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Guru is the Shabad, the Word

by nishaan@magazine

The clarion call of the Universal Brotherhood of Mankind (raised by Guru Nanak) is verily the quintessence of the vedantic, biblical, koranic and bhakti (sufi) traditions. The successive alchemy of sacrifice for social equality and generation of self-confidence to oppose tyranny over the next two centuries made the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh transform an oppressed people into fearless saint-warriors on the Baisakhi of 1699.

Three hundred years after that epochal moment in 1999, was launched the Nishaan which was backed by the deep sense of faith of like-minded persons, committed to “preserve, project and propagate the uniqueness and glories of the Khalsa Panth.” The need had long been felt for a rallying medium for the Sikh community, in all its diaspora, to have appropriate forum in the global arena. An intelligently an planned and well-produced illustrated Journal was conceived to be an effective means of reaching out to the community and beyond the world over, to be an instrument of inspiration and a standard to exclaim the aspirations and achievements of the Sikhs.

Aim of the Nishaan quarterly illustrated journal of the Sikhs has been to continually focus on aspects of the community’s success, perpetuate traditions and thus reinforce the faith. The journal particularly seeks to inspire those who are wavering in their confidence of belonging to this unique order as also to project aspirations of the community in the new millennium. Essentially, the Nishaan is about the philosophy, people, places and events that have shaped the history of the Sikhs and which will continue to guide their destiny. Now in its fifteenth year, the Nishaan has been blessed by the guidance of its founding editors, including Dr Darshan Singh Maini, Bhayee Sikander Singh, Dr Jaswant Singh Neki, Dr IJ Singh and Bhagwant Singh Dalawari, the continuing theme being to rejoice in the glorious teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib. Some of their collective wisdom is presented in this paper.

Prof Darshan Singh Maini, in his very first essay for Nishaan, ‘The Moment of the Khalsa: Vision, Values and World View’ elucidated on the veracity and potency of the ‘moment’ when Sikhism was born. “In the case of Sikhism, we may identify two primal or significant moments – the first when Guru Nanak broke away from the moribund, sacerdotal Hinduism of his day to create a new creed of vision and work, and the second when the wheel of faith came full circle with the formal baptism of the Khalsa by the Last Master” at Anandpur Sahib.

“That moment, then, was the moment of making, of a moment that brought to a heroic conclusion the vast, untapped energies of a people given to a life of labour and endeavour. In other words, all the disparate elements, sects, splinter groups within the Sikh fold were unified into a Commonwealth of the Khalsa”. “At one stroke, all distinctions of caste, birth, colour and degree were abolished. A sword had flashed in the sun, and a community emerged, which was invested with a large humanist dream, given a definitive mandate, and set on the high road of evolution. The subsequent events that shaped the community’s Collective Consciousness only authenticated the primal vision, which, coming from Guru Nanak, gathered energies and fresh dimensions through the successive  Gurus, a vision consummated when the Tenth Master closed the chapter of human succession, and made the Adi Granth, compiled earlier by Guru Arjan Dev, the sole authority in matters of doctrines, values, right conduct. The Sikh holy scripture has no parallel in the world so far as its Catholicity and supremacy of song are concerned. It carries not only the bani of the Gurus, but also the compositions of saints and divines owing allegiance to different creeds, languages and cultures. Guru Gobind Singh pronounced the Granth as the Sikhs’ guide, mentor and Guru”.

The Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ended the line of living Sikh Gurus by raising the Adi Granth to the status of a Guru to all times. Guru Gobind Singh transmitted Guru Nanak’s divine light into the divine Word and declared that after him, the next Guru would be Guru Granth Sahib. He commanded the Sikhs that it was to be revered as the body and spirit of the ten Gurus :

Agya bhai Akal ki tabhi chalayo Panth.

Sabh Sikhan ko hukam hai Guru manyo Granth.

Guru Granth Ji manyo pargat Guran ki deh.

Jo Prabhu ko milbo chahe khoj shabad mein le.

Raj karega Khalsa aqi rahei na koe,

Khwar hoe sabh milange bache sharan jo hoe.

Under orders of the Immortal Being, the Panth was created. All Sikhs are enjoined to accept the Granth as their Guru. Consider the Guru Granth as an embodiment of the Gurus. Those who want to meet God, can find Him in its hymns. The Pure shall rule, and the impure will be no more, Those separated will unite and all the devotees of the Guru shall be saved. (Ardas) As the Guruship was passed on, Guru Granth Sahib became the embodiment of Divine Light. It should, therefore, be remembered very clearly that bowing before Guru Granth Sahib as Sikhs, is not bowing before a book, but is a bowing before the Divine Light or Jot (Guru) which was passed on when the Guruship was conferred upon it. Respect and veneration for Guru Granth does not imply idol worship, but rather respect for a divine message, the ideas and ideals contained in the Sikh scripture.

It is the source or a means to the worship of God through His Word, and not an object of worship in itself. Both the Gurus and the Book are accorded the respect because of the bani which they express, the word of divine truth. Bhai Gurdas ji states that “the picture of the Guru is the gurbani” (Bhai Gurdas, Var 24, pauri 11).

Expounding further on the essence of Guru Granth Sahib as the ‘institution of succession of Sikh faith and philosophy’ and the ‘extinction of personality’, Guru Nanak’s successors propagated submission to the imperatives of the inner self. They affirmed not only the spirit of humility and gratitude, but also the power of the word to become the word, of the message to become the mandate of the vision to become the incarnate. It was an illumination (jyoti) that proved in action the grand link of God, pontiff and believer, a spiritual bond of Father,  messenger and man. It wasa divine wheel come full circle!

It is important at this stage to aver that the scriptural finality was not to be taken as the truth embalmed in letter only. The word became a divine message, and the vision flesh when there was a complete harmony between the letter and the spirit. Thus, at the very outset, Sikhism was so primed as to frown upon lifeless rigidities and orthodoxies. In fact, a certain kind of mental resilience, or hospitality to other thoughts was built in the very fabric of the bani. A mere worship of the letter produced in the end one dimensional, closed communities, whereas Sikhism embraced new thoughts without jettisoning its heritage of insights and values. That is why, in a very special sense, Sikhism remains modern in its outlook. The essentially egalitarian world-view of the Gurus, and the essentially democratic character of all Sikh institutions and bodies set it apart from militant or monolithic religious communities.

Pertinent to note is the fact that the quantum of literature created by the Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh, both social and spiritual, is almost as expansive as the Guru Granth Sahib. The variety of subjects he chooses is fantastic, from the absolutes of Jaap Sahib and Akal Ustat, to myths of the paths (duly demolished) in Avtaars and sociologically controversial Charitras. His canvas is that of life, as vast and massive as is the universe. There is no subject which he does not address with clinical objectivity.

Above all, Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a remarkable storehouse of spiritual knowledge and teachings which does not preach any rites or rituals but stresses meditation on the Name of God; salvation can be obtained by means of regular, persistent and disciplined meditation. Most of the hymns are addressed to God and often describe the devotee’s condition: his aspirations and yearning, his agony in separation and his longing to be with the Lord. There are no mythological narratives, although God is described in anthropomorphic terms and the Gurus are not afraid to use the imagery of family relationships to describe the union of God and man.

The subject of Guru Granth Sahib is truth: how to become a ‘person of truth’, that is, an ideal person or gurmukh. As Guru Nanak states in the Mool Mantar, God is the Ultimate Truth and one has to cultivate those qualities which are associated with Him. Through its teachings, the Granth enables humans to lead a purposeful and rewarding life while being members of a society. It seeks universal peace and the good of all mankind. There is not a word in the Guru Granth Sahib that might be derogatory to any other belief or religion. The Guru Granth Sahib also stresses the democratic way of life and equality of all people. It teaches that we are karam yogis, that is we reap what we sow. The emphasis is on moral actions, noble living and working for the welfare of all people.

One of the obviously most distinctive features of the Guru Granth Sahib is that it is the first religious book which contains myriad writings of those belonging to different communities, castes, and diverse regions and faiths across the length and breadth of the country. It incorporates and sanctifies the writings of holy men of different faith. Therefore, the language of the Granth is a mixture of several languages of India, yet it is written exclusively in Gurmukhi script. Guru Arjan Dev ji, unlike many other religious leaders, did not believe that there is one particular sacred language in the sense that man can pray to God only in that language.

The Granth Sahib contains 937 hymns of 36 Hindu saints, Muslim sufis and bards. The hymns of these holy men cover a period of six centuries (from the 12th to the 17th century). In all gurdwaras and many Sikh homes, the Granth is read every day. No Sikh ceremony is regarded as complete unless it is performed in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. On a daily basis, Sikhs receive a hukam or divine order in the form of a hymn from the Guru Granth Sahib, either in a Gurdwara or at home. The hukam is the first hymn of the holy book from the left hand page when it is opened at random. Similarly, at the end of a service, after the ardas, the Adi Granth is opened at will and a portion read. Many Sikhs do this daily, regarding the verses as words from God which they will find helpful during the day. This is called vak lao, taking advice.

On special occasions, the Granth Sahib is recited non-stop from cover to cover by a string of readers. This continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib is known as an akhand path. It is regarded as the highest and the noblest ceremony in the Sikh religion, and can be performed on any important occasion; it requires nearly 48 hours for completion.

I now quote from a piece ‘Celebrating the Tri-Centennial: Guru Granth Sahib (1708-2008) – my roadmap to self-realisation’ penned by Bhagwant Singh Dalawari for the Nishaan in 2008. He states, “Ever since I was graced to understand the magnificent teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib, I have often wondered whether we have really imbibed them or even tried to imbibe them. My belief is that Guru Gobind Singh’s injunction for our perpetual allegiance to our perpetual Guru, Guru Granth Sahib. The holy scripture is indeed our perpetual Guru and we are required to show extreme reverence, utmost humility and respectful presence. What has diverted our attitudes is the fact that our Guru is neither the holy Book nor its external regalia which, of course, give the scripture exalted royalty but our real Guru is the Shabad, the Word, the message command as set out in various hymns of Guru Granth Sahib. Because of this hiatus between our external devotion and internal alienation, we have failed to reach the heights of gurmukh as envisaged and remain embedded into Karam-Kandi bhakti which Guru specifically eliminated by drawing us to the all-pervading naam and stating `Shabad Guru Surat Dhun Chela”.

“Guru Granth Sahib is not just the clearest and effective guide for the Sikhs but for all mankind. In fact every word that I ponder over, every hymn that I sing, every concept that I learn from our Guru represents the authenticity of Guru’s love and grace. Let me share with Nishaan readers five distinct messages that reach my heart: Not only is every word true and every command everlasting but devotees can experience the truth in their own lives.

The Guru governs all aspects of man’s life, both spiritual and temporal and the follower of Guru’s commands can never go wrong. Indeed, the devotee is required to live spiritually even when engaged in the mundane affairs of life.

Humility and self annihilation is the core point. The easiest way to enter the ashram of the Guru’s feet is to become a non-entity, in Guru’s words: jeevatian mar rahiye. The devotee is required to have full faith in the Guru’s Word, the efficacy of Guru’s protection and Guru’s power of guiding force.”

“And, if a devotee responds to the guidance of the Guru, there is a clear roadmap for him and her to reach the loving embrace of the Creator. When I listen to amrit vela kirtan from Harmandir Sahib every morning and concentrate on the messages being disseminated, I am always enthralled and feel that when Guru’s guidance is so simple and clear, why do we get into cumbersome discussions, useless debates, unproductive commentaries on the externals ?”

Worship Satguru as God Himself and serve him day in and day out. Recognise your Satguru by looking at him with your own eyes. When you recite the name of the Lord according to the Guru’s commands, you can get whatever you wish. Remember, you can think of so many possibilities but what will happen is what is destined to happen. Everyone wishes well for himself, but the Lord does what has never crossed our minds. Concentrate on the Lord’s name 24 hours and live in accordance with Guru’s commands. My Lord, my thoughts or wisdom is under your control; we are mere instruments on which you play. My Lord, you are the do’er of everything and I speak what you dictate me to speak. (‘Harjan Dekhau Satgur Naini’ of Guru Ramdas on p. 800 of Guru Granth Sahib).

The cardinal principles of our philosophy, that is the Sikh philosophy, are the complete universality of spirituality, complete equality of man and love of all mankind. I call any shabad of Guru Granth Sahib a roadmap to embrace of the Lord and will be clear from the analysis of Guru Ram Dass’s above shabad:

“Worship of God or devotion to Lord is available to everyone. The Guru is an extraordinary divine messenger and it is not given to us to question his command. Guru Granth as the Lord’s word. We are fortunate in having the Shabad Guru in Guru Granth Sahib which eliminates the slavery of a devotee to a self-proclaimed Baba of a Dera. The seva, day and night, of Guru Granth Sahib means the remembrance of the Lord in every breath and living the message in day-to-day life.”

“What a wonderful concept, looking at the Guru, with our own eyes! Unfortunately, we have been thinking that the darshan of Guru Granth Sahib as a Holy Scripture conveys this meaning. No, what the Guru intends to tell us that within our hearts we should have the innermost understanding of the Word by remembering Him in accordance with Guru’s commands.” The Guru assures us that we will have whatever we wish. The wonder of our shabad Guru is that on the one hand, he makes it clear that we cannot see the Lord with our worldly eyes because he has no form (roop no rekha na ran kichch), on the other he calls upon us to look at him. In my view, it would mean attachment to Guru’s Word in word and deed, which will result in Guru’s darshan within. Savour this: Gurka shabad lago man meetha, parbrahman ta te mohe deetha — when you begin to relish the sweetness of Gurshabad, you can have feeling of having seen the Lord.

S Pushpindar Singh

S Pushpindar Singh is Executive Editor of the Nishaan, ‘Illustrated Journal of the Sikhs’ published from New Delhi, launched in April 1999 at the Tercentenary of birth of the Khalsa. Coming from a Gursikh family of Amritsar-Lahore, he grew up in a Services environment, studied at The Doon School at Dehra Dun and later the Punjab University, Chandigarh. He joined the Engineering Division of a multi-national company in Bombay, later becoming Chief Executive of a leading German aerospace company in 1978 which he headed in India for 24 years. He is now engaged in historical research and has published several books. Aerospace may be his profession, but Sikhism is his passion, exemplified by his devotion to the Nishaan Journal and regular participation in seminars and conferences organised by the Nagaara Trust. In July 2014 he was invited to be part of the Centre for Guru Granth Sahib Studies at Rakabganj Sahib in New Delhi, chaired by the venerable Dr Jaswant Singh Neki, a most notable Sikh personality and well known to the sangat in San Jose, where the conference is taking place.

Nishaan I/2015

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