Have you ever noticed how people react when their belief system gets challenged? We all carry around our own version of reality that has been constructed based on our own experiences in the world, what we have thought and what we have been taught. This story includes our beliefs about the world, the way we see ourselves, the way we see other people. Some people think their story is The True Story and if someone else tells a different one it can get really uncomfortable. When I hear a story that challenges what I think I know to be true, my mind is faced with a few choices — either go to battle to defend the world as I believe it to be, avoid the person and their story and retreat into the comfortable world of what is already known, or actually consider the other person’s viewpoint and allow space for a little earthquake to shake me out of my dream, examine the possibilities and perhaps even make a shift.
Guru Nanak was an earthquake like this and the whole collection of bāni in Siri Guru Granth Sāhib is a challenge to the status quo, a revolution. The shabds tell us we are fools, make fun of our attachment to mindless rituals, put us in our place when we get self-righteous and think we are better than some less fortunate soul. But the Gurus, Bhagats and composers of bāni don’t leave us there, in the humbled state of realizing the small, limited nature of the self. They offer an alternative, a new world order. There is an infinite Oneness ever present, accessible, available to everyone. And they tell us where to look and how to see it. These wise ones have composed amazing songs to share their discoveries with the rest of us.
The old reets in rāga kānra are deep and profound, majestic mansions of wisdom that convey a powerful state of knowing, an expansive vision of worlds seen and unseen. These melodies are written to be accompanied by the resonating bass notes of pakāwaj, and decorated with ornaments placed by a knowledgeable voice. In my little room, singing with the digital accompaniment of itābla, I am left to imagine the possibilities and remember the times when I was fortunate to hear masterful renditions of some of these songs, live and in person, to feel the earth shake.
When the music moves us, and the wisdom shakes the ground on which we stand, we can run and hide, or move in closer, have the courage to question what we thought we knew, resist the tyranny of the mind, join an inner revolution.