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Personal Reflections from an Imperfect Pen

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Location: New Mexico

Publications: Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa. Anand Sahib: The Song of Bliss by Guru Amar Das translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa. Available through www.sikhdharma.org.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Anand Sahib: Maps of Reality in Translation (and the first Five Paurees)

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki fateh.

The weekend of New Year’s, the largest snow storm in 25 years hit New Mexico. Six inches of snow around my home and (thank God) a refrigerator full of food. It had been my intention to take that four day holiday weekend and really pour myself into completing as much of the Anand Sahib translation as I could. Three and a half years ago, I finished translating Japji Sahib and had begun to work on Guru Amar Das’s Anand Sahib. Being snow bound with no where to go and nothing else to do, God’s grace, the translation came into a magical synchronicity. And this draft – this sixth or seventh draft in three years – took on a life of its own. As a writer, I know when “I” write – it doesn’t work. But then the writing writes me, then it does. Three and half years of challenge and research and revision; of frustration and confusion and trying to shift my brain to see what Guru Amar Das was actually talking about. But during this snow-bound weekend at the end of 2006 – the translation wrote me and I knew it was complete.

Over the next couple of weeks – every few days – I would like to share five paurees from the translation with you. To generate conversation. Discussion. Even that dreaded word – debate. It’s done – but I am also open to suggestions for edits, for changes, for tweaks. And I thought – why not share it with all of you – who love to read what I write and because of that love, I keep writing.

But before we embark on the actual discussion of the translation, I want to offer a framework of how – over three and half years – the translation evolved. Some of you may have been around in November of 2003 when I posted an exuberant and perhaps slightly simplistic essay about translating Japji Sahib into English. That essay (with minor revisions and edits) is reposted below for you to review – or to make new your acquaintance with it if you haven’t seen it already. What’s most important in that essay is the conclusion that translating Gurbani into English depends upon text, subtext and spiritual experience. All three. So selecting one English word for one Gurmukhi word often may not be sufficient to convey the totality of the meaning.

The issue with the Anand Sahib over time became a much more subtle and challenging issue. Because the Anand Sahib encodes a kind of map of human reality that is very specific and, in some ways, very technical. Most of the translations that I’ve read in English don’t paint that technical, specific universe. And it took time for me to understand what the problem in translation was.

Let me search back through my dusty memories of literary theory – and outline an issue with language that relates to “maps.” Words do not indicate meaning independently. Words creating meaning because they are defined in relationship with each other. “Heavy” and “Light” have meaning in the context of each other – and need the relationship with each other to map an entire dimension of reality called “Weight.”

As always, the physical aspect of how the meaning of words are interrelated is the most basic and easy to penetrate in a language. But when words are mapping emotional territory, mental categorizations or –the most subtle – spiritual experience – then it becomes a very different problem. There are dozens of words in Gurmukhi signifying the Ultimate or Divine Reality. Yet they all get translated as “God” or “Lord.” There are a range of words in Gurmukhi relating to sound and frequency – but they get translated as “word.” It’s a problem. It’s a problem because what gets lost in the English translation is that map of reality. The way those words work together, illustrating and defining a world together.

As I began to study this issue deeper and deeper, the analogy that came to me was a physics one. In physics – there are so many terms to define a quantum reality. “Proton, “Electrons,” Neutrons,” “Quarks,” “Strings,” – oh my goodness – so very many terms. Because the more physics studies reality at the level of the quantum field, the more discoveries are made, the more relationships are discovered. And then words are coined to indicate relationship and reality both. The part and its place within the whole.

So imagine a physics textbook being translated into another language. And what the translators decide to do is use the phrase “atomic particle” every time one of these precise words is used. So a sentence that might read: “An atom is made of protons, electrons and neutrons.” (OK – all you scientists out there – this is from my high school science course, so I’m sure the definition has changed since then. But humor me here.) The sentence then would get translated as:

“An atom is made up of atomic particles.”

The translation, per se, is not incorrect. It is correct in a sense. But because the effort was not made to translate and explain “proton, neutron and electron” – something got lost. Knowledge got lost. Detail and technical understanding and relationships between the parts got lost.

Now imagine that same text book continuing the discussion about quarks and strings and whatever else there is – and all of those terms simply being translated as “atomic particle.”

How much more knowledge has been lost? Detail. Technical maps. Relationships. The ability to penetrate a much deeper level of reality and therefore – understand and command it.

This is what’s happened with Gurbani.

So many terms indicating…something. Some map of human experience and the Divine and the power of Sound to awaken us to the Sacred. It’s all gotten translated as “God” and “word.”

Not entirely incorrect. In a sense. But what has been lost in translation?

So to translate the Anand Sahib was a step more than simply text, subtext and spiritual experience. To translate the Anand Sahib was to attempt to understand those terms in the context of the map of reality the Guru was describing. The words: Anand, Bani, Guru, Shabad, Sach, Amrit, Naam, Har, Ananhat, and others. What did they mean – not in English equivalents – but in relationship with each other? What world, by playing together, where they describing? Because if you just look at English equivalents, you loose the way those words are working together and defining each other. And this was the problem translating the Anand Sahib. The map of reality created by the English language and the map of reality created by Gurbani are not the same map.

So what sources did I draw on to try to discover and understand this map?

  • Dictionaries – incomplete, yes, but still they gave me an initial direction.
  • Lectures by the Siri Singh Sahib
  • Discussions with Dr. Balkar Singh
  • One brief and beautiful meeting with the late Bhai Avtar Singh. Me, asking questions through his son, Bhai Kultar Singh, trying to bridge generations and cultures, languages and spiritual experience.
  • As always, looking at it from the inside through meditation

Is the map complete? No. It’s just begun. But what’s important is that this translation of the Anand Sahib is not about translating a word of Gurmukhi into a word of English or even a line of Gurmukhi into a few lines of English. It’s an attempt to understand that underlying map of reality indicated by Gurbani and communicate it in proportional relationship through the English language.

Which is why this translation will seem very different in places than other translations.

At some future point, I’ll post some of the sources, references and conversations behind translating these terms and mapping them the way that they’re being described here. But not today. For today – here are the first five paurees of Guru Amar Das’s Anand Sahib. By the grace of the One. So grateful for your thoughts and feedback.

Anand Sahib by Guru Amar Das

There is a state of consciousness
Where every action
The reality of the soul.

Oh mother -
This consciousness
Is with me now
For I have found
The Teacher of Truth
Whose wisdom awakens me
To my own Infinite Reality.

I have found
The Teacher of Truth
Whose wisdom takes me
From the darkness of my own
Ignorance and ego
To the light
Of my Inner Divinity.

With absolute
My surrendered mind
Flows in tune
With the frequency
Of the Divine.

It is such
An awesome

The Divine Musical Scales
Of Love
(Such jewels)
And the Spirits
That keep them
Have come to sing
The Shabad -

The Sacred Sound
Which breaks the
Ego-shackles of the
And releases
The Infinite Spirit
To pervade
And prevail
As my lived identity.

All of you
Sing the Sacred Sound
Of the Shabad
That will break through
Your limited ego
And bring you to the experience of
Deathless Divinity.

The Shabad has
Come to you
Through Hari -
The power of the Creator
To manifest in form.

Through the Shabad
The thought-waves
Of the mind
Become elevated
To the frequency
Of the Divine.

Says Naanak
There is a state of consciousness
Where every action
The reality of the soul.

This consciousness
Is with me now
For I have found
The Teacher of Truth
Whose wisdom awakens me
To my own Infinite Reality. (1)

Mind of mine-
Always be with the
Essence of the Divine
Inside your own heart
And inside of everything
Around you.

Be with
The Essence of the Divine
Inside yourself
And inside all things,
My mind.

This will cause you to forget
All your pains and sorrows.

Feel the Divine Essence
In every fiber of your being.

Feel yourself
As one fiber
In the vast weave of life.

And surrender your identity
To and with the Divine.

Then,The Creator will do
All of your work
For you
And bring all your affairs
To completion.

That powerful Master
Is in control
Of all the things
That concern and worry you.

So why ever
Let yourself
Forget that One?

Says Naanak-
Mind of mine -
Always be with the Essence of the Divine
Inside your own heart
And inside of everything
Around you. (2)

Master of the Ultimate Reality-
What does not live
Inside your home?

In Your home
Is everything that exists.

What You give to us
Is what we receive.

By always remaining
In a positive state-
Admiring and appreciating
Your Creation -

Your Spirit rises up
Within us
And dwells
As our active, living identity.

When Your Spirit
Within us becomes
Our active, living identity

Then everywhere we go,
In everything we do

We hear the Sound
That guides us homeTo You.

Master of the Ultimate Reality-
What does not live
Inside Your home? (3)

In the dimension
Of Ultimate Reality
Your Spirit
In every identity.

This truth
Has become
My food.

In the dimension
Of Ultimate Reality
Your Spirit
In every identity.

This truth
Feeds me.

And through it,
All hunger and dissatisfaction

Tranquility and peace
Come to live
Inside my own mind.
All my desires
Are fulfilled by You.

May I continually offer
My entire being
In service
To the Teacher
Who takes me from
The ignorance
Of my own mind
To the Light
Of my Inner Divinity

And through whom,
These great things happen.

Says Naanak,
Listen you who live
By your purity,
Spiritual discipline
And grace -

Keep it with you, Beloved Ones.

The Sound Current
That cuts
The ego-shackles of the mind.

In the Dimension
Of Ultimate Reality
Your Spirit
In every identity.

This truth
Has become
My food. (4)

Where the Five Sacred Sounds
Of the Panch Shabad play
That home is blessed
With good fortune.

Whatever home
Has adopted this Sound Current
Playing it
With artistry and power -
Such a home

Is a fortunate

Through these Five Sacred Sounds
You, oh Divine One,
Bring the Five Passions
(Of lust, pride, greed, anger and attachment)
Under control

The thorny illusion
Of Death.

At the beginning of time,
It was already decided
When and how
The Sound Current that cuts the ego
Would be met.

And when that moment comes -
We become attached to You within ourselves
And the fact of You
In the entire Creation.

Says Naanak,
Then - within those homes -
A deep and restful peace
Wells up.

And You, oh Love,
The Silent Sound
The Sound Beyond Sound
Where cause and effect
And life unfolds
Without a word. (5)

All Love in the Divine,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, great, beautiful.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Gurvinderpal said...

sis tears came to my eyes as i read these words you took from Sach Khand and let bemukhs and manmukhs like me understand guru jis words...

2:54 PM  
Blogger Sat Purkh Kaur Khalsa said...

Sitting in your classes and now finally seeing it in print--wahe guru! You truly allow the guru's bani to come alive in the hearts of all of us. Thank you.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Harvinder K Singh said...

Extraterrestrial Ecstasy.

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent work keep it up! may God give you the real spiritual experience of ANAND sahib bani

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a beautiful work of art.
thank you so much

3:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where the Five Sacred Sounds
Of the Panch Shabad play

this is four sounds. am I wrong. please explain

10:47 PM  
Blogger Ek Ong Kaar Kaur said...

Dear Anonymous,

Sat Nam.

The Fifth sound is the sound of the "a" through the whole mantra. It's very subtle. That "a" throughout is the fifth.

Hope this is helpful.

With blessings,

Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading your beautiful translation of Anand Sahib almost 40 days now. Thank you, your book has really inspirated me to do it daily.
I was wondering, if could you recommend any recorded version of the original (to start practicing along it)?

1:17 PM  
Blogger Ek Ong Kaar Kaur said...

Sat Naam. Thanks for your comment. Grateful to hear that you are finding the translation useful. At the moment, I do not have an Anand Sahib recording to recommend, unfortunately. But I will keep my ears open for one. Thanks again for your comments, and please let me know if there is any other way I can be of service.

9:47 PM  

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