Happiness or Peace?

Happiness or Peace as the goal of inter faith dialogue

On a day in November in 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was lead to a place in Delhi and beheaded for refusing to embrace Islam. The historic Sisganj Gurdwara marks the spot. However, his martyrdom is interesting not because he died for his faith, but because he died for the freedom of all faiths and beliefs. The Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb was a man who had lead an evil life – executing his brothers and imprisoning his father for the throne of India. Perhaps to make up for his sins, perhaps to show the masses he could be good, perhaps to retain the support of the religious elements in the court, he decided to impose Sunni Islamic beliefs on India. Shia Muslims, smaller Sunni Muslim groups and Sufi tariqas who believed in wujud, the Unity of Being, were confronted as much as Christians and Hindus. Muslims were prevented from lighting candles at the graves of saints, religious music, the beard-length was fixed at four fingers, cloth could not be embroidered with gold, and it was forbidden to make toys in human or animal form. Sarmad, a famous Shia, was executed for declaring the truth of Shia beliefs. A Portuguese Muslim wishing to re-convert to Christianity was executed for apostasy. Hindu fairs and festivals were banned, additional taxes for non-believers – jezia – levied on them, and temples burned. The Sikhs had been spared so far, but events were to change all that. A delegation of Hindu priests from Kashmir, the spiritual heartland of the Hindu religion, came to the Guru to ask his protection. He gave a simple answer – tell the Emperor that if he can convert me, you will also convert. He then went on a tour over the country comforting Muslim spiritual leaders, including Bhikhan Shah and Ghulam Muhammad Bakhsh, the Shaikhs of Hasanpur, and Saif-ud-din Khan, ex-governor of Kashmir and foster-brother of Aurangzeb, as well as the non-Muslim populations. Eventually, his nonviolent protest resulted in his arrest and execution. At the end of the twentieth century, Hindus from Kashmir came out to lead huge celebrations of this unique martyrdom and to highlight their renewed oppression under Islamic fundamentalists.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama notes that, “Guru Tegh Bahadur’s entire life, pure and pious like Ganges was devoted towards Tap, Tyag, Bhagti, Aradhana, religious freedom, tolerance and utmost courage. His humanitarian aesthetic values aimed to foster brotherhood, tolerance, understanding, and goodwill among all sections of society. His Bani shows universal truth, righteous path in every sphere, every aspect, every walk of life and guides us how to be in tune with the Infinite.”[1] The Bani or writings of Guru Tegh Bahadur are contained in the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Together, Guru Granth and Guru Panth (the fellowship of initiates) are the Living Guru or Master/Teacher/Authority for the Sikhs. The scriptures were first compiled in 1604. The only additions to them are the writings of Guru Tegh Bahadur. The first copies of the scripture still exist. However, many thousands of manuscripts were feared destroyed when the Indian army invaded the Darbar Sahib complex, known as the Golden Temple, in June 1984. The government and those who believed them continued to assert that the Sikh nationalists or terrorists (take your pick) had set fire to the historic library. The Sikhs asserted that the library was torched after the military action was over. In an incredible admission, George Fernandes, Indian Defence Minister and one of the most senior politicians, recently admitted that thousands of manuscripts were removed before the army set fire to the library.[2] This case of theft and perhaps vandalism of historic records is a grotesque attack on a people and is reminiscent of many groups, among them the indigenous people who are under-represented in interfaith gatherings. Perhaps there is a link between alien control of your past and weakness in the present.

The Sikh scriptures speak of happiness (sukh) as the goal of life, rather than peace (shanti). Why is this? Happiness is active, peace is passive; happiness is the Presence of justice, peace just the absence of conflict; happiness requires justice which depends on courage and skill, peace can be obtained through force; happiness is inclusive as it beams outwards, peace exclusive as we shut borders and sweep things under the carpet; Life is happy, but it is not peaceful – there will always be three opinions when there are two people, so the search for peace may well be a journey of repression internally and externally. There are many examples of where the search for peace went wrong in this short essay. Aurangzeb sought peace of mind through imposing religion on people, cutting out what to him seemed confusion, competing visions, and lies, what to most of us seems beautiful diversity. People have sought peace by excluding the Dalai Lama from events, but the brightness of Him, the Gate Way, dazzles those who have not covered their eyes. Governments seek peace by branding and then killing those who oppose them, by subverting them. Let us not seek peace in the next thousand years, but happiness for all sentient life, to fulfil continually and to purify in response to Living Life/responsibly our desires. Here are a few hymns of Guru Tegh Bahadur. In common with the other Sikh Gurus, he used the pen name, Nanak, which was the name of the first human teacher in the fifteenth century. Na-Nak literally means “without nose”, i.e. without ego, a cipher.

“As fragrance lives in the flower, and reflection in the mirror, so does God live in each heart.”

“The Lord is the saviour of sinners, the Destroyer of all fears, and the Master of the masterless. Know Him, says Nanak, He is ever living near you.”

“Whoever is unmoved by the ups and downs of life and treats the enemy as a friend,

Listen to me, says Nanak, accept that person as liberated.”

“Whoever does not frighten others, nor fears, Listen to me, says Nanak, call that person enlightened.”

“The mind is merged deep in materialism, It comes not out, as a picture painted on a wall, cannot be separated from it.”

“If you have done pilgrimage, kept fasts and given alms, but allowed pride to dwell in your mind, all these acts are fruitless like a bath for an elephant which loves to be covered in dust.”

“Many become friends in the good times, but no one gives company in the bad times, Worship God, says Nanak, for in the end He alone will be of help to you.”

“Hear friends, as bubbles appear and disappear on water, so is the creation, says Nanak.”

“If you want everlasting happiness, go in surrender to God. Hear me, human life is rare and not easily achieved, says Nanak.”

“In the Dark Age, God’s Name is the Destroyer of fear and remover of evil thoughts. Whoever worships God day and night, has desires fulfilled, says Nanak.”

Dr Kanwar Ranvir Singh

[1] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “Guru Tegh Bahadur: Prophet and Martyr” in Hymns of Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib. translated in English by Pujya Dada Chellaram Professor Mohanlal Narwani. (New Delhi: Nij Thanw [11/11 Pusa Road, New Delhi – 110005], 1995.

[2] Hindustan Times, “Tohra urges relief for Bluestar victims”, May 24, 2000; Tribune, “Sikh library books with CBI: Fernandes”, May 24, 2000; Indian Express, “George Fernandes admits Army removed items from Golden Temple during Operation Bluestar”, May 24, 2000.