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Interfaith Dialogue and Guru Granth Sahib
Jodh Singh *

Dialogical nature of man is the common theme of contemporary philosophy, in general. In fact, dialogue is an interpersonal and inter-subjective method of communication of oneself with the other. The existentialists do not accept the other as a transcendent reality, whereas the other is considered as Maya by Advaita Vedanta, and as a grand illusion by almost all the mystics and philosophers of India.

Born as a Jewish child in Russia, Emannuel Levinas (1906-1995), a French philosopher pondering over the end of metaphysics not only realised but also suffered the outcome of the direct connections between the historical horrors of the Nazi period and the philosophical idea of neutral and impersonal "Being". It further implies the ontology as the attempt to reduce the other to the same or `beings' to `Being' reverbrating the hidden agenda of imperialist domination through tyranny.

However, Guru Nanak's supreme Being is not a neutral impersonal entity who has nothing to do with the wailings and sufferings of the beings created by Him. Guru Granth Sahib says that He is diffused profusely in all the three worlds and is always with the beings. When the human beings are butchered by the tyrannical oppressors of mankind, He is not required to be neutral and is bound to take sides of the downtrodden and oppressed ones. Rather, full of anguish, Guru Nanak does not hesitate in blaming the Lord for watching the mighty, shredding to pieces the weaker ones - Khurasan khasmana kia Hindustan draia. eti mar pai kaurlane tain ki daradu na aia (Guru Granth Sahib, p 360). Guru Granth Sahib, out of the sense of `goodness without any calculation', holds that fight for righteousness and justice should be fought, even if it is not related to one's own particular religion or social group. Guru Tegh Bahadur set a healthy model of goodness of human reality in the medieval period-fanatical scenario of India where he laid down his life for the safety of Brahminic society and faith of which he was neither a member nor had he ever accepted its tenets. It was the urge to defend ethical values, justice and religious freedom, which inspired him to put his head under the tyrannical ruler's sword.

Promotion and diffusion of goodness without any calculation, ethical values, justice and religious freedom, require the openness of heart and mind which may be attained through the dialogue with the different layers of the society. Says Levinas, "One is required to work on one's ownself and to go toward the other where he is truly other from whom, for an insufficiently mature soul, hatred flows naturally or is deduced with infallible logic. The themes of `historical rights', right of enrootedness, `undeniable principles' are required to be avoided." Discussing the boundaries and scope of dialogue, Levinas adds further by saying, "One must refuse to be caught up in the tangle of abstractions, whose principles are often evident, but whose dialectic, be it so rigorous, is murderous and criminal." However, he recommends the proximity of the honest, attentive and vigilant persons for tackling a tension, but he feels that without any definite project before them and mutual dialogue, the proximity of such persons even may resemble sleep, which is not going to solve any problem. Rather, these persons will fade away into words, will get lost in technical questions, or freeze up into an institution or structures only. A new solidarity and religiosity through meaningful dialogue is required to be evolved by recognizing and identifying those insoluble substances which have the potential of exploding in violence, guile or politics.

In Guru Granth Sahib, the dialogue is the wholesome process of knowing, saying and understanding (Guru Granth Sahib, p 1411). For the accomplishment of this process, Guru Granth Sahib, while telling the people Jab lagi dunia rahie Nanak kichhu suniai kichhu kahia 1 , further stresses that apart from having meaningful and factual dialogue, one should take care of the self-analysis first. In fact, Gurbani is well aware of the fact that those, whose mind is all-dark do not stand true to their words. Their lotus heart is inverted and does not bloom; therefore, their high verbosity notwithstanding, they, in fact, exhibit their inner ugliness. But those who are the accomplished persons, are of dialogical nature, and have the humble competence of saying something as well as of understanding a viewpoint in its proper context. Guru Nanak hails such persons by calling them the competent persons


manhu ji andhe ghup kahia biradu na janani
mani andhai undhai kaval disani khare karup
iki kahi janani kahia bhujani te nar sugharh sarup

According to Guru Granth Sahib, Gurbani the sambad or dialogue is the effort towards understanding the genuineness of the issues posed. In this great scripture, the base of a worthy life is the doctrine that one should have partnership with the virtues of the people and should keep away from mischiefs _ sanjh karijai gunah keri chhodi avagan chaliai . 3 Guru Granth Sahib gives no recognition to life lived in monasteries or jungles. It rather approves that life which prepares the individual to be of the world while not becoming worldly. Sikh life is the life of responsibility towards the surroundings, and, therefore, its spirituality and spiritual dialogue have some distinction from other ways of life. Sikh religion gives due importance to man as an individual, but it does not allow the interests of the society to be sacrificed for the sake of one man, howsoever great or high he may be. It approves humanitarianism, but not humanism of the West, because humanism can flourish only in autocracy, apostasy and narrowness of heart and mind. The dialogue with others with a view to conquering one and all absolutely, does not fit in the thought frame of Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak, being fully conscious of the egoist personality likely to emerge from debating behaviour pattern of the society, says that the researcher flourishes whereas the debater perishes _ khoji upajai badi binasai hau bali gur kartara 4 . Debate creates suicidal ego known as the chronic ailment ( diragh roga) in Gurbani. Only seva or the `service' can help get rid of this malady and the service alone can fill one's heart with love. Guru Amar Das furthers the view of Guru Nanak by saying _ badi binsahi sevak sevahi gur kai heti piari 5 _ the debater perishes and the humble-servant of the Guru serves with love and devotion. Namdev also holds that if somebody is desirous of enjoying the Ram-rasayan, he should never indulge in polemics _ bad bibad kahu sio na kijai, rasana ram rasayan pijai. 6

To save the self from polemical and disputational egotist mentality, the Sikh religion and the Guru Granth Sahib talk of a meaningful, factual and self-analysing dialogue. Indeed, the Guru Granth Sahib clearly denotes two types of dialogue. The first form of the dialogue is the dialogue with the self, the self-appraisal or peeping into the self. Before the external dialogue, the Gurbani inspires first to look into one's own heart and mind. Getting face to face with one's own self, one comes to know about his or her own meanness, shallowness, the layers of self-interests, greeds and diplomacies. So long as we do not cleanse out the dirt of above-named propensities with the broom of knowledge acquired through contemplation, we cannot become pure, and unpolluted and our external dialogue cannot be meaningful.

Self-analysis or the dialogue with the self brings the stage of autosuggestion. For autosuggestion, one need not go in search of any guru in person. The basic truths of life are so simple, straight and few in number, that every individual can imbibe these in his own self. The world is not stable; everything is in a flux, which is always in a forward motion. Then, why this fat ego? The realization how much this ego has made one hollow and how much suffering one himself has created, can be attained only by having dialogue with one's own self. Such a person understands that he, while not becoming obstruction in the deeds being performed around by the will of God, should allow the flow of the Divine will through his body unhindered, and should be always active for the victory of the Wondrous Lord ( Wahigruru ). The service to humanity should be considered service to the Lord, and thus spiritual happiness should be cultivated.

The self-analysing person becomes impatient for the glimpse of the divinity of the soul. He does not hesitate to ask himself as to what he should offer to see the light of truth equivalent to the light of myriad of suns, or, in the religious language, the court of the truth (sacha darbar). For dialogue, what type of language should he use, so that the Divine fills him with love for Him. To accept the greatness of the cognitive truth at the appropriate time (amritvela) and to live life according to that truth, is the answer that emerges from inside for which no external polemic is needed:

pher ki agai rakhiai jitu disai darbaru.
muhau ki bolani boliai jitu suni dhare piaru.
Amrit vela sachu nau vadiai vicharu.

The person capable of initiating dialogue with his own self can control the horse race of the mind with full confidence. He, with the help of autosuggestions to the mind, time and again, can make it realize its divine roots: manu tu joti sarup hai apana mulu pachhanu. mani hari ji terai nali hai gurmati rang manu . 8 e manu meria tu thir rahu chot na khavahi ram . 9

But from the points alluded to above, this hypothesis would be wrong that the mind is quite simple and is always eager to attain divinity and could be brought to the right track easily. In Guru Granth Sahib, Kabir is fully conscious of this fact, when he says that mind knows everything but still it undertakes to doing evil. Otherwise, how it is that having a lamp in hand, he is still falling into the well _ Kabir manu janai sabh bat janat he auganu karai. Kahe ki kuslat hathi dipu kue parai. 10 But even then giving suggestions to mind cannot be stopped, much as the tillage of the land cannot be abandoned because the animals would destroy it, or because of the fear of theft we cannot abandon the purchase of a household. Guru Amar Das, in his longer hymn Anandu, goes on to suggest to the mind by saying _ e man meria tu sada rahu hari nale. Hari nali rahu tu manu mere dukh sabhi visarana. 11 (O my mind! be always with the Lord. O mind be with the Lord and all your sufferings will be no more.)

The man who ponders over the greatness of God by himself becoming broadminded, the man who inspires the mind towards understanding its true form, enjoys the virtues of one and all. Such a person wears the silken clothing of pure life, becomes partner in the virtuous enterprises, neither remembers the mischief of others, nor reminds others of their evils. Wherever he goes or joins a discourse, he initiates the welfare of others and joyfully tries to understand the crux of the problems raised. The qualities alluded to above belong to a dialogical personality hinted at in Raga Suhi hymns by Guru Nanak:

Guna ka hovai vasula kadh vasu laijai
je guna hovani sajana mili sajh karijai
sajh karijai gunah keri chhodi avagan chaliai
pahire patambar kari adambar apana pirhu maliai
jithai jae bahiai bhala kahiai jholi amritu pijai
guna ka hovai vasula kadhi vasu laijai

The second type of dialogue delineated in Gurbani is the external dialogue which one finds scattered in the whole of Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak knew it very well that the work of reclamation of the withered soul of mankind could not be done without undertaking the device of dialogue. The main objective of his four itineraries was dialogue with the so-called upper and lower strata of the society, the religious pundits and the laity. While understanding their mental agony, he was to find solutions to their problems. In the salokas of Kabir recorded in Guru Granth Sahib, the dialogue loaded with social responsibility and spirituality between saint Namdev and Trilochan is there wherein Bhagat Trilochan asks Namdev why he is always busy in printing the cloth and, thus, by getting deeply involved with mammon, has forgotten the name of Ram. Bhagat Namdev replies: O Trilochan, on lips one should have the name of Ram; with hands one should go on earning one's bread and butter, but the heart should remain deeply imbued with the Lord:

Nama maia mohia kahai Tilochanu mit.
kahe chhipahu chhailai Ram na lavahu chitu.
Nama kahai Tilochana mukh te Ramu samali.
hath pau kari kamu sabh chitu Niranjan nali.

The first Var by Bhai Gurdas puts forth the scene of the dialogue between Guru Nanak and different yogis. In this dialogue, the Guru generally maintains his calm and most humbly states to the yogis that he has no miracle with him except the true Name of the Lord. But irritated yogi Bhangarnath, under the guise of dialogue, sarcastically remarks, "O Nanak, why you have forsaken the garb of yogis and have put on the clothes of the householders. By repudiating the guise of the yoga indeed, your act is similar to mixing of vinegar with the milk and spoiling it. By doing so, Nanak has spoiled the pure yogic life." Guru Nanak, understanding his arrogance and sarcasm and with a view of putting a small check on his inflated ego, replies in the same vein:

Says Nanak, "O! Bhangarnath your mother (teacher) knows nothing. You do not know how the vessel should be cleansed and hence the odour destroys the fruit therein. You having repudiated household life still go to the householders for begging. But mind it, you will get nothing without putting in something (in the form of labour) 14 .

The hagiographical literature pertaining to Guru Nanak, and his hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib make it explicit that the Guru was in continuous discussion with the pedantic pundits, the maulvis, the yogis and a host of pirs and faqirs. Not only that, he, putting away the idea of mere toleration, flashed before the world a new idea of acceptance of the greatness and truthfulness of others irrespective of caste, colour and creed. To see it through, he collected the hymns of spiritual personalities from different parts of Asia. One's acceptance fills others with love for one and all, and then one enjoys the spirit of dialogue with the others.

In Gurbani, the best example of the external dialogue is Guru Nanak's longer hymn Sidh Gosti (Guru Granth Sahib, pp 938-946) in which, through a spiritual dialogue, the philosophy of yoga vis-a-vis Sikh philosophy of life has been elucidated. What type of mental balance and stability of mind is required to be held by the discussants, the Guru himself becomes the best example of the same. At the very outset of the hymn, the questions and answers are put to each other. Yogi Charpat asks, "O Nanak! The world is unfathomable expansive sea; give your considered opinion as to how one can get across it." The answer by Guru Nanak, full of courtesy, self-confidence and truth, illustrates the nature, form and tradition of dialogue in Sikhism. Guru Nanak replies, "O Yogi! you very well understand the crux of the question you expect me to reply. What answer I can put forth? I sincerely hold that you have already swum (this world ocean) and how could I find fault in your way and process. Of course, you have asked me my way to which I will definitely come. As the lotus, though living in water, does not allow the water to wet its petals and the water fowl also keeps its wings unwet, likewise by merging surati into sabad the world ocean may be got crossed."

Dunia sagaru dutaru kahiai kiu kari paiai paro.
Charpatu bolai audhu Nanak dehu sacha bicharo.
Ape akhai ape samajai tisu kia utaru dijai.
Sachu kahahu tum pargrami tujh kia baisanu dijai.
Jaise jal mahi kamal niralam murgai naisane.
Surati sabadi bhav sagaru tariai Nanak namu vakhane.

This constructive aspect of dialogue, which, without hurting anybody, capacitates a person for explaining his own view-point is the basis of dialogue in Guru Granth Sahib.

Unfortunately, we have discarded such an attitude and the results are obvious. The Sikh community is divided, and almost everybody is playing on his own tambourine. In the Sidh Gosti, whether the questions are related to the individual or the common man, whether they are philosophical or ethical, the level of the dialogue is full of serenity, sobriety and mutual respect. In the seventeenth and eighteenth stanzas, the siddhas inquire of the Guru as to what is the reason of abandoning the household and why has he put on the garb of a yogi, the answer is not only sincere and respectful but candid too _ Gurmukhi khojat bhae udasi. Darsan kai tai bhekh nivasi , i.e., in the search of Guru-oriented persons, I have donned this garb of an ascetic. In Sidh Gosti , the problems of life right from birth to death have been discussed, but nowhere bitterness comes to the forefront. The reason for such a phenomenon is that persons involved in the dialogue have neither greed for positions, nor are they internally hollow. They are the contented personalities with their respective ways of life. In the words of Bhai Gurdas in his first var, Guru Nanak considers the siddhas much more full of will power and capacity, and perhaps that is why the Guru is said to have told them that if the siddhas- like people would remain hidden in the caves of the mountains then who would lead the people in the world below _ Sidh chhapi baithe parbati kaunu jagati kau par utara ? If the dialogue is initiated with the intention of giving proper recognition to the other person, the results of such a dialogue would be meaningful and constructive. Sikhism has this tradition and may God bless the Sikhs to learn something from their history and philosophy as enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib.



1. Guru Granth Sahib, p 661.
2. Guru Granth Sahib, p 1411
3. Guru Granth Sahib, p 766
4. Guru Granth Sahib, p 1255
5. Guru Granth Sahib, p 911.
6. Guru Granth Sahib, p 1164.
7. Guru Granth Sahib, p 2.
8. Guru Granth Sahib, p 411.
9. Guru Granth Sahib, p 1113.
10. Guru Granth Sahib, p 1376
11. Guru Granth Sahib, p 917.
12. Guru Granth Sahib, p 765-66.
13. Guru Granth Sahib, pp 1375-76.
14. Bhai Gurdas Varan , 1.40
15. Guru Granth Sahib, p 938.



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