Sacred Literature & Sikh Studies

What is Gurbani?

The sacred literature of Sikhism is called Gurbani which means the Guru’s word – A Song message – as enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib. In Sikhism, the Guru Means ‘The Word’ and not the physical body. God revealed the bani through the Guru and it will ultimately lead one to its source. The bani is the Guru and the Guru is the bani. One who expounds or explains the bani cannot have the status of a Guru. He is a mere teacher or missionary. Any compositions other than those of the Gurus and those approved by them are unacceptable to Sikhs.

Some people make much of the apparently contradictory statements in Gurbani. The hymns have been written to suit different stages in spiritual development. For example, in one hymn, Guru Nanak says that with individual effort, it is possible to realize God; in another hymn he says that austerities and meditation are of no avail without God’s grace. With understanding and patience, it is possible to reconcile the so-called contradictions. In this instance, prayer in the beginning is due to personal effort, but later on, it can be seen that this effort was itself induced or assited by God. Without His order – Hukam – it is impossible for man to do anything. Effort on its own only produces egoism and even frustration. Humility is essential for the winning of God’s Grace.

The reading of Gurbani requires concentration, understanding and heart- searching. Lip-utterance on its own is of no avail. The devotee must meditate on the message of Gurbani. This alone can help him to rid his mind of evil thoughts and make it pure enough to receive the Name(holy Spirit). The true devotee drinks this nectar because it give him inner satisfaction and inner peace. The percolation of Gurbani into the inner consciousness is as fruitful as the seasonal rain to a ploughed field. Guru Nanak says, “Make a boat of the sacred Name then, with the oars of faith, cross the ocean of illusion.”

According to Sikhism, Gurbani is the panacea for all human ills and sin. It is for the individual to find out which hymn or Salok appeals to him and is related to his spiritual need. If he feels comforted by the hymns of the Guru, he should realize that meditation is his spiritual need.