Essay presented by Kanwar Ranvir Singh at the Parliament of World Religions, Cape Town, South Africa, December 1999
The most engaging question of the next century will be, “what does it mean to be a human on this one planet Earth?” Our answer to this has implications for the direction which we as humans will live that time, and what identities are created to express the answers we possess. This is an answer which young people will give, and which they will give inspired by their unique traditions.
Five hundred years ago a man called Nanak started teaching that there was a Oneness in all spiritual traditions, which he called the Naam or Name. This Way of the Name was a perennial philosophy, which existed in all religious traditions, yet he argued that it was, hitherto, a hidden tradition for spiritual elites and now needs to be made available to the masses. This sharing of information meant that mysticism which had previously led to a world-rejection as mystics kept their visions secret, now led to world-transformation for the recognition that God’s Light is in all, meant that to accept injustice or exploitation of another was to blind oneself to God’s Presence within them. This is the Sikh concept of Meeri-Peeri, spiritual in-sight leading to worldly transformation, the double-edged sword of Reality.
“Hear now the Will of God: No one shall coerce another; no one shall exploit another. Everyone, each individual, has the inalienable birthright to seek and pursue happiness and self-fulfilment. Love and persuasion is the only law of social coherence.” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 74) Before I come to some of the implications of this belief, I should like to further clarify the bedrock; if you like, firmly establish the tree before I start looking at the leaves, let alone the birds singing on them.
Spirituality is the common currency of all Religions, and spirituality is true religion; hence, the Sikh scripture contains the writings of people of many different persuasions and influences, from Islam to Hinduism to Buddhism. In the specially devised Gurmukhi script it transliterated spiritual gems from five centuries of spiritual life from Iran to the Deccan, from the borders of Tibet to southern India. But also, spirituality is beyond any religion. The tenth Guru writes, “Namastang Amazbe”, I salute the One beyond religion. But even as I use the word “spirituality” I must be careful for that is not the word that the Gurus use – they use the word, “Sat”. It means Truth and it means Reality. Scientists, writers, artists, politicians and journalists are also engaged in the discovery, living and presentation of Truth.
The Gurus did not ask, how to become a Sikh, but rather, “How to become Truth-Full, how to break the dam of ego? By following the Will…this Will (hukm) cannot be spoken.” In Jewish tradition, the “hok(m)” is Divine Will known to be true, but not understandable or utterable by humans. In this way, each person carries on a personal experiment with Life wherein our living and our realisation of the hukm are inseparable.
For the only question is whether we live the True or follow falsehoods from our ego, the dam which cuts us off from the Ocean of Life, the shadow which blocks off the All-Pervasive Light of God. The issue cannot be “who is a Sikh and who is not” for who cares? Buddha does not, for sure. In the Dhammapada he states that “The Sikh shall be the victor in the race of life, the path of which is beset with evil and suffering. The Sikh shall achieve the life everlasting and thus shall garner the flowers of life on earth.” The Sikh literally means a “seeker” and since Guru means “destroyer of darkness” what we are discussing is a seeker after the Light, the Light that pervades each heart. “If you would seek God, demolish and distort not the heart of any individual.” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 133)
Such beliefs tie together the humanistic agenda of the makers of the modern world – the business community, the state system, media, education system, and religious groups. For value added in business is through human knowledge and creativity. It is these inputs, rather than raw labour, which are adding most value to commerce in the information age. The ability to add such value depends, in turn, on the educational system. One, which encourages people to find their own co-operative and creative solutions, will add to business flexibility and dynamism. Such educational systems flourish in states which are open and which empower their citizens. Self-determination of the individual is the basis of social freedom and democracy. The media is a way of communicating human stories in a world increasingly drawn together. Religious groups may play the role of reminding us of the special opportunities and potentials of human life. They may also commit violence as they try to develop a monopoly on Truth, which ultimately is the same as monopoly on Life, ownership or copyrighting God.
Peace arises from living in harmony with Life or Nature. Our turning away, our denial of the Light is a source of fear and hatred. We deny Nature rather than feeling a special part of it, and this denial means that we set up ourselves against it. It is not just the environment that suffers but we also. For Love is about Being, not doing. It is recognition of That One, and That One is Love. Love brooks no disruption, no hatred. Love is for ourselves, others, Nature and God and This Love is One. Violence is turning our back to Love and the revolutionary activity Love guides one to.
For permitting exploitation cannot be an act of Love. By exploitation I mean simply the non-use or abuse, rather than use of human potentials. Property rights can never be total or even real, for God is the Owner of the world. Therefore, allocations of property rights are to serve a socially useful purpose. It is on this basis that we can assess the need to re-think the repayment of third world debt, in particular, because of the negative impacts on education and health, which are human resource investments. By reducing such investments there will be less value added to business in future and continuance of ongoing negative terms of trade between the developed and less developed countries. At present, approximately 20% of the world population enjoy 80% of the world’s wealth. Such imbalance makes it difficult to think of one humanity. As Guru Gobind Singh put it, “Recognise the humankind as One.” Yet the environmental and economic problems we face can no longer be solved at the level of the state; hence, regionalism. Moreover, it is arguable that the nation-state was never widespread in the state system; most nations and states did not fit. In addition, the consciousness of one humanity will lead to a transcendence of the nation-state as the dominant identity.
As states no longer view each other as warring tribes, it is possible to adopt non-offensive defence. In such cases the citizenry is armed and investment made in anti-tank defences rather than tanks, and anti-aircraft strategies rather than aircraft. It makes it difficult for any state to invade, while since it is not threatening to them, there is no security dilemma and resulting arms race. The Sikhs were all asked to bear arms for this reason. It maintains the liberty of the individual within the republic and the freedom of the republic against external threats. Reallocating resources from defence to development adds to the human and economic enrichment of all. Moreover, those economically dispossessed are also those politically marginalised. This includes regional or minority groups, women and children. For women, while contributing 52% of the global population only own 1% of world property. As Sikh women were also asked to bear arms, the full rights of citizenship also included them. They were decision-makers in the Sikh polity from its inception in 1699.
God’s Light is in all. This included women and they were consequently given all rights and duties as men. They worked as bishops during the time of the third Guru and today, the most influential religious leader in the Sikh world, the President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) is a woman. Nevertheless, there is world-wide failure to establish the true interdependence of female and male. Families are riven by battles for dominance or excessive individualism, one that fails to see the self as interconnected with other selves, but imagines a lone, rational mind. Such a mind fixes a value to all things, and sadly older people and children have little formal value. The worth of a life cannot be fixed. What links all the guiding institutions is a concern with human potential. This may be called human rights and indeed, these rights are so widely accepted that they can be held to apply to all bodies – corporate, educational, media and religious, as well as the state parties to the human rights conventions. But we return to the point that the human is intrinsically a spiritual being, whatever external religious or secular label we attach to others or ourselves.
Young people have grown up with the information technologies, which are transforming economic and political life and which have implications for the nature of the educational system and the global media. An engagement in these emerging trends and with each other will project spiritual perspectives into the heart of the future debate on the nature of human life. The youth are the lifeblood of living spiritual traditions. If religious traditions fail to engage the call institutions creatively they will be like a ghost – disembodied from the ongoing Life of the world. Their absence, moreover, will pave the way for a bureaucratic iron cage of formal rationality, a future in which humans are the objects of various technical sciences, not a Divine potential, but a quantifiable and expendable raw material. However, the concept of the “rational” man is a corpse, literally, without Spirit-Life. That Spirit and Life is hukm, unknowable, except to each individual heart and it is this heart which is the True Temple of God and the basis of values in the world. This year marks the 300th anniversary of the revelation of the Guru Khalsa Panth, the spiritual fellowship of the Sikhs. According to Sikh beliefs, it is the human heart, which always has known, knows, and will know the answer to the issues of being human. Whether it lives that knowledge or denies it will depend on whether we ensure that the truths of that age come from the realisation that Truth-Reality-Life lies within each human being or are imposed on some humans by others.
Kanwar Ranvir Singh