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Guardian of human rights

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In the 239 years of leadership provided by the Sikh Gurus in human form, many powerful lessons have been left for the Sikhs and for other people of the world to learn from. Beginning in 1469, with the birth of their founder, Guru Nanak until the demise of the tenth master Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, the history of the Sikh Gurus is packed full of numerous events, incidents, occurrences, celebrations, confrontations, unions, etc some of which give a clear and unique message and direction to the interested reader. These events in history are an example for the followers of the Gurus to learn from; to gain spiritual guidance and insight from; and to mould ones life to the path of dharma or righteousness.

The Sikh religion appears to be somewhat unusual in the way that it was created. Most other world religions have had a short span of birth of perhaps 40 to 70 years. But Sikhi took a much longer period in its creation phase. Ten human leaders were needed to nurture it into a fully fledged world religion. Guru Nanak laid down the foundations of this faith and each subsequent Guru added to and reinforced the work done by his predecessors. In this way the light of Nanak was carried by 9 other souls until the Guruship was handed over to the Guru Granth Sahib in 1708 by the last human Guru of the Sikhs - Guru Gobind Singh.

The central message of Guru Nanak is that of one God – Ek Onkar. The one God is the creator, sustainer and destroyer of all; all are equal before Him. The second message is one of equality of all human beings; to see God in all and hence to respect every person in the same way irrespective of their gender, race, caste, social status, nationality, ethnicity, class, ability, level of talent, etc. The third message is to live the life of a householder (gristi) – to accept the responsibility of family and community life; to meditate on God while carrying out ones duty to ones family and to society; to serve and support the community; and to offer security to all within society.

In this regard, the ninth Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur provides a very valuable lesson for the Sikhs and for the other concerned peoples of the world relating to the security and protection of all human beings within our society. It is very common for communities to protect their own members ("their own"). The evidence for this, is well documented in the history of mankind. In protecting or seeking to spread their own religious beliefs or their own traditions or culture, they sometime decimate or destroy the beliefs and ways of others; when one becomes self-centred on ones “own people” or ones “own religion”, or ones “own community”; this can become the beginning of serious problems and many major conflicts have started in this way.

Guru Arjan, the fifth Nanak tells us:

ਏਕੁ ਪਿਤਾ ਏਕਸ ਕੇ ਹਮ ਬਾਰਿਕ ਤੂ ਮੇਰਾ ਗੁਰ ਹਾਈ ॥
Ėk piṯā ėkas kė ham bārik ṯū mėrā gur hā­ī.
The One God is our father; we are the children of the One God. You are our Guru.

There is only one God; he is the father of all; we are all His children. So it is important that we treat every other human being as an equal and as a brother or sister; a father or mother; a daughter or son depending on their age relative to ours. If we fail to do so, we have turned our face away from God – we cannot be called Gurmukhone who is with the Guru; one who listens to the wise saints. Instead we will live our lives, this precious, brief existence on Earth as Manmukh or self-centred or ego-centricmen and women.

Wars, conflicts and enemies

Because of Manmukh (self-centred or ego-centric) leaders, many wars have been fought between nations, either to protect ones own nation or to conquer other nations. In most of these wars one nation would fight against its neighbour to gain dominance, national pride, territory, wealth or other material gain. Most wars are as a result of discrimination and victimisation on the part of the aggressor against its opposite party. When a group considers its neighbour low or inferior; a source of easy wealth or territory, the result has, all too often, become a war.

In the last millennium we had the Crusades of Christian Europe against non-Christians; wars between different groups of Christians, the Albagensian Conspiracy, the protestant reformation; the Thirty Years War in Europe; Sino-Japanese Wars between China and Japan, etc. Many millions have died in these wars; but the world continues on its 'merry way'. We read about these conflicts in our newspapers daily. No one appears to takes any notice. We turn the page and continue to read the next item.

History provides plenty of evidence of wars and conflicts between different nations, religious groups, races, ethnic groups, tribes, creeds, etc. During the First World War Germany and Austria felt threatened as the powerful countries surrounding them united against them. At the end of the "War to end all wars" as it was then called, the victorious allies (against the urging of the President of the United States advise) accepted Germany's surrender with terms that were so severe that the citizens of Germany were left resourceless and starving, Such harsh treatment broke the back of the new democratic government and led directly to a great world wide depression when millions died, setting the stage for Hitler's rise and the second even worse World war.

Fortunately the leaders of most of the nations whose forces were victorious shared their own devastated resources with their defeated enemies, spearheading the reconstruction of Germany and Japan. Such liberal treatment of their former enemies has built strong allies and war in western Europe has ceased, but since then we have seen wars in Vietnam, the Genocide of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the Iraq and Iranian war, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Sudan, etc. Many hundreds of millions have died in these and other wars in the last century.

Even today, we have many conflicts in the world. In the Middle-East, the conflict between different religious factions within Islam; also, we have conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims due to jihads and perceived cultural enmities from the past; wars in other parts between different ethnic groups within the same race.

Just think of the misery that it brings to the families who are involved in these conflicts! The pain; the loss; the hurt that these evil actions have produced are immense. This is a way of life which is born from ego and self-centred perception.

Love, care and differences

There is a different way of life. Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Nanak took it upon himself to teach the world an important lesson in responsibility and in sacrifice. He showed the world how one should care for their neighbour and protect their rights. In 1675 when the Kashmiri Pandits came to ask him for his help to protect their community from religious conversion or annihilation by the Mughal Empire; they did not realise that they were about to witness a world first. Guru ji was a Sikh while the Kashmiri Pandits were high caste Hindus.

Sikhism differs from Hinduism in several major aspects; for example, Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru himself as a Hindu child of about nine refused to wear the Hindu sacred thread (the Janeu), a privilege of rank donned by boys of the higher Hindu castes and he also spoke out against the ritual of Sati widow immolation. He saw the 'Holy withdrawal from life' of the sadhu or sanyasi as a misguided search for unity with God.

Once watching some Hindus in their morning ablutions in the Ganga at Varanasi, throwing water to the East at the rising Sun; he chose to interrupt this ritual in a positive manner. He knew the ritual well, but he took the time to make them think about what they were doing and its futility. Feigning ignorance he asked them what they were doing. They replied that they were sending water to the Sun to quench the thirst of their ancestors who were now residents there. He immediately turned to the west, towards Punjab, and started to throw handfuls of water in that direction. Puzzled and sure he was mad, they asked, "What are you doing?" The wise Guru then sprung his trap saying, "Why, I'm sending water to my parched fields in Punjab." The Guru was always setting such 'mental traps' so that the men and sages he met in his travels would awaken to the bigger traps in which their minds were already stuck.

Respect and sacrifice

To Guru Tegh Bahadur, a quiet man of peace, like Guru Nanak, it was clear that the Kashmiri Pandits, long the most respected priests, scholars, cooks and medical men of Hinduism, were in a dire situation. The Guru was aware of the important role that these Pandits played in the structure of Hindu society. He knew that Hinduism itself would probably not survive the loss of its most venerated Pandits if they did not get help; their community would suffer mass forced conversion to Islam. There were only two choices: either to offer to help them or to ignore their plight and turn away from the path of righteousness (Dharam).

From 1665 when Guru ji became the ninth master, Sikhism had flourished in northern India and the name of the Guru was known throughout most of India. The Guru had travelled to the East as far as present-day Bangladesh and to Assam to spread the word of Nanak and to bring his message of peace and unity to all. So by 1675, the Guru was a well known figure in Northern India. The Guru chose to shock the nation and awaken the masses. He knew that the Mughal invaders could only be defeated by awakening the whole of the nation; they could only be defeated by a concerted effort by all the communities of India.

And so on 24 November 1675 at Chandni Chowk, Delhi, India, the Guru who had dared Aurangzeb to attempt his conversion, staying true to his religion and his pledge to the Kashmiri Pandits sacrificing his life to end Aurangzeb's threats to the Hindus. He gave his life for the right of people to practise their religion freely without interference from the state.

This action by the Guru shook the nation as it showed the commitment of the Guru to stand against tyranny even at the cost of his own life. Soon his son would follow his path and create the Khalsa by asking 5 men to make such a sacrifice themselves. With the Khalsa, a whole nation was created that would stand against tyranny and suppression of the weak.

The Guru gave his life so that it would awaken the nation to the need to unite against their Mughal overlords. The sacrifice of the Guru was the beginning of the end of the Mughal Empire. The Guru by his action established a clear message for the Sikhs – to stand firm to protect the rights of the weak or needy at any cost. The Guru is now fondly called Hind-dee-chaderthe protector of Hindustan (India)

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