The Concept of a Living Guru


Spirituality of the Shabad

SGGS 479 Rag Asa Bhagat Kabir

ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਜਾਗਤਾ ਹੈ ਦੇਉ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Satgur Jaagta Hai Deyo

In this shabad, the word Jaagat is used as opposed to Jeevan. Both have life as their basis.  But there is a critical difference. Jeevan means being physically alive. Something that is physically alive needs hot and warm clothes, fans, air-conditioners, it has limbs (ang) etc. 

Jaagat has three meanings – living, awakened, and enlightened. Put them all together and Jaagat means being spiritually alive, being spiritually awakened. 

Our Guru is the shabad. It is a Jaagat Guru because it breathes Jaagarta (spiritual life/enlightenment) into the spiritually dead/un-enlightened. 



Satgur Mera  Maar Jewalley

This verse is wrongly translated by our spiritually dead clergy as ‘our

Guru kills and brings back to life.’ 

  • Firstly, our Guru does NOT kill anyone.
  • Secondly, the grammar of the word Maar is someone who is already dead.
  • And thirdly the verse is about spiritual death and spiritual life. Hence the true meaning of this verse is ‘my Guru breathes spiritual life into the spiritually dead.’ 

Put all the above together and the meaning of Living (Shabad) Guru is

that we live out the shabad’s messages within us. The Shabad is living within us

The question to be asked is not if our living guru needs air-conditioning or winter clothes. 

The question to ask has to be ‘Is the Shabad living within me, am I living the Shabad or is the Shabad dead within me?’

Claims Pertaining to The Literal Meaning

Claim 1 is that the literal meaning of the Shabad applies to ‘those who have had the ‘partakh darshan of the 10 Gurus when they bow (metha tek) to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.’

Such claims are devoid of the essence of Gurbani. Like half-cooked food, they cause spiritual indigestion at the very least. Mostly, such ‘food’ is actually meant to stop us from thinking. 

Where are the verses that support statements like ‘darshan of the 10 Gurus when they metha tek to Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji?’ 

Such claims are routinely made by so called dera mahapurakhs and easily believed by their gullible chelas. They get ‘darshan of the 10 Gurus’ at their convenience, the ‘shaheed Sikhs’ attend their diwans, and dead ‘mahapurakhs’ sit behind them when they do their ‘Kirtan? 

One even claimed that Sri Guru Teg Bahadur ji did ‘Chaur’ when the ‘mahapurakh baba’ sat on the stage!  Such blasphemy!

Claim 2 is that the above discourse ‘sounds like an interpretation from the so-called intellectuals who have never experienced their Guru alive.’

Such a claim is pure hogwash! Was Guru Nanak an‘intellectual’ too when he called on Sikhs to use their intellect?

SGGS 1245 Rag Saarang M: 1

ਅਕਲੀ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸੇਵੀਐ ਅਕਲੀ ਪਾਈਐ ਮਾਨੁ ॥

Aklee Sahib Sayveay Aklee Payeay Maan

Aklee means use your akal (intellect). Sayveay means to serve and to conduct our spirituality. 

Guru ji continues with

ਅਕਲੀ ਪੜ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ਕੈ ਬੁਝੀਐ ਅਕਲੀ ਕੀਚੈ ਦਾਨੁ ॥

Aklee Parh Kay Bhujeay Aklee Keechey Daan

Meaning use your intellect to read and understand and internalize Gurbani messages. Those who wish to remove the use of intellect and reason from Sikhi are those who have not understood the essence of Guru Nanak and also the SGGS ji. At the very worst they are the self-serving clergy who want to keep Sikhs in the shroud of darkness and under their control. 

Claim 3 is that ’Satgur Mera Mar Jiwalay can be seen literally from the act of Guru Gobind Singh Ji taking away the heads of the 5 Panj Pyaray and then bringing them back to life.’

To say this is to make a mockery of the deeply spiritual verse, the Panj Pyare, Guru Gobind Singh and the pahul process. As explained above, the verse is not about physical killing and bringing back to life. 

The Pyare were not dead that they had to be brought back to life. They were of superior enlightenment to have gotten up at the call of Guru ji and to offer themselves. 

To suggest that the Guru physically beheaded such highly enlightened Sikhs who answered his call is to insult the Guru’s love and appreciation for such Gurbani-enlightened Sikhs. 

To say that we ‘cannot ignore the literal’ is to say we cannot ignore the darkness. Let’s say it loud and clear. The literal is NOT the message.

As an example when Gurbani says ‘Bhavjal Tarankey’ the literal meaning is ‘swim across the ocean.’ If the ‘literal cannot be ignored’ then all Sikhs should go for swimming lessons! And spirituality would be about what swimming strokes are better and who is a fit swimmer! 

But the discerning and thinking Sikh would want to know which bhavjal (Ocean) is Guruji talking about. And what does Gurbani mean by tarankey (to swim).

Guru Nanak was the first Guru to ‘ask for the head’ of a Sikh. If understood literally, then His demand was far more difficult than that of the tenth master. 

SGGS 1412 Salok Vaaran Te Vadheek M:1

ਸਿਰੁ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਆਉ ॥

Ser Dhar Talee Galee Meri Aao.

The literal meaning would be ‘Cut your own head yourself, place it on your palm and bring it to me.’ Obviously no Sikh did such in the literal sense. So the message is something else – about self-surrender, about offering our thought process (ser/head) and about accepting the Guru’s spiritual wisdom. When viewed spiritually and not literally, then both calls – Guru Nanak’s and Guru Gobind Singh’s are one and the same!

The 5 Pyare who stood up in 1699 were totally aware of Guru Nanak’s call ‘for their head.’ So they understood perfectly what the tenth master was asking. Further all Panj had already ‘given their head’ to Guru Nanak. Hence they had no problem answering the call of the tenth Guru. They knew Guru Gobind Singh was asking what Guru Nanak has asked earlier. 

Guru Gobind ji was also aware of the call of Guru Nanak.  To say that he physically beheaded such spiritually awakened Sikhs is an insult to Guruji and the entire process of Sikhi. Such tales are created by the nirmalas, udhasis and other anti-Sikh elements who wished to paint Guru Gobind Singh ji as a blood-thirsty, sword-swinging and violence-prone Guru who beheaded his own beloved Sikhs. 

Other tales were created to make the Pahul process ridiculous.

  • Guruji slaughtered goats.
  • He personally stitched back the heads one by one (Abu Turani’s account)
  • Mata Sahib Kaur added sugar to reduce the level of ‘aggression’ from the Pahul. 

If we examine each of these tales critically (something our clergy and dera folk DONT want us to do) we will discover how irrational they are. 

For example the goat-slaughtering story. A critical examination would go like this ‘the guru asked for human heads and slaughtered goat heads.’ What does this make our Guru? Honest? Courageous? Dishonest? Deceiving ?

This is what we Sikhs need to ask ourselves when we choose what to believe OUTSIDE of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji and into the web of ‘literal meaning.’

SVF Readers’ Comments

  1. This ‘literal meaning’ leads acceptance of anyone who claims any ‘darshan’ to be automatically elevated and placed on a pedestal; hence ‘godmen’ like Gurmeet Ram Rahim make millions of followers and billions of cash.
  2. Some even say that the heads were reattached to different bodies to give a message of equality and being against the caste system. Guru Nanak had already condemned the caste system and spoke of equality. So did all the other gurus. Guru Gobind Singh ji has been made to stand different and superior to all the other gurus. That again is an insult. Guru Nanak is the first aape gurchela. So were Guru Angad and Guru Amardas.
  3. Some can afford air-conditioning, some may just use a fan, but there are others who may just afford environment’s breeze through the vent and windows. All these modern methods are an addition to the way we may want to respect and revere SGGS. But the question is, when there were no fans or air conditions what was the method used? Were those forefathers less accepted by our Satguru? Was someone made to sit all night long using a chaur to fan our revered SGGS. We ought to be reasonable in our reverence and avoid overdoing it. Otherwise we are only attracting another ritual.
  4. So long as the verses of SGGS are unread by us mortals, the Gurbani or the Shabad Guru is not in the living form. The Shabad in SGGS ji manifests to life when it is read and assimilated. It’s like the active antibiotic in the capsule. So long as it’s not consumed it is not potent. The moment it’s consumed it becomes active in our body to take up a particular role. To keep its potency, we need to take action – store the antibiotic in a cold environment.

In the case of SGGS ji, it becomes more potent when we read, understand and assimilate it and in the form of actions/deeds. Gurbani acts inside us in all the human cells in a peculiar phenomenon.  We can call this spirituality.

  1. For some, reading Gurbani may mean an action instructed by others. But for others, one gets into tears on feeling the presence of our Gurus in soul and spirit. It’s just like ‘Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.’ With repeated readings, we can feel the Guru’s messages reaching out to us and then we internalise the greatness of the Creator.