THE MEANING OF ESSENCE
Example of a school
A child wakes up in the morning, brushes his teeth, takes a bath, puts on the school uniform, prepares his school bag, gets on the school cab, and reaches the school on time. He sits on his allotted seat in the classroom, maintains discipline, listens to the teacher, writes down what the teacher asks him to, chats with the friends in the breaks, and leaves for home when the school time is over.
What is the essence of going to school?
Is the essence covered in any of the activities described above?
The essence of going to school is the growth of the mind or the intellect of the child, and it is not covered in any of the activities described above. Even though most or all of the activities described above help the child in getting to the essence of the school, no activity can ensure that his mind grows.
The purpose of doing all the activities is to achieve the essence i.e. grow the mind of the child. However, it remains possible that the child may do all of the activities and still miss the essence.
If the child doesn’t try to understand and reflect on what his teacher says, then even though he may be listening to the teacher and taking down notes, he will not grow in his intellect and thus, miss the essence of the school.
If the intellect of the child does not grow, then all the activities have gone wasted. The time and money of the child and the parents have gone for a naught. Doesn’t matter if the child boasts that he goes to school, unlike other children who don’t even go to school, his going to school hasn’t helped him at all. Probably, the children who never went to school are better than this child since they didn’t waste their money and time. If one says that the child at least learned the etiquettes, the children can learn these etiquettes from the society and don’t really need to go the school. If the essence has been missed, the entire effort spent in schooling has gone wasted.
The above situation does not mean that we should abandon these activities and never even think about the school. Or pronounce that the school education is useless and should not be pursued.
Obviously, such conclusions would be unwise and counter-productive.
The idea should be to increase our focus on the essence of the school i.e. intellectual growth of the child, so that we can decrease our chances that a child engages in all the activities but still misses the essence.
Even though we should try to ensure that the child puts on a proper school uniform, maintains discipline, reaches school on time etc, we should make intellectual growth the focus of our attention. If we spend 90% of our time on talking about conformance to the trivialities, then, in all probability, we will end up with a well dressed and disciplined but uneducated child.
The essence of school education is the growth of the mind.
The essence is, therefore, something which, if missed, would render the entire set of activities useless.
Example of a journey
Let’s suppose that we are setting out on a long journey that we’ll cover on feet. There will be certain things that will help us on our journey e.g.
- A good pair of shoes
- Nutritious diet before the journey
- A bottle of water and some snacks, which may be helpful along the journey
There will be other things that are better avoided before setting out on the journey e.g.
- Carrying resources much more than required, resulting in unnecessary burden
It might also be recommended that we accompany people who know the path, especially if we are travelling for the first time or in a long time.
However, there is a reason for doing all of these things or even undertaking the journey itself. The reason is that we want to reach a destination (I am discounting the travel for fun objective).
If we follow all the rules (dos and donts) for travelling but don’t travel on the path, would any of our efforts be worthwhile?
In this case, the essence of the journey is the destination it leads to. If we forget about the destination and get completely engrossed in the dos and donts, everything that we do will be for a naught. We may hold long debates, seminars, intellectual discussions on the most appropriate rules and even the kinds of punishments that should be delivered to non-followers of the rules, but everything – yes, EVERYTHING – that we’ll do will be useless.
We may feel like we are doing a lot since we will be expending a lot of efforts in conforming to the rules, buying the best pair of shoes, eating the precise number of calories, vitamins, and minerals, or buying the most appropriate kind of water bottle. But all of these efforts would be futile, ineffective, and pointless if we don’t put a step on the journey towards the destination.
The essence of a journey is walking the path and reaching the destination. If we don’t even walk or rather, completely forget about the destination, then everything that we do is a waste of time. If we spend all our time in finetuning the rules, debating on their intricacies, understanding each and every nuance of them, and trying to conform to each one of the rules, then we are just wasting our time.
The point is not that we discard all the rules or forget about the journey.
The point is to use the rules in a way that they were supposed to be used i.e. to help us on our journey to the destination. When we start walking on the path, we’ll spontaneously get to know the value of the different rules, and we may then start following them even if we didn’t follow them at the beginning.
From the above discussion, we understand that the essence of an activity is something that lies at the core or foundation of the activity and without which, all the efforts expended in the process of the activity are pointless.
Guru Granth Sahib ji is the Sikh scripture. Everything contained in Guru Granth Sahib ji is referred to as Gurbani.
In a way, Gurbani lays out a path to a destination.
The above statement raises two important questions:
- What is the destination that Gurbani takes us to?
- Who undertakes the journey? or in other words, who are we?
Let’s take the second question first.
Who are we?
Almost all of us live our life as if we are physical bodies. However, it is easy to understand that we are not physical bodies.
Let’s suppose that you hurt your finger while on your way to the airport. At the airport, you met one of your best friends whom you hadn’t met in years. Would you be happier in this situation or in a situation where you didn’t hurt your finger and didn’t meet your friend?
If my understanding of a best friend is correct, then you’d be happier in the situation where your finger is hurt and you met your friend. Clearly, your physical body is in a worse condition with the hurt finger but still you are happier. Why? Because you are not this body.
Have you seen sad people with healthy bodies? Have you seen happy people with unhealthy bodies?
If the answers to the above questions are in the affirmative, then we are not these physical bodies.
Have you heard of someone who staked his life to save a child caught in a fire or a storm? How can that be possible if we are these physical bodies?
Clearly, we are not just physical bodies. We are beyond these bodies.
Thoughts or Consciousness?
It is also commonly said that a man is what he thinks. In other words, it means that we are our thoughts.
I agree with this understanding. But I think we need to be more precise here.
It is believed that we get around 50,000 thoughts a day. Does it mean that we are defined by all of these 50,000 thoughts?
The answer is no. We are defined by only those thoughts which we pay attention to, or in other words, which we bring into our consciousness.
Attention in Hindi means “Dhyaan”.
I believe that we are “Dhyaan” or attention or consciousness. Any thought which we pay attention to becomes “our” thought, and thus, defines us. However, we are not that thought because we could have chosen to not pay attention to it. It is said that
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
The reason why the above quote is correct is that if we don’t pay attention to the pain, we’ll not suffer. Suffering happens at the consciousness level; pain is at the physical level. If we don’t pay attention to our physical sensations, those sensations won’t impact us. For example: the professional athletes or body builders exercise a lot. A lot of times, they push their bodies to the limit. Of course, they experience pain in the process. However, most of such pain is not suffering for them. Rather, at times, they enjoy such pain because they know that the pain is helping them build a stronger and more competent body.
So, we are consciousness. And we can choose to define ourselves by any thought, by paying attention to that thought or bringing that thought into our consciousness.
How are we related to our physical bodies?
Physical bodies are excellent tools to express our thoughts through words and actions. Whenever we want our thought to manifest physically in the world, we speak it out or take actions in accordance with the thought.
Physical bodies also help us experience the world. This is the way we hear, touch, smell and see the world around us.
In other words, physical body is an input and output mechanism. It inputs through hearing, touching, smelling, seeing, and it outputs through speaking, and physical actions. The input leads to some thoughts in our consciousness and the output express the thoughts from our consciousness.
So, our physical bodies are tools to express in and experience this world.
We are the consciousness or attention or “Dhyaan”.
Having defined who we are, let us tackle the second question.
What is the destination that Gurbani leads us to?
Anyone conversant with Gurbani knows that Gurbani lays out a lot of dos and donts. For example:
- We should wake up early in the morning
- We should go to Gurudwara and read Gurbani daily
- We should chant, sing Kirtan, and perform devotional service
- We should not slander others
- We should speak softly with others
- We should not lie
- We should share our fortune with the needy
Generally, people have limited the path of Gurbani to just 2nd and 3rd points above. They believe that going to Gurudwara, and chanting, singing, and performing service is the essence of Gurbani. They believe that if they are doing these things, they are following the path of Gurbani.
They completely forget, either by ignorance or deliberately, that even though Gurbani is a path, it is a path for the consciousness, not a path for the physical bodies. Chanting, singing, service, and everything else are useless if we are not paying attention or are not investing our consciousness in these activities. While we do need to use our physical bodies to perform these activities, what is utmost important is that we are attentive while performing these activities.
Gurbani is a path for the consciousness or our attention or, if we put it loosely, our thoughts. Obviously, we need to use our physical body to chant, sing, perform service, help others etc, but we have to do all of these for a purpose. What is the purpose?
The purpose is the destination where Gurbani wants to take us. The destination is the essence of the path.
THE ESSENCE OF GURBANI
Gurbani begins with the beginning of the universe. How was this universe created?
The beginning of the universe has been covered in a separate article. Here, I’ll put it here briefly in the light of Gurbani lines above.
At the beginning of the universe, there was nothing but Lord. So, there was no duality. It was all singular. Then, God created duality, which is not real but an illusion (referred to as “Maya” in Gurbani). If you look around, you’ll see that everything exists in duality in this world.
comfort – suffering
joy – grief
cold – hot
sweet – bitter
white – black
beautiful – ugly
light – darkness
humility – pride
day – night
virtue – vice
goodness – badness
pious deed – sin
heaven – hell
life – death
laughter – weeping
love – hate
high spirits – low spirits etc.
It is impossible to experience one thing in the absence of its contrast. The presence of these contrasts – blacks and whites – give rise to all the greys.
So, there are things that are utterly sweet, there are things that are utterly bitter, and there are things that lie somewhere in between these two contrasts.
There are things that are utterly beautiful, there are things that are utterly ugly, and there are things that lie somewhere in between.
The presence of all this variety is possible only because of the duality.
However, this duality is not real. It is an illusion because in reality, everything that is there is One. Gurbani says
The One Lord is pervading everywhere; there is no other at all.
So, all the multifarious things we see – all of them are God manifesting in different forms and shapes.
Take a deep breath now and reflect what you have just read.
Can you believe it? Can you believe that everything that exists is God?
All your enemies, antagonists, business partners, family members, plants, tress, earth, sun, moon, all things are God. Does it make sense to you?
This is what Gurbani says.
If we believe in it, whom would we fear from? When everything is God and he loves us, why should we fear anything?
Whom would we slander?
Why would we worry?
Why would we hate?
Why would we not forgive?
Why would we dwell in pride?
If we believe in it, our lives would completely shift. It will be a 180 degree turn. In our life, we are doing things exactly opposite to how we would do if we believed in Gurbani.
Clearly, we don’t have belief or faith in Gurbani or in the “reality” of the things. We are lost in the illusion. In reality, we are not these physical bodies or even the thoughts we think. Gurbani says:
We are all divine light i.e. God himself. Our true nature is the same as that of God. ( Who is God?)
Once we realise our true self, there will be nothing left to achieve.
This is the destination where Gurbani takes us to. Gurbani takes us back to our real self.
If we follow Gurbani consciously and diligently, there will come a time when we’ll realise our true self. We’ll realise that we are divine light. We’ll realise that there is nothing except God. We’ll see God pervading everywhere, just as Gurbani lines above say. At that point, we’ll be filled with
and all the virtues we can think of. Because at that point, we’ll be divine light.
We are divine light even right now. But it is not in our consciousness. In our consciousness, we believe that we are these bodies or thoughts. But once we realise our true self, the divine light will shine through our consciousness and through our bodies. At that point, we’ll be true Saints. Truly evolved souls. Drenches in infinite love, joy, peace, and bliss. The words would never describe the state which we’ll be in.
Would you like to be in that state?
This is the state Gurbani wants to takes us to. This is the destination. This is the essence of Gurbani.
Clearly, at that point, there will be no rules. There cannot be any rules for the divine light. Everything that we’ll do will be out of our natural self of love and joy.
However, till we reach that state, rules do help us walk the path. But rules are not the essence. One who believes that chanting, singing, going to Gurudwara, helping others is the destination or the peak of religion or Gurbani, is under illusion. Everything and every ritual is good and worthwhile if it takes us closer to our destination. However, if we cling to rituals and consider them the destination, then we are mistaken.
On any path, milestones are really helpful. They tell us whether we are getting closer to our destination or farther. Similarly, while on the path of Gurbani, we need to evaluate ourselves whether we are getting closer to our destination.
As we walk on the path of Gurbani, we’ll get purer and purer. Khoji, the founder of Dodra Sangat, writes on how to evaluate the filthiness or purity of our thoughts.
(Essay 37, Page 15)
“We can evaluate the filthiness or purity of our mind by examining our thoughts.
If, even for little things, we
fight others etc
Such a behavior is a solid proof of the filthiness of our mind. Such deep and intense filthiness affects and manifests in our thoughts, way of thinking, character, our everyday behavior, and every aspect of our life. All of these vices arise out of our illusion of ego and therefore, are illusory and filthy.
On the contrast,
Doing good with evil-minded people
Ignoring the transgressions of others
are the proofs of the purity and cleanliness of our mind and character because the source of all these virtues is Lord himself, who is always immaculate and pristine.”
As we walk on the path of Gurbani, we need to constantly evaluate ourselves, per the above criteria. If we are moving towards purity, then we are doing well. If we are stagnant or becoming even more dirty, then we need to reflect where we are going wrong.
If our destination is infinite love, peace, and joy, then as we walk closer to our destination, our lives should be increasingly filled with these virtues. And if we are stagnant or getting worse even after years of walking the path, then we should reflect and sincerely pray to Guru Nanak to help us know where we are going wrong. Sincere prayers are never left unheard.
Those who walk the path of Gurbani with sincerity and faith will one day reach the state of infinite joy, peace, and bliss:
And when you reach that state, pray for my poor self, if possible!