Be in the World, but not of the World!

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) has a rich style of transmitting Wisdom through examples, illustrations, idioms, proverbs, etc. to reflect (Vichaar) and to provide a guide on how to cope with different situations in life. The most frequent being how to cope with contradictions such as conflict between good and bad etc.

The Gurbani urges us to engage in this world, but with a detached attitude and Akal (keen understanding, Wisdom, discerning intelligence, ਅਕਲ, ਬਿਬੇਕ-ਬੁੱਧੀ…). To help us develop detached attitude, the Gurbani draws a true picture of this world as follows:

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਕੈਸੀ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਸਾਲਕੁ ਮਿਤੁ ਨ ਰਹਿਓ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਭਾਈ ਬੰਧੀ ਹੇਤੁ ਚੁਕਾਇਆ ॥ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਦੀਨੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥੫॥: O Nanak! What has happened to the world? There is no guide or friend. There is no love, even among brothers and relatives. For the sake of the world, people have lost Dharma. ||5|| (sggs 1410).
  • ਇਹੁ ਜਗਤੁ ਮਮਤਾ ਮੁਆ ਜੀਵਣ ਕੀ ਬਿਧਿ ਨਾਹਿ ॥: This world is dead (ਆਤਮਕ ਮੌਤ) in attachment and possessiveness; no one knows the Way of life (sggs 508).

The attitude of detachment or Bairaag (also spelt Vairaag or Vairagya ) is the quality of shunning worldly attractions. Simply put: Detachment is being in this world, but not of it. In other words, it is having a mind open to everything, but attached to nothing. Thus, detachment is an attitude or perspective — letting go of the past and the future, and living in the ‘NOW’.

That said, to be detached does not mean running away from life, family, society, one’s duty and responsibility, or being less sensitive or loving, etc. A truly detached one does not neglect any of this; but rather selflessly loves and serves the Divine in them and expands that love and service to all other beings without any sense of bondage or emotional attachment.

  • ਤਿਨ ਕਾ ਖਾਧਾ ਪੈਧਾ ਮਾਇਆ ਸਭੁ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹੈ ਜੋ ਨਾਮਿ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਤੇ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਘਰ ਮੰਦਰ ਮਹਲ ਸਰਾਈ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹਹਿ ਜਿਨੀ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸੇਵਕ ਸਿਖ ਅਭਿਆਗਤ ਜਾਇ ਵਰਸਾਤੇ ॥: Those whose (minds) are imbued with the divine Naam (Wisdom, Virtues etc.), their food, clothes and wealth are untainted (i.e. obtained by fair means). Their houses, mansions, palaces and inns for travelers — where Gurmukh Sikhs and needy travelers go and benefit — are all untainted (i.e. free of ill-gotten money). (sggs 648).

After developing such detached attitude through the Gur-Wisdom and Knowledge, the Gurbani tells us that even if one lives amidst the worldly activity (or Maya), he will be unattached from it and thus negatively unimpacted by it, just as the lotus flower remains untainted by the slimy scum.

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਭੇਟਿਐ ਪੂਰੀ ਹੋਵੈ ਜੁਗਤਿ ॥ ਹਸੰਦਿਆ ਖੇਲੰਦਿਆ ਪੈਨੰਦਿਆ ਖਾਵੰਦਿਆ ਵਿਚੇ ਹੋਵੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ॥: O Nanak! Meeting the Satigur (ਸੱਚਾ ਗਿਆਨ) then one learns the perfect Way to live life. (Thus following that) he is liberated while laughing, playing, dressing and eating (i.e. one remains free from worldly temptations and their corrupting influence while living in the world). (sggs 522).
  • ਸਭ ਕੈ ਮਧਿ ਸਗਲ ਤੇ ਉਦਾਸ ॥: Remain in the midst of all, and yet detached from all (sggs 296).
  • 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).
  • ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੀ ਜਿਨਾ ਲਿਵ ਲਾਗੀ ਤਿਨੀ ਵਿਚੇ ਮਾਇਆ ਪਾਇਆ ॥: Says Nanak: By the Gur-Grace (Grace of the Gur-Giaan or Wisdom…) who remain connected (to their Mool, True Nature or Jot Saroop, Aatam Giaan or Wisdom…) realize (Bliss, Mukti or liberation etc.) while using Maya (sggs 921).
  • ਜਿਉ ਜਲ ਮਹਿ ਕਮਲੁ ਅਲਿਪਤੋ ਵਰਤੈ ਤਿਉ ਵਿਚੇ ਗਿਰਹ ਉਦਾਸੁ ॥: As the lotus flower floats unaffected in the water, so does one must remain detached in his own household (sggs 949).

The more one suffers in this world, the more one is likely to learn to be detached. No wonder the Gurbani declares:

  • ਦੁਖੁ ਦਾਰੂ ਸੁਖੁ ਰੋਗੁ ਭਇਆ ਜਾ ਸੁਖੁ ਤਾਮਿ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥: Dukh is (or becomes) the medicine, and Sukh (becomes cause of) the disease (i.e., suffering); but if (the Real – spiritual or ਆਤਮਕ) Sukha (is experienced or Realized, within), then (no Dukha remains) (sggs 469).

Let’s not be satisfied only by the dictionary or direct meaning of the forgoing verse. On account of suffering, in addition to feel the need of the divine support, sorrow itself sometimes becomes the reason for guiding a human being on the straight path or way of life. In this way the ‘suffering- Dukh‘ of life is also treated. On the contrary, reason happiness could prove to be disease is because what a human being considers happiness, sometimes this happiness itself becomes the cause of many diseases for the life of a human being. Sometimes a human being becomes so engrossed in that fleeting happiness that the mortal forgets the Hukam (System-Rule-Law of Nature…). By indulging in sense-pleasures, a human being loses the very reality of his life. The attainment of such pleasures, often in the life of a human being, increases false ego-sense (haimai), bigotry, oppressing and abusing others etc. In this way sometimes, happiness alone becomes the cause of polluting the good life.

Only by cultivating the attitude of detachment can one hope to seek the path to Mukti (liberation) from Maya, not after death but while alive.

  • ਬਿਨੁ ਬੈਰਾਗ ਨ ਛੂਟਸਿ ਮਾਇਆ ॥੧॥: Without detachment, (hunger or love of) Maya cannot be gotten rid of. ||1|| (sggs 329).

In the fleeting delight of materialistic mentality (Manmukh-Saakat-Mayadhaaree lifestyle), however, we get carried away by worldly acclaim — we measures our achievement by the amount of money, property, material possessions, power, name, fame, titles, lifestyle, position and social status, Jaap Paat etc. A Gurmukh on the other hand measures his achievement by the amount of detachment he has from all these, as well as the degree of absorption he has in his Mool within (Source, Jot Saroop, Truth….).

  • ਮਨਮੁਖੁ ਮੋਹਿ ਵਿਆਪਿਆ ਬੈਰਾਗੁ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥: The materialists (Manmukhs) are engrossed in emotional attachment; they are not balanced and detached. (sggs 29).

Attachment clouds our sense of discrimination (Bibek Budhi) and our earnestly Reflecting on the Gurbani (Shabad-Vichaar). Detachment makes us introspective and discriminative (Bibek Budhi or discerning intellect), leading to Divine Virtues such as righteous or truthful conduct, etc. The reflective mind with the subtle sense of discrimination (Bibek Budhi) helps us to know the difference between Sat and Asat (truth and falsehood, eternal and temporary….).

  • ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਅਰਾਧੀਐ ਨਾਮਿ ਰੰਗਿ ਬੈਰਾਗੁ ॥: Through the Gur-Shabad, adore the Naam (Wisdom, Virtues…); with such affection, detachment (wells up in the mind). (sggs 1425).
  • ਸਹਜਿ ਬੈਰਾਗੁ ਸਹਜੇ ਹੀ ਹਸਨਾ ॥: (Who is blessed with the Divine Mercy and Grace) in Sahaj (he) remains detached; in Sahaj (he) laughs (sggs 236).

As indicated by the Gurbani, once the mind is conquered, the Sansaar or Jagat stands conquered. Thus, the Gurbani indicates that the restless mind can be brought under control by constant practice of dispassion through the Shabad Vichaar.

  • ਮਨੁ ਜੀਤੇ ਜਗੁ ਜੀਤਿਆ ਜਾਂ ਤੇ ਬਿਖਿਆ ਤੇ ਹੋਇ ਉਦਾਸੁ ॥੨॥: Conquering the mind is (as if) the world is conquered, (because, only by conquering the mind, one can remain) detached from Maya. (sggs 1103).

When there is the total detachment from ‘Bikhiaa‘ (Maya…), the mind’s restlessness ceases to be, and then it thoroughly revels in its Mool within (Source, Jot Saroop, Truth….). In short, full absorption in the essence of the Naam (Shabad-Surti, Spiritual Wisdom…) is the ultimate detachment.

  • ਗਿਰਹ ਕੁਟੰਬ ਮਹਿ ਸਹਜਿ ਸਮਾਧੀ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮਿ ਰਤੇ ਸੇ ਸਚੇ ਬੈਰਾਗੀ ॥੧॥: (Those who are attuned to the Divine Naam (Wisdom…) remain in Sahaj Samaadhi, (while living) in their household and family. O Nanak! Those are truly detached who are attuned to the Divine Naam ||1|| (sggs 1246). (sggs 1246).

If engaged in this world with the intelligence or Akal (ਅਕਲ) of the Gurmat (Wisdom, Upadesh or Way of the (SGGS), a detached attitude is sure to follow! Therefore, instead of imitating others ( ‘ਦੇਖਾ ਦੇਖੀ’) or acting in stubborn mindedness, the Gurbani asks us to utilize Akal (ਅਕਲ) while engaged in this world. The Gurbani indicates this to be the True Way; for other things lead to Satanic life.

  • ਧ੍ਰਿਗੁ ਤਿਨਾ ਕਾ ਜੀਵਿਆ ਜਿ ਲਿਖਿ ਲਿਖਿ ਵੇਚਹਿ ਨਾਉ ॥ ਖੇਤੀ ਜਿਨ ਕੀ ਉਜੜੈ ਖਲਵਾੜੇ ਕਿਆ ਥਾਉ ॥ ਸਚੈ ਸਰਮੈ ਬਾਹਰੇ ਅਗੈ ਲਹਹਿ ਨ ਦਾਦਿ ॥ ਅਕਲਿ ਏਹ ਨ ਆਖੀਐ ਅਕਲਿ ਗਵਾਈਐ ਬਾਦਿ ॥ ਅਕਲੀ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸੇਵੀਐ ਅਕਲੀ ਪਾਈਐ ਮਾਨੁ ॥ ਅਕਲੀ ਪੜ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ਕੈ ਬੁਝੀਐ ਅਕਲੀ ਕੀਚੈ ਦਾਨੁ ॥ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਆਖੈ ਰਾਹੁ ਏਹੁ ਹੋਰਿ ਗਲਾਂ ਸੈਤਾਨੁ ॥੧॥: Accursed is the life who (on account of their selfishness and greed) read and reflect on Naam to sell it in the form of Mantras or magic. They are like those whose crop is continuously destroyed, (as a result) they have nothing to thrash! Without proper self-effort (to know ownself etc.) their future life is wasted. Intellect is not which is wasted in futile arguments. Use intellect in the service of God; the right use of intellect brings respect. Learn by intelligent reading and use intelligence in practice of charity (to help the needy). Says Nanak, this is the right way of life while other things (failure to apply discerning intellect) lead to wickedness. ||1|| (sggs 1245).


  1. Very absorbing and beautifully worded. It compels one to look inward and do introspection

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