Working towards Interfaith Harmony and healthy Humanism

*Tejinder Singh Kalra

– (Reflections on Guru Nanak Dev ji’s 550th Parkash Utsav celebrations).

It has been a really momentous and spiritually ecstatic occasion for all of us to be a part of Guru Nanak Dev ji’s 550th Parkash Utsav celebrations, with the additional blessings of having achieved the opening up of the Kartarpur Corridor.

Guru Nanak was a humble messenger of God. He placed himself alongwith the lowliest of the society. ‘Neechaan andhar neech jaath, neechee hoon, ath neech..’(I am a low amongst the low castes; low, rather extremely low…). He emphasised on “sabhna  jeeaan ka ik daatha.. ” (there is but one God of all living beings); “Ek pitha,ekass kei hamm barik” (One father, we are children of the one Lord) and ‘sab mein joth, joth hei soi, tis dei chaanan, sab mein chaanan hoei’ (all have the same soul/spirit of God, which creates light and life in everybody) and ‘hamm nahi changei, bura nahi koei…’ (we are no better and others no worse than us). The same sentiment echoed earlier by Bhagath Kabir, is also enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib: “Ek noor tei sab jag upjeya, kaun bhalei, ko mandhei”. (from one divine light, the whole universe is created; then who could be rated as good and who bad).

He advised that God is everywhere, within ourselves and not only at places of worship. Going to holy places is fine to meditate and obtain spiritual learning but more important, one should do honest labour, meditate on Lord’s name throughout and partake  the produce of your labour, while sharing it with  the other (needy ones)-  (kirath karo, naam japo, vand chhako). He started the excellent practice of ‘ Sangath, Pangath and Langar’ (joining the saintly congregation, community meals while sitting in a common queue of all classes of people). That practise, to date,  is the hallmark of Sikh society all over the world.

Guru Nanak was a great visionary. His vision was not only limited to our planet earth, but he contemplated upon lakhs of aethers and lands comprising the universe, (paataalaan paataal, lakh aagasaan aagaas, …). Gurbani says about God as “agam, agochar, alakh, apaara’-(inaccessible, incomprehensible, invisible & infinite)”. About the formless almighty’s  heavenly Aarti, Guru Nanak says – “Gagan mei thaal, rav, chandh, deepak banei, taarika mandal janak mothi…..” (upon the cosmic plate of the sky, the sun and the moon are the lamps, the multitude of the stars are the studded pearls, the fragrance of the vegetation is like temple incense, the wind is like the holy fanning of the deity, all plants are offering flowers at His altar—what a heavenly aarti being performed by Nature itself).”

He strongly condemned caste-based divisions in society. His cherished companions were a hindu Bhai Baala and a muslim Bhai Mardaana, both from the then lower strata of society. It is pertinent to note that the Amritsar sanctum sanctorum of Guru Nanak’s follower Sikhs, was not built as a gurudwara, but as a temple of Hari (Harmandar Sahib) and its foundation was laid by a muslim saint Saaeen Meeaan Mir; an excellent example of communal harmony. The holy Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib also contains enough of writings of Hindu as well as Muslim saints, which were in conformity with Guru Nanak’s philosophy of life.

He raised voice against unnecessary rituals and dogmatic practices. Neither he was in favour of idol worship. As a son of high caste Hindu parents, when he was being initiated into the sacred thread ceremony, he refused to wear the ‘janeoo’ and  apply  the ‘tilak’ on his forehead. He later said – ‘Nanak sachchei naam bin, kiya tikka, kiya tag’ ( Without the true Lord’s Name, what is the use of tilak and sacred thread)’ .Yet in his ninth ‘jaama’ (avataar/incarnation) , Guru Teg Bahadur sacrificed his life at the hands of Aurengzeb, for  the defence of janeoo and tilak, in which he himself had no belief. That shows the height of tolerance and accommodation for others’ faiths and beliefs.

He highlighted the dignity of women who had rather a very low status in society at that time, saying-“….so kion mandha aakhiyei, jith jamme raajaan” (…why demean them, they are the ones who give births to kings/emperors — and all other living beings).He questioned the rationality of bathing at holy pilgrimage places to wash off one’ sins. Unless the mind is purified, it’s no use washing your body alone in holy waters. (Suchchei say naa aakhiyan, behan jo pinda dhoyei; suchchei seiyee Nanaka, jin mann vaseyaa soyei).

Guru Nanak, accompanied by his permanent associate Bhai Mardaana- a Muslim Rabaabi  (player on the stringed instrument Rabaab),travelled across the entire Indian subcontinent and beyond to Tibet,  Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In his four ‘udaasis’- spiritual travels, he held wide ranging discussions with saints & holy men of different faiths and groupings. His emphasis was on oneness (Ik-onkaar) and omnipresence of God and universal brotherhood of mankind.

At Mecca, the haajis asked him as to who was better off- the Hindus or the Mussalmaans? Guru Nanak  replied that it is the deeds  which define the persona, and not the religion which one follows. “Koi bole Ram Ram, koi khudaaei; koi sewei gosaiaan, koi Allahei…” Its all the same for God almighty who showers his grace and mercy on us all.

As secular  Indians, we take pride in being the inheritors  of a very rich cultural, literary and religious legacy. We often boast of unity amidst diversity. Yet we do assign our spiritual saints and scholarly treatises to different communities and faiths. Guru Nanak belongs to Sikhs, Lord Shiva, Rama & Krishna to Hindus, Prophet Mohammad to Muslims, Jesus Christ to Christians, Gautam Buddha to Buddhists, and so on. Our treasure treatises, e.g. the Vedas, Puraanaas, Upanishads, Bhagvath Gita, Ramayan, Mahabharath are for Hindus, the holy Quran for Muslims, the Bible for Christians and Guru Granth Sahib for Sikhs. Likewise, we have separate places of pilgrimage for different communities. Why should we all deprive ourselves from picking up important lessons of life from all these invaluable texts, simply because they were raised by holy men of other groupings?

With our very rich ancient civilisation we are   proud of so many eminent scholars, saints and sages. Most of them say and advocate similar principals and philosophies of life. All religions profess fundamental truths and high spiritual values of life; though their approaches are varied. And in this plethora of separate erudite establishments, so many differences creep up, mostly created by the very staunch priestly class and their highly polarised followers. We often get involved in so many rituals, keeping in the background the upright teachings of our saints and holy men. Through wide ranging dogmatic and superstitious customs, we feel that we are paying the best of obeisance to our Lord, godmen and deities, little realising that these divine entities  are least affected by these mundane worldly practices. We do so primarily to satisfy our own egos and our misplaced beliefs. The basic requirement is to discipline our minds & bodies and control our five senses of ‘kaam, krodh, lobh, moh and ahakaar’ (lust, anger, avarice, attachment and arrogance), whichever religion we may follow. Practicing any religion should not just be for the sake of it but for developing healthy humanitarian traits.

I, myself, was brought up by my parents as a devout Sikh. I started the same way with my children, asking them to truly follow the tenets of Sikhism. When my elder son grew up into adulthood, he started questioning me as to why I should keep emphasizing  on his being a good Sikh; why not a good human being overall, citing the example of Guru Nanak himself who had laid emphasis on good deeds (amals), irrespective of the religion one follows. That really jolted me; I couldn’t disagree with him. That literally meant for me that child is the father of man. My son is a firm advocate of good , healthy Humanism. Later, my younger one also joined hands with his elder brother in the matter of religious pursuits and practices.

In fact, in spite of being blessed with such a strong base of spiritual and religious learning, we, as different groups of Indian society, remain many a time, at odds with each other, being mostly polarised by the priestly and the political classes. The necessity is to guide the young ones in a liberal way, right from the beginning. All should get positive exposure to the basics of other religions. Parents should encourage intermingling of children of different faiths to develop healthy brotherhood later on. There is also utmost need to impart secular knowledge to children from early school level. That is possible when we work out a synergic common minimum programme – cum- syllabus of human values, and religio-spiritual learning, leaving aside customs which may have clashing points in different religious practices. And such a subject must be made compulsory throughout. More important, such educational classes should be assigned to learned people in respective fields, possibly avoiding the priestly class. Our present curricula is designed to impart knowledge about history, geography, literature and studying other subjects, getting us proficiency in different fields to get good placements for earning and governing later on. We hopelessly forget to realise that interfaith harmony and unity are the key factors to our peaceful co-existence and progress.

We all do realise that biologically we are born with the same structural attributes, similar blood groups, similar nervous systems and carrying the genes of our parents, irrespective of the religious denominations. Yet, right from birth onwards we are conditioned to imbibe different religious courses and grow up as strict followers of this or that religion or sect.  Its fine to be good Hindus, good Muslims, good Christians, good Sikhs and good other believers,  practising our own separate faiths, but above all, the most important requirement is to be holistically good humans, knowing and respecting other communities & their religions , picking up lessons from other religio-spiritual treatises, exchanging good behavioural and humanitarian practices with  other diverse groupings  in our country and the world as a whole.

Nanak naam charhdi kalaa, terei bhaanei sarbath daa bhalaa. (Sayeth Nanak –dwelling on His Naam/name comes positive high spirit and with His blessings, let there be welfare & wellbeing for each & everyone.)

Sarvei bhavanthoo sukhinei, sarvei santhoo niramaya; sarvei bhadraani pashyant, maa kashchid dukh bhaav bhavaithe. (May everybody be happy, may everybody be free from disease, may everybody have good luck, may non fall on evil days.)

*Mohali (Chandigarh)

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