Sri Guru Granth Sahib – Concept of Mortality (In the context of Baba Farid and Guru Tegh Bahadur)
Dr. Rawail Singh
Views about life, soul and supersoul have been very clearly expressed in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. According to the entire Sikh philosophy, the creature, that is, the body is mortal but the soul is immortal. The soul mingles with the supersoul and becomes one with it, losing its own identity. In Hindu philosophy however, different views are found about the relationship between the human being and Brahm. According to Acharya Shankar Dev’s theory of Advait (Monoism), the soul is unborn, indestructible and immortal. Soul is one with supersoul by its very nature because both the soul and the supersoul are sentient. Man has inward and outward tendencies. Outward tendencies draw him towards the greed of the world and the inward tendencies draw him towards the supersoul. Gurbani exhorts man in many ways to control his outward tendencies. But the worldly man pays scant heed to such exhortations. It is perhaps for this reason that the fear of death is the most powerful method to make one aware of the reality of life.
Death is found to have been referred to in most of the hymns of the writers of Bani incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. But in the hymns of Baba Farid and Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur, death is referred to with greater force. They talk of death in the context of life because death is the greatest truth of life. Sheikh Farid has not referred to death in a distinctive manner. In drawing attention to death, he rather talks of life and a living being as a whole. The fear of death is great but under the shadow of death also the reference is only to life. In his salokas (couplets) death is mentioned in the context of a purely human truth, as:
Kandhi uttai rukhra kichrak banneh dhir.
Farid, kachai bhandey rakhiai
kichar taanyee nir. (SGGS, 1382)
How long can a tree sustain on the bank of a river.
Farid, how long can a mud vessel hold water?
According to Baba Farid, this life is full of worries wherein pain and separation dominate. Man wastes his life eating and sleeping, and in old age he becomes weak. There is nothing constant in the world – seasons change, spring comes and goes. In the same manner, the human body becomes a skeleton and one day even crows would peck at it.
A deep study of Baba Faridbani reveals that Farid believes that the world is not a permanent place for man. Ultimately, he has to turn towards its origin. The body is subject to destruction.
Farid gore nimani sadd karai nigharya ghar ayo.
Sarpar maithai avna marnahu na dariahu.
The poor grave calls home the homeless man.
You have to come to me; don’t fear death.
Baba Farid believes in the ultimate destruction of creation and the momentary nature of the world. No one’s existence is lasting here. Many have preceded us on this earth and our turn also would come one day:
Sheikh hyati jag na koyee thir riha.
Jis aasan ham baithat ketey bais gaya.
Says Sheikh, no one’s life has been lasting.
Many have occupied these seats before us.
Death is so horrible that the mere thought of it scares a person but those who do good deeds have no fear of death:
Farida mautai da banna evain
dissai jio dariyavahe dhaha.
Agge dozak tapya suniai
hool pavai ka haha.
Ikna noon sabh sojhi aiyee
ik phirdai beparvaha.
Amal je kitai duni vich
se dargah ogaha. (SGGS, 1383)
The brink of death is like the ferocity of the river
One hears of burning hell and of the hue and cry.
Some have understood the reality, others go about totally unconcerned.
The deeds done in the world bear witness at the time of reckoning.
Every beginning is sure to have an end in the world. The day which begins ends at night. Guru Ravidas says this in these words:
Jo din aavahe so din jahi.
Karna kooch rehan thir nahi. (SGGS, 793)
Baba Farid compares life to a bird, which is making merry on the river bank. It, however, does not know when the hawk of death would swoop upon it and end the game of life:
Farida dariavai kannai bagula baithat kel karai.
Kel karainde hanjh noon achintai baj payai.
Baj paye til rab de kailaan visriaan.
Jo man chit na chaetai san so gaali rabb kiyaan.
In this way Baba Farid exhorts man again and again, saying that ultimately he has to go to his origin. What would man’s condition be on reaching the origin? We find three main strains in Faridbani. One is that after death one has to appear in Allah’s court and render an account of his deeds. The second strain is concerned with having a vision of God. A very strong desire to see Him is expressed in his salokas. And after seeing Him, comes the stage of Fana – getting one with God.
On the other hand, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Bani too is full of mortality of the world. But wherever a mention of mortality has been made, it has been made very clear that getting entangled in worldly pursuits and achievements and forgetting the higher path is such an attraction that it is very difficult to get rid of it. That is the reason why Guruji puts before us basic human instincts as viewed from different angles:
Jo tan tai apno kar manyo, aru sundar griha naari.
In mai kachhu teiro reh nahin, dekho soch bichaari. (220)
The body that you think is yours as also your house and beautiful wife
Do not belong to you at all; just pause and ponder.
He regards this world as a dream. As the dream breaks on opening the eyes, in the same way when death comes, all illusions are broken.
Rey nar eh sachi jia dhaar. Sagal jaga hai jaise supna.
Binsat lagan na baar. Rahau.
Baroo bhit banayee rach pach, rehat nahi din chaar.
Taise hi eh sukh maya ke, urjhio kaha gavaar.
Bear this in mind, o man. The entire world is a dream
Which takes no time to end. pause.
It is just a wall of sand made somehow, which does not last even four days.
In the same way are the comforts of maya, in which you are so entangled, O ignorant one!
But he suggests a solution as well:
Ajhu samajkh kachhu bigryo nahin.
Bhaj leh Ram muraar.
Kahu Nanak nij man sadhan kau.
Bhakyo tohe pukaar. (SGGS, 633)
It is not too late even now,
Recite His Name.
Sayeth Nanak, this is the wise counsel
which I call upon you to heed.
Guruji says that one has to be punished at the time of reckoning for all the evil deeds and sins, which makes one conscious of one’s existence, including one’s physical state. Childhood, youth, and old age and death is the round after which the body perishes. In Guruji’s Bani the pain and agony of this round of life is vividly described. Talking of the fear of death, Guruji reminds man again and again that life is very short. It proceeds slowly towards the end just as water oozes out of a mud pitcher. What goes with one beyond life is the ‘Naam Simran’ (Dwelling on His Name):
Chetna hai tau chet lai. Nisdin mai prani.
Chhin chhin audh bihaat hai, phootai ghat jio pani. (SGGS, 726)
Guruji has not laid much emphasis on mortality because he wanted to prove the meaninglessness of life. This concept of meaninglessness is opposed to Gurmat (Sikh philosophy). Whenever the Gurus talk of death they mean to exhort man to come out of the grip of worldly attachments, by way of a caution. The material world is the cause of making one go astray from the higher road. When such obstacles become the object of human pursuits, Guruji exhorts one to beware of their futility and show the right path. He says:
Kaha man bikhya sio laptahi.
Ya jag mahi kou rehan na pavai ik avahe ik jahi.
Kaan ko tan dhan sampat kaan ki.
Ka sio nehu lagahi.
Jo disai so sagal binasai.
Jio badar ki chhahi.
Taji abhman saran santan gahu.
Mukt tohi chhin mahi.
Jan Nanak Bhagwant bhajan bin.
Sukh supnai bhi nahi. (SGGS, 1231)
Why be engrossed in evil thoughts, my mind?
No one is going to live forever; the cycle of birth and death goes on. Why get attached to worldly possessions, and even your body? All that is visible is perishable, like the cover of clouds, ever shifting. Get rid of your ego and take refuge in the company of holy saints for instant salvation. Sayeth Nanak, without reciting His Name, one cannot have peace of mind even in dream.
If we go deeply into this, we will find that Guruji does not lay emphasis on death but on the momentary nature of worldly comforts and exhorts us to take care of time which is being spent in useless pursuits. He tries again and again to show reality. Attainment of truth and getting one with truth is the main thrust of his teaching. An awareness of the ‘beyond’ turns Gurbani from lack of optimism towards optimism. Calling worldly maya a false dream, a wall of sand, a shadow of the cloud, makes one aware that the ‘beyond’ is the main purpose.
Being aware of the contemporary history of turmoil, Guruji’s message exhorts one to drive out of one’s mind the fear of death and to attain immortality by uniting with God. By this means attaining the high state of a Brahmgyani (One who attains God) is the greatest achievement. There is no scope of fearing anybody and frightening anyone:
Bhai kahu kahu det nahi, nahi bhai manat aan.
Kahu Nanak sun rey mana, Gyani tahi bakhaan.
One who does not frighten anyone, nor fears anyone
Verily is he, sayeth Nanak, an enlightened one.
Thus we find that Baba Farid makes death the central point of his writings, and through the fear of death he inspires us to do good deeds as also to move towards the world beyond. On the other hand, the philosophy of the Gurus is to give up the fear of death and to become one with the supersoul (God). Though the centre points of the two philosophers seem to be different, the aim of both of them is the same. Whatever way may be adopted, the destination is the same – social morality and attainment of God.