Sikhism is the youngest of the world religions, tracing its origin from Guru Nanak ,the first of the succession of ten great Gurus. Its Masters never claimed any novelty for their teachings. In fact, they laid great emphasis upon them as the Truths taught from time immemorial. To understand the universality of the spiritual message, Guru Arjan Dev (the fifth Guru ), when compiling the Sri Adi Granth, the holy scriptures of the Sikhs, drew the hymns and devotional pieces from the mystical writings of saints of all castes and creeds, including Kabir the weaver, Dhanna the jat, Ravi Das the cobbler and Sadna the butcher ,etc.
The Sikh scriptures occupy a unique position in religious history. They represent not only the first deliberate attempt to present the oneness of all religions ,but are composed in a language that is still alive and not a thing of the past. Hence they have lost none of their pristine freshness and have not been wholly buried under the debris of theological interpretation. Being mainly in the form of devotional lyrics, their appeal is not merely expositional. They speak of the whole man, singing of his problems, his weakness ,the vanity of the world and the eternity of the Absolute ,beckoning him on to greater and ever greater effort ,toward his divine home. The language they employ lends itself to condensation- conjunction being freely dispensed with- thus enabling its poetic and musical elements to be used with great effect. A searching philosophy and profound metaphysic are implicit in every statement, yet their writings speak directly to men's heart in the language they use ,whose meanings are inexhaustible and which leave an imprint on all.
.Whether we read of the humility of Nanak as he passed on foot from place to place, bearing the spiritual torch, or of Gobind Singh, the last of the ten Gurus ,riding from one end of the country to the other, organizing his followers into a brotherhood that could meet force with force and successfully resist the threat of physical extermination posed by the fanatical empire ,we realize again and again that the life of God is inner perfection ,a mode of being ,a self-fulfillment, not to be confused with intellectual philosophy or metaphysical conundrums. He who had won this spiritual liberation could not be touched or tarnished by outer action ,for he had made God's Will his own and did nothing of himself. And so ,while leading his warriors to war against the Moguls, Guru Gobind Singh could yet sing:
Sach Kahun, sun leyo sabhay
Jin prem kiyo, tin he Prab paya.
Verilly ,verily I say unto you,
They that loved, found the Lord.
The Jap Ji by Guru Nanak ,which figure as a prologue to the Grand Sahib, may serve to illustrate the spiritual riches embedded in the Sikh scriptures. It is a wonderful lyrical composition ,remarkable for its poetic beauty ,and even more for the divine height it reaches. It opens by dwelling on the nature of the Absolute Reality so distinct from the phenomenal:
There is one Reality ,the Unmanifest Manifested;
Ever- existent, He is Naam (Conscious Spirit);
The Creator pervading all;
Without fear ,without enmity,
The Timeless, the unborn and the Self-existent,
Complete within Itself. (PROLOGUE)
This Reality is beyond human reason and comprehension:
One cannot comprehend Him through reason ,even if one
Reasoned for ages. (STANZA I)
And yet, It may be reached, and the Path leading to It is single:
There is a Way, O Nanak : to make His Will our own.
His Will which is already wrought in our existence. (STANZA I)
It is not something outside of us ,but within ; it is part of our being, our very essence ,and all that is needed is to attune ourselves to It ,for to be attuned to It is to be freed from the bondage of ego and therefore of Maya:
All exist under His Will,
And nothing stand outside.
One attuned with His Will ,O Nanak , is wholly free from ego. (STANZA II)
How may one attune oneself to the divine Will? The answer is hinted at in the very opening itself:
Through the favor of His true servant the Guru,
He may be realized.
The gift of the true Master is a gift of Naam, in which he himself is an adept. This Word is the manifestation of God's Will and Command and is at the heart of all his creations:
With one Word of His, this vast creation blossomed into being,
And a thousand streams of life spring into existence. (Stanza XVI)
The Way to at-one-ment with God's Will is though attunement with the Word:
By communion with the Word one becomes the abode of all virtues;
By communion with the Word, one becomes a Sheikh, a Pir and a true spiritual king;
By communion with the Word ,the spiritual blind find their way to Realization;
By communion with the Word, one crosses beyond the Limitless Ocean of illusionary matter;
O Nanak! His devotees live in perpetual ecstasy,
For the Word washes away all sin and sorrow. (Stanza XI)
Hence it is that Nanak declares:
Exalted is the Lord ,and exalted is His abode;
More exalted still His Holy Word. (Stanza XXIV)
Having outlined the nature of the Absolute and the way leading to mergence with It, Nanak goes on to tell us of what is required to successfully pursue the journey. It is not necessary, he implies, to turn an outward sanyasin; what one must do is to be sanyasin in spirit, dispensing with eternal forms, and instead to inculcate the inner virtues:
Let contentment be your ear-rings;
Endeavor for the Divine and respect for the higher
Self to be your wallet;
And constant meditation on Him your ashes;
Let preparation for death be your cloak,
And your body be like unto a chaste virgin;
Let your Master's teachings be your supporting staff.
The highest Religion is to rise to Universal Brotherhood.
Aye, to consider all creatures your equal.
Conquer your mind ,for victory over self is victory over the world.
Hail. Hail, to Him alone,
The Primal, Pure, Eternal, Immortal and Immutable in all ages. (Stanza XXVIII)
Finally, in the closing sections of the Jap Ji ,Guru Nanak gives us a bird's view of the spirit's pilgrimage. The first realm to be transcended is the plane of Dharm Khand - the Realm of Action, or the world of good and evil deeds as we know it. Next comes Gyan Khand or the Realm of knowledge ,the first of the inner heavens, full of gods and demi-gods:
Countless its elements ,air, water and fire,
And countless Krishna and Sivas,
And countless the Brahman fashioning various creations of countless forms and countless hues.
Countless the Filed of Action ,countless the golden mountains .......
Countless the sources of creation ,countless the harmonies ,countless those that listen unto them.
And countless the devotees of the Word,
Endless and unending, O Nanak! This Realm. (Stanza XXXV)
If knowledge is the reigning virtue of this region ,ecstasy is that of the next ,which is Sarm Khand ,the Realm of Bliss. This plane is beyond description and whoever tries to describe it must repent his folly. Herein at last, the soul is freed from the mental adjuncts and finally comes into its own:
Herein the mind, reason and understanding are etherealized ,the self comes to its own ,and develops the penetration of the gods and the sages, (Stanza XXXVI )
But 'higher still' stand Karm Khand ,the Realm of Grace - grace earned through right action and meditation.
Here the Word is all in all ,and nothing else prevails,
Here dwell the bravest of the brave ,the conquerors
Of the mind, imbued with the love Divine ....
All hearts filled with God, they live beyond the reach
Of death and of delusion. (Stanza XXXVII)
This is the realm where the soul finally escapes the coils of relativity: the bonds of time, death and change, no longer affect it. But though it dwells in the constant presence of the Lord, it may move still further to merge into His Formless State:
Sach Khand, or the Realm of Truth ,is the seat of the Formless One,
Here He creates all creations ,rejoicing in creating.
Here are many regions ,heavenly systems and universes,
To count which were to count the countless.
Here out of the Formless,
The heavenly plateaus and all else come into form,
All destined to move according to His Will.
He who is blessed with this union ,rejoices in its contemplation.
But, O Nanak ,such is its beauty that to try to describe it is to attempt the impossible. (Stanza XXXVII)
The world shall go on along the rails of good and evil deeds, caught in the limits of Karma, but:
Those who have communed with the Word, their toils shall end,
And their faces shall flame with glory.
Not only shall they have salvation,
O Nanak ,but many more shall find freedom with them. (Finale)
Such was the lofty message not only of Guru Nanak ,but also of his successors. Their word blazed like a summer fire through the plains of the Punjab, sweeping away all the false distinctions of caste that a decadent Brahminism had created.