Over the Christmas season I attended a small dinner party, where one of the guests was a Sikh politician from Punjab. He intrigued me with stories of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s life and reminded me of the message at the essence of Sikhism, a religion that teaches compassion, faith, tolerance, honest living, piety, right conduct, good deeds and surrender to the Will of God. This great Soul lived a symbolic life, he is an emblem of sacrifice, showing us how to achieve freedom in life. I would like to share a little of his remarkable life and legacy with you today.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the only child of the ninth Living Sikh Guru Tega Behadur, was born in Patna Sahib in the Indian State of Bihar, on December 22, 1666. It was a time of war, when the Mughal empire was brutally sought to convert everyone to Islam. Following the torture and execution of his father for refusing to convert, the young boy, aged only nine, was named the 10th Nanak Sikh Guru. This put huge responsibility on the shoulders of the young boy, but it is said he had a maturity far beyond his years. It is said he embodied the essence of each of the nine Gurus before him: the spiritual discernment of Guru Nanak, the gift for organisation of Guru Amardas Sahib and Guru Ram Das, the literary skills of Guru Arjan, the military skills of Guru Har Gobind Sahib, and the need for sacrifice for the welfare and protection of others from his father Guru Tegh Behadur.
His devotion to continuing his father’s mission to protect the dignity of all humanity, and fight for freedom from injustice and tyranny, brought a renewed sense of courage among Sikhs at a time when there was rampant religious intolerance and social oppression. He led many battles, rising against the Mughal rulers, and was a master warrior in swordsmanship, as well as all other weapons. A great warrior, he never deviated from his absolute faith in God and his wish to serve Him, as you will see from his words: “Dear God, grant my request so that I may never deviate from doing good deeds. That, I shall have no fear of the enemy when I go into battle and with determination, I will be victorious. That, I may teach my mind to sing only Your praises. And when the time comes. I should die heroically on the field of battle.”
His sacrifices were great, including the death of two young sons in battle, and the cruellest execution of his two youngest sons, aged only seven and nine, who were bricked up alive in a wall by the Mughals. Even after this, he never operated from a place of bitterness or revenge, always uttering the praises of God, Waheguru and offering his daily prayer.
He strengthened the foundation of Sikhism through the formation of the Khalsa, the Community of the Pure, who are committed to upholding the core tenets of moral conduct and protection of the oppressed which lie at the heart of Sikhism. Initially he initiated the “Cherished Five”, five followers who had proven their loyalty by offering their heads to the Guru. After this any Sikh could be initiated after committing to strict disciplines. In the words of Guru Gobind Singh: “He who keeps alight the unquenchable torch of truth, and never swerves from the thought of One God; he who has full love and confidence in God………he who recognises the One God and no pilgrimages, alms giving, non-destruction of life, penances or austerities; and in whose heart the light of the Perfect One shines, -he is to be recognised as a pure member of the Khalsa.” These warriors are men of integrity, humanity, God-loving and pursuers of the truth. Today Sikhs who are initiated into the Khalsa wear five articles of Sikh faith, known as the Five Ks:
· Kesh is uncut hair. It is a sign of the Sikh’s acceptance of God’s Will.
· Kangha is a wooden comb worn in the hair at all times. It is said to channel the etheric energy into the body through the crown chakra.
· Kara is an iron bangle representing life force (prana) and infinity. It is a reminder to dedicate all actions in the service of God.
· Kachera are cotton underwear, worn as a symbol of purity and chastity.
· Kirpan is a sword or dagger and is worn to inspire respect for weapons and the highest sense of responsibility to God.
Guru Gobind Singh was a great reformer, whose skills with the pen matched those of the sword. Over a very short period of nine months and nine days, he compiled all the Sikh teachings in the Guru Granth Sahib, which he declared to be the last and Eternal Guru — the Living Word of God. This sacred Scripture is believed to hold the answers to any issue or problem, as well as details of required daily prayers and kirtans (hymns). Sikhs consult the Guru Granth Sahib in a process known as Vak Lao. In every Gurdwara the Guru Granth Sahib is kept on a raised platform under a canopy, where Sikhs come to pray.
In 1708, wrote what are known as the 52 Hukams, as a template for how life should be lived. These life instructions are as relevant for our lives today as they were for 18th century Sikh warriors. Here is a brief sample:
· Do not gossip, nor slander, or be spiteful to anyone.
· Do not be proud of riches, youthfulness, or lineage. (Regardless of maternal and paternal caste or heritage, all of the Guru’s Sikhs are siblings of one family.)
· When dealing with enemies, practice diplomacy, employ a variety of tactics, and exhaust all techniques before engaging in warfare.
· Do as much possible to serve and aid foreigners, those in need, or in trouble.
· Donate a tenth of your earnings.
· Do not ruin anyone’s work by gossiping.
· Work hard and don’t be lazy.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth and last Sikh Guru left his body on 7th October 1708, but his message lives on. No matter what sacrifices we have to make in life, never lose faith, always have gratitude for God, live a life of compassion and seek to help those in need. “Recognise the Lord’s Light within all, and do not consider social class or status: there are no classes or castes in the world hereafter.”