Guru Nanak's Mission & Peaceful Co-existence
Dr Iqbal Singh Dhillon
The revolutionary movement launched by Guru Nanak on the land of Punjab in India towards the end of 15th century C.E., had peaceful co-existence and human welfare among its primary aims. This humanistic movement was not given any specific name initially. In view of his valuable teachings, Guru Nanak's followers gave him the title of 'Guru' out of reverence ('Guru' in Indian languages means 'teacher') and the practice continued in respect of his successors too. That is why followers of Sikh Gurus, in turn, got the the nomenclature of 'Sikh' ('Sikh' in Indian languages means 'student'). Guru Gobind Singh gave his followers the title of 'Khalsa' which is a term derived from Persian 'khalis' meaning 'pure'. He also made it mendatory for his 'Khalsa' followers to append 'Singh' to male names and 'Kaur' to female names (in Indian languages, 'Singh', means 'lion' and 'Kaur' means 'princess'). When, in the 18th century C.E., Guru Nanak's mission was given the form of an organized/institutionalized religion, it earned the name of 'Sikh Dharam' or 'Sikhi' for which 'Sikhism' has been adopted in English. Guru Nanak was born in 1469 C.E. and he had a line of nine successors up to Guru Gobind Singh who breathed his last in 1708 C.E.
The term 'Dharam', as used in Indian languages, generally, gives out two kinds of meanings which are mentioned as below.
1. An individual may use 'Dharam' for one or more ethical principles on which he/she bases his/her life-style for an ideal living, without associating himself/herself with any particular sect. For example, one may say, "Truth is my only Dharam" or "Serving the needy is my only Dharam". It is not necessary that such a person needs to be a theist or he/she belongs to any organized/institutionalized religion such as Chritianity, Islam, Hinduism, Budhism etc.
2. 'Dharam' is an organized/institutionaized religion which advocates faith in specific deities, prophets, rituals, worship-rites, beliefs, principles, rules, priestly-class and scriptures. In brief, an organized religion is adopted by a particular sect of people who have a set of mutually accepted spiritual beliefs along with dogmas and rituals connected with these. There are about 4000 such religions in the world out of which Judaism, Chritianity, Islam, Hinduism, Budhism, Zoroasterism and Jainism are considered major identities.
During Guru Nanak's times, there were sects of chiefly Mohammadens, Hindus and Nath-Yogis prevalent around him though he had had interaction with many other sects during his long tours in India and abroad (these tours are known as Udaasis). But Guru Nanak did not launch his mission as another religion parallel to the religions prevailing in those times in the world. Nor did any of the successor Gurus make any attempt to give his mission the form of an institutionalized religion. Instead, the mission Guru Nanak had launched remained purely a revolutionary and humanistic movement till the early part of the 18th century C.E.
If we peruse the subsequent history of the world, we find that a movement having aims and objectives similar to those set forth by Guru Nanak's mission surfaced in some European countries especially France and Germany in the 19th century C.E. In due course of time, this European movement was given the name of 'Humanism'. Sadly, name of Guru Nanak could not be associated, at this time, with this international humanistic movement as its founder because of lack of rapport, geographical distances and time-gap involved. The movement launched by Guru Nanak had almost been eclipsed and further converted into an institutionalized religion by the time rapport between Indian and European societies was established. Serious dialogue between the western cultures and north-Indian cultures started only in 19th century C.E. Therefore, the west has known Sikhism only as an organized religion.
Humanism is such a secular philosophy which rejects miracle, mysticism and bigotry altogether and, at the same time, supports prevalence of reason, morality and justice for the benefit of all human beings across the globe. Humanism has three main components: human rights, human values and human dignity. However, it may include any other secular concept which promotes human welfare for everyone living anywhere in the world. Humanist Society, New York was the first organization devoted to Humanism formed in the U.S.A. in 1929 C.E. Many other such organizations sprang up subsequently in the U. S.A. and European countries. The U.N.O. granted recognition to the movement of Humanism by awarding representation to International Humanist and Ethical Union formed in 1952 C.E. with its headquarters at Amesterdam, Holland. But Guru Nanak had not only launched a vigorous and revolutionary movement of Humanism on the land of Punjab 450 years earlier but he and his successors had also run it for more than two centuries with a success having no parallel in the world.
The humanistic philosophy as preached and practiced by Sikh Gurus and their committed followers, covers areas of human concerns as mentioned below:
1. Human Welfare
2. Human Rights
3. Human Equality
4. Human Brotherhood
5. Human Development (in individual's person)
6. Human Values (Ethics)
7. Human Spirituality (God's Benevolence)
8. Struggle for Human Concerns
It is a secular philosophy inspite of faith in God as preached by Guru Nanak. His concept of God is totally rational and scientific as his philosophy recognizes God as 'Nirankar' (formless) and not as a 'personal being'. Sikhism, as preached by the Gurus, was definitely no institutionalized religion. It had no place for ritualistic God-worship, prophetism, mysticism, supernaturalism, myths, superstition and rites. It laid special emphasis on the use of reason in every field of life. The only 'ritual' it recommended was 'jap' or 'simran' which implies keeping God in remembrance all the time.
The Sikh Gurus rejected the concept of organized religion altogether. A number of references to this effect can be found in Sikh Holy Granth. The Holy Granth is a compilation of eloquent verses composed by six Sikh Gurus and thirty humanistic personages from across India. To illustrate, two couplets are being quoted as below:
srb Drm mih sRyst Drmu ]
hir ko nwmu jip inrml krmu ]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 266
The superiormost religion among all religions is remembering God all the time and doing noble deeds.
nw hm ihMdU n muslmwn ]
Alh rwm ky ipMfu prwn ]
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1136
We are neither Hindus nor Mohammedans, our bodies and our selves are connected directly to God.
Here, 'Hinduism' and 'Mohammedanism' only symbolize 'every organized religion' on the earth. The Sikh Gurus exhorted all the human beings to be humanistic activists instead of following any religion. Guru Gobind Singh laid special emphasis on total rejection ('naash') of 'religion' among other things. He expected every Sikh to be a true humanist volunteer and designated him as 'Khalsa'. A substitute for organized religion, mission of Sikh Gurus was a wonderful blend of preaching and practice of humanism. The tenets of humanism as preached by them and practiced by the Sikh enthusiasts are best expressed in the verses included in the Holy Granth compiled by Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru of Sikhs. These verses are composed in simple languages such as Panjabi, Sadhukari and Braj and taken together are called 'Gurbaani' (compositions in praise of the benevolent Almighty). The philosophy preached by Sikh Gurus is known as 'Gurmat' and it is basically humanistic. It is expressed at length in Gurbani enshrined in the Holy Granth which is voluminous work running into 1429 pages. It is from this point of view that members of the Sikh fraternity have been duly ordained by Guru Gobind Singh to revere the Holy Granth as their Guru after him and for all times to come.
'Sikh Panth' is also sometimes used as synonym of 'Sikh Dharam' ('Sikh Religion'). 'Panth' implies 'path' which is used in spirituality or literary writings as a metaphor for particular life-style. Initially, 'Panth' was used in the sense of 'Dharam' mentioned at 1. above for ethical life-style as preached by the Sikh Gurus but, eventually, it came to be used for organized religion in the sense of 'Dharam' as mentioned at 2. above. In addition to it, 'humanism' as preached by Sikh Gurus carries much larger meaning as compared to 'Panth' even when used for denoting 'life style purely based on ethical principles'.
It was, perhaps, the vehement advocacy of faith in God and practice of ethical principles in Guru Nanak's mission that came handy to Brahamanical sects such as Udaasis and Nirmalas to convert Sikh movement into an institutionalized religion of their liking when members of Sikh community were largely engaged in a struggle for survival facing onslaughts of Moghul rulers and foreign invaders during the 18th century C.E. Sikh centres were converted into temples where different types of religious rites and rituals were introduced. Sikh masses adopted this process inadvertently and the practice has continued since then.
Guru Nanak and the successor Gurus had worked only for establishing Humanism as an ideal alternative to institutionalized religion for the welfare of mankind. If their mission is to be called 'Dharam' it is Dharam of the kind mentioned at No. 1 above and not of the kind mentioned at No. 2. Guru Nanak's humanism offers lasting solution the problems being faced by the humanity on different fronts in the modern age. Sincere implementation of the principles underlying Guru Nanak's mission can definitely pave the way for peaceful co-existence across the globe.
Let us come forward to revive and preach the humanistic mission launched by Guru Nanak for the welfare of and peace for all around the world.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All