world council of churches

Turn to God -- Rejoice in Hope
Reflections from the Sikh Tradition

Charanjit AjitSingh

I make my response as a Sikh to the Assembly theme "Turn to God C Rejoice in Hope" based on my limited understanding of the Sikh scriptures and the lives of the Sikh Gurus. Guru Granth Sahib, our most sacred scripture, and other writings are strong motivators for us, encouraging us to turn to God, for therein lies our hope, our future.

In the last verse of the early morning prayer, Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, says:

Those who have meditated on the Holy Name,
And have departed, their task completed,
Their faces are radiant and, O Nanak,
How many they bring to salvation in their train.
People whose face is in the direction of God, are Godward (not meant literally, as God pervades every direction), they not only liberate themselves from the fear of life and death, but also enable others to do so.

Another verse from Guru Granth Sahib describes human relationship with God in this way:

If you take one step towards God,
God takes twenty steps towards you.
God wants us to take the first step, like a parent wanting their child to take the first step, the child who is unsure, nearly falling, unsteady, frightened, concerned, perhaps upset C and the parent is aware and sensitive, yet waits, ready, with open arms to receive C similarly God encourages us to take the first step and then takes twenty steps towards us, twenty more than we do, bestowing on us love, compassion, warmth, joy and goodness in abundance.

The fifth Guru Arjan says:

My True Lord, I've come to seek your shelter.
Grant me the joy and glory of the Holy Name and dispel my anxiety.
I know no other shelter, exhausted I prostrate at your door.
Pardon my sins, I am without goodness, save me my Lord, with your grace.
You are the forgiver, ever merciful, the support of us all.
Nanak, the servant implores, save me this turn [this life]. (GGS, p. 713)
Human life is the only turn, the only opportunity to turn towards God and to break the cycle of birth and death. Turning to God is not directional as westward, eastward, northward or southward but it is rekindling the inner light, hearing the inner voice and letting our spiritual selves be themselves. You may have heard about the story of Guru Nanak and the turning to Mecca. It is said that during the course of his travels, Guru Nanak visited the holy city of Mecca. One evening, as he was lying on the floor resting, an imam came rushing angrily towards him and shouted, "Why are your feet towards the place of God?" Guru Nanak humbly remarked, "Please put my feet where God is not." At this the imam furiously caught Guru Nanak's feet and started turning them away from the direction of the Kaaba, but wherever he turned them, the Kaaba was there. The imam realized his mistake and understood the meaning behind Guru Nanak's words.

There is a similar story about his visit to Haridwar, a Hindu place of pilgrimage. There he saw one morning some pundits standing in the river Ganges; they were turned to the east, facing the sun, and were throwing water towards the sun. Guru Nanak turned in the opposite direction, towards the west and began to throw water. The pundits asked him, mocking him about his ignorance, "What are you doing?" He responded, "Please tell me first what you are doing." They replied, "We are giving water to our ancestors who may be thirsty". Guru Nanak then answered, "I am watering my fields which are three hundred miles to the west." They then said, "How can water reach your fields so far away?" Guru Nanak replied, "How can water reach your ancestors?"

In this way Guru Nanak made them think about their ritual actions and taught them the value of developing understanding and closeness to God through an active pious life.

In the Sikh way there are many references to Godward orientation. A Gurmukh literally means a person who faces towards God, who looks to God and leads his or her life in a way which pleases God. Sikhs are encouraged to be Gurmukh rather than Manmukh. Manmukh people are selfish, usually self-centered and individualistic. A Gurmukh shuns lust, anger, greed, ego and attachment to things and builds on truthfulness, love, compassion, courage and good conduct for good life here and in the hereafter.

We are reminded by Guru Nanak during our daily prayers that,

Lords of the oceans and kings with mountains of wealth
Are not equal to an ant who never forgets God in its heart.
We rejoice in the hope that at the end of our mortal lives we may find shelter near the feet of God. The Sikh Gurus were not interested in riches, liberation or being rulers, but sought closeness to God. This sentiment is expressed in the following verse from Guru Granth Sahib:
I do not want a kingdom
I do not want salvation
I want to remain in love with God.
Guru Gobind Singh, in his writings "Swayye in Dasam Granth" reinforces the earlier message in this way:
Worship the one by worshiping whom
All pains and sins are removed
By remembering whom,
All physical and mental ills get moved.
Loving one's fellow beings is a necessary part of our responsibility towards God. Guru Gobind Singh reiterated the love of humanity as an essential element of the love of God and as a way to God. He said,
I speak the Truth
Please listen all
Those who love
Find God.
It is through love for our fellow human beings and the whole of God's creation that we find peace in our own lives and peace with others. We should not be afraid of what may happen to us. The Guru has assured us in these words,
Why are you afraid, O human!
The Creator will save you.
We, as people of faith, are given a sort of a guarantee: that when you lead a spiritual life and pray from the depth of your being, from the depth of your heart, then you will go back home with dignity and respect (to your real home after death, where you came from when you were born), thereby entering the state of bliss. In that state of bliss, there are many blessings, all wishes are fulfilled, all anxieties disappear, pain, sickness and stress are no more, and heavenly music abounds in praise of God in the company of the holy people. This is our hope. Ravidas describes the joy of this new fulfilment in the following verses:
There is a place called the City-of-no-Sorrows
There is no grieving, no one suffers there
No tax gatherers, no one levies tribute
No worrying, no sin, no fear or death.
My friends, I've found myself a wonderful hometown
Where everything is good, everyone is happy.
There the sovereignty of the lord is constant,
All are equal, none second or third.
It is a populous and famous city.

The citizens are wealthy,
They move as freely as they please,
No high official of the state impedes them.
My friends, says Ravidas, the emancipated cobbler,
Come, be my fellow citizens in this realm. (GGS, p. 345)

Charanjit AjitSingh, a Sikh, is a lecturer and writer on Sikhism.

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