The edict of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) is that telling beads or counting beads is worthless — “Phokat”, of no value, etc.
It’s so because the Divine (Divine Nature, Wisdom, Virtues, Jot …) is mentioned in the Gurbani to be beyond mundane calculations (“ਅਗਣਤ-Incalculable”), beyond mundane counting — beyond calculated Bhagti, etc.
- ਗਣਤੈ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਨ ਪਾਈਐ ਦੂਜੈ ਭਰਮੀਤਾ ॥: The Divine cannot be obtained by counting; the mortal wanders in doubt — Maya, duality etc. (sggs 510).
- ਅਗਣਤ ਊਚ ਅਪਾਰ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਅਗਮ ਜਾ ਕੋ ਧਾਮਾ ॥: Incalculable, great and infinite is the Divine. Unapproachable is His location (with clever tricks or intellect). (sggs 546).
The purpose of reading/listening the Gurbani is to change the faulty thinking (corrupt mind, Soch, thoughts, actions…) and elevate it to the Divine Nature by understanding it, and then living it in daily life.
Telling beads or Counting beads ==> ਮਾਲਾ ਫੇਰਨਾ-Maalaa Pheranaa, recitation with rosary, to take on rosary or Mala (pronounced as Maalaa), etc.
When Baabaa Kabeer realized he wasted his life in Kashi (“ਸਗਲ ਜਨਮੁ ਸਿਵ ਪੁਰੀ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥”, sggs 326). ) by seeing others and following rituals (Karamakaand) prescribed by the Brahmin / Pundit (such as telling beads…), he moved out from there. Furthermore, after realizing the uselessness of counting beads, he threw away the rosary and declared:
- ਭੂਖੇ ਭਗਤਿ ਨ ਕੀਜੈ ॥ ਯਹ ਮਾਲਾ ਅਪਨੀ ਲੀਜੈ ॥: Bhagti cannot be performed with hunger (for Maya…). (So) Here is Your Maalaa (rosary), take it back (sggs 656).
Hence — according to the Gurbani — the mind of a person who tells beads (ਮਾਲਾ ਫੇਰਨੀ) is full of hunger for Maya.
Mind that takes on rosary (Maalaa) is called “Nipootae-ਨਿਪੂਤੇ” in the Gurbani (literally “Nipootae” means worthless son. But, since the Gurbani addresses our minds, here it means the mind — ਔਂਤਰਾ ਮਨ).
- ਜਬ ਕੀ ਮਾਲਾ ਲਈ ਨਿਪੂਤੇ ਤਬ ਤੇ ਸੁਖੁ ਨ ਭਇਓ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Ever since this worthless son (i.e., mind, ਔਂਤਰਾ ਮਨ) has taken the Maalaa (rosary), since than there has been no Sukha (Joy, ਪ੍ਰਾਪਤੀ, Gain, etc.)! ||1||Pause|| (sggs 856).
Thus, the Gurbani repudiates (Khandan) Pakhand-Baazee (deception, hypocrisy, humbug, pretense, etc.) of counting beads. Such nonsense was introduced by the Pujaaree groups (Bhais, Granthees, Raagees, Jathedaars, Paathees, Deraa-Vaad Baabaas, Kathaakaars, Giaanees, Parchaaraks, and so on) who purposely intended to corrupt the Gurmat.
- ਪਾਖੰਡਿ ਭਗਤਿ ਨਿਰਤਿ ਦੁਖੁ ਹੋਇ ॥੩॥: Love of the Pakhnad Bhagati (Bhagati of show-ਵਿਖਾਵੇ ਦੀ ਭਗਤੀ) brings only pain. ||3|| (sggs 364).
- ਭਾਗਠਿ ਗ੍ਰਿਹਿ ਪੜੈ ਨਿਤ ਪੋਥੀ ॥ ਮਾਲਾ ਫੇਰੈ ਮੰਗੈ ਬਿਭੂਤ ॥ ਇਹ ਬਿਧਿ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਤਰਿਓ ਮੀਤ ॥੩॥: In the home of the wealthy, you read the religious book. You chant on Maalaa, and beg for money. O friend! In this way, no one has ever gone across (from Bhav Saagar to Sukh Saagar). ||3|| (sggs 888).
Instead of correcting this mistake, unfortunately, this anti-Gurmat Karamkaand (ritual) is further propagated by the crafty Pujaaree system. It’s all “Golak Daa Chakkar” (business in the name of Gurbani or Dharma)! In addition to the illiterate Pujaaree-Vaad, shameless painters (e.g., Shobha Singh, etc.) also cashed on Gurus — painting fictitious pictures of the Gurus depicting them with Mala (rosary) around their neck, in their turban, in their hands, etc. Some even show a jug (Lotaa-ਲੋਟਾ) besides Baabaa Nanak, which are all rejected in the Gurbani, calling those who display such religious paraphernalia thugs of Banaras! Are we trying prove our Gurus were… ? What a shame!
- ਗਲਿ ਮਾਲਾ ਤਿਲਕੁ ਲਿਲਾਟੰ ॥ ਦੁਇ ਧੋਤੀ ਬਸਤ੍ਰ ਕਪਾਟੰ ॥ ਜੇ ਜਾਣਸਿ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੰ ਕਰਮੰ ॥ ਸਭਿ ਫੋਕਟ ਨਿਸਚਉ ਕਰਮੰ ॥: Around (your) neck is a rosary, and on forehead is a sacred mark. (You) cover head with a cloth, and keep two loin cloths. If (you) know the Way of the Brahm, (then you would) definitely know that all rituals are of no value. (sggs 470).
- ਗਲੀ ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਜਪਮਾਲੀਆ ਲੋਟੇ ਹਥਿ ਨਿਬਗ ॥ ਓਇ ਹਰਿ ਕੇ ਸੰਤ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਬਾਨਾਰਸਿ ਕੇ ਠਗ ॥੧॥: Who have rosaries around their necks, and glittering jugs in their hands, (just because of such religious paraphernalia) they should not be called the Divine’s Sant — they are thugs of Banaras (sggs 476).
- ਮਾਥੇ ਤਿਲਕੁ ਹਥਿ ਮਾਲਾ ਬਾਨਾਂ ॥ ਲੋਗਨ ਰਾਮੁ ਖਿਲਉਨਾ ਜਾਨਾਂ ॥੧॥: (People apply) ceremonial marks to their foreheads, hold Maalaa or rosary in their hands, and wear religious robes. People think that Raam (Mool, Source…) is a toy or a play-thing ||1|| (sggs 1158)!
- ਜਪਹੁ ਤ ਏਕੋ ਨਾਮਾ ॥ ਅਵਰਿ ਨਿਰਾਫਲ ਕਾਮਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Understand the One Divine Naam (Wisdom, Truth, Shabad, Hukam…). All other actions (that fail to bring understanding of the One Naam) are useless. ||1||Pause|| (sggs 728).
- ਰਾਮੁ ਰਿਦੈ ਜਪਮਾਲੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Let your rosary be the enshrining of Raam (-Naam) in your Heart. ||1||Pause|| (sggs 503).
In nutshell, the SGGS (Sri Guru Grant Sahib) urges us to make the virtuous conduct (ਨੇਕ ਆਚਰਨ) our Maalaa (rosary).
- ਸਾਲ ਗ੍ਰਾਮ ਬਿਪ ਪੂਜਿ ਮਨਾਵਹੁ ਸੁਕ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਤੁਲਸੀ ਮਾਲਾ ॥: O Brahmin! Instead of worshiping the stone-god (idol worship), worship (or understand Raam or Mool within) and try pleasing Him. Practice Virtuous conduct, this is your rosary (sggs 1170).
- ਕਰਣੀ ਕਾਬਾ ਸਚੁ ਪੀਰੁ ਕਲਮਾ ਕਰਮ ਨਿਵਾਜ ॥ ਤਸਬੀ ਸਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਵਸੀ ਨਾਨਕ ਰਖੈ ਲਾਜ ॥੧॥: Let good conduct be your Kaabaa, Truth your spiritual guide, and good deeds your Kalma and prayer (Namaaj). Let your rosary be that which is pleasing to the Divine. O Nanak! The honor of (such Musalman) is preserved. ||1|| (sggs 140).
- ਕਬੀਰ ਮੇਰੀ ਸਿਮਰਨੀ ਰਸਨਾ ਊਪਰਿ ਰਾਮੁ ॥: Kabeer meree simrani rasanaa upari Raamu (sggs 1364).
Hence Baabaa Kabeer questions: If you do not understand Raam (Mool, Hari, Gobind, Prabh, Allah…) within, then what use is this external rosary to you that you wear and show it to other people?
- ਕਬੀਰ ਜਪਨੀ ਕਾਠ ਕੀ ਕਿਆ ਦਿਖਲਾਵਹਿ ਲੋਇ ॥ ਹਿਰਦੈ ਰਾਮੁ ਨ ਚੇਤਹੀ ਇਹ ਜਪਨੀ ਕਿਆ ਹੋਇ ॥੭੫॥: O Kabeer! Why do you show other people your wooden rosary beads? You do not remember Raam (Mool…) in your Heart, so what use is this rosary to you? ||75|| (sggs 1368).
- ਕਬੀਰ ਬੈਸਨੋ ਹੂਆ ਤ ਕਿਆ ਭਇਆ ਮਾਲਾ ਮੇਲੀਂ ਚਾਰਿ ॥ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਕੰਚਨੁ ਬਾਰਹਾ ਭੀਤਰਿ ਭਰੀ ਭੰਗਾਰ ॥: Kabeer, what good is it to become a God’s devotee, and wear four Maalaas? On the outside, you (pretend to) look like pure gold; but on the inside, you are stuffed with filth or Bhangaar (sggs 1372).
- ਰਿਦੈ ਕੂੜੁ ਕੰਠਿ ਰੁਦ੍ਰਾਖੰ ॥: (O lewd man!) You wear the Rudraksha Rosary around your neck, but your Heart is filled with falsehood (sggs 1351).
But still, as seen everyday, the emphasis of the crafty Pujaaree groups is only to promote religious paraphernalia and rituals (Karamkaand), which are strongly repudiated in the Gurbani. They are totally in contradiction with the Divine Wisdom (Aatam-Giaan…) and purpose of the SGGS. Why does Gurbani rejects this nonsense? Because all calculations or calculated Bhagti is in false ego-sense (Haumai).
- ਖੇਚਰ ਭੂਚਰ ਤੁਲਸੀ ਮਾਲਾ ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੀ ਪਾਇਆ ॥: Control of the breath (Praanaayaam) and wearing Maalaa of Tulsi beads, are found contained in the Grace of the spiritual Knowledge (Gur-Giaan). (sggs 973).
- ਸਚੁ ਵਰਤੁ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਤੀਰਥੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਧਿਆਨੁ ਇਸਨਾਨੁ ॥ ਦਇਆ ਦੇਵਤਾ ਖਿਮਾ ਜਪਮਾਲੀ ਤੇ ਮਾਣਸ ਪਰਧਾਨ ॥: Those persons are the most sublime who have truth as their fast, contentment as their shrine of pilgrimage, spiritual wisdom and meditation as their cleansing bath, kindness as their deity, and forgiveness as their rosary (Maalaa). (sggs 1245).
All counting is for the conditioned or material mindset (Manmukh, Mayadhaaree, Saakat …). Because, consumed by the fire of Maya, the lifestyle of such mindset is in the realm of calculations, in the realm of outer domination.
- ਹਿਰਦੈ ਫੇਰਿ ਚਲੈ ਤੁਧੁ ਨਾਲੀ ॥੧॥: Tell beads (of Naam) within your Heart, and it will go along with you. ||1|| (sggs 1134).
- ਤਸਬੀ ਯਾਦਿ ਕਰਹੁ ਦਸ ਮਰਦਨੁ ਸੁੰਨਤਿ ਸੀਲੁ ਬੰਧਾਨਿ ਬਰਾ ॥੭॥: Let your meditation beads be the subjugation of the ten senses. Let good conduct and self-restraint (from Bikaar) be your circumcision. ||7|| (sggs 1084).
There is no counting or calculations for the one who has become the Gurmukh; because he knows he is not separate from the Divine. He thus relieves himself of all egoistic or mental calculations through the constant abidance in his Jot Saroop.
- ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸਗਲੀ ਗਣਤ ਮਿਟਾਵੈ ॥: The Gurmukh erases all calculations (sggs 942).
The Gurbani indicates crowds are attracted to the path of Pakhandvaad (ਪਖੰਡਵਾਦ) in the world. Therefore, the Gurbani urges us to become the Gurmukh and stop Pakhand or Parpanch (hypocrisy, deception, worldly entanglements, etc.).
According to the Sidhaant of the SGGS, it’s the consciousness (Surat-ਸੁਰਤ) or the mind (Soch-ਸੋਚ) that needs to become a Sikh (ਸਿਖਿਆਰਥੀ, or a learner, or a student) of the Giaan or Wisdom of the Shabad-Guroo. Hence, common sense suggests it’s the Surat (not the body) that needs to count beads (ਮਾਲਾ ਫੇਰਨੀ), NOT the physiological hands or fingers.
- ਸਬਦੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਧੁਨਿ ਚੇਲਾ ॥: The Shabad (i.e. Giaan or Wisdom is my) Guroo. (Not the body, but) abidance of the Consciousness (i.e., my mind or Soch-ਸੋਚ) is the disciple (of this Shabad-Guroo). (sggs 943).
Therefore, instead of nonsense rituals like counting beads, Baabaa Nanak placed tremendous emphasis on virtuous conduct, behavior and Soch (thinking or thoughts) of individuals. After all, human actions are the louder expressions of his thoughts (Soch). According to the Baabaa Nanak, truth or truthfulness is the foundation of all Virtues of humanity.
Of all the human faculties, the most important is the mind we humans have to work with in our daily life. Hence, the Gurmat tells us:
- ਹਿਰਦੈ ਸਚੁ ਏਹ ਕਰਣੀ ਸਾਰੁ ॥ ਹੋਰੁ ਸਭੁ ਪਾਖੰਡੁ ਪੂਜ ਖੁਆਰੁ ॥੬॥: Enshrine Truth (Naam, Shabad, Divine Knowledge, Gurmat…) in your Heart; this is the most excellent action. All other hypocritical actions and worship bring only ruin. ||6|| (sggs 1343).
Hence, those who (1) count beads, (2) preach others to count beads and (3) describe the Gurus and Bhagat as counting beads (ਮਾਲਾ ਫੇਰਦੇ) or (4) portray them wearing rosary (Maalaa) are either anti-Gurmat, or totally clueless about the Gurmat or both.