FOUR RIVERS OF FIRE

ਹੰਸੁ ਹੇਤੁ ਲੋਭੁ ਕੋਪੁ ਚਾਰੇ ਨਦੀਆ ਅਗਿ ॥ ਪਵਹਿ ਦਝਹਿ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਤਰੀਐ ਕਰਮੀ ਲਗਿ ॥੨॥:
Hansu hetu lobhu kopu chaare nadiaa agi. Pavahi dajhai Nanakaa tareeai karmee lagi ||2||
:
Cruelty, material attachment, greed and anger are the four rivers of fire (flowing within).
Falling into them, one is burned. Says Nanak, with the Divine Grace (or Karma - sowing
the seed of Naam within...), one is saved only by holding (tight to the Guru's feet -
the Giaan or Divine Knowledge of the Gur-Shabad that sprouts within...) ||2|| (sggs 147).
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Water from a river swollen with downpour of heavy rains can sweep, destroy and devastate anything that comes in its way.  Just imagine if the same river is consisted of burning fire instead of water! According to the Gurbani (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, SGGS), man is surrounded by not only one, but four such rivers of fire! These fiery rivers are: Bikaar like (1) cruelty, (2) material attachment, (3) greed, and (4) anger.

  • ਹੰਸੁ ਹੇਤੁ ਲੋਭੁ ਕੋਪੁ ਚਾਰੇ ਨਦੀਆ ਅਗਿ ॥ ਪਵਹਿ ਦਝਹਿ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਤਰੀਐ ਕਰਮੀ ਲਗਿ ॥੨॥: Hansu hetu lobhu kopu chaare nadiaa agi. Pavahi dajhai Nanakaa tareeai karmee lagi ||2||: Cruelty, material attachment, greed and anger are the four rivers of fire (flowing within). Falling into them, one is burned. Says Nanak, with the Divine Grace (or Karma - sowing the seed of Naam within...), one is saved only by holding (tight to the Guru's feet - the Giaan or Divine Knowledge of the Gur-Shabad that sprouts within...) ||2|| (sggs 147).
At the microcosmic level, these four rivers of burning fire flow within each Jeeva (individual being). Combining all individual Jeeva make the total world. Therefore, at the macrocosmic level, or looking from a standpoint of totality, the entire material world is engulfed in this fire. This present sorrowful condition of the Sansaar — the place of repeated pain and delusion — is described in the Gurbani as follows:
  • ਕਲਜੁਗਿ ਰਥੁ ਅਗਨਿ ਕਾ ਕੂੜੁ ਅਗੈ ਰਥਵਾਹੁ ॥੧॥: Kaljugi rathu agani kaa koorru aggi rathavaahu ||1||: Kalijugi is the chariot of fire, and falsehood is the charioteer ||1|| (sggs 470).
  • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਪੰਚ ਅਗਨਿ ਕਿਉ ਧੀਰਜੁ ਧੀਜੈ ॥: antari panch agani kiou dhheeraju dheejai: The five fires (i.e., evil passions: lust, anger, greed, etc., and their countless variations) burns within; how can patience (composure, solace, tranquility, ਮਨ ਦਾ ਟਿਕਾਉ...) be held (kept or sustained in the mind so lond these fires of Bikaar are burning within)? (sggs 905).
  • ਗੂਝੀ ਭਾਹਿ ਜਲੈ ਸੰਸਾਰਾ ਭਗਤ ਨ ਬਿਆਪੈ ਮਾਇਆ ॥੪॥: Goojhee bhaahi jalai sansaaraa bhagat n biaapai Maya ||4||: The world is being consumed by this (Maya's) hidden fire, but Maya does not cling to the Lord's devotees. ||4|| (sggs 673).
  • ਆਤਸ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਖੁਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਖੁਦਾਇਆ ॥੨॥: Aatas duneeaa khunak naam khudaaiaa ||2||: The world is (like) fire; the Lord's Name is cooling and soothing. ||2|| (sggs 1291).
The aim of this Gurbani Reflection is to attempt reflecting on these four streams of fire flowing within all beings. Also, it will attempt to summarize the teachings of the Gurbani as to how Jeeva (individual beings) can escape the spell, onslaught and devastation of these rivers of fire while living in their midst.

Cruelty

A Spiritually ignorant person (the Manmukh) is cruel by nature; for materialistic living and cruelty go hand-in-hand. A materialistic person, society or nation is always seen engaged in inventing something for the sense gratification. In their view, such materialistic advancement is considered to be the advancement of the human civilization, but the result is more and more violence and cruelty towards other beings — animals and human alike.

  • ਖਾਤ ਪੀਵਤ ਹਸਤ ਸੋਵਤ ਅਉਧ ਬਿਤੀ ਅਸਾਰ ॥ Khaat peevat hasat sovat aoudh bitee assaar: Eating, drinking, laughing and sleeping, life passes uselessly (In ignorance). (sggs 1229).

A materialistic person — also called Manmukh — has no true Divine Knowledge, or his real Identity (Joti-Svaroopa). Since he is essentially ego-being, his life is dominated by his strong bondage to material consciousness, far and far away from Spiritual discipline (Aatam-Giaan, ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ). Enveloped in material perplexities, Manmukhs are identified in the Gurbani as Saakat (faithless cynics), Kusang (bad company), Aatam Ghaatee (self-murderer), Chor (thief), Mayadhaaree (Maya-stricken or illusioned), Bimukhan (non-devotee), Jhooth or Koorh (false or fake), demon, beast, idiot, fool, less intelligent, animal, etc.

Now, what might be the root cause of cruelty? Why people practice it? The reason a person practices cruelty or violence towards others is that he does not see the same One God in all people. Under the spell of false ego-sense (Haume) or ignorance, he has no sense of Oneness. Thus, a Manmukh is a demoniac being who's always engaged in activities that brings the human society harm. Such people are enemies of the goodness in the world, because they are always engaged in inventing or creating something that is conducive to only destruction.

Cruelty is of three kinds: cruelty of the mind, cruelty of the speech, and cruelty of killing others beings. In short, cruelty of the mind is to think ill of others, cruelty of the speech is to speak ill of others, and cruelty of killing is causing distress to other beings either by taking their life or hurting them otherwise.

  • ਪਰਉਪਕਾਰੁ ਨਿਤ ਚਿਤਵਤੇ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਛੁ ਪੋਚ ॥੨॥: Paraupakaar nit chitavate naahee kashu poch ||2||: Those who continually remember God, do good deeds for others; they harbor no ill will towards anyone ||2|| (sggs 815).
  • ਮੰਦਾ ਕਿਸੈ ਨ ਆਖਿ ਝਗੜਾ ਪਾਵਣਾ ॥: Mandaa kisai n aakh jhagarraa paavanaa: Do not speak ill of others, (by speaking ill of others) don't create quarrel (sggs 566).
  • ਜੀਅ ਬਧਹੁ ਸੁ ਧਰਮੁ ਕਰਿ ਥਾਪਹੁ ਅਧਰਮੁ ਕਹਹੁ ਕਤ ਭਾਈ ॥: Jeea badhahu su dharam kar thaapahu adharam kahahu kat bhaaee: (O Pandit) you kill living beings, and call it a righteous action. (Then) tell me, brother, what would you call an unrighteous action? (sggs 1103).

Material Attachment

Material or worldly attachment can be defined as accepting things for one's own sense gratification. Opposite to attachment is the dispassion or detachment, which is the absence of such sensual slavery. In other words, passion for all mundane objects and dispassion to the Mool within (Source, Origin...) constitutes the material attachment.

Abandoning worldly attachment does not mean that one should become inactive, idle or abandon his family or this world. It simply means not to get attached to actions and their fruits. A Spiritually Wise (the Gurmukh) never gets adversely influenced by the inherent charm of the mundane objects. He is fully aware that the enchanting worldly objects are full of venom that would deviate him from the Spiritual Life. Accordingly, he looks upon them with an eye of dispassion and discriminating intellect (Bibek Budhi).

  • Maya moh visaariaa jagat pitaa pritipaal: In attachment to Maya, one forgets the Father, the Cherisher of the World (sggs 30).
  • Moh thagaulee hayu muee saa vartai sansaar: The drug of emotional attachment has destroyed me, as it has destroyed the whole world (sggs 61).
The Soul is Pure by nature. This may lead to the following question: then, how does it become contaminated? Due to the mind's involvement with false ego ("I-ness", Maya...), it gets bonded to the worldliness. The excessive sense of attachment brings bewilderment of the mind, followed by the loss of mental equilibrium and degradation of the Soul.

As a result, one becomes full of animal propensities namely eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Because of such conditioning, his activities are never in the mode of goodness. He tries to dominate the material nature and, hence, becomes subjected to its effects — lust, anger, greed, attachment, false pride, enviousness and stubborn mindedness (and their numerous variations).

  • ਕਰਤੂਤਿ ਪਸੂ ਕੀ ਮਾਨਸ ਜਾਤਿ ॥ ਲੋਕ ਪਚਾਰਾ ਕਰੈ ਦਿਨੁ ਰਾਤਿ ॥ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਭੇਖ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਮਲੁ ਮਾਇਆ ॥ ਛਪਸਿ ਨਾਹਿ ਕਛੁ ਕਰੈ ਛਪਾਇਆ ॥: kartoot pasoo kee maanas jaat. Lok pachaaraa karai din raat. Bahri bhekh antar mal Maya. Shapasi naahi kashu karai shapaaiaa: They (ਮਾਇਆ-ਧਾਰੀ ਜੀਵ - those in love with Maya, etc.) belong to the human species, but they act like animals. Day and night, they make show (ਲੋਕ ਦਿਖਾਵੇ ਦੇ ਕੰਮ). Outwardly, they (those who act like animals) wear religious robes, but within is the filth of Maya. They cannot conceal (their inner filth with outwardly wearing religious robes) (sggs 267).
  • ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਸਭ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਹੈ ਬਿਸਟਾ ਕਾ ਕੀੜਾ ਹੋਇ ॥੭॥: Bin naavai sabh neech jaat hai bista ka keeraa hoi ||7||: Without the Name, every one is of low caste, like the worm of ordure ||7|| (sggs 426).
Greed & Anger

In material existence, once we are faced with a problem, we start thinking about it's solution, rather than it's cause. Unless the root cause of any problem is known, one will be unable to see the reality of that problem. And, without thinking about the reality or understanding the nature of the problem, he will be unable to eradicate it once for ever. Consequently, one may solve the problem for time being, however, the problem will arise again. One can not kill a snake by merely destroying his hole in the ground!

By the technique of Spiritual Inquiry (Shabad-Vichaar), one can seek to understand the nature or root cause of any problem.  Once we know the answer, we can find a permanent solution to it. For instance, let's try to find out where greed and anger come from. 

Upon inquiry, we will find that these demoniac instincts of greed and anger result from another such instinct called Kama (pronounced Kaam).  What is KaamKaam can be defined as lust, material desires for one's own sense gratification, emotional attachment to matter, hankering after worldly pleasures, etc. Thus, Kaam is the unlimited lustful desires (Vaasnaas or Trishnaa) that entice man to indulge in sensory pleasure. This evil instinct of Kaam corrupts one's sensory apparatus. As a result, through the corrupted sense of sight, man lusts after material objects; through the corrupted sense of hearing, man craves to hear the slow poison of flattery and other sounds that rouse his material nature; through the corrupted sense of smell, he is enticed toward wrong environments and actions; through the corrupted sense of taste, he  lures to consume such foods and drinks that destroys his physical and mental well being; and contaminated sense of touch lusts him for indulgence in physical comforts and sex.

Thus, the fire of intense anxiety created by Kaam consumes man's inner peace  and mental poise. Under the influence of corrupted senses he then looses his sanity and acts like a donkey, swine, elephant, etc. In the name and guise of fulfilling his necessary needs, false ego lures him to continuously seek self-satisfaction until death, resulting only in further suffering, sorrows, fears, worry, and anxiety. Thus, the Kaam ruins man's happiness, health, mind, intelligence, memory, and discriminative judgment (Bibek Budhi).

Thus, an egoistic or materialistic (Manmukh) life begins with Kaam. When Kaam can not be satisfied by efforts, it manifests into anger. If it does get satisfied, then it gives rise to greed or more deisres. This trio then become three gates leading to a hellish life.

  • ਹਉ ਰੋਗੁ ਬਿਆਪੈ ਚੁਕੈ ਨ ਭੰਗਾ ॥ ਕਾਮ ਕ੍ਰੋਧ ਅਤਿ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨ ਜਰੰਗਾ ॥: Haou rog biaapai chukai n bhangaa. Kaama krodh ati trisan jarangaa: (Those who stubborly practice rituals) get afflicted with the disease of egotism (Haume), and (the shortage / deficiency of spiritual life or ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ) does not end. They keep burning in the fire of lust, anger, and extreme cravings (sggs 1305).
  • ਕਾਮ ਕ੍ਰੋਧ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ ਕੇ ਲੀਨੇ ਗਤਿ ਨਹੀ ਏਕੈ ਜਾਨੀ ॥: Kaama krodh trsnaa ke leene gati nahee ekai jaanee: Man indulged in lust, anger and greed does not know the way of the Lord (sggs 1123).
Cure

After explaining us the nature and root cause of the problem; also, after giving us the proper understanding of the problem, the Gurbani now imparts the seeker with a permanent solution. This is the beauty of the Gur-Shabad!

The Gurbani reveals to us that our body is like a furnace, and the mind is the iron within this furnace; there the fire of vices constantly heat it. What keeps the fire burning? Mayaic efforts are likened to the charcoal (i.e., fuel) placed upon it, which keeps this fire going that burns the mind. The anxiety and worry act as tongs, which turn the mind around on the furnace!

  • ਅਨੇਕ ਜਤਨ ਕਰੇ ਇੰਦ੍ਰੀ ਵਸਿ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਕਾਮਿ ਕਰੋਧਿ ਜਲੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਸੇਵੇ ਮਨੁ ਵਸਿ ਆਵੈ ਮਨ ਮਾਰੇ ਮਨਹਿ ਸਮਾਇਦਾ ॥੧੫॥: Anek jatan kare indree vasi na hoee. Kaami krodhi jalai sabhyu koee. Satigur seve manu vasi aavai man maare manahi samaaidaa: (Without taking refuge in the Sanctury of the Gur-Giaan) making countless efforts, lust is not overcome. Everyone is burning in the fires of lust and anger. Serving the Satguru (ਸਚ ਦਾ ਗਿਆਨ, Divine Knowledge...), one brings his mind under control; conquering his mind, he merges in the Mind (Higher Mind, ਆਤਮਕ ਅਡੋਲਤਾ, which does not burn in passions or Maya anymore) ||15|| (sggs 1062).
How one can eradicate these fires from within his mind? First of all, the Gurbani urges that we need to cultivate the true Spiritual Knowledge (Aatam Giaan), which is the opposite of the material knowledge. The real Knowledge brings about the transformation within ourselves. With this inner transformation comes the sense of Oneness, humility, friendship, love for all...
  • ਸਗਲੀ ਜਾਨਿ ਕਰਹੁ ਮਉਦੀਫਾ ॥: Saglee jaan karo mauleephaa: Let your daily worship be the knowledge that God is everywhere (sggs 1084).
  • ਮਨੁ ਕੁੰਚਰੁ ਪੀਲਕੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਕੁੰਡਾ ਜਹ ਖਿੰਚੇ ਤਹ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਹਸਤੀ ਕੁੰਡੇ ਬਾਹਰਾ ਫਿਰਿ ਫਿਰਿ ਉਝੜਿ ਪਾਇ ॥੨॥: Manu kuncharu peelaku guroo giaanu kunddaa jah khinche tah jaai. Nanak hasatee kunde baahraa phiri phiri ujharri paai ||2||: The mind is the elephant, the Guroo is the elephant-driver, and Knowledge (Gur-Giaan) is the whip. Wherever the Guroo drives the mind, it goes. O Nanak, without the whip (of Knowledge or Giaan), the elephant (of the mind) repeatedly wanders into the wilderness (of Maya). ||2|| (sggs 516).
The Gurbani time and again reminds us that Shabad-Surti (Naam-consciousness, Aatam Giaan...) is the killer of Maya. Therefore, with the true understanding of the Gurbani comes the real understanding of the human apparatus consisting of the body-mind-intellect personality. This Intuitive Understanding, in turn, causes one to die while living (dissolving of the mind or false ego), making his senses widow! Thus, one kills the snake as well as destroys the snake-hole!
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਅਗਨਿ ਨਿਵਾਰੀ ॥: Gurmukh houmai agan nivaaree: The Gurmukh puts out the fire of egotism (sggs 943).
  • ਚਾਰੇ ਅਗਨਿ ਨਿਵਾਰਿ ਮਰੁ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹਰਿ ਜਲੁ ਪਾਇ ॥ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਕਮਲੁ ਪ੍ਰਗਾਸਿਆ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਭਰਿਆ ਅਘਾਇ ॥: Chaare agani nivaari maru gurmukhi hari jalu paai. Antari kamalu pargaasiaa amritu bhariaa aghaai: Becoming the Gurmukh, through the Naam-water, quench the four fires. (Thus) the Lotus blossoms Within, and (your Heart) gets filled with the Amrit-Naam (sggs 22).
  • ਕਬੀਰ ਮਨੁ ਸੀਤਲੁ ਭਇਆ ਪਾਇਆ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥ ਜਿਨਿ ਜੁਆਲਾ ਜਗੁ ਜਾਰਿਆ ਸੁ ਜਨ ਕੇ ਉਦਕ ਸਮਾਨਿ ॥੧੭੫॥: Kabeer manu seetal bhaiaa paaiaa braham giaan. Jin juaalaa jag jaariaa s jan kae oudhak samaan ||175|| (sggs 1373).
  • ਤਨ ਮਹਿ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ ਅਗਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਬੁਝਾਈਐ ॥੧੯॥: Tan mahi trisnaa agg Shabad bujhaaeeai ||19||: In the body is the fire of desire. It is quenched with the Shabad ||19|| (sggs 147).

— T. Singh
www.gurbani.org