1.1 What Does Nitnem Mean? (Definition)
1.2 What Are The Nitnem Banis?
2.1.1 Physical Condition
2.1.3 Ucharan (Pronunciation)
2.2.1 Positive Attitude
3. How Should I Carry Out Nitnem?
3.3 Before waking up
3.4 On waking up
3.5 Morning Nitnem
3.6 Evening Nitnem
3.7 Before Bedtime
Nitnem are a collection of selected Sikh prayers (Gurbani) that are read aloud every day. Nitnem are generally read by Sikhs in the morning (before dawn), evening (around sunset) and before bedtime.
There are many ways of carrying out Nitnem, including while travelling. Sikhism does not officially mandate how you should carry out prayers in great detail. This is because the content of the prayers is more significant than how they are delivered.
Indeed, we are to remember God as much as possible, wherever and whenever. However, most Sikhs usually carry out Nitnem at home while sitting on the floor.
The following guidelines include best practises for performing Nitnem, which is a method or approach that has been widely acknowledged as preferable because it generates better outcomes than other methods.
The word 'Nit' means always or everyday, 'Nem' means practice or routine. So, the term 'Nitnem' literally means 'daily routine'. The word 'Nem' also stands for 'Naam' or the sacred word that exists in the form of Gurbani.
The five morning nitnem banis:
1. Japji Sahib
2. Jaap Sahib
5. Anand Sahib
Optionally, additional banis may also be added to a Sikh's nitnem through personal choice. Nitnem banis are verses written by the Sikh Gurus and form part of the Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth.
Nitnem are prayers, and prayers are the means by which we communicate with God. Prayer establishes a connection between us and God. The greatest achievement you can achieve is to talk and connect with God. Are you able to communicate with and connect with God? Yes, Sikhs believe that you can communicate with, meet, and connect with God while you are still living. How? By way of Gurbani (the written words of the Sikh Gurus).
God wants to build a stronger bond with you. You must, however, make an effort to develop your own unique relationship with God. For your relationship with God to grow, you must communicate with God via prayer. Incorporate God into every aspect of your life, including every decision and activity. In that sense, you should pray without ceasing and remain in constant contact with God.
We need prayers to focus completely on God. If we make God worthy of our time and attention, God will us worthy of its time and attention. Nitnem allows us time with God to develop spiritually. As stated in the Sikh Rehat Maryada, Nitnem is mandatory for every Amritdhari Sikh and must be read by all (Sikh Code of Conduct). A Sikh must always remember God, and Nitnem is one way to do so. According to the Guru Granth Sahib;
ਸਦਾ ਸਦਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਉਚਰੈ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੋ ਨਿਤ ਬਿਉਹਾਰੁ ॥
Saḏā saḏā nām ucẖrai har nāmo niṯ bi▫uhār ॥
Reciting the Naam, forever and ever, make the name of God your daily occupation.
ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਕਰੇ ਜੇ ਆਪਣੀ ਤਾ ਹਰਿ ਰਖਾ ਉਰ ਧਾਰਿ ॥੧॥
Kirpā kare je āpṇī ṯā har rakẖā ur ḏẖār ||1||
Through God's grace, I keep God within me.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Amar Das, Ang 589
There are numerous reasons to participate in Nitnem;
1. To keep a consistent spiritual practice.
2. To gain an understanding of Sikh beliefs and philosophy.
3. To seek for a connection and develop your own relationship with God.
4. A chance to renew your commitment to Sikhism.
5. The Gurus practised Nitnem and taught their Sikhs to do so as well.
6. To gain karam (good deeds) and the wealth of Naam.
7. In order to strengthen the Sikh community's spirit.
8. In order to memorise the Panj banis used in making Amrit.
9. To master Gurbani's accurate ucharan (pronunciation).
ਤੋਰਿ ਭਜਨ ਕੀ ਰਹੈ ਪਿਯਾਸਾ ॥੩੭੯॥
Tor bhajan ki rehei piyasa ॥379॥
Let me always be thirsty to sing your praises.
~ Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Chaupai Sahib
The purpose of Nitnem is not a religious mandate which must be completed in order to earn brownie-points with God, or to bring good luck on yourself, or to prevent the accumulation of negative karma. In other words, Nitnem is not performed with the intention of receiving a divine reward or avoiding divine punishment. Instead, Nitnem is a conversation with the Guru intended to keep the Sikh aligned along the path of the saints.
All of this is extremely evident if we consider the lay-out of Gurbani. Take Japji Sahib (the first Gurbani a Sikh is to recite in the day) as an example. This compilation is in question-and-answer format. In the very first Pauri (stanza) the Guru poses the following questions for the Sikh to consider: "How can one become truthful? How can the veil of falsehood be torn away?". The next line provides the answer: "Walk in alignment with the hukam, O Nanak, it has been written along with you.॥1॥"
As you go through the Japji Sahib you find the Guru presents more questions for the Sikh to consider concerning the correct manner of living, what life is really all about and the nature of the divine, all followed up with answers to these most deepest of human inquiries. Other Banis have the Guru aiding the Sikh in re-calibrating their minds to effectively meet the challenges associated with traversing the 'path of the saints'. In some compositions, the Gurus simply take the Sikh on a journey where they demonstrate their own travels along this path and share their own joy at merging with the supreme oneness that permeates every aspect of our existence.
To view the recitation of Gurbani as a mere ritual which must be completed in order to obtain favors from God or to avoid God's wrath not only contradicts the spirit of Sikhi, but does a huge disservice to the writing of the Gurus by going completely against its intended purpose. Far from being a chore needing to be gotten out of the way, Nitnem is a deeply intimate conversation between Guru and Sikh where the former asks the Sikh to consider what he or she is really searching for in their life, how that endless peace of being united (Sanjog) with Waheguru can be achieved and how the Gurus themselves felt upon merging with the One.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji teaches us that "The word, the bani is guru, and guru is the bani. Within the bani, the ambrosial nectar is contained." There is no difference between the Gurus and the Gurbani of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
The essence of the ten individuals from Guru Nanak Sahib to Gobind Singh is contained within the priceless writing they left behind for all of humanity. And so, when you are going through Japji Sahib you are not just reading a mystical compilation written hundreds of years ago; you are having a heart-to-heart, face-to-face conversation with Guru Nanak himself.
When reading Anand Sahib you are coming face to face with Guru Amar Das Ji himself, who holds the Sikh's hand and takes them on a journey where he describes the inexplicable joy he felt upon experiencing Waheguru for himself.
In Chaupai Sahib we meet Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who sacrificed his family for the panth. Guru Gobind Singh Ji embraces the Sikh, shows them how to draw upon an endless source of strength (Waheguru) and the path to overcoming all of life's hardships, the same source he drew upon and the same path he walked when he gave up his entire lineage because he loved his Sikhs to the same extent as his own biological family.
A fruitful conversation only takes place if both parties can sufficiently understand one another. Rather than make yourself read or listen to something you do not comprehend it may be a better idea to focus on Banis individually and learn them one-by-one before moving onto the next. You may decide that you wish to start with Japji Sahib because it is the first compilation in Guru Granth Sahib and is the first Bani a Sikh is supposed to recite upon rising in the morning. Perhaps you wish to start with the shortest Bani (Sohila Sahib) because you can learn it relatively quickly and develop the confidence and motivation to tackle something more challenging afterwards. Or maybe you choose something else altogether because the Bani in particular really appeals to you and you would love to be able to read it with ease.
Whichever one you decide to begin with, please remember there is nothing wrong with learning Banis in this manner as opposed to grappling with them all at once. Rather, it will help prevent you from becoming burned out and ensure that when you engage with Nitnem you are able to do what was intended all along: have a personal conversation with the Guru where he takes you on a journey to answer the deepest questions of life along with demonstrating what is possible when one walks along the path of the saints.
There are two main aspects of Nitnem, the body and the mind. A clear distinction is often made between the 'body' and the 'mind', but when considering Nitnem, the two should be regarded together.
The mind-body connection implies that our ideas, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can have an impact on our bodily functioning, either positively or negatively. To put it another way, our minds have the ability to influence how healthy our bodies are. On the other hand, our physical actions (such as what we eat, how much we exercise, and even our posture) can have an impact on our mental state (again positively or negatively). As a result, our thoughts and bodies have a complex interaction.
Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions. Likewise, we require a balance between the body and the mind for getting the most out of our Nitnem.
In order to get the most from your Nitnem it is important to pay attention to your physical condition, to have a good posture and have shud ucharan (pure pronunciation) of Gurbani. The body's role is to support the mind and make it easier to carry out Nitnem.
A person who has good physical health is likely to have bodily functions and processes working at their peak. Having good physical health is not only due to an absence of disease. Regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and adequate rest all contribute to good health.
For Nitnem and as a Sikh in general, it is important that you have the best physical condition possible. Your physical condition should allow you to sit comfortably on the floor for 1-2 hours. Sitting correctly requires muscular endurance and strength without fatigue. A poor physical condition can be the cause of poor posture and a loss of focus.
Staying healthy physically can help your mind focus better and promotes a positive attitude. Try to eat a well-balanced diet. Take regular exercise if you can. Allow yourself enough time for sleep and rest, but try not to worry if you are not sleeping well. Having a regular bedtime, and allowing yourself time to wind down before bed, can help.
When you get a chance to relax, such as having a bath, sitting in the sun, listening to kirtan or praying, you may notice changes in your emotional state such as feeling less tense and more at ease. There are also changes that happen in your body such as your heart beating slower, your breathing slowing down and you blood pressure going down.
Posture is how you hold your body. How you carry yourself can have a huge impact on your health. Bad posture can lead to upper body aches and pains, as well as a poorly functioning nervous system. Slouching, slumping, and other types of poor posture can cause muscle tension, as well as back pain, joint pain, and reduced circulation. Poor posture can even lead to breathing issues and fatigue.
Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit, and lie in positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities. There are legitimate health reasons why you were told by your parents and teachers to 'sit up straight' and 'stand up straight.' These include a strengthened spine and upper back, improved circulation and toned abdominal organs.
For Nitnem, it is important to learn to sit properly with good posture. This means sitting upright on the floor with a straight back (shoulders pulled back) and crossed legs. You can move when necessary to improve blood circulation, but you should not fidget constantly. Learning to sit properly takes time and effort; you'll need to strengthen your upper and lower back muscles, as well as your shoulder muscles.
Good posture (sitting upright) is also required for kirtan and horse riding and comes naturally to all Gursikhs. If your physical condition is good you should easily be able to sit straight with good posture. Sitting correctly helps improve focus and concentration during Nitnem, whereas slouching does the opposite.
Leaning your back against a wall or other objects when doing nitnem is not recommended as this makes you feel overly relaxed and you will lose attention. Likewise, try not to fold your arms if you are listening to your nitnem, this will also make you feel relaxed and you will lose attention.
What happens when you correct your posture? You will feel more energetic and focussed. Sitting and standing in the correct posture allows your diaphragm to work more efficiently, which makes your breathing easier. A hinged body restricts the expansion of your rib cage. Effective breathing provides your body with a proper flow of oxygen that keeps you energised. Once you get used to sitting up straight, you may find yourself walking taller throughout your day!
Fundamentally, it is the duty of every Sikh to attain shud ucharan (pure pronunciation) of Gurbani. Ucharan is important for a number of reasons and it is achieved through Santhiya. Gurbani Santhiya is learning how to read bani properly (which leads to shud ucharan). Generally, this refers to agreed-upon sequences of sounds used in speaking given words in the Guru Granth Sahib and/ or Nitnem banis.
You should punctuate correctly using Visrams (or, Bisrams). Visrams are pauses when reading or speaking Gurbani, similar to a comma, question mark or full stop. Visrams are not marked or visually identifiable in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and are remembered through regular reading and practice. If we do not apply the correct visram while reading Gurbani, the meanings can be lost and Gurbani can be interpreted inaccurately. Pausing also helps your mind 'catch up' to your mouth, it gives you time to think. By reading out loud, your voice and brain become one.
Slow down! - Some people think that speaking fluently means they need to speak fast. This is wrong. Speaking too fast reinforces bad habits and makes the speaker sound nervous and indecisive. Speaking slowly will give you time to breathe properly and think about what you want to say next. Because it gives you time to think while you are speaking, you'll feel more relaxed and be able to concentrate on what you're saying.
In the different schools of thought in the Sikh tradition, each has their own form of 'Ucharan' (Speaking style) and how to do 'Padd Chhed' of Gurbani. we are not saying which ucharan is correct, as everyone is entitled to their own views,
How can you improve your pronunciation? Listen, listening to examples of authentic speech is the most obvious way to improve your pronunciation. Learn Muharni. Read aloud. Some people find it much easier to stay focused and interested in what they're reading by reading out loud. Don't speak too fast. Look words up. Get feedback from an outside observer. Try recording yourself. Consult santhiya and ucharan books (check our library).
There are many mentions of the mind in the Guru Granth Sahib where Sikh's are encouraged to use their minds positively in the remembrance of God. The mind has a clear role to control and support the body in order to achieve it's objective, it needs to be trained to be in the present moment and let go of the ego.
Nearly everyone experiences the frustration of thousands of thoughts taking their minds away from that still, quiet place you want to access. We have highlighted a few aspects of the mind which help you in carrying out Nitnem.
Firstly, a positive attitude is required. Why? Having a positive mental attitude is one of the most important things to develop in life. More energy, better health, a greater chance at success, and an overall happier life all show just how important having the right attitude is. Your attitude in life determines a lot more than you would believe.
The Sikh term for having a positive attitude is 'Chardi Kala', which literally means 'rising spirits'. Chardi Kala is a mind frame that has a 'positive, buoyant and optimistic' attitude to life and the future. Sikhs should always be in 'Chardi Kala', 'high spirits', 'ever progressive' and 'always cheerful'. Chardi Kala is the indicator of a Sikh's absolute faith in Akal Purakh (God) and drives the need to carry out Simran, Sewa and Nitnem.
How do you develop a positive attitude? Focus on the good things. Challenging situations and obstacles are a part of life. When you're faced with one, focus on the good things no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they seem. Practice gratitude, think of people, moments, or things that bring you some kind of comfort or happiness. Spend time with positive people. Negativity and positivity have been shown to be contagious. Sikhs are always encouraged to have a good sangat.
A positive attitude will drive your commitment and dedication to Simran, Sewa, and Nitnem, and encourages all other steps, including the next which is focus.
When people are asked what they need help with in their prayers, the ability to focus is the most frequently mentioned.
Focus is the clarity of thoughts while doing or achieving something. For Nitnem, this requires you to be mental alert and not let your mind wander. There is a correlation between mental and bodily emotions and energy. If you are feeling happy, content, well rested and in good health, your brain will be more alert and active than if you're tired, distracted or feeling unwell.
Our brains employ two modes of thinking to tackle any large task: focused and diffuse (or default). Both are equally valuable but serve very different purposes. To do your best work, you need to master both. Each of these modes helps us learn in different ways but the brain can think in only one of the modes at a time, but not both, more like two sides of a coin.
Whenever you turn your attention to something, you've turned on the focused mode. This mode of thinking involves concentration and problem-solving and is very useful for understanding things. For Nitnem, we require the focused mode of thinking. The human brain, in its current state, is not biologically designed to allow conscious or focused thought to dominate for extended periods of time.
No matter how much you learn about the brain and its processes, you will never be able to remain in a state of complete focus. How often you can stay in focused mode depends upon your initial capacity for attention, as well as your willingness to learn to meditate [on God]. So what is the diffuse mode? Just as important as the focused mode is the brains need to relax, to lay back and just let thoughts wander. We are not focused on the content. Instead we might be taking a walk, talk with others, rest or sleep. This allows our unconscious mind to work and while those neurons on the brain working without our knowing it, they are making connections.
For Nitnem, it is advisable to go as far as you can in the focused mode. You should be able to recognise when you have switched to the diffuse mode so that you can re-focus back. How should you improve your focus during Nitnem? Make sure you are well rested and at optimum levels, sit properly with a straight back. Have a positive attitude and read Gurbani aloud with proper pronunciation and visrams, do not rush. Make an effort to understand what is being said and constantly strive to improve.
Keeping fully focussed is not easy and requires practice and a positive attitude. Many people complain they lose focus, however this is normal function of the mind. The mind is built to wander and think about lots of things. If this occurs while you are undertaking your Nitnem, refocus and nudge your mind back on track. You must track where your attention is going to make better use of it. Monitor and recognise when you become distracted, and then take the necessary steps to get back on the right path.
You must routinely practise clearing your mind of distractions and focusing on your prayers - and practise does make perfect in this case. With daily practise and a happy mindset, your body will ultimately become still; you will be able to quiet your mind and experience pure consciousness. When you're praying aloud, it's more difficult to let your mind stray.
The focused mind is relatively free of distractions, including the inner distractions of anxiety, restlessness, boredom, and so forth. As such, the focused mind is a happy mind. The focused mind becomes activated while you are paying attention to anything interesting and meaningful. In order to make your Nitnem interesting and meaningful it is important to make efforts to understand what is being said. You can also make use of different views of Gurbani with or without visrams and, to challenge yourself, progress to reading your nitnem in larivaar (continous writing).
Very short pause (after the word) Short pause (after the word)
ਭੁਖਿਆ ਭੁਖ ਨ ਉਤਰੀ ਜੇ ਬੰਨਾ ਪੁਰੀਆ ਭਾਰ ॥
Broken words with visrams
ਭੁਖਿਆ ਭੁਖ ਨ ਉਤਰੀ ਜੇ ਬੰਨਾ ਪੁਰੀਆ ਭਾਰ ॥
Broken words without visrams
Larivaar with visrams
Larivaar without visrams
Larivaar is where Gurbani is written in continuous form as shown above (ie. with no breaks in between the words of Gurbani). This form of writing was used by the Sikh Guru Ji's and other historical Sikhs. Eventually, your complete Nitnem should be carried out using Larivaar Gurbani only, without visrams being shown like the forth example above.
Please note, Mindfulness is a technique extracted from Buddhism where one tries to notice present thoughts, feeling and sensations without judgement. The aim is to create a state of 'bare awareness'. Yoga derives from ancient indian spiritual practices and an explicitly religious element of Hinduism (although yogic practices are also common to Buddhism and Jainism). Sikhs do not follow these religious practices.
Finally, your Nitnem comes together with understanding. Every effort should be made to understand what you are reading. Nitnem should not be carried out in a repetitive and mechanical way.
How can you improve your understanding? There are many santhiya and katha recordings you can use which explain what the words and concepts mean. There are also many books and translations available. There are several reading strategies that you can begin implementing today to improve your reading comprehension skills;
1. Improve your vocabulary - Knowing what the words you are reading mean can improve your ability to comprehend the meaning of the text. Make a point to use newly learned words in verbal communication. Make a list of unfamiliar words as you read and look them up.
2. Come up with questions about the text you are reading - Asking questions about what you are reading can help improve your reading comprehension by allowing you to become invested in the text. It can also broaden your overall understanding of what you are reading by enabling you to explore themes.
3. Use context clues - Using context clues is a great way to understand what you are reading even if you don't know all the vocabulary being used. Context clues can be found in the words and sentences surrounding the word that you aren't familiar with. To use context clues, you can focus on the key phrases or ideas in a sentence and deduce the main idea of a sentence or paragraph based on this information.
4. Look for the main idea - Identifying the main idea of a paragraph can help you determine the message being conveyed. Understanding why what you're reading is important can give you a better comprehension of the main idea of a particular text. When reading, pause every few paragraphs and see if you can decipher what the main idea is.
5. Eliminate distractions - When you are distracted, your ability to comprehend what you are reading is negatively impacted. When reading eliminate distractions and focus solely on the text. This will help you learn to hold your attention and enable you to know whether you understand what you are reading.
For in-depth reading and remembering, your eyes need to move in a disciplined way. Skimming actually trains eyes to move without discipline. When you need to read carefully and remember what is being read, the eyes must snap from one fixation point to the next in left to right sequence. The fixations should not be individual letter or even single words, but rather on several words per fixation. Some people focus on the words themselves which keep them from associating what their eyes saw with their own pre-existing knowledge. In short, to remember what you read, you have to think about what the words mean.
ਭੁਖਿਆ ਭੁਖ ਨ ਉਤਰੀ ਜੇ ਬੰਨਾ ਪੁਰੀਆ ਭਾਰ ॥
What does this line mean? A word-for-word literal translation, would look like this;
Hungry, hunger, no, finish/end, if, tie, lots/ piles, bundle/ weight
This translates as;
The greed of the greedy is not satisfied, even if they amass large amounts.
ਲੋਭੀ ਦਾ ਲਾਲਚ ਰੱਜਦਾ ਨਹੀਂ, ਭਾਵੇਂ ਉਹ ਵੱਡੀ ਮਾਤਰਾ ਵਿਚ ਇਕੱਠਾ ਕਰ ਲੈਣ ।।
The context of the statement is absent in the above translation. Most Sikhs from Punjab, on the other hand, would recognise and comprehend the line quickly. This is because 'bannā purīāa bhār' is very similar to farming terms often used to gather bundles of hay, wheat or other crops.
Context is the background, environment, setting, framework, or surroundings of events or occurrences. Simply, context means circumstances forming a background of an event, idea or statement, in such a way as to enable readers to understand the narrative or a literary piece.
The structure of Punjabi language's sentences is SOV (Subject Object Verb). The subject occurs first, followed by the object and then the verb order. This is unlike English that follows SVO (Subject Verb Object) order.
For example, ਮੁੰਡਾ ਸੇਬ ਖਾਂਦਾ ਹੈ। In this sentence, ਮੁੰਡਾ muṇḍā 'boy' is subject, ਸੇਬ sēb 'apple' is object, and ਖਾਂਦਾ ਹੈ khāndā hai 'eats' is verb. Whereas, in English you would say, "A boy, eats an apple."
Understanding your Nitnem and what you are reading will greatly improve your focus and motivation. As a result, you will have a more positive attitude towards Nitnem.
ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਸਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਬਣੀਐ ॥
Saṯgur kī baṇī saṯ sarūp hai gurbāṇī baṇī▫ai ||
The word of the true Guru's bani is the realization of truth; through Gurbani, one becomes perfect.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Ram Das, Pauri, Ang 304
A hazooria worn while sitting down
This section provides guidance on how to carry out Nitnem in most normal situations in a personal setting or at home.
1. Locate a suitable place for your Nitnem. Note: Nitnem can be done anywhere with the right focus including while travelling.
2. Ensure you wake and wash beforehand in the morning.
3. Ensure you have a Gutka or electronic device which contains the Nitnem banis.
4. Use a hazooria, a 2.25-2.5 metre long piece of plain white cloth (without any decorative borders, etc)
5. For those who are not yet Gursikh, you should ensure your head is covered with a rumal or keski and be barefoot while carrying out Nitnem.
Note: Nitnem can be done anywhere with the right focus including while travelling.
1. Locate a suitable place to carry out your Nitnem. You can use a spare room, bedroom, or living room. You can sit cross legged on a rug, carpet or a solid floor with a cloth. Some Sikhs, in Punjab for example, sit cross legged on their beds. It is acceptable to move your sitting position or legs to avoid cramping and to improve blood circulation in your legs. With a practice, and a stronger back, sitting for long periods becomes easier and helps you focus.
2. All printed materials which consist of Gurbani should be handled with respect If you are using a Gutka for Nitnem, ensure it is kept in a clean and proper place (and not with other non-Gurbani books) Gutkas should be wrapped in a clean (normally white) piece of cloth. Avoid folding any pages of a Gutka or placing a bookmarks.
3. If you are using an electronic device for your Nitnem (which useful for switching between different views visrams, larivaar, etc), it is recommended that you use a dedicated device which is not used for any other purposes out of respect for Gurbani. Electronic devices are also useful if you cannot read Gurbani. It is perfectly acceptable to listen or read along to your Nitnem. Gradually, over time, every effort should made to improve your Nitnem.
4. Sikhs, reading from a Gutka or Pothi Sahib with a wooden stand should have a cloth underneath where they will be sitting and a separate cloth under the wooden stand on which the Gutka or Pothi Sahib is placed. The cloth that is laid under the Gutka or Pothi Sahib should be higher than the one lying under the reader. You should not read a Gutka or Pothi Sahib on the bare floor, without laying anything on the ground.
5. Ensure you wear a hazooria, a 2.25-2.5 metre long piece of plain white cloth (without any decorative borders, etc) loosely around your neck. A hazooria is a symbol of humility and servitude to God and is also useful as a practical tool. When reading Gurbani, out of respect, a hazooria can be used to keep your hands clean while handling a Gutka and you can cover your mouth if you need to sneeze or cough. The word Hazooria derives from the words Hazoor meaning 'Being ready; being in presence.'
1. Make sure you sleep on time and are well rested. (For Gursikhs, this means sleeping with their 5 kakkars (articles of faith) and a keski to cover their hair)
2. Understand when Amrit vela is for you (using the spreadsheet in this article). Amrit vela is at the 4th pehra (quarter) of the night and ends at sunrise. It's important to know the time you should start and complete your morning Nitnem (at the very latest).
Amrit vela timings move with the your location (the country you are in) and the seasons (summer, winter, etc). So, as an example, for Anandpur, Amrit vela can start between 0251-0358 hrs and can end between 0519-0723 hrs during the year. Generally, this gives you a 2½ hour (summer) to a 3½ hour (winter) window to complete your nitnem. For Vancouver, Amrit vela can start between 0209-0412 hrs and can end between 0406-0807 hrs during the year. And, the Amrit vela duration can be between 2hrs in the summer and 4hrs in the winter.
3. If necessary, set an alarm clock for the appropriate time to wake up.
1. You can wake;
i. 20-30 minutes before Amrit vela (in order to visit the bathroom and wash).
ii. at the start of Amrit vela.
iii. or at some point during Amrit vela (allowing enough time - at least 1 hour and 30 minutes, to wash and complete your Nitnem before sunrise).
Most Sikhs will start their morning Nitnem nearer the start of Amrit vela. This gives them some flexibility and means they do not have to rush.
2. Immediately after waking up, clear your mind and concentrate your thoughts on God and repeat 'Waheguru' (aloud or silently) while you wash and prepare yourself for the five Nitnem banis. You should begin by carrying out Naam Abhiyaas (Abhiyaas means practice) or reciting Mool Mantar or reciting Gurbani. Any form of Naam Simran is acceptable, the easiest method is to repeat 'Waheguru'. Keep your mind clear and fully focused on your Nitnem until after it has been completed. Do not think about any problems or things weighing on your mind or your day.
3. While doing isnaan (washing) some Sikhs will use cold water. Cold water is a good way of waking you up, calming itchy skin and increasing circulation. When that cold spray hits your body, there's a bit of shock. This shock increases: oxygen intake, heart rate and alertness. Cold showers might not be a good idea if you're already cold, since the cooler temperature isn't going to help warm you up by any means. They may not be a good idea if you're sick, either. Initially, the cold temperature might be too hard on your immune system, so it's best to ease into the cooler temperatures.
During winter and in some cold countries using warm water is perfectly acceptable. In Punjab, the ground water remains at a relatively constant temperature throughout the year. The atmosphere temperature makes the water feel cooler in Summer and warmer in Winter. Unfortunately, modern use of water tanks is having the reverse effect.
Gursikhs wear all 5 kakkars (articles of faith) while washing, including the kirpan which can be wrapped around the head using the gatra. Gursikhs should not use a separate dori wali kirpan for washing. The kes and body are washed separately. The kachera is never fully removed and is changed one leg at a time.
4. While doing isnaan (washing) you must continue carrying out Naam Abhiyaas or reciting Mool Mantar or reciting Gurbani. Some Sikhs will recite the following isnaan vele de sabad, although some continue to repeat 'Waheguru';
i. Gur Satgur Ka Jo Sikh Akaaey
ii. Har Ka Naam Dhiaai Kai Hohu Hariaa Bhaee
iii. Kar Ishnan Simar Prabh Apna
iv. Ramdas Sarovar Natay
5. After washing Gursikhs comb their hair and change their keski or dastar. Naam Abhiyaas should be continued, keeping your mind clear.
6. You must not eat or drink anything until after your Nitnem is complete. Most people are perfectly capable of having their normal breakfast after their NItnem or later in the morning. If needed, you can drink water during the night but not after you wake to wash for your Nitnem.
1. When you're ready to begin your Nitnem, ensure your head is covered and you're wearing a hazooria (or chuni for women) and are barefoot.
2. Some Sikhs will spend up to 60 mins carrying out Naam Abhiyaas and repeating 'Waheguru' (aloud or silently) before reading their five Nitnem banis. Some will carry out Naam Abhiyaas after their five Nitnem banis. Some will spend up to 30 mins carrying Naam Abhiyaas and up to 30 mins of Mool Mantar. This depends on your personal preference as your Naam Abhiyaas began from the time you were awake.
3. Most Sikhs simply begin reading each of the five Nitnem banis by saying 'Sat-Naam Sri Waheguru Sahib Jio' or 'Waheguru Sahib Jio.' After completing each bani, the phrase 'Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!' is said.
1. Japji Sahib - An opening slok, 38 verses plus a slok at the end. Allow about 22 minutes to read aloud properly.
2. Jaap Sahib - 199 verses. Allow about 22 minutes to read aloud properly.
3. Tav Prasad Savaiye - 10 verses. Allow about 5 minutes to read aloud properly.
4. Chaupai Sahib - 29 verses plus 1 savaiye and 1 dohra. Allow about 6 minutes to read aloud properly.
5. Anand Sahib - 40 verses. Allow about 16 minutes to read aloud properly.
Ardas - Allow about 4 minutes to read aloud properly.
(Total time - about 1 hour and 15 mins)
1. Remember to have a quick wash and comb your Kes. Gursikhs comb their Kes twice a day.
Rehras Sahib followed by Ardas - Allow about 25 minutes in total to read aloud.
Sohila Sahib - 5 sabads. Allow about 4 minutes to read aloud.
After Sohila Sahib your day is complete and you should go to sleep carrying out Naam Abhiyaas and repeating 'Waheguru' (silently).
Things to avoid:
1. Fidgeting - fidgeting is a response to anxiety or boredom. Anxious fidgeting occurs because the body has elevated levels of stress hormones, which are prepping your muscles for sudden exertion. Boredom fidgeting during prayer is trying to give your brain something to focus on. This can be addressed by building stamina and strength and increasing your motivation and focus.
2. Yawning - common triggers include fatigue and boredom. While yawning isn't actually related to the amount of sleep we get, or how physiologically tired we are, or the time of day we choose to wake up and go to bed, it does seem to grow more intense when we’re feeling subjectively sleepy. When we're sleepy, our bodies tend to take in less oxygen as our breathing slows down. As a result, your brain jumps into action, forcing an involuntary yawn to flood your bloodstream with oxygen as you inhale and push out carbon dioxide (the reason you’re feeling so sluggish) as you exhale. People report yawning more frequently when they are feeling tired. They are especially prone to yawning in the hour immediately after waking and the hour preceding their usual bedtimes.
Yawning also increases with boredom. Boredom, hunger, fatigue: these are all states in which we may find our attention drifting and our focus becoming more and more difficult to maintain. A yawn, then, may serve as a signal for our bodies to perk up, a way of making sure we stay alert. Yawning is more frequent when stimulation is lacking. Improve your quality of sleep, by ensuring you are well rested, focused and motivated to do your Nitnem it easy to stop yawning. During Nitnem focus on your breathing, deeper breathing can help the brain get more oxygen. Monitor when you're about to yawn and take a breath through your nose at when you're about to yawn.
3. Mind wandering / lack of attention or focus - during day-to-day activities nearly 50% of people are not focused on what they are currently doing. When people's minds wander, they are reported as being less happy. Don't beat yourself up the next time you find yourself far away from where your mind was supposed to be. It's the nature of the mind to wander (including during Nitnem) but you must try to recognise when this has happened and get back on track in order to get the most from your prayers, and return to the present moment. Fill all the 'slots' in your mind by continually challenging yourself, try to understand what you reading and pronounce Gurbani properly. You must have a positive attitude and be interested in order to pay close attention, and do not give anything else an opportunity to grab your attention.
The Guru Granth Sahib instructs Sikhs, seekers of truth, to leave all your baggage, your attachments, behind before seeking entry into God's house. Make your mind quiet and free, and feel content by being in the presence of the Guru. When you read and/ or listen to gurbani, kirtan and katha, be present and alert, with body, mind, and spirit, with no other thoughts of the past, present, or future, become one with the sabad.
4. Interruptions - Do not allow interruptions to your Nitnem, especially Rehras Sahib, as people can disturb you in the evening. If this happens in an emergency, then you should restart from either the chapter you are on or the beginning.
5. Feeling sleepy - this can be a sign of tiredness so ensure you are well rested. Don't lean your back on anything while carrying out Nitnem - this make you feel relaxed and you will lose focus/ attention. Likewise, don't fold your arms when doing nitnem. Feeling sleepy can also be a sign of feeling sukh (peace). When we pray, we are becoming closer to god - this can give you a feeling of peace which can make you feel sleepy. As your Nitnem progresses, with practice and focus you will be able to retain the feeling of peace while remaining alert. Feel your Guru's presence. As Gursikh, Nitnem should be the highlight of your day.
ਸਾਚਾ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸਾਚੁ ਨਾਇ ਭਾਖਿਆ ਭਾਉ ਅਪਾਰੁ ॥
Sācẖā sāhib sācẖ nā▫e bẖākẖi▫ā bẖā▫o apār ||
True is God, true is God's name - speak it with infinite love.
ਆਖਹਿ ਮੰਗਹਿ ਦੇਹਿ ਦੇਹਿ ਦਾਤਿ ਕਰੇ ਦਾਤਾਰੁ ॥
Ākẖahi mangahi ḏehi ḏehi ḏāṯ kare ḏāṯār ||
People beg and pray, "Give to us, give to us", and the great giver [God] gives gifts.
ਫੇਰਿ ਕਿ ਅਗੈ ਰਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਦਿਸੈ ਦਰਬਾਰੁ ॥
Pher kė agai rakẖī▫ai jiṯ ḏisai ḏarbār ||
So what offering can we place, by which we might see the darbaar of God's court?
ਮੁਹੌ ਕਿ ਬੋਲਣੁ ਬੋਲੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਸੁਣਿ ਧਰੇ ਪਿਆਰੁ ॥
Muhou kė bolaṇ bolī▫ai jiṯ suṇ ḏẖare pi▫ār ||
What words can we speak to evoke God's love?
ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਵੇਲਾ ਸਚੁ ਨਾਉ ਵਡਿਆਈ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥
Amriṯ velā sacẖ nā▫o vadi▫ā▫ī vīcẖār ||
In the Amrit Vela, the ambrosial hours before dawn, chant the true name, and contemplate God's greatness.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Nanak, Japji Sahib, Ang 2
The five stages of Nitnem are a series of steps that you can take to improve yourself and your Nitnem.
Paath literally means to 'read'. The first stage is to correctly read your Nitnem aloud. When carrying out paath of Nitnem it is important to continually improve your pronunciation. Good pronunciation is hard, and perfect pronunciation is harder. Paath and proper pronunciation is the glue that holds everything else together.
Paath can be read silently by just using your eyes. Considering that God is omnipresent, no matter how you choose to communicate, God will understand and hear you. However, in order to progress your Nitnem you should also try to use your mouth and ears as well. Remember that the word Jap in Japji Sahib means "to speak or chant," which should inspire you to do so whenever possible.
What good is it to merely recite Gurbani without understanding what is being read?
Why rise so early, especially when we all have busy, hectic schedules?
Besides, isn't it all the Guru's grace?
Shouldn't we focus on reflection, dialogue and understanding instead?
The idea that nitnem is mechanical and repetitive and therefore without value is one that needs to be resisted. Repetition is a necessary element for the development of any skill or discipline - from learning to hit a tennis ball to acquiring language skills. It is much like learning the alphabet or the multiplication tables, and requires daily practice - although the spiritual formation that must follow takes time. It's similar to being able to piece together letter symbols into words, and then words into coherent sentences. Or the ability to quickly calculate figures in one's head rather than having to perform an extensive mathematical computation or rely on a digital equipment.
Our spiritual pursuits have become a search for the silver bullet - the technique, the trick, or the holy man (or woman) who will bring instant transformation in today's age of instant satisfaction. But spiritual growth is like physical growth - it does not happen overnight.
Nitnem, in addition to being a mental and spiritual workout, is a way of investing our days - and nights. It teaches us to create a sanctuary, a sacred inner space by defying the tyranny of ordinary time by interrupting the mundane rhythm of our daily lives. Most of us get out of bed only to become slaves to the clock as we rush through our daily routines.
Nitnem weaves the sacred into the fabric of daily life, reminding us that we exist on two planes at the same time: - the sacred and the profane, the secular and the spiritual. These moments make the extraordinary possible. Nitnem offers the doorway to enable us to enter the sacred space of the timeless one - Akal - where the soul dwells and its cultivation takes place.
But we cannot rush the process. The inner self responds on its own time, its own cycle. We have to learn to wait.
Guru Har Rai and Gurbani
Guru Har Rai was once asked by his Sikhs, whether people should read Gurbani if they did not understand it, and whether they gained any spiritual benefit. Guru Har Rai did not respond immediately. The next day, while riding with his Sikhs, he came across a broken clay pot that had held ghee (butter). The sun's rays were melting the butter on the broken pot fragments.
Guru Har Rai took one of these fragments in his hand and said, "This is what happens when we sing Gurbani." The Sikhs wondered what he meant by that. Guru Har Rai said, "Even when we don't understand Gurbani, when we sing it with devotion, it still sticks to our hearts, just as the ghee has stuck to this pot." The Sikhs began to understand, Guru Har Rai continued, "Someday the sunlight of knowledge will come into our minds and then, and just like this ghee, it will melt and the Gurbani will turn to wisdom. Even if we don't understand it, Gurbani is the seed of our liberation."
The moral of the sakhi is that we should always strive to learn and comprehend more about the Guru's teachings, but it's okay if we don't understand everything.
The next three stages of Nitnem relate to the study and comprehension of Gurbani. After learning 'Paath' in the correct manner, the second stage is to appreciate the Arth of Gurbani so you can begin to understand what is being defined and implied by the words.
Arth refers to the definition and meanings of words or sentences in Gurbani. Arth defines words or phrases as a precise explanation or description of something's nature, scope, or meaning, and clarifies them so they may be understood. The meaning supplied in a dictionary is usually the Arth or definition of a term.
Definitions can be broadly categorized into two groups known as intentional definitions and extensional definitions. Intentional definitions attempt to capture the core of a word by defining the necessary and sufficient conditions for an item to be a member of a particular set. Extensional definitions, on the other hand, define an item by listing every item that belongs to that particular set.
Meaning explains what a particular word or concept implies. A word may have only one definition; definitions provided by different sources may contain the same message, albeit with different wordings. However, a word might have different meanings and this is especially true in the case of Gurbani. Meaning can be basically divided into two categories known as connotation and denotation. Denotation is the surface meaning or literal meaning of a word. Connotation is the personal, emotional and cultural associations of a word.
The third stage is Vichaar. Vichaar is the reflection and contemplation of Gurbani which allow us to understand and comprehend what is being meant. Vichaar is the process of reflecting concepts, concepts, judgments and principles, etc., into meanings which are associated with the understanding of Sikh philosophy.
It is uniquely easy to lie to yourself because there is no external force keeping you honest – only you can ask yourself if you really understand something. It's easy to fall into the trap of convincing yourself that you understand something. But figuring out whether you actually understand it is quite hard and requires intrinsic motivation.
We don't learn something by transmission, we learn it by reconstruction. Whenever we are taught something, we have to reconstruct that knowledge from the ground up, in our own way, in our own heads, in order to understand something properly.
Learning something new is like exploring a room. You don't really know anything to begin with, so the room is pitch black. You slowly walk through, fumbling around. You bump into things. You trip over things. You're not sure exactly what the things are, but you can feel out their shapes. You slowly build up a map of the room in your head. Eventually, you find the light switch and turn it on, and everything comes together — it all makes sense.
That's one way to find out what's in the room.
Another way is for someone (like a Giani or Katha Vachak) to take a picture of what's inside, and just show you. On the face of it, this accomplishes the same thing, much faster — you get to know what's in the room. But in reality, this understanding is much more brittle. Chances are, if someone showed you a picture of the same room from a different angle, you wouldn't recognise it.
Contemplation is a word that's not easily defined. The contemplative mind is about receiving and being present to the moment, to the now, without judgment, analysis, or critique. Contemplative "knowing" is a much more holistic, heart-centered knowing, where mind, heart, soul, and senses are open and receptive to the moment just as it is. "This is how you come to love things in themselves and as themselves. You learn not to divide the field of the moment or eliminate anything that threatens your ego, but to hold everything—both the attractive and the unpleasant—together in one accepting gaze."
Arth isn't the same as Vichaar. You can have 'knowledge' of Gurbani but might not have the 'understanding' (or deep understanding) of the ideas or concepts behind the defintions or meanings. The difference between the two concepts is key. Arth and can be considered as an acquaintance with facts or principles, a familiarity or awareness of something. Vichaar goes to the very heart of a concept, requiring a thorough and comprehensive grasp.
Often, we can't explain why we understand something, as it requires an aspect of intelligence that is separate from language. Horse riding is an example of this — the most articulate person on the planet cannot teach you to ride a horse using just words, as it requires spatial and bodily-kinesthetic skill. Only by getting on the horse itself can you begin the journey to becoming a real Sikh.
Vistaar is the forth stage and this refers to the action of deep reflective thought and contemplation of Gurbani.
There's nothing wrong with being a dabbling dilettante; engaging in multiple things can help you to discover what you're passionate about. Curiosity can lead you to great places. If you want a true and deep understanding though, it requires a lot more than skimming the surface and this is the difference between Vichaar and Vichaar.
You can't carry out paath of nitnem and expect to be an expert on Gurbani, or to see an immediate positive impact in your own life. You'll need to read the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, analyse and evaluate the content thoroughly, and actively try to apply the concepts in your day-to-day. Passive reading just isn't enough, even with a photographic memory. Deep understanding takes engagement, hard work and commitment.
Being actively engaged in something is one of the few ways to promote higher-order thinking, and this can only happen if you're either genuinely interested in the topic, or are being pushed forward by a strong external motivation. Active learning is an effective educational process being used by universities the world over.
Eventually, as a Sikhs sphere of knowledge expands from Vichaar, they begin to elaborate on the subject matter in Gurbani. Their Vistaar encompass all things within and without the 'Brahmand' (house of 'Brahm', i.e., the universe) to promote the 'Bhagti' (devotion) of universal 'Ik Nirankar'. By this action, internal peace of mind and external peace in life are attained.
It is the knowledge, understanding and implementation of what we learn in Nitnem that puts us on the right path. Amal, which signifies deeds, is the final stage. The goal after studying and contemplating Gurbai is to use what you've learned in your daily life. Deeds are the conscious decisions you take as a result.
The Sikh Rehat Maryada mentions,
A Sikh's life has two aspects:
1. Individual or personal and
2. Corporate or Panthic. (as part of the Khalsa and sangat)
A Sikh's personal life should comprehend:-
1. Meditation on Nam (Divine Substance, also translated as the God's attributed self) and the scriptures,
2. Leading life according to the Guru's teachings and
3. Altruistic voluntary service.
Chapter 10 - provides guidance to live in consonance with Guru's tenets (Gurmat Rehni)
Chapter 12 - covers altruistic work - voluntary service
ਸਿਰੀਰਾਗੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ਘਰੁ ੩ ॥
Srī rāag mėhlā 1 gẖar 3 ||
Sri Raag, First Mehl, Third House:
ਅਮਲੁ ਕਰਿ ਧਰਤੀ ਬੀਜੁ ਸਬਦੋ ਕਰਿ ਸਚ ਕੀ ਆਬ ਨਿਤ ਦੇਹਿ ਪਾਣੀ ॥
Amal kar ḏẖarṯī bīj sabḏo kar sacẖ kī āb niṯ ḏėh pāṇī ||
Make good deeds the soil and let the word of the sabad be the seed; irrigate it continually with the water of truth.
ਹੋਇ ਕਿਰਸਾਣੁ ਈਮਾਨੁ ਜੰਮਾਇ ਲੈ ਭਿਸਤੁ ਦੋਜਕੁ ਮੂੜੇ ਏਵ ਜਾਣੀ ॥੧॥
Ho▫e kirsāṇ īmān jammā▫e lai bẖisaṯ ḏojak mūṛe ev jāṇī ||1||
Become such a farmer and your faith will grow, in this way, fool, you will understand what paradise and the opposite is!
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Nanak, Sri Raag, Ang 24
Manumkhs want it to be the other way around - results first, and then, maybe, they'll do the routine!
ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਕਰੇ ਜੇ ਆਪਣੀ ਤਾ ਹਰਿ ਰਖਾ ਉਰ ਧਾਰਿ ॥
Jo jāge se ubre sūṯe ga▫e muhā▫e ||
Those who remain awake and aware are saved, while those who sleep are plundered.
ਸਚਾ ਸਬਦੁ ਨ ਪਛਾਣਿਓ ਸੁਪਨਾ ਗਇਆ ਵਿਹਾਇ ॥
Sacẖā sabaḏ na pacẖẖāṇi▫o supnā ga▫i▫ā vihā▫e ||
They do not recognize the true word of the sabad, and like a dream, their lives fade away.
ਸੁੰਞੇ ਘਰ ਕਾ ਪਾਹੁਣਾ ਜਿਉ ਆਇਆ ਤਿਉ ਜਾਇ ॥
Suñe gẖar kā pāhuṇā ji▫o ā▫i▫ā ṯi▫o jā▫e ||
Like guests in a deserted house, they leave just exactly as they have come.
ਮਨਮੁਖ ਜਨਮੁ ਬਿਰਥਾ ਗਇਆ ਕਿਆ ਮੁਹੁ ਦੇਸੀ ਜਾਇ ॥੩॥
Manmukẖ janam birthā ga▫i▫ā ki▫ā muhu ḏesī jā▫e ||3||
The life of the self-willed manmukh passes uselessly. What face will they show when they pass beyond? ||3||
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Amar Das, Sri Raag, Ang 34
Nitnem is wrapped around the concept of discipline, albeit a spiritual one. The difficulties and challenges around this type of discipline are no different than those of any other. Such as the discipline required to do physical exercise everyday. Everybody can benefit from it. Only the committed do so. The rest find excuses galore - and they come in every imaginable size, shape and colour. It's no different with Nitnem and the path of Sikhi.
Remember, always stay in Chardi Kala.
We leave you with these final inspiring words from Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji;
ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ ॥ ਸਿਰੁ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਆਉ ॥
Ja▫o Ṯa▫o Prem Kẖelaṇ Kā Cẖā▫o || Sir Ḏẖar Ṯalī Galī Merī Ā▫o ||
If you desire to play this game of love with me, then step onto my path with your head in hand.
ਇਤੁ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਪੈਰੁ ਧਰੀਜੈ ॥ ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਕਾਣਿ ਨ ਕੀਜੈ ॥੨੦॥
Iṯ Mārag Pair Ḏẖarījai || Sir Ḏījai Kāṇ Na Kījai ||20||
When you place your feet on this path, give me your head, and do not pay any attention to public opinion.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Nanak, Salok Varan Te Vadhik, Ang 1412
Gurmat Gyan (Knowledge)
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