Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Guru of Bhai Nand Lal

The many works of Bhai Nand Lal reveal his intimate and mystical knowledge of the Sikh faith. Amongst these, one particular Rehitnama outlines the threefold nature of Guru Gobind Singh's being as it was narrated to the poet in person.

From the late 1680's onwards, the young Guru Gobind Rai assembled an entourage of scholars in the majestic cities of Paonta and Anandpur. Though the traditional accounts mention 52 scholar-poets, new research indicate that more than a hundred scholars, poets and scribes settled at various periods in the courts of the tenth Guru to compose scholarly treaties, spiritual works, poetry etc.. Amongst these, the most outstanding was the Afghan-born Bhai Nand Lal Goya. In the late 1695, four years prior to the establishment of the Khalsa order, Bhai Nand Lal and Guru Gobind Rai sat at the banks of the Satluj river in Anandpur. Here, the Guru dictated a rehitnama while Bhai Nand Lal humbly listened to the words of his Master. Towards the end of the conversation, Bhai Nand Lal entitled the document: Prashan Uttar (Question and Answers).

Prashan Uttar Rehitnama
The rehitnama of Bhai Nand Lal is composed of two parts. The first part  is short and  makes up the daily rehit a Sikh is to follow, while the second and larger part is a philosophical discussion on the nature of the Guru. As a part of the rehit, the Guru says a Sikh is to have darshan of the Guru on a daily basis. After hearing this, Bhai Nand Lal asks how it is possible to see the Guru daily which then culminates in the Guru revealing his threefold nature as the Nirgun, Sargun and Gurshabad (The invisible, the visible and the devout Sikh). These three aspects of the Guru are elaborated in the various later Persian works of the poet such as the Ganjnâma and Joti Bigâs.

Nirgun (The Invisible)
According to the Rehitnama, the first form of the Guru is of mystical nature. The Guru is the Light that transcends creation and permeates every heart and cell. The realisation and communion with this Light is the ultimate objective of the Sikh philosophy and is, according to the teachings, outside the scope of human language and expression.  According to the teachings of the Gurus, it is impossible to intellectually understand this nature of the Guru. It is a mystical realisation that has to be experienced, not intellectually grasped. In the Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak writes that, to describe the state of this experience is as hard as eating steel (ie. impossible). Gurbani elaborate further and discusses this understanding of the Divine which places the concept of God outside of the Semitic understanding of a personal God. Guru Arjan for instance comments on this nature by writing that 'The Guru and the Transcendent are one and the same, pervading and permeating amongst all'. The Divine is not someone external to please, but rather something to merge with at a personal and spiritual level. As such, the first nature of the Guru is a Light that pervades creation.

Sargun (the Granth)
The second form of the Guru is the Granth. This is a well known notion amongst Sikhs of today, but Bhai Nand Lal takes the notion one step further by adding an element of intimacy between the Guru and the Granth itself. In the rehitnama, Guru Gobind Singh says that 'The person who wishes to converse with Me should read the Granth and reflect on what it says. The person who wishes to hear My words should devoutly hear and reflect on the Granth. Acknowledge the Granth as My visible presence , and reject the notion that it is any other than Me'.

In these words, the Guru is echoing the words of Guru Har Krishan who similarly, according to the Suraj Parkash, in Delhi said 'The Granth is the Lord of all. He who wants to see Me, let him with faith and love see the Granth.  So will he shed all his sins. He who would wish to speak with the Guru, let him read the Granth with devotion. He who practises its teachings will obtain all the four cherished objects of human life. In the Granth abides the Guru's spirit. Daily bow your head to it. So will you conquer your passions and attain liberation".

As these words reveal, an intimate relationship is to be acquired between the Sikh and the all pervasive Guru via the Words enshrined in the Granth. As such, the Granth becomes a vehicle to establishing a relationship with the Eternal Word of the Satguru. In the Persian Jot Bigâs, praise is also given to the Shabad in a long eulogy of the unity of Gurus: 'Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Nanak are one and the same; Their words (shabad) and message are like pearls and diamonds. Their words are like precious jewels that have been tempered with Truth (Haqq Jalâ); Their words are like a diamond that has been blessed with the shine of Truth.
Gurshabad (the devout Sikh)
The third form of the Guru is the devout Sikh who 'day and night is immersed in the Sacred Words (Gurbani)'. The Guru once again establishes the notion of mystical union as the Sikh is to be immersed in the Words, whereto he becomes an ever-present manifestation of the Guru. The notion of the Sikhs and the sangat as a whole being a manifestation of the Guru is furthermore elaborated upon in the works of Bhai Nand Lal but also Bhai Gurdas.

For Bhai Nand Lal, the Sangat does not merely consist of a group of individuals engaged in spiritual practices,- rather they become the very body of the Guru. This is expressed in his lengthy Persian composition Zindaginamâ, wherein a dozen paragraphs are dedicated to the Sangat alone whom he regards as the real Men of Truth (Mardân-e-Haqq) and the people of  God (Mardân-e-Khudâsat). In his description of the Sangat, he regards them as men and women of high moral standards engaged in spiritual practices, rising above their base desires, producing literature and great eloquent speakers while they inspire others to the Truth.
The Guru of Bhai Nand Lal
So who is the Guru of Bhai Nand Lal? The writings of Bhai Nand Lal challenge common assumptions amongst Sikhs of today. The Guru of Bhai Nand Lal is not a prophet who comes to impart humanity with a message and warn them against future punishment, he is not a perfect human being whose life is to be emulated nor is he a saintly guide or worldly king. For Bhai Nand Lal, the Guru is a manifestation of Light that permeates every single cell in the universe, with the historical gurus being some out of many such manifestations. For Bhai Nand Lal therefore, the real aspiration is to merge with the Word of the Guru and to become one with this light. This understanding of the Guru might also explain the reason why Bhai Nand Lal did not write down the history of the Gurus but rather sought to praise their nature and the unity of God and creation.

Bhai Nand Lal in later Sikh tradition
In the light of the writings of Bhai Nand Lal, the Guru has three forms, the invisible/unmanifested, the visible/manifested and the devout Sikhs. All of these make up a trinity of the Guru's being. These three forms of the Guru are elaborated upon in Gurbani and the works of Bhai Gurdas and as such, the writings of Bhai Nand Lal are a clear testament to his great awareness and intimacy of the deeper and subtler aspects of Sikh philosophy. The writings of Bhai Nand Lal in general, written in the subtle classical Persian language, challenge us to constantly read and renew our commonly held perceptions on the Sikh religion.

After his death in 1712, Bhai Nand Lal continued to be held in high esteem for many generations. The famous Sikh historian Saroop Das Bhalla, writing in 1775, captures the contemporary spirit and tradition well in his Mahima Prakash. Captured by the poet's subtle personality, mystic inclinations and wisdom, Saroop Das Bhalla writes:

Through contact with the Philosopher's stone iron turns into gold. A devotee is both agreeable and happy when he meets with the true guru who looks upon him mercifully. At that moment the resplendent light of the divine shines in the heart. Such contact ensures that one is free from doubt and his heart and mind achieve samadhi, a condition of deep meditation, and from the great bewitching sleep he is awakened. Bhai Nand Lal was one such beloved. As Guru Nanak says of such devotees: 'It is through the grace of the Lord, the one who bestows grace, O Nanak, that one becomes blessed.

The rehitnama Prashan Uttar is a short and simple yet deep document that ought to come to light amongst mainstream Sikhs. We strongly encourage the readers to become familiar with this document and to study it in order go gain a deeper understanding of the nature of the Guru.

This article is a part of a series of articles to highlight the personality, life and works of Bhai Nand Lal. The year 2012 marks the 300 year death tricentenary of Bhai Nand Lal and during the year, articles, Persian and Gurmukhi calligraphy, arts and a website will be published. As a first step of achieving this goal, a Facebook page has been set up which sends out a daily quote from the Diwân-e-Goya. Visit link below to become a fan of this page and receive a daily quote on your wall.

See the following video:


Harbans Lal said...

good to see plans for recognizing contributions of Bhai Nand Lal. Who is the author of this article and subsequent series?

Gurinder Singh Mann said...

From the information given to the Commemoration team is based in the UK. When the site received more article we will post them up. In the meantime you can possibly contact the authors at the faceboook page:

Gaurav Raj Behl said...

Hi, is it possible to know from where we can find a readable version of Complete Prashan Uttar?

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