Throughout history, great teachers, mystics and Saints have shared with us their vision of life and its purpose. Many never wrote down what they taught nor did they intend their teachings to become dogma. When they taught, they spoke to all who were ready to listen irrespective of background and status. Mystics use language and stories to provoke their audience and create a yearning in us to experience a higher truth to which they themselves stand witness.
Scriptures guide us. Scriptures provide us with starting points and road maps. Scriptures remind us of the presence of the divine within. They inspire us and provoke us to act on what we have understood. True spiritual knowledge and firm faith come from experience when we transform our- selves through inner contact with Truth in accordance with the teachings of the Masters. The scriptures have come to us as words on paper, but they originated in words that were imbued with the spiritual experience of the teacher. They were addressed to living congregations, to awaken them from a deep slumber to the spiritual truth.
Words, at best, have different meanings for each listener due to his or her own perspective and understanding. As we our- selves grow in understanding, so too the depth and grandeur of the scriptures become more and more apparent. The real journey of spiritual understanding lies not in reading but in our personal transformation through action and increasing awareness.
The Gurbani (hymns of the Gurus) presented here is unique in its wide-ranging representation of spiritual under- standing and experience. These hymns are from the Adi Granth, the embodiment of the teachings of the Gurus of the line of Guru Nanak and thirty other mystics from different cultural and religious backgrounds, showing the commonality of all truth - as one human family we all share yearning, love and devotion for the one Lord.
It is our privilege to present to the English reader this first volume of what we envision to be a series of translations of selections from this great compilation of spiritual wisdom - a humble contribution towards making the treasures of the Adi Granth more easily accessible. We believe that its depth, its range and its guidance is as relevant and inspiring today as it was when first sung and spoken in medieval India.
The Adi Granth This first volume of Gurbani Selections' is one in a planned series of publications on the Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib, also referred to as the Adi Granth, the 'primal scripture: The translations are an attempt to bring precious jewels from the Adi Granth to English-language readers across the world. It is hoped that the series will, over the years, make the treasures contained in this unique and far-reaching work accessible to people who cannot read or understand its original Gurmukhi" script.
The Adi Granth is a voluminous anthology of hymns compiled and edited by Guru Arjun Dev (1563-1606), the fifth Guru in the line of Guru Nanak.' In addition to his own hymns and those of his predecessors, Guru Arjun Dev took great effort and care to collect the works of mystics and devotees from various parts of India, regardless of their religious, social, cultural or vocational backgrounds. He included in this selection the hymns of thirty of these Saints and devotees, many of whom belonged to different religions and castes. Guru Arjun Dev, who was himself above the pettiness of sectarian constraints, showed unprecedented leadership and moral courage in cutting across the rigid and inhuman caste barriers of medieval India at a time when members of the lowest castes had no freedom to read or listen to scriptures and no access to places of worship. He maintains that God dwells within all human beings regardless of their social standing. The following lines epitomize the all-encompassing vision of the Gurus:
The noblest of all religions
and purest of all actions
is repetition of God's Nam ....
The holiest of all the holy places, 0 Nanak,
is the heart in which God's Nam abides.
GURU ARJUN, AG:266t
The language and idiom of the Adi Granth reflects the diverse backgrounds of the contributors. Primarily based on archaic Punjabi and old Western Hindi, the verbal expression is enriched by a wide range of vocabulary adopted from Persian, Arabic, Sindhi, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhramsha and a variety of other languages, modified to suit the Punjabi idiom, script and inflectional system.
This diversity makes the Adi Granth a lucid mosaic of esoteric poetry of Saints who, having little else in common, shared the noblest of all ideals - love of God and redemption of humanity. Ever since its inception, the Adi Granth has been adopted by its devotees as their most sacred scripture. The eternal message of the Adi Granth is the foundation on which the mystical philosophy of the Sikh religion is based.
As a practice that has come down from the Arabic/Persian tradition, poets of Indian languages have generally incorporated their pen names (takhallus) in the concluding lines of their compositions, which is somewhat like putting a signature to their works. In keeping with this tradition Guru Nanak Dev uses his first name 'Nanak' as his pen name.
The Adi Granth proclaims that by following the Guru's instructions with love and devotion, the disciple imbibes the Guru's divine qualities and ultimately becomes one with the Guru. "Abandoning one's own self, 0 Nanak, one should merge into the Guru;' says Guru Amar Das (AG:S09). As a symbolic gesture of this merging of identities, Guru Nanak's successors referred to themselves in their hymns not by their own names, as is customary, but as 'Nanak, which is well illustrated by the preceding quote written by Guru Amar Das, but presented in the name of Nanak.' Thus, by eliminating any self-reference in their writings, they presented themselves merely as vehicles of the spirit of Nanak to convey his eternal message to seekers after Truth. No discourse on humility and self-effacement could be more eloquent.
In order to illustrate the God-and-soul relationship through familiar imagery, the Gurus and other mystics have often used the metaphor of husband and wife because of the unique nature of their relationship in terms of closeness and intimacy. In love the tendency is for the two to melt into oneness through the surrender of the individual self. Similar is said to be the experience of the soul when it sheds its ego and attains fulfilment through union with God.
Presentation of Text
A large number of devotees of Indian origin who live outside India are often familiar with spoken Punjabi, but have difficulty reading Gurmukhi, the traditional script of the Adi Granth. Keeping their needs in mind, a Romanized transliteration' has been given alongside the original text. The English translation appears on the facing page and line numbers have been given in the original text as well as the ranslation for cross- reference.
The hymns selected for this book are four of Guru Nanak Devs banist drawn from the Adi Granth: lap li. Asa ki Var, Sidh Gost and Barah Maha. The Gurmukhi text has been taken from the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee" publications, and the transliteration is done in the popular contemporary style that avoids the use of diacritical marks, along the lines of the systems adopted by P.S. Chahil and K.S. Thind.
Some of the Indian terms such as Satguru, Shabd, sahaj, darshan, Nam and simran have been retained in the English translation in their transliterated forms. These and other unfamiliar terms, concepts and references particular to Indian social and cultural tradition and those based in Indian mythology have been explained in footnotes. Many of them are also included in the glossary, where they are often explained in greater detail.
The understanding and interpretation of the Adi Granth is particularly difficult where the text is composed in the form of sutras. Sutras are highly compact phrases of meaning-packed flashes of language which avoid an expansive use of words for elucidation.
Verses based on the sutra style do not have any specifically expressed verbs, cases or prepositions, a good deal being left to the imagination of the reader. The Mool Mantra of Guru Nanak Dev, which constitutes the opening thought of the Adi Granth, is a fine example of this style. Literally translated it would read:
One God, true Nam, Creator, without fear,
without enmity, timeless form, unborn,
self-existent, Guru's grace.
In order to arrive at an acceptable degree of accuracy in the meaning and import of the original, necessary additions have been made in the translation to arrive at a comprehensible expression of the ideas presented in the sutras. In the present translation the verse above has been rendered as follows:
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