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Beyond Sustainable Economy: Sangat and Pangat

Published: 03.07.2017

- Guru Nanak's view on Non-Possession

The word 'religion' is, according to one interpretation, derived from a Latin root 're-ligare' which means to bind again. Re means again. So religion means to bind again together what has been separated, to bind the individual soul with the Universal soul. Religion, when confined and restricted by ritual and superstition, ceases to be the liberating and civilizing force that it essentially is.

In India, the fifteenth century was a period of strife and violence. Religious and political strives  had demoralized the average man. It was then that Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion, was born in 1469 in a lower middle class family of a small town Talwandi (now Nankana Sahib in Pakistan). Sikhism, as preached by the Guru, is a path, a marga, a way of life, a definite spiritual attitude towards Reality in all its phases and aspects. It is no doctrine or dogma. It is training and practice. Sikhism literally means 'Training' and a Sikh is a 'Trainee'.

Between the ascetic and the epicurean, Guru Nanak advocated the middle-path, the life of a responsible householder. "Gristha ashrama", according to Nanak, offers opportunities for social, material and spiritual development of man.

In order to demonstrate in a practical and pragmatic manner, the Father-hood of God and the brother-hood of man, Nanak stressed on the principle of service to mankind. He did not want people to give up life and work. He wanted them only to earn by honest labor. The famous story of Malik Bhago and Bhai Lalo provides an excellent example of Nanak's attitude to wealth and labor. Malik Bhago was a rich money lender and Bhai Lalo a poor carpenter. Nanak was once invited by Bhago for a feast. When he showed reluctance, he was forcibly taken to Malik Bhago, who asked him, "Why don't you want to eat with me when you can eat even with a low-caste person like Bhai Lalo?" Nanak's reply was, "In your bread there is the blood of the poor, while the bread of Lalo, earned by the sweat of his brow, is sweet like milk." The enraged Malik asked Nanak to demonstrate the truth of his statement. According to the Janam Sakhi (a chronicle of the events of Nanak's life), the Guru pressed in his hands the bread from both the houses and it so happened Lalo's bread oozed milk, while that of Bhago oozed blood. Nanak's message was Dharam-Di-Kirt (money earned by honest means).

This Dharam-Di-Kirt has to be shared with the needy. People who share their earnings with the needy are not doing them any favor, they are just doing their duty which is expected of them. A true Sikh is supposed to contribute (not donate) one-tenth of his earnings towards the welfare of society. This is what Nanak called Wand-Ke-Khaana (sharing).

In order to implement his teachings, Guru Nanak founded the institutions of 'Sangat' and 'Pangat', where people would sit together, pray together, and eat together without any distinction of cast, creed, color or faith. The Raja (king) and the Ranak (beggar) are supposed to share the same meal in the same pangat (row). The tradition of sangat (congregation) and pangat (langar) is alive in all Gurudwaras[1]. Nobody can remain hungry because of the provision of a free-kitchen to all without distinction. In the historical Gurudwaras, langar is served all the 24 hours. Through this practice, the Guru wanted his followers to embrace all with love and reverence as against the materialistic pursuits. 'Sharing and caring' was his motto. Nanak says our worldly possessions are not ours but the property of God.

Regard your life, soul, body and wealth as His property.[2]

Nanak was not interested in worldly pursuits or in money making. His father, Kalu Mehta, wanted him to take up business as his profession. He sent him with twenty rupees to purchase merchandise as his stock-in-trade. With Bala as his companion, Nanak set out to make good bargain. On his way to a nearby town Chuhar-Kana he met a group of hungry sadhus. Despite the dissuasion of his companion, he decided to invest money in what he considered the most profitable bargain. He bought food with this money and fed the hungry sadhus. At his return, when his father reprimanded him, he replied, "This is the sachcha sauda (true bargain) for me." Later a Gurudwara called Sachcha Sauda came up there.

Guru Nanak was never for luxuries or accumulation of wealth. In his famous composition Asa-Di-Var, he says:

            Lakh takya de moondre

            Lakh takya de haar

            Jit tan paaya Nanaka

            So tan hosi chaar

It is meaningless to adorn one's body with expensive jewels because the body will ultimately turn to dust.

The Guru, once helped the village seth in his difficulty. The seth wanted to reward him with money which he refused to accept. At the insistence of the seth, Guru Nanak replied, "I have a needle which is very precious for me. I want you to keep this needle in your safe custody. I will take it from you in the next birth." The seth was non-plussed. How could he carry the needle after his death. The Guru thus demonstrated the futility of hoarding and accumulation of assets. When we can't carry even a small needle with us, why crave for money?

However, Nanak felt that people could be enlightened only after being freed from the chains of superstitions and rituals. Like Socrates, he questioned the blind beliefs prevalent at that time. Most of the incidents mentioned in the Janam Sakhi reveal a strong strain of logic. At the age of nine, he refused to wear the sacred thread (Janeyu), saying, "I will not wear it since it will be soiled and broken in course of time." When asked what kind of thread he would like to wear, he replied,

If compassion be the cotton,

Contentment, the thread,

Continence the knot

And truth the twist,

This will be the ideal thread for the soul.

It will neither break, nor get soiled.

He who wears such a thread is blessed by God

- Asa-Di-Var

There are innumerable incidents revealing how he tried to enlighten the people. When he went to Mecca, one night he slept with his feet towards the Kaaba. The other pilgrims objected to it as a sacrilege. According to the legend, Nanak told them to turn his feet in the direction where God didn't exist.  As they turned his feet to the other direction, the legend runs, the Kaaba also shifted its position. The rational world today may be reluctant to believe the story, but it should not be difficult to believe that Nanak through his argument convinced them that God, the omnipresent, could not be confined to any four walls.

There is a similar story about his reprimanding the bathers at Haridwar. They were throwing water in the direction of the Sun in the belief that it would reach their ancestors in heaven. Nanak started throwing water in the opposite direction. He was questioned why he was doing that. His reply was, "There is shortage of rainfall in my area, therefore I am sending water for my fields." How can that happen, everybody wondered.  "Why not?  If the water thrown by you can reach the high heavens, why can't the water thrown by me reach my fields which are only a few hundred miles away?" Nanak retorted.

We thus see that the appeal of Nanak lies in the transparent sincerity of his preaching. He suggested that we should avoid being the simbal tree which is tall and thick but its fruit is tasteless, the flowers are repulsive and the leaves are useless. If a bird flies to it with any hope, it goes away disappointed. Let us remember.

Doing good to people is the way of a Sikh

Sharing with the needy makes the day of a Sikh.


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Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Body
  2. Guru
  3. Haridwar
  4. Janam
  5. Kalu
  6. Lakh
  7. Sadhus
  8. Sikhism
  9. Socrates
  10. Soul
  11. Violence
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