Manas Ki Jaat Sabhe Ek Hi Pehchan Bo
– The Sikh Model of Peaceful Co-Existence –
In the fifteenth century, Guru Nanak laid the foundation of plural society to liberate the mankind confronted with religious intolerance, cultural disharmony and racial arrogance. Sikh Gurus, both at the ideational and institutional level, have delivered and practised an idea of pluralistic social order and urged for peaceful coexistence. The Divine hymns of Sikh Gurus, Sikh religious doctrines, the Sikh socio-religious institutions in general and institution of the Khalsa in particular are aimed at the creation of a new social order based on spirit of love, mutual respect, harmony, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
Sikhism is a social religion, non-ethnical, ecumenical, grounded in a political society, directed and committed to propagation and establishing of a plural world society, tolerant, open, progressive and free in character.1 Sikhism favours a plural, free, open, progressive, God oriented, non aggressive human society but firm and prepared to fight against rise and growth of evil through organized resistance, and forward looking yet non ambitious.2 The concept of social order as envisaged in Sikhism is essentially that of a fair, pluralistic and egalitarian society. The variety of cultural milieus of the peoples in various parts of the world necessitates a pluralistic world society in which the positive, creative individualities of the constituent social units could co-exist and co-develop into an organic wholeness. Religious pluralism is to be an essential feature of such a pluralistic world society envisioned by Sikhism.3
Sikhism unites the people of various religious traditions into a broader unity. It can, therefore, be said that the Holy Shri Guru Granth Sahib is a precursor to the inter-faith movement. The Sikh Gurus have transcended all the social barriers and boundaries to symbolize a universal human version. By their hymns as well as by their actions, they demonstrated how interfaith understanding could be achieved. They envisaged an ideal social structure wherein love and equality prevailed, human dignity respected and oppression replaced by justice mingled with compassion.4
The essence of teachings of Sikh Gurus lies in their universal and eternal message of unity, love and peace. In Sikhism, the unity of God and the unity of mankind are intimately interlinked. Sikhism advocates the spirit of Fatherhood of God, which has strength to create the sense of Brotherhood of Mankind and to promote everlasting peace in the world facing various kinds of challenges like ethnic wars, cultural chaos, religious fanaticism and terrorism in the name of God.
The Sikh Gurus firmly believed that real spiritual life involves the acceptance and practice of the idea of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Mankind in one's actual living. They stress that God pervades all hearts and one can attune oneself to Him and develop a new state of higher consciousness.5 Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism said, “Amongst all there is light and that light (art Thou). By His light, the light shines within all the souls”.6 Guru Amar Das, the third Nanak said, “The One (Lord) is dwelling amongst all. (He is Unique) One is pervading everywhere.”7 Guru Ram Das, the fourth Nanak said, “Amongst all Thou art contained and all meditate on Thee.”8
Guru Nanak and His successor Sikh Gurus established and nurtured the socio-religious institutions like Sangat-Pangat, Daswandh, Guruship, Manji, Masand, Khalsa, etc with a purpose to educate and train the masses to practise the eternal message. These institutions were designed to inculcate and promote the spirit of goodwill and coexistence among the people who were divided based on caste, color, creed, race etc.
The modern age coined the ideas of democracy and egalitarianism. However, the very same concepts are deeply embedded in Sikh socio-religious thought. The composition of the Sikh Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, is the best evidence of its democratic base Sri Guru Granth Sahib is free of any sectarianism in all matters. The Holy Scripture contains not only the hymns and songs of Sikh Gurus, but also those of Kabir, the Sufi saints, the Vaishnava bhaktas and other saints of the period. This strange but democratic spirit of tolerance and respect to the viewpoints of other religious saints is a unique phenomenon in the history of religion. No other scripture of any religion in the world includes in itself the hymns of saints of any other religion. This type of humane and brotherly attitude to people of other religions is found through the entire history of Sikhism. Indeed Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, stood and fought to defend the religious symbols of the Kashmiri Pandits. In modern terms, it was a heroic struggle for human rights in religious matters.9
The Sikh Gurus wanted to create a classless and casteless society, wherein each individual enjoyed freedom of expression; observance and adherence to one's own religion, religious tolerance, social equality, where duties and rights were accorded equal importance. Adherence to one’s religion and faith is not a crime but disrespect and intolerance to other religious faiths was certainly a sin.10 The ultimate configuration of the society, which the Sikh Gurus envisaged, was egalitarian, non-exploitative, non-discriminative allowing human spirit to have a full play, free from prejudices of caste, gender, wealth and birth et al., all its members steeped deep in full faith in the singularity and unity of God and in Fatherhood of God. To achieve this aim, they evolved suitable strategy. They established requisite institutions to give practical shape to these ideas and also to preserve and perpetuate them.11
Guru Nanak said, “From the One Lord all are born. The routes are two, but know that their Master is one.”12 He also said, “He, who deems both the ways lead to one Lord, shall be emancipated.”13 Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Nanak said, “One Lord is the Father of all and we are the children of One Lord. Thou, O Lord, art our Guru.”14 He also said, “All are called partners in Thy grace. Thou art seen alien to none.”15 Bhagat Kabir said, “Firstly God created light and then by His Omnipotence, made all the mortals. From the One light has welled up the entire universe. Then who is good and who is bad?”16
Guru Nanak would like to work for a social order in which a human being is respected, because he is a human being and natural diversities do not stand in the way of human equality. Further, He would like to see the society of His dreams to be free from religious moral, social, economic. Political and administrative angularities imbalances and inequities experience tells us that if the people are able to smoothen such angularities the atmosphere becomes congenial for integration but there are some other conditions to be fulfilled if integration is to become a normal feature of day-to-day social life anywhere in the world. These conditions are constant dialogue, common cultural bonds, common objectives and voluntary services.17
Sikh Gurus urged for multicultural and pluralist society to attain the goal of peaceful coexistence. They denounced the man made sectarian and parochial divisions in the name of religion, race, caste, colour, sex etc. To them, the socio-cultural divisions and religious bigotry are the results of duality and create obstacles in the way of socio-spiritual development of humankind.
They denounced the age-old hierarchical structure of Hindu society. The Hindu caste system prohibited the vertical mobility among different caste groups. The discriminatory and exploitative character of caste system had compartmentalized the socio-religious, political and economic structures at the advent of Sikhism. Guru Nanak severely criticized the Varan Ashram Dharma, which had divided the society into four fold divisions. Guru Nanak said, “What is in the power of caste? Righteousness is to be assayed. High caste pride is like poison by holding in hand and eating which the man dies.”18 He said, “Preposterous is caste and vain the glory. The Lord alone gives shade to all the beings.”19 He also said, “Recognize Lord’s light within all and inquire not the caste, as there is no caste in the next world. Pause.”20 Sikh Gurus attempted to create a casteless, classless and equitable society. Guru Nanak said, “Nanak seeks the company of those who are of low caste among the lowly, nay rather the lowest of the low Why should he (he has no desire to) rival the lofty. Where the poor are looked after, there does rain the look of Thy grace, O’ Lord.”21
Sikh Gurus not only criticized the caste system but also redefined the conception of superiority and inferiority. They rejected the false basis of higher and lower status of people based on idea of birth in any particular caste group. To them, who are meditating the One Supreme Being and serving the mankind are superior ones. Contrary to this those who are moving on unrighteous path will be regarded as inferior. Guru Amar Das said, “Without the Name, everyone is of low caste and becomes the worm of ordure”.22 Bhagat Kabir said, “The Hindus and the Muslims have the same one lord.”23 Guru Gobind Singh, tenth Nanak said, “Some call themselves Hindu, some Turk, some Hafzi and others Imamsafi. But the entire mankind should be recognized as one."
They successfully created a society which was righteous and altruistic, as conceived by Guru Nanak Dev and completed by Guru Gobind Singh. The plan was to create a society of true persons who are in the process to achieve perfection. The Sikhs believe in one God and His Fatherhood and consider all mankind as His children and have faith in equality of all. Not only did they practise this ideal, they also know that moral deeds and conduct are the starting point for their upliftment and practise it accordingly. Sikhs pray daily for the welfare of entire mankind and also work for it.24 In the Sikh rule of law there is no scope and no place of discrimination and they are enjoined to work for the Good of All (tere bhane sarbat da bhala). The word sarbat leaves no choice for the Sikhs to discriminate either arbitrarily or rationally.25
The Sikh doctrines preached by Guru Nanak fully blossomed into the concept of the Khalsa. The Khalsa is to be a closely-knit society of voluntary members and selected based on special qualifications, disposition and characters, pledged to make the Sikh way of life prevail, with the ultimate objective of establishing a plural, free, open, global society grounded in a universal culture. The order of the Khalsa is the first human society in the world-history, organized with the deliberate object of and pledged to bring about an ecumenical human society, grounded in a world –culture, which represents a free and organic fusion of the various strands of the spiritual heritage of Man.26
The Fatherhood of God preached by Guru Nanak was the real Brotherhood of man recognized and established in practice by the religion of the Sikhs. The tenth and last Guru Gobind Singh in His time went a step further. On the introduction of the baptismal ceremony for the order of the Khalsa, he made the initiates drink the baptismal water the amrit one after another from one and the same vessel in a double round the first man becoming the last to drink it in the second round. This practice abolishes for the Sikhs the distinctions of high and low for all time to come and places them on a plain of absolute equality.27
Guru Gobind Singh gave the Khalsa the social ideal of equality and close brotherhood. There will be no distinction of birth, caste, class or color. All are equal in social status, and have the same rights and privileges. He thus enunciated ninety years earlier the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity that formed the bedrock of French Revolution.28 The five beloveds belonged to different communities of India, high and low, and hailed from different regions of the India Daya Ram a Khatri from Lahore in the North; Dharam Das, a Jat from Delhi; Mohkam Chand, a washer man from Dwarka in the west; Himmat Rai, a cook from Jagannath in the East; and Sahib Chand, a barber from Bidar in the south.29
He struck at the very root of the evil by declaring that caste was an after growth in the Hindu social system and nobody could call himself a true Sikh if he did not give up the prejudice of caste and did not regard all his fellow Sikhs as his brothers. The four castes, he said, were like pan, supari, chuna, and katha, i.e., betel leaf, betel-nut, lime and catechu, none of which by itself could give ruddiness to the lips, strength to the teeth or relish to the tongue. He not only tried to make one caste out of four, but he went a step further and at once removed all unevenness of religious privileges and established a theocratic democracy.30
Guru Gobind Singh gathered the waves of the Ocean of Consciousness as the mother gathers the hair of the child. What is man but an ocean of consciousness? The master washed them, combed them and bound them in a knot as the vow of the future manhood which shall know no caste, no distinction between man and man, and which shall work for the peace and amity of spiritual brotherhood. He who wears his knot of hair is a brother of all men, freed of an ill-feeling of selfishness.31 The order of the Khalsa is a group of voluntary members selected on the basis of ideology and strict psychological and character qualifications relating to disposition and behaviour patterns, overriding geographical, racial and sex limitations and pledged to establish a global society of human brotherhood.32
From the above discussion, it can be concluded that the Sikh Gurus firmly believed that unity of humankind is a prerequisite for social and spiritual development of an individual. They have dynamic and comprehensive vision of multicultural society in which all parochial concerns and narrow mindedness is withered away to establish a new harmonious and peaceful social order based on the idea of unity of God, spirit of social equality, religious tolerance and respect for human dignity.
1. Kapur Singh. “Sikhs and Sikhism” in Madanjit Kaur and Piar Singh (ed.). Some Insights into Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 2000. p.2.
2. Kapur Singh. “Sikhism and the World Society” in Madanjit Kaur and Piar Singh (ed.). Op. cit., p. 40.
3. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia. The Sovereignty of The Sikh Doctrine.: Singh Brothers, Amritsar, 2006. pp. 183-184.
4. Sheena Kandhari. “Interfaith and Sikhism (Part 1)” The Sikh Courier International, Spring- Summer (2012). p.15.
5. Daljeet Singh. Sikh Ideology, Sikh Missionary Society, Southall, 1989. p. 35.
6. Adi Shri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 13.
7. Ibid., p. 27.
8. Ibid. p. 548.
9. N. Muthu. Essays on Sikh Philosophy, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 1997. p.46.
10. Gurpreet Singh. Soul of Sikhism, Fusion Books, New Delhi, 2005. p. 26.
11. Surjit Singh Gandhi. History of Sikh Gurus Retold. Vol. 1, Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, 2009. p. 190.
12. Adi Shri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 223.
13. Ibid., p. 142.
14. Ibid., p. 611.
15. Ibid., p. 97.
16. Ibid., p. 1349.
17. Pritam Singh. “Religion for Peace and Integeration” in Wazir Singh (ed.). Religious Pluralism And Co-Existence, Publications Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1986. pp. 49-50
18. Adi Shri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 142.
19. Ibid., p. 83.
20. Ibid., p. 349.
21. Ibid., p. 15.
22. Ibid,. p. 426.
23. Ibid., p. 1158.
24. Tarsem Singh and Harjinder Singh Bhatia. “Social Impact of Sikh Religion.” The Sikh Review, Vol. 44. No. 510 (1996). p. 46.
25. Devinder Singh. “Rule of Law and Role of Sikhism in Communal Harmony” in Madanjit Kaur (ed.). Co-Existence In Pluralistic Society, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1991. pp. 84-85.
26. Kapur Singh. Sikhism for Modern Man, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 2006. p. 65.
27. Ganda Singh. “Guru Nanak’s Impact on History” in Harbans Singh (ed.). Perspectives on Guru Nanak, Publications Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1990. p. 420.
28. Hari Ram Gupta. History of Sikh Gurus, U. C. Kapur & Sons, New Delhi, 1973. p. 282.
29. Gurdeep Kaur. Political Ethics of Guru Granth Sahib, Deep and Deep Publications, New Delhi, 2000.p. 67.
30. G. C. Glorious History of Sikhism, New Book Society of India, New Delhi, 1972. pp. 107-108.
31. Puran Singh. The Spirit Born People, Director, Language Department, Chandigarh, 1970. p. 44.
32. Kapur Singh. “Sikhs and Communism” in Madanjit Kaur and Piar Singh (ed.). Op.cit., p. 56.
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