Understanding True Love Through Shabad Hazaaray

When you feel anger, you cannot feel love....

The following paper was presented at the 4thAnnual Siri Guru Granth Sahib Conference, which took place on September 19th, 2015, at the Sikh Gurdwara San Jose in San Jose, California.  The conference was co-sponsored by the Chardi Kalaa Foundation, the Sikh Gurdwara of San Jose and SikhNet.com. (http://www.chardikalaa.com/?page_id=1604).

Understanding True Love through Shabad Hazaaray

By Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh.

Thank you so much for the honor to address all of you today. Grateful to be part of this 4th Annual Siri Guru Granth Sahib conference. Thank you to the Chardi Kalaa Foundation and the San Jose Gurdwara for inviting me.

Today, I would like to speak to you from my heart as a poet. Not necessarily as a scholar. Knowing that the morning of this conference was focused on Sikh youth, I wanted to dedicate this talk to the youth. And to one of the most critical questions that you young people will wrestle with in your life. The question of love.

What is love? What is not love? How do you find it? How do you nurture it and maintain it? What do you do when love fails? We spend all this time in school learning about arithmetic, learning how to read, learning science, learning so many things. But no one really ever takes the time to teach us about love, even though it is the single most important issue in life.

So today let me share some thoughts with you about love from my own life experiences.

The first thing to know about love is - it is not emotional and it is not hormonal. You may feel emotional and you may feel your juices with another person. Those feelings have an extraordinary amount of power. But love does not rest in those feelings. Love actually comes from the inner being, the Ji, the light. Love has a gentle quality to it. It carries with it kindness and a sincere desire to serve or help the other person in some way. When you love somebody, the love may change over time. But love is like gold. Whether it is a gold necklace or a gold ring, gold remains gold. So real love actually never dies.

Love exists deep within your being as a very subtle, sophisticated sensitivity. You are a spark of Divine Immortal Light, and it is in your subtly and sensitivity that you find love, and that you find your own Divinity.

Love also has a tremendous power to purify a situation and to create healing between people.

So love does not create drama and trauma with another person. On the contrary, love gives you the ability to stop your drama, to sacrifice your emotions, in order to live in peace and harmony with someone.

How can you cultivate the subtlety and sophistication of real love? First - you need to meditate. Why? Because love exists as this quiet voice inside of you. And there are a lot of really loud voices vying for your attention. The Guru calls these other voices the five thieves. Lust, anger, greed, pride and attachment. These thieves drown out the whisper of love. They pull you in the opposite direction of love. That's why they are called the thieves because they steal the experience of love from you.

When you feel anger, you cannot feel love. When you feel lust, which is sex for sex's sake, that sophisticated sensitivity disappears. Greed. Pride. Attachment. All of them block the experience of love. When you meditate, you cultivate the habit to face those thieves within you and tie them up. You open yourself to experiencing what real love feels like inside you. Your meditation, your kirtan, your banis, your sadhana is the time and place where you can learn the difference between what the thieves sound like and what the call of love sounds like.

Let me share a secret with you. The love that you search for does not come from anyone outside of you. Satisfaction comes from finding the love that already exists within you and then sharing it with another person. Guru says we are born in love.

Gur syvw qy Bgiq kmweI ]

Qb ieh mwns dyhI pweY ]

Gur sayvaa tay bhagat kamaa-ee.

Tab ih maanas dayhee paa-ee.

You served the Guru with love, with devotion,

And that is how this human body came to you.

Bhagat Kabir ji, Siri Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 1159.

Therefore, the base of you, the very cause of your human birth, the foundation of you comes from love. You just have to give yourself a chance to go within and taste it. Once you have the taste, then you can share it. And in sharing from the perfect and complete love that already lives inside of you, you will find fulfillment.

No relationship, absolutely no relationship, will ever turn out the way you imagine. Whether it is a relationship with your parents, your siblings, your spouse or your children. You will have expectations and those expectations will fall flat. So start practicing now to stop expecting and demanding from others, and to realize that love simply asks you to walk on the path with someone. As you are, as they are, and to support each other to face life together.

Now, what tool has the Guru given us to understand love? To break through the blocks within us so we can experience love? There are four beautiful love letters written by Guru Arjan Dev Ji to his father, Guru Ram Das Ji. We call these letters Shabad Hazaaray.

These four letters have an amazingly unique story behind them. Guru Arjan was not actually the Guru when he wrote them. On the contrary, he was simply Arjan Mal, the youngest son of Guru Ram Das. These letters have a special quality to them. Through the process of composing these letters, and through the profound love that these letters embody, Arjan Mal became Guru Arjan Dev Ji.

The story of how these letters got written give us a deep insight into the very nature of love. I wish I had time to go into the whole dramatic story of how Arjan Mal composed these letters, because it is quite the Cosmic play. But my time with you does not allow me to do the full story justice, so let me give you the CliffsNotes.

When Bibi Bani asked her father, Guru Amar Das, for the line of the Gurus to come through her, her prayer created a particular social spiritual drama. Power usually passes from the father to the first born son in traditional patriarchal societies. So many people assumed that Bibi Bani's oldest son, Prithi Chand, would become then next Guru. Prithi Chand, himself, certainly believed it.

But the Guruship has a unique quality. It is a purely mystical reality, not subject to politics, reason, logic, debate, bribery, anything. It moves by the hand of the Unknown, from the eyes of the Unseen One. And this mystical quality of the Guru's consciousness, frankly, is proof of God on earth.

Arjan Mal came as the last born son. He had a sweet disposition, and a meditative nature. Prithi Chand felt jealous of Arjan Mal. So when Guru Ram Das sent Arjan to Lahore for a family wedding, and asked Arjan to stay in Lahore until the Guru, himself, called for him, Prithi Chand felt a sense of relief.

Now Arjan stayed in Lahore after the family wedding and set up free kitchens, gave talks on Dharma, but his longing to see his father became unbearable. Love has this quality. We do not want to feel separated from the one we love. And Arjan felt the pain of the separation. So he began to write letters to his father, expressing the deep pain, longing and love that he felt. But when Arjan sent a servant to Amritsar to give the letters to Guru Ram Das, Prithi Chand intercepted the servant, stole the letters and hid them.

We can see between these two brothers the dynamic between the inner being and the five thieves. The inner being has a longing to experience love. When you take your last breath, the only thing that really counts is how well you loved. Nothing else matters. So the soul sends out a call for love to come. But the untrained mind, and the five thieves, steal that calling and block the call from being answered.

Arjan did not give up. Prithi Chand intercepted the first letter. Arjan wrote the second. Prithi Chand intercepted the second. But all this did was make Arjan more and more determined to reach his father. When we look at the poetry of Shabad Hazaaray, the third letter that Arjan wrote had so much intensity in it, so much heartbreak and longing, that somehow, the hand of the Unseen One moved in his favor. The servant managed to slip past Prithi Chand the third time and deliver the letter into the hands of Guru Ram Das.

This, too, gives us insight into the nature of love. In our journey of life, the call of love never gets fulfilled through our own mental planning or manipulation. Love is the language of the Divine and the purpose of human existence. So the Unseen Hand has to play a part in its fulfillment. The ego can never get there on its own. When the longing becomes deep enough, painful enough, and demanding enough, that actually gives us the power to conquer the thieves and allow the Creator to help us in our quest.

Guru Ram Das read the third letter. Then he asked asked Prithi Chand for the first two. Prithi Chand denied knowing anything about the letters, but the Guru knew the letters were hidden in Prithi Chand's coat at home. After Guru Ram Das exposed Prithi Chand's deception, the Guru sent Baba Buddha with a carriage and all pomp and circumstance to bring Arjan Mal from Lahore back to Amritsar. When we read the letters, by the time Arjan got to the third letter, he spoke to his father Guru Ram Das as a Beloved calls upon a Lover. And in some ways, the procession that brought Arjan back to Amritsar resembled a bride coming to the home of her husband.

When Arjan Mal reached the court, the Guru welcomed him with open arms, but told him - you have not finished yet. I need a fourth letter. Guru Ram Das said to Prithi Chand - if you can successfully complete the fourth letter, the Guruship is yours. So both brothers wrote their letters. And the fourth letter, the letter that caused caused Guru Ram Das to bestow the Guruship upon Guru Arjan, reveals two key themes of real love.

The first comes with the line:

syv krI plu csw n ivCuVw …

Sayv karee pal chasaa na vichhur(.)aa

Serving you each moment,

I am never separated from You

Not even for an instant.

The longing we feel comes from an illusion of separation. But when you serve someone with love, the illusion of separation disappears. You feel connected to them, regardless of the distance in time and space. Service, then, represents the ultimate expression of love.

The second key theme comes with the line:

pRBu AibnwsI Gr mih pwieAw ]

Prabh abinaasee ghar meh paa-i-aa.

I have found the Indestructible Creator

In the home of my own heart.

This line describes another aspect of true love. The Creator lives in every single heart. The experience of real love will recognize that. Love reflects your Divinity back to you and never makes you feel less than. Love flows from soul to soul, from Divine Light to Divine Light. And when love fills you, you become aware of your own essential Divinity.

Between these two brothers, the Guru had to oversee - who acted from love and who acted according to the thieves? The Guruship, as a mystical throne representing the reality of the Creator, could only go to the son who acted from love.  These letters had so much power, that love conquered thousands of years of patriarchal culture. The throne got bestowed on the son who had the consciousness to hold it. Not the son who felt he deserved it by some blood right.

In our own lives, it is the same. For our inner being to travel the distance and break through all the blocks, we need the Guru to oversee our journey. We need the Guru to be the arbiter of when we act from love and to confront us when the thieves have taken over. Because love is your base, your origin, and your ultimate destination, this lesson of distinguishing between love and the thieves holds incredible importance in life. No human being can make that trip by themselves. We need the Guru to show us the way.

It is said that Guru Ram Das, himself, blessed these letters and made them a medicine for the community. That whoever would meditate on them would will merge directly with the Divine. That it would allow those who are separated to come home again.

First Letter

My mind long to see You,

Oh Guide of Light.

It weeps like the cuckoo without water.

My desire goes unsatisfied.

Peace does not come to me

So long as I do not see

My Wise Beloved One.

I would give everything that I am,

I would dissolve myself as a sacrifice,

So that I could behold You, Guide of Light

My Wise Beloved One.  (1)

(Pay attention.)

Second Letter

Oh Darling, Your face is so delightful,

And the sound of Your heavenly words

Bring harmony and ease.

It has been such a long time since this cuckoo,

Lost in longing,

Has seen a single rain drop.

My Dear.

My Beloved Protector and Friend,

The land where You live is so blessed.

I would give everything that I am,

I would dissolve myself as a sacrifice,

For You Guide of Light.

My Dear.

My Beloved Protector and Friend. (2)

(Pay attention)

Third Letter

Just one moment of being apart from You

Takes me into the Age of Darkness.

Now, when will we meet again, Beloved?

You Adorable, Enchanting, Divine One.

My nights never end.

Sleep does not come,

Without seeing the Radiant Court of my Dear Guide of Light.

I would give everything that I am,

I would dissolve myself as a sacrifice,

For that Radiant Court of Ultimate Truth

Where my Dear Guide of Light abides. (3)

(Pay attention)

Fourth Letter

How wonderfully fortunate!

This wise saint,

My Guide of Light,

Has taken me into His embrace.

I have found the Indestructible Creator

In the home of my own heart.

Serving You each moment,

I am never separated from You

Not even for an instant.

Dear One,

Naanak has become Your devotee and Your slave.

I give everything that I am.

I dissolve myself as a sacrifice.

Dear One,

Naanak has become Your devotee and Your slave. (4)

(Pay attention.)

To end this talk, I would like to invite Prabhu Nam Kaur to come up here with me. And I would like to invite you into an experience. Many times we sing kirtan as an exercise, as a formality. But today, I would ask you to sit and simply listen. As she sings these letters, to open yourself up to your sensitivity. To listen, not just with your ears, but with every pore of your being. To feel the love in you, the fight with the thieves, and the Guru's power to guide your path.

Just listen to these letters and remember...


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