Guru Nanak Taught Engaging Coexistence
Throughout their teachings and actions our founders promoted and defended universal principles, and humanity's rights to religious-social behaviors that achieve peaceful coexistence with engagement. Towards those goals, our founders enunciated and promoted certain principles. These included continual offering of thankfulness to the Creator for abundant resources and comforts; the oneness of humankind irrespective of tribe, race, ethnicity or belief; the sanctity of human dignity; the equality of men and women; freedom from racial and religious prejudice; commitment to knowledge and learning; the containment of narcissism and greed; the harmony of faith and reason; awakening of universal consciousness, and, belief in progressive and prosperous future of all civil societies.
This paper will illustrate how our founders visualized the distribution of divine wisdom and access to divine entity so that they are equally and equitable to all civil societies without consideration of geographical terrains, color, culture or intellectual dispositions. Further, these teachings engaged humanity with each other to achieve the common goals.
Metaphor of Continental Divide
When I arrived in USA in 1956, I had two wishes as to what I wanted to see first, Niagara Falls and America's Continental Divide. The visit to Falls was easy as it had well marked location to visit.
I had not realized that the Continental Divide of the Americas was called the Great Divide as it united the Pacific Ocean from Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Thus its massiveness ran from the Seward Peninsula in Alaska, through western Canada along the crest of the Rocky Mountains, including Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park to New Mexico in North America before it continued up to the tip of South America. I decided to visit and touch the Divide in Rocky Mountains as it was the closest to reach by car and accessible to walking on foot.
What I found mind boggling is that one could firsthand experience how the ocean waters through the routes of cloud formations that give birth to glaciers, lakes and rains,went on to form rivers and rivulets. These rivulets then flow through mountains, and lands to irrigate vast territories on both sides of the continent before they reach their respective oceans, again on the two opposite sides of mountain ranges. All of them originate at different locations throughout the world, in different geographical areas, in different seasons, and in different formats, sizes and strengths.
The rivulets flow in different directions. They carry varied contents and compositions of nutrients and minerals through vast distances. On their way the rivulets carry diverse compositions that may even give them different colors. They nourish widely differing soils and vegetation that give birth to wide variety of foliage and civilizations. All of these civilizations then coexist, grow and flourish.
My stressing so much on the vastness and diversity among the rivulets was actually stimulated by a verse from Sri Guru Granth Sahib that was spoken by Guru Nanak, the founding light of Sikhi. The Guru used the scene of continental divides as metaphors and stimulated my imagination to urge me to illustrate coexistence of numerous modes of dissemination of sacred knowledge to the vast expanse of humanity without disturbing diverse scopes of coexistence.
Ocean, Rains, and Rivulets of Shabad Guru
There is a striking verse in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), the Sacred Sikh Scripture that contains the metaphor I like to discuss. Its author was the founder of Sikhi sometime known as Sikhism. Guru Nanak wrote:
gurU smuMdu ndI siB isKI nwqY ijqu vifAweI ]
nwnk jy isrKuQy nwvin nwhI qw sq cty isir CweI ]
The Guru, the Divine Wisdom, is the bottomless ocean, and all of its WISDOM in the form of teachings originate out of this ocean as rains and falling snow to form rivulets and rivers, sometime puddles. They are of many lengths and depths. When drenched through these rains and rivulets the whole humanity is exalted.– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 150
Ocean and rivulets here are used as metaphors; ocean for Guru's wisdom and rivulets for institutions of dissemination and/or their observances.
Ocean of sacred knowledge is depthless. Water of Knowledge vaporizing from this ocean creates clouds, raindrops, and/or snow. In turn they descend on earth in the form of rain or snow. Finally, all of them give birth to rivulets, rivers, and sometime, puddles all over the earth. When they are in the format of guru-shabad using the language of Sikh tradition, then they are there to fertile whole humanity.
Thus the rivulets are metaphors describing practices of Sikhi doctrines and operation of Sikh strategies some of which give birth to Sikh institutions all around the world.
These institutions in the form of rivulets flow in numerous variations so as to suite the particular and varied landscapes. These landscapes consist of wide-ranging temperaments that are innately thirsty for the spiritual water flowing in rivulets of traditions, colors and mode of things for their spiritual growth as well as growth of their healing missions.
As rivulets vary in shape, size, speed and quality of water they distribute, so are the Sikhi doctrines and practices. Both of them adapt to numerous variations depending on the terrains of particular geographical or cultural expanse. Their shape and external formats are formed by widely differing cultural landscapes and linguistic temperaments. But their purpose is one, to engage in nourishing the earth and its humanity with ONE Universal consciousness. All of this is accomplished without disturbing any coexistence. The intention is to nurture the divine creation in the schema of Divine Creativity, at the same time preserving and promoting unconstrained coexistence of diversity.
Different landscapes receive the thirst quenching waters in different ways, sizes, shapes and colors to benefit each one of the terrains in their own peculiar and varied ways.
Briefly, what these metaphors mean with respect to the present and future functioning of Sikhi is as follows.
Guru's wisdom originating from Shabad Guru is meant to be dispensed to diverse populations and cultures. The recipients may be of a varieties of mindsets throughout the world, the world which is varied from place to place. The wisdom is dispensed in wide variety of ways, even under different designations, names and titles, to conform to productive coexistence and engagement.
Thus, the ways of Sikhi overtly may look and feel communal but intrinsically they are universal and carry the same fundamental doctrines and wisdoms. Their purpose is one, to nourish the human mind with one universal knowledge towards ONE Universal Consciousness, to ultimately take all humanity back to their original source, the OCEAN, the Creator. All of this is to be accomplished along with preserving eternal coexistence.
There is a beautiful story from the Guruship of Guru Ram Das reported by Sikh epic writer, Bhai Santokh Singh.
A delegation of Hindu religious scholars under the leadership of Pundit Mohan Lal came to visit the Guru. The members were well known Pundits or leaders of Brahminical tradition. Their mission was to express their concern with the language and mode of propagation the Guru was using to freely spread Gurmat message among ordinary folks.
They expressed their concern loudly. They attempted to persuade the Guru to use the language of the religious elite, the Sanskrit, in order to impart Guru Nanak's doctrines. Further, the same elites should be given charge to further impart the sacred knowledge among deserving sections of humanity.
The Guru is reported to have rebuked the suggestion and used the similar metaphor of rain as described above to make his point forcefully. Bhai Santokh described it as"
byd purwn kUp jl jYsy[ broswie ko iek ikiq kYsy ]27]
siqgur bwnI myG smwn [ brKY chuMidiS ibKY mhwˆn[
bn ky psu pMCI suK pwvihx[ krihx pwn Aru qpq imtwvihx ]28]
kUp iksU kY hoie ik nwˆhI[ iek sm Gn qy siB suK pwˆhI[
sgry KyqI boie pkwiex[ ibnw jqn siB hI suK pwiex ]29]
qox siqgur ky Sbd suKyn[ piF giq pRwpiq jyn ru kyn[
DrqI ibKY kUp ko pwnI[ qAU myG brKih, suK TwˆnI ]30]
(See Santokh Singh, Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth, Raas 1, Part 46, p. 1518. Reprinted Amritsar, Khalsa Samachar, 1954.)
Divine message, the Guru said, was like water needed to quench the thirst or to fertilize germinating crops. But Divine knowledge embedded in Sanskrit or Arabic is like water buried in deep wells. It takes effort to draw it out and then to quench thirst of the person drawing it out or to irrigate crops of only those who possessed the means of taking out water in this manner. No sharing was possible as the quantity thus drawn was sufficient only to satisfy the needs of the holder of the bucket.
In contrast, the Guru's Wisdom, Guru-Shabad or gurmat, was manifested in Gurbani (Guru's repository of knowledge and findings) in common language which served like a cloud burst. It turned the crops of every one and in every field, green; it reached mountains and valleys alike, birds and mammals alike, animals and human alike, educated and uneducated alike, poor and rich alike.
The Guru's verdict was akin to a biblical parabola.
Jesus is known to say that when you light a lamp place it at a higher pedestal so that the light can reach everyone.
It may be pointed out that the metaphor from the Guru Granth as described above also implied the appreciation of great diversity observed in all civil societies and faiths. For example, As Guru Amar Das said,Diversity is Divine Order.
myrY pRiB swcY ieku Kylu rcwieAw ] koie n iks hI jyhw aupwieAw ]
My True Creator has staged a play. He has created no one like anyone else.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1056
Without appreciation of diversity, universality cannot be practiced. Diversity provides a necessary opportunity to practice universality. Thus diversity will stay but in the mode of coexistence.
Operationalization of Universal Sikhi in New Cultures
Now that Sikhi has an opportunity to be present in every continent, it is needed that Sikhi universals are exported out of India and operationalized in new cultures in order to contest hegemonic universals of dominant societies. Those may be relevant in the context of the pan-Hindu Indian culture or the Christian-Secularism of the West. It is to be operationalized in the mode of engaging coexistence.
Guru Nanak, several centuries ago, used the metaphor of ocean for the divine wisdom that serves the humanity as nourishing water of rivulets all over the earth while maintaining the principle of coexistence.
Calling Sikhi rivulets, the founders were explicit: Sikhi would never formally align Guru Wisdom with one denomination, political party, geographical area, or ethnicity, or allow someone to use a Sikhi rivulet to ignore laws of civil societies, of sciences, or of colors and diversities of the same societies. All of them were meant to coexist and cooperate. As far as we know that was the intent.
Describing divine wisdom as the ocean of truth, and rivulets as routes of its dissemination, Guru Nanak continued to say, all those who bathe in those rivers of Divine Wisdom will indeed evolve to higher awareness.
nwnk swihbu min vsY scw nwvxu hoie ]
Says Nanak, a true cleansing bath is experienced when the Divine dwells within human consciousness.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 146
AMqir nwvxu swcu pCwxY ]
One who takes internal bath in Divine Wisdom comprehends the Truth.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 414
Sikh institutions and scholarship are given the responsibility to 'operationalize and export' the Wisdom to all civil societies recognizing the principles of coexistence. The specifics of 'operationalization and exporting' need extensive discussions. Here it suffices to conclude: don't just be satisfied with the place on the library shelf provided for Sikhi by the West. Similarly, don't blindly worship it like a totemic object as most Punjabis do.
Do Something with it. Do that which the Gurus wanted you to do with it. Experience it and allow your own self to be transformed by it. Those who bathe in those rivers of Divine Wisdom will indeed evolve to higher awareness and recognition. Then, transform the culture around you so that others may seek Guru Nanak's message.
A rivulet is a minority if you look at one at a time but it is a majority if you look at it "connected to the source along with others and its ending into ocean with all others". Then you are part of a vast majority.
In short, Sikhs stand at a new juncture, at new cross-roads. They can either realize a form of subjectivity that is genuinely plural and is in coexistence. And it is in consonance with the message of the Sikh Gurus. This way they encounter the coming waves of global uncertainty with confidence and optimism in the light of coexistence. Or they can ignore the waves of coexistence and retreat into the usual kind of narcissistic self-emulation.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All