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Exploring Death in Salok Mahala 9

Guru Teghbahadar Sahib’s Lessons in Remembrance


Exploring Death in Salok Mahala 9

Guru Teghbahadar Sahib’s Lessons in Remembrance

Guru Teghbahadar
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Exploring Death in Salok Mahala 9

Guru Teghbahadar Sahib’s Lessons in Remembrance


Death is a thing we all must do. But we are deeply afraid of it. How do we form a relationship with death? This article explores Salok Mahala 9 as Guru Teghbahadar Sahib helps us confront our fear of death and understand the lessons death...

Death is a thing we all must do. But we are deeply afraid of it. How do we form a relationship with death? This article explores Salok Mahala 9 as Guru Teghbahadar Sahib helps us confront our fear of death and understand the lessons death has to teach us here and now.

Death is a thing we all must do. But we are deeply afraid of it. In classically religious Sikh and non-Sikh understandings, and even in non-religious understandings, death is personified as an aggressive thing that snatches us away, drags us by our hair, beats us over the head. It is merciless. It is violent. We dread it. Where does this understanding come from? And how do we overcome it? How do we form a relationship with death? How do we form a new understanding of how it functions in our journeys? What does Guru Teghbahadar Sahib tell us about confronting our own fears to understand the lessons death has to teach us here and now?

In popular understanding, human beings have created personifications of death that look dark and ominous: the Grim Reaper or the Angel of Death, skeletal and cloaked in black, sometimes equipped with a scythe. It is a thing to avoid and fear, defeat, and the antithesis of all things holy and light. In popular Sikh understandings, we tend to read that same popular fear back into Bani, even in Sabads (Infinite-Wisdom) that reference our fear before showing us how to confront that fear. We read a scolding and aggressive tone into these lines, and we continue to amplify our fears by reading personifications of Death as aggressive and harsh — that says “Death is on the prowl with its mouth wide open,” that talk about death devouring or tormenting or seizing us — and believing them to be truths.

For that reason — the tendency we have to read our own fears back into Bani — that many read Guru Teghbahadar Sahib’s Salok Mahala 9 as sad or dark or depressing. Having been immersed in the Bani for a few months now, I would argue that Guru Teghbahadar Sahib’s Bani is deeply loving and gentle. We are fearful and taught to be fearful, but I believe that when one immerses oneself in this Bani, one can rise from fear.

Conceptions of Death in Salok Mahala 9

The Guru understands our fears and invokes death as the greatest fear and fear of Death as the great paralyzer. But then Death also functions as a great reminder, a thing that can nudge us into Remembrance, a universal experience that we can build an understanding of and a relationship with.

ਗੁਨ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਗਾਇਓ ਨਹੀ    ਜਨਮੁ ਅਕਾਰਥ ਕੀਨੁ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਹਰਿ ਭਜੁ ਮਨਾ    ਜਿਹ ਬਿਧਿ ਜਲ ਕਉ ਮੀਨੁ ॥੧॥
You have not sung virtues of Earth-Knower; you have wasted this human life in vain.
Nanak’s statement: O mind! Sing praises of 1-Light with love, the way a fish yearns for water.1.

ਤਰਨਾਪੋ ਇਉ ਹੀ ਗਇਓ    ਲੀਓ ਜਰਾ ਤਨੁ ਜੀਤਿ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਭਜੁ ਹਰਿ ਮਨਾ    ਅਉਧ ਜਾਤੁ ਹੈ ਬੀਤਿ ॥੩॥
Youth has verily passed like this; old age has conquered the body.
Nanak’s statement: O mind! Sing praises of 1-Light; age is passing away.3.

Although the Bani is commonly understood to be about death, it is not only about death. Death and ideas about aging are woven throughout the Bani as reminders. And we know that death functions in this way. When we experience loss, we often feel a closeness to IkOankar, a lack of trepidation or overthinking in our efforts to connect with IkOankar and remember IkOankar. And we know that our fear of death binds us because we are so afraid, all the time, of losing things. We are so afraid of disappearing, so afraid that we will not leave anything to be remembered by — no lasting legacies, no stories — that it will be almost as if we were never here at all.  In our understanding of Existence, in our “scheme of things,” death is the ultimate end. So, of course, the Guru uses it as the reference point, inviting us to explore how one is bound and how one gets free and what any of that has to do with life and death. We know that there are other places in the Guru Granth Sahib that death is a metaphor, that it is said when we are in Remembrance, we are alive, and when we are not in Remembrance, we are dead, we are paralyzed, we are frozen. We understand the use of the word gati for liberation — that this word is etymologically rooted in ideas of movement, that it literally means movement. The Guru tells us that we are free when we are in Remembrance; we are no longer bound by fear of death, no longer paralyzed. In remembrance, there is movement.

Praise, Remembrance, Identification

ਗੁਨ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਗਾਇਓ ਨਹੀ    ਜਨਮੁ ਅਕਾਰਥ ਕੀਨੁ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਹਰਿ ਭਜੁ ਮਨਾ    ਜਿਹ ਬਿਧਿ ਜਲ ਕਉ ਮੀਨੁ ॥੧॥
You have not sung virtues of Earth-Knower; you have wasted this human life in vain.
Nanak’s statement: O mind! Sing praises of 1-Light with love, the way a fish yearns for water.1.

The Guru begins with a reminder that life is happening, time is passing, and now is the time to sing praises of the 1-Light. The metaphor of the fish is important — the fish is surrounded by water, immersed in it, sustained by it. As soon as the fish is without water, it is no longer able to live. And yet, a fish that is in the water can also forget that the water is there. A fish surrounded by the very thing that keeps it alive can forget its importance to its survival.

In the same way, we are always surrounded by the presence of the 1-Light. But if we do not consciously remember this, it is as if we are without that presence. Can we take the inspiration of the fish and make our praise of the 1-Light the same? A constant remembering? Can we get our minds to focus on that presence? If we are without our Source, without our Root, without our Origin, we are dying. And so, our purpose is remembrance. We do not need anything external for remembrance.

We have all of these physical things gifted to us with the body: a tongue to taste, a throat to sing, ears to listen. Who can stop us from singing? Only ourselves and all of the other things we bring within distract us. That singing is within us, not external to us. Remembrance cannot be stopped by anyone else. We carry that innate song within us; always, it is a natural thing; it is the thing we are meant to do, the thing we are here for. It is just a matter of whether or not we choose to open our mouths and sing, whether or not we make an effort to remember until it becomes second nature.

ਬਿਖਿਅਨ ਸਿਉ ਕਾਹੇ ਰਚਿਓ   ਨਿਮਖ ਨ ਹੋਹਿ ਉਦਾਸੁ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਭਜੁ ਹਰਿ ਮਨਾ   ਪਰੈ ਨ ਜਮ ਕੀ ਫਾਸ ॥੨॥
Why are you entangled in poisons? You are not detached (even) for a moment!
Nanak’s statement: O mind! Sing praises of 1-Light, and the noose of the Messengers of Death will not fall around the neck.2.

We spend our days getting up and doing the things that draw us further away from that inherent purpose of remembering the 1-Light. And we recognize this. We know it does not take much to do a bad thing; we know that it takes a lot to do a good thing, especially when immersed in poison — things that will kill us by their sheer negative influence. The Guru is reminding us that if we want to be with the Truth, with the Eternal, we must renounce those false or temporary things.

What is not eternal? The ‘vices’ that the Guru mentions. These are temporary flavors that we have been enjoying, and now, they have taken over. Those temporary flavors are not necessarily all extreme on the spectrum of ‘bad’ things. Those same temporary flavors are the things that are a part of life. In fact, when we understand vices, we ought to understand them as the things that are a part of what it means to be human beings in the world. Our goal is not to rid ourselves of these vices; it is simply to release ourselves from the vices that control us. To wrestle with them and learn how to live in the world as humans who do not fall into entanglement. It is like being a bird in a cage. Once the bird is in the cage for long enough and likes what it is being fed, it forgets that it used to be free. It forgets that this is not what life is and instead gets used to a life of confinement without freedom.

What are the things that are caging us? What are the temporary flavors that are distracting us from the potential we all have to be free? What are the things that take us away from our original purpose?

Guru Teghbahadar Sahib urges us to think about these questions and reminds us to sing the praise of the 1-Light, to remember the 1-Light actively, so that the fear of death does not drive us.

ਤਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਸੰਪੈ ਸੁਖ ਦੀਓ   ਅਰੁ ਜਿਹ ਨੀਕੇ ਧਾਮ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨੁ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ   ਸਿਮਰਤ ਕਾਹਿ ਨ ਰਾਮੁ ॥੮॥
The One who has given body, riches, wealth, comforts, and beautiful residences;
Nanak’s statement: Listen, O mind! Why do you not remember that beautiful, charming One?.8.

Guru Teghbahadar Sahib continues, You keep accumulating all of these things!  Body, wealth, property, comforts, beautiful residences — every beautiful thing you can imagine — you collect them all. And they give you comfort.  But the Guru is urging us to remember that all of these beautiful things are a part of the Beautiful. They come from the Beautiful. So why do we not remember the Beautiful One?

The Guru again addresses the mind because it has become distracted. The mind becomes distracted when we have accumulated all of these beautiful things. We are so engrossed in accumulating material things. We collect them; we incessantly think about accumulating more, and we are deeply afraid of losing any of them. In this frenzy of accumulation, in this deep forgetfulness, the urging is again for Remembrance and glorification of the One.

This is not Remembrance that serves the purpose of building up the Beautiful One. The Beautiful One does not need to be thanked. This Remembrance is for us. This thankfulness is for us. These things are not just gestures. They help us create an environment around ourselves to understand the bigger picture better, better understand how to connect with the Beautiful One, see the physical ways to Identify with the One, draw us out of our entanglements, and change our behaviors.

ਭੈ ਨਾਸਨ  ਦੁਰਮਤਿ ਹਰਨ   ਕਲਿ ਮੈ ਹਰਿ ਕੋ ਨਾਮੁ ॥
ਨਿਸਿ ਦਿਨੁ ਜੋ ਨਾਨਕ  ਭਜੈ   ਸਫਲ ਹੋਹਿ ਤਿਹ ਕਾਮ ॥੨੦॥
In the age of darkness and conflict, only the Identification (Nam) of the 1-Light is the destroyer of fear and remover of negative thinking.
Nanak (signature): One who sings praises of 1-Light day and night, all their affairs are resolved.20.

How do we get rid of fear? In this ignorant age or dark age, the only way to get rid of fear is to kill it through Identification with the 1-Light. How do we get rid of “bad” or negative thinking? The only way to get rid of negative thinking is through Identification with the 1-Light. If we can do this, night and day, we will resolve our tasks in this life.

There is a shift here into a simplification of the previous stanzas, summarizing and revisiting earlier ideas. We have been taken through so many steps; it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed at all of them. The Guru has taken us to the metaphorical mountain top throughout the previous stanzas. Now, the Guru is bringing it back down to the practical things that we can do right now and ways to change our behaviors. The Guru returns to the basics to emphasize again that we are capable of this, that we need not worry about all of the steps all at once, that starting with the basics will help us get there.

The Age of Ignorance in classic Indology is a doomed era; we talk about Armageddon and Doomsday in other contexts — there is nothing anyone can do about it. Here, the Guru is urging us not to think that way. This era is not doomed. Fear is not inherently built into it in the same way that we see in classical understandings. The Guru says that even in this age, even now, we can get rid of fear. We can get rid of the bad deeds that we do, the bad things that we think, the things that create negativity, negative understanding, and negative behavior. The Guru urges us to use the senses we have for Remembrance and Identification. If we can do that and center ourselves in it, we will not waver even in this age of ignorance.

The Human Condition

Throughout the Bani, Guru Teghbahadar Sahib reassures us that he understands the human condition — that we are full of fear and attachment and that we are of the world.

ਧਨੁ ਦਾਰਾ ਸੰਪਤਿ ਸਗਲ   ਜਿਨਿ ਅਪੁਨੀ ਕਰਿ ਮਾਨਿ ॥
ਇਨ ਮੈ ਕਛੁ ਸੰਗੀ ਨਹੀ   ਨਾਨਕ  ਸਾਚੀ ਜਾਨਿ ॥੫॥
O being! Wealth, spouse, and property; do not believe them to be your own.
Nanak signature: Understand this as the truth, that none of these is your constant companion.5.

ਜਤਨ ਬਹੁਤ ਸੁਖ ਕੇ ਕੀਏ   ਦੁਖ ਕੋ ਕੀਓ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨਿ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ   ਹਰਿ ਭਾਵੈ ਸੋ ਹੋਇ ॥੩੯॥
Many efforts were made for comfort, but none were made for suffering. Both happened in accordance with the Will.
Nanak’s statement: Listen, O mind! Everything happens within the Will of the 1-Light.39.

The Guru says that we ought to know that everything we have accumulated, whether possessions or relationships, are not really ours. They will not go with us in the end. Maybe we worked hard for all of it. Maybe we put a lot of effort into all of those relationships and assets, and maybe we did certain things because of these relationships. Maybe our indulgence increased, and at some point, we thought that all of this would be ours forever. But the reality is that we have forgotten that if they were truly ours, we would take them with us when we go. But we know that we go alone. And all that we did for these assets, for these end goals, blinded us to the real end goal, remembrance of the 1-Light, and connection with the Adorable One.

This is not to say that we ought not to have relationships, that we ought not to put effort into them, that we ought not to strive for success in the world. It is to say that we must not be that caged bird. We must not lose sight of what is outside of our immediate surroundings. We must understand that those things are not all that there is. And if we dedicate all of our time to those things, all we are doing is building up our cages. What are we doing to work towards that which is outside of the cage? What are we doing to remember what we are here for?

We want comfort in life, and we do so much to experience comfort. But we do not do anything to experience pain or suffering. We also do not do anything to work to eliminate pain. We only orient ourselves around gaining comfort.  We never think about what it would mean to get rid of pain because we are worried about collecting different comforts. Our human interest is in creating transformation only within that comfort. And when we run more and more towards comforts, we run farther and farther away from taking care of our pain and suffering. Our constant search for comfort occupies our time and effort, and there is no effort left to spend on eliminating pain.

But the Guru offers us hope as if to say, it is okay; I know this is your state or condition, so know that whatever happens is willed by the 1-Light, and the 1-Light understands your state.

When we surround ourselves with comforts, we are distracted from the pain. A person might be worried about supporting their family, making sure their spouse is comfortable, making sure their children have not just what they need, but also what they want, making sure they are getting good grades and have good coaches for their extracurriculars and have the best equipment for whatever hobbies they are involved in. But when we spend so much time on those external comforts, we forget to make an effort in making sure that those same people are stress-free and pride-free; we do not think about their internal comfort, calming anxieties, calming sadness. The Guru tells our minds that it will be okay, but we ought to acknowledge that this is our condition and know that the 1-Light will understand our condition.

ਜਿਹਿ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਸਗਲੀ ਤਜੀ   ਲੀਓ ਭੇਖ ਬੈਰਾਗ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨੁ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ   ਤਿਹ ਨਰ ਮਾਥੈ ਭਾਗੁ ॥੧੭॥
Who has renounced all poison-like Maya, has put on the garb of renunciation;
Nanak’s statement: O mind! Listen, on the forehead of that being is good fortune.17.

ਜਿਹਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਮਮਤਾ ਤਜੀ   ਸਭ ਤੇ ਭਇਓ ਉਦਾਸੁ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨੁ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ   ਤਿਹ ਘਟਿ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਨਿਵਾਸੁ ॥੧੮॥
The one who has forsaken the attachment of Maya and has become detached from all desires;
Nanak’s statement: Listen, O mind! In the heart of that person is the dwelling of the Divine.18.

This garb of renunciation is important to dwell on. Renunciation here is about what we bring into our state of existence, not about what we wear to demonstrate renunciation, like specific clothing or specific ornaments. The garb of renunciation here is about adopting an attitude of renunciation such that it shows from the inside out.

This renunciate is not an ascetic, not unfeeling towards all of the relationships and emotions that make up the human experience, not leaving the responsibilities of life, but instead not impulsive — not tugged at by their emotions, not redirected by the temporary. This is a person who has risen above states of impulse or passion or reactionary living and is instead living with a mind that does not hold differentiation or doubt. There is instead a sense of stability, steadiness, intuitive connection with the One, beyond wavering. This is the person very much of and in the world, for whom in every breath is Remembrance, in every breath is praise, in every breath is the virtues.

This is a state that looks like the existence of the lotus. The lotus sits on top of the water, connected but untouched by the filth not far beneath the surface. This state is not about leaving the world; it is about being unaffected by those things which drag us away from our purpose: Remembrance. This state is a blossoming of the lotus within.

We are being asked, again and again, to look at the world with a grander vision. If we look at it from a birds-eye view, we know everyone is caught up in some kind of bondage. Every human being has some sort of attachment that drives them and makes them animalistic. We are caught up and being hunted and falling prey to attachment because of our ignorance. Suppose we can move out of our ignorance. In that case, if there is insightfulness, we know that even our mothers and fathers and spouses and children and siblings are part of a path of materialism in that we think these relationships are ours and only ours. If we become insightful, we see each relationship differently. Not with a sense of detachment that requires us to become ascetics or renunciates, but with a sense of detachment that allows us to see the bigger picture, feel our feelings, love our relationships and understand that they are not ours keep or to lose. We can still be free even if these relationships constrict and restrict us. The free individual is not incomplete and does not feel incomplete. The free individual is free mentally and emotionally, contented with who they are, not subservient to anyone. No deed restricts or constricts them. Things do not carry so much weight, and a carefree outlook takes over. Instead of being terrified that the earth is like a “wall of sand,” we become like children with sandcastles building up masterpieces and watching with glee as the ocean washes them away. This freedom in being carefree happens when we have Remembrance of the Beautiful within us.

It is Not Too Late

ਪਤਿਤ ਉਧਾਰਨ  ਭੈ ਹਰਨ   ਹਰਿ ਅਨਾਥ ਕੇ ਨਾਥ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਤਿਹ ਜਾਨੀਐ   ਸਦਾ ਬਸਤੁ ਤੁਮ ਸਾਥਿ ॥੬॥
Dearest 1-Light is the Emancipator of the fallen, the Dispeller of fears, and the Helper of the helpless. Nanak’s statement: You ought to know That One who always dwells with you.6.

ਸਿਰੁ ਕੰਪਿਓ  ਪਗ ਡਗਮਗੇ   ਨੈਨ ਜੋਤਿ ਤੇ ਹੀਨ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਇਹ ਬਿਧਿ ਭਈ   ਤਊ ਨ ਹਰਿ ਰਸਿ ਲੀਨ ॥੪੭॥
Head has started to tremble; feet have started to totter; eyes have become devoid of light. Nanak’s statement: This has become the state; the being still does not immerse in the essence of Hari.47.

Even if we feel our lives have come to an end, even if we think it is too late for us to change our course and get back on the path, it is not. There is always room for grace. The 1-Light is the one who is with us, forever and ever. So yes, we do not take any of our things or relationships with us when we go. But we do not end up alone. When we start seeing and feeling the presence of this 1-Light, that 1-Light takes care of us, 1-Light is the father and mother of everyone. That 1-Light can destroy all the negativities within us and around us. We need not worry about what the world says we are and what we are labeled as, whether fallen or apostate or heathen, bastard or untouchable, infidel or heretic. If we feel the presence of the 1-Light,  even if our journeys have brought us to the point of regretting wasting time, we do not need to worry. The Guru says that the objective of remembrance is to feel the presence. We ought to know that the 1-Light is eternally within us and will always be with us, even if we have no one and no worldly status. If we feel that presence, indulgence in the temporary stops and otherness stops. There is no need to spend time pitying ourselves for having come into this understanding ‘late.’ This is about whether we can transform ourselves even when we think our time is up, whether we can make an effort towards feeling the presence.

The Guru takes us to our physical markers of time passing: the gradual weakening of the body. Our heads tremble — we lose our ability to process, imagine, and examine. Our feet totter — we lose our ability to explore or make an effort. Our eyes lose their sight — we lose our ability to see, contextualize, and read. The Guru says, if this is what has happened to you now, if even at this stage of life you are immersed in the flavors of the material, how can you become engrossed in this new flavor of life, Identification with the 1-Light?

This is not about it being too late or no longer possible. The Guru is saying that this is where we are right now; this is everything we have done, we have gotten to this phase of life, and we still are unable to figure it out. We might focus on pilgrimage and fasting and charity; we may have been doing these things for so long that our bodies physically cannot take it anymore. We have spent all of our time, energy, and money accumulating the flavors of the body and accumulating pride. We have done things for our relationships, our families, our jobs, our assets. The Guru reminds us of this after building on two levels of behavior in the earlier stanzas. Now, at this phase, do we have time for the flavor of the 1-Light?

The Guru uses the word ghati to refer to the body or the heart, which literally means “in the pitcher” but is then used to describe what happens within the human body, within the heart. The idea that these bodies are vessels or pitchers that hold things, our thoughts and behaviors, that can be emptied and filled again is revolutionary. What are we filled with? What are we pouring out? And how do our internal changes affect the external world and vice versa? This idea is expounded on in two couplets that invoke the dog.

ਏਕ ਭਗਤਿ ਭਗਵਾਨ   ਜਿਹ ਪ੍ਰਾਨੀ ਕੈ ਨਾਹਿ ਮਨਿ ॥
ਜੈਸੇ ਸੂਕਰ ਸੁਆਨ   ਨਾਨਕ  ਮਾਨੋ ਤਾਹਿ ਤਨੁ ॥੪੪॥
In the mind of which being the devotion of the Adorable One is not;
Nanak: Consider that being’s body as that of a pig or a dog.44.

The dog is negative in the first mention, consuming filth, wandering, begging, and never satiated. The body without Remembrance is like this. When we cannot pull ourselves out of our pride and attachment and greed and ego, we find ourselves becoming animalistic, willing to consume anything, ravenous in our consumption, and never satisfied. We find ourselves wandering and lost, full of aggression, begging, and always hungry for more.

But there is hope, and it comes in the very next stanza:

ਸੁਆਮੀ ਕੋ ਗ੍ਰਿਹੁ ਜਿਉ ਸਦਾ   ਸੁਆਨ ਤਜਤ ਨਹੀ ਨਿਤ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ  ਇਹ ਬਿਧਿ ਹਰਿ ਭਜਉ   ਇਕ ਮਨਿ ਹੁਇ ਇਕ ਚਿਤਿ ॥੪੫॥
Just as a dog always, at all times, does not leave the house of the owner.
Nanak: In this way, sing praises of the 1-Light, becoming single-minded, with focused consciousness.45.

The animal illustration has not changed, but the behaviors have. The body that has been trained does not wander or stray. The body that has been trained dwells with the 1-Light and never leaves. This is the way to think about how to praise the 1-Light. If we focus our minds on the One, if we allow praise to permeate our consciousness, then no matter what happens around us, we will always know who the Owner is, the 1-Light. This is how the dog’s behavior becomes beautiful, with the same body that was wandering and consuming filth and never satiated. This dog is loyal to its owner; it always knows what is going on because it has faith in the owner. When we do not know what is going on, we wander, are bewildered, and do things that we might not do if we had faith. This metaphor of the dog is often used in devotional poetry. When we identify with the dog, we talk about a loving surrender, willful slavery, a renunciation of pride, a declaration of loyalty. The Guru shows us how to shift our bodies from filth and wandering, greed and hunger, to the beautiful — to loyalty, submission, and love for the One. If we have devotion in our minds, we can get rid of these tendencies. We can make our bodies beautiful like the Beautiful; we can make ourselves worthy of being adored like the adorable One.

Poetic Devices

The Guru uses multiple narrative and poetic devices to create a gentle and loving tone, mimic thoughts as they flow in our introspection, and address us with care, compassion, and reassurance. The Guru spends most of the stanzas using self-address and introspection to take us along on a not entirely linear journey.

Throughout the composition, the Guru repeats this urging to the mind:

ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨਿ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ
Nanak’s statement: O mind, Listen!

This urging is repeated before giving us reminders to sing praises, Remember, and Identify with the 1-Light, before reminding us that time is passing. This world is only a wall of sand — temporary and crumbling away almost as soon as it is built up. There is a gentle repetition of lines and ideas throughout the Bani. The Guru circles back to these ideas to emphasize the importance of Remembrance, in a way that mimics the tendency of the mind to circle back to the same thoughts, repeating phrases again and again, constantly echoing within the consciousness, urgent and gentle, loving in its attempt to shake us out of our stubbornness.

ਤਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਸੰਪੈ ਸੁਖ ਦੀਓ   ਅਰੁ ਜਿਹ ਨੀਕੇ ਧਾਮ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨੁ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ   ਸਿਮਰਤ ਕਾਹਿ ਨ ਰਾਮੁ ॥੮॥
The One who has given body, riches, wealth, comforts, and beautiful residences;
Nanak’s statement: Listen, O mind! Why do you not remember the Beautiful Charming One? 8.

ਸਭ ਸੁਖ ਦਾਤਾ ਰਾਮੁ ਹੈ   ਦੂਸਰ ਨਾਹਿਨ ਕੋਇ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨਿ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ   ਤਿਹ ਸਿਮਰਤ ਗਤਿ ਹੋਇ ॥੯॥
Giver of all comforts is the Beautiful Charming One; there is no one else.
Nanak’s statement: Listen, O mind! Remembering That One alone, liberation can be attained.9.

ਜਿਹ ਸਿਮਰਤ ਗਤਿ ਪਾਈਐ   ਤਿਹ ਭਜੁ ਰੇ ਤੈ ਮੀਤ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨੁ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ   ਅਉਧ ਘਟਤ ਹੈ ਨੀਤ ॥੧੦॥
By remembering Whom liberation is attained, you sing praises of That One, O friend!
Nanak’s statement: Listen, O mind! Age is diminishing everyday.10.

When the Guru does not address the mind, the Guru addresses the being, the self, the friend, or the crazy. This is the kind of loving address a parent might give their child when there is an abundance of hard-headedness, anxiety, or fear.

ਬਿਰਧਿ ਭਇਓ  ਸੂਝੈ ਨਹੀ   ਕਾਲੁ ਪਹੂਚਿਓ ਆਨਿ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਨਰ ਬਾਵਰੇ   ਕਿਉ ਨ ਭਜੈ ਭਗਵਾਨੁ ॥੪॥
Body has become old; still, it is not understood that your time has come.
Nanak’s statement: O mad one! Why do you not sing praises of the Adorable One?4.

ਤਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਜਿਹ ਤੋ ਕਉ ਦੀਓ   ਤਾਂ ਸਿਉ ਨੇਹੁ ਨ ਕੀਨ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਨਰ ਬਾਵਰੇ   ਅਬ ਕਿਉ ਡੋਲਤ ਦੀਨ ॥੭॥
The One who has given body and wealth to you, you did not place love with That One.
Nanak’s statement: O crazy one! Now, why waver, helpless?7.

Guru Teghbahadar Sahib also uses eulogy, invoking names of IkOankar that give us more threads on which to pull, more facets of IkOankar to relate to, Identify with, Remember, and Praise. IkOankar becomes the Earth-Knower, the 1-Light, the All-Pervasive, the Emancipator of the fallen, the Dispeller of fears, the Helper of the helpless, and the Steady The Adorable One, the Swift One.

Finally, the Guru takes us on a loving journey that is not entirely linear, offering us glimpses of where we could go, from Praise to Remembrance to Identification, from physical acts to changes in behavior to the inculcation of virtues of the One to becoming the 1-Light. But the Guru also brings it back to the physical and meets us where we are:

ਜਿਹਬਾ ਗੁਨ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਭਜਹੁ   ਕਰਨ ਸੁਨਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ  ਸੁਨਿ ਰੇ ਮਨਾ   ਪਰਹਿ ਨ ਜਮ ਕੈ ਧਾਮ ॥੨੧॥
Sing praises of the virtues of the Earth-knower with your tongue, listen to the Identification of the 1-Light with your ears.
Nanak’s statement: Listen, O mind! This is how you will not fall into the fear of death.21.

This is such a gentle display of understanding us and our human conditions. As humans, we may tend to look at everything all at once and convince ourselves that we cannot take steps on the path we want to take because there is simply too much to do. In the context of religious and spiritual journeys, we may tell ourselves that we cannot walk the path because we do not pray enough, go to our places of worship, and do not do enough things on the figurative checklist to justify taking that first step. We convince ourselves out of moving. But, the Guru says, we only need to take a small step forward, and we can start with the simplest things. The Guru brings us back to the physical, the simplest way to begin bringing Identification within. We have our tongues and ears and all of the physical senses to help us inculcate Identification and remembrance so that the presence can be felt.

If we want to eliminate that fear, we can focus on Identifying with IkOankar, starting with praise that begins on our tongues; we can listen with our ears and remember in our minds. If we do this, our minds will not enter the place where fear dwells. This is the paradigm shift that helps us to rid ourselves of falsity. All we have to do is begin, here and now.


Guru Teghbahadar Sahib takes us through a journey that gently shakes us out of our forgetfulness and distraction and urges us to practice Remembrance, Identification, and praise of the 1-Light.

We are repeatedly reminded of our limited time in our human lives and our bodies — both of these profound gifts. We are reminded of the temporariness of the world and thus the urgency of inculcating Remembrance.

As the Guru points out the nature of the human condition, we are treated with gentleness and understanding — that we accumulate things that entangle us and paralyze us, cause us to fear loss, cause us to establish relationships with the temporary.

We are reassured that it is not too late to begin walking the path of Remembrance. We are reassured that to begin walking this path is simple: begin to utter Remembrance at the tongue and listen to Identification with the ears.

We are reassured that the 1-Light is the Emancipator of the fallen; the Dispeller of fears; the Helper of the helpless.

We are taught a way to conceive of renunciation that does not reject being a human being in the world.

We are shown a kind of renunciation that allows us to exist in the world, loving people, seeking comforts, tasting the flavors of the senses, without being driven by the temporary.

We are shown a way to root our love and our relationships in the Eternal. We are shown ways to transform our behaviors and rid ourselves of fear, ego, and attachment to become steady on the ever-changing, ever-wavering waters of this life.

We are shown ways to become like the 1-Light, to become free and carefree. We are inspired to begin on the path of Remembrance, to praise and Identify with the 1-Light day and night, until we feel our troubles being removed, and we experience the incessant presence of the One.  

Will we learn the lessons Death has to teach us?
Will we foster a relationship with Death in place of our fear?
Will we begin to walk the path of praise, Remembrance, and Identification?
Will we begin to walk the path of freedom?

Begin with the ears, begin on the tongue.


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Research Associate

Jasleen Kaur is a Research Associate at the Sikh Research Institute. She has received a Religious Studies B.A./M.A. from the University of Virginia, focusing on South Asian Religions through the lens of literature and poetry.

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