Reflexions on Non-Violence & Interfaith

non-violence interfaith

The Warrior who was Nanak

Reading an article titled “The Warrior who was Nanak,” written by an author or organisation called Tisarpanth, published on a blog, I felt inspired to write the following comment. You don’t have to read the original article first to make sense of my comment, and, in fact, you probably cannot. The day after I posted my comment on the article’s page (which invited to do so), I was banned from the blog, and it seems that the blog has disappeared entirely soon after.

As I understood it, the bottom line of the article was, that, based on the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, the silence and passivity of most of today’s Sikh saints and community leaders in the face of current political, economical and ecological challenges is questionable. One would wish that, following the example of the Gurus’ lives and teachings, they would at least stand and speak up more against social injustice and unethical and corrupt leadership, and not only collect money and followers.

Here is my comment:

Thank you for this article. I very much agree with its direction, message and bottom line, and I couldn’t agree more about its relevance today.

In your article, I found some points, occasionally occurring in Sikh literature, that I would like to comment on. I feel there are some common misconceptions and misunderstandings caused by the difference between worldly human language and the same language used to speak about the (unspeakable) Divine and Its Dharma. I would like to elaborate on two aspects:

ahimsa non-violence

1. Ahimsa (Non-Violence)

I believe that ahimsa (usually translated as non-violence) as an aspect of dharma (life according to the Divine will, Divine law, righteous living) is often misunderstood as simply forbidding the application of physical, verbal, emotional or mental force. I disagree.

Firstly, Monier-Williams translates “himsaa” as “injury, harm, hurt, mischief, wrong, bearing malice, abusive language, acts of violence”, therefore, “force” as repeatedly and almost exclusively used in the above article might give a too limited perspective.

All rules and ways of life that are derived from a dharma are designed to have their effect on the ultimate level of existence (expressed by the notions of Oneness, Timeless, Infinite, Soul, Purusha, Akaal Purakh). However, they can be executed only on the level of mundane creation (manifold, mortal, finite, matter, energy, mind, prakriti, tattwas, gunas, moorat). The point is that what seems to have one effect on one level can have a very different effect on the other level, which is a major cause of misinterpretations and misunderstandings of sacred texts. Hence, they seem to always come with the warning that they convey the unspeakable, and can never be taken too literally and rigidly.

Ahimsa as an aspect of dharma is a guideline to serve and promote the undying soul, not the mortal body and mind. Every action done in service of the soul, in dharma, in the best possible spirit of righteousness and not defiled by any other lower, personal motivation therefore adheres to the idea of ahimsa.

In this sense Guru Gobind Singh and all spiritual warriors of sacred literature did adhere to ahimsa. They never acted based on an emotion or impulse of aggression, revenge, anger, hatred, personal power or similar, but purely out of dharma, protecting the dharma. For example, killing somebody who is about to destroy dharma or cause major harm – if there is no other way of stopping them – would be a service to dharma (and therefore to human mankind) as well as to the killed individual. It would be an act against dharma (and therefore karmic) to indulge in passivity, laziness, or fear (what the original article referred to as “Quietist Attitude”) and allow somebody to destroy dharma. Human mankind would lose the dharma and therefore a possibility and way to fulfil lives, and the person who is about to destroy the dharma would incur bad karma.

Another beautiful side aspect that illustrates the serving attitude in Guru Gobind Singh’s actions on the battle field are the golden tips on the arrows to provide compensation (at least somewhat) to the bereaved ones, or the example of Bhai Khanaiya.

Any use of physical, verbal, emotional or mental force that hurts or “insults” the personality or worldly honour of the addressed person, but was done purely out of love for the soul to wake up the person from darkness and disservice would still adhere to ahimsa. Obviously, this requires some severe degree of purity and skill on part of the “awakener.”

However, any act or words spoken, no matter how nice and sweet outwardly, done with a motivation that includes any anger, lust, greed, revenge, personal gain etc. (even if just subconsciously) would be a violation of ahimsa. One might say that even without doing or saying anything, harbouring hurtful feelings for somebody (including oneself) could be seen a violation of ahimsa, even and maybe especially when occurring during so called spiritual practice and meditation.

Therefore, if the original article uses the occasion of Guru Nanak roasting a deer at a Kurukshetra fair as an example of violating ahimsa (and hence proving it irrelevant or wrong), I disagree, and also think it bit far-fetched since there are other, more obvious and relevant points made by that story.


2. Islam (or any "Other" Religion)

This refers to the following quote in the original article: “If he (Guru Nanak) had truly perceived any good in Islam he would surely not have denounced its cardinal pillars in such candid terms.”

I find the looking down on what is usually perceived as “other religions” extremely prevalent even among the most educated of religious writers.

Firstly, I have never found any quote in Gurbani that would allow the understanding that any Guru perceived Islam as no good. Instead, what the Guru criticises is the way religion (and yoga) was often practiced in those days, that is hypocritical and useless if measured against its original purpose, lost in a too literal sense of rules and regulations which were often bent and used to serve a different agenda, devoid of the work actually demanded and necessary. But the seemingly unavoidable and prevalent corruption and abuse of religion and its language is not the fault of the religion or their igniters or scriptures, but of the people doing it. In this sense we should also ask ourselves sometimes what the Gurus and Prophets would say and do would They see how we practice Their dharma today.

I think that the quote of Guru Nanak’s Gurbani given in the article – and many similar passages in Gurbani – are designed to wake up the listener from wrong understanding and practice, to re-discover the truth behind the language of their teachings and scriptures, and hence become a true devotee of the Divine.

My faith and understanding is that there is only One Existence, One Divine, One human mankind of brothers and sisters, therefore, there is also only One Religion, One Dharma, One Guru/Prophet. Ultimately, there is no “other religion,” there is no “other.” Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous quote, intended differently, but perfectly fitting here: “The other is hell.” The One Dharma manifests in many forms at different times, in different languages and cultures, but always as an the expression of the One Dharma. But due to the duality of our minds, what is One seems many.

The Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan writes: “For him (a person who has seen the other side of the wall) all the things to which people attach great importance and value seem nothing. For that person truth and fact are two things; for everybody else truth and fact are the same. […] All differences and disputes are caused by the knowledge of various facts, which are different from one another. There are many facts and one truth. There are many stars and one sun; when the sun has risen, the stars pale. The one before whom the sun has risen, to whom the truth has manifested – for him facts make little difference. The light of truth, falling upon the facts, makes them disappear.”

Many writers compare their insight and understanding of genuine aspects of their own dharma or religion with corruptions and poor understandings of another, and then take satisfaction in concluding that theirs is superior. This behaviour is rooted in the duality of the mind and comes from the fear to be on the wrong side of a fact (precisely in the sense of the above quote). The human mind tends to draw a line and is then anxious to be on the right side. This feeling of being forever right is then provided by pointing at the people who are allegedly and seemingly on the other side of the line and by denouncing them as wrong.

Find the Common Ground

I suggest a change of approach in theology and religious studies, away from focusing on the differences, which always seem to produce more confusing facts, instead stressing the similarities and common ground, which should serve better in pointing us into the direction of truth and right understanding, mutual respect, tolerance and appreciation of cultural differences.

In Guru Nanak’s spirit of ever-rising consciousness and well-wishings and fulfilment for everybody

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