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Making Peace with the Shadow: The 18th Pauri of Japji Sahib

By Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

Making peace with the shadow side of life can be very difficult. For most of us, we have been given a vision of life and the Universe, where the power of the Light is considered Divine and the power of Darkness is considered something else. This creates a duality within us, which refuses to acknowledge the shadow in ourselves, and judges and reacts to the shadow in other people.

Guru Nanak gives a different understanding. In the 18th Pauri of Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak describes the darkest, most shadowed aspects of the human personality, and then, in humility, acknowledges that all this shadow is also part of the divine. The Creator created it. It has a purpose. A purpose that is often beyond the understanding of our limited human mind, but is totally understandable from the perspective of the One who forms, organizes and governs the entire creation.

The shadow has a reason for existing; the shadow within us and within others has a definite purpose and power; it is part of hukam—the divine order of the Universe. It is the challenge through which we grow. It is the pain which brings us to even deeper levels of healing. The shadow forces us to face what we do not want to face, and make peace with what we do not want to acknowledge.

The point of a spiritual practice is not to get rid of the shadow. In fact, it's not even possible to get rid of it. Instead, the point of spiritual practice is to become aware of the shadow, to bring it out into the light, so that it does not take over your life.

Yogi Bhajan would sometimes say, "The only difference between me and other people is that I am aware of my weaknesses." Weaknesses exist. When we are blind to them, they create havoc in our lives. When we are aware of them, then we can restrain them and consciously work with them to understand their purpose and gift.

In the last lines of the 18th Pauri, Guru Nanak claims, "What pleases Thee is the only good worth doing." It is a humble acknowledgement that while we may not like the shadow side of life, if it pleases the Creator for the shadow to exist, then there is something good in it.

In that state of humility, we can heal our own fractured sense of self. Rather than dividing ourselves into our ''good parts" and "bad parts," we can embrace all aspects as given to us by the Creator, and know that they all have a purpose. This restores us to a holistic vision of life, and it is in this holistic vision that ultimately we find peace, ease and happiness.

Suggestions for Practice

Recite the 18th Pauri 11 times a day for 40 days, 90 days, 120 days or 1,000 days to clear yourself of attachment to good and bad, to overcome deep feelings of inferiority, to break self-destructive behavior patterns and to surrender in complete acceptance of what is—both in yourself and in others.

18th Pauri—Gurmukhi

Asankh moorakh andh ghor. Asankh chor haraamkhor.

Asankh amar kar jaahi jor. Asankh galvadh hati-aa kamaahi.

Asankh paapee paap kar jaahi. Asankh koorhi-aar koorhay firaahi.

Asankh malaychh mal bhakh khaahi. Asankh nindak sir karahi bhaar.

Naanak neech kahai veechaar. Vaari-aa na jaavaa ayk vaar.

Jo tudh bhaavai saa-ee bhalee kaar. Too sadaa salaamat nirankaar. 


Countless fools, blinded by ignorance. Countless thieves and cheaters.

Countless impose their will by force. Countless cut-throats gather sins.

Countless sinners who keep on sinning. Countless liars, wander lost in their lies.

Countless wretches eat filth for food. Countless slanders make their heads heavy.

Lowly Nanak, gives this explanation. I cannot even begin to describe You.

Whatever pleases You, All will be blessed, You always protect us, Formless One!

Excerpted from I am a Woman, available through KRI.