The Discipline of Love
Sikh spiritual practice is not a matter of self-mortifying discipline. It is the discipline that flows naturally from love. In Gobind Sadan, a Sikh-based spiritual community in India, many of us wake daily at 1:30 a.m., bathe with a bucket of cold water, and then sit for two hours or more before a sacred fire in silent meditation and silent reading of the daily devotions. In the rainy season, all manner of insects leap or climb or fall onto us. In the winter, we wrap blankets around ourselves to keep warm. In the summer sweat pours from our bodies. But one does not notice these things much. To ignore bodily discomforts is easy when one is absorbed in love for God. God lays out for true devotees such a sweet banquet, such a sweet bed, that taste for worldly pleasures and worldly comforts naturally drops away. Nothing can compare with the sweetness of God’s embrace.
For this reason, the god-realized beings who wrote the hymns in the beautiful Sikh scripture—the Guru Granth Sahib—sometimes refer to the devotee of God as a bride who is pleasing to her husband. Listen to excerpts from a song by Guru Nanak, the First Sikh Guru:
Your stay in this world is but for four days.
She who, night and day, abides with her Beloved, obtains truth and goes to sit in her own Home. . . .
If the bride is imbued with God’s Name, she becomes happy and unites with her spouse. . .
If the bride becomes pleasing to her groom, only then the groom loves His bride.
If she utters falsehood, it is of no use, and she does not recognize her Spouse.
Meritless, forgotten, and divorced by her Spouse, she passes the night of her life without her Master. [GGS 689]
Guru Nanak teaches us that our Beloved is always with us, but we do not notice. We are caught up in acquisition of worldly wealth; we live by false values, and they separate us from awareness of God. In comparison with eternity, we live a few days only, and the body soon withers and dies.
How can we become a happy bride rather than an old crone whose life has gone to waste? First, says Nanak, live in ardent love for the Guru. This is very easy for us at Gobind Sadan, for our Guru is so great, and so full of love. His name is Baba Virsa Singh. He denies being a Guru; he always says, “I am just trying to be a better human.” But our experience is that he is very powerful, very beautiful, full of love and truth, and that he is always taking care of us. How can we help but love him?
Second, Guru Nanak says, “Become imbued with God’s Name.” For Sikhs, perpetual remembrance of God comes through inner repetition of a Name of God. Baba Virsa Singh offers an extremely transformative Name to people of all faiths: Ik Onkar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru. This means, “There is One God, Whose Name is Truth, Praise to the One Who is Wonderful beyond words, Master of Light and Darkness.” As we repeat this prayer in our hearts, we become detached from worldly impediments, fearless, and supremely contented, for we are attached to the One Who is the Giver of happiness.
Third, Guru Nanak advises us to become pleasing to our Beloved Lord. How do we please God? By following the simple rules that God has given us to live by, as revealed by all the prophets: to love all of Creation, walk in truth, share with others in need, let go of self-interest and pride, and turn toward what is lasting and genuine. Baba Virsa Singh says that God is not happy if we give our hearts to worldly attachments and then come to God with what little bit of love we have left. Instead, Babaji teaches us, “Give all your love to God, and then God will fill you with so much love that you will distribute it to everyone you meet. Once you receive God’s love, you will be filled with so much love for God that whatever you ask, God will provide.”
[for BBC World Service Radio “Words of Faith,” 18 November, 1994]