Excerpt from the Book ‘The Crown of Life’
Sikhism is the youngest of the world religions, tracing its origin from Guru Nanak, the first of the succession ten great Gurus. Like other faiths, it assumed the character of a distinct religion only in subsequent times. Its Masters never claimed any novelty for Their teachings. In fact, They laid great emphasis upon Them as being the truths taught from time immemorial. To underline the universality of the spiritual message, Guru Arjan Dev (the fifth Guru), when compiling the Sri Adi Granth, the holy scripture of the Sikhs, drew the hymns and devotional pieces from the mystical writings of saints of all castes and creeds, including Kabir the Muslim weaver, Dhanna the jat, Ravi Das the cobbler and Sadna the butcher, etc.
The Sikh scriptures occupy a unique position in religious history. They represent not only the first deliberate attempt to present the oneness of all religions, but are composed in a language that is still alive and not a thing of the past.
Hence they have lost none of their pristine freshness and have not been wholly buried under the debris of theological interpretation. Being mainly in the form of devotional lyrics, their appeal is not merely expositional. They speak of the whole man, singing of his problems, his weaknesses, the vanity of the world and the eternity of the Absolute, beckoning him on to greater and ever greater effort, toward his divine home. The language they employ lends itself to condensation – conjunctions being freely dispensed with – thus enabling its poetic and musical elements to be used with great effect. A searching philosophy and profound metaphysic are implicit in every statement, yet their writings speak directly to men’s hearts in the language that they use, whose meanings are inexhaustible and which leave an imprint on all.
Besides, the Sikh faith springing from the teachings not of one, but of a succession of great Masters, covers almost every major aspect of man‘s spiritual quest. If Buddha emphasized the need for moderation and non-attachment, Christ for love, the Sikh teachings succeed in stressing all facets. Besides, being of comparatively recent origin the records of the personal lives of the ten great Gurus have been preserved, and we know much of their travels and actions. Nothing in a like manner is known of the Master-Souls who gave to Hinduism its Upanishads. They speak as distant voices, reaching out to us from the remote past of mythology. The inner path is a practical one, and man needs not only philosophy but the demonstration of some life that illustrates it. Whether we read of the humility of Nanak as he passed on foot from place to place bearing the spiritual torch, or of Gobind Singh, the last of the ten Gurus, riding from one end of the country to the other, organizing his followers into a brotherhood that could meet force with force and successfully resist the threat of physical extermination posed by the fanatical emperor Aurangzeb, we realize again and again that the life of God is inner perfection, a mode of being, a self-fulfilment, not to be confused with intellectual philosophy or metaphysical conundrums. He who had won this spiritual liberation could not be touched or tarnished by outer action, for he had made God’s Will his own and did noting of himself.
And so, while leading his warriors to war against the Moguls, Guru Gobind Singh could yet sing:
Sach Kahun, sun leyo sabhay jin prem kiyo, tin he Prabh payo.
Verily, verily I say unto you they that loved, found the Lord.
To attempt to outline the mystical message of the great Sikh Gurus would be to repeat most of what we have already said in the preceding chapter. For the teachings of Nanak and of Kabir (his cotemporary), represent the final development of the mysticism of inner seeing and hearing into the Path of the Surat Shabd Yoga. Both great Masters – one the first of the line of Sikh Gurus and the second a weaver of Varanasi (formerly Benares), were indefatigable in emphasizing the inefficacy of outer ritual, intellectual sophistication and yogic austerities:
Sant mata kuchh aur hai Chhado chaturai.
The Path of the Masters is distinct; let go thy intellectual subtleties.
One cannot comprehend Him through reason, even if one reasoned for ages; one cannot achieve inner peace by outward silence, not though one sat dumb for ages; one cannot buy contentment with all the riches of the world, nor reach Him with all mental ingenuity.
Both Saints decried caste distinctions, and they were alike in stressing the unity of all life, the oneness of the spirit that sustained everything, and both declared repeatedly that the highest and most feasible Way to At-Onement with God lay through the Path of Naam or Shabd. Indeed, no other scriptures are so insistent on the All-Pervasiveness of the Word as are those of the Sikhs or the writings of Kabir, a selection of which, as has already been mentioned, was include by Guru Arjan Dev in the Sri Adi Granth. The inner Light – antar jot – and the inner music – panch shabd, or the five-melodied Word, whose music is limitless (anhad bani), are a recurring theme in nearly all of the compositions contained in the Granth Sahib.
The Jap Ji by Guru Nanak, which figures as a prologue to the Granth Sahib, may serve to illustrate the spiritual riches embedded in the Sikh scriptures. It is a wonderful lyrical composition, remarkable for its poetic beauty, and even more for the divine heights it reaches. It opens by dwelling on the nature of the Absolute Reality as distinct from the phenomenal:
There is One Reality, the Unmanifest-Manifested; Ever-Existent, He is Naam (Conscious Spirit), the Creator; pervading all; without fear; without enmity; the Timeless; the Unborn and the Self-existent; complete within Itself.
Jap Ji, Prologue
This reality is beyond human reason and comprehension:
One cannot comprehend Him through reason, even if one reasoned for ages.
Jap Ji, Stanza 1
And yet, It may be reached, and the path leading to It is single:
[…] There is a way, oh Nanak: to Make His will our own, His will which is already wrought in our existence.
Jap Ji, Stanza 1
It is not something outside of us but within; It is a part of our being, our very essence, and all that is needed is to attune ourselves to It, for to be attuned to It is to be freed from the bondage of the ego and therefore of maya:
[…] All exist under His will, and nothing stands outside. One attuned with His will, oh Nanak, is wholly freed from ego.
Jap Ji, Stanza 2
How may one attune oneself to the Divine Will? The answer is hinted at in the very opening itself:
Through the favour of His true servant the Guru, He may be realized.
This subject is taken up later in greater detail:
The Saint (or the Word personified), is acceptable at His Court and is the Chief Elect therein; the Saint adorns the threshold of God and is honoured even by kings; the Saint lives by and meditates on the One Word. […]
Jap Ji, Stanza 16
The gift of the true Master is a gift of Naam, in which he himself is an Adept. This Word is the manifestation of God’s Will and Command and is at the heart of all His creations:
[…] With one Word of His, this vast creation blossomed into being, and a thousand streams of life sprang into existence. […]
Jap Ji, Stanza 16
The way to At-Onement with God’s Will is through attunement with the Word:
By communion with the Word, one becomes the abode of all virtues; by communion with the Word, one becomes a Sheikh, a Pir and a True Spiritual King; by communion with the Word, the Spiritually Blind find their way to Realisation: By communion with the Word, one crosses beyond the Limitless Ocean of illusionary Matter; oh Nanak, His devotees live in perpetual ecstasy, or the Word washes away all sin and sorrow.
Jap Ji, Stanza 11
Hence it is that Nanak declares:
[…] Exalted is the Lord, and exalted His abode; more exalted still His Holy Word. […]
Jap Ji, Stanza 24
Having outlined the nature of the Absolute and the way leading to mergence with It, Nanak goes on to tell us of what is required to successfully pursue the journey. It is not necessary, he implies, to turn an outward sanyasin; what one must do is to be sanyasin in spirit, dispensing with external forms, and instead to inculcate the inner virtues:
Let contentment be your ear-rings, and endeavour for the Divine and respect for the Higher Self be your wallet, and constant meditation on Him be your ashes. Let preparedness-for-death be your cloak, and let your body be like unto a chaste virgin. Let your Master’s teachings be your supporting staff. The highest religion1 is to rise to Universal Brotherhood,2 aye, to consider all creatures your equals. Conquer your mind, for victory over self is victory over the world. Hail,3 Hail, to Him alone, the Primal, Pure, Eternal, Immortal, and Immutable in all ages.
Jap Ji, Stanza 28
And finally, in the closing sections of the Jap Ji, Guru Nanak gives us a bird’s-eye view of the spirit’s pilgrimage. The first realm to be transcended is the plane of Dharm Khand – the Realm of Action, or the world of good and evil deeds as we know it. Next comes Gyan Khand or the Realm of Knowledge, the First of the inner heavens, full of gods and demi-gods:
[…] Countless its elements, air, water and fire, and countless Krishnas and Shivas, and countless the Brahmas fashioning various creations of countless forms and countless hues. Countless the Fields of Action,4 countless the golden mountains5 […]. Countless the sources of creation, countless the harmonies, countless those that listen unto them, and countless the devotees of the Word, endless and unending, oh Nanak! this Realm.
Jap Ji, Stanza 35
If knowledge is the reigning virtue of this region, ecstasy is that of the next, which is Sarm Khand, the Realm of Bliss. This plane is beyond description and whoever tries to describe it must repent his folly. Herein at last, the soul is freed from its mental adjuncts and finally comes into its own:
Herein the mind, reason and understanding are etherealized, the self comes to its own, and develops the penetration of the gods and sages.
Jap Ji, Stanza 36
But higher still stands Karm Khand, the Realm of Grace – grace earned through right action and meditation.
[…] here the Word is all in all, and nothing else prevails, here dwell the bravest of the brave, the conquerors of the mind, imbued with the Love Divine […] all hearts filled with God, they live beyond the reach of death and delusion6. […]
Jap Ji, Stanza 37
This is the realm where the soul finally escapes the coils of relativity; the bonds of time, death and change no longer affect it. But though it dwells in the constant presence of the Lord, it may move still further to merge into His Formless State:
[…] Sach Khand or the Realm of Truth is the seat of the Formless One. Here He creates all creations, rejoicing in creating. Here are many regions, heavenly systems and universes, to count which were to count the countless, here, out of the Formless, the heavenly plateaux and all else come into form, all destined to move according to His Will. He who is blessed with this vision, rejoices in its contemplation. But, oh Nanak, such is its beauty that to try to describe it is to attempt the impossible.7
Jap Ji, Stanza 37
The world shall go on along the rails of good and evil deeds, caught in the limits of Karma, but:
[…] Those Who have communed with the Word, Their toils shall end. And Their faces shall flame with Glory, not only shall They have salvation, oh Nanak, but many more shall find freedom with Them.
Jap Ji, Finale
Such was the lofty message not only of Guru Nanak, but also of his successors. Their word blazed like a summer fire through the plains of the Punjab, sweeping away all the false distinctions of caste that a decadent Brahminism had created. At a time when religious bigotry between the Hindus and the ruling Muslims was growing, it demonstrated the unity of all true religions, purifying Hinduism of its servility to outer ritual and setting up before Islam the higher inner ideal it was forgetting in outer names and forms.
It is no accident that the Sufi tradition and the Sikh religious movement should have flowered at the same time. Indeed, history at many points, suggests an active cooperation between the two. Some of the Sikh Gurus, especially Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, and their followers like Bhai Nand Lal, were masters of Persian and have left some exquisite compositions in that language. Guru Nanak is said to have journeyed to Mecca and, like his successors, had many Muslim disciples, while Sufi mystics like Hazrat Mian Mir were on intimate terms with Guru Arjan. Both the Sufi and the Sikh Masters were not tied to dogma, and taught the lesson of universal brotherhood. They acted and reacted upon each other, and it is significant that the Surat Shabd Yoga, or the Yoga of the Sound Current, should find equal stress in the writings of the greatest Sufis and in the Sikh scriptures, a fact summed up by Inayat Khan in the passage already quoted from his book 'The Mysticism of Sound.'
But the teachings of all great Masters tend to trail off into institutions after they leave this world. Those of the Sikh Gurus have been no exception to the rule. While they still exercise a profoundly uplifting influence upon the masses, they no longer impel them to mystic efforts as they once must have done. That which once sought to transcend all religious divisions has itself become a religion. That which sought to castigate caste and caste-emphasis has gradually developed a certain caste-counsciousness. That which sought to break through all outer forms and ritual has cultivated a form and ritual of its own. At every religious ceremony, people hear verses chanted, singing of the glories within:
All knowledge and meditation sprang from Dhun (the Sound Principle), but what That is, defies definition.
Guru Nanak, Sri Rag M1
The true Bani (Word) is given by the Guru, and is reverberating in the Sukhmana.
Guru Arjan, Maru M5
The Unstruck Music is heard through the Grace of a Godman, but few there be who commune with it.
Guru Nanak, Ramkali M1
Perfect is the Anhad Bani (Limitless Song), and Its key is with the Saints.
Guru Arjan, Ramkali M5
And yet these verses are chanted without heeding or understanding the deep spiritual meaning hidden in them.
Explanation: 1) Aa-ee Panthi: it is the highest sect of the yogins. 2) Sagal Jamati: Classless class or class with no distinction between student and student, with boys from all sects and of all denominations, associating together in love and goodwill, and sitting together at the feet of one Master. 3) Aa-des: it is a compound word consisting of Aadi (the primal) and Eesh (God). It is a form of salutation among the yogins. 4) Karm Bhumi: A place where one is endowed with a free will, and reaps the fruits of his own actions. This world is termed as Karm Bhumi for here reigns the principle of action and reaction or cause and effect. 5) Sumer: The golden mountain seen in this Spiritual Plane by the devotees. 6) The word delusion here refers to the delusion of maya or matter. 7) Karara Sar: Literally it means, hard as iron; metaphorically, impossible.