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Many The Ways We Love Thee:
Letter & Spirit - # 4





Bhagat Namdev says: “jin kai bheetar hai antraa/ jaisae passu taisae oi naraa” [GGS:1163.15], meaning: “Those humans who harbor division in their heart, they are no better than cattle.”

What did Namdev mean by ‘division‘?

One form of division is alienation from those who are different or follow a different path, regarding ‘them’ as separate from ‘us‘. Can our separation from Waheguru be cured if we cannot see the harmony hidden in all diversity?

Gurbani says: “naa ko bairee nahi biganaa” [GGS:1299.14], meaning: “No one is an enemy or a stranger to me.”

But how about those who kill ‘in God’s name’? Are they our friends?

One of my patients said to me the other day that she wanted to be at peace in feeling that she had done her part as a Muslim before she moved away to another state. So she shared with me her belief that only those who accept Islam (submission to Allah) and the last prophet (Mohammed), will be in heaven after ‘qayaamat’ (doomsday).

Obviously, in her view, I was not in submission to Allah.

Teaching her Sikhi would be out of the question! So I listened to her and nodded in agreement. But I did so with some resentment.

We can quote gurbani for each situation. This makes us feel that we know gurbani and we just need to practice what we know. But this also stops further growth. Knowing gurbani is not enough. It is not the same as realizing its import. The more we realize, the more we find that there is no end to realizing the lessons hidden in gurbani.

I had not yet realized that the Guru teaches us to accept everyone, without harboring any feeling of resentment at all. I was merely being a tolerant Sikh.

Another patient, recently admiring the fact (she knew from around town) that my wife was a Christian, finally asked me what I was. Obviously, to her I looked more like a Muslim, not like a Christian. I was honest with her, that I believed in who Jesus was, and loved Jesus much more strongly than most Christians do. “But, do you accept Jesus as your savior?” she insisted.

What do you say to such people? Many religions promote the dream that everyone else would follow their faith some day. Their followers try to earn brownie points with God. To make matters worse, many do so to earn brownie points with “their” God.

In contrast, gurbani teaches us to accept diversity because everyone is God’s own creation. Guru Nanak composed three long stanzas in Japji, marveling at the ‘asankh’ (countless) variety of worlds, beings, thought systems and paths ... even the lowest beings ... that we must accept as outcomes of God’s own will.

Guru Arjan also, apparently for the same reason, devoted an entire section in Sukhmani: ‘Nanak rachnaa prab rach-ee bahu bidh anik prakaar’ [GGS:275], meaning: “Waheguru has created us, employing multiple ways, and with countless variations.” (That should also put to rest any theory that ‘Big Bang’ and ‘evolution’ can explain this entire process.)

When we are unable to accept our differences, accepting everyone as they are, we are separated from His Hukam, living in contradiction of the fact that everyone belongs to the same mosaic and the fabric of the larger picture that the same One God has created.

It is true that sometimes we may be facing only the dark portions. But everything takes place for a reason. We need to find that reason. Our spiritual growth is stunted when we miss the lessons hidden behind those experiences. Often, this prolongs our misery.

For example, Buddha calmly meditated for years. He found methods to correct our thinking, but he missed God. In contrast, battles and bloodshed produced a fertile ground where simple people were ready for a direct and shorter approach to God, finding God in a hurry when we are in pain, or calling Him directly. This was called naam.

Gurbani has also said that in some ways cattle are better than men. Thus, by gurbani’s standards, those who feel that everyone else needs to follow what they follow and resent those who are different, must be the lowest form of creatures roaming on the face of this earth. They create bloodshed and war.

Each person’s inner journey, even within the same congregation (gurdwara) is unique and different and thus no single approach fits everyone. Learning from diverse sources enriches our own journey, often revealing tricks that we may not have learned yet.

It is also true that acceptance of others, and learning from their experience, need not make us adopt their ways. Holding our own position, worshipping naam under gurbani’s guidance under all circumstances, we can find beauty in all people and paths without losing our own foundation in naam.

Otherwise, as they say on the subcontinent, we could become like the launderer’s dog: divided between two abodes, he belongs neither at home nor at the laundry.

Finally, accepting everyone does not mean that we are resigned towards all situations. For example, we can accept that a house is on fire, and we do not resent it. But we also accept that we are supposed to extinguish the fire and save lives, without resenting having to do so. Whatever the outcome, we accept that also as His will.

In other words, the area of work, accepting diversity among us as part of the big picture created under His hukam, is inside us. In the outside world, it is okay to keep our distance from harmful people.

Namdev has also said, in the same shabad cited above: “Just as someone may have all the features of beauty, but looks ugly if only the nose is missing, so are those who do not dwell on the Lord; I prefer not to meet such people .“

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 24, 2012, 7:51 AM.

Guru Nanak himself has provided an answer. "Naanak vaychaaraa ki-aa kahai/ sabh lok salaahay ayksai/ sir naanak lokaa paav hai/ balihaaree jaa-o jaytay tayray naav hai" [GGS:1168.14] - "What shall poor Nanak say? All people praise the One Lord, Nanak places his head on the feet of such people. I am a sacrifice to Your Names, as many as there are, O Lord." Where else could you find such interfaith testimony, other than in Guru Granth Sahib.

2: R. Singh (Canada), July 24, 2012, 7:59 AM.

I am not sure what to make of your contention that Buddha missed "God", even though you say he corrected our thinking. Is that not like the devout asking you to accept their view about 'saviours'? This is also a throwback on constraints put upon human understanding/ communion by those who sought/ seek to understand and define the focus of Buddha through their anthromorhphic view of "God". Can we not rope in all direction of inquiries to conform to our blue-print?

3: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), July 25, 2012, 8:05 AM.

"My thinking is right. I am right. I follow the right way. Taken further, others are in error. Otherwise how can I sustain myself?" The creator has created such an attractive illusion which is very difficult to get free from. Is there anyone either consciously or subconsciously free from it?

4: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 25, 2012, 3:20 PM.

There is no need to be so complicated. There are no good or bad paths to truth. Thus, all paths belong within gurbani's blueprint. "Do not call anyone bad, this is what we learn from education" [GGS:473.13]. But all paths cannot be suitable for everyone or be suitable at all stages.

5: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 25, 2012, 3:22 PM.

It is easy for us to say "be still and know that I am God", or to meditate for several years in search of that stillness. Guru Nanak says that mental stillness cannot be achieved in this manner. Our obvious difficulty, in accepting this statement from Guru Nanak, arises form the countless benefits from following any path to self realization, including control of the mind and reaching a semblance of mental stillness and inner peace. From our level, this appears as true enlightenment to us. No doubt, such people are much greater than us.

6: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 25, 2012, 3:23 PM.

We also have a tendency to read our own bias into everything. The more books we read, longer the words we use. Was the word "anthropomorphic" necessary? Does gurbani use it? Have we seen or met an "anthropomorphic" God? Gurbani says, "Without having any appearance, shape, or color, our Lord is different from all the traits of the visible world; he alone understands this, with whom He is pleased. [GGS:283.16] Let us carefully examine this short verse: gurbani does not commit to any attributes of 'God' or whatever we may want to call Him, it insists that we must seek Him because we must seek His grace, kirpa or His pleasure. Kirpa is not something that we can generate in us.

7: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 25, 2012, 3:25 PM.

Truth never gets old or outdated. The Guru's approach is straightforward: Is there an entity here that is greater than us? Obviously, we are not it, we are not enlightened. If such an entity is with us then why do we concentrate on doing everything else under the sun except asking it to enlighten us? Is it because we feel that this entity is sleeping or that it is powerless? Can we hold this entity hostage to our meditation? What are we missing here?

8: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 25, 2012, 3:26 PM.

Last week we discussed why the 'You' approach is preferred in gurbani. Other paths can take us closer to truth, but kirpa is the only source of true freedom or nirvana. Gurbani dwells on this one item that is necessary at all stages and in all paths. Sant Naranjan Singh ji used to say that an ant can attempt to climb to the top of a tree or someone can pick her up and put her at the top. This is the role of kirpa. Just as a father is pleased when, in the wilderness, his child seeks and finds him, God is pleased when we seek Him. The act of seeking Him changes us and it makes us suitable to receive His kirpa.

9: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 25, 2012, 3:28 PM.

When our search for 'God' (an entity that is greater than us and who can enlighten us with His mercy) outside the boundaries of our own haumai is missing, kirpa is also missing then. Regardless of the path we follow, kirpa is the final stop. Thus we see that all paths are useful in their own place but they cannot be compared to gurbani.

10: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), July 26, 2012, 10:49 PM.

Diversity is a law of nature that is very essential for survival. In the zeal of uniformity we are punishing diversity among our sangats. I am glad that you brought this situation to our attention. Guru Nanak anticipated the new ecological age to consist of worldwide communities of an increasingly close-knit global village. Here cultures and religions, which were once isolated from one another, would live as close neighbors. At the same time, new ideas and insights from science and technology will season the interaction between and among faiths, and between the faith and culture of the faith people. Guru Nanak visited major religious centers and promoted Interfaith dialogues. Guru Arjan followed and compiled the first world scripture, the Guru Granth, where he invited multiple co-authors selected from a diverse background. He employed a language which allowed for diversity, and which enjoyed wide currency in the whole of Southeast Asia and the Mid-East. He employed metaphors to encourage continual interpretation for new world cultures. Guru Granth's compilation created a philosophical system based on "unity in diversity" that celebrates the unique merits of each particular approach to the divine energy, yet it also provides a way to weld each into a cohesive common agenda. From the Guru Granth, we learn that each faith is inspired by a unique vision of the Divine and many faiths had developed distinct ethnic identities within and without. Each perceives the Divine as the source of unity. The multiple co-authors of the Guru Granth promote appreciation of diversity and enunciate the spiritual philosophy of the One Spirit One World where each individual longs for divine attributes within each person with gratitude. The Guru Granth gives highest allegiance to the power and grace of Truth and its creative energy that operates through every one and through all ages. The Guru challenged the religious people of the world to realize spirituality in their own faiths and work constructively with members of other faith traditions towards realization of the Truth. We learn that a vision of the healing light of spirituality overcomes the social and ideological issues that underlie much of the conflict between religions and the exploitation by illusionary materialism. Let us welcome diversity within and without our society. Guru Gobind Singh sacrificed his life and his family to fight against the uniformity of the religion that the Mughals wanted to bring about.

11: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 28, 2012, 8:27 AM.

Harbans Lal ji, thank you for your valuable input. Talk of interfaith reminds me of the prayer: "The world is in flames - shower it with your mercy, and save it! Deliver it by whatever path it can be delivered" [GGS:853.11]. For us Sikhs the Guru adds, "The Guru has shown earnest contemplation of Guru's message as the way to peace. Nanak cannot find any other source of mercy except the forgiving Lord." People are free to disagree with the Guru's approach. They are part of the big picture created under Waheguru's own will, as it is given in Japji and in Sukhmani.

12: Yuktanand Singh (USA), July 28, 2012, 8:28 AM.

Let us be sure we understand that acceptance of others, as they are, is an inner act. It does not mean that we adopt their ways to demonstrate our acceptance. Nor should it mean that we must mingle, not remain distinct, and welcome discordant traits into our own households. A Sikh marrying a non-Sikh is not a match and not a good example to follow. In my case it has given me an opportunity to practice at home the humility that I do not have. I hope to realize some day: "Kabir, I am the worst of all. Everyone else is good. Whoever has realized this is a friend of mine."[GGS:1364.16].

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Letter & Spirit - # 4"

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