When it comes to the nexus between Sikhs and Gurbani, three things are certain. One, we have steadily distanced ourselves from its understanding. Two, we source our understanding from Teekas and Translations of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. And three, these sources are deeply flawed on a variety of counts – their blemishes ranging from their vedic, puranic and yogic slants on one end of the spectrum to reliance on purely literal interpretations on the other; becoming our sources of (mis)understanding instead.
The outcome is as stark as it is dark: Led by this (mis)understanding of Gurbani, we have taken Sikhi back to 1468.
The examination of our (mis) understanding – fueled by defective Teekas and Translations – of just THREE key concepts of Sikhi; Jup, Naam and Sat – makes this finding evident. Jup appears 1,300 times, Naam 5,500 times and Sat 3,200 times within the pages of SGGS. These three words thus appear 10,000 times in total or 7 instances per page. Getting them right is surely important. What about getting them wrong? 10,000 wrongs are surely more than enough to make sure we get the entire message of Sikhi wrong. Horribly wrong.
The first wrong is in (mis)translating Jup as Chanting. The English Translation by Sant Singh Khalsa MD translates Jup as Chant for all 1,300 times. The total count for the words Chant and Chanting in his translation is 1,600 – meaning other words such as Simran have been (mis)translated as Chanting as well. Here are two verses representing the typical translation of Sant Singh.
ਅਨਦਿਨੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪੀ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਈ ਨਿਤ ਜੀਵਾ ਆਸ ਹਰਿ ਤੇਰੀ ॥੨॥
Andin Nam Jupee Sukh Payi Nit Jiva(n) Aas Har Teyri. SGGS 171.
Night and day, I chant Your Name, and I find Peace.
ਗੁਰਸਿਖ ਹਰਿ ਬੋਲਹੁ ਮੇਰੇ ਭਾਈ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਬੋਲਤ ਸਭ ਪਾਪ ਲਹਿ ਜਾਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
O Gursikhs, Chant The Name of the Lord, O My Siblings of Destiny. Chanting The Lord’s Name, All Sins Are Washed Away. SGGS 165.
Wasn’t this the spirituality of the pre-1468 era – doing sins regularly and then “washing them away” through chanting a so called “Lord’s Name?”
Everybody was chanting; as Guru Amardas says on Page 555: ਰਾਮੁ ਰਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਫਿਰੈ ਰਾਮੁ ਨ ਪਾਇਆ ਜਾਇ ॥ Ram Ram Karta Sabh Jug Firey Ram Na Paiya Jaye. Meaning, The Entire Spiritual World Was Chanting, But None Realized Him. Or as Guru Arjun indicates on Page 885: ਕੋਈ ਬੋਲੈ ਰਾਮ ਰਾਮ ਕੋਈ ਖੁਦਾਇ ॥ Koyee Boley Ram Ram Koyee Khudaye. Meaning: Some Were Chanting Ram Ram, Others Khuda. (Readers will note that both verses express the futility of chanting, yet the word Jup is NOT used – a clear indication that Jup is NOT chanting).
So, what does Guru Nanak do? Tell us Sikhs to Keep Chanting Night and Day? – as suggested by Sant Singh Khalsa? Isn’t stupidity defined as doing the same thing and expecting a different result? How do we describe the Guru’s actions of critiquing it when others do it, but prescribing it as a “day and night” activity for us Sikhs?
The truth is Guru Nanak threw chanting into the dustbin of spirituality, but our clergy – aided and abetted by our translators – have picked it up and restored it as our prime spiritual practice under the name of Guru Nanak! And Sikhs – through their collective slumber and zeal for chanting – have taken Sikhi back to 1468. It’s as if Guru Nanak was never really born into our spiritual lives. What was the need for his coming if we were to keep doing the same stuff anyway?
Sant Singh Khalsa MD takes the trophy when he (mis)translates a verse on Page 166 of the SGGS as “The Lord Himself Chants, And The Lord Himself Inspires Others to Chant.” This fellow ought to tell us what the Lord chants, who actually heard the Lord chant, and how did the Lord forget to inspire Guru Nanak to chant.
That’s wrong turn number one. Two more, and we would have made the proverbial three wrong turns that take us back to square one – 1468.
The second wrong is in (mis)translating Naam as “Name.” This second wrong turn is the consequence of the first. Chanting obviously needs a “Name” or at least a word.
The two verses of Guru Amardas and Guru Arjun above – ਰਾਮੁ ਰਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਫਿਰੈ ਰਾਮੁ ਨ ਪਾਇਆ ਜਾਇ Ram Ram Karta Sabh Jug Firey and ਕੋਈ ਬੋਲੈ ਰਾਮ ਰਾਮ ਕੋਈ ਖੁਦਾਇ Koyee Boley Ram Ram Koyee Khudaye – beyond pointing out the futility of chanting – also make clear the philosophical principle that affixing a “Name” to the Lord is futile.
Our clergy – again aided and abetted by our translators – have ascribed a “Name” for the Lord that is fit for chanting, namely Vaheguru. So, in essence, we are saying that what Guru Nanak really told us was that “chanting is fine, so long as we chanted the right Name of the Lord.”
Our clergy and translators want us Sikhs to know that everyone else got the “Name of God” wrong; we have got it right. Such a ludicrous claim even in the glaring reality that Guru Nanak never used the word Vaheguru even once in his 5,600 plus verses that make up his 947 Shabd in the SGGS. Pray some translator tell us, how he missed this “Name of God” from his entire bani. Readers might want to know that Guru Angad too did not use the word Vaheguru even once in his entire bani of 63 saloks. Neither did Gurus Amardas, Ramdas, Arjun and Teg Bahadur across their entire bani of 3,935 shabds covering 23,490 verses. Neither did the Bhagats in any of their 788 shabds.
The third wrong is the (mis)translation of the word Sat as “Truth.” Satnam is thus (mis)translated by Sant Singh Khalsa as “True Name.” One wonders what a “False Name” of the Lord might look or sound like. The obsession with a people knowing the “True Name” of the Creator, rubbishing other names, preventing others from using the “true name,” and killing others for using the “True Name” belonging to them was “spiritual” delinquency that prevailed in the pre-1468 spiritualties.
So, what did Guru Nanak do to resolve the problem? Declare that “I have the True Name?” Drop all others and chant this one? This is what translators like Sant Singh Khalsa would like us to believe, and in the process take us back to 1468.
The truth is simple. Gurbani’s position is that all of God’s names are given by His bhagats, and Gurbani is replete with them. The SGGS contains God’s Names from the puratan tradition – Har, Ram; from the Muslim tradition – Allah, Rahim, Rubb, Khuda; from the Yogi tradition – Alakh, Aneel, Anaad, Niranjan, Anahut; from the Bhagti tradition – Beethal, Raiya and even from the form the Personal tradition – Pita, Mata. The logic of Gurbani is vibrant. When all names of the Lord are acceptable, it follows that He really has no name.
What then is the reality of these three concepts?
The meaning of Jup is Realization. That is the title of the bani called Jup of Guru Nanak. Two saloks and 39 stanzas lay out the step by step process towards inner realization of the Creator within. The correct translation of the verse on Page 171 cited above, namely: ਅਨਦਿਨੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪੀ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਈ ਨਿਤ ਜੀਵਾ ਆਸ ਹਰਿ ਤੇਰੀ ॥੨॥ Andin Nam Jupee(n) Sukh Payi Nit Jiva(n) Aas Har Teyri is “That I Realize Divine Virtues and Become Them to Have Spiritual Bliss is What I Live for, O Omnipresent Creator.”
Sat originates from the Sanskrit word Satya meaning “in perpetual existance.” In Gurbani it refers to the Creator as the one and only being who is in everlasting, permanent, perpetual and eternal existance.
Naam is used in two different contexts. First as divine virtues; and second from the word Niyem as “law of nature or Hukm.” The word Satnam would thus translate as “The Creator, whose primary virtue is that He is Eternal.” Vahe Guru or Vah Guru consists of two separate words from two separate languages – Persian and Sanskrit – and means Wondrous Guru and Wondrous Enlightenment.
If the correct translations of just these three words had appeared 10,000 times across any translation – they would have succeeded in reinforcing our understanding of them as intended. Instead, what translators like Sant Singh Khalsa have done – in mistranslating them – and many others similar concepts – is to ensure that the unique reinterpretation of pre-1468 spiritual concepts into new meanings are all lost on us permanently. This in turn ensures that we take Sikhi back to 1468.
What is of concern is that Sant Singh Khalsa’s Translation is the most prevalent one across the internet, social media and applications for smart devices. Articles, books, chapters and essays written by just about everyone – including the Hukmnama translations that are projected on the screens in our Gurdwaras – all seem to rely on his work, presumably on account of easy availability.
The Sikh Bulletin has thus decided to take a stand on his translations to help stem our journey back to 1468. His translations will no longer grace the pages of this publication.
Note: This article appeared in The Sikh Bulletin (Vol 2020 Issue 2, April – June 2020). See here for the pdf. The author, Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston), is a joint-editor of the bulletin. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Lost in Translation (Asia Samachar, 8 May 2019)
Jup is not chanting: Karminder (Asia Samachar, 9 April 2016)
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