Whichever day comes, that day goes.
Stay is impermanent, departure is imminent.
Companions are departing. I too will be departing.
Long journey ahead. Death hovering overhead. 1.
O! Ignorant. Wake up! Why are you asleep?
You deem the life in this world to be eternal. 1. Reflect.
The One who gives life, also nourishes.
Inside all beings, dispensing consumables.
Embrace devotion, leave “I” and “mine.”
At dawn, remember Nam1 within the heart. 2.
Life is passing, Path is not beautified.
Dusk descends. Everywhere darkness spreads.
Ravidas says, O! Ignorant, crazy being,
No Remembrance? The world is a perishable house. 3.
- Divine Identification
Bhagat Ravidas in Suhi Rag | Guru Granth Sahib 793
ਜੋ ਦਿਨ ਆਵਹਿ ਸੋ ਦਿਨ ਜਾਹੀ ॥
ਕਰਨਾ ਕੂਚੁ ਰਹਨੁ ਥਿਰੁ ਨਾਹੀ ॥
ਸੰਗੁ ਚਲਤ ਹੈ ਹਮ ਭੀ ਚਲਨਾ ॥
ਦੂਰਿ ਗਵਨੁ ਸਿਰ ਊਪਰਿ ਮਰਨਾ ॥੧॥
ਕਿਆ ਤੂ ਸੋਇਆ ਜਾਗੁ ਇਆਨਾ ॥
ਤੈ ਜੀਵਨੁ ਜਗਿ ਸਚੁ ਕਰਿ ਜਾਨਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਜਿਨਿ ਜੀਉ ਦੀਆ ਸੁ ਰਿਜਕੁ ਅੰਬਰਾਵੈ ॥
ਸਭ ਘਟ ਭੀਤਰਿ ਹਾਟੁ ਚਲਾਵੈ ॥
ਕਰਿ ਬੰਦਿਗੀ ਛਾਡਿ ਮੈ ਮੇਰਾ ॥
ਹਿਰਦੈ ਨਾਮੁ ਸਮ੍ਹ੍ਹਾਰਿ ਸਵੇਰਾ ॥੨॥
ਜਨਮੁ ਸਿਰਾਨੋ ਪੰਥੁ ਨ ਸਵਾਰਾ ॥
ਸਾਂਝ ਪਰੀ ਦਹ ਦਿਸ ਅੰਧਿਆਰਾ ॥
ਕਹਿ ਰਵਿਦਾਸ ਨਿਦਾਨਿ ਦਿਵਾਨੇ ॥
ਚੇਤਸਿ ਨਾਹੀ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਫਨ ਖਾਨੇ ॥੩॥੨॥
Sabad is Infinite; we are very finite. We always say that our understanding of a sabad at a moment was different yesterday and may evolve tomorrow, as we deepen our relationship with it. This one has been a constant in my life over the last 13 years, coming to me at moments when I needed it, and bringing me new lessons to learn each time. For that reason, this is part two of a two-part post, exploring the ways my understanding has changed with time, and the ways in which the words of Bhagat Ravidas have helped me through all of this life stuff all these years.
At this point in my life, this sabad has come to me for reasons other than telling me to keep moving even when everything feels big and hard to navigate. At this point in my life, it has come to me for reasons that are harder and bigger and more outside of just me and my paralysis.
My grandparents are getting older. They would argue that they have moved past the “getting” and have instead “arrived” at being old — they are both 91. That memory I have of them crying as they read this sabad was when they were both a young and fresh-faced 78. We have all been given so many years with them, it sometimes feels like we tricked someone into allowing it. These days, all we seem to talk about is the inevitable dying that must happen, the leaving, the moment when death no longer hovers and instead closes in. I think it is partially their way of coping with the fading away, and in some way, hoping to help us prepare for the day when they go.
One night at dinner, Papa Ji looked at me with his misty-eyed smile — the same one I remember from that day when I heard him read this hukam for the first time — and said “You know, at this age, I don’t know if I will be here tomorrow.” It is a favorite conversation starter of his. He talked about all the things which enter this world having to leave this world. And that same line immediately popped into my head:
ਜੋ ਦਿਨ ਆਵਹਿ ਸੋ ਦਿਨ ਜਾਹੀ ॥
Whichever day comes, that day goes.
We spent the whole evening talking about death. Papa Ji told me a story he was told when he was younger, about Guru Nanak Sahib and Bhai Mardana:
Guru Nanak Sahib said, “Mardana, how far are you from Death?”
“Well,” Mardana said, “when I go to sleep at night, I don’t know if I will wake up in the morning.”
Guru Nanak Sahib smiled. “You are that far from death?”
Bhai Mardana tried again: “When I take one step I do not know if I will be able to take another step.”
Guru Nanak Sahib smiled again. “Death is that far from you?”
And then came the kicker: “Death is so close to us that when we breathe in, there is no guarantee that we will breathe out.”
Papa Ji smiled and roughly quoted this sabad: “Death is hovering over our heads.”
I kept thinking of this sabad as he talked — about the Divine Command under which all things exist, the things that we usually classify as being under the umbrella of “The Natural Order,” the way all things that exist must one day do what all things do and cease to exist. This is what we know to be real and true and inevitable, and we spend so much of our time planning and worrying and thinking ourselves out of living our lives, walking around with our eyes closed, convincing ourselves we will always have more time to get it right, or begin trying to be better. We must use our time wisely, we must march forward, we must beautify our paths while we still have that time.
I keep thinking about how when I was a kid, I used to think my grandfather was God. It was a classic confusion of consonants — to my tiny ears, Baba Ji was the same as Papa Ji, and for the first 5 years of my life on earth, my world was one in which my grandfather would exist forever. When that idea was shattered by a blunt older sister and her disbelief at the cosmology I had constructed, I had to cope with the inevitability of a world without Papa Ji, a life without sitting across from him each day watching his words hang in the air between us, listening to him speak about his childhood and his worries and the stories he knows and the things that make him smile. These words from Bhagat Ravidas have recently become all about the inevitability of my grandparents leaving the earthly realm (or, as my mom likes to say, going home). They have never been afraid of going home. They have raised us with death as a natural next step that happens after life, and for that I am grateful.
I have been thinking about that a lot lately, about how so many people I know are afraid of this thing that must happen to all of us, this important and inevitable part of life. I keep thinking about what a gift it is to have grown up with parents who made sure to instill in me not a fear of dying but an understanding of it not as an ending, as a continuing, as a next step. I have been thinking lately about a dream I had a long time ago, surreal and vivid — that I met Death. That Death entered the room and slowly made its way towards me, and all I could do was try my best to make it go away. I shouted the names of every prophet and holy person I knew, hoping that hearing their names would drive it off, but instead it came closer and we sat down at a table together, and it showed me a big sketch pad filled with paintings and paintings. And as it slowly flipped through the pages, it said: "Don’t you see? This is what I do. Every painting I start must be finished, every story that has a beginning must also have an ending. This is just what I do." Maybe Death is doing its best with a really hard job. Maybe it is an old friend who welcomes you home with paint on its fingers and walks you through the museum it has made for you, different snapshots of your life in oils and acrylics, careful brushstrokes through time. I know all of that is silly and probably not worth much, but I would like to think that the thought of it gives someone the same comfort it gave me when I really needed it.
I have been thinking lately about how quickly things come and go, and how to hold on to these few moments I have with my grandparents as they slowly ready themselves for the journey home. There was this one night last summer the wind was blowing and the trees were swaying, so Papa Ji and Mummi Ji and I went out and sat on the deck while the sun went down. Papa ji was sitting with his knees at his chest, singing sabads absentmindedly, and every time there was a gust of wind his voice was carried away with it, and he kept smiling and laughing in awe at how it feels when the wind wraps itself around you, and he laughed the same with each gust, as if he was feeling it for the first time every time. And Mummi Ji was saying how she thinks about my older brother all the time and how she is so happy he is so happy, but mostly it was just quiet. I remember thinking that these two heroes of mine had spent the majority of the 90 years of their lives in constant awe of the Divine and the Divine’s creation. How they are not afraid of leaving it one day. And the fireflies came out and they were beautiful and blinking so fast the trees were little light shows, and we watched two herons fly low over us, and I got all misty-eyed because sometimes I get overwhelmed at moments where I am dreaming when I'm awake. And I was sitting in this dream and all I could think is that I wish I could have sat in it forever and ever and ever. All I could think about was how I miss these humans I love even when they are sitting right next to me and I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing or a neither thing, don't know if I will ever be able to stop feeling the way that moments with them are heavy and full, and, despite their heaviness, so fleeting. Everything feels like it is getting away from me all of the time and I am running trying to hold on to pieces of good things, but it is so hard because I am too slow and I only have two hands. But maybe it is not about holding them forever — maybe it is about letting them come and go, letting the memories of them come and go, the way all things must.
Lately, I have been thinking about these words by Bhagat Ravidas alongside or maybe in conversation with these words by Guru Arjan Sahib:
Wind merged into wind.
Light blended into light.
Clay became one with clay.
What support is there for the grieving? 1.
O, Who has died? No one has died.
In the company of the knower, one realizes this is just a play. 1. Pause.
Being has no awareness of what lies ahead.
One who wails also arises and departs.
Bound by illusion and attachment.
Life transpires like a dream; blinded being babbles. 2.
This is only a play created by the Creator.
[Beings] come and go under the infinite Command.
No one dies, no one is capable of dying.
Being is immortal; it does not perish. 3.
What you think, it is not that.
I adore the Knower of this.
Nanak says: The Wisdom (Guru) removes the delusion.
No one dies; no one comes and goes. 4.
Transcreation by Inni Kaur
Guru Arjan Sahib in Ramkali Rag | Guru Granth Sahib 885
I have been thinking about how we never seem to talk about death in this way, how usually it is a simple, “Death is a part of life. Be grateful for the time you had,” with no other direction on how to go about fostering a relationship with Death. I had never seen this idea I was raised with presented so bluntly before. I grew up in a house with a mom who speaks aloud to her mom even as she has physically been gone for 13 years, who talks to her in the kitchen and in the garden, whenever she wants, checks in with her hero from time to time. I was raised by a mom who taught me that the people who have left us never really leave us, something I was reminded of when the inimitable Inni Kaur said to me one day, “Love never dies.” Love never dies. The people who have left us never really leave us.
Professor Puran Singh describes Nam (Divine-Inspiration) by using the example of great, larger than life, inspired beings. He says that people like Jesus Christ and Mary and the Prophet Muhammad cannot die, that they are living much more than they could live here. He says that having the feeling of their spiritual words at our back, to have the feeling that they are watching us, to have spontaneous memories of them the same way we have memories of our friends and relatives who have gone, is Divine-Inspiration. He says, “to have the consciousness of the Heavens at our back” is to live in this Inspiration.
I have been thinking of that idea in the context of Guru Arjan Sahib’s words. I think about the feeling I feel when I have those spontaneous memories of the people who have left me, walking through the world with the spirits of the people I love walking behind me and beside me, their hands gently placed on my back, guiding me and nudging me along, reminding me what matters.
Maybe it is blasphemous, but I have been thinking lately that we can pull the people who have left us back into our sphere, back into our worlds with a simple memory, a simple conversation or wink and a nod at a person who is not there in the way that we are used to people being there, but who has always been there. And I never knew this idea to be anything other than a little bit kooky, and misinterpreted it all these years as being a little bit new-agey, too. This was the first time I had seen it in the Guru Granth Sahib. Yes, that day which comes must go, yes, death is hovering over our heads, but what does it mean to go? What does it mean to die? What does it mean to read in one place that death is hovering over us, and to read in another that no one truly dies? Guru Arjan Sahib describes death as a wondrous thing. If every one of us is a part of the Infinite, if the Infinite is sitting right in the center of each of our very beings, then what does it really mean to say someone has died? What a wondrous thing indeed, that the water can rise up for a moment, become a wave, split off into a river, turn into rain, exist as its own singular and “separate” thing for a moment or a lifetime, and then, as if it is nothing at all, fold back in so easily to that from which it came. What a wondrous thing it is that we get to experience.
So, as I continue to learn how to process this thing we call Death, as I watch the people I love fading their way home, I will remember these words. Whichever day comes, that day goes. And as I frantically try to hold onto memories as they are being made, as I shut my eyes tight and urge myself to memorize the way the light hits Papa Ji at dinner, the way his tears stay suspended on his cheek, the way Mummi Ji gasps at all the colors in the garden, the way she marvels at all the ways a thing can be green (an infinite number of ways). I will remember that love never dies. That even after they fade their way home, all it will take to pull them back into the world in my brain is a spontaneous memory, a wink and a nod, that I will walk with them through the rest of the time on earth that I have, their hands gently placed on my back, guiding me and nudging me along, reminding me what matters, before it is my turn to go.
Jasleen Kaur is a lover of poetry and the power of words, of everything outside (especially birds), and of the study of religion. She serves as a researcher at SikhRI.