Way of the Gurbani is the Way of Understanding

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) is NOT a subject ritual reading and memorizing, worshipping (as an idol-Poojaa), ritual listening, rituals or Karamkaand etc.

Instead, the Gurbani is the subject of Understanding (ਸਮਝ, ਸੂਝ), Internalizing, feeling by living in daily lifeBECOMING THE GURBANI.

There is a VAST DIFFERENCE between (1) Understanding and (2) literal meaning.

In seeking literal meaning we use the the mind, which is never satisfied. In fact its easily confused and often mislead. To seek meaning is to enter a confusing set of connecting passages or paths – a never ending maze – in which it is easy to get confused and lost. On the other hand, in seeking understanding is to realize, experience, internalize with all our senses and energies. This is more likely to bring ‘Anand‘ (bliss, peace etc.), for it brings harmony between ourselves and existence (Hukam).

However, unfortunately, the translations of the SGGS readily available and widely used are based on literal meanings!!

Become the Gurbani

  • ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਸਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਬਣੀਐ ॥: The Satgur’s Bani (the God-Connecting Shabad-Guru) is the embodiment of the Creator; (therefore) BECOME THE GURBANI (to Realize the Creator). (sggs 304).
  • ਗੁਰ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਭਿੰਨੀ ਦੇਹੁਰੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਬੁਰਕੇ ਰਾਮ ਰਾਜੇ ॥ ਜਿਨਾ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਮਨਿ ਭਾਈਆ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤਿ ਛਕਿ ਛਕੇ ॥: A Guru oriented person (ਗੁਰੂ ਵਾਲਾ) is drenched with Amrit (i.e. Naam, Wisdom, Virtues – he has Internalized the Message of the Shabad), which he imparts to others. Those human beings who find the Gurbani agreeable to their mind (i.e. Who have BECOME THE GURBANI and live accordingly), their minds continually drink this Amrit – they continually live daily life by Naam, Wisdom, Virtues. (sggs 449).

Hence, Baabaa Nanak asserts: We must UNDERSTAND it if we want to Realize the Truth or our mind’s Mool within. Without Understanding the Gurbani, nobody can apply its Wisdom in daily life!

  • ਬਾਣੀ ਬੂਝੈ ਸਚਿ ਸਮਾਵੈ ॥: (One who) understands the Bani, gets absorbed in the Truth (sggs 412).
  • ਸੇਵਾ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਨ ਜਾਣੀਆ ਨਾ ਜਾਪੈ ਆਰਾਧਿ ॥: My consciousness or mind has not understood ‘Sevaa’ (shabad Vichaar…), nor I have understood how to remember Naam. (sggs 218).

Baabaa Nanak further reminds us that without UNDERSTANDING, we become perplexed. A perplexed person cannot live a Divine Life – Enlightened or Gurmukh Mindset.

  • ਬਿਨੁ ਬੂਝੇ ਸਭ ਹੋਇ ਖੁਆਰ ॥: Without understanding, ALL are troubled (afflicted, distressed, perplexed…). (sggs 791).
  • ਬਿਨੁ ਬੂਝੇ ਕੋ ਥਾਇ ਨ ਪਾਈ ॥: Without understanding, (one) cannot obtained the Realm (of Truth). (sggs 412).

Hence, unequivocally, the Way of the Gurbani (or Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS) is the Way of UNDERSTANDING. The Gurbani further confirms it as follows:

  • ਬਿਨੁ ਬੂਝੇ ਪਸੂ ਭਏ ਬੇਤਾਲੇ ॥੬॥: Without understanding, people become beast (-nature) and demon ||6|| (sggs 224).
  • 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).

The purpose of listening and reading of the Gurbani (SGGS) is to BECOME the GURBANI. If that does not happen, then, the Gurbani thunders forth the following rebuke in a strongest terms:

  • ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਸੁਨਿ ਕਛੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਨ ਉਪਜਿਓ ਪਸੁ ਜਿਉ ਉਦਰੁ ਭਰਉ ॥: Listening to the Gurmat (Shabad-Giaan, Teaching of the Gurbani, etc.), (if) no Spiritual Wisdom (understanding of the Spiritual Life…) wells up within; (then it would be) like a beast (routinely) filling its belly (sggs 685).

Since the Gurbani is BRAHM VICHAAR, and the Way of the Gurbani is the Way of UNDERSTANDING (Soojh Boojh: ਸੂਝ ਬੂਝ), it has no room for pre-1469 concocted concepts, dogmas, Karamkaand (rituals), blind Pooja (ਪੂਜਾ), Pakhand, superficial religiosity, show off spirituality, trickery, counting beads (ਮਾਲਾ ਫੇਰਨੀ), PilgrimagesTeerath Yaatraa, religious robes (Bhekh-ਭੇਖ), religious paraphernalia) etc.

  • ਜਨ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਬੋਲੇ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥: Jan Nanak utters the Brahm Vichaar (Divine Wisdom…). (sggs 370).
  • ਗਿਆਨ ਹੀਣੰ ਅਗਿਆਨ ਪੂਜਾ ॥ ਅੰਧ ਵਰਤਾਵਾ ਭਾਉ ਦੂਜਾ ॥: Bereft of Spiritual Wisdom, (people) worship ignorance. In the love of duality (in love of Maya, their) conduct or behavior (keeps them mentally blind or ignorant of their spiritual life). (sggs 1412).

The Unique Way of the Gurbani is so practical, logical and universal that not only worldly desires (sense-gratification…) but even the desire or greed for liberation (Mukti) is shunned by its Sikhs (learners, seekers-ਸਿਖਿਆਰਥੀ)!

  • ਰਾਜੁ ਨ ਚਾਹਉ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ ਚਾਹਉ ਮਨਿ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਚਰਨ ਕਮਲਾਰੇ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਮਹੇਸ ਸਿਧ ਮੁਨਿ ਇੰਦ੍ਰਾ ਮੋਹਿ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਹੀ ਦਰਸਾਰੇ ॥੧॥ : (O God, I) neither desire for empire (Bhugati or materiality) nor liberation (Mukti); (my) mind longs for the love of your lotus feet (Virtues / Wisdom). Whereas others search for Brahma, Shiva, Sidhas, Munis and Indra, I yearn for the Blessed Vision of my God. (sggs 534).
  • ਮੁਕਤਿ ਬਪੁੜੀ ਭੀ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਤਿਆਗੇ ॥: A spiritually Wise forsakes even liberation (sggs 1078).

As we know it, Baabaa Nanak did not have any embodied being as his Guru.

Apparently, during his life he came across many self-appointed teachers, Yogi, ascetics, scholars, clergymen (Pujaaree) of various organized religions etc.

But Baabaa Nanak found them to be fraud, greedy, self-serving or simply ignorant. Although on the outside they did not look as such!

However, when Baabaa Nanak poked into their minds he found them to be more worldly than the so-called worldly people. He found them to be more materialistic (Manmukh-Saakat-Mayadhaaree) than the so-called materialists. He could not see Dharma blossoming out of them. Instead, he found them full of vices or Bikaar (i.e. lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride etc.), and desirous of sense gratification here and in heaven afterlife etc.

In other words, Baabaa Nanak found their perplexed lifestyle perfumed with the flavor of spiritualism. Thus, he found their outer religious paraphernalis and spiritualism to be a deception and fraud.

It is as if one has anointed a dog with sandalwood! The dog remains a dog; fragrance of sandalwood can only deceive fools!

  • ਕੁਤੇ ਚੰਦਨੁ ਲਾਈਐ ਭੀ ਸੋ ਕੁਤੀ ਧਾਤੁ ॥: (You) may apply sandalwood to a dog, but its real nature will still be of a dog! (sggs 143).

Or, it is as if one has anointed a donkey with sandalwood. The donkey remains a donkey; fragrance of sandalwood can only deceive fools!

  • ਚੰਦਨ ਲੇਪ ਹੋਤ ਦੇਹ ਕਉ ਸੁਖੁ ਗਰਧਭ ਭਸਮ ਸੰਗੀਤਿ ॥: (A donkey’s) body may be anointed with sandalwood, but the donkey still loves to roll in the ash (sggs 673).

Or, it is as if on a cow dung heap one has sprayed some perfume. The cow dung (‘ਗੋਬਰੁ’) remains cow dung; perfume can only deceive fools!

  • ਗੋਬਰੁ ਜੂਠਾ ਚਉਕਾ ਜੂਠਾ ਜੂਠੀ ਦੀਨੀ ਕਾਰਾ ॥: Impure is the cow dung, impure is the kitchen and impure are the lines that mark it off. (sggs 1195).

Baabaa Nanak was not fooled by any of these ‘Thugs of Baanaaras‘ (‘ਬਾਨਾਰਸਿ ਕੇ ਠਗ’). He could see through and through. He boldly told them if vices or Bikaar is there than you cannot be a spiritual person but a Manmukh, Saakat, Mayadhaaree!

  • ਫਾਹੀ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਮਲੂਕੀ ਵੇਸੁ ॥ ਹਉ ਠਗਵਾੜਾ ਠਗੀ ਦੇਸੁ ॥ ਖਰਾ ਸਿਆਣਾ ਬਹੁਤਾ ਭਾਰੁ ॥ ਧਾਣਕ ਰੂਪਿ ਰਹਾ ਕਰਤਾਰ ॥੩॥ : The people sitting in the shrines are dressed as angles/ascetics (i.e. dressed in religious robes, symbols etc.). But their deceitful mind’s focus is on defrauding or trapping people. These big thugs are looting the people. They pretend to be wise. But they carry too much load of sins on their heads. Such righteous looking people are very cruel. ||3|| (sggs 24).

When Baabaa Nanak said that these so-called religious people are all worldly (Mayaic), materialists, Bikaaree or Manmukh, Saakat, Mayadhaaree, of course the self-serving Pujaaree groups (Pandits, Brahmans, Yogis, Qazis, Mullahs etc.) were angry. So angry that they turned against him (including his own sons!).

  • ਬਾਹਰਹੁ ਪੰਡਿਤ ਸਦਾਇਦੇ ਮਨਹੁ ਮੂਰਖ ਗਾਵਾਰ ॥: (The Manmukhs) Outwardly call themselves scholars (ਵਿਦਵਾਨ), but in fact they are fools and idiots. (sggs 1091).
  • ਨਾ ਓਇ ਜੋਗੀ ਨਾ ਓਇ ਜੰਗਮ ਨਾ ਓਇ ਕਾਜੀ ਮੁੰਲਾ ॥ ਦਯਿ ਵਿਗੋਏ ਫਿਰਹਿ ਵਿਗੁਤੇ ਫਿਟਾ ਵਤੈ ਗਲਾ ॥: They are not Yogis, and they are not Jangams, and they are not Qazis or Mullahs. Lost (separated…) from the Merciful (Lord), they wander around in sad plight, and their entire band is disdainful (sggs 149-150).

As dog is dog even if pasted with sandalwood and a donkey is just a donkey whether loaded with gold or anointed with sandalwood or loaded with Granths (religious texts), similarly for a Sikh without understanding the Way of the SGGS everything else is useless. This is the Gurbani’s edict (ਫੈਸਲਾ).

  • ਮਾਨੁਖੁ ਬਿਨੁ ਬੂਝੇ ਬਿਰਥਾ ਆਇਆ ॥: Without understanding, man’s coming (into the world) is useless (sggs 712).
  • ਬੇਦ ਪੁਰਾਨ ਪੜੇ ਕਾ ਕਿਆ ਗੁਨੁ ਖਰ ਚੰਦਨ ਜਸ ਭਾਰਾ ॥: (O pandit!) What is the use of reading the Vedas and the Puraanas? It is like loading a donkey with sandalwood (If Mool is not understood…). (sggs 1102).

‘Gurbani is understood from the Gurbani’

Currently available Teekaas of the SGGS on the Internet are primarily based on (1) literal translation, (2) incident (time, location, person etc.) based interpretations, (3) framework of Shastras, Vedas, Purans, other Hindu texts, Yogic system etc.

As a result, these distorted interpretations are becoming the sources of our confusion and misunderstanding of the Gurbani (SGGS). The outcome is that the Sikhi of Baabaa Nanak has been taken back to the concocted pre-1469 concepts which have been critiqued and debunked by Baabaa Nanak.

The Gurmat Wisdom of the SGGS asserts that the Gurbani can ONLY be understood FROM the Gurbani itself!

  • ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਗੁਰ ਤੇ ਜਾਤੀ ਜਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਰਤੇ ਰੰਗੁ ਲਾਇ ॥ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਪਾਵਨ ਸੇ ਜਨ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਹਰਿ ਕੈ ਨਾਮਿ ਸਮਾਇ ॥੮॥: The Gurbani is understood from the Gurbani itself by those who with love remain imbued with the Gur-Shabad (Vichaar, Upadesh, Naam, Giaan or Wisdom…). Such people are of clean conduct and pure consciousness for they live by Naam (Wisdom, Virtues, Hukam...). ||8|| (sggs 1346).
  • ਮੈ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਸੇਤੀ ਪਿਰਹੜੀ ਕਿਉ ਗੁਰ ਬਿਨੁ ਜੀਵਾ ਮਾਉ ॥ ਮੈ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਆਧਾਰੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਲਾਗਿ ਰਹਾਉ ॥੮॥: I have deep love for the ‘Satigur‘ (True Wisdom-ਸੱਚਾ ਗਿਆਨ), O my mother how can I live without Gur (Giaan-Wisdom). The Gurbani (i.e. the Gurbani’s Wisdom) is my life-support. I can live only by joining in the Gurbani (i.e. to live with the Gur-Wisdom as a life-support is to live in Association with the One Rabb, Hukam, god, Universal Energy…). ||8|| (sggs 759).
  • ਬਾਣੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੂ ਹੈ ਬਾਣੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਬਾਣੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਸਾਰੇ ॥: (Guru’s) Bani is the Guru (of Sikhs i.e. Shabad-Guru or Wisdom or Giaan-Guru) and the Guru is present (as Giaan or Wisdom) in the Bani. The Amrit (of the Guru’s Giaan or Wisdom…) is contained in the whole of Bani. (sggs 982).

Therefore, while Interpreting the Gurbani (SGGS), it will be useful to keep in mind:

  • Use the Gurbani as PRIMARY SOURCE (NOT secondary source) to understand the Gurbani (i.e. 1430 pages of the SGGS).
  • Use the Gurbani to explain the Gurbani.
  • Interpretation should have internal validity and reliability.
  • Gurbani grammar is useful for coherent interpretation.
  • The Gurbani is the sole indicator of original intent of the Gurus.
  • The Guru’s intent lies in the Gurbani.
  • Answers lie within the Gurbani.
  • The Message of the Gurbani (SGGS) is Universal, Unique, Revolutionary, timeless, wholesome etc. What it means is that the Gurbani is never specific to location, occasion, person, incident etc.
  • The obsessions with the nonsense such as AFTERLIFE, rituals or Karamkaand etc. in pre-1469 belief systems are removed from Gurbani (SGGS).

It should be noted that understanding the Way of the SGGS is inclusive of living it in daily life (implementation, practice, application, Gurmukh Lifestyle, ਅਮਲ). Because, the Gurbani tells us that without living it in daily life, understanding remains deficient.

  • ਜਹ ਕਰਣੀ ਤਹ ਪੂਰੀ ਮਤਿ ॥ ਕਰਣੀ ਬਾਝਹੁ ਘਟੇ ਘਟਿ ॥੩॥: When one’s ‘Karanee’ (doing, performance, practice…) is right (according to the Gur-Giaan or Wisdom, then this would indicate) there is perfect understanding (ਸੂਝ-ਬੂਝ, ਅਕਲ). Without ‘Karanee’, (Understanding) remains deficient. ||3|| (sggs 25).
  • ਅਮਲੁ ਕਰਿ ਧਰਤੀ ਬੀਜੁ ਸਬਦੋ ਕਰਿ ਸਚ ਕੀ ਆਬ ਨਿਤ ਦੇਹਿ ਪਾਣੀ ॥ ਹੋਇ ਕਿਰਸਾਣੁ ਈਮਾਨੁ ਜੰਮਾਇ ਲੈ ਭਿਸਤੁ ਦੋਜਕੁ ਮੂੜੇ ਏਵ ਜਾਣੀ ॥੧॥: Make your deeds the earth (i.e. perform Virtuous deeds), and let the Shabad (i.e. Gur-Giaan-Wisdom) be the seed (sown in the earth of Virtuous deeds); irrigate (i.e. practice) it continually with the water of ‘Sach‘ (i.e. let your deeds flourish in the Glory of the Creator). Become such a farmer and anchor your Spirituality in ‘Eemaan‘ (faith, belief, truth etc.). Only then you will realize the FOLLY of claims of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’. (sggs 24).

Now, let’s turn our attention to the present-day situation in Gurdwaras. For example, in any Gurdwara around the world, just listen to Ardaas (prayer) being performed by the present-day band of self-serving Pujaaree (clergy: Granthis, Parcharaks, Ragis, Dhadees etc.) and the freeloading Deraa-Vaad Baabaas (ਵੇਹਲੜ) etc. — you can’t help noticing that it is full of greed, selfishness, material demands and desires for sense-gratifications; totally contrary to the Way of the Gurbani, which reminds us:

  • ਨਾਨਕ ਕੈ ਘਰਿ ਕੇਵਲ ਨਾਮੁ ॥੪॥੪॥ : There is only Naam (Wisdom / Virtues) In the Nanak’s Home (mind/Heart). ||4||4|| (sggs 1136).

If Baabaa Nanak were to come into this world today, what would he say after seeing what’s going on in Gurdwaras in his name and in the name of the SGGS and Sikhi; and how the present-day band of self-serving Pujaaree in alliance with the Gurdwara committees knowingly mislead people into the way of Maya (ਗੋਲਕ, ਚੌਧਰ, Golak, power, privilege, name fame, Karamkaand or rituals, Bharam or doubt, turning the SGGS into an object of idol worshiping instead of UNDERSTANDING and then living it (ਅਮਲ)!

  • ਦੀਵਾ ਬਲੈ ਅੰਧੇਰਾ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਬੇਦ ਪਾਠ ਮਤਿ ਪਾਪਾ ਖਾਇ ॥ ਉਗਵੈ ਸੂਰੁ ਨ ਜਾਪੈ ਚੰਦੁ ॥ ਜਹ ਗਿਆਨ ਪ੍ਰਗਾਸੁ ਅਗਿਆਨੁ ਮਿਟੰਤੁ ॥ ਬੇਦ ਪਾਠ ਸੰਸਾਰ ਕੀ ਕਾਰ ॥ …: When the lamp (of Giaan or Wisdom is lit within), darkness (of ignorance) is dispelled. (In this way) reading of religious texts as Veda destroys Paap (opposing of Hukam, corrupt thoughts – ਹੁਕਮ ਦਾ ਵਿਰੋਧ; ਮਾੜੀ ਸੋਚ…). When the sun rises, the moon is not visible. Where the Light of Divine Wisdom illuminates, ignorance is dispelled. The (mere) reading of religious texts such as Veda is worldly occupation (business, ਧੰਧਾ…). (sggs 741).


  1. It is interesting to see that in Gurbani we clearly come across these words
    2..ਗੁਰੁ and
    These are three distinct Noun words. We are required to understand the true n correct reference meanings of these three words then only we can move ahead.
    Further what is the significance of these words ,there seems to be some important inter relationship between these three words that we should find out.This inter relation ship is well clarified in Gurbani but we have to recognize,understand n accept this.

  2. Thanks a lot CS ji ,
    I appreciate your such an understanding about Gurbani.

  3. Thank jio- I agree we should write Gurmukhi and roman; interestingly, Guru Bani – enshrines and illuminates as Bani Guru (ਬਾਣੀ ਗੁਰੂ) , not as Guru Bani – [ਬਾਣੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੂ ਹੈ ਬਾਣੀ] Reference is ਗੁਰੁ ਬਾਣੀ or ਗੁਰ ਬਾਣੀ probably no where illuminates as ਗੁਰੂ ਬਾਣੀ. I further agree with you about “how we understand the word Guru” is very very important.

  4. CS ji ,
    I may bring to your kind notice that Guru Bani word is very much there within SGGS ji .The point is how we understand the word Guru .( This word Guru is with matra of Aukad under its last letter R not with Matra of Dulakad as we generally understand)

    In fact we should wriye important Gurbany words in Gurmukhi script also along with Roman Script for more clear understanding.
    This is my suggestion only.

  5. We are fortunate and thankful to the Guru, for bringing us together and guiding us to continue learning and reflecting on Gurbani with each others’ participation jio. Thank you so much Puninder Singh Bhatia jio for your insights and luv for the Gurbani.

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