Supreme Knowledge: A Sublime Gift of Ismaili Ginans


By Shiraz Pradhan

In the Katha Upanishad there is a story of Nachiketas. [2] He was an honest, innocent boy. One time his father was making sacrifices to the gods to secure his afterlife. Nachiketas observed that his father was sacrificing those cows and animals that were old or sick and of little or no use. Concerned about his father’s afterlife, Nachiketas inquired about this and asked his father to which god he would be sacrificed as he was also part of his possessions. The father did not answer. Nachiketas persisted in asking the same question and upon being asked the third time, the father angrily replied, “I give you to Yama (god of death)”. Thus, Nachiketas arrived at the door of Yama. Now it so happened that Yama was away for three days and Nachiketas waited patiently at his door, thirsty and hungry. Upon his return, Yama was pleased with Nachiketas’s patience and granted him boons. For his first boon Nachiketas asked that his father’s anger be appeased.

For his next boon Nachiketas asked, “Tell me, O Sage, what happens beyond death?” Yama was shocked by the question. He pleaded with Nachiketas to ask for wealth, riches, a long life but not to ask about “what happens beyond death.” Nachiketas was firm in his resolve, “There is no one more worthy than you, O Yama to answer this question.” How Yama answered Nachiketas question forms the heart of Katha Upanishad and we will come back to it a little later. But before then we must examine another facet of this important question.

Gautama Buddha was an existentialist. He believed in “existence before enlightenment.” From an early age he had seen through the veneer of life and realized its emptiness. His father had sensed the young prince’s inner detachment and hence had tried to engage him in the snares of life and sensual pleasures. But impressions of disease and old age, death, the tyranny of priest class and the plight of the lower castes of India distressed Gautama. He realized that human life and all existence was an unending cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In his young mind Gautama grappled with the challenges of how to end these humiliations, pains, and sufferings of life and how to break the cycle of birth and death. And so was born in young Gautama an active quest to find answers to the plight of humanity.  He gave up worldly life and its pleasures and sought enlightenment in meditation. His pursuit would turn out to be one of the greatest enlightenment stories of human history.

In fact this “existence before enlightenment” forms the corner-stone of the lives of every sage or prophet that is born. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) had similar murmurings of disquiet in his heart. But his path was more active. He continued his active engagement in life, seeking answers to the disquiet in his heart by observation of life around him, meditating upon the imponderable during his journeys through the deserts of Arabia. When time allowed he withdrew to Mount Hira for deep meditation. But these periods were of quietude not of inaction. And similarly the meditations, revolutionary ideas and actions of Jesus of Nazareth were also based upon “existence before enlightenment.”

These prophets who returned from their quests and journeys with gifts for humanity were “Karma Yogis,” seeking an understanding of higher reality through action. Their lives followed the same pattern of forays into the unknowns, lives based on action, rising above self with a sense of sacrifice for greater good of humanity and not caring for the danger to their own beings.

In their hearts another impulse was also at work, an impulse of love that was born out of intimate contact with higher reality which translated itself into compassion, tolerance and love for life and humanity. In this sense they followed the path of “Bhakti Yoga,” serving the Supreme Deity through devotion and serving humanity through love and compassion. Buddha worked selflessly to uplift people. His resounding message was: follow the middle path, not of penance or deprivation but path of a balanced life. He told everyone, “your salvation is in the cup of your own hands…by your own actions you shall reach your destiny.”

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) said the same…seek Companionship on the High…by pure action and devotion to One God, by imbibing His qualities of Mercy and Compassion. Was Jesus’s message any different? Seek and thou shall receive…with love and compassion…

These were giants among mortals. Imprints of the Supreme Deity were embossed deep in their hearts. For ordinary mortals these messages of salvation, of transformation of the soul are heard and forgotten. The sheer struggle of daily survival and the caprice and lure of material life drown out these sublime messages. Nonetheless, we are all devotees of the Supreme Deity, regardless of our religions or beliefs. Knowingly or unknowingly we are all “Karama Yogis.” Our lives are based on action, fighting our individual battles on the stage of life for ourselves, for our families, for our loved ones, taking the responsibilities of life square on our shoulders, not flinching in the face of adversity. Day after day, we slog and soldier on relentlessly, without praise or accolades. We accept life as a stage on which we play out our karma. And that is what Krishna, the Hindu god, calls Nishkam Karma, actions without hope of reward, which is the highest form of devotion.

But mistake not. Through all the ups and downs of life, the call of the Higher Being is intact in our hearts. However weak, the echoes of the Immortal are continually reverberating in the deep recesses of our hearts and in moments of recollection, or on hearing a beautiful melody, or when in love, or in moments of stress or tragedy, the beauty of the infinite shines, momentarily, in the heart. All conscious beings are aware of these moments of ecstasy. Not verbalized this is the fabric of our inner universe.

The quest then is how to make this fleeting vision of infinity a permanent feature of the heart. Yama finally answers Nachiketas question: When a man dies, the body dies, the man remains, the soul, the Atman remains. This Atman, the soul, is eternal, beyond time and space. This is profound knowledge! The innermost quotient of our being is eternal!  The rest of Khata Upanishad elaborates on this revelation and defines the goal of human existence: to seek freedom from bondage of repeated human existences, such that this Atman dissolves in the eternal, the spark merging with the Fire, the river merging into the Ocean. Well said! But thus far these are mere words. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Knowledge without action is arrogance. The key question is: What is it that brings about this dissolution of the Atman, soul into the eternal? The answer to this question forms the Supreme Knowledge eloquently explained in Pir Sadardin’s Ginan, Karsanaji bhane re Arjun…

Supreme Knowledge in Pir Sadardin’s Ginan Karsanaji

Pir Sadardin’s Ginan, “Karsanaji” (transliteration and text, below) which is a discourse between Krishna (Karsanaji) and his disciple Arjun, picks up the story from this point onwards. The fundamental question is the liberation of the soul from the wheel of repeated births. In the Ginans and Indian scriptures the end result of struggle for liberation is called “Mukti.” First there is the Supreme Soul, Paramatman, which is Eternal, Everlasting. Then there is soul, Atman, in a material body, under the delusion that it is trapped. This trapped soul is not happy in the cage of the body and is seeking freedom from it. This in turn raises the question: what is the relationship of the soul and the Supreme Soul? As it stands, this relationship is unclear.

Scriptures tell us that everything in the universe including the soul subsists in and through the Supreme Soul. The individual soul in the body is a spark of the Supreme Soul (Karsanaji – Verse 2). Why then has the soul fallen into delusion and why does it feel separated from the Supreme Soul?

Enter the True Guide who will explain this mystery (Karsanaji, verse 1). Readers who are well versed in the symbology of the ginans, need no explanation on the character and nature of the True Guide.

To the uninitiated the knowledge about the relationship of the individual soul and the Supreme Soul is opaque, but the True Guide who is wise and steeped in knowledge demystifies it, makes it clear. Those in life who live and die in pursuit of material pleasures and do not understand the true essence of their soul and who have not encountered the True Guide, go through repeated human existences (Karsanaji, verse 1). Whereas those who understand the purity of their own individual souls and who constantly meditate on the Supreme Soul attain “Mukti,” liberation from cycle of birth and death. The True Guide explains that this knowledge is personal. It is attained only by direct experience. The attainment of this knowledge does not require forsaking life and going to the forest for meditation or going through penance. It only requires a pure heart (Karsanaji, verse 4).

In the course of this journey, a question arises. How does a seeker know that he is on the right path? Are there any roadside markers that inform him that he is progressing towards his destination? At this juncture the guide explains the idea of perfect Balance, Stithpajna [3]. When one renounces all desires and with his mind absorbed and focused on the Supreme Soul, he is said to be wise and in perfect balance (Stithprajna). It is also a state when one is not affected by happiness or sadness, not swayed by success or adversity (Karsanji, verse 3). Explaining this stage of equanimity Pir Sadardin in Buj Niranjan says:

Kadwa mitha sab sam ho jave

Sweet and bitter become the same.

In verse 7 of “Karsanaji” we reach the heart of the Ginan and the revelation of the true mystery of the relationship between individual soul and the Supreme Soul. All along, this idea that the individual soul is separate from the Supreme Soul was an error. The idea that the individual soul is somehow caged in the body was false. The individual soul is always free and is a spark of the Divine, Sinless and Eternal.

In the corpus of the ginans, there has always been an idea of deedar, or a vision of the Supreme Deity. The seeker’s constant plea is for a glimpse, a vision of the Supreme Deity, as in Bibi Imam Begum’s Ginan, Eji Darshan Diyo Mora Nath. [4] Pir Sadardin’s Karsanaji takes this idea much further and deeper. The driving emotion of a true seeker is passion, an unquenchable love-desire for the Divine. In this respect we must observe that philosophers debate and write discourses on “unveiling of Isis,” but theirs are mere words. It is like eating the peels of bananas and not the fruit. And hence the God of philosopher forever remains an unattainable quest. Mystics, lovers of the Divine, on the other hand want to eat the fruit. They want a first-hand experience of Transcendental Reality, come face to face with It, and will not rest in anything less than the vision of the Beloved. “Pilgrimage to the place of the wise,” said Jalalu’ddin Rumi, “is to find an escape from flames of separation.” [5] Meister Eckhart, the German mystic says, “When I stand empty in God’s will and empty of God’s will and of all His works and of God Himself, then I am above all creatures and am neither God or creature, but I am what I was and evermore shall be”. [6] Here we begin to get a glimpse of what is at play. To attain to the Transcendental Reality, the self must die. The Sufi saint and martyr Mansur Al-Hallaj demonstrated this with his cry, Anal Haqq, I am the Truth. His false ego had died in him. And what remained behind was the personality of God. In moments of ecstasy Mansur also used to say, “I have a pact with God, so that when I speak, God speaks.” [7] This is the idea of Divine Union.

Karsanaji introduces this idea of Divine Union and talks to the cadre of mystics who desire nothing less than union and dissolution of their ego in the Infinite Ocean of the Divine. Karsanaji’s language is simple and bold. It says that there is one flame in your body which is your soul and the other Flame is the Supreme Soul. The final act is to erase the idea of being separate from this Flame and merge into the Flame which shines eternally and is always there. Until this happens, the soul will forever be tied to the wheel of repeated birth.

The action of Love-impulse towards the Supreme Soul is the only emotion that brings about the dissolution of the ego (Karsanaji, verse 6). In his epic essay “Islam, the religion of my ancestors,” the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah says, “It is said that we live, move and have our being in God. When we realize the meaning of this saying, we are already preparing ourselves for the gift of the power of direct experience. Rumi and Hafiz, the great Persian poets, have told us, each in his different way, that some men are born with such natural spiritual capacities and possibilities of development that they have direct experience of that great love, that all-embracing, all-consuming love, which direct contact with reality gives to the human soul. Hafiz indeed has said that men like Jesus Christ and Muslim mystics like Mansour and Bayezid and others have possessed that spiritual power of the greater love…” [8]

This aspect of devotion to transcendental Reality is called Prem Bhakti, Love Devotion, because love is all-absorbing and is not dependent on rational explanations or analytical logic. Intuitive knowledge only comes into the mind when the cognitive faculties of the mind are put to sleep, so to speak. Love is this elixir which has capability to transcend the limits of rationality. This aspect has resonance with the Sufi concepts of Fana, the dissolution of false ego in the Supreme Soul. The Sufi concept goes one step further and defines the stage of Baqa, the state in which the individual soul finds eternal life in the ever-living Supreme Soul, which the Holy Qur’an describes as Al-Haqq, the Absolute Truth or Al-Qayyum, the Ever-Living. Ending the ginan Pir Sadardin says, with unwavering faith meditate on the Lord and thou shall attain the Higher Abode.

Transliteration and free translation of “Karsanaji”


A partial text in Khojki of Pir Sadardin’s ginan Karsanaji Bhanare Arjun. Credit: Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan.

The Ginan “Karsanaji” begins on a joyous note saying it will bring new knowledge.


Eji Karsanaji bhanere, Arjun sambharo
Aasha bhala gun nav nav thai re

Karsanaji recites, O Arjun listen to the discourse,
It will bring new knowledge

Jiya lagi Satgurji maliya nahi,
Tiya lagi taro Jiv fera khayere

Until you meet the true Guide,
You will be trapped in the cycle of repeated births

Atman tantve ne pankhe nahi
Tiya lagi tari dehi fana j thai

Until you understand the essence of your soul,
You will go through repeated birth


Eji panch re tatve Arjun tame bujo bhan ne bhev re
Jiv pind shiv te jujwa nahi
Pind ma bole sohi devre

O Arjun, understand the five elements that make your body (these are perishable)
The eternal soul that resides in the body is not separate from the Supreme Soul.


Eji Ginan aavyu re kem jani e,
Ane teno sarbhushan parman re

What are the signs of progress in the Path?
Its sign is that it will bestow a balance in your inner being.

(It is author’s belief that the Ginan word sarbhusan in the above verse is equivalent to the concept of Stithparjana, which is used in Shreemad Bhagvat Gita [2])


Tin sar padam ne pankhi ye,
Tene jano aasal aandhan re

The flashes of Illumination will indicate to you that you are perfect in wisdom.
This is the genuine sign


Eji van re gaye na chutie bhale tajiye vastra ne aan re
Ghruhasti marag nu bandhan nahi
Jo hoi nisijal man re

There is no need to go the forest or suffer penances
Nor is there a need to walk away from life,
A clean heart is the only requirement of this Path.

Eji telre kadai mahe kad kade
Mahe pankho punam kero chand re

Oil boiling in a hot pan reflects the moon


Ema dekh ta dise pan daze nahi
Eme Hari algo Govind re

Yet it (the moon) is not scald or trapped by it,
Similar is the state of the soul in the body.


Eji jal thi kamal jem algo nahi,
tem Hari rupe oocho re

Van re preme jal ma rahe,
nir sinche kem lopay re

A lily is not separate from the water it grows in just as
the individual soul is not separate from the Supreme Soul
Without love-attraction between the individual and Supreme Soul
this delusion of separation will remain.

(This verse is preparing for the next verse which the crux of the entire Ginan and culmination of the philosophy of divine Union which in Sufi terms is referred to as Baqa or eternal life in the Supreme Soul.)


Eji ek re divo tari dehi ma
Ane bijo divo sat Paramatma
Te divo jiya sudhi male nai
Tiya lagi taro Jiv fera khai re

One flame burns in your body (reference here is to the soul that resides in the body)
The other flame is that eternal Supreme Soul
Until the two flames meet and merge, your Jiva (soul) will go through repeated births (this is the Sufi stage of Buqa, which is the stage at which Jiva (which is false egotistic aspect of the soul which thinks that it is trapped in the body) dies and the individual soul which is eternal merges in the Supreme Soul.


Eji Pir Sadardin bolya,
Saheb che koi Visvapalak naam re
Ek mane srevo Sohi sham ne
To paamo Aamrapuri tham re

Pir Sadardin says, the True Guide is the Sustainer of the Universe
Channel your devotion to this Guide
And you shall attain to the eternal station.

Date posted: October 21, 2016.

Copyright: Shiraz Pradhan/Simerg. 2016.

(For the full gujarati and khojki texts of the ginan as well as its recitation by the late Alwaez Rai Shamshu Bandali Haji of Edmonton please click on karsanjī bhaṇere arjun sāṁbhaṛo)



[1] Karsanaji Bhanere Arjun sambhrao, Ginan, Canon of Authorized Texts of Ginans, University of Saskatchewan. Ginan Central, please visit The website is an excellent research resource on hundreds of ginans.
[2] Extracts from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vedanta Press, Belur Matha.
[3] Bhagvad Gita, Quality of Sthitprajna Explained,
[4] Ginan, Darshan Diyo Mora Nath, Canons of Authorised Texts of Ginans, University of Saskatchewan, Ginan Central, please visit
[5] Quote from Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, E.P Dutton, New York. P. 32
[6].Ibid. page 32.
[7]. Quote from an unpublished manuscript, Judgement at Baghadad by Shiraz A. Pradhan.
[8]. The Memoirs of Aga Khan, World Enough and Time, Simon and Schuster, 1954.


Shiraz Pradhan

Shiraz Pradhan

About the author: In parallel with his international engineering consulting assignments, Shiraz Pradhan (B.Sc. MSME, C.Eng, Fellow I. Mech. E) has continued his ties with religious education (RE), teaching RE classes in UK, Canada, USA and Japan and delivering special lectures on some of his previous articles published in Ismaili magazines.

He is concluding the script of a full-length play of the 10th Century trial of the Sufi Saint Mansur al-Hallaj in Baghdad based on historical facts. The other areas of his interest include the synthesis of the Khoja Ginanic tradition with the broader Ismaili philosophy and theology, the preservation of its gayki (singing) tradition, the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Christianity and the Vedanta.

For the author’s selected writings on ginans on this website, please click An Exploration of Eight Ismaili Ginans on Science, Spirituality and Pluralism by Shiraz Pradhan