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Anand Sahib: Maps of Reality in Translation

The following essay originally appeared in Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa’s blog, Random Calligraphy: Personal Reflections from an Imperfect Pen, Saturday, January 13, 2007.

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 snowbound with nowhere to go and nothing else to do, by 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 when 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 snowbound 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 available 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 one, 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 is 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 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, were they describing? Because if you just look at English equivalents, you lose 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

Reflects

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

Ease

My surrendered mind Flows in tune

With the frequency

Of the Divine.

 

It is such

An awesome 

Experience.

 

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 Mind

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

Reflects

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)

 

You!

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 

Present

In every fiber of your being.

 

Feel yourself

As one fiber

In the vast weave of life.

 

Intermingle

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.

 

And 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 home 

To You.

 

Master of the Ultimate Reality – 

What does not live

Inside Your home? (3)

 

In the dimension 

Of Ultimate Reality 

Your Spirit

Lives

In every identity.

 

This truth 

Has become 

My food.

 

In the dimension 

Of Ultimate Reality 

Your Spirit

Lives

In every identity.

 

This truth 

Feeds me.

 

And through it,

All hunger and dissatisfaction 

Depart.

 

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 0f 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

Lives

In every identity.

 

This truth

Has become 

My food. (4)

 

Where the Five Sacred Sounds 

Of the Panch Shabad play 

(Sa-Ta-Na-Ma)

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 home.

 

Through these Five Sacred Sounds

You, oh Divine One,

Bring the Five Passions

(Of lust, pride, greed, anger and attachment) 

Under control

 

Overpowering 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,

Play

The Silent Sound

The Sound Beyond Sound 

Where cause and effect 

Cease

And life unfolds 

Naturally

Without a word. (5)

 

Blog post and translation by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa. 

www.ekongkaark.com