A common requirement of all beings, irrespective of region and faith, is to have a life of Sukh (Peace, Happiness, Joy, etc.) and security. But, the question is: where to find them?
As we lead our daily lives, we are constantly tossed around by the waves of this ocean of material existence or Maya, this bhaujal, this stormy ocean, that we inhabit. We constantly experience ups and downs, and our experiences, both good and bad, affect our state of mind.
Gurbani shows us a key principle by which to lead our lives and deal with both positive and negative experiences.
As indicated by the Gurbani, the fact is, a majority of us lack proper guidance and direction in this search. This causes confusion.
In confusion, as stressed in the Gurbani, we are driven to seek these in the world outside in the form of education, titles, caste (Jaat-Paat), status, wealth, power, and so on. But the irony is that these are all perishable or ephemeral and can give only a false sense of Sukh and security. The time and again tells us that Sukha and security have to be sought only within oneself and not from any outside object, place or person. Due to our deluded consciousness, however, many of us do not understand this truth.
Man’s search for psychological security continues so long he is centered in psychological ego (“I-ness” or Haume). Egoism and its projections (i.e., all evil passions) both are illusion, the play of Maya — the corruption of the deluded consciousness. Due to mental conditionings, man takes his body as his true identity, and the gross objects of the world as the source of eternal Sukh and security. Caused by this illusion, he takes it for granted that his worldly possessions (money, education, titles, property, spouse, children, and so on) are the source of real Sukha and security in the life. The Gurbani indicates this belief is to be totally fallacious. Why?
The nature of the material world is constant change. Consequently, everything we see is constantly in the flux of change. Nothing stays the same. For example, a child is born; he then goes through youth, adulthood, old age, and ultimately death. The same is true of other worldly objects. In it, nothing is permanent. Whatever we see is changeable and perishable, thus finite and insecure. This is also the law of birth and death. Now, how an impermanent thing can provide another impermanent thing with a permanent Sukh and security? Not possible at all; for nothing is secure here. “Insecure” cannot be the source of “Secure”. However, in deluded consciousness, we become slave of our “defiled” senses and the instinctive mind.
Kabhoo jeearaa oobh chalat hai, kabhoo jai payaalay
Sometimes, the soul soars high in the heavens, and sometimes it falls to the depths of the nether regions. [SGGS p 876, Guru Nanak]
These experiences, these ups and downs, can weaken our faith and move us away from God. Or, if we follow the simple principle shown to us by the Guru in this verse, we can use these same life experiences to help us to grow spiritually, to strengthen our relationship with God, and to lead a life of chardikalaa.
It may be more obvious that pain and misfortune can shake our faith in God, but good fortune and successes can be even more insidious.
“Dukh daaroo sukh rog bhayaa” as Guruji tells us in Rehras Sahib – happiness can be a disease and pain can be a medicine….
Let us look at the effects of both sukh and dukh more closely:
What are some of our reactions when we are blessed with good fortune? Let us say we achieve some success in our profession or business, gain some kind of recognition, or we get to buy a new house or car, or we are blessed with a child.
Typically, we take pride in our achievement and take credit for our good fortune. We convince ourselves that we got something that we deserved. Our own ego is strengthened. We may even look down upon others who are not as fortunate as we are.
Ego or haumai is one of the greatest obstacles on the path of spiritual growth. Gurbani states emphatically that haumai is the enemy of Naam – both cannot inhabit our minds at the same time.
Haumai naavai naal virodh hai, doi na vasai ik THaai
Ego is an enemy of the Name of the Lord; the two can not dwell in the same place. [SGGS p 560, Guru Amar Das]
Furthermore, we feel that since this was so great, we need more of whatever made us happy – we yield to greed and hunger for more and more. We raise our expectation as to what it takes to make us happy, making it harder to obtain real satisfaction or fulfillment. Worse, instead of counting our own blessings, we compare ourselves with those who have more and indulge in envy.
We get more and more entangled in the cause of the “sukh” or happiness, spend much of our time in enjoying it, getting more of it, or preserving it, whatever the “it” may be, often becoming slaves to it, and waste more and more of this precious life in the pursuit of this ephemeral “happiness”. We fall in love with the gifts with which God blesses us, and in the process we distance ourselves from the generous Giver of these gifts.
Daat piaari visariaa daataara
I fall in love with the gifts, but I forget the Giver. [SGGS p 676, Guru Arjan Dev]
To make matters worse, the more worldly belongings or successes we have, the more we get enmeshed in preserving them, and we are terrified of losing whatever we have obtained.
Vaday vaday jo deesai log tin ko biaapai chinta rog
Those who seem to be great and powerful, are afflicted by the disease of anxiety.
[SGGS p 188, Guru Arjan Dev]
Guruji shows us the way out of all these traps that surround “sukh”:
Jay sukh deh ta tujhai aradhi
When you bless me with happiness, I worship You gratefully.
The solution is deceptively simple – we must cultivate an awareness of God’s blessings. Whenever anything good happens that makes us happy, we must make a point of thinking of Him and thanking him for his manifold blessings.
Remembering God in a spirit of gratitude when good things happen helps us to appreciate our blessings and cultivate an attitude of contentment or “Santokh”. It fosters humility and saves one from the trap of ego or “haumai”. It helps to strengthen our faith in God and reinforces our relationship with Him.
As we get in the habit of remembering God and thanking Him for His blessing each time something good happens to us, we enjoy the blessings but at the same time, we don’t get quite as enmeshed in them – we develop a certain level of detachment from the items that made us happy. Maya will not have a corrupting effect on a person who always thinks of God in a spirit of gratitude when he is blessed with worldly gifts such as wealth, success or fame.
Let us now look at dukh or sorrow.
In spite of all our efforts in the pursuit of happiness, things don’t always go our way, and misfortunes, failures and pain hit us, often when we least expect them.
It is easy to react to misfortunes with anger and bitterness, and to feel frustrated and helpless. We come up with reasons to blame others or to blame God, and we alienate ourselves from His Divine presence within us.
Guruji tells us the alternative – in the face of misfortune as well, think of God and lean on Him:
dukh bhi tujhai dhiaaee
Even in pain, I reflect on You. || 2 ||
Take all your troubles to Him in the form of prayer.</>
jee ki birtha hoe so gur peh ardaas kar
When your soul is feeling sad, offer your prayers to the Guru. [SGGS p 519, Guru Arjan Dev]
If we put ourselves in God’s hands, relate to Him as a child to a parent and put our faith in Him, then He will take it upon Himself to take care of us. He will either remove the cause of our suffering, or He will give us the spiritual strength to cheerfully accept His Will.
Sometimes, our prayers appear not to be fulfilled. We may be praying for something unreasonable, or God, our Divine Parent, may know what is really right for us better than we do, even though we do not understand it.
As we approach our Divine Father with our problems as innocent, trusting children in this way, then even the most difficult of situations are not able to hurt us.
ja kau muskal at banai dhoee koe na deh
laagoo hoi dusmanaa saak bhi bhaj khalay
sabho bhajai aasraa chookai sabh asraau
chit aavai os paarbrahm lagai na tatee vaau
When you are confronted with terrible hardships and no one offers you any support,
when your friends turn into enemies, and even your relatives have deserted you,
and when all support has given way, and all hope has been lost
-if you then come to remember the Supreme Lord God,
even the hot wind shall not touch you. [SGGS p 70, Guru Arjan Dev]
Praying to God when things don’t work out the way we would like, reduces our sense of frustration and helplessness. Prayer shifts our attention away from anger, one of the five cardinals “demons” within ourselves, which can have a very destructive effect on the body, mind and spirit. Prayer in the face of adversity protects one from developing pathological responses to personal bad experiences – instead, these negative experiences can actually help us to grow stronger spiritually, and we can learn to say, like the Guru:
jay bhukh deh ta it hi raajaa dukh vich sookh manaaee
If You give me hunger, I still feel satisfied;
I celebrate (Your Will), even in the midst of sorrow.
In either case, in the face of sukh or dukh, in happiness AND in sorrow, we must practice gratitude.
jay sukh deh ta tujhai araadhee dukh bi tujhai dhiaaee
When you bless me with happiness, I worship You gratefully. Even in pain, I reflect on You.
Living in gratitude strengthens our faith and help us build a special relationship with God. We grow emotionally and spiritually through the ups and downs of our life. We start to recognize the hand of a greater power in everything that is happening and feel part of something larger than ourselves. It strengthens our faith that our Divine Father is always watching over us, the more we believe this in our hearts and put ourselves in His hands, the more our Father will take care of our needs and keep us from harm.