In inviting me to join you for this afternoon's celebration, Dr. Indarjit Singh was kind enough to let me have a copy of some notes on the Holy Granth. And reading through these notes, I was particularly struck by the fact that much of what was being said – for example, on tolerance and respect for others – seemed to be in harmony with the views that I, too, have been trying to express for the last twenty or more years – views, I have to say, which have sometimes landed me in some rather hot, unholy water.
Most especially, I noticed that, in speaking of what we might call a Divine Reality, the teachings of the Holy Granth seemed to echo the teachings of the sophia eternis, that is the eternal wisdom of the great sages and prophets of all time.
I noted, for example, that like so many other wise men, Guru Nanak taught that the path to Truth, the path to God, is through the love that we have for one another, saying:
"It is only through love of our fellow beings that we understand the love of God."
How like this is to the teaching of Jesus, whose first commandment was that:
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."
And whose second commandment was that:
"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
However, for each one of us, in our own tradition, these teachings of love and compassion are, perhaps, so familiar that we may fail to understand their real profundity. For it seems to me that the teaching is not simply that love is a virtue (which, of course, it is) or an emotion (which, of course, it is) but that it is of the essence. For, surely, we must assume that where we find God, we will find Love.
This is, of course, a most radical proposition. For if Love is of the essence, if Love is the pathway to Truth and Reality, then we would be most unwise to live our lives other than in accordance with its principles. But, as we all know, that is often a tall order!
I also noted, that, like the great sages of all time, your tradition places much emphasis on tolerance and respect for others. Indeed, I understand that Guru Nanak had two travelling companions, one a Hindu and the other a Muslim; and that your own Guru Arjan asked a Muslim saint, Mia Mir, to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple.
Again and again, from many a different source, we find that we are taught the lesson of respect for others and, indeed, for all things. When you think about it, it is in fact the simple exercise of good manners and consideration for others – things which seem, like the importance of punctuation in a sentence, to have been brutally excluded from the modern lexicon of life.
And living as we do in times that are so sadly scarred by conflict and disharmony – often, one has to say, religious conflict and disharmony – it is, for me, something of a wonder, and indeed a comfort and an encouragement, to find that despite their obvious differences the great sages, prophets and holy men and women of all traditions have ceaselessly spoken of this eternal wisdom – urging us to care for one another, and especially to care for those that are strangers in our midst.
Indeed, I have increasingly come to understand that, for all our differences, we share, within each one of us, a wisdom of the heart that gives expression to a divine love and compassion. And I have come to see that, far from dividing us, this wisdom – if we would but listen to it – draws us together in a spirit of tolerance, understanding and forgiveness.
These are matters, of course, to which the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, has referred in his excellent book The Dignity of Difference, in which he urges us to be “enlarged, not threatened, by difference.” Indeed, he says that it is the very role of religion to transcend difference and bind us together, one with another.
I feel compelled to say that for the greater part of my life I have felt that despite its evident achievements, for example in the areas of medicine and technology, much of our contemporary world has become fundamentally flawed and unbalanced.
Somehow, it would seem this world, or at least its Western territory, has lost – perhaps even expelled – those qualities of the Divine that our forefathers revered and knew to be true. It seems to me that in modern times we have allowed the egocentric aspect of our humanity to grow, unchecked and unmoderated, like the fledgling cuckoo in the nest, to overwhelm those more ancient, or rather timeless, qualities of balance and harmony that have ever been the guiding principles of the wise.
In the notes that he sent to me, Dr. Singh referred to the difference, in the Sikh tradition, between manmukh (ungodly) and gurmukh (responsible) living. And, indeed, how jarring it is to hear the incessant clamour of a world obsessed with individual rights but silent, it would seem, on individual responsibilities. And are there not great dangers in this. For in a world in which we are increasingly and irresistibly connected, this irresponsibility takes on global proportions. Sometimes, the consequences are small and personal, perhaps no more than an irritation. But sometimes – again and again, and in one place or another – the consequences are large and dreadful.
But, ironically, perhaps there is, here, something that can draw us together. For surely there is much in the modern world that is of concern to all those of faith; much that, whatever the tradition, is discordant with the great teachings of selflessness, reverence and compassion. And although each tradition may offer its particular critique and direction, there is, it seems to me, at the heart of each one, something of a common path. For each share a common concern about our present secular and materialistic world – an often violent world that places the individual ego above all else and, it would seem, leads us further and further away from a sense of what is sacred and a reverence for community.
Thus it is that your own Guru Nanak has said that “without realising it, we have become captivated by materialism and have lost our direction of life.”
Surely, then, if we are to hearken to the ageless teaching of divine wisdom, we must urgently rediscover the pathways of the Divine. And surely, too, we must do all that we can to support the efforts of those, such as the Interfaith Network, who work to foster and nurture understanding and fellowship across all peoples and all faiths. For, to paraphrase Guru Nanak once more:
Those who love God [must] love His Creation and all within it.