Over the past years my practice of reciting the nitnem banis has been sporadic. It’s like any spiritual practice, it takes commitment and discipline to continue day in and day out. Sometimes I am on solid, and sometimes not. My challenge is to be stable all the time. In the past I had my daily routine of kundalini yoga, meditation/simran and Japji Sahib. I would sometimes do Rehiras and Kirtan Sohila, but that wasn’t always regular.
In my school days in India we used to have Gurdwara in the morning and evening and we would recite Japji & Rehiras. So I did not get familiar with the other Nitnem Banis till later in my life. We used to practice Gatka to an audio version of Prof. Sat Nam Singh Sethi reciting Jaap Sahib, so I knew a bit of that bani, but had never really practiced it. I remember reading Jaap Sahib, and it taking a long time since the words/language used was very different than what I was used to. Then after practicing Jaap Sahib it became much easier and I moved on to, Shabad Hazare. This is a short bani so was easy to add on to my daily routine. Then came Tav Prasad Swaya, and finally Anand Sahib.
While learning the new banis I found it very helpful to listen to audio recordings of someone else reciting the banis. This gave me a sort of "sound memory" of the banis and pronunciation, so that when I actually sat down and read the bani I would remember some of the parts and words. Definitely try this out if you are learning a new bani! (Sukhmani Sahib is next for me!)
I took Amrit when I was really young (5 yrs), but didn’t really remember it, and felt that I needed to reaffirm my commitment to the Guru, so I took Amrit again in 2007 (You can read my story about the experience). I often hear from people who say that "One Day" they want to take Amrit, when they can recite all the banis and they are good enough. The issue I see with this is that for many people there is a need to make a commitment to START, to achieve towards that goal. For me taking Amrit was like a promise to live the path laid down by Guru Gobind Singh. I don’t look at this as some ritual that if I fail to do this or that, then I have "sinned" or done something wrong. I see it as a commitment to constantly striving to live a disciplined life. The banis are tools to empower the Sikh and keep him/her in the vibration of waheguru! So, if you don’t practice all of them, I don’t see it as a sin, but a loss of a valuable "tool". It’s kind of like re-chargeable batteries for your soul. If you don’t take the time to fully charge them, then you won’t have the full connection/energy. Or another analogy is that If your cup is empty then you cannot give to others.
Too often these days the practice of Sikhi has become negative, where guilt and judgment are passed onto people in relation to their practice of Sikhi (or lack of). I don’t look at Sikhi in this way as some ritualistic and fixed practice. So many of the practices of Sikhs have evolved over the past 400 years and I expect this to continue in many ways as the world changes.
So, from my perspective if you didn’t know all the banis, I think it is still ok to take Amrit and build your daily practice over time (rather then waiting till that "perfect day" which doesn’t come for most). To me the point of taking Amrit is to give your head to the Guru and basically say that your life is going to be focused on spiritual discipline. You are giving your ego/self to the Guru and letting the Guru guide you. The decision to take Amrit shouldn’t be taken lightly, but one should be kind to themself and not get mired in guilt.
I think I got way off the actual point that I was planning to write about, which was to share how I have been really enjoying doing my banis every morning. It’s one of those things that can be easy to forget in the motion of every day life, but when I sit down and read the banis I’m "buzzing" all over. During the experience I wonder why I haven’t always done the banis???
The past week I have been sitting by the window reciting the banis on the floor as the sun streams down on to my body. Normally by this time we have gotten my son Narayan Singh off to school and my daughter Charanjeet Kaur is sitting nearby me playing on her own. Once I start doing the banis she becomes very self contained. I think she must sense that this is a special time and just soaks it in through the sound.
During the past few days it’s been a different kind of experience as lots of negative thoughts float in my mind related to people and various things going on in my life. I’m a very positive person, so don’t like to feel this way. As this happens I try to just let it flow and not get into the thoughts. By the time I have recited the last morning Bani (Anand Sahib) it feels like my mind has been put through the washing machine and scrubbed good for the day.
Some mornings like today I was feeling the pull of lots of things I needed to do, and was only going to do Japji Sahib. The cool thing though is once I get in the flow of reciting Gurbani it’s like I just want more, and want to continue. It was like I got a "taste" of something really good and wanted to eat more! So once I start Japji Sahib and come to the end….I just had to continue on (even if I wasn’t planning to go past Japji Sahib). I don’t remember ever feeling this way about Nitnem banis when I was only reciting the Japji Sahib alone. Maybe I have gotten better at pronunciation and am now better reaping the benefits of Gurbani Recitation?
Recitation of banis is like a tune-up and balance of your whole system. Guruka Singh explains this well in an older video titled "Banis and the time of day". Anyways, it’s a nice feeling benefiting from Gurbani and experiencing first hand that it is NOT some ritualistic recitation that is for no beneficial purpose.
Hopefully those of you who haven’t yet experienced the power of Gurus Bani, start taking some time to practice the recitation of the Guru’s words and reap the benefits. Don’t take my word for it! Practice it for yourself with full focus and see how Gurbani supports you!
Related Notes of Interest
Nit Nem in Gurbani gives you a very powerful meditative mind. It gives you the balance required. Energy comes to a person from the head, and the head is the distributing center through the spine. When one reads Gurbani; it must be done in the correct harmony and rhythm.
It is compulsory for Khalsa to read all the five Banis daily. They were given so that a person’s incarnated personality may elevate itself to defend through any negativity or misfortune.
Guru Har Rai was once asked whether there was any benefit gained by reading the Guru’s Bani without understanding it. "Yes," he replied, "as grease sticks to the pot even when it is emptied, so does the Guru’s Word stick to the heart. Whether you understand it or not, the Word bears the Seed of Salvation. Perfume persists in the broken pieces even after the vase that contained it has been shattered." – Excerpt from Victory and Virtue