Guru Gobind Singh Ji has a very special place in the hearts of all Sikhs. He is a father figure for all of us and a great source of inspiration. His teachings and his exemplary life is in fact very relevant to all of us here in America in the 21st century.
In an age of celebrity worship, it is hard to find real heroes to inspire us. Guru Gobind Singh Ji provides us with a shining idol, a real superhero, for us to look up to and emulate. In this fast moving and confusing materialistic society, he shows us a core set of values and the foundation of a lifestyle that can help us to navigate our way and make our lives meaningful.
Guruji has defined for us the framework for living a full and meaningful life that is integrated and balanced. He gave us the image of Sant-Sipahi or spiritual warrior: combining some of the best attributes of the saintly spiritual person: faith, compassion, contentment, self-restraint; with the qualities of a great warrior: valor, dynamism, persistence and courage. We have to integrate the best of opposite polarities that we all have within each one of us.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, transformed the Sikhs, who were a relatively passive peasant community into a brave freedom loving people who shook the powerful Mughal empire, and played a major role in India’s struggle for freedom against the British and who are now a thriving entrepreneurial community around the world.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji taught us that we must stand up and fight for righteousness and justice. Under him, Sikhs took up arms and became powerful warriors. Sikhs have developed a strong military tradition and have excelled during World War II, and during India’s wars against Pakistan and China.
I do think that the image of Sikhs, and even our own self-image, sometimes overemphasizes this martial or military aspect. Note that in Sant-Sipahi, it is Sant that comes first, then Sipahi. The spiritual and moral message of the Gurus is the foundation of the Sikh lifestyle. In pahul ceremony of “amrit chhakna”, the central part is that the panj pyaras give the gift of Naam to the initiate. Naam japna and nitnem are the primary requirements of an amritdahri’s lifestyle. Even in the midst of key battles, Guru Gobind Singh Ji asked his soldiers to gather around and sing Asa-di-vaar kirtan during a lull.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji did not condone violence; armed struggle was used only as last resort. He makes this very clear in Zafarnama – when injustice goes too far and all other means have been exhausted then, he says, it is righteous to use the sword. In fact at that point it is one’s duty to act.
Under Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Sikhs never initiated a conflict, only responded to attack. He never tried to conquer any territory or create a state.
The Sikh Gurus spoke up against social and political injustice and practiced what we would today call nonviolent activism. As such, those in power often saw them as a threat. It was only after two of the Gurus, Guru Arjan Dev, and Guru Teg Bahadur offered the supreme sacrifice and were martyred that Guru Hargobind Singh and Guru Gobind Singh led the Sikhs to take up arms and defend themselves, after all nonviolent means had clearly been exhausted.
The Kirpan has become an important symbol for Sikhs, reminding us of the importance of standing up for righteousness and placing a very strong value on courage and determination. It does not stand for aggressiveness or violence. We call it kirpan, instead of the usual Indian word for sword, which is “talvar”. Kirpa means mercy, the kirpan of a Sikh is an instrument of mercy to be used only to protect the weak, only for righteous causes.
While Guruji fought against the oppression of the Muslim emperor, he never exhibited any hatred or anger towards Muslims or did anything in a spirit of revenge.
Guruji’s father was executed when he was a child of ten. His four sons were killed, two of them in battle, and the other two cruelly executed. He spent much of his life fighting against the Muslim rulers. And yet, he never stopped teaching us to see the light of God in every human being:
“Mans ki jat sabh eko pehchanbo”
(See all humans as being of one race/caste)
He was always ready to forgive. Love and forgiveness are a key theme in his writings:
“Daya chhima kar preet”
(Practice compassion, forgiveness and love)
And “Jin prem kiyo tin hi prabh payo”
(Love is the only way to find God)
GuruJi teaches us that you can lead a spiritual life and pursue life’s main goal of tuning into the Divine spirit of Waheguru within ourselves, while at the same time you can be fully engaged in an active life, be successful in your field, and be fully involved with your family.
“Re man aiso kar sanyasa”
As a sant sipahi or spiritual warrior, the most important battle that a Sikh wages is an internal one, a constant struggle against the internal enemies of Kam, krodh, lobh moh and ahankar (lust, anger, greed, obsessive attachment and pride), to work on and overcome ones own weaknesses.
Naam Simran is the core of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s teachings. In jaap sahib, he weaves this long beautiful song around hundreds of different names and attributes of God. Akal Ustat is a compelling composition that is all about the glory of God.
The establishment of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as our living Guru by Guru Gobind Singh Ji was a beautiful gift to us. The concept of Granth and Panth, wherein the Granth Sahib provides us the eternal spiritual guidance, and the Panth: the body of Sikhs acting together and in consonance with the teachings of the Granth Sahib, represents the Guru and can make decisions. This concept provides a unique framework for Sikhi for all time. It avoids the structures of church and priesthood, which have been the bane of organized religion because they end up pursuing their own vested interests and distort the original concept and purpose of the religion’s founders.
This is very analogous to the democratic framework of a constitution and the electorate. Just like democracy, the Sikh framework of Granth and Panth can be messy and it is often misused, but it is also resilient and has the capacity of self correction and recovery.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji had a multifaceted personality with amazing strengths in many areas. In short time of 42 years in this world, it is incredible how much he accomplished.