As the 21st Century world faces terrorism in its many horrendous forms, we look to Guru Nanak’s teachings for guidance. Born in 1469, on the eve of the age of discovery, Guru Nanak came to this world with a divine mission.
His unique description of the One Creator laid the foundation of an egalitarian way of life, which unites diversity before One Creator. Guru Nanak and the nine Gurus who succeeded him, translated this basic description of God called the Mool Mantar, into a harmonious life model for humankind. Freedom from fear and freedom from hatred are the two preconditions of this model.
It is built on the three pillars of honest and truthful living, sharing with others and constant awareness of the God Being. It is important that the independent Sikh ideology is clearly understood by those who continue to confuse Sikhism with other world religions.
Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, is truly unique. In addition to the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, it includes the teachings of saintly people from different religious backgrounds. They all shared Guru Nanak’s universal values. Guru Nanak described God as:
“The One Creater, The Ultimate Truth, Who is without fear, without hatred, Everlasting, Unborn, Self-existent, realized through the Guru (i.e. through God’s Grace, for God Himself is the Guru, the Primal Teacher.)”
In Sikhism, God is above gender classification. Guru Nanak referred to God by many different names, which were commonly used in his time. The traditional Sikh name for God is “Waheguru” – the Wonderful Giver of Light, the Fount of all knowledge, the Primal Teacher.
In Guru Nanak’s founding precept, the two linked Godly qualities of being without fear (nirbhao) and without animosity (nirvair), provide the human interface with God. These are the two qualities human beings can cultivate in their daily lives. They can experience God by being without fear or hatred and achieve the ultimate goal of this life. This goal in the Sikh teachings is to lose the individual egocentric self in the Universal God Being. According to Sikh teachings “God’s devotee should be like God.” (GGS p 1372)
In his own life-time, Guru Nanak challenged infliction of fear, terror, cruelty or oppression in any form and in any religious, social or political sphere of life. According to the Ninth Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur, freedom from fear in daily life is achieved through the maxim “Frighten no-one and do not accept fear (in any form from any quarter) ” (GGS p 1427)
Freedom from fear is achieved by clearing the mind of hatred and animosity. For that reason, in Guru Nanak’s teachings, the two “without fear and without enmity” linked qualifications are placed side by side. There is nothing to fear because all is within God’s creation and in His Will (Hukam in Sikhism and Raza in Islam.). Hatred is the cause of conflict; it invites violence and breeds fear and must be shunned. Hatred and distrust are usually rooted in ignorance. Fear is a natural instinct and is always lurking in the dark corners of the human mind.
Unfortunately, fear has been freely exploited; and so has its more intense and overpowering form, terror. It is inflicted, or sometimes self-inflicted through ignorance, in many forms and in many aspects of our daily lives. There is terror, which is overt or direct. It may be in the form of an invasion as that of Babar, the Mughal invader, during Guru Nanak’s time. Guru Nanak condemned the terror spread by Babar’s invading army in strong language. Far worse form of terror has been inflicted on civilian populations in recent times.
On 11th September, thousands of innocent civilians were killed in large numbers by a form of suicidal fanaticism.
Religion has been misused for spreading, both, direct and indirect forms of terror. Religious fervour, turned into fanaticism has been used for invasions and terrorist activities. Superstition and religion have been used for spreading subtle but equally destructive forms of fear or terror. Reward and fearful punishment mechanisms have been used in religious ideologies as overt or covert forms of terror.
Guru Nanak’s teachings rise above such practices and make freedom from fear and hatred essential for spiritual and social progress.
Guru Nanak challenged religious terrorism in both, direct and indirect forms. He condemned religious fanaticism by preaching the underlying truth of every religion; he condemned the priesthood exploiting ignorance and superstition; he condemned prejudicial and oppressive practices like the caste system, he condemned horrifying rituals like the “suttee” – widow burning.
In Guru Nanak’s teachings, none who spread fear or insecurity are spared: the king and his henchmen using terror as an administrative tool; the high caste priest using rituals, superstition and social divisions as his devices for exploitation; the corrupt religious judge selling judgments; and, the religious fanatic who sought converts to own faith through force. And so he instilled a fearless spirit in his students, his Sikhs, and said:
“If you wish to play the game of (Lord’s) Love, place your head on the palm of your hand (i.e. be fearless) and come my way.” (Guru Nanak, GGS p.1412)
The foundation of Guru Nanak’s challenge to terrorism was thus laid. Thousands followed his path and defied terror robustly in any form or shape. That challenge of Guru Nanak is highly relevant today.
There are terrorist regimes around the globe. The terrorist attack on the US on 11th September, and what we have seen in its aftermath, illustrate how terrorism works. We saw a terrorist attack on the innocent civilians of a country; and that was followed by a “War on terrorism”. We talk of a terrorist attack. We talk of a “War on terrorism”. It takes only a slightly different view-point for “War on terrorism” itself becoming a form of terrorism.
Suddenly the minorities in the west feel insecure. They find themselves under threat and terrorized by the majority communities. Those who even remotely look like the terrorists shown on TV, get attacked. Hundreds of Muslims and Sikhs have been assaulted in the USA and many incidents have also been reported in the UK.
Education removes distrust and fear. The Sikh religion and Islam preach acquisition of knowledge as a religious duty. Fear may be a natural instinct but freedom from fear requires understanding of the diverse religions and cultures around us.
Guru Nanak saw freedom from fear and animosity towards none, as the essential pre-conditions of a successful plural society, which remains united despite its rich diversity. God’s Creation is diverse and in that diversity we see only one reflection of the One Creator.
The main objective of Guru Nanak’s challenge to terrorism is to teach humankind how to live in the spirit of fearing none and frightening no-one. This challenge is directed at all political, social and religious systems, which use fear or terror for achieving own ends, thereby denying fellow human beings the God given right to live in peace and with dignity.
Guru Nanak’s prayer is for the well-being of all.
© Copyright Gurmukh Singh
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