There is a striking verse in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), the Sikh scripture. Its author, Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhi-sm:
To register– Guru Nanak Dev. SGGS, p. 150
Gurū samunḏ naḏī sabẖ sikẖī nāṯai jiṯ vadi▫ā▫ī.
Guru, Divine Wisdom, is the bottomless Ocean, and all his WISDOM is in the form of the teachings of that Ocean. Those who dive into these achieve greatness.
The ocean and the streams are metaphors here;an ocean for the Wisdom of the Guru and streams for the broadcasting institutions. The Ocean of Sacred Knowledge is without depth. The water of Knowledge that evaporates from this Ocean creates clouds, raindrops and snow. In turn, they descend to earth. Finally, they give rise to streams, rivers and sometimes puddles all over the world. When in the form of shabad using the language of Sikh tradition, they are said to form streams of Wisdom.
Thus, the streams are metaphors describing the practices of the Guru’s teachings.
As streams vary in shape, size, speed and quality of the water they distribute, so do the teachings of Guru Nanak. They adapt to many variations according to the terrains of particular geographic or cultural expanses. Their form and their external formats are very different according to the landscapes and the linguistic temperaments. But their purpose is to nurture humanity with ONE Universal consciousness.
The wisdom of the guru from Shabad Guru or the wisdom imbued with the hymns of the guru (composed in 22 languages) apply to various populations and cultures. Recipients can be of various states of mind, varying from place to place. The wisdom of Guru Nanak is applicable regardless of religion, culture or nationality.
So the teachings of Guru Nanak would openly look and feel diverse, but inside they are universal and carry the same fundamental doctrines and Wisdom. Their purpose is to nurture the human spirit with universal Knowledge towards ONE Universal Consciousness and ultimately to bring all of humanity back to its source, the OCEAN, the Creator.
Sikh historian Bhai Santokh Singh has narrated a beautiful story of the Guruship of Guru Ram Das.
A delegation of religious scholars under the leadership of Pundit Mohan Lal came to visit the Guru. The members were well-known pandits or rulers of the Brahminical tradition. Their mission was to express their concern about the language and mode of propagation that Guru was using to spread the Gurmat message freely among the people. The guru rebuked the suggestion and used the same rain metaphor described above to forcefully make his point. Bhai Santokh described it as
The Vedas and Puranas, the scriptures of ancient religions written in Sanskrit, are like water kept in a well. The divine message of the gurus’ hymns, the guru said, was like rainwater reaching every thirsty person or every germinating plant.
Divine Knowledge in classical languages like Sanskrit or Arabic is like water kept in deep wells. It takes effort to draw it and then quench the thirst of the person pulling it to irrigate the crops of those who have the means to draw water in this way. No sharing was possible because the amount thus withdrawn was perhaps only enough to satisfy the needs of the holder of the bucket.
In contrast, the guru’s wisdom must be in a language that has served as a cloud burst. He made the crops of everyone and in every field green; it reached the mountains and the valleys, the birds and the mammals, the animals and the humans, the educated and the illiterate, the poor and the rich. (See Santokh Singh, Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth, Raas 1, Part 46, p. 1518. Reprinted Amritsar, Khalsa Samchar, 1954.)
The guru’s verdict sounded like a biblical parable.
Jesus is known to say that when you light a lamp, place it on a higher pedestal so the light can reach everyone.
The metaphor of the Guru Granth, as described above, also involved the appreciation of the great diversity observed in all civil societies and faiths. For example, as Guru Granth says, diversity is divine order.
My Timeless Creator has staged a play. He created no one like the others.
Guru Amar Das, SGGS, p. 1056.
Without an appreciation of diversity, one fails to practice universality. Only diversity provides a necessary opportunity to practice universality.
The purpose of elucidating the Guru Nanak metaphor above is to illustrate the universal nature of Guru’s message, gourmetWhere sikhi.
What is the universal? Universal applies universally, i.e. to “all individuals in a similar situation”, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality, rank economic or any other distinguishing characteristic.
There is a dynamic relationship between identity, community and the values awakened by grace, which are authentic when they are universal. Let’s examine what exactly is meant by ‘operationalising Sikh universals’.
Let me start by defining what is universal.
A universal is a concept, idea, feeling, etc., across different cultures and languages. Its validity is beyond the field in which it originated. For example, Christians took the idea of ’God,’ or ‘religion’, beyond its origins in the Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman context. Moreover, Western secularists have exported notions of democracy beyond its European and American context. Buddhists and Hindus exported the concepts of dharma, karma, meditation, yoga, even Gandhiism, etc., beyond India. There are many other examples. But to take root in a new ground, a concept must modify the relations between itself and the other notions originating in this new ground. To take root in a new soil is to transform the relationship between the words and the concepts of a new culture.
There is a firm belief that Guru Nanak did not want his message to be confined to a narrow ethnic context. He traveled across cultures and religions. His teachings may have emerged in the soil of northwest India. Indeed, the teachings of each great spiritual master began life in a particular area.
But the message of Guru Nanak is such that all humanity shares it.
Guru Nanak himself has traveled far beyond his native birthplace, nearly 38,000 kilometers. The universality of his teachings applied to many cultures in the areas of his visits. There was a goal for the guru to go well beyond the boundaries of this lingua franca. The teachings of Guru Nanak go far beyond the narrow sense of “religion”. She radically disrupts the western religion-profane binary, on the one hand, to eliminate the ego and, on the other hand, its intimate connection with shabad as poetic consciousness.
In this way, the SABD Guru can call upon and be experienced beyond the Punjabi realm by all of humanity, as he also connects to shared humanity through our common philosophy. The lessons of shabad-guruare both secular and religious. Thus, to operationalize shabad-guru is to free it from the trappings of religious hegemony and allow it to create new relationships with any soil it encounters and takes root. Thus, we see the mission of Guru Nanak as universal.
Many centuries ago, Guru Nanak used the metaphor of the Ocean for Divine Wisdom which serves humanity like the nourishing water of streams all over the earth. Thus, the teachings of Guru Nanak would never formally align with any denomination, political party, geographic area or ethnicity or allow anyone to disregard the laws of civil societies, sciences or colors and diversities from the same institutions. As far as we know, that was Guru Nanak’s intention.
Describing Divine Wisdom as the Ocean of Truth and the streams as the pathways for its outpouring, Guru Nanak went on to tell all who bathe in these rivers of Divine Wisdom that they will evolve into higher consciousness.
Said Nanak, an authentic purifying bath, is experienced when the Divine inhabits human consciousness.
Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 146
One who takes an inner bath in Divine Wisdom understands the Truth.
Guru Nanak, SGGS, p. 414
The institutions and scholarship of Guru Nanak bear the responsibility of “operationalising and exporting” the Wisdom to all civil societies. The specifics of “operationalizing and exporting” require in-depth discussions. Here, it suffices to conclude as follows. Don’t just settle for the space on the library shelf reserved for the teachings of Guru Nanak by the West. Likewise, do not blindly worship it as a totem object, as most Punjabis do. DO SOMETHING WITH HER. Do what the gurus wanted you to do with it. Experience it and let yourself be transformed. Those who bathe in these rivers of Divine Wisdom will evolve into greater awareness and recognition of the Divine within. Then change the culture around you so that others can seek Guru Nanak’s message.