by SS Prabhu Nam Kaur Khalsa, San Leandro CA
I had been in the Dharma for a year or two when I had my introduction to the sound current. Amarjeet Kaur was teaching a two-week class at the Golden Temple Restaurant in Los Angeles, which was a 40-minute drive from my home in Long Beach. We worked on one shabd, learning one line every day. I sang that shabd and a few others and never knew the meaning of a single word, but it was attractive to me and so I kept being drawn to singing them.
Little by little I became more interested in knowing the meaning of what I was singing. One of the great gifts that came into my life was Christopher Shackle’s Guru Nanak’s Glossary. I began to look up unfamiliar words and note them in my shabd book. Over the years I started looking up more words, even ones I thought I knew. In that process, I began to sense the subtlety of the words and the range of meaning, from the pragmatic to the cosmic and universal.
In Gurbani, there is no single definition of any word. Knowing this helped me to understand why Gurbani is so applicable in all of life. In certain passages in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the translation would not resonate with me. So, in my continued way of studying, I would look up a particular word and, lo and behold, I would find that the word wasn’t confined to one polarity.
Gurbani contains the shades of positive, negative and neutral. A translation can go to one of these but it cannot go to all three. This mirrors our life’s journey, where all three possibilities are contained. For example, the term manmukh typically is translated in a negative light as “apostate” or “self-willed” (the opposite of a gurmukh). However, Guru is simply saying that the person is relating to worldly things. Guru’s language is always inclusive, not exclusive.
Making Universal Sense
Sometimes the language of some of the translations was bothersome to me. I would always want it to make universal sense, bringing the highest connection with spirit. I never felt that my translation was right or that another was wrong, but I simply needed the broadest understanding.
The line, “Hao gholee jeeo ghol ghumaaee,” from the shabad Mayraa Man Lochai is a good example. It is generally translated as “I am a sacrifice and my soul I sacrifice,” or “I am devoted and my soul is devoted.” Ghol is the verb to mix, or to dissolve. Gholee is the verb to sacrifice. Ghumaai is a verb meaning to pass around someone in token of sacrifice; sacrifice or devote; Ghumanaa is to revolve, spin, circulate, rotate. Jeeo is both Lord, and soul (addressing God within, the soul; and God Lord).
So using these meanings gives a fuller sense of what sacrifice or devotee means. Hao gholee – I dissolve myself in Thee, my Lord/my soul, I dissolve myself and circle around the object my devotion (as in the bride and bridegroom circling around Siri Guru Granth Sahib, or the devotee bowing to and then walking around the Guru upon entering the Gurdwara).
The words give a direction for a specific way of meditation to be in union with the Beloved and provide an idea of what the young Arjan was feeling in relation to his father, the Guru, when he was separated from him, and again when he was blissfully reunited with His presence.
The Siri Guru Granth Sahib addresses all the aspects of a topic. It doesn’t just stay in the negative or positive. For the householder’s understanding, some of the language is a bit “earthy.”
I have to be careful to not fit it all into my world of wanting everything to be gentle and beautiful because that’s not always accurate. So we have been round and round with the research; now let it go and let the Shabd Guru teach you. Your devotion, reverence, and respect for the Bani will be the key to your transformation.
About the Author
SS Prabhu Nam Kaur has been an ordained Sikh Dharma Minister since 1975. She is a singer of Gurbani Kirtan and a teacher of Kundalini Yoga and Naad Yoga (sound current). She and her husband, Sat Santokh Singh, are parents to six children and they are also grandparents.