A giant in Panjabi literature, Bhai Vir Singh (1872 - 1957) is celebrated as 'The Sixth River of Panjab'. He was a mystic, poet, novelist, essayist, historian, editor, publisher and a journalist. He was the leading figure in the Singh Sabha Movement, the dynamic Sikh renaissance in the late 19th - early 20th century Panjab. The following passage is translated from one of his seminal works, “Guru Nanak Chamatkar” - in celebration of his birth anniversary (Dec. 5, 1872).
The sky twinkled with shimmering stars. A light fragrant breeze permeated the air as Nanak, the Master, walked towards the ashram of Bharthari jogi.
The jogis were sitting. Bottles of wine were being passed around. Everyone seemed to be drinking.
Bharthari welcomed the Master warmly.
One of the jogis brought over a cup of wine.
“What is this?”
“This is the drink of the jogis. You must try it,” said Bharthari. “After drinking this, we can meditate for a long time. Sometimes, our concentration remains for over twelve hours.”
“What happens when you have a hangover in the morning?”
“The diamond cuts the diamond. Another drink overcomes the hangover,” replied Bharthari.
“And what happens if there is a hangover after the morning drink?”
“Then another drink…”
“Looks like you are only living for this worthless drink.”
“If you think we are living only for this drink, it isn’t so bad. At least we are concentrating and meditating,” replied Bharthari.
“Wine intoxicates. Intoxication numbs the senses. When one is not in one’s senses one is considered mad. This is not meditation. This drink only provides worldly pleasure, nothing else.”
“You have said that I must constantly remember Nam (Divine Identification). With this intoxication, I am in constant remembrance. What is wrong with that?”
“Dear Bharthari, Nam is sacred. Its sweetness is life-giving. The sweetness of wine makes you unconscious, and if you drink too much, it will kill you.
Wine is pleasure in the beginning,
Halfway, it becomes a sickness,
In the end it is death.
Nam is a struggle in the beginning,
Halfway it becomes sacred,
In the end it is eternal joy.
“You are a seeker who wants to experience the Divine. You have misunderstood this unconscious feeling as life.”
Bharthari put his head down feeling a bit ashamed. “Gracious Guru, I drink only for meditation. I don’t drink for passion. The few sips that I drink help my concentration. It doesn’t make me unconscious.”
“You may be right, but look around and see for yourself. You may have had a few sips but the rest of the jogis are guzzling down cup after cup. Some of them are lying unconscious. They smell awful. Can we leave this place?”
“Yes of course! But, I would like to continue this conversation in my hut.”
They both left the gathering.
“O, True Guru, please allow me to drink a few sips of wine. It has become a habit and it makes my meditation easier.”
“Dear Bharthari, snakes are alright in the baskets of the snake charmers. Similarly, this snake of wine is alright in the bottle of the doctors. You are a seeker of Nam. This wine is poison and deception for you.”
“Deception? I don’t understand…”
“The first deception is riches and passions. The second deception is intoxication. Intoxication may be of liquor, opium or hashish. Under its influence, one does not understand what one is really doing. It is a state of mind that brings temporary joy, but in reality, it is taking one to a state of semi-consciousness.”
“But the joy and elation that I get from drinking, I do not get from anything else,” interrupted Bharthari.
“If you go near a lamp, you get light. If you go near fire, you get warmth. If you go near the life-giving Creator, you experience true living. Not this semi-consciousness state that you are experiencing.”
“What you say may be true but how do I get to feel real joy?”
“Bharthari, you are a seeker of Truth. Give up this worthless habit of liquor and search for the Nectar that comes from Nam. Nam is bliss. Intoxication from liquor is not bliss; it is not serenity. Don’t ever think that the exhilaration that you experience when you drink liquor is like the bliss of Nam.”
“I confess I hear divine mystic music after a little drink.”
“How can you call it mystic music? The sound that you hear when you press your ears after drinking intoxicants is a natural physical phenomenon. Those who truly experience mystic music do not live in anxiety and fear. They are imbued in Nam. Their minds are free and their joy is boundless. They see the Creator within and in all. Do you see that?”
“What should I do?” asked Bharthari confused.
“Get rid of this habit of drinking. Drinking liquor to meditate is like trying to get rich by gambling. Human life is precious. Don’t waste it like that. Remember the Creator in everything that you do. As that remembrance becomes a part of you, it will keep you away from vices. Gradually, you will experience a constant divine joy of life.”
“If I follow your way, will I reach heaven and get salvation?”
“My dear jogi, here lies your problem. This is the cause of your confusion. If your aim is to experience Nam, then your actions should be focused on reaching this goal. Why are you torturing and poisoning your body? Heaven, salvation means nothing to a seeker of Nam. If you want to experience Nam, be in love with the Creator and serve creation joyfully. Gradually, your mind will effortlessly detach from the world, your sufferings will disappear and you will begin to walk totally carefree.
“Real mystic music cannot be heard with these ears. It is everywhere. You too will experience this sensation when your consciousness rises. But don’t stop at this stage. Continue towards your goal. Don’t be enticed by other desires. When you have even renounced the desire for salvation, then there will be nothing else to entice you.
“Focus on your goal. Fruit will follow naturally. Remember two important things: love for the Creator and the desire to experience Divine Union. Keep these two things constant in your mind.”
“Then will I get a glimpse of the Creator?”
“Bharthari, you are still confused. You cannot see the Creator with these eyes. These eyes can only visualize the world. They are perishable. They can only see worldly sights. To see the Creator, one has to look inwards. Nam will take you to the end of the visible world. From there on, it is up to the Creator. You may experience a Divine pull. It will be in the form of a sensation. Then you will experience the Creator within your body and outside in nature. In this state of Divine union, you will get an incessant glimpse.”
Sighing, Bharthari said, “Is this really true? Please don’t stop speaking. The lips of my ears should keep on drinking from the bowl of these words of nectar. Please take me along and keep me at your feet.”
“It is not yet the time to take you along. Recite Nam, be immersed in Nam, and your time will come.”