[This email was sent on November 11, 2006 in reply to an email from Dr Baldev Singh wherein he referred to an an article of his that is available at this link: http://www.sikhspectrum.com/052006/khands.htm%5D
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa; Waheguru ji ki Fateh.
You are right in assuming that I had not read your article about Khands on Sikh Spectrum. My contact with debates raging in the Sikh circles has been rather intermittent in the last couple of years. I hope to rectify this situation in the coming days. About the Khands:
1. We have to be careful that we don’t disagree for the sake of disagreeing with what McLeod says. I am not aware of what exactly McLeod has written about the Khands, and I am sure he has cleverly let slip some damaging statements while making some right ones. We should, therefore, be more careful in dismissing only the wrong statements while sifting them from the right ones.
2. I think you might have to revisit the idea that “Dharam Khand” is the arena of practice of a Gurmukh “(God-centered being) who is in perfect union with God.” As also the idea that “Becoming a gurmukh is the ultimate state of human spiritual evolution in accordance with the Nanakian philosophy.” Gurmukh simply means what it says – a Guru-centred or Guru-focused person. It is certainly not “the ultimate state of human spiritual evolution”, for that is “union with Waheguru”.
3. Gurmukh is not the one already “in perfect union with God”, but one who is on the right path to be in union with Waheguru (with it being the sole prerogative of Waheguru whether that union happens or not). We have to keep in mind that a Manmukh has the capacity to become a Gurmukh – ‘manmukh’ is not a permanent state of being. Similarly, Gurmukh is not a permanent state of being either – as the Guru says, the path a Sikh is to walk is “sharper than the edge of a sword and smaller than the breadth of a hair”. And a Sikh can fall off this path at any given moment (due to numerous temptations caused by our five instincts). Like a tight-rope walker, even the most expert one is always aware of the chance of falling down, due to loss of focus.
4. The point thus is that to walk the path shown by the Guru, one has to be focused. Manmukh lacks the focus, hence is incapable of walking the narrow, sharp path shown by the Guru. But the Gurmukh has the necessary focus to learn to identify and walk the path. One wrong step and the fall may be steep even for a Gurmukh. And we should also keep in mind that a Gurmukh is quite capable of making a mistake, as the Guru says, only Waheguru is faultless,
everyone else is prone to making mistakes.
5. It may also be worthwhile to revisit the idea that the five Khands are “different aspects of God-consciousness (Cosmic-consciousness), and not five different stages of spiritual development in ascending order”. You seem to assume that these five different aspects of God-consciousness are not related. I make this assumption based on your statement further down the article that the mention of previous Khand in the following Khand is more like that of a teacher
discussing what was discussed in the previous lecture. I think the analogy lacks the necessary depth and has the ability to mislead. However, it is more than likely that I am wrong.
6. Let me share with you how I understand the Khands (rather the whole Jap ji), and the path that took me to this understanding.
a) I started my reading of Gurbani right at the beginning, for I assume that is how a Sikh is meant to approach – start where the Guru says start.
b) You mention that Jap ji is “the most difficult section of AGGS to interpret and understand in its entirety”. To be honest, I think it is as difficult (or easy) to understand as any other section of Guru Granth Sahib.
c) I have gradually come to realize that the whole Gurmat is like a jigsaw puzzle. We can keep fitting the pieces together as we understand each piece and its proper place according to our “then” understanding. By the time we finish the whole picture (Waheguru willing), we would have revisited our understanding many a time, and changed the places of many a piece. The most important thing to keep in mind is that even if one piece is missing or out of place, our understanding of Gurmat is lacking. For instance, we cannot join together, say, five pieces and then stop and claim that “I am as much of a Sikh as the one who has joined 10 pieces and continues to work on his puzzle”.
d) This analogy has also helped me understand the significance of sangat. If I have joined five pieces of the jigsaw, and another person has joined 10 or 20, I can learn from that person and join more pieces of my puzzle. Quite interestingly, the other person may also learn from their interaction with me, as my five pieces may not be the ones that they have joined together. It is of course essential that we interact with those who are working on the same puzzle, for those working on a different puzzle would only end up misleading us.
e) My understanding of the Khands flows from my understanding of the previous 33 pauris. I found it quite easy to resolve any contradictions in my understanding of Gurbani once I applied the methodology of scientific hypothesis – that repetition of “mool mantar” at various places in Guru Granth Sahib is a reminder for the Sikh that the statements that follow must be understood keeping in mind that there is only One Supreme God, who is True, who is the only motive force, without fear, without enmity, beyond the pale of time, beyond the cycle of birth & death and self-created. Every time I encounter a contradiction in my understanding of Gurbani, it is going back to the “mool mantar” that helps resolve it. And the picture of Gurmat that is gradually taking shape in my consciousness.
f) If you revisit the 5 Khands, you might find it interesting to view them as summarizing what has preceded. For instance, Jap ji starts with a question in the first pauri. The answer is also given in that same pauri, but it is quite intriguing – for what does the Guru mean by “Hukam”? That is how one finds oneself in the Dharam Khand – with the knowledge that there is a Supreme Power who has brought one into being to serve some purpose. But what that purpose is, embarks one on a life long journey.
g) The subject matter explained from second to the 11th pauri is summarized in pauri 35 – Gian Khand.
h) 36 (Saram Khand) summarizes pauris 12 to 23.
i) Pauri 37 (Karam Khand, ) summarizes pauris 24 to 33.
j) Pauri 38 summarizes all the stages one needs to pass in order to be “Nihal”. Pauri 38 in fact leaves little doubt that Jap ji (as of course the whole Guru Granth Sahib) is about stages one must pass through before one is able to experience the state of bliss, with the Grace of Waheguru. We are not to try and fathom the sea, but to know that part of the sea inside out where we are to spend our life, which would enable us to be safe from the predators and live a life that has fulfilled its purpose.
Please note that as I have written above, this is my understanding at this stage, and it is quite possible that this understanding would change at some point in future as I (hopefully) progress with solving “my puzzle”.
I am grateful to you for providing me this chance to revisit my own understanding and see things in a fresh light. Please don’t feel obliged to respond to the points I have raised in this or previous emails, although I find exchanging views with you highly stimulating and look forward to continuing this exchange.
Apologizing once again for any presumptions on my part, I remain