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Summary of Question:Why Do We Call God 'Vahiguru'?
Category:General Sikhism
Date Posted:Saturday, 3/27/1999 3:08 PM MDT

Why would the name of God be "Vahiguru" which means "Hail Guru" if Guru Nanak considered himself a teacher, (not even a prophet);isn't God so so much higher than the Guru? Why call Him a Guru? Would that mean that before Guru Nanak, God did not have a name? How could Guru Nanak just come up with a name for God?

How much truth lies in the suggestion that "Vahiguru" is derived from the Hindugods: Vaudev, Hari, Govinda, and Rama?

Sat Nam, dear one. From a Sikh perspective, one might just as well ask, "Why does anyone call Wahe Guru "God"?

When one attempts to understand reality by intermixing languages, concepts, and metaphors without first understanding the assumptions that are embedded in one's own ideas, the result is likely to add to one's doubts and confusion, rather than bring clarity. Thus, I'm suggesting that we do some preliminaries before tackling the "Big" questions. One of the concerns that you are expressing in your question is very important within Sikh Dharma (ie., "What did Guru Nanak mean in expressing and teaching about Wahe Guru?"), but your question is intermixed with other traditions that are not very helpful in understanding what Guru Nanak was teaching us.

Let's look at some of this "extra baggage"--
1) The term "God" is an English language term, and western Christian, Judaic, Muslim theologies are coming from a very different basis than what Guru Nanak taught. Christians and Muslims use the term "God" to describe a supreme, divine personality. And that kind of "God" is separated from us, and very far away. And, from the personal aspect of this concept of God, it can easily be intermixed with earlier vedic and Hindu concepts of personal gods or deities who were said to rule the affairs of human beings.

The concept of the divine presented by Guru Nanak had nothing to do with "Personality." The supreme quality of Truth, Wisdom, enlightenment and compassion which Guru Nanak taught was completely "Impersonal" (or what some call "Transpersonal"). In fact, the Oneness which is infinite is so far beyond personhood (or personality) that we, in our relative, personal ways of knowing, find it unknowable. The infinite is of a completely different dimension of reality than our relative terminologies. Thus, when personal gods like Brahma, VIshnu, Shiva, Indra, etc. are spoken of in Siri Guru Granth Sahib, they are used as terms of mythology, they convey some concept or historical drama in the human quest for divinity. They aren't related to as "real" or a all-powerful over human affairs. They aren't worshipped. And, oftentimes, Guru Nanak is revealing the folly of worshipping these gods who fought with one another, had sexual affairs, made mistakes and, as such, don't really tell us much about the Infinite within

us at all.

In contrast to those traditions who teach that God is personal and VERY far away, Guru Nanak taught that the Infinite, divine reality is so intimately one with us, and present within us, that we are never really apart from it. Yet, since our minds work with duality whereas the qualities of the Infinite are so radically singular, we simply go around without noticing Infinity inside of us. It's not that Its not there, it is simply that we don't know how to look, how to experience anything of that dimension. And, the knowledge of how to have that experience is called "Wisdom."

So, what to do?

You said that Wahe Guru means "Hail Guru". That is not exactly correct. Wahe means "Absolutely Infinite." It also means the bliss or happiness that spontaneously arises when one realizes and experiences his or her identity with Wahe Guru, just as we already are and always have been. Wahe Guru means "Absolute Wisdom."

To describe the nature of wisdom a little more completely, guru means wisdom. Rather than mixing in many other religions and traditions, let's look more carefully at Sikh tradition, which does not imitate those others. The word guru has two parts "guh" and "ruh". "Guh" means darkness, ignorance. "Ruh" means intelligence and light. "Gur" is a "joined" word that means some specific wise teaching (a "formula") in order to dispell ignorance. "Guru" is a teacher who gives the teaching. When we receive a teaching from a Guru, we have to practice it (or do something by applying the teaching) in order to have the experience of intelligence and wisdom that was intended. It's similar to good food: you have to eat it to get the nourishment. So, you have to practice the teaching or wisdom of the Guru in order to experience the truth of it. Those practices are called Dharma.

Going further, there is a more specific type of Guru called "Sat Guru." A Sat Guru is one who gives you, not only the teaching, but also all the resources, grace and protection necessary in order to experience and master the teaching. This is the meaning of the statement "Sat Gur Prasad," the Prasad is the gift or blessing of the Sat Guru which makes it possible for us to practice the displine the Gurus taught. Those who practice the discipline are called disciples, or "Sikhs." The Gurus of the lineage of Guru Nanak are properly referred to as Sat Gurus, because they gave us the blessings of teachings and grace in order to realize reality just as they did.

Containing all the virtues of Sat Guru in a way that is perfect and unchanging is called "Siri Guru." Siri means perfection and Siri means "head." When we give up our human head, and our imperfect, relative, worldly, egoistic basis of looking at things, exchanging that for the perfection of the pure teachings of a Sat Guru, that is where our own eventual perfection, enlightenment and lliberation will come from. Those teaching of the 10 Gurus who lived among us as Sat Gurus are now embodied in Siri Guru Granth Sahib (meaning "the Perfection of Wisdom") and it will never change, because our Infinite Nature is not going to change (otherwise it wouldn't be infinite), and these teachings are the key to realizing our esssence, our Infinity within us (and everyone else).

And what does our Siri Guru teach us? It teaches us, in its pure and perfected language and form, how to reach and realize Wahe Guru.

If you want to call Wahe Guru "God," that is fine, go ahead. Guru Nanak didn't use that term. But, whether you call it God or Wahe Guru, it's very important to remember that this God or Wahe Guru isn't something far away that you have to go somewhere to find. It is your very own essence as You, only wrapped in a paradox, enigma and mystery called relative, human existence based on sense organs, an ego, and a mind that uses concepts (rather than intuition and direct knowlede of spritual reality). That is our human condition. If we become fortunate enough and graceful enough to have a relationship with the teachings of a Sat Guru (contained as they are in Siri Guru Granth Sahib), and we accept and practice them diligently and with humility (ego trips don't work in this), then by Guru's Grace we shall surely, one day, experience the Truth of it all. And until then, we experience the bliss of that connection and knowing we are on our way, we are on the path of Dharma, and that Guru has blessed with much tha

t is valuable to share with others (when they approach us and need our help).

This is a lot to think about. But perhaps you can see that Guru Nanak's own teaching held no confusion about the nature of the Infinite and the divine. You are divine within you. He offered a way for you to become whom you really are.

Blessings to your questions,
Krishna Singh Khalsa

After word: So, eventually, from the very best of the best, those who were the Punj Piares on Baisakhi Day in 1699, Guru Gobind Rai bowed to them and receieved the Amrit from them, because they had demonstrated their worthiness in giving up the head, the ego, and all worldly pretensions. And so, by the Grace of the Guru within the Punj Piares, Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh, and the Khalsa had been born.

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