Nov 22 2019

Guru Nanak – From listening (Japji 8)

Published by at 10:56 am under Poetry

[Japji 8] From listening
by Guru Nanak

English version by John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer

From listening,
      Siddhas, Pirs, Gods, Naths–
      the spiritually adept;

From listening,
      the earth, its white foundation,
      and the sky;

From listening,
      continents, worlds, hells;

From listening,
      death cannot approach.

Nanak says,
      those who hear
            flower forever.

From listening,
      sin and sorrow

— from Songs of the Saints of India, Translated by John Stratton Hawley / Translated by Mark Juergensmeyer

A song for us today by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh tradition, about listening.

From listening…

Listening is a powerful practice on several levels. On one level, listening is the act of paying attention in an open and receptive manner. When we really pay attention we do more than notice people and things, we connect with them, we commune with them. Through open, engaged attention we become one with the world around us.

In this way, through deep listening, everything is found to be within us, and we exist within the all. The awareness of mutual being emerges.

But there is another, specific meaning of listening intended here, as well. Guru Nanak is also clearly giving a teaching on listening to the fundamental sound of creation, In various Indian traditions this primal sound is called shabd or Omkara/Onkar.

When the attention is turned inward a soft sound is heard. At first it might be like the quiet chirping of crickets in the night, the hum of beesong, or the flowing of a gentle stream. It is heard as a random, soothing “white noise” that seems to emanate from the base of the skull. When focused upon with a still mind and deep attention, this sound resolves into a clearer pitch that can resemble the pure note of a flute (Krishna’s flute in Vaishnava tradition) or the ringing of a bell (the bells of paradise in esoteric Christianity). First it is heard and, finally, felt throughout the body.

Many mystics compare this sound with the sound of a waterfall, and as the awareness bathes in this sound it becomes purified, “cleansed.” The heart is like a moss-covered stone at the foot of the waterfall. The more we allow the sounding waters to flow, that encrustation on the heart is cleared away. We may just be shocked to discover what we thought was granite beneath is a actually a great jewel, brilliant and emanating pure bliss.

The heart’s joy is always there, we just need to clear away the moss.

From listening,
      Siddhas, Pirs, Gods, Naths–
      the spiritually adept

Guru Nanak lists various names for adepts and the enlightened. This sound is the doorway into states of spiritual attainment.

Hearing the omkara signals the beginning of deep meditation. It is the tone of initiation. The more we open to the sound, the more the attention is drawn heavenward while the divine flow pours through us.

From listening,
      the earth, its white foundation,
      and the sky

Why does Guru Nanak link the earth and the sky to this sound? It is through this sound, this wordless Word, that all of manifest existence comes into being. This is the vibratory breath of the Eternal that sings creation into form. The earth and the sky and every being that moves between them are born through this sound. This sacred tone moves through existence, reifying all.

Why does Guru Nanak give us this curious statement about the “white foundation” of the earth? I suspect he is referencing the white or golden-white light that is witnessed in the deepest states. This light is perceived as underlying and supporting all of creation — its foundation.

From listening,
      death cannot approach.

By following this sound we recollect our nature and ultimately return to the source of the song. We come to know ourselves in our essence, and lessen our identification our physical form and social roles. Death does not affect who and what we truly are. We discover this by listening.

Nanak says,
      those who hear
            flower forever.

Omkara is the sound of the movement of the divine through us. Hearing that sound, allowing it to flow generously through us, we open in unexpected and delightful ways. It is the flow of sap that inspires us to blossom into our full potential.

From listening,
      sin and sorrow

Hearing this, what is there to fear? We don’t have to convince ourselves of this, it just is. Listening to this constant reassuring presence, the psychic constrictions we carry with us naturally ease. The waterfall bathes us, the heart clears. We become simply and honestly who we are — and what a beautiful being that is!

From listening…


Coming Soon: Haiku Enlightenment

Several of you sent me some beautiful messages and comments after last week’s poem. I have read them all and been touched by your stories. The reason I haven’t responded directly is that I have been deeply engaged in the preparation of the Poetry Chaikhana’s newest publication — Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock. You may recognize him from poems I have featured on the Poetry Chaikhana before. Gabriel Rosenstock is an Irish sage, a bit of a prankster… oh yes, and a renowned poet. This new book is a rich, wise and playful exploration of the art of haiku by a western master of haiku. I am so pleased to be able to offer this book through the Poetry Chaikhana.

With my limited personal time, I have to be selective about each new book project I work on. In the past I had imagined publishing a series of poetry collections or anthologies by contemporary spiritual poets and mystics, which I may still do in the future, but I realized that poetry on its own is not the primary focus of the Poetry Chaikhana. The heart of the Poetry Chaikhana is poetry paired with conversational commentary that opens up the poetry as well as encourages new avenues of spiritual exploration. Gabriel Rosenstock’s Haiku Enlightenment is a perfect fit for the Poetry Chaikhana. It is a delightful collection of brief observations that use haiku to explore ideas about creativity, perception, consciousness, and being alive to the moment.

For some of you, the title Haiku Enlightenment may sound familiar. This is actually not the first edition, but a greatly expanded new edition. A much smaller hardback edition of Haiku Enlightenment was published about ten years ago. I immediately recognized that original edition as a small masterpiece, but I was concerned that it hadn’t garnered the attention it deserved and, within a few years, it was in danger of disappearing, That old edition has become so difficult to find in many areas that just a few days ago I noticed it selling on the US Amazon site for more than $1,000!

Rest assured that you will be able to get the Poetry Chaikhana’s new expanded edition for a much more affordable rate of $16.95/£12.95/€14.25. Our new edition of Haiku Enlightenment includes an updated version of that original small volume, along with another short companion book previously published as Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing and several new sections not previously published, all gathered together in a single volume.

In publishing this new expanded edition of Haiku Enlightenment I hope to make Gabriel Rosenstock’s poetic and spiritual insights available to a much wider audience who may have missed the earlier editions. I also want to make sure that it remains available at an affordable price for future readers.

I will be enthusiastically recommending this book to aspiring poets, artists, readers of haiku — and creative seekers of all types.

Haiku Enlightenment will be available mid-December. I hope it will make a good gift for the person in your life who loves haiku, creativity, and discovering the unexpected along their own spiritual pathway. Perhaps that person is you.

Recommended Books: Guru Nanak

Songs of the Saints of India The Mystic in Love: A Treasury of Mystical Poetry The Guru Granth Sahib: CAnon, Meaning and Authority Sri Guru Granth Sahib Discovered: A Reference Book of Quotations Sri Guru Granth Sahib
More Books >>

Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak poetry, Sikh poetry Guru Nanak

Pakistan/India (1469 – 1539) Timeline

Guru Nanak is the founder and first guru of the Sikh religion.

He was born in a small town outside of Lahore, in what is today Pakistan, to a family in the merchant caste. As a young man, Guru Nanak married and had children. Yet he didn’t fit easily into family expectations. He seems to have only reluctantly entered the clerical profession suggested by his family, often feeling the call to turn inward in meditation at key points in his life.

Guru Nanak’s moment of enlightenment came when, after singing devotional songs, he bathed in the Vein River near Sultanpur. In that moment he was elevated to the heavenly state, where he received amrit, the drink of immortality — in the form of the divine name. He remained in deep silence after this transcendent experience for some time, and then he started to formulate his revelation through the statement, “There is neither Hindu nor Muslim” suggesting the universal brotherhood we all share through the divine vision.

After this awakening, Guru Nanak left his job and became a wandering holy man, journeying throughout India, Tibet, and Arabia. He eventually settled at Kartarpur along the Ravi River in the Punjab, where he lived out the rest of his life teaching a growing circle of disciples.

He taught that individuals had merit according to their hearts and their actions, not according to caste, that all are equal in the eyes of God, and all can approach God directly without the need of a hereditary priest or prescribed rituals.

More poetry by Guru Nanak

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Guru Nanak – From listening (Japji 8)”

  1. Premaon 22 Nov 2019 at 4:23 pm

    I think it is interesting that you addressed every stanza except the one saying
    From listening,
    continents, worlds, hells;
    It is interesting that he included hells…don’t you think? I guess from listening you can hear anything form…not just the good;

  2. Ivan M. Grangeron 22 Nov 2019 at 4:38 pm

    Prema, I feel like you caught me trying to wriggle out of mentioning that stanza. 🙂 It is interesting that he specifically mentions hells too. Everything, including that which torments us. We can hear it all emerging, when we listen.

  3. Mahek Khwajaon 22 Nov 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Yes this is a fine identification. Also, I feel this art of listening is evolutionary. There is a state when you start hearing bells and hells both but then at the end it says ” sins and sorrows diappear” that means there awaits a primordial state where the distinction between good and bad disappears and you feel everything dissolving in a single luminous halo.

  4. Ivan M. Grangeron 23 Nov 2019 at 7:54 am

    Beautifully said, Mahek.

  5. Elaon 23 Nov 2019 at 7:54 am

    in the art of listening
    if one’s attention is scattered
    listening gets impaired

    besides electric power
    money power and
    men power we also need
    spiritual power to pull life

    if one does not have the
    knowledge of the self and
    the main source
    how could listening to the self and
    listening to the pure shabd possible!

  6. Annaon 23 Nov 2019 at 11:21 am

    This poem is so beautiful. In its simplicity, it gives hope.

  7. Anna M.on 26 Nov 2019 at 4:38 am

    Hi Ivan,

    Your sentence in the commentary “The heart is like a moss-covered stone at the foot of the waterfall” remained me exactly about part of the beautiful Ryokan’s poem ‘Thinking’ .

    “Just like the stream
    meandering through mossy crevices
    I, too, hushed
    become utterly clear.”

    …one of my lovely haiku…

    Winter seclusion –
    Listening, that evening,
    To the rain in the mountain.

    – Kobayashi Issa

    transparent body
    listening coherently

    Listening really is an inspiration,
    a flow of information,
    a remembrance…

    Stepping in with Love:
    Listening the sound of

    Thank you!

    And a good luck of your new project “Haiku Enlightenment”.

    Let the sound of omkara really “flows generously through you and
    open you in unexpected and delightful ways”.

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