“LIVING HAPPILY TOGETHER” is so indelibly inscribed in my psyche that it seems to have come to me with a spiritual spoon in my mouth at birth. Ever since I remember coming into my own adult consciousness never has a thought come to my mind that as a human being I am any different from others. Born in Jhelum, now in Pakistan, 72 years ago, I have spent all my time in peace and harmony with all kinds of people.
Even when I was not aware of my spiritual heritage and spiritual consciousness, I had it ingrained in my heart that all human beings are equal and all mankind is one brotherhood. My school bench-mate Sarfaraz Khan, son of Muslim Magistrate in British India, smiled and laughed with me, joked and played with me and also quarreled with me, a fellow-student, not as one of a different religious denomination but as a human being.
Despite the horrendous killings and alienation of the Partition days, it never brought me a feeling that the whole community, the whole group, or a whole sect carrying any denomination could be dubbed as evil merely because one of its members had behaved in an inhuman way.
But the reality of the religious harmony being directly related to universal peace appeared in my heart and my whole being became the symbol of spiritual universality when my religious consciousness manifested spiritual splendour within myself. It was in 1970 that the fact of having been born in a Sikh family and yet belonging to the whole world dawned upon me when I began to be attracted by the words and lives of Sikh Gurus.When I joined the Indian Foreign Service after migration to India, it was a real treat to work as a team in the Ministry, or abroad with no feeling at all about one’s origin or religion, State or background. In over twenty years of service in India or abroad, not once did I feel that my colleagues, from different religious, different States or different economic backgrounds, were, in any way, less or more Indian.
Guru Nanak, the founder was so universal that both Hindus and Muslims claimed him as their Guru. Guru Gobind Singh emphasised spiritual oneness with defiance against tyranny and bigotry. Guru Arjan’s willing sacrifice for human solidarity strengthened my dissolution in TRUTH and LOVE of the one God of all religions.
Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom for the sake of human rights and freedom of worship so impressed me that under the guidance of Guru Granth Sahib – the universal Sikh scripture containing the message not only of six Sikh Gurus but also of Hindu and Muslim saints, including the so-called untouchable bhaktas, like Kabir, Ravidas of U.P., Namdev of Maharashtra, Jaidev of Bengal and Baba Farid, a Muslim saint of Punjab – I was led to lead a life of practical religious harmony and universal peace even when I was a functioning Foreign Service Officer.
While serving in Egypt, an old Muslim lady, on her death bed, told her children to call me for her last meeting. In Paris, where during my time, there were no gurdwaras I used to pray in Catholic Churches and used to go to the Ramakrishna Centre in Gretz, 50 Kms away, to feel the universal harmony in spiritual unity.
Later I discovered the spirit of harmony in Guru Granth Sahib, that we had been specifically commanded to treat everyone as our friend and become the good friend of all, to have no divisions among human beings, to show equal respect for women, to consider everyone our equal, to remember the one Lord of all, by whatever name people call HIM and, above all, display in our conduct the twin essential aspects of religion – self-annihilation through 24-hour remembrance of the Lord and the deeds of piety and purity – throughout our life.
These cardinal virtues were so essential – and yet so universal – that when I came to learn of the universal prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, it seemed to me like the dictum from my own Scripture. Let us savour it:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Wherever there is hatred, let me sow peace,
Wherever there is injury, pardon;
Wherever there is sadness, joy;
Wherever there is darkness, light;
Wherever there is despair, hope; and
Wherever there is doubt, Faith.
O divine master, grant that I may seek so much –
– to be understood as to understand;
– to be consoled as to console; and
– to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and
It is in dying that we are born to Eternal life.”
This prayer enthralled me and reinforced my deep commitment to universality of religions and service of Man. My inner voice dwelt on two concepts: THERE IS ONLY ONE RELIGION that of TRUTH and THERE IS ONLY ONE CASTE – that of HUMANITY. That is why my Scripture specifically declares that THERE IS ONE AND THE SAME SERMON for all, whether one is a Brahmin, a Khatri, a Vaish or a Shudra. Discrimination on the basis of caste is severely condemned.
My heart developed the Urge to LIVE the concepts of Guru Granth Sahib and the prayer of St. Francis, the revered Catholic saint. While I was serving in Paris, in addition to my diplomatic, consular or commercial work, I became a member of the PETITS FRERES DES PAUVRES (“Little Brothers’ Association for the poor”), a French charitable society for serving French old people in their homes.
My distinct bearded and turbaned appearance did not come in the way of my love for them. They affectionately accepted my devotion and extended theirs to me. It was a divine treat not only for me but also for the French old couple, when I helped the paralysed Frenchman to walk some distance on Saturdays or Sundays.
Since I had developed a compulsion to ask the old people to think of Jesus all the time so that they would never feel lonely, I received more love than I gave. In fact the 94-year old French single lady blessed me when she said: “You have restored my faith in Christ which I had lost.” And the widow of the paralysed Frenchman was delighted when I attended his funeral and later took her every month to the cemetery where he was buried.
This unique experience of spiritual unity of Man charted a new course for my life. I witnessed the divine glow on the face of a Pakistani young doctor when I suggested to him to be regular in NAMAZ, the Muslim prayer, and return to Pakistan to serve his poor countrymen after completing his studies. He gave me a warm smile when he said his parting good-bye: “KHUDA HAFIZ, I shall never forget that in a non-Muslim country, a non-Muslim reminded me of my Muslim religious duties.”
God decided for me that the time had come now to leave my service and experience on a wider scale the concept of LIVING HAPPILY TOGETHER with the downtrodden through religious harmony. I thought merely reciting the name of God was not enough; it must be translated into whole time service of humanity.
I had experienced the truth of Love and Peace in religion through my oneness with the French old people but I had no training to serve the sick. I did not know which service I should take up. Gandhiji’s book: MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH, came to my help. I took to my heart Gandhi’s advice in the INTRODUCTION that to see God face to face one had to love the meanest creation as oneself.
I became a little apprehensive however to realize that I could in terms of my belief, never consider anyone mean. God solved my problem. During the half-awake state at night, I noticed the picture of a leprosy patient. I learnt leprosy work in CMC, Vellore and afterwards, leaving my job, came to this leprosy treatment-cum-rehabilitation centre at Amravati, started by late Dr. Shivajirao Patwardhan.
Today I LITERALLY live the REALITY of RELIGIOUS HARMONY AND UNIVERSAL PEACE. I came to Tapovan, the name of the Centre, in October 1979 and in these 24 years, I have been LIVING HAPPILY TOGETHER with more than a thousand leprosy patients. The REALITY of this experience is profound because none of the inmates – in the management or among patients – is a Sikh.
Most of them are Maharashtrian Hindus and some are Muslims and Christians, but for me every inmate is either my son or daughter, my brother or sister and my father or mother. The beauty is that they too regard me as their own and we live like a family.
I have various opportunities to participate in inter-faith dialogues and since 1980 I must have attended over 20 such meetings. Former Bishop of Amravati, Rt. Rev. Joseph Rosario has been a close friend in fostering the spirit of religious harmony ever since I came to Amravati.
Since I was born in a Sikh family I am recognised as the representative of Sikh religion, but I humbly and mildly protest by correcting that I belong to all humanity and anyone who lives TRUTH, remembers the Lord 24 hours and practices universal love, is my co-religionist, whatever be the label. I firmly believe that the core of religion is LOVE – love without discrimination, love without expectation, love in the name of one God of all and love as the DIRECT REPRESENTATION OF DIVINE PRESENCE.
The guidance while I have received from Guru Granth Sahib is so direct, and so unambiguous that I cannot help being universal. In fact I cannot live my religion without loving and respecting all religions. Many times I believe that for others it may be a kind gesture to foster religious harmony and peace. But for me, THIS IS MY RELIGION.
I have prayed in a London mosque, I have prayed in temples, I have prayed in churches and gurdwaras. But I have experienced the same devotion, the same love, the same truth and the same divinity. We have no personal or human Guru now, but my perpetual Word Guru, Guru Granth Sahib, specifically directs me to pray to God to save all human beings WHICHEVER PATH THEY TAKE TO COME TO YOUR REFUGE.
That is why I firmly declare that all religions are mine, all prophets are mine, all prayer houses are mine and all methods of prayer are also mine. But when one ceases to love, one is merely blowing the trumpets of empty religion and throwing away the core.
Look at our heritage. Where would you find the instance of the most important shrine of one religion having had the distinction of its foundation stone laid by an eminent divine of another religion? THE FOUNDATION STONE OF THE GOLDEN TEMPLE OF THE SIKHS WAS LAID BY A MUSLIM DIVINE, HAZRAT MIAN MIR.
Where would you find in the religious text of one religion, the sacred divine messages of the saints of other religions who would loudly talk of their own prophets? In Guru Granth Sahib, there are only six Sikh Gurus, but 16 highly respected saints of Hindu and Muslim faith also speak from there with the same status and same recognition, because every word of Guru Granth Sahib is our Guru.
Namaz and Pooja, Allah and Ram, Hindu and Muslim are so prominently mentioned in Guru Granth Sahib that this Scripture becomes the treasure of all religions automatically. The core point is LIVING THE COMMANDS OF GOD. Many times I have said at the interfaith meetings that perhaps Sikhs Gurus did not meet Christian saints, otherwise we would have some Christian hymns too in our Scripture.
When we all believe that all the religions stress Love and Peace, fraternity and equality, harmony and unity, how come we find ourselves in strife and disunity? Where do we fall and why do we indulge in divisions, hatred, ill-will, whole-sale condemnation, murders, carnage, massacres, sexual crimes? I venture to suggest the causes of our inhuman and foolish aberrations:
- 1. We parade religion but do not practice it, and politicians particularly create vested interests in terms of vote-banks, racial superiority, commercial exploitation and human upheavals.
- 2. We pay lip-service to equality but continue economic exploitation of the underprivileged sections on religious racial lines.
- 3. We develop real or imagined wrongs done by some community, group, country, etc.
- 4. We regale ourselves with majority-minority imaginary conflicts forgetting our own religious principles.
- 5. We foolishly believe that our prophet or Guru or Swami will be pleased with hatred for and condemnation of other religions and killing of people other than those of our own religion.
True, such people are in a minority but they have perseverance to parade untruth as truth, project loot as lokseva, personal interest as common welfare and, above all, political chicanery as religious fervour.
We recently had an inter-faith rally in Amravati conducted by the Police Commissioner, Ankush Dhanvijay and it was a remarkable success. I later wrote an article in THE HITAVADA of Nagpur referring to my 24-year “LIVING TOGETHER” with leprosy patients and mentioning a BHAJAN which I often sing in chorus with the patients:
“Mujh mein ram tujh mein ram sabh mein ram samaya
Sabse karlo pyrar jagat mein koi nahin paraya”
(God is in me, God is in you, God is in everyone. Let us love everyone because God resides in every heart.)
When I am asked to discuss “religious harmony and universal peace, I have a strange sense of shame. The reality is so obvious but when religion itself becomes a hypocrite’s pastime, a politician’s gimmick, or a businessman’s stock-in-trade, then the discussions alone will be an exercise in futility. Let us see why we make no headway.
Conflicts go on rising, massacres continue, exploitation is on the increase and all this despite the increase in the number of prayer houses and pseudo-saints. The fact is that we revere Mahatma Gandhi on 2nd October and 30th January but have no desire to follow him in practice.
We have lost our moorings and morality is at the lowest ebb. Without morality religion is an empty slogan.
We are unwilling to sacrifice even our privileges and we are unwilling to observe the rule of law.
To lay down one’s life for one’s principle is now a thing of the past and unless we are prepared to sacrifice our life for righteousness, we can become only drawing room debaters. Gandhiji did not preside over seminars and issue deliberately vague statements when people were killing each other. He did not evade issues. He was in the thick of rioting mobs and was willing to lay down his life which he did. We confuse illegality with political benefits.
We talk of conversion-debates when people of one religion kill those of others. We hide behind slogans and we often indulge in double-speak. Gandhiji paid, with his life, for his faith in his convictions. We are after power but talk of religion and peace. Godse murdered Gandhiji with a gun, we murder his principles with our political and selfish lip-service.
A congenial atmosphere can be created only if we all begin to practise the concepts of our religion because essentially all the religions preach love and peace. It is only the bigots who themselves have not understood their religion and it is only the exploiters who do not wish to lead righteous lives preach hatred and since we are all ignorant about the real values, we are mislead.
In reality religious harmony and universal peace are the two sides of the same coin but cause of hiatus in what we say and what we do, we cannot live happily together. Guru Nanak had emphatically preached sachon ure sabkau uppar sach achar (everything is below truth but higher than truth is truthful conduct). If we all live the truth of our religions, we can manifestly prove that religious harmony and universal peace would become a reality.
Let us not forget that there is another dimension to the problem of universal peace, that of poverty. If we really want to solve the problems of poverty, we should be doing our religious duty of looking after the down-trodden people, but what we witness is not only our aversion towards the poor but our deliberate disinterest in raising their standard of living.
We go on creating more poverty by usurping their rights and exploiting their ignorance and innocence. Religion becomes then only a tool for exploitation because its basic morality is missing.
Poverty – An Obstacle to Peace:
We love prophets, we love religion but only externally. Now even religion has become a five-star culture. We now concentrate on external cosmetism, external celebrations, external extravagant ostentation. We believe that bigger the car in which a holy man travels, the bigger the house in which he lives, the more spiritual he is, depriving the poor people of the faith of the pious and the pure. We cannot deny that even safe drinking water is not available to a lot of people. We cannot deny that all our people do not have two square meals a day.
What kind of religion do we preach and practise which does not ensure even drinking water and two square meals to our people? What peace do we talk about? And what religious harmony? If we had practised reality of religion, there would not have been starvation deaths on the one hand and heaps of foodgrains being eaten by worms. Again, we would not have been involved in five-star ostentation in the face of humiliating poverty of our people.
Indeed, the rulers too deny the poor their due and exploit them in the name of religion and seva, whereas in reality they themselves live a life far removed from that of the people. The seminars and conferences also become meaningless with repetition of empty slogans of peace.
Where is the connection between religious harmony and abject poverty? There can be no peace when the stomach is empty, women are humiliated and bonded labour is exploited. Practise of religion implies morality and integrity of the highest order.
In conclusion, let me recount the story of Guru Nanak, who chose to stay with Bhai Lalo, a poor artisan of low caste and was upbraided by high-caste Brahmins. Malik Bhago, like our present exploiters, was aghast, when Guru Nanak’s detractors complained that he had broken caste rules and stayed with a low-caste person. Malik Bhago ordered Guru Nanak to join the public meal he arranged for all holy men, but Guru Nanak refused to join and, when pressed, pointed out that his wealth was collected by exploitation of the poor and contained their blood, while the food of the honest and poor Laalo was pure.
We witness the same spectacle today with ostentatious marriages, birthdays and political bashes while the exploiters talk of religion and peace. Our black money runs in crores. Our poor people sleep on footpaths sometimes without food and safe drinking water. Indeed even a devil can quote scriptures, but unless we have our internal commitment and internal purity, we cannot make religious harmony and universal peace a reality.
This reality of living happily together would only mean the living happily together of the elite. If we want this reality to belong to all the people, then our hearts must change and we must decide to do unto others what we want to be done to us. Peace cannot come with external religious words when the poor can collect only the crumbs thrown by ostantatiously rich exploiters.