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Courtesy: Dhillon, S.S. "Why Universal Message of Gurbani has not become Universal! " Sikh Bulletin Volume 8, Number 11&12, pages 3-7, November-December 2006.


Dr. Sukhraj S. Dhillon, PhD, Cary, NC, USA


        Not only the western world, but most younger generation, in this modern era of science and technology, believes secular humanism as a spiritual and healing force, and religion as a possessive and destructive force-- even though real purpose of a religion is spirituality.  Those who make distinction between religion and spirituality feel possessed by rituals and guilt the religion imposes.   With spirituality they find no rules related to God's love and God's ability to sustain us.  Our collective survival lies in recognizing new realities about religion, and its positive relationship to science and spirituality [5].  We must recognize the path of secular humanism, based upon the principles of logic and reason.  Right interpretation of gurbani provided in our eternal guru "Aad Guru Granth Sahib" (AGGS) [1] can provide us new realities. "Guru Nanak's revelation of “One God and One Humanity” unites all humanity, and offers the hope of providing everybody on this globe with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  


            For appropriate analysis we need to discuss at least 2 aspects of this topic:

(1) The universal philosophy of sikhism.

(2)  Why sikhism has not become a Universal Religion and actions to be taken.

 1. UNIVERSAL PHILOSOPHY OF SIKHISM (or Universal Nature of Guru Nanak’s philosophy or Gurbani)  

"God created humanity, we created religions!
God created earth, we created boundaries!!
In the name of our creations, we continue to destroy His creations!"
How can we claim to live in His "Will"!!

        The religions of the world fall in two categories: Prayer-oriented religions and meditation-oriented religions.  Christianity, Mohammedans, Hindus, Sikhs and other popular religions of the world are prayer-oriented.  To pray, we need some higher power to which we can pray.  That higher power is God.  The meditation-oriented religions are Buddhism, Taoism, and Jainism.  These are not prayer-oriented since there is no direct use of God as in other religions.  Whether, through meditation or prayer to God, the real aim of a religion is spirituality-- which is the realization of spirit that exists in each and every person.  That is what is the realization of God, the connection between atma and parmatma, the realization of ultimate truth.  The real aim of a religion is spirituality, which is the final product.  When religion is used as a shield to protect our insecurities, then it becomes a religious war.

        Every religion holds very different meaning for different people.  As, for example, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, and the Taliban's Mohammad Omar are both followers of Islam, but the former is awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (2003) while the latter is an ignorant, psychotic fiend.  Bhagat Puran Singh of Pingalwara in Amritsar , and Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale were both devout sikhs with completely different approach.    

        In practice, religion including Sikhism, is not about peace and spirituality. Nor is it about war. Every religion is about absolute belief in its own superiority and the divine right to impose its version of truth upon others.  We see within our own Sikh religion, when many of us claim: “We are perfect gursikhs and the way we practice the religion is great.  Our religious beliefs are purer than yours.”  That's how the ego functions: the other is always reduced to the lowest possible; and compared to the other, one raises oneself higher.  

        Once we accept the universal nature of Guru Nanak’s Philosophy in gurbani, then there are no highers and lowers, and there are no nations and races to compare (nwnk siqguru AYsw jwxIAY jo sBsY ley imlwie jIau]; Nanak satgur aessaa jaaniay jo subsae laey milaaye jio...AGGS, p 72; meaning: O Nanak, know him as the true guru, who unites all with the Lord).  The new consciousness will arise - man will become very calm and quiet. All this continuous violence and aggression, whether between or within the religions, will disappear.  

        Gurbani will direct us towards ultimate reality, towards ultimate truth [6]. To be able to reflect reality is to know God. God is just another name for reality - another name for ultimate truth (Awid scu jugwid scu ] hY BI scu nwnk hosI BI scu]; aad sach jugad sach hai bhi sach Nanak hosi bhi sach.. AGGS, Jap 1, p 1; meaning: ultimate truth or God was there before all ages began; was there in the past; is there in the present, O Nanak; and will be there in the future forever).  And a man is really sane when he knows the truth because  in the realm of truth, the formless Lord abides (sc KMif vsY inrMkwru]; sach khand vasae nirankar.. AGGS, Jap 37, p 8; meaning: in the realm of truth, the formless Lord abides).  

Truth brings liberation, truth brings sanity. 
Truth brings intelligence, Truth brings innocence. 
Truth brings bliss, Truth brings celebration.

"Truth is higher than everything, but higher still is truthful living" (schu ErY sBu ko aupir scu Awcwru ]; sacho orai sab ko oopar sach aachaar...AGGS, p 62).        


        In Jap, Guru Nanak raised the same question “ikv sicAwrw hoeIAY ikv kUVY qutY pwil]; Kiv sachiara hoviai kiv kurai tutae pal (AGGS, Jap 1, p 1; meaning: How to become truthful; and how can the veil of illusion be torn away?).  

        His answer “hukim rjweI clxw nwnk iliKAw nwil]; hukm rajai chalna, Nanak likhia naal (AGGS, Jap 1, p 1; that is walk in the way of His Will).”  

        Accepting the “Will of God” was the basic philosophy of religious prophets.  Nanak called "Hukm" to His will. Taoism called "non-interference", Zen called "let-go", Christianity called "surrendering to the will of God."   

        Understanding the ‘Divine’ (The knowledge of the “Divine Will”) means the destruction of the ego - whether it is the racial ego, the religious ego, or the individual ego: nwnk hukmY jy buJY q haumY khY n koie]; Nanak hukme je bujhe ta haumai kahi na koe.. (AGGS, Jap 2, p 1; meaning: O Nanak, one who understands ‘Divine Will,’ is freed from ego).”  

        The racial and religious ego, which is the root cause of religious wars, is far more dangerous than the individual ego.  When the ego becomes racial or religious - we don't think we are claiming anything for our self. Indirectly we are claiming, "I am great because I belong to a particular race or religion which is great.”  However, it’s the individual ego which is the building block for any kind of ego.  The iron curtain of individual ego separates us from each other and from understanding God.  

“An Enlightened person sees not only himself in the world, but the whole world in himself”.     

        Absence of ego means that we all are actually the one humanity regardless of our color, caste, creed, national origin, sex.  

        A universal mind or one mind or one God of which we are part of is one universal energy, because “the universe is all energy and the energy is all universe [4].”

         We're like the spokes on a wheel, all radiating out from the same center.  If we define ourselves according to our position on the rim, we seem separate and distinct from one another.  But if we define ourselves according to the center of the wheel, we're a shared identity with the same mind.  Just as a sunbeam can't separate itself from its source-the sun, and a wave can't separate itself from the ocean, we can't separate one mind from another.  Our grades, credentials, jobs, cars, and homes are like a spoke at the rim, a sunbeam, and a wave-- all with characteristics of their own but a part of the same source-- the wheel, the sun and the ocean.  We are all part of one indivisible divine mind or the universal mind or one universal energy or God. Our individual mind or soul (atma) is divine image of supreme (or Parmatma), but we have to recognize it: mn qUM joiq srUpu hY Apxw mUlu pCwxu]; mun tu jot saroop hai, apna mool pashaan...(AGGS, p 441;  meaning: O’my soul you’re the image of Divine light; so know your source).   And the same mind or one mind or one energy, is the same as one God (Ek Onkar).  

        Once we recognize our Universal nature then: we have no one to fear from (nirbhau)  and no feelings of enmity (nirvair) towards others (nirbhau, nirvair.. AGGS, p 1).  The fear and enmity are the products of others.  The word other separates us from universal mind or universal love. (Guru Arjan’s beautiful gurbani says: ibsir geI sB qwiq prweI] jb qy swDsMgiq moih pweI] nw ko bYrI nhI ibgwnw sgl sMig hm kau bin AweI]; bisar gaaee sabh taat paraee; jab te sadhSangat mohi paaee. Naa ko bairee nahee bigaana sagal sang hum ko ban aaee. AGGS, p. 1299; literally means since I have found universal love, there are no more enemies and strangers. And Guru Ram Das says:  mY aUpir ndir krI ipir swcY mY CoifAVw myrw qyrw ] mai oopar nadar karee pir saachai mai chhodi-arhaa mayraa tayraa. AGGS, p.561; I tender my gratitude to the Eternal Wisdom that granted me the gift of inner understanding towards abandoning every distinction between mine and others.)  

        The universal message in Nanakian Philosophy contains two words: compassion (daya) and contentment (santokh). The righteousness is born out of compassion and contentment upholds the order of nature (DOlu Drmu dieAw kw pUqu] sMqoKu Qwip riKAw ijin sUiq] Dhaul dharam daya ka poot; santokh thap rakhiya jin soot.. AGGS, Jap 16, p3).  The implication is that “Be compassionate to others; and be content within yourself.”   

        The two words, compassion (daya) and contentment (santokh) combines the philosophy of whole world: Christianity in the west and all the eastern religions. Details in Dhillon [2].  

        Here’s is another good example of Universal Nature of Guru Nanak’s Philosophy:  

        Some one asked the nobel laureate Rabindera Nath Tagore: “you have written national anthem for India .  Can you write international anthem for the whole world?”  “It’s already written not only for international but for the entire universe in 15th century by Nanak,” replied Tagore.  He rightfully referred to aartee (ceremony of lights) authored by Guru Nanak, which is beyond boundaries of any religion or any country.  He is recognizing God’s entire creation.  

ggn mY Qwlu riv cMdu dIpk bny qwirkw mMfl jnk moqI] 
gagan mai thaal rav chand deepak banay taarikaa mandal janak motee.

Upon that cosmic plate of the sky, the sun and the moon are the lamps. The stars and their orbs are the studded pearls.

DUpu mlAwnlo pvxu cvro kry sgl bnrwie PUlµq joqI] 
oop mal-aanlo pavan chavro karay sagal banraa-ay foolant jotee.

The fragrance of sandalwood in the air is the temple incense (dhoop), and the wind is the fan. All the plants of the world are the altar flowers in offering to You, O Luminous Lord. ||1||

kYsI AwrqI hoie ] Bv KMfnw qyrI AwrqI] 
kaisee aartee ho-ay. bhav khandnaa tayree aartee.

What a beautiful Aartee, lamp-lit worship service this is! O Destroyer of Fear, this is Your Ceremony of Light. (AGGS, p13).

         If we could practice this universal message (of dya or compassion and santokh or contentment, and natures universal aartee beyond the confines of any religion or country), not only we control the ego that creates enemies and wars, but imagine the satisfaction, happiness, and universal love it would bring.   

        In everyday living, seeing ourselves as separate, we create chaos and disorder between things, “out there” and ourselves. We war with other people and destroy the environment. Being separate from other people, things, and events, we want to force them to be what we want. In harmony there is no violence.  Instead of futilely trying to control the uncontrollable, a person in unity learns acceptance, not because he has to but because there actually is peace and orderliness in himself and his extended body.  

If we see ourselves in others-
            Then whom can we hurt?
            What harm can we do?

--The Buddha

        The possibility of experiencing unity has tremendous implications in life, because when there is harmonious interaction between us and our extended body, we feel joyful, healthy, and youthful.  "Fear is born of separation."  The transformation from separation to unity, from conflict to peace, is the goal of all spiritual traditions.  "Don't we live in the same objective world?" a disciple once asked his guru.  "Yes," his master replied, "but you see yourself in the world, I see the world in myself.  This minor perceptual shift makes all the difference between freedom and bondage."  

        We have to raise ourselves to new reality about science, religion and spirituality, which is needed to transform this earth into a paradise.  

        Guru Nanak has done it. He has given us the universal philosophy that we sikhs have in gurbani.  It was the message of Guru Nanak that could survive in a country dominated by Hinduism and Islam.  He was guru and pir for Hindus and Muslims, but now be father for Christians. At a seminar conducted at Simla, by the Panjab Historical Society Lahore in early 1900, the lieutenant governor of Panjab, who was presiding over the seminar said, " according to what had been told by the speaker, Guru Nanak was a great Christian."  If he was born in the west, Sikhism would have been the world religion in this age of Science and Technology.  

        In theory, Sikhism is the only universal religion with none of the problems like creation vs evolution, or immaculate conception, or resurrection, or the only son of God or last prophet, or worshipping stones or priestly class.  In fact, gurbani explains that there is no such thing as immaculate conception (jYsy mwq ipqw ibnu bwlu n hoeI]; Jaise maat pita binu baalu na hoee.. AGGS, p 872; meaning: without a mother and father there is no child), or resurrection (kbIr mwns jnmu dulµBu hY hoie n bwrY bwr]; Kabir maanis janam dulambh hai, hoi na barai baar.. AGGS, p 1366; meaning: Kabir, precious human existence, does not just come over and over again).  In contrast to only son of God or last prophet, Guru Nanak on the other hand regarded himself as the dust underneath the feet of the servants of God as stated by him in his Bani as recorded in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib.  

        The Aad Guru Granth Sahib of all the world religious scriptures, alone states that there are innumerable worlds and universes other than our own. The previous scriptures were all concerned only with this world and its spiritual counterpart. To imply that they spoke of other worlds, as does the Guru Granth Sahib, is to stretch their obvious meanings out of context.  

        AGGS (Aad Guru Granth Sahib) recognizes a common Creator as the only God: who sustains all people of all faiths and is addressed by many names by devotees in various faiths.  Sikh Gurus embraced the revelation of Hindu and Muslim saints making it a scripture for people of all religions.  The secular nature of AGGS has a universal appeal for the benefit of emerging global society of the twenty-first century.  It offers a hope for our collective survival by providing new realities about religion, and its positive relationship to entire humanity.  


        With all the claims and it’s appeal, the fact is: Sikhism has not become a universal religion.  We have not been able to promote and practice Universal Nature of Sikhism in Gurbani. Some times militancy is a necessity and it played very significant part in sikh history.  Sikhs stand out for their bravery.  However, our image as militant nihangs has dominated our religion and is being exploited.  We have not been able to erase this militant image, and create a vision of future human society with universal human values. There are still reports of murders in Gurdwaras.  We continue to collect signatures, for example, whether it's about BBC broadcast "The Jury" or movie "Dysfunctional Family”.  The petitioners object to the screening of "The Jury" that the Sikhs are alluded to as being fanatics and extremists, “Sikhism is a violent religion” and its followers love fighting.  In the movie “Dysfunctional Family” the objection is about a sikh being called Osama.

          First of all, what we really need, in this time and age, is to promote and practice Universal Philosophy of Sikhism in Gurbani.  The message of “One God and One Humanity.”  We have to properly understand our last living Guru Gobind Singh Ji.   He asked us to follow Guru Granth Sahib and it’s teachings (guru granth ji maneo, pargat guran kee deh; jo prabh ko mil voch hai, khoj shabad mein ley. meaning: Guru Granth is our guru and it represents philosophy (body) of all the gurus; only the shabad will connect us with akaal purkh).   AGGS is our eternal guru and the only guru to guide us, as suggested by the very last living guru Gobind Singh.  We have, however, failed to convince sikh masses on accepting the AGGS as our only guiding light?  We hear instances of going so far as to install Dasam Granth (DG) equal to AGGS and justify and fight over it whether 10th guru Nanak sahib wrote it or his poets wrote it.  Irrespective of who wrote it,  Dashmesh pita never elevated his own writing to the status of Gurbani as written and authenticated in Guru Granth Sahib.  Therefore,  it is wrong to consider DG equal to AGGS and should end internal fighting over such issues.  

        We have to put in proper perspective the concept of Khalsa and khande de pahul  that has become a bone of contention: “The greatest contribution of the last living 10th Guru Nanak-- Guru Gobind Singh Ji-- is the creation of Khalsa, the family of pure ones, to which a Sikh may belong through receiving baptism or initiation (Amrit/khande de pahul). Therefore, every khalsa is a Sikh but every Sikh is not a khalsa unless he/she receives baptism.”  Encourage those who are ready to take Khande de pahul to join the ranks of khalsa, but respect each other as equal sikhs in all respects inside or outside the gurdwara [3].

         Sikh scholars should be free to discuss and present the sikhism in its real perspective emphasizing spiritual power of gurbani.  The fact is if any Sikh or non-Sikh raises any objection against the un-Sikh-like concepts or rituals then politically influenced authorities on Sikhism and orthodox gate-keepers criticize that person to the extent that either he/she will keep quiet forever or if insists on his/her findings is excommunicated. As long as sikh scholars are dominated by orthodoxy, the Sikhism cannot be portrayed as a universal religion.  Anything perceived against the sikh principles should be refuted by scholars rather than pushing under the rug.  

        There are other points to practice that will help us make sikhism a universal religion while keeping the necessary traditions. These need to be seriously  discussed and considered.  

1. Universal message need universal language for effective communication.  We should not hesitate to use English (or other local language) along with Punjabi. Every body in the congregation should understand each and every word. Hymns after singing must be explained in simple English not the English in which the present translations are.   In fact, AGGS can be made available in English and as many other languages as possible.  Translations and electronic versions can be kept in libraries.  So that its universal message is available on large scale.  Let us not forget the reason why the authors of the Guru Granth used the language of the people rather than the language of "veneration," i.e. Sanskrit. This was done to make the message accessible to the common people. Now, 500 years later, the international language of the people is English. Attempts to resist this reality are only serving to hinder the universal message of the gurus.  

2. Install Guru Granth Sahib at a higher level. Let there be chairs and all sit there, if that’s what sangat wants.  Some people, especially the older or with physical problem, can’t even sit on the floor.  Chairs for handicap only means highlighting their handicap.  Why not let everyone choose whatever they feel comfortable with.  When we keep lecturing, gurus have given us sardari (affluence): why not eat langar sitting on chairs (that we can afford in the west) rather than sitting on the floor. The equality justification is meaningless: everyone sitting on chairs is equal.  I, as a young student at Yale University , have attended congregation with chairs in New York .  Many famous scholars had agreed with this practice for the west.  Dharmik Sulaakaar Committee on 25 April 1935, comprising of: Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, Prof. Jodh Singh, Prof. Teja Singh, Prof. Ganda Singh, Jathedar Mohan Singh passed the following resolution:  “In Europe or America, where it is a standard practice to sit on chairs in religious places - there is no harm in sitting on chairs in Gurdwaras, provided that Guru Granth Sahib is placed at a higher elevation.”

 3. We should recognize rahitnamas and singh sabha declaration as documents that served well in the times these were written, and not follow blindly as guru’s words and argue over their out-dated rituals.  For example, our founder Guru Nanak Dev says about woman: so ikau mMdw AwKIAY ijqu jMmih rwjwn]; so ki-o mandaa akhee-ai jit jameh raajaan.. AGGS, p 473; meaning:  Why call woman bad? From her, kings are born; where as Bhai Chaupa Singh in rahitnama says:  istri kay jamay ka viswas nahi karna; meaning: Never trust a woman.

4. Leave eating, drinking, meat consumption to health professionals and individuals.  Let us not force Gurbani into these health issues.  Gurbani, however, should be used for sound mental and spiritual health to live a happy-productive life.  

5. Questions must be encouraged. If not in presence of Guru Granth Sahib then separately.  We should not be afraid of so called modern scientific approach.  Any fear of science changing/challenging gurbani is unfounded.  Because gurbani can stand the risk and damage of scientific logic breaking the myths.   Scientific logic certainly has a potential to improve our interpretation and understanding; and means nothing more than understanding the rational behind what Gurbani says as against any dogmatic belief.  The fact is, it was scientific findings by Herbert Benson of Harvard Med School that made Mahesh Yogi, the popular Meditation Guru, a well known world figure and meditation a house-hold name in the west.  I will not be surprised if philosophy of AGGS presented in a scientific way makes it the best spiritual scripture for the entire humanity.

 6.  Implement message of gurbani in every day living.  For example, mool mantar (basic principle) should be used to describe the attributes of God that resides in each one of us and makes us spiritual, and not the God which resides outside this world.  In other words use to describe spiritual state of mind that, for example, is without fear and enmity (nirbhau, nirvair).  

7. All members of congregation must participate in learning gurbani and reciting kirtan.  We should give women equal rights to preach and practice sikhism.  We should not depend upon professional people from India to take charge of the affairs.  We should preach to all the people at all the places; and should not think that sikhism can be preached in Gurdwaras only.  

8. Sikh religion is about love for humanity and world peace (sarbat da bhala). All articles of fighting and fighter characteristics must be given minimal importance except for ceremonial purposes only.  

        Since people abroad will be the main force in spreading universal message, the major problem is to implement these points in gurdwaras in diaspora.  Many of us realize that the people who are dominating gurdwaras are orthodox. So the real challenge is to implement these guide lines.  However, I believe some of the modern gurdwara are ready to practice many of these points.  

        Learned members of our community can further expand and refine these points, and try to support with gurbani in our current guru, AGGS.  Then we should start distributing the ideas thru internet and discussion groups etc. Finally get them in published form as voice of the panth.  


1.       AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint). Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar . (M = Mahala, i.e., succession number of Sikh Gurus to the House of Guru Nanak, P = page number of the AGGS. M is replaced with the name of Bhagat or Bhatt).  

2.       Dhillon, S.S. 2002. Universal Nature of Sikhism and Endorsement of Sikh Definition.  The Sikh Bulletin Volume 4 (12), p 12.  

3.       Dhillon, S.S. "Defining a Sikh and Importance of Amrit" Quarterly  Issue No. 18, November 2004.

          ( )  

4.       Dhillon, S.S. "Gurbani, Science, and Soul” Sikh Bulletin Volume 7, Number 4, pages 8-13, April 2005  [Reproduced with permission from: Understanding Sikhism Res. J. Vol 7, No.1 pages 59-63, 2005]  

5.       Dhillon, S.S. 2007. "SCIENCE, RELIGION & SPIRITUALITY.” Publish America , Baltimore , MD.  

6.           Dhillon, S.S. "Universality of the Sikh Philosophy: An Analysis" The Sikh Review, Volume 52:5, Number 605, pages 15-20, May 2004  


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