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Shabad-guru : Idea And Institution - Dr Jodh Singh

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This paper was presented in International Sikh Conferences 2004

Shabad-Guru : Idea and Institution

Dr Jodh Singh,

Punjabi University, Patiala (India).


The importance of a Guru in Guru Granth Sahib may be realised from the fact that among the many names of God in Sikhism there is also the name ‘Vahiguru’, which literally means a wondrous Guru. The Guru is beneficient, the sanctuary of peace, the light of the three worlds. His gift of Nama is eternal and he who believes in him wholeheartedly, attains internal peace1. Guru Arjan Dev also emphasises the importance of a true Guru, since he cuts our fetters of bondage and enables us to utter the Lord's Nama. With the Satguru's grace, our mind is attuned to the truth, our woes depart and we abide in bliss.2

The Guru is needed because he is all-powerful and infinite. Fortunate are those who seek his sight. The Guru is incomprehensible, immaculate and pure, and no one can equal the Guru3. The Guru is part and parcel of life because he is the tree of contentment, which flowers in faith and gives fruits of wisdom. Watered by the Lord's love, this tree remains ever green and its fruits ripen through deeds and meditation. Those who taste these fruits are glorious and this tree (Guru) is the Lord's gift of gifts4. The Guru is needed to obtain the Nama and to get rid of doubt. If someone serves the true Guru he obtains peace and his births and deaths end. The immaculate soul is absorbed in the True Lord through the Guru and without the Guru the way is not found5. Guru Nanak feels that the Lord cannot be obtained, so long as we do not surrender before the Guru. One remains caught up in doubt and is born to die and to come again.The Guru inspires us to make our conduct acceptable, otherwise we die in sinful thinking and remain always subject to the tortures of Yama-door6. In ‘Gurbani’ the mind has very frequently been compared with an elephant. The Guru is said to be the elephant-driver and gnosis, the goad. It is only the Guru who can drive the mana-elephant wherever he likes. The elephant without that goad and the driver wanders in wilderness, uncontrolled7.

Sikh Guru and Guru Granth Sahib:

If we go through Sri Guru Granth Sahib, we can easily conclude that service to Guru is deemed to be the highest service. Among the Sikhs it is widely known that the tradition of a human Guru started with Guru Nanak Dev and remained in vogue upto the tenth Guru Gobind Singh, the last one among them. Term Guru is used for all these ten great souls for they were the torch-bearers of Sikhism. In addition, the word Guru is always attached to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, because it contains the sum total of the inner divine experiences of the Sikh Gurus, and the enlightened Hindu and non-Hindu saints. While perusing this tradition of human Guruship we shall have to bear in mind that this epithet has been used only for those, who could stand the test of time eternal and were deemed fit for the same; for they finally merged in God by shattering away all worldly bondages. In the daily prayer (Ardas) of the Sikhs first stanza is the writing of Guru Gobind Singh, in which he starts by saying that first, having served and remembered the sword, the power of God, I concentrate myself on Guru Nanak. Then after using this word Guru for Guru Angad and Guru Amar Das, all the nine personalities from Guru Nanak to Guru Teg Bahadur have been talked of as Gurus.

One could easily say that in all mystical and esoteric religions and religious cults at any rate especially in India, one finds the guru playing a very important and significant role; indeed no religious and spiritual pursuit seems to be conceivable without a guru. There is no doubt that Guru Nanak inherited the totality of this tradition, and in his interpretation of doctrine one finds elements from the entire Indian spirituo-philosophical heritage. However, his interpretation of these elements imparts to his ideology an altogether new body and soul. In the first place there are utterances of his which show that the Guru was none other than God Himself, a point which is made not only by Guru Nanak but by Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Gobind Singh as well. Whatever may be said of the nine successive Gurus in whose case the predecessor Gurus and their words may be collectively called the Guru, one may not have any doubt that in Guru Nanak's case God Himself was the one and only Guru. Then there are other utterances of Guru Nanak which indicate that it was not only God Himself but the Voice of God as revealed to a perceptive soul which was also the Guru. According to Guru Nanak this perceptive soul is Gurmukh (GGS 945) who realizes the unstruck melody of the khasam ki bani and further there is someone rare who translates it into actions. However, at places it is clearly denoted that the Guru was to be equated with the Word or the Truth of God. Guru Angad also avers that the bani is not the result of different rituals ( Karm-kand), it is the result of deep revelation attained through knowledge and meditation. Only perceptive soul Gurmukh utters it and the Gurmukh only understands it and meditates upon it through his spirited action (of common weal).

But whatever the interpretation, the fact remains that Guru Nanak wanted to give these interpretations a socially institutionalized form. For him first, God is the Guru and Guru Nanak had not only heard his Voice but had also listened to and followed His Word which was the Truth. Therefore naturally he could claim to be a Guru himself; indeed guruship had descended on him as God's grace. Here was thus a clear case of spiritual succession. Secondly, as a corollary of the above, he could legitimately select and nominate one to succeed him as Guru since he had transmitted to him, his shabad or word which were but the Voice and Word of God. Guru Angad Dev was selected to further this institution of Guruship.

The Tradition:

One can however be puzzled by the present tradition of the Sikhs of accepting the Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru and not any physical person. Why ‘Sabad’ (Shabd has been used as ‘Sabad’ in Guru Granth Sahib) is considered as the Guru will be discussed in the following pages, but suffice it to say here that the Sikh Gurus right from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh were considered as one with God, in spite of their being embodiments of different persons. Guru's light fundamentally is non-physical but keeping in view the needs of social structure, that light is to inflame through different bodies and the organisations. Besides this, it is needless to add that the elemental body of the Guru can not be called the Guru because the body is nothing but inert matter. It is only the spirit, the light, the knowledge abiding in that body which is but one with God, and which can be called the Guru. A comman man needs guidance in social, political, economic and spiritual sphere and the worldly life of the Guru sets an example for the masses. From this view-point, the importance of the body can not be ignored. In Sikhism, this practical aspect of Guruship was strictly and successfully adhered to up to Guru Gobind Singh, who ultimately dedicated the whole of the power of Guruship and 'Khalsa panth' to Sri Guru Granth Sahib by saying that all the Sikhs are henceforth required to accept it as the Guru.

However, elaborate descriptions of the traits of the true Guru have been given in the Holy Scripture. Accordingly, the Guru must be above class, category and nationality; he should rather be a vital link among all the classes, castes and nations8. These qualities are amply found in the Guru Granth Sahib wherein one finds that irrespective of caste or creed almost all denominations of society have been taken in its grand fold. The Guru has also been compared to a mother who gives birth to a child, nourishes him, always keeps an eye upon him, and loves him deeply. Similarly, the 'Satguru' pours his affection on the follower9. Not that the Guru is all in all and behaves in a dictatorial manner, rather the Guruship sustains itself in the followers and whatever the true follower or Sikh wishes, becomes also the wish of the Guru in which he delights10. Bhai Gurdas gives his finding about the true Guru by saying that the true Guru, is completely devoid of any enmity and scatters his grace equally upon a backbiter, a jealous fellow or an apostate11. If however, the Guru himself is troubled by doubts and is spiritually blind, his disciples are lost12. Still, as Guru Ramdas says, no servant can feed himself if the lord or the Guru himself is hungry. Thus, whatever the master has, is held by the follower. How can he have more than that?13

Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru has mentioned four categories of the human Guru. The first is ‘Bhringi Guru’ who, like an insect (Bhringi) can convert a particular type of insect into ‘Bhringi’, but is not in a position to transform all the insects. Such Gurus confine their preachings to a particular sect or class and are not acceptable to all. The second is ‘Paras Guru’ who can turn iron into gold but cannot make iron like ‘Paras' itself. So such Gurus, uplift the life of others but these changed people have no further capacity of uplifting others. The third is 'Chandan Guru' who in a particular season can scent all the surrounding trees except the bamboo tree. Such Gurus also have a limited appeal. The fourth one is ‘Dipak Guru’ who enkindles all the hearts without any loss to his own self and that light enlightens every body without any discrimination. Needless to say that the Guru described in Guru Granth Sahib is this fourth type of Guru14. It is this Guru who shows the way of death in life or life in death. This joy of remaining alive after death is pleasing to the mind. The Guru abrogates the ego and takes us to the tenth gate. When the true Guru is met, duality takes to heels, the heart-lotus blooms and the mind gets attached to lord God. Such a true Guru makes us truthful, abstinent and pure. This Guru-ladder takes us to the highest of the high and endows us with Lord's grace, so that the fear of death is destroyed. By uniting with the Guru the mortal sinks deep into the Lord's lap and thus effaces his ego. The merciful Guru reveals the Lord's mansion within man's own soul15.

Who is the Guru:

On the basis of Goraksha Siddhanta Samgrah Dr Hazari Prasad Dvivedi discusses the competence of a Guru and holds that only an avduhta can be a Guru. An avdhuta is one, in every word of whom are Vedas, in every one of his steps are the holy places, and in every one of his vision resides kaivalya. In his one hand is sacrifice and in the other bhoga; still, he is above both these tyaga and bhoga16. For such serene personalities the word Guru has been used in ‘Gurbani.’ Guru Ramdas says that Guru and Govind are one and there is no difference at all in them17. The Smrtis and the Vedas also say that there is no difference between the Guru and the Parabrahm18. All praise falls short of the true Guru because, as Guru Arjan Dev says, the Guru is nothing but discretion (Vivek) and ocean of truth incarnate. This Guru is full of God within and without.19

Very often, God has been considered and accepted as the True Guru in the hymns of the Gurus. God Himself is sevak ‘satguru’, the creator of the universe and the doer of every thing20. He is the indestructible Purush pervading every where and is free from comings and goings21. This body has been compared with a raw pitcher which is bound to be created and liable to be destroyed. This horrible world-ocean cannot be got across without the help of Hari Guru22. It is not that Guru Nanak is hinting indirectly towards God as the Guru; rather he accepts point blank that the light of the Pure Lord-the essence of every-thing is pervading all. I am he and he is me; there is no difference between the two. It is the infinite transcendent Lord, the Supreme God, who has been obtained by Nanak as his Guru23. Guru Arjan Dev confirms the same tenet of Guru Nanak in Asa Raga:-"we are the servants of 'Gobind' and my Lord is great. He is the cause and effect of everything and that ‘Satguru’ alone (God) is my Guru24". Above all, when Guru Gobind Singh in his Bachitr Natak speaks about his own coming to earth, he says that his parents worshipped that transcendent Lord and then the Gurudev (God) became happy. He had been sent by the Gurudev to establish Dharma in the world25. Further in the ‘Chaupai’, which has been included in the evening prayer (Rahiras) of the Sikhs it is clearly mentioned that Guru Gobind Singh considers only that power as his Guru which was in the beginning and shall ever remain even after the end.26

Further Exploration

In his longer hymn Thitti, Guru Nanak while imparting spiritual teaching through lunar dates says: chauthi upae chare beda. khani chare bani bheda’- on fourth day He is remembered as the creator of the four Vedas, and the four material sources of creation and four forms of speech27. Here in the second line, the hints about the creatures (andaj-egg born, jeraj-foetus born, svedaj-sweat born and udbhij - vegetation born) on earth and likewise four forms of speech (para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari) have been given but in Gurbani, the Gurus nowhere have dealt with the charactristics and nature of these speeches, as they have done in the case of yogis and Vaishanavites etc. In Gurbani much has been said about the functions of the 'sabad' (shabd) but about the form and nature of the 'sabad' the sacred texts are not so open. One has to delve deep to understand the hidden meanings behind this term. 'Sabad' apart from its synonyms, gosti, gurupdes, marg, sandes, religious life, in the Guru Granth Sahib, has been used in many more senses but primarily word 'shabd' delineates Parmatma and Oankar. Generally speaking on the basis of Gurbani, the 'shabda' can be held as an all pervasive power which is immanent force in all the beings and this power can be relised only by becoming gurmukh. What can be the form of power? Electricity is power which materialises many works; we see it active in the bulb, heater, freezer and boiler etc. but we can not see its absolute form, though its charge we can realise. In religious terminology this energy or power is called Oankar who is held to be in the base of whole of the cosmos-Oankari Brahma utpati. Oankari kia jin chiti. oankari sail jug bhae. Oankar bed nirmae.28

Gurbani uses the word ‘Sabad’ with variations; ‘Guru ka sabad’, ‘su sabad’ and nam etc. It is accepted in the Sidh Gosti that through ‘Guru-sabad’ that Shabda is to be realised. Understanding and shattering of kama, krodh and ego-the obstacles on the way of realisation of internal shabda-come through ‘Guru-sabad’ which is the matrika stage of the same internal sakshatktra(revealed)shabda29. It is sabad which destroys all mental distrotions and worldly hopes and through ‘Guru-sabad’ one is able to keep the internal flame burning continuously30. The ego is poison in man. It is made extinct by ‘Guru-sabad’ and then one goes to his own eternal home for good. It is through ‘Guru-sabad’ that we understand the implications of the creation and the Creator31. Thus, for Sidh Gosti, ‘sabad’ and Guru-shabda are equally competent for liberation. It is through the Guru-word that transmigration is ended32. Yogis divided into different sects can be emancipated only when their ego dies being awake in the Word.33

Primarily the discussion on the nature of God, who has been conisdered as the Guru, is not our concern here; we are concerned here mainly with the shabd aspect of God because in the Sidh Gosti, sabad has been clearly accepted as the Guru. It is told in this longer hymn that by realising Him here, there, and everywhere we can get across the world-ocean through Sabad, the Guru34. On being asked by the Siddhs about his Guru, Guru Nanak replied that shabd was his Guru and his surati (meditative faculty) was the disciple of that Guru35. It may be noted here that both Shabd and surati are subtle entities and in them there is no indication of grossness of body. The subtle merges with the subtle, transcending this body. According to Guru Nanak this 'Sabad' is the Guru and the 'Peer'. It is a profound and deep entity without which the world is lost in its senses36.

Shabad in other traditions

This conception of Shabd as God and Guru by Guru Nanak is consistent also with the main religious traditions of the world, in which Shabd-brahm prinicple has been widely accepted. In India the Supreme power has been identified as Oankar from which the angels, the speech and the whole creation of the three worlds have emanated37. The fourth Gospel in the Holy Bible also has a similar notion"- 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God'. These appear like the very words of the Vedas; prajapatir vai idam asit-in the beginning was Brahm-tasya vag dvitiya asit- with whom was vak or the Word (vak is spoken of as second to Him because vak is first potentially in, and then issues as Shakti from Him) : vag vai parainam Brahm- and the Word is Brahm. Vak(shabd) is thus shakti or power of the Brahm which is one with the possessor of power (shaktiman).This shakti which was in Him is at the creation with Him and evolves into the form of the universe whilst still remaining what it is-the supreme shakti.38

The notion of ‘Word' is very ancient. God speaks the Word and the thing appears. The Hebrew word for the Light is 'Aur'. The Genesis says, 'God said, let there be light (aur) and there was light (aur)'. The Divine Word is conceived of in the old Testament as having creative power. A further stage of thought presents to us the concept of another aspect of the Supreme, that of one, who creates. Thus we have the Supreme and the Logos, Brahm-and Shabda-brahm. In Greak, Logos means thought and the word which denotes the object of thought. To Heraclitus, Logos was the principal underlying the universe. To Stoics it was the 'World Soul', the uniting principle of all rational forces working in the world. According to Plato, the 'Logoi' were supersensual primal images or patterns (jati) of visible things. The Alexandrain Philo, influenced by Platonism and other philosophies of Hellenism, combined the two conceptions of the Greek philosophy and the old Testament into a link between a Being, and the manifold universe. This intermediate being was Logos. According to Philo, ideas moulded matter. God first produced the intelligible world of ideas which are types (aparajati) of the physical world. Though in itself nothing but the Logos, the latter is the author of the ideal world. Just as an architect projects in his mind a plan of a town (polis) and then produces the real town according to the idea, so did God, when He created the world this megalopolis' (brahamand)39. In the words of Saint John, 'in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. All things are made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made40. In Islam, we find that every thing came into existence when God uttered kun meaning 'be'41. This Islamic conception of the word kun led to the creation of the Universe. In Indian Philosophy this 'Logos', 'Aur'; 'Word' is known by the name of Oankar which is known as the all-pervading cosmic force.

Guru Nanak considers this Oankar as the root cause of the whole creation. Brahma the so-called creator, the mountains, the ages, and the Vedas were all created by Oankar. This 'Onam' is the essence of the three worlds42. In Rag Dhanasari Guru Amar Das says that the light of the Sabad-dipak is pervading all the three worlds and those who absorb this light become pure. Pure nam (sabad) effaces the ego of the mind and thus imbued with true devotion one receives eternal happiness43. This Shabd-which is called Oankar is there in our body also which as the cognizer and cognized force, makes us realise the reality outside and within.

Jiva is being continuously influenced by hundreds of the impressions of the universe around it. The mind selects the relevant impressions and sends them to the buddhi. The mind itself becomes the object it perceives and its relevance corresponding to its (object's) meaning is conveyed to the buddhi. This identification of the mind with the object perceived is called the mental Vrtti and this mind as Vrtti, is a representation of the outer object. This means that when the mind perceives a flower, it becomes flower itself and thus this physical object (sthul) and the mental impression produced by this gross is subtle object (sukshm arth). It further means that mind has two aspects of the perceiver and the perceived in mental formation. The mental impression and the physical object exactly correspond, for the physical object is in fact a projection of the cosmic imagination, though it has just the same reality as mind has, no more and no less. Therefore, going beyond the attraction of these material objects and automatic realisation of the Divine is axiomatic. The mind is thus the cognizer (grahak) and the cognized (grahy),revealer (prakashak) and revealed (prakashy), denoter (vachak) and denoted (vachy). So the mind which thinks of divinity which it worships through continued sustained devotion is at length transormed into the likeness of divinity. As Arthur Avalon remarks:

The object perceived is called Artha, a term which comes from the root 'Ri' which means to get, to know, to enjoy. Arth is that which is known and which therefore is an object of enjoyment. The mind as artha-that is in the form of mental impression-is a reflection of the outer object or gross artha. As the outer object is arth, so is the interior subtle mental form, which corresponds to it. That aspect of the mind which cognizes is called Shabd or nam(name) and that aspect in which it is its own object or cognized is called arth or rupa (form). The outer physical object of which the latter is, in the individual, an impression, is also arth or rup, and spoken speech is the outer shabd.44

This subtle Shabd may be understood from one more angle of nad and bindu. All things are defined in terms of shabdarth and of all the various casual forms which precede it. The first of such produced forms is nad which becomes bindu and then on the differentiation of the tattvs the hidden sound (avyakt rav), the Logos or the Cosmic Word utters 'the Garland of Letters' (Varnamala) of which all mantrs are formed. It traces the degree in which the ideating cosmic consciouness becomes the Supreme Speech (Paravak) the genetrix of the subtle and gross Shabd which are the matrikas and varnas respectively. That Supreme Speech (Paravak) is without idea or language, but is represented as gradually assuming the state in which it utters both and projects from itself into the sensual world, the object (arth) which they denote45. In Shaiv and Shakt Agams, the Will of Shiv is called nad which is very subtle. This Will is in the form of a vibration which in the language of the Upanishad, is aijan. This Shabd or nad is nothing but the personification of this vibration and the Shabd listened to by the human ears is too gross a thing. That subtle vibration can be conceived only on an empirical level and that Will is nothing but nad whose part and parcel is action or bindu.46

Oankar has been named as Pranav also. Language is helpless to describe it due to its extremely subtle nature. Dr. Dvivedi attempts to define it by supposing the first vibration as nadarupa. The subtlest syllable is akar and the grossest is makar which, besides closisng the lips, takes the help of also the nose. Now we take akar as the fundamental sound which came out to be as the first vibration. If it goes on rolling, there would not be any sound; for that, it needs a check position. Nad is the rolling force and bindu is the checking positional force. This would mean that this world is nothing but this nada and bindu which is essential for the jagat-prapancha. Now 'Aa' voice is checked and joined by 'Ma' coming from throat to lips. Consequently lips are closed in order to pronounce it. On the closure of the lips it would become like 'U'. This way 'Aa', 'U', 'Ma' will come out as first sound which is endless because of its being the vibration. This trinity of 'Aa', 'U', 'Ma' is Om or Oankar. Because it has been explained with the help of gross syllables, so the gross pronunciation will come before us; but this is only one method and not the only one. At first, being very subtle the cosmic vibration must have been of some such nature. Therefore this Oankar is the beginning of the universe, and may be taken as navarupa or saguna-brahman. Nav, navin etc. are not very appropriate words, because that which is new is liable to be old also. The first vibration never grows old and is vibrating every moment. Therefore only nav is not enough it is Pranav.47

Audibility of Shabd:

Literally, the word Shabd refers to sentences, words and letters which are the expression of ideas. Bhai Kahan Singh explains 'Sabad' as follows:(i) 'Sabad'-Noun-dhvani, sound, pitch, (2) pada, Syllable.(3) 'gosti'-guftgoo-'Sabade hi bhagat japade jin ki bani sachi hoi' (Guru Amardas. Asa). (4)guru Upades-'bhavjal bin sabadai kio tarie'(5) Brahm-Kartar-'Sabad guru surati dhuni chela'(Sidh Gosti). (6) Sect-dharam- jog sabdam gian sabdam bed sabdam brahmana. (7)Message- Dhanvandi pirdes nivasi satgur pah sabad pathai'(Guru Nanak-Malar). (8) As the hymns of Namdev and Surdas are famous with the names of 'Abhang' and Vishnupadas' respectively, the hymns of Guru Granth are called 'Shabds'. (9) Religious life- 'gharie sabad sachi taksal (Japuji).48

The Word 'Sabad' (Shabd) has a subtle meaning also, which refers to the mental world. According to Indian religious tradition, one form of expression of individuality may be explained as follows: The 'Shabd' has five stazes viz, Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama, Vaikhari and Matrika. In the Para stage the speech becomes pure consciouness, which is present in the form of an urge or will for self-expression, without any manifestation even in the form of a subtle sound or an idea. This Para speech is Shabd-brahm which is in complete union with its ultimate origin, Brahm or the Supreme consciouness, the soul of individual as well as of the cosmic system. This Para-vak is self-shining Oankar, which is the origin and essence of all sound49. Commonly, shabd, is the gross sound articulate or inarticulate emitted by men, animals and natural objects. This emitted shabd is called Vaikhari sound which is a descent from Para-shabd through Pashyanti and Madhyama sound. Para-shabd is bindu and Pashyanti is creative thought and action by that bindu which is the causal body of Shabd. From this arises the subtle body of Shabd which is Tanmatra and Matrika which evolves into the gross body of sound and becomes letters (Varnas) uttered by the organs.

Pashyanti-vak is manifested in the form of subtle ideas, which consciouness directly sees or perceives. It is not manifested in any articulated sound form. Shabd is here manifested on the mental plane, and not on the physical plane. But the urge or the will for self-expression in these grosser planes powerfully acts upon the physiological embodiments. Madhyama-shabd stands midway between the ideal form of speech and the articulate sound form of speech, between mental speech and vocal speech. At this stage certain subtle sounds are produced within the physiological system, in course of the internal effort to give outer expression to inner speech. Shabd is still within the body and has no outer manifestation in the form of words and sentences.

All human languages are embodiments of Vaikhari-shabd. At this stage 'Sabad' comes out through the co-operative effort of the vocal organs, in the form of articulate speach or uttered words audible to the sense of hearing of others. It is through Vaikhari-shabd that an individual can communicate his ideas to other individuals and thus enables others to know and share their thoughts, feelings and desires. At the matrika stage the Shabda is represented through phonetic constituents of Vaikhari-shabd. Now shabd comes in the shape of verbal sounds which are represented by akshar(letter). They are the seeds (bijas) of all languages, of all forms of articulate speech. They are called matrika forms from which all kinds of words and sentences of the apparently diverse forms of languages in the world, are evolved50. This Vaikhari-shabd may differ on the basis of different geographical conditions, but the thought movement at perceiving a particular object is similar in men of all the different regions of the world. When a French man, an Indian or an African thinks of an object, the image formed is similar in all the cases, though the utternace of the name may differ. This is the reason that a man who has the power of thought-reading, may tell and appreciate the thinking of others without understanding their speech.

The Problems:

Having understood the stages of shabd alluded to above a very important question arises. We have seen that subtle para shabd or the shabd-brahm becomes gross in the form of pashyanti and this pashyanti form further becomes grosser in the form of madhyama and then this madhyama finally turns to be matrika after having changed into vaikhari stage. Matrika is the grossest form of the para-shabd. Matrika is the grossest form of the para-shabda. Vaikhari (articulated speech) is four time grosser than the para-shabd and being so even, it is such a subtle entity that it can be heard only and cannot be seen. Now the question is: when from all the human beings this shabda-brahm in the form of vaikhari shabd is emanating, then why the words of a man of piety saint touch our soul and influence it and why the words of a scoundrel make no impact upon anybody. We accept the sermons of a pious hard working person but the long speeches of an arrogant lier slip above the head of everybody. Going deeper into this question, a fact on the basis of the discussion above about the stages of para-shabd emerges that while reaching the madhyama. stage, the shabd takes a clear form of presentable idea which is to be brought out in the form of vaikhari. We all know very well that while speaking before an audience we become fully conscious of our family, academic, social or political status whatsoever. Our full energy is channelized by us in such a way that we try our best to influence or in crude language to scare the person or a group of persons before us. This very motivation of our energy is our cultivated ego which makes us conscious of our material or supiritual gains we have hit upon per chance or by virtue of being born in the family of goldspoon feeders or by our hard labour done without earning humility. This ego more or less as we have it, we go on mixing in the Vaikhari form of the shabad-brahm and according to the degree of ego (haumai) the Vaikhari of the individual goes on being polluted and thus made ordinary, more ordinary and consequently ineffective. The individual who considering ego as a chronic malady has erased his deep rooted ego, brings out his vaikhari, is bound to impress upon the listeners. Greatmen, saints and Gurus, as and when they speak, their saying never goes without hearing and influencing and on the other hand the long statements of a dishonest arrogant person will be treated as trash.

All the scriptures of the world contain therein the matrika(written) stage of the parashabd. From above, it is clear that subtlest para shabad in order to be audible and visible transforms itself in the matrika stage. As a corrollary of the points already discussed, it seems quite justified when the Gurus or the code of conduct of Sikhism prescribe nitnem, i.e.recitation of hymns in the morning and evening. If the parashabd can devolute to the stage of matrika (written hymns) then the proper recitation of and concentration upon the matrika can definitely take the recitor or meditator to the subtle para stage which is nothing but Brahm or Parmatma. In fact the fountain of para shabd is always gushing forth from inside of the jiva but the ego, cunningness and pragmatism of the jiva is all the twenty-four hours busy in suppressing and drying up this fountain. To bring that level of drying elixer up we have to pour holy water of nitnem and recitation from above similarly as we pour a bucket of water from above in a hand-pump when it goes dry. The lower level comes up and we enjoy the taste of fresh water.

We have seen how subtle the shabd is, and how it comes to Vaikhari and Matrika stages. The whole of this process is so subtle that it is seldom distinctly realised by man although it goes on continuously within him. The same subtle shabd (Para-shabd) is Guru Nanak's Shabd-brahm, who, in Sidh Gosti has been accepted as the Guru51.

How the Bani was revealed:

Before we undertake to explore the chief aspects of Shabd considered by Guru Nanak, it will not be out of place to see what the sense is behind understanding the Gurbani as Shabd-brahm and how this was revealed to Guru Nanak. Bhai Veer Singh in the foreword to Gurmat Nirnay of Dr. Bhai Jodh Singh, an eminent scholar of Sikh Philosophy and Religion explains the reason of the origin of Gurbani and holds that divine experience and divine knowledge which were bestowed upon Guru Nanak from the very start, were shared by him with the people through musical vibrations and the people were overwhelmed with a supernatural light and bliss. Sometimes the Guru was asked questions by the spiritually weak people who did not experience this internal bliss. The Guru answered them through discourses but when they were still unconvinced, the inspired Guru delved deeper into the depths of atma and appeared almost a different being with a shining and glittering face. As a result, divine music flowed in hymns and the Para-shabda through divine dialogue went on pouring, melting and dyeing the onlookers in His steadfast colour. These divine hymns covering long and small discourses with the seekers of right path were written by or got written in the name of Guru.

Guru-'Vahiguru'- the educator, the giver of life, and the saviour, was unmanifested and resided in the invisible regions. We came to know him as Guru Nanak when he came on earth; that divine Guru made great men walk in His light and become the sustainers of the 'Bani' (Shabad). The divine Guru-light collected the manifested hymns also of the earlier lights. After scrutiny and selection, much more was added to it. The problems of spiritual life, the details about the groping steps of the sadhakas and the experiences of men reaching light from darkness, were retained in the Guru Granth Sahib, with appropriate comments. The Guru Granth became the manifestation of-This is It, this is It- the unmanifested ultimate reality. Finally the fifth Guru complied the saguna Shabd-brahm in the shape of Scripture for all52. In a nutshell, Bhai Veer Singh emphasises that the holy scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib was first, illumined in the heart of the Guru in the shape of divine knowledge, and from there, through divine melody became rupatmak (visible) in a musical order and the Shabd-brahm was made incarnate as Guru Granth Sahib. All the virtuous deeds, religious purifications, self-mortifications, devotions, austerities and pilgrimages abide in the 'Sabad'. Guru Nanak says that the true Guru unites the man with the Lord and then the sin, sorrow and death fly away.53

In the hymns of Guru Nanak, 'Sabad' is described more in terms of what it does than in terms of what it actually is. Thus the function of the 'Sabad' is to be realised in experience and not merely known in any purely intellectual sense. Creation is due to Shabd. The agitation in the primary substance projecting itself into the sensuous plane becomes audible as dhvani or sound, but is itself only the possibility and susbtratum of sound. Creation is said to be Shabd-prabhav, that is, it proceeds from, and is a manifestation of the stress of cosmic Shakti. In this sense every movement or process in the universe is Para-shabd. Ashabd-jagat is a contradiction in terms. Whilst the stress or constituting force is one and the same, it manifests itself differently to the different sense organs.54

Realisation of Sabad

Thus we have seen why Guru Nanak gave so high a status to 'Sabad' by accepting it as the Guru. In Guru Nanak's hymns, thoughts are abundantly available which tell us how the Shabd-brahm is realised and why the following of Shabd is necessary. It is one of Guru Nanak's teachings that we should not forget the Nama of Hari and try to attain the Lord. The storehouse (ocean) of 'Sabad' is inside. It can be obtained by surrendering the ego and self-conceit55. Piercing, that is, delving deep into the 'Sabad' is necessary by the sadhak to attain the door of the Lord; otherwise all his pleasure and pomp and show are useless56. When the bride decorates her hair with truth, wears the garments of love, gathers in the chandan like God in her conscious mind and lives in the temple of inner-consciousness-the tenth gate, then the soul flowers through the Word and beloved Lord's Nam enshrines in her heart57. He who dies in the Word, does not die again. Through 'Sabad' we do attain the Lord and his love. Without the word, the world is led astray and is born to die again and again. Further, Guru Nanak says that if one realises the word, one prides not on one's self58. Ego, avarice and love of the self are the main impediments in the way of 'Sabad' realisation. If the good is to be received, the leaving of these bonds, and dwelling on the word, are required59. It is through the Guru that we meet the Lord who makes us understand the infinity of His power, and this understanding is possible only when ego is put off by realising that there is nothing but 'Sabad' in all the three worlds60. Guru Nanak says that with the recitation of the true 'Sabad' , the unstable mind is restrained and the nectar is realised61. Through 'Sabad', the dignity of salvation is obtained and false pride is lost.


1. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, p.137,

'guru data guru hivai gharu guru dipaku tih loi. amar padrathu Nanaka mani maniai sukhu hoi'.

2. Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Granth Sahib p. 183

'bandhan todi bolavai ramu. mana mahi lagai sachu dhianu'.

3. Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Granth, p. 52

'Guru samarathu aparu guru vadbhagi darasanu hoi. guru agocharu nirmala gur jevadu avaru na koi'.

4. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 847.

'Nanak guru santokhu rukhu dharamu phulu phal gianu. rasi rasia haria sada pakai karami dhianu. pati ke sada khada lahai dana kai sir danu'.

5. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 635.

'satiguru seve ta sukhu pae bhai avanu janu rahai'.

6. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 904,

'gur saran na aie brahman na pae ....'.

7. Guru Amardas, Guru Granth, p. 526,

'manu kuncaru pilaku guru gianu kunda jaha khince taha jai. Nanak hasti kunde bahara phiri phiri ujadi pai.

8. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 15.

'Nanak satguru aisa janiai jo sabsai lae milai jio.'

9. Guru Ramdas, Guru Granth, p. 168.

'jio janani sutu jani palti rakhai nadari majhari ....'.

10. Guru Ramdas, Guru Granth, p. 317,

'Gursikhan andari satguru varatai jo sikhan no lochai so gur khusi avai.'

11. Bhai Gurdas, Var 26. 19

'Gur pura nirvair hai nindak dokhi bemukh tarai'.

12. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 58,

'Guru jina ka andhala chele nahi thao.....'.

13. Guru Ram Das, Guru Granth, p. 306,

'Sahibu jisaka nanga bhukha hovai tisada nafaru kithahu raji khae'.

14. Bhai Kahan Singh, Mahan Kosh, p. 461,

15. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 153,

"Satiguru milai su maranu dikhae. maran rahan rasu antari bhae ... guri miliai mili anki samaia. kari kirpa gharu mahalu dikhaia. Nanak haumai mar milaia.'

16. Dr. Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Nath Sampraday, p. 149

17. Guru Ram Das, Guru Granth, p. 442

'Gura govindu govindu guru hai Nanak bhedu na bhai.'

18. Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Granth, p. 1142

'Nanak sodhe simrati beda. parbraham gur nahi bhed.'

19. Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Granth, p.397

'Gura ki mahima kia kaha gura bibek satsaru.

Ohu adi jugadi jugah jugu pura parmesaru.'

20. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth p. 1025

'Ape karta purakhu bidhata . jini ape api upai pachata.

ape satiguru ape sevaku ape srisati upai he.'

21. Guru Ramdas, Guru Granth, p. 759

'Satiguru mera sada, sada na ave na jai'.

22. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 355

'Kaci gagari deha duheli upajai binasai dukhu pai. Ihu jagu sagaru dutaru kio tariai binu hari gur pari na pai'.

23. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 599

'Tatu niranjan joti sabai soham bhedu na kai jio. aprampar parbrahmu parmesaru Nanak gur milia soi jio'.

24. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 399

'Ham chakar gobind ke thakuru mera bhara. Karan karavan sagal bidhi so satguru harmara.'

25. Guru Gobind Singh, Bachitra Natak

'Ham eh kaj jagat mo ae. Dharam het gurdev pathae'.

26. Guru Gobind Singh, Chopai

'adi ant ekai avtara. soi guru samjhio hamara'.

27. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 839

28. ibid, pp. 929-30

29. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 939

30. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 940

manasa asa sabadi jalai. gurmukhi joti nirantari pai.

31. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 940,

gur hai sabadi haumai bikhu marai ta nijhghari hovai vaso.

jini rachia tisu sabadi pachana Nanaku taka daso.

32. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 940,

avagaunu mitai gur sabadi ape parakhai bakhasi laia.

33. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 941,

barah mahi jogi bharmae saniasi chhai chari,

guru kai sabadi jo mari jivai so pae mokh duaru.

34. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 944,

sabadi guru bhav sagaru tariai it ut eko janai.

35. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 943

sabadu guru surati dhuni chela.

cf. Machinder Gorakh Bodh, Gorakh Bani p. 187

36, 10, Guru Granth Sahib, p. 653,

sabadu gur pira gahir gambhira binu sabadai jagu bauranang.

37. Dhanbindu Upanishad, 16th Shloka.

38. Sir John Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p. 4

39. Sir John Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters pp.2-3

40. The Bible-The Gospel of Saint John Chapter 1.1-3.

41. Holy Quran, II,III.

42. Guru Granth Sahib, pp.929-30

43. Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 664

sabadu dipaku vartai tihu loi, jo chakhai so nirmalu hoi.nirmal nami haumai malu dhoi. sachi bhagati sada sukhu hoi.

44. Arthur Avalon, Serpent Power, p. 88

45. Sir John Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p. 114

46. Dr Hazari Prasad Dvivedi, Nath Sampradaya, p. 155.

47. Dr. Hazari Prasad Dvivedi, Nath Sampradaya, pp. 156-57.

48. Bhai Kahan Singh, Mahan Kosh, p. 156.

49. Akshay Kumar Bannerjee, Philosophy of Gorakh Nath p. 148.

50. ibid pp. 149-50

51. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 943.

sabadu guru surati dhuni chela.

52, Dr. Bhai Jodh Singh, Gurumat Nirnay (Foreword by Bhai Veer Singh), pp. gh,ch,chh.

53. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth, p. 1332,

Sagale karam dharam suchi sanjam jap tap tirath sabadi vase. Nanak satgur milai milaia dukh prachat kal nase.

54. Sir John Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters, p. 35.

55. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 228

gurmati namu na visra sahje pati paiai.

antari sabadu nidhanu hai mili apu gavaiai.

56. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 19,

sabhi ras bhogan badi hahi sabhi sigar vikar.

jab lagu sabadi na bhediai kio sohai gurdurai.

57. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 54

sachu dhadi dhan madiai kapadu prem sigaru.

chandanu chiti vasia mandaru dasava duaru.

dipaku sabadi vigasia Ram namu urharu.

58. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 58.

sabadi marai so mari rahai phiri marai na dujivar.

sabadai hi te paiai harinama lagai piaru.

binu sabadai jagu bhula phirai mari janamai varo var...

Nanak sabadi pachaniai haumai kahe na koi.

cf. Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, p. 156.

Sabadi marai phiri maranu na hoi.binu mue kio pura hoi.

59. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 59.

haumai mamata jali balao lobhu jalao abhimanu.

Nanak sabadu vichariai paiai guni nidhanu.

60. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 351,

gurudvarai hamaraviahu hoa sahu milia ta jania.

tihu loka mahi sabadu ravia hai apu gaia manu mania.

61. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 352,

chaltau manu rakhai amritu chakhai.

satgur sevi amrit sabadu bhakhai.

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