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THE GROWTH OF RESPONSIBILITY IN SIKHISM


GURU ARJUN 1563-1606
SELF-SACRIFICE

Amritsar and Tarntaran, were being founded. In the search after purely religious matters, we often forget how much the Punjab owes to Guru Ram Dass and Guru Arjun, far Advancing the trade and manufacture of the country. They felt that there could be no hope for the social and political regeneration of our nation, as long as it was composed mostly of unthinking laborers and cultivators of the field. The creation of an intelligent middle class was (as it still is) they crying need of the time. The society in India was so constituted as to give no scope to the development of arts and industries. The rigid caste rules had made it impossible for the men of higher castes to take part in the cultivation of arts and sciences. They stood aloof and left the sweating work to be done by the so-called lower castes. The latter did carry on the work, - and great honor them that they did so, inspite of fact that it was considered ignoble-but, being un-helped by the best brains of the community they worked on the old conservative lines established by tradition, and had no aspirations, no knowledge, no incentive to make any improvements in the ways and means of their crafts.

This exclusion of our intelligensia from the Industrial domain was ruinous, not only the national industries, but to the national character as well. The educated classes, being out of touch with the working classes, lost hold on the practical aspects of human life, and gave themselves up to the luxury of contemplation or idle living at the expense of others. They many could not afford to be idle, but their character deteriorated on account of ignorance and un enlightened drudgery, which was looked upon by all as mean and wordly. All spiritually minded persons would shun it, as it was supposed that the way of salvation was not the way of work. We cannot measure how great was the damage done by this pernicious belief to the character of our nationut we are anticipating matters, let us see what was the contribution of Guru Angad to the formation of Sikh character. In his life and in the lives of his disciples, nothing strikes us so forcibly as their obedience to the cause of Guru Nanak. Let us take a few examples.

Our Gurus recognized that the reform of a nation means the reform of its masses. A nation, as President Wilson says, is a great, and only as great, as her rank and file. It is the average man that counts; and it was with him that the Sikh work began. All classes were declared equal. All occupations that were honest were glorified as sacred. In the Holy Scripture, complied by Guru Arjun, a most honored place is given to the writings of several saints, Hindu and Mohammedan, who were noted as well for their keen interest in the wordly affairs as for their high fights in the spiritual domain. There is Kabir a Mohammedan weaver, Nam Dev a Calico-printer, Sain a barber, and Ravidas a shoemaker. Beside these and others of the same class are found Pipa a king, Jaideva Brahmin, Bhikhan a learned Mohammedan and Surdas a provincial potentate.

The purport of the teaching itself, which was sung out daily before the congregations, had a direct bearing on the practical problems of life. The immediate effect of the teaching that religion could be best practiced within the secular concerns of life was that all prejudices against honest labor and trade were removed, and the people begain to take an active part in what were called the wordly affirms. Possession of wealth was no longer to be considered a Maya, but as a very salutary and helpful thing in the conduct of Human affairs: "For a religious man, it is not unholy to get wealth, provided the spends it in God's way, and gives and lives in comfort." (Sarang kir Var IV) The fourth Guru once said to his Sikhs, "When a Sikh has got an important business in hand, join him and pray for him. If you see that it cannot be carried on without funds, collect money for him from every quarter, and at the same timer give something yourselves. Henceforth we often hear of horse-dealing, banking, embroidery and carpentry among the Sikhs. The Gurus patronized and encouraged them, as this was also one of the noblest way of doing service to the country.

The movement of service became most active in the time of Guru Arjun. His was the ideal of service by suffering which he had learnt form Bibi Bhani, his mother. His purpose was to show that whatever suffering one has to meet in doing good to others is not the outcome of one's sins, but a necessary correlative of virtue. The people had believed in a desperate spirit that all pain was the reward of previous sins, and that virtuous men would never suffer. They said that Dasrath, king Rama's father, suffered pain in the exile of his son, because he had caused the same kind of pain to the father of Sarvan. Similarly, Rama, Draupadi, and other famous heroes and heroines of ancient history had to undergo troubles only because they had previously done something wrong corresponding to each item of their suffering.

As there could be no pain without sin, all actions that involved pain began to be shunned. There was, therefore, no idea of Self-sacrifice or Patriotism left in India, instead of that, the people had evolved lazy systems of belief which were calculated to make not the least demand upon conscience or human sympathies.

But we see that there can be no virtue without suffering, or without sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is the foundation of all goodness. The mother has to sacrifice her beauty, in order to see her first born. "The plant blossoms for the sake of fruit; when the fruit appears, the flower perishes." (Bhairo, Ravidas) In another place, Ravidas says: "How can a man feel for others' pain, when the himself has tasted no troubles?" (Suhi)

We often hear peace of mind being proclaimed as the greatest thing to be desired in life. For this purpose, different systems of philosophy and asceticism have been invented. Many intricate mental exercises have been laid down for getting a mysterious fluid, called nectar, which they say, trickles down the brain and fills the body with joy. Others have been mystifing them-selves in the hope of hearing a celestial harmony, produced by unbeaten strings of music. The East has racked its brain for centuries to devise some successful plan for the trammeling up of conscience or annihilation of desire-which is simply impossible as long as man is man. We can kill our desires only by killing ourselves. A man, who enjoys a perfect peace of mind, must be either a dead man or a beast. He whose consecience is wide-awake, will never feel easy as long as there is sin and suffering in the world. Kabir says, "Those who know nothing, enjoy their sleep in comfort. But it goes hard indeed with us, who have been given to understand something." It was because Guru Arjun suffered with those whom he saw suffering, that he founded at Tarn Taran an asylum for lepers, and in the time of a famine, he moved Akbar to remit the land revenue of the Punjab for a year. In the same way, he invited suffering on himself by refusing to pay the tax, unjustly imposed by Raja Birbal on the Khatris of Amritsar. If the Gurus had thought of the peace of mind as the highest object of life, they could surely have got it by a life of retirement and unfeeling ease, as so many sages had done in the past. There would have been no need of leading men risking lives in checking tyrannies. There would have been no martyrs, no character, no nation of the Sikhs. If, therefore, the Sikh character has made a mark in the history of the world, it is because its foundation was laid on suffering for the sake of truth. It is suffering that has intensified the Sikh character; and it is in this sense that in Sikh Scriptures Pain has been called a medicine and Hunger and Affliction a blessing. The first thing needful for a follower of Guru Arjun was to "accept death and renounce all hopes of life." It was, however, in no ignominous or cowardly spirit that the Sikh was to offer himself for death, but he was to welcome it cheerfully as the privilege of a brave man living and dying for a righteous cause.

Death is the privilege of brave man, provided they die for an approved cause.

The Guru himself died a martyr, without complaining singing in the midst of flames : "The shell of superstition has burst; the mind is illumined. The Master has cut the fetter of the feed and freed the captive." "Truth is my place, Truth my seat, and Truth I have made my special object." His cause was righteous, and bravely he suffered for it. No martyr's lot was harder than Guru Arjun's and yet nobody has sung of life more cheerfully than he : "Whatever Thou givest, I treat as happiness. Wherever Thou placest me, there shall be my heaven." Baba Farid had written in some pessimistic moment, "I had thought I alone was in trouble. No, the whole world is suffering. From my house-top I see that every house is burning with the same fire." The Guru, when incorporating the Baba's writings in his Book, could not pass over this sickening remark; so he added his note to it : "Farid, the earth is beautiful, and in it there is a thorny garden. Those to whom the Master is kind, remain sound even in the midst of troubles. There are very few who love the Dear one; but those who do find their lives beautiful and their bodies fair." To a man complaining of life-wearness, there is nothing so cheering, so invigorating as Guru Arjun's Sukhmani. It is a great consoler of the mind.



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