Role of Sikh Gurus in the Progress of Human Civilization
Principal Sadhu Singh
Collins Co build Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary defines civilization as a human society with its own social organization and culture; it is the state of having an advanced level of social organization and a comfortable way of life with its sensible laws and customs.” Civilization is the process of civilizing or becoming civil. A civilized society is often characterized by advanced agricultural, long distance trade, occupational specialization and urbanism. Morgan in his book “Ancient Society” states, “Democracy in Government, brotherhood in Society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be revival, in a higher form of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient genes.” The classical standard of civilization is a legal mechanism designed to set the bench mark for the ascent of non-European states to the ranks of the civilized ‘Family of Nations’. A state was civilized if its government was sufficiently stable and was able to protect the life, dignity, religion, liberty and property of its citizens and foreigners. Let us examine how the Sikh Guru Sahibans exerted a considerable civilizing influence on the progress of human civilization in their own time and the times to come.
At the very outset one can observe that Sikh Gurus exerted a tremendous civilizing influence on mankind. They educated the society they lived in and improved thinking and the way of life of the people. The advanced state of civilization which they had envisioned has yet to be realized by the mankind. They have profusely enriched the cultural content of mankind in the sphere of ethics, philosophy, literature and music. The progress of human civilization depends on the entity of the individual, human rights, freedom and democracy. Guru Sahibans generously gave cultural gifts to the world and it would lead to a universal culture in the future. The Gurus made the people realize that the progress of the civilization is only possible through active co-operation of the citizens and their willingness to sacrifice their selfish interests to the common good. The march of civilization would continue if the nations of the world realize the sanctity of the above mentioned idea. Modern civilization has been enriched by the wisdom of spiritual experiences of the Gurus and it would play an illuminating role in creating a happy world where mankind could realize its highest potential. The Sikh Gurus acted as humble servants of civilization and their goal was to usher in earthly paradise. The Gurus strengthened the fabric of civilization by helping in salvation of the whole mankind instead of the individuals.
ਜਗਤੁ ਜਲੰਦਾ ਰਖਿ ਲੈ ਆਪਣੀ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਧਾਰਿ ||
ਜਿਤੁ ਦੁਆਰੇ ਉਬਰੈ ਤਿਤੈ ਲੇਹੁ ਉਬਾਰਿ || (SGGS, p 853)
Guru Sahiban never thought of one person, community, society, religion, country or age. They prayed for all to be salvaged from the burning pyre of the worldly maya.
They preached and lived a life style which conforms that the true purpose of life is not the preparation of the souls for another life, but to create the best possible human society in the present world. This is possible only if mankind accepts the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. This has been advocated by the Gurus through out their period.
From time to time there appears on the world stage a great prophet who far outshines the greatest of many ages. Buddha was one of them, Confucius, Jesus, Mohammed yet others. They are exclusive and a select band; to that group belong the Sikh Guru Sahibans. The Sikh Gurus believed that their role in life was to bring new life to the civilization which together with religion and culture had disappeared during the rule of the Mughals.
A prophet is the conscience of the group, tribe or state or nation. He generates the driving forces of social, political and historical importance.
Mankind would appreciate how the religious creative energy released by the prophetic missions of Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ; Mohammed and Sikh Guru Sahibans changed the entire cultural content of civilizations, and led to tremendous social, political and historical developments.
It has been observed that religion has been the biggest integrating force in history. It has a great revolutionary potential and has factually given birth to two political revolutions – the Islamic and the Sikh. In the Sikh revolutionary movement the religious and revolutionary streams blended into one.
Humanitarian values are the very life blood of religion. Guru Sahiban’s deeper perception, born of their experience of Naam found that the flavour of the Lord was bestowed only on those who cared for the lowliest and the lost. Their condemnation of caste-status was only a part-expression of their spiritual perception whereby they viewed things in the light of their final destiny, because Sikhism is opposed to status consciousness in all forms.
Social service is an essential component of the Sikh way of life after the highest spiritual attainment. It is regarded the highest form of Bhagati. Guru Sahiban realized that it was imperative to build a social system and organize people out of the caste rigidity. This process of establishing a separate society (the Sikh Panth) was started by Guru Nanak Dev and fostered by the successor Gurus and they maintained within it a universal spirit. The Sikh tradition is full of instances showing the cosmopolitan spirit of the Sikh Gurus. The very existence of this tradition is a strong indication of the universal character of the Sikh movement. For the practice of their universal humanism, the Sikh Gurus established the Sikh Panth. Their universalism had distinct social aims and they were deeply committed to achieve practical social good. The Sikh Panth was created to serve an egalitarian cause. In Sikhism, the quality of common man underwent a change to fill in a new spirit of resurgence.
After the rise of science, Western life has lost its moral moorings. Nationalism Communism and individualism have been the unstable offsprings of a broken home. The divorce of religion from politics has left secularism a barren institution without any hope of creative future. This is the tragedy of communism and capitalism. The western world is wedded to secularism which believes in the four values namely, the entity of the individual, freedom, human rights and democracy as the basic to the progress of man. Religion, according to the Western world downgrades the individual personality of man and his capacity for creativity.
The role of Guru Sahiban in this context is unique. They lifted downtrodden people to a moral height and cohesion so uncommon in human society. The same people and the same religious system that had succumbed to the might of invaders for centuries felt rejuvenated, and their self-confidence restored not only to confront morally the fading culture of the Mughal Empire, but also to covert that society to the Sikh Panth. Guru Sahiban ordained specific duties and responsibilities upon the adherents of the new faith. The first is of accepting equality between man and woman. The second responsibility is of maintaining equality between man and man. The third social responsibility is the importance of work. The fourth is sharing of wealth. “God’s bounty belongs to all but men grab it for themselves.” The fifth social responsibility is towards injustice and oppression of all kinds in society. Since the dawn of civilization, the greatest injustice and oppression have been done by the rulers. The above mentioned duties and responsibilities form the core of a universal religion, catering for the spiritual well-being of the society as a whole.
Guru Sahiban enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib their spiritual ideology and lived by it. It culminated in the creation of the Khalsa, with Kirpan as the essential symbol for rising against injustice and oppression…. Without combining the reason and religion or the spiritual life with the empirical life of man, his problems will remain insoluble.
Sikh Gurus expressed a comprehensive world view of hope and eternal relevance. Sikhism is universal in its approach, always anxious and willing to serve and co-operate with those who aim at harmony among beings and welfare of man. The Guru’s prayer is that the world may be saved in any way. Guru Nanak proclaimed that his mission was, with the help of other God-men, to steer man across the turbulent sea of life. This fundamental ideal stands enshrined in the final words of the daily Sikh prayer. “May God bless all mankind !”
The integrating power of the Sikh ideology and the charismatic leadership of the Sikh Gurus generated a centripetal force which welded the disparate, even hostile caste-elements into the egalitarian Sikh Panth. It goes to the credit of the Sikh Gurus that they took the greatest possible care to canalize the faith and loyalty reposed in them by the Sikhs towards serving the egalitarian cause the Sikh ideology stood for. In fact, they emphasized the supremacy of Sikh ideology on the spiritual plane. Guru Nanak touched the feet of Guru Angad when he nominated him as successor Guru. Spirituality in Sikhi is an extension of everyday life of common man. Sikhi is the most modern stage in the evolution of mankind’s spiritual consciousness and it emphasizes oneness of all humanity.
The 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th centuries were the Age of Discovery, the 15th marking its greatest development in discovery of America. It was an Age of Discovery in a much wider sense than it is represented by the activities of European travelers to new places and among new peoples. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 can be a major event marking the transition between the ancient and the modern world. The Renaissance was the whole process whereby Europe passed from a medieval to a modern civilization, “fructifying of the human mind through contact with the classical world of Greece and Rome”.
It saw the rise and development of gothic architecture, painting, sculpture music, the institution of universities, the revival of Greek philosophy and laws; and the earliest movements towards freedom of thought in religion. The literature of Greece entered into the intellectual process of all nations and became part of mental foundation. The remarkable culmination of the creative Greek mind which for 24 centuries has been to men of intelligence a guiding force and inspiring beacon, resulted in a moral and intellectual process in mankind, an appeal to righteousness and an appeal to the truth from the passions and confusions and immediate appearance of existence. The idea that there is happiness in self-devotion greater than any personal gratification became vivid as sunshine, caught and reflected dazzling by some window in the landscape, in the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Mohammed and most of all, of the Sikh Guru Sahiban. They brought out the hidden, universal, dormant new vision of the world into men’s minds and hearts.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights came into existence in 1948. Sikh Guru Sahibans promoted 500 years earlier the basic ingredients of human relationship of peace, freedom equality, justice, dignity, love and respect for all individuals in society. Guru Sahiban established a paradigm of physical, emotional, social and spiritual construction of mankind. The highest principle according to the Gurus is the value of the supreme gift of life and desirable values are to be observed for the preservation of mankind. Their teachings emphasise the value of belief in God and His Hukm or Raza. Sikh Gurus practised a holistic approach to life by considering the interdependence of spiritual, social, economic and political matters in life. They regarded all great truths as the property of entire human race and not the monopoly of a particular faith. Incorporating the Bani of Bhagats in Sri Guru Granth Sahib attests the universal outlook of the Guru Sahibans. The unique characteristic of Sikhi offers the best assurance for the future of mankind and modern civilization. When seen in the perspective of evolution, the central truth of life is that Guru Sahiban’s philosophy suits, saves and satisfies the quest in human hearts for a new life and a better world. So, Sikhi could become a world wide faith, embracing all peoples of all nations, due to the vision of Guru Sahiban. This would bring about the whole world as one state based on a common world religion, very much simplified, universalized and better understood. This will not be Christianity, or Islam, nor Buddhism or any such specialized form of religion, but Sikhi itself pure and undefiled – the divine code of conduct, the kingdom of Heaven, a common brotherhood, creative service and self-forgetfulness. Through out the world men’s thoughts and motives will be turned by education, example and the circle of ideas about them, from obsession of Self to the cheerful service of human knowledge, human power, and unity.
Modern civilization is in fact the gift of Greek and Roman civilizations which have been spreading in the world. It was preceded by its economic influence. Modern Civilization would play a unifying role and create harmony in the world in which Sikhism, as the successor of all other main religions and as enriched by the wisdom of spiritual experiences of the Sikh Guru Sahibans, would play an illuminating role as the carrier of His Grace. Thus, Sikhism would play the role of humble servant of civilization. Sikhism has been propagating from its very inception that the true purpose of life is not the preparation of souls for another life but the establishment of the best possible human society in this world - the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.
From the times of Plato to the modern times most people believe that evil exists because of ignorance. This belief would seems to explain the continuous presence of a strong strain in Sikh way of life for promoting knowledge, discipline and education even though the mystic thought existed side by side with it.
The answer to humanity’s needs does not exist in philosophy, political alliances or in the strength of any of the Great Powers. It is in Guru Sahiban’s ideology which is God-centred universal ideology. It has the power to recast character and goal in life of friend and foe.
Guru Sahiban’s thoughts and life-style revolutionized the psyche of the common man to become a dignified individual who was capable of fighting for his rights and justice in the society. Dignified individuals are the backbone of a decent and civilized society. The society was to be an egalitarian one. The Gurus introduced changes on social and spiritual levels. They enlightened the society and taught the persons to share their needs and deeds with others in a harmonious way.
Guru Sahiban’s teachings are modern and progressive. They championed the cause of the downtrodden and the women. Bradshaw calls it “Faith of the new age”, and Bitten Court as “The only living faith that gives the healing out look on life”. Guru Sahiban started a revolutionary movement for the social reconstruction, moral regeneration and social amelioration of all human beings. Their teachings and blessings are for the welfare of the whole mankind.
Be merciful and keep all beings in Your care,
Oh God let grain and water be in plenty, shatter their suffering and penury and ferry them across the ocean of existence. The Ardas, daily personal and congregational prayer, to God, is for the welfare of the whole mankind:
May your name, your glory, O God be ever in ascendance.
May the whole humanity be blessed with peace and prosperity in your will by Your Grace.
Guru Sahiban emphasized on the sewa – selfless service to humanity and contribution to the welfare of the mankind. They provided eternal answers on how to lead a life of truth and righteousness so that it may lead the people of the world to peace, contentment and bliss in life. Guru Sahiban provided the whole world with a truly universal philosophy in the form of laws of Divine Code of Conduct so that world may find solace, peace, eternal bliss and salvation in this life.
The thoughts of Guru Sahiban are natural and spontaneous. These come from the core of their hearts. They are all practical and lived through by the Gurus. All their teachings and thoughts have been embalmed in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The ethical values expounded in Guru Granth Sahib are universally applicable for ever. Following examples will make the point clear:
We must earn through hard work and share it with others.
There is no one who is our enemy. We have good relations with all.
All the brethren should meet and meditate to remove confusion.
The dehumanized and degenerated American Civilization has reached a challenging moral plateau. It has effected the whole human race which has had a checkered existence from the beginning to this day, of blood and evil. Only the teaching and guidance of the Sikh Guru Sahibans can stem the tide of the American civilization and can create new moral norms for the advancement of human civilization.
The contribution of Sikhi, as compared to other religions, to the progress of human civilization is of paramount importance. Guru Sahiban’s thoughts have been guiding the life of mankind since the ages and will do so in the modern life which is under the influence of globalization, mass media, quick communication systems and hedonistic life styles. It is difficult to have true happiness without the divine thoughts. Guru Sahiban have put forward for mankind highly progressive and advanced concepts of human rights, equality, honest living and a caring community based approach to life.
Almost all the civilizations, which have flourished in the world so far, have been ignoring the common man and downgrading the woman. It is highly commendable that Guru Sahiban, for the first time in human history, recognized that the common man formed the bedrock of human race. They advocated the supremacy of the woman in the hymns of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. They had envisioned an advanced stage of civilization for the mankind, HALEMI RAJ, which has yet to be realized. Guru Sahiban knew the science of human nature. That is why they are the fountain of philosophies and creeds yet to be born which would strive to ameliorate the agonies of the human race. Hence, the contribution of Guru Sahiban to the progress of human race is of paramount importance.
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