Sri Guru Granth Sahib – Individual and Society
Dr. Jodh Singh
While man is regarded in Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the best of the creation, the internal and external life of man has also been studied in depth. Guru Nanak has given the name of Gurmukhta to the internal equilibrium of man, though the visible waves at the surface of Gurmukhta have not been lost sight of. The ups and downs of the material world have been accepted as a fact of life as man has to undergo the hardships in this material world. About this form of human existence in the material world, Guru Nanak says:
Pehlai pyar lagga than dudh. Doojai mayee baap ki sudh.
Tijay bhiaya bhabi beb. Chouthey pyar upaani khed.
Panjwai khan piyan ki dhat.Chhiwai kaam na puchhai jat.
Satwain sanj kiya gharvas. Athwain krodh hoya tan naas.
Navai dhoulai ubhai sah. Daswai daddha hoya suah. 1 (SGGS, 137)
The ten phases of life span have been summed up as – The first love was for teats full of milk. Second came recognition of one’s parents. Third came an awareness of one’s brothers and their wives. Fourth began the game of love. Fifth was the love of dainty foods and drinks, and sixth, arose the feeling of blind passion for physical love which knows no bounds. Seventh, one makes a home of his own and eighth, anger begins to harm the body. In the ninth phase, the hair turns grey and the breath becomes laboured. And tenth is the end when the body is burnt to ashes.
Not only that, Guruji’s discerning eye divides one’s lifespan into ten yearly phases through which life is spent and lastly, to begin a new life, one is exhorted to adopt a realistic point of view:
Das baltan, bees raven, teesa ka sunder kahavai.
Chalis pur hoye pachasi pag khisai sathi ke budhepa awai.
Satar ka matheen asihan ka viohaar na pavai.
Navai ka sihajasani mool na janai apbal
Dhandolim dhoodim ditha main Nanak jag dhuain ka dhavalhar.3. (SGGS, 138).
Up to ten years is childhood and up to twenty is youth.
At thirty one is called a handsome young man, and
Passing through the forties one reaches the age of fifty
When the gait is affected, and at sixty comes old age.
At seventy one is regarded as devoid of wisdom and
At eighty one is unable to do any work. At ninety, one
takes to bed because of debility but knows not why.
The world is a mountain of smoke, says Nanak, as
‘I have found it after thorough research.’
Diving in these waves of life, one who fathoms its depth which is full of pearls becomes a Gurmukh. Gurmukh is the unit of human society that is attuned to God both internally and externally. For him the hurt caused to the creatures is hurt done to God Himself and a Gurmukh feels pain on seeing others in pain. The cry of his mind impels him to ‘pause and ponder’ about his deeds and hope that God would accept him as His own.
While the mention of ‘Halemi Raj’ (ideal state) has been made in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, many pointers have been made about the social structure. Mutual interaction of people ties them in a bond and society is formed on the basis of mutual give and take. Guru Nanak Dev held dialogues with the leaders of different societies and gives details of such exchanges of views. Besides, as a serious thinker, he has formed an opinion about the kind of societies that should not exist and about the traits of a good society. For example, in Assa-di-Vaar (Sung in the morning), contemporary society has been portrayed. To start with, he talks of Hindu society, its different sects, and the imbalance in society:
Likh likh parhya. Teta karhya.
Bahu tirath bhavya, teto lavya.
Bahu bhekh kiya dehi dukh diya.
Sahu vey jia apna kiya.
Ann na khaya, saad gwaiya.
Bahu dukh paya dooja bhaiya.
Bastar na pehari. Ahnis kehrai.
Mon vigoota. Kyo jagai gur bin soota.
Pag upaitana. Apna kiya kamana.
Almal khayee sir chhayee payee.
Moorakh andhai pat gwayee.
Vin navai kichh thaye na payee.
Rahe bebaani, marhi masani.
Andh na janai, Phir pachhtani. 3
All reading and writing served no purpose; makes one lose temper.
Many pilgrimages make him a wanderer.
Multiple garbs and penances led him nowhere.
One suffers for one’s own doings.
Doesn’t take food, loses all taste.
Suffers a lot at the hands of others.
Doesn’t wear clothes, undergoes torture day and night.
Remains in long silence; how can one wake up from slumber without the guidance of the true guide?
Goes about barefooted and reaps the fruit of his own actions.
Takes filth (drugs). Puts dust on his head.
The fool loses his honour
Without His Name; nothing is of any worth.
Stays aimlessly in the graveyards and cremation grounds.
The blind one knows nothing and repents at the end.
The Muslims had been in India as rulers for more than seven hundred years before Guru Nanak’s time. Although the majority community of India even today is not ready to accept this reality, the Gurus accepted this openly about five hundred years ago at the time of the founding of the Sikh faith and we know well that Sheikh Farid and Bhikhan, whose hymns are incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib enjoy the same reverence as the other writers of Bani. This fact could not escape Guru Nanak’s deep insight that though the natives of India called these Muslims ‘malechhas’ (barbarians), they were always desirous of holding important positions under their rule. As a result of this, the social set up was becoming chaotic, for which Guru Nanak had to say this:
Antar pooja pareh katebaan sanjam turka bhayee.
Chhodiley pakhanda. Nam laiyai jahi taranda. 4
Inside the house you do your worship but outside you read Muslim scriptures;
Give up this fraudulent behaviour. Only His Name will take you across (the ocean of births).
Guru Nanak is very clear in his mind as to which type of social set up leads people towards decline. People, who do not show respect to their elders while they are alive, perform all sorts of rituals as a mark of respect to the departed souls after their death. Guru Nanak does not accept such double standards. Respect shown out of one’s earning by unfair means and not by the sweat of one’s toil is not accepted by him without questioning. He warns such elders and their offspring of the consequences of adopting unfair means, and exhorts them to earn their living by honest means and then share their earnings with the needy:
Je mohaka ghar mohe ghr mohe pitri dei.
Agge vastu sianiai pitri chor karai
Wdhiai hath dalal kai musfi ehu karai
Nanak agge so milai je khattai ghalai dei. 5
Society, caught in the Brahminical trap, gets entangled in superstitions. Guru Nanak does not approve of a society that believes in hypocrisy, blind faith, omens and illusions. He talks about this in a very meaningful way to provide a proper lead to the people. If violence or non-violence is accepted at the level of delusion, such a society would not be able to develop to the extent necessary to play a role in social development. The salokas about ‘sutak-patak’ (mindless thoughts about impurity connected with birth and death) clarify this:
Jekar sootak maniai sabh te sootak hoye
Gohai ate lakri andar kira hoye.
Jetai danai ann ke jia bajh no koye.
Pehla pani jio hai jit harya sabh koye.
Sootak kyonkar rakhiai sootak pavai rasoye.
Nanak sootak eiv na utrai, gyan utarai dhoye. 6
If birth in the house makes it impure, everything is affected by this impurity.
Even the dung and fire wood have a worm in it.
All food grains have organism within.
Life is first given by water which gives life to everything.
How can the impurity be avoided when it has entered the kitchen (through dung and firewood used for purifying it)?
Impurity cannot be removed, sayeth Nanak, except through proper understanding of the truth.
It has been clarified further that the sin of mind, tongue, eyes, ears, etc. is committed by our evil deeds which has filled our existence with tension. Regarding eating and drinking as pure, Guru Nanak says that all sins are born out of our superstitions and doubts which one should get rid of. Guru Nanak talks of the imbalance in the relationship between the Guru and the disciple and feels that in a good society it should not be there – ‘Vayen chelai nachan gur’ (The Gurus dance to the tune of their disciples). Everyone should not only take full care of his position and duty, one should also be fully devoted to it. Only then can society become an instrument of social welfare.
Not only has the rejection of false values been exhorted in Sri Guru Granth Sahib but the layout of the new social order has also been described. It is expected of the ideal society, as conceived by Sri Guru Granth Sahib, that it does not accept the world as false. When we regard anything as false, our entire context towards the world changes. We see a lack of trust and inactivity everywhere and prefer to remain indifferent to the world. We begin to shirk our responsibilities to society. Sri Guru Granth Sahib expects people to believe this world as the abode of the True One, and the universe, continents and subcontinents too may be regarded as governed by the principle of impermanence, but they should not be regarded false and hence not accepted as a reality, howsoever complex this reality may be. With this understanding even the least time devoted can be of maximum use. It is not important as to how much time one has – 20 years, 40 years, 60 years or even 100 years – what is important, according to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, is that by living in the material world, maximum time should be made meaningful.
The basic unit of society – that is, an individual – should, according to the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, be contented. But it is very important to see here that a contented person does not mean a lazy one. A society of contented people, according to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, comprises of persons who are contented people and are engaged in service to humanity. They, while performing their duty, always feel obliged to God for His blessings and are not drawn towards evil deeds. They have full control over their eating habits, sleep and other daily routine and they do not get caught in worldly clutches:
Sev kiti santokhayee jinhi sacho sach dhyaiya.
Oni mandey pair na rakhian kar sukrit dharma kamaiya.
Oni dunia trorai bandhna, ann paani thora khaiya. 7
Again in Assa di Vaar, in Sri Guru Angad Dev’s salokas, such a society and its basic unit has been conceived that does not accept the division of society on the basis of castes. Guru Angad Dev says very clearly that although the path chosen by the Yogis is that of knowledge; that of Brahmins reading the Vedas, Khatris fighting battles and Shudras serving the higher castes has been laid down by selfish leaders of society, ‘I wish to become a servant of such a person who in disregard of the lead given by these people, perceives the divine light shining in everyone and gives everyone his due rights:
Jog sabdang gyan sabdang beid sabdang brahmaneh.
Khatri sabdang soor sabdang sudra sabdang prakirteh.
Sarab sabdang eik sabdang, je ko janai bheo.
Nanak taka daas hai soyee niranjan deo.
A careful study of Sri Guru Granth Sahib reveals that most of the bhagats in their hymns express a feeling of sadness and helplessness at the injustice prevailing in society. Of course, sometimes a revolutionary like Kabir has the courage to speak out against injustice –
Kabir meri jati kau sabh ko hasnaihaar. 9
Kabir says that people laugh at my low caste.
But he does not accept this injustice silently. He says –
Tum kat Brahmin ham kat sood
Ham kat loho tum kat doodh. 10
How have you become a Brahmin, and I, a Shudra.
Does blood flow in my veins and milk in your?
Bhagat Namdev also laments at the injustice done to the low castes and prays to God:
Hasat khelat terai dehurai aiya.
Bhagat karat Nama pakar uthaiya.
Hinari jati meri jadim raiya.
Chhepai ke janam kahai kau aiya. 11
I had come to thy temple joyfully.
While doing worship, I was thrown out.
Because I am of low caste, O Lord.
Why have I been born a calico-printer?
Sri Guru Granth Sahib has a very clear point of view about caste-based social injustice. Guru Amardas says –
Aagai jati na roop hai.
Teha hovai jehai karam kamaye. 12
There is no caste or colour bar in His court.
Only your actions are the determining factors.
Guru Gobind Singh also says the same thing in Bachitra Natak that human beings are of two types, good and bad, Gurmukh or Manmukh. The good and evil ones are called ‘gods’ and ‘demons’ respectively in Indian thought. In fact, by taking birth in a particular lineage or section of society, one does not really belong to that caste or section; by doing good deeds even demons can become gods and by taking to evil ways, gods can turn into demons –
Sadh karaam je purakh kamavahe. Naam devta jagat kahavai.
Kukrit karam je jag mahi karhi. Naam asur tin so sabh dharhi. 13 (Explained above)
While fraternity and equality, especially of genders, for all purposes has been advocated in 12, a need for pure love for humanity or individual irrespective of his caste and creed has been stressed. This has been stated in Assa di Vaar:
Eh kenehi aski doojai lagge jaiye.
Nanak ashiq kadhiai sad hi rehai samai.
Changey changa kar manney mandai manda hoye.
Ashiq ehu na akhiai je lekhai varai soye. 1. 14
Its not pure love if it is based on duality.
Nanak, a true lover (devotee) is ever in love
He always accepts His Will without question
In joy or sorrow, through thick or thin
Such a one can’t be called a true devotee
If devotion is in proportion to joys only.
SGGS, p. 137-38.
Dasam Granth, Bachitar Natak, p.15
SGGS, p. 474.