Some important questions were asked after a lecture specially planned to be delivered in connection with the celebration of Baisakhi in the auditorium of P.U.B. Singapore. The answers to those questions, along with the lecture delivered on that occasion, are given below.
Summary of the lecture given on 14 April 1996 to the youth in Singapore regarding the relevance of Baisakhi to their lives.
References Quoted in the lecture:
(i) Mankinds religious future may be obscure, yet one thing can be foreseen. The living higher religions are going to influence each other more than ever before, in the days of ever increasing communications between all parts of the world and the branches of the human race. In this coming religious debate, the Sikh religion and its scriptures, the Guru Granth, will have something special of value to say to the rest of the world. A British historian Toynbee, Foreword The Sacred Writing of the Sikhs Published by UNESCO.
(ii) I have studied the scriptures of the great religions, but I do not find elsewhere the same power of appeal to the heart and mind as I find here in these volumes ... They speak to a person of any religion or of none. They speak for the human heart and the searching mind. Miss Pearl S Buck, a Nobel Laureate, Introduction to the English translation of the Guru Granth Sahib.
(iii) The author of the Vie de Jesus was a great admirer of Jesus Christ. Greatly impressed as he was by the spiritual message delivered by Christ and those of the Semitic thinkers that preceded him, he posed the question ...whether great originality will rise again or will the world be content to follow the paths opened by the daring creators of the ancient ages?
Having Sikhism in his mind, MacCauliffe in his book The Sikh Religion, answers the above question in the following words: Now here is presented a religion totally unaffected by Semitic or Christian influences. Based on the concept of the unity of God, it rejected Hindu formalities and adopted an independent ethical system, ritual, and standards which were totally opposed to the theological beliefs of Guru Nanaks age and country. As we shall see hereafter, it would be difficult to point to a religion of greater originality or to a more comprehensive ethical system. The Sikh Faith A Universal Message Gurbakhsh Singh published by Canadian Sikh Study & Teaching Society, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
Summary of the Speech:
We are here to celebrate the founding of the Khalsa on the day of Baisakhi in 1699. It is my pleasure to share with you the significance of Baisakhi for the Sikhs, specifically the youth. Let us discuss the history of the faith and its uniqueness so that the youth know their heritage. This will help them to enjoy the self-esteem of being Sikhs instead of feeling embarrassed of their distinct identity granted to them on this day by Guru Gobind Singh.
A) Founding of the Faith
Guru Nanak Dev, upon coming out of the river of Bein, in 1499 delivered his first formal sermon, a message given to him by God; Na Koi Hindu Na Musalman Do not divide humanity into Hindus and Muslims. We are children of the same Father, hence we are equal. We can love him by any Name; Allah, Ram, Gobind, etc. To understand this message, we must remember that people were divided into many castes and sub-castes, some of them considered low or even untouchable. Followers of each faith claimed a franchise on God and preached that unless a person accepted their faith, he or she would not be permitted to enter into Heaven; one could enter it through their prophet only. Obviously this is an untenable belief which unfortunately prevails even today. As a result, there prevailed serious interfaith and inter-caste hatred causing continuous tension among the people. Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of the Guru Granth Sahib, in his first Var, describes this irreligious and antisocial behavior of the people. He states in poetical language, that the weight of human conflicts became unbearable for Mother Earth. She requested God to send a prophet to stop the tension. God responded by sending Guru Nanak who preached Truth (i.e. all of humanity are His children and are equal.) See Chapter II Question 5, the translation of Var 1, Bhai Gurdas With this understanding, we can comprehend that when the Guru uttered, Na Koi Hindu Na Musalman, he planted the seeds of a social and religious revolution.
B) Nursing of the Faith
The plant, called the Sikh faith, was nursed by the ten Gurus with great devotion and many sacrifices, even at the cost of their heads. The faith of the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of humanity was introduced through two Sikh institutions, namely Sangat and Pangat. Everyone, including Hindus and Muslims, high caste and low caste, rich and poor, men and women were welcome to sit together as equals without any kind of discrimination. They were to love God by any and all Names Allah, Ram, Gobind, Guru, etc. This congregation was given the name Sangat. These people were also welcome to partake of free food, Langar, together as equals. It was called Pangat. Later, during the times of the third and the fourth Gurus, the followers were required to use water from the same well and bathe in the same pool to abolish from their minds the feeling of otherness for persons of a different caste, community of faith. This was unimaginable during those days in India where some persons were considered untouchable and were not allowed to come close to a person of a higher caste. The fifth Guru compiled the holy scripture. Not only the hymns of the Gurus but also hymns composed by Muslim, Hindu and many so-called low caste holy persons were included in it. They all preached that there is the same reflection of God in every human being. This message was not to the liking of the authorities or the people proud of their high caste. All Gurus were harassed by the misuse of political authority. The fifth Guru and the ninth Guru were arrested, tortured and murdered. The sixth and the tenth Gurus were repeatedly attacked by the army. In the face of this strong repression from the rulers and negative propaganda by the high caste, the Sikh wave continued to progress. It reached its climax on the day of Baisakhi in 1699. On this day, the Guru Khalsa Panth, the ever living Guru, was revealed and installed as Panj Pyaras.
C) Revelation of the Khalsa
A special gathering of the Sikhs was called on this day. They were invited from all over India for this great occasion. In the general gathering, the Guru, with a glittering sword in his hand, gave a call for those who would protect the truth and live the faith at the cost of their lives. The devotees joined in thousands. According to the intelligence report sent to the Emperor in Delhi, about 20,000 persons took Amrit and became members of the Khalsa Panth on that day. The first five who offered themselves to the Guru were called the Panj Pyaras. They were requested by the Guru to admit him into the Panth by administering Amrit to him. The Sangat founded by Guru Nanak was transformed into the Khalsa Panth on the day of Baisakhi, 1699. The mandate to the Khalsa is: To spread the righteousness, protect the human rights of the truthful people (holy people) and destroy the tyrant. Every disciple was required to wear the five articles of faith, called the five Kakaars, the identity and pride of a Sikh. To be a member of the Panth, one was also to follow the life of Sewa-Simran and wish well for all humanity. This revealed Guru, (the corporate body, the Guru Khalsa Panth) is beyond the danger of being killed by any king because it is not an individual human being but a philosophy, the fellowship of all those who promise to practice the Truth at any cost. It is the installation of this Guru that we celebrate on this day of Baisakhi. Holding of high level functions all over the world, whenever the Sikhs are, remind us of this day. The Sikhs under the guidance of this Guru, the Guru Khalsa Panth, continued their struggle for securing human rights for the weak. During the 18th century, becoming a Sikh was against the law of the land. The Delhi government ordered that anyone who could find a Sikh and chop off his head could exchange it at any police station for about one years wages. Sikhs not only survived this elimination planned by the mighty Government, but before the turn of the century, became the formal rulers of the Punjab. Actually, their writ prevailed over major parts of the region during the latter half of the century. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, with the guidance and help of his mother-in-law, Sardarni Sada Kaur, coordinated the different units of the Panth (then called Misls.) He took over Lahore in 1799 and thus became the first Sikh ruler of the Punjab.
The reason for the success of the Khalsa was their love for humanity and the protection they provided to the poor and helpless and the cost of their own lives. The high character of the Sikhs was so popular with people that even a Muslim historian, Kazi noor Mohammed, could not help recognizing it and recording it in his book. Though he nursed an extreme hatred for the Sikhs and referred to them as Sug (dogs, in Persian) instead of Singh, he could not help admitting their high character. He writes: In no case would they slay a coward, nor would they put an obstacle in the way of a fugitive. They do not plunder the wealth and ornaments of women, but she a well-to -do lady or a maid servant. There is no adultery among these dogs nor are these mischievous people given to thieving. Whether a woman is young or old, they call her buriya and ask her to get out of the way. (The word buriya in the Indian language means an old lady.) There is no thief at all among these dogs nor is there any housebreaker born among these miscreants. They do not make friends with adulterers. Jang Nama PP 156-159.
D) Celebration of Baisakhi Now, a few words about how Baisakhi should be celebrated. There is a very simple answer for this we know that the Guru founded the Khalsa Panth on this day by inviting the believers in equality of humanity to accept Amrit. Every disciple was welcome to become a member of the Akal Purkh Ki Fauj (saint-soldiers), to protect and propagate this wave. The Guru himself underwent the ceremony, took Amrit and became the first member of this army of holy people. Therefore the true celebration of the day is that we ourselves take Amrit and join the Panth. The rest of the activities planned for this day are also good and necessary. They bring a spirit of Chardi Kala to the Panth and remind them of their great heritage, inculcating self-esteem among the individuals. We have discussed the high esteem (because of their high character) in which the Sikhs were held by their opponents. It is this spirit that we should carry from the auditorium and spread among the Sikhs, particularly the youth. They need to learn about the features of their faith and the contributions of the Sikhs to society as observed by many modern non Sikh scholars. Further, when they hear about the actual experiences I have shared with you (summary of one incident given below) they will know the greatness of being born into a Sikh family and would love to live a Sikh way of life. This is the objective of celebrating Baisakhi by us. Please excuse me if I have made any omissions or statements which do not agree with the principles of Gurmat. Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Whaheguru Ji Ki Fateh
Speakers personal experience in the USA
A couple of years age, I attended an interfaith meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. There were about a dozen speakers representing different faiths. Each described the features of his faith. At the end a common question was asked of all the speakers, How do you regard the people who do not belong to your faith? Are they lost?
As it is well known, preachers of each faith insist that unless one joins their faith, one cannot be saved (or one will not find entry into Heaven). The question was obviously a very unpleasant now to be asked in that kind of a forum. Every speakers dilemma was obvious as they spoke. The last turn was that of the Sikh speaker so I went to the podium and answered the question like this.
Friends, this question does not exist for the Sikhs. Guru Nanak founded the faith by preaching that we should not divide people into Hindus, Muslims or into any other faith. We are children of the same Father whom we can love by any Name; Allah, Ram, Gobind, Guru, Niranjan (a word used by Yogis for God). Anyone, who loves God by any Name, realizes Him. The Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains the hymns of six Sikh Gurus and thirty other holy people who were born as Muslims, Hindus, low castes and even untouchables. They addressed God by many Names in their hymns, including those five mentioned above.
Gurbani says no one can claim a franchise on God, He is our common Father.
God in nobodys fathers property. He is owned by love. [Guru Granth P.658 ]
Lord, you are the Father to all of us. [Guru Granth P. 97 ]
I concluded my reply saying, God is our common father; therefore people of all faiths have equal rights on Him. He loves all of us. Anyone who loves Him and His children can realize Him.
A spontaneous loud clapping from the audience welcomed this reply, and I was very pleased with this response. However, the climax was yet to come.
A supplementary question was asked by the same person, How do you regard those who do not believe in God? Briefly, my reply was like this: I can answer the question better with an actual example from my life. My son in India feels that I do not exist (for him) because he cannot meet me or contact me. My daughter here in the USA, in whose house I stay, even though aware of his feelings for me, still loves him. She knows that to deserve my love she cannot afford to ignore him. Further, it is very clear in her mind that he, being my son, is to be treated and sincerely loved by her as a brother. Similarly, we Sikhs know that all people, whether they love God or not, are like brothers to us. Our prayer, therefore, is considered complete only when we say, Father, we pray that You may bless the whole of humanity in Thy Name. Hearing this, the whole house (people of different faiths) stood on their feet and clapped loudly till I returned to my seat. The Sikh youth and also the adults who attended that interfaith meeting felt great and enjoyed the self-esteem of being Sikhs.
Many questions were asked at the end of the lecture but most of them have already been answered in the book. The answers to two pertinent questions are given below.
Question A: I have read the Christian Bible and have found that so many teachings of Jesus are similar to that in the Guru Granth Sahib. So, is Christianity a partner religion with Sikhism since both speak the same message? If so, why is there so much friction between our faiths?
Religion is known not from the moral code but from the philosophy of the faith regarding the definition of God and the mission of human life prescribed by it. All religions, not just Christianity, tell their followers to speak the truth, live honestly, donate money to the poor and sympathize with the sick and needy. Similarly, all religions prohibit actions that are immoral and not accepted socially. For example, every faith disallows robbery, dishonest earnings, violence, cheating, bribery, adultery, lying, mistreating the weak, being greedy, egoistic, etc. They are to be avoided as they are sins. In short, with just minor variations, all religions actually preach the same moral and ethical code. However, this similarity in religions should not lead one to believe that all religions are the same; they may be totally different depending upon the concept of God and the mission of human life preached by them. (i) Concept of God: The uniqueness of a faith lies in the concept of God and the authority of the prophet preached by the faith. Most people claim that only the Name given to God by their prophet is sacred and that only those people who believe in him and join their faith will be saved. Christianity is no exception. It says Christ is the ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD and the ONLY SAVIOR of mankind. Those alone who believe in Christ will be saved. According to Christians, non Christians are non-believers and will not be saved. Here lies the difficulty of accepting the Bible as a partner religion with the Sikh faith. Guru Nanak Dev rejected this belief. He said that everybody, no matter what faith one belongs to, is Gods child. God is the Father and the Mother of all mankind. Hence, all human beings are equal in His Eyes and they may love Him/Her by any Name; Allah, Ram, Gobind, Guru, etc. No one Name is superior or inferior to the other. Further, Guru Nanak cautioned people that neither any prophet nor he can save a person. People have to act righteously to be saved by the Lord Himself and not by the prophet. God judges us not by the Name with which we address Him but by our sincerity and love for Him.
Those who remember God succeed in their efforts (to realize Him.) Guru Nanak
Those who Love God realize Him. Guru Gobind Singh
The Sikh holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains the writings of about three dozen holy persons who realized the Truth. They include among them low castes, untouchables, Muslims, Hindus and six Sikh Gurus.
(ii) Mission of Human Life: The goal of human life and what happens after death are other aspects which give distinction to a faith. All people of different faiths are scared of Hell and, therefore, keep a strong belief in their prophet to assure their entry into paradise. Guru Nanak rejected this belief also. He denied the existence of places assumed to be Heaven or Hell. He said that loving God and singing His virtues is enjoying the bliss of the heavens here on this very earth. On the other hand, suffering from ego, lust, anger, greed and other vices is undergoing the tortures of Hell in this very life. Thus, the Sikh faith as stated in my lecture and as observed by MacCauliffe in his book, is unique and independent of the religious beliefs of the East and the West. It is the faith for the modern man and for all of humanity. The reader is requested to study the three quotations given in the beginning of this lecture to understand the great message of the Sikh faith. See also Chapter VII Question 1.
Question B: An increasing number of Sikhs feel that Guru Nanaks teachings should be adopted as they deal with peace. Guru Gobind Singh has portrayed the teachings of violence and not peace. How are we to convince these Sikhs that there is no difference in both the teachings?
Yes, I agree with you. The misunderstanding that Guru Gobind Singh changed Guru Nanaks path of peace to the path of sword is common among some Sikhs and many non-Sikhs. It started with a couple of non-Sikh scholars who read the Sikh history without studying the principles of the Sikh faith. These writers did not study the hymns of Guru Nanak Dev and were not clear about the mission of the Guru. They were, therefore, responsible for creating incorrect opinions about the Sikh faith. Let us analyze the whole issue from the aspect of Gurmat philosophy and Sikh history.
Here is the path laid by Guru Nanak in his own words:
The Guru desires of a Sikh: If you love me, but off your head, put it in your palm and follow me. Do not hesitate a bit but offer your head and adopt the path.
The message is that the life of a Sikh is a life of sacrifice. The path of Guru Nanak is a path of Welfare to ALL. Therefore, the Guru stood up to stop injustice to the poor and common people. The rulers, the administrators and the guides of different faiths were all sucking the blood of the common man. Guru Nanak boldly exposed them in harsh words:
Rulers and administrators behave like bloodsuckers, the beasts. ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 1288)
The judges, the Brahmans and the yogis are all sucking the blood of the people; all three are fooling them and are responsible for their problems. ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 662)
The warrior class (Khatri) have given up their faith, the responsibility of protecting the weak; they please the rulers. ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 663)
Thus, it is Guru Nanak Dev himself who started this CONFRONTATION with the tyrannical and unjust authorities, whether political or religious. Through his preaching the Guru initiated the struggle for the human rights of the weak and the poor. He knew well that ultimately violence would be used against those who followed this mission to help the weak. Accordingly, he cautioned: Anyone who decides to adopt this path should be willing to make the greatest sacrifice and offer his head for this cause.
The call given by Guru Nanak was repeated by Guru Gobind Singh (then Guru Gobind Rai) about two centuries later. He announced to the huge gathering of people specially invited from all over India, I want a Sikh to offer his head for protecting the righteousness, Dharma. Thus there was no difference at all between the messages or the directions given by the first Guru and those given by the tenth Guru to the Sikhs. These first five volunteers who offered their heads to the tenth Guru were given Amrit, named Panj Pyaras and the Guruship bestowed on them. They were, therefore called Guru Khalsa Panth. Guru Gobind Rai himself took Amrit from this Guru Panth and became their first disciple. Along with this Guruship, the mandate given to the Khalsa was:
To spread righteousness, protect the human rights of the truthful people (holy people, followers of truth) and destroy the tyrant.
It is the same mission that was laid down by Guru Nanak Dev for a person to become a Sikh, a life of sacrifice for truth. We see no difference in this path and the path laid down by Guru Nanak.
The power in power, whether in the field of faith or politics, were upset because they were exposed by the Gurus. They did whatever they could, including the use of violence, against the unarmed Gurus. To understand this we must refer to some happenings in Sikh history. (i) A complaint was lodged at Lahore by a high caste person, called Tapa, against Guru Amar Das. He protested against the Guru for letting a low caste and untouchables take water from the Baoli (an open well with steps reaching the water level) and eat food in Langar as equals along with the high castes. This is against the principle of the caste system of the Hindu faith. The Guru was summoned to explain his actions in the court of the Emperor Akbar, then in Lahore. After listening to Bhai Jetha Ji, (later the fourth Guru), who represented Guru Amar Das at the court, the Emperor dismissed the case. (ii) After two unsuccessful army attacks (mentioned in Guru Granth Sahib page 371, page 825) failed to dislodge or kill the fifth Nanak, Guru Arjun Dev, he was arrested without any reason. Of course, a false excuse of helping Khusro, the rebel son of the emperor Jahangir, was made. The Guru was tortured and finally murdered. (iii) The sixth Nanak, Guru Hargobind, was arrested. Keeping in view the protests of the people, he was released to soothe the feelings of the masses. But some years later, he too was attacked by the army. Therefore, to protect the wave for justice and righteousness, the sword (kirpan) had to be taken up by Guru Hargobind. (Guru Gobind Singh was not the first to do it.) this was done by him under the directions of his father, the fifth Guru and according to the principles of Gurmat laid down by Guru Nanak. In view of the two armed attacks on him, Guru Arjun Dev arranged for the defense training for his son, Hargobind. Before being martyred, the Guru advised his son to assume the responsibility of the Guruship by wearing two swords, representing spiritual leadership (Piri) and temporal leadership (Miri). Thus, the sword was taken up to stop the tyranny and provide peace to the people. It was done only when offering of the head by the Guru failed to change the mind of the tyrant. As the sword was taken up for protection of the helpless, its name was changed from talwar (a weapon for attack) to kirpan (a weapon for defense).
Once the author was asked to discuss the Sikh faith in a meeting conducted by the Committee for Racial Justice at the Gurdwara Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver. People of all faiths including judges, police officers and other government officials were present. I explained to them that a Sikh is hurt when somebody asks, Why are you carrying this dagger? I told them Firstly, it is not a dagger, it's a kirpan. Secondly, a Sikh does not carry it, he wears it. Only robbers carry daggers. Referring to the change of the name of talwar to kirpan, I suggested to the police chief present in the meeting to change the name of the pistol worn by the policeman to protectal so that it reveals its purpose, to protect people. Everyone present was fascinated by the suggestion. The police chief later observed that he understood why it was justified for a Sikh to wear a kirpan.
(iv) Violence against the Gurus continued. The four army attacks on the sixth Guru, the summoning of the seventh and eighth Gurus to Delhi by the emperor to submit to his authority and the murder of the ninth Guru are all well known incidents of Sikh history. A regular and disciplined organization was needed to fight this tyranny intended to destroy the protectors of human rights. Guru Gobind Singh undertook this great responsibility. Of course, he had to sacrifice his whole family for the following this path. The Guru Khalsa Panth did its duty so well that the tyrannical rule was uprooted and a rule of justice for all people was established in 1799 (100 years after the Khalsa Baisakhi) in Lahore. The character of the Sikhs, the saint-soldiers, as described by a Muslim historian and mentioned to you during the lecture (the reader may see it again to understand the significance of the kirpan in the hands of the Sikhs) was responsible for the success of the Khalsa. This should dispel the misinformation spread by ignorant writers regarding the Sikh character. Rather, it proves that the Sikhs were neither given nor did they use their weapons for violence. They used them for maintaining peace and protecting human rights of the people.
I must mention one of the many incidents of Sikh history that explains the above view of the Muslim historian.
Ahmed Shah Abdali repeatedly invaded India, and almost every year took with him the wealth and women from Delhi and surrounding area. The women were sold in his country by attacking his caravan and getting back as many women as possible from him. In 1761 about 2,000 helpless young women were picked up by Abdali. The Sikhs very well knew that the prisoners were the daughters of the rulers and administrators of Delhi who had fixed a price on the head of a Sikh. The cries of these helpless young women prisoners reached the Khalsa staying in the deserts. The only way they could help the distressed women was to come out from their hideouts, unsheathe their swords and challenge the soldiers to release the innocent women. The Khalsa did it; of course, at the cost of many Sikh lives. Thus, they lived up to the principle of their faith. The women, who were escorted safely back to their parents, molded the minds of many Muslims and Hindus. They felt that, if one is to live a life of self respect and honor, one should live like a Sikh and die like a Sikh. This thought made many of them join the Sikh Panth. They very next year in February 1762, Abdali angered by his defeat at the hands of the Sikhs, returned with a big cavalry force to take revenge on them. He traveled very fast and took Sikhs unaware near Barnala, in the Malwa region of the Panjab. The Sikhs, along with their children and old people, were moving to the south towards the deserts and were in a highly vulnerable position. Half of the nation (estimates vary, out to 40 to 60 thousand Sikhs about 20 to 30 thousand Sikhs) was murdered by the army. Thinking that he had destroyed the Sikhs, Abdali went to Amritsar and blasted the Harimandar Sahib, the Golden Temple. It was filled with debris and dead animals to desecrate the holy place which gave life to the Sikhs. The fear of the Sikhs, however, continued to haunt Abdali. For saving the honor of the young daughters of their enemies, the Sikhs sacrificed half of their nation and risked the destruction of their holy place. That same year in September, when Abdali was still near Lahore, the Sikhs challenged him. To save his life, he had to escape from the battlefield, under cover of darkness. Later, Abdali, finding the Sikhs too strong, feared entering into Punjab and died in Kabul, repenting his defeat at the hands of the Khalsa, whom he wanted to subdue or destroy. The history of 1699-1799, the period of the Guru Khalsa Panth, proves that the kirpan (mistakenly called sword) was used as a weapon for defense, the way a policeman uses his gun to fight robbers and criminals. This is because the Khalsa was organized as Akal Purkh Ki Fauj, each member being a Sant-Sipahi (a holy policeman). Thus, the statement that Guru Gobind Singh started a violent path instead of the path of peace founded by Guru Nanak Dev is totally wrong. It is based on mere ignorance of the writers regarding the philosophy and history of the Sikhs. This discussion should convince all those present here in the auditorium that the kirpan was bestowed to the Khalsa and it was actually used to provide peace to the people. The use of the kirpan, thus, protected the weak from the state tyranny, a mission assigned to the Sikhs by Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
( My 15 year old son Bhujinder Singh Purewal typed the seven chapters of this book )