"Guru" In Sikhi - Some Reflections

Recently I came across 6 Sanskrit meanings of the word ‘teacher’ which put that lofty word ‘Guru’ in a new light for me ...

As Sikhs when we generally think of the word ‘Guru’ in English, we think ‘teacher’, ‘master’ perhaps, and the more learned will perhaps tell us that the word is made up of two – ‘gu’ which means darkness and ‘ru’ meaning light, enlightenment. So, Guru means one who brings enlightenment chasing away the ignorance of darkness.

Recently I came across 6 Sanskrit meanings of the word ‘teacher’ which put that lofty word ‘Guru’ in a new light for me because ‘our’ Guru is quite unique. I also remembered a discussion with my Sikhi mentor, the late S. Joginder Singh Ji, a founding member of the SNSM, Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia, of the prefix ‘gur’ in a few pivotal Sikhcentric words leading towards our ‘Guru’. I thought of sharing all that.

The 6 Sanskrit meanings for ‘teacher’:
1.       Adhyapak – the teacher who imparts information to the student. (I guess the ‘adhyapak’ is now replaced by google!)
2.       Upadhyaya – the teacher who imparts knowledge combined with information
3.       Acharya – the teacher who imparts skills
4.       Pandit – a teacher who is able of giving a deeper insight into a subject
5.       Dhrishta – a teacher who has a visionary view on a subject and teaches you to think in that manner.
6.       GURU – a teacher who is able to, ‘awaken wisdom in you’, leading you from darkness into light! (The italics are my own).

Our ten gurus in human form culminating in the Guru Granth Sahib ‘is’ the ultimate Guru for us, superseded only by Akal Purakh, the supreme wonderous ‘Guru’ – Wah-Guru.

‘Our’ Guru, that collective Guru that ‘awakens the wisdom within us’, is the pathway to ‘Sachkhand’ – the Realm of Truth. We are so fortunate that we might have intermediaries who could show us the path to the ultimate ‘Guru’, but they remain intermediaries – as dhristas, as pandits, as acharyas, as upadhyayas and
even as adhyapaks, or as we call them – bhais, sants or brahmgianis. But accepting any kind of them as equivalent to our collective ‘Sat-Guru’, our true ‘Guru’ sets us back from the ultimate pursuit of Truth.

Our ‘Guru’ does have various ‘angles’ which I believe lead us forward. Listed below are six such ‘angles’ which begin with the prefix ‘Gur’:
1.       Gurmukhi
2.       GurSikh-itihas
3.       Gur-itihas
4.       Gurdwara
5.       Gurmatt
6.       Gurbani
The true study of Gurbani, our ultimate Guru is ‘adhuri’, incomplete unless we first study Gurmukhi – the language of the Guru. (I do not expect everyone to agree with this ‘angle’. I never did myself, previously!)  One who is only English educated but develops an intense thirst to know more, will inevitably be led towards learning Gurmukhi.

Gursikh-Itihas: The study of the lives of Sikh luminaries are examples of exemplary living, the Sikhi way. These luminaries could be of the ‘sant’ tradition (or those more inclined to the ‘piri’ tradition of Sikhi), or the ‘Khalsa’ tradition (the ultimate Miri-Piri tradition). They are role models. Just keeping in touch with ‘Sikh’ history and teaching our younger generations Sikh history is a great grounding and will stand them in good stead into their future and the future generations. It lends to the continuity of the lofty ‘Sikhi’ life ideology.

Gur-itihas: The study of the history of our human-form Gurus is paramount to the significance and continuity of Sikhi itself. But, as time goes by, we need to extract the grain from the chaff. There is plenty of hearsay as we are slowly realizing. Some ‘fables’ of our Guru Sahibs do help in the promotion of Sikhi amongst the masses – they have the ‘shardha’ aspect, the miracles and curitive powers, to increase the faith element of Sikhi. After all, the ‘placebo’ effect has strong psychological power on many and that is also very important. But, over my lifetime I have found that the ‘truth’ is sometimes even more powerful than the fiction. I have discovered that for example, on the life of 9 th   Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur. (My older brother, S. Gurmukh Singh OBE has done some insightful research on Guru Tegh Bahadur. The book is titled Guru Tegh Bahadur – The True Story). His true story makes him one of the greatest human beings who ever lived, in the pursuit of Truth.

Gurdwara stands for the right company – the sadh-sangat. It is very important to seek the company of those who are similarly inclined – towards the pursuit of the Truth, the Sikhi way. You will find many who are not interested to ‘look’ further. They merely pay lip service towards ‘Sikh rituals and protocol’ and are fully content with that but are not inclined to ‘search’ further. These days ‘sangat’ need not just be physical. Even gurdwaras are turning to cyber-sangats! There are ‘chat-lines’ of like-minded Sikhs. One searching sincerely will inevitably gravitate towards the right ‘chat-lines’ which are, thanks to modern technology – global.  

Gurmatt is I believe, personal evolution towards the Truth with the aid of the philosophy of Sikhi which we derive from Gurbani. I believe it is personal and aided by other Sikh luminaries and Sikh history, as long as what they impart is borne out by ‘Gurbani’. Hence the ‘awakening of wisdom within’ aspect of ‘Guru’.

The twin pillars of GuruGranth and GuruPanth have weakened in my lifetime. GuruGranth, thankfully, is ‘adole’, a pillar which shall exist for earthly eternity, but GuruPanth, the collective psyche based on the human element, has disintegrated, or perhaps the better word is decentralized, especially as the Panth has globalised. Akal Takhat as the leading Sikh ‘institution’ of GuruPanth has become a mouthpiece of the corrupt ‘Sikh’ politicians mainly of Punjab. Sikh spiritual leadership is fragmented and globally, as Sikh populations outside Punjab and even India increase, each global ‘community’ needs to find its own direction. The emphasis on the ‘individual’ for one’s own spiritual progress the Sikhi way, the ‘seva-lakh’ phenomena, takes on a new meaning.

Guru-bani, the Gur-shabad, shall always remain the one constant, to guide future Sikhi. The ‘Guru’ lives on. The ‘Guru’ has already been released into cyberspace! The true ‘Sikher’ into the future, will always find it.

‘Charan sharan Gur aik painda jaye chal, Satgur kot painda agay hue lait hain.’ (Bhai Gurdas) {Take one step towards Him, and He will take countless steps toward you}.
‘Jo Prabhko milbo chehai, khoj shabad mai le.’  (A line from the ‘dohra’ recited after the Sikh standing litany, the Ardaas) {If you wish to ‘meet’ Him, search for Him in Gurbani}.
And finally what does ‘the Guru’ say?
Bani Guru, Guru hai Bani, vich bani amrit saray. Gurbani kehai sevak jan manai, pertakh Guru nistaray. (SGGSp982)

With insight from the above narrative, my understanding of this couplet now is: The God-inspired verses within the Guru Granth Sahib is the ‘Guru’. The Guru resides within the lines (pangatian) of bani. Read the lines, read between the lines. Read the lines within the context of the ‘shabad’ and within the ‘spirit’ of Sikhi. The ‘Guru’ is sending you His message through the divinity that already lies within you. The Guru speaks to you, understand, and as a humble servant of the Guru in total humility surrender and – obey. The ‘Guru’ shall guide you, illuminate you, emancipate you.

So, wake up everyday and speak to your ‘Guru’ – Gurbani and the divinity within you.

Add a Comment