Ask and It Shall be Given

Gimme Me This, Gimme Me That!

Many are the ways to title this essay:  Ask and you shall have it, or as the Bible says Ask and it shall be given unto you, but I think a precise and accurate summation would have to include The Gimme Syndrome.

 Years ago, I heard of a Christian boxer (I forget his name) who would always pray before a fight.  When asked if he prayed for victory, he said “No;” I only pray that it be a good, honest, clean fight.  When asked why he didn’t ask for his own victory; surely God will hear him, a good practicing Christian.  “That is not fair,” replied the boxer. “If I ask that I win the bout and my opponent asks that he should win, then what is poor God gonna do?  Best is that it be a good honest fight.”

How often have you thought of Gurbani and repeated favorite lines like “Jo maangay thakur apnay te soi soi pavao” (Guru Granth p. 619) with the fond hope that your words are heard by a generous Creator, and that whatever you ask shall be given unto you.  Perhaps even more widely heard is the exhortation “Jo maangay Thakur aapnay te  soi soi devae; Nanak daas mukh te jo boley eeha(n) ooha(n) such hovae” ("Whatever I ask for from God, he gives that to me. Whatever the Lord's slave Nanak utters with his mouth, proves to be true, here and hereafter." - Guru Granth p. 681.) There are many lines reflecting such a mindset in the Guru Granth and in Sikh lore.   

This is not unique to Sikhi.  The New Testament Bible clearly says:  "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mathew 7:7.)

So, go buy the lottery ticket and ask that you win?  Or never study and simply pray for good grades on the exam?  Is that the lesson?

Keep in mind that our lives revolve around our wants and needs.  The two are worlds apart, but both play a part. We think of the Creator as the boss of all bosses, perhaps a little temperamental like most of us – one that we can openly bribe, flatter and cajole just as we do with our parents, bosses, tyrants – anyone who is richer or stronger and who has a controlling hand on our life. 

Our needs are few, finite and mostly manageable except in unexpected emergencies, and life demands that we struggle as needed to make a meaningful life. Thus, we construct a purposeful life.

Our wants, on the other hand, are a never-ending, ever-growing list. Our wants speak to an inner hunger that’s hardly ever sated.  So says the Guru Granth on page 1: “Bhukian bhukh na utree je banha puriaan paar.”

Yet to pray for needs is natural too.  A hymn (Gopal teraa arta ….Daal seedha magao gheeoGhar ki geehan changi, Jan Dhanna layvae mangi ….. Guru Granth, p 695) is an example.  In this hymn, Dhanna, a saint of the times, prays that the Creator satisfy the worldly needs of his life, such as a responsible wife, a milk-cow, a good horse for travel, enough food for sustenance, and other daily needs including shelter.  The longish hymn is comprehensive; I am providing only selected lines here.

If we keep asking for things – deserved or not – the list will never end.  Ergo, ask that our needs be satisfied, not necessarily our wants.  Our wants are truly endless. The Sikh savant Bhai Gurdas reminds us that we never tire of the lure and attractions of the world around us (Akhee(n) dekh na rajian bah(u) rung tamassay, Vaar 27, Pauri 9); Guru Angad reminds us that our senses are never sated (Aakhan aakh na rajia sunan na rajay kunn, Akhi dekh na rajia gun gahuk ik vunn. Bhukian bhukh na utrae galee bhukh na jaaye (“The mouth is not satisfied by speaking, and the ears are not satisfied by hearing. The eyes are not satisfied by seeing-each organ seeks out one sensory quality. The hunger of the hungry is not appeased; by mere words, hunger is not relieved. O Nanak, hunger is relieved only when one utters the Glorious Praises of the One.” - p. 147 Guru Granth). 

With such logic, however, an obvious problem surfaces:  Why does Sikh scriptural language portray the human-divine connection in such a model of humility from the human perspective?  Keep in mind that a literal interpretation of the language of the Guru Granth portrays the human with absolutely no power to make any choices in life and that every action is preprogrammed. 

Surely the quality of life derives from human decisions and choices as well.  It is also obvious that the quality depends less on individual brilliance and more on the collective (society) that humans evolve.  Social capital of human collectives is critical to human survival and progress.  Sikhi tells us that a bit of the divine exists in each one of us (Munn too jot saroop haen, Guru Granth p. 440); also, that in the collective (sangat) the Creator is to be found (Vitch sangat Har prabh vasae jio, p. 94).  To discover and nurture it requires that our ever-present over riding ego be refashioned to serve the collective.

The humility that underlies Sikh teaching then is not meant to diminish or demean the human potential and ability but to allow him or her to rise above the self.  That is how I read the emphasis on humility that is the canvas on which the journey of Sikhi is designed and portrayed.  That’s why the follower is cast as forever the beggar at the door of the divine.  Says the Guru Granth: The Creator is the only Giver while the whole world begs (Jagat bhikaari firat hae subh ko daata Ram, p. 1426.) 

Since the Creation, humans have always done what they can to redesign the world to their own ideas and reality.  Yet, they also need to accommodate human frailty and weakness.  Humans need a path where they can see their own mis-steps, be able to close that chapter and move on to celebrate newer achievements, keeping in mind human limitations.  Thus, we can leave our successes and failures with the Creator and move on.  Hence the never-ending emphasis on humility.

Unlike the Judeo-Christian or Islamic models, the Sikh Gurus never described a physical model of heaven or hell.  The Hindu model narrative of heaven and hell is inherent in the ongoing cycle of birth and rebirth. The Sikh perception engages with both, but more fully with the Hindu model.  Why?  Not because one is truer than the other but because that’s where most Sikh converts came from. And, no matter the topic, the effective teacher teaches in the context of the time, culture and language of the student or the lesson is essentially lost.  

Sikh scriptural language is poetry and music.  It is best understood not so much as literal translation and meaning but as a roomful of analogies, similes and metaphors. A literal rendition of Gurbani often leads us to a miracle-wielding God or Guru, despite the established fact that no Guru ever performed miracles or approved of them.  Remember that analogies and metaphors must come from the language and cultural context of the student. Keep this in mind when you read Gurbani.

In the final analysis, the question is what to pray for, what to ask for; and what is the mindset of the student. The answer lies in connecting with the idea: “Deh naam santokhiyaa utrae munn ki bhukh” ("Please bless me with Your Name and make me content; may the hunger of my mind be satisfied." - p. 958.)

Ergo, walk away from the “gimme gimme mindset on which our entire relationship with people and our Creator seems to rest.  If wishes were horses all beggars would ride!

IJ Singh

Dr. I.J Singh has a probing mind and a wry sense of humor. His prolific pool of essays poke, provoke and ultimately force the reader to think more deeply. His work has graced SikhNet's pages for some time.

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