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Sri Guru Granth Sahib - A Universal Perspective

Dr. D. P. Singh

Apr 7, 2006
Nangal, India
Sri Guru Granth Sahib- A Universal Perspective

Dr. D. P. Singh*

Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a unique religious and philosophical treatise. It contains divinely revealed Word and is written in a simple and readily understandable language. The beauty and splendour of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is that the revealed Word and reason are consistent. There are no dogmas - only universal and eternal rational beliefs and practices. The ideals, as laid down in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, are at once reasonable and desirable. These are perennial source of freedom and creativity, unique in the present day world.

There are many divine messages unmistakably addressed to all mankind, which remain uniquely significant for all times, having a crucial relevance to the present time. Some of these are outlined as under.

Universal World View

The religion that emerges from the Holy Granth is the universal religion of man. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is purely monotheistic in its approach to creation and divinity. It dwells on one all-pervasive creative spirit, people call God, Par Brahma, Allah, Ram or Waheguru. In Sri Guru Granth Sahib the ideals of the Universal brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God have been laid down. It says: Ek pita ekas ke hum barik i.e. One True Lord is the Father of all and we are His children.

Here God is not a tribal patriarch but the benign and benevolent God of the entire Creation, notwithstanding the climes, terrains and geographical or political divisions. The hymns of Sri Guru Granth Sahib include the prayer for the well being of all creatures: Sabhey jee sambhal apni mehar kar i.e. By Thy grace, oh God, save and sustain all creation.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib being free from inhibitions of any kind regarding the way of life and its adaptability in all the regions of the world, vouches for the spirit of universality- na koi bairi nahi begana sagal sangh hum ko ban aie i.e. none is our enemy, none is stranger to us, we are in accord with one and all. Sri Guru Granth Sahib rejects all ritualism, formalism and symbolism. It defines the religion of the whole humanity consisting of loving conviction and good will for fellow humans.

Thus Gurbani with such a universal approach is aiming at forging common bonds in the human race without discrimination of caste, creed, sex or nationality. Contemplation and service to humanity, equality of mankind, love and respect for all human beings, and peace and harmony are repeatedly emphasised in the Holy Granth. Such a spirit of universality is the dire need of our times when the whole word is in the grip of class conflicts and war mania.

Egalitarian Social Order

The egalitarian principle as laid down in Sri Guru Granth Sahib advocates the equality of all human beings, irrespective of birth and gender. It rejects all distinctions of caste and colour. Sri Guru Granth Sahib rejects casteism totally and vehemently. Brushing aside misconceived arrogance of casteism, it says: Jate ka garabu na kariaahu koi, Brahamu binde so brahmanu hoye. Jate ka garabu na kare murakh gavara, isu garabu te chaleh bahutu vikara i.e. “Vanity of caste none should entertain, One who realize the Supreme Being is alone Brahmin; Thou ignorant fool, do not indulge in caste vanity, it leads to many malignancies.” In the egalitarian society as conceived in SGGS, all are equal, the lowest with the highest, in race as in creed, in political rights and religious hopes. In this system, women enjoy equal status with men.

Socio-spiritual welfare of humanity is one of the major concerns in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Gurubani describes this world as ‘Dharamsal’ (an abode of righteousness). Its objective is the creation of a new egalitarian social order, with emphasis on work ethics and the attainment of the goal of an ideal personality through the cultivation of the essential attributes of God.

The core of the teaching of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is Nam Japna (remembrance of the Name of God), Kirt Karni (the honest labour) and Wand Chhakna (sharing of the earnings). It says: Ghaal khaae kichh hatho-n deye, Nanak raah pachane seye i.e. “Only he who earns his living by the sweat of his brow and shares his earnings with others has discovered the path of righteousness, O Nanak.” Thus Sri Guru Granth Sahib lays a great emphasis on human endeavour, honest and sincere labour. It lays a great stress on good conduct in worldly affairs also as it reminds us: Sache oorey sabh ko upar sach aachar i.e. Truth is higher than everything, but higher still is truthful living.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib sought to release its path seekers from the bondage of caste tyranny by laying emphasis on the unity of mankind. It is given an explicitly social character through a series of measures adopted by the Guru. The establishment of the institutions of Dharamsala (the earlier nomenclature of Gurudwaras, meant for public worship), Sangat (a corporate body of the Sikhs), Pangat (seating of the devotees in rows to stress the egalitarian principle), Langer (public kitchen) and Kirtan (collective singing of hymns) has lead a powerful movement to release people from the strangle-hold of the ritualistic, caste-ridden, priest-dominated and a retrogressive social order.

Eternal Ethics

The ethical values occupy a much important place in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Its ethical objective is not only to attain a holy life for an individual but also an ideal life for the society. The main aim is to make the world a better place to live in. Gurbani speaks of self-discipline: sanyyam rehani as art of living and basic values of sat, santokh, daya and dharma - or right action, forbearance, compassion and performance of one’s duty.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib exhorts the people to be forgiving, considerate and compassionate. It says: Ik phikka nah galaei, Sabhnan mein sachha dhani; Hiao nah kehi thahei, Manak sabh amolvei i.e. “Do not utter a single impolite word to any one, as the true Master abides in one and all. Do not break the heart of any one, as every heart is a priceless jewel. “

Advocating the maxim of ‘Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man’ Sri Guru Granth Sahib proclaims: Farida! Khalaq khalaq meh,Khalaq vasei Rabb mahei. Manda kis non aakhiyei, Jan tis bin koee nahen? i.e. “The Creator dwells in His Creation, O Farid! And the Creation in the Creator: Who can be called bad, When there is none without Him? “

It condemns living by exploitation, bribery and corruption. Sri Guru Granth Sahib says: Hak praaeya Nanaka ous Sooar ous Gaan-e i.e. “to deprive others of their rights ought to be avoided as scrupulously as the Muslims avoid the pork and the Hindus consider beef as a taboo.” It exhorts Sikhs to avoid malpractices - “exploitation for a Sikh is like eating a dead man’s flesh”. The Sikhs are counseled to lead a life of contentment and to respect the person, property and dignity of others.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib commands the Sikhs to keep the social environment clean by avoiding company with power mongers, evildoers and slanderers. It says: Saakat sang na kijiye jan te hoie binahu and Nindak dooba hum outré par.

At present, human society is suffering from the various ill effects of the wide spread usage of intoxicants, narcotics and drugs, giving rise to various social and physical ills. The overexposure to the ethics-less, melodramatic soap operas, the preponderance of vulgar pop-music and rise of materialistic culture has provided a fertile ground for the growth of adulterous relationships among human beings, causing a severe set back to the physical, moral and spiritual health of the society.

But, even in this field, Sri Guru Granth Sahib is capable of providing us a beacon. It says – Baba hor khana khusi khuaar, Jit khadhe tan pirhi-e man me chaleh vikar i.e. “Friend, all other foods (including drinks) and all other pleasures are vain. For they fill the mind with Evil and make the body writhe in pain.” The Sikhs are forbidden from taking intoxicants and narcotics as Sri Guru Granth Sahib warns about the ill effects of the usage of these – Durmat mad jo pivate bikhli pat kamli i.e. “They who drink the wine of vice, their mind is turned.”

The duties related to chastity and fidelity are enjoined to regulate marital relations and to ensure respect for fidelity in the family and avoidance of adultery. Sri Guru Granth Sahib says – par dara par dhan par lobha haumain bikhe bekar, Dushat bhaou taj nid pra-ei kam krodh chandar and. Kam krodh ka-e-ya ko gale. By imbibing the ethical principles of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, our society can get rid of the evils of intoxicants, narcotics and drugs abuse. Thus the physical, moral and spiritual health of society can definitely improve.

Harmony with Nature

For a scientist the term ‘Nature’ stands for the entire material universe and its phenomenon – the world. It is the sum total of all the things in perpetual motion in space and time. From the standpoint of the religion, Nature is the wonderful conglomeration and ever-present consciousness. It is controller of the five distinct but subtle elements: Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Space (inclusive of time, rhythm, sound and ether). It gives birth to the chain of beings, or four kingdoms namely the minerals, the plant, the animals and the human beings.

According to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Nature is sacred, immaculate and splendid as it mirrors God’s glory. The laws of Nature are but the agencies of His wisdom. To Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, Nature was an aesthetic appearance – where ‘aesthetic’ refers to sensible BEING and ‘appearing’ connotes BECOMING in the widest sense.

Guru Nanak’s interest in Nature has been expressed in his hymns at many places in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. He has used the word ‘Qudrat’ for Nature. According to him, whatever we see or hear is Qudrat. Qudrat dissai Qudrat Suniai, Qudrat bhau Sukh Saru, Qudrat patali akasi Qudrat sarab akar i.e. “Nature is all that appears and Nature is the World as seen, felt and appreciated. Nature is all the spaces and Nature is the totality of forms.” To describe the beauties of Nature, he lays a great emphasis on the wonder-element - ‘Wismad’.

In Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Man and Nature are no more seen as external to each other, being involved in inter-dependent network relationship, reciprocally conditioning the life of each other. Guru Nanak stresses this kind of relationship at the end of his composition ‘Japji’: Pavan guru paani pita, Maata dharat mahat, Divas raat do-e daaee daa-ia, Khelai sagal jagat i.e. “Air is vital Force, Water the Progenitor, The Vast Earth the Mother of All, Days and Nights are nurses, fondling all creation in their lap. “

Sri Guru Granth Sahib teach us the importance of living in harmony with Mother Earth. It places a great deal of spiritual significance on the lessons we can learn directly from Mother Earth and Nature. According to Sri Guru Granth Sahib: “Earth teaches us patience and love. Air teaches us mobility, Fire teaches us warmth and courage, Sky teaches us equality and broadmindedness, Water teaches us purity and cleanliness”.

During the present times, modern industrial civilization is colliding violently with our Mother Earth (Planet’s Ecological System) with horrid consequences. Global warming, Green House Effect, Depletion of Ozone Layer, Deforestation, Soil Erosion and Contamination, Pollution (Air, Water, Noise and Radioactive etc.) are making Mother Earth sick day by day. If not checked and treated in time, she may become a lifeless desert incapable of supporting life.

The concept of interrelatedness of man and nature, as enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, places tremendous responsibility on Sikhs for addressing the problems of safety and protection of earth, its eco-system and of life on this planet. Sri Guru Granth Sahib's eternal message that we should love our Mother Earth and Nature, is unequivocal in providing inspiration to the whole of mankind towards this cause.

Search for Truth

With great progress made in the field of scientific research, mankind has been taken out of the clutches of the irrational beliefs and practices to a large extent. The grip of quacks and astrologers on the life of people has been loosened.

For dispelling the irrational beliefs and practices Sri Guru Granth Sahib lays stress on acquiring knowledge. It proclaims: Man samjhavan harane kachuak parhiai gian i.e. “Intellectual curiosity and scientific knowledge are necessary for removing doubts that beset human understanding.”

The importance of gaining knowledge is so much emphasized in Sri Guru Granth Sahib that a man bereft of the knowledge of humanities and sciences is said to be nothing better than an animal. It says: Ikna nadu na bedu na gia rasu, rasu kasu na jananti, Ikna sidhi na budhi na aqali sar, akkhar ka bheo na lahanti, Nanak te nar asali khar, ji binu gun garabu karanti i.e. “There are those who are cultured neither in philosophy nor in scripture, nor have developed proper taste for music. And likewise, there are those who are unacquainted with aesthetics and the arts. They have neither a trained character, nor disciplined intellect, and as such, they are devoid of true learning, so much so that the true significance of accumulated human wisdom is outside their sphere of interest. Such people, says Nanak, are true animals for they strut as human beings without the qualifications of a human being.”

Sri Guru Granth Sahib encourages search for truth in all fields of life. For example, in the case of the mystery of Creation, unlike other holy Granths, Sri Guru Granth Sahib makes no pretence to unfold it. Though various notions regarding Creation had been in vogue at the time of the compilation of the Holy Granth, yet the Gurus felt that these had been fanciful and had little rational basis. They, therefore, categorically rejected the traditional Indian and Semitic beliefs as to time, size, sequence and sustenance of the Universe.

But, the poetic compositions of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which are rich in cosmological formulations, present the intuitive insights into reality and its modes. Sri Guru Granth Sahib tells us that for anyone to try to fix the date, time, season and circumstance of creation would be something utterly presumptuous. The hymns of Sri Guru Granth Sahib are also in tune with the recent discoveries of vastness of creation, evolution of species and in dispelling the myths concerning the earth, although these have been written about 500 years ago.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s stance is nearer the modern scientific view as it not only cleanses people’s minds of the cobwebs of earlier fanciful and irrational beliefs, but also establishes the boundless enormity of the God’s Creation. The Gurbani encourages research in the vast domains of physical and spiritual worlds as it states: khoji upjai, badi binsai i.e. “spirit of enquiry regenerates, dogma degenerates.” Thus it encourages search for truth not only about the Ultimate Reality but in all spheres of material world as well.

World Peace

In modern times, man is very well equipped intellectually and materially. Yet, the class conflicts among people and struggle for supremacy among different nations, the world over, are still raging. Consequently, several nations are at war with each other giving rise to terrorism and misery for mankind. Sri Guru Granth Sahib tells us that the Haumain (egoistic consciousness) is the cause of man’s all problems and limitations. It is the self, the ego or the center of control of all working in every being or individual. The Guru emphasises that this Haumain has become the greatest problem of man both for his social life and future progress.

Man’s consciousness being self-centered, he is constitutionally incapable of looking to the interests of others. This is the root cause of the entire conflict between man and man, between one society and the other, and between one nation and the other. The altruistic tendencies developed in man as the result of cultural conditioning over the years are only superficial or conditioned. Spontaneous altruism is constitutionally and psychologically impossible in the ego-centric or Haumain governed man. The moment the struggle for existence becomes keen, the basic self-centredness of man comes into play. Thus, start all conflicts of man, social as well as national and international.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib emphasises that man is capable of transcending this ego-consciousness. The remedy is to develop a higher consciousness by linking one’s consciousness with God, Naam, or the Basic Consciousness. The Guru says; Haumain is a great malady. The remedy is to attune oneself to Naam by God’s grace. It reminds us: “Love, contentment, truth, humility and other virtues enable the seed of Naam to sprout”.

Treating all human beings as spiritually one, and ethnically equal, notwithstanding their different backgrounds is the pre-requisite for maintaining harmonious relationship between different communities and nations. The ideals of the Universal brotherhood of man and the Universal fatherhood of God as laid down in Sri Guru Granth Sahib are of fundamental importance to settle all conflicts of man. Ek pita ekas ke hum barik i.e. “One True Lord is the Father of all and we are His children,” happens to be the central message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

If we want the world to be set free from the siege of distrust and disharmony, oppression and violence and the reign of terrorism, we have to see others as our brothers and sisters. We need to discover how to affirm our own identity, without threatening the identity of others. SGGS advocates: Bhae kahu kaou ko det neh neh bhae manat aan. i.e. “Neither one should threaten others, nor be afraid of anyone. “

Sri Guru Granth Sahib vouches for the spirit of universality- na koi bairi nahi begana sagal sangh hum ko ban aaie i.e. none is our enemy, “none is stranger to us, we are in accord with one and all.” The idea of God’s love for all beings teaches us to value the other in his or her otherness. Sri Guru Granth Sahib makes love for God the sine qua non factor for the love for mankind and seeks the expression of this love through Seva and such other philanthropic activities, striving for and even suffering martyrdom for a righteous cause. Thus, by imbibing the ethical values enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, humanity can be ameliorated.

The philosophy projected in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is focused on the creation of a just, liberal, universal and altruistic social order. It is committed to promoting mutual love, striving for high moral conduct, social equality and peaceful co-existence across the world. Cultivation of the values, as advocated by Sri Guru Granth Sahib, by all humans is an answer to many maladies of modern life.<o></o>


Jun 1, 2004
Respected Sir,

Its a great honor for SPN that you have graced this stage... we would love to read and contemplate more your work on Sikhism and religion in general. :)

Thank You
Aman Singh

Dr. D. P. Singh

Apr 7, 2006
Nangal, India
Dear S. Aman Singh Ji,
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh !
Thanks for sparing your time to read the article. I am grateful to you for your encouraging comments.