Friday, September 29, 2017

Soohee Mahala 4: Marriage of Mind to Waheguru (Laavan)

I was trying to get my mind off my sprained ankle a few nights ago and I got the idea to download a book off of Sikh Book Club. As soon as I started reading “Laavan” by Giani Sant Singh Ji Maskeen, I was absorbed. When it was time to go to sleep, I realized that my pain was gone! I am really excited to share a little piece of what I learned so that we can reflect on it, and I would encourage you to read it as well. What’s really great about reading and listening to kathas is that your knowledge can continually grow deeper on something you’ve read about previously. When I originally posted about laavan, it was a brief overview of the English translation and introducing that the laavan are about the relationship of mind to God. Then more recently, after hearing katha, I had posted more about the husband-wife relationship itself as it relates to the laavan (and I also wrote another piece about the wedding ceremony itself). This time, I’m posting on a deeper level about the mind and God relationship.

To review, the four laavan are our spiritual stages towards meeting Waheguru. The name of this Bani is Soohi Mahala 4, and is read during Anand Karaj. I noticed that even after listening to katha and writing the posts, I still wasn’t able to remember what each laav was about off the top of my head. After reading this book, however, I can remember clearly what each laav means because Maskeen Ji reviewed it several times in the book, and there were examples for each stage.

Giani Maskeen Ji says that laavan means “to adore someone, to go around again and again in total adoration and love,” and “to be fascinated and fall head over heels for someone.” In this case, this is about our mind’s adoration for Waheguru. The first laav is about entering the stage of action. What I never realized is that there are many people who haven’t even reached the first laav. I had somehow assumed everyone starts at the first laav! The laavan are about our spiritual journey, and some people have not yet started that yet. It depends on where we were in our previous life, and accordingly we are born to finish our laavan. In the first laav, one regularly goes to the Gurdwara, listens to kirtan and katha, reads Gurbani, and does simran. The body physically does the actions. This is an important foundational step, because without it one cannot proceed further. It actually requires a lot of discipline to do this. Sometimes we feel that individuals who are doing these activities are so highly spiritual and when they do something wrong, it breaks our own faith. Maskeen Ji talked at length in his book about this issue and explained about how these individuals are stuck in the first laav too long, in physical ritual action, and haven’t progressed with their minds.

Maskeen Ji wrote, “The human mind is such that it has faith in his children, in his friends, in his wife and the one who influences him maximum comes to the mind again and again. I often say that to remember one’s son is there any need to play the harmonium?” At this I laughed. We make a lot of efforts in order to remember Waheguru and still we forget. We remember our desires, our attachments, but not the one who gave us all. When we do the actions over and over in the first laav, eventually the mind should also progress. When we concentrate (put Dhyan) on Gurbani, then eventually remembrance of God becomes natural. In the second laav, we read prayers out of love for Waheguru. One starts to hear Anhad Bani (Waheguru’s voice). The third laav is about becoming a Vairagi (detached soul), about letting go of attachment (moh). One lives in the world, works, performs worldly duties but isn’t caught up in them. Then finally, in the fourth laav, all efforts are done. Actions are not the price for union with God, rather they lead us to this final stage in which God appears spontaneously. The cycle of reincarnation ends and one becomes jeevan mukht.

The most important thing is for us to look inside ourselves and reflect. I didn’t realize how automatic/natural the process of reflection has become for me, because I have been journalling regularly since I was a little kid. It’s an important part of self-development, of learning, of being resilient, of growing from mistakes. It’s vital for each of us to know which stage we are in the laavan, and to build from there, because our purpose is not fulfilled until we reach the fourth laav. Maskeen Ji writes,

“Dhan Guru Ram Dass ji has explained that it can be realized by each individual that in which stage or level of spiritualism he or she is standing. In simpler words where has one reached in this journey of spiritualism. On seeing the physical body, one can assess that so and so is in the first stage for he a small child…second stage for he has become a young man…third stage for he is an old man. Our eyes see and tell us in which stage the body has reached. But how will one tell as to where has a person reached in the mental spiritual word (in Dhyan). Each individual himself or herself can only tell as to where he or she has reached in the spiritual inner journey of meditation. Whether he or she has started this inner journey yet or not? This can be realized by the individual alone. But to perceive this also, one needs depth of heart, a deep insight.”  (Lavan by Giani Sant Singh Ji Maskeen)

I’m realizing this is an area of growth that is very difficult to describe, especially if the people you are talking to aren’t in the spiritual realm yet. I was asked the other day to talk about how I’ve grown over the last couple of years, and although I know that I’ve grown exponentially, I found it impossible to put the experiences into words that could do it justice. To me it's more of a personal, internal thing to know about yourself. Where are you in your journey? As Maskeen Ji says, it's up to the individual to realize that. Most people focus on the physical body journey, but the mind’s journey is a lot more interesting- how it builds resilience, how it reflects, how it relates to others. 

I hope I have provided a little bit of an overview to get each of us thinking about where we are in the laavan. There was more depth in this book that I could even begin to relate. It has become one of my favorites. Registration for Sikh book club is free, and you can download the pdf,  you just have to enter your email address (they don’t bother you with emails at all). English version: http://sikhbookclub.com/Book/Lavan Punjabi version: http://sikhbookclub.com/Book/Lavan1 Alternatively, I’ve heard there is a katha on this topic by Maskeen Ji in Punjabi if you prefer to listen rather than read. Let us continue to be inspired by Gurmukhs on this path, and keep moving forward in our spiritual journeys. Keep learning, keep growing, and keep sharing your knowledge with others. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Words

I just got back from Edmonton and I was super excited to go matha tek at the Gurdwara and play my harmonium! It's been a busy weekend trying to unpack and settle in again, but here are some reflections. I wanted to bring up the topic of speech and how words can create or resolve conflict. 

I’ve been more careful lately about what I say in conversations. For example sometimes I get annoyed having to repeat the same information again and say “I already told you, it’s (fill in the blank)” or “I told you a million times”, etc. I started learning how to skip that initial thought and instead just answer the question. I have to say it feels a lot better to just answer it neutrally than sending that negative energy out by answering angrily. Interestingly, I remember someone once saying that we can get tired of repeating information, but how many times is Ik Onkaar written in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib? Guru Ji tells us over and over, because we forget yet it’s the most important thing. 

Today I read a chapter in “Gurmat Jeevan Jaach” by Bhai Sewa Singh Tarmala. As a review from previous posts, “Kaal” is the name given to the Governor of Maya (maya includes not only physical things but also our thoughts). In this chapter, he explains how Kaal uses our body to get his work done. Since our minds are asleep without Naam, our bodies are under the control of that maya constantly. Instead of using our senses to meet God (for example seeing jot, tasting Amrit ras, hearing shabads), we use our senses to achieve things in maya The 5 thieves (lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride) take control of our bodies to achieve what they want us to achieve. For example if we are in anger, then that angry thought (krodh, part of maya) will use our eyes to see the world differently and will generate different words from our mouth.

As an aside, I remember around the time I started working, one of the doctors I worked with swore a lot. I grew up not saying any swear words at all, even "minor" ones. I found that after spending so much time around the swearing, I started swearing too. I didn't like my language at all. I tried to stop but I found that some of my friends were also swearing and it was hard. When I separated myself from that environment, I started reading more and more Gurbani and I stopped swearing. I think that words and language, therefore, also reflect the attitudes and mindset of our sangat. If we spend time around people who sing the praises of God, then we will speak that same language too. If we spend time around people lost in maya, then we will speak accordingly.

When we have a conflict with someone else it makes it much easier then to understand where the role is of the 5 in us, and the 5 acting in the other person. When it’s the 5 in us, we can recognize that, apologize and correct ourselves. I think it takes some time to forgive oneself for saying those words as well. When we say hurtful things to someone else, it hurts us too. There is a programming, a drive, for kaal to create conflict and most of us will fall into the trap. It helps to remember that forgiving yourself is a part of learning and growing. We don't know what we don't know at the time because our minds are evolving at different stages of this life journey. For example, until recently I didn't know about this whole game of maya and thoughts, and how to have proper communication and overcome the tendency to say things you didn't plan on saying. It takes time, experience, understanding and enlightenment given by God to move through it. We can work to become closer to God so instead of being lost in thoughts, our minds will be one with God and won’t speak harshly. At the end of the day, our words reflect the state of mind. A mind that is one with Waheguru speaks differently than the mind that is one with Maya.

I have noticed that it really helps in any situation to see the 5 in other people. I used to really hold onto people’s words. Words cut deeply, words hurt, and words damage, especially if you play them over and take them personally. I’ve realized a few things. Firstly, like many people, I put too much value on those words. When people speak, it can be a reflection of simply what they are going through at that moment. It happens to all of us and every single one of us has that experience of having blurted out things we didn’t mean. I was recently reading an article abut how people aren’t necessarily angry when they say hurtful things, but often afraid, disappointed, or hurt themselves in some way. Sometimes people are shocked when we remind them what they said, or sometimes we’re shocked when people tell us what we said: “I said that?” It’s blurted out so quickly we don't realize. Second, often times it’s not what someone says that’s upsetting, there’s something more to it. It’s what that means to you, in the setting of how you have gotten to be where you are. It's not usually really an argument about the toilet paper, or something silly like that- it's about something deeper. If it’s a close relationship then it helps to talk about what the other person said means to you and how you interpret it. There was a long time I didn’t know how to dig deep enough to understand how to communicate that part and how to translate all the feelings into words. I think everyone can learn how to do it though, it just takes a little practice. Once I learned it I realized it helps to clear up hurt feelings/confusion and creates a healthier relationship because the other person is more sensitive to that issue next time.

Lastly, I think we are taught that words should hurt a lot, like you should be somehow hurt forever. Why? This only hurts ourselves by holding on and repeating the words to ourselves. Words don’t need to cut deeply, if we understand Gurbani. It has a lot of healing power if we can apply that understanding. It’s important to remember that the 5 dhoots and homai (ego) are underlying the words said by anyone and kaal is using us to create that conflict. Gurbani says “If people praise me, the praise is Yours. Even if they slander me, I will not leave You. If You are on my side, then anyone can say anything. But if I were to forget You, then I would die.” Whereas a lot of the battles fought in Sikh history were physical battles of life and death it seems nowadays we struggle with even minor disagreements. Emotional battles are fought nowadays in our own minds. I think in a way it shows us that we need to work on our spirituality then our minds will become more at peace, and less dependent on what other people say.  When we understand the game as God has created it, then it becomes a lot easier to not be so attached to words. I think I might have wrote in one of my older posts that I once read about the idea of not “catching” the words in the air and taking them in but just letting them just pass by. If there’s something to hold onto, to catch and imprint into our minds, it’s Gurbani, the support of the Guru. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Wake up the Mind

I read a Hukamnama the other day this line of Gurbani keeps running through my mind. “You believe that your life in the world is true.” I think this line of Gurbani has more depth than I can appreciate or understand. On one level, we know that we came on this earth to meet God, but that the illusion of maya has clouded our vision and gets in the way of us meeting Truth. One of the Bhain Ji’s I met explained that night and day are actually reversed. When we wake up in the morning we are actually sleeping. Why? We enter this world, this dream, and we kind of just “sleep” through our lives. We don’t live in Hukam, or meet God, or see Truth. We don’t look at each person as Waheguru. Instead, our minds are overcome by jealousy, anger, etc. and we divide ourselves. When we go to sleep, we receive instruction from God. That is our time to spend with God, but often times we have spent so much time in maya that we end up in dreams. The process of awakening is the process of seeking Truth (God) and happens through simran. In that way, we can become “awake” spiritually 24/7.

On another level, I came to understand that this line is saying that God is operating on a whole other level we don’t understand. We are often struggling to understand when we don’t know the whole picture. There is a reason for everything. We are limited in what we can see in this life. We often jump to assumptions that God is unjust or unfair based on a small portion of the picture. I remember one time I asked one of my friends how they deal with seeing so much suffering. They said to me something like “everyone has their own journey.” I think I hadn’t really understood until today that they were talking about the soul journey and not the life journey. We tend to see people as their life journey, and a lot of the time we end up not having answers that we need to get peace. When we understand that God operates on the soul’s journey- all the lifetimes that soul has gone through, then we can start to understand that what we see in life isn’t necessarily true as we see it.

In the face of seeing sad things in life (which happens in almost every line of work, and if not at work then in personal life and in the world in general) then there is that question of what can you do as an individual. It took a long time for me to understand that my role in life is not necessarily to change people’s realities or fixing everything. Waheguru decides how long we each have to live. There are some things that cannot be corrected. Let’s take an obvious example- your friend’s family member dies. You know that you can’t bring that person back to life for your friend, but you do your best to support them. We do what we can in our realm of influence. I remember one of the Gurmukhs I met talked about how they did simran next to a dying relative 24/7 so that they could know that they as a family had helped in his spiritual progression and fulfilling his purpose in this life and that his mind would be on God in his last breaths. It was a powerful experience for the whole family and they got a lot of peace from it. A lot of times it’s about seeing a devastating situation and realizing what CAN be done rather than what can’t be undone. Ultimately there is a role to trusting that God is just and has this whole other realm of things happening and souls connecting, and then there’s our ability to really connect to God and trust that each soul is taken care of. There’s the ability of each person to do our best to make a difference in other people’s lives as well. So really to understand this line of Gurbani it requires us to see that Truth by connecting to Waheguru.

"He Himself is the school, He Himself is the teacher, and He Himself brings the students to be taught”

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bani Guru Guru Hai Bani, Vich Bani Amrit Sare

Bani Guru Guru Hai Bani, Vich Bani Amrit Sare. Gurbani Kahe sevak jan mane partake Guru nistare.
“The Word, the Bani is Guru, and Guru is the Bani. Within the Bani, the Ambrosial Nectar is contained. If His humble servant believes, and acts according to the Words of the Guru’s Bani, then the Guru, in person, saves him.”

This weekend, I had the chance to go with my family to meet some Gurmukhs to do simran and listen to katha. It really helps to be able to spend time with Gurmukhs who can answer your questions and guide you. I have written quite a few posts about simran and the game of life, including the role of maya. As a quick review, maya is not just physical but also our thought patterns. These are the three thought patterns that Gurbani tells us about: satogun (“good” thoughts like compassion, empathy) associated with akash lok (birds) and sukh sagar (ocean of happiness), rajogun thoughts (neutral thoughts like thinking about work) associated with bhoom lok (things that live on land) and agan sagar (ocean of fire), and lastly tamogun thoughts (lust, anger, pride, gossiping, etc.) associated with patal lok (underwater) and bik sagar (ocean of poison). Our goal is to move out of maya (above the thought patterns) and into the state of meeting Waheguru. I’m going to build on this and write a bit about what I learned in katha this weekend.

We often hear the words sant, sadhu, bhagat and brahm gyani. These terms are actually explained at length in Sukhmani Sahib. In katha, Bhenji explained that a sant is someone who hears Anhad Shabads. These shabads are also known as Naam, God’s voice, and have various other names in Gurbani. Individuals who keep doing simran and focusing on the shabds will taste amrit ras in their mouths. I have met many Gurmukhs who have experienced this. Then when the shabads are heard at all times, no matter if there are large crowds and lots of distractions, those individuals are known as Bhagats. Bhenji said that it is a great sewa to the world to be able to keep the mind connected to God at all times and live in Hukam. Those who are one with God and see jot are Brahm Gyani. It’s helpful to know about these spiritual stages. 

Waheguru speaks to all of us. Because of the “curtain of doubt” (param da pardah)/maya, we are unable to hear it and see the jot. In our first stages of simran, we try to get into really finding a comfortable position and focusing on our voice out loud. In each session we should end by moving into a whisper and then doing the simran inside our mind (antargat), in silence, so that we can practice trying to hear the shabads. Many times people will fall into a dream-less "sleep" when doing the simran, and that's actually a good thing because you have joined your mind to Waheguru. Anhad bani is a sound and not words that are written. I had a lot guidance from Gurmukhs in my initial stages of simran to guide me to being able to hear them, which is why sangat is important. Once we hear that bani we should try to listen to it as much as we can. After Bhenji explained, I’ve really made it a goal for myself to try to listen as much as possible. It’s also a moment of relaxation and a break for our minds, and a reminder that Waheguru is present at all times caring for us.

Most of us know that giving time and attention is a bigger gift than anything physical we could give someone. A well-wishing thought or prayer for someone is worth more than money could buy. This also translates into our spirituality and I think it can be harder for people to grasp that concept. To work on our relationship with God we need to give it time and attention. It's not just about having an Akand paath, or donating food. It is about the devotion that comes from our heart that pulls us to sit there and listen to the paath, to do sewa, to follow the instruction of Guru Ji. I think we “chase” maya a lot and it helps to realize that there is one clear direction from Gurbani towards God and Guru Ji helps to save us from wandering around aimlessly.

One of the hukamnamas I read this week:
geI bhoVu bMdI CoVu inrMkwru duKdwrI ]
The Restorer of what was taken away, the Liberator from captivity; the Formless Lord, the Destroyer of pain.
krmu n jwxw Drmu n jwxw loBI mwieAwDwrI ]
I do not know about karma and good deeds; I do not know about Dharma and righteous living. I am so greedy, chasing after Maya.
nwmu pirE Bgqu goivMd kw ieh rwKhu pYj qumwrI ]1]
I go by the name of God's devotee; please, save this honor of Yours. ||1||
hir jIau inmwixAw qU mwxu ]
O Dear Lord, You are the honor of the dishonored.
incIijAw cIj kry myrw goivMdu qyrI kudriq kau kurbwxu ] rhwau ]
You make the unworthy ones worthy, O my Lord of the Universe; I am a sacrifice to Your almighty creative power. ||Pause||
jYsw bwlku Bwie suBweI lK AprwD kmwvY ]
Like the child, innocently making thousands of mistakes
kir aupdysu iJVky bhu BwqI bhuiV ipqw gil lwvY ]
his father teaches him, and scolds him so many times, but still, he hugs him close in his embrace.
ipCly Aaugux bKis ley pRBu AwgY mwrig pwvY ]2]
Please forgive my past actions, God, and place me on Your path for the future. ||2||
hir AMqrjwmI sB ibiD jwxY qw iksu pih AwiK suxweIAY ]
The Lord, the Inner-knower, the Searcher of hearts, knows all about my state of mind; so who else should I go to and speak to?
khxY kQin n BIjY goibMdu hir BwvY pYj rKweIAY ]
The Lord, the Lord of the Universe, is not pleased by mere recitation of words; if it is pleasing to His Will, He preserves our honor.
Avr Et mY sglI dyKI iek qyrI Et rhweIAY ]3]
I have seen all other shelters, but Yours alone remains for me. ||3||
hoie dieAwlu ikrpwlu pRBu Twkuru Awpy suxY bynµqI ]
Becoming kind and compassionate, God the Lord and Master Himself listens to my prayer.
pUrw sqguru myil imlwvY sB cUkY mn kI icMqI ]
He unites me in Union with the Perfect True Guru, and all the cares and anxieties of my mind are dispelled.
hir hir nwmu AvKdu muiK pwieAw jn nwnk suiK vsMqI ]4]12]62]
The Lord, Har, Har, has placed the medicine of the Naam into my mouth; servant Nanak abides in peace. ||4||12||62||

Friday, September 8, 2017

Bikeathon

Reminder of the Punjabi Seniors Society bikeathon tomorrow. We will be meeting at the Gurdwara at 8 am. Then meeting at (or biking to) Purden Lake at 12 pm.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Reflecting on Our Relationship with Waheguru

I’ve been mulling over some things in my head the last few days so it has taken me a while to write! I’ve been thinking about the false sense of urgency sometimes we create on ourselves. It serves as a source of stress to try to make life happen faster than it needs to, when actually each piece of the puzzle will only fit exactly when the time is right. Overall, there seems to be a balance between waiting and action in life. Sometimes we are required to wait and we get so tired of not being able to do anything about it. Sometimes we are required to make many efforts, and we get tired of trying. If you wait, you might lose the opportunity, but if you jump in too fast, things might not be good either. Altogether, there’s a kind of skill or wisdom to knowing what is required of you at this time, and it relates to connecting to your soul and figuring out your direction.

Lately there have been some days when I’ve said in my Ardas “Waheguru, I know there’s a reason for everything and I just don’t understand!” My Hukamnamas have been very direct, but it’s still taken me a while to understand what turned out to be a big “light bulb” moment for me. In particular I got this hukamnama three times.
Bairaaree, Fourth Mehl:
The Lord's humble servant sings the Glorious Praises of the Lord's Name.
Even if someone slanders the Lord's humble servant, he does not give up his own goodness. ||1||Pause||
Whatever the Lord and Master does, He does by Himself; the Lord Himself does the deeds.
The Lord and Master Himself imparts understanding; the Lord Himself inspires us to speak. 
The Lord Himself directs the evolution of the world of the five elements; He Himself infuses the five senses into it.
O servant Nanak, the Lord Himself unites us with the True Guru; He Himself resolves the conflicts.

Firstly, on a worldly level I’ve really found the importance of letting go of assumptions and clearing up misunderstandings by discussing things and listening. After all, God is Sach (Truth) and we can really resolve a lot of conflicts that way. Even thinking (which also falls under maya) is very powerful. I have a childhood friend who moved away to go to law school and I hadn’t talked to her in maybe 8 months. I then was thinking about her quite a bit and had a dream about her. All of a sudden she phoned me the next day saying she’d been thinking of me a lot lately and felt she should call. It’s interesting how powerful thinking can be. 

Now going back to my realization. I realized that on a deeper and more spiritual level that what plays out in all our relationships in this world is a reflection of our relationship with God. The more we connect to God, the more we connect with other people’s souls because God is in all. The more we struggle with our relationship with God the more conflict we will have because we will be stuck in maya. You know that moment when you meet someone and you already feel like you’ve known them forever? It’s that soul connection, the deeper connection formed by all the simran and prayers you’ve done together in past lives. When we connect through Ardas and simran, it’s a lot more powerful than using our words. From books I’ve I read I know that through simran, we are able to go to Sunn and meet other souls. As we spiritually progress then, Gurmukhs are actually able to live that understanding that God is in all and see God in everyone. I’m still far from being able to do that, but I got a glimpse of understanding of our interconnectedness. My sense of urgency has decreased. I can see that everything so far in life contributed to my path in Sikhi, and that if we have any conflict in life, we should work on our relationship with God because that improves our relationship to self and all others at the same time. 

"The Lord and Master acts, and causes us to act; union is in His Hands. O my mind, no one appears to be mistaken, to one who has dispelled his own doubts; he realizes that everyone is God." 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Punjabi Movie

Given that this rarely happens, I thought I would mention that there's a Punjabi movie in our theatre right now. I haven't seen it but it's called "Vekh Barataan Chaliyaan."