Reading and Memorizing Gurbani is of no Avail Unless…

The words of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) are meant not only to be mechanically or robotically read and memorized, but their true meanings understood, and their instructions then applied to one’s day-to-day living.

However a mind impacted with the negativity of the false ego-sense (Haumai) may not agree with the Gurbani’s declaration that ritualistic reading and memorizing the Gurbani (or any religious text for that matter) without gaining Understanding (ਆਤਮਕ ਸੂਝ-ਬੂਝ) is of no avail (Spiritual Gain, ਆਤਮਕ ਲਾਭ, ਲਾਹਾ…):

  • ਪਢੇ ਗੁਨੇ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਛੁ ਬਉਰੇ ਜਉ ਦਿਲ ਮਹਿ ਖਬਰਿ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥੨॥: O crazy man! (You) gain nothing by reading and studying if you do not gain the Understanding (ਆਤਮਕ ਸੂਝ-ਬੂਝ) in the Heart. ||2|| (sggs 483).
  • ਬੇਦ ਪੜਹਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਨ ਬੂਝਹਿ ॥ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਲੂਝਹਿ ॥ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਮੈਲੁ ਅਗਿਆਨੀ ਅੰਧਾ ਕਿਉ ਕਰਿ ਦੁਤਰੁ ਤਰੀਜੈ ਹੇ ॥੧੪॥ : Pujaaree people (Priests) read a lot of religious books, but do not understand the Way of the Divine Life. They read for the sake of amassing Maya. They will fight if not paid dearly. These Pujaaree are filled with the filth of Maya. They are mentally blind because of ignorance. How can they swim across the world ocean (Bhav Saagar)? ||14|| (sggs 1050).

Accordingly, the Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS time and again reminds us even if we were to read loads of books (Granths, etc.), it would be a ‘useless’ exercise!

  • ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਗਡੀ ਲਦੀਅਹਿ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਭਰੀਅਹਿ ਸਾਥ ॥ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਬੇੜੀ ਪਾਈਐ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਗਡੀਅਹਿ ਖਾਤ ॥ ਪੜੀਅਹਿ ਜੇਤੇ ਬਰਸ ਬਰਸ ਪੜੀਅਹਿ ਜੇਤੇ ਮਾਸ ॥ ਪੜੀਐ ਜੇਤੀ ਆਰਜਾ ਪੜੀਅਹਿ ਜੇਤੇ ਸਾਸ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਲੇਖੈ ਇਕ ਗਲ ਹੋਰੁ ਹਉਮੈ ਝਖਣਾ ਝਾਖ ॥੧॥: (One may) read cart-loads of books, (one may) read heaps and heaps of them. (One may) read boat-loads of books, (one may) read and fill pits with them. (One may) read year after year, (one may) read all the months, that there are. (One may) continue to read entire life, (one may) read with all breaths. O Nanak! Only one thing is of any account (understanding, ਸੂਝ-ਬੂਝ…), all else is but useless and idle talk in ego ||1|| (sggs 467).

We often go through the Gurbani, but our false ego-sense (Haumai, Mayaic mind…) does not let the Gurbani go through us! Why?

It is because most often our reading of the Gurbani is undertaken without hand-in-hand intense subjective discipline. To put it in other way, instead of reflecting and contemplating (Shabad-Vichaar…) on the Divine Essence (Aatam Giaan) and becoming one with it, our material consciousness enjoys worshiping the physical ‘I’; for our ego-mind likes the crooked ways (Mayaic efforts)!

  • ਅਖਰ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਭੁਲੀਐ ਭੇਖੀ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਅਭਿਮਾਨੁ ॥: (In spite of) Reading books over and over again, people make mistakes (due the pride of this reading); wearing of religious robes also gives rise to much pride (in the mind). (sggs 61).
  • ਪਾਠੁ ਪੜਿਓ ਅਰੁ ਬੇਦੁ ਬੀਚਾਰਿਓ ਨਿਵਲਿ ਭੁਅੰਗਮ ਸਾਧੇ ॥ ਪੰਚ ਜਨਾ ਸਿਉ ਸੰਗੁ ਨ ਛੁਟਕਿਓ ਅਧਿਕ ਅਹੰਬੁਧਿ ਬਾਧੇ ॥੧॥ ਪਿਆਰੇ ਇਨ ਬਿਧਿ ਮਿਲਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ਮੈ ਕੀਏ ਕਰਮ ਅਨੇਕਾ ॥ ਹਾਰਿ ਪਰਿਓ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਕੈ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਦੀਜੈ ਬੁਧਿ ਬਿਬੇਕਾ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: (Some) read holy texts (Paath — ਪਾਠ ਕਰਨਾ), and contemplate the Veda. (Some) practice the inner cleansing techniques of Yoga, and control of the breath. (But, with these practices, one) cannot escape from the five (i.e., lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride…), and is all the more tied to ego-intellect. ||1|| My dear! I have performed many such rituals, but the Divine (Wisdom, Virtues…) is not realized by these methods (ਤਰੀਕੇ). (Forsaking the ritualistic practices or methods) I have dropped down weary at the Divine-door (Giaan-Guru, True Wisdom) and pray for the grant of Bibek-Budhi (discerning intellect…). ||Pause|| (sggs 641).

In spite of the repeated cautions in the Gurbani, today, for example, in the Gurdwaras the continual page to page reading of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib called Akhand-Paath is sold to the devotees in a businesslike manner. This is the way of the Manmukh-Saakat-Mayadhaaree (mammon worshipers). The Gurbani warns people that even the so called Brahma and his sons ended up wasting their lives by such unavailing reading Vedas without understanding!

  • ਚਿਤੁ ਜਿਨ ਕਾ ਹਿਰਿ ਲਇਆ ਮਾਇਆ ਬੋਲਨਿ ਪਏ ਰਵਾਣੀ ॥: Those whose consciousness has been lured by Maya, keep reciting mechanically (ਫਰ ਫਰ, ਉਪਰੋਂ ਉਪਰੋਂ, ਤੇਜੀ ਨਾਲ…). (sggs 920).
  • ਸਨਕ ਸਨੰਦ ਅੰਤੁ ਨਹੀ ਪਾਇਆ ॥ ਬੇਦ ਪੜੇ ਪੜਿ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੇ ਜਨਮੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥੧॥: By reading and reading (i.e., reading the Vedas over and over again), Sanak and Sanand (the so called sons of Brahma) wasted their lives away (but could not find Rabb…). Brahma too wasted his life away reading the Vedas. ||1|| ||1|| (sggs 478).

Now, in nutshell, what’s the purpose of reading (Paath — ਪਾਠ ਕਰਨਾ)?

According to the Gurbani — not according to the illiterate and corrupt Pujaajee — the ONLY purpose of reading the Gurbani (Paath — ਪਾਠ ਕਰਨਾ) is to Awaken Bibebk Budhi within (discerning intellect, logic, commonsense, Wisdom-ਸਚਾ ਗਿਆਨ, Virtues-ਗੁਣ, etc.). Such Bibek-Budhi bestows upon us Joy, Peace, Bliss (Anand), Mool-abidance, thinking free of Bikaar, (i.e., lust, anger, greed, etc.), and so on.

  • ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਬਿਲੋਵਨਾ ਬਿਲੋਵਹੁ ਮੇਰੇ ਭਾਈ ॥ ਸਹਜਿ ਬਿਲੋਵਹੁ ਜੈਸੇ ਤਤੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਤਨੁ ਕਰਿ ਮਟੁਕੀ ਮਨ ਮਾਹਿ ਬਿਲੋਈ ॥ ਇਸੁ ਮਟੁਕੀ ਮਹਿ ਸਬਦੁ ਸੰਜੋਈ ॥੨॥ ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਬਿਲੋਵਨਾ ਮਨ ਕਾ ਬੀਚਾਰਾ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ਪਾਵੈ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਧਾਰਾ ॥੩॥: O Brother! Churn the churn of the Hari (Shabad-Vichaar…). Churn it steadily (i.e., in Sahaj Avasthaa – Natural State of Being, transcending Maya…), so that the Essence (ਤੱਤ – ਗਿਆਨ) may not be lost. ||1||Pause|| Make body the churning jar (ਚਾਟੀ), and churn therein with the (stick – ਮਧਾਣੀ – of the) mind. In this (body-) jar, gather (the milk of) the Shabad. ||2|| The churning of the Hari is to Reflect (Shabad-Vichaar) within the mind. (One who does this churning) by the Gur-Prasaadi (Grace of the Gur-Giaan, he), obtains the stream of Amrit (within). ||3|| (sggs 478).
  • ਮਾਧਾਣਾ ਪਰਬਤੁ ਕਰਿ ਨੇਤ੍ਰਿ ਬਾਸਕੁ ਸਬਦਿ ਰਿੜਕਿਓਨੁ ॥: Making the mountain (of Higher Consciousness, Shabad-Surti, ਉੱਚੀ ਸੁਰਤ…) churning stick; and making (the mind) the churning string, (he) churned the Shabad. (sggs 967).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੋਲੈ ਤਤੁ ਬਿਰੋਲੈ ਚੀਨੈ ਅਲਖ ਅਪਾਰੋ ॥ ਤ੍ਰੈ ਗੁਣ ਮੇਟੈ ਸਬਦੁ ਵਸਾਏ ਤਾ ਮਨਿ ਚੂਕੈ ਅਹੰਕਾਰੋ ॥: The Essence (Message) of the spirituality of the Shabad is attaining Realization of Unfathomable Creator. Realization of the Shabad eliminates false ego sense and other pathways (i.e. duality, Maya etc.). (sggs 944).
  • ਮੇਰੇ ਰਾਮ ਐਸਾ ਖੀਰੁ ਬਿਲੋਈਐ ॥ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਮਨੂਆ ਅਸਥਿਰੁ ਰਾਖਹੁ ਇਨ ਬਿਧਿ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਪੀਓਈਐ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ O my Raam! (Remaining pure in the midst of impurity) in this way the cream is churned (Shabad-Vichaar). Through the Gurmat, hold your steadfast, and in this way, drink the Amrit (Giaan-Wisdom). ||1||Pause|| (sggs 332).

The Gurbani’s emphasis, thus, is on obtaining the true Understanding of the Gurbani. Because the content of the Gurbani is Divine Knowledge (Aatam Giaan, Spiritual Wisdom) recorded for the purpose of reflection (Shabad-Vichaar); which must be followed by living it in daily life. This is the key. As the Gurbani puts it, without the intuitive Understanding we simply live like beasts…!

  • ਬਿਨੁ ਬੂਝੇ ਪਸੂ ਭਏ ਬੇਤਾਲੇ ॥੬॥: Without understanding, people become beast (-nature) and demon ||6|| (sggs 224).
  • ਬਾਣੀ ਬਿਰਲਉ ਬੀਚਾਰਸੀ ਜੇ ਕੋ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਇਹ ਬਾਣੀ ਮਹਾ ਪੁਰਖ ਕੀ ਨਿਜ ਘਰਿ ਵਾਸਾ ਹੋਇ ॥੪੦॥ : Only a RARE Gurmukh (Enlighted State of the Mind) Reflects on Gurbani. This Bani is of the Satguru and through it, one abides in his own True Self within. ||40|| (sggs 935).

Therefore, the Gurbani Instructs us:

  • 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).
  • ਪੜਿਐ ਨਾਹੀ ਭੇਦੁ ਬੁਝਿਐ ਪਾਵਣਾ ॥ ਖਟੁ ਦਰਸਨ ਕੈ ਭੇਖਿ ਕਿਸੈ ਸਚਿ ਸਮਾਵਣਾ ॥ ਸਚਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਅਲਖੁ ਸਬਦਿ ਸੁਹਾਵਣਾ ॥ : Not by just reading (scriptures), but it is through spiritual Wisdom one Understands this fact (that God is infinite). No one can merge in the eternal God by merely adopting the garbs mentioned in the six Shastras (the Hindu holy books). The eternal God is unfathomable, but revealed through the Guru’s Shabad, He (i.e. Creation, Hukam) looks beautiful. (sggs 148).
  • ਹਰਿ ਜਪਿ ਪੜੀਐ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੁ ਵੀਚਾਰਿ ॥: By Reflecting on the Gur-Shabad (i.e., Shabad-Vichaar), study and understand ‘Hari’ (Naam). (sggs 424).


  1. There is a difference between read and study. No teacher would ask a student “first you read – reread a book and then you begin the stage of understanding and learning”. Teachers always say “study and try to understand it thoroughly.”

    If we want to learn, then we should study SGGS, not just read it.

    One thing we need to keep in mind that in Punjabi both Study and Reading are called “Padaai”, so we should not get confused which one is applied here.

  2. on the contrary – i beleive this is not per Gurbani – Gurbani is to be read over and over – “barang bar bar prabh japyaa”. I belive T singh jee you’ve got confused here – those rituals are of the brahmins what they were doing – not of Sikhs – and Guru Granth Sahib. Of course we must do vichaar also of Gurbani – is of extreme importance. When you strart calling reading Gurbani as ritualistic you will put people off not to read it. Think how you started – first you read – reread – then you begin the stage of understanding and learning , vichaar. Repitition is a must – as it’s a mother of all skill at the start.

  3. Thank you Veer Jiou for sharing Shabad-Vichaar.
    • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਹਉ ਬੁਧਿ ਹੈ ਸਚਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਮਲੁ ਖੋਹੁ ॥ (sggs 441).
    • ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਅੰਧੇਰੁ ਮਹਾ ਪੰਥੁ ਬਿਖੜਾ ਅਹੰਕਾਰਿ ਭਾਰਿ ਲਦਿ ਲੀਜੈ ॥੭॥ (sggs 1326).

  4. Nothing could be truer ….

    “We often go through the Gurbani, but our false ego-sense (Haumai, Mayaic mind…) does not let the Gurbani go through us!”

    Sometimes it’s also the ignorance (of the very reason for reciting or reading Gurbani) that impedes Gurbani to ‘go through us’. I know quite a few who would do the enitre Nitnem (both morning and evening), and other Baanis like Sukhmani Sahib, Dukhbanjani Sahib, Raam Kali ki vaar, Aasaa Ki Vaar and much more … all on a daily basis in a manner much like ‘finishing the task at hand’ and at the lightening speed. But I don’t see any signs of abidance of Gurbani in them. The reason is perhaps not even ego there … just the ignorance of a need to comprehend what they are reading … and obviously because they don’t comprehend … they don’t implement. If they did try to comprehend they would have realized that ritually reading is of no essence untill there is a will to understand and apply.

    Deep Regards

  5. Yes yes yes….I believe as we are GHAR GHRISTY KALYUG JEEV we need to thank Guru Ji morning and night as a minimum for everything we have, and remember during the day whenever possible…..the shabad SOOL and SOOLI comes to mind here….a man was infact due to he hung via SOOLI, however due to him doing his paath the SOOLI became a SOOL and this entered his foot, and was susequently removed and he still lived, when infact he should have been facing the SOOLI…Veer Ji, would it be possible you could locate the shabad and do vichar on it please?

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