This is not an imaginary story. This is a narration of a life of a devoted disciple whose love, humility, faith, surrender, service and submission to his Master was absolute and total. It is an inspirational legend, which is narrated in religious discourses time and again, in one form or the other. The soul stirs, heart wrings and tears melt as the life and time of Bhai Manjh unfolds with Guru Arjan Dev Ji(1563-1606 AD),---fifth Guru in the lineage of Guru Nanak. It is said that it was after this sacred and revered relationship between Murid (disciple) and Murshid (Master) that the disciples in Kalyug ( Iron Age) have been blessed that they will not be put to any test for assessing their faith and trust for their Masters. Even if it is not true, but after a momentary reminiscence of what transpired between Bhai Manjh and Guru Arjan Dev Ji, one is touched and moved by the intensity and candidness of their relationship that one concludes that it must be a fact, for no ordinary or extraordinary mortal can pass the trial of trust if any Master decides to assess the spiritual resilience of any disciple. In some rare cases elsewhere, Masters and their noble disciples may have shared such a bond of intense spiritual intimacy, but this is an episode well recorded in history and therefore worth recounting. Let this be the cherished goal of all sincere disciples to attain such an attitude of humility and service to one’s Guru.
The real name of Bhai Manjh was Teertha and he belonged to Manjh clan of erstwhile Panjab. A Muslim by birth, he was a follower of a prominent Muslim sect ‘ SAKHEE SARVAR’, whose shrines still exist in Pakistan. He was respected and loved by all the local people of this sect and commanded a large following as a leader of this sect. In one of his visits to Amritsar, he heard the discourse of Guru Arjan Dev Ji on Nam Bhakti. The teachings of Gurmat stirred his psyche that he begged for Nam. The Guru advised him that he might seriously rethink over his decision as he was a powerful leader of a Muslim sect and that his followers might also disown him. He could also face innumerable adversities in his life by switching to the path of Nam bhakti. But Teertha chose to become a disciple of the Guru and he was blessed with Nam. Due to his past association with Manjh clan, he renamed himself as Bhai Manjh.
As the news of Bhai Manjh being a disciple of the Guru spread, his followers abandoned him, his cattle died, he lost his status as head of many villages and poverty pounced upon him. Soon he became a pauper who owed a lot of money to others. His wife had to work as a maid in the house of a landlord for earning their living. In such a state of abject misery and poverty, he decided to quit the village and proceed to Amritsar with his daughter for ‘seva’ in Guru’s community kitchen called ‘Langar’. Bhai Manjh daily cut and carried wood for the langar, cleaned the dishes, served the visiting ‘sangat’ and did any other ‘seva’ he could find. The Guru too heard of Bhai Manjh's seva. He summoned Bhai Manjh to come to meet him in a congregation. Guru Arjan asked, "Bhai Manjh, where do you eat?" Bhai Manjh replied, "Satguru, I eat from your langar…" Guru then said, "Well then, your ‘seva’ or service is nothing but only a reciprocal wage-labour relationship of give and take? What type of ‘seva’ is this?”
Bhai Manjh got the message loud and clear--- of essentiality of living on one’s own earnings. He bowed his head and said, ”May the Guru grant me the strength to abide by his orders”. He immediately left the premises of the Guru. He then engaged himself in the profession of a woodcutter. He would daily cut three bundles of wood---one for the langar seva, second for selling in the market and the third for his home which he established in a near by village. He cooked and ate his own food at home. Any profit that he would earn by selling the wood, he dispensed that for charitable purposes for the institution of his Master.
His daughter would often question the rationale of the Guru for treating him in a disparaging manner. He would always reply, “ Guru is all merciful. And he knows the best.” After a few months Guru Arjan Dev Ji asked him, “You were a man of means, of wealth, assets and affluence before you chose to be my devotee and now you are beset with poverty. You can leave me if you so wish.” Bhai Manjh replied, “Worldly wealth is temporal which comes and goes. Incomparable is this material stuff to the true treasure of Nam, with whom I have been blessed by you. Neither a thief nor a king can claim or seize it. Please bless me with your refuge and protection, so that I might live in your will”. Guru Arjan gave his blessings to Bhai Manjh and moved on.
One day when Guru Arjan Dev Ji was giving his daily discourse in the morning to his ‘sangat’, a person whispered in his ears. It is said that the entire body of the Guru shook as if hit by a bolt and he left the stage barefooted. There was commotion in the entire congregation. The news he received was that Bhai Manjh when carrying the bundle of wood on his head for seva was struck by a strong storm on the way. In a state of poor visibility he fell in a deep well in the early hours of morning. He was calling for help to be pulled out. This was what upset the Guru and he along with his disciples ran to save Bhai Manjh.
A long rope was thrown for Bhai Manjh so that he could extract himself from the well. The disciples saw that despite being deep inside the well, he was trying to keep himself afloat with the bundle of wood on his head. He pleaded that his helpers might not worry about him; let the bundle of wood be pulled out first so that it did not become excessively wet and could be used for the community kitchen. So, the wood was first brought out of the well and thereafter Bhai Manjh climbed out with the help of rope
Guru Arjan Dev Ji was standing before him when he came out of the well. The Guru uttered, “ Bhai you have been through so much of misery and pain, lost your position, wealth, worldly honour and respect, so much so that your wife is serving as a maid. What benefit you have derived by following me and path of Nam bhakti?” A noble soul and determined devotee as he was, he fell down on the feet of his Master, with tears rolling down, and voice choked with love and emotions, he said, “ When I have gained you Oh my Satguru, how can there be any loss”? Hearing this the Guru embraced Bhai Manjh.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji was so pleased with his sentiments that he said that “the ‘seva’ of Bhai Manjh has been accepted in the Divine court and that he may ask for anything that he wants”?
Bhai Manjh knelt and humbly pleaded, “My only submission is that in this age of Kalyug (Iron Age), the disciples may not be put to such a harsh trials to test the faith in the Master as none may have the stamina and strength to stand up to such difficult situations in life”.
Guru Arjan Dev, “So be it. Manjh is the darling of the Guru and the Guru is the beloved of Manjh. Manjh will be ferried across the ocean of illusion by the power of Nam. And I bless your worldly comforts too will be restored”.
Bhai Manjh was given the charge of preaching Gurmat in Doaba area of Panjab--- as an acknowledgement of his religious and spiritual leadership, which he enjoyed when he was the leader of Sakhee Sarvar. The landlord in whose house his wife was serving was so impressed by her dedication and sincerity that he made her as his sister and gave her all his wealth.
The Guru thus restored the “swarth” and “parmarth”----both the material and mystic aspects—of Bhai Manjh and his seva became an “inspiration” for others to emulate. Past, present and future generations of the devotees of the Perfect Masters will remain indebted to him for the Divine relief of not being put through any tests.
The deeper meaning of this narration must be understood and imbibed. This historical account defines the path and life style of a disciple, which must be adhered under the guidance and grace of the Master for spiritual salvation. The path is Nam Bhakti. The prime requirement of this path is that one must get detached from the mindset of the past. As one becomes ‘mentally dis-possessed’ by material paraphernalia, the mind pursues the path of seva of the Master. The seva should be such that it is in accordance with the wishes and commands of the Master. The disciple must live on one own earnings and wages be earned by honest means. The devotee may never forget or dilute or deter from the real seva of Nam during ups and downs of life and should keep himself ‘afloat’ by having faith and trust in his Mentor. It is then the Master “pulls” the disciple from the bottomless “well” of cosmic illusion by giving “rope” of his love and grace. When the disciple climbs out of ‘worldly well’, and Master accepts his ‘seva’, he embraces him---makes the soul merge with the spiritual Master. It is in this state of oneness that the spiritual treasure is ‘restored’ to the disciple.