Misinterpretation of Gurbani: Getting Kabir wrong

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By Harbans Singh Kandola Opinion |

(This is the second of a 7-part series on Misinterpretation of Gurbani. Click for Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7. Click here for all articles by the same author)

Kabir Sakat Sang Na Kijiai Dooreh Jaeeai Bhag.
Basan Karo Parseeai Tau Kichh Lagai Daag
(SGGS, 1371)

ਕਬੀਰ ਸਾਕਤ ਸੰਗੁ ਨ ਕੀਜੀਐ ਦੂਰਹਿ ਜਾਈਐ ਭਾਗਿ ॥
ਬਾਸਨੁ ਕਾਰੋ ਪਰਸੀਐ ਤਉ ਕਛੁ ਲਾਗੈ ਦਾਗੁ ॥੧੩੧॥

This verse has been literally and erroneously been interpreted as: Kabir do not associate with the faithless cynics, run far away from them. It is like if you touch a vessel stained with soot, some of the soot will stick to you. First, this message is not for Kabir, it is for us. Second, this interpretation is misleading and against the basic principles of Sikhi. It is extremely important to understand that answers to difficult questions are found in the Gurbani itself. Is Saint Kabir really saying here that we should have no relations with fellow citizens of the society and we should stay away from them?

Here is what Kabir says,

Awal Alah Noor Opaeea Kudrat Ke Sabh Bandai. Ek Noor Te Sabh Jug Opjia Kaon Bhale Ko Mandai (SGGS, 1349)

ਅਵਲਿ ਅਲਹ ਨੂਰੁ ਉਪਾਇਆ ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਕੇ ਸਭ ਬੰਦੇ ॥ ਏਕ ਨੂਰ ਤੇ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਕਉਨ ਭਲੇ ਕੋ ਮੰਦੇ ॥੧॥

meaning God first created universal life energy, essence of life, JOT. Each one us came from the same SOURCE, essence of life, one fatherhood of mankind. Kabir says how then can we label some high and others low (caste system)? How can we judge some as good and others bad? Kabir is talking about embracing others, not running away. Later in this article I will explain what is meaning of SAKAT according to spiritual philosophy of SGGS. A person is not SAKAT; it is his thoughts, habits, behavior, ideas in his head that is SAKAT.

Gurbani teaches us to love and respect others. Here is what Guru Nanak says,

Mith Bolra Jee Har Sajan Suamee Mora (SGGS, 784)

ਮਿਠ ਬੋਲੜਾ ਜੀ ਹਰਿ ਸਜਣੁ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਮੋਰਾ ॥

meaning my beloved SATGURU always speaks with all in a polite, sweet, soft and kind voice.

Hau Samal Thakee Jee Oh Kade Na Bolai Kaura (SGGS, 784)

ਹਉ ਸੰਮਲਿ ਥਕੀ ਜੀ ਓਹੁ ਕਦੇ ਨ ਬੋਲੈ ਕਉਰਾ ॥

meaning Nanak says I have noticed many times that SATGURU, GOD never ever speaks with harsh, bitter and angry voice with others.

Kaura Bole Na Janai Pooran Bhagwanai Augan Ko Na Chitarai (SGGS, 784)

ਕਉੜਾ ਬੋਲਿ ਨ ਜਾਨੈ ਪੂਰਨ ਭਗਵਾਨੈ ਅਉਗਣੁ ਕੋ ਨ ਚਿਤਾਰੇ ॥

meaning never to speak harshly with others is the nature of my beloved SATGURU. My God does not judge, label others good or bad, does not find faults in humans. This divine message is for all of us, for how to conduct ourselves in society.

I have listed above some basic principles of SIKHI, spiritual philosophy of SGGS. The key message there is that as human society we all come from one SOURCE and are all connected. There are no others, we are members of one big family. The message is about showing love, compassion, kindness and tolerance to every human we come in contact with.

Na Ko Verry Nahee Begana Sagal Sang Hum Ko Bann Aaee (SGGS, 1299)

ਨਾ ਕੋ ਬੈਰੀ ਨਹੀ ਬਿਗਾਨਾ ਸਗਲ ਸੰਗਿ ਹਮ ਕਉ ਬਨਿ ਆਈ ॥੧॥

meaning  no one is my enemy, no one is a stranger, no one is other, as members of the human society we are all connected.

Now in contrast to the basic principles of Sikhi as stated above that are all about love and compassion, the incorrect interpretation of the verse stated at the beginning of this article has serious negative implications in building Sikh character, particularly of youth. It sends the message that it is acceptable to discriminate, feel jealous, dislike or even hate those who hold different beliefs and thinking. Do not even go near such untouchable persons. I cannot imagine how much bitterness this has created among human relations. This is how we label others as high, low, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christians, Jews and others. An amritdharee Sikh told me that he never shops at the stores owned by clean shaven people. What if my son is SAKAT and is not spiritual or religious? According to those authors of misinterpretations, I should kick my son out of the house.

What then is the meaning of the word SAKAT in the context of spiritual philosophy of SGGS? Interestingly we do not need to go anywhere, we find the answers within the text of SGGS. Nanak says

Sakat Lobhee Eh Mann Moora (SGGS, 415)

ਸਾਕਤੁ ਲੋਭੀ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਮੂੜਾ ॥

meaning my ignorant, egoistic and greedy mind (SAKAT MANN) remains engulfed in material wealth.

When Nanak says

Sakat Nindak Dust Khin Mahe Bidarian (SGGS, 517)

ਸਾਕਤ ਨਿੰਦਕ ਦੁਸਟ ਖਿਨ ਮਾਹਿ ਬਿਦਾਰਿਅਨੁ ॥

he does not mean physical persons. When we do not understand basic principles of Sikhi and do not use logic and reason, we interpret this verse as: in an instant God destroys faithless cynics and slanderous enemies. This interpretation refers to persons, or a physical being, which is a mistake. Nanak in this verse refers to thoughts, habits, behavior and ideas in our head. SAKAT here means negative, ignorant and egoistic thought processes, habits and behaviors. NINDAK means criticizing, judging and finding faults in others. DUST is a character that is questionable and undesirable. Nanak here is talking about ideas in our head. Sakat Nindak Dust Khin Mahe Bidarian (ਸਾਕਤ ਨਿੰਦਕ ਦੁਸਟ ਖਿਨ ਮਾਹਿ ਬਿਦਾਰਿਅਨੁ) means through meditation, contemplation on divine wisdom, knowledge and by internalising godly virtues one realises spiritual awakening and experiences enlightenment. My ignorance, egoistic centred thought process (SAKAT), my labeling and judging others (NINDAK) and my full of vices (DUST) thought processes are transformed and destroyed. 

In summary there are important lessons to be learned from this discussion. First, in order to deliver true spiritual message of Gurbani we must follow basic principles of SIKHI. Failing that, the message of Gurbani gets distorted and does not resonate with Sikh psyche, does not bring change.  Apart from a few good souls today it is shocking to note the utterly uncaring and selfish actions of Sikhs in Punjab during corona virus pandemic. It does not reflect an iota of the SIKHI way of life. As Sikhs we have miserably failed to deliver teachings of SGGS in its real perspective. It is time that collectively Sikh Scholars find a way to bring about a RENAISSANCE OF SIKHI.  

Harbans Singh Kandola. Born in Ludhiana, Punjab, he read Ph.D. in Agriculture from Punjab Agriculture University in 1972. He moved to Canada in 1973 and retired as a senior bank manager in 2005. He reads Gurbani passionately to understand its spiritual message and how it matters in his daily life. He poured over Prof Sahib Singh’s ‘Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan’ (SGGS translation) over five years, preparing for himself a complete set of notes. In the past two decades, Harbans has engaged in Gurbani discussion on radio and television (go here and here), as well as newspapers and the Sikh Bulletin. He believes that we now have the literature reflecting the true and real message of Gurbani which has to be presented to Sikhs and non-Sikhs. This article is from his unpublished book ‘Renaissance of Sikhi’.

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

RELATED STORY:

Misinterpretation of Gurbani – Introduction (Asia Samachar, 2 Sept 2022)

Lost in Translation (Asia Samachar, 8 May 2019)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Sardar Ji , Your Title could have been better if you had said – “Understand Kabir Better” or any positive note instead of “Getting Kabir Wrong” has a negative impact and creates a sudden shock like someone is trying to correct Kabir Ji. Your article is well composed and it has profound meaning.

    I believe that the word Sikhi and Sikh have to be separated. We call ourselves a Sikh only if we give room to learn. Sikhi is to live the learning. The Five Ks does not make us a Sikh or practice Sikhi. They are symbolic and the entire world seem to link these with the Teachings of SGGS. These 5Ks are symbolic and we respect these costumes as gift of our 6th. Guru, Guru Har Gobind Sahib Ji and then made into a code for the Baptisms Process by Guru Gobind Singh Ji(10th Guru of the Sikh Faith).

    Do all those who have gone through baptism, practice what is written in the Guru Granth sahib? This raise a big question mark? Are the doctrines in the SGGS adopted, assimilated and put to personal tests? These are questions which are difficult to answer in honesty within ourselves. The perfect, un-adulterated, unbiased, and non-contradictory messages of SGGS are very difficult to live up with.

    If we read the lines of Bhagat Kabir Ji on Page 1365 ” Kabir, Preet Ek Siun Kiie, aan Dubbtha Jae. Bhanve Laambe Kesh Kar, Bhanve garrar Mundae” Kabir Says, Have The ONE Always Connected to your linkage of LOVE, It does not matter if you keep long hair or you have it shaved”

    This now concludes that everyone in this world are Sikhs, irrespective of being with turban or not. By defining SIKHI, we are institutionalizing the doctrine of the Guru Sahibaan. Whereas The Gurus aimed to get the doctrine assimilated across mankind. Institutionalizing the doctrine has a close-door-effects.

    So in the quest of unifying the outlook of who we are, we tend to lose the doctrine that need to spread across the Globe. We then create a barrier for those who are open to learning or adapting the doctrine. This is the reason, why, many among us born in a Sikh Family and are not looking like “The Sikh” (of what seems to be portrayed with Turbans), somewhat, by and large, feel out of place in the Gurdwaras. Those with the Turbans dominate in every Sewa (Service) in Gurdwaras as though they are the chosen ones.

    How is the Renaissance going to take place if this basic barrier is already grown into unbreakable walls?

    The Doctrine of SGGS does not make us a good Sikh outwardly. It is the Sikh of the inner growth, realization, a better human and to dwell into divinity.

    May I conclude here by saying?

    Let those without the Turbans too, speak of their experience and the effect of the Doctrine of SGGS on them, that has engulfed and transformed their life without being judged from a bias lenses.

  2. I have been reading the English language translation of SriGuruGranthSahib and noticed that these ideas need to be set front and center instead of getting lost in a rapid 3 day read…

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