Buddhism A Tibetan Buddhist's View On Sikhism


Tarungpa Tulku - A Tibetan Buddhist's View on Sikhism
This story was published in the Indian Express, March 6th, 1966

It gave me great pleasure when I was asked to write this article as I have wanted for a long time to say something about my impressions of the Religion of the Sikhs in India, and my connections with it. After my escape from Tibet, I lived as a refugee in India for several years, alongside so many of my countrymen. There I had the great good fortune to be looked after by a Sikh family, by Baba Bedi, his English wife, and their three children. While I was with them, I was able to visit many of the Sikh holy places and I was given hospitality there.

My interest in Sikhism is not only a personal one, however. In Tibet, Guru Nanak is revered as an emanation of Guru Padmasambhava. Many of our pilgrims visited Amritsar and other holy places which they looked upon as equal in importance to Buddha-Gaya. They always said that the Sikhs treated them with great respect and were very hospitable: " as our expression goes, they bowed down to their feet." It seems that the Sikhs really practice the doctrine of their religion; perhaps they are the only ones who give such wonderful dana to travellers.

Most Tibetans know that Guru Nanak visited Tibet, and the mystical ideas of our two religions are very similar. I have noticed that the Sikhs never worship images in their shrines, but that there is in the centre the book, the Guru Granth Sahib. In our tradition, one of the last things that the Buddha said was that in the dark age after his death he would return in the form of books. "At that time," he said, "look up to me and respect me." Just as we do not believe in mystifying rituals, so in the Sikh ceremonies, it seems that the people simply read and contemplate the words of their text, so that no misunderstandings arise.

I was interested in the Sikh symbolism of the three daggers: in Buddhism, a knife often appears as the cutting off of the roots of the three poison, greed, hatred and illusion. I was also very interested in the Sikh practice never to cut one's hair, as this is also the practice among Tibetan hermits and contemplatives. The most famous of these was Milarepa, who said that there were three things that should be left in their natural state; one should not cut one's hair, dye one's clothes, nor change one's mind. It is true that most Tibetan monks wear yellow, and shave their heads; these are practices that come from India, and symbolise humility and detachment from worldly things. Outside the more organized monastic tradition, however, the emphasis is that the natural goodness and power of growth within should be allowed to develop freely without interference from outside.

Both Guru Nanak and the Buddha said to their followers that the real nature of the universe should not be limited by the idea of personal god and gods. Those who made offerings at their shrines should remember that the whole universe was the power offering offered before and to itself. Although Guru Nanak did not think of himself as a founder of a new school of thought, it seems that there is very much in common between our philosophies.

The belief in the role of maya (illusion) in bringing suffering and keep from salvation is a key part of the philosophy of both religions. Gurbani speaks of moh maya in many places:

Page110 Line 1 Raag Maajh: Guru Amar Das
houmai maar sadhaa sukh paaeiaa maaeiaa mohu chukaavaniaa
Subduing your ego, you shall find a lasting peace, and your emotional
attachment to Maya will be dispelled.

Page122 Line 1 Raag Maajh: Guru Amar Das
maaeiaa mohu eis manehi nachaaeae anthar kapatt dhukh paavaniaa
The love of Maya makes this mind dance, and the deceit within
makes people suffer in pain

When I return to India, I hope to increase understanding of the Sikh religion among Tibetan people, and it is my wish one day to translate the Guru Granth Sahib into Tibetan. Now I am living in England, and I can see that much good might be accomplished by Sikhism in England, and Europe and America, and I wish success to everyone whose concern this is.


Aaaaaah! I see why Narayanjot ji has been bugging me to check out Interfaith Dialogues, Aman ji!
Though I've always been more of a 'Buddhist since long before I was born' type of person - and, as I've never felt the need to ignore what I see as a blessing that was once bestowed upon me, I've not had a lot of exposure to 'formal' Buddhist 'teachings' (hundreds of Books, including several Sutras), I too find Nanak to be a Bodhistatva; and that just makes me feel all that much closer - in spirit - to those whose Faith I share, though my time as a born and bread member of their culture came, perhaps, long, long ago.
My favorite 'proof' of Nanaks Enlightenment came in the story of how the Imam, in Mecca, awoke him and angrilly derided him for falling asleep with his feet pointing towards the Kabbah; and how he appologized and asked the Imam to point his feet in the direction God is NOT.
Evaded - and Nicely! - like a Zen Master!:thumbup:

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