NAM (lit. name), a collection of sounds possessing the capacity to signify a person, place, thing or idea, is a key term in Sikh theology, embodying a concept of central importance. It subsumes within it the revelation of God`s being, the only fit object of contemplation for the individual, the standard to which his life must conform, and the essential means of purification and liberation. Nam translates easily and accurately into the English word `Name`, but this does not provide an actual understanding of its full import as a conceptual category in Sikhism. Even as commonly understood, a name is not a mere label.
It expresses something of the nature of whatever it designates, or at least points towards that nature.As used in the compositions of the Gurus, the word nam is a summary expression for the whole nature of Akal Purakh (God). Anything which may be affirmed concerning Akal Purakh is an aspect of nam. Because He is all powerful, it follows that omnipotence is part of nam. Because He knows all things, omniscience is similarly a feature of nam.
The many and varied qualities which may be attributed to Akal PurakhHis timelessness. His transcen dence and immanence, even His manifestation in the form of the created world of time and spaceare all to be regarded as aspects of nam. And because Akal Purakh is infinite, so too is His Name.This stress upon nam as an expression of the inherent nature of Akal Purakh should not imply that it is essentially passive. In the Sikh belief, it is crucial that individuals should understand its active role.
Nam is the bringer of liberation. The means to release from the circuit of birth and death are enunciated by the Guru, and the message thus communicated by him enjoins all people to bring their lives into harmony with the divine Name. By means of regular devotion, coupled with strict virtues, each person can develop a pattern of living which accords with the nature of Akal Purakh as expressed in his Name. By bringing one`s being and personality into ever closer conformity with the being of Akal Purakh as affirmed by the Name one shall obtain liberation from the cycle of transmigration.
The task is not an easy one, but persistently pursued it leads to the ultimate harmony. For some people this condition of perfect peace can be attained while they are yet living this life. The person who wishes to appropriate the benefits conferred by a discernment of the divine Name must undergo the discipline of nam simaran, remembrance, i.e. constant awareness of the Name. The act of simaran (smarana) is on the one hand related to the act of surati (sruli), hearing or listening to the Word (nam, sabda), and on the other to the function of smriti, i.e. consciousness which means retention in one`s awareness of what has been heard.
The notion of nam simaran is thus similar to that of suratisabda.At one level this involves the practice of namjapand or repeating the Name, a long established convention whereby merit is acquired by devoutly repeating the sacred word. This helps the devotee to internalize the meaning of the word he may be uttering and in this sense the practice is explicitly enjoined in the Sikh faith. Further, the discipline must be practised in a corporate sense with devotees gathering as a fellowship (satsang) to sing hymns of praise (fdrtan).
A third level which is also required of the loyal disciple is meditation. Akal Purakh, as expressed in the Name, is to be remembered not merely in the repeating of auspicious words or the singing of inspired hymns but also in deep contemplation of the divine mystery of the Name.All three practices constitute legitimate and necessary forms of nam simaran; and all serve progressively to reveal the divine Name to the person who earnestly seeks it. As Guru Ram Das, Nanak IV, says in Sdrangki Vdr, “Name incorruptible is beyond our comprehending.
At the same time, it is our constant companion and pervades all creation. The true Guru discloses it unto us and lets us perceive it in our hearts. It is through God`s grace that we meet with such a Guru” (GG, 1242). According to Guru Arjan, God`s Name is the key to emancipation (mukti) and the means of attaining it (jugati); God`s Name is the fulfilment (tripati) and enjoyment (bhugaii).He who repeats God`s Name suffers no setback. God`s Name is the devotee`s distinction.
Repeating God`s Name the devotee wins honour (GG, 26465). In Sikhism, nam`is an ontological category, a term denoting the Divine presence, a proper name for the Reality, an epithet of the Truth which does not exist apart from or in addition to the Truth, but is Truth by itself. Ndwthus means Akal Purakh, the Creator who is beyond time. The word is sometimes used in compounds such as satinam and harinam, the Name of God.
Occasionally, it is also used as a prefix as in namnidhdn (the treasure of now) and namras(szip or essence of nam). In Sikh usage, nam is not mere name, but the Ultimate Reality itself.Nam is that Omnipresent Existence which manifests itself in the form of creation and is the source and sustenance of all beings and things (GG, 284). In other words, nam is the manifest form of the Transcendent Spirit, unknowable otherwise to the human mind. Nam is the source of creation and like God is all pervasive.
At the same lime, nam is coextensive with creation; there is no space where nam is not jetd kitd tetd ndu vinu ndvai ndhi ko ihdu: all that Thou hast created is Thy Name, i.e. manifestation; there is no place where Thy Name does not pervade (GG, 4). This manifestation of nam is orderly; its operation conforms to a fixed plan.From this point of view nam. is identifiable with hukam, the divine Ordinance, and is closely connected with divine Will (razd) and divine Grace (prasdd), which are further aspects of the divine Ordinance (hukam).
am reflects the immanence of the Transcendent One in creation, which does not exist apart from His conscious Will. The word nam is normally discussed in association with the terms shabad (Skt. sabdd)VLnd guru, and it is also closely linked to the word hukam. In many instances nam and shabadwe used interchangeably; in other cases, however, they can be separated.”From shabad has originated nam” (GG, 644), which implies that the Truth as mediated by the Guru is the shabad (Word), whereas Truth as received by the believer is nam.
The Guru is the `voice` (bdni) of Akal Purakh speaking the `Word` (shabad) which communicates the truth of the Name (nam). He who cognizes shabad shelters namm his heart. BHAIGurdas, in his Varan, 1.37, says that Guru Nanak set in motion the wheel of satinam or the vision of Holy Reality. Here nam refers to the doctrine or teaching of Guru Nanak. This doctrine is traced by Guru Nanak to his preceptor who is none other than God. “In whose heart is embedded the Name of the Lord is the true preceptor” (GG, 287).
He it is who illumines the mind of the devotee with the nam. The mysteries of nam are indeed manifold; at several places in Guru Granth Sahib it is called nidhdn or the treasure house of riches (GG, 29,522); without it everyone is poor (GG, 1232). It is called the light, joti (jyoti) which dispels all darkness (GG, 264). In Sikhism, the concept of ndm represents a whole religious way, a discipline leading to God realization. But one cannot cognize ndm without divine Grace.
Words commonly used in this context are nadar, dayd, prasdd, krpd, etc., variously translated as `grace` or `mercy`. Deluded by his haumai (egocentricity), man remains blind to the ndm which lies all around him, and by the act of grace will be put in the path to realizing it.By the favour of Akal Purakh he meets the holy Guru who makes him aware of ndm. The person who pursues and glorifies ndm and, in obedience to the Guru, lives a life which conforms to it, will eventually achieve the blissful serenity of union with the Divine.
The actual obligations of a life of obedience find expression in the regular, disciplined practice of the various forms of ndmsimaran, individually as well as in sangat, and in acts of approved piety. Faithful cultivation of ndm lifts the disciple to that sublime condition known as mystic experience by far transcending the power of expression. It is this experience which frees him forever from the cycle of transmigration and confers on him the gift of eternal bliss.
1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1969
2. Jodh Singh, Gurmat Nimaya. Lahore, 1932
3. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
4. Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970
5. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990