SUKHMANĪ, titled Gauṛī Sukhmanī in the Gurū Granth Sāhib after the musical measure Gauṛī to which it belongs, is a lengthy composition by Gurū Arjan which many include in their daily regimen of prayers. The site, once enclosed by a dense wood, where it was composed around AD 1602-03, is still marked on the bank of the Rāmsar pool in the city of Amritsar. It is said that Bābā Srī Chand, elder son of Gurū Nānak and founder of the Udāsī order, came to Amritsar to meet Gurū Arjan, then engaged in composing the poem. The Gurū who had by that time completed sixteen asṭpadīs, or cantos, requested him to continue the composition. Bābā Srī Chand, out of humility, only recited the śloka of Gurū Nānak following the Mūl Mantra in the Japu-- "ādi sachu jugādi sachu hai bhi sachu Nānak hosī bhi sachu”-- In the beginning, in the primal time was He the Eternal Reality; in the present is He the Eternal Reality. To eternity shall He the Reality abide (GG, 285). This śloka was thereupon repeated by Gurū Arjan at the head of the seventeenth asṭpadī.
The word sukhmanī is rendered into English as "consoler of the mind." The entire poem has been translated into English more than once under the commonly preferred title, "Psalm of Peace" or "Song of Peace," signifying the soothing effect it has on the mind of the reader. Sukh literally means peace or comfort and manī mind or heart. The couplet, constituting rahāu, the only one in the composition, which means pause or rest and which is an equivalent of the Hebrew word selah occurring in the Psalms, sums up the most characteristic feature of this bāṇī. According to this couplet, Sukhmanī is the bringer of the bliss of the Lord's name; it dwells in the hearts of those who love Him.
The Sukhmanī comprises twenty-four asṭpadīs or cantos, each comprising eight stanzas. They are composed in the metre chaupaī. A śloka or couplet precedes each asṭpadī. The first seven stanzas of the asṭpadī explore the theme stated in the preceding śloka and the eighth sometimes sums up the asṭpadī but, more often, becomes a paean of praise placing the theme in the context of an overall vision of Eternal Reality. This structure is maintained throughout and though, from canto to canto, there may not be traceable progression of thought as in a philosophical work, there is a continuing unity of spiritual and ethical tone. One of the fundamental texts of the Sikh faith, the Sukhmanī presents a complete scheme of the teachings of the Sikh faith. While each asṭpadī has a fresh vision to impart, a particular aspect of Truth to unfold, the whole text may be regarded as the reiteration of basic themes such as Divine immanence, Divine compassion, abundance of grace, God's succouring hand, the merit of devotion, of holy company and humility. With such reiteration, the composition as a whole has a remarkable gripping quality reinforced by the striking imagery which in stanza after stanza brings home to the seeker the truths he must own.
The Sukhmanī opens with a maṅglācharan or invocation to the Supreme Being. In this four line śloka, the Supreme Being is remembered as ādi gure (Primal Preceptor), jugādi gure (Preceptor from the beginning of time existing), sati gure (the Truth Preceptor) and srī gurdeve (Preceptor Divine). The following six aṣṭpadīs dwell on the advantages of remembrance, in a spirit of love, devotion and surrender, of the Holy Name which results in linking up one's consciousness with the Divine. This brings bliss, peace and approval at the Divine Court.
Name Divine is man's true helper and friend, the true conferrer of joy and bliss as against the trust in yogic austerities, ascetic practices and ritual worship which are of no avail in liberating him from the cycle of birth and death. Ineffective in the same way are intellectual feats and membership of religious orders. Remembrance of the Divine Name is the most exalted of all religious practices and the purest of all ritual actions. Ungrateful to God and indifferent to devotion, humanity is in bondage to lust, wrath, avarice, attachment and pride--the five evils. Forgetful of God, man remains attached to māyā which is compared to rejecting a jewel and chasing a cowrie. Man is warned of those drawbacks and is exhorted constantly to meditate on the Divine Name which becomes possible only when he overcomes his ego and cultivates humility which, in turn, is attained only through the Lord's grace.
Asṭpadīs seven to eleven deal with the concept of perfect man, and ideal man, a man of God. He is Jīvanmukta, i.e. one who has become liberated while still living in the mortal body. Such a person is detached from grief and joy. To him gold and dust, amrit (nectar) and poison, pauper and prince, worldly honour and dishonour are alike. The company of the holy-sādh saṅgat which confers on the disciple manifold spiritual benefits is a necessary prerequisite to achieving this ideal, though access to this association is also dependent upon Divine grace. People so sanctified have a wisdom even greater than that imparted by the Vedas and live beyond the triguṇa, i.e. the three attributes of māyā. Remembrance of God's Name in the company of these saintly people is preferable to all rituals and creeds. These verses also endorse access of all humanity, irrespective of colour, caste and creed, to divine knowledge, and to emancipation through meditation on His Name. Anyone who, with the Divine favour, keeps the company of the holy and repeats the Name becomes God-enlightened, the Brahm-giānī. He is free from all dubiety and worldly entanglements, and his mind is always at peace. In the spirit of the God enlightened may be beheld God who is otherwise niraṅkār, the formless Supreme Being. God's hukam is the sole source of the vast and variegated creation. Far from being indifferent to the infinitude of creation, He responds to the love of the devout who are the crown of His creation. Such persons are always blessed with joy and spontaneous bliss and they transcend the pleasures and passions of this material world.
Asṭpadīs twelve to twenty stress the significance of sādhnā, or discipline, for the spiritual progress of man. Self-conceit and slander against the saints are deadly sins which must be totally avoided. The one who slanders the saints is considered to be the worst evil-doer, bereft of all spiritual blessing. He perishes, writhing like a fish out of water ; hopeless and unfulfilled, he leaves the world.
However, this kind of evil-doing is traced to the consequences of deeds in a previous birth. This endless cycle of coming and going can be broken only with the help of the Divine Preceptor who is like a lamp in the darkness, a guide in the pathless forest. His word helps man as a pillar supports an edifice. Like a boat carrying a stone across the water, he enables his disciple to pass over the worldly ocean and end the torments of transmigration. However, such a Preceptor one meets only by God's grace. The eradication of pride and inculcation of humility are two other stepping-stones which lead to the Divine portal. Pride in such things as royal authority, beauty, ritual acts, austere practices, wealth and estates is condemned. Besides being humble and contented, one must repose life's hope solely in God. Man is exhorted to recite the glory of God which will bring him true blessing.
The last four asṭpadīs, i.e. from twenty-one to twenty-four, contain an exposition of God's absolute powers. He is the sole creator of this world and none can fathom His greatness. He is the creator of, but free from, triguṇa māyā and is infinite and eternal. There was utter emptiness before the creation which is the result of His Will. Here the monist aspect of the Lord as the Sole Existence is emphasized. He is the Supreme comforter, compassionate, controller of the inner faculties and cherisher of all. He is without rancour and it is through His hukam and grace that man acquires true wisdom. The path to this ideal is shown by the Preceptor, who applies the collyrium of enlightenment by banishing the darkness of ignorance. By such enlightenment, man seeks company of the saintly and sees the Lord within himself and in all the external creation as well. God abides within all yet remains unattached. The last asṭpadī sums up the teachings of the earlier cantos. The one who wants to find God is exhorted to dwell on the Divine Name, as taught by the Gurū, in the company of the saints which alone will help him shed ego and inculcate humility. Thus will he discard worldly desire and cross the ocean of fire (i.e. of sin and suffering).
Sukhmanī is a theological statement of the major tenets of Sikhism expressed in a devotional poetic form. Recited by the Sikhs as a part of their morning prayer, it is one of the easier texts in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. It is simple in syntax and structure, though its essential meaning will elude one not attuned to the spiritual experience and the idiom and phraseology of gurbāṇī. The language character is close to Khaṛī Bolī, the Hindi that had evolved in the areas lying northwest of Delhi, with a distinct inclination towards Punjabi. The expression here, however, is poetic in its overtones and shares a common character with the variety of Hindi or Bhākhā that was used by religious teachers all over northern India. While this language has evolved out of Braj, it is closer to Punjabi in its grammatical form. This will be substantiated by comparing it with the language of a poet writing in pure Braj, such as Sūrdās, who flourished around the same period as Gurū Arjan. To indicate the differences of the language of Sukhmanī from Braj even Bhākhā, a few examples may be given :
Thivai (3.2) is Punjabi, so is ḍiṭhā (7.7). Khaṭe (12.5) is pure Punjabi. In nīkī kīrī (17.5), nīkī (small) is Punjabi. Ohī (23.4)) is Punjabi, of which the Braj equivalent would be vehī, Hoī (past verbal form) is Punjabi. Bhau (18.7) for bhaya (fear) is an especial form given in gurbāṇī and occurring frequently. The Punjabi character of language is especially decipherable in the forms of verb ending in the past tense. Kathiā (8.7), pachhātā (17.8), jātā (19.8), in the sense of jāniā, japiā (20.2), rahiā (20.3), ārādhiā (salok 24) are some of the examples. Other verb forms to illustrate this point are utarasi (19.7) which, however, is also Rājasthāni; bahai (15.2) ; lae (13.5) and laini (15.5). Here and there pure Hindi forms may be seen : hovat (21.1), tumarī (20.7) and biāpat (21.1). Jāpat rhyming with it in the same stanza is Punabi with a Hindi ending.
The language of the Sukhmanī can be best described as a synthesis of the Bhākhā and Punjabi. In the more philosophical and meditative of their compositions, the holy Gurūs are inclined to use a variety of Hindi with Punjabi overtones, while in the more deeply intimate pieces such as the chhants and pauṛīs of Vārs, Punjabi, in its dialectical variations, has been employed. This principle, by no means absolute, is only broadly applicable.
Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib