Guru Granth Sahib: The Gospel of Peace Philosophy Aspects of Sikhism In the context of 21st Century
I find myself on unsure ground as to whether it would be accurate to classify the Sikh religion as a distinctive philosophy, an ideology, a way of life, or -simply - an epiphany manifested through, and by, its founder Guru Nanak.
The term "ideology" gained popularity in the context of theoretical writings of Karl Marx, and has in recent times, acquired a somewhat negative connotation. At any rate, with the onslaught of Globalisation the sun seems to be setting on Marxism, even as Glosnost has been with us for over a decade, without any trappings of moral principles. The world teeters dangerously in one crisis after another.
An understanding of the true spirit of the Sikh religion, and the loyalty to the Sikh moral code offers a way to peace and amity. For our purpose Sikhism needs to be approached as a personal and a collective transcendental experience. For a life-long learner (Shishya) the Sikh derives his/her spiritual vitality form Cosmic energy inherent in Guru Granth Sahib:
ਸਬਦਿ ਉਜਾਰੋ ਦੀਪਾ ॥ ਬਿਨਸਿਓ ਅੰਧਕਾਰ ਤਿਹ ਮੰਦਰਿ ਰਤਨ ਕੋਠੜੀ ਖੁਲ@ੀ ਅਨੂਪਾ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 821
In that sense Sikhism should be regarded as an epiphany, revelatory of the Divine spirit reflected in all creation and all humans, indeed in the entire phenomenal world.
The advent of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) marks as a major breakthrough in the Bhakti tradition of the Indian subcontinent. The vitality of neo-Brahmanism (sculptured in stones of Mahabalipuram, Ellora, Elephanta and Udayagir) had run its course and exhausted itself by the tenth century: at least in Northern India's Indo-Gangeric plains, Brahmanism had practically degenerated into dogma, a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, a clutch of meaningless rituals, karmakand, and daunting esoteric Tantric practices. Religion, whether Hindu or Islam, was presided over by a privileged priestly class, aided and abetted by feudal rulers. In this milieu, the residuary Buddhism of the Vajrayana brand had also succumbed to the juggernaut of complex rites and rituals.
To add to the woes of the people the Lodhi Sultans of Delhi became weaker by the day and yielded the territories in crucial battles to the invasion of Babar, the founder of Mughal Empire. Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus evolved, consolidated and nurtured a revolutionary and profoundly meaningful society, and a way of life in what is nurtured a revolutionary and profoundly meaningful society, and a way of life in what is now characterized as "the youngest organized and institutionalized religion" in the world.
At the start of the 21st century Sikhism spans the six continents today, with an estimated 25 million adherents across the globe. But let us return to the glorious Guru Nanak. In present times, when fanatics are seized with a pathological and self-destructive urge to die for religion, instead of living by its basic quest for peace, we desperately need to renew our faith in Guru Nanak. The Guru's teachings are amazingly modern and progressive, morally as well as sociologically. He befriended the down-trodden (Dalits), championed women's right to respect, dignity and equality. Guru Nanak's prescription for conflict resolution, invariably stressed dialogue. Indeed, he sought out community leaders and engaged in soul-searching exploration of reality with infinite love, humility and compassion. He spoke with the Siddha yogis in the Himalayan cloisters, the ulema in Multan, Mecca, Isphahan and Baghdad, the Lamas in Tibet and Sikkim. Most, if not all the learned holy men felt mesmerized by Guru Nanak's persuasive sermons.
Although armchair scholars have occasionally questioned the authenticity of Janam Sakhis as the source of Guru Nanak's travels, yet we have irrefutable evidence: e.g. the Gurdwara Nanak Shahi in Dhaka, Gurdwara Pathar Sahib in Ladakh, Panja Sahib in Pakistan, and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. Sir Lanka recently discovered an inscription, traced to 16th century, which speaks of an India preacher, Jnanakacharya by name, who visited the Sinhaladwipa and, at the instance of the then king, held debates with many a religious priest. The seer was none other than Guru Nanak.
In Mecca, Guru Nanak, watching the stoning of Satan, warned the Hajjis of the "Satan within" who needs to be quelled. On his return journey from Mecca, Guru Nanak stayed in Baghdad and met Bahlol Shah, the Sufi mystic and scholar of Islam. The Shia scholar was fascinated with the "Pir Sahib from Hindustan" who sang Allah's praises in Farsi, to the music of stringed rabab played by his Muslim companion, Mardana. Bahlol spoke of seven spheres of the solar system that the Qur'ran mentioned. With gentle reasonableness, Guru Nanak gave Bahlol a glimpse of the infinity of heavenly bodies that moved ceaselessly in the mysterious space.
An inscription in Arabic still exists in old Baghdad city commemorating the Guru's stay. According to Anandacharya. (quoted by Sadhu TL Vaswami): "upon this slab of granite, O Nanak, you sat speaking of love and holy light, Prince among Bharata's holy ones. What song didst thou sing to charm the soul of Bahlol, what peace from the Himalaya's lovely forest didst thou carry to the groves and rose gardens of Baghdad! For eight lunar fortnights did Bahlol, Mureed-e-Saeed, listen to your words, as life and its mystery, as the moon waxed and wanted…."
The religious culture in medieval India was astonishingly tolerant and enriched the Bhakti movement. Its appeal brought about a keen awareness of the deeper religious experience. Islam's contact with the rich Hindu literature and lore nurtured its Sufi mysticism, creating a ferment of piety and compassion, as well as a fertile environment for religious discourse. Guru Granth Sahib is replete with references to devotees everywhere who connected with spirit divine. Some called him Ram, others Allah or Khuda, some Krishna others Karim, Parmatma or Parwardigar. The landscape seemed rainbow colured. This rainbow is, however scarcely reflected in the history books of our schools and colleges. The history's linear time-frame talks of the rise and fall of dynasties and battle drums beating, taking it right upto the British colonial period, History simply bypasses the cultural resurgence of India-during the times of the Guru (1469-1708) and the galaxy of Bhaktas-from Namdev to Kabir, Ravidas, Bhikhan Shah, Ramanand to Shankardeva and Chaitanya. Guruvani celebrate this ground swell of devotional renaissance as Gyan ki Andhi.
Concurrently by with awakening of humane spirit, Guru Nanak was keenly aware of the anguish and deprivation of the impoverished and enslaved masses. On the invasion of Mughal army in 1520's he was taken prisoner with hundreds of other civilians, until Babar personally intervened to set free the non-combatants. In hymns of great agony and compassion, Guru Nanak lamented the plight of the people, invoked God's mercy and pleaded for fair treatment of women folk:
ਜਿਨ ਸਿਰਿ ਸੋਹਨਿ ਪਟੀਆ ਮਾਂਗੀ ਪਾਇ ਸੰਧੂਰੁ ॥
ਸੇ ਸਿਰ ਕਾਤੀ ਮੁੰਨੀਅਨਿ@ ਗਲ ਵਿਚਿ ਆਵੈ ਧੂੜਿ ॥
As the people's Prophet, Guru Nanak wanted to lead the masses out of despair, and into a world of peace, self-reliance and piety. His key message in JAPJI is universally appealing. Mul Mantra, the quintessential creed, spells out the One and only creative Being who is ever True, without fear or hate, Timeless, unborn and self-effulgent, who is experienced through His Grace.
This definitive declaration is qualitatively different from the Upanishad doctrine of Neti Neti. The negative view of Parbrahma who permeates the universe does not offer any hope of ultimate redemption of man. The Buddhist notion of Shunya, or emptiness/void, suffered from the same inadequacy. Shuniya as an instrument of experiencing totality of universe becomes an identity- free psychological orientation. Guru Nanak's notion of ek-Onkar, on the other hand, gives TOTALITY a meaning of transcendent power and beauty that is celebrated in perpetuity in a thousand songs of adoration of God:
ਸੋ ਦਰੁ ਕੇਹਾ ਸੋ ਘਰੁ ਕੇਹਾ ਜਿਤੁ ਬਹਿ ਸਰਬ ਸਮਾਲੇ ॥
ਵਾਜੇ ਨਾਦ ਅਨੇਕ ਅਸੰਖਾ ਕੇਤੇ ਵਾਵਣਹਾਰੇ ॥
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 6
The hymn that is symbolic of affirmation of the Divine existence in a myriad modes occurs at three different locations in Guru Granth Sahib. This symphonic assertion of the Divine presence in space and in time-and beyond -helps us to orient ourselves inwards towards emancipation and the final goal of a human being as Jivan mukta.
The name the Sikhs use for God is ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ 'Waheguru', which means the Marvellous Master. According to poet Sainapat, author of Sri Gur Sobha (circa 1711 AD) the Tenth master, Guru Gobind Singh Ji recited the Name Waheguru repeatedly at the time of initiating and anointing the Khalsa on First Baisakh in 1699.
Many metaphorical references in Guru Granth Sahib are precisely applicable to the present day situations. This abiding quality of Gurubani can be easily put to test to harness the basic strength-and overcome the weakness- of human nature. For instance, Gurubani repeatedly exposes the hypocrisy of so-called priestly class, the rampant corruption in the ranks of ruling bureaucracy, and the brutality associated with fanatical pursuit of negative notions in religion.
ਜੀਆਂ ਕੁਹਤ ਨ ਸੰਗੇ ਪਰਾਣੀ....
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 201
ਕਾਦੀ ਕੁੜੁ ਬੋਲਿ ਮਲੁ ਖਾਇ|| ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਜੀਆ ਘਾਇ||
ਜੋਗੀ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਨ ਜਾਣੈ ਅੰਧੁ|| ਤੀਨੇ ਓਜਾੜੇ ਕਾ ਬੰਧੁ||
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 662
Or, sample this couplet of Kabir:
ਅ ਬਧਹੁ ਸੁ ਧਰਮੁ ਕਰਿ ਥਾਪਹੁ ਅਧਰਮੁ ਕਹਹੁ ਕਤ ਭਾਈ||
ਆਪਸ ਕਉ ਮੁਨਿਵਰ ਕਰਿ ਥਾਪਹੁ ਕਾ ਕਉ ਕਹਹੁ ਕਸਾਈ||
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1103
Is it not tragic that the primitive animal instinct to kill fellow humans should, in the 21st century, overpower sundry groups of fanatics in the name of religion? In the absence of correct interpretation/propagation of religious texts, violence has assumed inter-continental proportions. Fanatical individuals have been seized with a self-destructive pathological mania to kill-and die for their religion-instead of living for it, it is such blind fanaticism that needs to be mellowed down and replaced with God's love and spirit of harmony.
A heavy price has been paid, in India and elsewhere, for groups and outfits wanting to establish their own brand of "kingdom of God" on earth. What the people need is a just Order, (ਹਲੇਮੀ ਰਾਜ[) and social equality. In the quest for peace, men of God have paid heavy price in every age. Guru Arjun was tortured to death in 1605, perhaps the first martyr in Indian history. In some ways, the horrendous event recalls the crucifixion of Jesus under the Roman rule in Judaea. Guru Arjun, who built the Golden Temple, used to speak of Sacha Patshah- The true king of universe, a term that irked the Mughal emperor. He was arraigned and tortured to death. The sacrifice only strengthened the resolve of his son and successor. Guru Hargobind to spread the message of love among all people: Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs. The text of Guru Granth Sahib prepared by Guru Arjun in 1604 bears testimony to this spirit of unity.
What links Sikhism with people of all faiths across time and space is the abiding message of Guru Granth Sahib. The text has been with the people for 400 years. It has been translated in English and, more recently, in French and Spanish. Calcutta's Dada Lachman Chellaram has translated the Holy Scripture in Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi and Sindhi, while the Madurai Kamaraj Universtiy has had the key portions rendered into Tamil discovering, in the process and amazing accordance of thought with the THIRUKURAL.
Guru Granth, as repository of Sikh philosophy, is the poetry of pure devotion. It demands to be approached in humility, and with devotion, as the shining guidepost to SELF DISCOVERY. Its succinct musical measures, in 31 Ragas, illumine the dark recesses of ignorance in our mind. Its reading and comprehension had the power to sweep away cobwebs of doubt: sometimes in gentle persuation, at other times with the force of a tornado. The text, in its myriad variations, constitutes the Intelligent Man's Guide to inner peace and outer harmony. Its lyricism creates a groundswell of energy that is a spur to the pursuit of happiness:
ਹਰਖ ਅਨੰਤ ਸੋਗ ਨਹੀ ਬੀਆ|| ਸੋ ਘਰੁ ਗੁਰਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਕਉ ਦੀਆ'||
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 186
Guruvani guides every kind of human being, of whatever race or religion; it inspires, comforts, cajoles, castigates, warns, encourages, exhorts, guides, even implores the seeker to know the Reality and achieve self realization:
ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਆਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ||
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 441
The essential point that the Scriptural Text makes is that humanity must curb evil, create inner light and outer awareness of nature and environment, ensure equitable socio-economic conditions for the welfare and happiness of mankind. The insights acquired in different cultures, times and place are valuable as man's heritage, howsoever inadequate they may be in comprehending God's immensity.
Thus all knowledge is valuable and worthy of veneration whatever the source: whether the Vedas, Puranas, Bible, the Qur'ran, the Torah, or the Buddhist literature. The Sikh philosophy sets store by the radiant knowledge, or Brahm Gyan, as the vehicle for devotional realization of God. It is a pathway to cosmic equipoise or Sahaj avastha. It demands subordination of Haumai or "I-ness". In contemporary idiom, this malaise can be called "I-Obsession". Which is the opposite of common good or sarbat-da-bhala. To overcome this obsession one needs to join sadhu sangat, the congregation of good people. Over a period of time-and in God's Grace-the "closed lotus" within each individual begins to blossom, and one is enveloped in a peace and poise that "passeth understanding," like the blossoming of Lotus:
" ਪ੍ਰਗਾਸ ਭਇਆ ਕਉਲ ਖਿਲਿਆ " Using this bio-genetic term, one can say that SANGAT beings about a neurogenetic change, whereby the nervous system becomes radiant with optimum creative possibilities:
ਦੀਪਕ ਤੇ ਦੀਪਕੁ ਪਰਗਾਸਿਆ ਤ੍ਰਿਭਵਣ ਜੋਤਿ ਦਿਖਾਈ ||
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 907
Guruvani, at the same time, recognizes the ephemeral and fragile character of material world, its asymmetrical construction, and its vulnerability to negative forces. Conflict is "inbuilt" in existential world; the darkness coexists with light; love and hate alternate in the fickle mind. Sentiment sweeps away carefully cultivated rational behavour. Good and innocent people often seem to suffer. Justice takes wings and goodness is victimized. Evil appears to triumph over good. Then comes a renewal and a revelation.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666-1708) is a classic example of this revelatory process. All four sons of the Guru attain martyrdom within the space of a few weeks: two elder ones, in their teens, die fighting in the battle of Chamkaur. The younger two are bricked alive in Sirhind by the order of Subedar Wazir Khan. Unperturbed, the Guru sends a letter ("ZAFARNAMAH") to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who is ailing in the southern retreat of Aurangabad. Guru Gobind explains why the 'House of Nanak' felt the need to unsheathe the sword and turn saints into soldiers:
Ba lachargi darmia amdam ba tadbiro-turo-tufang and an Chun karaz hama heelate darguzaslst halal ast birdan ba shmnsheer dast.
Suffering dishonor and repression amounts to cowardice. Justice and liberty are worth fighting for. The use of sword is the last resort of a man of peace.
This emancipator logic has often been misunderstood. I am reminded, in this context, of Rabindranath Tagore's Essays on Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh. Written in chaste Bengali, these essays have an abiding quality, even as they have a special appeal for the younger generation. Tagore dwells on the piety and moral grandeur of Guru Nanak and the matchless sacrifice and valour of Guru Gobind Singh. His characterization of Bhai Taru Singh's martyrdom- in Prarthanateet Daan (gqkeEkBkshs dkB) and his terse and taut poem Bandi Bir, the Chained Hero, remain unexcelled in Indian literature.
However, in his essay on Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh (circa 1920) Tagore speculates why the Tenth Guru "deviated" from Nanak's path of peace and goodwill. Tagore wrote: "The role of warrior does not belong to the prophet but to an army general." One wonders why a comparative view of Indian history and lore escaped the kavi-guru, for on the battleground of Kurukshetra, did Sir Krishna not confront the same dilemma that Arjuna faced, about the PRINCIPLE OF A RIGHTEOUS WAR, the dharma yuddha? The Geeta's resounding message:
ੌਯਦਾ ਯਦਾ ਹੀ ਧਰਮਸੱਯ ਗਲਾਨੀਰ ਭਵਤੀ ਭਾਰਤਾ ÓÓ rings true in all ages.
No wonder, in a different milieu, in the medieval times, Guru Nanak sounded a similar clarion call to India's suffering people:
ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ|| ਸਿਰੁ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਆਉ ||
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1412
In answer to this call, when repression exceeded all limits, Guru Gobind Singh, in 1699, initiated the Sikhs as Khalsa. The time to turn the other cheek had passed. Tyranny had touched new depths, and non-violent gestures could no longer change the heart of the oppressive rulers, not even the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur, who had pleaded the case of agonized Kashmiri Pandits at the Mughal Court, and was publicity executed at Delhi's Chandni Chowk in 1675.
Guru Gobind Singh did not act in a hurry. He contemplated deeply, and finally obeyed the divine command to institute the Khalsa Panth in 1699. He thus redeemed the pledge of Guru Nanak's Bhavishya Vani. In our times, Swami Vivekanand often quoted Guru Gobind Singh's rousing declaration.
ੌਸਵਾ ਲਾਖ ਸੇ ਏਕ ਲੜਾਊ ਤਬੈ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਸਿੰਘ ਨਾਮ ਕਹਾਊ''
The institution of Khalsa, in Sikhism, has the stamp of this emancipator logic, and holds the promise for oppressed people across the globe to cast off their thralldom, and never to be afraid, for the Victory belongs to God.' This defining characteristic of Sikhism offers the best assurance and certitude for the future of our civilization.
ਧਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਹਮਾਰਾ ਜਿਨਿ ਵੈਰੀ ਮਿਤ੍ਰ ਹਮ ਕਉ ਸਮ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਦਿਖਾਈ|| – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 594
- Duncan Greenless: "The Gospel of Guru Granth Sahib" Theosophical Publishing house, Adyar, Chennai 600020
2. Nihar Ranjan Ray: "The Sikh Gurus and the Sikh Society
" Punjabi University, Patiala 147002
3. Patwant Singh: "The Sikhs". Rupa Publishers, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110002.
4. W. Owen Cole: "Teach yourself Sikhism" Hodder & Stoughton Ltd; 338 Euston Road, London, UK
5. Rajat Das Gupta: "The Eclipsed Sun" (tr. From Tagore) Vasco Books Kolkata.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All