The Stages of Human Life5 June 2010
I sat there listening to kirtan at a housewarming. I don’t really remember what year it was and I do not remember whose house I was at. I was straining my ears to understand what the Bhai Sahib was rendering. I did not understand much, but sat there as I heard familiar vocabulary. Words that I had definitely heard in conversation before, and words that I had read before too probably in the Guru Granth Sahib. There was mention of milk (dudh), of brother (bhai) and of a sister-in-law (bhabi) and other words that I tried to make sense of. And then the Bhai Sahib stopped singing and started explaining. He probably explained the entire Sabad, but all I remember was that it had to do with the different stages of human life. And I only remembered that because at the time I was a student studying human development. I thought it was very cool that Guru Nanak Sahib was talking about human development in his Bani.
On page 137 of the Guru Granth Sahib ji is where we find this Bani. According to Professor Sahib Singh, the compilation called “Var Majh Ki Tatha Salok Mahala 1, a compiliation of pauris and aloks were revealed through Guru Nanak Sahib. Though the 27 pauris and saloks were revealed separately, Guru Angad Sahib put them together when he compiled the Adi Granth. Of course I did not know that when I first heard it during the kirtan. I had heard the first pauri at the kirtan and had related it to human development and didn’t think of looking into it much until I had to write this article.
Guru Nanak Sahib discusses ten different phases of life in this pauri. In the first phase the child lovingly gets attached to the mother’s bosom for milk. In the second period the child comes to connect with the mother and father. In the third he or she comes to recognize the siblings. In the fourth phase because of a new found love of games the child becomes exploratory. In the fifth stage of life the individual is consumed by the need for food and sustenance. As the individual matures he or she develops lust in the sixth phase. Then in the seventh chapter of life he or she focuses on collecting material things to create a peaceful and honorable living environment. On the eighth leg of life anger wells up which takes a toll on the body. The hair turns gray and the body is weakened in the ninth segment until finally in the tenth one, it passes on and is burnt.
Almost 500 years later in 1950 Erik Erickson, a psychoanalyst whose work on human development is well known in the field of Education and Psychology also discussed the stages of development in his first book Childhood and Society. He discusses his eight stages eachin terms of two words or concepts working against each other. His first three stages a focus on childhood from the ages of 0 to 5 years is about “trust vs. mistrust”, “autonomy vs. shame & doubt” and “initiative vs. guilt.” These stages incorporate attachment to parents, understanding of family and exploration through play. The next three stages cover the school-going-child through young adulthood. The school child relationship now furthers with friends, school, teachers, and community. In the adolescent stage and young adulthood the individual’s concern is on identity and intimacy where peer groups are developed and issues of intimacies focus on work and social life take shape. Erickson’s last two stages talk of mid-adulthood and late-adulthood where the focus is children (the future), community, the world and the issues are about meaning and purpose and life achievements.
Though Erickson's psychosocial stages are similar to those of Guru Nanak Sahib's 500 years ago, Guru Sahib takes it a step forward for us to provide guidance and conclusion. On that day when I first heard the discourse of Majh Ki Var I did not take the time to hear his message. All I could think was “oh, that’s so cool! Guru Nanak Sahib was talking about human development in his Bani and I’m studying human development at this time.” Now after I make just a little bit effort into reading more about what Guru Nanak Sahib is actually saying I seem to understand his message a little more clearly. After he paints the picture of the ten phases of life, he tells us not to waste our life just focusing on knowing this or getting stuck in the motion of being in a stage. He has given us the secret to life: not to follow our mind, but instead, to come into the sanctuary of Vahiguru’s grace so that we do not end up sinking in the sea of blind love full of materialism (a concept that we falsely think of as “love”) -- Ò (Guru Granth Sahib, pg.137).
Jasmine Kaur is the Director of Education at the Sikh Research Institute. She has a Bachelors degree in Sociology and Elementary Education and completed her Masters of Science in Human Development, with a specialty in family studies.