- Sikh Creed
These principles were established by the first guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, over 500 years ago. In simple language, kirat karo means work hard and naam japo means reflect deeply. Vand chako tells us to be altruistic and charitable. There is no act nobler than giving a helping hand to weary traveler who lacks confidence in overcoming obstacles of life.
While the principles of hard work, reflection, and charity exist in every religion, Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the first (to my knowledge) to make these a creed, creating a foundation for Sikh practice. I consider it a profound “secular theology,” as practicing these simple principles can be outside of religious boundaries. The first guru knew that human beings can get lost in a maze of tumultuous thoughts that can take them from one dark tunnel to the next. From his insightful wisdom, he shared that the solution to such a complex problem would lie in the practice of this simple creed which subsequently would lead to equanimity.
As mentioned above, the necessity and virtues of hard work are emphasized in every religion. The commands exhort the faithful to live by virtuous hard work. For example, the Bible says: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule; If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (The Salonians 3:10). The most revered text of the Hindus, the Bhagavad Gita, says: “Who so performath diligent content, the work allotted to him, whatever it be, lays hold of all perfectness” (13:45). The hard work mentioned in these passages points to reflective, ethical, and honest hard work. These traditions point to the fact that in order to live a meaningful life and to achieve a state of equipoise, hard work is necessary, but not sufficient by itself. Hard work without spiritual reflection causes one’s internal mirror to get covered with dusty layers of greed and grasping.
The discriminating mind is a dancer and a magician with the objective world as his stage. The intuitive mind is a wise jester who travels with the magician and reflects upon his emptiness and transiency.
- Excerpt from Buddhist text (Lankavtra Sutra)
In its first stage, spiritual reflection aims to make the connection between the left and right brains seamless and unhindered by external noise. The left brain serves as the “rational brain,” while the right brain helps bring light to life’s nuances and puts successes and failures in perspective; as a result, new understanding of the fruits of hard work emerges. The first stage of reflection helps two images of the person, one in the front of the mirror, and one behind the mirror, merge as one seamless portrait with greater self-understanding. It was with this observation that Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but has to be lived forwards.”
Inspired by Kierkegaard’s reflection on reflection, the famous French director Francois Truffaut said, “I have always preferred the reflection of life to life itself.” Armed with this philosophy, he worked hard to give meaningful hits, such as The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, The Wild Child, etc.
Reflection is a journey of self-exploration. Once the right and left brains are unified, and consciousness is elevated, one realizes that the heart was always an active participant in the process. This is a beginning of the second stage of reflection. It is a physiological fact that the brain beats at the same rate as the heart. There are far more neural connections that go from the heart to the brain than the other way around, allowing the heart to send more signals to the brain than vice versa. There are quite a few stories in the medical field where the patient who received a heart transplant picks up tastes and preferences of the donor thus unconsciously overcoming mind’s predispositions.
The second stage of reflection helps one to understand and appreciate the communication connections between heart and mind. Paying attention to these communications allows us to re-reflect on stories, adversities, and hardships we faced and lived. We discover that the sum total of the intelligence of the brain and heart combined is greater than its parts.
In Indian music, there is a concept called “jugalbandi.” Here, two musicians, one drummer and generally one sitarist or flutist, play separately then together. The playful rendition is repeated with minor variations over and over. For music lovers, the experience is levitating. When the brain and the heart work together, it is like jugalbandi, where they lead, follow, and create an exciting yet peaceful internal rhythm. It is as if they are in an eternal embrace doing synchronized waltz with each round lifting the person to a higher state of consciousness.
The third and last stage of reflection is transcendence. The wisdom gained through reflective hard work and understanding of the union of mind and heart unites our outer and inner world. This union propels us into a higher orbit of transcendence. Our total intelligence gets centered in self, as opposed to self-centered. In this reflective state, we recognize that happiness, joy and love are based on reciprocity with living beings. Human beings are social animals and our survival depends on connections and networking. By being altruistic and charitable (practicing vand chakna, as Guru Nanak Dev Ji described) not only do we strengthen our survival, but we increase joy and peace in our own lives as well as the lives we touch. Altruism shows us how to be one with the universe. Lord Jesus said it beautifully, ”give and you are given.”
Through hard work, reflection, and acts of altruism, one realizes his/her true nature and interconnectedness with the world. One realizes that practicing these virtues is a journey and one has to be on constant guard against ego-based intruders.
In the beginning of my life,
With the first days of rising sun,
I asked, “Who am I?,”
Now at the end of my life,
With the last rays of the setting sun,
I ask, “Who am I?”
Indian Nobel Laurate poet, Rabindernath Tagore, wrote these lines 13 days before his death. By working towards a life enshrined in the principals kirat, naam, and vand, one knows its identity and is no longer focused on self-centered deeds but on acts that enhance the beauty of this interconnected world. The word incarnation means fully inhabiting your body and spirit. By living in a world totally engulfed in the fire of material pursuit, we live a good distance from our body and spirit. The pursuit of kirat, naam, and vand provides us an opportunity to rediscover, or reincarnate ourselves, within this lifetime. The sleeping higher purpose of life gets reignited by the flames of the pursuit embedded in this creed. The human traveler fully consumed by the beauty of such a creed brings the cosmic energy as protective force into his/her journey. The tranquil yet gale force of this energy carries the traveler to a deeper love for earth and its inhabitants, making heavens uncomfortable. In the words of Hafiz, 13th century Persian Sufi Poet, “There are moments in moist love when heaven is jealous of what we on earth can do.” The path of the moist love is revealed through the practice of hard work, deep reflection and humble charity.