An Expression of Infinite Life
We are an expression of infinite life,
which had no beginning and shall never come to an end.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Quest for Light
Who or what is God? This huge question, which has been perplexing humanity since time immemorial, is one I never gave much thought to until recently. This may seem like an odd confession to make for one who is a traveller on the spiritual path. Yet, is it really so strange? In terms of spirituality, for many of us Baba Ji is our primary focus because we can see him, talk to him, be with him. We can relate to him and he understands us. By contrast, God, who seems to be out there somewhere, feels too distant, far removed from our daily experiences. Moreover, as we are unable to resist the charm of Baba Ji’s physical form, we may find it difficult not to equate spirituality with the physical, so that any serious intellectual consideration of God seems unnecessary. Finally, like me, you too may have readily accepted the limitations of the intellect and therefore decided not to give the matter any further thought.
The book Jap Ji – A Perspective, however, greatly inspired me to think more deeply about the nature of God and our relationship to him. This book provides a beautiful exposition of the opening section of the Adi Granth from which it takes its name. The Adi Granth comprises an anthology of hymns compiled and edited by the fifth Guru in the line of Guru Nanak – Guru Arjun Dev (1563–1603). The opening section, the Jap Ji, is made up of thirty-eight stanzas that explain the ‘Mool Mantra’, which is a short, cryptic precept embodying the heart of spirituality and upon which the whole of the Adi Granth is based.
In the Jap Ji, Guru Nanak describes the essence of God and his qualities. A recurring theme throughout the anthology, however, is that we are unable to comprehend God through our intellect. As quoted in the Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V, Jap Ji tells us:
He cannot be understood by thinking a million times.
Even if thousands of intellectual efforts are made,
They will be of no avail.
Whilst Guru Nanak emphasizes that God needs to be experienced through spiritual practice, the insights he provides about our Creator are truly wondrous. In this article I will explore four key lines of the ‘Mool Mantra’ that reveal who God is and how we can realize him.
There is but one God;
True is his Name.
He is the Creator,
He is realized through the Guru’s grace.
There is but one God
This may at first seem like an obvious point, but these words are telling us that God is unique and absolute. He is unique in the sense that there is no other like him and he has no second. He alone is responsible for bringing forth the entire universe. Without him, nothing exists, not even death. God is absolute in that nothing can be added to, or subtracted from him. The absoluteness and uniqueness of God is of significance because it highlights to us that anything less than God cannot unite us with him and, therefore, only he should be the focus of our attention.
“There is but one God” also draws our attention to the unity of the universe and the doctrine of universal oneness. As the source of all life is God, neither are we separate or distinct from each other, nor is there any distinction between him and us. This raises a couple of implications for us. First, as we all originate from one single source, it is futile to create artificial barriers between ourselves and others on the grounds of race, religion, caste, age, gender or anything else. We are all too aware of the violence and hurt that occurs when such divisions are made.
Second, if there is no distinction between God and us, it is logical to ask how we can actually realize this truth for ourselves – being told is one thing, but wholehearted conviction will only occur from our own experience. The means by which we can do this is explained in subsequent lines of the ‘Mool Mantra’.
True (Sat Nam) is his Name
In the ‘Mool Mantra’ God is referred to as “Sat Nam”, which in English translates to True Name. Originating from the Sanskrit language, Sat means truth, reality, existence. In simple terms, truth and existence are inseparable, as that which is untrue has no permanent existence. By referring to God as Sat, we are being told that he is a reality, he is no figment of the imagination, he exists regardless of whether we are conscious of him or not.
Sat also draws our attention to the eternal and permanent qualities of God. Whereas our physical selves and all other matter are confined within the limits of time and space – they are subject to change, and are transitory – God is beyond all this because he is ‘true’. He is timeless and permanent, without beginning or end; nor is he subject to change – he is always the same. Nam too originates from a Sanskrit root where it is commonly used in the sense of the name of a person or a thing. Here, however, Nam is not being referred to as a spoken name, but as the divine power, the Word, the Shabd through which God created the universe, including us.
Essentially, Guru Nanak is conveying two fundamental truths to us. First, our Father, the Creator of all things, is called Sat Nam and this name reflects his eternity. It is to him and his abode, Sach Khand, the true realm, that we are to return. Second, because anything less than God cannot unite us with him, and God’s Name is also his divine and interactive power. This means his Name is the means by which we can realize him.
God is the Creator
Guru Nanak explains that in the beginning God was alone in an eternal, meditative trance – a state of absolute silence and absolute oneness. He was hidden in himself and had no form or attributes. During this unmanifested state, in which he is sometimes described as the Immaculate One, the Formless One and the Nameless One, God was not the Creator and there was no creation. When he decided to start the creation, the creative power within him started functioning to fulfil that task. This creative power is called the Name, the Word, the Shabd. It is this power that created the universe and is sustaining it. In this respect, Shabd is the manifestation of divine energy – it is God in action – it is all that he has ever said or done.
Shabd is the source and the essence of all life – it is the beginning and end of all things and is our essence too. There is something particularly wondrous about Shabd. As action and motion create sound and vibration, the creative power of God, the Shabd, comprises a divine sound, an uplifting melody that is ringing and reverberating through- out the universe. This explains why reference is sometimes made to God as the ‘Word’, the ‘sound current’ or ‘the audible life-stream’. In effect, Shabd is the voice of God and it is the mechanism through which we can connect with him.
Even though the Shabd represents God’s language, it cannot be spoken, written or heard with the outer ears. Yet each and every single one of us has the faculty to listen to, and connect with, the Shabd. This faculty belongs to our soul. As we have yet to understand what soul is, we probably underestimate its capabilities, capacity and power. In fact, the soul is a direct manifestation of Shabd and, as a result, we are, and should see ourselves, as a particle of God. It is the soul that is the basis of our existence and our true identity, not the physical body or the mind. These are just instruments through which the soul operates in the material world.
As we are a particle of God, it follows that the qualities and powers that exist in him, exist in the soul. The Great Master expresses this most beautifully in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V:
The soul is the consciousness and the Lord is the storehouse of consciousness. The soul is capable of thinking, and the Lord is an ocean of thoughts. The soul has intelligence and knowledge, and the Lord is the embodiment of knowledge and the treasure house of intelligence. The soul is full of love, and the Lord is the source of all love. We are made in his image. Every particle is a part of the whole, and so are we.
As particles of the Lord, the relationship between us and the Lord is that of a part to the whole. There is no distinction between the sun and its rays or the ocean and its waves. Yet in its current state of separation, our soul is highly distressed, whether we realize it or not. We can never attain absolute, permanent and true peace until we reunite with our Father, Sat Nam. He too is anxious to have us back, which is why he has given the soul, in the human body, the ability to listen to the Shabd and find the only way back home. He sends the perfect Masters to explain how to do this.
He (God) is realized through the Guru’s grace
The truth contained in this line is of immediate importance to us. It explains how we can personally realize God. Who is the Guru? What is his grace and what role are we to play in our own spiritual evolution? These fundamental questions, which receive detailed explanation in the Jap Ji, can only be dealt with briefly here.
The universe is operating in accordance with several divine laws. One such law is that if we are to return to full consciousness of God, we need the guidance and help of a perfect living Master. He is the key to our liberation and spiritual freedom, teaching us how to connect to the Shabd, which is residing inside us and which will carry us back home. Only a perfect Master has knowledge of Shabd because he is no ordinary human being. He has travelled the path himself and has merged his soul with Sat Nam. As Guru Arjun Dev states:
God’s devotee [i.e., the Master] is like God himself –
let the human form not delude you.
He is like the wave that surfaces in varying forms
and then again merges back into the ocean.
In order to give us instructions in a way that we can relate to, our Father, Sat Nam, leaves his home and assumes the form of a human being.
Putting us in contact with the Master is the ultimate sign of God’s grace upon us. If we want to benefit from such grace, we should act upon the instructions given to us by our Master and give him all our love and devotion. This is the only way to God and the only way to realize that we are an expression of an infinite life that has no beginning and no end.
Some people being far away may be nearer to the Master than people nearer to him. This ‘nearness’ and ‘far away’ doesn’t make any difference at all. How much love people have in their heart, that makes them near or far away – it is not the physical nearness which matters.
Legacy of Love