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Gurmat & Economics


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ABUNDANCE, POVERTY, AND THE ECONOMY

Kanwar Ranvir Singh

"That one alone knows the Way who earns with the sweat of the brow

and then shares with others." This dictum of Guru Nanak, (born 1469,

the first of the ten Sikh Gurus), lays out the basic economic thought

of the Sikhs. It is a society in which labor rather than monkish

asceticism is the true _expression of spirituality, and in which the

sharing of abundance rather than accumulation of scarcity is the

basic economic motivation.

The Gurus condemned monks because they felt that they were other-

worldly. By contrast, the Gurus promoted the view that God was

present in the world. "Air/Breath is the Guru, Water the Father,

Earth the Great Mother. Day and night are two nurses in whose lap the

children of earth play. Their good and bad deeds are all done in the

Divine Presence. According to their deeds, some move nearer while

others wander further away from it. Those who follow the Inner Tutor, their

intution, are liberated, says Nanak, by turning towards these Shining

Ones, others also enjoy the fruit of freedom from the chains of self-

centredness, the wheel of reincarnation." (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p.8)

This vision of liberation is based profoundly on how we treat our

activity in the world and treat others. It is also tied to the vision

of spirituality, of universal grace arising from God's presence in

the universe. "Guru" in Sikh thought refers to the Grace-filled

Presence and Love of God within all hearts and all things, which

lives within us, as "reflection in a mirror, fragrance within a

flower, fire inside wood". God's love for us saves each and all. This

abundant love, without any meanness, means that God gives to us of

His own Presence and Deeds (Nam), as the Word (Sabd), the Inner Tutor

(intuition). As this Word is the inscription of being, our minds tend

to goodness, truth, reality - our true nature is to seek the

truth. "Sikh" means seeker of truth, disciple of the Inner Tutor. The

presence of God in each being not only means that God's love for

people is not restricted by race, religion, or gender, but also

signals that the creation itself is created through the overflowing

of the completeness of God's Love - Its Names (descriptions of Its

activities). Thus, "the earth, the vessel full of resources has been

filled by God but once. It depends on the choices of people how much

they take from it." (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p.1190) For this reason,

one of the first acts of the Sikhs as a political entity was to

effectively re-distribute the land in Punjab in the late eighteenth

century, as landowners were stripped of their title. Title to land

was given to those who actively worked the land. Thus, although there

was private property, it was balanced by a socialistic desire that

those who work get the fruits of their labour.

This presence of God in the everyday world means that this world is

regarded as the Kingdom of God. "The world is Yours. You are the Lord

of the universe." (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p.417) As the brain is part

of the body, so that our thoughts change our forms, in the same way

the Word is part of the mind, so that the mind at all times is the

Throne Room of God, as the body is His Temple. "The body is the

mansion, temple and home of the Lord within which He has enshrined

Infinite Light." (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, p.1256) In this way, there is

a continuum of unity between Creator and creation, the Unity of Being

or Oneness of God as Sikhs understand it.

Self-centredness places an artificial dam across this flow of life.

Our Inner Tutor guides us from within and without, through

serendipity (happy chances in life), in being ourselves, beloved in

our unique personal oddities and choices. These choices should not

extend to taking the rights of another's labour as this is tantamount

to stealing the Divine Energy in that labour. "Should cloth be

thought of as impure if stained by blood, how can we consider as pure

the mind of someone who sucks the blood of humankind?" (Guru Granth

Sahib Ji, p.140) Guru Nanak visited a friend of his, but a rich man

insisted that he dine with him and the other holy people that he had

invited to a reception. Guru Nanak attended the event, but refused to

eat any food. When pressed, he declared that the food being served

was dripping with the blood of the poor, exploited people that had

made his host so rich. Some accounts elaborate the story further - he

broke the bread of his friend, from which came milk, and then the

bread of his host, from which came blood. This scene is a popular

inspiration for Sikh paintings.

The perfection of the Sikh lies in recognition of the link between

the deep perfection based on God's Presence in life, and everyday

imperfection based on God taking a chance on us, in giving us

meaningful choices, free will. "Creating the beings, Itself provides

them sustenance." (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 1042) Thus, we are supported

in the chance that is life. We strive to flow in love knowing that

dams are everywhere, but also that the water itself (Sabd) has a

current, is a current (of the Names of God). For this reason, labor

is regarded as a sacred activity. For this reason with regard to work

the Guru observed that, "None is high or low." (Guru Granth Sahib Ji,

7) This idea of the dignity of labour makes it a taboo for a Sikh to

be unemployed.

In his poems, reflections of the Universal Mind, the Word, Guru Nanak

expresses the human longing for wholeness. Guru Nanak spent much of

his life teaching through his poems. With his companion, Bhai

Mardana, Guru Nanak travelled as far as Tibet, Sri Lanka, Baghdad and

Mecca to discuss religion with Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. Guru

Nanak died in peace at age 70. Nine Human Gurus succeeded him. The

tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh, proclaimed that the congregation or

Guru Khalsa Panth together with the Guru Granth Sahib, the collection

of writings of the Sikhs containing the hymns of the Gurus as well as

those of Hindu and Muslim saints, and those of no particular

religion, would be the eternal Guru for the Sikhs after him.

The message is simple. Keep your focus on the One, Formless, Ever-

Present God, living within yourself and Nature. The answers are all

within; there is no theology here, as love knows no questions. The

image of the saint-soldier (Khalsa) is an archetype in the Mind as

the Word (Sabd) is the spring of the Mind. This abundance of Active

Divine Love has two implications – first, our own labour is an

extension of the Names, the Divine Activities; second, distribution

is based on abundance arising from God's Presence in the world,

rather than poverty and scarcity based on Its absence.

Few things symbolise these teachings more easily than Guru-ka-langar.

Inside each gurdwara (Sikh house of learning/worship) there is a

langar hall. In this place all are welcome to come and eat, whether

they decide to later pray or not. The food is vegetarian so that

none are excluded from any dishes. There is no charge for the food

and drink, and it is all prepared by volunteers. It is also served by

volunteers. In the highest seat of Sikh authority, the Darbar Sahib

complex, popularly known as the Golden Temple, approximately 100,000

meals are served each day entirely free of charge. Langar is

mentioned in the Sikh Reht Maryada or Code of Conduct for Knights of

the Order of the Khalsa. Article 21 (a) observes that, "The

philosophy behind the Guru's kitchen-cum-eating-house is twofold: to

provide training to the Sikhs in voluntary service and to help banish

all distinctions of high and low, touchable and untouchable from the

Sikhs' minds."

* Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, and is

treated as part of the Living Guru.

waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh!!

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