I know this is a strange thing for a Sikh to confess, but it's true: I used to be really intimidated by the Guru Granth Sahib.
I would feel unworthy sitting before the Guru, and I was absolutely terrified of making mistakes while reading gurbani. And even though I learned to read Gurmukhi from a young age, I never even read from the Guru Granth Sahib until I was eleven years old.
I still remember the first time.
I was at a gurmat camp in Houston (Texas, USA) and one of my counselors – Jasvir Bhain ji – asked me to take hukam during divan. I was reluctant, but I finally agreed after she convinced me that neither the Gurus nor my peers expected me to be perfect. She explained that making mistakes was part of the learning process and that we all have to begin somewhere.
This was a life-changing moment for me.
I had always been so scared of messing up in the presence of my Guru, especially in a divan setting. As Sikhs, we all have deep-rooted respect and reverence for our Guru; it is deeply entrenched within us.
However, I have found that these notions of reverence and respect often cross over into fear. And for me, crossing that fine line was problematic because it kept me from building a relationship with my Guru.
Fortunately, my relationship has matured in many ways since childhood and, as with any good relationship, increased familiarity, interaction, and trust have led to the displacement of fear with love.
I have gotten over the fear that the Guru judges us and condemns us for our mistakes and, as this relationship has progressed, I have picked up on countless examples from our scripture and history that evidence the Guru’s benevolent and compassionate nature.
I have also observed a unique aspect of the Sikh belief system: Sikhi does not incentivize religion on the basis of fear, but instead, on the basis of love.
For example, Guru Angad explicitly critiques the notion of service as a fear-driven action: “What kind of service is this in which fear of the master remains? O Nanak, one is considered a servant who becomes one with the master” [GGS:475].
In this verse, Guru Angad suggests that actions inspired by fear do not compare with actions inspired by love. His measure is not related to specific actions or specific results. Rather, he focuses on our underlying motives.
Actions inspired by love can only emerge from relationships of love, and therefore the personal relationships we develop with our Guru are critically important. The degree of trust and intimacy we cultivate directly correlates with the quality of our lives as Sikhs.
This lesson has been a crucial step in my own journey. It has helped me go beyond the divisiveness of fear that separates us from our Guru, and instead has compelled me to embrace the integrative and uniting force of love.
In many ways, this relationship building has become a centerpiece of my growth as a Sikh, and it’s something I hope will continue to develop.
I would love to hear from others as to their own experiences.
What are some of the obstacles you face in connecting with your Guru?
What do you do to help build and nurture this relationship?