Length of Life is One Breath!

As long as we live, we will have questions, and to some of these questions we may discover answers.

The Gurmat (Wisdom, Upadesh, or Way of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, SGGS) encourages questioning, and guides the questioner to Awaken so as to find his or her own answers.

Although some questions seems to be vey simple, but much is implied in the questions. For example, what’s the LENGTH OF HUMAN LIFE?

Answering this query in depth, Baabaa Nanak succinctly describes ‘We are human beings of ONE BREATH‘. In other words, the length (‘ਮੁਹਲਤਿ’, ਮਿਆਦ…) of a person’s life can best be measured by the BREATH!

  • ਹਮ ਆਦਮੀ ਹਾਂ ਇਕ ਦਮੀ ਮੁਹਲਤਿ ਮੁਹਤੁ ਨ ਜਾਣਾ ॥: Ham Aadamee Haan Ik Damee…: We humans exist for ONE BREATH at a time, not knowing (allotted time of) the life span or even what will happen next. (sggs 660).

Aptly, we are repeatedly reminded by the Gurbani (SGGS) that:

  • Who knows if this breath we inhale could be our last?
  • When death comes, then all relationships and possessions will mean nothing.
  • So Realize the Creator / Hukam WITHIN, Here and Now.

As explained in the Gurbani, the body can be divided into two parts: (1) the outer, gross or the physical body (‘Bidaehee-ਬਿਦੇਹੀ’, ਭੌਤਕ ਸਰੀਰ) and (2) the Inner Kaaiaa or the subtle body (‘Daehee-ਦੇਹੀ’, ਸੂਖਮ ਸਰੀਰ). The physical body is the outer shell of the subtle body (i.e., soul or mind, Praan-ਪ੍ਰਾਣ, Jot…).

  • ਦੇਹੀ ਗੁਪਤ ਬਿਦੇਹੀ ਦੀਸੈ ॥: ‘Dehee‘ (ਦੇਹੀ – subtle body within) is hidden; ‘Bidehee‘ (ਬਿਦੇਹੀ – gross, external body) is seen (sggs 900).

While alive, the body may go through different phases such as childhood, youth, adulthood, old age – the body is born, it may remain for a while (may survive for several years), and ultimately it dies. In other words it has beginning, middle and end. Anything or any entity that has a beginning, middle and end cannot be beyond the influence of time (i.e., it cannot be changeless or timeless). Hence, when the length of a body is measured by time (days, months, years etc.) it means it is measured by that which is in flux, momentary, changing, fleeting, fluctuating, vanishing etc.

That being said, to think life is just that which consists of time indicates a limited understanding.

Life penetrates time. Because, one day it disappears from time!!

  • ਫਰੀਦਾ ਜਾਂ ਤਉ ਖਟਣ ਵੇਲ ਤਾਂ ਤੂ ਰਤਾ ਦੁਨੀ ਸਿਉ ॥ ਮਰਗ ਸਵਾਈ ਨੀਹਿ ਜਾਂ ਭਰਿਆ ਤਾਂ ਲਦਿਆ ॥੮॥: O Farid! When it was time for you to earn (real Laahaa), then you are obsessed with the world (Maya, Bhav Saagar, pursuit of material gains and pleasures etc.). (Thus) the foundation of death is laid and increasingly gets filled (i.e. the time of death draws near), when it is fully filled or loaded, then you leave. ||8|| (sggs 1378).

When the SGGS says ‘We are human beings of ONE BREATH‘, it indicates something beyond time, beyond the flux, beyond the changefulness, beyond the relativity, beyond the fleeting physical phenomena, beyond the principle of plurality etc.

ONE‘ is non-dual. It represents Unity, Eternal or Immortal aspect. This vital force is One. It is Universal. It equally pervades all beings. It is infinite and homogenous thread which runs in and through all beings like pearls strung on a thread.

  • ਇਕਸ ਕਾ ਮਨਿ ਆਸਰਾ ਇਕੋ ਪ੍ਰਾਣ ਅਧਾਰੁ ॥: The ‘One’ (Universal Energy…) is the support of the mind; the ‘One’ is the mainstay of ‘Praan’. (sggs 45).

More than ONE indicates duality, the principle of plurality, outer, unreal, illusion, etc. In other words, the life is inside or within. Thereby it’s ageless, and timeless. Although life is in the inner, but it expresses in the outside through the body-mind-intellect personality, which gives rise to the perceiver of objects, the feeler of emotions and the thinker of thoughts.

The English translation of the inner aspect of saying ‘We are human beings of ONE BREATH‘ is not as meaningful as it does reading the original ‘Ham Aadamee Haan Ik Damee‘. The word ‘ਦਮੀ’ (Damee) comes from (Dama), which is Farsi/Arabic in origin. Its nearest counterpart in Indian languages is the word ‘Pran‘ (pronounced as Praan). The Gurbani has frequently used this word Praan (ਪ੍ਰਾਨ or ਪਰਾਣ), which is much more significant and meaningful than the word breath. Other closest equivalents in English for this Sanskrit word Praan is spirit, etc.

Praan‘ links the outer frame (gross body) and the inner Kaaiaa (subtle body).

  • ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਹਰਿ ਪਿਆਰੈ ਜੀਉ ਗੁਫਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਰਖਿ ਕੈ ਵਾਜਾ ਪਵਣੁ ਵਜਾਇਆ ॥੩੮॥: Nanak says that the Beloved Hari placed the (life-force) in the body-cave and also gave the Jeev (being) the power to speak. ||38|| (sggs 922).

So long this link between the matter (Jarr-ਜੜ) and spirit (Praan or Chetan-ਚੇਤਨ) remains unbroken, we are alive and called human (or Aadamee). But when this link between the form and formless is broken (i.e., one stops breathing or no more Dama), one is declared physically dead – with the breaking or snapping of the link of Praan between the world and the no-world, the mortal body becomes dust.

The word Praan is not really just breath. It is the spirit, summation of all energy, all force in its countless manifestations. Hence, if seen through the unfragmented and unconditioned wisdom of the Gurbani, it is surely the radiance of one’s Mool or Jot Saroop.

  • ਏਕੋ ਪਵਣੁ ਮਾਟੀ ਸਭ ਏਕਾ ਸਭ ਏਕਾ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਬਾਈਆ ॥: (In all bodies) there is only one air (life breath, vital force or energy…), the earthen element is also the same of all the bodies and there is only one divine light in all the bodies. (sggs 96).

Physics (physical science) has proven that all matter (atoms with their orbiting electrons and protons) is in vibration. All things are made up of atoms. It is the movement, or vibration of those atoms, that make all things.

When the smallest subdivision of matter is reached, Praan or pure energy remains. In a nutshell, Praan is the sum total of energy, because, in a sense, the whole material universe is manifested from it. This is why the inner aspect of saying – ‘We are human beings of one breath’ – in English translation is not as expressive, significant, revealing or considerable as it does reading  ‘Ham Aadamee Haan Ik Damee‘.

Interestingly, when we are born, the first thing we do is breathe, and the last thing we will do is stop breathing when we die!

Due to ‘Praan‘, the human is called ‘Praanee‘. Thus, it’s the Praan that joins the body and the mins (or soul). Praan is the energy of the body that makes the physical body functional. Without this vital energy or Praan the body has no value. In other words, the cessation of Praan in the body is the cessation of the world-appearance. The energy which thus vibrates in the Heart-lotus is known as Praan. All limbs of the body drive their energy from it.

  • ਮਾਣਸ ਕਾ ਫਲੁ ਘਟ ਮਹਿ ਸਾਸੁ ॥ ਸਾਸਿ ਗਇਐ ਕਾਇਆ ਢਲਿ ਪਾਇ ॥: Human is useful as long as this body is breathing. When the breath is gone, the body becomes dust. (sggs 1256).

When we go WITHIN (or look inside), there is no time! For example when sitting silently within, there is no time. Time is only when our mind looks or wanders outside. In fact as far as the inner world is concerned, nothing ever changes. It remains the same. It does not age (State Of Bind: Gurmukh-Hood)!

  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੁਢੇ ਕਦੇ ਨਾਹੀ ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥ ਸਦਾ ਸਦਾ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਣ ਰਵਹਿ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸਹਜ ਧਿਆਨੁ ॥ ਓਇ ਸਦਾ ਅਨੰਦਿ ਬਿਬੇਕ ਰਹਹਿ ਦੁਖਿ ਸੁਖਿ ਏਕ ਸਮਾਨਿ ॥ ਤਿਨਾ ਨਦਰੀ ਇਕੋ ਆਇਆ ਸਭੁ ਆਤਮ ਰਾਮੁ ਪਛਾਨੁ ॥੪੪॥ : The Gurumukh (Enlightened ones who have Internalized the spiritual Message of the Shabad) never age for their Consciousness is ever immersed in divine Giyan-Wisdom. They forever live life of divine Virtues, focusing only on that alone. They always remain in the Bliss and Bibek (discriminating intellect) and they are always steadfast in sorrow and happiness. They see only ONE Omnipresent everywhere (Universal Energy). ||44|| (sggs 1418).

Thus life is in the inner world. It expresses itself in the outside. Time is irrelevant in the inner world.

In plain English, the Gurmukh-Hood is in Timelessness. That’s why the Gurbani says a Gurmukh AGES NOT — upon Enlightened and understanding the Hukam (System-Rule-Law of Nature), one does not get entangled in the whirlpool of unnecessary rituals (Karamkaand).

In other words, upon realizing Prabh (Mool, True Nature or Jot Saroop), man does not fall into the ritualistic trap of the Pujaaree system’s corruption. This what essentially the Gurbani indicates saying ‘ਪ੍ਰਭ ਭਾਵੈ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਾਸ ਤੇ ਰਾਖੈ ॥’ (‘prabh bhaavai binu sass tae raakhai‘. Giaan or Wisdom never dies!

  • ਨਾਮੁ ਰਹਿਓ ਸਾਧੂ ਰਹਿਓ ਰਹਿਓ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੋਬਿੰਦੁ ॥: (Even in the end time) Naam (Giaan or Wisdom) remains, (also) remains the ‘Guru’ (Giaan or Wisdom) and ‘Gobind‘. (sggs 1429).

It is the psychological ego (Haumai) that makes the illusion real. Aptly, the Gurbani asks the negative impact of Haumai be shunned. In short, psychological ego is simply accepting the body-mind-intellect personality as one’s Timeless Jot Saroop. In other words, what we are is something far more profound, which cannot be confined within the limits of the time or finite experiences of the limited body-mind-intellect apparatus.

  • ਸੋ ਜਨੁ ਸਾਚਾ ਜਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰੈ ॥: That person is the true ‘Jan(u)’ (Gurmukh, Bhagat, Daas etc.) who kills his ego. (sggs 230).

The Gurbani time and again reminds all of us not to waste any breath. Once harnessed, turned inward and transmuted through the continuous practice with ‘each breath-Saas Saas‘ this life force (Praan) charges the aura, and drives the spiritual process forward to Realize our Mool within (Source, Origin, Jot Saroop...).

To be really focused on ‘each breath-Saas Saas‘ is to be fully in the present moment, or NOW, free from the past and future. It is not possible to ‘conquer‘ or ‘kill’ the the mind without the constant Shabad-Vichaar. Focus on ‘each breath-Saas Saas‘ is indicated to be the means to overcome the mind, which leads to bear the fruit of realization of one’s Mool.

  • ਸਾਸਿ ਸਾਸਿ ਸਿਮਰਹੁ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ॥ ਮਨ ਅੰਤਰ ਕੀ ਉਤਰੈ ਚਿੰਦ ॥: With each breath, remember ‘Gobind‘ (Mool…). (So that) worry within (your) mind be erased (sggs 295).
  • ਮਨੁ ਪਵਨੁ ਦੁਇ ਤੂੰਬਾ ਕਰੀ ਹੈ ਜੁਗ ਜੁਗ ਸਾਰਦ ਸਾਜੀ ॥: (This entire Shabad is uttered to Yogis and their practices. For example Yogis play kinguri — a stringed instrument with two hollow pumpkins connected by a hollow tube. But) I have made my mind and breath as the two pumpkins connected them with the tube of for ever remembering Rabb. (sggs 334).

Hence, to much extent, how we live depends on how we Breathe!

For example, watch the breathing pattern when in the sway of any of the numerous faults of Haumai or false ego-sense (lust, anger, greed etc.). If we watch ourselves carefully when in the vertex of such conditioned consciousness, we will notice that our breathing pattern will be very choppy, thumping, pulsating, wavering, fast, inharmonious, inconsistent, dissonant, unrhythmic, feverish, unnatural, chaotic, and so on. In this conditioned state, our senses becomes defiled and our aura shrinks, which repels.

  • ਬਿਰਥਾ ਨਾਮ ਬਿਨਾ ਤਨੁ ਅੰਧ ॥: Without Naam (Virtues, Wisdom…), the body of the (mentally) blind person is useless. (sggs 269).

To the contrary, however, when in meditation or inward, the pattern of our breathing is totally different – it’s very rhythmic, harmonious, silent, Sahaj or natural etc. We feel at Home. In this refined state, one has a big aura, which attracts. In fact, in deep Simran, the breathing becomes so silent that we can hardly notice it. Essentially this is the idea behind continually contemplating, observing, and witnessing each and every breath (‘Saas Saas‘).

  • ਪੂਜੈ ਪ੍ਰਾਣ ਹੋਵੈ ਥਿਰੁ ਕੰਧੁ ॥: When a human being remembers (Naam, Hukam…) with each breath, his body becomes steadfast from Bikaar (lust, anger, greed etc.). (sggs 1289).

Thus, the sincere and unbroken Simran or remembrance can help us breathe naturally. When breathing naturally, a profound serenity will arise within. By and by it can help realize that we are different than the outer body-frame. On the other hand, the faults of negative impact of Haumai (false ego-sense) make us breathe unnaturally like a river that is choppy, violent, aggressive and bumpy. To avoid wasting of vital breath like that, the Gurbani urges us to become the Gurmukh here and now.

  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹਰਿ ਜੀਉ ਸਦਾ ਧਿਆਵਹੁ ਜਬ ਲਗੁ ਜੀਅ ਪਰਾਨ ॥: Becoming a Gurmukh, meditate forever on Hari (Naam: Wisdom, Virtues, Mool…) so long the life lasts and the breaths are coming. (sggs 1334).
  • ਸੁਣਿ ਮਨ ਮਿਤ੍ਰ ਪਿਆਰਿਆ ਮਿਲੁ ਵੇਲਾ ਹੈ ਏਹ ॥ ਜਬ ਲਗੁ ਜੋਬਨਿ ਸਾਸੁ ਹੈ ਤਬ ਲਗੁ ਇਹੁ ਤਨੁ ਦੇਹ ॥ : O Beloved Mind! Listen! The time to Realize the Creator is HERE AND NOW. (Realize the Creator NOW) while there is life and breath in me. (sggs 20).


  1. Thank you Kirpal Singh ! There are many many more verses in this context, however we cannot quote all of them here from a space point of view.

  2. – ਮਰਣਿ ਨ ਮੂਰਤੁ ਪੁਛਿਆ ਪੁਛੀ ਥਿਤਿ ਨ ਵਾਰੁ ॥ (Raag Sarang M. 1, GGS. 1244-4).
    Maran N Moorath Pushhiaa Pushhee Thhith N Vaar ||
    Death does not ask the time; it does not ask the date or the day of the week.
    ਇਕਨ੍ਹ੍ਹੀ ਲਦਿਆ ਇਕਿ ਲਦਿ ਚਲੇ ਇਕਨ੍ਹ੍ਹੀ ਬਧੇ ਭਾਰ ॥
    Eikanhee Ladhiaa Eik Ladh Chalae Eikanhee Badhhae Bhaar ||
    Some have packed up, and some who have packed up have gone.

    – ਹੁਕਮੇ ਆਵੈ ਹੁਕਮੇ ਜਾਵੈ ਹੁਕਮੇ ਰਹੈ ਸਮਾਈ ॥ (Raag Raamkali Gosht, M. 1, GGS. 940-10).
    Hukamae Aavai Hukamae Jaavai Hukamae Rehai Samaaee ||
    By His Command we come, and by His Command we go; by His Command, we merge in absorption.

  3. Beauty itself is this post. Living as the life itself beyond the concept of living, in now but as now, in it as it, resting in this effortlessness, in this unitary consciousness, staying home , there is what just is ! Blessed are your hands for writing this beauty T Singh Ji 🙏 ਸਤਿ ਕਰਤਾਰ

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