The Novel Creed
– A Tribute to the Spirit of Sikhism –
Every human being born in the world considers himself/herself as exceptional. Since everyone claims it so, it does not remain exclusive anymore. Everyone thinks alike, acts alike and reacts alike. That is the basic truth. Similarly, all religions create similar chords and response in their adherents. The psychological needs of the individual, the motivation, the inspiration and stimulus, resentments and rejoinders are alike. All religions follow a similar line of action and human progression. What happens in fact is that the adherents of a faith raise the prophet and his professions high on a pedestal as divinely ordained and lapse back into their routine, mundane behaviour. The bigotry, boastfulness, profiteering and self-aggrandisement continue to operate unhindered. More the aggressive posture more is the successful entrepreneur, a leading figure-head in society.
Religion fulfils man’s flight into morality. Doing all evil deeds, one has an alarm mechanism in his sub-conscious that signals that all is not right. That is morality. Well clad in fine costumes, one may pass bye a half-naked, poverty stricken pedestrian, in one’s air-conditioned sedan, with a gnawing pull of guilt and shrug it off, or, gulping an extra helping of a delicacy in the presence of famished individuals, a chord chimes that they deserved it more. That is the call of morality. We may go about our business, ignoring it umpteen times a day, but are constrained to give it lip service by bowing at the temple or mosque. Religion has remained an empty ritual. In a society, where sin is tolerated without a stringent plea to drive it out, selfish acts are bound to flourish and egocentricity thrive as an accepted rule. Man has grown a split personality, with pious designs and evil actions and never pondered on this dilemma.
That was the prime cause of Guru Nanak’s disenchantment with the established faiths. That set him worrying about emancipation of the common man and the ills of society in which nobody bothered about the neighbour’s woes or correcting an injustice. He has recorded in his hymns some scathing censures about the self-serving civil administration and the wayward rulers. He gave a clarion call to right the wrong by the three-step formula of naam japo, kirt karo, vand chhako. Please notice the spiritual content is one while the other two are societal in nature. If the two societal functions remain mired in self-serving mind-set, mere divine remembrance loses its purpose. On the other hand, engaging in honest labour (kirt karo) and sharing with others, (vand chhako) lifts a person on to the spiritual plane, with emphasis on removing the evil genius of the self-centered bully. In the field of ethics, that was a novel initiative.
The Sikh focus is, therefore, essentially on uplifting the societal behaviour in man in order to imbibe all virtues that form the outline of a personal God whom one loves like the most favourite kin. It is not attained by forced contemplation, pressure or mindless repetition. A society should be such where people are empathetic and concerned about others, soft spoken, participating in the worries and happiness of each other; where truth prevails, where even God is defined as truth. The Sikh Gurus defined their aim as reforming of evil persons to become superhuman, making society just and heavenly: the true concept of halemi raj. Once that aim is adopted, different religions become all alike in the progress of mankind, God-wards. There are people who close their doors and windows on hearing of a death in the neighbourhood as if to ward off misfortune from entering their household, or even for a lesser calamity, purposely avoid offering a helping hand. It is customary to wash and rinse mouth after going to the cremation ground and avoid visiting others, on the same trip, to circumvent taking bad vibes along! But, what can be more hygienic than a cremation ground? Such like superstitions kept everyone in tight compartments. Guru Nanak established firmly and essentially the tradition of the common mess, casteless and classless brotherhood and essential truth in thought and deed. A Sikh was made into a complete unit in the choppy sea of other cultural groups even when he were a lone inhabitant there on the strength of his moral principles. After more than five hundred years of the advent of Guru Nanak, you may find a solitary Sikh in distant corners of the globe trudging with his unique character bestowed by Guru Nanak-Guru Gobind Singh. It is so because he lives his religion and not merely worships it like an icon in a niche.
The history of the leading religions is an open confession of the difference of theory from practice. Guru Nanak was born in a traditional high caste Hindu family. The Hindus, as a principle, adopted and encouraged superiority of one class over others and disallowed leadership opportunities to the downgraded majority. Guru Nanak passed scorching comments about caste system which suppresses individual caliber and deprives equal opportunities to so-called dalits, to progress and proved it by siding with the down-trodden and preferring their company. He denounced in strongest terms the empty ritualism that passed as pious routine. He reminded the Muslims that they had to be kind at heart: Musalman mom dil hovey. Islam denotes Peace. They claimed zealously to avow by the injunctions of the Prophet to be generous and fair in their dealings with all, but, in practice, dealt harrowing atrocities of Ghengez Khan’s savagery wherever they advanced, bringing total devastation, rape and rapine, slavery and plunder, putting to sword entire populace of townships including the Muslim residents. Love of humanity remained confined to the cleric’s address in the mosques. The Caliphs receiving booties never questioned the means adopted by the zealots of Islam. Guru Nanak squarely castigated the rampant corruption among the government functionaries.
ਦਰਸਨਿ ਦੇਖਿਐ ਦਇਆ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਲਏ ਦਿਤੇ ਵਿਣੁ ਰਹੈ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥
ਰਾਜਾ ਨਿਆਉ ਕਰੇ ਹਥਿ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਕਹੈ ਖੁਦਾਇ ਨ ਮਾਨੈ ਕੋਇ ॥ ੩ ॥
ਮਾਣਸ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਨਾਮੁ ॥ ਕਰਣੀ ਕੁਤਾ ਦਰਿ ਫੁਰਮਾਨੁ ॥
– SGGS 350
Mere meeting brings about no mercy. None remains without bribery.
The king decides on gratification. None agrees in the name of God.
Nanak! In the garb of human beings, their behaviour is like canine.
As late as the 17th Century, Emperor Jahangir, an avowed Muslim, particularly mentioned in his diary that he had ordered Guru Arjan Dev to be executed in accordance with the pagan Mongol law of Yasa. In lieu of it, a heavy fine was suggested which Guru Arjan Dev refused to pay denying having committed any fault and was put to death with extreme cruelty.
It would be found that the Christians who grievously suffered under the Roman domain, dealt with subject races with the same ruthlessness and differentiation, applied laws of apartheid and curbed human rights till the Twentieth Century. Buddhist compassion had no effect on the ruthless behaviour of the Chinese emperors or the Japanese Samurai. The fine distinction of the spiritual aura remained confined to the holy books and places of worship. The Sikhs were distinctly conditioned by the Gurus to be practical in approach, to face atrocities without hatred of the oppressors’ fundamentals. The resentment against the Sikh doctrine had surfaced by the time of Fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan Dev and complaints for its suppression were made to the authorities in Akbar’s reign. Raja Birbal, one of the Nine Jewels of his court had avowed vengeance on return from the campaign in Afghanistan but died there; the leading Muslim sage, Alif Saa’ni of Sirhind openly spewed hatred against him. But, he chose to give pride of place to the Hindu bhaktas and Muslim Sufis in the Adi Granth, thereby stamping eternal respect for others’ beliefs and faiths irrespective of their belligerent attitudes.
ਅਠੇ ਪਹਰ ਭਉਦਾ ਫਿਰੈ ਖਾਵਣ ਸੰਦੜੈ ਸੂਲਿ ॥
Man loiters all day long worrying about sustenance, (mundane problems);
How can he avoid hell without concentrating on the Prophet?
Sikhism is a unique religion which asserts that all faiths lead to spiritual destination. This strain has continued throughout in all Gurus and Guru Gobind Singh reinforced it by declaring: manas ki jati sabhe eke pehchanbo. Humanity in Sikhism equally embraces all men and women, with total respect for women. Under the brahminical influence, some wayward individuals may ignore the Gurus’ call; they stand condemned in gurbani and reprimanded in the Sikh society.
The ancient religions prescribed static rules and set rituals for all occasions but in Sikhism, dynamic consideration of situation, individually different to each person is explored. An individual’s personal God is his own affair. But personal deity cannot be projected as the societal God. As a wife, husband or a father and son have distinct personal relationships that cannot be passé in public dealings, God is invoked formally in a collective prayer and societal affairs, different from the personal, profusely dealt with in the corpus of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib.
The novelty of the Sikh way of life is the importance of practice rather than discussion. In the ancient faiths, a defaulter had escape upai route of praischit, penance, atonement to mend the score without essentially correcting one’s wayward behaviour. Sikhism allows redemption from the karmic account sheet of evil deeds solely by reformation of the mind so that no ‘account sheet’ remains to be judged. This, in itself, was a revolutionary doctrine; negating the popular and essential theory of crime and punishment. ਸਿਮਰਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਿਲਬਿਖ ਸਭਿ ਕਾਟੇ॥ਧਰਮ ਰਾਇ ਕੇ ਕਾਗਰ ਫਾਟੇ ॥ SGGS 1348) According to the Sikh postulate, the ultimate aim of spirituality is to assist humanity to progress by unalloyed love to a state of perfection where evil thought and action cease to operate. By shunning evil ways, the required perfection is achieved and the cycle of crime and punishment ceases.
In old religions, the preceptor was accorded the position of a god, an avatar, a special messenger, a prophet. He exhibited his special position by displaying his propinquity to God, urging common folks to acknowledge his ministry and follow him. The Gurus insisted on each one of the Sikhs to reform their behaviour by eschewing vice in thought and action, by emulating godly characteristics of virtue, to sacrifice self over the community and the down-trodden. The Gurus raised the status of the Sikhs equal to themselves. Guru Bis bisway, Sangat Iks bisway. That was an innovation in itself.
Guru Gobind Singh begged as a supplicant to the Five Beloved ones to admit him into the fraternity of the Khalsa as an equal member and declared the Khalsa as his own image. Besides his magnanimity, it was thus expected of each Sikh to emulate him, be a role model. It could not have been possible with the loose, cognominal Sikhs. Individual cases of exceptional daring may be found anywhere in the pages of history, but the legend of the Khalsa bespeaks of not few but legions and generations of the brave and heroic, sacrificing their all for the sake of Sikhism – a fitting tribute to Guru Gobind Singh. The Sikh is beholden to the society, the Guru and God. Publicly, he plays a positive role as a beacon to others, and, personally, to attain salvation. It not only prepared the Sikhs to bear sacrifices willingly but infused in them objectivity of societal welfare over personal ambition.
Happy Baisakhi 1699 !
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2011, All