The world is diseased (from Aatamic or spiritual standpoint), from its
indulgences; it weeps over its lost virtue (Aatamic Guna) (sggs 413). What
good is chanting, penance or self-mortification? What good is fasting or
cleansing baths, unless you know the way to loving Devotion? (sggs 337).

Neither indulgence nor deprivation is conducive to spiritual life. Accordingly, the Gurbani (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, SGGS) seems to reject both the self-mortification (self- inflicted pain or discomfort etc.) and self-indulgence (excessive or unrestrained gratification of senses). If both these extremes are eschewed in life then the middle way or moderation is is the byword for spiritual progress. In other words, to live a balanced life, both spiritual and material prosperity are needed. The well-known and legendary example of the string instrument is very apt in this context — if the string is too loose, you cannot play the instrument and that if it is wound too tight, the string will snap. When the string is neither too tight nor too loose, then every note sounds in its proper tone. Similarly, to make it easier to realize the purpose of human birth (God-realization), it seems good to have a balance approach in dealing with the push-and-pull between the world of asceticism (self-mortification or deprivation) and the hypnotic trance weaved by over indulgence in materialistic life (Maya's illusion).

The view that painful self-mortification is indispensable for deliverance or getting close to God is not accepted by the Gurbani. Such self-imposed bodily punishment only results in dullness of Spirit, incredible physical disability and profound exhaustion. Thus, in reality, a life of self-torture would lead one far away from accomplishing goal of this life: spiritual enlightenment.

  • ਪੂਜਾ ਵਰਤ ਤਿਲਕ ਇਸਨਾਨਾ ਪੁੰਨ ਦਾਨ ਬਹੁ ਦੈਨ ॥ ਕਹੂੰ ਨ ਭੀਜੈ ਸੰਜਮ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਬੋਲਹਿ ਮੀਠੇ ਬੈਨ ॥: Poojaa varat tilak isanaanaa punn daan bahu dain. Kahoon na bheejai sanjam suaamee bolahi meethae bain (sggs 674).
  • ਵਰਤੁ ਤਪਨੁ ਕਰਿ ਮਨੁ ਨਹੀ ਭੀਜੈ ॥: Varatu tapanu kari manu nahee bheejai (sggs 905).
  • ਜਾਪ ਤਾਪ ਕੋਟਿ ਲਖ ਪੂਜਾ ਹਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਣ ਤੁਲਿ ਨ ਲਾਇਣ ॥: Jaap taap koti lakh poojaa har simaran tul na laain (sggs 979).
  • ਬਹੁ ਭੇਖ ਕੀਆ ਦੇਹੀ ਦੁਖੁ ਦੀਆ ॥: Bahu bhekh keeyaa dehee dukh deeaa: The more one wears religious robes, the more pain he causes his body (sggs 467).

There are plenty of references in the Gurbani regarding one being regulated in eating, sleeping, talking, and not subjecting body to torture, and so on. The Gurbani also recommends one being regulated in company and friends we keep; regulated in performing actions; avoiding greed and selfishness ("mine, mine") etc. The Gurbani says it's good to have just enough. The trouble starts when we want to siphon off everything due to our excessive greed and sense-slavery. As indicated in the following verses, both extreme conditions — having not enough and having too much — make us suffer. The idea is neither to torture body nor pamper it with sense gratification. For example overeating or wrong eating is the enemy of meditative mind. Eating insufficiently, on the other hand, leads to physical and mental weakness. Similarly, oversleep dulls the nervous system; not enough sleep produces a tendency to sleep against one's will. All of this is undesirable to the spiritual seeker. As the body is the vehicle for spiritual enlightenment, one has to be fit to struggle with his own mind, the mighty foe.

  • ਜਿਸੁ ਗ੍ਰਿਹਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਤਿਸੈ ਗ੍ਰਿਹਿ ਚਿੰਤਾ ॥ ਜਿਸੁ ਗ੍ਰਿਹਿ ਥੋਰੀ ਸੁ ਫਿਰੈ ਭ੍ਰਮੰਤਾ ॥ ਦੁਹੂ ਬਿਵਸਥਾ ਤੇ ਜੋ ਮੁਕਤਾ ਸੋਈ ਸੁਹੇਲਾ ਭਾਲੀਐ ॥: Jisu grihi bahutu tisai grihi chintaa. Jisu grihi thhoree su firai bhramantaa. Duhoo bivasataa te jo mukataa soee suhelaa bhaaleeai: That (person's) house in which there is plenty (of wealth) - there is anxiety (care, worry of losing, etc.) in that house. That (person's) house in which there is little, (he) wanders around (searching for Maya). He alone is found to be at Ease (ਸੁਖੀ, ਸੌਖਾ...), who is liberated from both states (conditions, stages, modes...). (sggs 1019).
  • ਮਸਟਿ ਕਰਉ ਮੂਰਖੁ ਜਗਿ ਕਹੀਆ ॥ ਅਧਿਕ ਬਕਉ ਤੇਰੀ ਲਿਵ ਰਹੀਆ ॥: Masat karo moorakh jag kaheeaa. Adhil bakaou teree liv raheeaa: If I remain silent, the world calls me a fool. If I talk too much, I miss out on Your Love (sggs 1330).
  • ਅਲਪ ਅਹਾਰ ਸੁਲਾਪ ਸੀ ਨਿੰਦ੍ਰਾ ਦਯਾ ਛਿਮਾ ਤਨ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ॥: Alap ahaar sulaap see nindraa dayaa chhimaa tann preeti: Eat less and sleep less, cherish mercy and forgiveness (Guru Gobind Singh Jee).
  • ਖੰਡਿਤ ਨਿਦ੍ਰਾ ਅਲਪ ਅਹਾਰੰ ਨਾਨਕ ਤਤੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੋ ॥: Khandit nidraa alap ahaaram Nanak tatt beechaao: Sleep little, and eat little; O Nanak, this is the Essence of Wisdom (sggs 939).

Selflessness enables us to enjoy the Peace and Bliss (Anand) within. Selflessness stems from the state devoid of self-centeredness. Contentment comes when we are happy with our lot in life. How we can tell we have enough? How can we tell we are being selfish and greedy? How can we know we are misappropriating everything in life? The following Shabad of Bhagat Dhannaa Jee may provide us guidance in this regard.

  • ਧੰਨਾ ॥ ਗੋਪਾਲ ਤੇਰਾ ਆਰਤਾ ॥ ਜੋ ਜਨ ਤੁਮਰੀ ਭਗਤਿ ਕਰੰਤੇ ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਕਾਜ ਸਵਾਰਤਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਦਾਲਿ ਸੀਧਾ ਮਾਗਉ ਘੀਉ ॥ ਹਮਰਾ ਖੁਸੀ ਕਰੈ ਨਿਤ ਜੀਉ ॥ ਪਨ੍ਹ੍ਹੀਆ ਛਾਦਨੁ ਨੀਕਾ ॥ ਅਨਾਜੁ ਮਗਉ ਸਤ ਸੀ ਕਾ ॥੧॥ ਗਊ ਭੈਸ ਮਗਉ ਲਾਵੇਰੀ ॥ ਇਕ ਤਾਜਨਿ ਤੁਰੀ ਚੰਗੇਰੀ ॥ ਘਰ ਕੀ ਗੀਹਨਿ ਚੰਗੀ ॥ ਜਨੁ ਧੰਨਾ ਲੇਵੈ ਮੰਗੀ ॥੨॥੪॥: Dhannaa|| Gopaal teraa aarataa....: Dhannaa. O Lord of the world, this is Your lamp-lit worship service. You are the Arranger of the affairs of those humble beings who perform Your devotional worship. ||1||Pause|| Lentils, flour and ghee - these things, I beg of You. My mind will ever be pleased. Shoes, fine clothes, and grain of seven kinds - I beg of You. ||1|| A milk cow, and a water buffalo, I beg of You, and a fine Turkestaanee horse. A good wife to care for my home - Your humble servant Dhanna begs for these things, Lord ||2||4|| (sggs 695).

This Shabad gives us insight into the mind of a peaceful, contented and unselfish person. In this Shabad, Bhagat Dhanna Jee only asks God for most essential things of a daily household life. Here he dose not indicate any intention of misappropriation. All he is asking God for is just basic necessities of life. In nutshell, here he does not ask for a life of self-indulgence. The problem with most of us is that we over indulge and then in greed and selfishness misappropriate everything in life. For example if we have enough to eat and wear, still many of us want to take, steel, and embezzle from rest of the society. Even if one has wife, still many want to covet others' women. If one has sufficient mode of transportation to his disposal, he is still unsatisfied and wants more (prior to automobiles, planes etc., horse was one of the modes of transportation; especially Turkistaanee horses were popular). Thus, just as a life of self-mortification, a life of self-indulgence also would lead one far away from linking with God. Taamasic quality increases if we eat unnatural foods or if we eat too much, filling the mind with Bikaars (the mind's corrupt tendencies).

  • ਖੁਸੀ ਖੁਆਰ ਭਏ ਰਸ ਭੋਗਣ ਫੋਕਟ ਕਰਮ ਵਿਕਾਰ ਕਰੇ ॥: Khusee khuaar bhaye ras bhogan fokat karam vikaar kare: The pleasures enjoyed in happiness bring ruin; acting in corruption is useless indulgence (sggs 1014).

How can self-mortification and self-indulgence be avoided? The Gurbani says, by joining the Saadh-Sangat (Holy Company of Gurmukhs), Naam Simran (meditation, Jap), becoming Gurmukhs (enlightened beings), and so on. Holy Presence can sweep our conditioned, confused and deluded minds clean. That's were doubts are removed and Bhagti (devotion) and faith get deeply rooted in us. In Kali Yuga, what matters in one's spiritual effort more than strenuous and physical exertion is sincerity. In the path of Bhagti shown by the Gurbani, the emphasis is on unconditional surrender (of Haume or ego-mind) to God (Sharnaagati). Genuine Peace and contentment depend entirely on the mind, not on the outside objects.

  • ਸਾਧੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਸਿਧਿ ਪਾਈਐ ਕਿ ਏਹੁ ਜੋਗੁ ਕਿ ਭੋਗੁ ॥: Saadh milai sidhi paaeeai ki ehu jog ki bhog: Meeting with the Holy, the perfection of the Siddhas is obtained. What good is Yoga or indulgence in pleasures? (sggs 335).
  • ਮੇਰੇ ਮਾਧਉ ਜੀ ਸਤਸੰਗਤਿ ਮਿਲੇ ਸੁ ਤਰਿਆ ॥: Mere maadho jee satasangat mile su tariaa: O my dear Lord, one who joins the Saadh-Sangat, the True or Holy Company, is saved (sggs 10).
  • ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਅਰਾਧਿਆ ਤਿਨਾ ਦੁਖ ਭੁਖ ਲਹਿ ਜਾਇ ॥: Jinhaa gurmukh naam araadhiaa tinaa dukh bhukh lahi jaai: By becoming Gurmukhs (enlightened beings) who worship the Naam, the Name of the Lord - their Dukha and hunger departs (sggs 1250).
  • ਮਨਮੁਖ ਭੂਖੇ ਦਹ ਦਿਸ ਡੋਲਹਿ ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਪਾਈ ॥: Manmukh bhookhe dah dis dolahi bin naavai dukh paaee: The self-willed manmukhs (unenlightened beings) are hungry, wandering around in the ten directions; without the Name, they receive Dukha (sggs 607).

Although the Gurbani indicates living a life in harmony with nature, but it does not seem to support the view of balancing life by doing everything in moderation. For example, nowhere the Gurbani support untruthfulness or unrighteousness by saying "it's all right to lie, cheat, steal and swindle in moderation". Furthermore, nowhere it says " it's all right to practice corruption (Bikaars of the mind such as lust, anger etc.) in moderation"; nowhere it says "it's all right to be selfish, hateful, and envious in moderation"; nowhere it states "it's all right to be either a Manmukh or keep such company (Kusang) or live in Haume (false ego-sense) in moderation". Similarly, nowhere it says "it's all right to drink, smoke, gamble, debase and kill other beings to gratify one's senses in moderation"; nowhere the SGGS says "to keep harmony with the nature, it's all right to stuff the body in moderation with unnatural materials"! In fact, if we look at Bhagt Dhanna Jee's Shabad, he did not ask, "Lord, please give me life full of wine, meat, smoke, gambling and harlots in moderation" (all these habits go together)! The Gurbani recommends us instead to eat as little as possible ("Alap ahaar"), because, the mind has to be concentrating on meditation (Naam-Simran), not on sense-objects. Craving (desire, Kaam etc.) for anything is craving, no matter how moderate it is.

  • ਜਗੁ ਮੋਹਿ ਬਾਧਾ ਬਹੁਤੀ ਆਸਾ ॥: Jagu mohi baadhaa bahuhee aasaa: The world is bound by its attachments to the many desires (sggs 412).
  • ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ ਲਾਗੀ ਰਚਿ ਰਹਿਆ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਕੂਰਿ ॥: Trisanaa laagee rach rahiaa antar houmai koor: (Manmukhs) are engrossed in clinging desires; within their hearts there is ego and falsehood.(sggs 47).
  • ਜਾ ਕਉ ਆਇਓ ਏਕੁ ਰਸਾ॥ ਖਾਨ ਪਾਨ ਆਨ ਨਹੀ ਖੁਧਿਆ ਤਾ ਕੈ ਚਿਤਿ ਨ ਬਸਾ ॥: Jaa ko aaeio ek rasaa. Khaan paan aan nahee khudhiaa taa kai chit na basaa: The desire to eat, to wear new clothes, and all other desires, do not abide in the mind of one who comes to know the subtle essence of the One Lord (sggs 672).
  • ਬਿਨੁ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਅਵਰੁ ਜੇ ਚਾਹਉ ਦੀਸੈ ਸਗਲ ਬਾਤ ਹੈ ਖਾਮ ॥: Bin govind avar je chaaho deesai sagal baat hai khaam: Except for God, everything the man desires appears transitory (sggs 713).

Desire is the world (Sansaar), thus desire alone is the soul of bondage. Therefore, the sensory world can never give us any real contentment or fulfillment. It provides impetus to other passions or Bikaars such as anger, greed etc. Also, desire (Kaam or lust) is said to be deterrent to spiritual progress and hence the importance given in spiritual tradition to overcoming it. But, it is easier said than done as can be seen even in the case of spiritually evolved persons falling prey to lust and anger. It becomes imperative then for a spiritual seeker to consciously exercise control over desire (Kaam or lust) from young age as it is only over a period of time that mastery can be achieved.

  • ਜਿਹਵਾ ਇੰਦ੍ਰੀ ਸਾਦਿ ਲੋੁਭਾਨਾ ॥ ਪਸੂ ਭਏ ਨਹੀ ਮਿਟੈ ਨੀਸਾਨਾ ॥੬॥ : Jihavaa indree saad luobhaanaa. Pasoo bhaye nahee mitai neesaanaa ||6||: (That person who is) lured by the tastes of the sense organs - the tongue etc. - is an animal; this sign (of his animal-consciousness) cannot be erased || 6|| (sggs 903).

The SGGS is a complete Guide to practical and Pure life, it provides all that is needed to raise one's consciousness to the highest possible level (Divine Life or the Gurmukh state). Such Divine Guide, therefore, cannot and does not give people carte blanche to do everything our conditioned and sensuous minds want to engage in. In fact, desiring ("Kaam" or lust) everything in itself is self-indulgence. The old proverbial expression tells us about the trio that can create all sorts troubles in life: "Bahu Chittaa" (the mind running in too many directions and activities), "Bahu Kittaa" (desiring to engage in too many occupations), and "Bahu Mittaa" (desiring to have too many friends). Of course, we have the freedom to chose and justify choices we make in life, but then, as the Gurbani says, we reap what we sow! The Bliss (Anand) spoken of in the Gurbani is not the type enjoyed through the five senses. After experiencing unalloyed Bliss (through meditating on the Naam) the mind will stop hankering after sensory pleasures.

  • ਖਸਮੁ ਵਿਸਾਰਿ ਕੀਏ ਰਸ ਭੋਗ ॥: Khasam visaar keeeye ras bhog: Forgetting his Lord, the mortal enjoys sensual pleasures (sggs 1256).
  • ਉਦਮੁ ਕਰਤ ਸੀਤਲ ਮਨ ਭਏ ॥ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਚਲਤ ਸਗਲ ਦੁਖ ਗਏ ॥ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਤ ਮਨਿ ਭਏ ਅਨੰਦ ॥ ਰਸਿ ਗਾਏ ਗੁਨ ਪਰਮਾਨੰਦ ॥੧॥: Uddam karat seetal man bhaye ...: Through the sincere efforts (of joining the Saadh Sangat), the mind becomes Peaceful. Walking on the Path (of the Saadh Sangat), all pains are taken away (i.e., pains do not affect). The mind becomes Blissful by chanting the Naam, the Lord's Name. Lovingly singing the Lord's Praises, Supreme Bliss is obtained (i.e., ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਦਾ ਨਾਮ ਜਪਿਆਂ ਮਨ ਵਿਚ ਆਨੰਦ ਹੀ ਆਨੰਦ ਪੈਦਾ ਹੋ ਜਾਂਦੇ ਹਨ) ||1|| (sggs 201).
  • ਰੇ ਮੂੜੇ ਤੂ ਹੋਛੈ ਰਸਿ ਲਪਟਾਇਓ ॥ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਸੰਗਿ ਬਸਤੁ ਹੈ ਤੇਰੈ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਸਿਉ ਉਰਝਾਇਓ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: O fool! You are clinging to perishable tastes! The Amrit abides within you (which gives eternal life), but you are engrossed in Maya (which will cause death of your spiritual life). ||1||Pause|| (sggs 1017).
  • ਜੈਸਾ ਕਰੇ ਸੁ ਤੈਸਾ ਪਾਵੈ ॥ ਆਪਿ ਬੀਜਿ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਖਾਵੈ ॥: Jaisaa kare so taisaa paavai. Aap beej aape he khavai: Man is rewarded according to his actions; as he sows, so does he eats or reaps (sggs 662).

— T. Singh