Dr Kanwar Ranvir Singh
Unless you can see Christ in me, you are failing as a Christian. Unless I see Guru in you I am failing as a Sikh. Jesus says that as you have treated the least of people, so you have treated me (Matthew 25:40). Guru Gobind Singh asked the disciple Bhai Kannaya why he was providing water to the enemy troops in a battle. He answered that he could only see the Guru’s Face. The Guru then asked him to apply ointment as well as provide water!
So, if we all follow a Christian will see someone sitting over there as Jesus and I will That Same One as Guru Gobind Singh. Does that person have two faces, apart from their “ordinary” face? No. I will see Christ, not Jesus. I will see Guru but not Guru Gobind Singh. Jesus and Guru Gobind Singh have different faces because they have different bodies, but Christ and Guru have One Face because they reflect One Light. Do not worship the body, but recognise the One Holy Spirit. Thus, Sikhs have ten Gurus. There were ten bodies, yet One Guru in all ten. To emphasise that the Guru was Spirit, not body, Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the Guru, though to the worshippers of bodies it is only a book. And for matters of discipline Guru Khalsa Panth is the Guru, though to the worshippers of body these are only ordinary people.
Jesus says, “Thy Will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Guru reveals walking along the “hukam”. But what is this Will? The Guru says that the Will cannot be stated, and the only one who knows it is the one who has realised it, free from ego (Japji Sahib, 1-2). Either it is Thy will or my will. And my will can never lead me to You. So, what is Thy Will? Jesus says that there are two commands - love God with all heart, mind, and body, and love neighbour as self (Mark 12:28-31). Guru says, “Jin prem kio tin he Prabh paio.” Only those who Love have realised God. (Swayyas 9) But is this possible?
Is it possible to Love? Is it possible to have no hatred, because if you Hate anyone or anything you are not filled with Love : my will - my hatred is still there. God is without hate, “nirvair”. (Mul Mantra) God causes the sun to shine on the good and the wicked. Guru says that the One who has realised “sees the indignant and Indra with the same eye.” When someone offends you, do you see them as a king of angels? Jesus says if you lust after a woman you should cast out your eye. Better that you should lose this than lose God (Matthew 5:28). The disciples are shocked - I can’t do this! Exactly, “you” can’t. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew: 19:26)
You cannot obey God. Only God can obey God. Only God can help you. What you can do is choose whether you want to point your face to God - GurMukh - or point it to yourself - manmukh - and spin in circles torturing yourself.
Being a Christian is about being a disciple of Jesus, yet Jesus did not cut his hair being a Nazarene, and he wore a turban. He was dark which is why he was hidden in Egypt as a baby (Matthew 2:14). He carried a sword: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34), and his close disciple, Peter, the rock of the Church also carried and indeed used his sword to defend Jesus when he was arrested (John 18: 10-11). What was his spiritual discipline? No one today knows. Guru Gobind Singh bowed before the first five Khalsa and acknowledging them as representing the Guru Khalsa Panth, begged to be initiated by the Guru Khalsa Panth. The Khalsa discipline (Sikh Reht Maryada) is the discipline of the Guru.
Just as earlier Gurus had added to the discipline of the Sikhs, by extending the prayers to include verses revealed through later Gurus, so the Guru Khalsa Panth is empowered to evolve the discipline keeping in harmony with the unchanging Divine Word. The Sikh Reht Maryada is the latest utterance of the Guru Khalsa Panth. It cannot be changed or challenged by any individual; the various leaders of the Sikh nation (Jathedars of the Five Takhts (Thrones) are executive officers to interpret and implement only. The Pope has the power he does because no one knows what Jesus did or would do - there are monks and nuns in Orders of Jesus but they really don’t know what he did - what prayers did he recite and at what times? These Orders follow rules made by their founding masters, rather than Jesus. Jesus was the Word made flesh, but when he left the world the Word went with him. The New Testament is a commentary/biography on the Word, equivalent to the Janamsakhis. In today’s world, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the Word.
When Jesus was a Nazarene or Essene he would not have touched wine or cut his hair. This we know from the testimony of Samson who was also a Nazarene: “A razor has never come upon my head for I have been a Nazarite to God from my mother’s womb.” (Judges 16:17). So, the question is simply did he later cut his hair or drink wine? There is no evidence that he cut his hair. Did he drink wine? I would suggest to you that the “wine” he drank was not the physical intoxicant but the wine of spiritual intoxication. In the wedding where he turns water to wine, he turns the everyday into the spiritual - this slakes our thirst much better (John 2:7-9). How Jesus lived has little to do with how Christians, supposedly disciples, interpret and follow his example. “Bani Guru, Guru hai bani.” = The Word is the Guru, Guru is the Word. We have Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Which Word do the Christians have? Jesus was the Word made flesh and is no longer here for consultation, unlike Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
We have idols in our minds of what saints look like - they are wide-eyed innocents. Yet Jesus smashed the stalls in the Temple and “making a whip of cords drove them out.” (John 2:15) I don’t think that the stall-holders felt that he loved them but he did, nor were his disciples to be doe-eyed innocents relying solely on God, tempting God by being irresponsible and lazy. On another encounter with the religious legalists, “he looked around at them with anger.” (Mark 3:1-5) Trusting in Grace does not mean lack of Effort.
We have to love. Love God, love self, love neighbour, love creation. Most Christians focus on God and neighbour, and despise self and creation - hence the obsession with penance, austerity, rejection of joy in this life through marriage. Yet Guru Ji says that Creator and creation are One. One image used is as a Dancer and dance (Jaap Sahib, 48) When the Dancer Wills there is a dance, and that dance is separate from the Dancer yet also part of the Dancer. Guru Ji says that God and self are One - “You are I, I am You.” Can you separate gold and a gold bangle, or a drop in an ocean. Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.” (John 10:30)All of us can be if we stop hating and start loving. If there is hate, there is no True Love, for God has no hate “Nirvair”. If we hate ourselves or hate life we cannot love God or anyone.
A crowd of people was chasing an adulteress and wanted to stone her to death. It is the religious law they cried. When Jesus asked which one of them was without sin, they dropped their stones and went home. Was he condoning adultery or other forms of sex outside marriage or was he saying that it is better to judge yourself than others? (John 8: 3-9) Perhaps one meaning of the story becomes clearer if we pair this story with another when he told his disciples that it was better to cast out their eyes than gaze lustfully. They protested that it is impossible. Precisely - no one can be good enough to “deserve” God. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji tells us, “I was without merit. You showed Grace and made me worthy.” (Slok, Mahalla 5, Rehras Sahib)Only God has virtues. S/He gifts them as S/He pleases. I am nothing. You are Everything. We depend on you.
The ordinary person loves their ego, their “I am”. The religious person often ends up worshipping the ego, in the “hero-ego” state. If I do this and this and this and don’t do that and that and that I will find God. God is not lost - it is the “I” which is lost. Better let God find you. Does that mean effort has no place? Far from it - it means that you keep spiritually travelling but God will give you the clues and even when you reach the Door, you can only knock - God will open in Her/His own time.
There are many different ways to become disciples of Jesus. There are many baptisms - baptism at birth, baptism before death (so that you don’t sin before you die); baptism by a bit of holy water, baptism by full immersion; baptism by water, baptism by the Holy Spirit. It was because of this confusion that the Christians of the Middle East were divided up and converted, albeit under social and economic pressures, to fairly clear-cut Islam when it showed up.
Sikhs today become initiated in the Order of the Khalsa in the same way as Guru Gobind Singh Ji nearly 300 years ago. Baptism is a form of martyrdom - you offer your head, your wisdom and accept the Guru’s care and discipline. For any personal problems ask Sri Guru Granth Sahib for hukam, for queries on discipline, consult Guru Khalsa Panth’s Sikh Reht Maryada. But a living martyrdom is difficult - far easier to make a dramatic gesture. Most people love their ego, the (self)-righteous worship it; the God-oriented are busy with God...ego, oh that...they forget about it in Love.
In a strange scene Jesus meets a possessed man. The demons come and bow before Jesus. Jesus than asks their name and then sends them away. (The demons then enter some pigs that then die.) (Mark 5: 1-13). This is a very different image from that of the Christian with Crucifix in hand, ordering demons to leave in the name of Jesus. How different is Jesus and Christianity, love for enemies and exclusivity based on a personality cult.
The five demonical urges in human beings - pride, anger, lust, greed, attachment - can be gotten rid off by loving them. Get to know them, ask their name. Who are you, greed? Why do you keep collecting all this dust? I realise that you are trying to help me to keep body and soul together. Thank you. But realise it is all a gift. The Owner is not you: you cannot own them, be sure that they do not own you. Hello, lust. I am part of this physical life. You help me enjoy the sacred joys of flesh. You provide me with that. But can you ever make me feel that I am loveable? When “I” Love, “I” become Loveable. And when “I” Love, there is no space for hate. And how sick to hate these five servants. They bear an awful face only because we have become their servants. We like them being the masters, we are addicted to it. Rather than freeing ourselves from such addiction, it is far easier to blame, indeed to demonise them. The Guru offers us a different addiction to get away from this - the sweet waters of life of the Living Word, and the intoxicating nectar of the Naam - the Praise/Presence/Gur-Manter of God.
In mystical terms the crucifixion represents death followed by re-birth, martyrdom followed by the victory over death. The varying myths Christians have manufactured about freeing people from sin need not detain us. Such beliefs owe more to the Cults of Mithras and Isis than the teachings of the Master Jesus. Martyrdom and heroism are linked in Amrit baptism. One offers one’s head - the ideas of previous life - gets admitted in a religious order in which personal matters are settled by Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and doctrinal matters are settled by Guru Khalsa Panth’s Sikh Reht Maryada - and works towards becoming a spiritual hero - conquering the ego by letting it go.
The mystic warrior is an archetype buried deep within the psyche of all humankind. Obi Wan Kenobi is the Khalsa, Darth Vader a renegade having given in to the five thieves they now control him and his destiny. Darth Vader works hard to establish his worth, Obi Wan Kenobi realises that he has no worth and is, therefore, priceless. “If I cut you down, you will cease to exist, but if you cut me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” (Star Wars) Kenobi’s worth is the smile of an infant, a sunset on the beach, or a raindrop ... leaving aside artificial efforts to establish the self of the average person or the self-hero worship of the religious person, he accepts the Nature-self of the mystic conqueror where death and life are unities and a constant re-birth of the holy spirit in the trickling of nectar...
Jesus said that a person should render unto Caesar that which belonged to Caesar, and to God what belonged to God. (Luke 20:22-25) Thus, the spiritual and the political life was separated. The spiritualists could withdraw from life into monasteries and the political need have no spiritual direction. The Gurus, on the other hand, recognised God as the True Ruler. The spiritual life (peeri) and the political life (meeri) would balance each other, realise each other for God is the Midst of the Everyday, the Miracle is every Moment.
Gurmat is about liberation - liberation from the cycles of birth and death in which we chase our tail, liberation from the five urges that we worship rather than God, liberation from mythologies, which contradict the scientific knowledge we have painstakingly accumulated, liberation from male exploitation of women, religious persecution and hatred, racial injustice and oppression of human rights. The chains that bind any one of these categories slip into all of them. We love these chains. We are like prisoners that cannot cope outside of jail. To be chained is not to be Free, to despise any is to be far from (yet one is always near to) Love. “The mouth of the hungry is the golak of the Guru.” Sikhism without social activism is sick. Let us all drink the medicine of the Word and Name.
Christianity has travelled in an hourglass image. First, it spread widely including Africa and Asia before coming to Europe, then it was European, and then with the period of European expansion it has become worldwide. One problem it has faced in this third phase is the European bias that has travelled with it, for instance, the pre-Christian Christmas Tree. Sikhs have also grown in three phases - all-India and into Central Asia at the times of the Ten Gurus, then Punjabi, and now with migrations, conversions from local populations and re-discovery of millions of Sikhs scattered in Utter Pradesh, Rajastan, Orissa, etc. also a worldwide religion. Yet even in this third phase Sikhism has taken things from the native soil of Punjab - the pre-Sikh brahminical-yogic traditions based on effort rather than Grace.
It is from these traditions that we find the emphasis on human effort rather than Divine Grace. Effort leads to confidence in ego, Grace to surrender of the ego; effort focuses on disputes about codes of behaviour, Grace on the changes within; effort condemns others as not strict enough to deserve, Grace accepts all, starts from a recognition of our nothingness and accepts all as a Gift of Love, and whatever is offered as insufficient. If I wanted to kill you, what would you give me to save your life - some money, some food, what? Everything? Would you promise to become my slave? Funny how you might become my slave to save your life but hesitate to become God’s slave who gave you life. Effort puts a price on God and self - a few prayers, a bit of charity, a bit of this, a bit of that, now I am good enough. Grace focuses on our love of despite, our love of control. We love our chains of the five energies - freedom is so risky. We love to hate, because we hate ourselves - we have put a price on ourselves and struggle to pay, rather than accept that we are Priceless; we want to control the world and God through our efforts - I have done this, so You must do that, rather than accept the Beauty of the Will That Is. There is a difference between the fervent striving arising from the action of Grace and reliance on human effort and ingenuity.
In the UK perhaps as many young Sikhs convert to Christianity as Islam, though since they are not specifically targeted there is less tension. The reason: lack of English in the Gurdwaras makes the proceedings rather dull. One purpose of these pieces has been to provide some basic information comparing the two. Another purpose is that the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is open mysticism, whereas mystic traditions have always been hidden (if not lost) in religions. Thus, any Sikh will provide a re-interpretation of Christian teachings whose hallmark will be spirituality and clarity. Jesus and Christianity are separate things. The final purpose is to learn from the Christian tradition. Jesus faced two sets of opponents - the Sadducees (scholars - kitabi (bookish) Sikhs) and Pharisees (Jewish legalist spiritualists - sants and sects). One group was doubtful of the spiritual life, the other confused spirituality with rigorous discipline focused on extended prayers, special diets, mantras, communion with dead spirits of the holy, miraculous powers, etc to deserve God rather than seeking Grace in humility and love. Our society today is divided in the same way, though writers like Professor Sahib Singh, Bhai Sahib Veer Singh Ji and Professor Puran Singh Ji, and some others point out the spiritual way through their writings.
A society fighting against itself cannot stand up for long. The wars between the various sant (ultra-orthodox, charismatic) groups of Christians in Turkey and North Africa confused all of them and they converted to Islam with its simplicity, balance and direction. The kitabi Christians of Rome were united and survived. In India the various sant and sect groups are shading into Hinduism. Yet that does not mean that the kitabi Christians had it right - the Church became the playground for politicians as most spiritual seekers chose the seclusion of monasteries. The Singh Sabha movement began in 1873 and climaxed in 1920 bringing spirituality, unity, and clarity. Seventy years later our Gurdwaras are legal battlefields. Where are the Veer Singhs and Puran Singhs of today? I hope some of you Singhs and Kaurs reading this will ask yourself and take up the challenge of spiritual renewal.
Dr Kanwar Ranvir Singh
All references for Gurmat are to the Nitnem (Daily Prayers). For Jesus all references are to the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.