THE SIKH SCRIPTURE
– INSPIRATION FOR ACTION –
The concept of Guru Granth – Guru Panth in simplest connotation implies that Word (Message) of the Sikh Sacred Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib is the spiritual Guru (Enlightener); the Panth (followers of the Gurus) are blessed to make temporal decisions in their corporate capacity in light of teachings of their Sacred Scripture.
Opinions of non-Sikh scholars about the Sikh Scripture (Granth Sahib)
How lofty, soul-stirring, meaningful, relevant, and result-oriented the contents of Guru Granth Sahib are, is apparent in the comments of some of the world renowned non-Sikh scholars, philosophers and historians given below :
The more I dug into the pages of Guru Granth Sahib the more I fell in love with them......... It is enough for us to take as it comes to us, to hear the lovely music in the truths he sang, to try to live the life of inspired service and practical devotion which he taught. For these things the world will always be in debt to Guru Nanak and to those through whom he spoke in the succeeding generation.
Sikh religion is a Universal world faith, a message for all men. This is simply illustrated in the writing of the Gurus. Sikhs must cease to think of their faith as just another good religion and must begin to think in terms of Sikh religion being the religion for this New Age .......... The religion preached by Guru Nanak is the faith of the New Age. It completely supplants and fulfils all the former dispensations of older religions. Books must be written proving this. The other religions contain the truth but Sikh Religion contains the fullness to truth.... Guru Granth Sahib of all the world religious scriptures, alone states that there are innumerable worlds and universes other than our own. The previous scriptures were all concerned only with this world and its spiritual counterpart. To imply that they spoke of other worlds as does the Guru Granth Sahib is to stretch their obvious meanings out of context. The Sikh religion is truly the answer to problems of modern man.
Prof H L Bradshaw
The religion of the Guru Granth is a universal and practical religion....... The world today needs its message of peace and love.
I have studied the scriptures of the great religions, but I do not find elsewhere the same power of appeal to the heart and mind as I find here in these volumes. They are compact inspite of their length and are a revelation of the vast reach of the human heart, varying from the most noble concept of God to the recognition and indeed the insistence upon the practical needs of human body. There is something strangely modern about these scriptures and this puzzled me until I learned that they are in fact comparatively modern, complied as late as the 16th century when explorers were beginning to discover that the globe, upon which we all live, is a single entity divided only by arbitrary lines of our own making. Perhaps this sense of unity is the source of power I find in these volumes. They speak to person of any religion or of none. They speak for the human heart and the searching mind.
Pearl S Buck
The Sikh religion (as enshrined in Guru Granth) is far above dependence on Hindu rituals and is capable of distinct position so long as Sikhs maintain their distinctiveness. The religion is also one which could appeal to the occidental mind. It is essentially a practical religion. If judged from pragmatic stand-point which is a favourite point of view in some quarters, it would rank almost first in the world. Of no other religion can it be said that it has made a nation in so short a time. The religion of the Sikhs is one of the most interesting at present existing in India, possibly indeed in the whole world.
For Nanak there is one God, one soul, indivisible, self existent, incomprehensible, timeless, all-pervading......... to be named, but otherwise indescribable and altogether lovely. Such was Nanak’s idea of the Creation and was a conception which at once abrogated all petty distinctions of creed, and sect, and dogma, and ceremony. The realization of such God shatters the sophistries of the theologian and quibbling of the dialecticians. It clears the brow from the gloom of abstruse pondering over trifles and leaves the heart free for the exercise of human sympathies.
The Sikh religion differs as regard the authenticity of their dogmas from other great theological systems. Many of the great teachers the world has known have not left a line of their own composition, and we only know what they taught through tradition or second hand information. We know the teachings of Socrates only through the writings of Plato and Xenophan, Buddha has left no written memorials of his teachings. Kungfuzu, known to Europeans as Confucius, left no documents in which he detailed the principles of his moral and social system. The Founder of Christianity did not reduce his doctrines to writing and for them we are obliged to trust to the gospels according to Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. The Arabian Prophet did not himself reduce to writing the chapters of the Quran. They were written or compiled by his adherents and followers. But the compositions of the Sikh Gurus are preserved, and we know at firsthand what they taught. They employed the vehicle of verse, which is generally unalterable by copyists, and we even become in time familiar with their different styles. No spurious compositions or extraneous dogmas can, therefore, be represented as theirs ......... As we shall see hereafter, it would be difficult to point to a more comprehensive ethical system.
Max Arthur Macauliffe
In Hinduism, Budhism and Jainism generations of teachers and commentators gave new shapes of religious and philosophical doctrines and sometimes changed them beyond recognition. The six schools of Hindu philosophy branched off into different and sometimes warring sects. The history of Islam as also of Christianity presents the same phenomenon of doctrinal disintegeration. But Sikh Religion never succumbed to warring commentators; it preserved intact the heritage which Guru Nanak had left for it. None but a great and far-sighted founder can formulate doctrines capable of surviving the shocks of political and social revolutions for centuries........ His humanity is transparent in his verses... The story of Guru Nanak’s life and achievement has no parallel in the annals of this ancient land. It is not enough to call him the greatest of the sons of Punjab. He must be counted among the greatest of the sons of India. He was the founder of the last of the greatest religions of the world. He planted a poetical sapling which has blossomed into one of the great literatures of India. He laid the foundation of brotherhood which has enriched our national heritage by struggle against religious intolerance, social injustice and denial of political freedom. History must pay homage to one who, in serving God, served his country so well.
Anil Chandra Banerjee
Mankind’s religious future may be obscure; yet one thing can be foreseen. The living higher religions are going to influence each other more than ever before, in the days of increasing communications between all parts of the world and brauches of human race. In this coming religious debate, the Sikh religion and its scripture, Guru Granth, will have something special of value to say to the rest of the world.
Celebrating the ennobling amity brought about by the sublime teachings of Guru Nanak, poet-philosopher Mohammed Iqbal wrote :
iPr auTI AwKr sdw qohId kI pµjwb sy
ihµd ko ie`k mrid-kwml ny jgwieAw ^wb sy
Call for monotheistic renaissance has again risen from Punjab
A supreme being (perfect man) has awakened India from slumber
The Sikh Values
Ordinary human beings seek peace and pleasure and they aspire for riddance of pain and discomfort. The more sentient among them endeavour to know the nature of working of the universe so that their enhanced knowledge may help devise methods to achieve the common good of all and might also satisfy their curiosity about the cosmological operations. Since the advent of human civilizations, profound thinkers, questful scientists and serene philosophers are engrossed in deep cogitation and relentless research concerning the origin, structure and space-time relationship of the universe. Various religions, philosophers and scientists specify different kinds and number of planets, stars and other celestial beings and the scientists are exploring new planets. Macro and micro level research has established that the shapes, positions, numbers and nature of material formations are boundless.
New ideas and findings occasionally cause upheavals in vast segments of mankind which is not yet ready to accept them. The scientific conclusions of Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo (1564-1642) that the Sun was stationary and the earth moved around it, caused commotion in the Christian world which termed the new scientific results as blasphemous. The modern theories of physics, especially the general and special theories of relativity, and the allied research tell us that the Sun is a star and the galaxies contain some other stars bigger than the Sun. To a closed mind all this is faith-shattering and mysterium tremendum (overwhelming mystery). Guru Nanak (1469-1539) in his divine enchantment stated that nether worlds, and millions of skies are beyond counts (pauri (para) 22, Japuji) and cast aside all barriers to the exploration of matter and mind. Concerned more for the welfare of the suffering humanity, he devoted himself in practical ways to uplift people morally, physically and spiritually.
Guru Nanak’s compassion for the distressed humanity did not confine itself to being aware of their pain and a desire to alleviate it. Neither did he stop at empty empathizing. He set himself heart and soul to do something genuine, practical and meaningful. The task he took upon himself was not an easy one. There is no magic wand to transform misery into happiness. Guru Nanak did not believe in magic potions or mantras. He analysed that the suffering people faced was on account of unjust dispensation of social, economic and religious norms and also because of their ignorance. So he did not only preach for just and fair treatment to all, but also exerted himself in his day-to-day life to bring about the desired change even though he had to encounter numerous difficulties.
To eradicate social pain resulting from discrimination because of birth, caste, gender, creed and calling, he proclaimed that all human beings are equal. He took Bhai Mardana, a Muslim, as his lifelong companion. He would partake of meals with a man of low calling, Bhai Lalo in preference to feasting with a socially high ranking landlord, Malik Bhago.
He enhanced the prestige of women by declaring that there is no reason that the women who gave birth to all, including kings, should be reckoned inferior to men. He did not hesitate to participate in discussions with the learned men of different religious inclinations, nor was he averse to visiting their holy places to convey his message of goodwill and enlightenment. His approach was to access the people at their places to put across his mission. He went to Hardwar and made his observations about the futility of throwing water to the sun in worship mode. At Jagannath Puri, he exclaimed about the bounties of nature without any discrimination. In Assam, he dissuaded sorcerers to discard their malpractices. With Gorakhnath and Siddhs, he held goshtis (discussions) to apprise them of his mission. During his visit to Mecca and Baghdad, he gave discourses stressing the presence of the Creator everywhere and in all directions. Guru Nanak emphasized that best living was of a householder, and set an example by leading a householder’s life. He carried on his day-do-day chores of farming and household, preached his mission, and was even taken to jail during Babar’s invasion for his outcry against injustice, torture and rapine. He gave his discourses in the language, idiom and diction of the people to build up mutual confidence and make them self-reliant. In this way, he made them feel his equal and improved their literature and spoken language (Punjabi). He exhorted the people to shun hypocrisy and superstitions, and lead truthful life.
Renaissance ushered in by Guru Nanak was carried forward by the succeding Gurus who reinforced the doctrines of equality, honest living, selfless service, sacrifice, justice, self-reliance, determination to oppose cruelty and oppression, fair play and merit and to be always prepared to lead a socially responsive and responsible life. To ensure purity of Gurus’ teachings and to provide easy access to them, the fifth Guru, Guru Arjun Dev collected utterances of his predecessors, added his own recitations as also of the awakened men like Farid, Kabir, Ravidas and compiled them in the shape of a sacred pothi (book).
The Sikh way of life recognising all beings equal was unequivocally established with the inclusion of enlightening utterances of awakened savants irrespective of their caste, creed, colour and calling. Guru Arjun declared his compiled book (granth) as the guiding scripture to the adherents of his faith and it was installed as sacred Sikh Scripture in Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. Guru Gobind Singh added utterances of the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur subsequently in Granth Sahib.
All the ten Sikh Gurus were a continuum of Sikh thought, doctrines, philosophy and practices. Emphasis in the teachings of Sikh scripture was on practical conduct and exemplary behaviour. All the Gurus recognised merit, were fully responsive to the aspirations of their adherents, rose above filial considerations in the matter of appointing their successors, and rendering sacrifices while fighting against injustice and torture, and were sublimely humble in their relationship with their followers. They had the courage to act upon their convictions and set exemplary model for inspiration and emulation. Discarding futile claims of their sons, the first three Gurus, Nanak Dev, Angad Dev and Amar Das chose their successors from among their deserving followers. The fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das appointed his youngest son Arjun Dev as the fifth Guru ignoring his two elder sons. The seventh Guru, Guru Har Rai declared his elder son Ram Rai, who dithered in his principles while dealing with Emperor Aurangzeb, unfit for Guruship and chose his younger son Harkrishan as the eighth Guru. Sri Harkrishan who died at a very young age chose Tegh Bahadur, his grand uncle, as the ninth Guru, who proved to be a successful leader of the community. After his martyrdom, daunting task of leading the tortured adherents was ably performed by his son Gobind Singh, the tenth Master, who ended the practice of an individual person as Guru. Guru Gobind Singh had come to the conclusion that the Sikhs had by then been adequately groomed to manage their corporate leadership. While quitting his mortal frame in 1708, he declared that the Sikh commonwealth (Khalsa) would henceforth be their own temporal Guru and sabad (word, contents) of Granth Sahib shall be their spiritual Guru. Thus sacred scripture, Granth Sahib compiled by the fifth Guru, Guru Arjun Dev in 1604 became Guru Granth Sahib, whose sabad (word) is the Guru, the spiritual guide of the adherents of Sikhism. Guru Gobind Singh’s decision to invest his followers with the responsibility of temporal leadership was not sudden and undeliberated. He was convinced that the teachings of Guru Nanak and his followers had instilled in them the qualities needed to manage the affairs of the community, and he had been grooming them for this role himself. While administering amrit (baptismal) to his chosen five piyaras (Beloved Ones) at Anandpur Sahib in 1699, he gave clear signal that the chosen ones should equip themselves so well that they would be capable of providing corporate leadership. This he did through his act of edifying humility when he took amrit from his own piyaras who were from different castes and callings, thereby instilling in them the sense of dignity of equality and vision of leadership.
Inspired by the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib and the practical performance of the Ten Gurus, the Sikhs faced the daunting challenges to their very existence with courage, determination and high moral conduct. Encountering inhuman torture, persecution and ferocious campaigns aimed at their very extinction, the Sikhs by the end of eighteenth century became the lords of the land extending from Delhi to the river Indus and beyond. They established sovereign Sircar Khalsa at Lahore in 1799 and held the chiefdoms of Faridkot, Nabha, Jind, Patiala, Kaithal and smaller fiefdoms on the southern side of Satluj. Ranjit Singh provided sound system of governance to his people. Though not above kingly dalliances, he was a devout follower of Guru Granth Sahib at heart. He did not hesitate to abide by the censorious edict issued to him by Jathedar Phoola Singh for his immoral misdemeanour.
The English had become a world power by the beginning of nineteenth century, and by then they had acquired overlordship of the entire Indian subcontinent except the territory of Ranjit Singh. The Sikhs could not withstand the massive power and superior cunning of the English who snatched sovereignty of the Sikhs from the last independent domain on the west of Himalayas. Badly bruised and rendered powerless, the Sikhs fell back upon the edifying teachings of Guru Granth Sahib. By the beginning of 20th century they started rehabilitating themselves socially, educationally, economically and politically. By their qualities of head and heart, they made their presence felt in various walks of life. Another awful blow fell on them with the partition of India in 1947. Lakhs of Sikhs lost their lives, half of their total wealth was left in the newly created State of Pakistan, and more than one third of their numbers in Punjab were uprooted from their homes and hearths in Pakistan and had to move to India. Taking solace and inspiration from the teachings of their Gurus, the Sikhs continued to play their role as self-reliant and hardworking community and rehabilitated their shattered polity with admirable determination and community management.
The Sikhs would understandably rue for the loss of their political power but in the context of dynamics of history, they, on the strength of their rubric, have done quite well as a community vis-à-vis various other segments of human race.
The Sikhs numbered 2195339 (0.75% of India’s population) in 1901, 4335771 (1.2% of India’s population) in 1961 (Source : A Historical Atlas of South Asia). Now the population of Sikhs in the world is about 25 million, and million more derive heavily on the sabd (word) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in their life mode. Till August 1947, almost all of the Sikhs lived in the pre-partition Punjab. Now they have settled across the globe, and Sikh diaspora is found in almost every country. By dint of their qualities of head and heart, they are doing well in various walks of life. The number of their religious, cultural, social, educational facilities is more than ever before.
Listed below are a few statistics about the number of adherents of major religions in the world, their literacy achievements and status of unemployment taken from the Time magazine of March 10, 2003 (these statistics were collected by the Time from a recent study by another agency). These would provide instructive perspective of the comparative performance of practitioners of various religions :
World population: religion-wise
Christians 2000 million, Muslims 1300 million, Hindus 900 million, Buddhists 360 million, Sikhs 23 million, Jews 14 million, Others 525 million, Non-religious 850 million,
Total 5972 million
The above figures show that education — acquiring knowledge, skills and training for leading good life — plays major part in development and welfare of mankind.
These statistics also indicate that Sikhs are not worse off in context of their circumstances. Here I am not gloating over the Sikhs deficient performance in their individual development and under-achievement in organisational work. There is much room for improvement. They must make up the shortcoming to walk abreast with the excellent achievers. That they can undoubtedly do if they abide by the cardinal principles of their faith.
Sikhism is not a simple philosophy for intellectual study, it is a discipline for individual and corporate functioning. Teachings enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib and practised by the Gurus highlight certain principles of human conduct, viz, monotheism, equality, honest labour, practical living, self-reliance, compassion, courage to fight injustice, prosperity for all, buoyant disposition, etc.
The Sikhs do not believe in prophethood, reincarnation or ritualistic mantras. Their scriptures emphasize that each person is accountable for the outcome of his work, that success is not handed over on a silver platter, but rather attained through honest labour. These lead them to reflect on how they can transform their lives into something they never thought could be imaginable. The Sikh teachings reinforce the truth in the saying that leaders are not born, they are made. Guru Granth Sahib is not only a compilation of sacred verse, it is a sublime blueprint for how to succeed in life. It exhorts people to serve and edify each other because when people feel good, general living improves. Through the study of Sikh history, we discover that their standards of value and practical behaviour are the key to success in daunting times. Their values are not a simple moralistic code — though ethics are integral indeed — these are framework for practical action. Their history is the story of the transformation of men and transformation of society. It reveals that leadership is about others and not about self, it is about trust and not about aggrandizing power. The Sikh value system developed and glorified individuals. It made humble and unselfish broom sweeper a nawab (Kapur Singh). Should one have the moxie and will, in actuality and not in mere theory, he can produce nothing less their outstanding results.
There is no doubt that these principles have the potential to mould a new social order across the globe.
What people want in leaders today, more than ever before, is integrity. Men of integrity produce refreshing results when they work earnestly. The Sikh scripture captures the soul of man and reveals cardinal methods of leading honest and useful corporate life.
A Few Suggestions For Action
How to go about it ?
i) Maximum efforts be put in to provide good education to the people. Individuals should attain proper knowledge, skills and will to develop themselves through self discipline. They should do their chores with diligence and sincerity. They should practise their pious aspiration in day-to-day acts. Various social organisations should arrange facilities for efficient running of educational institutions on sound lines. Religious, moral, cultural, scientific and social studies should form healthy part of education curriculum. The Supreme Court of India vide its 31.10.2002 order in T M A Foundation & Ors vs State of Karnataka & Ors in Writ Petition (Civil) No 317 of 1993 with other petitions [JT 2002 (9) SC 1] have loosened the governmental restrictions on recruitment of staff and enrolment of students - Private educational institutions should take advantage of this ruling and earnestly strive to provide education of the desired level. Management and teachers should not treat educational institutions as employment facilities only. They should work honestly and professionally to impart best possible instructions to the students. The government should not stifle the initiative and devotion of good educational institutions by imposing unreasonable controls on their working.
ii) Conferences, seminars, debates on interfaith issues should be frequently held to bring about healthy understanding and useful cooperation among people of different religions. Modern technology should be more effectively used to propagate interfaith cohesiveness. Representatives of major religions of the world should meet in a conclave every decade.
iii) The Sikhs should play an active role in organising the interfaith seminars and conclaves. To play this role effectively, they should form an association of global range. It may be given any name; say, World Sikh Organisation, World Sikh Council, World Sikh Association, Global Sikh Conclave, Vishav Sikh Sammelan. This World Body should have about one hundred persons from across the globe and one third of these members should retire quadrennially. This association should have an Executive Council or Executive Board of fifteen to twenty-one members. The World Body should meet every year and its day-to-day chores should be carried out by the Executive. This World Body should consider issues concerning the Sikhs and tender their opinion for the benefit of Sikh political, educational and social institutions. The World Body should not feel piqued if some / any of their views are not acted upon but concern themselves, as a think-tank, with the exposition of best advice. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee should help set up such a World Body unmindful whether this World Body would act according to its dictates or not. The SGPC should treat this effort as a measure of preaching Sikh value-system, a forum for eliciting considered opinions on matters relevant to Sikh people, and a vehicle to reach out globally untrammeled by any sort of formal obligations. The World Body should not assume to posses any sort of controlling authority over other Sikh organisations in various fields, viz, religious, political, educational, social but should function in such a manner as to provide the best of counsel and considered views on issues important to the Sikhs.
May we beseech the blessings of Sikh Gurus for the fulfilment of our aspirations through the invocatory Persian verse of Bhai Nand Lal :
doliq AW idh ik bwSd pweydwr, suhbiq AW idh ik bwSd gmguswr
qIniq AW idh ik bwSd h`k guzwr, ih`miq AW idh ik bwSd jWinswr
Give me such riches as are stable (moral strength)
Give me such company as should relieve sorrow
Give me such disposition as should stand by the righteous
Give me such strength as should prepare me for sacrifice of life (for justice)
and act upon the exhortation of Bhai Gurdas, set out below, to become practical doers and not to be vacuous talkers :
KWf KWf kih ijhbw mITo n svwd AwvY,
Agin Agin kih sIq n ibnws hY [[
vyd vyd kih rog imtq n kwhUµ ko hY
dRb dRb kih koau dRbY n iblws hY
cµdn cµdn kih hoq n subws bws,
cµd cµd kih aujIAwro n pRkws hY
qYso igAwn gost khq n rihq pwvY ,
krnI pRDwn Bwn audiq Akws hY [[
Mere repetitive uttering ‘sugar, sugar’ won’t render the tongue sweet,
Mere repetitive uttering ‘fire, fire’ won’t dispel cold.
Mere repetitive uttering ‘physician, physician’ won’t end disease,
Mere repetitive uttering ‘treasurer, treasure’ won’t provide riches
Mere repetitive uttering ‘chandan, chandan’ (fragrant wood, sandal) won’t make odour sweet,
Mere repetitive uttering ‘moon, moon’ won’t spread light.
Similarly, mere talking vacuously won’t lead to practical conduct
Actual performance is the best percept, just as the raising of the Sun is self-acclamatory.
These pulsate in the dictums of :
Louis Pasteur : Success favours the prepared mind.
Voltaire : Work banishes those three evils, boredom, vice and poverty.
Margaret Mead : Never doubt that small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Let us look forward to building relationships with people, which eventually make a bigger impact than just preaching.
©Copyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2007, All
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