Guru Tegh Bahadur ji – Meditating in Bakala


In this painting, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji is meditating in the basement and he’s praying to God with his hands folded, with his attention completely centered on the consciousness within. He is seated in upright posture, fully attentive, fully awake, fully alert.

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Artist's Notes

“Guru Tegh Bahadur ji says, without knowing one’s own self, the moss of delusion is not removed (the moss covers the water and prevents light from entering).”

– Guru Tegh Bahadur ji (Guru Granth Sahib, 684)

Discovery of Guru Tegh Bahadur ji
This painting shows Guru Tegh Bahadur ji meditating in a basement in Bakala.

He was discovered by a Gursikh, by the name of Makhan Shah Lubana, while he was meditating there.

Now Guru ji had gone to Bakala and he would meditate in the basement because he wanted to meditate in solitude. He didn’t want to interact with anyone. He didn’t want to spend his time on anything other than meditation. So he would meditate in the basement, away from people, away from everyone else.

One day, while meditating, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji heard the prayer of Makhan Shah, whose ship was in some kind of trouble and Makhan Shah had prayed and had asked for help. In his prayer, Makhan Shah said that if you help me and my ship I’ll give you a large sum of money.

Guru ji did not need the money, but after hearing the prayer, Guru ji helped him, and Makhan Shah realized that someone had helped him. In the back of his mind, he carried this debt that someone has helped him and that he has to repay them at some point.

Fast forward to now, Makhan Shah is in Bakala and he is looking for the next guru after Guru Hari Krishan ji.

Guru Hari Krishan ji before he had passed away, he had indicated that the next Guru would be in the city of Bakala. So after he passed away, there were many Gurus in Bakala, who had set up their stations and they made themselves available to the Sikhs of the time.

Makhan Shah went there and he saw all these gurus. He went to each one and he bowed to them. He gave them two coins each. In his mind, he was thinking that if this is the real Guru, if this is the Guru who helped him then this Guru would ask for the full amount that he had said in his prayer. So he would go to each of the gurus in Bakala and then he gave them two coins.

In his mind, he thought that if this is the Real Guru then he will ask me for the correct amount and none of them did.

Makhan Shah went around the city to the station of each guru and put two coins in front of them bowed down and none of the gurus asked him for the correct amount. So then he went around and he heard from somewhere or someone that there was a man who was meditating in the basement of a house. So Makhan Shah, after not having found the Guru, the right one that he had obtained help from, went to see this man who was meditating in the basement.

After reaching the house, Makhan Shah does the same thing as he did with the other gurus. He walks up to the man in meditation, puts down two coins and he bows down. There Guru Tegh Bahadur ji asks him about his prayer where Makhan Shah had pledged to give more if his ship was saved. Guru Tegh Bahadur ji tells him what he owes.

Makhan Shah was surprised and at that point knew that he had found his Guru.

He has a chat with Guru ji and basically convinces Guru ji to become the next Guru. Guru Tegh Bahadur ji knew that to be the next Guru, would mean that he would have to lift quite a bit of responsibility and so he wasn’t really up for it.

But Makhan Shah convinces him and then Guru ji also realizes that this is something he has to do.
So it was there in the basement that Makhan Shah had discovered Guru ji and where Guru ji became the Ninth Guru, after Guru Hari Krishan ji.

Meditations on Guru Tegh Bahadur ji
In this painting, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji is meditating in the basement and he’s praying to God with his hands folded, with his attention completely centered on the consciousness within. He is seated in upright posture, fully attentive, fully awake, fully alert.

When I paint, I always think about who I am painting. The body that I’m showing in the painting belongs to a being who himself is not concerned with bodies.

When Guru ji is in this basement and he’s meditating, he’s not concerned with his body, his concern is with something else. His attention is not fixated on his own body or someone else’s body, his attention is fixated on that in which all bodies are perceived.

So as I painted this I tried to fixate my attention on that spaciousness in which all bodies and forms arise.

People think that whatever they can sense, they think that’s who they are. So if they can feel the body, they think they are the body, but they can’t feel the chair that they’re sitting on, there’s no nerve endings there, they don’t feel that, so they don’t feel that that chair is a part of them. Same as other people, other objects, other beings.

If we go by what we can feel then we can only feel what is in the body.

I can feel my own hands and my own body, I think that this is who I am so when I think that others become others, other bodies become others, objects become others.

In this way, we become limited. When we think that we are the body, we become limited to the body.

It’s not a matter of thinking or belief.

It’s not that you are consciously thinking that you are the body, it is just a natural process of the brain that wherever there are nerves, it considers that as part of itself. We are simply going along with it.

So it’s not something that we’re thinking about, “I am the body, I am the body”. It’s not something that we believe, it’s simply that the way we have been made, the way our brain is and how the nerves extend into the body, we just identify that as who we are.

We just think that this body I can feel is me and this chair I’m sitting on, that’s not me. These eyes I can feel, these are my eyes. This video I’m watching, this is not me.

So Guru Tegh Bahadur ji is meditating in this basement.

Why is he there? Why is he meditating in a basement away from people, away from the world?

Why Guru Tegh Bahadur ji Meditated
Guru Tegh Bahadur ji realized that there is something problematic with this process – whatever I can feel that’s who I am – so if I can feel my hand then that’s me, if I can’t feel the mat underneath me that’s not me.

Guru Tegh Bahadur ji realized that there’s something problematic about that.

Why is it problematic? What is the issue if somebody does think that their hand is who they are and the chair is not who they are?

Don’t we need to behave like that in the world in order to get on with life?

When driving a car, I have to realize that the steering wheel is separate from the brakes and the brakes are separate from the accelerator, the gas pedal and all that is separate from my foot and my hands. If I thought that I was the gas pedal, if my brain thought the gas pedal was the foot or was part of the foot somehow, then that would lead to problems. So why is it problematic to think of yourself as the body?

For this example and many others, it is not problematic.
There are many things in life that we do, where it’s not problematic to think that the body or who I am is limited to the body.

So if it’s not problematic to think that in many areas then is there any area in which that becomes a problem? And if it’s not a problem at all, why is Guru Tegh Bahadur ji meditating in a basement?

The reality is that our sense of self, who we think we are, has an impact on our behavior towards other beings.

Would you hurt another being if you believed them to be you?
Would you hurt yourself?
If you saw an ant, and when you looked at it, you thought, “well that’s me” then would you then step on the ant?

The reason why we harm other beings is because we believe they are separate from us.

So if we want to minimize the harm we have to change our behaviour and the fundamental way of changing our behaviour would be to act from that place where we consider the other beings as part of us.

Thinking that the other being is a part of you and believing that, that can help, but it only goes so far, because unless I know, unless I really know that that’s who I am, there’s always going to be that doubt, in the back of my mind, there’s always going to be that thought. “Actually, that person there, I don’t care if that person gets hurt.”

Is there a way to make yourself, can you make yourself in such a way that immediately when you see somebody else you think, “that’s me. I would never hurt me. So I will not hurt that guy.”?

Not as a thought process but just an immediate intuitive knowing, the same as how we know that this hand is me and the chair that I’m sitting on is not me, that quick and that intuitive to expand the sense of self so that it includes other beings.

Guru Tegh Bahadur ji was meditating in the basement to do just that, to make yourself in such a way that you are all inclusive of all beings, and without a second thought you see them as yourself. So when Makhan Shah Lubana came and even before that when he prayed, Guru ji’s sense of self was such that it included all of the beings, it included all other beings including himself.

When Makhan Shah Lubana prayed, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji responded to it.

When Makhan Shah Lubana had put two coins in front of Guru Tegh Bahadur ji and bowed down and in his heart he was thinking, “If this is the True Guru then he will ask me for the full amount.” Guru ji had made himself in such a way that when Makhan Shah was thinking about this, Guru ji knew what he was thinking because that being in front of him, was him, was a part of Guru Tegh Bahadur ji.

This is why he’s the Guru.

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