This month the Sikhi Book club discussed ‘Guru Nanak’s Message in Jap Ji’ written by Dewan Singh. The book can be read here. This book was chosen in celebration of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s 550th Gurpurab.
The members started the discussion by reflecting on the fact that there will be many speeches across the world about Guru Nanak Dev Ji this month. One of the most fundamental ways of paying reverence to Guru Sahib is by delving into the meanings of Sri Jap Ji Sahib, which underpins the whole of Sikh spiritual thought. There is no doubt that the Sikh community commonly diminishes Jap Ji Sahib into a ‘morning prayer’. We teach the Mool Mantar to our children but rarely apply the messages in Jap Ji Sahib to our own daily lives. Part of this is ignorance about the reality of Jap Ji Sahib’s message. Books like this serve to enlighten Sikh and non-Sikhs minds alike on this.
The book starts with a comprehensive summary of the significance of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the past and current landscape of India, including how their teachings have influenced the practice and principles of Sikhs across the globe. This summary was felt to be a great overview of Guru Nanak Dev Ji which could be read by newcomers to Sikhi as well as Sikhs. Some felt that the book was rather heavy on praise of the Guru, which could be seen as something that is off-putting to non-Sikh readers. One member made the point that the author probably would rather praise the Guru to the sky than worry about this. Nevertheless the introductory section was useful as it highlighted the effectiveness of the Guru’s message in not only elevating people spiritually but only on a worldly plane by driving a sense of selfless service and community spirit.
The second chapter on Japji and its Theme focused on the fundamental question asked by Guru Sahib – How can the wall of falsehood by broken? This along with it’s answer was felt to be the crux of the whole message of Sri Jap Ji Sahib which was subsequently expanded upon. Indeed the author went further to express that the whole of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is an expansion and explanation on this key question.
The members discussed how Sri Jap Ji Sahib has always played a central role in Sikh lives right from the times of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. There are countless examples throughout our history of the “Miraculous” power true recitation of Sri Jap Ji Sahib can bestow. Some members found it interesting that it was Sri Guru Angad Dev Ji who compiled Sri Jap Ji Sahib on the instructions of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It was also noted by one of the members that Sri Jap Ji Sahib is a compilation of questions asked to Guru Nanak Dev Ji by the Siddhs, some of the most accomplished spiritual beings ever to have existed. As such one needs to understand the level and depth of this bani is unfathomable and can never be reached.
This book is divided into themes which occur in Sri Jap Ji Sahib, for example, the concept of God and the human condition. This is in contrast to some texts which simply translate Jap Ji Sahib line by line (although this book does include a translation of Jap Ji Sahib in the final chapter). It was felt that the thematic analysis undertaken by the author was a good approach in trying to explain the message of Sri Jap Ji Sahib. Given it’s nature there are many levels and themes to each pauri that are interlinked and teasing these out was important for a reader to appreciate them.
The six themes chosen by the author were the concept of God, the human situation, the holy path, the unknowable, god-men and the five regions. All the members felt that the themes selected were highly relevant and appropriate in attempting to elucidate the underlying message. It was accepted that there were numerous other themes that could have been selected given the complexity of this spiritual masterpiece.
In conducting his analysis Dr Dewan Singh quoted extensively from other traditions. This was perhaps to show that the universal truth was held in all traditions in small parts but not as concentrated as the path of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Whilst some members found this cross referencing useful others did not and they felt that this did not add anything and instead caused confusion as the quotes were from texts the members had not read in their entirety.
There was some discussion about the concept of God and whether the author was addressing this from a dualistic or non-dualistic viewpoint. Whilst for some the language did fluctuate between the two views, some members felt that the entire book was portrayed in a non-dualistic fashion. After a prolonged discussion it was concluded that the lens through which the reader was interpreting the book was the fundamental determinant.
The members found the commentary about the way in which people have tried to achieve spiritual enlightenment particularly interesting. There was a debate as to whether Guruji rejected these completely or the notion of the ritualistic practise underlying these. It was argued that there are many saints in the Sikh tradition who have undertaken very long and arduous forms of meditation similar to the four described to achieve union with the Guru. The members felt the inherent intention driving the form of worship is critical.
This led to an interesting discussion on the notion of hukam. Some argued that under the guise of “hukam” many people use this as an excuse not to engage in any spiritual development or worship but then questioned “hukam” when their worldly life did not marry up with their expectations. Indeed the translation of hukam as order was felt to be a hindrance in accepting the non-dualistic nature of the universe. A definition such as reality was felt to be easier to understand conceptually and put into practise.
Unfortunately due to time constraints we were not able to discuss all the sections of this book. Despite this everyone felt that this was a great book to read and contemplate on. It was felt that reading and discussing Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Jap Ji was a fitting way for the book club to commemorate Guru Sahib’s 550th Gurpurab.