Conquering the mind is key to masterful living


By Ranvir Singh | Opinion |


  • the split between Spirit and Matter is an example of duality. In fact, they are two sides of Oneness
  • the mind is not a substance that is separate from the body. Nor, however, is the mind just the brain. Our sense of being is more than the processing of chemicals and electrical signals in our brain
  • self-mastery, or the battle to control our mind, is both shaped by, and shapes our lives

“By conquering the mind, conquer the world” (Guru Granth Sahib: 6). This battle for self-mastery has a social dimension. While we are oppressed or exploited in our personal relationships or wider society, we cannot fully express ourselves. Without self-mastery, the life we are living is a pale reflection of the desires and needs of others and not the expression of the self that the One has chosen to take birth in and share life through. All of this is a matter of common sense. I mean common sense in the ordinary way that everyone must use it. It is what all humans know as conscience, as the part of themselves that they must face and cannot deny. It is also the part of ourselves that knows that the external world is real, that we are beings and that other beings are persons. To use the terminology of Western philosophy this ‘knowing’ is not epistemological, a sort of knowing where we accumulate accurate information. Rather, it is a sense of certainty. In that sense, it is metaphysical, as something tied into being in the world at all. In the Sikh tradition common sense is called ‘akl’.

Continuing the theme of being over thinking the cultivation of virtue is the most important weapon that will help us win this battle. Thinking, by itself, is not going to lead to control over our mind. The Naam is at once the name of the divine, a reflection of the qualities of the divine and the Presence of the divine.

“Chorus. The Naam is my pleasure in mansions and estates, Your Glance of Grace my family. Horse, saddle and saddle-bags of gold are in following Your Will, cultivating virtue is my bow and arrow, quiver, spear, sword and scabbard. My battle-drum and standard is the Honour You show me, Your Mercy my social status. Friend, other battle-dress is waste as they fill the mind with evil and lead the body to pain. Chorus. The Naam is my pleasure in mansions and estates, Your Glance of Grace my family” (Guru Granth Sahib: 17).

The sword

A virtuous life helps us to live authentically, fully achieving all the fruits of human life. We are all born with all the guidance we need. The Sabd or Word within is the Guide or True Guru that sets us free to be the best versions of ourselves. The intellect is like a sword that needs to be sharpened to discriminate between good and bad choices.

The Way of the Sword is rather simple. It is to stop manufacturing a war of the self against Life.

The double-edged sword is used as a symbol in many mystic traditions. Its possession expresses not merely spiritual victory but also physical status. Expressing this, in this passage I used the name Excalibur to express the connection with wider symbols of the sword but, in particular, to stress how it connects to ruling and governance. The True Guru is not merely the Word within all beings, as the reality of being, it is also the ultimate Authority on the physical, social and political level. In Sikh tradition this is captured by the doctrine of meeri-peeri, social transformation based on spiritual self-mastery.

“1 All Is Reality. Grace. What measure can we use to assess the value of the words of those who witness the Name? For them virtue is their family, brothers and sisters and through this relationship they achieve the highest status. Nanak founded the state building the ideal fortified palace on the foundations of the real. By installing the canopy of royalty over Lehna’s head and singing in Unity, the One-harrier drank the mead of immortality from the cauldron of life. To stir it, the Guru gives the double-edged sword Excalibur rising from the lake of still meditation and returning to it again. If our lake be stilled the sword of Spirit, Light, Truth, Reality, is always sharp and always with us. The Guru bowed before the disciple while Nanak was still alive. The Master, in his lifetime, handed over to his successor. 1. Nanak announced Lehna’s succession, deserved through his choices. The Light was One, the Way the same; only the body had been changed by the Master. The flawless canopy waves above as the Master sits on the throne in the house of business the Guru built” (Guru Granth Sahib: 966–968. Var (Heroic Ballad) in Ramkali. Revealed through Satta and Balvand.)

Grace is the sword that cuts apart the inner demons that bedevil our lives. It is not by our own power but the Universe Itself that leads us to victory.

Our being is like a bride that is not whole until it unites with Being. Being seeks to unite with being as a Husband seeks a bride. Indeed, Being is inside us, the deepest part of us, our Inner Light, the True Guru, the Word that orients us and orients us in common sense. This is the Sword of grace that seeks to free us.

This sword of discriminating wisdom can usefully be compared to the double-edged Vajra of Tantric Buddhism that cuts through ignorance, ego and self-created obstacles. It is also the weapon associated with the Bodhisattva Manjusri. His youthfulness expresses the naturalness and spontaneity of wisdom or common sense, what gurmat refers to as the Sabd. It is other-ness or duality that is cut away through common sense. Only One has necessary or intrinsic existence (Sat); all else has existence as it is recognized to do so as a convention or fiction, for example, money; or contingently, in relation to chains of other things. My conventional self, my social self is composed of ideas of race, gender, class, time and space which interact with a social world that reinforces and disciplines this iron cage of the self. The prajna paramita or perfection of wisdom lies in seeing into sunnya or emptiness. The flashing of the sword is the sudden realization that duality of self-other and self and the world is false. Manjusri can be seen as an image of the Imageless Sabd, a youth with a beautiful voice and a blade, in that sene no different from the Ten Gurus or the Guru Granth Sahib or Khalsa. It is worth noting that Guru Nanak is revered by Tibetan Buddhists and more broadly that Panjab in more ancient times was the heartland of Mahayana Buddhism called Gandhara. Guru Nanak’s intervention was that the emptiness is the same as Oneness and so the sword is not merely freeing the mind but also society.


It is important to be properly prepared for battle and that includes dress.

“The state of Samadhi, meditative flowing into, is the armour. Riding the horse of spiritual knowledge, he fires arrows of devotion and emptiness from the bow of dharma, the Right Way. Made fearless by fear of the Timeless he pierces the mind by thrusting the spear of Sabd. The five demons of anger, lust, greed, pride and devouring attachment are cut down. Blessed by Guru Nanak, Amar Das, son of Taij Bhaan of the noble Bhalla clan is the Master of worldly rulers. Sall tells the truth: Amar Das, fighting in this way you have overcome the army of evil” (Guru Granth Sahib: 1396).

Sikhs have an active obligation to disobey any law that violates its principles of freedom, e.g. Guru Nanak breaking the ban on music in Baghdad. Guru Hargobind commanding Sikhs to bear arms and ride horses in violation of Islamic law on dhimmitude is another example of an obligation to disobey a law that limits freedom.

Several of the Gurus took part in wars. The basic principle is that armed conflict is only acceptable when all peaceful methods have failed. No one should be attacked once they have surrendered since you are attacking oppression, not a person. This makes it important to distinguish between those who are fighting and those who are civilians and makes use of indiscriminate weapons, such as weapons of mass destruction, wrong. There is no enemy in the combat — what is being opposed is the oppression being resisted. Therefore, when any person is wounded they should be helped. Bhai Kannayya performed this noble service during the wars of the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

The Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was martyred, which means killed for his beliefs, for leading a non-violent political campaign to protect Hindus from forced conversion to Islam. “The first human right is to secure for everyone freedom to worship” (Dasam Granth, p.54). “The second human right is to protect the respect of every person’s private and personal point of contact with God” (Dasam Granth, p.54). The third human right is to promote every good person’s right to pursue their own vision of happiness and self-fulfilment (Dasam Granth, p.54). This means to look within the mind for the Being of being alive. Once that Light has flickered within, it is seen without, as we realise that grace comes for us, and for all. The Universe loves and does not hate anyone. This inclusive attitude means that we need to accept that we are loved by the Universe and need to treasure ourselves as we are treasure. It is also social. “No one is my enemy, and no one is a stranger. I am friendly towards everyone” (Guru Granth Sahib: 1299).

(This is an abridged version of the article. For the full article, click here)

Writer, activist. Architect para 67 of UN Declaration Against Racism 2001, introduced ‘worldviews’ in UK RE education. PhD International Studies, FCollT, FCIEA. You can follow Ranvir Singh here


1ness beyond duality (Asia Samachar, 19 Jan 2023)

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