Sri Guru Granth Sahib: Human Concerns
Dr. Jasbir Singh Sabar
The compilation and editing of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is of historic importance in the medieval history of mankind, the credit for which goes to the fifth Nanak, Sri Guru Arjan Dev. The hymns of six Gurus and thirty saints born during the twelfth to the seventeenth centuries in different states and who made this earth bloom beautifully with greenery are incorporated in ‘The Divine Word”, that is Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This is the first religious book in the history of religion in which is enshrined the cultural ethos of the entire human race. The verses of the saints, who belonged to so-called low caste, written in the languages understood in all the four directions of India, are found in this Granth (Holy Book). It is a unique endeavour in the sense that the verses of all the thirty-six writers of Bani have been given an equal place in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and of more importance than this is the fact that while the teachings of these Banikars (saint-poets) succeeded in correcting the imbalance in society, even in today’s context, they are so meaningful so as to provide a correct lead to the people in all walks of life. The reason for this is that the main theme of the Banikars is supportive of man and free of the limitation of land, time, colour, race, sex, etc. It is for this reason that man has been getting light and inspiration there from continuously. From this point of view, Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a scripture which can be called the scripture of different sections of society because the message flashed through it is not limited to any sect but is meant for, and dedicated to, the entire human race.
Most of the divine songs of the Banikars have carved a place in the hearts of the people who are ever eager to listen to the hymns being sung or recited, or to read and ponder over and to sing, which their ears, eyes, mind and throat always long to do. A special feature of these hymns is that they do not seem stale to the mind, and they keep the mind fresh every moment, exuding a sweet fragrance all the time. The main reason for this is that before writing, the saint poets fully studied and understood the extent of the suffering of man, analyzed it and then offered a solution thereof. So much so that Bhagat Namdev, Kabir and Ravidas themselves suffered the pangs of the suffering that the people of their castes were undergoing and showed the way to remove it. In this way the principles enunciated by the writers of Bani to help the suffering millions have arisen from their practical lives which are worthy of emulation even today. These principles are not intended to initiate an intellectual dialogue but are in the nature of a lesson for living a good moral life.
In fact any set of principles which cannot be put into practice are not an ideology but a mere show off, nay a deceit. It should be borne in mind that a man is known by his conduct. Real evaluation of one’s conduct is done in the social context. A religious ideology, literature, art and philosophy cannot become meaningful unless it is concerned with social life. Its social context alone can make it meaningful. When a gap appears between saying and doing, the human mind becomes wayward and develops selfish motivation. In such a condition, man’s thinking becomes lax in regard to truth and sense of service i.e. doing good to others; benevolence and the feelings of equality and fraternity are suppressed, even destroyed. The sense of shame and the sense of responsibility take wing and humanity loses its balance. In this context the greatest good that the writers of Bani have done to humanity is that they have laid down such principles as can be put into practice to make an ideal man. They were very clear in their mind that the principles should emerge out of practical life.
Parh parh gaddi laldiai, parh parh bhariai saath
Parh parh beri payeeai, parh parh gadiai khaat.
Parihia jetai baras baraas, parhiai jetai maas.
Parhiai jeti arja, parhiai jetai sass.
Nanak lekhai ik gall, hore huamai jhakhna jhaakh.
We may go through cartloads of books,
Study massive religious writings, etc.
Which may be laden on the ships
We may go on reading year after year,
Month after month, with every breath
Throughout our lives continuously.
Sayeth Nanak, except for His Name
All else is certainly of no avail.
If there is no true intent in practice, such knowledge, devoid of practice, unnecessarily bloats a person and causes mental unrest. The Banikars of Sri Guru Granth Sahib are conscious of this aspect because they are fully committed to human development on the right lines. Whatever principles they laid down for the welfare of humanity are relevant even today as they are totally realistic from a practical angle.
Their commitment to human society is unquestionable. It is for this reason that they gave practical shape to what they stood for. In doing so they not only rejected the prevalent practices based on traditions, they built new meaning and created a new idiom to replace the old one. One thing which is very clear is that they made a complete break with those principles which had lost meaning in a social sense and were not capable of being put to practice in social life. They were firmly of the view that the principles evolved for the good of humanity should be such that can be practiced. In fact, a set of principles for human life can assume permanence only when they can be put to practice in society in the same context in which they are evolved. Such principles, as outlined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, can be divided into two parts – first, spiritual and second, worldly. In the contemporary social set up the big problem before the people was the concept of Brahm. At that time, Brahm or God was not considered as One but being worshipped in so many forms by so many people in so many of their ways. The saint poets tried to remove doubts in the minds of people and preached the Oneness of Formless God and Guru Nanak propounded the principle of Ik Onkar and established the unity of God. Jogis and sanyasis had termed this world as falsehood and exhorted people to renounce everything. The saint poets put a stop to this negative approach. The basic tenet is ‘One God Who is the Creator and Destroyer.’ In this way Brahm became an eternal truth. These Banikar’s also did not accept the theory that the world was ‘false’. If Brahm is the eternal truth, the creation created by Him cannot be untrue. If the concept of creation of the universe is untrue, the truth of Brahm too would be in question which is not possible. Therefore Guru Nanak propounded the theory of ‘Ehu jag sachai ki hai kothri’ (This world is the abode of God) and put a seal on the fact that this universe is His creation. Of course the Banikars exhort one to reject false values which are not lasting and are momentary nature. They exhort one to beware of the evil effects of passions, anger, greed, attachment and ego and while doing good deeds, they should get in tune with the creator of the universe. Their philosophy can prove to be efficacious in performing a refreshing role in human development, if one acts upon this sincerely. Such are the other spiritual principles also put forth by them.
In practical life, the humanistic approach of the Gurus has great significance. During their time, political power was in the hands of the foreign rulers and religious institutions were controlled by either the Brahmin clergy or the Muslim Qazi. These institutions were engaged in maintaining their hegemony at the community level and at an individual level in furtherance of which they were looting the country. One fourth of the population was regarded as ‘untouchable’ that was denied all opportunities to develop, was starving and eking out a miserable life with their half-clad bodies. Because of its narrow instincts the priestly class believed itself to be very close to God and considered even the urine and dung of a cow as holy but dreaded the shadow of the lowest section of human society for fear of being polluted. This tendency of the priestly class had created a wedge in human society which had been broken to pieces. The condition of woman was worse than this. She was denied all comforts of life, made unfit to perform any religious rites and led a life of utter slavery. Was this not an extraordinary happening in human history when Guru Nanak who belonged to the high caste of Bedis, said –
Neecha andar neech jati, neechi hoon ati neech.
Nanak tin kai sang saath, wadyaan sio kya rees.
Low of the low castes, and lowest of the low
Nanak is on their side,
With high castes he has nothing to do.
With these words, he had expressed his commitment towards the upliftment of this section of society that had been socially, politically and economically trampled underfoot and silently suffered this tyranny. He said, ‘So kyon manda akhiaai, jit jammeh rajaan’ (Why call them bad; they give birth to kings!)
Thus he strongly rejected the cruel tradition which demeaned women. The fifth Nanak, Sri Guru Arjan Dev embraced the saints like Bhagat Namdev, Kabir and Ravidas who belonged to this depressed section of society, included their hymns in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, showed them utmost respect and thus practically removed the caste based boundaries existing in the human society. This is a source of inspiration for present day human society as well that one should have complete determination to tread the right path. We see that the Banikars of Sri Guru Granth Sahib did not have any fear of the rulers of the time while putting forth their philosophy nor did they fear the clergy or their edicts. Their teaching was vehemently opposed to caste system, idol worship, the discrimination between high and low, slavery, vilification, back biting, falsehood and the performance of rituals just for pretence. The most important aspect of this teaching is that their thinking aimed at making the people reject useless religious rituals and to worship only One Timeless God. They succeeded in this regard to a great extent as people wholeheartedly followed the teachings and imbibed the positive outlook rejecting the negative attitudes. They began to recite His Name.
Undoubtedly, the tone of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is full of dignity tempered with humility and a sense of equality. I am firmly of the view that today when man has woven around him a web of doubts which has created a deplorable situation, the teachings enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib can go a long way in helping him to get out of the mire. The need really is to follow them truthfully and honestly because the tendency of ‘Galli asin changiaan, achaari buriyaan’ (We talk nicely, but act badly) is the one which leads us to hell.