By Amar Prakash
I don't know what Jim Morrison, of the 60s rock band, The Doors, meant when he wrote these words, "Break on Through to the Other Side," but I do know that this is the True message of the Guru Granth.
But to understand what we have to Break on Through, we have to look at the language of the Guru Granth and the language of the Guru Granth is the Language of Metaphor.
What is a metaphor? A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. The use of metaphor can be further considered to contain the following classifications:
* allegory: An extended metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject
* parable: An extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson
Why did the Bhagats and the Gurus use the Language of Metaphor? Human language is very limited. It is limited in that it can only be used to describe the empirical. When language is used to describe the transcendent it falls short because it is impossible to describe the infinite, the indescribable and the unknowable. Deng Ming Dao in his book, "Everyday Tao," stated: "It's hard not to use metaphors. As we try to negotiate more and more complicated subjects, we resort to metaphors to aid understanding.... The only intellectual way we have to describe the infinite is through the imperfect vehicle of the metaphor." Joseph Campbell, best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion, put it this way: "The person who has had a mystical experience knows that all the symbolic expressions of it are faulty. The symbols don't render the experience, they suggest it. If you haven't had the experience, how can you know what it is?"
The misunderstanding of the concept of metaphor has been a road block in the path of all religions. Let us take a look at how it is used in the Guru Granth. Probably the easiest and most obvious metaphor is the one about the 'dogs tail.' Here is an example:
Apnw Awpu qU kbhu n Cofis suAwn pUiC ijau ry ]4]
You can never escape your own inner tendencies, like the crooked tail of the dog. ||4|| Guru Nanak, p 990
Are the Gurus talking about a dog's tail? I don't think that I would be stretching the point, to say that you would have to be an idiot not to see that the Gurus were talking about something else. They are talking about a closed mind that is so filled with bad teachings that it can never be opened to the truth. This is exactly a description of the State of Sikhi today. Its mind is closed with misinterpretations and misunderstands of what the Gurus were actually talking about. It is a mind that has taken metaphors in the Guru Granth and literally interpreted them as fact thus not being able to look past the literal to see the transcendent.
In past articles I have explored how metaphor has been used in the Guru Granth. I have discussed concepts such as Sach Khand, Gurdwara, Aad Sach..., Amrit and Ishnaan, and Halal.
Literal interpretation of these and just about everything else builds walls and not doors to the transcendent. I talked about this in the article entitled "Devolution."
We stand before this wall with great fear and trepidation. Why? Because that wall is made up of all of our beliefs that we hold so dear. But we must "Break on Through to the Other Side" to get to what the Gurus were talking about and this is a very scary proposition. This also means understanding that even God is a metaphor. Joseph Campbell said it best when he wrote: "God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It's as simple as that."
Before those that have the Akal Takht on speed dial are frantically calling to say that I have committed blasphemy by saying that the Gurus were atheists, let me say that would be very far from the truth. However Guru Nanak had no love for religion. I explored this in "Imagine ... No religion too..."
The Gurus were talking about something that transcends any concept of God. Joseph Campbell stated: "The transcendent transcends all of these categories of thinking. Being and non being, those are categories. The word God properly refers to what transcends all thinking...
"Half the world thinks of God as a fact, a real being; these are the theists. And the other half of the world denies that God is such a fact...; these are the atheists. But neither half seems to know how to approach things metaphorically...."
But the Gurus understood the use of metaphor, in fact the entire Guru Granth is an analogy, an extended 1430 page metaphor describing the transcendent, EK. EK is the one. What is EK? You'll only know when you become one with it. This is what Guru Nanak meant when he uttered Mul Mantar:
There is One Truth
The Doer of everything, fearless, without anger, Undying, Unborn and Self-Illumined.
This is revealed through, the True Guru's Grace.
Two thousand years before Guru Nanak, It was written in the "Tao Te Ching:"
There was something formless yet complete,
That existed before heaven and earth;
Without sound, without substance,
Dependent on nothing, unchanging...
Its true name we do not know;
Tao is the by-name that we give it.
This is another persons description of the transcendent that he calls Tao, what we as Sikhs call EK. And like those, who's goal is "To be one with the Tao," our goal is "To be one with the One, EK." Some would argue that this is not according to Gurmat but I would say that this is exactly what Guru Amar Das was saying on page 788 when he wrote:
They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together.
They alone are called husband and wife, who have one light in two bodies. ||3||
The meaning of this is totally metaphorical and if you take this statement literally, you will not understand that Guru Amar Das is not talking about an earthly marriage but a spiritual one between the husband, EK, and the wife, yourself; becoming one with the One.
In "Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor," Joseph Campbell writes: "...Mythology is often thought of as other people's religions, and religion can be defined as mis-interpreted mythology.
"That is reading the words in terms of prose instead of in terms of poetry, reading the metaphor in terms of the denotation instead of the connotation."
But this is exactly what modern day Sikhi has become, a religion that has mis-interpreted mythology, or metaphor. Sikhi has become a bunch of "petty ideologues," with the Guru Granth having been turned into a "how to book," with ridiculous talk of it's technologies. The Guru Granth is not about how to become liberated but is about being liberated. For example the following Shabad is found on page 305. This Shabad is the most referenced example of what a Sikh is to do to become liberated. But is really a reference to what you do when you are liberated.
One who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru, the True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord's Name. Upon arising early in the morning, he is to bathe, and cleanse himself in the pool of nectar.Following the Instructions of the Guru, he is to chant the Name of the Lord, Har, Har. All sins, misdeeds and
negativity shall be erased.Then, at the rising of the sun, he is to sing Gurbani; whether sitting down or standing up, he is to meditate on the Lord's Name.One who meditates on my Lord, Har, Har, with every breath and every morsel of food - that GurSikh becomes pleasing to the Guru's Mind.That person, unto whom my Lord and Master is kind and compassionate - upon that GurSikh, the Guru's Teachings are bestowed.
Servant Nanak begs for the dust of the feet of that GurSikh, who himself chants the Naam, and inspires others to chant it. ||2||"
This misunderstanding results in concentration on the superficial where appearance is more important than substance. Where the messenger is more important than the message.
In an article, "IN GOD'S NAME, WHAT WE DO," on the Kheper website, it is written that: "Religious identities are our big ego trip. We cling to our religious symbols without even bothering to know too much as to what they stand for, establish religious dress codes, but seldom know its significance, and proclaim our fanatic religious cries, with warrior-zeal, little realizing that, just as a handful of swallows do not necessarily make summer, these symbolic identities do not necessarily confer us any Spiritual benefit. In order to qualify to be a true Sikh (Khalsa), for instance, one is required to have seen the Pooran Jyot- the lamp within."
A good example of how Sikhs have strayed, is the use of Kirpan. Metaphorically it is a weapon to cut through negativity and ignorance. Physically it is a weapon to be used to defend yourself and the defenseless or in a righteous cause to defend the Panth. It is not to be used to defend your "religious sentiments" or to cut off someone's head because they wore a pink kurta and stuck a feather in his turban. If Sikhi can not survive this trivial matter then maybe it does not deserve to survive. The Punjab government has issued an arrest warrant on charges of "disgracing" the Sikh religion. I would contend that Sikhi does not need any outside help in disgracing itself.
Please, pick up your Kirpan and use it to cut through that "wall" of ignorance and "Break on Through to the Other Side."