Friday, March 26, 2010

An "Amrit Vela" State Of Mind

After following some of the recent on-line debates, and discussing the topic at our local Gurbani Veechar meeting, I’ve been reflecting a bit on the concept of amrit vela in Sikhi.

To summarize the debate, many feel that amrit vela is a specific time of day (roughly three hours before dawn) where one is most attuned to Waheguru. It is the time of day where there are few distractions and one’s mind can fully focus on reflection and remembrance of Waheguru. Then there are others who feel that spirituality and reflection cannot be tied to a time of day...any time is perfect for simran, and amrit vela is more of a “state of mind” rather than a specific time. Both sides interpret various lines from Gurbani to defend their case.

I am by no means an expert on the topic. My only extended period of time waking up at amrit vela was many years ago and only for a few weeks. I’ll admit, I really enjoyed waking up before the rest of the world and designating a block of time to sit and do my paath properly, with full concentration and no other distractions – unlike now, where I often multi-task as a I rattle through my paath. However, with my poor time management as a university student, waking up at amrit vela became tougher and tougher. And after a few scary moments at the wheel driving home late at night...I decided to defer this personal goal of mine until it better suited my schedule...unfortunately, that day has yet to come.

As I got older and broadened my views on Sikhi a bit...I felt we couldn’t look at spiritual matters so mechanically. In my cursory research on the topic of amrit vela in the Guru Granth Sahib and Bhai Gurdas Ji’s Vaars, I saw many references to amrit vela, but very little explanation of it. Maybe that was on purpose. I started to wonder, when Guru Sahib says, “amrit vela sach naao vaddiaaee veechaar“, perhaps we are spending too much time quibbling over the definition of amrit vela and not enough effort on the vaddiaaee veechaar.  To me, amrit vela was more of a concept than a specific time...it is in fact the “Ambrosial Hours” the translation often states...and that time of “fragrance”, where one can concentrate on paath and simran could be any time...and certainly shouldn’t be limited to 4:30am.

I remember sharing these thoughts with a group of like-minded Sikh friends years ago...and we all agreed that this was in fact what Guru Sahib meant.

But now I’m not so sure...

Now when it comes to issues of Gurmat, and I remember those rooms full of nodding heads where we all were in agreement, I start to think to myself...what if we were all wrong?

Why do I believe that Guru Sahib was downplaying the idea of amrit vela, when there are so many references to it? Should I really be picking and choosing when Guru Sahib is being literal or not based on my own convenience? Furthermore, If a Sikh is a “disciple” and a disciple is to be...well...disciplined – then what more disciplined way can one start off their day then by waking up early?

When I think about the handful of times over the years at camps and retreats where I did wake up at amrit vela and joined together with my sangat for paath and simran before sunrise...it was so powerful. Isn’t this what my Guru wanted me to experience? And when I think about my elders and other Sikh role models who’ve influenced me over the years, why is it they all woke up before dawn as well? I guess what I’m saying is...maybe there is something to it. And unless I’ve really given it an honest try and experienced it for myself...who am I to really say what amrit vela is or isn’t?

This “literal” view of looking at amrit vela may not be popular with my friends, who still tend to see things a little “grey”, but maybe I need to start looking at my Gurmat issues like I do my politics...a little less republican...a little less democrat...and a lot more independent. It’s refreshing to see so much debate on Sikhi and Gurmat issues on the internet, but I think it’s important to look at each issue in its own context without bias, and form educated opinions accordingly – rather than just blindly attaching to a single school of thought.

So the journey continues...one day at time...and a few hours earlier :)

I would love to hear some personal experiences of others who have transitioned to an amrit vela lifestyle...