Bani – The Word or Speech of God

The subject of the Word or Bani is a very deep and subtle one. The word Bani meaning word or speech is generally understood to mean a set of words which can be read, written or spoken; but the term Word is used in a much more abstruse sense in the Guru Granth Sahib. 

In general, there is not much difference between Bani, Speech, Shabd, Sound, or Naam. They are generally used as interchangeable terms and denote the same thing. 

Readers should, therefore, when considering the meaning of "Bani", refer to the Chapters on "Shabd" and "Naam" also. 

Although it is impossible to have the inner experience of hearing the Music of the Word without the aid and guidance of a Master, and without labour, one can nevertheless understand it to some extent by study. 

In all languages and all countries, Bani or Speech is of two kinds: Varan-atmak, spoken or written and Dhun-atmak, inexpressible, unutterable or unstruck. Varan-atmak, speech, that is, sounds that can be spoken or written, are of four kinds, namely:

Bekhari, Madhyma, Pashyanti and Para.

  1. The first is uttered by the tongue,
  2. the second by the throat,
  3. the third by the heart and
  4. the fourth is the one by which yogis create waves or currents in the region of the navel. 

Since these are within the six chakras or centres in the body and are devoid of Naam, they do not lead to release. 

The third Sikh Guru said:

The whole creation and its methods and forms of speech are in dark confusion without the light of Naam.

 Majh M3, 116-4

Through spoken words, which can be heard by the outer ears and which are described as 'airy speech' by the Gurus, one tends to become more and more engrossed in the activities of the mind and the matter. The spoken words are described by the Gurus in this way because they are heard through the agency of the air.

Speaking and hearing we do by the air (sound waves); it is all deceptive and confounds the mind.

 Sri Rag M1, 24-4

The Dhun-atmak Word (melody-based Sound) cannot be written or spoken. It is beyond the range of the air and the elements, and transcends the six chakras or body centres. It has been called the Name of God, Naam in the Granth Sahib.

Truly speaking, even after traversing the six centres up to the bounds of the universe that is still under the control of the three gunas or modes of thought and action, that is, up to and including Trikuti (apex of the regions of the three gunas), and even up to the tenth door, the sound that animates these regions is described by the Gurus as "three-modal sound", the snare of Brahm. 

Kabir Sahib says:

This sound is not beyond the limits of Kal. It is therefore perishable.

 Gauri M3, 230-19

Only the real and true Divine Word or Sound is beyond the reach of the negative power. It is called Sach Bani, True Word, Sach, Truth and Sar Shabd, Real Sound. This Sound, Word, or Bani leads to the really spiritual life and to union with the Lord.

Oh devotee, listen to Nanak, the Divine Sound is Nectar. This sound is the essence of all; It takes you across the ocean of this world.

Ramkali M1, 932-15

Transcend the three attributes or qualities, and enjoy the Essence, oh Nanak; for that Essence redeems.

 Ramkali M1, 940-4

The True Word is blessed, for it unites one with the Truth; Nanak was blessed by it, and realized the Lord through His Grace.

 Gujri Var M3, 514-5

Those meet Him whom He wishes. True is the Word, it is sweet Divine Sound. Nanak sings the virtues of the True One, and because of this singing he merges with the Lord.

Maru M3, 1057-9

He Himself unites; know Him and become pure. True is the Lord and His Word; the Shabd unites one with Him.

Sri Rag M3, 32-5

True is the Shabd; true is the Word. The devotee sings its praises; men of God, throughout the ages have sung it.

 Asa M3, 424-5

This does not mean that the external counsel of the Gurus or Saints is of no use. On the contrary, their words are very beneficial, since they are the Lord's own utterances given to us through highly developed and gracious Saints and incarnations. 

They speak to us about their own experiences and their words are more valuable than jewels and precious stones. Saints do not speak from the regions of the mind and intellect; they speak under inspiration from the higher levels of inmost experience.

Oh Lalu, know you this; whatever He says, I say to you.

Tilang M1, 722-15

The inspired speech of the Saints is like the flow of nectar from a divine spring.

Words flow from the mouths of Saints as from a spring of nectar.

Gauri M5, 320-7

The writings of Saints are faithful records of their experiences in the higher spiritual regions. They are like sign-posts and mile-stones to seekers on the path of spirituality. They are given out by Saints for the benefit of spiritual seekers. Except for the words of the Master, all other words are unreal. Those who utter them and those who listen to them are all imperfect.

The words of all but the Master, are false. Indeed, all other words are unreal except those of the Master. Imperfect are they who say or hear them; imperfect is all that they say.

Ramkali M3, 920-6

The words of the Saints tell us of another Word, which is the Master of the entire world and which leads to release. That Word is true, formless, unspoken, and God's own Word, Naam or Shabd, the immortal source of life. This is the Dhun-atmak Bani, mentioned by the earlier sages. It is called the Word in the Christian Bible, and the Muslims call it Kalma-i-Ilahi, the voice of God. It is said in the Gospel of St. John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." The Muslims say that Kalma, the Word created the fourteen regions.

The Word created the three worlds, say the Vedas and the Shastras, and they call it the Supreme Power. Nanak dwells at His feet. He utters only the nectar of the Word.

 Asa M3, 422-18

The power of the Word has been beautifully described in the Bankbarni Sukt of the Rig Veda:

All the gods dwell in Me; I bring up and nourish all. I keep the world in motion; all is being sustained by Me. All knowledge and action prove fruitful because of Me.

In another place, it is said:

I create all the regions and the creatures. I dwell everywhere, like the soul in the body or air in the universe. Beyond the regions of the sun, beyond this earth and before the world existed, I, by my own greatness and force, manifested myself as this great Universe.

Rig Veda, Mandal 10, Sukt 125
Atharva Veda, Kand 5, Sukt 30

The Word contains the principle of the Divine Sound, which is ever resounding at the door of the Lord.

How wonderful is this Region, which is filled with the unstruck music. Even the Lord seems enraptured by it.

 Gauri M5, 186-17

The Lord's distinctive attribute is the Melody of Naam. The Vedas and Shastras all sing its praises.

Gauri M5, 96-4

Oh where is the temple of God? It is where the unending music plays.

Beni Ji, Ramkali 974-7

The Word was in the beginning of time; it is; and it will be forever.

Even while They (Saints) do, see or speak; They are absorbed in the Shabd. The Word existed during all the Four Ages; It is the Truth and the Reality.

 Sri Rag M3, 35-9

The Word emanates from the Lord. It is the Truth. It is the Eternal Reality, and It leads to immortality.

His acts are true; true is His Word. He is the True One, and He pervades all.

 Gauri M5, 284-15

True is the Shabd, true is the Word. The men of God have sung its praises throughout the ages.

Asa M3, 424-5

The deep dye of the Word never wears away. If you are dyed fast with the Word, its colour will not fade or wear away.

Asa M3, 427-1

This Word is one that rings throughout the Four Ages. But where? Guru Nanak, the first of the ten Sikh Gurus and the torchbearer of the Sikh religion, says that it is within us and is manifested in the hearts of devotees of the Lord.

The True Word is in the heart, the True One reveals it.

Suhi M3, 769-15

Thy Word is Nectar, It dwells in the devotee's heart.

Sri Rag M1, 72-10

Thy Word is inside, Thy Word is outside. Tis Thy own utterance, Thy own revelation.

Majh M5, 99-13

The Master speaks the Word of the Lord. He hears It and He reveals It.

The Word of the Lord pervades everything; the Master hears It and reveals It. Those who hear It are released; they reach the imperishable Home.

Maru Solhe M5, 1075-8

This Word emanates from the Inner Light. To listen to It is True Devotion, and It leads to the beloved feet of the Lord.

It is not robes as symbols of detachment, nor ears with slits as a religious convention; but to have a mind that is truly detached, and to have Inner Ears pierced by the Shabd. That is True Detachment, and there alone one sees the Inner Light, and hears the Inner Sound, enrapt in the Love of the Lord.

 Sorath M1, 634-11

The great fifteenth century Indian Saint, Paltu Sahib, points out the same fact. 

He says:

In the sky is an inverted well, and in the well there is a burning candle. The candle is without wick or oil, but nevertheless the candle burns. It burns all the six seasons of the year, and during both the day and night. Meet a Perfect Master, and see the Inner Light. Except the Master, no one else can show It to you. A Sound comes from the flame, which none can hear except in Divine Ecstasy. Oh Paltu, blessed is he who hears It. An inverted well is in the sky, and a burning candle is in the well.

This is the Word spoken of by the Masters, and It is found in the region known as Sukhman, the Royal Vein. It comes from the higher spiritual regions.

True is the Word of the perfect Master, it comes from Sukhman, the land of Sehj (Oneness with the Supreme Lord).

 Dhanasri M3, 663-17

This Word can be obtained from a perfect Master only. Blessed is the Word of the Master; for the Word of the Master rests in Truth.

 Suhi M3, 754-6

One who hears the True Word, is rid of pain and sorrow; It is obtained through the kindness of Saints, as has been revealed to me by the Master.

Ramkali M3, 922-17

This Word can be known only by means of the method imparted by the Master or through the Grace shown by Him.

Act according to the directions of the Master; let the Naam dwell in your heart; sing of the True Word, sing the praise of the Lord.

Gauri M1, 222-15

The Word of the Master, life-giving as Nectar, dwells in the heart by His Grace; the devotee's coming and going ceases, and he is ever blessed.

Ramkali Var M5, 960-19

It is a boon given by the Master, and one knows It when It reveals Itself; Without knowledge there is nothing but groping in the dark; true knowledge comes from the Shabd, and It can be heard only by the Grace of the Master.

Maru M3, 1044-14

In reality, the Master is the Word-in-the-flesh, or the Word made flesh.

The Word is the Guru, and the Guru is the Word. The Nectar is in the Word.

Nat M4, 982-11

Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, wrote to his Master: "Blessed is your mouth! The melody of the Word issues forth from it."

This Word has been called the Anhad Bani (Unending Music), Aghar Bani (Unstruck Music) and Gupti Bani (Hidden Music) in the Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. The unending music is the hidden treasure; the Saints have kept the key with Them.

Rag M5, 893-19

The devotee lives in awe of the Lord, as he hears the unstruck music.

 Ramkali M1, 941-4

The hidden Word becomes manifest; Nanak knows It to be the Truth.

 Ramkali M1, 944-1

The Gurus mention a great many benefits of the Word:

  1. It leads one to the highest spiritual stage and takes one across the ocean of the world.

  2. Pride is destroyed.

  3. It shows one how to know one's real self, and It shows one how to rise above the world of the three attributes.

  4. It washes away the dirt of all sins.

  5. It helps in overcoming the five enemies (lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride).

  6. It sets all things right. It removes all difficulties and enables one to meet the Lord.

These benefits cannot be had from any extent of study of writings only. But the rare and elevated souls can gain these benefits from the Word within.

Sweet as nectar are the sayings of the Master; but only a true devotee can taste of them.

 Majh M3, 113-13

The true devotee alone doth know the Word; the Word comes from the Lord and leads to His abode.

 Ramkali M1, 935-13

As happiness and bliss arise from the Word, ignorance of the Word obviously spells pain.

He who does not know the Shabd, he who does not enjoy the Word, the devotee of the Mind, he is blind, and he comes to grief.

 Dhanasri M3, 665-6

There is, therefore, great emphasis on the Word in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Oh thou, beloved of the Master, sing the True Word. Sing the Word revealed by the Master, sing the Word, the blessed Word.

Ramkali M3, 920-3