The ecological message is an important theme of Sikh teachings enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), the holy Scripture of the Sikhs.
Life on earth includes all life forms. They were evolved by nature over millions of years and co-exist interdependently in a finely balanced system. Guru Nanak Sahib (1469-1539), the founder of Sikhi (Sikhism), called this system Dharam Khand in his founding Bani or composition, Japji Sahib, the first holy composition in Guru Granth Sahib.
Dharam Khand is based on the law of cause and effect. That means we reap what we sow.
Dharam teaches us how to live responsible lives if we are to be saved from total disorder leading to chaos and destruction. The earth’s survival depends on the observance of dharam in all relationships. There are many references to this law in Japji Sahib further elaborated in Guru Granth Sahib.
By creating the earth, the Creator Being established it as the home of Dharam [Khand] – the sacred place where righteous conduct is to be practised. (SGGS p.1033)
The description of Dharam Khand is as follows:
ਰਾਤੀ ਰੁਤੀ ਥਿਤੀ ਵਾਰ ॥ ਪਵਣ ਪਾਣੀ ਅਗਨੀ ਪਾਤਾਲ ॥ ਤਿਸੁ ਵਿਚਿ ਧਰਤੀ ਥਾਪਿ ਰਖੀ ਧਰਮ ਸਾਲ ॥ ਤਿਸੁ ਵਿਚਿ ਜੀਅ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਕੇ ਰੰਗ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਨਾਮ ਅਨੇਕ ਅਨੰਤ ॥ ਕਰਮੀ ਕਰਮੀ ਹੋਇ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਸਚਾ ਆਪਿ ਸਚਾ ਦਰਬਾਰੁ ॥ ਤਿਥੈ ਸੋਹਨਿ ਪੰਚ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ॥ ਨਦਰੀ ਕਰਮਿ ਪਵੈ ਨੀਸਾਣੁ ॥ ਕਚ ਪਕਾਈ ਓਥੈ ਪਾਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਗਇਆ ਜਾਪੈ ਜਾਇ ॥੩੪॥ ਧਰਮ ਖੰਡ ਕਾ ਏਹੋ ਧਰਮੁ ॥
Nights, days, weeks and seasons;
wind, water, fire and the nether regions
in the midst of these, He established the earth as a home for Dharma.
Upon it, He placed the various species of beings.
Their names are uncounted and endless.
By their deeds and their actions, they shall be judged.
God Himself is True, and True is His Court.
There, in perfect grace and ease, sit the self-elect, the self-realized Saints.
They receive the Mark of Grace from the Merciful Lord.
The ripe and the unripe, the good and the bad, shall there be judged.
O Nanak, when you go home, you will see this. ||34||
This is righteous living in the realm of Dharma.
(SGGS p 7)
In Sikhi, the purpose of human life on earth is to see and experience the Creator Being in nature (kudrat) and to serve both. Only then is a state of harmonious living achieved.
Guru Nanak saw the Creator in the diverse creation wherein He sits and watches over all with joy and satisfaction (chaao). Many passages in Guru Granth Sahib are devoted to nature, the environment, the wind and the rain, day and night, the changing seasons, and the rich diversity of life on earth. The Creator created the air, which, in turn, created water and brought life on earth. (SGGS p.19).
Gurbani brings us closer to nature. The concluding hymn of Japji Sahib teaches us that the air which gives life is the guru, the teacher, water is the father and the great earth is the mother. Day and night are the two nurses, in whose lap all the world is at play. (SGGS p 8)
Another beautiful example in Gurbani (the Guru’s Word) is of nature performing its own version of the Aarti ceremony before One Creator Being. Aarti is a Hindu religious ceremony of worship in which light is offered to one or more gods or goddesses while songs are sung in praise of the deity. Aarti means light which removes darkness and is linked to ancient Vedic fire rituals.
However, Guru Nanak offered his own version of Aarti worship to the One Creator Being, with a powerful ecological message:
The true Aarti is being sung by nature before the Creator of all. Thus:
ਗਗਨ ਮੈ ਥਾਲੁ ਰਵਿ ਚੰਦੁ ਦੀਪਕ ਬਨੇ ਤਾਰਿਕਾ ਮੰਡਲ ਜਨਕ ਮੋਤੀ ॥
ਧੂਪੁ ਮਲਆਨਲੋ ਪਵਣੁ ਚਵਰੋ ਕਰੇ ਸਗਲ ਬਨਰਾਇ ਫੂਲੰਤ ਜੋਤੀ ॥੧॥
ਕੈਸੀ ਆਰਤੀ ਹੋਇ ਭਵ ਖੰਡਨਾ ਤੇਰੀ ਆਰਤੀ ॥
ਅਨਹਤਾ ਸਬਦ ਵਾਜੰਤ ਭੇਰੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
The sky is the platter (thaal) used for the aarti, in which sun and moon are the lamps.
The stars in the constellations are the jewels
The wind, laden with sandal-wood fragrance, is the celestial fan
All the flowering fields, forests are the radiance!
This is Your true aarti by nature O’ My Lord, Destroyer of fear!
(SGGS p 663)
The whole creation is a celebration of nature (kudrat) in which resides the Creator Being.
Another holy composition, the Barah Maha composed by the Sikh Gurus mean “Twelve Months”. It is a wonderful poem reflecting the changes in nature during the year which interact with the human soul yearning for union with the One Creator Being.
These are just some examples from Guru Granth Sahib to show the essential unity of life-diversity in nature and the Creator of all. In other words, “If you do not see God in all creation, the finely balanced eco-system, then you do not see God at all!”
Today’s selfish consumerism and market driven economies are a threat to the global climate and the environment. Sikhi – Sikh thought and way of life – has a powerful message for humankind regarding ecological issues.
On this earth man is at the head of all species (SGGS p.374) but has forgotten his duty (dharam) to serve the Creator and His creation due to lust and greed
The ecological message of Guru Nanak’s Jap ji and many other similar references in Sri Guru Granth Sahib can be summarised as follows:
The great earth, with its many life forms, is the “Dharam Khand”, the realm where balanced, responsible and righteous living should be practised.
This earth, together with the environment (wind and water) is the “dharamsaal” or “mandir” (place of worship) where human beings are placed at the head of all life forms. It is the dharam, the duty, of human beings not to desecrate this temple of God by disturbing the fine balance of nature by abusing the environment through selfish overuse of resources.
According to Sikhi, the purpose of human life is achieved by seeking complete harmony with Waheguru, the Wondrous Enlightener, the Giver of knowledge, while living the life of a householder. The Creator Being resides in nature and creates numerous diverse species. The air, the water and the earth are the givers of life and knowledge, and sustainers of life. The environment is the teacher, the water and the great mother earth the father and mother, the caring parents, who look after us.
Therefore, it is also our duty to serve these, our natural “parents” – the earth and the environment – and not to disturb the nature’s mechanisms developed over millions of years. Diversity must be preserved and respected according to the “Anekta meh ekta” (unity in diversity) principle of Sikhi now adopted as a universal maxim.
Every human being has a responsibility to selflessly serve the Lord’s creation and not to desecrate this temple of God, the great mother earth.
The ecological message of Sikhism is highly relevant today. It is time that this central theme of Sikh teachings, also becomes the main concern of all individuals and administrations at local, national and global levels.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The article first appeared at The Panjab Times, UK. See here.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Seeking Gurbani guidance on climate crisis (Asia Samachar, 18 July 2019)
Climate emergency – What would Nanak do? (Asia Samachar, 16 July 2019)