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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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NIRBHAU, NIRVAIR(U)

Dr Jaswant Singh Neki

The mul mantra attempts, most cryptically, to define the indefinable God. It refers the truth of His existence and primacy of His self-luminous being; His unity and solity; His immanence as well as transcendence; His creativity and personality and His non-tempo-rarity, birthlessness as well as deathlessness.

However, apart from these metaphysical, personal and relational attributes, the mul mantra also incorporates two important ethical attributes of God-head, namely: nirbhau and nirvair (u).

Nirbhau, means ‘sans fear’ and nirvair (u) means ‘sans hostility’, However, it is important to note that vair is a more inclusive concept than hostility and subsumes jealousy, hatred, enmity, vengeance and spite as well; hence sans hostility here should really mean without any one or a combination of these.

It is apparent that these are negative attributes of God-head. However, it has been hinted by scholars, such as Vinoba Bhave, that these have their own importance in the history of Indian philosophic thought.

The Guru Granth abounds in positive ethical attributes of God. He is extolled as (pavittar, punit, pawan, pak, etc), as the treasure of goodness and the mine of virtue (gun-nidhan, gun-tas, guni gahira), as truth and truly existent (sat, sach), as bliss and perfect  calm (anand, sahaj), as discrete and discriminating (bibeki), as fair and just (adli niai), as generous and forgiving (data, dani, dayal, bakhsind), as nourisher of the poor (garib niwaj, din bandhu), as protector and helper (rakhan har, sahai, sahaik), as the refuge of the unprotected, the unsupported, and the uprooted (nithawian da than; anathan-nath), as best over  of desires (ichha-purak), remover of misery (dukh bhanjan) and with scores of other epithets that describe His moral nature in a positive way. But the scripture is also studded with several negative attributes of God. He is, for instance, described (be 'aib, nih-kalank), without impurity (nirmal), desireless (nihkam), without the least tinge of greed (til na tamae), non-dependent (be muthaj, ghani), unwavering (adol) and infallible (abhul). Yet, the only two moral attributes that the Guru chose to incorporate into the mul mantra are nirbhau and nirvair (u). This in itself signifies that they are considered to be keynotes of the moral nature of Godhead.

Fear may be existential or it may be situational. Existential fear arises from the exigencies of existence. Fear of the unknown, is one such fear. However, one who is omniscient cannot be subject to it. Nothing is unknown to God, nothing is outside the gamut of His vision and vigilance, nothing is beyond His ken. Then, how can He have fear of the unknown? Another variety of existential fear arises from personal vulnerability. One who is subject to death, fears personal dissolution; one who is subject to infirmity fears disease, and one who is subject to pain fears suffering. All those fears are consequences of personal vulnerability. However, God is liable to none of these. Being akal, He is beyond the throes of time and so not subject to any infirmity or fear. Dwelling in ‘Eternal Bliss’, he knoweth no suffering. Being so perfectly invulnerable, He is subject to no fear that stems from personal vulnerability. A third variety of existential fear arises from transitoriness of possessions and pleasures.1 However, all that there is, has emanated from him, and will involutes back into Him upon dissolution. Things may lose their existence, but He loses nothing. He is therefore, untouched by their transitoriness and is not afraid of losing anything it is understandable, then, that God is not subject to existential fear of any kind.

Situational fears are consequent upon external threat and interference, leading to frustration. One kind of situational fear is that of a superior to whom one is answerable and whose desires and instructions one is obliged to carry out. Leave alone carrying out instructions, God does not even consult anyone else in carrying out His designs and actions:

He consulteth none when He createth,
Nor even when He destroyeth;
He asketh none when He giveth
Nor even when He taketh back2

He is absolutely independent and in this absolute independence lies His fearlessness.
Another kind of situational fear, to which all creation is subject, arises on account of the law, according to which everyone is judged  writ upon every forehead; the only exception is the Fearless, Deathless, Formless one’’3. Every law supersumes a law-giver; out God Himself is the ultimate Law-Giver. No laws bind Him-because no law operates outside His will. Since there is no law beyond Him, He is subject to no judgement; hence no fear. A third kind of situational fear arises from the presence of adversaries and enemies. However, one who knoweth no hostility, breeds no enemies. And God, being absolutely without hostility nirvair(u), He cannot have enemies and consequently fear of enemies.

It can be seen that all situational fears assume the presence of something else or someone else, apart from oneself. It is the soil of ‘otherness’ in which all situational fears sprout.4 But one, who is advaita-’devoid of otherness’, cannot be liable to situational fears of any kind. God, therefore, is subject to no fear, existential or situational.

Apparently, nirbhau is a negative attribute of Godhead, but on closer examination one can discern that a number of important positive attributes seem to be subsumed under it These are:
   1) Truly existent: Anyone whose existence, for such an existence is essentially dependent. Only the one, who is truly independent and so can neither be threatened nor frightened, is truly existent.
   2) Omnipotent: One who is afraid, cannot be omnipotent, for if he were, he wouldn’t be afraid. It is only the Mightier Than The Mightiest, who knoweth no fear. "When no one is above Him, then, who can frighten Him? Of whom can He be afraid?’’5
   3) Alone: One who is afraid, stands vis-a-vis another. One who is devoid of ‘otherness’, stand alone, peerless and matchless.

When one says, He is without Fear, one does not mean that He is ‘Fearless’ in the sense of being courageous. Courage is not the antithesis o fear, it is the antithesis of cowardice. Both courage and cowardice arise from a state of fear-the former signifies that one surmounts fear; the latter that one succumbs to it. Nonetheless, fear is present in both the situations. God, however, is Fearless, in the sense that He never has any fear.

While He Himself is devoid of Fear, everything else is fettered by the Fear or Awe of His Law (Hukam):
      
       The earth, the firmament and the stars-all stand in the Lord’s Awe,
       Over them is the All-powerful Law of the Lord,
       Yea, in His Fear, blow the winds, glow the fires, and flow the waters.
       Poor India also bides in His Fear. If there’s anyone who’s free of Fear,
       It’s the Lord Himself, alone.6

The law, in fact, is the cognitive aspect of that rational bond between the Creator and His creation, effective aspect of which is reverential fear or awe.

God, as nirbhau, then, stands in contradistinction to His creation which perpetually remains fear-bound. He stands in contradistinction also, to those gods and goddesses, who are continually labouring under fear of one another’s domination. Even Brahama, who is considered to be the creator (competing with Vishun, the Sustainer, and Shiva, the Destroyer, the other two members of the Holy Trinity of the Hidus), feas other gods, and stands awe-bound before Godhead (Oamkar) for even Brahma is His creation.7

Not only does God, as nirbhau, stand apart from the Hindu deities. He also stands apart from the jealous God of the semtic religions, as nirvair (u).

A jealous God would curse and punish those who worship any other God but Him:
For thou shalt worship no other God: for the Lord,
Whose name is jealous, is jealous God.8

The voice of the jealous God may be heard in every active conscience as a Ruler who will endure no rival and accept no excuse for transgression and who is severe and implacable.

Jehovah of Judaism is a fiercely jealous God. Christ made him the God of the Universe from the God of the Jews, and preached about his love, more than about his justice. Mohammed, who took up all that was the best in Christianity and Judaism, conceived a God whose mercy was to be everywhere on the men of His faith and He was to protect them against His enemies, the infidels or kafirs, who do not belong to the faith.

A jealous God expresses divine wrath when transgression of His commandments takes place. This wrath destroys the infidels who won’t have faith in Him:
      
I (Moses) was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure where with the Lord was wrath against you to destroy you.9

The Wrath of God is a symbol of the divine aspect towards evil.
Christianity and Judaism have had difficulty in reconciling God’s love with His wrath, His Mercy with His Jealousy.
      
Though sovereign, Holy Love may be concealed by its own mode of wrath, which appears as though it were the contradiction of God’s fundamental of love, the deepest Christian faith triumphantly affirms that the Reality of that wrath, experienced by man in terms of warning, chastising, clearing or in any other way, is, in truth, the Reality of the Sovereign Love accomplishing its own redemptive and sanctifying purposes.10

In so far as the lower consciousness of man identifies with evil, God within wears a forbidding aspect, indicative of opposition to miss-deeds. However, it is explained, "This wrath exsits only in the lower self (of man), for, the nature of God towards the evolving soul is always that of love and compassion.’’
       ‘
Wrath is predicate of evil and anger of falsity, because they, who are in evil, and the subjects of wrath and they who are in falsity are the subjects of anger; and both, in the Word are attributed to Jehovah, that is, to the Lord.’ In the words of Juliana of Norwich, ‘I saw no wrath but on man’s part, and that forgiveth He in us. It is the most impossible thought that may be that God should be wrath.
Christian view, however, affirms that righteous anger is a virtue, and that since the Being of God as sovereign love is eternally holy, God confronts evil with severity, condemnation, and opposing power, the wrath of God being, in true, the wrath of His sovereign love.

However, anger and wrath, have not been associated with Godhead in Sikhism. On the contrary, He is said never to utter an unsweet word:

Honey-tongued ever is my Love,
With mighty great care have I seen,
but He never, ever spoke one bitter word.11

This raises, then, the question of dispensation of His justice. According to Sikh thought, the Lord does give us the fruit of our actions, but He is never vengeful. We reap the harvest of our actions according to the law of karma. He does not show any wrath or anger, The law operates mechanically, and good and bad actions of men produce their corresponding fruits:

Why cursest thou thy Lord, O foolish woman,
When the good and bad that thou receivest.
Is the fruit of thy own deeds?12

Yet, God, who is love and compassion, par excellence, can’t see His men suffer at the hands of this law. He Himself lends them the benevolent hand of His Grace (nadar) and pulls them out of the ‘well of darkness and illusion.13 His primal convenant with man is to provide him the refuge of His abiding Love. And when He is moved by His own compassion:
      
       He does not ask even for the account of our actions.14 He just saves!
He sanctifies the fallen (patit pawan), for this is His covenant. He provides ready refuge to those who seek refuge (saranagat) in Him, He lifts up those that are drowning in the ocean of samsara. He shows them, who are lost in the mazes of maya, the path. He removes the fetters of delusion and illuminates the minds of men. He sets them free from the bondage of Karma, saves them from the pangs of Being, and provides them salvation. Millions and millions are saved by him in a trice.

It appears that the Sikh God justifies Himself by His love and not by His justice, for in His love inheres His justice. he doth ask man for the account of his actions, but is always more than ready to tear off this account.’
A God that is nirvair (u) then is (i) not jealous, and (ii) not vengeful; but is also in a positive way (iii) love and compassion, par excellence.

This, however, raises a paradox: If He is love and compassion par excellence, how does He dispense justice? The paradox dissolves itself, if we can divest the Divine justice of the qualities of animal justice. Vengeance is animal justice. It asks eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. Divine justice, on the other hand, is not vengeful. It is nirvair(u). Its language is not that of spite but one of benevolence. ‘The True love, whose languages is immense love’15 dispenses true justice.

How does this immense love run the ethical system? It does so by binding man to God with the fear of loss of this immense love. This reverential fear (nirmal bhau) is, then the key to Sikh ethics. Man obeys, not because he is afraid of the wrath of a vengeful God, but because he is afraid to lose the immense love or the benevolent God. This reverential fear is, then, the symbol of God’s love for man, as well as man’s love of God. That is why, the Guru says:

Ye, he alone loveth the Lord,
In whose mind His Fear resideth16

Here, this reverential fear must be distinguished from animal fear. Animal fear is the impulse to escape or run away. It is caused by danger to physical self (life) or symbolic (self-esteem), to personal liberty and security or to beliefs and ideals. It stems from a sense of inadequacy (for if there is adequacy, anger, rather than fear, arises), it spells a lack of intellectual will and, when, intense, paralyses activity.

The animal "fear cannot be got rid of by personal effort, but only by the ego’s absorption in a cause greater than its own interests. Absorption in any cause will rid the mind of some of its fear; but only absorption in the loving and knowing of the Divine good can rid it of all fear......since nothing can be menace to the Divine Ground.17

In fact, this animal fear ceases as soon as one abides in the reverential fear of the Lord, for then one abides in His perpetual care and all insecurities, threats and frustrations cease. Thus ‘’One who is imbued with (reverential) fear, becomes fearless.’’18

This reverential fear, to repeat, is not fear of punishment by God. Again it is not merely a transcendent fear, before a great impersonal mystery. It is the fear of the benevolent love of a personal God. This fear is generated, not because God is likely to withdraw His love, but because we might cease to deserve it.

Nirbhau, and nirvair(u) as Godhead’s attributes, then, are the warp and woof of His moral nature; and from these stem the Moral Order in His creation.
One becometh like the One whom one serveth19

As such, those who serve the nirbhau become fearless and those who sever the nirvair(u) lose all hostility, jealousy, hatred, vengefulness and spite. They abide in the love of the Lord and His creation and live in a way that they continue to deserve the great abundance of His Benevolent Love.

~~~

REferences

   1. Not only mortals, but even the dwellers of swarga are subject to this fear for ‘’after they have expended the fruit of their good actions, they have to return to the mortal world again’’ – Yajur Veda.
     
2. g[fS B ;ki/ g[fS B Ykj/ g[fS B d/t? b/fJ..

3. ;rfbnk GT[ fbfynk f;fo b/y[.
  BkBe fBoGT[ fBozeko[ ;u[ J/e[.. Ibid; p. 464

     
4. ‘Fears arise from otherness’-Yajura Veda.
     
5. fs;s/ T{gfo Bkjh e'fJ.. eT[D[ vo? vo[ fe; ek j'fJ..
   BkBe r[ow[fy t/y? jd{fo .. w/ok gqG[ ;d ofjnk Gog{fo.. Guru Granth, p. 842
     
6. vog? Xofs nek;[ ByQsqk f;o T{gfo nwo[ eokok..
   gT[D[ gkDh p?;zso[ vog? vog? fJzdq fpukok..
   ;rb ;wrqh vofj fpnkgh fpB[ vo eoD?jkok.. Ibid; pp. 998-99
     
7. (T) Unzekfo pqjwk T[sgfs.. Unzeko[ ehnk fifB fufs..  Ibid; p. 929
   (n) vo[ okfynk r[fo nkgD? fBoGT[ Bkw[ tykfD .. Ibid; p. 933
     
8. The Holy Bible, Exod. XXXIV, 14.
     
9. Ibid; Deut. IX. 18-20.

10. An Encylopaedia of Religion, (ed), V. Fern 1.

11. fwmp'bVk ih jfo ;iD[ ;[nkwh w'ok ..
      jT[ ;zwfb Eeh ih Uj[ ed/ B p'b? eT[ok .. Guru Granth, p. 784
     
12. BkokfJD fBzdf; ekfJ G{bh rtkoh
      d[feqs[ ;[feqs[ Eko' eow[ oh Ibid; p. 695
     
13. pkj gefo ekfY bhB/ ng[B/ frqj nzX e{g s/ wkfJnk.. Ibid; pp. 1218,19
     
14. sk ek b/yk B rb? irdh;.. Ibid; p. 277

15.         ;kuk ;kfjp[ ;ku[ BkfJ Gkfynk GkT[ ngko[ .. Ibid; p. 2

16.         BkBe fiB wfB GT[ fsBk wfB GkT[ .. Ibid; p. 465

17.         Aldous Huxley, Perennial Philosophy, 187.

18.         G? ofu oj? ;[ fBoGT[ j'fJ.. Guru Granth, p. 223

19.         i/jk ;/t? s/j' j't? i/ ub/ fs;? oikfJ.. Ibid; p. 549

 

 

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