Interfaith Religion In Sikhism

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by dalvindersingh grewal, Nov 30, 2016.

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    dalvindersingh grewal Writer Historian SPNer

    Jan 3, 2010
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    Inter-Religious Understanding in Sikhism

    Col Dr Dalvinder Singh Grewal

    Seminar on Interreligious Understanding at Magdh University, Bodh gaya

    Religion is a living system of a society which is meant to create harmonious and peaceful environment for its survival and development. However, the increasing rift among the communities and nations world over on account of religions has been increasing unabashedly since centuries. Throughout history, more people have been persecuted, tortured and killed in the name of religion than for any other reason.Some have been killed enforcing their beliefs, but the vast majority has been slaughtered for refusing to yield to the faith of aggressors and tyrants. Mankind is afflicted with a madness called 'Organized Religion'. Organized religion is a powerful, unforgiving and savage phenomenon.Research shows that: ‘the more a country claims to be religious, the greater the incidence of abuse and exploitation of all people, especially women, children and the disadvantaged.Repression of freedom of choice and action by authorities is actually causing people to indulge in to some unacceptable behavior.That is why there is no mystery that people visiting churches, mosques and temples are constantly decreasing. Maintaining peace and harmony in our society despite divergent denomination identities thus is very important question for which the society wants the answer’.

    Sikhism is a religion which originated in 15th century among such situation and emerged as the one of the most effective bridge between the then two major communities in India which then stood poles apart from each other then. It created bonds between warring Hindus and Muslims and helped them not to live and survive together but also move forward towards a progressive alliance.

    Guru Nanak Dev, the originator of the Sikh religion, was born in such a period of religious strife. The political, cultural and religious situations at the time of his birth were both disturbing and balancing. The political turmoil was countered by religious renaissance. The state of the political turmoil has been well described by Guru Nanak himself:

    "This age is like a dragon sword

    The kings are butchers,

    Goodness has taken wings and flown.[1]

    He adds:-

    "The King administers justice only when his palm is greased (filled). [2]


    The paper presented in an international seminar: ‘Importance of Inter-religious Understanding: Its Implications for Mankind’ conducted by ‘Forum for Inter-religious Understanding: Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi’ on 24-25 September 2016 at Magadh University, Bodh Gaya Bihar

    The gloriously rich tradition of religious tolerance was powerless against the tyranny of the epoch of the bigots. Dissent was carried to a point of intolerance and intolerance to unrivalled persecution. The warriors had conflicting desires to conquer and achieve worldly gains. They came not as conquerors, but enemies and the face of Indian history was marred, if not charred, with these suppressive forces; for it was not the policies but the institutions which were ruthlessly oppressed. The invaders had trampled the rich civilization of ages under their feet, without the slightest remorse or inequity.

    Pure religion was weeping day and night and finally began disappearing from man’s gaze. Men’s ideas and aspirations were low. Wealth and Maya (illusion) fascinated the world and led everyone astray. Good acts no longer commended themselves to men. They burned with pride and respected not one another. The high and the low forgot their mutual duties. Monarchs were unjust and the nobles were butchers who held knives to men’s throats. Everyone thought they possessed knowledge, but none knew what knowledge was. Men did what pleased themselves. Alchemy was professed and incantations and spells practiced and men indulged in strife, wrath and mutual jealousies. Out of one God they made many, and carved gods from wood and stone. Some worshipped the sun and moon while the devotion of others was directed to cemeteries and graves. Thus did mankind go astray in vain religions and meaningless worship.

    Men despised one another and hence caste received religious sanction. The Brahmins set the Vedas and Puranas at variance. Not only were the Hindus divided into four castes, but the Muslims were divided into four sects – Hanfis, Shafai, Maliki and Hanbali. While the Hindus worshipped the Ganges, the Muhammadans addressed their devotions to Mecca and Kaaba. The devil fascinated both religions; they forgot their holy books; they went astray from every road; and truth was the one thing they failed to discover.

    When Guru Nanak Dev contemplated the world, everywhere he saw darkness and heard the cry of pain. Guru Nanak Dev examined all religious sects, contemplated the gods, goddesses, and spirits of earth and heaven, and found them all immersed and perishing in spiritual pride. He scrutinized the Hindus, Muslims, priests, prophets, and found not one godly person among them. They were all groping in the pit of superstition. Religious men, who ought to have been guiding their flocks, had retreated to the solitude of the mountains. There was no one left to instruct and save the world. Though hermits rubbed ashes night and day in their bodies, they possessed no knowledge and the world was rushing to its ruin for want of a divine guide. Rulers everywhere were oppressive; guardians proved faithless to their trusts and consumed the wealth of their wards. The humanity was weighed down by human transgressions.

    In that era of contention and in the background of these disabilities, the epoch of transition and interregnum in a suffering country, only a spiritual revolution could survive.With hands folded it appealed to God for a guide, and God sent Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak Dev came into this world at a time of this doom and gloom. Commentaries on Guru Nanak’s life give details of his blossoming awareness of this situation from his young age.

    He prayed for the God for redeeming the world. During his meditation he had the realization that the religion is not serving its true purpose. "There is no Hindu; no Muslim,” he cried. Neither Hindus knew what Hinduism was nor did the Muslims know the principles of their faith. They simply did not understand that “God is neither Hindu nor Muslim. He is a separate identity beyond religions. It is He who the religions should be following and not the rites and rituals to which they bound themselves and the path which I follow is God's”.

    Puratan Janansakhi mentions: Nanak was taken to God's court and was offered a cup filled with Amrit (nectar) and given the command, "This is the cup of the adoration of God's name. Drink it. I am with you. I bless you and raise you up. Whoever remembers you will enjoy my favor. Go, rejoice of my name and teach others to do so. I have bestowed the gift of My Name upon you. Let this be your calling." From this point onwards, Nanak is described in accounts as a Guru and Sikhism was born. This realization about the God and Sikhism was to be the new movement for the change in new world.

    Moved by the plight of the people of world he wanted to tell them about the "real message of God". The people of the world were confused by the conflicting message given by priests, pundits, qazis, mullahs, etc. He was determined to bring his message to the masses all around the globe; so in 1499, he decided to set out on his sacred mission to spread the holy message of peace and compassion to all of mankind. He left his job, meditated deeply at Sultanpur and Emnabad and started for long journey known as Udasis for 26 years to deliver the message of Truth, equality and fraternity. He visited various centers of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jainis, Sufis, Yogis and Sidhas. He met people of different religions, tribes, cultures and races. He preached that God was omnipresent and did not adhere to any kind of ritualism or worship patterns. He led a life of purity and clarity and believed that the attainment of enlightenment would relieve one from the cycle of birth and death.

    Guru Nanak’s teachings can be found in the Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Common principles discernible are: Firstly a supreme Godhead, incomprehensible, manifests in all major religions, the Singular "Doer" and formless. It is described as the indestructible (undying) form. Nanak describes the dangers of egotism (haumai- "I am") and calls upon devotees to engage in worship through the word of God. Naam implies God, the Reality, is a mystical word or formula to recite or meditate upon (shabad in Gurbani), through divine order (hukam), a guru’s instructions and singing of God’s qualities, discarding doubt in the process. Such worship must be selfless (sewa). The word of God cleanses the individual to make such worship possible. Nanak warned against hypocrisy and falsehood saying that these are pervasive in humanity and that religious actions can also be in vain. He did not favour ascetic practices but suggested remaining inwardly detached whilst living as a householder.

    He visited widely spanning thousands of kilometers in four itineraries; the first being east towards Bengal, Assam and Manipur, the second south towards Sri Lanka, the third north towards Nepal, Tibet Sikkim, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, China and J & K and the final towards Baghdad, Mecca and Medina on the Arabian Peninsula. Most of his journeys were made on foot with his companion Bhai Mardana. He is believed to have travelled more than 40,000 km in five major tours of the world during the period from 1500 to 1526.

    He pointed out to men the true path – that there was but one God, the primal and omnipresent. He reduced to one the four castes of the Hindus he placed the king and pauper on spiritual equality and taught them to respect one another. He preached to all a religion of the heart. He found that the acts and austerities practiced were without divine love or devotion, and consequently contained no merit before God. He declared that God; who has no form or outline, was not found by wearing religious garbs, nor was He pleased by the zealots’ fervor for massed conversions by any means possible. God was pleased by humility and love and that men rejected caste and prejudice.

    Through popular tradition, Nanak’s teaching is understood to be practiced in three ways:

    • Vaṇḍ Chakkō: Sharing with others, helping those with less who are in need
    • Kirat Karō: Earning/making a living honestly, without exploitation or fraud
    • Naam Japna: Meditating on God's name to control your 5 evils to eliminate suffering and live a happy life.
    Bhai Gurdas rightly said: When Guru Nanak appeared, the fog of spiritual ignorance dispersed and the light shone in the world, as when the sun rises and the stars disappear and the darkness fades away. Wherever Guru Nanak planted his foot there was established a seat of worship. Every house of his followers became a temple in which the Lord’s praises were sung and the Lord’s name continually repeated. Guru Nanak established a new and premier religion and laid out an easy simple way of obtaining salvation by the remembrance of God’s name. He cut off the fear of transmigration and healed the wound of superstition and the pain of separation from God. When men grasped the feet of the true divine Guru, he gave them the Divine Word and affected their deliverance.

    After Udasis he settled at Kartarpur the town he established and got into farming. Nanak appointed Bhai Lehna as the successor Guru, renaming him as Guru Angad, meaning "one’s very own" or "part of you". Shortly thereafter Guru Nanak joined the light eternal on 22 September 1539 in Kartarpur, at the age of 70.

    Bhai Lehna later known as Guru Angad and following 8 Gurus (Guru Aramrdas, Guru Ramdass, Guru Arjan, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Harkishan, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh) spread this light of knowledge further and the number of followers largely increased from among all religions. This was not taken by the powers-to-be in the right spirit since they dreaded that it would encroach upon their jurisdiction and undermine their authority. They planned to plug the movement. Emperor Jehangir punished Guru Arjan to be put to death. Martyrdom of Guru Arjan brought a change in the course of only worshipping the God but also to get justice for the people even if it required fighting with an oppressor. The concept of Miri-Piri emerged thus which was followed from Guru Hargobind onwards.

    The forcible conversion of Hindus did not stop. Kashmiri Pandits came to the 9th Guru for help in their hour of dire need. Guru Tegh Bahadur promised them and agreed to lay down his live for the sake of their religion. These Kashmiri Brahmins told their Governor that ‘they will not change their religion till their Guru agrees.” Bells started ringing at the highest level and the Emperor Aurangzeb obsessed with conversions, took it as a challenge and ordered Guru Tegh Bahadur to be imprisoned and brought to Delhi for forcible conversion. Guru Tegh Bahadur did not bend even when his dear follower Sati Dass was burnt in front of him wrapped in cotton; not even when Mati Dass was cut into two pieces and even when Bhai Dayala was boiled in hot water like a potato in front of him to force him to agree to their offer. Guru Tegh Bahadur preferred to die himself. His martyrdom brought a new chapter in the History of India.

    Since the atrocities of the ruling class went on unchecked Guru Gobind Singh created a new force known as ‘Khalsa’, The Pure’, who were to stand against any injustice to the people and to save the oppressed from their tyranny. They were of the common man, for the common people and managed by the common people; the true democratic set up. This created a sense of security among the public and they joined them in larger numbers. Finding this struggle of common people against them continuously increasing, atrocities of the rulers increased on their leader. He too stood the ground and waged continuous wars. His most of the Sikhs got martyred in these wars; his elder sons too were martyred. Worst however was the bricking of two youngest sons (sahibzadas) of ages 6 and 8 years who had done no crime. They had only stood against the tyrannical nawab and refused to convert. Even mother of Guru Gobind Singh imprisoned in cold chamber laid down her life for the cause. The great sacrifices of Guru Gobind Singh’s father and mother, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Mata Gujri and his four sons on the path of truth is the only example in the world of a supreme sacrifice. This all was done to save the common people and a different religion. Even though the attackers were Muslims but Guru Gobind Singh’s treatment with them was never of fundamental nature. Examples can be given of Bhai Ghaniya. He served water to all during the battle between the Sikhs and Mughals without caring whether he is a Sikh or a Muslim. When some Sikhs complained this to the Guru; the gur asked him the reason. Bhai Ghaniya said, “While giving water to the injured, I do not find any one Hindu, Sikh or Muslim; to me all appear to be your form.” Guru Gobind Singh was pleased with the reply. Giving him medicine he said, “While giving water to the injured, apply this medicine on their injuries as well.” Another example is of Peer Buddhu Shah. He sent 500 Pathans to assist Guru Gubind Singh in the battle of Bhangani. Before battle these Pathans deserted on the call of Mughals. Hearing this Peer Budhu Shah came himself and fought on Guru’s side along with his followers and laid his life in the battle. Guru Gobind Singh’s battle of Chamkaur is the best described by a Muslim writer while the most popular life history of the Guru is by a Hindu author. A Christian Doctor was the last to treat him of his injuries who was sent by the Muslim Emperror Bahadur Shah personally. Such was the appreciation of his deed and creed among other religions.

    Baba Banda, a Hindu mendicant became Guru Gobind Singh’s great follower and after adopting Sikhism took upon his self to punish the perpetrators of the heinous crime. He attacked and destroyed Sirhind the hub centre of all atrocities and started the Sikh Rule in real terms. He got all the abducted girls of Hindus released from the forceful Pathans and handed over their parents with respect. Some of them even became part of Baba Banda Singh’s force. This was a great change. The great force had emerged; a new light for the common man appeared. The true religion; the religion of the people started spreading like wild fire. The rule in Delhi was soon weakened and Abdalis and Durranis started attacking and looting India. They looted not only the wealth but also the beauty; the young boys and girls to be sold in Afghanistan for pennies. This was a matter for great disgrace. Sikhs took upon themselves not to allow wealth or the honour of the country this way. They usually attacked these columns got these girls and boys released and sent them to their houses duly protected. Since Sikhs usually attacked at midnight; the cry of bara vaje (twelve o clock) was associated with Sikhs. The Afghans and Pathans were afraid of this time Bara vaje since Sikhs appeared from nowhere attacked them and got the girls and boys released in addition to taking the looted wealth back. Soon common man started considering it to be honour to be a part of Sikhism. Castes and creed being no barrier everyone longed to be part of Sikhs. Thousand of Sikhs laid down their lives protecting their brethren.

    Their ‘rakhi parbandh’ (protection administration) was soon acknowledged in most part of India and a time came when they under the generalship of Baghel Singh entered Delhi and unfurled the ‘Yellow flag’ at red fort. Sikh misl controlled the Sikh system very meticulously. Some of these misls later established their own rules. Maharaja Ranjit Singh emerged as a central Sikh leader who ruled North India which included India’s and Pakistan’s Punjab, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and part of Afghanistan. Pepsu states were ruled by other Sikh rulers till they joined Independent India.

    Sikhs believe in ‘Sarbat da bhalla’, (welfare of all) without distinction. Their Guru Eternal now is ‘Sri guru Granth Sahib’ which contains the hymns of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims alike. Their sanctum sanctorum is Sri Harmandar Sahib whose foundation was laid by a Muslim Sai Mia Meer. It is open to all. It has four gates showing that anyone can enter it from anywhere. Free food is served to all on a single platform without caring for any religion or caste. There is no one considered high or low and all are treated equally. Equality, fraternity and justice are the key to this religion.
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