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Every year we celebrate many Gurpurabs. We participate in kirtan divans, kathas, samagams, parbhat pheris, nagar keertans, and discussions on various aspects of Gurmat. We reflect on the life and legacy of our Guru Sahibans, including Guru Nanak ji’s legacy in particular. These events rightly remind us of the origins and distinctiveness of the Sikh faith and the importance of following our Gurus’ teachings.

We are encouraged to reflect upon Gurbani’s messages, so that we may apply them to our daily life. This process of learning and following Gurmat can be facilitated by our reflecting explicitly on how Sikhs converse with God. The views outlined below represent one such attempt. They seek to encourage further reflection on the topic, so that we could deepen and enrich our understanding of Gurbani.

A Sikh’s Conversations with God: A Sikh’s conversations with and understanding of God must begin with how the religion’s founder Guru Nanak ji himself understood and experienced the Creator, known to us as Akal Purakh or Vaheguru, translated as the Eternal Being or the Wondrous Guru.

In the “mool mantar,” the Creator of all that exists is described this way: ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦਿ ॥ That is: There is only One God, who is All pervading, Truth by Name, Without fear, Without hate, Eternal, Never incarnated, Self-existent, and known by the Grace of God.

This creedal statement is the foundation upon which all the teachings of Guru Nanak ji and his successor Gurus rest.

Sikhs respect their scripture, but revere only the Shabad Guru (or the Word of God) in it. The last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji, ordained that after him there would be no more human Gurus of the Sikhs; and that Sikhs should henceforth take spiritual guidance only from their scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. Hence, this is where our conversation with God must begin.

As taught in the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhs believe in only the One God, the Creator. This God is both transcendental and immanent – that is, the Creator is also within each of us. He can be reached through Gurbani in the Sikh scripture, and also through a search within ourselves. There is thus both an external and an internal conversation that Sikhs have with God.

This short recap of the nature of God as understood by our Gurus, provides a starting point for reflecting on how Sikhs converse with God. As in other religions, there are some formal requirements, and there are also some variations in how – and how well – these requirements are actually met in practice. Both aspects are briefly covered below.

Conversing with God in the Gurdwara: Our conversation with God is helped immensely by attendance at a Gurdwara. Every religious service in a Gurdwara is undertaken in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib. Besides listening to the hymns of Gurbani (Kirtan), we also seek a Hukam (or Guru’s instructions) from the Guru Granth Sahib. We are expected to reflect on, and act upon, this verse.

At the Gurdwara, Sikhs are expected to attentively hear verses from the Guru Granth Sahib. The entire contents of the scripture are Gurbani, since all of it was included in the Guru Granth Sahib by the Gurus themselves. We also say the prescribed collective prayer of supplication, the Ardas, to thank God for what he has given to us, and to seek His blessings for what we seek for ourselves and for everyone else.

Conversing with God through the Granth: Sikhs are expected to converse with God mainly through the Granth. God’s Word, or the Shabad Guru, is already recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib, so we are expected to pay close attention to what is said in the Sikh scripture, and to follow it as best we can.

The conversation with God through the Guru Granth Sahib can be difficult for many Sikhs, for the message of the scripture is in exquisite poetry and there is deep meaning to be found in every verse.

To help us along the spiritual path, Sikhs also have a 30-page document, the Sikh Rehat Maryada (the Code of Sikh Conduct Conventions), that was endorsed by the Sikh community in 1945 CE. It tells us what we should do as a community in Gurdwaras, and also the passages of the Guru Granth Sahib that Sikhs should read or recite every morning, late evening, and night. These prayers are recited in Gurdwaras every day in the form of congregational prayers; and are also expected to be heard, read or recited daily by Sikhs at home or wherever they happen to be.

Fortunately, our conversation with God is not meant to be one-way. The scripture gives us general guidance, but not precise rules. Hence, Sikhs have a lot of personal discretion – and hence also great personal responsibility – for learning the core messages of Gurbani. In understanding and then applying the message of Gurbani in our daily lives, it is also expected that questions would arise in our minds.

For answers to these questions – about God, about the relationship of God with humankind, and about how we should relate to other humans in all aspects of our lives – we are expected to rely on the Guru Granth Sahib itself, for the Sikh scripture provides answers to all these questions. When properly understood, it provides spiritual guidance for every aspect of our lives, from birth to death. The purpose is to try to understand what God asks us to do, and to then apply these teachings to all that we think, say, or do.

Conversing with the God Within: In addition, the conversation with the “God within” is necessary too, and perhaps more difficult. Sikhs are expected to read and understand, at their own pace, the entire text of the Sikh scripture. For those who don’t know the Gurmukhi script or the Punjabi language, various English translations are available, but these don’t do full justice to the meanings and messages of the poetic verses of Gurbani. Hence, we need to know Punjabi, without which the conversation is much harder.

One of the basic tenets of Sikhi is ‘Naam Simran’, by which we mean thoughtful remembrance of Vaheguru at all times, recognizing that God is near us – or rather, within us – always. The main difficulty in doing Naam Simran is often this: For understanding the Guru Granth Sahib, we can rely on the scholarly work of others and on the explanations of Gurbani given in our Gurdwaras and Gurmat Schools, through books, videos, etc. But for conversations (Simran) with the “God within”, we have to rely primarily on ourselves. For many of us, despite our good intentions and efforts, it is not easy to look within, for we often lack the inner resources to do so.

It seems that we often ask for God’s help and blessings mainly for various aspects of our mundane daily life. We don’t quite know how to ask for – or receive and use, when given – God’s help in our spiritual journey. Of course, this statement does not apply equally to everyone. Seeking and receiving this kind of help is a personal matter, and must therefore remain a quiet conversation between us alone and Vaheguru, our God. Fortunately, we may use any words we like for this private conversation with God, and He may respond to us in any way He likes.

It is important to recognize too that our conversation with God does not end there. As mentioned above, our conversation with Him is not one-way. Even when we do not listen to what God says to us, we expect Him to hear us – all the time, anytime, anywhere that we say our prayers, or even when we don’t ask Him directly. This gives us great satisfaction and immense comfort, knowing that Vaheguru is always with us, looking after us. All of us, whether Sikh or not.

We find comfort in this because the God that Sikhs believe in is All Love, Gracious, Kind, Just, Merciful, Compassionate, and Forgiving. He is full of Virtues, too many to name. And He looks after all of humanity as One; as all His children – making no distinctions at all on the basis of caste, creed, gender, race, nationality, or even religion – for He treats us all equally.

This is what Sikhs are expected to learn from the Shabad Guru in the Guru Granth Sahib. Our inner conversations with God seek His help in our becoming more God-like, by developing Godly-virtues and qualities within ourselves, so that we may live accordingly. This helps us come closer to God.

Sikh Values and Way of Life: A related question is this: How should we understand this “God within” that we are expected to connect with, within ourselves? Gurmat does not endorse chanting mantars, fasting, pilgrimage, idol-worship, or superstitious rites and rituals. But it assures us that humans have the innate capacity to become “God-like” – provided we make a deliberate effort to cultivate Godly-virtues and good qualities of heart and mind that often lie dormant or untapped. It is these qualities –and the moral values, attitudes and behaviors they signify – that should guide all our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Gurmat asks us to develop within ourselves such good personal qualities as the pursuit of Truth, good character, contentment, compassion, faith, patience, and many others – such as love, duty, discernment, self-control, humility, etc. We are also expected to avoid or reduce bad qualities or vices such as ego, lust, anger, attachment, greed, and many others. In addition, we are asked to follow the main Sikh tenets of Naam Japna, Kirt Karna, and Wand Shakna – i.e., Always remember God, Earn an honest living, and Share what you have with others through service or Seva.

In essence: Understand and follow Shabad Guru (or God’s Word). By doing so, we strengthen our ability to accept God’s Will and follow His Hukam (or Razaa), whatever the circumstances. We come closer to God as we live our daily lives, which is the goal of human existence, according to Gurbani.

Following God’s teachings – and not our own views and personal preferences – is thus the primary means to be used by Sikhs for achieving this spiritual goal. We call this following Gurmat (or the Guru’s Way), not Manmat (our own views). This is how Sikhs are expected to live.

As taught by Guru Nanak ji himself: ਸਚਹੁ ਓਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਉਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ ਆਚਾਰੁ ॥ That is: Truth is High, higher still is Truthful living. We are expected to learn to live well by always following Gurmat. Fortunately, this learning process is helped immensely by deep conversations with the God within, as well as without.

For Sikhs, there is no other way. There is no substitute for having meaningful conversations with God using only the Guru Granth Sahib as our guide, as the Gurus instructed many centuries ago.

By the same author:
~The Life and Legacy of Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, 15 Nov 2020: https://www.sikhnet.com/news/life-and-legacy-guru-nanak-sahib-ji
~Celebrating Vaisakhi, 8 April 2021: https://www.sikhnet.com/news/celebrating-vaisakhi
~Appreciating Sikhism (2008), Appreciating All Religions (2011), and is`K Drm (2015, in Punjabi).

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