A Tribute to Guru Gobind Singh, Creator of Khalsa. Sikhism is the Fifth Largest Religion of the World. The Sikh Guru’s 350th birth anniversary falls on January 5, 2017
In the times of Mogul empires India was in great danger of eclipsing its cultural and religious diversities. Mullahs in the court of Mogul king Aurangzeb were creating havocs in converting everyone living in their empire to their version of Islam. To fully appreciate the extent of this widespread bloodshed in today’s context, one may view the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as the mission of then Mogul empire was similar.
In order to conceptualize the mentality of ISIS and its tactics, look no further than daily pictures of horrors and insanity throughout the Middle East and the Western world. Only just in the past few months the rise of ISIS became a revelation to the West. Commencing with the self-proclamation of Caliph by its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and finally the surge in Iraq and Syria, each day is bringing bloodshed, beheading, and burning of live innocents. It is occurring withoutstop once it was launched.
To those who know the Indian history it will be obvious that the theology and actions during the Mogul Kingdom were reciprocal of ISIS as well asthe Wahhabi religious doctrine that governed the days of Aurangzeb in India. Then too thehostility towards other religions was very evident through Mullahs’ orations and fatwas such as: “It is incumbent upon Muslims to take as enemies the infidel Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Sufi Muslims, and other polytheists, and to avoid their amicability,” and “Shi’ites are the most polytheist, and none of the people of passion are more lying than them, and more remote from monotheism, and their danger on Islam is very great indeed.” Such was the common rhetoric and propaganda used during the kingdom of Mogul Aurangzeb. It was militant legitimization for superiority of one religion. It was there to eclipse any sign of diversity among religions and cultures.
A SCHOLAR’S TESTIMONY
Daulat Rai, a social historian of the Pakistani Punjab, entitled his book ‘Sahibe Kamal Guru Gobind Singh’ (1993 edition) in order to exemplify Guru Gobind Singh as an extraordinary prophet. Guru was so recognized not only on account of his forward looking lead to religious thoughts but similarly extraordinary undertakings to promote and protect diversity in opposition to forced bent on bringing uniformity. His boldness and commitment to his cause cost him his parents, his children, his beloved followers, and eventually his own life.
DIVERSITY: HALLMARK OF FUTURE SOCIETIES
It is now accepted universally that the next generations of humanity would create a new global village in order for diverse type of societies to live together in peace and prosperity. This prosperity would be both in worldly and spiritual domains.
In illustrating the greatness of Guru Gobind Singh, I cherry picked a few facets; to fully comprehend and describe Guru’s greatness may take a lifetime commitment to such pursuit. In limiting the scope, I will select issues that impact particularly the civil societies across oceans even though they are illustrated through examples of the practices prevalent in the Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu societies of Indian sub-continent.
Contrary to the prevalent beliefs of proving one religion superior to another, and imposing one belief at the cost of the other, Guru Gobind Singh called upon all religions to engage in the service of whole humanity. Let me illustrate with a few examples.
GURU’S FIRST SERMON
From his childhood, young Gobind took to the ways of inter-religious dialogues and engagements. According to our history books, the recognition of Guru’s divinity was first acknowledged publicly in an important inter-religious event.
It all began with the installation of infant Gobind to his prophetic rank. Contrary to established practices of initiating a child prophet by the clergy of the faith of his forefathers, in this case a renowned Muslim saint, Syed Bhikhan Shah, was given this honor in case of Gobind Rai. Mind you that Guru was not born to Muslim parents.
The story goes as follows.
One day, followers of Muslim Pir Bhikhan Shah observed their holy man to bow towards the East during his morning prayers. Certainly, it was contrary to the established Islamic practice of bowing in the direction of Kiblah.
When his followers looked astonished, the Pir responded and explained his unusual act. He said that a special child, the savior chosen by Allah, was taking birth in Patna located to the East that he faced to say his prayer. He further disclosed that he was inspired by Allah to make his way to the child’s birth place in the East India, Patna, to bless the newly born Gobind, and to pronounce him a prophet.
The Pir gathered his followers and led them to the pilgrimage of Patna in order to view the newborn. In Patna, although unusual for mothers of a newborn to do so, Guru’s mother accepted the Pir’s request and brought out the child for public viewing.
The Pir presented a pre-meditated riddle. He placed two bowls of candy before the child; one bowl was purchased from a Hindu’s shop, and the other from a Muslim’s shop, thus signifying the two major religions in India. The riddle sought answer to an unspoken question of seeking guidance as to which religion this divine prophet would belong to. The proper response would permit the Pir to pronounce the Guru’s divinity and his prophetic authority to lead those very people.
To everyone’s admiration and deep gratification, the infant Gobind Rai placed his hands in both bowls, thus indicating that he would not profile people among religious divides. Further, it signified that all religions would be likewise dear to him. Also, he would honor a holy man of a religion different than that of his ancestors’ to become the intermediate of his new message.
The Muslim Pir and his Muslim companions as well as Hindu neighbors who had gathered there were thrilled and fulfilled.
The point is that in his very first public message Guru Gobind Singh laid the path to inter-religious engagement that sanctioned inter-religious appreciation and accommodation. Further, he chose symbolic language over the languages considered sacred by two religions to communicate his first public sermon. There too he chose to tell it through a profound public demonstration.
Although minimizing the religious divide was Guru Gobind Singh’s first sermon, it was neither a one-time sermon alone nor the first time in the Sikh tradition that such a sermon was aired.
Then onward all congregations of the Guru always consisted of diverse audience.
Divinity of Guru Nanak was first recognized by a Muslim holy man, Rai Bullar and not by his parents. Similarly, when Guru Nanak made his first debut after receiving the divine ordination at the banks of River Vein in Northern India he gave the following sermon to those who gathered to welcome him as a prophet. Guru Arjan paraphrased this sermon in the following hymn.
Guru Arjan, SGGS, p. 1136.
I am neither a Hindu, nor am I a Muslim (Christian, Budhhist, etc.). My body and breath of life belong equally to Allah and to Raam -the God of both religions.
In the most popular painting of the founder of the Sikhi reformation, Guru Nanak is always shown with his two companions, a Hindu companion, Bhai Bala, and, a Muslim companion, Bhai Mardana.
Guru Gobind Singh reiterated the same doctrine of not profiling people into religious categories. The writers and historians amply documented Guru Gobind Singh’s teachings in this respect. He is said to teach as:
When one gets rid of the false beliefs one ceases to profile people into Hindu or Muslim (Christian, Jew or Sikh).
Bachitar Natak, p. 157
GLOBAL IN SCOPE
Guru Gobind Singh further believed that when such an enlightened person looked around far and wide through all lands he would not find anyone other than the same divine spirit. A poet described this as:
So, that no one may have any doubt, Guru Gobind Singh is said to refer, by name, various geographical regions, many linguistic and cultural groups that spread all over the continents to make one humanity. For example, Guru is described to pronounce various sects, denominations or ethnicities as all adoring the same Creator.
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The inhabitants of the East could not know Thy limit, the people of Hingala and Himalaya Mountains remember Thee, residents of Gor and Gardez sing the Praises of Thy Name.
The Yogis perform Yoga, many are absorbed in doing Pranayama and people of Arabia bound by Holy Quran remember Thy Name.
The people of France and England revere Thee, the inhabitants of Kandahar and Quraishis identify Thee; the people of the West recognize their duty towards Thee.
The inhabitants of Maharashtra and Magadha perform austerities with profound affection; the residents of Drawar and Tilang countries recognize Thee as the Abode of Dharma.
The Bengalis of Bengal, the Phirangis of Phirangistan and Dilwalis of Delhi are the followers of Thy Command.
The Rohelas of Rohu Mountain, the Maghelas of Magadha, the heroic Bangasis of Bangas and the Bundhelas of Bundhelkhand abolish their sins in Thy devotion.
Gorkhas sing Thy Praises, the residents of China and Manchuria bow their heads before Thee and the Tibetans end the sufferings of their bodies by remembering Thee.
Whosoever meditated upon Thee, they obtained perfect Grandeur; they prosper greatly with spiritual wealth, blooming flowers and ripening fruits, and praiseworthy place of ultimate abode.
Akal Ustat, 254-255, Dasam Granth, p. 13-14. The above hymn speaks the universality of the Guru’s recognition that the faith message is beyond man made boundaries and territories.
Guru Gobind Singh’s ecumenical teachings continued as solidifications and extensions of what he told as an infant and what his predecessor gurus initiated to tell centuries earlier. He worked tirelessly to restore society’s confidence in the time-tested human values of unity in diversity, freedom of faith practices, justice and compassion. He challenged the wide-spread religious bigotry among all world religions. His teachings as defined below emphasized that in the eyes of Creator there was no difference among various people.
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Many believed that they became superior by accepting celibacy or undertaking many modes of meditation, by giving up material comforts, by making themselves look different, or by wearing long and matted hair or no hair. Others feel higher by joining a sect of Islam as, Shia, Sunni, etc. But no one should overlook the basic fact that followers of all religions are the same human beings. The Creator of all provides for the needs of all humans. There is one God of all and that God alone should be worshipped. Do not remain an ignorant and believe in anyone else except the One. All humanity is equal, each one of us carries the reflection of the Creator in us, and we are all manifestations of one Creator.
Akal Ustat, In: Chaunnvee Banee Dasam Granth, Ed. Lal Singh, Nav Yug Publishers, Delhi, 1987, P. 92.
To spread his message of a perfect egalitarian society based on one-ness of God that celebrated diversity in all its myriad forms, Guru Gobind Singh is said to relate the origin of all diversity to the One Being.
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As out of a single fire arise millions of sparks; but all merge back into the same fire. As out of same dust arise millions of dust particles; but all merge back into the same dust. As out of a single ocean arise millions of waves; but all merge into the water. So from God’s form, emerge all creation, animate and inanimate; and all of them are in equilibrium with the Creator.
Akal Ustat, Chhand 87.
DIFFERENCES ARE DECEPTION
Guru Gobind Singh believed that the differences among humans in terms of color, appearance and ethnicity were due to God’s creative process; all human beings had a moral responsibility to cherish and preserve this sacred creativity. He underscored the unity of human spirit despite many apparent distinctions. He is said to state:
All human beings are one and the same, although there is a deception of differences.
Akal Ustat, Chhand 86. l. 2.
Guru Gobind Singh was a champion of the human right to be diverse. He advocated freedom of culture, religion and thought for every individual. He is known to explain that the differences in our outward appearance, clothes, customs and practices are attributed to the choices that only we make:
Many are gods or demon, or celestial musicians. There are heavenly tribes and the learned people or the artists. They may be seen as people of different religions as Muslims (citizens of Islamic nations) or Hindus (natives of Indian subcontinent). They may all look and act differently, but their apparent differences are due to the influences from their countries and cultures, or in the clothes they wear.
Akal Ustat, Chhand 86. l. 3.
Thus, the worldview of Guru Gobind Singh was all inclusive. Indeed, Guru Gobind Singh’s ideal of appreciation for diversity as a pivotal feature of all human activity was also a new age ideal. We must never forget to defend it. As torch bearers of his teachings we must harp on all imperative slogans that he is known to give us.
Recognize all humans as one and the same race.
Akal Ustat, Chhand 85. l. 4.
POLITICS MEANT TO SERVE WITHOUT PREJUDICE
To Guru Gobind Singh, finding and protecting Truth was a desired political doctrine and a national heroism. Noble purpose of political life and/or religious mission can be pursued both by spiritual pursuits and/or by sacrificing acts to serve humanity. To seek to be a community leader he pointed out that, faith and humility would be necessary virtues. Similarly, great heroes would be bold, courageous, and sometimes audacious in their determination to succeed; but they must also be humble in their awareness of their real mission.
To the Guru, a person must never violate spiritual laws while pursuing a noble purpose-the means must be as moral as the ends.
For his purpose, Guru Gobind Singh recruited ordinary people-farmers, peace-keepers, shopkeepers, teachers, business professionals, parents, citizens – to ennoble them for what they could do by being mindful of deepest meaning in a life of service as a common trait within all diversity.
Guru Gobind Singh showed a deep concern of godless rulers and their brand of governance. He was very vocal critic of the monarchs who ruled without regards to the universal teachings of love for God’s creation. For example, Guru Gobind Singh conveyed the following in response to a letter from the Mogul Emperor, Aurangzeb.
Hama ko tura padshahee badad, bama daulatey deen panahee badad, Tura turkatazee be makar va riyaa, mara chareh saazee be sidak vafaa. Na zedad tura naame Aurangzeb, xe Aurang Zeban na yabad fareb.
By Whose grace you are made king and your writ sweeps everything, His very grace endowed us to protect the faithful and the low. When your aim is to loot and plunder, to cheat and fraud, we are there to shield, save, and protect. Our arms are the Truth and faith in Almighty. You do not really deserve to be a king when you resort to hoax and fraud and thus betray the trust of God as a king.
Duggal, S.S., Fathenama
As is illustrated in his letter, the Guru’s displeasure with the mogul emperor was not so much because the emperor forcibly took over the governance of the Hindus or the Sikhs, but rather, that the emperor had forsaken the tenets of a true religion during his reign and warfare.
It is a clear example that Guru Gobind Singh held the rulers of the day responsible for leading others to be God-fearing and believers of the faith in the politics that they practiced. With strength of their belief in the Creator, they were held responsible for the protection of the people and their rights to be safe.
In this way, Guru Gobind Singh concluded the mission assigned to him by his predecessor gurus as is evidence in the following verses.
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God bestows glorious recognition upon those who are truthful and promote righteous justice. Everyone should praise the Creator who asks to protect the poor and the lost. He honors the righteous and punishes the culprit.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib (1604), p. 89.
Sikh theologian, Bhai Gurdas observed this order being implemented in real practice.
The nation of the Guru-oriented people is the nation of the truth. Their slogan is Truth and their kingdom based on the laws of Divine Truth.
Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 26, Pauri 1
The prophet lived at a time (1666-1708) when religious fanaticism in South Asia was at its height. It was endlessly posing a grave threat to the human spirit of freedom and liberty.
The innate human desire for individual expression and diversity of belief was severely curtailed. Those with faith practices different from the misguided rulers were persecuted and the religious places of one religion were replaced with those of others. Practice of pluralism and multicultural life was in peril.
Guru’s great-grand-father, father, four sons and countless followers were put to death by the powers. It was a dark, grim and ominous period in human history.
Guru Gobind Singh worked tirelessly to restore society’s confidence in the time-tested human values of unity in diversity, freedom of faith practices, justice and compassion. He challenged the ruling and dominant powers with grit and determination. With equal might he challenged the wide-spread religious bigotry.
Indeed, Guru Gobind Singh’s ideal of appreciation for diversity as a pivotal feature of all human activity is also an American ideal. We must never forget to defend it.
While celebrating Guru Gobind Singh we can see clearly that the Guru was obviously establishing institutions with multiple ramifications. The self-righteousness which comes from dividing the world into us and them had no place in Guru Gobind Singh’s vision. His sacrifices made a great difference and diversity was preserved in opposition to uniformity throughout Indian sub-continent.
Sikh scholar Bhai Santokh Singh, a great historian of India rightly observed.
Were Guru Gobind Singh not there at the critical junction of Indian history, there would have been all uniformity; the diversity in religious spheres, diverse scriptures and diverse modes of worship would have taken wings. In favor of one religion, the others would have been destroyed and their holy places smashed. Sin would have replaced the virtues.
Bhai Santokh Singh, Suraj Parkash.