Why Nitnem ?

By Chetandeep Singh – January 8th 2015

I started doing complete Nitnem – 5 baanis that every Amritdhari (baptized) Sikh is mandated to do by the Sikh Code of Conduct – around 10 years back in 2004 when I took Amrit. It was not just one day I decided to recite 5 baanis in the morning & 2 more in the evening. It was a process that was instilled in me since childhood – at home, at school. I went to a secular but mostly populated by Sikh students school where the assembly was hymn singing & the zero period was the recitation of Japji (number of pauri’s depended on how old we were) by the entire class in a chorus.

Nitnem – by definition means daily routine – something you do daily. Sikhs around the world have been doing Nitnem for ages – as they were mandated by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of Sikhs around 1699 AD. In the last 10 years, I have been doing Nitnem, I went from a 45 minute sitting-in-one-place-reciting-nitnem routine to doing Japji while showering, listening to Jaap while tying Turban & doing Sawaye, Chaupai & Anand Sahib on the go.

I have experienced the best & the worst of myself while doing Nitnem. The best days were when I woke up at 4:30, showered & sat in a quiet place reciting & listening to the beautiful baanis in my own voice. The worst were repeating the same “Suniye” & “Manne” pauris of Japji 10 times & then realizing that my mind was stuck in a loop fixing a software problem at office. Even worse were times when while doing Japji I would wander off to Rehraas in the “So dar” pauri & realize at the end of Anand Sahib that I had initially started doing Japji.

After first few years I knew baanis by heart & could recite them while sleeping. In those years, I would “preach” people that if they are Amritdhari, they HAVE to do Nitnem no matter what, else they were guilty of breaking the promise with the Guru. In fact, there were days when I felt guilty like hell because I missed 1 baani. I see the same trend all around. My fellow Sikhs try to complete the morning baanis till the clock hits 11:59 pm & take a sigh of relief when they are able to finish it in the tick of the time.

In the last 3 years, I have gone from doing 7 baanis every day to only Japji & Rehraas to only Japji to None now. I am still Amritdhari but I do not do Nitnem – Am I proud of this fact. No. Not at all. In fact, it’s embarrassing. But then, why am I writing about it?

At first, when the decline started, I felt guilty. Slowly, the guilt melted away & the awareness came. Lot (Most) of times I was doing Nitnem through sheer force of willpower & fear. Fear that I have promised Guru that I HAVE to do Nitnem otherwise, either something bad is going to happen to me OR I am not a good Sikh, OR I am breaking my promise to Guru & so on.

Then I realized that to God or Guru, it doesnt matter an inch if I do Nitnem or NOT. God is not going to punish me for doing Nitnem or not. Heck, I could do anything, virtually anything & there’s nothing like good or bad deeds. And especially God or Guru is not going to punish me for this. Importantly, doing it by sheer willpower is not going to help me because all those 10 years when I did Nitnem I was just rushing through the stipulated baanis without stopping to understand a word. Yes, it had an advantage that I will come to in a minute.

I had my own share of arguments with my mom & the community at large on doing Nitnem or not. My mom was heartbroken when she came to know that I am no longer doing Nitnem or I no longer believe in Dasvandh (topic for another post). But in my heart, I know the reasons & I believe that I am a better Sikh than I was before.

At intellectual forums the purpose of Nitnem has been discussed in multitude. One purpose is achieving enlightening or Mukti. Some of us think that recitation & chanting (Nitnem, Naam Simran) leads to enlightenment. We think of enlightenment or Mukti as a Goal. That recitation is a path to achieve this goal.

Thanks to this WSJ article & this article by Scott Adams, I had an Aha! moment about Nitnem.

That enlightenment or Mukti as a goal is setting yourself up for a failure. And especially thinking Nitnem only as a means to achieving Mukti is going to disappoint you in the long run. What I believe is the reason we were given this practice of Nitnem is to set up a system. A system of deliberate practice. A system of being in the place of opportunity. A system of being in the run for Mukti. A system of moving from a place of low odds (No Nitnem) to a place of good odds (Nitnem), where anything might happen.

So our Gurus & Ancestors created a system for us to recite Nitnem every day so that we could be in the hunt. It’s a process & by doing that process we don’t know what might open up – enhanced understanding of Gurbani, improved lifestyle, living in the light of the knowledge of Gurbani – and the possibilities are endless. It’s the same process that I was instilled with when I was a child – just that I didn’t know it was a system.

Will I start doing Nitnem again? I don’t know yet. Looks like the last 10 years have taken a lot of toll on the willpower. I will need to come up with a system that works for me – at least in the case of Nitnem.

Please feel free to share your experience on Nitnem & how it has changed your life.

– Chetandeep Singh