Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
The power of remembering is very significant, but unfortunately little understood or researched. It helps us to make a meaning of our lives and sustains us with hopes amid hopeless situations, and meltdowns. Remembering is one of the things that make us human. Despite what is already known about the significance of power of remembering it is not emphasized enough, the result is we are unable to benefit from it.
Let us start from the first page of Guru Granth Sahib, where Guru Nanak Dev Ji starts his magnum opus composition Japji Sahib by defining the power that created the Universe. That definition is known as “Mangla Charan”, starts with One Power (Ik Onkar) and concluding with the word Gurparshad (which means grace). Then Guru Ji starts the actual bani where he shares how Gurparshad is obtained. The very title of the bani Jap means to recite to remember and the addition of Ji and Sahib are out of reverence. The 38 stanzas of Japji Sahib are stepping rungs of the ladder for merger with that One Power. The entire composition is an exposition of significance of remembrance, and most scholars are of this viewpoint that the entire Guru Granth Sahib is an exposition of Japji Sahib. So, we can see that remembering is the essential aspect of the Sikh faith. Let us explore some facets of remembering:
1. Central theme of the scripture.
The power of Remembrance being the central theme of Guru Granth sahib, Gurbani extols us to remember God with every breath as:
“Simarat saas giraas pooran bisuaas kiau manahu bisaareeaai jeeau.” – – (SGGS, Pg. No. 80)
Translation: With every breath intake and exhalation I remember Him in meditation. Thus, I have arrived at this conviction, that He should not ever be forgotten.
“Prabh kaa simaran udhare moochaa.
Prabh kai simaran trishna bhoojai.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 263)
Translation: In the remembrance of God, many are saved (from sins in this world and salvation after death). In the remembrance of God, thirst (for material possessions) is quenched.
From the above two quotes the significance of remembrance is underscored, it is also the central theme of scripture. Guru Nanak Dev Ji has declared that besides remembrance all other pursuits are fruitless on Page No. 728 of SGGS.
2. Significance of remembrance
Guru Ji says remembrance makes me alive, and forgetting makes me dead in these words:
“Aakhaa jeevaa visarai mar jaau.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 9)
Translation: Remembering I live; forgetting (Him) I die.
“Uooch athaeh bea(n)t suaamee simar simar hau jeevaa(n) jeeau. 1.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 99)
Translation: Highest of the High, Unfathomable, Infinite Lord and Master: Continually remembering You in deep meditation, I live. ||1||
So, for Guru Ji living has been equated to remembering. If that is true, then the opposite must also be true. That means forgetting is like dying. Sure enough, Guru Ji says:
“Paramesar te bhuliaa(n) viaapan sabhe rog.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 135)
Translation: Forgetting the Transcendent Lord, all sorts of illnesses are contacted.
The act of remembrance has been beautifully captured in a few words. In our scheme of things water and food are essential for survival. We not only consider three square meals as important for survival, but also consider in between snacks as also equally essential. Even in the prisons when the prisoners refuse to eat, they are force-fed out of concern for their health and survival. The deprivation of food, either forced or voluntary can have a significant impact on the physical wellbeing but also can impair mentally. This vital link has been exploited to punish, bribe, to breakdown and to coerce the victims into submission. We also use food for social celebration, for building relationships and to win someone’s heart. All societies, civilizations, cultures, races etc. celebrate food which bears testimony to its significance.
But can we think of someone for whom food is not that essential and who has found a better source of nourishment over food? Yes, we can see that in Guru Nanak Dev Ji. For him food was not essential for survival, but remembrance was. Bhai Mardana, who was Guru Ji’s companion on his long journeys, called Udassis felt the pangs of hunger like us. We can all relate to the pangs of hunger but let us try to see what sustained Guru Ji.
Guru Ji along with Mardana reached Harappa during the first journey. Harappa was a famous city after which the ancient Civilization of Harappa was known. It is also known as Indus Valley Civilization being on the banks of Indus River. As Guru Ji preferred solitude and wilderness he always stayed outside the cities and villages. When they reached the outskirts of Harappa Guru Ji asked Mardana if he was hungry. Mardana gave an astute reply saying you know better. Guru Ji asked him to go to the city for they will give him food, clothes, and also honor him. Mardana went into the city, was pleasantly surprised by being offered food without asking or begging. After spending some time Mardana returned in the evening with a loaded bag on his head, full of offerings. Guru Ji asked him to throw away all the offerings that he had received reminding him that those were of no use to them. Guru ji further added, “We have renounced all worldly wealth and cannot take these with us.” Mardana asked Guru Ji, “Food is essential for survival. Then on top of that we are travelling bare footed, so hunger, exhaustion, stress will be the toll, how can we survive with nothing? We can use these when needed.” Guru Ji clarified to him that food is not essential for survival, but the sustenance is provided by remembrance of beloved God. Guru Ji’s words were:
“Nanak bhagataa bhukh saalaahan sach naam aadhaar.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 466)
Translation: O Nanak, the hunger of the devotees is to praise Lord; the True Name is their sustenance.
Guru Ji further added, “Mardana! You have been assigned the services of singing praises, so try to experience the sustenance, support that it can provide. True living is when that becomes the support and sustenance.” There only Guru Ji uttered and sang the shabad with these words:
“Mai taa(n) naam teraa aadhaar.
Too(n) daataa karanahaar karataar. 1. Rahaau.”– (SGGS, Pg. No. 354)
Translation: The Naam, the Name of the Lord, is my only Support. You are the Great Giver, the Doer, and the Creator. ||1||Pause||
In fact, here in the shabad Guru Ji sited 4 examples to share the consequences of forgetting, before going into adoration mode, by declaring that none is great as You. Further adding that no one else is good enough worth remembering and emulating. Therefore, for me You are only worth remembering as You alone are the Doer. All rich, poor, powerful, intellectuals absorbed in exercising their endowments are enabled by your blessings alone.
For Guru Ji, remembering the all-powerful God is the only food that nourishes him completely - body, mind, and soul. The soul food is the ultimate food which nourishes both mind and body, providing bliss and aliveness to them. However, we have compartmentalized these where food is treated as body nourishment, books are for knowledge, the food for mind. But what about food for soul? None. That is a big perception gap between our and Guru Ji’s. In Guru Ji’s perception, soul food becomes not just nourishment for soul but body and mind as well. This is what Guru Ji wanted to share with mankind in his long journeys. Guru Ji has clearly spelt out that only thing that he has to offer is Naam:
“Sachaa a(n)mrit naam bhojan aaiaa.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 150)
Translation: The Ambrosial Nectar of the True Name has become my food.
Guru Ji blessed this spiritual food to Mardana and his pangs of hunger subsided. But when we are hungry or down, we look for comfort in food. Even when we entertain ourselves watching movies or at social engagements, we use food to fill us and lift us up. The search for finding the connection of soul food providing nourishment was answered by Gary Zukav in his book “The Heart of the Soul”. He says succinctly as, “Emotional awareness is the first step in learning how to receive the nourishment the Universe provides for you.” This is the first step Guru Ji taught us over 500 years back.
Eating food can provide nourishment to the body, but it cannot drive away mind’s hunger.
Guru Ji says remembrance is the food that provides complete nourishment, driving away all hungers. That food is remembrance imbibed by singing it, which Guru Ji labelling it as Keertan. Keertan means singing praises in remembrance, it is not just listening to a genre of music, as a mood enhancer or a passive act. However, if Keertan is being sung, participation of listeners is there, melody is being enjoyed, words are understood, meaning is grasped, connection is built, then mind will be transported to another realm totally fulfilled. Keertan leads to remembering the creator. Guru Arjan Dev Ji posed this question about where remembrance takes place non-stop and then provided the answer himself.
“So asathaan bataavahu meetaa.
Jaa kai har har keeratan neetaa. 1. Rahaau.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 385)
Translation: Show me that place, O friend, where the Keertan of the Lord's Praises are forever sung. ||1||Pause||
Guru Ji has provided the answer to the question in these words:
“Saadhasang har keeratan gaieeaai.
Eih asathaan guroo te paieeaai. 1. Rahaau dhoojaa. 7.58.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 385)
Translation: In the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, sing the Kirtan of the Lord's Praises.
This state is experienced through the (grace of the) Guru. ||1||Second Pause||7||58||
Bhai Mardana Ji experienced this state through grace, same grace is available to us as well. We will first have to remember God and ask for grace to experience that nourishment and fulfillment. The feeling ecstasy experienced in remembrance is expressed in Gurbani in these words:
“Tudh chit aae mahaa anandhaa jis visareh so mar jaae.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 749)
Translation: When You come to mind, I am totally in bliss. One who forgets You just dies – (Spiritually).
3. Remember not to forget
Remembrance requires efforts through our attention and awareness. Remembering is sending a message that He is the most important in our life. The act of remembrance is an act of faith that brings us into the presence of God. It is simultaneously an act of reaffirmation of our trust in Him. The act of remembrance is an act of meditation as well. Guru Ji shares with us how to pray for remembrance in these words:
“Vissar naahee dhaataar aapanaa naam dheh.
Gun gaavaa dhin raat naanak chaau eho. 126.96.36.199.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 762)
Translation: Never forget me, O Great Giver - please bless me with Your Naam. To sing Your Glorious praises day and night - O Nanak, this is my heart-felt desire. ||8||2||5||16||
Forgetting doesn’t require any special efforts, it just happens naturally. It’s like the natural downwards gravitational pull. While remembering requires effort as if pulling upwards against the pull of gravity. About those who forget Guru Ji says:
“Visariaa jin(h) naam te bhui bhaar the'ee. 1. Rahaau.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 488)
Translation: Those who forget the Naam, the Name of the Lord, are a burden on the earth. ||1||Pause||
It is imperative that we remind ourselves to remember our Creator in order to rise above the gravitational downward pull of forgetting.
4. Don’t forget to remember
As we saw remembrance is not self-driven but requires deliberate efforts. The human mind has on an average processes 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. So, imagine how easy it is to get swayed by these spontaneous thoughts. Therefore, having a thought not to forget is a very significant development that is a result of efforts and blessings. Looking at the odds, we can say our mind can be our biggest stumbling block. However, if we observe our mind, exercise the supervisory control over it and stop it from flowing with the thoughts, that will be a very significant growth. This can be initiated when we start observing our mind and monitor the flow of thoughts. Every time we can catch it taking flight, we need to stop it from flowing with the thought by asking it to comeback:
“Kahaa chalahu mun rahahu ghare.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 414)
Translation: Where are you going? O mind, remain in your own home. This is kind of policing on the wandering nature of mind will produce a calming effect. If we can manage it skillfully, exercise a measured control over it, then mind can become our biggest ally. So, let us ask what needs to be done to remember:
“Har jeeau aagai karee aradhaas.
Saadhoo jan sangat hoi nivaas.
Kilavikh dhukh kaaTe har naam pragaas. 9.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 415)
Translation: I offer my prayer to the Lord, that I might dwell in the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy. There, sins, and sufferings are erased, and one is illumined with the Lord's Name. ||9||
Guru Ji has emphasized the role of company of the holy, as it has great influence on the flights of our thoughts. Guru Ji has shared this insight in these words:
“Jaisaa sevai taiso hoi. 4.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 223)
Translation: They become just like the One they serve (through devotional service). ||4||
Bhagat Kabir’s Bani in Guru Granth Sahib also endorses the significant influence of company on the thoughts of person in these words:
“Kabir man pa(n)khee bhio udd udd dheh dhis jai.
Joe jaisee sa(n)gat milai so taiso fal khai . 86.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 1369)
Translation: Kabir, the mind has become a bird; it soars and flies in the ten directions. According to the company it keeps, so are the fruits it eats. ||86||
So, the company of spiritually inclined will nurture the same desire in us as well. That companionship will help us to soar to new heights in our inner development, which will improve work ethics and the most important will be helping in our spiritual flight. It is important that we inculcate habit of not forgetting to remember. The benefit of such an effort is depicted in these words:
“Chiteh chit samai ta hovai rung ghanaa.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 1362)
Translation: When the consciousness is absorbed in then great joy and bliss are found.
The remembrance of the supreme consciousness through our own consciousness and awareness, we will experience an ever-increasing bliss in the process.
5. Practices - intentional, deliberate patterns of behavior
Guru Ji has provided us with a beautiful example of practice of remembrance in these words:
“Uoodde uoodd aavai sai kosaa tis paachhai bachare chhariaa.
Tin kavan khalaavai kavan chugaavai man meh simaran kariaa. 3.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 10)
Translation: The Demoiselle crane fly hundreds of miles, leaving their young ones behind.
Who feeds them, and who teaches them to feed themselves? Have you ever thought of this in your mind? ||3||
By providing an example of Demoiselle crane chicks left behind in the harsh Siberian winter, Guru Ji says that the sustenance is provided to them through remembrance of their mothers. He poses the question by asking how they survive the harsh winter there when they are all by themselves and don’t know how to look for food in midst of snow carpeted landscape? Guru Ji says these Demoiselle cranes take a long flight to come to Indo-Gangetic plains during winter months, leaving behind their tiny offspring as their bodies are not strong enough for the long arduous flights. These tiny fragile off-springs survive without leaving their nest in search of food. How? Guru Ji says mother crane remembers her offspring left behind, and in the process the offspring get their nourishment.
There is another example of turtles provided in Guru Granth Sahib to illustrate the power of remembrance. The turtles leave their eggs on the shore, and they return to water. But the remembrance of the mother turtle provides the nourishment and the warmth to the eggs on the shore. Finally, when the eggs are hatched the baby turtles break the eggshell to come out and join mother turtles in water.
“Ku(n)mee jal maeh tan tis baahar pa(n)kh kheer tin naahee.
Pooran paramaana(n)dh manohar samajh dhekh man maahee. 2.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 488)
Translation: The mother turtle is in the water, and her babies are out of the water (in the sand). Babies have no wings (to get them food), nor (mother turtle) has teats (to provide milk to feed babies).
The Perfect Lord, the embodiment of supreme bliss, the Fascinating Lord takes care of them. See this, and understand it in your mind||2||
These real-life observations powerfully underscore the power of remembrance, and simultaneously affirm the power of God, thus nurturing faith.
6. Revisiting history
There is another piece of history of Bhai Gonda during Guru Har Rai’s time demonstrating power of remembance. Bhai Gonda was assigned by Guru Ji to go to Kabul to teach about Naam there along with that impart knowledge of singing hymns. He took the challenging assignment of preaching Sikh faith in an Islamic country. One morning while reciting Japji Sahib in the morning, he fixed his thoughts on the Guru. He pictured himself clasping to Guru Ji’s feet, holding them tightly. He was very passionately absorbed in his own act, totally oblivious of the rest. Far away in Keeratpur Guru Ji was in the diwan hall. He at once became aware of Bhai Gonda’s action of clasping to his feet. Guru Ji not wanting to disturb Bhai Gonda’s concentration did not move his feet. The keertan darbar was over; still Guru Ji did not get up to go back to his house. Several hours passed; at mid-day an attendant came to inform Guru Ji that lunch was ready. Guru Ji did not respond back or move. The attendant went back. Then the same attendant returned in the evening to inform that dinner was ready. Again, Guru Ji did not utter a word or move, so he went back. Finally, Bhai Gonda woke up and came back to himself. He opened his eyes and bowed. Saying “Sat Naam Waheguru” he let his hand release the clasp of Guru Ji’s feet. Then Guru Ji finally got up, went home, and had his dinner. Guru Ji had spent whole day without food or water just not to disturb Bhai Gonda’s remembrance.
There is significant reason to engage in remembrance and that is:
“E(h) mun jaisaa seveh taisaa hoveh tehe karam kamai.
Aap beej aape hee khaavanaa kahanaa kichhoo na jai. 7.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 755)
Translation: O mind, as you serve/follow, so do you become, and so are the deeds that you do and become. Whatever you yourself plant, that is what you shall have to eat; no one can violate this natural law. ||7||
This same precept revibrates in the famous English idiom “As you sow so shall you reap.” When we hear, see, feel the gift of remembrance the Gurus have left to us, we enter the realm of ecstasy. The embrace of remembrance transports us into a circular dance of time, where the past does not remain the past, but is fashioned as present thus elevating the spirit. The act of remembrance builds positive feeling within. Guru Ji have expressed the benefit of remembrance in these words:
“Prabh chit aae pooran sabh kaaj.
Har bisarat sabh kaa muhataaj. 3.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 802)
Translation: When God comes into my consciousness, all my affairs are successfully resolved.
Forgetting the Lord, one becomes subservient to all. ||3||
Guru Arjan Dev Ji has shared the benefits of remembrance succinctly for our inspiration to make remembrance part of our daily life.
“Simar simar prabh bhe anandhaa dhukh kales sabh naaThe.
Gun gaavat dhiaavat prabh apanaa kaaraj sagale saa(n)The. 1.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 625)
Translation: Remembering, remembering God in meditation, bliss ensues, and one is rid of all suffering and pain.
Singing the Glorious Praises of God, and meditating on Him, all my affairs have been fixed. ||1||
Guru Ji sees that remembrance brings the divine power into our lives that he is not ready to forego it in any scenario:
"Shreer swasth kheen sammae simranth nanak raam damodar maadhaveh." – (SGGS, Pg. No.1358)
Translation: Whether his body is healthy or sick, let Nanak meditate in remembrance on You, Lord.
Guru Ji asks us to pray for remembrance in these words:
“Kabahoo na bisarai he'ee moore te Nanak dhaas ihee daan mangaa. 2.15.101.”
– (SGGS, Pg. No. 824)
Translation: May I never forget You from my heart; slave Nanak prays for this blessing. ||2||15||101||
Before concluding, let us remember the miraculous benefits in remembrance as told by Guru Ji:
“Jis simarat dhukh deraa ddahai.
Jis simrat jam kichhoo na kahai.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 182)
Translation: Remembering Him in meditation, the root of sorrow is removed, and the fear of death departs.
“So parabh chit na aavae kittra dukg gana.” – (SGGS, Pg. No. 133)
Translation: Those who do not remember God, they undergo tremendous pain and suffering.
So, let us conclude with a prayer to Guru for grace so that we can remember Almighty. Guru Ji bless us with the same blessings that you showered on people during your journeys:
“Tainuu Kartar Chitt Aaway”
Translation: May you remember Creator.
1. Singh, Bhai Vir. Shree Guru Nanak Chamatkar. Vol. 1. Pages 120-123.
2. Zukav, Gary and Francis, Linda. The Heart of the Soul. (2001). Pages 231-232.
3. Singh, Kartar and Dhillon, G. S. Stories from Sikh History. Book III. Hemkunt Press (1994)
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More by : Bhupinder Singh