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Why Read Gurbani If You Don’t Understand the Words?

Nitnem, the Daily Prescription for Ego

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Reading Gurbani

Reading Gurbani

Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

The text of Guru Granth Sahib is written using Gurmukhi script in a language known as Gurbani. The Gurmukhi alphabet is nearly identical to the Punjabi alphabet. Many words of Gurbani are similar to Punjabi, yet the poetic arrangement and usage of Gurbani requires in depth study to be understood even by a Punjabi speaking person. Never the less, every Sikh regardless of ethnic heritage is required daily to read Nitnem, a selection of Gurbani hymns and prayers taken from Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth, a collection of poetry written by Guru Gobind Singh. A Sikh is also encouraged to read paath from the scripture of Guru Granth every day until an entire reading is completed and then to begin over again, and make such devotional reading a continual practice through out life.

A question is often asked is. "What's the use of reading Gurbani if I'm not able to understand it?"

Sikhs view ego as a disease which creates a sense of separation from the divine. Ridding oneself of ego is the task of Sikhism. When one is unwell a doctor is sought for a cure. The doctor prescribes medicine and it is taken daily. The medicine heals whether or not one knows what the ingredients are. The effect is the same regardless of whether one understands exactly how the remedy works to combat disease.

Gurbani is the medicine for the soul. Nitnem is the daily prescription which counter acts ego. The first hurdle to subduing the ego comes with the faithful practice of reading Nitnem. Regular review is the only way that one can ever understand and become familiar with Gurbani. Intuitive insight develops over time as the effect of ego is reduced and realization occurs. Eventually intrinsic comprehension occurs. Reading Nitnem and Gurbani are a divine prescription meant to be taken for life, one only needs to begin.

Rehraas, the evening prayer of Nitnem advises:
"Dukh daaroo sukh rog bhaiaa jaa sukh taam na hoee||
Suffering is the medicine and pleasure the disease, for where there is pleasure, there is no desire for God." SGGS||469

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