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Last year we attended a wedding reception, where the groom’s father talked about how family relationships were very important to them. Suddenly my mind was flooded by the news of another incident from a few years back when an NBA basketball player missed a game to be with his wife during her delivery. He was criticized from the TV media for missing work (game), to be with his wife for the delivery. The player’s response was “My family’s very important to me”. But then other thoughts were coming like a hurricane. Incidents like when a father transferred his property to his son’s name, only to find himself on the streets after being kicked out of his own house. Another incident that I remember was when the groom had not invited his parents to his wedding. Seeing the wide spectrum of family dynamics being played out on the world stage made me wonder about Guru Ji’s take on the family dynamics. 

My thoughts went back to Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji who was in Dacca at the time of his only child Gobind Rai’s birth in Patna in December 1666. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was 45 years old then and this was his only child after 22 years of marriage. Still Guru Ji decided to carry on with his program and mission uninterrupted. In fact, when Guru Ji left Patna Guru Ji was well aware that his wife Mata Gujri was on her family way. Guru Ji had designated Kirpal Chand, Mata Gujri’s brother to take care of her during his absence. With that responsibility on his shoulders, Kirpal Chand was not part of Guru Ji’s team that moved further east. From Patna Guru Ji toured many cities in Bengal then proceeded to Dhubri in Assam. After some time in Dhubri, Guru Ji toured Cooch Bihar before returning back to Patna. When Guru Ji returned back to Patna and saw his son Gobind Rai for the first time, he was 4 years old. 

So, when we look from Guru Ji’s perspective there was a higher mission, calling that took precedent, priority over his family. Still thinking further about the issue on what could be a higher priority over his family, I reached back into the times of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Guru Nanak was about 34 years of age when he embarked on his first long journey in 1500, leaving his two sons behind with their mother and sister’s family. From the perspective of ‘family being important’, a father’s presence is considered important during the children’s formative years, yet Guru Ji was absent during that crucial period. Because for Guru Jis the highest priority was their mission, which was to bring correct awareness in life. Guru Ji challenged the business practices of hypocrite priest class in name of religion, and the ruler’s unconcern for their subjects. Guru Ji led a purpose driven life, where life’s mission was the highest priority. Guru Ji did not shrink from his family responsibilities but would not let it impede upon on their purpose of life. Making sure that their family was taken care of during their absence, he embarked on his mission unhindered. In the words of Puratan Janamsakhi, Guru Nanak Dev Ji was assigned by Almighty in Sultanpur to spread His Naam in these words:

“ਤੂੰ ਜਾਇ ਕਰ ਮੇਰਾ ਨਾਮ ਜਪਿ । ਅਰ ਲੋਕਾਂ ਥੀਂ ਭੀ ਜਪਾਇ ਅਰੁ ਸੰਸਾਰ ਥੀਂ ਨਿਰਲੇਪ ਰਹੁ|”

Translation: You go back and meditate on my Naam (literal meaning Name). Tell others to meditate as well and remain detached (from the material world). 

The whole of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) is an exposition of Naam, covering different aspects and facets. Here let us explore only one - family aspect, a lesser explored area. We will explore it with few quotes from SGGS as under:  

ਜਨ ਪਿਸਰ ਪਦਰ ਬਿਰਾਦਰਾਂ ਕਸ ਨੇਸ ਦਸਤੰਗੀਰ ॥ ਆਖਿਰ ਬਿਅਫਤਮ ਕਸ ਨ ਦਾਰਦ ਚੂੰ ਸਵਦ ਤਕਬੀਰ ॥੨॥

“Jan pisar padhar biraadharaa(n) kas nes dhasata(n)geer. Aakhir biafatam kas na dhaaradh choo(n) savadh takabeer. 2.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 721)

Translation: Spouse, children, parents, and siblings - none of them will be there to hold your hand. And when at last I fall, and the time of my last prayer has come, there shall be no one to rescue me. ||2||

These are words of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, and its essential import is undeniable, a stark reality of life. So, even if we expend all our energy, efforts, money on these relationships, still at the time of our departure from this world none can be of any support or help. Additionally, more quotes from Gurbani are being shared without the translation and transliteration as the essence has already been shared above. The idea of sharing additional quotes is to put to rest any remaining doubts on this aspect.

ਜਨਨਿ ਪਿਤਾ ਲੋਕ ਸੁਤ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਕਿਸ ਕੀ ਧਰਿਆ ॥ (SGGS, Pg. No. 10)

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਸੁਤ ਸੰਪਤਿ ਅੰਤਿ ਨ ਚਲਤ ਸੰਗਾਤ ॥ (SGGS, Pg. No. 1252)

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਭਾਈ ਸੁਤੁ ਬਨਿਤਾ ॥ ਚੂਗਹਿ ਚੋਗ ਅਨੰਦ ਸਿਉ ਜੁਗਤਾ ॥ (SGGS, Pg. No. 1347)

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਭਾਈ ਸੁਤ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਕਹਹੁ ਕੋਊ ਹੈ ਕਾ ਕਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ (SGGS, Pg. No. 692)

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਭਾਈ ਸੁਤ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਹਿਤੁ ਲਾਗੋ ਸਭ ਫਨ ਕਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ (SGGS, Pg. No. 1253)

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਭਾਈ ਸੁਤ ਬੰਧਪ ਅਰੁ ਫੁਨਿ ਗ੍ਰਿਹ ਕੀ ਨਾਰਿ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ (SGGS, Pg. No. 536)

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਭਾਈ ਸੁਤ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਤਾ ਕੈ ਰਸਿ ਲਪਟਾਨਾ ॥ (SGGS, Pg. No. 684)

Guru Ji is pointing out the stark reality of these close family relationships. Even if we think about these relationships being blissful, the reality is far from it. From the protagonists of importance of family relationships viewpoints, these words sound very harsh. Still Guru Ji has shared these for our benefit. Guru Ji has pointed out that these relationships have become all-consuming, an end in themselves. The person becoming deeply involved in them gets gripped by it, so blinded that one cannot see beyond. Gurbani portrays the picture of its grip in these words:

ਕਬੀਰ ਗਹਗਚਿ ਪਰਿਓ ਕੁਟੰਬ ਕੈ ਕਾਂਠੈ ਰਹਿ ਗਇਓ ਰਾਮੁ ॥

ਆਇ ਪਰੇ ਧਰਮ ਰਾਇ ਕੇ ਬੀਚਹਿ ਧੂਮਾ ਧਾਮ ॥੧੪੨॥

“Kabir gahagach pario kuTa(n)b kai kaa(n)Thai reh gio raam. 

Aai pare dharam rai ke beecheh dhoomaa dhaam. 142.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1372)

Translation: Kabir, the mortal has fallen firmly into the grip of family life, and the Lord has been set aside (out of mind).

In the midst of all his pomp, show and celebration the messengers of the Righteous Judge of Dharma descend upon the mortal. ||142||

What is being cautioned here is that life is not just family celebrations alone, but it is for remembrance of Creator. Guru Ji says that if life is perishable, then these relationships are also perishable – not any different. With each birth these relationships have been created and destroyed numerous times in the past. Even the present existing relationship dynamics are subject to change. Guru Ji is questioning which of these relationships either from past or present are true in these words:

ਕਤੰਚ ਮਾਤਾ ਕਤੰਚ ਪਿਤਾ ਕਤੰਚ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਬਿਨੋਦ ਸੁਤਹ ॥

“Kata(n)ch maataa kata(n)ch pitaa kata(n)ch banitaa binodh suteh.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1353)

Translation: Who is the mother, and who is the father? Who is the son, and what is the pleasure of marriage? 

Guru Ji is saying that these relations being experienced today are results of Karmas from the previous lives. These words of Guru Ji’s act as a reminder of this reality:

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਬਨਿਤਾ ਸੁਤ ਬੰਧਪ ਇਸਟ ਮੀਤ ਅਰੁ ਭਾਈ ॥ ਪੂਰਬ ਜਨਮ ਕੇ ਮਿਲੇ ਸੰਜੋਗੀ ਅੰਤਹਿ ਕੋ ਨ ਸਹਾਈ ॥੧॥

“Maat pitaa banitaa sut ba(n)dhap isaT meet ar bhaiee. Poorab janam ke mile sa(n)jogee a(n)teh ko na sahaiee. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 700)

Translation: Mother, father, spouse, children, relatives, lovers, friends, and siblings meet, having been associated in previous lives; but none of them will be your companion and support in the end. ||1|| 

These relationships are relations of convenience, functionality, utility, and are mere scenarios for life experiences. Even the birth of the child is a result of copulation of the parents, making the parents an entry point for the child after birth. Neither the child taking birth realize this fact nor do the parents. Parents become a child’s support physically, financially, emotionally as well as at the time of crisis. These relationships are cemented by wants, needs, expectations, insecurity, social status, convenience, support, and dependency. If these needs are obliterated, even these relationships can get docked. These relationships become meaningful as long as they function to fulfill needs and wants. These relationships start flailing if any of those needs and wants are unfulfilled or neglected in any respect. If anyone becomes a burden for the other members of the family, he can experience relationships being severed unhesitatingly. Guru Ji has painted picture of this aspect of relationships in these words: 

ਦਾਰਾ ਮੀਤ ਪੂਤ ਸਨਬੰਧੀ ਸਗਰੇ ਧਨ ਸਿਉ ਲਾਗੇ ॥ ਜਬ ਹੀ ਨਿਰਧਨ ਦੇਖਿਓ ਨਰ ਕਉ ਸੰਗੁ ਛਾਡਿ ਸਭ ਭਾਗੇ ॥੧॥

“Daaraa meeth poot sanbandhee sagare dhan siau laage. Jub hee niradhan dhekhio nar kau sang chhaadd sabh bhaage. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 633)

Translation: Wives, friends, children, and relatives - all are looking towards the wealth of the person. When they see an impoverished, they all shun his company and run away. ||1||

 

ਮਾਇ ਬਾਪ ਪੂਤ ਹਿਤ ਭ੍ਰਾਤਾ ਉਨਿ ਘਰਿ ਘਰਿ ਮੇਲਿਓ ਦੂਆ ॥ ਕਿਸ ਹੀ ਵਾਧਿ ਘਾਟਿ ਕਿਸ ਹੀ ਪਹਿ ਸਗਲੇ ਲਰਿ ਲਰਿ ਮੂਆ ॥੩॥

“Mai baap poot hit bhraataa un ghar ghar melio dhooaa. Kis hee vaadh ghaaT kis hee peh sagale lar lar mooaa. 3.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 673)

Translation: In each and every home, she (Maya – the attachment and wealth) has implanted the sense of duality in mother, father, children, friends, and siblings. Some may have more, and some may have less; (becoming bone of contention and) they fight and fight, till the death. ||3||

Guru Ji has laid bare the basic human psyche’s working in everyone. All the human folks can have conflicts with others because of their financial needs, circumstances, greed, selfish interests, traits, habits, nature, viewpoint, ego etc. Many a times, this inner turmoil may not be apparent on the surface, yet it could be simmering within. Outwardly we may present the facade of calm, as we see compromises being worked out, controlling situations from turning ugly. Occasionally we may also encounter a full-blown yelling, shuffles, fights etc. At other times it could be more discreet, like a calm before a storm. But the reality is, the vested parties are at loggerheads with each other, and even willing to fight to finish. 

 Guru Ji is not condemning these family relations, but just laying out their bare truth. The reality is nobody is a support for others, yet everyone is looking for props, who can be their support in need. The reality is this worldly relationship is driven by wants and needs, possessions, expectations, self-interest, and nothing beyond it, that is its stark reality. The reality is that all our close relations are also co-travelers with us in our life’s journey. Here everyone is on their own unique journey, with paths crossing through interactions within these family relationships. This association is for a limited time frame only. We do not know what happens to them after this life’s journey ends. Still Guru Ji wants us to live our life with these co-travelers lovingly and be a support and help to others. But the relationship should not become a relationship of attachment, convenience, possession, grip, or ownership. If we are glued together by those glues as attachment, then our evolution will get stunted. There is a heavy price to be paid for getting entangled in those traits and not using this human life for the soul’s evolution. That should have been set aside as irrelevant in life’s journey. Guru Ji has described our full engrossment in the family and in pleasures in these words:

ਰਚੰਤਿ ਪੁਰਖਹ ਕੁਟੰਬ ਲੀਲਾ ਅਨਿਤ ਆਸਾ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਬਿਨੋਦ ॥ 

“Racha(n)t purakheh kuTa(n)b leelaa anit aasaa bikhiaa binodh.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1359)

Translation: Man is deeply engrossed in family play; placing his hopes in transitory material things, he ravishes in celebrations and pleasures.

Khalil Zibran achieved this clarity on family grip or trap, and his words express it precisely:

"Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you."

It is from this perspective alone that Guru Ji has expressed disdain for family relationships in these words:

ਧ੍ਰਿਗੰਤ ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਸਨੇਹੰ ਧ੍ਰਿਗ ਸਨੇਹੰ ਭ੍ਰਾਤ ਬਾਂਧਵਹ ॥

“Dhiraga(n)t maat pitaa saneha(n) dhirag saneha(n) bhraat baa(n)dhaveh.”

(SGGS, Pg. No. 1354)

Translation: Cursed is loving attachment to one's mother and father; cursed is loving attachment to one's siblings and relatives.

Guru Ji is pointing out that these relationship’s bonding gets only deeper with the passage of time. At the time of death when one has to sever all these worldly bonds, they become very painful and agonizing. Guru Ji says its pain may be unimaginable, but its consequences are disastrous:

ਹੇਤ ਕੇ ਬੰਧਨ ਤੋੜਿ ਨ ਸਾਕਹਿ ਤਾ ਜਮੁ ਕਰੇ ਖੁਆਰੀ ਜੀਉ ॥੫॥

“Het kae bandhan toR na saakeh taa jam kare khuaaree jeeau. 5.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 993)

Translation: (When) You cannot break free from the bondage of loving attachment, and so the Messenger of Death will disgrace you. ||5||

The outcome is that the soul is disgraced by the messengers of death. It is for this reason that Guru Ji has said that these familial bonds are selfish in nature. The family with which these bonds were the tightest, are the ones who can’t keep the body in the house even a moment after death. Thus, the most intimate familial relations get snapped in an instant at the time of death. Guru Ji has shared:

ਤਨ ਤੇ ਪ੍ਰਾਨ ਹੋਤ ਜਬ ਨਿਆਰੇ ਟੇਰਤ ਪ੍ਰੇਤਿ ਪੁਕਾਰਿ ॥ ਆਧ ਘਰੀ ਕੋਊ ਨਹਿ ਰਾਖੈ ਘਰ ਤੇ ਦੇਤ ਨਿਕਾਰਿ ॥੧॥ 

“Tun tae praan hot jub niaare Terat pret pukaar. Aadh gharee kouoo neh raakhai ghar te dhet nikaar. 1. ” (SGGS, Pg. No. 536)

Translation: When the soul is separated from the body, then they will cry out, calling you a ghost. No one will let you stay for even half an hour; they drive you out of the house. ||1||

If these biological familial relationships prized all over the world are not the optimal relations to be nurtured, then which relationship needs to be nurtured? Guru Ji provides the road map for another type of family relationship which can be our true family for eternity:  

ਸਾਧਸੰਗ ਸ੍ਨੇਹ ਸਤਿੰ̮ ਸੁਖਯੰ ਬਸੰਤਿ ਨਾਨਕਹ ॥੨॥ 

“Saadhasang saneh satiye(n) sukhaya(n) basa(n)t naanakeh. 2.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1354)

Translation: Only a loving attachment to the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, is True. Nanak dwells there in peace. ||2||

Those who dwell there, they are the ones who ultimately become attached to the Creator of this game of life. They merge with Him and come out the cycles of reincarnation. Guru Ji has shared that experience in these words:

ਨਿਜ ਘਰਿ ਮਹਲੁ ਪਾਵਹੁ ਸੁਖ ਸਹਜੇ ਬਹੁਰਿ ਨ ਹੋਇਗੋ ਫੇਰਾ ॥੩॥

“Nijh ghar mahal paavahu sukh sahaje bahur na hoigo feraa. 3.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 13)

Translation: Within the home of your own inner being, you shall obtain the Mansion of the Lord's Presence with intuitive ease. You shall not be consigned again to the wheel of reincarnation. ||3||

Then they have an experience of oneness. Their merger is like that of water merging with water becoming indistinguishable and inseparable. Guru Ji has expressed about that merger in these words:

ਭੇਦੁ ਨ ਜਾਣਹੁ ਮੂਲਿ ਸਾਂਈ ਜੇਹਿਆ ॥੧॥

“Bhedh na jaanahu mool saa(n)iee jehiaa. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 397)

Translation: Know that there is absolutely no difference; they are exactly like the Lord. ||1||  

Conclusion

That status of being inseparable from God is only achieved by making some hard choices in life. There is a realization that family relationships should be congenial and good but should not tether the soul’s evolution. This is the level of consciousness that the Guru wants a Sikh to achieve. This is the state of mind above the worldly, and Guru Ji has set this as the bar for the Sikhs. That is an achievement of one, who has elevated his soul above the world which is revered by the worldly folks for generations to come.

References:

  1. Singh, Bhai Vir. Sri Guru Nanak Chamatkar, Poorbarth (Volume 1) (1992). Bhai Vir Singh Sahit Sadan.  
  2. www.Sikhitothemax.com

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