by SS Gurudev Singh Khalsa, Houston TX
The translator’s desktop is seldom considered a place of pilgrimage, a sacred space where the seeker can find his deepest realization. Most of us imagine a place of pilgrimage as a physical place full of beauty and inspiration, where our prayers and hopes are answered and where our pain and suffering are healed. How could one imagine finding such a place in the humble desktop of a translator?
Let me try to open a small window to gain a glimpse of such a place. During the years that I spent translating the Siri Guru Granth Sahib into Spanish, I came to understand that the single most important skill that I needed lay beyond any linguistic skill that I might possess. It was a skill that Japji Sahib described to me, morning after morning: listen intuitively. I discovered that this was not only important but essential, for any translator attempting to convey the depth and essence of our Guru.
Listening goes beyond the understanding of words. It is about the perception of the subtle meanings and silent spaces of purposeful paradoxes that the spiritual language of the Shabd Guru uses to tear down our false mental constructions. By listening, I could go into a space where the translation was not only about an accurate rendering of the original meaning, but about transmitting the subtleties of the original text into the new language.
This was only the beginning. I discovered, unexpectedly, that my work was transforming my relationship with Guru. A new awareness dawned and I began to feel a deep sense of trust, intimacy, and love with the great unknown.
The Heart of a Translator
I like to think of the story of a fellow translator, Manmohan Singh, who was responsible for the English version of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib that introduced many of us in the West to the beauty of Shabd Guru. His story offers an inspiring example of how this intimate relationship transforms our lives.
He toiled for 14 years to complete the English and Punjabi translation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, notwithstanding great adversity in his life, including arriving in India penniless after Partition and surviving four heart attacks.
It is said that as his work with the translation progressed, he became more meditative, content and blissful. His relationship with Guru became so real that he would often spend hours reciting Gurbani from memory with his eyes closed and with a beautiful smile on his face. At his deathbed, as he felt his last heart attack coming, he closed his eyes and recited his last words:
What do I know, how shall I die and what sort of death shall it be?
If I don’t forget the Lord in my mind, my death shall be easy.
The world is afraid of death. Everyone desires to live.
He alone, who by Guru’s grace dies in life, understands the Lord’s will.
Nanak, if a man dies such a death, then, he continues to live forever. —Guru Amar Das
It is said that Manmohan Singh passed away with a beautiful, radiant, happy and peaceful expression. The task of translating Gurbani opened up my ears to feel the beauty of Guru. It gave me, countless times, peace in the midst of turmoil, healing when in pain, and answered my most intimate prayers. I found my place of pilgrimage.
About the Author
Motivated to live a spiritual life, SS Gurudev Singh Khalsa began studying and practicing Kundalini Yoga in 1977 under the guidance of Yogi Bhajan. Since then his life has been focused on studying, practicing and teaching this vast technology that was given by his teacher. His workshops reflect a profound wisdom grounded in his practical experience as a yogi, lifelong student of science and psychology, Sikh Dharma Minister, business entrepreneur, coach and husband of 30 years. He teaches all over the world and is a Level I and Level II KRI lead trainer.