A Sikh and a Singh
It is commonly believed that Guru Nanak “described himself simply as a guru or teacher and his adherents as Sikhs or disciples,”1 and that “Sikh (Sanskrit, sisya), means a disciple.”2 Earlier, we have shown that the concept of ‘Guru’ is one of the most complex concepts of Hindu philosophy and ancient Indian religious thought, and that the ontological status of the Guru is by far the highest known to Hindu philosophical tradition of mankind. In the ancient Hindu texts, “the Guru is the demiurge Creator, Visnu, the Preserver and Mahesvara, the All-Destroyer: Guru is the visible, the one and only God and is thus entitled to humble allegiance and adoration of all mankind.”3 “The Guru is the earth and the Law above it from which each man receives his deserts!”4 “The Guru is the Cosmic Ocean”,5 out of which all phenomena emanate and arise, of Hindu metaphysics, “The Guru is the running fresh Water of Life itself which continuously creates, refreshes, purifies and sustains the Life.”6 There was, thus, nothing ‘simple’, modest or unassuming in the claim to the status of the Guru, which Nanak made, though he was extremely humble when he spoke of himself as a human being and he preached humility as a necessary virtue for a man of culture and religion.
I belong to the lowly caste of those whose duty is to sing praises in the royal court.7
It is befitting for man to be humble and to say so, and thus beseech God to show mercy to the fallen and the unworthy.8
I possess neither the distinction of learning nor the merit of virtue and nor the just pride of holy penance; I am just a simple fool as I was born. 9
In the final reckoning he who is most humble, shall be exalted the most.10
O, man, if you have your true interests at heart then be humble and unassuming, living a life of purity.11
He, the Guru, therefore, is not a “teacher” of inert facts, and those whom He regenerates, are not merely the Sanskrit sisya, the taught and the pupils, “the disciples”, or the followers. They are a class apart from the rest of mankind by virtue of their regenerated character, and not on account of their nominal allegiance to a human teacher.
As the Rudrayamaltantra tells us, ‘a guru is not one who merely teaches and preaches, but one who establishes the pupil into God realisation, the guru’s own status’, svayamacharate sisyamachre sthapyapi.12
Nor, indeed is the word, “Sikh” a corrupted form of the Sanskrit sisya as is generally supposed, for the word Sikh is a technical term which occurs in the Pali Dhammapada with clear definition of its denotation. Indeed, the Sanskrit sisya appears to be an artificial extraction made by Panini or his predecessor purists, from the original, older and richer Pall ‘Sikh’. To define Sikh with reference to the word sisya, is, therefore, a mistake, as serious as to consider that a ‘Sikh’ means no more than an adherent of a human teacher, Nanak.
Who shall be the victor in the race of life, the path of which is beset with evil and suffering?
Who shall achieve the life everlasting and thus garner the flowers of life on earth?12
asks the Dhammapada. In the next verse, the answer is supplied to these far-reaching fundamental questions:
The Sikh shall be the victor in the race of life, the path of which is beset with evil and suffering.
The Sikh shall achieve the life everlasting and thus shall garner the flowers of life on earth.13
For the Buddhist the Dhamma, the Lex Aeterna 14 is synonymous with Truth.15 Sikhism also endorses this doctrine: Dharma is one and for all: it is the Truth.16 It is with this, timeless and temporal, transcendent and immanent Law that the Buddha identifies himself. “He who sees the Dhamma sees me and he who sees me sees the Dhamma,”17 a doctrine also explicity stated in the Guru Granth. A person who is dedicated to this Truth is a Sikh, a ‘Sekhio’, as the Pall Canon puts it. “A Sikh is one who travels towards the House of Truth that the Guru hath bulit.”18
The world Sikh in its primitive sense, as well as the sense in which it is understood to mean in the Sikh scriptural writings and tradition, means an individual who values Truth above all things of the world and who dedicates his life in commitment to this Truth. Those who accept and follow the teachings of the Sikh Gurus naturally belong to this category, and quite appropriately, therefore, they are called, the Sikhs.
Why did Guru Gobind Singh call a Sikh a Singh when knighted as a member of the Khalsa? The authors of A Short History of the Sikhs, simply, state that the knighted Sikhs “were to have a common name, Singh, or lion. Bravery as much as peace and purity was to be their religion.”19 According to this, physical bravery, henceforth, was to be the main Sikh virtue, and therefore, Guru Gobind Singh, in 1699, required the Sikhs to adopt the surname of Singh, which means, ‘lion’, the feline beast of the Indian jungle. A Sikh writer of the early 19th century, Bhup Singh Nirmala says that the appellation, “Singh, was a gift from the vehicle of the goddess, Chandi, the Fierce.”20 In the myth of the goddess Chandi, also her determinant vehicle, the lion, is the representative of her animal nature, the Valour.
This appreciation of the word ‘Singh’, is as mistaken as has been seen to be the popular notion about the word ‘Sikh’. The term ‘Singh’, as a term of religious and spiritual significance, is as ancient as the Hindu religion itself, and there is nothing earthly in its connotation as our various writers would have us believe.
“Monks”, says Gautam, the Buddha, “the lion, king of beasts at eventide comes forth from his lair. Having done so, he stretches himself and then surveys the four quarters in all directions. He then three times roars his lion’s roar, singhanada and sallies forth in search of prey. Why doth he do so? He roars with the idea: Let me not bring destruction to tiny creatures wandering astray. As for the word ‘lion’, monks, that is a term for a Truth-finder, tathagata, a Perfected one, puranpurusa, a fully awakened One, buddha. For, in as much as he teaches dhamma publicly, this is his lion’s roar, the singhanada.”21
What is a Truth-finder, a tathagata, the generic name for which is, a ‘lion’, a Singh?
The Bhikkhu, Vachagotta asks Gautam, the Buddha, where a monk, when he is freed in heart, i.e. when he becomes a tathagata; ‘a lion’, arises. The Buddha replies:
Arise, does not apply.
Then he does not arise?
Not-arise does not apply.
Then he both arises and does not arise?
Arises-and-not-arises does not apply.
Then he neither arises, nor does not arise?
Neither-arises-nor-does-not-arise does not apply.
I am at a loss, Gautam, I am bewildered.
You ought to be at a loss and bewildered Vacha, for this dhamma is hard to see and to understand, it is rare, excellent, beyond dialectic, subtle to be comprehended by the intelligent. To you it is if difficult, who have other views, another persuasion, another belief, a different allegiance, a different teacher. So, Twill question you in turn. If there were a fire burning in front of you, would you know it?
Yes, good Gautam.
If you were asked what made it burn could you give an answer?’
I should answer that it bums because of the fuel of the grass and sticks.
If the fire were put out, would you know that it had been put out?
If you were asked in what direction the put-out fire had gone whether to the east, west, north or south, could you give an answer?
That does not apply. Since the fire burnt because of the fuel of grass and sticks, yet because it received no more sustenance in the way of grass and sticks, then, lacking sustenance it went out.
In the same way, Vacha, all material shapes, feelings, perceptions, constructions, consciousness, by which a ‘Truth-finder’ might be made known have been destroyed by him, cut of fat the root, made like the stump of a palm tree, so utterly done-away with that they can come to no future existence. A ‘Truth-finder’ is freed from the denotation of ‘body’, and so on, he is profound measureless, unfathomable even like unto the great ocean.22
A Singh is one who has reached the goal, who has realised the Self, and whose self, therefore, is no more, whose ego and little personality are shed off and destroyed, and who thus has no proper particular name and so is designated by the generic term, Singh, so long as he is active in the social and political context of the Sikh Way of life. The term ‘Sikh’ implies a person who is a learner, who is set on the path of spiritual perfection and Self-realisation, but who has not yet fully realised the Self, who has not yet found the Truth in entirety, and who, therefore, cannot be designated a tathagata, or a Singh. When a Sikh has reached that final goal and he has ceased acting with the fulcrum of his little ego, he becomes a Singh, the perfected one. Guru Gobind Singh has, said so:
A member of the Khalsa, a Singh, is one who is in constant communion with the living God, without a thought of the other, who is an embodiment of pure love and faith,… and within whom there is nought but the one and only God, he is awakened to discrimination between the Real and the unreal.23
This is the true significance of the institute of Guru Gobind Singh by which he gave the surname ‘Singh’ to all the Sikhs, who were knighted as members of the Khalsa, and this is the real meaning of the term Singh in the Sikh religious tradition. Either with physical valour or with the symbology of the Sakta goddess, Chandi the word Singh has nothing to do, so far as the Sikh tradition is concerned.
1. Charles Eliot, Sir, Hinduism and Buddhism, II, p. 267
2. Teja Singh and Ganda Singh, A Short History of the Sikhs, I, p. 1
3. Guru Bramha, Gurvishnu gurdevomehashvra; guru sahayatparbrahm Shri guru darnamo.
੪. ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਧਰਤੀ ਧਰਮ ਹੈ ਤਿਸੁ ਵਿਚਿ ਜੇਹਾ ਕੋ ਬੀਜੇ ਤੇਹਾ ਫਲੁ ਪਾਇ ॥
੫. ਸੇਵਹੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਸਮੁੰਦੁ ਅਥਾਹਾ ॥
੬. ਗੁਰੁ ਦਰੀਆਉ ਸਦਾ ਜਲੁ ਨਿਰਮਲੁ ਮਿਲਿਆ ਦੁਰਮਤਿ ਮੈਲੁ ਹਰੈ ॥ ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਪਾਇਐ ਪੂਰਾ ਨਾਵਣੁ ਪਸੂ ਪਰੇਤਹੁ ਦੇਵ ਕਰੈ ॥
੭. ਹਉ ਢਾਢੀ ਕਾ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਹੋਰਿ ਉਤਮ ਜਾਤਿ ਸਦਾਇਦੇ ॥
੮. ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਹਮ ਨੀਚ ਕਰੰਮਾ ॥ ਸਰਣਿ ਪਰੇ ਕੀ ਰਾਖਹੁ ਸਰਮਾ ॥
੯. ਧਰਿ ਤਾਰਾਜੂ ਤੋਲੀਐ ਨਿਵੈ ਸੁ ਗਉਰਾ ਹੋਇ ॥
੧੦. ਜੇ ਲੋੜਹਿ ਚੰਗਾ ਆਪਣਾ ਕਰਿ ਪੁੰਨਹੁ ਨੀਚੁ ਸਦਾਈਐ ॥
੧੧. ਮੈ ਬਧੀ ਸਚੁ ਧਰਮ ਸਾਲ ਹੈ ॥ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾ ਲਹਦਾ ਭਾਲਿ ਕੈ
12. Puspuvaggo, 4.1.
13. Ibid., Ibid., 4.2.
14. The Law above our minds, called the Truth" - St Augustine, Dev Ver reliq XXX.
15. Samyutta - Nikaya, 1.69
16. ਏਕੋ ਧਰਮੁ ਦ੍ਰਿੜੈ ਸਚੁ ਕੋਈ ||
17. Ittivuttkam, 3,43.45/91.
18. Sri Rag, M 5, GGS, p. 73.
19. Teja Singh & Ganda Singh, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 70.
20. Sudharmamarga Granth, p. 47.
21. Angutrara-nikaya, V/33 4.4.3.
22. Majjhima-nikaya, I, 486-87
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