All-Embracing Concept of Equal Partnership
Dr. Balkar Singh
Though an all-embracing approach of equality has not been accepted as the concept or principle in Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s teachings, the required bases to prove its all-embracing approach are present in Gurbani. It would be appropriate to make it clear here that no religion lags behind in presenting such bases. Despite this however, the same thing assumes a different form in different religions. From this is born a feeling of superiority and a desire for world conquest. The adherents of different faiths, however, try to throw the onus for this on other faiths. It is necessary to know, in order to escape this, whether the theory and practice of religious life is based on the concept of equality, a universal approach and an all-embracing outlook. Now the point to be seen in this context would be whether the theory and practice are opposed to each other or complement each other. One would also have to see whether the concept taken up is the main feature; the central idea of the faith or a peripheral concern? The outer concerns can be seen within the limits of the devotees of a faith but the central concern should be free of this limitation. From this point of view, the ‘all-embracing approach of equality’ is the central concern of Gurmat (teachings of Gurbani).
The word ‘sanjhiwalta’ (Universal Partnership) has been used by Guru Arjan Dev Ji in Majh raga in a ballad. To establish the context of ‘sanjhiwalta’, it is necessary to keep in mind the entire hymn, which is as follows:
Saa rut suhavi jit tudh samali.
So kamm suhela jo tairi ghali.
So rida suhela jit ridai toon wutha,
sabhna kai dataara jio. 1
Toon sanjha sahib baap hamara.
Nau nidhi terai bharai bhandara.
Jis toon deyi so tript aghavai,
soyee bhagat tumara jio. 2
Sabh ko aasai tairi baitha.
Ghat ghat antar toon hai wootha.
Sabhai sanjhiwaal sadaiyan toon
kisai na dissai bahra jio. 3
Toon aapai gurmukh mukt karaihi.
Toon aapai manmukh janam bhavaihi
Nanak daas terai baliharai,
teira khel dasahra jio. 4.2.9 (SGGS, 97)
Blessed is the season when I meditate on Thee
Noble is the act performed in Thy service
Happy is the heart worthy of Thy grace
Thou art the benefactor of one and all. 1
Thou art our common Father, my Lord.
All the nine inexhaustible treasures of Thine are filled.
Only he is satiated on whom Thou bestoweth thy grace
And he verily is Thy true devotee. 2
Everyone has high hopes of Thee.
Thou dwelleth in every heart and all are called
Equal partners of Thy blessings and none is
Perceived remaining outside Thy benediction. 3
Thou Thyself liberateth those true to the Guru.
Thou Thyself sendeth those led by their own wisdom
To suffer in countless cycles of births and deaths.
Nanak, Thy servant, sacrifices himself and
wonders at Thy divine design seen everywhere. 4
Based on this hymn, the all-embracing approach (of equal partnership) is not essentially the result of any effort made in this direction. Therefore, it is not necessary to accept this aspect of universal approach only as a means of recital. It has been said here that mere recitation puts faith in the prison of ‘limits’. In its place has been used ‘yogta-jugsat’ (practical ability). The abilities needed for being called ‘sanjhiwal’, include internal and external attunement (kamm suhla ridha suhela – noble deed through noble heart) Therefore, there is no place for drawing a parallel between theory and presentation. The other ability is the acceptance of the need of a devotee’s satiation. Therefore the need for an unbroken faith in One Timeless God cannot be lost sight of. ‘Sanjhiwalta’ mans there is no sense of ‘otherliness’, considering none as outsider, and all considered as equal partners.
Sabhai sanjhiwaal sadaiyan, toon kisai na disaihi bahra jio.
All are equal partners and none is seen as an outsider.
Dr. Gopal Singh Dardi has translated ‘sanjhiwal’ as ‘partner’ and Prof. Gurbachan Singh Talab has interpreted it as ‘sharer’. Thus, although this word has been translated as partner or sharer, the concept of ‘sanjhiwalta’ can be built easily. The basis of ‘sanjhiwalta’ is ‘association’ or ‘associate’ which has been used in Gurbani. The fourth Nanak, Guru Ram Das, in Wadhans raga, say that those who have common virtues are worthy of the Guru’s grace and the Guru has been termed as the ‘bohal’ (heap of grain) of God’s Name:
Satgur bohal Hari naam kaa
wadbhagi Sikh saanjh karavahi (SGGS, 590)
The true Guru is a treasure of God’s Name and lucky are the Sikhs who share the virtues (bestowed by Guru)
This ability is the means to move towards virtues (the virtuous path). A person capable of this virtuous association is lucky because he has access to the Guru.
Darsan Sadh milyo wadbhagi,
sabh kil bikh gaye gawajha.
Satgur Saha paya waddana,
Hari kiye bahu gun sanjha. (Jaitsri M. 4, SGGS 697-98)
Only the fortunate ones have a glimpse of the Guru
When all their miseries disappear.
On meeting the True Guide imbued with all wisdom
One becomes worthy of sharing all the high virtues.
By using the common noun ‘sanjhi’, Guruji has pointed towards the association of those people who sing the praises of God under the Guru’s guidance. This can be called the congregational means of equal partnership (associateship).
Gur Satgur pashu Hari gosat poochhaan
kar sanjhi Hari Gun gavaan.
(Wadhans, SGGS, 562)
I ask my True Guide about God’s Grace and
do congregational singing of divine virtues.
This has been further clarified in Sarang raga. ‘Sanjh’ has been linked by the Guru with the discussion of the Word. To earn the wealth of His name, this type of association has to be made. Thus ‘sanjhiwalta’ means coming together for thinking and aiming at the common goal of acting in unison:
Dhanvant Naam kai wanjarai.
Sanjhi karhu Naam dhan khathu,
Gur ka sabad vicharai. Rahau
(Sarang M. 5, SGGS, 1220)
Wealthy are those dealing in His name and
Associating to earn the wealth of His name
By pondering over the Guru’s word. Pause
The concept of ‘sanjhiwalta’ can be earmarked even without these references in the hymns contained in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This will be stated in detail as we move further.
1. Shabad Guru (Word-Teacher)
Guru Nanak declared the Word as Guru in Sorath raga because it is the Word which is infallible and eternal and the way to establish equation with It has been shown by the Guru:
Sabad Gur Pira gaher gambhira
bin sabdai jag bauranang. (SGGS, 635)
The Word of the Guru or Pir is deep and solemn.
Without the Word, the world gropes madly (in the dark).
In the same raga, the third master, Sri Guru Amar Das, establishing the significance of the Word, terms the Wordless life as of no use:
Sabad na janeh anhai bolai
se kit aiye sansara. (SGGS, 601)
Blind and deaf are those who have no idea of the Word.
Their coming to the world is in vain.
In the same raga Guru Amar Das, terming the Word as the source of Name, has talked of ‘Amrit’ (nectar) attained by those following the teachings of the Guru (Gurmukh):
Sabdai hi naam upjai, sabdai mel milaiya.
Bin sabdai sabh jag baurana, birtha janam gawaiya.
Amrit eiko sabad hai Nanak gurmukh paiya. 2
Name comes out of the Word, the Word helps in union (with God).
The entire world is groping madly without the Word and wasting life.
Only Word is the ‘amrit’ (nectar of immortality), sayeth Nanak, that it can be had by following the teachings of Guru.
In the same manner, Sri Guru Granth Sahib had been assigned the status of Living Light and Eternal Guide. The Word Guru became the alternative for the traditional physical guru and in this way the Guru becomes liberated from the bonds of time and space. Generally the theory in the possession of a person becomes as big as the person himself. The person in this situation has to become the victim of subservience to the other person. Every kind of limit and boundary emerges out of this and religion is forced to perform the role of separating rather than bringing together. Through the Word Guru, the stagnation of idol worship and belief in gods gave place to the permanent alternative. This change is for the good and there is no need to confine it to any particular faith. It is based on this thought that Word Guru in Gurmat had been accepted as the basis of equal partnership.
2. Division of Humanity
In the context of the doctrine of the Sikh faith, any division based on caste, creed or birth has not been accepted. The first pronouncement made by Guru Nanak after coming out of the stream in 1499 has been described in the Janam Sakhi (biographical account of Guru Nanak) as under:
‘Na ko Hindu na Musalmaan.’
Neither is anyone a Hindu nor a Muslim.
In his first Var, Bhai Gurdas states the reason:
Shubh amlaan bajhon, dono royee
Both are weeping without doing good deeds.
Guru Nanak Dev says that the meaning of light, which is common to all and because of which the human body is attained, needs to be understood and there is absolutely no need to discriminate against anyone on the basis of caste or clan as devised by human beings. The light is true and caste is false.
Janhu joti, na poochhu jati,
aagai jati na hai (Assa, SGGS 349)
Know the light and not the caste
There is no caste before Him.
Caste system is an illusion created by man. Its roots lie in one’s ego or in inferiority complex. One can get rid of it by pondering over the import of the Word:
Jati varan kul sehsa chooka Gurmat sabad vichari. (Sarang M. l, SGGS, 1198)
Successful human beings, called Sikhs in Gurmat parlance, are the ones who do not accept division in humanity in their thinking and actions, and in order to be free of the bondage of attachment and greed, they reform themselves in the light of the Word and come out successful in the test:
Aisse jan virlai jag antar, parkh khjanai paiya.
Jati varan tei bhaiye atita, mamta lobhu chukaya. (Prabhati M.1, SGGS, 1345)
This has been accepted as a genuine concern for equal partnership.
3. According Honourable Position to Women
Before the advent of Guru Nanak, a woman was given a one-sided position of honour or dishonour. This notion accepted woman merely as footwear and rarely as a crown. More than this, the view about a woman was formed within the four walls of the house. In the religious context, a woman was regarded as a hindrance in religious attainment. It was hard to find even a modicum of equality for woman in the family unit. In order to establish an honourable place for women in society, Guru Nanak regards her as the divine means of procreation. He accepted woman as the pivot of family life and by taking her out of a degraded context, he brought her to a respectable level. He says –
Bhand jammiai, bhand nimmiai, bhand mangan viahu.
Bhandhu hovai dosti, bhandu chalai, rahu.
Bhand mua bhand bhaliai, bhand hovai bandhan.
So kyo manda akhiai, jit jammai rajan.
(Assa M.1, SGGS, 473)
Born of woman, conceived by woman, betrothed to woman and married to woman.
Friendship is made with woman, and the human race is perpetuated through woman.
On a woman’s demise, another woman is sought; all relationships are fostered because of woman.
Why should such a one be derided, as gives birth to the kings?
Bhai Gurdas has called woman ‘ardh-sariri’ (the other half of the human body):
Loke ved gun gyan vich,
ardh sariri mokh duari. (5/16)
In all manner, knowledge, virtues and faith, she is the other half of human body and is verily the door to salvation.
Woman has been accepted to be equal to man and the husband-wife relationship is based on equality. The destination of this journey has been accepted as ‘Eik joti doi moorti’ (One light in two bodies):
Dhan pir eih na aakhiai, bahen ikathai hoye,
Eik joti doi moorti, dhan pir kahiai soye.
(Suhi Mo.3, SGGS, 788)
Those sitting together can’t be said to be husband-wife.
One light in two bodies can truly be called husband-wife.
Traces of equal partnership can be found in this basic concern in the context of family unit. Thus the basic principles of according an honourable place for women are available in Gurbani. Family life has been accepted as the best and no family life can be imagined without a woman. Thus by restoring the lost glory of half the human race, and in paving the way for equality of gender, the concept evolved in Gurmat has played an important role.
4. Rituals and Religion.
Ignorance-based restrictions and illusory rituals can play no part in establishing religious truth. Still this aspect of religion remains in the forefront. This is happening because rituals are being accepted as religion. Gurbani does not accept rituals either as religion or the means of following the path of religion. Rituals are a form connected with momentary performance by recitation of mantras and the point of exploitation is its basic concern. It is based on the utilitarian approach of man who is always concerned with seeking his own comforts. Thus ritualistic behaviour is connected with illusions, dilemmas and ignorance. One can get out of it. What is needed for this purpose is an awareness about illuminating one’s mind with the light of the Word. Gurbani says:
Karamkaand bahu karai achaar.
Bin navai dhrig dhrig sansaar.
Bandhan badhyo maya phas.
Jan Nanak chootai gur pargas.
(Gauri M.3, SGGS, 162)
One may perform many rituals but without
His Name all else is verily condemnable ego.
One binds oneself in the web of deceptive illusion.
Sayeth Nanak, one can get free through the Guru’s light.
Thus ritual of any kind has not been accepted in the Sikh doctrine. By torturing oneself or doing penance for forty days, egoistic man has devised means of obtaining certain results by certain means which have separated man from man. This aspect has been convincingly established in the Siddhagoshta or The Dialogue of Guru Nanak with Siddhas (ascetics). To free the Sikh doctrine of the belief in miraculous powers can be aptly linked to this. The priestly class comes to the fore to serve its own ends through rituals. Sikh faith does not accept this role of the priestly class. Belief in One God Almighty for the entire humanity is before us as a concern for equal partnership.
5. Social Concern
The virtues discernible in the conduct of a person have only been given acceptance in the Sikh faith. Society has been based on the noble principles of ‘Na ko bairi, nahi begana’ (No one is an enemy and none is a stranger, i.e. ‘not one of us’) and ‘Sarbat da bhala’ (Good of all). In this context Emperor Babar has been described by Guru Nanak as leading the marriage party of sinners. Exploitation by rulers has been described as ‘kal kaati, rajai qasai, dharma pankh kar udrya’ (In this age the kings have become butchers holding scythes, and faith has taken wings’). And this has been cited – ‘Rajai sih muqqadam kutai. Jai jagain baithe suttai (p.1288) (The kings have become tigers (tyrannical) and the officers have become hounds). They disturb and trouble peaceful citizens. The reasons for the conditions as described in Babarbani have also been highlighted. This could be termed as a dialogue form. The dialogue is about being face to face with the situation. In the composition ‘Onkar’, the dialogue is with a pandit; in Assa di Vaar, the dialogue is about social concerns. In Siddhagoshta, it is with the ascetics. The dialogue with Islam was maintained even by making the supreme sacrifice. This methodology of dialogue clearly established the context of equal partnership. All these conceptual bases of equality of association are not found in today’s concepts of equality. Their practical presentation as ‘is’ and ‘should be’ is free of duality. Wherever theoretical freshness has smoke-screened the utilitarian outlook, to accept it as true is nothing but stagnation. Geographical boundaries and historical compulsions have no place in the principle of equal partnership. Nanak’s mission is termed as ‘Charhya sodhan dharat lokayee’ (He set out to show the right path to the entire humanity living on earth). A central place is assigned to the noble way of praying:
Jagat jalanda rakh lai, apni kirpa dhar
Save this world burning in the fire ravaging all round by Thy kindness.
All these pointers do begin with the devotees but they do not end with the devotees. Religion is a group of people, but in Namdev’s words, ‘Jo na bhajantai Narayana, main na tin kau karau darsna’ (Those who do not worship God, I do not want to see them), this group constitutes such devotees. Guruji lays down the principle:
Jagat jalanda rakh lai, apni kirpa dhar.
Jit duarai ubrain, titai lehu ubar. (SGGS, 853)
Save this world burning in the fire ravaging all round by Thy kindness.
And salvage it by any means appropriate for the purpose.
Instead of ridiculing the Pandits, Muslims, Khatris and even mendicants, they have all been described in relation to their ability. This concept affords a permanent basis in the context of equal partnership. With this, the basic concern of this paper – equal partnership in Sikh thought – comes to the fore. It is clear that the concept of equality of partnership is opposed to blind faith and religious fanaticism. Both have a common level of religion but in the context of equal-partnership, wisdom, nature and conduct have been stressed to be equally in tune with one another. Establishment of human dignity is real equality. Its bases are available in Gurbani, and in Sikh history it has come to light in a meaningful way.