THE MASTER AND THE DISCIPLE
The institution of Master and Disciple happens to be much older than the Vedas, one of the oldest extant scriptures. Vedas extensively extol the verities of the Master, the Guru, which literally means dispeller of darkness and harbinger of knowledge. The Vedic hymns compare the Guru as equivalent to the Omnipotent God. It means that the Master is to be regarded as infallible, completely intelligent and unquestionably and irrevocably knowledgeable. The convention of the Master was, therefore well established along with the progress of humanity in shaping ideal society. In those times, it was also known that the best discipline could be infused in the students by keeping them away from family, friends and environment, at the Gurukul, where they concentrated on the subjects taught and full measure of regulation and order was imparted to the young disciples. The respect of parents was instilled in young minds on the model of the Guru’s worship and full faith, so that the wishes of parents got the same sanctity as words of the Guru. In ancient literature, we are told, that demands which today may seem unreasonable, even awkward, were readily and willingly acceded to by the disciple as a mark of total obedience to the Guru, sacrificing limbs, riches and offspring, even one’s very life and freedom.
Similar respect of the Guru / Murshad was sanctified in mid-West and European cultures. We find among Sufis, selfless sacrifice for the Master, a matter of deep satisfaction and demonstration of pure love and unbound surrender. The same deep sense of belonging was displayed by the Christian monks and nuns who relinquished worldly comforts to belong to Jesus. In Europe this developed into the socio-economic pattern of society more vigorously than in the East where the guru and shishye tradition remained confined more or less to the Brahmin and the temple pathshalla. With the Brahmin losing his societal hold under Islamic rule of nearly one thousand years, he became less venerated, receiving scant wages and respect. The institution of the guru became confined more or less to the specialties, like music, poetry or painting. The keen scholars took pains to find maestros to learn the finer points of the arts against all odds. Many idlers and fakes took to spiritual chicanery and were totted as sants and sadhus, yogis, fakirs and Sufis maligning the institution of the guru.
In Europe, however, the development of towns and city states in the feudal set up provided healthy grounds to the establishment of Guilds and cartels where each profession like smithy, cobbling, carpentry, textile manufacturing, masonic unions and leagues brought qualified and expert specialization and resultant prosperity to the community. While the crafts in Asia suffered due to inhibitions of low caste syndrome of the essential services, though crude guild-like bradaris among the dalits were very much in vogue, Europe with its strong guilds of each craft ruled over the backward Asian and African colonies for centuries. Each guild and league had master craftsmen with apprentices and freshmen learning under strict discipline. Geniuses like Michelangelo, Galileo, Leonardo de Vinci and many more perfectionists were fashioned by that exclusive sense of discipline and belonging to the master, displaying the girth of their vision, serious application and excellence of execution, unhindered by any adverse criticism.
In the East too, exultation and brilliance was achieved in arts and crafts which remained unrequited due to social stigma deeply attached to the caste ridden barriers as all crafts were branded shudra occupations, including farming. This state of affairs was acutely understood by Guru Nanak who fathomed the lacuna behind the rampant stagnation. Though born in a high caste, a privileged community, Guru Nanak revolted against these restricted trade practices. He clearly saw the havoc of caste division and lack of initiative rampant in the society. Guru Nanak had spent about two years in the Mid-West and could not remain untouched by the strides made by more progressive nations of the West and reasons of social and economic backwardness in the Indian scenario, its otherworldly stance, lack of specialisation and negative participation in the social and economic spheres. He took essential remedial steps to rejuvenate a listless and hopeless nation dying of inaction, useless harangues and defensive, apologetic explanations to justify the plight of the crippling situation. People had to be disciplined to take the matters seriously and learn to act more than talk, and to adopt specialisation as a routine. For this there had to be strict regulation and obedience enforced and the tradition of the Master and the Disciple to be reintroduced. Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus established various new settlements and planned migration of people of various skills and crafts to the new towns, encouraging the so-called untouchables besides tradesmen, entrepreneurs, businessmen and scholars so that these towns soon became self-reliant and self-sufficient and commercially viable. How much Guru Nanak understood the predicament of the society is underlined by his remarks:
ਰਤਨ ਵਿਗਾੜਿ ਵਿਗੋਏ ਕੁਤਂØੀ ਮੁਇਆ ਸਾਰ ਨ ਕਾਈ ॥
None cared about their demise. – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 360
In the same verse, he avows:
ਮਰਿ ਮਰਿ ਜੀਵੈ ਤਾ ਕਿਛੁ ਪਾਏ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਵਖਾਣੇ ॥
Nanak avers, one has to repeatedly endure
Self-extinction to achieve some accomplishment. – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 360
During this period called the middle ages, the Mid-Western countries under the green Haydri flag of Islam, had already colonized the eastern countries, including ritual-fixated and superstitious India, where the lethargic calmness had made people listless. The Indian religions were united on one basic factor, of seeing the world as illusion and a myth, worth discarding and discouraging as maya. The invaders were brimming with Islamic fervor and founded their roots easily. Europe had taken steps in commercial and business ventures in the East Indies and with religious and cultural renaissance, was in quest of space. Fundamental rigidity was yielding grounds to the exploration of the spirit of religion. Guru Nanak had traveled to far off places in Mid-West, Tibet, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Malabar etc to open discussions on the fundamentals of Truth. His stance that truthfulness was a stronger concept than Truth, action was superior to talk and goodness and virtue could not prevail without erasing vices, became pivotal points of his mission on which others could not resist or oppose him.
The novelty of the mission of Guru Nanak was in his choice of the institution of the Master and Disciple, which, expressed in the common language of the people of India was the combine of the veritable Guru and the Shishya. These terms were not selected vaguely but with full import thereof. It has to be understood that Guru Nanak did not declare himself an avatar or God as was the custom to deify any out-of-the-ordinary persons in India, or, as a prophet plenipotentiary, in line with the Semitic tradition. He studied the canvas of the human society not only in his environs but in distant lands, “Dharti hor pare hor hor,(Jap)” and contemplated on peoples’ moral inaptitude, weaknesses and ailing woes and envisaged the remedies. He had spent half of his life in studying the problem in deep contemplation and by various extant sidhis and yogic lore, (There is the shrine commemorated as ‘Roran Sahib’ and his visits to various dhams and pilgrimage centers, yogi maths) and came to the conclusion that the rejuvenation of morality of the society was the only viable route.
Guru Nanak preferred quality to quantity. For that he insisted on the strength of conviction rather than mere lip-service considered sufficient in the existing faiths. He found it necessary, therefore, to discard the existing faiths: Na kou Hindu na Musalman, in deed. He dispensed with any and all types of rituals, formal prayers, archa, puja, namaz, vandna, fasts, pilgrimages, oral readings without comprehension, fixed-time meditations, ceremonial rites etc., which had little or no intrinsic value except impressing others, a sort of display window without qualitative merchandise. He enjoined, instead, eradication of vices, anger, hatred, avarice, amour, jealousy, among them; to experience joy in doing good to all without discrimination and promotion of ecstatic love of God in all situations. Directing the disciple towards the virtuous state was to be the inexhaustible function of the true Master, the Guru, and equally, the duty of the disciple, the Sikh to imbibe without raising points of doubt for mere debate as a lifelong pursuit, claiming it as scholarly enquiry. Guru Nanak has bitterly criticized the rampant impractical debates of the pundits and sheikhs leading nowhere towards improving the society or the individual.
In adopting the time honoured terms, the Guru and the Sikh, Guru Nanak redefined and sanctified the terms to inculcate utmost discipline, metaphysical as well as physical. It was to be the state of a healthy mind in a healthy body, to think positive and act constructive to strengthen the society. He was convinced of promulgating strict obedience in the disciple to ensure full and willing compliance to the discipline, hukm-razai. Efforts are being made to transliterate hukm-razai as ‘natural law’ by some scholars, which is a distorted version of the term, only to strengthen a weak and false premise. In Persian, it stands for ‘Unreserved Discipline.’ It is clear that Guru Nanak was fully aware of different types of disciplines in religious institutions like Yoga, Tantra, Sakta, Buddhism and Jainism besides the ‘hatha sidhi’ school. There were the proselytizing Islamic rulers bent on the policy to break the Hindu resistance by mass conversions. He qualifies his adherent as a willing, enthusiastic and committed disciple; not a bonded or coerced follower with ulterior purposes.
Without strict control, any institution withers away, however strong the protestations about good intentions. The old faiths had to make ethical adjustments to accommodate fence-sitters and laggards. The difference between the concept of a worldly tutor and the Guru is glaring. This fact is not properly understood by those who have no vision of a genuine Master who controls each breath and move of the disciple. There was all likelihood of the new panth lapsing back into lethargy and purposeless harangue, customary to the old faiths, without whole-hearted discipline.
The weakest strain in Hinduism was the duality of Shiv and Shakti, of Vishnu and Maya, and consequently the usurpation of spiritual functions exclusively by the Brahmins, relieving and denying other castes of any intellectual know-how of the rites and rituals. A common person lives in shackles of worldly Maya and drifts away from the spiritual. Such a person has to choose between the virtue of the spiritual and the vicious coils of Maya by wholly withdrawing from a house-holder’s life. Already the question is being voiced by lay followers of Sikhism, why other faiths are lenient and allow drift and slip to the marginal fence-sitter, easily condoned, but in Sikhism it is taken so seriously? The Sikh in particular has badly slipped from that high pedestal by giving more emphasis to numbers, claiming it as the fifth largest faith! A headcount of all assorted groups wanting to be counted among the Sikhs has to be enacted and therefore it is advocated that the Sikh code needs relaxation of discipline enjoined by Guru Nanak and his equally determined successor Gurus as essential to the health of the panth. The quality is sought to be pushed back for the sake of numbers. The protagonists of relaxation do not understand that in the Sikh philosophy, the concept of Gurmukh does not have division of the spiritual from the mundane; there is no Maya separate from godhead and God is Creator as well as Creation:
ਆਪੇ ਪਟੀ ਕਲਮ ਆਪਿ ਉਪਰਿ ਲੇਖੁ ਭਿ ਤੂੰ ॥
eੈਕੋ ਕਹੀਐ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਦੂਜਾ ਕਾਹੇ ਕੂ ॥
He is Himself the slate and the pen as well as the writ; Naak, He is alone; none other.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1291
ਵਣਜਾਰਾ ਜਗੁ ਆਪਿ ਹੈ ਪਿਆਰਾ ਆਪੇ ਸਾਚਾ ਸਾਹੁ ॥
He is the merchant and Himself the true Master.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 604
The God oriented person lives life wholly merged in Truth, having shed all evils and imbibed all virtues. The gursikh loses the tag by faltering from the truthful conduct.
Other faiths have ancient traditions and solutions regarding lapses in performance. Buddhists and Jains have separate code of conduct for the bhikshu, a serious contender of the faith compared to the house-holder. In Hinduism, they divide the dharma by each varna/caste; everyone adheres to the dharma for that particular group as specified in the scriptures. In the Roman Catholics, the clergy remain celibate with strict code of conduct which an ordinary member of the church is not expected to follow. But the Sikhs have no division. There is no particular priestly class. A Sikh is essentially a lover of God and the creation. There is no scope of compensation for faltering except virtues and good deeds. It is not possible for a Sikh to adopt any other stance but to love God intensely and the Creation deeply and whole-heartedly. Without a loving soul, the Sikh is only a masquerader and easily falters in wilderness. Seeking relaxation in discipline denotes reluctance and unwillingness that is well anticipated by the Master! People of that genre find the strict tests undergone by Bhai Lehna, the Second Nanak, as bizarre. It is flaunted as the myth of the Janam Sakhis, so that the principle of strict discipline in Sikhism is mellowed if not obliterated. The ever willing Sikh’s mood is most succinctly described by Guru Amar Das in his celebrated composition, “Anand,” Canto 14.
ਭਗਤਾ ਕੀ ਚਾਲ ਨਿਰਾਲੀ ॥ ਚਾਲਾ ਨਿਰਾਲੀ ਭਗਤਾਹ ਕੇਰੀ ਬਿਖਮ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਚਲਣਾ ॥
ਲਬੁ ਲੋਭੁ ਅਹੰਕਾਰੁ ਤਜਿ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਨਾਹੀ ਬੋਲਣਾ ॥
ਖੰਨਿਅਹੁ ਤਿਖੀ ਵਾਲਹੁ ਨਿਕੀ ਏਤੁ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਜਾਣਾ ॥
ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੀ ਜਿਨੀ ਆਪੁ ਤਜਿਆ ਹਰਿ ਵਾਸਨਾ ਸਮਾਣੀ ॥
ਕਹੈ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਚਾਲ ਭਗਤਾ ਜੁਗਹੁ ਜੁਗੁ ਨਿਰਾਲੀ
Devotees have a unique stance. They inimitably choose the torturous route.
They shed the urge for avarice, greed and ego and speak but little,
They take to a route sharper than the sword’s edge and finer than hair,
With the Master’s blessing, they give up self-ego and savor Lord’s tang,
Says Nanak, the gait of the devotee is ever matchless for eons.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 918-19
The disciple has to fathom the power of love to understand the spirit and character of Sikhi. Guru Arjan Dev explains this phenomenon in his sabad on page 454:
ਜਾ ਕਉ ਭਏ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾਲ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਸੇਈ ਜਪਾਤ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਲਗੀ ਤਿਨ@ ਰਾਮ ਸਿਉ ਭੇਟਤ ਸਾਧ ਸੰਗਾਤ ॥
The Lord in His benediction grants the boon of remembering His name,
O Nanak, they abound in love of God and seek the company of the saints.
Guru Nanak preferred the institution of the guru and shishya to other forms of ties of father, mother, friend or brother. The Sufis had a well trenched system of Pir/Murshid who admitted murids/shagird after being convinced of a man’s solemn intentions. The celebrated musicians and poets also chose apprentices after severe tests. The novice surrendered himself fully to the Master and became a full fledged member of the household. Future masters were groomed and appointed according to the capability and aptitude of the murids/shagirds. As stated above, this system was equally in vogue in the guilds of medieval European society. Guilds and cartels had become so strong that the US government had to pass laws to curtail their inter-state spread in national interest although they continued to rule the roost in international trade, helping in making their country commercially and politically a leading super-power. Despite all talk of the present limited definition of the student/tutor relations and a formal, restricted inter-action between them, more determined and motivated students still make personal relations strong with the teacher to imbibe subtle nuances over and above the classroom lessons. The methodology of tutor/pupil inter-action has not undergone much change. The typical modern version of a student is very self-centered and egotist, far from the tradition of the disciple of Guru Nanak’s definition. He remains marginal in output, but those with will and vision work willingly and enthusiastically, hukm-razai, in true sense of the term, more in tandem with the Master to be productive and creative. Sikhi is a game of love and that too of the level of ecstasy of ever surrendering to the Master.
The marginal and commonplace persons are those who find it repetitious, tedious and boring to constantly meditate on naam. They are in sheer majority in any society, grind labour all their lives without revelation and are easily replaceable. It is the core group of intellectuals whom Guru Nanak wants to address for progress and fulfillment of the dream of a welfare society. He prescribes norms for converting evil designs to virtuous acts to usher in the ideal setup, the Begumpura, the halemi raj, the perfect society. The recipe of Guru Nanak is to kindle interest in the ordinary citizens to aspire, to vision, to change from devilish character to an angelic finis and to encourage the front-runners to lead by practical example, by truthfulness and sacrifice. A goal is never achieved by long harangues but by practically living it.
A perfect Master can only impress his views on the conscious and willing response of the disciple. Unless the pupil is equally motivated to shed complacency and to receivethe challenge undauntedly, the effort remains folded in scriptures. Guru Nanak went searching for the disciples ready to respond to his call, of what was true and what was false. On reaching a settlement, he would send Mardana to buy a measure of truth and falsehood, and that was his notice to likely candidates to meet him and to assess how many people perceived the riddle or were too involved and busy in their humdrum, egocentric lives, unaware and least bothered about truth and falsehood. He chose disciples, many of them hard core criminals, like Sajjan, the thug, or Koda, the cannibal,(who miraculously found enlightenment in Guru Nanak’s single sermon), the magician queen of Assam Hills, the self-serving egotists like Vali Qandhari of Pothohar or the Yogis of Gorakhmatta to name a few. He was equally impressive in his travels to the Buddhist Viharas in the Himalyas and the thickets of Deccan as well as in his long sojourn in the Middle East. He did not consider anyone beyond redemption; It was just a change of attitude in a person that the true master brought about by implanting virtues. It demonstrates that properly approached, anyone can change from passive nonentity to an exemplary activist in the service of society. The concept of sewa, service towards society became an indispensable and obligatory factor along with the eminence of sangat, congregation in Sikhism.
Sikhism has had the unique privilege of an unbroken discipline of ten Gurus’ guidance to keep single window adherence to the rules set by Guru Nanak, despite efforts of dissidence from various contenders. To start with, Baba Sri Chand, the elder son of Guru Nanak rebelled against the appointment of Angad Dev as the Guru, negating the basic principles of rejection of celibacy and asceticism; the close kin of Guru Arjan Dev who competed by attracting the visiting Sikh sangats and usurping the tithes; Ram Rai, the errant son of Guru Har Rai, going to the extent of seeking support of the Emperor to press his claim on Gurgaddi, various aspirants of Sodhi clan, but the main stream Sikhism remained collected and dedicated to unquestioned authority of the accredited Gurus. This is a distinctive record in the annals of world religions. In all other cases, the original canon has been challenged by variations in interpretations leading to fissures and sects arising with bitter and often violent feuds. Such attempts did not find long term permanence in the case of Sikhism. Some sections in the congregation protested and walked out, demanding exclusion of the dalits and resisting sipping from the same bowl, loss of caste distinctions, the nash doctrine, the oath taking compulsion and a more positive stance to safeguard identity. They did not relent easily; they approached the Reverend mother, Mata Gujri to intervene. The Guru remained unrelenting. What was their reason or motive? It was their hesitation in giving up of mayac ahamkara and pride of caste . They had fallen to the typical lip-service syndrome and wanted to lead their lives by their own standards as well as be counted among the self-sacrificing gur-sikhs. But the Sikhs in thousands unhesitatingly obeyed the Tenth Master and Khalsa was firmly launched.
Such flippant elements continue to suggest amending the code of Khalsa to suit their present life style, raising pseudo-scientific debates to, somehow, relax the discipline. Many sects and clans have taken up different routes, but the concept of Guru Nanak-Guru Gobind Singh of a perfect society and virtuous community living by full adherence to the basic postulates and unswerving will of the disciples, who do the bidding and not argue endlessly to find space within continues. The Guru expects the Sikh to follow whole-heartedly by eschewing ego, not by securing of special concessions. The Gurus gave their all in creating a role-model by personal examples and sacrifices to uphold right over wrong and it will not be justifiable to dilute the core issue of total obediance to those values.
The nine successor Gurus after Guru Nanak upheld the sacred trust of Sikh ethos; two of them by courting violent deaths convey a message to the Sikhs, exemplifying the surety of the principles underlying Sikhism, which may not be eased to accommodate laggard and self-willed egoists. There is no end to individual problems and personal circumstances. There is an endless line of Sikh martyrs who died to uphold the principle of unbound love and ecstasy of belonging to the virtuous life of a gursikh. The psalm of the Fourth Nanak, Guru Ramdas aptly portrays such elements that have existed always in all climes and situations:
ਜਿਨ ਕੇ ਚਿਤ ਕਠੋਰ ਹਹਿ ਸੇ ਬਹਹਿ ਨ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪਾਸਿ ॥
ਓਥੈ ਸਚੁ ਵਰਤਦਾ ਕੂੜਿਆਰਾ ਚਿਤ ਉਦਾਸਿ ॥
ਓਇ ਵਲੁ ਛਲੁ ਕਰਿ ਝਤਿ ਕਢਦੇ ਫਿਰਿ ਜਾਇ ਬਹਹਿ ਕੂੜਿਆਰਾ ਪਾਸਿ ॥
ਵਿਚਿ ਸਚੇ ਕੂੜੁ ਨ ਗਡਈ ਮਨਿ ਵੇਖਹੁ ਕੋ ਨਿਰਜਾਸਿ ॥
ਕੂੜਿਆਰ ਕੂੜਿਆਰੀ ਜਾਇ ਰਲੇ ਸਚਿਆਰ ਸਿਖ ਬੈਠੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪਾਸਿ ॥
Those with hardened minds do not sit near the True Master,
There truth prevails, it saddens the evil-minded,
They somehow pass a few moments; then rejoin the evil-minded lot.
Vile is not installed with truthful; try as much as you wish,
The villainous blend with wicked; true Sikhs stay by the True Master.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 314
There are people, rather more numerous than few, in every society who like to be left alone as far as discipline is concerned, busy as they are with their small worries and petty problems which to them seem Herculean, to resolve. Guru Nanak surely does not address this lot. He would rather leave them alone till they are ripe for the significant role which he had in mind, to utilize them to ameliorate the society, when they would find their occupations trivial and insignificant and want to do something worth living. That is the stage when all values change from the mundane to divine; one is ready to enter sikhi.
The very recent trend in the educated liberal class of the Sikhs to argue that their understanding of the Sikh theology is sufficient and an active role should be optional is a fallacy which Guru Nanak had anticipated more than five hundred years ago:
ਮਨਮੁਖ ਕਥਨੀ ਹੈ ਪਰੁ ਰਹਤ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥
The ego-centric person talks but does not act on it.
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 831
Acquisition of knowledge is all important but its application and utilization is the crux of the matter. The valiant Sikhs sacrifice everything to uphold the values for a perfect society to usher in the rule of sagacity and prudence, while the fence sitters merely discuss and melt away. What is the value of knowing that which is not practised?
That is why the Sikh is not an ordinary soul, wasted in the run-of-the-mill pursuits. That is how there cannot be an easy way out. That is what the clarion call of Guru Nanak was about, when he asked the Sikhs to come with ‘their heads on their palms’. That is how the Guru expects the Sikhs to pay the Guru his dakshna, instead of tall talks. The perfect Guru fashions ideal disciple now and here than promises of paradise gained and moksh attained hereafter.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2013, All