What does Guru Nanak Teach About 'Good' and 'Bad'?

That little bit of surrender to the shadow ignites a light within that protects me from the darkness, even if there is n...

Back in my mid 20's, I had an important decision to make.

January 16, 2014: At the time, I was staying at a beach house along the coast, enjoying the wild majesty of the ocean. I love the ocean. It is vast and powerful; playful and passionate. I would take long walks in the sand, watching the rhythm of the waves, meditating on what to do.

One evening, in the middle of the night, I could not sleep. No one but I was awake. I slipped away to an outdoor veranda, overlooking the line of the shore. It was cloudy, with moonlight filtering through. The constant caress of the ocean breeze soothed my troubled mind.

This was a time in my life when I did not pray so often. But looking up at the stars, I asked for guidance. For a sign. For something that would show me which road to take.

The Universal Consciousness is funny. It has Its own language and moves in Its own way. As I sat on the veranda, I reached out with my mind, hoping to dialogue with a Force that I was not entirely sure would listen to me or answer.

Yet, after some minutes of earnest questioning, I heard a caw above me. It was the sound of a bird directly overhead. I looked up, but as much as I strained my eyes, I could not see any bird anywhere, even though I could hear it distinctly.

However, when I cast my eyes downward, I saw a very clear shadow of a bird move through a patch of moonlight against the wooden planks.

The image stayed with me, and when I returned home, I began to do a little research and found a curious Native American myth about a crow who did not like her shadow. The crow pecked at her shadow, and pecked at it, and pecked at it, until she finally disconnected her body from her shadow completely.

Ironically, as soon as the shadow could act independent of that little crow, it turned around and swallowed her whole. Ate her up until there was nothing but shadow left.

In that particular myth, the crow became the guardian of Cosmic Law. Not the law that human beings invent to govern a society. But the Universal Rules that creation has to live by. The Cosmic Awareness sees things and knows things that we do not see or know ourselves.

At the time, on the veranda, I asked, "Should I or shouldn't I?" But the answer that I received turned out to be much more complicated. And much more accurate.

Know your shadow. Make friends with it. Be at peace with it. If you try to separate from it, that shadow will consume you.

In the years since, the answer I received to that prayer in the moonlight continues to show me it's profound power. A lot of times, when people embark on a spiritual quest, they want to purify themselves. To get rid of the darkness. To exorcise their demons. We can equate spirituality with denying and denouncing the shadow of life. We believe it is possible to live always and forever in the Light.

But Cosmic Law does not work that way. The Creation exists in the dynamic tension of polarity. Tall and short are relative to each other. Success and failure are relative to each other. Life depends upon that tension pulling at us. We need it in order to feel, in order to have an experience.

In the same way, love and hate are relative. Justice and tyranny. Honesty and deception. Peace and war. There is no perfect love, justice, honesty or peace. There is no absolute hate, tyranny, deception or war. The two extremes represent a range of experiences, and we always navigate in between.

When I studied Japji Sahib, I found Verses (paurrees) 17 and 18 particularly illuminating when it came to this subject.

In Verse 17, Guru Nanak praises all the countless "light forms" that the Divine has created. So many lovers and devotes, so many heroes and givers. So many creations of pure light, all crafted by the One.

Then, in Verse 18, Guru Nanak describes all the countless "shadow forms." The deceivers, and the slanderers, the thieves and the tyrants. No less in number than the forms of light.

And he acknowledges that all of this is part of the Creator's vision. Light and shadow are equally present and working within the Creation.

In this moment, Guru Nanak gives us a new definition of what is "good."

'Whatever pleases Thee, that is what is good', he says at the end of both verses.

Whatever pleases Thee ... jo tudh bhavai sae-ee bhalee kaar

It reframes the conversation, from the impossible pressure that "good" means always and forever in the light. It allows the reality that the shadow has its part to play. Cosmic Law. The One has fashioned it all. When the shadow has a purpose, when it is pleasing to the Divine, then even the darkness is good. Not because it is pleasant, but because the Creator is present within it. It is part of the Cosmic Plan, that we, ourselves, may or may not ever understand.

The irony that I have found is this. When the darkness has descended a bit in my life - the times when there has been more deception than honesty, more hate than love, more fanaticism than tolerance, remembering that it is all part of Your Play, that You have created this, provides a protection.

That little bit of surrender to the shadow ignites a light within that protects me from the darkness, even if there is no way out of it.

It bemuses me, when I drive or walk in the rugged desert beauty of New Mexico. Over 20 years later, I have found myself in crow country. Crows live everywhere here. You can see them daily, a totally normal occurrence. With their vast wing span and unique cawing language.

How funny that I ended up in a place where I have this constant reminder of the crow, of her shadow, and of living in tune with Cosmic Law.

If every life is a story that the Creator writes for us, this is one of the more poetic aspects of my story. The crows in the trees here remind me that the Universe has never stopped answering the prayer I made so long ago.

CrowCountry-a (5K)

Crowcountry-b (29K)


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