It has been observed that India has produced more spiritual persons than any other place. When the quality of their spiritual and divine life becomes highest, they are considered to be God’s special messengers. In the fifteenth century, India had the good fortune to produce yet one more saint of sterling spiritual qualities. Guru Nanak, the founder of the new faith of Sikhism, was born in Punjab in 1469. He was a man of rare virtues. He taught truthfulness and unity amongst the Hindus and the Muslims. Once again, in his own unique style, he reminded the people of the ancient Upanishad teaching—that God is but one. He also advised them to shun complex rituals, avoid controversies, live a simple life of manual labor, contribute earnings to the needy and poor, and pray to the Supreme Lord in complete surrender. Guru Nanak roamed from place to place with the sole purpose of spreading the holy message of God. He spoke in melodious verse, imparting the divine knowledge in soothing musical tones. He demonstrated the values of faith and integrity to his many followers by his true examples in the way in which he lived his own life. Apart from bringing a union between the Hindus and the Muslims, he also asked people to discard the old, rather vicious caste system, which had plagued the Hindu society.
The followers of Guru Nanak, who was himself born as Hindu, adopted his teachings and established the new faith of Sikhism. There were ten gurus in line to propagate these teachings with great discipline and devotion. The tenth and the last guru was Sri Guru Gobind Singh, who had to fight many wars with the Mogul emperor. Gurus always taught peace from the time of Guru Nanak, but submitting to injustice and unrighteousness is not peace; it’s cowardice. It’s not virtue; it’s vice. Guru Gobind Singh inspired the small community of the Sikhs, both with courage and spirituality, to fight for justice and righteousness. He created the Khalsa cadre—the pure—and suffixed each Sikh name with Singh—the lion. The sacrifices of the Sikhs in these wars have been legendary.
After the tenth guru, Gobind Singh, the mantle of leadership, and as ordained by him, rested with the most sacred scripture of the gurus’ teachings, Shri Guru Granth Saheb. Such was the unique attitude of the Sikh gurus that in spite of so many atrocities committed on them by the Muslim rulers, this living scripture, the Guru Granth Saheb, contains the writings of three Muslim authors. This holy book has the collective writings of as many as thirty-six contributors from all different sections of Indian society, and only six among them are the Sikhs. This, indeed, would be unparalleled in the annals of any religion in the world. All the teachings in the Guru Granth Saheb are presented as poetry, which are then rendered in classical tunes (ragaas) to make them most inspirational. The gurus’ eternal message, ik oankar (God is One), reverberates throughout the Holy Scripture. Sikhs all over the globe, who now number twenty-three million and constitute the fifth largest religious group, worship this Holy Scripture with a reverence and honor that no other scripture or a living person could ever command.
The association of the Sikhs and the Hindus is like that of the blood brothers. Shri Guru Gobind Singh fought all his life to save the Hindu religion. Many Hindu and Sikh families are closely intertwined. Despite periodic discord and disunity, the gurus cemented their relationship with the blood of sacrifice.
Sikhism literally means “learning.” Gurus taught their disciples to always be willing to learn. Compassion is given a very high place by the gurus. Without compassion, the religion itself would be meaningless. Some people become moralists, but without compassion, without love and tenderness, they gradually would become more and more strict, authoritative, dry, and dictatorial. Compassion, or daya, is pivotal in religion, or dharma. Sikhism is but the propagation of these principles of the dharma in the form of virtuous behavior. Virtue is given the uppermost position in the gurus’ teachings. Without virtuous behavior, all the wealth, power, and technology would lead us on the wrong path of terror and destruction.
We are often advised to accept both the success and the failure in equal manner. This, in practice, is very difficult. Gurbani, the sacred teachings of the Sikh gurus, teaches us a simpler and easier method: We must pray to the Lord for redemption in time of difficulty and distress; and we must express gratefulness to the Lord when we receive a bounty or favor. In both the profit and the loss, we must learn to remember and communicate with God. Gurbani even sanctions prayer to the Lord for ordinary material commodities, even trifles, such as daily groceries and clothes to wear. We are prompted to approach the Lord as our loving parent. God is not just for high-sounding metaphysical spirituality. God is for everything that we do and desire.
Among the many teachings is a clear direction to shed our superstitions and illusions. Gurbani, however, does not advocate the renunciation of family life, the grahstha. Sikh gurus advised their devotees to carry on the responsibilities of the household and gradually evolve themselves spiritually through meditation and the spiritual experience of Naam Simran. All the gurus themselves had a married family life and fulfilled all the obligations of society.
Sikhism lays heavy emphasis on Naam Simran—meditation on the name of God. The famous Sant Kabir offered an interesting anecdote in this regard: A devotee came to the saint and requested the Naam in rather a hurry. The saint asked him to fetch a little quantity of milk. When the devotee brought the milk, the saint asked him to pour the same into an unclean utensil. The devotee was taken aback. Sant Kabir then told him that if he were so concerned about pouring a small quantity of milk of little value into an unclean vessel, how it would be proper to pour the priceless article of Naam into a person who had collected the dirt and rubbish of so many births. One must first cleanse oneself of all impurities before taking the Naam, the name of the Lord
It was in the wake of the Muslim rule that Sikhism was born. The Hindu religion was under great stress. Sri Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism taught people to live a simple truthful life, with complete faith and devotion in God. He lived a most spiritual and virtuous life and roamed all over to propagate his universal message to the masses, one of his chief aides being a Muslim. It was after him that many of his devotees established the new faith Sikhism; 10 gurus in succession preached the teachings with great discipline and sincerity. All the sacred teachings of the 10 gurus and many other saints of the period were collected and preserved very meticulously and accurately. These were then compiled into their Holy Book Sri Guru Granth Saheb. After the 10th guru Sri Guru Gobind Singh, and as ordained by him, the complete authority was rested in this Holy Scripture; no living guru would be commissioned in the future. Many Hindus visit gurudwaras (place of worship for the Sikhs) on regular basis. Toward the later gurus, the atrocity and cruelty of the Muslim rulers grew rather sharply. The 10th guru Sri Guru Gobind Singh finally decided that submitting to injustice and unrighteousness is not peace; it’s cowardice. It’s not virtue; it’s vice. Sri Guru Gobind Singh inspired the small community of the Sikhs, both with courage and spirituality, to fight for justice and righteousness. He created the Khalsa cadre—the pure—and suffixed each Sikh name with Singh—the lion. The sacrifices of the Sikhs in these wars have been legendary. After the epic wars of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Hindu community again leaned more toward non-violence. Jainism and Buddhism had significantly influenced the community to maintain peace at all cost. The teachings of Hindu scriptures-Srimad Bhagwatam etc. also impelled not to fight and battle, but rather continue to do good, and let God take care of any injustice and wrong actions of others. Sri Guru Gobind Singh instead taught that confronting and challenging the evil is a God given duty; after all the efforts to maintain peace are exhausted, a war may be fought as an inevitable last choice. Even though Sikh gurus fought under the banner of their own guru and as Sikh warriors, it did have the most momentous and significant effect on the Hindu psyche. Later, another stalwart Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji dared and challenged the Muslim ruler; the mighty Moghul Empire soon disintegrated and collapsed. Hindus, who had become more submissive and docile, learnt their lesson. Confronting and opposing the evil became a divine responsibility. In many instances, Sikh warriors had helped and saved Hindu families from dishonor and shame, from cruelty and brutality. In return, Hindu families often bestowed one or more of their sons to become Sikhs. Hindus and Sikhs grew intertwined, even marrying into each other. Undoubtedly there have been occasional clashes too, but the gurus have cemented the two with their sacred blood; these clashes are more like family feuds.