ENVIRONMENTAL VALUES IN SIKH SCRIPTURAL TRADITION & RELIGIOUS LIVING

INTRODUCTORY

Dr Jaswinder Singh, Assistant Professor, Religious and Civilizational Studies Department, Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University, Fathegarh Sahib, Punjab (India) asked me through an email on Jan. 15, 2014 to contribute a paper for the upcoming Special issue of the ‘Journal of Religions and Sikh Studies’ entitled ‘Preservation of Nature: A Sikh Perspective’ to elaborate the cosmic consciousness of Guru Granth Sahib regarding Man, Nature and our Universe. I commend and welcome the initiative by the University.                   

Nature refers to the phenomena of the physical world and also to essential qualities, innate disposition of a being or thing. It is also used to describe the enduring characteristics of things and living beings despite human intervention. The word banaspath has been translated as nature and vegetation and banavaaree as lord of nature in English translations of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture [SGGS]. The word also has been used to represent the innate disposition of a being or thing e.g. biradh, subhaao, kudhrath [used for creative nature & creation or nature].  

The totality of existence, from the miniscule to planets, stars, galaxies, space, energy and all life forms is known as Universe. Other terms used include the cosmos, the world and nature. Human experience and Science suggest that certain physical laws apply to the Universe, cause many of the phenomenon and help understanding of the working of nature and the world in which we live. In the SGGS, terms translated as universe, creation include srisatt, aakaar, jagath, rachan[aa], kudhrath, banath, pasaao, pasaaraa.

The terms environment and ecology may be better understood by an example often cited. Pollution levels and other risk factors of any activity are the concerns of Environmentalists while Ecologists would be more interested in the well being of life forms in their habitats. The two disciplines together help to create effective environmental policies.

The problems relating to environmental degradation and their related ecological impacts have been vastly documented and continue to cause widespread concern. The developed societies are increasingly involved at various planes in an attempt to understand the complexity of local as well as global environmental issues and how these may impact their lives, now and going forward. Such concern is also translating into effective influence on formulation of public policy.

In this scenario, a growing view is that greater involvement of religious traditions is essential in bringing about change at personal and social levels to cherish the creation and protect it. The Judeo-Christian traditions have been sensitive to the emerging problems and there is a plethora of literature that has come out in the last 25 years or so. Pope John Paul II reasoned in his World day of Peace Message in 1990 that “the ecological crisis is a moral issue — respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of the creation.” In his Apostolic Letter in 2000 he questioned “—and how can we remain indifferent to the prospect of an ecological crisis which is making vast areas of our planet uninhabitable and hostile to humanity?  

The Earth Charter formulated in pursuance of a call by United Nations World Commission was approved in March 2000. The source of values for the Charter was intended to be ‘the wisdom of the world’s great religions and philosophical traditions’. The absence of Sikh or their religious leadership’s involvement in the consultative processes is clear: ‘Kamla Chowdhry and Ashok Khosla — Both linked the Charter to Gandhian thought.’ http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/categories/Countries/India/

The fact is that but for the initiatives launched by two venerable Sants in India and the US based EcoSikh, the Sikh involvement in one of the most pressing social issues of the modern times would possibly have stayed confined to a few articles written by people like me.[1] That is why this academic initiative is a step in the right direction and my hope is that it leads to generation of some well thought perspectives that bring out the richness and depth of the Sikh thought on this problem affecting the sarbat – the totality of the created world.  

In trying to construct a Sikh perspective, my attempt would be to share the rich Sikh theological empathy with nature as well as some anecdotal Sikh experiences and recent initiatives as we look forward to wider Sikh engagement in contributing our bit to leave mother earth no worse than what we inherited from our predecessors.  

VISION OF CREATOR-CREATION RELATION IN SGGS

God, When, How, Where, Abode

Sikhs believe that the transcendent God[2] [nirgun] created Himself and also assumed/fashioned naam. Next [at some stage] He brought the creation into being and seating within it, He beholds it with delight. He is the giver and the creator and at His pleasure, bestows mercy. Knower of all, He gives life and takes it away with a word – Aapeenhai Aap Saajiou Aapeenhai Rachiou Naao  Dhuyee Kudharath Saajeeai Kar Aasan Dditho Chaao  Dhaathaa Karathaa Aap Thoon Thus Dhaevehi Karehi Pasaao  Thoon Jaanoee Sabhasai Dhae Laisehi Jindh Kavaao – Pauree 1, Asa ki Var, M I, p. 463.

God exists near, far and in between –  Aapae Naerrai Dhoor aapae Hee aapae Manjh Miaanuo – Sri Rag M I, p. 25. It exists and encompasses everything: seen, unseen; known, unknown; comprehensible or not for He is- Sabh kichh aapai aap. His abode is:

  • in sach khand. The nirgun saroop is active, watching, pondering –  Sach khand vasai nirankaar – kar kar vekhai sirjanhaar – sachai ki saachi kaar [Pauri 37, Japji]  
  • within us, He dwells in each and every heart and we contemplate Him by His hukam – Ghatt Ghatt Aapae hukam Vasai hukamae Karae Beechaar – Sri Rag M III, p. 37. Elephants, worms, ants, moths, moving beings, stationary species and various other life forms are all formed out of the same clay and within each, the Lord speaks and is contained – sabhai ghatt raam bolai raamaa bolai  raam binaa ko bolai rae  eaekal maattee ku(n)jar cheettee bhaajan hai(n) bahu naanaa rae  asathhaavar ja(n)gam keett patha(n)gam ghatt ghatt raam samaanaa rae – Mali Gaura Namdev, p. 988
  • in what is manifest. Its sargun saroop pervades all. The manifest world is roop of the divine and is so seen through divine grace: Eh vis sansaar jo tum dekh rahai har ka roop hai har roop nadri ayya – Ramkali Anand M III.

This world is abode of the true Lord; within it He dwells. As His hukam ordains some merge into Him and some get destroyed. By His will some are lifted out of maya, while others stay submerged within it. None can say who will be rescued. O Nanak know the one unto whom He reveals Himself as gurmukh – Eihu Jag Sachai Kee Hai Kotharree Sachae Kaa Vich Vaas   Eikanhaa Hukam Samaae Leae Eikanhaa Hukamae Karae Vinaas   Eikanhaa Bhaanai Kadt Leae Eikanhaa Maaeiaa Vich Nivaas   Eaev Bh Aakh N Jaapee J Kisai Aanae Raas   Naanak Guramukh Jaaneeai Jaa Ko Aap Karae Paragaas – Asa M II, p. 463.

Created World

All that is in the created world was endowed by God at its inception.[3] Water came from air that came from the true Lord. He infused His light in all and created the three worlds from water.[4] The creation is real. God creates, sustains, destroys and recreates all that is seen or unseen. Air is characterized as the Guru, water as the father and earth as the mother as the entire play of good and evil keeps unfolding in this world in the laps of day and night acting as the metaphoric nanny[s].[5]

His Creative Power

By His power we see, hear and sense fear and essence of happiness. By His power Akashic ethers, nether worlds and the entire creation exists. Vedas and the Puraanas and Scriptures of the Semitic faiths exist by His power. By His power we eat, drink and dress; by His Power all love exists. By His Power come the species of all kinds and colors; by His Power the living beings of the world exist. By His Power virtues exist, and by His Power vices exist. By His Power come honor and dishonor. By His Power wind, water and fire exist; by His Power earth and dust exist. Everything is in Your Power, Lord; You are the all-powerful Creator. Your Name is the Holiest of the Holy. O Nanak, through the Command of His Will, He beholds and pervades the creation; He is absolutely unrivalled – Kudharath Dhisai Kudharath Suneeai Kudharath Bho Sukh Saar  Kudharath Paathaalee Aakaasee Kudharath Sarab Aakaar  Kudharath Vaedh Puraan Kathaebaa Kudharath Sarab Veechaar  Kudharath Khaanaa Peenaa Painhan Kudharath Sarab Piaar  Kudharath Jaathee Jinasee Rangee Kudharath Jeea Jehaan  Kudharath Naekeeaa Kudharath Badheeaa Kudharath Maan Abhimaan  Kudharath Poun Paanee Baisanthar Kudharath Dhharathee Khaak  Sabh Thaeree Kudharath Thoon Kaadhir Karathaa Paakee Naaee Paak  Naanak Hukamai Andhar Vaekhai Varathai Thaako Thaak – Asa M I, p. 463/4

Sabd/Guru

With one Word He created the expanse of universe and lakhs of rivers began to flow.[6] Word that caused creation into being is sabd. Witness: From primal void, came the four sources of creation and the power of speech. Created from the void, they will merge into the void. The supreme Creator created the play of nature and stages His wondrous show through shabad – Sunnahu Khaanee Sunnahu Baanee  Sunnahu Oupajee Sunn Samaanee  Outhabhuj Chalath Keeaa Sir Karathai Bisamaadh Sabadh Dhaekhaaeidhaa – Maru M I, p. 1037. Sabd is the divine Word revealed to those God chooses.

Guru dispels darkness and shows the light: Should even a hundred moons rise and a thousand suns shine, even with such light, there would still be pitch darkness without the Guru – jae so cha(n)dhaa ougavehi sooraj charrehi hajaar  eaethae chaanan hodhiaaa(n) gur bin ghor a(n)dhhaar – Asa M II, p. 463. Sabd is the Guru: sabd guru surt dhun chela – Ramkali M I, Siddh Ghosti. Sikhs venerate SGGS as the eternal Guru. Individual compositions in SGGS are termed shabad in common parlance.

Hukam

Hukam includes the immutable laws of nature and the discretionary acts of divine grace and mercy known as nadar, mehr, kirpa, baksis. All in the created world are subject to hukam – none is excluded.[7] Grace is a selective bestowal by the divine.

The universe is created through hukam[divine will], which also is the cause of individual divine writ. The Guru says, if hukam is understood, no one would feel boastful of homai [human sense of self or free will] – Hukmi hovan aakaar – hukam likh dukh sukh – ikna hukmi bakhsis ik uhkmi sadaa bhavaaiai — hukmai je bhujai taa homai kahai na koye – Japji, p. 1.

Hukam is true: True is Your court and command. True is Your will and order. True is Your praise and adoration. True, O true king is Your creative power – Sachaa Thaeraa Amar Sachaa Dheebaan  Sachaa Thaeraa Hukam Sachaa Furamaan  Sachee Thaeree Sifath Sachee Saalaah  Sachee Thaeree Kudharath Sachae Paathisaah – Asa M I, p. 463

Those, whom he causes to abide by hukam, have shabad abiding deep within – hukam jinaa no manaaeiaa  thin a(n)thar sabadh vasaaeiaa  – Sri Rag M I, p. 72. By hukam they are embellished and the perfect One makes them perfect – Poorai Pooraa Kar Shhoddiaa hukam savaaranehaar – Sri Rag M III, p. 90

Naam

Naam is the divine source for the support and sustenance and also the measure of endeavor by the created – Naam ke dharai saglai jant [Gauri Sukhmani, M V] Vich naavain dharma bahaliah [Asa ki Var, M I]. Naam adorns, embelishes and rejuvenats – Naanak naam savaaranehaar – Gauri Dakhni M I, p. 152. O Nanak, by singing naam of the immaculate Lord all the treasures are obtained – Naanak Naam Niranjan Gaaeeai Paaeeai Sarab Nidhhaanaa – Dhanasri M V, p. 676.

Both naam and hukam emanate from the karthaa, the creator, and have roles in relation to man and the created world. Human quest is naam dhyaanaa/japna

[meditating on, reciting naam]

and hukam bhoojnaa/man-na [understanding, acceptance of hukam]. Stage for this quest was set upon creation coming into being.

MAN & LIVING BEINGS IN THE SCHEMA

In the midst of this creation God installed the earth the abode of duty, action[8] with beings of myriad hues and infinite forms. The act of creation brought about a major change from the benign state that prevailed when the creator was by His own self. The Guru says: only when God fashioned the visible world subject to three gunaas, sin and virtue began to be spoken of and worldly entanglements of maya, houmai, doubt, attachment, fear, pain, pleasure, honor and dishonor came to be described in various ways. Some yearned for heaven and some have gone to hell – jeh aap rachiou parapa(n)ch akaar  thihu gun mehi keeno bisathhaar  paap pu(n)n theh bhee kehaavath  kooo narak kooo surag ba(n)shhaavath  aal jaal maaeiaa ja(n)jaal  houmai moh bharam bhai bhaar  dhookh sookh maan apamaan  anik prakaar keeou bakhyaan  – Gauri Sukhmani M V, p. 291.

No wonder then that having created the beings, God installed judge of dharma to record and judge their accounts for there, in the divine court, only the truthful will be judged true and sinners will be picked out and separated – Naanak Jeea Oupaae Kai Likh Naavai Dhharam Behaaliaa   Outhhai Sachae Hee Sach Nibarrai Chun Vakh Kadtae Jajamaaliaa  – Asa M I, p. 463

Of all living beings God gave extra merits to the humans.[9] The other beings were assigned own place and purpose in God’s scheme, but they also fulfill the purposes of the humans.[10] While man has a pivotal role, humans are told that God loves His creation the way it is and looks at it joyfully. He has been referred as swaaranhaar – the embellisher, decorator of the created. God also is the one who watches it all[11] and men are counseled not to unduly worry because God will protect and provide for all.[12]

It is recognized that even for a prayerful life, certain necessities have to be met. Here, take Thy rosary, [I] cannot pray on a hungry stomach, says Kabir.[13] Gurbani exhorts the seekers to ask what they want of God for He has provided us for ages and keeps on providing, even if we may tire of receiving.[14] His resources are infinite for having created myriad universes He sustains them all.[15] At the same time the believers are persuaded that for virtuous living truthfulness, contentment and contemplation[16] along with rising above life’s bondages and moderation in consumption will bring one closer to God.[17] Propensity for acquisition, ostentation and indulgence is to be curbed.

Notwithstanding pre-eminent role, the man is reminded that if an animal dies, its remains serve so many purposes, what good is a human dead.[18] Humility is highly commended virtue. Man must accept the governing principle in nature, the divine ordinance, hukam.

MAN’S SPIRITUAL ASCENT

As a responsible and active member of society man has a stake in stability, sustainability and survival of means of subsistence as also a need to ponder how he can advance spiritually to actualize gobind milan – union with the divine – even as he lives his mundane life. For a Sikh this pursuit has to be accomplished in the midst of family as a householder.

In Japji, Guru Nanak has deliberated on the stages of spiritual ascent by man. The first stage in the soul’s progress to its source is dharam khand, the realm of dharam. The Guru has named the next higher plane as gyan khand, the realm of knowledge followed by saram khand, the realm of aesthetics and ecstasy, then karam khand, the realm of Grace and finally sach khand, the realm of Truth where the True One resides.  

Dharam Khand

In dharam khand phase man is busy carrying out functions assigned by the Creator as well as mundane obligations as chosen by him. Placed in diverse and complex settings, man’s choice of actions will be influenced by his ability to choose between the right and wrong, good and bad, in relation to all in the creation. This understanding is the chosen dharma of the man and is a variable, qualitative, evolvable concept for man. In this paradigm the human actions –karam – are the critical determinants of how humans are judged.  

Gyan Khand

In gyan khand awareness of man broadens to develop an understanding of multiple persuasions, schools of thought, sages, seers, worlds beyond our own and the play of knowledge in the variety of personalities and precepts. Knowledge, reason and wisdom now hold supreme. The choice determinants now being the understanding of dharam at the person’s elevated plane of knowledge and reason are likely to lead to actions that may be closer to God’s desire and will be acceptable in His court.

Saram Khand

In this stage the understanding, insight and intuition of the man are so developed that he is empathetically sensitized to start perceiving the ineffable wondrous beauty, harmony and balance in the creation. This is the level of consciousness of seers and angels who can relate to their contemporaneous settings in a state of harmony. Not inimical to or overly attached to anybody or anything, he is in a state of bliss, thankful for God’s benevolence. His thoughts and actions are rooted in holistic understanding of dharam and thus would meet the criteria for favorable disposition in God’s court.

Karam Khand

The elevation to karam khand brings to end the cycle of birth and death. Reached only by God’s grace – effort and spiritual evolution is needed but by itself is not enough.  The key to be blessed with Grace is the person’s spiritual intensity – total involvement with naam and empathy with created.  

Sach Khand

The abode of God is sach khand. Residing here God joyfully looks at His creation; takes care of it; makes it operate as He wills; orders the lives and actions of beings and dispenses Divine justice. It is a firmament of countless worlds, regions, and forms – far or near depending upon where we are for God is indeed very close to us if only we have reached the stage where we can connect with His immanent presence. In fact says the Guru the dear Lord has fashioned the body as His temple and continues to dwell there.[19]

Clearly Gurus relate, understanding of the created world and empathy with it, to man’s spiritual ascent.

UNIVERSAL COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS AT PLAY

While the human quest for union with its divine origin is pursued in the midst of and in harmony with the rest of creation, reading through the SGGS, we come across several verses celebratory of the divine by all the created as if all the beings, heavenly bodies, torrents of energy, comings, goings, phenomenon, gods, goddesses, demons et al are reverberating in a shared adulation of the creator. Let us look at some.

In Divine Awe [bhai]

The awe of Creator is emblazoned upon the heads of all in what constitutes the creation and all natural                    phenomenon happen impelled by this awe. The Guru says: by Thy awe, the wind and breezes ever blow, the clouds move across the sky, thousands of rivers flow and fire is put to labor — Thy awe makes the earth bear its burden; makes the sun and moon to travel endlessly, millions of miles, across layers of skies — – bhai vich pavan vehai sadhavaao  bhai vich chalehi lakh dhareeaao  bhai vich agan kadtai vaegaar  bhai vich dhharathee dhabee bhaar — bhai vich sooraj bhai vich cha(n)dh  koh karorree chalath n a(n)th — sagaliaa bho likhiaa sir laekh – Asa Slok M I, p. 464.

Awe helps to trigger love: says Nanak, only those who sense the awe of God, will develop His love – Naanak Jinh Man Bho Thinhaa Man Bhaao – Asa M I, p. 465.

All Meditate [simar] in Remembrance on You

Meditation in remembrance, simran, is expression of loving devotion. The Guru says: while the Invisible Lord cannot be seen even for an instant, all that constitutes the creation – land, akaas, moon, sun meditate in remembrance on You, O treasure of virtue. Air, water and fire meditate in remembrance. Creation, continents, islands, fore worlds and spheres meditate in remembrance on True Lord. The sources of creation, speech, Your humble servants meditate in remembrance. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, the three hundred thirty million gods, the titans and demons all meditate in remembrance. [Even then] Your uncountable praises cannot be counted. All the beasts, birds, demons, mountains, forests, vines, branches and hermits meditate in remembrance; O my Lord and Master, You are permeating and pervading all minds. All beings, subtle and gross, meditate in remembrance — – Men and women, throughout the four stages of life, meditate in remembrance on You. All social classes and souls of all races meditate in remembrance on You. All the virtuous, clever and wise people meditate in remembrance. Night, day, hours, minutes and seconds meditate in remembrance. Death and life, and thoughts of purification, meditate in remembrance – simarai dhharathee ar aakaasaa  simarehi cha(n)dh sooraj gunathaasaa  poun paanee baisa(n)thar simarehi simarai sagal oupaarajanaa  simarehi kha(n)dd dheep sabh loaa  simarehi paathaal pureeaa sach soaa  simarehi khaanee simarehi baanee simarehi sagalae har janaa  simarehi brehamae bisan mehaesaa  simarehi dhaevathae korr thaetheesaa  simarehi jakhiy dhaith sabh simarehi aganath n jaaee jas ganaa  simarehi pas pa(n)khee sabh bhoothaa  simarehi ban parabath aoudhhoothaa  lathaa balee saakh sabh simarehi rav rehiaa suaamee sabh manaa  simarehi thhool sookham sabh ja(n)thaa —  simarehi nar naaree aasaramaa  simarehi jaath joth sabh varanaa  simarehi gunee chathur sabh baethae simarehi rainee ar dhinaa  simarehi gharree moorath pal nimakhaa   simarai kaal akaal such sochaa — alakh n lakheeai eik khinaa – Maru Solhe M V, p. 1078

Sing to Him

Guru Nanak presents a vision where the entire universe sings to Him: Air, water and fire sing to You. In singing, Thou, O noble ruler of spiritual law come to our door. The beings that record our thoughts and deeds sing to You, and, in singing, record our actions for all to know. In this record, spiritual law sees clearly what we are. The creative forces of the universe, beautiful and always bejeweled, sing to You. The forces that govern the seasons from the heavens sing to You, As do the natural forces of the earth —- All the jewels created by You sing to You, as do all the sacred places —– All the universes and galaxies and planets in the solar systems, All the continents in all the lands sing to You[20] gaavan thudhhano pavan paanee baisa(n)thar gaavai raajaa dhharam dhuaarae  gaavan thudhhano chith gupath likh jaanan likh likh dhharam beechaarae  gaavan thudhhano eesar brehamaa dhaevee sohan thaerae sadhaa savaarae  gaavan thudhhano ei(n)dhr ei(n)dhraasan bait(h)ae dhaevathiaa dhar naalae gaavan thudhhano rathan oupaaeae thaerae at(h)asat(h) theerathh naalae gaavan thudhhano kha(n)dd ma(n)ddal brehama(n)ddaa kar kar rakhae thaerae dhhaarae  – Sodar Asa M I, p. 8

All Dance 

The interplay of hukam, shabad, gurmukh and the creation gets elucidated – They, who obey your hukam, have imbibed the essence of spiritual wisdom and are your devotees: The beings and creatures all dance, and the four sources of creation dance. The planets and solar systems dance in the three qualities, as do those who bear love for You, Lord. They alone dance, who are pleasing to You, and who, as Gurmukhs, embrace love for Shabad – kha(n)dd brehama(n)dd thrai gun naachae jin laagee har liv thumaaree  jeea janth sabhae hee naachae naachehi khaanee chaaree  jo thudhh bhaavehi saeee naachehi jin guramukh sabadh liv laaeae  sae bhagath sae thath giaanee jin ko hukam manaaeae  – Gujri M III, p. 50

Entire Universe Chants Naam

You are the one and only Lord pervading all places and spaces in between. The forests and fields, three worlds, nay the entire universe, chant the name of the Lord, Har, Har. All the beings, uncountable and countless, meditate on and chant the name of the Creator, Har, Har – thoo thhaan thhana(n)thar har eaek har eaeko eaek raviaa  van thrin thribhavan sabh srisatt mukh har har naam chaviaa  sabh chavehi har har naam karathae asa(n)kh aganath har dhhiaaveae – Tukhari M IV, p. 1115.

It is not only that all in the universe chant naam and meditate on Har, whatever the deer, the fish and the birds [animals on land, sea or air] sing, they chant to the Lord, and none other:  jo bolath hai mrig meen pa(n)khaeroo s bin har jaapath hai nehee hor – Malaar M IV, Partaal, p. 1265.

ARE ALL IN THE UNIVERSE CREATED EQUAL?

So while in relation with the divine, all in the creation share mutuality of a loving relationship, is there a difference or hierarchy among the created? The following verse elucidates it: In so many incarnations, you were a worm and an insect; in many, you were an elephant, fish and deer. In so many incarnations, you were a bird and a snake and in so many, you were yoked as an ox and a horse. In so many incarnations, you were rocks and mountains and in so many you developed branches and leaves. In so many incarnations, you were aborted as you wandered through 8.4 million births. After so very long, this human body was fashioned for you – now is the time for you to meet the Lord of the universe. – kee janam bheae keett patha(n)gaa  kee janam gaj meen kura(n)gaa  kee janam pa(n)khee sarap hoeiou  kee janam haivar brikh joeiou  mil jagadhees milan kee bareeaa  chira(n)kaal eih dhaeh sa(n)jareeaa   kee janam sail gir kariaa  kee janam garabh hir khariaa  kee janam saakh kar oupaaeiaa  lakh chouraaseeh jon bhramaaeiaa – Gauri Guareri, M V, p. 176.

No doubt being born as a human being is great blessing but the Guru cautions that: It is very rare to find among millions a servant who remains a perfect devotee for very long — people practice deception hiding from others, not knowing that the One is always with them and wander through troubled incarnations of low and wretched species as a deer, a bird and a fish. Prays Nanak, please carry this stone [me] across, grant me peace in company of the holy –  kott madhhae kooo biralaa saevak pooran bhagath chiraano — log dhuraae karath t(h)agiaaee hotha sa(n)g n jaano  mrig pa(n)khee meen dheen neech eih sa(n)katt fir aano  kahu naanak paahan prabh thaarahu saadhhasa(n)gath sukh maano – Malhar M V, p. 1269.

The above suggests that absent virtuous life men are fated to be no better than lower species like animals living on land, water and air or stones. Guru also asks: who have not been saved if they meditated on the Lord?  And answers saying that in the company of the holy those who were born into the body of a bird, a fish, a deer, and a bull are all saved: Har Kai Bhajan Koun Koun N Thaarae   Khag Than Meen Than Mrig Than Baraah Than Saadhhoo Sang Oudhhaarae – Malhar M V, p. 1269. God saves beasts, demons and fools – even stones are carried across – Pasoo Paraeth Mugadhh Ko Thaarae Paahan Paar Outhaarai – Bilawal M V, p. 802.

Clearly while man has a place of pre-eminence, in divine scheme, liberation is not denied to lower species and God provides for them and takes care of them – a position beautifully explained in shabad  thoo kahai dolai paraaneeaa thauhai raakhai gaa sirajanhaar – Tilang M V, p. 724. The following anecdote reflects on similar dilemma and provides a peep into Guru’s thinking: One of Guru’s devotees unfailingly cooked for the Guru every evening and reverentially served him the food. One evening as he set to do so, a storm rose and he panicked that he would not be able to cook the food for his Guru. He went into prayer and beseeched God to stop the storm. His prayer heard, the storm stopped, and soon he brought the freshly cooked meal and placed it before the Guru, but the Guru turned his face the other way. When the devotee again put the food in front of the Guru, he again turned away. Distraught, the devotee begged the Guru to tell him where had he erred. The Guru replied that God had intended the strong winds to blow and spread food grains to remote-nesses where many insects were starving and your prayer did not let it happen!

The lesson here seems to be: humans are important but God’s scheme takes care of all in the creation and human stewardship must stay sensitive to the unintended collateral damage to the ecology that they may be causing.

COSMIC BALANCE & ORDER

There is another insight that emerges when we ponder over Guru Nanak saying: dhaul, the mythical bull which patiently holds the earth in its place, is dharma, son of compassion. What a great load carries the bull – so very many worlds beyond this world! What power holds them and supports their weight? One who understands this becomes sachiaaar, truthful –  dhhaal dhharam dhaeiaa kaa pooth  sa(n)thokh thhaap rakhiaa jin sooth  jae ko bujhai hovai sachiaar   dhhavalai oupar kaethaa bhaar  dhharathee hor parai hor hor  this thae bhaar thalai kavan jor  – Japji, Pauri 16, p. 3.

We saw earlier that the awe of God makes the earth bear its burden – bhai vich dhharathee dhabee bhaar – Asa Slok M I, p. 464. Guru now adds that the multiplicity of huge, massive worlds in creation is kept in balance by dharma emanating out of dhaya. One interpretation of dharam is code of conduct or duty and role. The dharma-rooted-in-divine-compassion environment enables dhartee to play mother to man and other living beings, allowing them to pursue their worldly needs and desires while also being afforded the opportunity for their spiritual elevation.

The earth and other forces of nature, perform dharam assigned to them by God with absolute faithfulness. Their altruistic devotion keeps the planets and other natural forces in balance so that the created world functions in a totally orderly manner.

In contrast to macro orderliness in nature, at the micro level various life forms are engaged in ‘survival of the fittest’ type of display of greed, avarice, competitive pressures and conflict – the latter addressed with great sensitivity in SGGS. Both the macro system and its micro level sub system came into being along with creation. Both operate as closed loop systems where all that is, was put in place at the very start and nothing gets added or lost. The ecological debate can be framed as a search to avoid the sub-system reach a point where it threatens the stability of divinely created macro order in creation.

SIKH HARMO NY WITH CREATION

Let us now turn to explore how sensitively Sikhs are oriented towards environmental issues, how they are responding to them and what more can be done by them.

Sikh sensitivity to nature is facilitated by many religious and cultural supports. The SGGS is written in poetry and set to Ragas. Its compositions have a uniquely lyrical quality about them. The choices of words and imagery are from nature and life – the sun, the moon, the stars, day, night, clouds, rain, changing hues of sky, cool breeze, budding flowers, trees, woods, animals prancing in the wild, chirping birds, breaking dawn, the early morning feeling of expectancy – so much so that it reaches the inner depth of one’s being transporting one to a state of ecstatic wonderment and feel of oneness with God’s creation, closer to a deep, uplifting spiritual experience. Witness some examples:

  • bhini rainariye chamkan tare – twinkling stars of a mellow evening[21]
  • mori run jhun laiya, bhenai sawan aaiya- see my friend the peacock dancing, the pitter-patter of rain; for sawan [the rainy season so welcome in tropics] is here[22]
  • chiri chahki, poh phutti, wagan bohut tarang –the birds are singing, the dawn is breaking and [my] heart is filled with joyous expectation[23]
  • sun samadh, anhat te naad – in the silence of spheres, the floating sound of celestial music.[24]

Guru Nanak expressed his state of bliss and wonderment beholding the various phenomenon – the cosmic melodies; the divine wisdom; the creatures, their species and animals prancing around naked; the hues and forms of creation; the air currents, water and playful flames of fire; the earth, its resources and attractions; the emotion of union, separation; hunger and satiation; distance, closeness and togetherness; wilderness and clear paths. He concludes by saying how wonderstruck is he to see God’s astounding marvels and how truly blessed are those who get a glimpse of His mysteries.[25]

The key is to apprehend divinity in all around us and comprehend contemporary reality. The Guru says:  Having created the universe, He dwells within it. To see God’s presence wherever you look, let your quest be sincere faith and control of mind. The slave of God is one on whom reflection of contemporary reality is not lost. The intricacies of creation cannot be known – if known, these could not be described. Unless one has understanding of His creative power, conscious observance of religious codes and rituals cannot take one across. – kudharath kar kai vasiaa soe  vakhath veechaarae s ba(n)dhaa hoe  kudharath hai keemath nehee paae  jaa keemath paae th kehee n jaae  sarai sareeath karehi beechaar  bin boojhae kaisae paavehi paar  sidhak kar sijadhaa man kar makhasoodh  jih dhhir dhaekhaa thih dhhir moujoodh – Sri Rag Slok M I, p. 83

Sikhs believe that man can connect with God only while living in this world. This world and life therefore are important and one should bring the two in harmony to comprehend inter-connectedness between God and nature, attain inner peace and experience the ecstatic beauty and joy – vismad, anand, ras, khera – in the divine dispensation. This is also the thrust of Sikh path for spiritual ascent.

As a life affirming faith, Sikhs are enjoined to live a householder’s life, work to provide for themselves and their families, share with the needy, seek the company of virtuous and devote themselves to prayerful, ethical living. Sikhs therefore tend to be respectful of common good.

The Sikh concept of Miri & Piri put simply, is to stress the basic unity of the temporal and the spiritual in life. Guru Nanak advocated active involvement in social upliftment and promoting equality and justice as a moral imperative. The truly religious Sikh views all humans as the children of the same Father and all creation as equable. To love God, he must treat respectfully and love all in God’s creation.

Sikhs pray for the triumph of the human spirit and well being of sarbat, one and all. Naturalness, balance, poise, self- discipline are among the attributes to develop for spiritual attainment. Sikhs are encouraged to take a holistic look at life and man’s place in the scheme of things. The persuasion is for progressive, constructive, responsible living in harmony with and caring for God’s creation.

The Sikh practice of kirtan was started by Guru Nanak when, in his later years, he settled at Kartarpur. In the dharamshal that he established there to continue his missionary, he started the practice of morning and evening prayer sessions and kirtan. He and successor Gurus composed hymns in a variety of ragas. Some ragas are season related e.g., malhar – rainy season, basant – spring. There are also preferred times for singing certain ragas e.g., raga asa, ramkali, bhairav, tukhari and prabhati in pre-dawn hours; devgandhari and bilawal in early-morning; gujri, todi, suhi, gond and sarang in pre-noon hours and so on. 

With the onset of spring at magh sangrand, traditionally the ragis include hymns in basant raga in all their presentations. As I have been working through this manuscript, this shabad has been humming in my mind: Behold flowers and blossoms blooming forth! Renounce and shed your ego. Grasp hold of His lotus feet. Meet Prabh and be blessed. O my mind, stay focused on Har. Spring has arrived and all have blossomed forth luxuriantly. Tender plants give such lovely fragrance, while others stand like dry twigs. Now, when the dark age of kali yuga prevails, do not wander lost in doubt and delusion. O mortal, this is the season of naam. Plant naam. It is not the time to plant any other seeds. The one who is so destined, shall meet with the Guru and find Har. Nanak recites the praises of Har, Har, Har, Har- dhaekh fool fool foolae  aha(n) thiaag thiaagae  charan kamal paagae  thum milahu prabh sabhaagae har chaeth man maerae   saghan baas koolae  eik rehae sook kat(h)oolae  basa(n)th ruth aaee  parafoolathaa rehae   ab kaloo aaeiou rae  eik naam bovahu bovahu  an rooth naahee naahee  math bharam bhoolahu bhoolahu  gur milae har paaeae   jis masathak hai laekhaa  man ruth naam rae  gun kehae naanak har harae har harae –- Basant M V, p. 1185.

Several of the Sikh festivals and fairs are linked to harvest times and change of seasons. The folk songs and dances are vigorous and earthy. The colorful dresses are homage to the indescribably beautiful hues of the tropical sunsets. Mostly families/individuals say a word of thanksgiving to God before eating. In Gurdwaras the prasad and langar is distributed after prayer has blessed it. Water tanks were traditionally made a part of Gurdwaras so that devotees could bathe before joining the worship service. Simple food freshly cooked and served in metal or leaf plates was the routine in community kitchens. To leave food in the plate was considered ir-reverential. The clergy would go round and collect cooked food donations every day from neighboring devotees to distribute in the Gurdwara. If land were available the Gurdwaras would grow some vegetables etc for their use too.

INDIAN ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Walking through the streets of Indian cities one is struck by the environmental problems staring one in the face. Uncollected garbage piles, littered streets and countryside, lack of open spaces for public usage, dust, noise, smoke, congestion, dwindling greenery, unkempt parks, open drains and poor drainage, et al are visible indicators of environmental degradation. Among the relatively hidden problems, that are now beginning to show up, major issues are:

  • degradation of forest and agricultural land and their productivities
  • depletion of natural resources like minerals, forests, sand, rocks resource and livelihood security for the poor
  • air pollution causing major public health issues with Delhi leading among the most polluted cities in the world
  • water resources poisoned by pesticides and various chemicals finding their way into the water reservoirs causing rise in diseases like cancer  
  • loss of resilience in ecosystems and consequential effect on biodiversity

It has been argued by some that India’s high population density [368/km2 – 2011] is one of the major causes for its environmental woes. The statistics however show that many countries with higher population densities [Singapore 7148, Hong Kong 6349, South Korea 487, Netherlands 403, England 395] are able to offer a less daunting environment to their populations.

With apathetic governance, Courts have been intervening in response to mushrooming filings of public interest complaints by activists and civil society groups and have issued verdicts as well as directions to Government agencies and others involved.

All the above problems are evident also in areas where Sikhs are the dominant population group. If at all some of the problems like degradation of agricultural land, drinking water and food chain contamination, poor air quality, diversion of consumer waste into rivers and flood water damage etc are as severely felt in Punjab.

RECENT SIKH ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERIENCE & RESPONSES

The love of Sikh Gurus for the divine found its most visible expression in the way they worked tirelessly for the common good. No effort or sacrifice was daunting enough. The vast plains of Punjab, picturesque foothills and its clear flowing waters inspired love divine in some, poetry and romance in others and many more to pursue their dreams of conquest and worldly power, pelf and pleasures. This heritage of clean and cool invigorating breezes, fresh clean waters and fertile fields became part of the cultural lore and popular music of these parts.  

While the Sikh love of and respect for nature did not abate, over the last several decades the life styles have changed dramatically, turning many of the older paradigms that helped maintain the ecological balance around us, redundant. Just ahead of this change, Sikhs in the Western parts of Punjab including the farmers who had been mostly instrumental in the development of those arid areas into fertile lands when a canal network was built by the British, left when the British India was divided into the present India and Pakistan in 1947.

Initial Steps that turned Mis-steps

In the newly independent India, the loss of fertile lands created major food scarcities and Punjabi farmers, many of whom had moved from Pakistan, rose to the challenge by ushering in, what has come to be known as a green revolution. Punjab contributed to the country’s food security and also showed the way to prosperity through rural development. The growth however came at very high costs. The state is now faced with some difficult environmental problems.

Indian Punjab did not have a canal irrigation network, but subsidized electric power was offered and the farmers turned to the use of electric pumps to exploit groundwater for agriculture. They took to the use of farm machinery and liberal use of chemical fertilizers and soon achieved extremely high productivity growths turning the state into a granary for the huge population of the country. The enterprising farmers also started using the cheap groundwater resources to cultivate paddy that fetched better returns. The Sikh farmers became highly prosperous and were seen as symbol of the emerging modern India!

However excessive exploitation of groundwater led to rapid depletion of the water table with its damaging effect on the soil and intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides led to pollution of the water resources. A study connected high nitrate levels in potable water with excessive use of nitrogen based fertilizers. Another study on the ground water samples taken in the vicinity of coal-fired power plants showed uranium levels up to 15 times above the safe limits. Extension of cultivatable land and other developmental needs led to deforestation and loss of tree cover. Soon the region once hailed as the home to the Green revolution seemed in danger of turning into a killer wasteland – all in the course of a few decades.

The above narrative replicates the experience in several developing societies in the 20th century world where increased pollution levels and environmental damage has been the cost to achieve higher incomes and prosperity. Increases in the incidence of cancer, genetic and neurological disorders etc is leading to awareness about the need for environmental protection and pollution control.

Sikh activism is again to the fore and while the projections still do not bring great assurance, the change for the better is also in the news. Let us see some examples.

Tree Plantation

Baba Sewa Singh, a Sikh clergy from Khadoor Sahib, the town from where Guru Angad ran his ministry, has taken upon himself the task of planting trees for the betterment of environment. With his efforts roads along over 300 kilometers in parts of Punjab and neighboring states have been tree lined. 

He is aware of the threat to the environment: “The main challenge before the world is global warming. The glaciers are melting and I believe environment is the foremost crisis. We have to preserve the water reservoirs; the air is also getting polluted — The more trees you plant the fresher the air will be. The environment will remain clean.”

A modest man, he says “The whole credit for this achievement goes to Sikh devotees. It’s a team effort and one person alone could not have done it. We get the inspiration from the teachings of the holy Shri Guru Granth Sahib, which talks about protection of trees — If we get more cooperation from Sikh devotees then we can enlarge the effort as we have 100,000 saplings in our nursery.”

Clean-up of Kali Bein
Kali Bein is a 160-km-long rivulet in Punjab.  Guru Nanak is believed to have taken a dip in the river ere he is said to have attained enlightenment around 1699. Over time, with several drains pouring into it from adjoining townships as well as effluents from a Railway Coach factory, the river had turned into a virtual sewer infested by overgrown weed. Sant Balbir Singh Sinchewal, decided to start clean up of the river by removing the weeds with his bare hands in July 2002. Hundreds of Sikhs joined in and in about six years they succeeded in clearing the whole length of Bein of hyacinth and silt through kar seva [Sikh voluntary service].
 
In an integrated development, 110 km long unpaved road has been prepared along the river and at six places bathing Ghats have been established. At Sultanpur Lodhi, flowers and fruit trees adorn the whole place amid free boating facilities. The river has been deepened from Sultanpur Lodhi down to Harike Pattan so that the water from Beas can recharge the river upto Sultanpur.  
 
Balbir Singh Sinchewal is a man of many parts. He left college in 1981 to become a follower of Sant Avtar Singh, then chief of Nirmal Kuteya Seechewal. After demise of Sant Avtar Singh in 1988, he succeeded as the head of the mission. On Guru Nanak’s birthday in 1991, he started the project of preparing roads in the backward areas of Punjab and planting fruit and flowering trees along the roads, rivers and in cremation grounds. He installed an effective low-cost underground sewage system in many villages and towns. He has helped in the building of roads and bridges in remote areas, establishing schools and colleges for the poor and the needy to help them develop skills to become productive members in a developing society.
 
Akal Takht Directive

Akal Takht at Amritsar, the Sikh holy city, is the seat of the highest Sikh religious authority. The Jathedar of Akal Takht cautioned the global Sikh community of the dangers of environmental degradation and issued a decree declaring March 15th, the day associated with the succession by the seventh Sikh Guru, Har Rai, to his Guru ministry as the Sikh Environment Day. Guru Har Rai was known to be very fond of flowering plants, herbs and maintained an infirmary to serve the poor and needy.

Tobacco Smoke Free Districts

Consequential to recommendations made in a study by School of Public Health, PGIMER, Chandigarh, Punjab Government launched a program for achieving progressive elimination of tobacco smoke. Sixteen districts have already been declared ‘Tobacco Smoke Free’ and Jalandhar district was added to the list on Feb 1 2014. Tobacco usage is estimated to cause 40 per cent of all types of cancers and 90 per cent of oral cancers.[26] Significantly tobacco use is prohibited by Sikh Rahit Maryada.

U S SIKHS IN PLAY

EcoSikh

The Sikh presence in the US even though small and highly dispersed, fortunately has a sprinkling of pretty aware and socially engaged activists. Dr Rajwant Singh and his associates got interested in environmental issues and in 2010 EcoSikh was inaugurated as a Sikh response to the United Nations call for world religions to protect the Earth and to catalyze involvement of Sikhs, as faith group, in issues concerning environment.

The concern of EcoSikh is that ‘deforestation, overuse of water and continuous increase in agrochemical use has led to dire consequences in the state of Punjab birthplace of Sikhism. Deforestation has led to reduced rainfall, difficult land conditions and significant reduction in bird and animal life. Overuse of water has the scientific community predicting that Punjab is on the verge of becoming a desert by 2025. And most serious of all, increased use of pesticides and chemicals has caused the cost of crops to increase, natural soil organisms like bacteria and fungi to deplete, and rates of cancer, infertility and mental health problems to increase among people.’ Pretty grim picture!

EcoSikh has done a commendable job in getting Sikh Religious Leadership involved in the emerging challenges of environmental degradation. Akal Takht announced the Sikh environment day. Amritsar was among 8 faith cities to become the founding members of the Green Pilgrimage Network launched in collaboration with The Alliance of Religions and Conservation in November 2011. EcoSikh also helped form Eco Amritsar that celebrated July 6, 2013 as Amritsar Foundation day focused on city’s quality of air, water and other natural endowments so important for the quality of life and health of the citizens.

They have also facilitated Nanded, represented by the Sikh Takht Hazoor Sahib committee, to become a part of Green Pilgrimage Network. There is optimism that action plans for restoration of river Godavari, developing means of mobility, sanitation and sewage system and renewable energy for the City would get approved. The city receives around 25,000 pilgrims on an average day

As part of Sikh Environment Day, EcoSikh have been promoting practices to improve the environment like planting of trees, kitchen gardening, recycling and reusing waste, reducing plastic, polystyrene and chemical usage, conservation of water, gasoline and other resources. They have produced some useful posters and tool kits to facilitate these objectives.

Working with Interfaith Groups

A number of Sikhs have been actively working with interfaith groups in different locations and at different levels of interfaith initiatives on environmental issues including participating in their conferences, discussions and advocacy. Some names that come to mind include Dr Harbans Lal in Texas, Ralph Singh in Syracuse, NY, Dr Rajwant Singh in Washington, DC. I too have had the opportunity to offer similar help in my interfaith involvement over the last fifteen years or so earlier in CT and then PA.

Individual Activists

I do want to mention here Prabhjot Singh who has recently been in the news because he became a victim of a hate crime for being a Sikh in Harlem, NYC. Prabhjot is a practicing doctor in East Harlem, Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs and Director of Systems Design at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, besides leading One Million Community Health Worker Campaign by African Union and UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network for helping improve health outcomes by intervening through health workers. His wife, Manmeet, leads a startup venture empowering health workers in Harlem. Though mauled physically he is buoyant in spirits and intends to continue with his projects for transformation in Harlem.

A Gurdwara Initiative

I must also share with you the quiet, little contribution to reduce environmental degradation in this neighborhood by Sikh Gurdwara in Southington, CT. They worked to install a solar power backup when constructing the new building that now meets most of their power needs. This is the sanctuary where we sought solace and peace during our stay in CT till 2005.  

WHAT OTHER FAITH GROUPS ARE DOING IN THE US

There is a vast multiplicity of organizations and groups engaged in advocacy and promoting awareness programs on environmental issues. Practically all of institutions engaged in instruction in theology and a vast majority of congregations have been energized to become part of the discussion and action programs. A National Religious Partnership for the Environment created in 1991 in the US:

  • Commissioned eminent scholars to link environmental issues to teachings civilizations turned to for centuries for developing religious responses,
  • Integrated initiatives into established religious agencies addressing other social issues,
  • Convened briefings and training for thousands of clergy and lay people and adopt programs in thousands of congregations,
  • Undertook local and national public policy initiatives and encouraged coverage in media.

Even though the visible signs of environmental chaos are mostly absent in the contemporary US, the pastors and congregations of a large cross section of Christian Churches of most denominations and the Jewish synagogues are seized of environmental issues not because of theological reflection but because the expectations of the society for responsible citizenry are changing due to spreading awareness of ecological problems that are confronting the global societies and also the need to make some economic gains by conservation measures for the Churches.

The underlying belief is that the health of human society and natural environment depends upon caring for all of creation, justice, and community. The Church collectively brings in environmental theology in worship and Church education. In practice the transformative programs are aimed to motivate the church to voluntarily embrace the direction for change.

Issues such as locating facilities that have negative environmental impacts in poor communities [landfills, dirty industrial plant], banning use of toxic pesticides, stricter pollution control in power generation, transportation of hazardous materials and toxic waste, food labeling etc get picked by Church groups for generating public opinion and for political lobbying.

The most recent weather experience is likely to set off action among Church groups. The NASA ranked 2013 as one of the world’s hottest year and the winter this year has seen severe cold in the North East US. On January 24th, 2014, it was three degrees F near where we lived in CT when it was 37 degrees F in Anchorage, Alaska – a climatic phenomenon not expected based on past experience.

There are ecumenical consulting groups that sponsor conferences on topics like global warming, climate change, energy issues, consumption and life style issues, sustainability etc; help produce educational resources for congregations, and church bodies and monitor developments of interests to their clientele.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

In the end let me say that there are some very strong positives about Sikhs and the environmental debate. The Sikh theology is clearly very eco-friendly and Sikh religious practice come down for centuries is also celebratory of nature and all its variegated facets. Sikh culture has equally environmentally rich tradition. If we go by the recent developments, our religious leadership has also thrown its weight behind initiatives for environmental improvements, though not really with any degree of specificity or a clear theological direction. This in fact is not altogether a disadvantage. It leaves a lot of room for the scholars, experts and activists to advance their views and negotiate programs.

The constraints that I see are that while Sikh theology is eco-friendly, specific Sikh theological positions on knotty problems like eco-justice, poverty and sustainability, genetic modification etc have neither been explored nor does a mechanism exist for developing consensus about these. Our Gurdwaras and sangat is not really involved in the programs being promoted though the lay Sikh has not resisted any program thus far. This is good because it makes things easy but absence of debate may not move our initiatives above the tried replications nor induce us to take up issues where consensus has not yet been achieved in more developed societies. Originality in approach may thus continue to elude us.

It is just as well that the launch pad for EcoSikh initiatives is India. There is a dire need for environmental improvements in India and our efforts will likely bear fruit at the ground level. Sikh Environment Day may in time gather some momentum in India but is not likely to catch on among the European and North American Diaspora because mid March, when we sing shabads in Basant Rag in every congregation in India, can be pretty cold in those climates.

My sense therefore is that the Sikh involvement with environmental issues in the US will likely continue be reflected in manner and measures that we witness presently. I do not see them leading major lobbying initiatives on environmental causes because their hands are already full with several other issues but they can be expected to become more active partners. These problems are real and we all need to join hands to create a more secure and sustainable world. In this quest religious groups and religious leaderships including Sikhs have a stake and room for a constructive role and involvement. It is also likely that the Sikh Diaspora involvement with the imminent ecological problems in Punjab will continue.

A word about the role that academia can play in this area. If we were to do a literature survey we may be hard put to locate any serious academic work on Sikh environmental theology or documentation of Sikh experience and contribution to maintenance of ecology and environmental health during our history. As I mentioned earlier on, there was no Sikh involvement when consultations were made with most religious groups for formulation of the Earth Charter. Dr Karan Singh has written that ‘an important publication Religion and Conservation documents inter-faith declarations on Man and Nature by the major religions of the world. This contains what the religions of the world say on environment. This began in 1986 with five declarations one of which was written by me.’[27] There certainly will be lots of places where credible Sikh scholarship could contribute to this debate.

Permit me to close with one thought. We are the only faith group to have launched an Environment Day linked to our identity as Sikhs. Like all identity related choices, this one too has the potential to help us embellish the way Sikhs are seen by the others if its message is clear and Sikh contributions to efforts to improve the environment are unequivocally altruistic as all the sarbat ka bhallaa initiatives are intended to be. If however the message becomes fuzzy or our projects turn into good house-keeping in public view, the Sikh environment day can soon turn into a non-event. This possibility should be avoided.


[1] I presented a paper in “A Forum on Religion and the Environment” at Hartford Seminary Hartford, CT on Oct 4, 2001. This paper was published in Sikh Review in 2002 and in my book Exploring Sikh Spirituality, Sanbun, 2003, pp. 71-80. Some of my short pieces also appeared in the on line publications of Inter Religious Eco-justice Network around that time.

[2] Sikhs believe in One Supreme Reality, with attributes and referred by several names in SGGS. Our use of the term God is advisedly a generic choice for the sake of simplicity and convenience.

[3] jo kishh paaeiaa s eaekaa vaar  – Japji, Pauri 31, p. 7

[4] Saachae Thae Pavanaa Bhaeiaa Pavanai Thae Jal Hoe  Jal Thae Thribhavan Saajiaa Ghatt Ghatt Joth Samoe – Sri Rag M I, p. 19

[5] pavan guru paani pithaa maathaa dharath mehath divas raath dui daayee daayaa khelai sagal jagath – Slok, p. 8

[6] keethaa pasaao eaeko kavaao  this thai hoe lakh daraaayo – Japji, Pauri 16, p. 3

[7] Hukmai andar sabhkau baahar hukam neh koey – Japji, p. 2

[8]hukme dharti sajian sachi dharamsal – Var Suhi Slok p.785

[9]manas ko prabh deiye vadiaye. Maru Solhe M V p.1075

[10] – awar joni teri panihari – Asa M V p.374

[11]jin kiya tin dekhya – Tilang M I p.724

[12] – tu kahe dolay parania tohe rakhe ga sirjanhar – Tilang M V p.724

[13] bhookhai bhagat na keejay, yeh maalaa apni lijay – Saurath Kabir p.656

[14]denda de lainde thak paye, juga jugantar khahi khahe – Jap ji, 3

[15]  – sas giras samalda kar brahmand kror sumara – Bhai Gurdas Var 8, 2

[16] – sat, santokh, vichar – Mundavini M V p.1429

[17]  unni duniya torre bandhna anna paani thora khaiya – Var Asa M I p.467

[18]naru marai nar kaam na aavey, pashoo marey das kaaj swarey – Gond Kabir p.870

[19]har mandar har jio sajeya mere lal jio har is meh rehya samaey ram – Bihagra M V, p.542

[20] Translation by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa gratefully used.

[21] Asa M V p.459

[22] Wadhans M I p. 557

[23] Var Gauri M V p.319

[24] Gauri Sukhmani M V 1,23

[25] visamaadh naadh visamaadh vaedh  visamaadh jeea visamaadh bhaedh  visamaadh roop visamaadh ra(n)g  visamaadh naagae firehi ja(n)th  visamaadh poun visamaadh paanee   visamaadh aganee khaeddehi viddaanee  visamaadh dhharathee visamaadh khaanee  visamaadh saadh lagehi paraanee  visamaadh sa(n)jog visamaadh vijog  visamaadh bhukh visamaadh bhog  visamaadh sifath visamaadh saalaah  visamaadh oujharr visamaadh raah  visamaadh naerrai visamaadh dhoor  visamaadh dhaekhai haajaraa hajoor  vaekh viddaan rehiaa visamaadh   naanak bujhan poorai bhaag – Slok M I, p. 463

[26] http://news.webindia123.com/news/Articles/India/20140201/2332291.html

[27] Studies in Sikhism & Comparative Religion, Volume XXXII, No 2, July-Dec 2013, p. 24.



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