Today marks one year of chanting Japji as part of my daily morning sadhana.
Japji is a sacred prayer chanted by many people all over the world. It comes from the Sikh tradition, of which Yogi Bhajan was a part. Because of his faith, his teachings are greatly influenced by the Sikh religion. He taught Kundalini Yogis about the power of chanting Japji every day, and it took me a long time, but finally, one year ago, I decided to give it a try.
The word Japji is translated as the song of the soul. It was written by Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs. As the story goes, he was bathing one day and went under water. While underwater, he experienced enlightenment and stayed submerged for three days. Japji is Guru Nanak’s story of enlightenment; his realization that the soul is perfect and divine and his understanding of the purpose of life. This realization is best summed up in my favorite translation of Japji, which begins with the line We are one with God; this is our true identity. It is thought that by chanting this long prayer, our vibration is lifted to the point that Guru Nanak was vibrating from when he first spoke these words. Anything within us that does not match this high vibration is essentially shaken off; released to the ethers.
A friend recently asked me what my experience is of chanting Japji. The best way for me to describe it is the feeling of casting a golden web to surround me, protect me, and uplift me. It is one of the first things I do every single morning. Japji has accompanied me to the beach, the mountains, the city, Canada, and everywhere in between. Just yesterday, my eleven year old son sat with me and read along from my Nitnem while I chanted Japji. It is a most incredible way to start the day and connect with the soul.
As I already mentioned, Japji comes from the Sikh religion. One might ask why someone like myself, who is not a Sikh, would devote such time learning and reciting scripture from a religion that is not mine. This is a point I explored a few years ago when I wrote my thesis for my Kundalini Yoga teacher training. My thesis was entitled “Be in the Bhav: Kundalini Yoga as a Path of Bhakti”. Here is an excerpt:
When I was a child there was absolutely no spiritual or religious belief in my family, and I knew nothing substantial about any religion. Through my husband, my children’s school, and yoga, I have learned a small amount about Judaism, Quakerism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Even though I can see great beauty in each of these religions, I don’t feel enough personal connection to any of them to make them my own. However, since opening my life (and heart) to chanting and meditation I have discovered an absolute love of the Divine of which I know I am a part, and this simple connection is enough for me. Bhakti and Kundalini Yoga provide me with a way to connect with the Infinite without needing to subscribe to a religion and all its dogma.
On the surface it seems that yoga, no matter which lineage, has religious overtones. Both Yoga and Hinduism stem from the Vedas, and since they have the same origin they overlap in many places. Sikhism developed partly in response to Hinduism. Yoga provides tools to connect to the Divine, and these tools just happen to be influenced by religions that developed at the same time and place as yoga. It doesn’t mean that I have to become religious to use these tools.
I have spent countless hours chanting to Ganesha, Ram and Sita, Krishna, Shiva, the Goddess, Dhanvantari, and many others. Chanting Japji is no different, in my eyes. It doesn’t make me part of any religion. It simply reminds me of my connection to the One. Which is, after all, the whole point of yoga.