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Misinterpretation of Gurbani by W.H. McLeod


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source: www.sikhspectrum.com

Misinterpretation of Gurbani by W.H. McLeod

Baldev Singh


Professor McLeod’s interpretation of Gurbani suggests that transmigration based on karma is a part of the Sikh belief system whereas Aad Guru Granth Sahib rejects these beliefs unequivocally.


Misinterpretation of Gurbani and misrepresentation of Sikhism is not a new thing in the history of the Sikhs. It started right during the time of the Sikh Gurus and is still going on. It is not only the non-Sikh scholars, but many Sikh scholars are doing so either ignorantly or innocently or for personal reasons.1 Professor W. H. McLeod is widely known for his controversial views regarding Sikhism. His work has received in-depth scrutiny from many Sikh scholars. Recently, while browsing through the religious section of a library, the reviewer’s comments on the cover of McLeod’s book “Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion” caught my attention.2 For the benefit of the readers, some of these comments are reproduced hereunder:

W.H. McLeod

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“W. H. McLeod is widely known as being among the foremost scholars of Sikh studies in the world. In his analysis and comparison of his sources Dr McLeod’s touch is so sure, his critical faculty so acute, his zest in unraveling the truth so patent and the sheer scholarly honesty of the enterprise so palpable that the turgid and sometimes the puerile fables acquire a new interest, and the very process of exact scholarship which can be so tedious becomes fascinating and absorbing.”

However, I found several statements and the elucidation of many verses in McLeod’s book to be inconsistent with teachings of Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS)3, which is the only authentic source of Nankian philosophy (Sikhi).


1. Karmi and Karma

While, elaborating on the differences between Sufis and Guru Nanak, McLeod says, “The obvious example of this is his acceptance of the doctrines of karma and transmigration [2, p 159].” However, later on he says that Guru Nanak rejected the caste system [2, p 209-210].

It seems that McLeod is not familiar with the history of caste system in India. . Manu was the architect of “caste system,” who divided the Indian people into four castes [4, p 17-29, 30-51]. This system was designed to serve the interests of Brahmins at the expense of a vast majority of people belonging to other castes, the bulk of whom belonged to the Shudar caste. Theology was created in order to perpetuate this system for eternity. The sacred Hindu scriptures proclaimed that God sanctioned the caste system [4, p 33-34]. Strict observance of caste rules and regulations was made the essence of Hindu religion and transgressors were severely punished.

Later on came the doctrines of karma and transmigration to desensitize people’s sense of justice and compassion against the atrocities committed on the masses to enforce the caste system [4, p 34-35]. According to the laws of karma and transmigration, one reaps the fruit in this life for the deeds performed in the previous life. So, if a person is subjected to injustice and cruelty in this life, it is the due to one’s own actions in previous life, not due to the perpetrators of cruelty and injustice. By observing the caste rules strictly and serving the superior castes faithfully one can earn the reward for next life. So how could Guru Nanak reject the caste system while accepting the doctrines of karma and transmigration? Contrary to Mcleod’s views, Guru Nanak rejected all the essentials of Hinduism and the moral authority of Hindu sacred texts [5, p 29- 33; 6, p, 105; 7, p, 19].

Some examples from McLeod’s book [2] have been selected for discussion in this brief article to demonstrate McLeod’s misinterpretation of Sikh views vis-à-vis the theory of transmigration and karma and his lack of knowledge of the language of the AGGS and understanding of Sikh principles.

On page 2052 he has interpreted “ karmi aavai kpra nadri mokh duar ” as: karma determines the nature of our birth (lit. cloth), but it is through grace that the door of salvation is found. He has made three mistakes in the interpretation of this verse. First, he has taken a single verse from a stanza of seven verses, which are interconnected. Second, karmi is not derived from karam (Punjabi) or karma (Sanskrit) meaning actions, it is derived from karam (Persian) meaning kindness or favor. Third, kapra does not mean birth; it means cloth or clothing, a metaphor for “God’s love.”

Contrary to McLeod, almost a century ago, Macauliffe interpreted this verse accurately as follows [8, p 197]:

“True is the Lord, true is his name; it is uttered with endless love.

People pray and beg, ‘Give us, give us’; the Giver giveth His gifts.

Then what can we offer Him whereby His court may be seen?

What words shall we utter with our lips, on hearing which He may love us?

At the ambrosial hour of morning meditate on true Name and God’s greatness.

The Kind One will give us a robe of honour, and by his favour we shall reach the gate of salvation.

Nanak, we shall thus know that God is altogether true.” AGGS, Jap 4, P 2.

Professor Sahib Singh has also interpreted this verse the same way as Macauliffe has done [9, p-58-59].

(This way) the Gracious One gives a scarf of (meditating on His greatness). (The wall of falsehood) is eliminated by His kindness and the door of salvation is opened to the devotee.

Both Macauliffe and Sahib Singh have interpreted kapra as cloth. However, due to cultural differences one calls it a robe of honor and the other calls it a scarf of love. Both robe and scarf are metaphor for God’s love.

Additionally, the meaning of kapra as cloth becomes abundantly clear from Guru Nanak’s use of this word in another Shabd (hymn from AGGS). For example, in his discussions with Jogis, Guru Nank said:

“I was an unemployed minstrel (dhadi),

But God gave me an occupation.

He ordered me to sing His praises day and night.

He called me to His abode of Truth.

And honored me with a robe (kapra paya, kpVw pwieAw),

Of ‘propagating His true glory’.” AGGS, M 1, p 150.

In several other places on pages, 398, 1094, 1098, 42, 470, 962 of the AGGS, kapr has been used for clothes. Thus using the correct meaning of karmi) and kapra the verse “karmi aavai kpra nadri mokh duar” should be translated as:

“(Then the Bounteous One) will reward us with His love and by His grace the door of salvation will open for us.”

It is difficult to believe that McLeod is unaware of the fact that the doctrine of transmigration based on karma has been rejected in the AGGS, unequivocally. It is true that the idea of “as you sow, so shall you reap or why blame others, it is our own doing that lead us astray” is there in the AGGS. However, the Sikh Gurus did not accept the doctrine of karma in any fatalistic or deterministic sense. Their idea is of a Creative God with Will and Purpose, who is greatly concerned with the improvement and evolution of His creation and the imperfect beings [10, p 215-216]. The AGGS clearly rejects the theory of transmigration based on karma by asking its proponents:

“When there was no creation,

How did the first being inherit karma,

Or who created karma initially.

(The reality is) that it is God, Who created the world.

For Him creation is a game and He continues to play.” AGGS, M, 5, P 748.

“You say that the body is made of five elements,

From where were the elements created?

You say that the law of karma determines man’s fate,

But who created the law of karma?” AGGS, Kabir, P 870.

“When there was neither mother, nor father, nor body, nor karma,

Or when neither I was there, nor you were there, what came from where?

From where did the karma originate,

When there was no Veda and Shastra?” AGGS, Namdev, P 973.

The idea of creativity and growth are an integral part of life and morality according to the Gurus. Furthermore, the Gurus did not talk about the past life or the life after, what they talked about and laid stress on is the present life. For example:

“This is your chance, this is your turn to meet God, ponder and seek within.” AGGS, Kabir, P 1159.

“Take advantage of human birth, as this is your opportunity to meet God” AGGS, M, 5, P 378.

“Don’t look to the past, make efforts to move ahead (to realize God).

This is the only chance (to meet God), because you won’t born again,” says Nanak. AGGS, M, 5, P 1096.

“Guru’s teaching is like an immortalizing nectar. He, who imbibes it, receives His grace.

Why should he, who wants to have a glimpse of the Beloved, bother about salvation and paradise.” AGGS, M I, P 360.

2. Transmigration

Based on his views that Guru Nanak accepted the doctrines of karma and transmigration, MacLeod has interpreted expressions like avan jan, ava java and bhavaya as cycle of birth and death or cycle of transmigration. However, in the AGGS these and other related expressions are used as metaphors for spiritual death and spiritual regeneration. According to Guru Nanak there are two types of people, Gurmukhs (God-centered) and Manmukhs (sel-centered). A Gurmukh is a person who dwells on God and His attributes constantly and does every thing according to His Will. Such a one achieves perfect union with God. Whereas a Manmukh is a degenerate person who does every thing according to his own will under the influence of haumai (self-centeredness). He is entangled in maya (material world) and leads a life of duality. He is separated from God. His mind is unsteady and he can’t decide to choose between God and maya. Thus he keeps experiencing spiritual death and spiritual regeneration.

On page 170 [2] McLeod has interpreted the following verses as:

“If it pleases Thee Thou art a Lord of joy and I am rapt in Thy praises, Thou storehouse of excellences.

If it pleases Thee Thou art a fearsome Lord and I go on dying in the cycle of transmigration.” AGGS, M 1, P 762.

These lines are from a Shabad (hymn from AGGS) about God’s Will (Bwxw). Keeping this in mind, the appropriate interpretation of these verses is as follows:

“(Understanding of) Your Will, makes You a Lord of joy and

I am entirely absorbed in your praises, O the Storehouse of virtues.

(Ignorance of) Your Will makes You a fearsome Lord and

I keep suffering from the cycle of spiritual death and birth.”

On page 177[2] he has translated a whole Shabad except the first two lines to explain the nature of unregenerate man. However, his interpretation of the two lines following rahau (Pause) described below is incorrect and inconsistent with the rest of the Shabad:

“Many times I was born as a tree, many times as an animal, many times I came in the form of a snake, and many times I flew as a bird.” AGGS, M 1, P156.

This .Shabad is about a sinful man. He is separated from God due to his haumai (self-centeredness) and preoccupation with maya. However, he has recognized his folly. He is repentant and is beseeching God with humility for forgiveness. He starts out by asking the purpose of his life. The gist of the Shabd is contained in the two lines before Rahau: “O my Lord, who can comprehend Your virtues! None can recount my sins.” Guru Nanak advises this man to recognize God’s hukam (Divine Order) and live in harmony with it. The sinful man acknowledges his faults by saying that other creatures like trees, animals, snakes and birds do not commit sin because they live in harmony with God’s hukam, whereas he is accumulating sin after sin due to his haumai.

Now let us look at the meaning of the whole .Shabad line by line.

“When did someone become my mother or father; where did I come from?

I was conceived and nurtured in the amniotic fluid in the womb;

What was the purpose of my coming to this world?

O my Lord, who can comprehend Your virtues? None can recount my sins. Pause.

I have seen numerous trees, animals, snakes and birds (who do not commit sin).

Whereas I break into city shops and strong buildings and bring home the stolen goods.

I look around to make sure that no body sees me, but how can I hide it from You?

(To wash my sins) I go on pilgrimage everywhere to sacred shores, places, cities, markets and shops.

While weighing my merits and demerits in my heart,

(I realized that) my sinfulness is as immense as the water in the ocean. Dear God take mercy on me ,

With Your grace stonehearted beings can cross (the ocean of worldly temptations).

My mind is burning with the fire of (haumai) and the (temptations of maya) are cutting it like a knife.

Nanak prays that those who live in harmony with the Divine Order attain eternal bliss.”

On page 204 [2] he says, “Why so few have a vision of God? One explanation is that karma determines the issue. Those who in their previous existences have lived lives of relative merit acquire thereby a faculty of perception, which enables them to recognize the Guru. This theory has a logical consistency and in one place it would appear to be explicitly affirmed.” He quotes the following verse (second) in support of his views.

“If it is inscribed in the record of one’s former deeds then one meets the True Guru.” AGGS, M 1, p 421.

As already discussed, the deterministic view of karma is rejected in the AGGS. Thus the two verses are explained as:

“One profits in life by performing righteous deeds.

It is the merit of such deeds, which brings

about one’s union with God.”

On page 212 [2] he has interpreted the following couplet addressed to a Muslim as:

“Make mercy your mosque, faith your prayer-mat, and righteousness your Quran. Make humility your circumcision, uprightness your fasting, and so you will be a (true) Muslim.” AGGS, M, 1, p 140.

Here he has interpreted “saram” as humility, which is incorrect. “Saram”means “sharam or luja,” meaning sense of shame. Since the discussion is about male circumcision, it is about sexual morality of man. Therefore, the correct interpretation should be “make fidelity your circumcision.”


McLeod’s assumption that Guru Nanak accepted the doctrines of karma and transmigration is not supported by the teachings of AGGS. He has misinterpreted many verses either ignorantly or with certain objectives to justify his assumptions of karma and transmigration, which are concepts of ancient Indian religions. It is not only in McLeod’s book, such misinterpretations are found in many Punjabi and English translations of the AGGS found in the prints, on Compact Discs, and on many Internet sites these days.



Contrary to McLeod’s interpretation, Guru Nanak rejected the belief in hell and heaven and the concept of salvation after physical death. McLeod’s interpretation of the fate of a Manmukh and his assertion that Guru Nanak did not provide any solution to the predicament of a Manmukh is also erroneous. In my last article I discussed the misinterpretation of Gurbani by Professor MacLeod on the wrong assumption that Guru Nanak accepted the theory of transmigration based on Karma18. This article deals with more examples of misinterpretation of Gurbani and some of his assertions that are based on wrong assumptions on his part.16

Before discussing this matter further, let me point out some of the difficulties encountered in the proper interpretation of Gurbani and suggest some guidelines to avoid them. There are four main difficulties in understanding the sacred writings of Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS).

F irst, it is the complexity of the language of AGGS. Guru Nanak’s message was not limited only to the people of Punjab, he took his message as far away as was possible in those days. He met people of various religions speaking different languages. He used their languages and religious terminology to explain his philosophy. In this respect, McAuliffe who translated portions of AGGS about a century ago made a very insightful observation.

“The languages in which the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Budhism, Parsi religion and Confucianism are enshrined, though all difficult, are for the most part homogenous, but not so the medieval Indian dialects in which the sacred writings of the Sikh Gurus and Saints were composed. Hymns are found in Persian, medieval Prakrit, Hindi, Marathi, old Punjabi, Multani and several local dialects. In several hymns the Sanskrit and Arabic vocabularies are freely drawn upon. Moreover, there are words in the Sikh sacred writings which are peculiar to them, and cannot be traced to any known language [5, p v-vi].”

Most people’s knowledge is limited to only one or two languages. Furthermore, the religious terminology of other religions used in AGGS does not have the same meaning as it has in the implied religions. That’s why scholars often misinterpret AGGS when they come across references to, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Muslim religious terminology.

Second, AGGS is written in poetry and understanding of poetry is far more difficult than the understanding of prose. Guru Nank’s immense contribution to the development of Punjabi language and literature has been eclipsed by his spiritual greatness.17

Third, the compositions of AGGS are arranged according to various Indian Ragas and rhythms. Thus the compositions of Gurus and Sants are scattered throughout the pages of AGGS. Fourth, in rhetorical statements and in discussions with others, the Gurus used words, phrases and terminology of others to explain their own thoughts. Quite often, readers mistake such words, phrases and terms as the beliefs of the Gurus.

In my opinion, the correct understanding and interpretation of AGGS requires expertise in poetry, linguistics, hermeneutics, science, logic, philosophy, psychoanalysis and the knowledge of social, economic and political conditions under which the people lived and the religions they practiced during the period of the Gurus.

In spite of the difficulties mentioned above, the understanding and correct interpretation of AGGS becomes simple if the reader pays attention to the following guidelines.

First, there is unity of thought in AGGS. Guru Nanak’s successors, who wrote their own sacred compositions, expressed Guru Nanak’s philosophy in their own words. That their message was the same has been clearly explained in AGGS and by others.

“Nanak established his spiritual kingdom on the firm foundation of Truth.

Guru (Nanak) bowed before his disciple (Lehna) and installed him on the spiritual throne.

Due to the greatness of Nanak, Lehna’s fame spread far and wide.

They were one and the same in spirit, only different bodily.” AGGS, Balwand and Satta, p 966.

Grewal has explained this point very lucidly. “Before his death at Kartarpur in 1539 Guru Nanak chose his successor from amongst his followers, setting aside the claims of his sons. Nomination of a successor from amongst one’s own disciples was not a new thing; it was known to many an ascetical order of the times. But the nomination of Lehna by Guru Nanak was regarded as unique because Guru Nanak himself installed Lehna in his office. His name too was changed from Lehna to Angad, making him “a limb” of the founder.

This nomination was important not merely because it enabled Guru Nanak to ensure the continuation of his work but also because it served as the basis of the idea that the positions of the Guru and the disciple were interchangeable. Closely linked with this was the idea that there was no difference between the founder and the successor, they represented one and the same light [3, p 41].”

Bhai Gurdas said the same thing about the succession of the Guru Hargonind [4, p 19].

“In contrast to the first five Gurus, the sixth Guru (Hargobind Sahib openly proclaimed spiritual and temporal sovereignty by donning two swords and royal dress). However, he was preaching the same philosophy as if his predecessor Guru Arjan was speaking through him.” Varan Bhai Gurdas, p 19.

Chahal has elaborated on this point further by quoting from “Gurbilas Patshahi 6” that Guru Hargopbind Sahib imbibed the teaching of Guru Nanak and he asked his successor, Guru Har Rai to do the same [2].

“The teaching, which was imparted by Guru Nanak, is immensely blissful. Guru Har Rai was asked to imbibe it in his heart since this teaching was the Word of the Infinite Being. (p.796)

“(Then at the time of his demise) Guru Hargobind again advised the Sikks to serve the Sikhs and accept the guidance of Guru Nanak.” (p.796)

Moreover, only those compositions or portions thereof of Hindu and Muslim sages’ were incorporated in the AGGS that were consistent with the Nankian philosophy (teachings of AGGS). Wherever there were minor differences, the Gurus added their comments alongside the hymns of the sages. So there is a unity of thought throughout the AGGS.

Second, there are more frequent references to Hindu than to Muslim terminology and mythology in AGGS. However, the reader should keep in mind that both Hindu and Muslim terminologies do not necessarily have the same meaning and interpretation in the Nankian philosophy. Third, Sikh Gurus rejected the essentials of Hinduism, the way it was practiced during their period [3, p 29- 31; 9, p 105; 10, p 19].

Ignorance of these guidelines can lead to misinterpretation of AGGS as has been done by McLeod. Continuing with the theme of my first article I want to reiterate that there is a categorical rejection of Karma and transmigration in AGGS. “(O careless one), you won’t be born again, make efforts to obtain salvation (realization of God) now.

Praising the Merciful One, will take you across the ocean of worldly temptations,” says Nanak. AGGS, M 9, p220.

“This is your chance to meet the Lord of the Universe, meet Him.

It took a very long time for this human body to evolve.” AGGS, M 5, p 176.

These verses are from a stanza about the evolution of life.

“Kabir, human birth is difficult to obtain because the same person is not born again and again.

Like a ripened fruit once fallen on the ground, does not get attached to the branch again.” AGGS, Kabir, p 1366.


Careful examination of Mcleod’s book [6] reveals that whereas he has discussed most of the concepts of Nanakian philosophy lucidly, for some reasons he has not discussed the most important concept of salvation (Mukti), though he has mentioned it many times. Had he explored the meaning of this concept as defined in AGGS, he would not have made the wrong assumption that Guru Nanak accepted the doctrines of Karma and transmigration.

McLeod has interpreted salvation as “A condition of ineffable union with the Eternal One in which all earthy bonds are dissolved and the cycle of death and rebirth is finally brought to an end (p 150-151). Or physical death, far from being something to be feared, is for the Gurmukh a joy to be welcomed when it comes, for it means a perfecting of his union with God (p 187-188). Or he passes into a condition of union which transcends death and cycle of transmigration (p 193).” These interpretations clearly mean that salvation comes after physical death.

In support of his interpretation of this type of salvation, McLeod asserts, “ Guru Nanak’s Gauri Dipki, which is recited every night by devout Sikhs as part of Kirtan Sohila, the Evening Prayer, is a sublime expression of the contentment with which a believer awaits his physical death and final release.” A careful study of this composition reveals that the union of a Gurmukh with God is beautifully depicted in the imagery of a Punjabi wedding culminating in the union of the bride with the groom on the joyous occasion. There is no mention of death in this composition. It is difficult to imagine how McLeod construed from this composition that the union of a Gurmukh with God takes place after the physical death of a Gurmukh. If ignorant Sikhs have interpreted it wrong, it does not mean that a scholar of the caliber of McLeod should do the same!

Salvation in other religions means going to heaven after death. This type of salvation has been clearly rejected in AGGS.

“I don’t crave for worldly kingdom or salvation (going to heaven),

I crave for the comfort of His beautiful soft feet.*

Whereas (people) search for Brahma, Shiv, Sidhs, Munis and Indra,

I yearn for the glimpse of the Lord.” AGGS, M 5, p 534.

* (I crave for the comfort of dwelling on his attributes).

“Every body thinks of heaven, wants salvation to go to heaven and always hopes to get there.

But the devotee who longs for His glimpse does not want that salvation, he is satisfied to have His glimpse.” AGGS, M 4, p1324.

“Kabir, the Merciful True Guru (God) has saved me from the temptations of heaven and the fear of hell.

I have always enjoyed the comfort and pleasure of being at His beautiful feet*.” AGGS, Kabir, p 1370.

* (I have always enjoyed the comfort and pleasure of dwelling on His attributes.)

In part I of this article I have emphasized that Nankian philosophy (teachings of Aad Guru Granth Sahib) is concerned with the current life, it rejects the concept of past or next life [8]. Therefore, in Nankian philosophy salvation is to be achieved while being alive. One who attains this salvation is called ‘Jiwan Mukta’ (a liberated person). Due to the poetic nature of AGGS, several synonymous words like Gurmukh, Sachiara, Sikh, Gursikh Sant, Sadh, Giani and Brahamgiani have been used for a “Jiwan Mukta.” Guru Hargobind Sahib called such a person Mir and Pir (one who is both temporally and spiritually sovereign).

The lord of the white hawk and rider of the blue steed (Guru Gobind Singh) called such a person free from: “Varanashrarm Dharam (caste based religion), Karm Kand (Hindu rituals and ceremonies), Bharam (superstition), Kul (family lineage) and Krit (caste based occupation restrictions).” Salvation in Nankian philosophy also means total “emancipation’ from ignorance and the deleterious effects of the material world (Maya). McLeod’s translation of the hymns describing the transformation of man into a Gurmukh (God-centered being) is beautiful and he sums up by saying, “Increasingly the believer becomes like God until he attains to a perfect identity (p 220-221).” The attributes of a Gurmukh described by McLeod are the same as that of a “Jiwan Mukta”as described hereunder.

“He who abides by God’s Will with total dedication, is a liberated person (Jiwan Mukta).” AGGS, M 5, p 275.

“He who remembers God all the time, becomes Jiwan Mukta by dwelling within.” AGGS, M 1, p 904.

“He who controls his Haumai (self-centeredness) is a Jiwan Mukta.

Nanak says, “One crosses the ocean of worldly temptations by meeting God through a true Guru.” AGGS, M 4, p 449.

“ Abiding by His Will in daily life leads to realisation of God’.” AGGS, M 1, p 26.

“He who dwells on God, does not experience spiritual decline.

He who conquers Haumai (self-centerdness) is a Jiwan Mukta.” AGGS, M 1, p 1009.

“He is indeed wealthy, of high lineage, honourable and a Jiwan Mukta, who keeps God in his heart.” AGGS, M 5, p 294.

Nanak says, “ When the Guru opened my mind to the Reality, my doubts and allusions were removed and I became liberated.” AGGS, M 5, p 188.

Nanak says, “Always salute ‘the liberated one’, who liberates others.” AGGs, M 5, p 295.

Hell and Heaven

McLeod has not discussed the usage of heaven (Surg, Baikunth, Bahisht) in Nankian philosophy, however, he has referred several times to hell (Nark, Dozkh). For example, on page 188, McLeod says that physical death of Gurmukh results in perfect union with God whereas the death of a Manmukh is the culmination of separation from God. The Manmukh goes to the city of Yam or Narak, the nether region but demythologised as in Christian theological usage.

Hell and heaven as perceived in other religions are rejected in AGGS; they are metaphors for the mental states of suffering and happiness, respectively. The life of Manmukh is often compared to hell.

“Hey (Kazi) make your daily actions as your field, sow the seed of the of the Divine Word and consider the daily practice of truth as watering the crop. Endeavour like a farmer to grow a crop of firm belief. O, ignorant one, then you will understand the meaning of hell and heaven.” AGGS, M1, 24.

“As long as one longs for heaven, there is no union with God.” AGGS, Kabir, p 325.

“ O the Sustainer of all, wherever you keep me is heaven for me.” AGGS, M 5, p 106.

“Wherever Your praises are sung is heaven. You, create the reverence for You in the devotee.” AGGS, M 5, 749.

“Where people are engrossed in countless miracles and amusements and don’t remember the Almighty, is desolate place like hell,” says Nanak. AGGS, M 5, p 707.

Nanak says, “Those who are blessed by the Almighty to follow the saints are not afflicted with pain.

He is present in their mind and body all the time and they don’t see any thing without Him.” AGGS, M 5, p 531.

“The attachment shackles one to the material world (Maya).

It is the business of Maya which causes one pain or pleasure.” AGGS, M 5, p 761.

“The evil person suffers much pain.

He suffers spiritual death in the darkness of ignorance.” AGGS, M 1, p 1029.

“What is hell and what is that poor heaven, the saints reject both.

We are not dependent on any body due to the grace of our Guru.” AGGS, Kabir, p 969.

To describe the fate of a Manmukh (self-centered person), McLeod has interpreted the following verses on page 188 verses as:

“ Through Thy Name the man (mind) finds total bliss.

Without the Name one goes bound to the city of Yam (hell).” AGGS, M 1, p 1327.

As I have mentioned earlier, hell and heaven represent the states of mental suffering and happiness, respectively. McLeod has interpreted the first verse correctly and the second incorrectly. The first verse is about a Gurmukh, who dwells on His Name and he finds himself in total bliss. The second verse is about a Manmukh, who is alienated from God and he suffers from mental agony. So it should be interpreted as: “One who is alienated from God suffers from mental agony.” Further on, on the same page he interprets the following verses as:

“He who forgets the Name must endure suffering.

When the divine Order bids him depart how can he remain.

He is submerged in the well of Hell (and yet dies as surely) as fish out of water.” AGGS, M 1, p 1028.

The purpose of human life according of Nankian philosophy is the realisation of God. Here the suffering of a Manmukh is compared to the suffering of a fish out of water. The fish’s suffering ends when she goes back in water. Similarly, a Manmukh’s suffering will end when he starts remembering Him. However, a Manmukh who remains alienated from God all his life misses the opportunity to realise God. He can’t postpone his death as it occurs according to God’s immutable Hukam (Universal Law) and thus wastes his life. The correct interpretation of these verses should conform to Nankian philosophy.

“He who forgets his Name endures suffering.

He suffers like a fish out of water.

How can he resist the immutable death warrant?”

Further, on the same page he says, “The various things all point to the same thing. Submission to one’s Haumai and entanglement in Maya earn a Karma, which perpetuates the transmigratory process. In the constant coming and going there is separation from God and this is Death.”

To support the above assertion, he quotes hymns from Guru Nanak’s composition Onkaru (AGGS, p 930, 934, 935-6, 937). He makes no mention that this composition is a discussion between Guru Nanak and a Panda (Brahmin). Here Guru Nanak has used the words, hell and transmigration in the discussion because the Panda believed in them, not that Guru Nanak believed in them. Here Guru Nanak explains to the Panda, “How a man gets trapped in the snare of Maya and becomes a Manmukh, and then suggests a solution for the salvation of a Manmukh.”

Continuing with his distortion of Nankian philosophy McLeod remarks on page 189, “The fate of an unregenerate man (Manmukh) is the death of separation from God. How then can he escape this fate? In what manner is the way of salvation revealed to him and what must he do to appropriate it?” First of all, Nankian philosophy does not believe in life after death. Human problems are to be solved while alive and the goal is union with God. Second, if Mcleod had read and understood carefully the stanzas from which he has quoted the hymns on page 188-189, he would have found that Guru Nanak did provide a solution to the predicament of a Manmuk as described hereunder.

“When a Manmukh starts dwelling on God, he comes to know of Him and His greatness, and eventually unites with Him.” AGGS, M1, p 930.

“The ignorant Manmukh does not understand that without Guru’s guidance, he will not realise the greatness of God. God creates the means to unite the Manmukh with God through the Guru.” AGGS, M 1, p 934.

“ When a Manmukh focuses his attention on the attributes of God and remains absorbed in them, he finds union with God and does not get into the snare of Maya again.” AGGS, M 1, 935.

“O, Manmukh, your life is meaningless without knowing God,” says Nanak. “The all knowing Almighty is the source of all knowledge.” AGGS, M1, p 935.

“O, Manmukh, the attachment to Maya (material world) is enchanting but remember Him, Who created it.

A wise person understands that Maya is the manifest form of God.” AGGS, M 1, p 937.


I t was unequivocally demonstrated in the previous article that AGGS refutes McLeod’s assumption that Guru Nanak accepted the doctrines of Karma and transmigration. Similarly, this article clearly demonstrates that McLeod’s interpretation of the concepts of salvation, hell and heaven as used in AGGS is erroneous. Furthermore, his interpretation of the fate of a Manmukh and his claim that Guru Nanak did not suggest a solution for the salvation of a Manmukh is also not correct.


This paper is dedicated to the memories of those who upheld the principles of Nankian philosophy without flinching or wavering under the pressure of heinous and unspeakable tortures like: “Were cut up alive limb by limb, skinned alive, boiled alive, sawed alive, carded like cotton and forced to bear the cutup pieces of the bodies of their children as necklaces.”

And To

Sardar Gurdial Singh Lumma, a self-taught man with no formal education, who used to discuss books like Katik Ke Vaisakh with me when I was an eighth class student. A man who taught me what is discerning intellect. He used to say that without discerning intellect even a doe eyed person is blind21.

And To My Parents

Sardar Bhajan Singh and Sardarni Bhagwaun Kaur. My dear mother’s sweet ant precious words echo in my ears all the time. “Son, I will miss you very much, but don’t worry, I will be alright. It doesn’t matter if you settle down over there, but remember, wherever you live, your neighbours should know you as an honest person and wherever you work, your colleagues should know you, as a dependable, competent and dedicated worker.”


I gratefully acknowledge the critical review of this article by Professor Devinder Singh Chahal.


1 Chahal, D. S. 2001. Causes of misinterpretation of Gurbani and misrepresentation of Sikhism. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 3 (1): 12-23 & 39.

2 McLeod, W. H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 1996 (Paperback ed.), Oxford University Press.

3 AGGS: Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 CE (Reprint). Pp 1430. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. ( M = Mahla, i.e. succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Nanak, P = page of the AGGS).

4 Singh, Jagjit. Sikh Inqulab (Punjabi). Lokgeet Publishers, 1987, Sirhind.

5 Grewal, J. S. The Sikhs of the Punjab, 1994, Published by Foundation Books for Cambridge University press, New Delhi.

6 Singh, Jagjit. The Sikh Revolution, 1998 (4th reprint), Bahri Publications, New Delhi.

7 Singh, Sangat. The Sikhs in History, 2001 (4th ed.), Uncommon Books, New Delhi.

8 Macauliffe, M. A. The Sikh Religion, Vols. I & II, 1990 (reprint), Low Price Publications, Delhi.

9 Singh, Sahib. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan (Punjabi), Vol. 1, 1972, Raj Publishers, Jallandhar.

10 Singh, Daljit. Sikhism: A Comparative Study of its Theology and Mysticism, 1994 (2nd ed.), Singh Brothers, Amritsar.

11 AGGS: Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 CE (Reprint), Pp 1430. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i. e. succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the house of Nanak, M is replaced by the name of Bhagat, P = page of the AGGS.

12 Chahal, D. S. 2002. Nankian Philosophy - The Term Defined. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 4 (2): 17-22.

13 Grewal, J. S. 1994. The Sikhs of the Punjab. University press, New Delhi.

14 Gurdas, Bhai. 1976 (edition). Varan Bhai Gurdas Ji (Punjabi). Bhai Jawahar Singh Kirpal Singh and Co., Amritsar.

15 Macauliffe, M. A. 1990 (reprint). The Sikh Religion, Vols. I & II. Low Price Publications, Delhi.

16 Mcleod, W. H. 1996 (Paperback ed.). Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion. Oxford University Press.

17 Sekhon, S. S. 1969. “ Guru Nanak’s Contribution to Punjabi Language and Literature” in “Guru Nanak His Life, Time & Teachings,” Ed. Gurmukh Nihal Singh, National Publishing House, Delhi, p 236-248: There is no evidence that there was any Punjabi literature in prose or poetry before Guru Nanak, except some couplets of Baba Sheik Farid. Guru Nanak was the founder of Punjabi poetry and literature and before him Punjabi was the language of peasants, artisans and traders. He enriched the Punjabi language by adding words from other languages. Furthermore, he used religious terminology of other faiths and folklore and idiom of Punjabi language to expound his own philosophy, thus transforming Punjabi from a crude and rustic language to a language of literature and philosophy. He was a poet par excellence. He set his songs to the tune of Indian musical modes of ragas and rhythms. No Punjabi poet has so far matched his effectiveness and efficiency of use of words, idioms and metaphors.

18 Singh, B. 2002. Misinterpretation of Gurbani by W. H. Mc Leod. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 4 (2): 32-36; Abstracts of Sikh Studies, April- June 2003, p, 72-80.

19 Singh, J. 1998 (4th reprint). The Sikh Revolution. Bahri Publications, New Delhi.

20 Singh, S. 2001 (4th ed.). The Sikhs in History, Uncommon Books, New Delhi.

21Sardar Gurdial Singh was an exceptionally tall man, so people in our village (Takhtupura, Dist. Faridkot, Punjab) called him Lumma Gurdial or simply Lumma. He was a very dear family fiend. He was the one who got me interested in serious study of Sikhism when I was in high school. We used to discuss historian Karam Singh’s “Katik ke Vaisakh” wherein he has collected very strong evidence that Guru Nanak Dev was born on Vaisakhi not on Katik Pooranmashi. He was an enlightened human being and a GurmukhThe beauty of dear eyes is a part of Punjabi folklore and the dear has very keen eyesight and is capable of seeing far away things much more clearly than humans can see.

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Read: ERNEST TRUMP AND W.H. McLEOD As Scholars of Sikh History Religion And Culture by Dr. Trilochan Singh.

ERNST TRUMP!!! :evil: :evil: Leave that man out of this!!! His works are disgraceful! I recommend reading them though as they give a good insight into what was happening at the time with the Sikhs and the depths to which they fell in allowing such a person commence on this work.

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Guest Javanmard

Just one clarification: his name was Ernst Trumpp, he was German. Yes he was an arsehole but he was right on one point: you cannot define a SIkh theology! For him that was a problem, in reality that's teh very strength of SIkhi because we (at least not those who follow SGPC SIkhi :twisted: :twisted: ) do not try to box Akal Purakh in a system

gur bar Akaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllll hi akaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal

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ERNST TRUMP!!! :evil: :evil: Leave that man out of this!!! His works are disgraceful! I recommend reading them though as they give a good insight into what was happening at the time with the Sikhs and the depths to which they fell in allowing such a person commence on this work.

It's a book by that name, written by the late Dr.Trilochan Singh; about how Ernest Trumpp, W. H. Mcleod, Dr.Piar Singh and Dr.Pashaura Singh have written about Sikhi in a complete false and negative fashion.It is a critique by Dr.Trilochan Singh on their works.

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