumptuous spread of buffet-style snacks were extravagant; initially I resisted given my recent illness, but eventually caved-in. I overheard as though a refrain, “Why not indulge? It is Guruji’s birthday!” We made it to Divan (court) upstairs where the kirtan (hymn-singing) was typical. Then Giani Bachittar Singh started katha (elucidation). He is resident minister of a sort and started the katha with beautiful exegesis from Gurbani on Guru Nanak. Eventually I got up to head home, as it was a school night for the kids and my illness was still getting the better of my energy reserves. Preparing to exit after paying obeisance to the Guru, I heard the most incredible celebratory kirtan beginning. The whole family turned right back around and headed into Divan again to benefit from artful renditions by Ragi Jatha (musically trained singers) of Karamjit Singh Laki, Surinderjit Singh and Raghbir Singh. Serendipity! Gani Kaur, my daughter, sat in my lap and after listening quietly to the entire sabad (hymn) she said “changa hai” (it’s wonderful).
Deciding that we ought to stay for langar (free community meal for all), we drove back home, and got the kids bedded down. But now I couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing with activity after the evening’s events: It really doesn’t matter when you celebrate the Guru, any moment or day is fine of course. So my frustrations could simply be over what the Gurduara is not providing as a supposed center of learning… Did I also know what I want? Why did I get so worked up when folks come to Gurduara to just eat and socialize? I appreciate community and the important bonds that formed by affirming our sangat (company of the Inspired), I’m not a grouch who would begrudge others a little fun! So why did it feel like it mattered? What is my personal relationship with the Guru? Isn’t Jaswant Zafar’s poem also about me being afraid of the real Guru Nanak?
Guru Arjan Sahib emphatically declares in Guru Granth Sahib (p. 1386), the Sikh scriptural canon: “O’ Ik-Oankar (1Force)! Your servant, Your embodiment has been presented to the world. Guru Nanak’s Infinite Wisdom is countering the ignorance and the people rejoice as they connect with the culture of Nam.” Am I allowing the wisdom to alter my thinking and behavior?
Bhai Gurdas very clearly presents Guru Nanak Sahib as someone who came into this world to eliminate doubt. No Sikhi can exist without Guru Nanak just as no life is possible without the sun. No sovereign lifestyle can exist without Guru Nanak just as the lion/tiger (both mean Singh) live fearlessly. Do I feel the sunlight? Am I becoming fearless?
Bhai Vir Singh assures us “as a strong wind blows away all odors, as a rain shower refreshes the country-side, and as a strong ray of light dissipates the deepest darkness, so Guru ji’s compassionate words brought about a transformation in life.” Has my transformation begun?
Prof. Puran Singh reminds us “the very fact that Guru Nanak himself had children and sweated and prayed for them indicated how life interested him more than abstraction.” Do I get excited about life? Do I dwell too long in the abstractions?
I often wonder why we have reduced Sikhi to a mere philosophy. Recall Dr. Iqbal’s warning about why Buddha wasn’t gracefully accepted in Hindustan because the old Brahmin was too proud of his intricate philosophies. Dr. Iqbal concedes the only successful “unparalleled man” to shake people in South Asia from their day dreaming was Guru Nanak. Wouldn’t we want to learn more about the relationships of the Guru as they serve as life lessons? Not boil everything to metaphysical notions?
What is amazing is how Guru Nanak communicates with intellectuals in utter disagreement: Siddhs, Naths and Yogis. Are Sikh preparing to be the best communicators amidst dissent?
Guru Nanak overpowered the most powerful politician of the time, the genocide-campaigner Babar, aflush with victory in the end. Are Sikhs fighting for economic and political right for all, Degh-Tegh- Fatih?
Through the creating of a caring home, Guru Nanak nurtures the insights and warmth of siblings: Sister Nanaki and, later her husband, Brother Jairam. Are Sikhs too entrenched in following established customs that they are not allowing love to break free?
Grace is how Guru Nanak instructs the enlightened ones, the Shamsis of Multan and Sheikh of Pakpatan. Are Sikhs making the mistake of grace by through exclusivity?
Discover the Amazing, Victorious, Caring and Gracious Guru Nanak every day as Harinder Singh ‘Mehboob’ did. Guru Nanak is visible in his relationships with the Creator & the Creation in his surrounding as depicted in Journey with the Gurus, meditations by Inni Kaur.
You know the feelings that accompany the terrible loss of a friendship? The pains, the exhaustion, the burden, the restlessness, the darkness. And now apply that personally and collectively while reflecting on your relationship with Guru Nanak Sahib:
“I had a great friend; I lost that friendship for temporary gains. I did not know its value; now, I am not even worth half a dollar” (Guru Granth Sahib, p. 963). To my mind, this is Guru Arjan Sahib’s psychoanalysis of what is happening among 26 million Sikhs in 2012.
Do you really feel Guru Nanak? Stop idolizing the Guru! Love him as the Hindus, the Muslims, the Sikhs, and the tribals of Panjab and the world beyond did. Great is Guru Nanak for he revealed to us the culture of Nam – Identify and feel the Divine Presence, here and now!
Harinder Singh (@1Force) is an educator and an activist who co-founded the Sikh Research Institute and the Panjab Digital Library.