Outlines of Sikh Doctrines: Principal Teja Singh
THE GURU IN SIKHISM
The way of religion, as shown by Sikhism, is not a set of views or doctrines, but a way of life lived according to a definite model. It is based, not on rules or laws, but upon discipleship. In the career of the disciple the personality of the Guru is all along operative, commanding his whole being and shaping his life to its diviner issues. Without such a personality there would be no cohesion, no direction in the moral forces of society, and in spite of a thousand kinds of knowledge ‘there would still be utter darkness.’ There would be no force to connect men with men and them with God. Everybody would exist for himself in moral isolation, ‘like spurious sesame plants left desolate in the field with a hundred masters to own them.’ It is the Guru who removes the barriers of caste and position set up by men among themselves and gathering them all unto himself unites them with God. In the way foundations are laid of a society of the purified who as an organized force strive for the good of the whole mankind.
Such a creative personality must be perfect, because ‘men take after whom they serve.’ If the ideal person is imperfect, the society and its individuals following him will also get imperfect development. But ‘those who serve the saved ones will be saved.’
The Sikh Gurus were perfect, and are described as such in the Sikh Scriptures. Guru Nanak himself says in Sri Rag: “Everybody else is subject to error, only the Guru and God are free from error.” Guru Arjun says in Bhairon: “Whoever you meet suffers from vices; without any defect is my true Guru, the Yogi.” The state of perfection attained by the Gurus is lucidly described in the eighth and the eighteenth octaves of Guru Arjan’s Sukhmani.
The Guru is sinless. In order, however, to be really effective in saving man, he must not be above man’s capacity to imitate, as he would be if he were a supernatural being. His humanity must be real and not feigned. He should have a nature subject to the same laws as operate in the ordinary human nature, and should have attained his perfection through the same Grace as is available to all men and through perfect obedience to God’s Will. The Sikh Gurus had fought with sin and had overcome it. Some of them had lived for a long time in error, until Grace touched them and they were perfected through a constant discipline of knowledge, love and experience in the association of their Gurus. When they had been completely attuned to the Will divine and were sanctified as Gurus, there remained no defect in them and they became perfect and holy. Thereafter sins did come to tamp them, but they never gave way and were always able to overcome them. It is only thus that they became perfect exemplars of men and transformed those who came under their influence to veritable angelic beings.
This transformation comes not only through close association with the Guru, which is found in many other religions, but through the belief that the Sikh incorporates the Guru. He fills himself with the Guru and then feels himself linked up with an inexhaustible source of power. A Sikh, a pure-hearted Sikh, who follows the teachings of his Guru is a great power in himself; but when such a Sikh gets into himself the dynamic personality of such a perfect exemplar as Guru Gobind Singh, his powers acquire an infinite reach and he becomes a super-man. He is called Khalsa, the personification of the Guru himself. “The Khalsa” says the Guru, “is my other self’ in him I live and have my being.” A single Sikh, a mere believer, is only one; but the equation changes when he takes Guru Gobind Singh into his embrace. He becomes equal to ‘one lakh and a quarter,’ in the Sikh parlance. This change occurs not only in his physical fitness, but also in his mental and spiritual outlook. His nature is so reinforced in every way that although hundreds may fall round him, he will resist to the last and never give way. Wherever he stands, he will stand as ‘a garrison of the Lord of Hosts,’ a host in himself – a host of one lakh and a quarter. He will keep the Guru’s flag always flying. Whenever tempted, he will ask himself, “Can I lower the flag of Guru Gobind Singh? Can I desert it? I, as Budh Singh or Kahan Singh, can fall; but can Guru Gobind Singh in me fall? No, never.”
This feeling of incorporation with the Guru makes the Sikh strong beyond his ordinary powers and in times of emergency comes to his rescue long before he can remember anything relevant to the occasion recorded in history or scripture. Bhai Joga Singh’s case is just in point. He was a devoted Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh, and had received Amrit from the hands of the Guru himself. He was so loyal that when he received an urgent call from the Guru to proceed to Anandpur , he hastened from Peshawar without a moment’s delay, not waiting even to see his own marriage through. And yet in a moment of weakness, this paragon of Sikh purity was going to fall, fall at the door of a public woman of Hoshiarpur. Who saved him in that emergency? It was the vision of Guru Gobind Singh, re-establishing the personal contact by pointing out the signs of personation worn on his body, and reminding him that he was carved in the Guru’s own image.
So far we have considered what the Guru does for the Sikhs as individuals. We have seen how he intensifies their character and increases their power thousandfold by filling their personalities with his own. In order to increase this power immensely more, the Guru made another arrangement. He organized them into Sangats or Holy Assemblies, and put his personality again into them. This led to a very remarkable development in the institution of Guruship, and no description of Guruship will be complete without an account of this development. The Sikh idea of religion, as we have seen, was something more practical than merely mystic. It was to consist of the practice of Nam and Sewa. To practice Nam means to practice the presence of God by keeping Him ever in our minds by singing His praises or dwelling on His excellences. This is to be done not only when alone in solitude, but also in public, where worship of the Name is made more impressive by being organized in the form of congregational recitations or singing. The
other element is Sewa or Service. The idea of service is that it should be not only liberal, but also efficient and economical; that is, it should do the greatest good with the least possible means. It should not be wasteful. We do not set up a sledge-hammer to crack a nut, or send a whole army to collect revenue. We have to be economical in our efforts, however charitable they may be. For this purpose we have to organize our means. In every work of practical nature, in which more than one person is engaged, it is necessary to resort to organization. As religion too – especially a religion like Sikhism whose aim is to serve mankind – belongs to the same category, it requires organization of its followers as an essential condition of its success. It may not be necessary in the case of an individualistic religion, wherein the highest aim is to vacate the mind of all desires, or to dream away the whole life in jungles or mountains; but where religion consists in
realizing God mainly through service done within the world, where men have constantly to deal with men to promote each others good, it is impossible to do without organization.
Guru Nanak had, therefore, begun with two things in his religious work: the holy Word and the organized Fellowship. This organized fellowship is called Sangat or holy Fellowship led to the establishment of local assemblies led by authorized leaders, called Masands. Every Sikh was supposed to be a member of one or other of such organizations. The Guru was the central unifying personality and, in spite of changes in succession, was held to be one and the same as his predecessors. The love existing between the Guru and the Sikhs was more intense than has every existed between the most romantic lovers of the world. But the homage paid to the Guru was made impersonal by creating a mystic unity between the Sikh and the Guru on the one hand and the Guru and the Word on the other. Greatest respect began to be paid to the incorporated Word, even the Guru choosing for himself a seat lower than that of the Scripture. The only form of worship was the meditation on and the singing of the Word. The Sikh assemblies also acquired great sanctity, owing to the belief that the spirit of the Guru lived and moved among them. They began to assume higher and higher authority, until collectively the whole body, called the Panth, came to be regarded as an embodiment of the Guru. Guru Gobind Singh himself received Amrit from the Sikhs initiated by himself. After him the Sikhs ceased to have any personal Guru.
The Guru, as mentioned above, worked with two things: the personal association and the Word. Now after the death of Guru Gobind Singh the personality and the Word were separated. The Panth was invested with the personality of the Guru, and the incorporated Word became the Gyan Guru. That is, in simple words, the Khalsa panth was to be the guru in future, not in super session of the previous Gurus, but al authorized to work in their name; and it was invariably to guide itself by the teachings of the Gurus as found in the Holy Granth. So that the Sikhs came to name Guru Nanak and the Guru Panth in the same breath.
Amrit, (sometimes incorrectly mentioned as Sikh baptism) made, the basis of this holy organization. There was no room left for any wavering on the border-line. All who wanted to serve humanity through Sikhism must join it seriously as regular members, and receive its Amrit as the initial step. All must have the same creed, which should be well-defined and should not be confused with the belief and practices of the neighboring religions. The Guru ordered that —
Such a Khalsa was to embody in himself the highest ideal of manhood, as described by Guru Gobind Singh in his unpublished book, called Sarb Loh. Although the Khalsa was designed by the Guru himself, yet the Guru was so charmed by the look of his own creation that he saluted it, as his own ideal and master. The Khalsa was thought fit enough to administer Amrit of the new order to the Guru, and was consecrated as the Guru incarnate. As a sign that the Guru had placed himself eternally in his Sikhs, it was declared by him that–
If anybody wishes to see me, let him go to an assembly of Sikhs, and approach
them with faith and reverence; he will surely see me amongst them.
In the ranks of the Khalsa, all were equal, the lowest with the highest, in race as in creed, in political rights as in religious hopes. Women were to be initiated in the same way as men and were to enjoy the same rights. The “Sarbat Khalsa,” or the whole people, met once at the Akal Takht, Amritsar, the highest seat of Panthic authority, on the occasion of Dewali or Baisakhi, and felt that they were one. All questions affecting the welfare of the community were referred to the Sangats, which would decide them in the form of resolutions called Gurmata duly passed was supposed to have received the sanction of the Guru, and any attempt made afterwards to contravene it was taken as a sacrilegious act.