The Concept of Naam
by Hardit Singh
It is generally believed that the Sanskrit word naam, the English word ‘name’ and the Sikh term Naam as used in Gurbani are synonymous. A deeper study reveals that the word Naam as used in the Sikh scripture is of a somewhat different nature and has a more comprehensive spiritual and divine connotation.
The Sanskrit and the English words denote a person or a thing These also mean a designation, reputation, fame, family or clan. Their implication is almost wholly mundane. Whereas Naam has several ramifications. It implies God, the Reality, mystical word or formula to recite or meditate upon (shabad in Gurbani), divine order (hukam) and at places divine teacher (guru) and guru’s instructions.
Naam, according to the late Professor Puran Singh, “is the supernaturally natural function of a poetical genius who though in body is at all times of day and night under the influence of the higher soul words of freedom. It is the pure subjectivity of love bursting up under the sole and invisible spirit guidance from below the crusts of earthiness, from under the hard conditions of earthly life.”
Naam, further, stands for the union with the Reality, to be attained by the devout repetition of his name. Naam is the sign, the symbol and song of God. It is the key to enter into the presence and the heart of God. By adoration and singing his praises, saintly hearts glow all the time. Naam brings in peace and tranquillity. It is described as the most potent “detergent” which frees the mind of its filth and afflictions and dyes it to prevent further erosion. The sub-conscious mind or the budhi is further sharpened and molded into instant insight or intuitiveness (sudhi). In this sphere, mystical experience occurs at the mere sway of thoughts. Indeed the universe is sustained and held together by Naam: “Naam ke dhare khand brahmand”.
God’s greatness is beyond human comprehension. But He can be approached through a ladder called Naam which can take us to His height. Naam, therefore, is greater than everything else “sabte ucha jaka nao” and “wada sahib uncha thaon, uche upar ucha nao.” In the Sikh scripture God is called by various names such as Ram, Gobind, Mukand, Madhav, Prabhu, Rahim, Karim, Vithal, etc. All such epithet are known as “Karam-Naam” expressing quality and attribute of God. According to Guru Nanak, His eternal name is “Sat”, i.e. Truth. He is true and so is His Naam – “Sacha sahib, sach nae.” Sat Naam, an attribute given in the Mool Mantra has been His name even before the primal age – “sat naam tera para- purbala.”
In Jap Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh has mentioned several hundred Karam-naams in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and Punjabi. Before spelling these out, he has humbly submitted, in his prologue, that since God is beyond comprehension and description, full justice cannot be done to the subject matter. The appropriate word used by him is “Neti, Neti”; this is not all, this is not all as something more is yet to be said about Him.
A devotee absorbed in Naam is oblivious to sorrow and pain; he remains in ever ascending spirit (chardhi- kala), wishes everyone well (sarbat da bhala) and is always ready to protect the weak and saint (sant ubaran dusht uparan) and fight for righteous causes (shubh kiarman te kabhun na taron). His main demand or prayer is for Naam-Dan, the greatest gift and Grace one can aspire for.
In sum, it may be said that Naam is truth, and eternal, comprehensively symbolic of God’s attributes, formless, immaculate and absolute. His adoration and meditation is the gateway to God’s domain of Grace and bliss.