Misinterpretation of Gurbani: Mirtak Ko Jiwalanhar


By Harbans Singh Kandola Opinion |

(This is the third 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)

Mirtak Ko Jiwalanhar (SGGS page 283).

ਮਿਰਤਕ ਕਉ ਜੀਵਾਲਨਹਾਰ ॥

This verse has been literally interpreted as: HE infuses life back into dead. Prof Sahib Singh has interpreted it as: God has the power to raise a person from dead.

I find these interpretations going against the basic principles of the spiritual philosophy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS). Raising a person from dead is a miracle event because it violates the laws of nature (Cosmic Laws). Nanak says

Hukamai Undar Sabh Ko Bahar Hukam Na Koe (SGGS, Page 1)
ਹੁਕਮੈ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਹੁਕਮ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥

meaning every event in the universe happens according to unchangeable laws of nature, GURU calls WILL OF GOD. Nothing ever happens in violation of the cosmic laws. Nature does not break its own laws. Nanak further says

Aap Nath Nathee Sabh Ja Kee Ridh Sidh Awra Saad (SGGS, 6)
ਆਪਿ ਨਾਥੁ ਨਾਥੀ ਸਭ ਜਾ ਕੀ ਰਿਧਿ ਸਿਧਿ ਅਵਰਾ ਸਾਦ ॥

NATH means GOD; NATHEE means orderly, according to laws of nature; SIDH means miracle power; RIDH means self praise; AWRA SADH means without meaning, worthless. In this conversation with ascetics (Yogis) who falsely claimed to possess miracle powers, Nanak says everything in the universe happens according to laws of nature. Your claim to possess miracle powers, self praise is your ego and ignorance of truth. This in fact is the stumbling block in your spiritual awakening, in realizing the meaning and purpose of life. When in conversation with ascetics (YOGIS), Guru Nanak was asked to perform a miracle for them, he replied Baba Bolai Nathji Ass Wekhan Jogee Wast Na Kaee. Gur Sangat Bani Bina Doojee Oat Nahi Hai Raee (Bhai Gurdas, Var 1) meaning I do not believe in miracles; my only support is divine wisdom (BANI). This clearly shows that Gurbani does not subscribe to miracle belief system.

I believe it is important to understand why such a baseless and misleading interpretation of Gurbani was done. One, it was a misunderstanding, a misconception in the belief amongst most Sikhs that God possesses supernatural powers and has the power to perform miracles and do anything. Once speaking to senior Sikh couple I said Gurbani does not subscribe to miracle powers. They replied, you do not know, God has power to do anything. Such Sikhs have the old beliefs so cemented in their psyche that they are not prepared to unlearn. Second, there were hundreds of miracle stories associated with the ten Gurus and the Bhagats (Saints) written in various history books and JANAM SAKHIS that influenced Sikh scholars. Thirdly, Sikh scholars translating Gurbani did not have the technological tools that I believe greatly aid in doing proper research of Gurbani.

Such misleading translations have done great damage to Sikhi way of life and Sikh character. Sikh youth today do not believe in such baseless and miracle stories told in Gurdwaras every day. They then simply walk away from the Sikhi way of life. Older generations with blind faith (sharda) in such stories refuse to change and see the truth.

Let us interpreted the verse with logic, reason, relevance and scientific method based on the basic principles of Sikhi after Guru period, and see how the message matters in daily life.

Who is MIRTAK in Gurbani? Nanak says

Att Sundar Kuleen Chatur Mukh Giani Dhanwant. Mirtak Kahiai Nanaka Je Preet Nahee Bhagwant (SGGS, 253)
ਅਤਿ ਸੁੰਦਰ ਕੁਲੀਨ ਚਤੁਰ ਮੁਖਿ ਙਿਆਨੀ ਧਨਵੰਤ ॥ ਮਿਰਤਕ ਕਹੀਅਹਿ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਜਿਹ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਨਹੀ ਭਗਵੰਤ ॥੧॥

meaning one may have impressive personality, very smart, knowledgeable and rich, but if you are not spiritually awakened, have no compassion, kindness and love in your heart, you are a walking corpse, consciously dead (atmik maut). Nanak further says

Antar Gian Na Aaeo Mirtak Hai Sansar (SGGS, 88)
ਅੰਤਰਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਨ ਆਇਓ ਮਿਰਤਕੁ ਹੈ ਸੰਸਾਰਿ ॥

meaning when as humans we do not contemplate and meditate on divine wisdom, godly virtues, we become slave to ego and create self identity. This then is the cause of our anxiety, worries, stress and depression. In Gurbani, this is our conscious death (atmik maut). MIRTAK here does not mean physical death. Nanak is not talking about sririrak (BODY) death as erroneously interpreted. In Gurbani, conscious death is the worst death for human being.

Now we can interpret Mirtak Ko Jiwalanhar ਮਿਰਤਕ ਕਉ ਜੀਵਾਲਨਹਾਰ in the real perspective of Gurbani, carrying a profound spiritual message. Physically we all will die one day. Some die at birth, others live to a hundred. In this verse Nanak is not talking about physical death. Spiritual, conscious death is the cause of pain and suffering in life. Nanak says O MAN through understanding, contemplating on divine wisdom, one is spiritually awakened, internalizes godly virtues and learns to live the HUKM, DIVINE WILL. We become SACHIARA, realize meaning and purpose of life, enjoy inner peace and happiness.

GURU says

Shabad Maro Phir Jeevoh Sad Hee Bauhar Na Marna Hoee (SGGS, 604)
ਸਬਦਿ ਮਰਹੁ ਫਿਰਿ ਜੀਵਹੁ ਸਦ ਹੀ ਤਾ ਫਿਰਿ ਮਰਣੁ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥

realizing eternal life while living. The key message in this verse is that every human has ability to choose the path to truthful living, be a good human and enjoy bliss in life.

I may say here that literal and misleading interpretation of Gurbani has serious harm to Sikhi way of life. Similarly, there are positive and practical implications of a logical and scientific interpretation of Gurbani. Youth find logical interpretation relevant in their daily life, to learn how to be a good human being.

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.


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

Lost in Translation (Asia Samachar, 8 May 2019)

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  1. It is understandable that the English translations available so far, are too literal in nature so much so, the intended meaning of the shabad is lost. In this case, paraphrasing the the English translation could have easily brought out the meaning – ” HE infuses (spiritual) life back into (the spiritually) dead.”

    As far as Prof Sahib Singh’s translation is concerned, the author has deliberately misquoted him by ignoring the ‘padh-arth’…

    This applies to the next sentence too:

    ਮਿਰਤਕ ਕਉ ਜੀਵਾਲਨਹਾਰ ॥
    (ਮਿਰਤਕ = ਮੋਇਆ ਹੋਇਆ, ਆਤਮਕ ਜ਼ਿੰਦਗੀ ਵਲੋਂ ਮੁਰਦਾ)
    (ਪ੍ਰਭੂ) ਮੋਏ ਹੋਏ ਬੰਦੇ ਨੂੰ ਜਿਵਾਲਣ ਜੋਗਾ ਹੈ,
    He infuses (spiritual) life back into the (spiritually) dead.

    Guru Arjan Dev Ji in Raag Gauree – 283

    In my humble opinion, instead of doing piecemeal corrections on flaws in the existing translations, the author would do a great service by undertaking a full translation of SGGS in English as well as in Punjabi.

    Guru Raakha.

  2. ਪ੍ਰੋਦਾਵਡ ਵਿੱਚ ਗੱਲ ਕੀਤੀ ਗਈ ਹੈ ਨਾਕੇ ਮੌਤ ਨੂੰ ਸੰਬੋਧਿਤ ਹੈ ਏਥ ਮਨੁੱਖੀ ਬਿਰਤੀਆ ਦੀ ਗੱਲ ਹੋ ਰਹੀ ਹੈ।

  3. The proper meaning should be the Person who is mentally dead being totally delusioned by Animal instincts can be revived by Satguru by blessing wisdom of Gurmat and blessing clarity of Vision making a Gurmukh.

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