How often is the sangat reminded in our Gurdwara talks by ragis, gianis and parcharaks to ‘Naam japo’ and then led to recite ‘Waheguru’ umpteen times in as many differing tunes? Are we aware that, in fact, Gurbani has rejected chanting as futile and a waste of spiritual energy?

Let us take a look at this verse that is often quoted to support chanting.

(SGGS 563 Wadhans M: 5)

ਕਰਿ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਤੇਰੇ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਵਾ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਤ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵਾ ॥੪॥੫॥

Kar Kirapaa Thaerae Gun Gaavaa ||

Naanak Naam Japath Sukh Paavaa ||4||5||

The online translation is given as :

“Show mercy unto me, that I may sing Your Glorious Praises. O Nanak, chanting the Naam, the Name of the Lord, I obtain peace.”

Our biggest tragedy is to translate Naam as “name”. Gurbani says God cannot have a proper name. All of God’s “names” are his Gunn/virtues. 

The second biggest tragedy of Sikhi has been to translate Jup as “chanting.” 

The reason for this flaw is that all Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji translations in Punjabi were done by people from the mantra-chanting traditions – Vedic, Nirmalas and Udasis wheras the English translations are being monopolized by the westernised and deviant 3HO-Kundalini types. 

The verses above make the two tragedies apparent.  If we read them together, the words Naam and Gunn are used to explain each other as being synonymous.  When our Guru is Shabad – then the Kirpa of a Shabad can only be enlightenment of the shabad’s message. 

The translation of the verse would thus be : 

“Let me have the enlightenment (kirpa) that I may know of your virtues

(gunn). Nanak, spiritual bliss is obtained by realizing (jup) your virtues


Sukh can only result from applying the Gunns /Naam of the Creator in our daily lives by applying rather than chanting or paying lip service. Paying lip service is infinitely easier than application. Hence the reason why it’s much preferred.

The God of Sikhi is one whose existance is real and permanent (Satt) and 

in Sikhi, God’s existance is conceptualized in terms of virtues (Naam). 

Hence we say Satnam

Sikh spirituality begins with the acceptance of God’s eternal and perpetual existance – Aad Sach Jugaad Sach – the opening salok of Jup bani.  Our spiritual journey called Sikhi revolves around the knowing, understanding, realizing, internalizing, and becoming of Godly virtues. 

This then is the meaning and implication of Satnam

It’s a tragedy (yes one more) that this seminal and core concept is simply mistranslated as “true name” and dismissed as meant for “chanting.” 

Satnam is for living and becoming. All of us should first internalise the true meaning of Satnam as given above and then attempt to live our daily life as a householder in the true sense of Sikhi.

However there are repeated claims that chanting is supported in gurbani and they will be supported so long as we keep translating the word Jup wrongly as chanting.  Well, if indeed Jup is chanting then is Jup bani a ‘chanting bani?’ Let’s take a look at Jup Pauri 32 below.

(SGGS 7 Jap Pauri 32)

ਇਕ ਦੂ ਜੀਭੌ ਲਖ ਹੋਹਿ ਲਖ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਲਖ ਵੀਸ ॥ ਲਖੁ ਲਖੁ ਗੇੜਾ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਏਕੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਗਦੀਸ ॥

ਏਤੁ ਰਾਹਿ ਪਤਿ ਪਵੜੀਆ ਚੜੀਐ ਹੋਇ ਇਕੀਸ ॥ ਸੁਣਿ ਗਲਾ ਆਕਾਸ ਕੀ ਕੀਟਾ ਆਈ ਰੀਸ ॥

ਨਾਨਕ ਨਦਰੀ ਪਾਈਐ ਕੂੜੀ ਕੂੜੈ ਠੀਸ ॥੩੨॥

Ek du jee bhau lakh hoey lakh hoveh lakh vees.

Lakh lakh gera aakheeih ek naam jagdees.

Eth rah path pavareeay charreeai hoey ekees.

Sun galaa akaas kee keetta aaee rees.

Nanak nadri paaeeh kooree koorrrai thees.

What do we make of Koor (fake, false) and Thees (imitation) and ‘Keetta aaee rees’ – an insect trying to imitate the act of soaring in the open skies (galaa akaas kee)?

Does ‘Ek du jee bhau lakh hoey …… Lakh lakh gera’ declare chanting as

‘keetta aaee rees’ and ‘kooree koorrrai thees?’

It’s up to us to decide if we wish to undertake spirituality that is ‘kooree koorrrai thees’ or the ‘real’ one of ‘becoming.’  A spirituality of chanting or a spirituality of becoming. The choice is ours.

Gurbani / shabad is a tool for changing life and not for repetition.  If we read Sat Naam and practise it, then we have used the tool properly but if we just repeat it umpteen times, nothing will happen.

There is a well-known story often repeated by chelas (followers) of babas about a man fetching water in a dirty rattan basket that became very clean after the foolish man persistently tried to carry water in it. But what the baba forgets to mention is that a basket is not the mind! The basket may become clean with the water, but how about the basket carrier’s mind? The water doesn’t even go through it so how can the mind be washed clean?

Mere repetition is easy but useless because you need not learn. Learning is arduous. It needs guts to learn. Learning means one has to be humble. Learning means one has to be ready to drop the old, one has to be constantly ready to accept the new.

Let us reflect on this verse from Asa Ki Vaar.  ‬‬‬‬

(SGGS 1028 Rag Asa M:1)

ਪੜਿਆ ਹੋਵੈ ਗੁਨਹਗਾਰੁ ਤਾ ਓਮੀ ਸਾਧੁ ਨ ਮਾਰੀਐ ॥

Parria Hovai Gunehagar Tha Oumee Sadhh N Mareeai ||

The learned one can be utterly sinful whereas the one who knows only how to utter Ohm (ie chant God’s name) is not to be regarded as punishable. Regardless of whether one is learned or only knows how to chant, it is imperative to be ego-free.

What can be clearer than this shabad below on mindless mouthing of certain words as simran/naam simran/naam kamaii?

(SGGS 1420 Salok Vaaraan Thay Vadheek M : 3)

ਹਰਹਟ ਭੀ ਤੂੰ ਤੂੰ ਕਰਹਿ ਬੋਲਹਿ ਭਲੀ ਬਾਣਿ ॥

Harehatt Bhee Thoon Thoon Karehi Bolehi Bhalee Baan ||

The Persian wheel also cries out, “Too! Too! You! You!” with sweet and sublime sounds.

Guru Ji says the harhat (water-wheel on wells) is making the sound ‘thoon thoon’ (you, you) as it spins endlessly so is that harhat doing naam simran? Then how can a human claim that by doing the exact same thing he is doing naam simran?

What about Waheguru gurmantar?

Wahe and guru are two words from 2 different langauges – wahe is farsee for dhan dhan and guru is from Sanskrit. This word Waheguru is wrongly joined and made out to be God’s Name. A vital point for us to note it is impossible to coin one word by joining words from two different languages.

Only one Bhatt uses this wah wah for Guru Ramdass ji in Sawaiyah Mhalleh Chauthe Ke and he uses both wah and wahe but only for Guru Ramdass Ji when he says Dhan Dhan Ramdass Gur, ie “great is Guru Ramdass ji.”

It is just like one exclaiming  ‘OMG – OH MY GOD’ and along comes someone else who says “OMG is the name of God, repeat OMG OMG OMG!’’We are now so attached to OMG (Waheguru) as His name that we find it extremely stressing to let it go!

In fact the Gurus themselves used Satguru and Satgur prasad and not waheguru for Naam. Sahib Singh pointed this out many decades ago but no one cares because unlearning is difficult for most people.

Gurmatt is not about multiple chanting of any name for God. HE can’t have a name because HE is beyond names. All we can hope for is to emulate HIS gunns (attributes) – such as kindness, goodwill, truth, being without enmity – and then spend our lifetime gathering these diamonds of gunns and living by them.

(SGGS 802 Bilaval M : 5)

ਊਚ ਅਪਾਰ ਬੇਅੰਤ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਕਉਣੁ ਜਾਣੈ ਗੁਣ ਤੇਰੇ ॥ ਗਾਵਤੇ ਉਧਰਹਿ ਸੁਣਤੇ ਉਧਰਹਿ ਬਿਨਸਹਿ ਪਾਪ ਘਨੇਰੇ ॥

Ooch Apaar Baeanth Suaamee Koun Jaanai Gun Thaerae ||

Gaavathae Oudhharehi Sunathae Oudhharehi Binasehi Paap Ghanaerae ||

O my lofty, incomparable and infinite Lord and Master, who can know Your Glorious Virtues?

Those who remember your virtues and those who emulate them are blessed.