SWIMMING UPSTREAM

The lotus flower floats untouched upon the surface of the water, and the duck swims through
the stream; with one's consciousness focused on the Divine name, one crosses over the terrifying
world-ocean. O Nanak, chant the Divine Name. One who lives alone, as a hermit, enshrining
the One Divine in his mind, remaining unaffected by hope in the midst of hope, sees and
inspires others to see the inaccessible, unfathomable Being. Nanak is his slave ||5|| (sggs 938).
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In a flowing stream, swimming downstream is much easier. But swimming upstream is equally difficult. The path to spiritual realization (the Gurmukh lifestyle) is like swimming upstream! This is bound to raise the question, "Why should one pursue it if there is no certainty that one will realize God?" Without adopting the spiritual path man cannot find peaceful and contended mind because engagement of the senses and the mind in the world is fraught with sorrow. Man cannot find eternal Bliss (Anand) until he disciplines his mind and the senses, and directs his search within. Therefore, regardless of difficulties, the Gurbani (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, SGGS) would like all us to pursue spiritual path. If others (so called Mahaatamaans) were and are able to do that (live the Gurmukh lifestyle), then why can't the rest of us? The same impartial Supreme Self resides in all of us. Despite many hurdles, the Gurbani has shown some simple steps of overcoming various hurdles. To reach that level of being able to swim upstream, one has to diligently and open-mindedly study the Divine Word and proceed step by step. Sure, it's always difficult to do something we think is right! Isn't it?. Reason fish and duck can swim upstream is because they love water wholeheartedly! Similarly, if we can love the Pure Self wholeheartedly, then we can also tread the spiritual path.

  • ਦੂਜੀ ਛੋਡਿ ਕੁਵਾਟੜੀ ਇਕਸ ਸਉ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਇ ॥ ਦੂਜੈ ਭਾਵਂ‍ੀ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਵਹਣਿ ਲੁੜ੍ਹ੍ਹੰਦੜੀ ਜਾਇ ॥੧੬॥: Doojee shod kuvaatarree ikas saou chit laai. Doojai bhaavanaee Nanakaa vahan lurrhandarree jaai ||16||: Forsake duality and the ways of evil; focus your consciousness on the One Lord. In the love of duality, O Nanak, the mortals are being washed downstream (in the stream of Bikaars) ||16|| (sggs 1426).
  • ਦੀਪਕ ਹੇਤ ਪਤੰਗ ਦਾ ਜਲ ਮੀਨ ਤਰੰਦਾ ॥: Deepak het patang daa jal meen tarandaa: Moth loves burning lamp and fish goes on swimming in water for love of It (Vaar Bhai Gurdaas, 2).
  • ਭਾਰੇ ਢਹਤੇ ਢਹਿ ਪਏ ਹਉਲੇ ਨਿਕਸੇ ਪਾਰਿ ॥: Bhaarae dtehathae dtehi peae houlae nikasae paar. Those who are heavy (with ego, desires etc.) sink down, but those who are light (who don't carry Maya's burden) swim across (sggs 933).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਕੋਈ ਉਤਰੈ ਪਾਰਿ ॥: Guramukh koee outarai paar: Few as the Gurmukhs swim across (sggs 356).

First of all, why many of us exhibit inability to pursue the spiritual path? As the Gurbani reveals to us that God has made all of us in His True Image: "Joti-Svaroopa". Therefore, it's not that we are lacking ability to live the Gurmukh lifestyle. But we are unwilling to do this. A plethora of factors contribute to the development of this unwillingness, as well as development of one's spiritual dimension — family tradition or environment, upbringing, the company one keeps, and one's past Karma.

The first step shown by the Gurbani is to eradicate one's false ego-sense (Haume). The faults of this false ego-sense are lust, anger, greed, attachments, pride, enviousness, stubborn mindedness and their numerous variations such as selfishness, untruthfulness, hatred, fanaticism, arrogance, and so on. The false ego-sense is not native to our True Nature ("Joti-Svaroopa"). To the contrary, it's foreigner to our True Nature. Since it does not belong to us, it has to be shed. Shedding ego means shedding all of it's faults (Bikaars or the mind's negative propensities). Not easy at all. Without removing Bikaars, we cannot claim to have removed ego! It's demise gives rise to the divine virtue of truthfulness, the foundation stone of the Universe. In truthfulness manifest all other virtues (purity, contentment, selflessness, love, compassion, faith etc.).

  • ਹਉਮੈ ਰੋਗੁ ਵਡਾ ਸੰਸਾਰਿ ॥: Ego is a massive disease in the world (sggs 1278).
  • ਹਉਮੈ ਬੰਧਨ ਬੰਧਿ ਭਵਾਵੈ ॥: Houmai bandhan bandh bhavaavai: Egoism binds people in bondage, and causes them to wander around lost (sggs 227).
  • ਹਉਮੈ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਨਿਤ ਲੋਭਿ ਲੁਭਾਨੇ ਪੁਤ ਕਲਤ ਮੋਹਿ ਲੁਭਿਭਾ ॥: Haumai bikhiaa nit lobhi lubhaane put kalat mohi lubhibhaa: In egotism, people are continually lured by corruption, greed, emotional attachment to their children and spouse (sggs 1337).
  • ਹਉਮੈ ਨਾਵੈ ਨਾਲਿ ਵਿਰੋਧੁ ਹੈ ਦੁਇ ਨ ਵਸਹਿ ਇਕ ਠਾਇ ॥: Houmai naavai naal virodh hai due na vasahi ik thaae: Ego is opposed to the Divine Name; the two cannot coexist (sggs 560).
  • ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਨਿਰਮਲੁ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰੀ ॥: Ih mann nirmal hayumai maaree: The mind becomes pure when ego is killed (sggs 1049).
  • ਹਉਮੈ ਰੋਗੁ ਗਇਆ ਦੁਖੁ ਲਾਥਾ ਆਪੁ ਆਪੈ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਖਾਧਾ ॥: Houmai rog gaiaa dukh laathaa aap aapai gurmati khaadhaa: Through the Gurmat (Guru's Teaching), the sickness of my ego has been dispelled, and my pain (of ਹਉਮੈ or egotism) is over and done; the knowledge (Giaan) of my (True) Identity has consumed my identical identity(false identity, ਆਪਾ-ਭਾਵ)(sggs 78).
  • ਹਉਮੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਪਾਏ ॥: Haumai vichi prabh koi na paae: No one finds God through egoism (sggs 664).
  • ਸੋ ਜਨੁ ਸਾਚਾ ਜਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰੈ ॥: So jan saachaa ji haumai maarai: That humble being is true, who kills his ego (sggs 230).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨ ਪਾਏ ॥ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਜਲਾਏ ॥: Gurmukhi Naam Niranjan paae. Gurmukhi haumain sabadi jalaae: By becoming the Gurmukh, one obtains the Name of the Immaculate Lord. The Gurmukh burns ego through the Shabad (sggs 942).
  • ਣਾਣਾ ਰਣ ਤੇ ਸੀਝੀਐ ਆਤਮ ਜੀਤੈ ਕੋਇ ॥ ਹਉਮੈ ਅਨ ਸਿਉ ਲਰਿ ਮਰੈ ਸੋ ਸੋਭਾ ਦੂ ਹੋਇ ॥: Naanaa ran te seejheeai aatam jeetai koi. Houmai an siou lar marai so sobhaa doo hoi: NANNA: One who conquers his own soul, wins the battle of life. He who dies fighting against his ego and duality becomes supremely sublime (sggs 256).

"How do we get rid of the ego?" is a common question. The Gurbani says that the ego "contains its own cure as well". It implies that if there is a "how" (a formula per say) to this affair, there is then an entity that would execute that formula. Who would then end that entity? So the Gurbani declares that ego has to be cured with ego itself. As one thorn removes another thorn or as poison is antidote to poison (e.g. snake bite), the Pure mind (Higher mind or Higher Consciousness) should be able to destroy or mold the false ego (lower mind or lower consciousness). When we have learnt to renounce our Bikaars (mind's negative tendencies) and live a life of perfect detachment, the false ego comes to rediscover itself to be none other than the True Self. Thereafter, the psychological ego comes to abide in the Self as the Self. Once the inner purity is attained, the natural tendency of the mind is to move up, towards the liberation from bondage caused by ego's relativism and myopia. Thus, it's essentially eradication of the lower dimensions of the mind or separating consciousness from the realm of the relativity. The absence of the ego is the essence of the undivided state (Gurmukhhood). This is a gradual process and cannot be sky vaulted. However, the spirit of detachment must rule over the senses.

  • ਹਉਮੈ ਦੀਰਘ ਰੋਗੁ ਹੈ ਦਾਰੂ ਭੀ ਇਸੁ ਮਾਹਿ ॥: Houmai deeragh rogu hai daaroo bhee isu maahi: Ego is a chronic disease, but it contains its own cure as well (sggs 466).
  • ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਮਨੁ ਉਲਟੋ ਮਰੈ ਜੇ ਗੁਣ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਨਾਲਿ ॥: Man mahi man ulto marai je gun hovahi naal: The (lower) mind turns inward, and merges with the (Higher) mind, when it is with virtue (sggs 935).
  • ਮਨ ਤੇ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਨਿਆ ਚੂਕੀ ਅਹੰ ਭ੍ਰਮਣੀ ॥: Man te manu maaniaa chookee aham bhramanee: The (lower) mind is reconciliated with the (Higher) Mind, and the ego's wandering ways come to an end (sggs 227).
  • ਮਾਣਕੁ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਰਸੀ ਸਚਿ ਨ ਲਾਗੈ ਕਤੁ ॥: Manak man mahi manu maarsee sach na laagai kat: The Divine Jewel within the (Higher) Mind annihilates the (lower) mind; thus attached to the Truth, it does not wander deluded again (sggs 992).

The next step is to awaken humility within. Baabaa Nanak was full to the brim with humility. In reality, the distinguishing characteristic of a truly wise or learned person is humility. Baabaa Nanak was the embodiment of it. Humility is to consider others better than yourself. However, the material conception of life makes us finding faults in others by ignoring our own; because we lack. Due to this lack, we are unable to recognize our own imperfections. This formidable weapon can be used to cut the roots of arrogant pride and behavior; and to free ourselves from ostentatious, assuming, arrogant, scornful, stubborn, and self-justifying behavior. It disposes a person to a condescending behavior to the meekest and lowest and to treat inferiors with courtesy and affability. Humility is simply realism. A person with humility will have no inflated notions about himself and what he has learnt — after all, given the hard reality that "the more one probes, the more there is to explore".

  • ਮਿਠਤੁ ਨੀਵੀ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਗੁਣ ਚੰਗਿਆਈਆ ਤਤੁ ॥: Mithat neevee Nanakaa gun changiaaeeaa tatu: Sweetness and humility, O Nanak, are the essence of virtue and goodness (sggs 470).
  • ਆਪੁ ਤਿਆਗਿ ਹੋਈਐ ਸਭ ਰੇਣਾ ਜੀਵਤਿਆ ਇਉ ਮਰੀਐ ॥੨॥: Aapu tiaagi hoeeai sabh renaa jeevatiaa iou mareeai ||2||: Renouncing egoism (ਆਪਾ ਭਾਵ), become humble, the dust of all; in this way, die while still alive (i.e, become Jeevanmukta) ||2|| (sggs 750).
  • ਇਉ ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਆਪੁ ਛਡਿ ਸੁਖ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਮਨ ਨਿਮਾਣਾ ਹੋਇ ਰਹੁ ॥: Iou kahai Nanak aap shad sukh paavahi mann nimaanaa hoi rahu: Thus says Nanak: renounce your ego, and obtain peace; let your mind abide in humility (sggs 441).
  • ਗਰੀਬੀ ਗਦਾ ਹਮਾਰੀ ॥ ਖੰਨਾ ਸਗਲ ਰੇਨੁ ਛਾਰੀ ॥ ਇਸੁ ਆਗੈ ਕੋ ਨ ਟਿਕੈ ਵੇਕਾਰੀ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਪੂਰੇ ਏਹ ਗਲ ਸਾਰੀ ॥੧॥: Gareebee gadaa hamaaree. Khanna sagal ren saaree. Is aagai ko na tikai vekaaree. Gur poorai ih gal saaree ||1||: Humility is my spiked club. My dagger is to be the dust of all men's feet. No evil-doer can withstand these weapons. The Perfect Guru has given me this understanding ||1|| (sggs 628).
  • ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਕੈ ਗਰੀਬੀ ਸਮਾਹਾ ॥: Braham giaanee kai gareebee samaahaa: The God-conscious being is steeped in humility (sggs 273).
  • ਹੋਇ ਨਿਮਾਣੀ ਢਹਿ ਪਈ ਮਿਲਿਆ ਸਹਜਿ ਸੁਭਾਇ ॥ : Hoi nimaanee dahi payee miliaa sahaj subhaai: In humility, I bowed down in surrender to Him, and He naturally met me (sggs 761).

The next step is to attain Freedom from Maya (illusory effects of worldly life) while living in it (Jeevanmukti). In other words, turn one's attention from the external world and look inwards to contemplate on the real Self. The repeated engagement of the senses with the outside world, which man considers as the source of joy is a never-ending process. Further, this is the root of man's desire for more and more of such sensuous pleasures. This also is the root os his frustration when he is unable to get what he wants. So the Gurbani stresses the importance of keeping the sensory organs under check.. In our life, we are not isolated. Life involves interaction with family, friends, relations, coworkers and so on. But amidst this worldly involvement, one needs to start thinking of higher purpose of life (God-realization). For only a constant effort to focus on God's Name (meditation, Jap) can lead to God-consciousness. The extent to which the mind has to be refined is important, and varies with each individual. Developing detachment (Bairaag) is said to be very important factor in escaping Maya.

  • ਜੀਵਨ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਸੋ ਆਖੀਐ ਮਰਿ ਜੀਵੈ ਮਰੀਆ ॥: Jivanmukata so aakheeye mar jeevai mariya: He who effaces his ownself (false ego) and is so dead in life, is said to have been liberated while alive (sggs 449).
  • ਮਿਲਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਗਵਾਈ ॥: Mil Maya surti gavaayee: By associating with the Maya (illusion), the mortal loses Divine Understanding (sggs 989).
  • ਬਿਨੁ ਬੈਰਾਗ ਨ ਛੂਟਸਿ ਮਾਇਆ ॥੧॥: Bin bairaag na shootas maya ||1||: Without detachment, Maya cannot be gotten rid of (cannot be liberated from Maya, etc.) ||1|| (sggs 329).
  • ਸਭ ਕੈ ਮਧਿ ਸਗਲ ਤੇ ਉਦਾਸ ॥: Sabh kai madhh sagal te udaas: Live in the midst of all, and yet detached from all (sggs 296
  • ਅੰਜਨ ਮਾਹਿ ਨਿਰੰਜਨਿ ਰਹੀਐ ਜੋਗ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਇਵ ਪਾਈਐ ॥: (Yoga) is attained by remaining unblemished in the midst of the worldly filth (Maya) — this is the way to attain Yoga (sggs 730).
  • ਸਭ ਕੈ ਮਧੇ ਅਲਿਪਤ ਨਿਰਬਾਣੇ ॥: Sabh kai madhe alipat nirabaane: In the midst of world happenings, remain detached and balanced in Nirvaana (sggs 102).
  • ਪੁਤ੍ਰ ਕਲਤ੍ਰ ਵਿਚੇ ਗਤਿ ਪਾਈ ॥: Emancipation (ਉੱਚੀ ਆਤਮਕ ਅਵਸਥਾ) is obtained in the midst of children and spouses (i.e., in the midst of family). (sggs 661).
  • ਹਸੰਦਿਆ ਖੇਲੰਦਿਆ ਪੈਨੰਦਿਆ ਖਾਵੰਦਿਆ ਵਿਚੇ ਹੋਵੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ॥: Hasandiaa khelandiaa painandiaa khaavandiaa viche hovai makat: While laughing, playing, dressing and eating, become liberated (sggs 522).

The Gurbani also recommends seeking and maintaining Saadh-Sangat (Holy company of the Gurmukhs or enlightened beings), seeing One God in everything, and so on. For all this to happen one needs Grace of the Guru-God, and it's with His Grace we can hope to realize Truth. Of prime importance is the single-minded or tenacious longing of the seeker or student to focus his mind towards realizing his True Nature within. Is Grace there yonder, some other time, some other place or after death? No. If God is ever present inside the body as repeatedly indicated by the SGGS, logically then His Grace must also be ever present within; for the Divine and His Grace are not separate from each other. Hence Grace is not exterior. In fact our very longing for Grace is due to Grace that is already in us! Grace is none other than the perfect freedom from Maya and ego-consciousness. But when we act egocentrically, the flow of the Divine Grace becomes shielded. As a result, even though Grace is always present within, but we are unable to experience it fully. Just as an inverted pitcher can not be filled with liquid, similarly, a spiritually unfit or closed heart and mind can not receive or be filled with God's Grace. In other words, if we sit inside our dinghies without unfurling the sails, then we cannot expect to go to the other side. Similarly, although Divine Grace always flows everywhere like the breeze, if our efforts and consciousness are not linked to it, we cannot experience It. Without following the Divine Teachings (Gurmat), guidance and Truth; and without sincere self-efforts, our extrovert mind becomes divided (duality or "Doojaa Bhaav") between instinctive and intellectual forces, making it very difficult to become poised or still enough to experience Grace within.

  • ਨਾਮਿ ਸਮਾਵੈ ਜੋ ਭਾਡਾ ਹੋਇ॥ਊਂਧੈ ਭਾਂਡੈ ਟਿਕੈ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥: Naam smaavai jo bhaandaa hoe. Undhai bhaandai tikai na koe: The Name can be treasured up if the mind-vessel is up-right; in the inverted vessel, nothing can be contained (sggs 158).
  • ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਤੇ ਹੋਇ ਪ੍ਰਗਾਸੁ ॥: Prabh kirapaa te hoi pragaas: By Divine Grace, enlightenment comes (sggs 271).
  • ਸਾਚੌ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਮਨਿ ਵਸੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਬਿਖੁ ਮਾਰੀ ॥: When the Divine is realized within, the poisonous ego stands conquered (sggs 419).
  • ਏਕ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਵੇਖੈ ਸਭ ਊਪਰਿ ਜੇਹਾ ਭਾਉ ਤੇਹਾ ਫਲੁ ਪਾਈਐ ॥: Ek nadar kar vekhai sabh oopar jehaa bhaaou tehaa phal paaeeai: (The Satguru lovingly) looks alike upon all, but we receive the fruits according to our own motives (ਭਾਵਨਾ, ਨੀਅਤ, etc.) (sggs 602).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਸੁ ਕਾਇਆ ਖੋਜੈ ਹੋਰ ਸਭ ਭਰਮਿ ਭੁਲਾਈ ॥: Gurmukh hovai su kaaiaa khojai hor sbh bharami bhulaaee: One who becomes Gurmukh (Spiritual Being) searches within his body; all others just wander around in confusion (sggs 754).
  • ਵਿਣੁ ਕਾਇਆ ਜਿ ਹੋਰ ਥੈ ਧਨੁ ਖੋਜਦੇ ਸੇ ਮੂੜ ਬੇਤਾਲੇ ॥ ਸੇ ਉਝੜਿ ਭਰਮਿ ਭਵਾਈਅਹਿ ਜਿਉ ਝਾੜ ਮਿਰਗੁ ਭਾਲੇ ॥੧੫॥: Vin kaaiaa ji hor thai dhanu khojade se moorr betaale ... (sggs 309).
  • ਹਉ ਢੂਢੇਦੀ ਸਜਣਾ ਸਜਣੁ ਮੈਡੇ ਨਾਲਿ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਅਲਖੁ ਨ ਲਖੀਐ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਦੇਇ ਦਿਖਾਲਿ ॥: Hau dhoodhedee sajjanaa sajjan maide naal: I search for my Sajjan, the Divine, outside, but He is already with me. O Nanak, the Unseen Lord cannot be seen; He is revealed only to the Gurmukh (sggs 1384).
  • ਬਾਹਰਿ ਢੂੰਢਿ ਵਿਗੁਚੀਐ ਘਰ ਮਹਿ ਵਸਤੁ ਸੁਥਾਇ ॥: Baahar dhoondh vigucheeai ghar mahi vasat suthaai: Searching outside of themselves, people are ruined; the object of their search is in sacred place within the body (sggs 63).
  • ਗੁਰ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਤੇ ਮੋਹਿ ਅਸਨਾਹਾ ॥: Gur kirapaa te mohi asanaahaa: It's also Divine Grace that I love Him (sggs 187).
  • ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਬਿਨੁ ਤਰਿਓ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥: Saadhasangat bin tariou na koi: Without the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, no one swims across (sggs 373).
  • ਭਜੁ ਸਰਣਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਊਬਰਹਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਰਿਦ ਰਮਣੰ ॥: Bhaj saran satgur oobarahi har naam rid ramanam: Run to the Sanctuary of the True Guru, chant the Lord's Name in your heart, and you will swim across (sggs 505).

— T. Singh
www.gurbani.org