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Gur Panth Parkash

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

 

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Vah(I)Guru

Gajindar Singh

Vah(i)guru, as it is spelt in gurmukhi script, is the most prevalent term among the Sikhs for the godhead. Literally it spells ‘Praised be the Dispeller of Darkness.’ Conversely it stands for ‘Hail the Enlightener.’ There are numerous figurations describing the attributes of God in the Sikh religion like most other religions, describing close affinity of the deity, as father, mother, friend and brother, a Master, a spouse and the beloved. In Hinduism, all such anthropophysite relationships were addressed to the gods or goddesses, mainly favourably posited as the Father or the Mother. There are about a hundred addresses of God in Islam from ‘the Benevolent’ and ‘the Merciful’, to ‘the Terrible.’ These closely resemble expressions in the Judaic Old Testament displaying typical human attributes. However, in Sikhism, God is not as relenting or forgiving to the insincere and repetitious blemishes of the habitual offenders like other religions, accepting token worship of godhead in lieu of a committed sin, which is the case in the Hindu or Semitic bond. Such a reprobate is labeled as manmukh, a crane or crow in the company of the swans and is thrown out like a demonetized coin till one genuinely sheds vices to transform into a gurmukh, fit to be accepted in the treasury as genuine currency. God, here, is relentlessly disciplinarian, in the role of a Master, the Guru, expecting total commitment of the initiate to adopt hukm, virtues, to eschew vices and annihilate the ‘me’ and ‘mine’, the self, the ego.

The Sikh preference for Vah(i)guru was a conscious deviation from the tradition as emphasis shifted from the ancient Hindu tradition of gender-based Avatar worship to the One Timeless, All-Pervading Being, the nirgun as well as sagun, without peer or parallel. In India, Guru Nanak was the prime exponent of One Timeless God, { ਨਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਰੂਪੁ ਨ ਰੇਖਿਆ ਕਾਈ ) - Guru Granth Sahib, p. 750. God was addressed as father and mother, but not in fragmentation like the Hindu gods Shiva, Brahama and Vishnu and the goddesses, Kali, Durga or Lakshmi in virtual replacement of the Indivisible Omnipotent. The Bhaktas, on the other hand, accepted godhead in its different definitions, such as Rama, Murari, Gopal, Beethal, Narayan etc., all such terms denoting the Supreme Lord in the Sikh context.

The Sikh Gurus had a liberal exposition of God projected in feminine or masculine gender, yet God is, indeed, beyond gender. Some over-zealous scholars go overboard to distance themselves from the ancient puranic stance, but there cannot be any confusion on that point as the definition in the Invocation of the Guru Granth Sahib, once for all, describes God’s indivisibility, rejects avatarvad and asserts self-evolution. References to puranic literature or to the angel Israel of Islamic lore are to reach home to the practising Hindus and Muslims with their premeditated vision and minds, which otherwise would not have penetrated to the core of the Sikh tenets.

ਤੂੰ ਮੇਰਾ ਪਿਤਾ  ਤੂੰ ਹੈ ਮੇਰਾ ਮਾਤਾ ॥
 ਤੂੰ ਮੇਰਾ ਬੰਧਪੁ ਤੂੰ ਮੇਰਾ ਭ੍ਰਾਤਾ ॥  

You mine father you mine mother
You my friend, you mine brother.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 103

II

The appellation guru was favoured by Guru Nanak for God over all other relationships as it describes the character and content of the Master in relation to the disciple, keen on acquiring enlightenment to dispel the murky obscurity of ignorance. Ignorance keeps one devoid of the value of virtues. In the dark abyss of unawareness, one cannot discern treasures’ lying within reach, until enlightenment is imparted by the grace of the Master. That pulls one towards virtues by shedding of vices and their negative traits. Abjuring of vices is easiest achieved by following the perfect Master; and total obedience of the Guru signifies whole discipline and full commitment in a disciple, in child-like innocence; otherwise, questions and doubts never end, one continues acting as a spoilt brat, persisting to debate, doubting, faltering and promising reformed conduct in future. The Guru, the Master holds respectful stance in all religions, as the prophet, the leader, son of God or the messenger; but in Sikhism, the Guru is next to God, to whom full sway and unquestioned loyalty are the basic requirement of the disciple, as spelt by Guru Nanak.

Obviously, Vah(i)guru is not a proper name of God as Allah is in Islam or Jehovah is for the Jews. Hindus have likewise a galaxy of names for a plethora of gods and goddesses. But Vah(i)guru expresses wholehearted devotion and complete submission to the Eternal Spirit by the devotee-disciple, in what Guru Nanak spelt as raza and hukam. Vah(i)guru as the Enlightener specifies the role of the Sikh as ego-less seeker of divinity, the primary objective of life. Every time, one utters Vah(i)guru, it has to be, therefore, with full awareness of the purport of the word and not a mere mechanical repetition as of a proper name. It signifies euphoria in all cases, in jubilance and sorrow, celebrating the will of God, the concept of raza. It demolishes the egocentricity in the individual and brings harmony with Nature. However, to repeatedly stress, it did not matter by whichever name the Gurus addressed the Almighty God; Ram was not the usual Hindu deity Ramchandra, the prince, but the Ramaiya, the all pervading spirit, the Sustainer of all creation, not born of womb. God was not Allah of the anthropophysite Muslims in the Semitic lore. The Gurus implied various metaphors to demonstrate universality of the Almighty who illuminated the path to virtues by enlightening the supplicant, the Sikh. In pure ecstasy, therefore, the Sikh proclaims Vah(i)guru, equally in joy and sorrow, in wonderment and in earnest, as Hail O Master! Therefore, in uttering Vah(i)guru, each time the Sikh savours its enthusiasm and wonder, the expanse of the Almighty and not mindless repetition of a proper name. It corresponds to some extent to the Yogi’s Alakh Niranjan, but more so with the Islamic expression Subhan Allah, with the difference that the Islamic term denotes only the celebration of joyful events, while the Sikh remains in a state of euphoria, in pleasure as well as pain and ecstatically exclaims, Vah(i)guru!

There is, therefore, no need or reason for any anxiety and paranoia about occurrence in the Guru Granth Sahib, of the Hindu or Muslim metaphors in addressing God of the conception of the Gurus, since they imply by all these names, the Timeless entity:

ਨਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਰੂਪੁ ਨ ਰੇਖਿਆ ਕਾਈ

God has no form, line or colour;
The Lord is beyond the scope of triguna maya.
Guru Granth Sahib, p. 283

III

Let there be no ambiguity about the fact that it is always a person’s weakness of character, of faith and firm understanding that harms the mission and hurts the most. Dreadful apparitions of opposition play havoc with the weak-minded and the obsessed but have no effect on the healthy metabolism. Other institutions will continue to attack, but the Sikhs have parried successfully in the blood-soaked past against the onslaughts of the opponents, both Hindu and Muslim, from the very inception of their faith, when Guru Nanak walked alone to spread his divine message to the world despite stiff resistance; when Guu Arjan Dev chose to sit on the burning plate; Guru Hargobind took up the sword to defend righteousness, Guru Tegh Bahadur sat dignified and serene to the slash of the blade of the executioner and Guru Gobind Singh sacrificed his entire family, but none of them had a harsh word against the ever scheming opponents or their culture and religion, who were constantly plotting and planning to obliterate Sikhism. Thus the challenge from other faiths is not a new feature of the present century. The impotent rage displayed by those who cannot see the malady of self-inefficiency, displays their moral and spiritual failure in meeting the challenges which were always present. Sikhism has the capacity to outlast any schemes of moles and infiltrators and to withstand pressures to retain purity of the Sikh dogma. Historically, the Jews, the Christians and the Moslems are recognised as the Ahl-e-kitab, of Semitic school, having much more in common with each other, than the Sikh tenets have links with the Hindu philosophy and religion. For thousands of years the three constituents of the Book have been fighting bloody battles for their separate existence and none could overwhelm the other. Why should there be any doubt about the intrinsicality of Sikhism to withstand undue pressures of any group, however scheming, if our base is strong?

Now, it would be easier to understand why erasing ego is an essential step in the progress towards the state of superman and to what extent. Man is born, full of ego and self-centered self-serving motives, from infancy, notwithstanding the effusion of love and care of all. An infant does not imagine or anticipate harm and harshness from any quarters and remains in a state of euphoria, similar to the pure love of the gursikh. But egocentricity in a large part is etched in the ordinary individual, who continues to hold personal desires and requirements supreme and demanding all others to bend backwards in fulfilling them. For a healthy society, it is suicidal. One may reasonably expect a reduction in the self-centeredness of a person with mental and physical development, but in a majority of cases, it does not happen. There has to be a concerted effort to control egoistic tendencies, which has been the preferred moral stance of all religions, more or less. The difference being that in ancient religions morality and ethics was a part of the whole code of conduct, whereas, Guru Nanak made it the primary rule: Bin gunn keete bhagati n hoe. (There can be no devotion without adopting virtues.)

Virtues restrain a person from the selfish and self-serving scheming at the cost of others so that it is understood as perverse behaviour, certainly a vice. A person who accepts this concept and acts upon it is the superman of Guru Nanak’s vision, who relentlessly crusades against the egotistic vices, when one’s personal benefits take a back seat and societal obligations take precedence over selfish motives. That defines a gursikh.

IV

There is no doubt that Guru Nanak consciously deviated from the purely emotional treatment of the Creator as a father, mother or brother who may be appealed to as the personal god to yield to the weaklings in a spirit of sentimentality. He charted a course where the disciple had to attain a high standard of discipline, to steer the mind from wayward thinking. Logic is a two-edged sword. The mind can always argue in favour or against a precept according to one’s personal choice and need of the hour. In the state of absolute discipline, personal views must be erased till attaining maturity of knowing and understanding the Master’s purpose and reason. That is how Bhai Lehna was put to severe tests when others started to doubt the rationale of those unseemly demands and dropped out of what happened to be the final contest for succession to gurgaddi. There were many contestants; capable of taking up Guru Nanak’s mantle of creating supermen out of the mundane corrupt society, but total surrender was strictly achieved by Bhai Lehna who would not deviate from the path for any allurement. He remained a strict votary of Guru Nanak’s mission, and in his turn, appointed a successor who would continue obediently and strictly on the programme, what is characterised as Hukm and Raza. That means total surrender and in full acceptance. It is in that spirit that Vah(i)guru has to be understood and adopted.

Guru Nanak popularised Vah(u) in wonderment of God who was never harsh, angry, revengeful or boastful of His benedictions.

ਤੂਹੂ ਹੈ ਵਾਹੁ ਤੇਰੀ ਰਜਾਇ ॥
 ਜੋ ਕਿਛੁ ਕਰਹਿ ਸੋਈ ਪਰੁ ਹੋਇਬਾ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਕਰਣਾ ਜਾਇ ॥

Hail toYou, all occurs as you desire,
Whatever You do happens, none else does it.

– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1329

ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਸਾਚੇ ਮੈ ਤੇਰੀ ਟੇਕ ॥   
Hail, Hail O Truthful, I take your refuge.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 153

 ਵਾਹੁ ਖਸਮ ਤੂ ਵਾਹੁ  ਜਿਨਿ ਰਚਿ ਰਚਨਾ ਹਮ ਕੀਏ ॥
Blessed O Master, Blessed be who created us!
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 788

 ਤਿਸ ਕਉ ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਜਿ  ਵਾਟ ਦਿਖਾਵੈ ॥
 ਤਿਸ ਕਉ ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਜਿ ਸਬਦੁ ਸੁਣਾਵੈ ॥
 ਤਿਸ ਕਉ ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਜਿ ਮੇਲਿ ਮਿਲਾਵੈ ॥
Hail to Him who shows the way,
Greetings to the Enlightener of Word,
Greetings to Him who mediates (with God).
Thus Guru Nanak defined the relation of the Sikh with God, the Maker.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 226

There are numerous references to Vahu by the succeeding Gurus in the Guru Granth Sahib, which firmly establishe the currency of Vahu in the Sikh congregations, sangats, so that the wandering Bhats who visited the Fifth Guru Arjan Dev, sang Vahu in long odes to the Gurus. Guru Amardas sang thus:

ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਕਰਤੀ ਰਸਨਾ ਸਬਦਿ  ਸੁਹਾਈ ॥
 ਪੂਰੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਮਿਲਿਆ ਆਈ ॥
 ਵਡਭਾਗੀਆ ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਮੁਹਹੁ ਕਢਾਈ ॥
 ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਕਰਹਿ  ਸੇਈ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਨਾਨਕ ਦਰਿ ਸਚੈ  ਸੋਭਾ ਪਾਈ  ॥

Uttering praises, the speech becomes attractive,
One attains to God by the Word,
Fortunate are those, whose mouths utter the Word,
Only they attain glory who say Hail O Hail.

– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 514

The Fourth Guru Ram Das has the same message for the Sikhs:

 ਸਭਿ ਆਖਹੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਜਿਨਿ ਦਾਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਮੁਖਿ ਦੀਆ ॥ 
All say Hail, True Master, who has bestowed God’s name in my speech.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 585

Guru Arjan Dev, the Fifth pontiff says:

 ਗੁਰ ਪੂਰੇ ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਸੁਖ ਲਹਾ ਚਿਤਾਰਿ ਮਨ ॥
The True Master blessed me by uttering Hail, O Hail!
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 519

There are many more stanzas in the Holy Guru Granth Sahib, extolling the virtue of Vah(u). Bhai Gurdas confirms usage of Vahiguru in his writings.

Eventually, Vah(u)guru/Vah(i)guru/Vahguru was adopted as a slogan cherished by the Sikh community and emerged as the standard greeting: Vah(i)guru ji ka Khalsa, Vah(i)guru ji ki Fateh. (Khalsa is of God; Victory to God). Here too, victory is not claimed by the effort of the Khalsa, but it is obtained solely due to God’s pleasure and bounty. Fateh became a motto and purpose of the Sikh as the cherished motive in life, of course, by restraints of morality. Thus, invocation to God developed from Ik Onkar Satgur Prasad to Ik Onkar, Vah(i)guruji ki Fateh. The spellings of Vah(i)guruji adopted by the earlier Sikhs definitely spell it as Vah(i)guru and has been standardised. The former slogan has retained its primacy for religious purposes and the latter is more favoured in societal field.

V

People readily address God by a proper name to make the contact personal. There are a few who praise and thank God for the bounties accorded. There are many who want more and there is no limit to being grateful for prayers fructified. But praising the Lord for no/negative response to one’s wishes and prayers is altogether a new dimension in religion. ‘God be praised!’ is a slogan given by Guru Nanak and the succeeding Gurus and its breadth increased as Gurus embarked on sacrificial course to give the common, oppressed people a new direction and to say, ‘Praised be the Lord’, as they underwent cruelest torments by the oppressors.

All Sikhs, everywhere, intone Vahguru, but do they understand the dedication and surrender involved in it? For one thing, it minimises prayers on personal matters, since God’s doing is blessed, whether in favour or against the person. Yet, prayer is the only vehicle to approach God for our wants. Therefore, the Sikh may pray and ask for boons too, but as a suppliant and leave the outcome to the pleasure and choice of God. There should be no breast-beating, gloom or rage in adversity, or, a sense of elation on favourable outcome. The formula lays down articulating Vahguru for good or bad. That is the difference from the Muslim usage of Subhan-Allah (Praised be the Lord) and Khuda-Na-khavasta (God forbid). It is a Vedic injunction to essentially wail, howl loudly recalling the qualities of a deceased person to satisfy his hovering spirit about sorrow the family experiences by one’s death. Such emotional superstitions were forbidden to the Sikhs since joy and sorrow were to be equally expressed by exclaiming Vahguru- praised be the blissful Lord.

Bliss is something which is not possible to define. It is particularly difficult for those who consider intelligence as the essential mode of understanding, as a scientific equation. Such people pride themselves for their bibek budhi, aptitude and logic and analyse all matters from a critical angle to find faults and solutions. But bliss is like the aroma of a dish; it is like the magic of the sound and the riot of colour. It is beyond logic and scientific explanation. It is like the parallel lines which never meet.

ਪੜੀਅਹਿ ਜੇਤੇ ਬਰਸ ਬਰਸ ਪੜੀਅਹਿ ਜੇਤੇ ਮਾਸ ॥
 ਪੜੀਐ ਜੇਤੀ ਆਰਜਾ ਪੜੀਅਹਿ ਜੇਤੇ  ਸਾਸ ॥
 ਨਾਨਕ ਲੇਖੈ ਇਕ ਗਲ ਹੋਰੁ ਹਉਮੈ ਝਖਣਾ ਝਾਖ ॥ 

Study one may year after year, month on month,
Study one may life long, study till one breathes,
Nanak, what matters is just one point,
Rest is all egoistic wasteful arguing.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 467

That one point agenda eludes most people, more so to the more learned, since human grasp is not at par with God’s designs. Those who vainly pride themselves on their bibek budhi miss ever more on that fine distinction. God cannot be reduced by any standards to anthropomorphism, inherited from the ancient chronology of limited human vision. You may dissect bliss into atoms, but it dodges one and is only experienced by surrendering the insignificant but inflated ego. Instead of capturing God into human vision, what is desired is to expand to the heights beyond our horizons. That also solves the petty mindedness of the jealous and avaricious character of the boastful ogre in us.

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