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Sri Guru Granth

Shabad Guru - 

Dhan Dhan Sri Guru Adi Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj

What is Guru

The term guru, in common [Sikh] parlance, signifies a teacher, a guide, but etymologically it has a deep and profound meaning. Bhai Mani Singh, the martyr (d. 1737) claims that it was the last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh (1666-1708), himself who taught him that the meaning of the word guru is as follows: gu means, inertia, matter, nescience; ru means, the principle of light which illumines consciousness. 

The historical Sikh Gurus claim no more than that they can help man, through teaching, to cultivate this religious intuition so as to awaken the Divine Light within. Guru, therefore, means nothing less than the Divine Light implicit in every human heart progressively revealed to him through a proper cultivation of his religious intuition. 


The Last Sikh Guru, sternly proclaimed that, in all the Sikh Gurus it was the same Light and the identical Spirit that historically and successively manifested itself, and that although the mortal frames changed the identity of the Spirit, the Light remained intact.  After the tenth Guru, this Light has been deposited in the Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth and the Spirit continues to operate in the historically permanent mystic body of the committed Sikhs, the holy congregation of those who follow this Light. This is the Sikh doctrine of the Condominium of the Granth and the Panth.

It is Guru Nanak's usage of the term that is central and the key to understanding Gurmat (the wisdom of the Guru). When asked by the Yogis who his Guru was, Guru Nanak's emphatic reply was that, "the shabad is my guru and my consciousness the disciple " (GGS:590). In Sikhi, guru and shabad are inextricable; the one cannot be understood without the context of the other. To appreciate the concept of Guru in Sikhi, it is important to understand shabad.

In the individual, shabad exists as the immanent inner voice of Akal Purakh, the timeless One. This voice is referred to in Sikhi as guru or satguru. An individual in whom this voice finds its fullest expression is also called a guru or satguru. When this expression of the shabad is articulated in the form of words - as in the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib - it is called bani or gurbani. Note that Sikhs refer to their scripture as the manifestation of the eternal shabad  guru that found expression through the person of Nanak, the guru.  The import of the Guru Granth Sahib is not in the words themselves because "these words will fade away" but in the often hidden message behind the words which point to the Word that does not decay. 

Guru, then, can be understood as the active transforming dimension of shabad that exists in humans as a potentiality. Guru is the channel of communication that mediates as shabad (the divine word) between nam and the individual self, revealing nam as hukam. It is available, but inaccessible because: "as long as the mind is in a state of flux and unrest with thoughts of I-am-ness (ego), shabad fails to inspire love and attraction" (GGS:1247).  It is veiled by haumai (ego-consciousness).

The importance of the Guru in Sikhi cannot be overstated. The Word, Guru Nanak tells us, "the essence of all worship" and the cure for the chronic malady of haumai, "haumai is a chronic affliction, no doubt, but its cure inheres within. With the grace of the guru is this affliction cured" (GGS:466). It follows that in Sikhi, the aim of human life is to access the satguru in us to enable this transforming experience: that of fusing the shallow, conditioned and constricted consciousness of haumai with the universal consciousness of hukam (divine will); of moving from an ego-system to an eco-system; from our default state to our desired state. 

The consequences of such a transformation have been described in the loftiest of poetic expressions. All else pales in comparison to this experience and one who does not have this experience is said to have, in effect, wasted a precious life that may not happen again. A chief marker of this experience is an intuitive awareness of the unity of all creation which brings forth unconditional love for humanity, inspired speech and inspired living; in such a state one's actions become spontaneous and in harmony with others. Such a person becomes liberated from the angst of existence, social anxieties and the rat race (dhaturbazi). Guru Nanak calls such a person a gurmukh (lit. guru facing or one whose language is that of the guru).

What differentiates Guru Nanak and stands out in his teachings is that he holds this supreme experience available to "anyone who searches in oneself for the shabad will find the treasures of nam" (GGS:910).  This inner search is also called surat-shabad yog or the art of fusing ones consciousness with the shabad. How, then, does an individual overcome the self (haumai),  which consists of the layers of conditioning that envelope an individual, giving the illusion of an encapsulated, self-sufficient individual self that is at the center of its universe?  In contrast to the gurmukh, Guru Nanak, calls such individuals manmukh (lit. self centered). The very thing that traps them (haumai) is also the means to liberate itself. 

By turning to the guru is haumai annexed. Why? Because the Guru possesses the key to the Way, "Nanak, meeting the Guru, one is taught the Way: liberation is found while living in this world - in laughter, in play, in wearing and in eating." [GGS:522]. The guru in Sikhi in today's age is negotiated through the language and speech of scripture (Guru Granth Sahib). For a Sikh, bani becomes the starting point of this journey. Sikh teachings instruct the Sikh on how to use the power ordinary language to go beyond it and develop the capacity to commune with the divine Word.  

Nam  simran (lit. remembrance of the Name) refers to the practice and/ or discipline that a Sikh is expected to incorporate into daily life. The term nam simran is used variously as nam, simran or naam simran. Naam is also associated with another term, Jap (pronounced 'jupp'). Nam simran can be thought of as the "jugat" or method that gurbani recommends as the "complete Way of the Guru that brings liberation in the midst of daily life" [GGS:522]. The practice includes vichar (contemplation or reflection), kirtan (singing of praises) and sangat (congregation). Sikhi is a solo inner climb atop the inner mountain, but rooted in the base camp of sangat. 

The Guru in Sikhi is that portal through which communication with the True Name is made possible. A Sikh has two orientations available: Gurmukh and Manmukh. A Gurmukh is centered (affixed) in the Guru through inner devotion ('liv', in gurbani) while attending to the affairs of the world. A Manmukh, on the other hand, lives a toxic, haumai based existence, driven by the external rat race (called dhaturbazi in gurbani). Guru Nanak has given us the way. The choice is ours. 

A Sikh (disciple) implies a teacher (Guru) and it is to the Guru that one must turn to unlock the knowledge (gyan) inherent within us to unlock the mysteries of Hukam.

The Guru’s wisdom (Gurmat) is expressed as Shabad (Word) and is not obtained through conventional modes of acquiring knowledge. 


Solving the riddle of hukam through the Guru’s shabad brings about an enhanced awareness or expanded consciousness that gives us intuitions into how Hukam operates, not only as the laws of nature, but also how it manifests in human culture as moral law. The two are intertwined. As expressions of physical laws, we are intimately linked to phenomena around us and have a symbiotic relationship. The universe we live in is a participatory universe. It is by turning to the Guru, then, that we obtain the discernment of nam, the key that unlocks the secret of hukam.


In fact, hukam and naam are used synonymously at times, as can be inferred from this saying of Guru Nanak, "That namis hukam is the riddle that the true Guru solved for me" (GGS:72).

What is Shabad

Shabad is of Sanskrit etymology meaning sound. Whatever is spoken, heard or written is an expression of shabad -  hence it is also denoted as word. In the Indian system, it is also called Nad and vak, but these terms are used in a metaphysical sense to denote cosmic or primordial sound - the Word. In Sikhi, shabad  has meaning and significance that is bipolar: it stands for human speech (word) on the one hand, and divine or unspoken speech (Word) on the other. Between sound and word, there is a symbiotic and intricate link of increasing levels of subtlety, classified as baikhri, madhyama, pasyanti and para.

For Guru Nanak, shabad, in its metaphysical sense, is eternal. In this primal, preexistent state, shabad  is divine potential and pure consciousness, referred to in the Sikh scripture variously: as alakh (that which cannot be uttered), agam (inconceivable) akath (indescribable), anhat (unheard) and anhad (limitless): "When there was no form or shape, shabad was absorbed in-itself " (GGS: 945). In this state, shabad is also equated to (and coeval) with nam and hukam, two related concepts: “nam is hukam revealed by the true Guru” (GGS: 72). 

What is Hukum

Hukam can be understood as the creative or regulatory agency that operates at all levels of existence. We could think of it as the spiritual impulse that drives the evolution of the species, regulates the natural order, establishes the moral and ethical framework, and exists in us as the sense of self. This impulse or drive can be seen as the intersection of the formless God (nirgun) and expressed in Time and History as creation (sargun).

In several passages, Guru Nanak explains that from a state of cosmic emptiness or non-existence (called sunn samadh), the Absolute One, in a spontaneous act of will and pleasure (bhana), divided itself (swai  bhang) and with its divine ordinance (hukam) created a highly charged state of cosmic potential (called sehaj samadh). Simultaneously arose cosmic intent (nam) and its associated creative principle (shabad) from which flows the process of creation (haumai).  Hukam is not separate from the One issuing the divine edict, but its expression in the universe of time and space (qudrat).


Guru Nanak offers a description of hukam:

  • Through Hukam, all forms originate;

  • That Hukam, no one can state.

  • Through Hukam, all life is manifest

  • By Hukam, are we richly blessed

  • Through Hukam is rank and order maintained;

  • Through Hukam, joy and sorrow ordained.

  • Hukam spells release for some;

  • Endless wandering for others it becomes.

  • Writ large in all creation is Hukam's rule

  • Immune not even the smallest molecule.

  • Says Nanak, if to Hukam we attune,

  • Lose forever the sense of haumai (ego) we assume.


(GGS: 1)

But just as the Truth in its fullness is beyond description, hukam, too, is simply beyond human ken, because ‘no one knows hukam in its fullness, nor can anyone take stock of its creativity’ [GGS: 53]. No description and no flight of fancy, Guru Nanak tells us, can grasp Hukam. Guru Nanak uses the term “bujna” to suggest how to understand hukam. The term literally means to “take a guess,” implying that hukam should be approached, not as a discursive exercise, but as a mystery to be solved in the context of our human existence. The individual’s goal and our evolutionary destiny as a species is to participate and move the impulse of hukam along and not block it by being stuck in Haumai – a structure that is time and space bound and cannot see beyond itself. That is the fundamental challenge.

Indeed, Gurmat (the wisdom of the Guru) stresses that it is our obligation to participate in this ‘game of love,’ as co-creators; unlocking hukam becomes a necessity and a duty for a Sikh because "submission to Hukam is the hallmark of a successful life" (GGS: 512).

Living in hukam can be described as an expansion or flowering of consciousness where the duality of mind and matter begins to recede and the mystery of existence begins to reveal itself. Life begins to move with ease and naturalness. It becomes effortless. The doors of perception become wider - and cleaner - revealing an overwhelming sense of Oneness. One’s inner rhythm syncs up with the rhythm of Existence and there is a recognition of being a participant in the Universal symphony (anhad nad). Emotional highs and lows, so characteristic of our mundane lives, cease. Sorrow and Joy pass and flow like ripples on the surface of our consciousness, which, ocean like, remains calm and serene in its depths. The realization dawns that the ups and downs of life, "grief and happiness are like the clothes we wear and discard everyday"(GGS: 149).

What is Haumai

HAUMAI (sounds like how-may): From the Sanskrit “hum” and “mamma” denoting the experience of “I-ness” and “My-ness respectively. Both mean "I." Before we explore the concept of haumai in Sikhi, it is important to remind readers, yet again, that like other major concepts in Sikhi, it does not lend itself to a satisfactory english equivalent. Most translators have equated haumai to 'ego,' although it has also been denoted as pride and sin. The approach we will take here is to explore how haumai has been described in various passages in the Sikh scripture and then draw some inferences. We will use haumai in the sense of 'ego' but remain mindful that haumai has a broader - and more nuanced - meaning that approximates the id-ego-superego framework of Western psychology - but is not synonymous with it. 


Haumai is a central concept in Sikhi. For Guru Nanak, it is the existential problem of mankind. Gurbani (Sikh scripture) alludes to haumai variously, as a chronic malady, a disease, filth, and a virus that infects the mind. It deludes the mind by distorting and fragmenting Reality, giving rise to a sense of separate self (ego-self) where none really exists.  Guru Nanak calls it the veil of separation (koor di paal, GGS:1). Haumai lies at the root of all human suffering because it misleads the individual to make the ego-self the fulcrum of all activities.


The purpose of human life is to become a sachiaar (bearer of Truth) by drawing the veil of haumai aside to enable the mind to see Reality clearly. Much like a clear vision sometimes requires a correction of the eyes, Haumai is like a built-in colored lens that requires a correction. The logical question would be to ask how did haumai arise in the first place?  In a long and defining passage, Guru Nanak unpacks the concept. Here we will examine portions from it to form our understanding.

  • In haumai, we come and go

  • In haumai, is birth and death

  • In haumai, we give and receive

  • In haumai, all profit and loss

  • In haumai, is the truth and the false  

  • In haumai, all virtue and sin

  • In haumai, heaven and hell

  • In haumai, we laugh and weep 

  • In haumai, we become soiled, and are washed clean 

  • In haumai, all rank and file

  • In haumai, the ignorant and the wise 

  • They know not the Way 

  • In haumai, love of Maya arises, and in haumai they are kept in darkness

  • In haumai, mortal beings are created 

  • Haumai, when understood, opens the doorway to freedom. 

(GGS: 466)

At the very outset, haumai is presented as the cosmic principle of creation that brings the world into being.  In another passage, a similar point is made: "By creating haumai were creatures brought into being." (GGS: 166). Haumai, therefore, comes about by Divine ordinance. The very act of creation involves a cosmic illusion, called Maya,  which is also the propelling force for creation of haumai and often used synonymously with it. In the individual, haumai exists as the ego-self (the conditioned self) and becomes the context for all human activity.  This is how the stage is set for the drama of life.  In other words, haumai represents the archetypal separation from its original source. This is the fate that afflicts the entire universe. Gurbani tells us as much: "the affliction of haumai was given to humans" (GGS:1140) and humankind "seem to have no option but to accept this fate. Into Cosmic illusion has the world fallen and rare is the person who understands this" (GGS: 558). 


We can think of haumai, then, as a built-in feeling of how it feels to be YOU: a subjective experiential awareness which, by its self-referential nature, is irreducible. You cannot see your haumai anymore than you can see you own seeing or bite your own teeth. Haumai is how we become aware of ourselves.  Once born, the acculturation process  - speech, language, thoughts, emotions, relationships -  serves to accentuate the sense of boundary and separateness, coagulating haumai into exaggerated and narcissistic self-love. Gurbani speaks of a long evolutionary process that suggests that haumai is an emergent property made possible by capacities that are uniquely human: language, speech, communication, morality, and culture, but above all our capacity for imagination, mental time travel, creating future scenarios and our drive to link minds (Sangat). 


Because of the primal separation, haumai comes laden with existential angst: Self preservation (survival), self expansion and self procreation drive us into a life style called dhat in Gurbani. It is characterized by the vicious cycle of our daily grind (rat race) that snares us into this web of existence called Maya. Fueled by endless desire, we fall victim to the evils of anger, avarice, attachment and pride (kama, krodh, lobh, moh and ahankar). We loose our inner bearing and spiritual compass. We become manmukhs, inured to a haumai-based existence: "Ensnared in this transitory drama, they (manmukhs)have lost their moorings; they are neither here nor there" (GGS: 29).


How are we to heal the split, "thin as butterfly wings," that occurs at our birth and creates the dynamic tension between the limiting demands of our ego-self and the compulsion of our authentic Self (our divine essence) to soar and be freed from the very restraints that tether us to our haumai? As noted above, Sikh scripture describes haumai in negative terms, especially as a chronic illness. Yet, haumai is its own medicine: "Haumai is a chronic malady, but its remedy inheres within it" (GGS:466). This is the paradox of haumai. 


Gurbani tells us that the Creator who pushed us into such a state knows our predicament, "Our affliction, you know it all. Who else does? (GGS:628). The cure is formulated in Guru Nanak's opening verse of his foundational work, the Japji: "How do we become a sachiaar (Truth bearers)," he asks, and then provides his answer: "By living in accord with Hukam (divine Will) is haumai annexed" (GGS:1)  Gurbani reminds us that haumai is merely a contrivance to make contact with the physical world, an outward projection of our authentic Self which is not dependent on our sense organs: " O my mind, you are the embodiment of divine light; pray, recognize your source" (GGS: 441). 

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