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Gur Panth Parkash

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



Political Philosophy of Sikh Gurus

Rupinder Kaur

Indian society was facing problems of the most degrading nature during Medieval period. Muslim rulers were perpetrating heinous political crimes on the Hindu subjects in the name of propagation of religion. During those dark times, the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak emerged as a ray of hope for the exploited, depressed and downtrodden masses.

Guru Nanak categorically attacked all the evil institutions of his time including oppression and barbarity in the political field , corruption among the officials, hypocrisy and greed in priestly class. He came to the conclusion that without political power, a community could not practice its religion. However, a divided society could not hope to acquire political power. The first task that Guru Nanak regarded as of prime importance was to remove social evils. This meant uprooting of the caste system and the emancipation of women. Along with social reforms, it was considered necessary to inculcate a true religious spirit amongst the people who were gripped by ritualism and superstitions. He exhorted the people to believe in one God and took tangible steps to create a society that accepted the religious responsibility of eliminating these evils from the new social, political & spiritual field. The changes he brought about were indeed radical and revolutionary. He wanted to create a society whose members would not only stop committing tyranny and injustice to others, but would not submit to tyranny and injustice perpetrated by others on them. Dr. Ganda Singh, while analyzing political currents in the thought of Guru Nanak, considers him to be the ‘founder of the militant church of Sikhism.’

The two natural attributes of man are spirituality and rationality. It is the sublime integration of these two basic natural gifts innate in man that Guru Nanak essentially ignited and inspired in Sikhs. His teachings were carried on by his successor Sikh Gurus in the same spirit. Guru Angad Dev ji (2nd Guru Nanak) reorganised Gurmukhi script in a scientific way, so that men & women of all castes and classes may read and understand the divine Bani. Guru Amar Das ji (the third Sikh guru) denounced the system of ‘Sati’ and ‘Purdaha’ among women. The fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das ji founded the town of Amritsar.

Guru Arjan Dev ji’s period is a land mark in the history of Sikhism. Most significant was the compilation of Guru Granth Sahib. Multifarious activities of the 5th Guru demonstrated that no field of life is outside the purview of a Sikh Guru. By this time the organization of sikh community became ‘State within a state’ inthe mind of the then Mughal emperor. He took this political growth as a potential danger, a challenge and a political threat to the empire. The spiritual ‘Sacha Patshah’ was martyred. Guru Arjan Dev had cautioned Sikhs well in advance to prepare themselves for the worst times ahead. Guru Arjan Dev ji’s Martyrdom converted a simple, peaceful and innocuous movement into a military organization. After Guru Arjan Dev the later five Gurus maintained a regular army. The sixth Guru, Guru Harjobind Sahib started wearing two swords – one representing his spiritual (piri) and the other his temporal & political leadership (miri). He fought six battles with the Mughals. Guru Harrai excommunicated his son Ram Rai for distorting Gurbani in Emperor's court. Guru Harkrishan, the 8th Guru refused to meet Aurengzeb (the emperor) despite his repeated invitations. The 9th Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur stands distinguished in the history when he himself faced martyrdom to uphold the freedom of religion & the dignity of man. It was with this heritage that Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru arrived on the scene and blessed the Sikhs in the ‘Khalsa’ discipline, leading to a global fraternity assuring self-respect & dignity of every human being in every community & country, in a pattern of International Brotherhood based on Justice , Liberty & Equality. The main objective of Sikh Gurus was to develop a healthy society in a healthy state. The pillars of Sikhism stand firm on their teachings.

It is worth mentioning here, that the Gurus never coveted any political authority or power for themselves. Their state of mind can be well expressed in the following words of the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev:

I do not seek power, and I do not seek liberation.
My mind is in love with Your Lotus Feet.2

Notwithstanding the spiritual and pacific note of Gurus' psalms, there is an under-current of a forceful & dynamic approach to political & social thinking. They repudiated the theory of divine origin of state and kingship and gave a new vision of ideal state and sovereignty. Their concept of ‘Ideal State’ is a State which is governed in such a way that the people live in prosperity and happiness. They conceived God as the Sovereign King of the state:

You Yourself are the creator, with the potency to create.
You are the Independent Ruler, whose people are at peace.3

The Gurus founded several socio-religious and political institutions to practice their teachings. They gave comprehensive concepts of democracy, human rights , liberty, equality and justice. Their socio-political thought lay down higher socio-spiritual, ethical and political values which have great potential to liberate & emancipate the human-kind. Their socio-political thoughts are based on harmonious fusion of spiritual and temporal concerns of life. They took a comprehensive view of the life of society and of the need of the individual to have a positive relationship with the Divine. Spiritual pursuits and temporal living are not viewed separately. The two are reconciled in the concept variously referred to in phrases as Miri-Piri, Sant-Sipahi, Degh-Tegh etc. All this implying that spiritual pursuits have to be accomplished even as one is engaged in mundane responsibilities. Sikhism is an amalgam of Shakti (power) & Bhakti (devotion); Miri (Temporal power) & Piri (spiritual power). Political views of the Gurus are intimately connected to their acceptance of this world as real and a legitimate sphere of activity for a man of religion. God is Love and He is intensely interested in human destiny or Godward journey. Spiritual progress is possible only while living in society. The Gurus, therefore , denounced asceticism and advocated the fulsome life of a householder. Guru Nanak reproached Nath Yogi, Bangarnath for having renounced the world. He said that one must live encircled by the dross, but in the midst of everything, as the swan lives in water without getting wet.

The lotus flower stays untouched above the surface of the water, and the duck swims through the stream; with one’s consciousness focused on the word of the shabad, one crosses over the terrifying world-ocean.4 

Sikh institutions such as Sangat, Pangat, Langar, Gurdwara and Gurmatta provide mechanism to put Gurus’ message into operation. These institutions worked as training schools for masses to learn & practice their teachings. Sikh socio-political thought paves the way for elimination of social inequality, gender discrimination, religious extremism and political hegemony. Human rights, individual liberty, social equality, fraternity, justice, respect for human dignity & peaceful coexistence in pluralist society are the cardinal features of Sikh socio-political thought.

One significant factor that the Gurus stress is the soul’s innate and intense desire to realise God and to become one with Him. For successful catering to this divine inclination of the soul, a seaker must attain the status of a liberated one. It is possible only in conducive political conditions. According to the Gurus, this all important spiritual journey cannot even be started by a politically oppressed person. Victims of Babar’s invasion, for instance, are in no position to serve God.
       The Muslims have lost their five times of daily prayers, And The Hindus have lost their worship as well. Without their sacred squares, how shall the Hindu women bathe & apply the frontal marks to their foreheads? They never rembered their Lord as Ram, and now they cannot even chant Khudaa-i.5 

The opportunity is also denied to those groaning under an alien culture.
The K’shatriyas have abandoned their religion, and have adopted a foreign language. The whole world has been reduced to the same social status; the state of righteousness and Dharma has been lost.6 

The Gurus are emphatic that no religious activity under such circumstances is possible at all. It is obviously the duty of a God oriented man to take effective measures so that such contingency never arises.

Those who are called upon to rule also have their obligations. Monarchs must be the persons who are spiritually wide awake. Firm commitment to justice and equity alone makes a ruler legitimate. Emperor loses the right to rule when he fails to comply with these requirements. Men of religion must execute the command to remove a rejected king. The Gurus are certain that under certain circumstances it is more honorable to resist and die than to just continue living passively.7 In an oft repeated couplet Guru Nanak requires a lover of God to be ready to sacrifice his head on the path of love.
If you desire to play this game of love with Me, then step onto My Path with your head in hand. When you place your feet on this Path Give Me Your head, and do not pay any attention to public opinion.

As far as territory of the state is concerned, the Gurus make no comment on its specific size. It may spread over the whole of the globe as it is or it may be demarcated by dividing the globe into various small states for convenience of organization and administration, but the political system is to be the same in each state which must have sound morality as its foundation.
The Guru’s concept of Sangat denotes the kind of people inhabiting the state of his vision, it implies population of the ideal State. The Sangat is the congregational company, body, association or society in which persons belonging to any religion, faith, caste, colour, creed or sex are free to participate. The only expectation made of a participant is that he or she must devote himself/herself to the service of fellow beings. The Sangat is an association of the people seeking the truth and are attuned to God. “In a narrow sense a Satsang is merely a holy congregation, where the seekers come together for spiritual advancement. But in a broad sense it connotes an ideal society whose members live entirely according to the dictates of the Guru. Such a society was named as “Sant Sabha” by Guru Nanak and ‘The Khalsa’ by Guru Gobind Singh.9 

Khalsa means pure and disciplined life. One has to be very alert to lead this disciplined life. There is so much in the mind and so much in the universe that man is very easily led astray. Discipline of mind is the most important function of the philosophy of Gurus. “The foremost principle of mental discipline is the unshakeable faith in one God, because such a faith can bring a feeling of unity in diversity, of identity in differences , of consistency in contradictions , of harmony in opposites. All evils in society, all strifes and struggles for power in politics, all rivalries & jealousies for priorities & privileges are due to lack of faith in the underlying unity of all these phenomena. Such a lack of faith divides men into camps & groups, into friends and foes and into allies and enemies. With firm faith in one God one can solemnly affirm Guru Arjun’s holy words:
 I have forgotten my jealousy of others, since I found the Saadh Sangat. No one is my enemy and no one is a stranger.

Such mental discipline comes by listening to the holy songs, sung in praise of the great qualities of the Supreme being. Such a listening has a metaphysical impact and a mystical importance. In this process one’s worldly consciousness disappears and a consciousness, the inner self prevails. Such practice ultimately leads to a perpetual transformation of the mind. Then comes the implementation in thought, word & deed of everything that has been ‘listened to.’ Action performed with a sincere and devoted heart can build up one’s character on right lines. Thus intently listening to Guru’s word and putting his instructions into practice with passionate devotion to God a man can fully develop his mind and personality. Man of such a character is worthy of being called a citizen of Guru’s ideal state. He is called Gurmukh , the Panch. He looks to the Guru for his guidance. From self-centeredness he comes to self –surrender. He realizes his insignificance and appreciates the greatness of God. The Haumai (ego) goes and he is humility personified. Powerful, yet humble, because he derives his power from the grace of God. In this state of mind only The Divine Will works. This course of mental discipline is extremely hard. It is not a course of lectures or passing some written papers. It is the moulding of man’s whole personality; its physique, its chemique and its psychique.

Once a man turns his mind from the particular to the universal, his attitude adopts a new approach & ceases to be egocentric, he becomes a ‘Khalsa’. Man no longer remains man only. Though a man, yet he is divine. When so many such divines combine then we get a social order which is a Divine order and is called panchayat. The panches (Five Beloved ones) are selected persons attuned to God and accepted by him. This institution of the five pre-eminents efficiently and effectively holds the reins of the panth. In the Ideal state of Gurus the fundamental authority is people’s voice. It is the Sangat who reigns supreme. In it, no individual is given absolute power in any matter so that despotism or tyranny does not creep into it. Therefore , the concept of panches or collective leadership becomes the pre-requisite of the Ideal state.

The principle behind the decision of Panches is the collective will of the people. It is a group decisions based on reason, dispassionate and unbiased deliberations. Their decisions are the verdicts of a composite higher self subordinating the petty considerations of the composite lower self. These decisions are decision of God who guides men’s reason, “Pancha Ka Guru Ik Dhyan”. Therefore a unanimous decision of the five is the decision of the Panth , of the whole people and mystically of God, the Supreme. Every Panch is a ‘Marjiora’- restored to life after having died. He dies as an individual and is restored to life for the well being of others. He has emancipated himself and he works for the emancipation of others.

The temporal ruler does not possess absolute power. Only the devotees of God are fit to be selected as Panches because they are free from fear of others and can lead the Sangat to their destination by dispensing truth to them. The ruler of the ideal state should act as the Representative and Servant of the People. Only a capable person deserves to be a ruler. Guru says:

    He alone sits on the throne,
    Who is worthy of the throne.

Religion, to the Gurus, is no ‘ism’ or institution, it is Ethics. It is such a code of conduct as exalts man to a trans-personal plane and makes him a man of righteousness, contentment, service, mercy and truth. Religion, according to Guru Nanak is the off-spring of Mercy (Daya) which is the sublime ethical virtue. Truthful living is the essence of his religion. The truthful living, the righteous living of all the individuals ensures order and harmony in the society.

       Truth is higher than everything else, but higher still is truthful living.

As for as the relationship between State and Religion is concerned, the Gurus are not in favour of the claim of any formalistic faith by the state as its own religious faith. The state of his vision is not the so-called , ‘Theocratic State’. On the contrary , he believes that there is a fundamental unity in the ethics of all true religions of the world though they appear to be diverse. It is this fundamental unity of ethics of the apparently diverse religions that the harmony of State will be a corollary. To the Gurus, State and Religion are inseparable. In his Sate, politics and ethics must go side by side. In it, political power will not be used for upholding, protecting, promoting and spreading any particular faith. However the spirit of religion will be promoted. The sole religion of the State is service to its people. Moreover, its people will not only have full freedom of following any faith and practising the religious activities according to their own choice, but they must always remember the sole God. The Sikh Gurus were the great thinkers, who in practice established a pattern of social set up which was both human & divine, actual & ideal. There must be a favorable political set up, that is a good government which should work in harmony, with man in society, also in harmony with divinity. Religion & politics are only two spheres of one single endeavour having one aim & one goal.

The Gurus are for a war-free-world. But if ever war has to be fought, it is to-be-fought as a last resort for protection of people’s honour. As given in Zafarnama:
    Chu kar az hamah hilate dar guzasht
    halal ast burdan ba shamshir dast.

Gurus, themselves observed the ethics of war during warfare and made it obligatory for the Sikhs to observe it as well. Bhai Kanhaiya’s act of serving humankind without any discrimination between friend or foe even on the battlefield, became the precursor of the Geneva Convention of 1864 which granted privileges to the International Red Cross Society founded by Henri Dunant, for tending the sick and wounded in war.

The Chronic disease of political degeneration in States can be cured only by replacing the prevalent political set-up with the political system envisaged by the Gurus. Till the political leaders vie with each other with the aim of grabbing power, they wear the masks of the servants of people, the malady will go on becoming more and more deep rooted and the people will be the real sufferers.

The fore going discussion shows that the Sikh Gurus’ socio – political philosophy though propounded centuries ago has all relevance in the modern times as well. If implemented properly, the political system of the Gurus’ vision will bring about a peaceful revolution in the political scene of the globe. Under this system, all the people irrespective of their caste, colour, creed , birth , status and sex will enjoy liberty, equality and fraternity in the real sense of the term. The politics will be fully ethics – oriented and hence clean.

Although at present we are far from achieving it, yet we can safely say on the basis of our experience of the Sikh Gurus, heroes , martyrs and earnest workers that, ‘The Khalsa Panth’ must succeed in establishing the ‘Brotherhood of Man’, for mutual service on earth under the ‘fatherhood of one God.’ The goal set before the ‘Khalsa’ will be scored when the Global Fraternity is fully realized, when the entire mankind becomes God like. No discordant element will be left. That is what is meant by,

    Raj Karega Khalsa, Aki Rahe Na Koi
    Khwar Hoi Sabh Milenge , Bache Saran Jo Hoi.

It is not the slogan of a sect, of a community, of a country, or of one particular nation. It is the slogan of mankind. There is confidence in the ultimate victory of Truth over falsehood and of Good over evil.

    Nanak Naam Charhdi Kala
    Tere Bhane Sarbatt da Bhalha



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