Sikhi and Intellect



Sometimes we Sikhs find Gurbani so hard to grasp, all because literal translations as displayed on the screens in Gurdwaras do not give us the proper meaning. This is because the majority of available translations of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji are faulty due to an excessive reliance on Vedic definitions.

The most common English translation available on the net by Sant Singh MD is very Vedic. Unfortunately it has become the basis for most other English translations as well. The Gurbani Explorer that we see in our gurdwara screens is derived mostly from Sant Singh and is thus Vedic in its literal and mythological translations of Sikh spiritual concepts and thereby confusing to most of us.

Any and every verse that mentions a spiritual concept is translated using the Vedic meanings such as

  • poorbla janam (past life)
  • moktee (salvation)
  • jamdoot (messenger of death)
  • aava jaan (reincarnation)
  • 84 lakh joon (cycle of life forms)
  • jogee (yoga)

Here is an example from Jup Bani of how far-off these translations are from Guru Nanak Sahib ji’s message.

(SGGS 8 Jup)

ਜਿਨੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਗਏ ਮਸਕਤਿ ਘਾਲਿ ॥

ਨਾਨਕ ਤੇ ਮੁਖ ਉਜਲੇ ਕੇਤੀ ਛੁਟੀ ਨਾਲਿ ॥੧॥

Jinee Naam Dhhiaaeiaa Geae Masakath Ghaal ||

Naanak Thae Mukh Oujalae Kaethee Chhuttee Naal ||1||

Those who have meditated on the Naam, the Name of the Lord, and departed after having worked by the sweat of their brows.

O Nanak, their faces are radiant in the Court of the Lord, and many are saved along with them! ||1||

Sant Singh translates Kaethee Chhuttee Naal as “and many are saved along with them.” Saving “others” is a Vedic trend to “take care of the Brahmin

here, and he will save you in the next world. Pay him enough and he will protect you in heaven!”

In fact the word Kaethee in the salok refers to “affliction or disease” and this disease is described in pauree one in Jup as Koorrai Thuttai Paal.

(SGGS 1 Jap)

ਕਿਵ ਸਚਿਆਰਾ ਹੋਈਐ ਕਿਵ ਕੂੜੈ ਤੁਟੈ ਪਾਲਿ ॥

Kiv Sachiaaraa Hoeeai Kiv Koorrai Thuttai Paal ||

So how can this affliction be overcome?

The Gurmat principle is “we save ourselves.” Here are some verses that illustrate this. Gurbani does not support the saving of others via feeding or serving a Brahmin or other such purportedly superior entity. Instead Guru ji’s message stresses that we reap what we sow. It is our own deeds that decide our destiny.

(SGGS 4 Jap)

ਆਪੇ ਬੀਜਿ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਖਾਹੁ ॥

Aapae Beej Aapae Hee Khaahu ||

You shall harvest what you plant.

(SGGS 473 Rag Asaa M : 1)

ਆਪਣ ਹਥੀ ਆਪਣਾ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਕਾਜੁ ਸਵਾਰੀਐ ॥੨੦॥

Aapan Hathhee Aapanaa Aapae Hee Kaaj Savaareeai ||20||

With our own hands, let us resolve our own affairs. ||20||

This Vedic influence is noticeable in Punjabi translations of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji as well. Prof Sahib Singh’s Darpan is closest to accuracy although the Vedic influences are still evident in major spiritual concepts.

In reality, Gurbani’s actual and intended meanings are not hard to grasp. The

‬difficulty is that we have been ingrained with wrong meanings by our clergy, make-a-living parcharaks, sakhi-rattling kirtanias and others whose interests are served by misleading Sikhs into superficial and tangential meanings.

(SGGS 61 Sri Rag M : 1)

ਅਖਰ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਭੁਲੀਐ ਭੇਖੀ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਅਭਿਮਾਨੁ ॥

Akhar Parr Parr Bhuleeai Bhaekhee Bahuth Abhimaan ||

Reading their books over and over again, people continue making mistakes; they are so proud of their religious robes.

We have become so used to the false and twisted meanings that the real meanings sound strange, difficult to grasp and unacceptable. As they say – if we get accustomed to fiction long enough, the truth begins to sound stranger and stranger. 

(SGGS 658 Rag Sorath Bhagat Ravidas)

ਇੰਦ੍ਰੀ ਸਬਲ ਨਿਬਲ ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧਿ ਪਰਮਾਰਥ ਪਰਵੇਸ ਨਹੀ ॥੨॥

Eindhree Sabal Nibal Bibaek Budhh Paramaarathh Paravaes Nehee ||2||

Our passions are strong, and our discriminating intellect is weak; we have no access to the supreme objective. ||2||

So our real challenge in understanding Gurbani is to undergo the process of un-learning and re-learning.  And this is a painful process. It is harrowing and can even be traumatic for some of us. Many end up rejecting unlearning and prefer to fall back into their comfort zones and accepting the superficial meanings.

(SGGS 903 Rag Ramkali M : 1)

ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨਹੀ ਬਿਦਿਆ ਬਿਗਿਆਨਿ ॥:

Mukti nahee bidiaa bigiaan:

But liberation does not come from learning without understanding.

At times by just reading the verses we can get some understanding although without the profound message that is not apparent on the surface level.  But we need to go deep into the language, poetry and grammar of Gurbani verses to understand the messages our Guru ji wants us to grasp.

(SGGS 152 Rag Gauri M : 1)

ਆਪੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੇ ਸੁ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਹੋਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Aap Beechaarae S Giaanee Hoee ||1|| Rehaao ||

One who contemplates himself is truly wise. ||1||Pause||

Only when we come to terms with unlearning will there be an actual readiness for an understanding of Gurbani in the real sense. Soon there will come the realisation that Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji is for everyone.

Hence the relevance of Aklee Saahib Saeveeai Akalee Paaeeai Maan ; the need to use wisdom and to engage in Vichar to get to the intended meanings of Gurbani. Guru Nanak Sahib ji has included the significance of Akalee in learning.

The Creator is pure wisdom and the guide towards emulating him is via Gurbani, that is to read with use of Akal (intellect) and not by mere rattan (parrotting).


(SGGS 1245 Rag Saarang M: 1)

ਅਕਲੀ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸੇਵੀਐ ਅਕਲੀ ਪਾਈਐ ਮਾਨੁ ॥ ਅਕਲੀ ਪੜ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ਕੈ ਬੁਝੀਐ ਅਕਲੀ ਕੀਚੈ ਦਾਨੁ ॥

Akalee Saahib Saeveeai Akalee Paaeeai Maan ||

Akalee Parrih Kai Bujheeai Akalee Keechai Dhaan ||

By wisdom is the Lord served, by wisdom is attained honour.

By wisdom are books interpreted; by wisdom is dispensed charity.

Akal is the umbrella term for ‘intellect.’ Its synonyms are Budh, Soch, Mut.

Akalee means “through the use of one’s intellect.” In Punjabi it is expressed as Akal Dwara, Akal Dey Rahin or Akal Dee Varton Naal.

Bibek is a certain kind of intellect. The English word is ‘discerning intellect, elevated thought or an enlightened mind.’ Intellect is our thinking (thought process). In Sikhi this is called Budhi or Surt. When thinking processes become refined, raised and enlightened, then wisdom sets in. In Sikhi this stage is called Bibek Budhi.

(SGGS 317 Rag Gauri M : 3)

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧਿ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਵੈ ਹਿਰਦੈ ਹਾਰੁ ਪਰੋਇ ॥

The Gurmukh is blessed with spiritual wisdom and a discerning intellect.

He sings the Glorious Praises of the Lord, and weaves this garland into his heart.

So in the Gurmat sense, Bibek Budhi is ‘intellect that is derived from the Guru.’ This means it is from understanding, believing, accepting, and then applying the messages of our Shabad Guru.

(SGGS 930 Rag Ramkali Dakhni M : 1)

ਸਮਝੈ ਸੂਝੈ ਪੜਿ ਪੜਿ ਬੂਝੈ ਅੰਤਿ ਨਿਰੰਤਰਿ ਸਾਚਾ ॥ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਦੇਖੈ ਸਾਚੁ ਸਮਾਲੇ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਾਚੇ ਜਗੁ ਕਾਚਾ ॥੨॥:

Samajhai Soojhai Parr Parr Boojhai Anth Niranthar Saachaa ||

If one understands, realizes and comprehends what he reads and studies, in the end he shall realize that the True Lord dwells deep within his nucleus.

Without Bibek Budhi one cannot discriminate between the eternal (permanent) and the ephemeral (impermanent). This subtle sense of discrimination or reasoning helps one to know the difference between Sat and Asat (truth and falsehood), between right and wrong.

(SGGS Rag Vadhans M : 3)

ਕੂੜੈ ਕੀ ਪਾਲਿ ਵਿਚਹੁ ਨਿਕਲੈ ਸਚੁ ਵਸੈ ਮਨਿ ਆਇ ॥

Koorrai Kee Paal Vichahu Nikalai Sach Vasai Man Aae ||

The veil of falsehood shall be torn down from within you, and Truth shall come to dwell in the mind.

Gurbani advocates the use of our God-given intellect and not the mindless chanting or repeating of words and phrases without any understanding.

(SGGS 1150 Rag Bhairo M : 5)

ਸੋ ਧਨਵੰਤਾ ਜਿਸੁ ਬੁਧਿ ਬਿਬੇਕ ॥

So Dhhanavanthaa Jis Budhh Bibaek ||

Wealthy are those who have a discriminating intellect.

Rather than accepting per se the interpretations of others, we need to make

a thorough study of Gurbani and analyse Guru ji’s messages by ourselves.

(SGGS 994 Rag Maroo M : 3)

ਸਬਦਿ ਭੇਦਿ ਭ੍ਰਮੁ ਕਟਿਆ ਗੁਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਦੀਆ ਸਮਝਾਇ ॥੨॥

Sabadh Bhaedh Bhram Kattiaa Gur Naam Dheeaa Samajhaae ||2||

Pierced through by the Word of the Shabad, my doubts have been cut away. The Guru has inspired me to understand the path to the Lord. ||2||

The call is therefore for us to use our intellect to connect with the True Guru if the spiritual wisdom of the Creator is to be reached.

(SGGS 711 Rag Todee M : 4)

ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਤੇ ਪਾਈ ਗੁਰ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕੇਰਾ ॥

Bibaek Budhh Sathigur Thae Paaee Gur Giaan Guroo Prabh Kaeraa ||

From the True Guru, I have obtained a discriminating intellect; the Guru has revealed the spiritual wisdom of God.