Jap Ji – A Perspective
By Dr T.R. Shangari
Publisher: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 2009.
Jap Ji – A Perspective presents a new English translation of the Jap Ji along with a very helpful commentary. The Jap Ji is a hymn by Guru Nanak that appears at the beginning of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, also known as the Adi Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs. The 38 stanzas of the Jap Ji are the most revered and the most often recited part of the Adi Granth.
Compiled and edited by Guru Arjun Dev (1563–1606), the fifth guru in the line of Guru Nanak, the Adi Granth is a voluminous anthology of the writings of the Sikh Gurus and of thirty other mystics. By drawing on mystics from differing religious, social and cultural backgrounds, Guru Arjun conveyed a message of universal spirituality, boldly facing down sectarian and caste prejudices. As he declares in one of his poems,
The noblest of all religions
and purest of all actions
is meditation on God’s Name …
The holiest of all the holy places, O Nanak,
is the heart in which God’s Name abides.
The Jap Ji is preceded by a verse known as the Mool (Root) Mantra:
There is but one God;
true is his Name.
He is the Creator,
and of timeless form.
Unborn and self-existent,
he is realized through the Guru’s grace.
It is said that the Mool Mantra embodies the heart of Adi Granth philosophy, that the Jap Ji is an elaboration on the Mool Mantra, and that the entire Adi Granth is an elaboration on the Jap Ji. Or, as T. R. Shangari, the author of this new translation and commentary, puts it: “it is . . . as if from this root mantra sprouted the sapling of the Jap Ji which finally grew into the mighty tree of a great teaching”.
The 38 stanzas of the Jap Ji revolve around the message of worship of the Name under the Guru’s guidance. Like the Mool Mantra, the Jap Ji puts great emphasis on the company of the true Guru. From Stanza 5:
Through the Guru the eternal Sound is revealed;
through the Guru divine knowledge is attained;
through the Guru one remains absorbed in God.
As Shangari describes it, the Jap Ji “outlines a process of spiritual enlightenment which culminates in total absorption of the self in God-consciousness”. Provoking the reader to realize spiritual knowledge and lasting bliss by meditating on the Name, it “puts forth … a perfect art of living based on a true Guru’s personal experience”. This “perfect art of living” demands, for example, high moral conduct as well as meditation: “The Jap Ji associates meditation with untainted moral conduct and, in turn, associates pure moral conduct with meditation. A spotless moral character helps immensely in meditating on the Name, and conversely, meditation on the Name is a means of attaining ethical attributes.”
Jap Ji – A Perspective begins with a 17-page introduction and then gives the English translation of the entire hymn. The translation is accompanied, on facing pages, by the original text of the Jap Ji. The latter is given in its original Gurmukhi script but also in Romanized transliteration for those readers who understand the Punjabi language but cannot read it in Gurmukhi.
The remainder of the book consists of a commentary on the Jap Ji. The author suggests that the stanzas follow a thematic sequence that gives inner structure to the hymn. Thus he presents Stanzas 2–4 together under the subtitle “Signs of His Grace”; Stanzas 5–7 under “The Fountainhead of Virtue”; Stanzas 8–11 as “Listening to the Name”; and so on.
The author often explains a line from the Jap Ji by quoting verses from other parts of the Adi Granth and from other well-known mystics. For example, commenting on lines from Stanza 2,
By his will he merges some into himself,
by his will he does away with others,
he quotes Guru Arjun, “No one is foolish, no one wise – all that happens is by your will, O Lord.” In other words, it is not because of any person’s ignorance or wisdom that he is far from or near to the Lord. “If the Lord himself wants to have someone closer to him, he automatically moves closer to the Lord. However, the one he wills to be away from him remains distant, drifting in the cycle of transmigration.” Stanza 2 continues, “All are within the divine will, none outside it.” Again, the author quotes Guru Arjun:
Neither effort nor service helps to meet the Lord;
he comes to meet you of his own accord.
The one who has my Lord’s grace
is inspired to practise the Guru’s mantra.
In Stanza 31 the Jap Ji tells of the unfathomable power of the Lord:
God’s abode and his storehouses lie in all the worlds;
whatever they contain was put there in one stroke.
The Creator creates and watches over his creation.
True he is, O Nanak, and true are his doings.
As the author explains, according to this verse there is no question which came first, the chicken or the egg. Through the Word, the Lord created chicken, egg, man, woman, the processes for their procreation, and all else in one stroke. In support of this point he quotes Sant Dadu Dayal:
The Word alone created all, so all powerful it is.
Successive creation is done by one who lacks vitality.
Shangari often gives more than one interpretation of a given line, illuminating how this rich text bears many layers of meaning. A simple example is in Stanza 1:
The hunger of the hungry is not appeased
even if they amass the wealth of all the worlds.
He notes that, while the verse may mean that, no matter how many worldly goods a person gets, he will always come up with more greedy desires, another possible meaning is that “the hunger of the soul can be satiated only by spiritual food and not by material wealth”.
The author draws on elaborations of the Jap Ji by many respected Sikh writers. For a single couplet he may include interpretations from Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Vir Singh, Hazara Singh Sodhi and Sant Surain Singh.
Jap Ji – A Perspective offers a beautiful, lucid and thought-provoking perspective on one of the world’s most revered scriptures. For the reader who is encountering the text for the first time, it provides the background and context to understand it. For the reader who has long known and loved the Jap Ji, the commentary will add depth to his appreciation of it. For any sincere seeker after truth, this book is sure to whet the spiritual appetite. As the author states, “The Jap Ji is such a mine of treasures that the more we study it, the more colourful, priceless, precious and thought-provoking gems we discover. The bani [words of the Gurus] is like an ocean; the deeper we dive in, the more pearls we may find.”
Jap Ji – A Perspective is the first in a projected series of books on various sections of the Adi Granth. Shangari hopes that this book, as well as the others to follow, “will bring inspiration to the English language readers throughout the world, making the precious jewels contained in this unique and far-reaching scripture accessible to people who cannot read or understand its original Gurmukhi”.
Book reviews express the opinions of the reviewers and not of the publisher.