Ik Onkaar - The One God, the Absolute Reality
2. Ik Onkaar - The One God, the Absolute Reality
Traditionally it is always Shri Ganeshji and Mother Saraswati who are invoked first, because Shri Ganesh is Siddhi Dhaataa and Mother Saraswati is Buddhi Dhaatri. Man's basic needs are these two: siddhi and buddhi. Siddhi refers to all the things and gains that can be achieved in the world, while buddhi refers to all the knowledge there is in the universe. The hunger for things is of the body while the thirst for knowledge is of the intellect. Because man is an intelligent being, he is not satisfied with merely things, he also wants to know and understand everything. Thus we seek fulfillment of our actions in the form of results as well as fulfillment of our need for knowledge, and accordingly Shri Ganeshji and Mother Saraswati are worshipped before one embarks on any task or project.
But where do the various deities or devtaas get their respective powers from? Is it not from that one Ishwara who is the almighty Lord of the universe, Himself the one infinite Reality, the Para-Brahma Parmaatmaa indicated in the Vedas as Om? Indeed, it is from that one Lord alone that all the devtaas get their different powers to bestow various benedictions. Therefore Shri Guru Nanak directly invokes that one almighty Lord called Om and seeks blessings from the original source, the one powerhouse of the universe.
Om is the essence of the Vedas. The Upanishads and the Geeta glorify It. It with this one sacred syllable all Vedic mangalaacharans are considered done. By remembering and invoking the Lord as Om, Shri Guru Nanak Dev dutifully maintains the Vedic paramparaa or 'tradition', for that new philosophy which disregards age-old wisdom can never bear fruit.
When new thoughts or ideologies are based upon the wisdom of the ancient, they have not only the fragrance and freshness of the new but also the strength and tenacity of the old. Saints never come into this world to destroy the link with the ancient; rather, they come to fulfill the wisdom of the past. Shri Guru Nanakji did the same. The approach was new, but the knowledge was not. The language was different, but the essence the same.
Shri Guru Nanakji added the word Ik before Om to indicate that this Om alone is the One. God can be only one. There is neither a Hindu God nor a Muslim God nor a Christian God separate from a Jew God. The names of God in various religions are different, but He as such is one.
The word Ik has great depth and meaning on another level: that not only is there just one God and not many Gods, but also, whatever there is in this universe consists in that One alone. There is only one Reality; the plurality does not exist. All sense of distinction and differentiation is born of ignorance.
Not only do we think of ourselves as being different from one other, but also, we have divided our "Gods": your Allah, my Christ, his Buddha, their Krishna! Thus we quarrel amongst ourselves. It is to remove this sense of separation and divisiveness, and to remind us that other than that Reality there is nothing, that Shri Guru Nanakji has at the very beginning of the mool mantra used the word Ik.
The Upanishads declare that there is only one Reality; if we see anything other than That, it is unreal. This very same fact is echoed by Shri Guru Nanakji in one of His shabads (sayings): "NANAK KAHAT JAGAT SUBH MITHYAA, JNU SUPNA RAHENAAIE. Nanak says, 'This world is an illusion, like the dream at night.'" We think Ishwara, jeeva and jagat, that is, God, man and the world, are three different entities. But in reality they are one. The wave is neither distinct nor separate from the ocean. Vedanta reiterates this eternal truth in the statement, "BRAHMA SATYAM JAGAT MITHYAA, JEEVO BRAHMAIVA NA APRAAH. Brahma Satyam: Brahman, the Infinite, alone is real. Jagat mithyaa: Jagat, or the world of experiences, is an illusion. Jeevo Brahmaiva na apraah: And jeeva, or the individual ego, is that Infinite alone, not something other than It." The same eternal Truth is what is indicated by Guru Nanakji in the use of the word Ik.
There is only the One; there is nothing other than That. But what is That? It cannot be described in words. Then how are we going to know it? Surely It must have some name or description?
We can describe a thing if it has some attributes, some form, qualities or functions: for example, the sun is called Amshumaan because it has rays, and river is called Sarita because it flows. Thus a thing is recognized or known by its attributes. But Parmaatmaan has no attributes. How then can we name or describe the Truth? What words can we use to describe this Truth we call God? There is only one God, there is none like Him and there is nothing apart from Him. This whole universe has been created out of him, so whatever there is in the universe is Him alone. As such He has no name. But if He has to have a name, then all names are His for He alone appears as all the forms around us.
All names, or words, are made up of syllables or alphabets. The Rishis indicated the Truth through the one syllable Om, which contains the three sounds AAA, UUU and MMM. All other sounds are located within the compass of these three basic sounds.
As we know, all sounds are shaped either in the throat, in the mouth or at the lips. AAA emanates from the throat, UUU is shaped in the mouth and MMM at the lips. In most languages, the first letter in the alphabet has an A-sound. Even the first sound a child starts making is 'aaa'. The last sound to leave our lips when we close our mouth is 'mmm'. 'Unn' is in the middle of the two. Together they represent all the basic sounds from which words are produced, and therefore these three sounds making up the single syllable Om represent the entire universe of names and forms. Hence Ik Onkaar means: 'that One alone appears in different names and forms'
'Aaa' being the first sound also represents the Creator, Brahmaji; 'uuu' signifies the Sustainer, Shri Vishnu; and 'mmm' is associated with the Destroyer, Mahesh or Lord Shiva. That One Infinite Reality from which the entire universe appears, in which it is sustained, and in which it is dissolved, is alone the one Ishwara who is the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer-Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. They are not three. Only One is playing the three roles. As such through Ik Onkaar Shri Guru Nanak is invoking that one Lord who is Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh simultaneously.
A deeper meaning of Om is explained in the "Mandukya Upanishad", taking into account all our daily experiences in order to serve as a guide in our meditation. This theme may be a bit difficult to grasp for the beginner, but ponder over it and it will reveal to you the truth about your own nature. And the discovery will be most rewarding.
The 'aaa' sound in Om represents the waking state, 'uuu' the dream state and 'mmm' the deep sleep state. The waking state is that in which we experience the gross world of objects through our five senses, namely, the eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue. Dream state is that in which, during sleep, we see the subtle universe conjured up by our suppressed emotions and thoughts. And deep sleep state is that in which there is no experience of any object.
When I identify with the waking state, I am, so to speak, the 'waker'. Identifying with the dream I am the dreamer, and in deep sleep I am the sleeper. In the waking state I say, "I am Swami Swaroopananda, I am a man, a sanyaasi," Last night in my dream I saw I was a king, with a wife and six children! In the deep sleep state I am neither. Now tell me, who am I? A sanyaasi or a married king?
Janak Maharaj asked the great sage Ashtavakra the same question after he saw himself in a dream helplessly begging for food and dying of hunger. While he was dreaming, the poverty, the hunger and the suffering were all very real. Yet when he was awake, he experienced a reality of a very different kind. So which was real? The king or the beggar? The lavish comfort of the palace or the pangs of poverty and hunger? What was the truth?
The sage Ashtavakra answered Maharaj Janak, "Neither is real. Truth or Reality is that which remains unchanged in the three periods of time: past, present and future." Did not Shri Guru Nanakji say exactly the same thing? "AAD SACH, JUGAAD SACH, HAI BHI SACH, NANAK HOSI BHI SACH", meaning, "That which was there in the beginning, that which was there through all the ages, which is here in the present, and will always remain, even in the future, is the Reality. That which is negated or not present at some point in time is not real."
Why do we call that which is experienced in the dream unreal? Is it not because when we wake up, the dream world is no longer there? Following that logic, how can we say that this world, which we experience in the waking state, is real, when it is not available to us in the dream state?
For that matter, both the worlds of experience - the waking and dream states-are not available in the deep sleep state. Each is negated in the other state. And even the objects of our experiences never remain the same; what is here today is not there tomorrow. So, too, is the waker not present in the dream state or the deep sleep state, not the dreamer or 'dream ego' available in the waking state or deep sleep state, and the deep sleeper in any of the two other states. Thus neither the waking world and one's experience therein, nor the waker or the 'ego in the waking state', with its identity as man or woman, king or beggar, is real. The same applies to the dream and deep sleep states.
The great Rishis, saints and sages like Shri Guru Nanak Dev, through Their keen observation, deep thinking and intense meditation, came to understand that the entire phenomenal world consisting of objects, emotions and thoughts, as well as what one considers oneself in the three states, are all untrue and unreal. The Truth, They found out, is beyond all these. It transcends everything. This One Truth or God called Om is something other than all which we experience, for everything we experience is changing.
One may come to the conclusion, then, that It does not exist. Or that this universe comes from non-existence. But if we enquire further, we shall discover three very important things: 1) No change is possible without a changeless substratum. For example, for a river to flow, there must be a changeless riverbed. 2) Change is recognized only with reference to the changeless. For instance, if you were on a ship, you would recognize its movement only with reference to the motionless lighthouse yonder or some other stationary object. 3) Asat or 'non-existence' cannot be the cause of all the things we experience as existing. What if someone told you that the children playing in the garden were the children of a barren woman's son? Would you believe that person? A barren woman's son is non-existent, so how could those children be his?
Thus the cause of this world is not asat, it is sat. and so the next word in the mool mantra is Sat Naam.
Ik Onkaar - The One God, the Absolute Reality
Guru Granth Sahib: 1. Mool Mantra - Fundamental Meanings
Guru Granth Sahib: 2. Ik Onkaar - The One God, the Absolute Reality
Guru Granth Sahib: 3. Satnaam - His name is Sat, Ever True
Guru Granth Sahib: 4. Kartaa Purakh - The Only Doer, the One Creator
Guru Granth Sahib: 5. Nirbhau Nirvair - Fearless and All-loving is He
Guru Granth Sahib: 6. Akaal Moorat - His Form (Existence) Transcends Time
Guru Granth Sahib: 7. Ajuni - He is Without Birth or Beginning
Guru Granth Sahib: 8. Saibangh - He is Self-existent and Self-illuminating
Guru Granth Sahib: 9. Gurparsaad - The Grace of the Guru
Guru Granth Sahib: 10. Jap - Chant
Archives of FAQs and Articles on Shakti/Last Judgment/Qiyamah