God is everywhere; in every direction. This is a wonderful concept. How does this work in everyday life?
It’s not a concept, but a reality waiting to be perceived. Our concepts have destroyed our vision. The Judeo Christian Islamic tradition has posited the concept of a force outside and beyond us when the reality is that we are made up of God. This force is closer to us than our skin. This realization has every application in everyday life, morally, ethically, socially, psychologically.
If you can conceive and live this idea, you will live well. Ethically, you will be a kinder and more loving person because you will be able to see that this power that is closer to us than our skins and hearts beats not just in us but in everyone. You will see that this force is privy to your thoughts, nothing at all is hidden from it, and you will train yourself, with the help of this power, to sift through your thoughts, discard the ones that harm you and others, and follow the ones that produce your own and the common good. This is the root of all happiness and joy in life; it is our true wealth. Guru Nanak says, it is to get this treasure that we were incarnated in life.
The Singing Guru is a lovely title. How does music amplify and express faith?
The title came to me when I thought that Guru Nanak, who has bequeathed us 974 of his songs in the Sikh holy book, The Granth Sahib, must have himself been a singer. It is a fact that Sikhs, most of all, tend to forget. Guru Nanak traveled the world in the company of his rabab (a medieval stringed instrument also called the rebec) player, Mardana, the two of them singing their message everywhere they went. Guru Nanak did not discourse or give lectures, he sang. And singing and music have the advantage that they go straight to the heart. Harmony is a direct conduit to the soul. Add to this the words that aid conceptual and cognitive comprehension, and you have a paved path to faith. This is why almost all mystical traditions have music at their core. Even Islam, that forbids music as a form of prayer, has it counterpoint in Sufism where not only music but dance becomes central to a connection with the divine.
I myself listen to kirtan, which is the sung version of the words, incessantly. I am very aware of the power of good kirtan. Not only is the music very pleasurable, stilling and calming and healing, but the words surface so often at the right time to instruct and guide. I sing, too, and know from first hand experience how instantaneously it can transport us to that space where we are deeply connected.
You mention "guides". Can you explain a bit about that?
On the turbulent journey of life one often needs guidance. The word ‘guru’ means ‘dispeller of darkness.’ Every tradition has its guides. The prophets of all religions function as gurus who teach us how to live, what to think, how to behave with others. This is the obvious meaning of guides.
A guide is anyone who has traversed the path before us, knows the terrain, knows where the pitfalls are, can see further than we can, and knows the best course of action in conflicted and confused times. A guide does not want to harm us by constricting or limiting our potential, by setting us apart from others. We can, after we have tried him/her for their worth on the touchstone of love, trust them.
But really, anyone in life can function as a guide if we only keep your ears open. The mailman who says when you thank him for delivering your mail, “it’s what I do. It’s my job,” becomes a guide when you find yourself rebelling against your own lot. He has just guided you into the wisdom of doing what you need to do, and doing it well. Guidance can come to us from any source, any place, any person, if we supplicate and pray for it. It is never withheld.
How much should readers know of the Indian culture when approaching The Singing Guru?
Nothing. It is very reader friendly and explains within the text, the dialogue, and footnotes all those concepts and words that a western reader is not familiar with.
Who is the ideal reader for this book?
Any spiritual seeker who wishes to know about a wonderful new (yet obscure) religion and to learn very simple truths that make the difference between suffering and joy, between living life blindly, or with awareness. The word ‘Sikh’ means a devotee and disciple of the ultimate Guide of all Guides, a student who is always eager and passionate to learn how to grown into his or her full potential as a true and conscious human being. Guru Nanak’s definition of a religious person is simply someone who treats all as equals. This is a lesson we all need to learn, over and over again.
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