By: Bhupinder ‘Bo’ Singh | Sikh History |
A few months back I just turned 73 and now that Guru Amar Das Ji’ Parkash Purab (DOB 5 May 1479) is approaching, it reminded me that he became Guru in 1552 when he was 73. I was surely in awe with Guru Ji’s spiritual accomplishments after he embarked on this path at age of 62. This was the time he visited Second Guru Angad Ji and decided to dedicate himself to service. By the dint of his sheer selfless service, he had endeared himself to the Guru, who before his departure from this world had anointed him as his successor the third Guru. While admiring the spiritual accomplishments of Guru Amar Das Ji, I was thinking about his excellent physical condition that enabled him to undertake such a rigorous and physically demanding daily routine. Every morning, He used to carry water from the river for Guru Angad’s bath. He couldn’t bear giving his back to the Guru, so he would walk backwards on his way to the river. He was already in his 70s!
He got up very early every morning in Goindwal and walked to river Beas and brought a pitcher of water to Khadur Sahib about 5km away for Guru Angad’s bath. After giving Guru Ji a bath, he would join the congregation to listen to the singing of hymns and spiritual discourses. This routine continued uninterrupted for 12 years without a break for any inclement weather, being tired out of stamina, or personal health issues. Then he would work in the langar or free kitchen bringing well water for drinking and firewood. Then he would clean and wash the utensils. It can be unhesitatingly said that his commitment and dedication were legendary. His untiring daily regimen truly reflected his words that Guru oriented never get physically old:
“ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੁਢੇ ਕਦੇ ਨਾਹੀ ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥”
“Gurmukh budde kadhe naahee jin(h)aa antar surat giaan.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1418)
Translation: The Gurmukhs never grow old; within they are attuned to the remembrance of Almighty, along with spiritual understanding and wisdom.
His composition “Anand” consisting of 40 stanzas is the epitome of the human spiritual flight of bliss. No Sikh religious service is complete without recitation of this composition. The opening lines reveal how this eternal bliss is obtained through the Guru via Guru’s shabad. Elsewhere Guru Amar Das Ji has again revealed that he experienced this bliss through Guru’s Shabad as:
“ਇਸੁ ਗੁਫਾ ਮਹਿ ਅਖੁਟ ਭੰਡਾਰਾ ॥
ਤਿਸੁ ਵਿਚਿ ਵਸੈ ਹਰਿ ਅਲਖ ਅਪਾਰਾ ॥
ਆਪੇ ਗੁਪਤੁ ਪਰਗਟੁ ਹੈ ਆਪੇ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੀ ਆਪੁ ਵੰਞਾਵਣਿਆ ॥੧॥”
“Eis gufaa meh akhuT bhanddaaraa.
Tis vich vasai har alakh apaaraa.
Aape gupat paragaT hai aape gur sabadhee aap va(n)n(j)aavaniaa. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 124)
Translation: Within this (body) cave, there is an inexhaustible treasure.
Within this (body) cave, the Invisible and Infinite Lord abides.
He Himself is hidden, and He Himself is revealed; through the Word of the Guru’s Shabad, those who give up their selfishness (ego) see Him everywhere. ||1||
In this way Guru Ji has shared with us that the ultimate goal of human life is to experience bliss of Anand. Anand is the only experience for which there is no opposite counterpart exists like all other worldly experiences as happiness has sadness, good has bad etc. He has also shared with us what is preventing us from experiencing it. Guru Ji says:
“ਜਨਮ ਜਨਮ ਕੀ ਇਸੁ ਮਨ ਕਉ ਮਲੁ ਲਾਗੀ ਕਾਲਾ ਹੋਆ ਸਿਆਹੁ ॥
ਖੰਨਲੀ ਧੋਤੀ ਉਜਲੀ ਨ ਹੋਵਈ ਜੇ ਸਉ ਧੋਵਣਿ ਪਾਹੁ ॥”
“Janam janam kee is man kau mal laagee kaalaa hoaa siaahu.
Kha(n)nalee dhotee ujalee na hoviee je sau dhovan paahu.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 651)
Translation: The filth of countless incarnations sticks to this mind; making it pitch black. The oily rag (used by oilman to extract oil from seeds) like mind cannot be cleaned by merely washing it, even if it is washed a hundred times.
He organized and provided a structure to the growing Sikh community by setting up manji systems. He founded the city of Goindwal and the visionary of the holy city which we now know as Amritsar the holiest Sikh shrine. He continued to lead an active life discharging all of his responsibilities till the ripe age of 95 years, departing from this world on September 01, 1574. The scene of his departure was captured by his grandson Baba Sundar Ji, which is preserved in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The last command of Guru Ji has been captured as:
“ਅੰਤੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਬੋਲਿਆ ਮੈ ਪਿਛੈ ਕੀਰਤਨੁ ਕਰਿਅਹੁ ਨਿਰਬਾਣੁ ਜੀਉ ॥
ਕੇਸੋ ਗੋਪਾਲ ਪੰਡਿਤ ਸਦਿਅਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਕਥਾ ਪੜਹਿ ਪੁਰਾਣੁ ਜੀਉ ॥
ਹਰਿ ਕਥਾ ਪੜੀਐ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਸੁਣੀਐ ਬੇਬਾਣੁ ਹਰਿ ਰੰਗੁ ਗੁਰ ਭਾਵਏ ॥”
“A(n)te satigur boliaa mai pichhai keeratan kariahu nirabaan jeeau.
Keso gopaal pa(n)ddit Saddiahu har har kathaa paReh puraan jeeau.
Har kathaa paReeaai har naam suneeaai bebaan har ra(n)g gur bhaave.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 924)
Translation: Finally, the True Guru said, “When I am gone, sing only Kirtan in Praise of the Lord.” Call in the long-haired scholarly Saints of the Lord, to read the sermon of the Lord, Har, Har. Read the sermon of the Lord and listen to the Lord’s Naam; the Guru is pleased with love for the Lord.
I was pondering that this is the age bracket when people retire from work and start taking life easy. Besides on entering this age bracket, one is also beset with health-related issues termed as geriatric decline. While just counting my own health blessings, I started wondering about my own spiritual journey remaining to be completed. I have been blessed with multiple cultural, social, and religious exposures. I have had experience of living in the poorest countries and the richest countries. I had been privileged with the opportunity to study Guru Granth Sahib, the universal Holy Scripture. Some of my own understanding of it, I have tried to share with others. I am thankful that I am relatively healthy, fully capable of fending for myself. I have seen many reduced to a fraction of their previous self, because of dementia, Alzheimer, arthritis, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, or other health issues.
I have had my own share of health issues, but it is all part of the life package and growing old. While thinking about them my heart started reminiscing about them:
How can I forget that Friday? It was the day when the official declaration of Covid-19 pandemic had been made and everything was shut down. We took our 4-year-old triplet grandkids to the neighborhood park. On reaching the park the triplets started playing on the parallel bars. The oldest of the triplets by less than 5 minutes asked me to lift her up so that she could grab the bars. I picked her up, while trying to raise her above my shoulders; suddenly I heard a loud popping sound from the right shoulder. I was in a severe pain which forced me to land her back on the ground. The kids continued playing and having a good time in the park, while I started agonizing in pain.
After sunset we all came back home. Still in pain, reluctant to schedule a visit to the Doctor because of Covid-19, I was hoping for pain to slowly go away on its own. But the pain did not show any sign of abating. It started feeling like it had become my constant companion and a reminder of the fragility of life. After living with the pain for over 2 months, I decided that a visit to the doctor’s office will be in order. I had now realized that it was something more than a muscle cramp, started wondering if it could be something more serious like shoulder dislocation. Every movement of the hand over shoulder was greeted with the ratcheting sound of the socket joint and a shooting pain. It was in a way triggering a reminder of the bonus life span that I was enjoying after turning 70. The pain, though not agonizing yet, was more of an annoyance, even making the combing of hair very challenging. Finally, I secured an appointment. The doctor’s office visit turned out to be an altogether new experience with the Covid-19 driven regimen right from the lobby, till walking out of the building at the completion of the visit.
This visit acted as a refresher of our changed world reality due to the Covid virus. After the examination of the shoulder followed by a set of X-Rays, the doctor presented his report to me. The doctor said that I had Acromioclavicular osteoarthritis (AC). I inquired how long it will take for the pain to go away. I was told that it will not abate. I asked what my options were? Doctor said:
- Live with it if I can handle the pain.
- Apply ice pack to the joint as it will decrease the pain and the inflammation at the joint.
- Steroid (Cortisone) injections for treatment of moderate to severe pain.
- The final and the last option was shoulder surgery.
While I am thankful that this AC joint issue is not life threatening, but a new life reality. No! No! It was not a Covid-19 induced life reality, but actually an old age reality providing a constant reminder that ‘expiry date’ is approaching. The thing about expiry date is we check on products before we buy them at stores. But what about our own expiry date? It is neither outside visible to others; nor it is inside visible to us alone. Suddenly a thought came that when the conditions from Covid-19 become normal again, and I was going to fly somewhere, I will have to ask for help to stow my handbag in the overhead compartment.
In 2016 I had pain in my left knee joint. I had been to the doctor who told me that this was a normal age-related wear and tear of the cartilage in the knee joint. He recommended physiotherapy, exercises and wearing a knee-brace to support the joint. Fortunately for me these things worked, and I am able to continue with my normal life. When I go to gym, I can see many folks in my age group wearing braces on knees and ankles during games or workout. So, this age-related deterioration is not uncommon. Luckily for me I still manage to have my mobility without a brace or continued joint strengthening exercises.
Besides the issues mentioned I also have enlarged prostrate that necessitates making frequent terms to restroom at night to void my bladder. The medical term for this condition is nocturia and its cause is again age related. Sure enough, after returning from the trip to the restroom, it is not easy to go back to sleep thus disturbing the sound sleep and makes getting up early morning a challenge as body is not fully rested.
So, the point that I am trying to make is that even without any serious debilitating health issues, we all will face age related deterioration to functioning of this wonderful creation called human body. What Guru Amar Das did was extremely admirable, as he was able to commit to serving the Guru along with the sangat at the age when we see that people in this age bracket are being served or taken care of. His dedication and his enthusiasm was legendary while his physical stamina was untiring, his mental strength was like a mountain peak. He was ever willing and ready to render service to everyone. Bhatt Bhall salutes Guru Ji in these words:
“ਭਲੇ ਅਮਰਦਾਸ ਗੁਣ ਤੇਰੇ ਤੇਰੀ ਉਪਮਾ ਤੋਹਿ ਬਨਿ ਆਵੈ ॥੧॥੨੨॥”
“Bhallae amardas gun tere teree upamaa toh ban aavai. 1.22.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1396)
Translation: O Guru Amar Das, Your Glorious Virtues are so sublime that they are beyond description; Your Praises are really deserving only to You and no one else. ||1||22||
What he achieved in 12 years we cannot even hope to achieve in whole life. May we all pray that he blesses us with physical and mental strength even in our old age, so that we can dedicate that time to meditation, prayers and understanding Gurbani and attempt to become enlightened.
- Singh, Taran. Guru Amar Das – Jeewan, Rachna tae Sikhia. Publications Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala.
- Singh, Prof. Sahib. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan. Volume 10. Raj Publishers, Jalandhar.
Bhupinder ‘Bo’ Singh, Houston. Born in Bhamo, Myanmar, he now lives in Houston, US, where he runs a manufacturing company formed with his son. A mechanical engineer by training, he has authored a number of books, including Connecting with the Master – A collection of essays on topics related to Sikhism (2006) and In Bully’s Eyes – An Illustrated Children’s book on Bullying (2019).
Inspiring Life of Guru Gobind Singh Ji (Asia Samachar, 17 Jan 2023)
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