In this household then, tying a knot before setting out from home becomes a sacred custom. Whoever observes it honors his forefathers; whoever doesn’t observe it will be branded a rebel, an irreligious person. But neither the one who ties the knot nor the one who doesn’t is able to tell why the knot is there.
This sort of confusion is natural in all religions. The mind grasps what is shallow and superficial and forgets what is deep and profound; it has no depth, thus is unable to grasp the depth.
I give you orange robes, but only to remember constantly that you have been initiated into sannyas. Now you have to sit, stand, walk, talk as a sannyasin should. Your actions in the world should not be that of a slave but of a master, which is why I call you swami. Now show that you are a free person, not a captive. I agree that this cannot come about immediately, but you have to make a beginning somewhere. These clothes are like a knot for you. Their usefulness lies in constantly focusing your remembrance on the fact of being a sannyasin from the very beginning.
These words of Nanak are directed towards the holy men of the Nath-Sampradaya, an influential sect in those days. Their ashrams were spread throughout the country. Their founder, Gorakhnath, was a potent leader, but after his death the methods fell into the hands of ordinary people and they became shallow and useless. The sadhus of this sect pierce their ears, which is very useful in serving as a knot.
Acupuncture has been a science in China for centuries; now it is gaining recognition in the West. This science believes that there are seven hundred points in the human body from which the life energy flows. The earlobes are very important acupuncture points, very closely connected to remembrance. When the ear is pierced the energy within gets a severe jolt. In fact, piercing the ears was even a well known remedy for certain mental ailments. In China it was the only treatment to cure mental illness.
Because of the profound experience from that energy flow, the sadhus of this sect used to pierce their ears; one group even cut the lobes through and through instead of just piercing them. The energy flows more directly to the brain when an intermediary obstruction is removed. It was a significant device to awaken remembrance.
Try this experiment: when you are feeling sad, worried, downcast or angry, hold your ear lobes and rub them hard; there is no need to pierce the ears. You will find a change in your state of mind. But one thing is certain, merely cutting the lobes or piercing them does not make an enlightened being out of a seeker.
There is an ancient village custom in India that arose during the time of very high infant mortality. Even today you may come upon someone in a rural village whose name is Kanchchedi-lal, he whose ears are pierced, or Natthu-lal, he whose nose is pierced.