300 Saal - Altar Your Space



If you bow your head in grace to the place of grace, it is called the altar. Head should never bow other than the altar.  Otherwise you don't have a head. And then it will give you hundred times grace you need, because you bow it at the place of grace. But when you give your head, you will get immortality, life to live forever. And this is the lesson which each person who belongs to any denomination, dimension in life has to live."

~7/31/87 Siri Singh Sahib Ji, Khalsa Women's Training Camp

As a Sikh, we've been given the gift of where we bow our head... to our Guru. The experience that comes with that is the elevation of the self to the Sacred.  We put our self on our sacred altar, which is the One who knows the secret of every heart.  It is here that we dwell in His Presence, and let that fragrance perfume our every molecule.  Ang Sang Wahe Guru.

During this year of the Tercentenary of the Guru Gaddee of Siri Guru Granth Sahib, there are many ways each of us will find to deepen our relationship to God and Guru.  Increasing our time to recite banis, practice naam simran or meditating, or reading from Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, completing a sahaj paath, might be at the top of the list of spiritual priorities.  Rising earlier in the morning to begin or increase a spiritual practice might be a goal.  Setting a special place in our home to meditate and creating time for devotional practices can help to remind you of spiritual priorities.


Siri Guru Granth Sahib, ang (page) 305-6
gauVI kI vwr mhlw 4 ]

Ga-orhee kee vaar mehlaa 4.

Vaar In Gauree, Fourth Mehl:

gur siqgur kw jo isKu AKwey su Blky auiT hir nwmu iDAwvY ]

Gur satgur kaa jo sikh akhaa-ay so bhalkay uth har naam Dhi-aavai.
One who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru, the True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord's Name.

audmu kry Blky prBwqI iesnwnu kry AMimRq sir nwvY ]
Udam karay bhalkay parbhaatee isnaan karay amrit sar naavai.
Upon arising early in the morning, he is to bathe, and cleanse himself in the pool of nectar.

aupdyis gurU hir hir jpu jwpY siB iklivK pwp doK lih jwvY ]

Updays guroo har har jap jaapai sabh kilvikh paap dokh leh jaavai.
Following the Instructions of the Guru, he is to chant the Name of the Lord, Har, Har. All sins, misdeeds and negativity shall be erased.
iPir cVY idvsu gurbwxI gwvY bhidAw auTidAw hir nwmu iDAwvY]
Fir charhai divas gurbaanee gaavai bahdi-aa uth-di-aa har naam Dhi-aavai.
Then, at the rising of the sun, he is to sing Gurbani; whether sitting down or standing up, he is to meditate on the Lord's Name.

jo swis igrwis iDAwey myrw hir hir so gurisKu gurU min BwvY ]

Jo saas giraas Dhi-aa-ay mayraa har har so gursikh guroo man bhaavai.

One who meditates on my Lord, Har, Har, with every breath and every morsel of food - that GurSikh becomes pleasing to the Guru's Mind.


[Download Gurbani font]


Guru Ram Das Ji reminds us… arise early in the nectar hours before the dawn, the amrit vela, take a bath while reciting the Naam, and then meditate on the Name of God.  Perhaps you are in or near a community where you can join in the company of the Sangat or others of similar spiritual practice for morning sadhana practice or Asa di Var.  If you are already joining, consider an intention to complete doubling the amount of time you usually do this. 


When we don't have a Gurdwara in our home it is great suggestion to set a place in the home that creates the feeling, or the remembrance of the sacred to assist in our prayers, our Simran.  Clean and beautiful, simple or elaborate, this is a place where we come to shed the cares and worries of the day, and to give the contents of our minds and hearts to the remembrance of our Creator, setting ourselves before we begin our busy day, or, at its conclusion (or anytime in between).

To create an altar, it is best to choose a space that is reserved just for that intention to set aside time to connect and focus on the Sacred.   Determine how you will like to decorate the area whether it is a whole room, a table, or even a special wall.  Then take time to thoroughly clear and clean the area - maybe it is ready for a new coat of paint?  Prepare the space for whatever will make its home there whether it be sacred prayer books like a nitnem or gutka or a framed shabad that particularly inspires you, a plant or flowers, special images that inspire or reflect your higher self or help you in your spiritual practice; add candles, or incense, as you like.


The Altar or the Alternative


Here are some thoughts to contemplate when thinking about creating an altar in your home and our own higher self as an altar.  Following is a short story given by Siri Singh Sahib. 


"Once in India, I went to the place of a saint who was very well recognized and well respected.  There are certain things which I saw there.  I saw people coming from all walks of life.  They demanded all sorts of things.  What I saw in that place was the commotional turmoil of people with an inferior concept, wish fullness, demand and desire to the extent that it was unbelievable.  And, the answer to that was, whosoever comes should be served, should be given hope, should be uplifted, should be counseled, should be talked to.

When we two sat together and were conversing, I asked that saintly man, "Is there an end to demand or request in human life?"  His answer was very beautiful.  He said, "As God is unlimited, so are our desires.  Actually we desire these things in the name of God.  We are not direct.  We are not direct with God.  We are indirect."

And then he gave me a very beautiful example.  He said, “We have spent so much money to build this Gurdwara and we have taken so many years.  Do you know the purpose of it?" I said, "Why don't you explain in your words?"

He said "People always have a desire to look to something serene, something majestic, something glamorous, something forever, something real, something pious and clean.  It is always the theory of the altar that the altar has no alternative.  When people build their Gurdwara they want to build it in such a way that there should be nothing more beautiful than that.  It is a place where they feel they should get reverence automatically."

So it is in your life, if you make yourself an altar and give yourself reverence, God shall seek you.  You don't have to seek God.  God shall praise you.  You don"t have to praise God.  The cycle can reverse, because when a human becomes the altar of reverence, then God comes on that altar and prays.  Did you ever want to ask why God created this universe?  The Great God wanted an altar where he could sit and pray like me and you."

~ Yogi Bhajan, The Ultimate Woman, Women in Training Notes XIII, 1988, Lectures by Yogi Bhajan, page 133


Society generally supports going outside the home to a gurdwara, temple, church, or place of worship designed to invoke spiritual connection.  Yet what better place to inspire spiritual connection than in our own home, so the outer becomes a reflection of the inner in our larger world which mirrors our own inner life and nurturing our connection with Guru through meditation and Simran.

From Jagatjoti Singh Khalsa, (Tara Home in California and author of Altar Your Space -Mandala Publishing, San Rafael, CA) has expanded to helping people create a restorative home environment.  He shares a bit of his personal journey learning about being the altar, rather than the alternative.

"Your greatness is measured by your gifts, not your possessions."
                                                                                       ~Yogi Bhajan

I still recall my first meeting, nearly two decades ago, with my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan. In that powerful encounter, I felt myself to be at once in the presence of my teacher, my destiny, my future, and my Self. Over the years he would teach me to serve and uplift others without ego, judgment or attachment, and never to waste one morsel of the grace of God and Guru.

Even in that first meeting, I felt in his presence his love and devotion for my soul, and his healing energy and sacred intention. At one point he asked me in his thick Punjabi accent, “Do you know the sacred secret of success in this lifetime? I offered several excellent answers to his question…the remembrance of God, the repetition of mantra, good hygiene, etc. When I finished, he looked at me and said,

"Son, be the Altar not the alternative." And again he repeated, "Be the Altar, not the alternative."

I felt the perfection and completeness of his words. Over time, I have savored and contemplated this simple statement, which had a deep and lasting impact on me.

"Be the Altar, not the alternative."

What does it mean? What does it mean to you? It keeps meaning something to me as, over time, it evolves and gains more traction in my heart.

For me, being the Altar, not the alternative, means being, living, acting and projecting from a point of neutrality and awareness, wholeness and transcendence. It is about experiencing everything, appreciating all perspectives, being connected to what is before you, without attachment to any one thing or point of view. To me, the Altar is a symbol of this very place, your own center and Self, where you find peace, balance, harmony and grace amidst the dueling polarities of life.

When you live your life as the Altar, and not the alternative, you will live a life that is, in the words of my teacher, "happy, healthy and holy," and each day will be rich with the blessings of life, of your Soul, of God. Each breath will restore and replenish you. Each action will emerge from a state of consciousness that is balanced, neutral and aware, and from a heart that is prayerful, graceful and grateful.

What do you want to experience and feel in your home? Beauty, calmness, grace, radiance, joy? What do you want your home to enhance in your life, and provide for you and your family? Stability, prosperity, opportunity, creativity, spirituality? An "altared" home is a sanctuary for the body, heart and soul of you and your family.

In our essence, we are already whole, complete and perfect, and we can create a living environment that reflects and supports this. It is our birthright to be surrounded by beauty, to know peace and joy, to live royally and happily in a sacred home that elevates our life, uplifts our spirit, restores our soul, and connects us with the flow of love and prosperity of the universe.


Some comments from the Sikhnet.com discussion group on the concept of an altar, October 2007; a discussion excerpt from "Princess 2007"

This is the altar and here is where you recite your prayers everyday, conduct your meditation and naam jap. This altar is your ashram where you sit and contemplate or speak to God whenever you feel you have something to share with Him. You can sit quietly before this altar and offload all your worldly worries or problems and heartaches to the Almighty One because, you know in your heart that He is listening to every single word you are saying and every single thought that is arising in your mind. This is the place where you open up to Him without any barriers. This is your quiet room and this is where you take yourself when you need solace, peace and quiet. I have seen this kind of altar in majority of Sikh and Hindu homes and have been very impressed. My Grandmother who was a Sikh always had a jyoti on in their home in India. I remember as a child the spiritual impact it had on myself and on others that lived in that house.

If you have a family, begin a meditation practice with your child, on their time, in their capacity.  Take a few minutes each morning to help them develop a practice or their own.  Make sure you are modeling that and they see you meditate as well!

Gurdwara in Your Home

Many of us have a space in our home to provide a Gurdwara for Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.  One of the greatest blessings given to a Sikh is the opportunity to install the Guru in his or her home, and maintain the Gurdwara. When you install the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji in your home or ashram, you are making a strong statement that you will abide in the Realm of Truth and the Guru becomes the Master of your home. Here are some guidelines for setting up a Gurdwara.

Share your Pictures and your home Gurdwara or altar stories

During this Tercentenary year, we invite you to share your pictures and stories about setting up a sacred space in your home for the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji  or where you set aside to connect with the sacred to inspire and share with others.  Please send them to us and we will post them.