The Book As Guru?
Baba Bishan Das discusses a beautiful scripture from India known as the Adi Granth (Shri Guru Granth Sahib), a huge collection of hymns of praise and love (bhakti). Some have evolved traditions that make this scripture into a kind of replacement for living teachers, including in the world of orthodox Sikhism. This follows the same pattern we often see in many world religions, when the book replaces living apostles, prophets, etc… However, Baba Bishan Das explains that we do not have to be locked into later religious traditions and theological developments but can examine the original intent of the founders of a religion or spiritual movement, in this case the Sikh Gurus and other Saints whose hymns and mystic poetry are preserved in the Sikh scriptures, and discern the spiritual practices they once advocated, seeking to be faithful to that same spiritual vision during our time here on planet earth.
The Book As Guru? Baba Bishan Das Explains the Guru Granth Sahib
Because my parents believed in the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, I also used to think that there was no use in following any Master other than Guru Granth Sahib. I was taught that there is nobody else whom we can call Master except the ten Sikh Gurus. In the beginning, when I used to go to Baba Bishan Das and he would praise his Master, I would feel very confused and I would argue with him. I would tell him, “Nobody is the Master after Guru Gobind Singh; it is written in the book.” I told Baba Bishan Das about the things which I thought were written in the Guru Granth Sahib: that there would be no Master after Guru Gobind Singh, the last Master of the Sikhs, and that the book should be taken as the Master. That is what most Sikh people believe: that it is written in the book that Guru Gobind Singh said, “After me there will be no Master, there will be no prophet. I am the last Master, and after me this book will be your Master.” However, Baba Bishan Das denied that these things were written in the book. He said I could read the book patiently and lovingly and I wouldn’t find these lines in the book.
At that time I was very confused, and I thought, “How is that possible? I have been reading this book since my childhood, and I believe that it is written there, because everybody says so. Why is it that Baba Bishan Das is denying that?” I was not satisfied. I went to Amritsar and bought three copies of Guru Granth Sahib. I had two other friends who were with me and for six months continuously, we three people read that book many times. We studied it and we worked very hard in order to find those lines that would say that there can be no Master after Guru Gobind Singh. However, we did not find those lines and we realized that the statements which we believed in were not there. We came back to Baba Bishan Das and surrendered to him. We said, “Baba Bishan Das, you are the true one. The words which we thought were in the book are not there. What you have said is true.”
Baba Bishan Das told us that those lines were written by other people after Guru Gobind Singh left. People say that that couplet was written by Guru Gobind Singh, but in fact it was not. It was written by someone else and is not included in the Guru Granth Sahib.
When Baba Bishan Das told us that the lines which we thought were in the Guru Granth Sahib were not there, he also said, “Let us suppose for some time that it is in the book. I will explain to you what that means. Even though it is not the writing of the Master, and someone else has written that, still if we explain that in its real sense, in its real meaning, then also you will find that it is inspiring you and guiding you towards the living Master. That couplet says, “When the timeless Lord ordered me, then I came into this world and started this Path. Now it is the order of God to all the disciples, all the Sikhs, that they should take the Guru Granth as their Master. They should take Guru Granth as their Master and they should manifest the body of the Master. Those who have truth in their heart will definitely get the company of the Master.”
Baba Bishan Das told us that it was the Master saying, “When God ordered me, I came into this world and started this Path. Now whatever is written in this book, you should take the teachings of this book as your Master.” Baba Bishan Das explained to us, “When we take anybody as the Master or when we take a book as the Master, we have to obey what the book or the Master tells us. Every single line of Guru Granth Sahib is inspiring us to go to the living Master. Reading the teachings of this book, you should search for the living Master, you should search for the Master in the body. Those who have truth in their heart, they will definitely go in the company of the Masters. When you go to the living Master — if you have truth in your heart — you will get the company of the Master. And when you go in the company of the Master, He will explain to you what all these things mean.”
I respect Guru Granth Sahib very much and have much love for it. I have been reading it since my childhood, and I have found that it talks about the importance of Satsang, it sings the glory of Naam, and it talks about the perfect Master. In Guru Granth Sahib nobody is criticized and all the Truth is presented as Truth. However, from reading the Bani, singing the hymns and even doing the Akhand Panth, the non-stop recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib, many times, I did not get any spiritual peace. But longing was created; Gurbani created the pangs of separation. It was helpful to me because Gurbani inspired me to go to some perfect Saint. My life started with Gurbani and Gurbani inspired me and told me that there is another Bani that will give peace to the soul, and there is some Bani, other than what can be spoken or read, which will liberate me.
— In Search of the Gracious One — An Account in His own Words of The Spiritual Search and Discipleship of Sant Ajaib Singh, compiled by Michael Mayo-Smith, Sant Bani Ashram, Sanbornton, New Hampshire, September 2007