Guru Nanak’s Universal Message
by Lord (Dr. Khalid) Hameed CBE
For me this is a unique honour to address this gathering this evening to celebrate and rejoice in the birthday of Guru Nanak who was born 542 years ago.
Ladies & gentlemen one of the most divisive elements in our lives, for centuries, has been religion. As we know, religion can be a force for peace or war. It can heal or hurt. It can create or destroy on an unimaginable scale. In this background of human frailty and weakness was born this great man of noble soul in a village 40 miles from Lahore in North West India, now Pakistan. He lived for 70 years of a spiritual and humble life, giving the world the great religion of Sikhism.
Guru Nanak travelled extensively and interfaced and interacted with different faiths and beliefs in India and abroad. India has traditionally welcomed and absorbed all the faiths that came there over the centuries, and the Sikh religion was equally welcomed. Throughout history humans have demonstrated their genius for creativity. However, in spite of our glorious achievements, we have lost none of our ability to destroy and kill fellow humans with impunity and whenever these weak threads in human character become large and obnoxious, God sends a great soul to lead the eople from darkness to light and Guru Nanak was one such person who illuminated the horizon with his spiritual enlightenment and gave the people the divine message of harmony, humility, equality, meditation and worship.
Whenever a community becomes seriously conflicted from the activities and utterances of some of the extremists in that community, the confused majority asks the question as to how to respond to such serious threat and how, as responsible citizens, to put one’s own house in order to live a life of peaceful and harmonious living with one’s neighbours.
As human beings we are all more alike than different, irrespective of our physical makeup and the self-created labels which might suggest otherwise. The challenge before us is to respect, value and understand others without compromising the bedrock of our own faith. This is a great message to us from Guru Nanak. He guided people from different faiths whilst observing and respecting their cultural differences because he proclaimed that it was foolhardy to hate a fellow human for worshiping God in a different way from us and it was also highly unlikely to please the great Almighty.
Guru Nankak, whose religious philosophy and teachings have remained unsurpassed in Indian mysticism, was himself an absolute example of humility and spoke of himself as a servant of the Beloved One. In the holy scriptures of the Guru Granth Sahib he has repeatedly emphasized the importance of humility, which with devotion and truthful living was the way of life for Guru Nanak. To serve the people is to serve God; this was Guru Nanak’s doctrine. He taught that one needs to purge oneself of ego and pride to create divine love for God.
Guru Nanak was born of Hindu parentage of high kshatriya caste and was strongly opposed to the caste distinction which was so deeply entrenched in Indian culture. It is difficult to believe that God, who is both loving and powerful, would make any such discrimination amongst His people. Such discriminations are made by man to serve his own selfish purpose, said Guru Nanak.
He restored women to their rightful equal place in Indian society and regarded them as man’s companion on the spiritual plane. According to him, the grace of God may come to the scholar or to the illiterate, the high or the low, the rich or the poor. It does not depend on caste, knowledge, wisdom or penance. Instead, those who seek it through love, service and humility, attain the true goal of life.
He strove for religious tolerance and universal brotherhood which comes through in the following hymn:
“No one is my enemy, No one is a foreigner, For me, there is no Hindu, no Muslim, With all I am at peace. God within us renders us, Incapable of hate and prejudice.”
The persistent number of competing religions all claiming the privilege of being the sole recipient of God’s incarnation or His final revelation are a challenge to one another. It’s therefore extremely difficult to imagine that God would bestow his grace only on a certain tribe at a certain time on a particular part of our tiny earth in the solar system. On the other hand, contrary to the above dogmas, and claims of exclusivity, Guru Nanak rejected the idea of exclusiveness and uniqueness and defined God as the ultimate spiritual reality for all mankind.
According to him, although the world is not eternal like God, yet it is nevertheless real and created with a purpose. Because of the importance of practical living that Guru Nanak attached to the world, he was opposed to the prevailing Indian belief in renunciation as a means to reaching God.
According to Guru Nanak, the first step towards God is self realization, and to achieve that, one should understand the nature of the mind. The mind is controlled by the senses and the senses by material objects and pleasures. He said that one may have every worldly comfort but one will not have peace of mind until one has control over the senses and identifies oneself with the immortal soul. He wrote in a hymn:
“Dirty hands, feet and body, can be washed clean with water; Soiled clothes washed clean with soap; But when the mind becomes dark with sin, Divine love alone can restore it to purity. “
In one of his hymns the Guru has described man as the crown of creation; the final stage in the evolutionary process. Human life is a grand opportunity and a great challenge for attaining the goal of self-realization. In Guru Nanak’s Sikh religion, a self-realized soul is identified as having already conquered lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride. Such a blessed soul becomes an example of tolerance, contentment, forgiveness, humility and service. In one of the hymns from the Adi Granth He says:
“Undisturbed is he when afflicted with grief, Freed from greed, attachment, conceit, No more affected by passion or anger, leasure and pain, honour and dishonour, Becoming one with the infinite, as water with water.”
There are numerous other examples in the Guru’s hymns which identify an individual blessed soul with the ultimate reality, as for example a drop of water merging with the ocean and becoming one with it. According to Sikhism, a fully enlightened and self realised blessed soul is rewarded with the same spiritual reunion with the Supreme Being as were Nanak, Buddha, Rama, Krishna, Jesus, Mohamed, Moses and Zaratushtra.
Just as sooner or later all waters must flow down to the sea, whence they came, so all life must ultimately return to God who originated it. The purpose of human life is to gain bliss by transcending one’s self. Once the self is transcended by love and devotion, suffering fails to disturb the mind. Mankind is not destined for suffering if only it knew how to overcome it by converting the sorrows of this life into the vision of self-realization.
To Guru Nanak, the true purpose of religion was to spread the spiritual principles of humility and truth among as many souls as it can reach to enable them to fulfil the true goal of pleasing God. According to him while truth remains paramount, more important than truth was truthful living.
On his travels Guru Nanak carried his message of truth, embedded with love, peace, humility and service. He said that submission to the divine will lead to contentment or santosh. It is a sign of trust in God. A true devotee accepts all that comes to him with gratitude and joy. True happiness comes to a person with contentment within and compassion for others. His view on the two major religious groups of India, the Hindus and the Muslims was,
To the Hindus:
“Not the yogi’s garb and ashes, not the shaven head, Not long prayers and rituals, nor the aesthetic way, But life of truth and love, amid the world’s temptations, Is the secret of spiritual life.”
To the Muslims he said
“Speaking the truth is the real fast, And remaining contented is true pilgrimage, Meditations is the true ablution, Compassion is the true worship, Humility is the real rosary.”
Guru Nanak’s religion of one universal God was devoid of all dogmas, doctrines and claims. His spiritual message was carried forward by nine subsequent Gurus’. The sayings and hymns of the Sikh Gurus – almost all in Poetry form– were compiled into a holy book of 1430 pages called Guru Granth or Adi Granth which forms the Sikh scriptures and bestowed with the title of the eternal Guru. In a unique tribute to interfaith tolerance, the Sikh Gurus took the pioneering initiative by accommodating sacred hymns of several Hindu and Muslim Saints from different regions of India. This rare gesture also bestows on the holy Granth a rare catholicity of spirit and makes it a treasure house of the religious cultural heritage of India.
Guru Nanak has described music as a means of obtaining spiritual joy and transcendental spiritual bliss. He adopted music as a means for moulding the spiritual, mystical and temporal life of the devotees. His poetry is valuable, both for its sublime content and his literary excellence. The dominant themes of which are truth, harmony and wisdom. He preached a religion for which men could live; a religion which would illuminate human life; a religion of love, service and sacrifice. His vision of life embraced all nations, all races and all times. He is the light-bearer to mankind and his message is timeless. He built a nation of self-respecting men and women devoted to God, filled with a sense of equality and brotherhood for all. God is universal. He is not the God of any particular race or nation. He is the God of all Human beings. They are all equal in his 8 sight and can approach him directly, taught Guru Nanak. We must therefore have regard for other peoples and other religions. The great poet philosopher of India, Mohammad Iqbal, said of Guru Nanak:
India was once again blessed by God with Guru Nanak, ossessed of all the attributes of a prophet. A complete and perfect human being. Guru Nanak’s appearance in the world was no less than that of Prophet Abraham five thousand years ago.
Finally ladies & gentlemen, let me quote from the holy Granth Sahib, and in this is the message for all of us:
“Let universal brotherhood be the highest aspiration of your religious order. He who grasps this truth realises that there is the one religion of all mankind.”
This would be a bridge between faiths of goodwill and respect. The stronger this bridge, the greater the ability to weather any storm. We are grateful to God for our fortune in having given to us Guru Nanak, whose message of universal love, without any difference from caste, creed or colour, and the great aspiration of the brotherhood of man, are lessons to inspire all humanity.
The Lord Hameed of Hampstead CBE DL
Lord Hameed (Dr Khalid Hameed) is the Chairman of the London International Hospital and Chairman of the Alpha Hospitals.
Lord Hameed is Chairman of the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council, Chairman of the Friends of The British Library, Chairman of the Woolf Institute, President of the Little Foundation, a Trustee of the Coexistence Trust, a Trustee of the Maimonides Foundation and a Patron of Three Faiths Forum.
Lord Hameed speaks extensively regarding interfaith relations. He was awarded the Sterberg Award for is work in interfaith. He was appointed by Her Majesty The Queen as High Sheriff of Greater London in 2006, an office which is 1,000 years old. Lord Hameed was awarded the Ambassador for Peace Award by the Interrelgious & International Federation for World Peace and the Asian of the Year Award in 2007. He was appointed as a Member of the House of Lords in 2007 where he sits as a crossbench Peer. He was made a Commander of the British Empire by Her Majesty The Queen and has been given the honour of the Freedom of the City of London in 2010. Lord Hameed has be awarded the Indian National Honours of the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan by the President of India.
This speech was given to the Sikh TV Channel on 10th November 2011 in London on the occasion of Guru Nanak’s Birthday.
It is published by courtesy of Dr. Kartar Lalvani. OBE D.Sc.