I sat there listening to kirtan at a housewarming. I don’t remember what year it was, and I do not remember whose house I was at. I was straining my ears to understand what the Bhai Sahib was rendering. I did not understand much but sat there as I heard familiar vocabulary. There were words I had heard in conversation and words I had read before, too, probably in the Guru Granth Sahib. There was mention of milk (dudh), of a brother (bhai), and of a sister-in-law (bhabi), and other words that I tried to make sense of. And then the Bhai Sahib stopped singing and started explaining.
He probably explained the entire Sabad, but all I remember was that it concerned the different stages of human life. And I only remembered that because I was a student studying human development. It was cool that Guru Nanak Sahib was talking about human development in his Bani.
On page 137 of the Guru Granth Sahib ji is where we find this Bani. According to Professor Sahib Singh, the compilation called ਵਾਰ ਮਾਝ ਕੀ ਤਥਾ ਸਲੋਕ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ (Var Majh Ki Tatha Salok Mahala 1), a compilation of pauris and saloks were revealed through Guru Nanak Sahib. Though the 27 pauris and saloks were revealed separately, Guru Arjan Sahib put them together when he compiled the Adi Granth. Of course, I did not know that when I first heard it during the kirtan. I had heard the first pauri at the kirtan and had related it to human development, and I didn’t think of looking into it much until I had to write this article.
Guru Nanak Sahib discusses ten different phases of life in this pauri. In the first phase, the child lovingly gets attached to the mother’s bosom for milk. In the second period, the child connects with the mother and father. In the third, they come to recognize the siblings. The child becomes exploratory in the fourth phase because of a newfound love of games. In the fifth stage of life, the individual is consumed by the need for food and sustenance. As the individual matures, they develop lust in the sixth phase. Then in the seventh chapter of life, they focus on collecting material things to create a peaceful and honorable living environment. Anger wells up on the eighth leg of life, which takes a toll on the body. The hair turns gray, and the body is weakened in the ninth segment until finally, in the tenth, one passes on and is burnt.
Almost 500 years later, in 1950, Erik Erickson, a psychoanalyst whose work on human development is well known in the field of Education and Psychology, also discussed the stages of development in his first book ‘Childhood and Society.’ He discusses his eight stages in terms of two words or concepts working against each other. His first three stages, focusing on childhood from 0 to 5 years, are about ‘trust vs. mistrust,’ ‘autonomy vs. shame & doubt,’ and ‘initiative vs. guilt.’ These stages incorporate attachment to parents, understanding of family, and exploration through play. The following three stages cover the school-going child through young adulthood. The school-child relationship now furthers with friends, school, teachers, and community. In the adolescent stage and young adulthood, the individual’s concern is on identity and intimacy, where peer groups are developed, and issues of intimacy focus on work and social life take shape. Erickson’s last two stages talk of mid-adulthood and late-adulthood, where the focus is children (the future), community, the world, and the issues about meaning purpose, and life achievements.
Though Erickson’s psychosocial stages are similar to those of Guru Nanak Sahib’s 500 years ago, Guru Sahib takes it a step forward for us to provide guidance and conclusion. On that day, when I first heard the discourse of Majh Ki Var, I did not take the time to hear his message. All I could think was, “Oh, that’s so cool! Guru Nanak Sahib was talking about human development in his Bani, and I’m studying human development at this time.”
Now, after I make a little effort to read more about what Guru Nanak Sahib is saying, I understand his message more clearly. After he paints the picture of the ten phases of life, he tells us not to waste our life just focusing on knowing this or getting stuck in the motion of being on a stage. He has given us the secret to life: not to follow our mind, but instead, to come into the sanctuary of Vahiguru’s grace so that we do not end up sinking in the sea of blind love full of materialism (a concept that we falsely think of as ‘love’) -- ਨਾਨਕ ਮਨਮੁਖਿ ਅੰਧੁ ਪਿਆਰੁ ॥ ਬਾਝੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਡੁਬਾ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ Ò (Guru Granth Sahib, pg.137).