Reflecting on Time, One Becomes the Willing-Servant

A Sabad Blog

Friday
,
14
May
2021
sikhism

Reflecting on Time, One Becomes the Willing-Servant

A Sabad Blog

Friday
,
14
May
2021
sikhism

Reflecting on Time, One Becomes the Willing-Servant

A Sabad Blog

Friday
,
14
May
2021
sikhism
A reflection on the play of past, present, and future, the play of creation, and the importance of Remembrance.
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ਸਲੋਕ ਮਃ ੧ ॥
ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਕਰਿ ਕੈ ਵਸਿਆ ਸੋਇ ॥
ਵਖਤੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੇ ਸੁ ਬੰਦਾ ਹੋਇ ॥
ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਹੈ ਕੀਮਤਿ ਨਹੀ ਪਾਇ ॥
ਜਾ ਕੀਮਤਿ ਪਾਇ ਤ ਕਹੀ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥
ਸਰੈ ਸਰੀਅਤਿ ਕਰਹਿ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥
ਬਿਨੁ ਬੂਝੇ ਕੈਸੇ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਪਾਰੁ ॥
ਸਿਦਕੁ ਕਰਿ ਸਿਜਦਾ ਮਨੁ ਕਰਿ ਮਖਸੂਦੁ ॥
ਜਿਹ ਧਿਰਿ ਦੇਖਾ ਤਿਹ ਧਿਰਿ ਮਉਜੂਦੁ ॥੧॥

Having created creation, [That One] is pervading in it.
Reflecting on time-life, one becomes the willing-servant.
Creator is pervading; value cannot be established.
If value is established, then it cannot be described.
Those reflecting on religious law-rituals,
Without insight, how can they cross the world-ocean?
By bowing before faith, by conquering the mind,
Then whichever direction I see, in that direction [That One] is present.

ਮ: ੩ ॥
ਗੁਰ ਸਭਾ ਏਵ ਨ ਪਾਈਐ ਨਾ ਨੇੜੈ ਨਾ ਦੂਰਿ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਤਾਂ ਮਿਲੈ ਜਾ ਮਨੁ ਰਹੈ ਹਦੂਰਿ ॥੨॥

Guru’s company is not obtained this way; it is not near nor far.
Nanak: Eternal Wisdom is received when the mind remains in the Presence.

ਪਉੜੀ ॥
ਸਪਤ ਦੀਪ ਸਪਤ ਸਾਗਰਾ ਨਵ ਖੰਡ ਚਾਰਿ ਵੇਦ ਦਸ ਅਸਟ ਪੁਰਾਣਾ ॥
ਹਰਿ ਸਭਨਾ ਵਿਚਿ ਤੂੰ ਵਰਤਦਾ ਹਰਿ ਸਭਨਾ ਭਾਣਾ ॥
ਸਭਿ ਤੁਝੈ ਧਿਆਵਹਿ ਜੀਅ ਜੰਤ ਹਰਿ ਸਾਰਗ ਪਾਣਾ ॥
ਜੋ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹਰਿ ਆਰਾਧਦੇ ਤਿਨ ਹਉ ਕੁਰਬਾਣਾ ॥
ਤੂੰ ਆਪੇ ਆਪਿ ਵਰਤਦਾ ਕਰਿ ਚੋਜ ਵਿਡਾਣਾ ॥ ੪॥

Seven islands, seven oceans, nine planets, four Vedas, eighteen Puranas.
O All-Pervading! You pervade in all; O All-Pervading! All are pleasing to You.
O All-Pervading supporter of creation! All living creatures meditate on You.
O All-Pervading! Those Guru-oriented beings who remember You, I adore them.
You, Yourself, pervade, having done the wondrous play (of creating creation).

Transcreation: Inni Kaur


In the past year, which feels like it has been maybe four seconds, I have thought a lot about time. How fast it goes, how slowly too, how we say time is relative, how we say life is long or life is short, how we are bewildered by the way a week can feel slow and fast all at once, the way a year passes so quickly we feel cheated somehow. We say time is not linear; we say the past is not the past. It is a part of the Mystery of all of this Vastness, the way that our brains try to organize a thing that is much more complicated and beautiful than we can understand.

I have been thinking a lot about time and collective memory, and the embodiment of Remembering. I have been thinking about this Sabad (Infinite Wisdom) and the three things it offers for me at this moment (and what is a moment, really?). There is the importance of understanding time in its briefness and reflecting on how we use the gift of time that we have been given. There is an urging out of intellectualism that seeks to measure and describe the Vastness. There is an urging into insight, which is something tied to experiences, emotion, and inner-knowing. And there is an ending that emphasizes the All-Pervasive, this exclamation at the mystery, that IkOankar is in everything, going through everything. There is an exclamation at the magic of this pervasiveness, the play of the enchanted world that we happen to exist in.

I have been thinking about this backward if that makes sense. I have been starting at the point of exclamation, starting at the point of reading all about the mysteries people have glimpsed, all about quantum physics and how we understand space and time, especially. I have thought about the ways that this Vastness in all of its enchanted mystery scares a lot of us, the way we strip it of its beauty in an effort to “understand.” The way we try to describe things that cannot be described and pull explanation out of things that cannot be explained. The way we do all of this, instead of pulling meaning, not understanding, from the things we experience as truths. I have thought about a footnote we once wrote on the word ‘jahān’ (world): The word ‘jahān’ (world) is the colloquial form of Farsi ‘jihān’ which has come from Farsi ‘jihīdan’ (to jump). As the world is not always stable, it keeps bouncing (changing), so the word ‘jihān/jahān’ was commonly used for the world. What does it mean to be a part of a constantly spinning and moving and changing thing, what does that mean for us as we try to understand lines like: then whichever direction I see, in that direction [That One] is present, and: You, Yourself, pervade, having done the wondrous play (of creating creation)?

What a beautiful thing, a thing that I need reminding of as the last year has passed me by, as I have been far from a lot of the ones I love. What a way to shake us out of our aloneness. What a way to remind us that yes, we are small, and yes, we might be far from the ones we want to be squeezing, but we are alone and far away together. We are spinning in our small orbits in tandem, bouncing and changing and moving as tiny pieces of the Vastness and the play of creation.

What if all that moving in Mystery means we can hold each others’ hands if we want to, even without being physically next to each other?

What if it means we can hold the people we love in our hearts as we spin around in this dream on this rock, dancing our far away dances?

This mystery, this All-Pervading presence, has given me so much hope this past year.

What does Time feel like?

As for the urging out of intellectualism that seeks to measure and describe the Vastness, and into insight, I have read those books, I have exclaimed at how little we know and how the little we do know is enough to make me bowl over in awe of all of This. I have thought so much about time and how it feels instead of how to measure it.

I remember coming home once for the first time in a long time, sleeping in my childhood bedroom and being surrounded by this weird museum of my life and remembering things as they were and seeing things as they are. I keep thinking about how we do all of these things that become routine and then time takes them away, but we don't even notice, like how we all used to pull weeds in the yard together on weekends or how we used to play soccer in the backyard after school and sell lemonade in the summer, or how the tree outside my window used to be a giant white dogwood. I don't know when we stopped doing those things, and I don't know the exact moment when things as they were then became things as they are now. Time is funny that way. I remember thinking then that time was cruel that way, wishing that I had realized sooner that everything is just moments, but we can make them heavy and slow if we want them to be, if we sit in them long enough, if we hold them in our hands and memorize them as best as we can before they have done the thing all moments must, and slip away.

I remember having daily crises last year, or maybe it was the year before (maybe it was both). I remember feeling helpless, watching the world unfold itself into something horrible. I remember watching people who were suffering ingest false narratives being fed to them by those in power. I remember watching people who were angry and scared and desperate to blame someone blaming the most vulnerable. Wondering if it was possible to grab an entire population by their metaphorical shoulders and shake them out of their bigotry, show them how all those powerful horrible people were tricking them, how they would eventually suffer too. And I remember wondering how much longer any of us could exist this way, moving at breakneck speed toward global disaster.

My friend Lena had told me then that someone came to talk to the surgeons at her residency program about how teens are experiencing desensitization due to normalized violence in their daily lives. I felt myself becoming numb during that time, maybe because my brain was trying to protect my heart.

I still worry that we are all becoming numb.

Guru Nanak Sahib talks about how in times like these (and by times like these, I mean times like one and two and three and four years ago and times like all the years to come), people wander around like ghosts, giving in instead of snapping out of it, instead of standing up. Two years ago, when protests were happening all over India, my friend Muskan messaged me about these strange times, how studying conflict and violence in a classroom made it seem so dead and gone, so impossible and far away. Silly, I guess, to think that book had been closed, that we would have learned by now.

I remember that when I walked around Delhi in 2019, something felt different, like all its wounds were still open, like there was something heavy in the air.

I remember when I landed in Delhi in 2020, it felt the same, like all its wounds were still open, like there was something heavy in the air, like places carry the past.

Because the past is not dead, it’s not even the past at all.  

This is how time feels to me. A thing and not a thing, real and not real, memory, nostalgia, trauma, absence and presence, a thing that gives life meaning, a thing that holds wounds in our collective memory, a thing that is relative to a lot of things, a mystery, a mystery, a mystery.

Past and Future become Present

Guru Teghbahadar Sahib in Salok Mahala 9 urges us to sing praises of the One. Begin at the tongue, he says, begin at the ears. Keep going, until praise becomes Remembrance, till Remembrance becomes Identification, till you become insightful and fortunate, till you feel the presence, till it turns you into the 1-Light, till there is no difference between you and the One.

Inni Kaur once translated Bhai Vir Singh’s narrative on Guru Nanak Sahib meeting the Sidhs (proven ones in yogic order) at Mount Sumeru. I have been thinking about this excerpt:

The Sidhs: “Through our practice of Hatha yoga, we are able to live for hundreds of years. How do you win over the span of life?”

The Master: “When consciousness is permeated in Nam, one experiences an awakening. An awakened person is living in the presence of the Divine. Past or future become meaningless. The present moment becomes the past and future moment. The person immersed in Nam is in all the moments past, present, and future thus winning over time. The body is only a dress. What is the advantage of prolonging life by controlling breath? In sunaya, you are neither enjoying the body nor the consciousness. What is the benefit of living a lengthy life in unconsciousness?”

This is how I understand that second line: Reflecting on time-life, one becomes the willing-servant. This is not, I don’t think, guidance toward obsessively attempting to draw up our own accounts of our lives, weighing our deeds, and trying to find out whether we have ‘done enough’ or done things the ‘right’ way.

We are all trying to win over time.
We are desperate to do this.
We are worried about running out of it.
We are sometimes unable to even see that it is passing us by.

When we live in the presence of IkOankar, when we Identify with the Vastness of IkOankar, when we Remember IkOankar, past and future melt into the present.

This is how we win over time.
This is how we stop worrying so much about running out of it.
This is how we stop worrying so much about what we have and what we have to lose.

Guru Teghbahadar Sahib describes in Salok Mahala 9 a carefree way of living, a freedom that is rooted in Remembrance and Praise and Identification. A way of living that erases our concern with time in a material sense and replaces it with only an understanding of time in its limitedness. Thus, the responsibility we have to use our time wisely.

I have been thinking about how the past and the present, and the future happen in tandem, that we walk with all the versions of ourselves that have existed and will exist. That we walk with all the people who love us, have loved us, will love us. That this kind of play happens in tandem, where time is not what we think it is, and that this is how collective memory and collective history inspires us deeply, move us and make us willing to fight for things that so many before us fought for (that so many after us will fight for).

Puran Singh writes: “What is a man but an ocean of consciousness? The Guru views the whole history of the human race as the history of new incarnations of Feeling, the One Primeval, the One Ancient that creates life.”

And we know this. In times of turmoil, we might see things that uplift us, tap into our embedded consciousness, move us into something, or move us out of something. It is why when we see a hawk sitting on a tree branch, we remember Guru Gobind Singh, and protection embraces us. That embedded history and embedded consciousness are what allows us to keep going even when things are difficult. It is what strings together generations of us, past and present and future. Puran Singh writes, “He touched my hair, and I keep it; when I toss my arm up in the air, and the iron ring shines, I am reminded of his wrist that wore it — one exactly like this. Is this arm, by some stray gleam of the iron ring on my wrist, His?” When we hear, see, feel the gifts left to us, we enter the realm of remembrance and into a circular dance of time, where the past is no longer the past. This is the power of Remembrance.

I have been spending the past year unlearning everything I used to think about time and wondering how we pull our history close, so that past and future melt into the present. So that we can experience time in its wholeness and allow the wholeness of time to strengthen and chisel us, to remind us of the Infinite Love we have been given.  

In Salok Mahla 9, Guru Teghbahadar Sahib lovingly reminds us of time again and again, and urges us into Remembrance. There is no moment when it is ‘too late’ to recenter ourselves in Remembrance and feel the Presence of the One. We are all trying to reflect on the gift we have been given and use it. There is always time to begin walking on this path. When we do this, when we remember that we are here only for a moment, when we understand that the body will return to That from which it came, past and future melt into the present, and we do the thing we are meant to do: we remember the One, pervading all things, present in our hearts. And time doesn’t seem so scary anymore. Instead, it becomes a thing that helps us pull past into the present; it helps us get through things by anchoring ourselves in memory and history. It makes us brave; it makes us loving; it allows us to glimpse a little bit of that Mystery of the seven islands, seven oceans, nine planets, four Vedas, eighteen Puranas, the wondrous play of the All-Pervasive. It helps us understand that we are a part of the Vastness and that in whichever direction we see, the One is present. And most importantly, it helps us understand what we are here for: Remembrance.

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Written By

Researcher

Jasleen is a double UVA grad in Religious Studies, focusing on South Asian Religions through the lens of literature and poetry. She is currently working as a Researcher with SikhRI. 

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