Everyone hopes for success in their endeavors. Guru Ramdas Sahib counsels individuals to offer prayers to IkOankar (the Divine) before embarking on their tasks to seek success.
Srirag is an ancient rag
(musical mode) that is sung at dusk. It invokes a mood of thoughtfulness, introspection, and seriousness. It is one of the most revered rags in the classical world and holds much grace and majesty. In the context of Gurbani/The Guru Granth Sahib, this musical mode is about devotion, dedication, and seriousness. Whatever advice is being given in this mode is advice that the mind is urged to listen to, to take seriously, and to act on. The two saloks
(stanzas) that appear before this pauri
(composition) delve into the priest’s or brahmin’s prescriptions, which tell one how to engage in ritual and Guru Nanak’s response to and understanding of those prescriptions.
Guru Nanak starts by saying whatever task one wishes to be completed; one ought to say that to IkOankar
(One Creative and Pervasive Force, 1Force, the One). Whatever we are looking for, whatever work or effort or task we hope to see to completion, we ought to ask the One about it. We ought to ask Hari
, the 1-Light, IkOankar, for help! This first line is often misunderstood when invoked at weddings or on good occasions when something new and exciting is being started. When we sing it, we make this first line an ask, and the statement becomes an expectation. Instead, the Guru
is urging us to ask the One for help in all areas of our lives.
The Guru says That 1-Light, IkOankar, will set our tasks right, resolve all our affairs, and help the devotees. How does the Guru know this? Because this is the testimony
of the Guru! The Guru tells us that the eternal Word-Sound of the eternal Wisdom is testimony to this, is evidence of this. It takes the Guru’s statement from an idea to an experience, and we, as seekers and devotees, are being invited into
that experience. As seekers and devotees, we are urged to pursue
The Guru continues to take this idea into practice by saying the eternal treasure of Wisdom is found in the company of saintly and virtuous beings.
Through the Wisdom, the nectar of Nam
, or Identification with the One, is tasted
. This is how we come to enjoy bliss. This is how our tasks and affairs become great. The gift we are asking for in that first line is the taste
of immortalizing nectar or Identification with the Divine. We are asking for the experience of connection with the One! The effect of grasping that eternal Wisdom is that we are in the company of the truth-exemplars of those who are divinely-oriented and experiencing that connection.
The Guru then addresses Hari
, the 1-Light, and says, O Gracious IkOankar, O Dispeller of Fears! I have come to Your sanctuary. Protect the honor of the servant.
When we get to the stage of experiencing something so vast, of tasting that connection we so desperately sought, when we have found community with the truth-exemplars who are also experiencing this connection, our asks can change. We begin to ask for protection of our honor and the honor of all servants and devotees. The Guru shows us how to come to the sanctuary of the One with whom we have cultivated a relationship and how to ask for help. Honor and reputation are such big ideas across cultures, and they can cause us to act out of fear or anxiety about what others will say or think about us. To ask for the protection of one’s honor is to ask for that fear and anxiety to be eliminated and to ask instead for a state of freedom that comes from eliminating fear.
The Guru ends by reminding us, singing the virtues of the 1-Light, the Unseeable IkOankar is seen.
By singing praises of the All-Pervasive, the ungraspable one becomes graspable, becomes understood. The One who it seems cannot be experienced is experienced. It happens through singing and contemplating the virtues of the One through that eternal treasure, through the Wisdom. This is important given the earlier context of this composition. Recall that the Guru is responding to the prescriptions of the Brahmin regarding ritual and relationship with Divinity. The Guru here emphasizes that there is no ritually pure or divinely-chosen individual who has dominion over this experience.
We can all experience this in our unique and intimate relationships with the One. This is utterly disruptive. It rejects Indic and Brahminical ideas about who is deserving
of this relationship. The whole cultural and religious paradigm of the time is turned on its head through the cultural experience of the wedding ceremony.
Even in weddings, there are prescriptions and expectations about what should be done and what to do. There are systems and processes to our ceremonies. We are being extricated from the intricacies and complexities of those systems and processes and guided toward something much simpler: whatever our need is, whatever our ask is, let us put that in front of the 1-Light, in front of IkOankar. Let us take refuge in the One. Where else can we share our needs? This is the testimony of the eternal Wisdom. We can learn about this refuge in the company of the ones who are already in it, who have already experienced Identification with the One. They are the evidence and the testimony. The company of the truth-exemplars will show us how to improve our affairs and taste the immortalizing nectar of Identification. We taste this only when we understand the 1-Light and the eternal Wisdom, which acts as testimony. Only when we have tasted it does the fear come out of us. And when that happens, we ask IkOankar, the Fear-Eliminator, the Graceful One, to protect our honor. We continue to sing the virtues because as we sing, we experience that which cannot be explained or understood with logic. The Guru disrupts the caste-based divisions in Indic society that tell us who can and cannot touch the Divine due to their supposed pollutedness. Suppose we want to follow the ideas of Guru Nanak and experience them in practice. In that case, we must eliminate the prescriptions of priests and experts who police our relationships with the One and instead follow the guidance of preparing ourselves to be graced and touched by what cannot even be touched or grasped. What will we do with this gift? Will we be devoted to these ideas in a real sense and not just a ceremonial sense? Will we grasp the Ungraspable? Will we keep singing?