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Location: New Mexico

Publications: Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa. Anand Sahib: The Song of Bliss by Guru Amar Das translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa. Available through www.sikhdharma.org.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Anand Sahib Translation: Paurees 21-25

If someone seeking
Spiritual understanding
Abides with
The Sound of Wisdom

That person will become dedicated
And surrendered
To the guidance of the Teacher.

That person
Seeking spiritual understanding
Will become dedicated
And surrendered
To the guidance of the Teacher

Remaining focused
Within herself
on the Sound of Wisdom.

She meditates
On the feet of the Teacher
In her own heart.

And her very essence
Protects that relationship.

This experience
Causes her
To leave her ego behind,
Giving herself completely.

The Sound of Wisdom
There is nothing else
Worth knowing.

Says Naanak,
You who live
By your purity, grace
And spiritual discipline

In this way
A person seeking spiritual understanding

Becomes dedicated
And surrendered
To the Teacher. (21)

If someone turns away from
The Sound of Wisdom

Without the guidance
Of that Teacher

Spiritual freedom
Isn’t possible.

There is no other way
To attain spiritual freedom.

Go and ask those
Who have
Discriminating insight.

For so many births
Have come.

Without the True Sound
Of Wisdom
Spiritual freedom
Isn’t possible.

To attain
Spiritual freedom

Be humble.
Attach yourself
To the Teacher’s feet.

The Teacher of Truth
Will cause you
To listen to the Shabad-
The Sound Current
That cuts the ego.

Says Naanak
Think about it.

See it in
This way.

Without the
True Sound of Wisdom

Spiritual freedom
Isn’t possible. (22)

Seekers of Truth

You who are
By the Teacher Divine

In that frequency
And vibration
Which connects you
To the experience
Of the Formless One
In all.

Sing in that
Vibrational Frequency
Given by
The Sound of Wisdom.

That Frequency
Is supreme
Among all frequencies.

Those who
Through grace
Receive this

They dissolve
Into the Sound of it
In their own hearts.

Drink in
Those Sounds
That will awaken in you
The memory
Of your own

Then you shall
Always and forever
Project the color
Of your Essential
Inner Divinity.

Meditate continuously
On the One
Who protects the
Entire Creative Energy
Of the Universe

Who holds
The Divine Mother
In His arms.

Says Nanak,
Always sing
In this frequency
And vibration
Which connects you with
The experience
Of the Formless One
In all. (23)

Without the
True Sound of Wisdom

Other frequencies
And dimensions
Are immature and unsatisfying.

Those frequencies
And dimensions
Are immature and unsatisfying .

Without the
True Sound of Wisdom

All other frequencies
Are immature.

What is spoken
Is immature.

The sense of listening
Is immature.

All that is described
Seen is immature.

These people don’t say anything

Even if they talk
About the Divine
With their tongues.

Those whose awareness
Has been stolen
By the beauty
of Your Creative Play

Who become forgetful
Of Thee,
Oh Love,

They speak
Just for the sake
Of speaking.

Says Naanak
Without the
True Sound of Wisdom

All other frequencies
And dimensions
Are immature
And unsatisfying. (24)

The Sacred Sound
That cuts the ego shackles
Of the mind

Given by
The Teacher

Is a rare
And precious gem
Set with pure diamonds.

Attach your mind
To this rare and precious gem
Of the Shabad -

Of the Sound Current
That cuts the ego

And merge yourself
Into It.

The Shabad
Will cause your mind
To intermingle with
The Ultimate Reality

Seeing the Formless One
As Light
Coming into form

As you become
Fixated with Love
For the experience.

You, yourself
Will become
The diamond holding
That precious gem.

Oh Divine One,
You are the power
That gives the gift
Of understanding this
In the depth of our being.

Says Nanak,
The Sacred Sound
That cuts the ego
Is a rare and precious gem
Set in pure diamonds. (25)

All Love in the Divine,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Japji Sahib Courses: Crestone, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh.

We interrupt the posting of the Anand Sahib Translation with a word from our sponsors.


To all of you who have emailed and written asking me to teach the Japji Sahib course in your area: By Guru's grace, here are two upcoming opportunities to spend a weekend meditating on Guru Nanak's Japji Sahib.

Take a break from your daily life, and open your heart to deeply understand the beautiful, powerful and elevating wisdom of Guru Nanak.

With a full-time job, I will be able to teach maybe three or four times this year. So please come join me if it's possible for you, in Colorado or Arizona, in the first half of 2007.

Here are the dates and the details. By God's grace, may we come be together, with each other, in the vibration of the Shabad Guru.

Japji Sahib Course
Crestone, Colorado
April 21-23
$108 for the course
$25 a night for lodging if you register now.

To register contact Sue or Dan:
Tel: 719.256.4036
Email: retuta@crestonehac.com

Sponsored by the Crestone Healing Arts Center and the Siri Singh Sahib Memorial Temple of Crestone. This intensive will begin on a Saturday night in Crestone, continue all day Sunday and finish Monday morning before noon. Discussion, chanting, yoga, meditation, group dialogues, good food, unbelievably gorgeous mountains and heart-warming spiritual community.

Saturday, April 21: 7-9 pm
Sunday, April 22: 9 am-4:30 pm
Monday, April 23: 9 am to noon

Japji Sahib Course
Phoenix, Arizona

June 1-2
$108 for the course
$84 for students

To register contact Kewal Kaur:

Tel: 602.271.4480
Email: kewal@yogaphoenix.com

Sponsored by Yoga Phoenix, this intensive will begin on a Friday night and continue into Saturday. Discussion, chanting, yoga, meditation, group dialogues, and wonderful spiritual community close to the heart of downtown Phoenix.

Friday, June 1: 6:30 - 8:30
Saturday, June 2: 10 am - 4:30 pm

God's grace - hope to see you there.

All Love in the Divine,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

Monday, January 22, 2007

Anand Sahib Translation: Paurees 16-20

This sacred
Wisdom Song
Of Bliss-

The Sound of it
Is so beautiful.

The Sound of it
Is so beautiful
That the Teacher of Truth tells us -

Listen to it
In every moment
With all of your being.

There are those who
Accept what they hear
When they listen
And allow it
To dwell deep within them.

From the very beginning
Of Creation
The moment of the soul’s
Awakening was written.

And for those who
Listen and surrender
That moment has come.

It is now.

Some wander

Talking about this
With words.

But talking and wandering
Won’t bring the experience
You’re searching for.

Says Naanak,
This sacred
Wisdom Song
Of Bliss -

The Sound of it
Is so beautiful.

The Teacher of Truth tells us
Listen to it
With all of your being. (16)

Those devoted servants
Who meditate
On the Divine Essence
Inside of themselves
And inside of
Everything around them

Realize their
Original Purity.

On the Divine Essence
Inside of themselves
And inside of
Everything around them

They realize their
Original Purity.

That meditation happens
When you
Consciously flow
With the Sound of Wisdom.

They live in a pure way
In the midst of mother, father
And siblings.

The live in a pure way
Among community -
And their experience
Of purity multiplies.

Talking about
What is pure.

To what is pure.

Only those people
Realize their
Original Purity

Who invite
Their Pure Spirit
To dwell
In their own minds.

Says Naanak
Those people
Realize their Original Purity
Flow with the Sound of Wisdom
And continually meditate
On the Divine. (17)

Performing rituals
And rites

Won’t give you ease -

The ability to be at ease
With whatever happens
In life.

And without
Feeling at ease
With whatever happens
In life

The mental disturbances
That come from
Fear, doubt and worry
Will never depart.

The mental disturbances
That come from
Fear, doubt and worry
Will never depart

Even by practicing
So many disciplines
And constantly following
Every religious rule.

All the mental disturbances
That fear gives birth to, darling,

Muddy your own
Subconscious mind

And keep you
From seeing
Your Inner Divinity.

What discipline
Will wash
That dirt away?

The mind
Shall be cleansed
When you attach yourself
To the Shabad-
To the Sound Current
That cuts the ego.

Only then
Will Essential Divinity
Your awareness.

Says Naanak,
The Teacher’s
Sound of Wisdom
Gives this gift.

You become at ease-
Balanced and peaceful -
In the midst of everything
And anything.

And in this way,
The mental disturbances
That come from fear, doubt and worry
Depart. (18)

The inner being
Is clouded with

But the outer image
Is pure.

The outer image
Is pure.

But the inner being
Is clouded with

Those who
Live like this
Have gambled
With their lives
And lost.

There is a thirst inside
Which is so great.

And because of that thirst
We attach ourselves
To things that
Make us sick

Forgetting about death.

In all the sacred writings,
The Divine Spirit
Within us
Is considered the highest,
Most exalted pursuit.

Those who have
Not learned
To listen deeply

To listen
With all of their being

Wander lost
Like ghosts.

Says Naanak
When people abandon
The experience of
Ultimate Reality
And attach themselves
To deception

They have gambled
With their lives
And lost. (19)

The inner being
is pure.

The outer image
Is pure.

The outer image
Is pure.

The inner being
Is pure.

This happens
When you put
Your effort
Into doing those actions

Which are so

That the Teacher
of Truth

Has given you
To do.

There is a state
Of awareness
Where one soul,
One spirit
Can directly communicate with,
Feel and perceive
Another soul,
Another spirit
Through love.

But when you just love
The illusions around you
You will never have
That experience.

Take your earthly
Desires and longings
And merge them
Into a love
For Truth.

Love all of it
In a balanced way.

Such a life
Is a rare
And precious jewel.

Those who have earned
This jewel
Of a Spirit-based life

In a noble business.

Says Naanak
Those whose minds
Have surrendered
And accepted
Their purity

Dwell with the
Sound of Wisdom
Forever. (20)

All Love in the Divine,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

Friday, January 19, 2007

Anand Sahib Translation: Paurees 11-15

Oh my Beloved Mind
Always remember the
Ultimate Reality.

This family and
All these social relationships
That you see
Will not go with you
When you die.

Your friends and companions
Will not go with you

So why attach
Your awareness
To them?

There are so many actions
Which cause us
To hurt ourselves
Or to hurt other people

Drowning us
In illusion.

Don’t do them.

Don’t do those things
That will just lead
To endless regrets.

Deeply listen
To the instructions
Of the Teacher of Truth

And take those
Instructions with you
When you go.

Says Naanak,
Oh my Beloved Mind
Always remember
The Ultimate Reality. (11)

We cannot
Find You
No matter
Where we look.

We cannot touch You
Sense you
With our physical senses.

Your limits
Are beyond
Our reach.

Your limits
Are beyond
Everyone’s reach.

Only You, Yourself,
Your limits.

Every being
Is a musical instrument
Whom You play.

What else
Can anyone say
To explain it?

Whatever I say -
Whatever I see -
It’s all You.

You created
The entire Universe.

Says Naanak,
You are always
Than the reach
Of our senses. (12)

You search
For the experience
Of your own deathlessness
Through gods,
Through other men,
Through saints,
Through servants

But only
The Sound of Wisdom
Can awaken you
To the reality
Of your own
Deathless Spirit.

Through the kindness
Of the Teacher
The awareness
Of your own Deathlessness
Will flow in your veins

And this will cause
Your mind
To perceive
The Ultimate Reality
Seeing the Formless in form.

All the beings
Whom You play
Like musical instruments

All the beings
You Created,
Oh Love,

Some of them
See this
And surrender
To Wisdom.

In that surrender
Attachment and
Are cut away

As love for Truth
And the Sound of Wisdom
That takes you to Truth
Commands you.

Says Naanak,
When it pleases You,
Oh Divine One,
We find deathlessness
Within ourselves
Through the Sound of Wisdom. (13)

The Way of those
Who live
In Love

Is unique
And completely free.

Those who Love
Follow the Way
Of unique freedom.

It is a
Difficult path
To walk.

They turn their back
On the allurements
Of greed, attachment
And pride.

They don’t
Talk much.

Know this path
Is as sharp
As a double-edged sword
And as thin
As a hair.

Through the gift
Of the Sound of Wisdom
There are those
Who turn away
From their egos

And merge into
The Divine Essence
That dwells
In their own hearts.

Says Naanak,
The Way of those
Who live in Love

Age after age

Is unique
And free. (14)

Dear One,
Everyone moves
The way
You make them

What other virtues
Are there of Yours
To know?

The way You make
Everyone move -
They move.

And those who
Flow with You
Have found
The Way.

When You touch us
With Your kindness
Your Spirit within us
Rises up
And becomes our
Living Identity.

Who have been
Touched this way
By Thee

In every moment
On Har…Har..

The Sound of You
In our very heartbeat.

Those who
You cause
To deeply listen
To Your view of the world

Find peace
At the Teacher’s door.

Says Naanak,
Oh Master of the Ultimate Reality
Love is the way
We move. (15)

All Love in the Divine,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Anand Sahib Translation: Paurees 6-10

Without attuning ourselves
Through love
To the dimension
Of Ultimate Reality

Our bodies
Don’t enjoy
The experience of life.

Our bodies
Don’t enjoy
The experience of life

Without that
Loving attunement.

What can we do?
We’re helpless.

Without You,
Oh Divine One,

Nobody has the power
To kindly and lovingly
Bless us
With the blossom-necklace
Of Divine Awakening.

This Spirit of mine
Has no other place
To go.

By attaching ourselves
To the Shabad -
The Sound Current
That cuts the ego -
All of our affairs
Are set right.

Says Naanak,
Without attuning ourselves through love
To Thee
What can we do?
We’re helpless. (6)

Bliss. Bliss.
Everyone talks about it.

But only what you learn
Through the Sound of Wisdom
Can give you the experience
Of living every breath
In tune
With the soul’s reality.

Beloved Ones-
Through the Teacher’s
Touch of kindness
You will know
How to live
So every action
Always reflects
The reality of the Spirit.

Through that kindness
All your errors
Will be destroyed.

The balm of wisdom
Will heal your sight
And all your affairs
Will be set right.

Those who
Through the
Enter into the dimension
Of Ultimate Reality,
Seeing the Formless One in form,

Break their negative attachments
From within themselves
And everything
Gets put
In its proper place.

Says Naanak,
This is the bliss

When through the Teacher’s
Sound of Wisdom
You know
How to live
In tune
With the soul’s reality. (7)

Wise and most respected

Those to whom you give
The experience
Of living the soul’s reality

They are the ones
Who receive it.

They receive the experience
When You give it
To them.

Who else is there?
We’re helpless.

Some wander
In the ten directions
Mistaken and
Deluded by doubt.

Some attach themselves
To the Divine Spirit
Within them
And all their affairs
Are set right.

Through the gift
That the Sound of Wisdom

The mind becomes
Pure and clean
Like the crystal clear
Water of a stream.

This happens
For those who
Lovingly and respectfully
To the Teacher’s command.

Says Naanak
Those to whom You give the experience,

They are Beloved.

They are the ones
Who receive it. (8)

Oh you who
Discipline yourself
To live by your
Purity and grace,

Beloved of the Divine,

Come. Let us tell
The story
That can’t be told.

Let us talk about
The Untellable story.

At what door
Will we find
The words
To describe it?

Surrender you body,
Your mind,
Your wealth and property
To the command of the Teacher

And trust that command

Trusting and following
The command
Of the Teacher

Sing in the
Frequency and vibration
Which will bring you the experience
Of Ultimate Reality.

Says Naanak,
You who discipline yourself
To live by your
Purity and grace

Deeply listen
And tell
The Untellable Story. (9)

Oh my mind -
Those who move
By inconsistent action

Or who rely
On the cleverness
Of their own intellect

Will never experience
That state of self-trust
Where every action
The reality of the soul.

Being clever
Is not going
To take anyone

Listen to me
Mind of mine!

Through this Creative Play -
So enchanting
And attractive -
People become
Wandering lost
In doubt.

Through this enchanting,
Attractive Creative Play
People become delusional.

And like taking
A poisonous herb
All their senses
Become useless.

I surrender myself
To that Divine One
Who makes
The fascinating attachments
Of life
Taste so sweet.

Says Nanak,
Oh mind -
Those who move by inconsistent action
Or who rely on the cleverness
Of their own intellect

Will never experience
That state of self-trust
Where every action
The reality of the soul. (10)

All love in the Divine,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Anand Sahib: Maps of Reality in Translation (and the first Five Paurees)

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki fateh.

The weekend of New Year’s, the largest snow storm in 25 years hit New Mexico. Six inches of snow around my home and (thank God) a refrigerator full of food. It had been my intention to take that four day holiday weekend and really pour myself into completing as much of the Anand Sahib translation as I could. Three and a half years ago, I finished translating Japji Sahib and had begun to work on Guru Amar Das’s Anand Sahib. Being snow bound with no where to go and nothing else to do, God’s grace, the translation came into a magical synchronicity. And this draft – this sixth or seventh draft in three years – took on a life of its own. As a writer, I know when “I” write – it doesn’t work. But then the writing writes me, then it does. Three and half years of challenge and research and revision; of frustration and confusion and trying to shift my brain to see what Guru Amar Das was actually talking about. But during this snow-bound weekend at the end of 2006 – the translation wrote me and I knew it was complete.

Over the next couple of weeks – every few days – I would like to share five paurees from the translation with you. To generate conversation. Discussion. Even that dreaded word – debate. It’s done – but I am also open to suggestions for edits, for changes, for tweaks. And I thought – why not share it with all of you – who love to read what I write and because of that love, I keep writing.

But before we embark on the actual discussion of the translation, I want to offer a framework of how – over three and half years – the translation evolved. Some of you may have been around in November of 2003 when I posted an exuberant and perhaps slightly simplistic essay about translating Japji Sahib into English. That essay (with minor revisions and edits) is reposted below for you to review – or to make new your acquaintance with it if you haven’t seen it already. What’s most important in that essay is the conclusion that translating Gurbani into English depends upon text, subtext and spiritual experience. All three. So selecting one English word for one Gurmukhi word often may not be sufficient to convey the totality of the meaning.

The issue with the Anand Sahib over time became a much more subtle and challenging issue. Because the Anand Sahib encodes a kind of map of human reality that is very specific and, in some ways, very technical. Most of the translations that I’ve read in English don’t paint that technical, specific universe. And it took time for me to understand what the problem in translation was.

Let me search back through my dusty memories of literary theory – and outline an issue with language that relates to “maps.” Words do not indicate meaning independently. Words creating meaning because they are defined in relationship with each other. “Heavy” and “Light” have meaning in the context of each other – and need the relationship with each other to map an entire dimension of reality called “Weight.”

As always, the physical aspect of how the meaning of words are interrelated is the most basic and easy to penetrate in a language. But when words are mapping emotional territory, mental categorizations or –the most subtle – spiritual experience – then it becomes a very different problem. There are dozens of words in Gurmukhi signifying the Ultimate or Divine Reality. Yet they all get translated as “God” or “Lord.” There are a range of words in Gurmukhi relating to sound and frequency – but they get translated as “word.” It’s a problem. It’s a problem because what gets lost in the English translation is that map of reality. The way those words work together, illustrating and defining a world together.

As I began to study this issue deeper and deeper, the analogy that came to me was a physics one. In physics – there are so many terms to define a quantum reality. “Proton, “Electrons,” Neutrons,” “Quarks,” “Strings,” – oh my goodness – so very many terms. Because the more physics studies reality at the level of the quantum field, the more discoveries are made, the more relationships are discovered. And then words are coined to indicate relationship and reality both. The part and its place within the whole.

So imagine a physics textbook being translated into another language. And what the translators decide to do is use the phrase “atomic particle” every time one of these precise words is used. So a sentence that might read: “An atom is made of protons, electrons and neutrons.” (OK – all you scientists out there – this is from my high school science course, so I’m sure the definition has changed since then. But humor me here.) The sentence then would get translated as:

“An atom is made up of atomic particles.”

The translation, per se, is not incorrect. It is correct in a sense. But because the effort was not made to translate and explain “proton, neutron and electron” – something got lost. Knowledge got lost. Detail and technical understanding and relationships between the parts got lost.

Now imagine that same text book continuing the discussion about quarks and strings and whatever else there is – and all of those terms simply being translated as “atomic particle.”

How much more knowledge has been lost? Detail. Technical maps. Relationships. The ability to penetrate a much deeper level of reality and therefore – understand and command it.

This is what’s happened with Gurbani.

So many terms indicating…something. Some map of human experience and the Divine and the power of Sound to awaken us to the Sacred. It’s all gotten translated as “God” and “word.”

Not entirely incorrect. In a sense. But what has been lost in translation?

So to translate the Anand Sahib was a step more than simply text, subtext and spiritual experience. To translate the Anand Sahib was to attempt to understand those terms in the context of the map of reality the Guru was describing. The words: Anand, Bani, Guru, Shabad, Sach, Amrit, Naam, Har, Ananhat, and others. What did they mean – not in English equivalents – but in relationship with each other? What world, by playing together, where they describing? Because if you just look at English equivalents, you loose the way those words are working together and defining each other. And this was the problem translating the Anand Sahib. The map of reality created by the English language and the map of reality created by Gurbani are not the same map.

So what sources did I draw on to try to discover and understand this map?

  • Dictionaries – incomplete, yes, but still they gave me an initial direction.
  • Lectures by the Siri Singh Sahib
  • Discussions with Dr. Balkar Singh
  • One brief and beautiful meeting with the late Bhai Avtar Singh. Me, asking questions through his son, Bhai Kultar Singh, trying to bridge generations and cultures, languages and spiritual experience.
  • As always, looking at it from the inside through meditation

Is the map complete? No. It’s just begun. But what’s important is that this translation of the Anand Sahib is not about translating a word of Gurmukhi into a word of English or even a line of Gurmukhi into a few lines of English. It’s an attempt to understand that underlying map of reality indicated by Gurbani and communicate it in proportional relationship through the English language.

Which is why this translation will seem very different in places than other translations.

At some future point, I’ll post some of the sources, references and conversations behind translating these terms and mapping them the way that they’re being described here. But not today. For today – here are the first five paurees of Guru Amar Das’s Anand Sahib. By the grace of the One. So grateful for your thoughts and feedback.

Anand Sahib by Guru Amar Das

There is a state of consciousness
Where every action
The reality of the soul.

Oh mother -
This consciousness
Is with me now
For I have found
The Teacher of Truth
Whose wisdom awakens me
To my own Infinite Reality.

I have found
The Teacher of Truth
Whose wisdom takes me
From the darkness of my own
Ignorance and ego
To the light
Of my Inner Divinity.

With absolute
My surrendered mind
Flows in tune
With the frequency
Of the Divine.

It is such
An awesome

The Divine Musical Scales
Of Love
(Such jewels)
And the Spirits
That keep them
Have come to sing
The Shabad -

The Sacred Sound
Which breaks the
Ego-shackles of the
And releases
The Infinite Spirit
To pervade
And prevail
As my lived identity.

All of you
Sing the Sacred Sound
Of the Shabad
That will break through
Your limited ego
And bring you to the experience of
Deathless Divinity.

The Shabad has
Come to you
Through Hari -
The power of the Creator
To manifest in form.

Through the Shabad
The thought-waves
Of the mind
Become elevated
To the frequency
Of the Divine.

Says Naanak
There is a state of consciousness
Where every action
The reality of the soul.

This consciousness
Is with me now
For I have found
The Teacher of Truth
Whose wisdom awakens me
To my own Infinite Reality. (1)

Mind of mine-
Always be with the
Essence of the Divine
Inside your own heart
And inside of everything
Around you.

Be with
The Essence of the Divine
Inside yourself
And inside all things,
My mind.

This will cause you to forget
All your pains and sorrows.

Feel the Divine Essence
In every fiber of your being.

Feel yourself
As one fiber
In the vast weave of life.

And surrender your identity
To and with the Divine.

Then,The Creator will do
All of your work
For you
And bring all your affairs
To completion.

That powerful Master
Is in control
Of all the things
That concern and worry you.

So why ever
Let yourself
Forget that One?

Says Naanak-
Mind of mine -
Always be with the Essence of the Divine
Inside your own heart
And inside of everything
Around you. (2)

Master of the Ultimate Reality-
What does not live
Inside your home?

In Your home
Is everything that exists.

What You give to us
Is what we receive.

By always remaining
In a positive state-
Admiring and appreciating
Your Creation -

Your Spirit rises up
Within us
And dwells
As our active, living identity.

When Your Spirit
Within us becomes
Our active, living identity

Then everywhere we go,
In everything we do

We hear the Sound
That guides us homeTo You.

Master of the Ultimate Reality-
What does not live
Inside Your home? (3)

In the dimension
Of Ultimate Reality
Your Spirit
In every identity.

This truth
Has become
My food.

In the dimension
Of Ultimate Reality
Your Spirit
In every identity.

This truth
Feeds me.

And through it,
All hunger and dissatisfaction

Tranquility and peace
Come to live
Inside my own mind.
All my desires
Are fulfilled by You.

May I continually offer
My entire being
In service
To the Teacher
Who takes me from
The ignorance
Of my own mind
To the Light
Of my Inner Divinity

And through whom,
These great things happen.

Says Naanak,
Listen you who live
By your purity,
Spiritual discipline
And grace -

Keep it with you, Beloved Ones.

The Sound Current
That cuts
The ego-shackles of the mind.

In the Dimension
Of Ultimate Reality
Your Spirit
In every identity.

This truth
Has become
My food. (4)

Where the Five Sacred Sounds
Of the Panch Shabad play
That home is blessed
With good fortune.

Whatever home
Has adopted this Sound Current
Playing it
With artistry and power -
Such a home

Is a fortunate

Through these Five Sacred Sounds
You, oh Divine One,
Bring the Five Passions
(Of lust, pride, greed, anger and attachment)
Under control

The thorny illusion
Of Death.

At the beginning of time,
It was already decided
When and how
The Sound Current that cuts the ego
Would be met.

And when that moment comes -
We become attached to You within ourselves
And the fact of You
In the entire Creation.

Says Naanak,
Then - within those homes -
A deep and restful peace
Wells up.

And You, oh Love,
The Silent Sound
The Sound Beyond Sound
Where cause and effect
And life unfolds
Without a word. (5)

All Love in the Divine,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Text, Subtext and Spiritual Experience in the Translation of Guru Nanak's Japji Sahib into English

Edited from the original post in the SikhNet Discussion Forum
November 6, 2003

Please don't look for too scholarly an essay here. My background is that I love books and life both and have never really preferred one over the other. I take what I read and try to find practical applications for it in every day life. I take my life experiences and try to write them down in ways that remind me that we, as humans, do NOT know everything. There are plenty of human experiences that still defy the categorization of words. I love words. I know their power. And their limits. I also love life. And when it comes to choosing one over the other - I tend to put my energy behind life and if there are no words to describe or explain what is happening, keep myself in the (sometimes uncomfortable) state of confused enjoyment. If something is happening that doesn't make sense - that's OK. It's happening anyway. Enjoy it.

Eighteen years ago, I had the blessing to begin my undergraduate work at Rice University in Houston, Texas. I had no idea what I wanted to "be" or "do" and,over the years, found myself enrolling in a lot of English Literature courses and also a lot of courses related to the field of Asian Studies. I studied Chinese language, Chinese history, Asian art, Buddhist philosophy and also English literature and English literary theory - especially the post-modernists. It's all a blur now. I can tell you that one of my very favorite books was the one written by Michel Foucault on Magrite's famous painting: Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Through that I learned about the "signifier and the signified." I also recall Jacques Derrida - who struck me as almost Buddhist with his approach to deconstructing identity - but then, the prose was a little difficult to penetrate. Helene Cixous opened my eyes to the difference between how men and women experience, and therefore write, about life. And other authors brought me into an awareness of "text and subtext" - how, with every word that is spoken, culture encodes layers of meaning that are unspoken. And then there was Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow which forced me to ask (though not very loudly) - why do we consider a novel that less than 1% of the English-speaking population could actually read as one of the greatest pieces of literature ever?

Back in undergraduate school, I had a difficult time keeping authors and ideas matched properly. Once I absorbed a concept - I could never really remember where it came from - although I knew it came from SOMEWHERE. English literary theory and Asian studies really didn't have anything in common. But towards the end of my undergraduate days, a niggling question started at the back of my mind. If language, as the post-modernists suggested - both constructed and conscripted identity - and if different languages were constructing different cultural identities - then how the heck does one translate something into English? I mean really - how does translation actually work? Especially between languages as radically different as Chinese and English?

The question intrigued me so much I applied for a summer scholarship to study in China and -as luck would have it - they actually gave the scholarship to me. What started as a summer program turned into a 13 month stay where I was faced, for the first time, with the reality that "Wow - not everyone thinks like US;" and the realization that no one culture has command over the entire range of human experience. There are phrases and expressions in Chinese that have no equivalent in English at all. But once I learned those phrases and expressions, it broadened my ability to experience life. It opened me to facets of existence that my own culture could have never opened for me.

The conclusion from that time studying in China was that there were problems when it comes to translating foreign texts into English - especially from Asian languages and particularly with poetry. Poetry is a form of linguistic expression where the power of the "text" - the actual written words-completely relies on the "subtext" - the unspoken meanings that are based on the myths, stories and gestault of a culture.

For instance, the phrase for "white flower" in Chinese is Bai Hua. It is possible to find this phrase in a piece of Chinese poetry. And in that image, there are a lot of feelings that might be evoked. White, in China, is the color of mourning, of death, of grief. So Bai Hua in Chinese could be indicative of something beautiful that is gone, something impermanent, death or grieving.

The word white in English does not connote death or grieving. It is associated with innocence, marriage, purity, virginity, chastity. It has a totally different subtext.

This presents a very basic problem in translation. The word white in English and Bai in Chinese refer to the same external physical reality. A color. But the subtext in the two cultures is completely different.

If we translate Bai Hua as white flower - we preserve the text, but loose the subtext.

If we translate Bai Hua as black flower (black being the English equivalent of death, mourning and grieving) - we're attempting to preserve the subtext but we loose the text. And not only loose the text but loose the reference to anything that actually exists in the physical world. Black flowers are not commonly found or would necessarily be considered real.

So to translate Bai Hua into English in a line of poetry, we would have to do something to preserve the text and make the subtext visible to the English reader. Based on the context, we might translate it as:

"A flower cloaked in grieving white."

What this gives us is a way to translates the total meaning of the line, the spirit of the line, text and subtext together, so that the English phrase may come close to evoking the same emotional experience for an English-speaking person that the original line of Chinese evokes for a Chinese-speaking person.

Of course, this becomes a very subjective process. Even when two people speak the same langauge, come from the same culture and share a common understanding of what the subtexts of the images are - still - a line of poetry can mean something completely different to those two people. Poetry reminds us that language comes from and accesses something inside of ourselves that is beyond words. Spirit, psyche, what to call it? But poetry shows us there is something in our hearts that moves in ways that are deeply meaningful and not limited to linguistic expression.

By the time I came back from China, I had one semester left before graduating and having to find a job. In that last semester, I started to study Tibetan and toyed with the idea of going to graduate school in order to study Buddhist philosophy with an eye towards translating Tibetan texts. If the issues of translating Chinese poetry into English were intriguing, the whole question became that much more exciting when looking at spiritual texts. But even though my GRE's were sound enough to gain entrance into a good graduate school, I couldn't see myself going into 80,000-$100,000 worth of debt just to have very few job prospects at the end of the process. So , I put aside the graduate school applications, gracefully took my diploma and started my post-college life as a part-time babysitter, part-time investigative journalist.

It's funny how life has its own synchronicity. In 1998,through a series of events, I found myself moving to Espanola, New Mexico. 35 years ago, a Sikh man and Kundalini Yoga Master now known by the name of Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji came to the United States. He began teaching Kundalini Yoga to hippees during the late 1960's and early 70's. For many of these young people, Kundalini Yoga gave them a chance to get off drugs, and create a life for themselves that was based on the positive values of the counter-culture revolution. A subset of these Kundalini Yoga students, drawn by the turban, the beard and the stories that Yogi Bhajan told about the Sikh Gurus, decided to become Sikhs. There is a lot to tell in the history of Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere. And it is not in the scope of this essay to tell it. However, it is through my experience with this community and with Yogi Bhajan in particular that this translation of Japji happened.

In 1998, I drove from the Hill Country of Austin, Texas to the magnificent Jemez Mountains of New Mexico in my little red Toyota Tercel with my dog Macey and a car packed with everything I owned. Shall we call it a spiritual journey? Yes. Let's. There's so much to tell, but since this is an essay about translating Guru Nanak's Japji, I'll just focus on that.

One day, after living in Espanola for a couple of years, in the heart of a Western Sikh community 300 plus members strong, the Siri Singh Sahib, looked at me and said, "Japji cannot be translated unless it's understood perfectly." Several months before, Dr. Balkar Singh, who used to head the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Department at Punjabi University in Patiala, had moved to our community. Every time I saw him, there was a little voice inside of me that said, "You really should go talk to him about Gurmukhi." But the fires that had burned during my undergraduate days had been reduced to barely a flicker and, honestly, I was a little afraid to go back to that passion. After all - I was busy with work. I was in the middle of a difficult marriage. I didn't have the time. I didn't have the energy. I didn't want to be bothered.

But the Siri Singh Sahib has a way of penetrating past the excuses of the mind and speaking directly to the soul. "Japji cannot be translated unless it's understood perfectly." As if it was already a foregone conclusion that I would do a translation. As if he was just reminding me of something I had agreed to do before I was born and was pushing me to begin.

Well, I thought, it can't hurt to at least start learning Gurmukhi. So Dr. Balkar Singh and I began to work together. Every Sunday for 15 months we sat for an hour or two and went through Japji, line by line, word by word and discussed every single syllable of it - text, subtext and meaning. He was a Gurmukhi scholar with a proclivity towards post-modernism. I was a post-modernist who wanted to understand Gurmukhi. Slowly, we began to build a bridge - a common vocabulary - a shared understanding. We both knew that meanings are not in dictionaries because the dictionaries are confined to text only. Not subtext. And poetry and spirituality are not easily understood even in one's own language and culture. So much more the difficulty in translating spirituality from one culture to another. I studied with him for 15 months and after those 15 months, in the evenings, on the weekends, in the middle of dealing with a divorce and a hectic work schedule -the translation of Japji slowly took form.

In January of 2003, I was close to finishing the translation when the Siri Singh Sahib called me in to see him. He told me that he wanted me to translate the entire Siri Guru Granth Sahib by next year. (Next year??) He told me he wanted me to understand the cosmology of it and be able to communicate that cosmology in English. And he said that he would work with me on it. Whatever I needed, he would give me.

It was an amazing gift. And an extraordinary challenge. When Westerners first came to Tibet to understand Tibetan Buddhism and translate Tibetan texts, the Lamas wisely refused to let the translations take place until these young Western students had done the spiritual practices and developed the experience that would allow them to understand the texts accurately. Because of this, Buddhism has successfully taken root in Western culture. The Tibetan Lamas and teachers understood that these texts were talking about spiritual experiences of which the Western mind and language had little concept, understanding or language.

The post-modern literary theorists have given us tools to deconstruct language. Every word is a "signifier" - it is a symbol that points to some reality or experience. External realities like trees and birds are easy to see from multiple view-points, multiple languages and culture. But internal realities like love and fear are harder to map. And the most subtle, sophisticated reality of all - the reality of the Spirit, it almost impossible to map because there are so many political and social power structures based on religion and God. To penetrate to the truth of the Divine requires that we move past culture and language all together and this journey challenges societal power structures that have a vested interest in the status quo.

When Guru Gobind Singh gave the Sikhs the Siri Guru Granth Sahib as the Living Guru - the signifier, the written symbols, were uninterrupted sound. There were no spaces to indicate words. There was only sound. And for the devout Sikh, this sound was Divine Sound - meditating upon which the Spirit would awaken.

Yes, linguistic meaning was encoded into the signifier of Gurbani. But the fact that there were no spaces between the words signified that this was no typical text, with definable meaning, but rather a spiritual practice based on Sound- which English has no experience of or language for.

What is the Sound Current? Where is it? How do you prove it exists? The Sound Current is the sublte virbation of the Divine that creates the creation. It is in everything. The proof of its existence is in your own experience through the practice of Gurbani as instructed by the Shabad Guru. These statements are true to the heart of a Sikh who has a sovereign relationship with the Guru. But they are illogical and unprovable in English. And this clash of approaches between experience and logic - where the foundation for "proof" and "truth" lies becomes an extraordinary issue in translation.

I finished the translation of Japji and gave it to the Siri Singh Sahib. His response. "It's zircons, but not diamonds." My ego was in it. My intellectual ego. My artistic ego. I was trying to be clever. I was trying to be...something. And he saw right through it. Yes, maybe it was well-written, but the vibration of it was all wrong. Two years worth of work. I threw it away and started over again.

"When the sun is 60 degrees to the earth, you can understand Gurbani perfectly" he told me. " In the Amrit Veyla and the twilight hours. Those are the times of day to translate. When the sun is 30 degrees to the earth, you are half-wise and half-foolish."

I had never translated during the Amrit Veyla, the hours before sunrise. Although Guru Nanak says in Japji in the Fourth Pauree,

Fayr ke agai rakhee-ai jit disai darbaar.
Muhou ke bolan bolee-ai jit sun Dharay pi-aar.
Amrit vaylaa sach naa-o vadi-aa-ee veechaar.
Karmee aavai kaprhaa nadree mokh du-aar.
Naanak ayvai jaanee-ai sabh aapay sachiaar. 4

What can we
Place before You
That will allow us
To see the splendor
Of Your Divine and Noble Court?

What words can we speak
With our own lips
That, upon hearing,
You would touch us
With Your Love?

In the Amrit Veyla,
The still hours before sunrise,
Our True Spirit
Becomes known
As we meditate upon
Your Greatness.

By the consequences
Of our positive past actions,
We have been gifted
This robe of human form.

Grace leads us
To the gate of liberation
Found within it.

In this way know,
All people
Hold the Truth
Within themselves."

It is one of the first instructions the Guru gives a Sikh - to meditate in the Amrit Veyla, in the hours before sunrise. For years, I had done my sadhana, my daily spiritual practice, during that time. So I changed the focus of my sadhana and started working on the translation of Japji during those hours. And this was my experience- which the English language cannot really express and which the main stream English culture will hardly believe.

Gurbani is not just words or just Sound - but a Guiding Living Consciousness. I had to put my thoughts aside, my mind, my prejudices - and just open my own heart. Jap - continually, meditatively reflecting. Sunia - deeply listenting. And in that space of Jap and Sunia - the Sound within my own heart told me what the line meant. It was magic but only because English doesn't have any other word besides magic to describe it. In a wholistic way, the Sounds, themselves, showed me what they meant - in a way that was not bound by concept or words. Then the challenge was to find the words in English to convey the experience of my own heart. And this was profound, transforming, sometimes scary, sometimes confusing. But very very real.

The Siri Guru Granth Sahib is not a collection of scripture. It is something so far beyond scripture that we have neither the words nor the intellect to comprehend it. It is a power that calls the Human Spirit to awaken. It is a Guiding Consciousness that can teach us in a very direct and clear way...providing we do the practice. Amrit Veyla. Jap. Sunia. Mania - trusting what we hear when that Sound speaks directly to our own hearts.

The second translation of Japji took only a few weeks during the Amrit Veyla and that experience is, perhaps, another story for another day. But it showed me that the Siri Guru Granth Sahib is truly something new on the earth. I understand how two Sikhs, fighting back to back, could defeat a hundred men. I understand why there was a time when there was a price offered for the head of every Sikh. It was because this Guru gives humans access to our Spirit in a direct and powerful way. The practice of the Sound Current is a spiritual discipline that leads to the human potential completely unfolding in all its dignity, grace and beauty. It is that fully-realized human that the society of those times found so threatening. And it is because the Shabad has been misunderstood that many Sikhs have lost their connection with Its Pure Power.

Text, subtext and spiritual experience. In this translation of Japji, these three forces play together. Not to define what Guru Nanak Dev ji wrote, but to simply reflect what the Shabad whispered to me during the Amrit Veyla. And just as poetry will take on different meanings for different people, the Shabad will speak to each person's heart in Its own way. There is no need for any final definitions of Gurbani - just as there is no need for evolution to cease. Always new experiences are unfolding before us and the Shabad has the power to guide us through and open us to previously unknown worlds.

What is true is not definition. What is true is the power of Sound and the effect is has when we practice the way the Guru teaches.

The Siri Singh Sahib hasn't spoken to me about this second translation of Japji. But in my heart, I know the answer. In nature, diamonds come from extraordinary pressure - they crystallize into something beautiful and clear. But flawless diamonds are rare. The pressure creates flaws in almost all of them.

So let us say that yes - this translation is diamonds, created through the pressure of spiritual experience. But it is not flawless - it is not perfect. And whatever light and beauty is here is only the palest reflection of the Pure Light and Infinite Beauty of Gurbani.

May you be blessed unto Infinity and may the Light of the Divine within your own heart make itself known to you and guide your way on.

All love in the Divine.

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh.


Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa
Espanola, NM

Thursday, January 04, 2007

At the Root: The Mystical Process of the Divine in the Mool Mantra

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh.

SikhNN.com has published an article of mine that I thought you might enjoy reading. For this post - click below to see the article in its entirety on their website:

When talking about Divinity, sometimes we look outside of ourselves to discuss and define God. The Creator becomes, through our own conversations, everything a human is NOT. All-powerful. All-knowing. All-seeing. All-loving. All-kindness. It is as if we humans have taken certain experiences that give us a sense of comfort, that give us a sense of security on the earth; and projected their most perfect and continual expression on a Divine Being who can do and be everything we would most like to be, but aren’t.

When Guru Nanak talks about Divinity, his language, his perception, his vision is so all encompassing that Divinity intermingles with and provides the foundation for everything in the Universe. It is the secret ingredient that gives rise to our human experience. Every single aspect of being human, whether we ourselves would judge it as “good” or “bad” is embraced as part of the Divine. It’s a union. A yoga – if you can forgive the word – between finite perception and Infinite expression. The duty we have in our human body, Guru Nanak tells us, is to simply allow ourselves to become aware of this truth, and to live in a state of gratitude for it. That’s all.

Click to SikhNN for the story.