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Proven path for peace

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We find today that the whole world is burning in the fire of hatred and evil-mindedness. Everyday we read and watch the news reports of bloodshed and the ever-growing loss of innocent lives. Daily people resort to hatred and will even commit suicide to kill their supposed opponents. The cycle of revenge and hatred is repeated and copied by more and more people. The increasing spiral of hatred and oppression grows on a daily basis; more and more people are touched by this terror of hate and enmity.

ਦੁਰਮਤਿ *1 ਅਗਨਿ ਜਗਤ ਪਰਜਾਰੈ ॥

दुरमति अगनि जगत परजारै ॥

Ḏurmaṯ agan jagaṯ parjārai.
The fire of evil-mindedness is burning up the world.

World War II (1939-1945) had brought misery and unprecedented bloodshed literally all over the earth and sea. The death of millions of people made the world leaders to get together and form the United Nations Organisation to avoid violence in future. In 1949, they passed the Bill of Human Rights to maintain peace all over the globe. However, we find that mutual hatred between different faiths and nations continues to result in killings everywhere.

Need for the Message

The humanity, which is split because of color, caste, country and creed of the people, needs the message of Gurbani for uniting it into one brotherhood for everlasting peace. This truth dawned upon me during my last fifteen years' participation in the inter-faith conferences and university discussions in different countries. The universal Gurbani message of peace was welcomed with clapping everywhere.

ਤੂੰ ਸਾਝਾ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਬਾਪੁ ਹਮਾਰਾ ॥ (ਪੰ:੯੭ p97)
ਜਿਨੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਗਏ ਮਸਕਤਿ ਘਾਲਿ ॥ (ਪੰ:੮ p8)
ਤੇਰੇ ਭਾਣੈ ਸਰਬਤ ਕਾ ਭਲਾ ॥ (ਪੰ:੬੬੨ p:662)

Simply stated the message of these hymns is :God is our common Father, all people being His children form one multi-cultural brotherhood. Whosoever, irrespective of his caste or creed, loves the common Father succeeds in achieving the mission of human life. A devotee should always pray for the welfare of whole humanity, not just of his family or his community alone.

This message brought peace to the hearts of the listeners everywhere (anyway the Sikh philosophy of fatherhood of God and brotherhood of humanity cannot be questioned by any rational thinker).

Desire for the Message

Just look into any world journal, both religious and political organisations are longing for peace. They are trying all possible methods to get rid of hatred and develop a feeling of oneness among the human beings. During the golden jubilee of the Bill of Human Rights in 1999, the International Association for Religious Freedom held their three-yearly conference in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The theme chosen by them was "Creating an Earth Community — A Religious Imperative". I was to present the Sikh perspective. My very introductory statement brought a resounding applause from the whole house consisting of all religions of the world. I observed :

"Dear friends, the theme of the conference, "Creating an Earth Community", is actually the basic philosophy of my faith founded about five centuries ago. To share his revelation Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith, stated, "Do not divide people on the basis of their faith, caste or culture; we are all His children, hence equal. Do not consider anyone alien (or different) living anywhere on this earth. All people belong to one brotherhood, of course, they speak many different languages and practice many different ways to worship Him."

To explain the above message of Gurbani, I translated some hymns for the audience. I must share two of them with you today:

ਆਈ ਪੰਥੀ ਸਗਲ ਜਮਾਤੀ ਮਨਿ ਜੀਤੈ ਜਗੁ ਜੀਤੁ ॥ (ਪੰ:੬ p:6)
ਇਹੁ ਜਗੁ ਵਾੜੀ ਮੇਰਾ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਮਾਲੀ ॥ ਸਦਾ ਸਮਾਲੇ ਕੋ ਨਾਹੀ ਖਾਲੀ ॥ (ਪੰ:੧੧੮ p:118)

i)In the preamble (page 6 of Sri Guru Granth Sahib) a hymn tells, "The person who accepts all human beings as his class-fellows, as equals and not as inferior or superior, is a truly spiritual person of the highest order. And one who controls his / her mind (ego) and does not let it hate others can win the whole world (with love)."

ii)Another hymn (page 118) explains that God may be compared to a gardener who takes care of all the trees, plants and flowers in his garden, irrespective of their shape, size, smell, or color. He loves them all because they together make the garden interesting and refreshing. Similarly God, our Gardener, takes care of us because He loves us all whatever our faith or race. We human beings having different cultures and features form one earth community and can jointly make the garden of humanity interesting and pleasing.

In brief our Lord wants us to live as one earth community by understanding our internal unity and respecting our outward apparent differences.

The desire for the message was also visible when a delegation of the representatives from Russia, Ukraine and Belaruss visited Punjab a couple of years ago and they stressed the need for "spiritual socialism". Professor Sidorov said, "Principles of Sikhism and its founder Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Gobind Singh are appealing more than any other spiritual way of life." According to the report dated 14th April in the Tribune a spiritual conference was planned in October to which Sikh leaders were to be invited for propagating the fundamentals of the Sikh faith. The report also mentioned, "Efforts are on to translate Sikh scriptures in various languages of the former Soviet Union so the people can follow the message of Sikh Gurus. Already Jap Sahib and Jupji Sahib have been translated."


Universal Acceptance

Let me share with you one more experience of the universal acceptance of the message of Gurbani. An interfaith conference was held during late 1980s at State University, Cleveland, Ohio. There were more than half a dozen speakers from different faiths. After each one had told the good points of his faith, a simple looking person asked a very embarrassing question, “What do the speakers have to say about the people of other faiths ? Will they be saved or not ?”

It was very difficult for any speaker to say that the people of his faith alone will be saved and the people of other faiths will not be permitted entry into Heaven. Every speaker, therefore, just kept beating about the bush; their difficulty of giving a straight answer was obvious to the listeners. For the Sikh answer, the author, who was the last person to speak, replied something like this:

“Friends, I very much appreciate this interesting and challenging question. However, it is not applicable to the Sikh faith. We believe there is one God, one humanity and hence one faith. Of course, we address God, our common Father, by many Names according to our language. Every day we find the worldly father being addressed as dad, daddy, papa and innumerable other names in the mother tongue of the children all over the world. Many names of God should not be taken to mean that there are many religions.”

After telling about the wide spectrum of the contributors (Gurus and other men of God, born in Hindu, Muslim and low-caste families) to the Sikh scripture, I concluded, "No prophet or a community can claim a franchise on God. Anyone who loves Him can realise Him." The whole house, except the questioner, responded with clapping.

Climax, however, came after his second question, "What do you say about those who do not believe in God ?" The summary of my reply was, "The Sikhs believe that there is only one God, the only Father/Mother of humanity. One may love Him by any name or no name. Or one may not believe in Him at all. The fact remains that being the children of the same Father/Mother, we all human beings belong to one family. God loves us all. Hence a Sikh completes his prayer every day requesting God to bless the whole humanity."

Hearing this reply, the young man stood up, raised his hands and roared aloud, "I buy Nanak." Impressed by his emotions, the audience also stood up, clapped and gave a standing ovation to Guru Nanak. This episode took place during late 1980s.

The Message and the Panth

Now the question with which we should address ourselves is, "Why our youth, rather we ourselves, are not buying Nanak today." While believing in the brotherhood of humanity and having partaken of amrit together from the same bowl, why have we split ourselves into Jats (and their sub-units Majha, Malwa, Doaba), Ramgarhias, Ravdasias and other kinds of Sikhs. Unfortunately, to strengthen this division we have also split our Gurdwaras accordingly. We are further deeply divided because of our political leanings and because of our unquestioned commitment to the self-serving leaders.

In the early years of the 20th century the Khalsa Diwan Society was founded in Vancouver, BC, Canada; then in the Gurdwara it is on record that Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and many Christian Canadians not only prayed together but also jointly cooked and partook of langar together sitting in the pangat in the Gurdwara. However, influenced by the Sikh political leaders and the sub-castes of the members, presently the sangat is split into warring groups. Mutual hatred which prevails there between the Sikhs reminds one of the hatred between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir. The chairs-in-langar issue has split even the families.

We must, however, also recognise that there are numerous Sikhs who not only believe but also practice the philosophy of brotherhood of humanity. I must mention one classical example from the history of the Shaheed Sikh Missionary College Amritsar. For their annual function, the trainees had invited some influential Sikhs. However, to the surprise of everyone, the college sweeper (of course, well-dressed) was inducted in as the chief guest by the Principal, late Professor Sahib Singh. With due respect, the principle served tea to him. The message of Nanak:

ਨੀਚਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਨੀਚੀ ਹੂ ਅਤਿ ਨੀਚੁ ॥ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਤਿਨ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਾਥਿ ਵਡਿਆ ਸਿਉ ਕਿਆ ਰੀਸ ॥ ਜਿਥੈ ਨੀਚ ਸਮਾਲੀਅਨਿ ਤਿਥੈ ਨਦਰਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਖਸੀਸ ॥ (ਪੰ:੧੫ p:15)

was taught by actual practice. This message has to be adopted by the Panth as a whole to remove the inferiority complex of the lower strata of society. Practising it at the level of an individual Sikh, of course, has its own importance.

The Sikh teachings have not developed the psyche of the so-called low-caste Sikhs as equal members of society. All of you must have observed this in many social and religious functions. Here is my very sad experience.

About thirty years back when I asked a messenger boy to bring a glass of water he took unusually extra time and returned empty handed. While trying to conceal my anger, I asked the reason; his reply brought tears in my eyes. While wringing his hands he meekly muttered, "I, -----, Sir, ----I have asked the other boy to bring water for you." Without saying any word, the keshadhari Sikh youth expressed that he was a low-caste and the water would have got polluted by his touch. The water was brought. When I asked him to spill it over and bring water himself, his eyes showed a unique glow. He slowly said some words, "Sir, -- you --- also." I responded, "Yes, I am also of your caste."

That day a great mystery became clear to me. "What motivated the Sikhs to offer their lives for the mission of the Gurus ?" It was preaching and practising the equality of the people. The Guru loved all Sikhs equally and lifted their psyche to make them feel as members of the Guru family. This is what is missing from the Sikh community today and is the root cause of all our problems. We need to practice ourselves the teachings of Gurbani rather than bragging about their greatness.

Restarting the Movement for Peace

How to do it. The example of sangat, pangat and the Guru Khalsa Panth is before us. The Gurus did not just theorise it but also practically demonstrated it that peace can be brought to the warring communities by teaching them the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of humanity. During the time of Guru Nanak, the killing and torturing was going on in the name of religion. The kings and the judges were unjust. Religious preachers were sucking the blood of the common man by forcing meaningless rituals on them. Guru Nanak, as a champion of human rights of the weak, protested against the religious and political terrorism. In his following hymns the Guru very strongly and bluntly criticized them.

ਰਾਜੇ ਸੀਹ ਮੁਕਦਮ ਕੁਤੇ ॥ ਜਾਇ ਜਗਾਇਨ੍‍ ਿਬੈਠੇ ਸੁਤੇ ॥ ਚਾਕਰ ਨਹਦਾ ਪਾਇਨ੍‍ ਿਘਾਉ ॥ ਰਤੁ ਪਿਤੁ ਕੁਤਿਹੋ ਚਟਿ ਜਾਹੁ ॥ (ਪੰ:੧੨੮੮ p:1288)
ਕਾਦੀ ਕੂੜੁ ਬੋਲਿ ਮਲੁ ਖਾਇ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਜੀਆ ਘਾਇ ॥ ਜੋਗੀ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਨ ਜਾਣੈ ਅੰਧੁ ॥ ਤੀਨੇ ਓਜਾੜੇ ਕਾ ਬੰਧੁ ॥ (ਪੰ:੬੬੨ p:662)

Is not the similar situation prevailing today ?

We find corruption and immorality in both religious and political institutions. Businessmen and officials are also a party to it. The society has started accepting this corrupt atmosphere as something inevitable and natural. We have to break this anti-social atmosphere and awaken the people to the possibility of bringing peace and justice to everybody the way Guru Nanak did.

Let the message of Guru Granth Sahib, we have installed in this educational institution today, be actually adopted and not just preached.We can share the principles of sangat and pangat with the world to remove or at least to substantially decrease mutual hatred amongst the people and bring peace to this world, the most urgent need of the people. We have to start it ourselves and from our own home. The life of the Sikh leaders and preachers should be clean and they should pressurise the politicians to behave, the approach which was followed by Guru Nanak. His philosophy was put into modern terminology when the World Conference of Religions for Peace, New Jersey, USA, 1979, concluded:

Too often the names and practices of our religions have been associated with warfare and strife. Now we must reverse this by:

1) Breaking down barriers of prejudice and hostility between religious communities and institutions.

ii) Confronting the powers of the world with the teachings of our religions rather than conforming to them when they act contrary to the well-being of humanity.

iii) Building inter-religious understanding in our local community.

Before closing, I must point out a great caution. The basic statement regarding the Sikh philosophy that all people, whatever their religion, are equal, is misunderstood quite often, sometimes intentionally.

I was invited to address joint sangats of the Gurdwaras of Singapore in a rented hall. A very common question but with deep implications was asked there by a Christian. "Can we say that Christianity and Sikhism are two brother faiths because both of them believe and work for the welfare of humanity."

The answer was very clear and straightforward. "No, they are totally different. Morality, which mostly is common in all religions, does not form the foundation of the religion. The faiths are identified by their philosophy regarding God and the mission of human life told to their followers. Christians believe that God fathered only one son named Jesus, all other people are born sinful. Christian God will permit into his heaven only those persons who believe Jesus as the only son of God and the Saviour. God as revealed in Gurbani loves all people. Further, human life according to the Sikh faith is a gift from God and not the result of the curse of the Creator.

The mission of the Christians is to find a place in heaven and they are scared of hell. On the other hand, Gurbani denies the very existence of assumed places called heaven or hell. The mission of a Sikh's life is to realise the Lord and not bother about these imaginary places. (Recently the Pope stated that heaven and hell are only concepts. This is a fundamental revision of the basic belief of the Semitic faiths to concur with the philosophy of the Sikh faith.) Suffering under the influence of vices, ego lust, anger, etc. is living in hell on this very earth. Singing the virtues of God and enjoying His love is living in heaven. Sikhism accepts all people as equal but it rejects all religions which claim sole franchise on God.

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