I believe facing death is one of life’s greatest acts of faith. Letting go to receive sleep is a practice of letting go to receive death, in the form of sleep—although we might hope that this bedtime death is temporary. When we bring faith and devotion to the practice of reciting Kirtan Sohila at bedtime, we can learn to face death without dread and fear.
Kirtan Sohila speaks the Guru’s wisdom, presenting itself as both an art and a science: art, as the beautiful poetry and music that vibrates the Divine as it soothes the unsettled minds and bodies of this human life. And science as the sound current presented in the unique language of Gurmukhi (meaning from the mouth of the Guru).
In the original Gurmukhi, the rhythm and melodies penetrate deep within our being, allowing the Guru’s words to heal our mind, body and spirit. If done properly, the recitation of the Bani (prayer) relaxes the mind and touches the spirit. Even as a passive listener, important benefits are obtained. Sung from ones own breath, it delivers a further embodiment of wisdom deep within. By deeply listening, a shield of protection envelops your soul.
With faith, we allow the spirit to be brought alive by the Guru’s words. With these words we can relax into a deeper comfort. This special comfort emanates from our true nature, which is Akal, or deathless. The Guru teaches that all worldly entanglements can be resolved when we accept deathlessness as our true nature. To that end we must release our attachments to all that is temporary, before they are painfully taken from us. Becoming free from these bonds brings us to the state of Akal.
To embody deathlessness is the highest of human aspirations. This is the real aim of a proper yoga practice—to achieve the state of Jivan Mukti, or liberated being—liberation from the comings and goings of birth and death.
To achieve this state of Akal we must be willing to sanctify our souls. To sanctify means to remove impurities. Sanctification is a partnership between God, Guru and you. We cannot achieve purity by ourselves, but we must do our part. For this we have our spiritual practices, the purpose of which is to free us from the five obstacles or challenges of lust, anger, greed, pride and attachment. Bringing the residue of these five passions to bed disturbs the peace, and leaves us in pieces.
This is why I recite Kirtan Sohila. It has been a healing process to bring freedom from my own thoughts—conscious or sub-conscious. I want to redirect my bedtime thoughts to the Guru’s words and thereby relieve my mental stress and redirect my mind. I realized how much of my life was about running from death by seeking the often distorted pleasures from my emotions and feelings. Changing how I felt through the many pleasures of the senses was my way of forgetting that my time on Earth is temporary. False pleasures eased my pains of regrets, guilt, lack of discipline and all my other weakness, but continued to distance me from my true destiny. That destiny is Akal Purkh, Deathlessness. To succeed at becoming deathless I continue to try to surrender my attachment to the temporary. With all the temptations of the material world, this is the only way to achieve real peace and comfort.
Often we chase pleasures to distance ourselves from the reality of death. The pursuit of pleasures, while ignoring the One who gave us our ability to enjoy them, keeps us in fear. Fearing the world while ignoring God, keeps mankind in a constant state of anxiety. To fear God in the correct sense, provides freedom from the fear of the outer world. Everything that exists goes through its cycles and ultimately dies. Death remains constant, and for many this is a painful reality. With faith we can accept that mind and matter die, but the soul remains.
As we distance ourselves from our destiny we are also creating separation from God’s Love. Not experiencing God’s love is a loneliness that brings suffering. And this suffering creates emotional and physical pains that result in false comfort seeking behavior. Pleasures are part of life, but pleasures taken without gratitude give distance to the ease of life. True comfort rests in the comfortable seat of our immortal souls. Life has its pleasures and pains. Our relationship to the Guru provides us with the strength and guidance to face life’s pains and the grace to receive life’s pleasures.
Our emotional attachments to this body-mind and the feelings that ensue, separate and dull us from recognizing our own souls. Kirtan Sohila teaches us how to exalt our spirit and thus defeat death. We need to touch our spirits and this is possible by reciting God’s praises. In the second pauri of Kirtan Sohila we are called to find a path where God’s praises are sung. That is where we are honored and exalted, ending the fear of death.
At bedtime we want to be able to surrender to sleep. So we need to learn the science of how to relax unnecessary tensions in order to fall and stay asleep. With God and Guru we drop our shell of separation, our false identity and enter the true and immortal world of Akal, the undying truth, and can relax and sleep with ease, Sahej.
GuruPrem Singh Khalsa was named ‘Posture Master’ by Yogi Bhajan. He is a Master Yogi and he has been practicing and teaching Yoga for over 30 years. He is certified K.R.I. Kundalini Yoga teacher trainer and an advanced Kundalini and Ashtanga Yoga practitioner. An expert on body awareness in relation to personal growth, he travels all over the world teaching the tools and rules of Divine Alignment and having your Heart Rule.
GuruPrem’s CD, Suite Kirtan Soheila, includes vocals by his wife, Simran Kaur.