The Japji

Image: The Japji's opening passage, the Mul Mantra.

Copyright 1994, James G. Lochtefeld

I am completely responsible for the text and translations on this page, and any faults herein must fall on me alone. The contents of this page may be downloaded, transferred, copied, or reproduced for any educational or non-commercial use.


Table of Contents

Introduction to the Japji

The Japji is the opening section of the Adigranth, the Sikh scripture. As the name "Morning Prayer" suggests, devout Sikhs recite it at the beginning of the day, ideally ending by sunrise.1 The Japji's 38 verses are an extended meditation on the Divine Name, qualities, and purpose, as well on human nature and the appropriate response to the divine call. These verses are preceded by the Mul Mantra or opening verses, and succeeded by the benediction known as Ardas. The Mul Mantra, a terse description of Divine qualities, can serve as either a starting point or a final summary of Guru Nanak's message, but to be fully intelligible it needs to be examined in the wider context of his thought. The Ardas begins by mentioning the constant passing of time, and the warning to pay attention to this, but ends with a bow to those who have responded to the divine call, and who lead others to God.

Although any religious text is difficult for outsiders to fully comprehend, the Japji has certain clues that can help us understand its structure. The most important clue is repetition, which is of two sorts. In some verses, each line begins with the same word: in verses 8-11 Nanak stresses the importance of "hearing" (the Divine Name), and in verses 12-15, the importance of "pondering." In such verses, the sheer weight of repetition highlights the importance of that thought.

Less visible, but equally important, is the way that Nanak ends consecutive verses by repeating a particular line. Throughout bhakti poetry a poem's final line, often marked for the hearers by the poet's name ("Nanak says"), serves as both a way to summarize the poem, and to bring it to poetic conclusion. By concluding consecutive verses with the same line, Nanak not only stresses the particular thought, but also indicates the conceptual boundaries between groups of verses.

Throughout the Japji Nanak puts great importance on the salvific power of the Divine Name, and it is important to understand what he means by this. It is not as if the Name is a spell or incantation, giving magic power to those who know it. Rather, any one of God's Names ("Formless," "Stainless," "Giver," etc.), can serve as a focus for contemplation, repetition, and absorption. The Name's real power comes not from its phonetic elements, but from the way in which the devotee uses it in spiritual life. These Names also provide a limited, provisional way for human beings to think about a God whom Nanak insists is ultimately transcendent and ineffable, although Nanak also believes that through grace human beings can know God in their hearts.

Finally, how can one reconcile Nanak's belief in divine omnipotence with his insistence that one is rewarded or punished according to one's deeds? The answer, as in the Semitic religious traditions, is that human beings are free either to conform to the divine will, or to rebel against it. For Nanak, the primary sin is not any particular action, but haumai, a word whose two parts, hau and mai, are both forms of the word "I." The root problem is this egocentrism which distorts human perceptions and actions, leading them to focus on their immediate desires, rather than on what they know is right. Unlike Semitic traditions, Nanak believes in karma and reincarnation (and that these are manifestations of the divine Order); escape from rebirth comes only when one gives up ego-centeredness, and consciously strives to conform to God's will.

Themes in the Japji

And now, a brief thematic index to the Japji, which is NOT intended as a substitute for reading the text itself:



The Japji, or Sikh Morning Prayer


1 OM
True Name
Agent, Supreme
Without fear, Without Hatred
Timeless Form, Unborn
Through the Guru's Grace

True in the beginning, True when time began,
True now also, Nanak, and it will be True.

[Note: This opening verse above is the mula ("root", metaphorically "fundamental") mantra, and many Sikhs will assert that this mantra carries the essence of the entire Japji. The first symbol in the Adigranth is not a letter, but the number one. It is written as a number rather than a word (ika) because a number is a symbol that cannot be divided into parts, whereas words can be subdivided into their letters. The tradition has been unanimous in understanding the word Om to be a reference to God, and the combination 1 Om can be seen as the distillation of the entire tradition--not only as expressing monotheism ("There is but One God") but also as affirming of God's unity, transcendence, and omnipotence.

1. [External] purification brings not [internal] purity, though one purify a million times,
Speechlessness does not bring [internal] silence, even if one remains in unbroken adoration,
Fasting cannot remove the hunger [of desire, nor can one sate it] by acquiring the entire world.
A thousand, a million feats of cleverness, will not avail you in the end.
How to unite with Truth, to demolish the wall of illusion?
Says Nanak, act according to [God's] Order, according to the [Divine] Mandate.

2. Through Order all forms come into being, [that] Order cannot be described.
Through Order, beings exist, through Order one obtains greatness.
Through Order, noble and ignoble, according to fate one gains happiness and sorrow.
To some Order brings bounty, others it makes ever wander (through birth and death).
All things are subject to Order, nothing at all is outside.
Nanak says, to understand that Order, is to say goodbye to "I."

3.  Singing, some [describe God's] authority, but who can describe such power?

Singing, some [describe God's] beneficence and qualities.
Singing, the Four Vedas magnify [God's] virtues,

Singing, [others] express knowledge gained through deep reflection.
Singing, some [describe the power] to create and destroy the body,

Singing, others [describe the power] to take life and bestow it.
Singing, some [express God] as beyond conception,

Singing, [others] know [God] as immanent.
People talk and talk, but no one can tell the entire story, not in ten million years. 
The Giver gives, and the receivers grow weary, from age to age we enjoy God's bounty.
Through Order that Order runs unhindered, Nanak says, but [God] rejoices, free from care.

4. The Lord is true, true too the Name, infinite the expressions of devotion.
[All beings] ceaselessly request boons, the Bounteous One bestows them.
Yet what could one give to gain access to the Giver, what praise could one utter to create love for us?
Meditate on the True Name at the ambrosial hour [of dawn], ponder the [Divine] Greatness!
Through actions [one gains this human] vesture, through grace the door of release.
Know this, says Nanak, the True One is all-encompassing, absolute.

5. Neither created nor established, that self-existent Stainless One, Those who serve the Stainless gain honor, Nanak says, proclaim its wealth of virtues!
Proclaim and heed these virtues, put love in your hearts, abandon sorrow, enter the house of bliss!
The Guru's4 mouth reveals the mystic sound, the sacred texts, through this one gains the Lord,
The Guru is Shiva, Krishna, Brahma, and Mother Parvati.
Even if I knew this greatness, I could not express it, mere speech cannot convey it.
May the Guru make me ponder one thing:
There is but one Benefactor for all beings, may I not forget this!

6. If it pleased God I would bathe at pilgrimage places, if not, why bathe?
Ponder this--who has gained anything except through the [fruition of one's former] actions?
Absorbing the Guru's teaching brings pearls, jewels, and rubies in one's heart.
May the Guru make me ponder one thing:
There is but one Benefactor for all beings, may I not forget this!

7. To live for the Four Ages, or even ten times that,
to be known worldwide, and followed by all people,
to have the fame of a good name, and praise throughout the earth,
unless one receives the Divine Grace, all this is useless.
[Such a person] is a worm among worms, [upon whom even] the blameworthy heap blame.
Nanak says, God has all virtues, bestowing worth on the worthless.
No one is equal, or shares God's qualities.

8. Through hearing [people become] Siddhas, Pirs, gods, and kings;
through hearing [people comprehend] the earth and [its] foundations, the sky, and the terrestrial realms;
through hearing, Death loses its power.
Nanak says, God's devotees forever flourish;
through hearing, sin and sorrow disappear.

[Note: In this and the following verses, the thing Nanak speaks of hearing is God's Name, which is seen as having the power, through extended repetition, to transform the listener. The Siddhas are Hindu spiritual adepts, while Pirs are Muslim saints.]

9. Through hearing, Shiva, Brahma, and Indra [gain their power];
through hearing, a wicked man [becomes] a praiseworthy leader;
through hearing comes spiritual discipline, awakening, and union;
through hearing, [the essence of] all scriptures.
Nanak says, God's devotees forever flourish;
through hearing, sin and sorrow disappear.

10. Through hearing [comes] Truth, contentment, and inner realization;
through hearing, the 68 holy baths;
through hearing, one continually gains respect;
through hearing, one is spontaneously fixed in meditation.
Nanak says, God's devotees forever flourish;
through hearing, sin and sorrow disappear.

11. through hearing, a gushing flow of virtues;
through hearing, [one becomes] a Shaykh, a Pir, an emperor;
through hearing, the blind man regains the path;
through hearing, the ocean shrinks to a hands-breadth wide.
Nanak says, God's devotees forever flourish;
through hearing, sin and sorrow disappear.

[Note: Shaykh and Pir are both names for Muslim saints.]  

12. The process of pondering cannot be described, whoever describes it will later apologize.
The book on pondering cannot be written--no paper, no pen, no scribe.
That Name is "Without Blemish," the one who ponders [it] knows [God] in the heart.

[Note: From hearing, Nanak moves to on to consider the rewards of pondering or meditating on the Name. Faith in the transformative power of the Name stems less from naive beliefs in the magical efficacy of certain phonetic combinations, than in the power of sustained contemplation by the person in question.]

13. Through pondering, knowledge of God, sharpness of mind;
through pondering, awareness of the entire earth;
through pondering, one remains free from harm;
through pondering, one keeps far from Death.
That Name is "Without Blemish," the one who ponders [it] knows [God] in the heart.

14. Through pondering, no obstacles on the Path;
through pondering, traveling to meet [God] with honor;
through pondering, walking not the Path of error;
through pondering, bonding with Truth.
That Name is "Without Blemish," the one who ponders [it] knows [God] in the heart.

15. Through pondering, the door to liberation;
through pondering, a benefactor to one's family;
through pondering, liberation for both teacher and disciple; through pondering, says Nanak, one never lives in want.
That Name is "Without Blemish," the one who ponders [it] knows [God] in the heart.

16. God's devotees are authoritative, preeminent on earth, they receive honor at the Divine Court,
Fixing their thoughts on the Master alone, they shine brilliantly at the Lord's gateway.
Even if one contemplates and attempts to describe it, there is no reckoning the Creator's deeds.
The bull is righteousness, born of compassion, anchored by contentment.
Whoever knows this is one with the Truth, for how great a burden on that bull!
[That bull] stands on another world, and another and another, on what to these worlds rest?
Living beings come in countless forms, each with a fate inscribed by [God's] flowing pen.
Even if one could read this, could one change or add to it, giving more power or beauty of form?
Who can reckon the value of God's grace?
With one command God created the earth, from that command sprang a million rivers.
Who can convey Your omnipotence? I cannot even come close!
You are Eternal, Immutable, Beyond Form, whoever pleases You has done well.

[Note: The bull mentioned in this section is drawn from the medieval Hindu belief that the earth rested on the horns of a white bull. In line 4 Nanak interprets this idea allegorically, claiming that the world's "real" support is righteousness; line 7 is directed at those who understand the bull literally, and shows that this position generates an infinite regress. If the bull indeed supports the earth, it must be standing on another earth, which is resting on another bull... and so forth. For Nanak, this cannot satisfactorily describe the ultimate support of all things. The reference to the "pen" in the following line refers to the idea that at birth God writes a fate (based on one's previous karma) on one's forehead. Before becoming a wanderer Nanak managed a warehouse, and business metaphors--"accounts," "debts," and so forth--are sprinkled through his writing

17. Infinite the recitations, infinite the [forms of] devotion,
infinite the [modes of] worship, infinite the severe austerities,
infinite the scriptures that readers recite by heart,
infinite the ascetics with hearts dispassionate,
infinite the devotees meditating on [God's] qualities,
infinite the virtues, infinite the almsgivers,
infinite the heroes, suffering mortal wounds,
infinite [those] absorbed in silent contemplation.
Who can convey Your omnipotence? I cannot even come close!
You are Eternal, Immutable, Beyond Form, whoever pleases You has done well.

18. Infinite the fools, [dwelling in] blind darkness,
infinite the thieves, gorged on ill-gotten gains,
infinite the tyrants, living by force,
infinite the cutthroats, living through killing,
infinite the evildoers, leaving a trail of sin,
infinite the liars, talking worthless trash,
infinite the base, eating filth for food,
infinite the slanderers, bringing shame on themselves.
Considering this, Nanak calls [himself] a sinner,
I cannot even come close!
You are Eternal, Immutable, Beyond Form, whoever pleases You has done well.

19. Infinite the sacred Names, infinite the holy places,
infinite too the unreachable divine realms.,
Even calling [God] "infinite" brings a load of sin,
yet through words one speaks the Name, through words [God's] praise,
through words one gains knowledge, and can hymn the Divine qualities,
through words the scriptures, chanted through words.
The writing on one's forehead tells one's fate, but the Writer's forehead bears no letters.
One receives as God commands, this creation shows [God's] omnipresent presence.
Who can convey Your omnipotence? I cannot even come close!
You are Eternal, Immutable, Beyond Form, whoever pleases You has done well.

20. Filth on hands, feet or body can be washed off with water,
clothes soiled by urine can be cleaned with soap,
but a mind contaminated by evil associates can only be scrubbed clean with God's Name.
Good and evil are not mere words, every action is put on record, one reaps what one has sown.
Nanak says, we come and go according to [God's] order.

21. Pilgrimage, asceticism, compassion, giving alms--even if you all these things, its no big deal.
bathe instead in the interior pilgrimage places--listening, pondering, concentration, true faith.
All virtues belong to You, I have none at all, yet unless one strives for virtue, [true] devotion is lacking.
Hail, Self-existent! Your command creates the world! Eternal, Truth, lovely, bringing joy to the heart!
When did the creation occur? In which season, month, fortnight, date, day, or hour?
If [Hindu] pundits knew the hour, it would be written in their scriptures.
If [Muslim] scholars knew the date, it would be recorded in the Qur`an.
Yogis know neither the fortnight nor day, no one knows the month or the season, the Creator alone knows for sure.
How shall I describe [God], how render praise? How extol, how realize?
Nanak says, everyone talks about this, each cleverer than the next.
Great is the Name, Great is the Lord, Creator of all that is.
Says Nanak, those who know this in their hearts no longer desire the things of this world.

22. Millions of nether worlds, millions of heavens too,
Searching for the limits, one becomes exhausted, even the Vedas admit as much.
The Qur`an speaks of 18,000 worlds, but [there is but] one true Essence,
If one could reckon it, it would have been reckoned, in reckoning people waste their lives.
Nanak says, know that God alone is Supreme, God alone knows.

23. Praising the One to be praised brings not mystical awareness.
Rivers and streams flow into the sea, but fathom not its depths.
Kings with empires vast as the sea, with mountains of wealth and riches,
are lower than an insect whose heart is ever fixed on God.

24. Endless [God's] praises, without end described, endless [God's] works and gifts,
[God] sees and hears all things, yet no one knows the divine will.
Created beings are infinite, [their] limit beyond knowing, how many have wept searching for that limit in vain!
No one knows [God's] limits, the more one magnifies them, the further they recede.
Great is the Lord, great the exalted realm, highest of all the Name.
God alone knows the Divine magnitude, says Nanak, in the Creator's grace is our bounty.

25. Beyond measure the magnitude of [God's] works; the Exalted One gives, but without a shred of self-interest.
Heroes beyond number have begged for matchless [qualities], uncounted too those wasting their lives in evil ways.
How many take and take, but deny receiving, how many fools continually receive?
How many are afflicted with suffering and hunger, these too are your blessings, O Giver!
Delivery from rebirth comes through grace, beyond this no one can say;
any loudmouth seeking to reveal this will suffer countless blows.
God alone knows, and God alone bestows, only a few really know this.
Says Nanak, one to whom God gives the blessing of devotion is a king among kings.

26. Beyond price the virtues, beyond price their commerce, beyond price those trading in them, beyond price the treasury;
beyond price those coming [to buy], and those taking them away,
beyond price the devotion, and those merged [in God].
Beyond price the divine law, the divine court, the scales and measures;
beyond price the blessing and the seal (of approval), beyond price the deeds, beyond price the orders.
How can one price the priceless? It cannot be conceived, those who try become lost in contemplation.
The Vedas and Puranas [tried] to express this, people read them and write books trying to express it.
Brahma and Indra have [tried], and the gopis and Govinda;
Shiva and the Siddhas [tried], and countless enlightened beings!
Demigods and demons, gods and humans, sages and devotees--all have [tried];
how many have tried and passed on, their efforts in vain.
Even if You doubled the breadth of Your creation, no one could begin to describe You.
Says Nanak, You are as big as you wish to be, You alone know Your limits,
and any loudmouth who presumes to speak will be deemed the greatest of fools.

27. Where is that portal, that realm, from which enthroned You uphold all things?
Endless, uncountable the celestial songs lauding You!
So many melodies and symphonies, so many singers too,
air, water, and fire praise You, [even] Death sings praises at [your] door.
Chitragupta, [who] inscribes all actions in Death's ledger, chants [your] praises too.
Shiva, Brahma, and Goddess perpetually praise [You], in splendor given [by You];
seated on his heavenly throne, Indra praises [You], together with a host of divinities;
the Siddhas rapt in absorption praise You, and the Righteous in meditation;
the Restrained, the True, the Content chant [Your praises], and heroes valiant [in battle];
scholars praise [You] in their reading, mighty seers with the Vedas from age to age;
mind-beguiling damsels praise [You] in heavens, earth, and netherworlds;
the jewels You have created praise [You], and the 68 holy bathing-places;
warriors, strongmen, and heroes praise [You], and the four means of generation;,
so too regions, continents, and universe entire, fixed and upheld by You.
Only those who have won Your favor praise You, Your devotees steeped in joy,
how many more laud You whom I do not know! Says Nanak, how shall I recall [them]?
You alone are Eternal, Real, Lord; Truth from Truth proceeds.
As it is and shall be, never born, never dying, Fashioner of creation.
Compassionate God, [You] have brought forth creation in infinite forms; beholding creation, You act at pleasure, creatures can but render their praise.
Those who please You find fulfillment, command You none may!
King of kings, and Lord of lords, may Nanak conform to Your divine will!

[Note: Verse 27, the longest verse in the Japji or morning prayer, also appears in the evening prayer, a shorter (nine poem) set of verses recited at the end of the day, generally before the evening meal. So at the beginning and the end of the day, devout Sikhs are reminded of God's power and glory. The four means of generation mentioned in line 13 are from: eggs (birds, reptiles, etc.), wombs (mammals), sweat (insects and butterflies), and miraculous births (divine beings). ]

28. Make contentment [your] earrings, exertion [your] begging-bowl and bag, meditation [your] sacred ash;
death [your] patchwork garment, bodily purity [your] method, trust [in God your] staff, [and] all human beings [your] sect.
Conquering [one's own] heart, one conquers the world entire.
Salutations to that Primal Lord!
Primal, Unqualified, Beginningless, Indestructible, Unchanging from age to age!

[Note: This verse is directed against the Nath Yogis, a sect of Hindu ascetics who had the attributes Nanak mentions, in particular the earrings. Although he spent much of his life as a wandering ascetic, Nanak had (and Sikhs in general have had) little use for world renunciation, preferring a disciplined life within the boundaries of family and society.]

29. Make meditation your food, compassion your steward, let the divine music sound in every heart;
the one True Master rules all things, desire for magic powers is contrary [to this].
God causes both union and separation, good and evil come according to one's destiny.
Salutations to that Primal Lord!
Primal, Unqualified, Beginningless, Indestructible, Unchanging from age to age!

30. The Primal Mother, united with her spouse, bore three sons:
the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Judge in the divine court.
God impels them according to the divine will and pleasure,
God sees them but they know not God, many find this astonishing. Salutations to that Primal Lord!
Primal, Unqualified, Beginningless, Indestructible, Unchanging from age to age!

31. The innumerable worlds are God's throne and treasury, that treasury is inexhaustible.
The Creator oversees creation, says Nanak, holy are the Holy One's deeds.
Salutations to that Primal Lord!
Primal, Unqualified, Beginningless, Indestructible, Unchanging from age to age!

32. If one tongue could become one million, or that even twenty-fold,
and these tongues continually uttered the single divine Name,
this is the way to the Lord, the stairway leading to union.
Hearing tales of heaven's glory, [even] worms desire to attain it.
Says Nanak, one attains God through grace alone--the false claims of the wicked are nothing but trash.

33. We have neither the power to speak nor keep silent, the power to demand nor bestow;
neither power to live, nor to die, nor to attain wealth and power--[to think otherwise is] mental confusion.
We cannot attain mystic realization, meditation, or reflection, nor union with God, and release from rebirth,
Behold! Says Nanak, God's hand alone can do these, [before God] no one is high, no one low.

34. Night, seasons, fortnights, days, air, water, fire, netherworlds--amongst these was earth established, fixed as a place for righteous action.
Upon it are creatures of infinite names and kinds.
One is judged by actions, the Lord cannot be bribed, and the court is without bias.
There the saints sit resplendent, [who] through grace and their actions have found favor.
Here one divides the false from the true, says Nanak, only in the hereafter may this be known.

[Note: In this and the following three verses, Nanak describes several "spheres"--not of the physical universe, which would take the hearers' attention away from this earth, but of the spiritual universe, setting up a movement toward the ultimate truth. The "spheres" he names are the spheres of Righteous Action, Knowledge, Effort, Grace and Truth, the last being the supreme quality.]

35. Thus is the Realm of Righteous Action, hear now the law of the Realm of Knowledge.
So many forms of fire, water, and wind, so many Shivas and Krishnas, so many Brahmas fashioning myriad universes;
so many places for action, so many sacred mountains, so many sermons to Dhruva;
So many Indras, suns, and moons, so many lands and continents, so many Siddhas, Buddhas, sages, and Goddesses!
So many gods, demons, and seers, so many oceans holding jewels!
So many natural realms, types of speech, countless majestic kings;
countless the devotees, intent upon God alone.
Says Nanak, to all these there is no end.

[Note: In Indian geography the "sacred mountain" (Mount Meru) is considered the center of the earth. As a young boy, Dhruva was so impressed by teachings of constancy that he became a symbol for this, and at his death became the Pole Star. In both cases Nanak is asserting multiple occurrences of things which are unique on our earth.]

36. In the realm of Knowledge Knowledge shines brightly, there mystic sounds, singing, satisfaction, and bliss.
The realm of Effort is beautiful, there one finds multiple peerless forms.
How can one speak of it--it cannot be described, anyone who speaks will later apologize.
There one gains absorption, wisdom in the heart,
There are formed the awareness of the gods and the Siddhas!

[Note: The meaning here of the word sharam is ambiguous, probably intentionally. I have translated it as coming from Sanskrit shrama ("effort), but another possible choice is the Persian sharam ("humility")].

37. The characteristic of the Realm of Grace is power, in that sphere there is none other [than God].
There are heroic strong-armed warriors, inspired by God,
there are Sitas on Sitas, resplendent in greatness, speech cannot convey the greatness of their forms.
Those united in their hearts with God do not die, neither are they cheated.
There reside hordes of devotees, whom the True One gives bliss in their hearts.
The Formless One resides in the realm of Truth, bestowing grace with that compassionate glance.
There [are] regions, continents, and universes that one could never fully describe, worlds upon worlds, all obedient to God's will.
Says Nanak, that which takes place conforms to God's plan, to describe this is as difficult as chewing steel.

38. Make restraint of the senses thy forge, steadfastness thy goldsmith, the mind thy anvil, and knowledge thy hammer;
fear of God thy bellows, austerity thy fire, love thy vessel, and the elixir of the Name thy molten metal.
In this true mint cast awareness of God, those blessed with divine grace find fulfillment.
Says Nanak, happy are those who obtain God's grace!

Wind is the Teacher, water the father, the vast earth the mother,
Day and Night are the two nurses, fondling the entire world in their nursing.
The Lord of Death keeps account of each person's deeds, according to which God keeps one near or sends one away.
Those who have meditated on God's Name, and have found fruit in their labors;
Nanak says, their faces shine brightly, how many will find release through them!


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