Awakening of Universal-Consciousness
Dr Harbans Lal
The economics and politics of progress along with globalization of national boundaries will reach every community in the 21st Century. As it advances it will create inescapable problems of moral, psychological and spiritual dimensions. If we ignore them, they will lead to a self-centered and inhuman world. History suggests that such a world not only gives birth to alienation from religion but also a burning sense of emptiness and injustice that sprout anger, resentment, frustration and depression.
The aim of our progress must be to enhance, not compromise, human dignity and quality of life. Godless politics, economics or other materialistic advances alone are ill equipped to deal with problems of the new century. Economics and markets serve their own agendas of making us slaves of their designs. Politics is about the balance and use of power, and technology serves the animalistic instincts in all of us. Thus, economic systems create problems that cannot be resolved by economics alone. Politics raises questions that cannot be answered by political calculation alone. Technology generates problems that can not be resolved by more technology.
We believe that millions of people will be looking for an alternative to a self-centered new world. They will seek new world with new thinking on role and place of religion in society. They will ask for a religion that makes visible impact on people’s daily life; the religion that brings cultural creativeness and emergence of social systems based upon higher values, cooperation and interdependence in the new world village. All of these considerations combine in the calling of divine consciousness and its resulting co-creativity where human beings take responsibility for the ethical and spiritual guidance of our evolution.
It is difficult to see how the continuing saga of mutual animosity between Serbs and Croats of Yugoslavia, between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, between Hindus and Sikhs in India, between Hindus and Muslims every where, or the various warring factions of South Africa either fulfill any purpose of any religion or even benefit the involved parties.
Sikhs particularly suffered from the onslaught of fanaticism. How far the Moguls went to take innocent lives of our Gurus and their families? Even as recent as in 1984, the armed forces of India were ordered to plunder Sikh holy places and butcher Sikh population only in religious hatred.
Guru Granth Offers Solution
The good news is that we live in the age when large segments of the world populations still continue to look for religious guidance. Religion remains an essential and imperishable element of human consciousness, a power that reaches the humanity’s very “roots of motivation”. It constitutes the essential civilizing force in history.
In this very age, we have a very modern theology in our scripture of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. To survive the new age, humanity must pay heed to what the great Gurus prescribed a few centuries ago.
Let me draw attention to two important areas.
Oneness of Human Race
The first teaching of Guru Granth that can impact the current world situation is that the human race must begin to regard itself as one and Truth is a birth right of every citizen of this world.
For the new age, our scripture reflects on the notion of the oneness of humankind and abundance of its resource.
qUM swJw swihbu bwpu hmwrw ] nau iniD qyrY AKut BMfwrw ]
toon saajhaa saahib baap hamaaraa,
na-o nidh tayrai akhut bhandaaraa.
You are the Universal Father of all, O my Lord and Master.
Your nine treasures are an inexhaustible storehouse.
Guru Arjun, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 97.
To appreciate diversity, our scripture considers the whole world as an orchard that is nourished by Infinite Wisdom (vwihgurU).
eyku bgIcw pyf Gn kirAw ] AMimRq nwmu qhw mih PilAw ]
isNcnhwru eyku mwlI ] Kbir krqu hY pwq pq fwlI ]
ayk bageechaa payd ghan kari-aa.amrit naam tahaa meh fali-aa.
.. sinchanhaaray aykai maalee. khabar karat hai paat pat daalee.
This universe is an orchard,
in which the Infinite Wisdom has grown a variety of vegetation.
However, there is only one gardener who tends it.
He takes care of every leaf and every branch.
Guru Arjun, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 385.
Under the instructions of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, there can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God.
These teachings can play crucial role in promoting universal spirituality and avert a worldwide religious confrontation, the risks of which grow daily. However, our leadership must unambiguously emphasize and practice certain guidelines that originate from these teachings.
The first is to renounce assertions of exclusive access to truth, which are the single most important source of disunity. Diversity in religious beliefs of various people must be actively appreciated.
When the fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev first compiled the Guru Granth, he built a special temple to install this scripture. He made this temple as the Sikhs’ central shrine and named it, Hari Mandar, the temple of the Infinite. The foundation stone of this temple was laid by a Muslim holy man, Bhai Mian Mir.
The Temple has four doorways facing each of the four directions: north, south, east and west for an explicit purpose, to celebrate diversity. The Guru’s plan to celebrate diversity becomes more evident when you discover these entries from all four directions and hear the hymn saying,
jgqu jlµdw riK lY AwpxI ikrpw Dwir ]
ijqu duAwrY aubrY iqqY lYhu aubwir ]
jagat jalandaa rakh lai aapnee kirpaa Dhaar.
jit du-aarai ubrai titai laihu ubaar.
The world is going up in flames (of prejudices and materialism)
shower it with your benevolence, and save it.
Save it, and deliver it, oh Infinite One,
( by whatever method it take and)
through whichever door any one comes to you.
Guru Amar Das, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 853.
When you hear this you know that the clergy and clerics of this religion were advised clearly to surrender any claims of exclusivity at the feet of the Divine.
Guru’s message also says that the validity of all the world’s principal religions must be wholeheartedly accepted. The understanding, already intuitive to many people, must be embraced that truth and spirituality are equally accessible to all of humankind, and that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural statement and human interpretation, religion is likewise there to worship the One.
The enduring legacy that we must leave on peoples’ mind is that it urges the peoples of the world to begin seeing themselves as the members of a single human race, as Guru Gobind Singh urged. As a corollary the earth becomes as that human race’s common homeland. This is the inevitable next step in the advancement of civilization.
No Place for Fanaticism
It is a tragic that organized religion, whose very reason for being is to serve the cause of kinship of human race and peace among the human family, behaved all too frequently as one of the most formidable obstacles in the path of unity and love. The reason being is that it has long lent its credibility to fanaticism.
The creative and destructive powers of the great faiths often go together. Religions bind people together as communities; that is their strength in an age when other structures of meaning and relationship are in disarray. But the very walls we build around ourselves for mutual protection, divide us from those who stand outside; every “us” creates a “them”. That is why religions, though they promote peace within their borders, can inspire war across them.
The pages of history are stained with the blood shed in crusades, jihads, inquisitions, revenges, and the wars of religion. In the past, most people were surrounded by others with whom they shared a history, traditions and a creed. Today, our lives are enmeshed with conflicts far away and cultures utterly unlike our own. Never before have religions been confronted more fatefully with the challenge of making space for difference - the other, the infidel, the unredeemed.
Can we see God’s image in one who is not in our image? Bhai Kanyaa responded “yes” three centuries ago. Can we learn to love the stranger? God has given us many faiths, but only one world in which to live together, and it is getting smaller all the time.
Here again our Guru’s teachings showed the way. A perusal of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadure only will bring us home to the principle of not only permitting no fanaticism but rather proactively fighting for the rights of others to practice their faith with immunity. He gave his life in fighting for the rights of Hindus to practice their religious beliefs according to their own traditions.
In contrast, the greater part of organized religions continue to be gripped in the dogmas and claims of privileged access to truth that have been responsible for creating some of the most bitter conflicts dividing the earth’s inhabitants.
The consequences, in terms of human well-being, have been ruinous. It is surely unnecessary to cite in detail the horrors being visited upon hapless populations today by outbursts of fanaticism that shame the name of religion. One must wonder what has been the longer term harvest of the seeds planted in popular consciousness by the blind forces of sectarian dogmatism that inspired such conflicts.
In the context of the transformation taking place in the conception of spirituality, the most promising new religious development seemed to be the interfaith movement. The seeds of this movement were already sown by Guru Nanak five centuries ago.
Guru Nanak visited and networked with the leaders of all religions of his time. He promoted visits and arranged many famous dialogues. Guru Angad invited others and recognized them as leaders of new Sikh movement. For instance, he appointed both Hindus and Muslims on the seats of religious authority that he established (manjies). Guru Arjun institutionalized the interfaith philosophy and theology by compiling Sri Guru Granth Sahib with inclusion of some thirty authors besides the Sikh gurus. The world is now taking over our Gurus’ ideas that may leave us, the torch bearers of the Gurus’ philosophy, behind.
Religion in Social Relationship
As many contents of Sri Guru Granth Sahib demonstrate, Sikh teachings may profoundly influence the structure of social relationships in this century. Briefly speaking, prejudices that now define the human position should fade away as soon as we take our Guru seriously. Gender equality, for instance, should become routinely accepted concept. Likewise, the fetish of absolute geographical sovereignty must give way to humanity as one race. The delusion of racial superiority may be so stigmatized that no society can afford to be associated with it.
There are certainly wide differences among the world’s major religious traditions with respect to social ordinances and forms of worship. Given the thousands of years during which successive revelations of the Divine have addressed the changing needs of a constantly evolving civilization, it could hardly be otherwise. What cannot be morally justified is the manipulation of cultural legacies that were intended to enrich spiritual experience, as a means to arouse prejudice and alienation. The primary task of the soul will always be to investigate reality, to live in accordance with the truths of which it becomes persuaded and to accord full respect to the efforts of others to do the same.
Inspired by this perspective, the Sikh communities have been a vigorous promoter of interfaith activities from the time of their inception. Apart from cherished associations that these activities create, Sikhs see in the struggle of diverse religions to draw closer together a response to the Divine Will for a human race that is entering on its collective maturity.
While conflicts continue to cast their shadow on the ideals that Guru Granth defines for the world, we the Keepers of the Light should actively participates in reshaping and redefining our society at home and the international order elsewhere, at least by promoting awareness of the world to be one homeland of one human race, in the course of the 21st century. The oneness of humankind that our Gurus promoted cannot be effectively advanced without an infusion of spirituality in the society. The spirituality must be of the kind that promotes a higher universal consciousness.
All the scholars gathered here must give an earnest consideration to the challenge the new age poses for the future of ours and other religions. Vast numbers of people continue to endure the effects of ingrained prejudices of ethnicity, gender, nation, caste and class. All the evidence indicates that such injustices will long persist as the institutions and standards that humanity is devising only slowly become empowered to construct a new order of relationships and to bring relief to the oppressed.
We should take initiatives to cross a threshold from which there is no credible possibility of return. Sri Guru Granth Sahib identifies fundamental principles for us. We should now articulate that publicity, and progressively incarnate them in institutions capable of imposing them on public behavior. There is no doubt that, however protracted and painful the struggle, the outcome will be to revolutionize relationships among all peoples, at the grassroots level.
After we practice ourselves the Guru’s teachings, then we may consider promoting a dialogue in the coming millennium between the religious traditions of the human family at several levels with the following results to accomplish.
- To mutually enrich the world traditions, by promoting to clearly recognize the diversity that exists among humanity, the diverse mental dispositions, interests, and spiritual inclinations of the people of the world.
- To makes us better practitioner of our own faith - make us not only feel better about others but also make us more conscious of ourselves and more true to our own essential goodness.
- To discourages religious leaders to sow seeds of doubt among people about their own faith when they know exclusively the practices of their own rituals. Rather, where the differences crop up, we may counsel people to reinterpret the religious metaphor based on the culture of the time as against rituals manufactured by their ethnocentric clergy to promote their own commerce. Instead, the faith people are encouraged to deepen their own understanding and appreciation of their own traditions, pointing out that the human sensibilities and cultures are too varied to justify a single “way” to the Truth.
- To promote willing suspension of exclusivity towards one another and accepts the proof and authentication of all religions as the realization of the divine within, a human being’s innate qualities of compassion, tolerance and altruism.
- To promote scholarship, meditation, and pilgrimages between sincere practitioners.
- To promote the knowledge born from experience rather than conceptual knowledge.
- To discourage the natural tendency toward egotism based on religious practices, release the individuals involved in dialogue to find the deeper levels of their own consciousness where dialogue may open into a common window of truth through an experience altogether beyond the conceptualizing mind.
- To discourage tendency to construct a synthetic universal religion. My Guru did not believe in creating a single universal religion but did believe in respecting, and indeed reverencing, the unique characteristics of each religion. There is an acknowledgment of diversity at the most fundamental level of every spiritual orientation. If we try to unify the faiths of the world into one religion, we will also lose many of the qualities and richness of each particular tradition.
It is an historic challenge that we believe leaders of our religion must respond if religious leadership is to have meaning in the global society emerging from the transformative experiences of the twentieth century.
According to the Guru, the human spirit will be fulfilled when it is rekindled with Divine Grace of the Guru. Rekindling is the awakening of human spirit and will require an ever lasting approach shown by our Gurus and other spiritual leaders.
eyhu jgu jlqw dyiK kY Bij pey siqgur srxw ]
siqguir scu idRVwieAw sdw sic sMjim rhxw ]
When I witnessed this world on fire I ran to the refuge of the Guru. The Guru inculcated the Truth in my heart and instructed me to live according to the Divine discipline.
Guru Arjun, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 70