“All Reality is-es 1. Presence. Creative Power. Without fear. Without hate. Changeless. Form of Perfection. Necessity. Self-powered. Grace.”
These words are often called the Mool Mantar as some Sikhs have used them as mantras or chants. They are considered Mool or ‘the root’ as they appear at the beginning of the scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. They appear in full 33 times in the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, either in this full form and 569 times in the shorter form, “All Reality is-es 1Grace.”
It is for this reason that the religion named Sikhism by the British is also known as Gurmat or Way of the Guru, a way of grace. The original text was written joined up so that none would be able to add anything. The division of words is, therefore, an act of interpretation even before we try to understand the meaning of the words.
Full form: ikoankarsat nam kartapurakh nirbao nirvair akal murat ajuni saibhang gurprasad
Short form: ikoankarsat gurprasad
The full form is often the first prayer a Sikh learns. It is a song from the unstruck melody (anhad naad) playing in the heart of the universe. Affirming it (jap) we join in the choir of saints of many worlds for the thread of one reality strings the universe and multiverses.
‘All Reality is One’ is a cleaner read. However, it can be taken as a passive description of reality whereas what is being described is the active process of Being. Equally, the number ‘1’ is more accurate as the symbol used in the Guru Granth Sahib is the numeral ‘1’ rather than the word ‘One’.
Noting that “All Reality is-es One” has many implications. First of all, this world is not a dream world from which we should seek to escape. Cutting oneself off from worldly concerns like family life or politics to focus exclusively on spiritual matters is not recommended. Sikhi is a meeri-peeri system meaning that spiritual and worldly life are seen as two aspects of the same One Reality. This also affects the attitude towards science. One can accept that we are made of chemical-biological processes while asserting that these physical properties simultaneously have a mental aspect that makes it possible to speak of humans as ‘persons’ with selves. This is an idea of unity with dual properties, for example, meeri and peeri, or science and selves. It is not a substance dualism with Sikhs believing in an ‘otherworld’ up in space or a world of supernatural speculation that one calls ‘faith’. Moreover, this is not a world that is static, it is dynamic as the One is-es it. Finally, it reveals the purpose of life. It is to be real/authentic or “sachiara”, to connect to the One Reality (ikoankarsat). The question posed early on in the scripture is how to become “sachiara”. The answer is to follow the Will (hukam) that inscribes our being (likhia naal). In other words, follow our common sense to make good choices in response to the undeserved chances that the Universe in its love for us (grace/gurprasad) continually throws our way. There are no bad people, there are people who are out of tune with themselves and Life.
The idea of “Presence” means that for all its emphasis on One (Sikhi uses the numeral ‘1’ to emphasise 1ness), Sikhi is panentheistic rather than monotheistic. The world is not lacking or empty; rather the Presence is the center around which everything moves. The Presence is felt in the same common-sense way that we feel that our selves are real, that other humans are persons, or that the external world is real. That is to say that we cannot prove that the external world is real. For example, if we were in a dream or a computer simulation like ‘The Matrix’ our senses suggesting it is so could easily be manipulations by our own minds or artificial intelligence. The point is that such common sense beliefs are the frameworks by which we effortlessly have being in the world. We can question whether the world, the self or other selves exist but it has no meaning as our lives have to be based on the common sense that they do. The only purpose it serves is to reveal the limits of knowledge and demarcate the contours of common sense.
Common sense is referred to as ‘mat‘ while ‘man‘ refers to the mind, self or ego. The cauldron of the mind is stirred by the sword of intellect. Losing the barrier of ego allows the force of Grace to flow through this space at this time and raise the intellect. When the Word of common sense flows in this cauldron and the sword of intellect is stirred with skill, Amrit, the mead of immortality, is made. While we reject common sense the self-space is sealed off from the sense of the universe and our senseless self becomes a swamp, a painful trap for the living.
Knowledge is something we develop within the framework of common sense. It is not possible to have knowledge about the framework, in the sense of propositional knowledge but we may have experiential knowledge. People who have experienced something “know what they are talking about” and can recognise others who have shared experiences while others are speculating. Experiential knowledge of the Presence, whether as sunnya (zero, the void), or 1 is celebrated in the Guru Granth Sahib in which 36 non-Sikhs saints, including Muslims, Hindus and those who assert they have no religion have contributed, while priestly debate and speculation is disparaged, “each one thinks they are smarter than the other.” This is one interpretation of Guru Nanak’s statement that, “There is no Hindu, no Muslim.” This is natural religion, the same religion that began with “the first breath” as Guru Nanak says in the Siddha Gosht, his dialogue with Buddhist monks, the only inter-faith dialogue collected in a scripture. Awakening to the Presence within brings us to a richer, fuller, real and fulfilled life for the “divine light” lives in us as “fragrance within a flower, reflection in a mirror, fire inside wood.” The unity of mystical experience as the basis for a global society lies in contrast with the uniformity of religious belief promoted within countries or across the world.
The “Creative Power” at the heart of the universe suggests life, colour, music, difference. “Without fear” suggests completeness, “Without hate” suggests inclusion. We draw limits on ourselves, usually due to where society draws the limit on us. “Us” is usually set up against “them”. These key words in the Mool Mantar tell us that 1 and 0 are not binary oppositions. Rather they interchange in an endless play of Infinity.
Change. Essence. Necessity. These three things govern our world. If we change from baby to young man to middle aged to old man who are we really, are these stages ‘real’ or are the boundaries fluid? What is it that changes, what stays the same, what is our essence? Why must this happen? and, more intriguing, what is “must”? Why “must” anything? Surely randomness is more likely with all attempts to make sense of a random existence desperate projections of individual selves or collective agreements?
When one thing changes to another, it “dies”. Being Akaal or deathless, the Zero-One is changeless. Being Murat or Form, this is the Essential hub around which Everything creatively turns. This is the Necessity that grounds laws of science and our common sense being. It is perfect and is not “born” as something else; hence, outside the circle of birth. Being Perfect it is Self-Powered and non-needy.
However, it does have desire, indeed Love, for its Essential nature is Grace. The Way is Grace. The 1Force reaches out in love to everything. Those connected to it cultivate virtue as common sense. This is an ethic of love, for “only those who Love know the Lord.” The space of self, and this time now becomes the Presence filled Kingdom. The Khalsa or citizen Sikh is one owned directly by the Guru, Grace allowing Love to heal, open and uplift them. While the universal spirit owns and moves the Khalsa knight, they move the world in a spiritual revolution of social, person to person, relations, in a direction that is feminist, inclusive, rational, playful and respecting of the sovereignty of the individual’s experience of reality, the being of beings.
Ranvir Singh is a UK-based human rights activist and member of Akaal Purkh Ki Fauj. The article first appeared here.
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