Life’s experiences can be so compellingly intriguing that we all, ever so often, can but only wonder as to what are we doing here, what is our destination and how do we get there. What is the larger purpose of life? These questions may beget different answers from different people in different states of mind at different times. Broadly however, the human quest is for an understanding of the process of life, its link with the Creator, their place in creation and individual role in society. The inner craving of people of all persuasions is that their life should be a morally, ethically and spiritually enhancing experience which brings them closer to feel the underlying unity of this abiding creation, taste its real bliss and partake in joyous appreciation of the mysteries and miracles of life. The quest for such spiritual progression is universal and common to all men.
The Sikh struggle for spiritual ascent has to be pursued living in this world – dharti. The destination is union with – dhur– the Primal Lord. The path is – dharam – the precept and praxis of persuasion. This article is an attempt to understand the essence of Guru’s vision in regard to these as evidenced from Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
GOD, HIS CREATION & DHARTI
The Granth preaches that there is only one God. He is the God of all – one, true, creator, sans fear & enmity, eternal, self-created. There is none above Him. He is kind, caring, loving, benevolent, sustaining, just and forgiving.
For eons upon eons there was just Him. At some point He willed and the creation came into being. The act of creation is continuous and the creation expands or regresses as God wills. This creation is real and not illusory. True [real] are the cosmic regions, the galaxies and the forms that Thou hast created. Whatever transpires in the creation is by Thy grace and as Thou will, decide, ordain and decree, says Nanak 
On the earth abide beings of myriad hues and infinite forms but one single essence pervades the entire multiplicity of cosmic existence. God is immanent in His creation and this world is his home.
THE HUMAN BEING
Of all living beings God has given humans extra merits. Even as the other beings have their own place and purpose in God’s scheme, they also fulfill the purposes of man. God Himself bears the concern for all that He has created.
The human body, a dead mass by itself, is infused with life when God places soul in it. God concurrently endows the human with individual will – haumain – the lower self, limited by human faculties, effective to things phenomenal only. Mind, partly subtle and partly gross, is activated when soul inhabits the body.
Created by divine will haumain is the basis of man’s personality, regulating behavior and conduct – mostly encouraging willful action choices. Mind, the decision center, has a tendency to be driven by desires – trishna – and haumain. Though open to influence by the intellect, the desire, lodged deep within, continues to propel haumain to continue to strive for its fulfillment. Thus there is direct nexus between desire and individual’s choice of actions. The Guru says that even though willfulness likens to a dreadful malady, the remedy also lies therein for with God’s grace it can be directed to be in accord with the divine word.
The Sikh scripture recognizes a number of evils but kam [lust], krodh [anger], lobh [greed], moh
and ahankar [pride, ego] are frequently mentioned as major human weaknesses that lead men astray. Even though haumain is not included in the five it is considered the cause of all evils and if subdued can lead to their extinction. This control of willfulness is at the root of inner human struggle for spiritual development.
DHARTI & DHARAM
The world that we live in has been characterized as dharti dharamshal at several places in the Sikh scriptural literature. The first reference is in pauri 34 of japji where Nanak says: in the midst of nights, days, weeks, seasons; wind, water, fire and nether regions, God established the earth, an abode for dharam. In this setting where immutable laws bind the creation to go about its assigned duty in a detached manner, God placed on earth beings of diverse species and hues with various, infinite names and identities. In True God’s true court the elect blessed with His beneficent grace are graciously seated to judge the mortals for their deeds and actions – sifting the ripe from the raw, the good from the bad, the worthy from the unworthy. You shall see this verily, O Nanak, when you get there. The world therefore is arena for dharma and our actions and deeds will be scrutinized from their dharmic perspective.
In Maroo Dakhni the suggestion is that the time window for dharam is the life span. God created the earth and made it the home of dharam, remaining unattached as the game of birth and death plays on.
Guru Amar Das says this dharamsal operates per God’s will – God established His seat overseeing the universe and at Hiscommand, created the earth, the true home of dharam. He, our true Lord, merciful to the meek, creates, sustains, and desolates all and every thing. Such is the wondrous uniqueness of His will. He pervades and lovingly cares for all.
Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of Guru Granth Sahib says in one of his compositions – the true Lord cannot be approached, bears none any ill will and is a unique controller; know you all, that He created the earth as a true arena for dharam where one will reap as one sows and take the results of their actions – karam.
DIMENSIONS OF DHARAM
Thus the creation that we are part of operates within the universal immutable laws epitomizing God’s command, will, design and desire. The context for dharam is our life on this earth. God gives us the freedom to make our choices and we will be judged, on the scale of dharam, for choices, guided by our free will, that we make. To comprehend the meaning and dimensions of dharam let us look at the range of interpretations placed on the term as used at various places in the Granth.
The word dharam is often used to mean faith, religion or persuasion – using the terms interchangeably. This meaning is implicit in several of the verses. Some examples are:
Guru Arjan says of all the religions, the best is to chant the Name of the Lord and live a life of piety.
Bhagat Ravi Das laments that no one explains to him how to swim across this ocean of life and achieve liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Even though there are ever so many persuasions that people practice – – – and Ravi Das has tried several but he is left sad that love and devotion have not welled up within him nor has his sense of duality gone. Bhagat Namdev sees chanting the Name of the Lord as the highest expression of faith.
Code of Conduct
From the Word, come religious rituals (karam) sacredness and the code of conduct.
Bhai Gurdas says – per their own varna people lived by the duties assigned to their caste and tribe.
Living by Persuasion
Guru Nanak says reflecting on, internalizing the persuasion anddharam are related. In other words living by persuasion is an index of an individual’s dharmic orientation.
In jap ji, the Guru says that proverbial dhaul, supporting the universe, is dharma. Born of compassion, it is the force that keeps the earth and the rest of creation in balance and holds it in an order of contentment or harmony. Thus dharma has a dimension of a balancing and harmonizing force.
There are numerous quotes where righteousness is inherent in the use of the word dharam e.g. The Lord above has ordained that mortals must practice righteousness. Again Nanak says modesty and righteousness both, O Nanak, are qualities of those who are blessed with true wealth. Guru Gobind Singh has used the term – dharam yudh – campaign for righteousness – I have no other desire except to wage a campaign for righteous values in our living.
In jap ji is said – perfect are Thy laws/ justice and dispensation, perfect Thy scale of justice and those You honor Again Guru Amar Das says such is the Greatness of the Lord; His justice is totally Righteous. Guru Arjan also says righteous justice is ever dispensed in His Court.
The concept of divine justice is also enshrined in the word dharam. Dharam Rai, the mythical judge in God’s court, uses dharam as his scale of justice. There are frequent references to this divine function in the scripture. For instance Guru Angad says O Nanak, having created the beings, the Lord installed the righteous judge of Dharam to read and record their accounts.
In this verse Bhai Gurdas has used the word dharma to convey the meaning of honesty – serve the needy only using savings from honest earnings.
In another verse the term implies merit – O Nanak, whoever gives to them [the wandering mendicants], earns the same kind of merit
The broad core meanings and dimensions of dharam in different contextual settings emerging from the limited sample presented include persuasion/faith, code of conduct, duty/role, balancing/harmonizing force, righteousness, justice, honesty and merit.
We also find that some other attributes are often mentioned in association with dharma, suggesting the range of related factors that bear on its core concept. Witness the following:
- Purity, contentment, compassion, faith and truthfulness – I have ushered these into the home of my self
- The Lord’s servant sings God’s praises as worship, meditation, self-discipline and religious observances.
- The mother of the Guru’s persuasion is wisdom and contentment the father; through whom one attains deliverance. Forbearance and the sense of duty are its brothers, and meditation, austerities, continence the sons.
One may thus infer that virtues and qualities such as purity, contentment, compassion, truthfulness, self-restraint, forbearance, austerity, continence, as well as prayerful, meditative disposition and refined intellect [wisdom], control of evil propensities and well directed personal will along with dharam, in its multi-dimensional meaning, form the paradigm that informs a person’s propensities for action choices and thus his potentialfor spiritual advancement.
DHARAM THROUGH THE AGES
There is another commentary on dharam that may be considered now. Traditionally we believe that the world has passed through three ages and we are currently living through kaljug, the fourth age. Guru Nanak says in Sat Yuga, contentment was the chariot [human disposition] and dharam the charioteer [lead instinct, social ethos]. Through the ages there is transition of human disposition from a state of contentment to flaming desire and the lead human instinct or social ethos from dharmic motivation to falsehood – both progressive erosion.
Transition in values and human behavior through the ages is envisioned by Guru Amar Das in these words – In Sat Yuga, everyone spoke the truth and devotional worship was performed in each and every home – – – In Traytaa Yuga – -hypocrisy became prevalent, and people thought that the Lord was far away. – – In Dwaapur Yuga, deluded by doubt people became torn by duality. – – – [In Kalyug] Love of and attachment to maya has brought total darkness.
What we gather being said is that, over time, the people’s disposition has changed from contentment to flaming desire. Falsehood is the new social ethos from dharma of early ages. Instead of devotional worship, god of mammon has become important and debate and argument get precedence over true knowledge. Evidently man’s spiritual progression, linked to his living by dharma, will be influenced by his awareness of true knowledge and balance in his value package.
MAN’S SPIRITUAL ASCENT – TO DHUR
Now if we go back to the quote from jap ji regarding dharti dharamsal, we find that the context is the description of the stages of spiritual ascent by man. The description in the quote was of dharam khand, the realm of dharam, seen as the first stage in the soul’s progress to its source. The Guru has named the next higher plane as gyan khand, the realm of knowledge followed by saram khand, the realm of aesthetics and ecstasy, then karam khand, the realm of Grace and finally sach khand, the realm of Truth where the True One resides.
In the hierarchy of stages of spiritual progress Nanak considered dharam khand as the first step in man’s ascent on the spiritual path. In this paradigm the human actions –karam – are the critical determinants of how humans are judged. The karmic law basically envisages that actions and experiences in one life influence future lives. All actions have causes and therefore in turn they entail consequences. The action is not only a physical act; even a thought, word or deed, known or unknown is a form of action. So is inaction because understandably it is theresult of a deliberate choice made by the individual. On its own, any karam is neither good nor bad; it is deemed virtuous or sinful depending on the motivation behind each action.
In this phase man is busy carrying out the functions assigned by the Creator as well as his mundane obligations. Placed in the diverse and complex setting of the creation, man’s choice of actions will be influenced by his understanding of dharma and ability of his consciousness to choose between the right and wrong, good and bad. Those whose performance is acceptable and who are bestowed God’s grace will be received with honor while others will continue through cycles of birth and death.
In this progression the next level is gyan khand. That – gyan – is not just a reflection of one’s education or learning is stressed. Nanak says that mere reading and writing without an understanding of the inner reality may only reinforce doubts. In fact being overly worldly wise may only ensure continued cycle of transmigration. Awareness of this kind cannot be obtained by effort alone. Real knowledge and understanding of phenomenal world and induction to divine spirit comes only through the help, teaching and guidance of the Guru.
The awareness of man in this stage broadens to develop an understanding of the larger canvas of multiple persuasions, schools of thought, sages, seers, worlds beyond our own and the play of knowledge in the variety of personalities and precepts. In fact the man’s conscious is now sensitized enough to receive the enrapturing celestial melodies and sights. Knowledge, reason and wisdom now hold supreme.
The effectual essence of development to this stage is that the human comprehension, intellect and reason further help the man to stay the course of dharam. The sense of duality is departed, desires are tempered and the inclusive understanding developed further refines man’s attitude and responses and enhances his inclination for virtuous activity. The choice determinants now being the understanding of dharam at the person’s elevated plane of knowledge and reason are likely to lead to actions that may be more acceptable in God’s court.
In the realm of saram khand the all-pervasive attribute is beauty and harmony. By this stage the understanding, insight and intuition of the man are so developed that he is empathetically sensitized to start perceiving the ineffable wondrous beauty, harmony and balance in the creation. This is the level of consciousness of seers and angels who can relate to their contemporaneous settings in a state of harmony.
Nanak has himself expressed his state of bliss and wonderment beholding the various phenomenon and experiences in his compositions – the cosmic melodies; the divine wisdom; the creatures, their species and animals prancing around naked; the hues and forms of creation; the air currents, water and playful flames of fire; the earth, its resources and attractions; the emotion of union, separation; hunger and satiation; distance, closeness and togetherness; wilderness and clear paths. He concludes by saying how wonderstruck is he to see God’s astounding marvels and how truly blessed are those who get a glimpse of His mysteries. [Slok M I, p. 463].
When in this realm, the man’s heart is totally subsumed with love. He is in a state of inner peace and harmony. He is not inimical to or overly attached to any body or any thing. He is in a state of bliss and thankful for God’s benevolence.
Persons at this level of awareness are truly God oriented and focused on altruistic activities. Their actions, thoughts and choices now are rooted in their holistic understanding of dharam and thus would meet the criteria for favorable disposition in God’s court. They have ascended to the level of gurmukh, brahm gyani, khalsa, sant sipahi.
The elevation to karam khand brings to end the cycle of birth and death. One reaches this door of deliverance only by God’s grace – effort and spiritual evolution is needed but by itself is not enough. The Gurus emphasize that even if one were to live for ages, earn a good name and praise from their fellow beings, the person may not get any recognition in His court unless the person is blessed with God’s grace.
The key to be blessed with Grace is the person’s spiritual intensity – total involvement with naam. Abiding in this realm are the heroic [men] and gracious [women] whose [brave] hearts are totally and firmly imbued with the love of the Lord. Valiance is a quality associated with the spiritually developed. Also spiritual progression is seen as a struggle against evil propensities and success is viewed akin to victory in battle. Those in this stage have no fear and enjoy a constant state of bliss – anand, vismad. Such grace may descend on some even while alive; a state named jivan mukta. Such a person lives completely submerged in nam, content with God’s will.
The abode of God is sach khand, dhur. Residing here God joyfully looks at His creation; takes care of it; makes it operate as He wills; orders the lives and actions of beings and is happy with what He sees and does. It is an indescribable firmament of countless worlds, regions, and forms. The entire creation is in His bounteous grace and He dispenses Divine justice from here. It is far or near depending upon where we are for God is indeed very close to us if only we have reached the stage where we can connect with His immanent presence. In fact says the Guru the dear Lord has fashioned the body as His temple and dear folks, the Lord continues to dwell there.
THE GURU’s WAY
Guru Amardas in a composition elucidates what the dharam of this age [Kalyug] may entail – Learn thus the dharam of this age, my brothers, that the essence of all the learning from the Perfect Guru is that both here and hereafter, the Lord’s Name will be your companion. [Therefore] learn of the Lord, contemplate on Him, for then, by Guru’s Grace, your impurities will be cleansed. God cannot be found through argument and debate; propensity for duality only dulls the mind and body. Attune yourself to the true Lord through His shabad. The world is polluted by – haumain –, which is not washed away by frequent dips at sacred places. Without reaching God’s presence, there is no liberation but only torture of death. Blessed are those who imbibe humility and through the shabad conquer their ego for they will overcome the five [evil instincts] and achieve liberation for themselves and those around them.
The Sikh precepts are built to guide the believer to be able to strive for spiritual ascent while living self-supporting, sharing, prayerful life, lived in the midst of and with other people, in a communal setting notwithstanding the constraints that an average working person living in real time, in the midst of real people, handling real situations and facing real challenges encounters in life.
The path to merge with the Lord is open to all. There is no distinction based on caste in God’s court nor are women excluded. No one persuasion is supreme. Those who follow another persuasion are not gentile, malechh or kafir – all are His children. Our action choices should meet societal obligations and be in sync with God’s will. In other words our endeavor should be to be good persons of faith and live a moral, ethical and prayerful life. Observing rituals, practicing austerities or performing pilgrimages is not an index of spiritual progression or enough for deliverance.
Do not shy away from taking righteous position. Don’t elect the option of inaction in the face of coercion, tyranny, and exploitation. Strive for removal of injustice, discrimination and exploitation especially of the weak and the under privileged.
Love is important to achieve unity with God. One cannot even think of freedom from transmigration without love of the Lord in his heart. If one really and strongly loves God, search the shabad for the way. Search, reason, reflection and faith are key that, with love in one’s heart, will open up the mysteries of bliss, anand. Love is high, very high, for the enlightened person seeks, not worldly possessions or even otherworldly release, but only the yearning in his heart for God’s lotus feet.
Never be short on endeavor and retain sense of optimism – chardi kala– spurred by the belief that God wants the good of all. Understand that no one can fathom His ways and keep faith that if one serves His will, he will be blessed with His grace. Good karam are not wasted they provide the hope for being blessed with human incarnation, possible glimmer of another chance. Seek Guru’s guidance – the source is Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the living Guru, for one can be saved from the consequences of one’s karam if one completely surrenders to the Guru. The path the Guru has shown embodies universal values – living life naturally as God intended; in harmony with the rest of humanity and God’s creation; no denials and austerities; an ethical, productive life lived in its fullness sharing, in thankfulness and love, the rewards that honest labor brings. Guru Arjan seems to sum it up saying – nanak satgur bhetiye poori hovai jugat, hasandeya, khelandeya, painandeya, khavandeya viche hovai mukt – meeting the true Guru, O Nanak, one is shown the way to achieve liberation even as one lives a participating life: laughing, playing, wearing finery and imbibing delicacies. [Gujri M V, p. 522]
SPIRITUAL PROGRESSION-KNOWLEDGE MATRIX
In order to facilitate comprehension of the spiritual progression inherent in the five stages discussed earlier I have attempted a knowledge matrix reflective of various stages. I must admit that, not being blessed with deeper understanding, I had to use this device routed in reason to try and develop my own understanding. I am appending the matrix at the end with the hope that it catalyses further deliberation and considered learned comments help bring greater clarity to our understanding of the Guru’s multi dimensional, holistic vision of human spiritual quest.
|Stage or Khand||Knowledge type||Source of Learning||Stage of Mental development||Haumain disposition||Trishna disposition||Mode of Interface with the creation||Social orientation||Response to Societal ills|
|Dharma||Received, perceived, customary or conventional||Instincts & experience of empirical world||Aware of hukam, variety, diversity||Self interest driven||Driver||Interactive, tribal, self centered||Protective self preservation, competitive||Reactive, defensive|
|Gyan||Acquired, learnt, cognitive||Search, seek conceptual world through reason, intellect and open mind||Experience higher truths & understand inter connectedness||Controlled through sensitivity about others||Reasoned level thru frugality, austerity, choice||Inclusive, empathetic, friendly||Acceptance of diversity and variety in creation & its significance||Rational, measured, corrective, justice seeking|
|Saram||Contemplative, reflective, thought, felt, aesthetic||Effort at inner withdrawal to contemplate & reflect on spiritual world||Consciousness molded to comprehend innate beauty, harmony in creation||Subdued by the surge of goodwill for all||Contented with what God gives||Joyful, ecstatic, fraternal, appreciative||Appreciation of balance, beauty and harmony in diversity & variety||Righteous, proactive, sensitive to other’s cause|
|Karam||Metaphysical, Immediate, Internalized, transcends human reason, action||Intuitive insight through God’s Grace||Energized by bliss and balance||Exhumed, by spirit of service to God’s purpose||Sharing, caring, giving||Altruistic, helping, serving, nurturing||Treat all variety & diversity stemming from one source||Willing to sacrifice to protect the weak & oppressed|
|Sach||Divine, Revelatory, Truth, integrative, apex||Directly from Creative Spirit||Understand how divine will works – hukam||Merges with & surrenders to God’s will||Providing||Seeing Divine light in all||None stranger or enemy, love for all||Not afraid ready to give life for peace & justice|
 hukme dharti sajian – M III, p.785
 Sache tere khand sache brahmand – Slok M I, p.463.
 eh jag sache ki hai kothri, sache ka vich vaas – M II, p.463
 manas ko prabh deiye vadiaye – Maru M V, p.1075
 jin karte karna kiya, chinta bhi karni tahe – Asa M I, p.467
 haumai dheerag rog hai daroo bhi is mahein, kirpa kare jey aapni teh gur ka sabad samahe – Slok M II, p. 466
 raati ruti thitee var, pawan pani agni patal, tis vich dharti thap rakhi dharamsal, tis vich jio jugat ke rang, tin ke nam anek anant, karmi karmi hoey veechar, sacha aap sacha darbar, tithe sohan panch parwan, nadar karam pave neesan, kach pakai uthe paye, Nanak geaya japai jaye – M I p.7
 dhart upaey dhari dharamsala, utpat parlo aap nirala – M I p.1033
 aape takht rachaon aakas paataala, hukme dharti sajian sachi dharamsala, aap upae khapaida sache deen dayala, sabhna rijk sanbahida tera hukam nirala, aape aap vartada aape pratpala -Suhi M III, P. 785.
 satgur purkh agam hai nirvair nirala, jaano dharti dharma ki sachi dharamsala, jeha beejai so luney phal karam samaalaa –
 Sarab dharam meh srest dharam, har ko nam jap nirmal karam -Gauri Sukhmani, M V, p.266
 Paar kaise payebo re, mo sau koyu neh kahe samjhaey, jaa te avagavn bilaye, rahau, buh bidh dharam niroopey karta deesay sabh loey, kawan karam te chhooteay jeh saadhey sabh sidh hoey, anik jatan nigreh kiye taari neh tarey bharam phaas, prem bhagat nehun oopjai taa te Ravidas udaas -Gauree Ravdas, p. 346
 Har kau nam lai ootam dharam -Gond Nam Dev, p. 874
 Akhar karam kirt sach dharam – Gauree M V, p. 261
 apney apney varn vich chaar varan kul dharam dharande – Vaar: 5 Pauree 3
 mane dharam seti sanbandh – M I Japji
 dhaul dharam daya ka poot santokh thap rakheya jin soot – Japji pauri 16
 dharam karaey karam dhuruh furmaya – Malar M II, p. 1280
 saram dharam doey nanaka jo dhan palley paaye – Malar M I, p. 1287
 avar vashna nehi mohey dharam yudh ko chao
 amul dharam amul deeban,amul tul amul parwan – Japji pauri 26
 har ki vadeayi vadi hai ja niaon hai dharam ka – Sri Rag M III, p. 84
 sada dharam ja key deeban – M V, p. 987
 nanak jio upaey key likh naavai dharam bahaleya – M II, p. 463
 kirt virt kar dharam di khat khavalan kaar krehi – Vaar: 1 Pauree 3
 tin ke ditey nanaka teho jiha dharam – Salok Vaaraan Te Vadheek M III, p. 1413
 sat santokh daya dharam sach eh apne greh bheetar vaarey -.Asa M V, p. 379
 jap tap sanjam karam dharam har kirtan jan gaaeyo – Gujri M V, p. 498
 gurmat mata mat hai pita santokh mokh pad paaiya, dheeraj dharam bharav doey japtap jatsat put janaeya – Vaar: 6 Pauree 5
 – satjug rath santokh ka dharam agey rathvahu – Asa M I, p. 470
 – satjug sach kahe sabh koi, ghar ghar bhagat gurmukh hoi, — tretey — pakhand varteya har jaanan dur — duapar doojey dubhida hoey, bharam bhulane jaaneh doey — maya moh ati gubaar – Ramkali M III, p. 880
 – likh likh padeya teta karheya – M I, p. 467
 – boht sianap aavey jaey – Dhanasri M I, p.686.
 – satgur vituh vareya jit miliye khasam samaya, jin kar updes gyan anjan diya inni netri jagat nehaleya M I, Pauri p. 470
 – gyan khand mehn gyan parchand – Jap ji, Pauri 36
 – je jug chare arja hor dosuni hoe, nava khandan vich jaaniai naal chale sab koe, changa nao rakhae ke jas kirat jag le, je tis nadar na aaveyi tan vaat na puchhe ke – M I p. 2.
 – ‘ja ko har ras laga iss jug mein so kahiye hai soora – Dhanasri M V p.679
 – har mandar har jio sajeya mere lal jio har is meh rehya samaey ram – Bihagra M V, p.542
 – is jag ka dharam padhau tum bhai, poorey gur sabh sojhi paayi, aithey agey har nam sakhai, ram padho man karo beechar, gur parsaadi mail utaar, rahau, vaad virodh neh paaya jaey, man tan pheeka doojey bhaey, gur ke sabad sach liv laey, haumain maila eh sansara, nit teerath naaveh neh jaey ahankara, bin gur bhetey jam karey khuara, sau jan sacha jeh haumai maarey, gur keh sabad panch sangharey, aap tarey sagle kul tarey – Gauri M III, p.230
 – man re kiyon chhute bin pyar – M I p.60.
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