Prophets Peoples and Places By Harchand Singh (Canada) The Sikh Holy Book tells us that the belief in a single Saviour, a single scripture,and a single planet inhabited by a finite number of living beings endowed with moral discrimination, represents too narrow a prespective of the cosmic and spiritual reality. It widens our mental horizon by informing us that in Lord?s infinite creation there are endless number of prophets and holy books, limitless number of beings, and countless number of worlds. The earth, we are familiar with, is not the only stage where the drama of good and evil is being enacted. A tremendously vast portrait of the universe, which is almost incomprehensible for the human intellect, is sketched by Guru Nanak in these words :- Countless1 are the beings, Who reflect and recite! Countless are the beings Who in Thy love delight! Countless devotees are Adoring Divinty! While countless dost relish The fire of austerity! (Countless) the holy writs, And countless read the word! Countless are the Yogins, Ever in mind detach?d! Countless votaries on Thy virtues ruminate In search of Thy knowlege, They e?er deliberate! Countless men of good will (Dost in virtue grow!) Countless the bounteous ones Are there to bestow! (3 : 12 But this is just a one side. Now, have a look on the dark and depressing side of the picture as well : Countless are the fools Bereft of the light! Countless are the thieves Usurping other?s right! Countless are the bullies Who command, and then leave! Countless are the killers Who dost kill and cleave! Countless are the sinners Who sin, and retire! Countless are the liars Stray?d in falsehood mire! Countless perverts have Flith for their feed! Countless maligners earn Fault for their deed! (4 : 3) Above, we find reference only to two extreme segments of living beings-either too good like the devout worshippers of the Lord, or too bad like the usurpers of rights of other people. In addition, cone can conceive of the existence of countless other beings who spread all along the spectrum lying between the two extreme ends of virtue and vice. Note the word ?countless?. In the begining of 16th century when these words were written, by a most liberal estimate, the earth population did not exceed one billion. Here we are told that there are ?countless the devotees and countless the sinners, countless the Yogins and countless the killers.? Human reason baffles and finds it hard to take these facts. One wonders as to where do these myriad people abide. A part of the answer is to be found in those verses wherein the Master draws attention of his students to the starling fact of the presence of virtually innumerable worlds and spheres in the universe. He syas :- Which Thou created on and on, Then rolled them out into space, The divisions3, the orbs4, the universes5, All they sing Thy glory and grace; (6 : 11) From the hymn which describes spiritual seeker?s developmental stage of Truth, we learn :- The ?Realm of Truth? is of Formless Being, Who causes, then beholds, with His pleasing eyes, of divisions, of spheres, of universes, The count, the number-all description defies! Worlds upon worlds, O, what an extension! There, as is His will, so He turns the Wheel, Beholds, reflects, rejoices the Lord, Description? ?? O, Nanak as hard as steel! (8 : 5) And again Countless are Thy names, Thy abodes are countless! Beyond reach, far distant, Thy worlds are countless! Even the term ?countless? Is woefully inadequate?6 (But then, how without words, Thy glory can one delineate?) (4 : 6) As regards a direct reference to intelligent beings inhabiting places other than the planet earth, we read as under :- Divines and sages, n all the ages, Sing as they dost, Thy Word impart; In heavens, on earth, in nether worlds, Singh the lovely maids enchanting (man?s) heart. (6 : 9) From Master?s account of the spiritual stage of Grace, we learn futher that Lord?s saints are found not only on this earth, but on other planets as well :- This is the state of zealous saints, In many a world who dost reside, The Joy of Mind, the Bliss of Soul, To them doth the True Lord provide! (8 : 4) The Hindu thinkers tell us that this earth is the only ?karm-bhumi? or the theatre set for the moral action of living beings. Nanak asks us to withhold judgment on this issue till the day we reach the developmental stage of knowledge. For, then we will see for ourselves :- Many gold mounts and action arenas,7 Are being instructed the many Dhruvas! Many you know spheres, worlds, regions, Many the suns, the moons and the Indras! (7 : 16) Further indications of the presence of life in other planets come from the hymn wherein the Lord is said to be taking care of beings by depositing in-exhaustible provisions in different worlds. Nanak says :- In many a world, God didst establish, Stores and stocks of every sort, Filled them up, He, once for all, Never could the supplies run short! Sustaineth He all, what He createth, (Verily, an act of benefaction!) All-Truth is the Lord, O Nanak! True, indeed, is His each Transaction! (7 : 4) Whereas Judaism and Islam believe in Prophets of God, Hinduism subscribes to the view of God Himself taking brith on this planet, though not always in human form. Krishna is believed to be one of the many incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Shiva and Brahma are two other equally significant godheads of Hindu faith. On this important subject of deities and incarnations, Nanak has to say : Myriad a kind air, fire, water, Know you myriad Shivas and Krishnas! Of myriad a form colour, costume, Are being created the myriad Brahmas! (7 : 15) The master rejects offhand the Hindu Doctrine of Incarnations, and he regards Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva at best, the second-order beings. His view is that God, who by definition is an unborn and self created reality, does not and need not enter a womb. The all-prevading Absolute Spirit cannot be compressed into a finite human form without losing. Histraits of infiniteness, universality and perfection. In times of grave moral and spiritual crises, however, He sends His messengers to guide the erring humanity. Nanak prefers to call these messengers the honoured servants of the Lord. Beginning from Enoch to John, the Bible mentions fortyseven prophets. Then there are, Mariam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and Isaiah?s wife, the five prophetesses. There are also four prophesying daughters of Philip, the evangelist. To this we add the name of Jesus, who, according to Christian faith, enjoys the singular distinction of being the begotten Son of God. The Holy Quran names thirteen inspired apostles of Allah (name of God) which preceded Prophet Mohammed. Abraham, Jacob, Noah, David, Zacharias and John are some of them. As their names indicate they are, in fact, the prophets already referred to in the Old and New Testaments. Bhagwat Purana gives us an account of twenty-two incarnations of Lord Vishnu, of which only ten are recognised as the principal ones by the Hindus. Of these ten, three were animals, one was half-man and half-lion, and five appeared in the form of human beings. The tenth named Kalki has yet to come. He will appear in human form near the end of the present age. Riding on the back of His white horse and wielding glittering sword in hand, He will destroy the evil-doers and re-establish righteousness in this world. The concept of God?s incarnation in animal form is peculiar only to Hindu religion. As the accounts of these animal incarnations make a fascinating reading, they deserve a detailed description. It is said that when demon Harnakish grabbing the dry portion of the planet earth hid it under the deep ocean, God assumed the shape of a swine to redeem it. After a long fight with the demon, lasting for a period of one thousand years, the swine deity brought the earth back to the surface. The Hindus believe that the object of God?s second animal incarnation was to warn Manu, the first created man, against the danger of impending deluge. God, assuming the form of a tiny fish, asked Manu to prepare and keep ready a large boat to save him from the forthcoming flood. At the time of the flood, Manu boarded the boad along with seven sages and seeds of all living beings. By that time, the fish had assumed a very large size and also developed a huge horn on its head. The boat was tied up with a rope to the horn of the fish. The tumultuous waters of the storm submerged even the high peaks of the north mountains (The Himalayas according to Dr. Bhaskar.) Barring those sitting in the boat, all other beings were lost in the flood. Needless to say, the story bears a striking resemblance to the accound of great deluge we find narrated in the Old Testament. God, in the form of fish, was successful in saving Manu from the havoc caused by the storming waters. Yet on reaching back to the Heaven, He discovered to His utter consternation that His consort Lakshmi and the most elegant fairy Rambha were lost in the disturbance of elements. Also lost in the great upheavel were His favourite white horse, His bow, His conch, His precious gem, the moon-god, the wine-goddess, a four-tusked white elephant, a desire fulfilling cow, and Elysian tree, the keeper of elixir and physician of gods named Dhantri, elixir, and poison. God had to descent once more on this planet, this time in the form of tortoise, in order to retrieve from the ocean His wife Lakshmi, fairy Rambha, and the tweleve other valuables listed above. This was His third animal incarnation. Sikhism accepts neither as facts of history the kind of stories related above, nor does it share with Hinduism its cardinal Doctrine of Incarnations. For Sikhs, their ten spiritual teachers, from Guru Nanak Deve to Guru Gobind Singh, were inspired servants of God, and no more. In this regard, we see the tenth Master, in Bachittar Natak, administering a stern warning to his disciples : ?They who call me God will find their way straight to the pit of the deep Hell. Know you, I am no more than a humble servant of God. There is involved not even an iota of concealment in this statement of mine.? If we make a list of all the known prophets and incarnations which graced our planet with their presence, the count will hardly exceed one hundered. The Sikh Scripture, however, informs us in very clear and unequivocal terms : ?Hundreds of millions have been the prophets of the Lord.?8 In the vicinity of the historical town of Saidpur (now known as Eminabad, in the district of Gujranwala, West Punjab, Pakistan), Moghul invades Zahir-ud-din Baber happened to meet with Nanak and had a long spiritual discourse with him. He expressed his desire that Nanak accept Prophet Mohammad as his mediator and embrace Islam. To this, the Master replied : ?Millions of prophets stand waiting at the door of the Unknowable, Transcendent Being, not just one. In fact, they are too many to be enumerated by anyone.? The fact of the existence of myriad worlds and millions of prophets logically demands the presence of equally great number of holy books as well. The Sikh Scripture tells us : ?Hundreds of millions are the Vedas, the Smitiries, the Puranas and the Shastra.?9 The Sikhs are instructed not to accept the narrow view that the four vedas, the twenty seven Smirities, the eighteen Puranas and Six Shastras of Hindu faith, constitute a limit to the number of books of religious nature. The human mind, conditioned as it is by its own infinitesimal experience in this field, feels much uncomfortable in confronting the reality of millions of prophets and Holy Writs. But there is nothing unusual about this. So was once its attitude towards the reality of a large number of worlds. The common belief in the existence of thousands of suns and billions of planets in the universe, is a phenomenon characteristic only of the present century, fostered solely by observations and theories of modern Astrophysics. Even today, for the common man, this belief remains barely at the level of his intellect, and finds it hard to penetrate deep down to his heart. Once, however, the human mind comes to absorb completely the first premise relating to the existence of countless number of worlds peopled by countless number of living beings, then, the fact of millions of prophets and an equal number of holy books becomes for it, almost a foregone conclusion. Now, what is the merit of Nanak?s cosmology? The true significance of Master?s direct (spiritual) perceptions, as regards the universe, could be best appreciated only with the understanding of historical setting in which he made his observations. We should remember, he was living in that dark period of history, when the people of the Indian sub-continent did not have the slightest notion of the laws of gravitation, and when, according to popular thought, the earth was resting on the horns of a giant bull for its support and balance. Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, which deals with the subject of creation, opens with the words : In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Here, the words ?heaven? and ?earth? are unmistakingly in singular form. However, the Book of Psalms and the Book of Proverbs, which in a period of history, are written much later than that of Genesis, use the former word in the plural form. ?The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firment showeth His handiwork.?10 ?And the heavens shall declare His righteousness.?11 ?when He prepared the heavens, I was there.?12 Though the Bible uses the word ?heavens? several times, it is not definite as to their number. Among Semitic religions books, it is the Holy Quran, which for the first time, gives us a definite number of the heavens forming a part of the universe. ?Can you see how He created the seven heavens, one above the other, placing in them the moon for a light and the sun for a lantern?13 Modern scientists express the view that there are about two thousand billion planets in the universe. In this century, for the first time, they have also come to admit the possibility of life on other planets. As one authority puts it : If we make a most conservative estimate that only one out of million planets is the bearer of life, then, we can safely say there are atleast two million worlds in the universe which are carriers of intelligent life. In the annals of the history of world religions, Nanak?s cosmology, undoubtedly, constitutes a giant step forward. Yet, one fails to notice an element of intellectual arrogance on his part. On the contrary, one notes that he feels deeply conscious of his inability and helplessness in the matter of giving due expression to Lord?s glory and the greatness of His creation. He expresses his utter humility in these words :- Lord! not for me, Thy glory to describe! Thy sake I can?t even once sacrifice, Whate?er pleaseth Thee, is good for me, too, O, Thou Formless being, the Ever-True! (3:17) References 1. In the text, a compound word a-sankh is used, which means ?beyond the realm of number, something that by its very nature could not be calculated or enumerated.? The reader should not confuse this word with a term of Indian numeration, namely sankh, which is a number expressed by a unit followed by seventeen zeros. Put in other words, a billion multiplied by a hundred million will give us one sankh. 2. This, and other similar references that follow, are from the Sikh Holy Book. Here, the numbers 3 and 18 refer, respectively, to page and line of the Holy Book. 3. The regions in the universe which are said to be countless in number. 4. The term mandal literally meaning an object spherical in shape here stands for a unit comprising of large number of all kinds of luminous objects visible in the sky and their general background. 5. The word varbhanda used in the text means ?universes? Nanak and his spiritual successors often use the world in the plural form in order to underline the incomprehensible vastness of Lord?s creation. For them, to say ?the universe is one,? does not fully convey the idea of its limitless expanse. 6. Rendered too literally, the idiomatic expression employed by Nanak, the verse would read : Even to assert the term ?countless? is true representation (of the number of worlds present in the universe), is to carry the load of sin on one?s head. 7. Karam-bhumis or earths for the practice of virtuous deeds by the living beings. 8. 276:12 9. 276:2 10. Psalm 19. 11. Psalm 50. 12. Proverbs 8:27. 13.Chapter entitled ?Noah? in the Holy Quran.