You may see Sikh boys removing their Dastar's prefering to wear trendy baseball caps or a patka to impress girls. Or Sikh girls, prefering to date in secret. You may see Sikh men drinking alcohol and smoking. You may have seen Sikh boys and girls marry outside of Sikhism. You may have seen Sikh adults getting divorced or taking part in 'Punjabi' supersitions. Whatever the problem, you may also hear these manmukh Sikhs exclaim 'It's my life!'.
My teenage son wanted to out and spend the night in his friend's house, and he asked for my permission. I told him that his room needed cleaning as all his clothes were on the floor, he needed to take care of that by putting them where they belonged before thinking of venturing out. He did not like the suggestion and burst out; 'I’m eighteen years old. I am an adult now; I can do what I want; and when I want. It is my life.' The point that I want to bring out is about 'It's my life'. We all make this statement, or act out on its premise that it is my life. If it is my life then have I created it? How come, it comes to an end one day despite my wanting for it to never end? If I have no control over its end, can I have my clone that lives after me? Did I have control over birth? Did I choose the time or place of birth? Did I choose my parents? Did I choose the culture or the social environment that I was born in? In fact, we have no clue what so ever, but we always claim that it is 'my life' and act out as if we are in complete control.
Well if this is 'my life' then is it fulfilling and satisfying to me? Then why is it not pleasant all the time? Why have I suffered stress and sadness in my life? Why is this life constantly swinging between pleasant times and disappointments? If the life is the sum total of my material possessions then why is there emptiness in the midst of all the material possessions?
We can see that we did not create our life nor do we know about its beginning or its ending. There is some great designer of our Life, and all other lives as well, who not only decides the place and time of birth, but color of hair to height, size of fingers, shape of nose to complexion etc. We know for sure we are not that designer. We don't even know where we were before we are born or where we will be after death. The implication is that there is a designer of this life which I call as "my life" and all other lives. If the designer created life then he would also know the purpose for which we have this so called "my life". In our limited understanding we think life should be fun, with us having good times and that would be possible if we have freedom.
So, we want to have complete freedom on how to lead our own life. As children we do not want to be under the influence of the parents, or the teachers. When we grow up then we want to be master of our affairs, we want to be master of our destiny.
Well, if we have that freedom then how do we use it? We want to have fun all the time. We would have our life to be an endless procession of celebrations. We want to be happy, and we think these activities will provide it. Guru Ji portrays that life is as:
In eating, drinking, laughing and sleeping, our life ebbs away hopelessly.(SGGS:1229)
The Guru Granth warns how these four activities define our lives. If the life is to be lived at a higher level than this, why do we not know about it? Guru Granth provides the answer. We have forgotten about death.
Only focusing on eating, drinking, having fun and sleeping, mortal forgets about dying. (SGGS:1254)
We feel this is the time to enjoy life, thus merry making has become the main objective of life. As we do not visualize that this life will end in death and we don't know what happens after death, we have not made it the central credo of our life. Thus even for our children we are concerned about their education and having a good, steady income, nice house, and high standard of life. Therefore right from childhood, we encourage them, push them in this direction as we want them to be successful in life. If our children achieve this, we pat ourselves on the back that we have done a good job. In our limited understanding of this grand scheme of the word "my life" is my education, my career, my ambitions, my house, my car, my dreams, my retirement. This unmitigated identification of "my life" with occupation, accomplishments, status etc. becomes painful when the arrangement changes. Guru Ji tells us that we are here for a purpose and what we get from accomplishing it cannot be stripped away in any situation.
When we hear or read about journeys in space using space ships we marvel at the brilliance of the designers and engineers behind them. We marvel at the accomplishments of these incredible machines which enable us the humans to undertake these journeys in space. Closer to home we are in awe of beautiful buildings, automobiles, computers, robots, PDAs, IPODs etc. But there is something even closer to us and that is the human body, where the complexity of design, functionality, of each part, their interconnectedness and aesthetic design is beyond description, yet we take it for granted. If we looked at just one part be it heart, brain, kidney, stomach, tongue, eyes, nose, skin, ears, nails, hair we will find every part is brilliant in itself, yet all work together harmoniously.
The well known American Psychologist A.H. Maslow created his famous 'pyramid of hierarchy'of needs to describe them. These needs where all our life's effort is expended are - the Physiological needs, Safety Needs, Love and Belonging Needs and Esteem Needs. In Maslow's Hierarchy of needs Self-actualization (to realize one's full potential) is final and is placed at the top of the pyramid. This area is explored by very few individuals. The individuals that have the lowers needs, or B-needs, need them satisfied and so do not consider or achieve the higher level. Maslow based this model on his detailed analysis, has suggested that only about two percent of the population is attempting self-actualization. If one is waiting at the airport lounge or at a railway station, one can easily access what the individual's needs are just by gazing around to see what other people are carrying in their hands to read, listen or watch. Are they reading a romance or an action novel? Are they reading books on how to become a millionaire or how to build a custom dream house? Are they reading magazines about beauty, health, film stars, sports icons, and celebrity's lives? How about those who are not carrying any reading material? How about those carrying their laptops or DVD players to watch their favorite movie during their travel time? Don't forget those who will be napping during their flight or train journey. Well everyone is telling a story, everyone is declaring their psychological needs.
But with our focus on 'my life', how will the true purpose of life be revealed to us?
We can go on speculating but we will never discover the true purpose. Thus, we will keep spinning our wheels on the road of life, and one day we find that we are no more. We spend a life without any purpose or a cause, because we are not privy to this idea that we are here for a purpose. If birth has taken place then death is an inseparable part and parcel of this package deal. Death means that we are not capable of breathing anymore. Guru Ji has summed up the achievements of our lives in these words:
Man loses his nights sleeping and loses his days in eating. Human life is like a jewel, it is lost in exchange for a seashell. You do not know the name of God. You fool - you shall regret and repent in the end! (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 156)
It is only when we hear these words, we realize that life has some purpose. Then only it has the potential of a jewel, a sparkling diamond: otherwise life becomes purposeless like a seashell devoid of life and lying scattered along the beach. These are the words that Guru Ji is using to awaken us to explore why we are here for. When we realize that the life is being dissipated in useless pursuits then only we will do introspection and may be take the next step to find out what the life is for.
That means we have to find someone who can give us the answer, about the objectives of the human life according to the Creator. The answer will be found in the revelations by the enlightened. So we need to turn to the enlightened for the answer. The enlightened has made us aware that we are dissipating life in useless pursuits and they can make this statement with authority as they are privy to what the jewel of life is. They cannot only provide the answer, but provide us guidance and coaching that our life can become a jewel. Their guidance becomes inspiring and enables us to march on this path. Kabir Ji has shared with us how he found the answer and through Guru Granth Sahib it has been brought to our attention. He says:
Guru! I bow at your feet and beg; please explain to me why human beings are born? (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 475)
Why the world is born and dies? Please explain so that I can understand. It is clear that everyone is not endowed with this knowledge; therefore the imperative is to seek the guidance of those who are privy to this knowledge. They have experienced the bliss and its privilege which comes with this new knowledge. Kabir Ji knew that the human life has its opportunity for growth and therefore he said to his Guru please help me so that I can come out of the bonds that yoke human life with fear. Let us see what Kabir Ji is saying:
O Divine Guru, please show mercy to me, and place me on the right path, by which the bonds of fear may be cut away. The pains of birth and death come from past actions and karma; peace comes when the soul finds release from reincarnation.(Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 475)
What are the fears? These are fears of death, old age, loss of power and prestige, financial losses, health deterioration etc. These fears drive our lives and we try to control our life and lives of others as children, spouse, relatives etc as well. We always want to be in control. These initiatives on our part and our own efforts only result in getting us yoked in cycles of birth and death. Only those who have experienced what it is like to come out of cycles of reincarnation can tell us about the design and the purpose of life. In the next Chapter we will explore what Guru Ji tells us about why we are here.
Falling at the Feet of the Guru, I pray, and ask Him: "Why was man created? What deeds cause the world to come into being, and be destroyed? Tell me, that I may understand. (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 475)
Back to Gurmat Gyan (English) List
Gurmat Gyan (Knowledge)
Other Gurbani Contributors