Invisible Hands

Sikhs pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, 17 Sept 2001/Rajesh Bhambi) Reuters

Rajesh Bhambi, Sikhs pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sept. 17, 2001 (Reuters)

“Service from an army of visible and invisible hands” – The Golden Temple

In the “Intelligence” issue of Parabola Magazine, there is a reflection by Neil Patel about a visit to the Golden Temple of the Sikhs at the holy city of Amritsar in India. As a student of the world’s history and cultures, I had learned about Sikhism while studying the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal Empire. The empire had been founded by the Central Asian warrior, Babur, who unable to conquer Samarkand headed south. Never entirely at home in the subcontinent, Babur longed for his homeland but his descendants ruled the subcontinent for many centuries. As Muslim rulers of a predominantly Hindu India, the Mughal rulers were often religious tolerant. Babur’s grandson, Akbar the Great, eliminated the head tax on Hindus and welcomed Hindus into his government. Aurangzeb, however, was rabidly anti-Hindu and persecuted Hindus. Yet perhaps even more significant than Mughal rule of the subcontinent was the spiritual interaction occurring in Northern India during the Mughal era and even long before the arrival of the Mughals [Mughal means Mongol in Persian as Babur was a descendant of Tamerlane and Chinggis Khan]. Muslims traders had entered the subcontinent as early as the seventh century and Hindus and Muslims regularly interacted.

The spiritual interaction between Hindus and Muslims led to a cross-pollination of ideas. Particularly in northern India, Muslim Sufis and Hindu practitioners of bhakti had much in common. In northern India, it was not uncommon for a Hindu to have a Sufi teacher or a Sufi to learn from Hinduism’s devotional branch, bhakti. As mystical lovers of the Divine, Sufis and devotional Hindus were especially open to spiritual cross-pollination. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, said upon realizing the divine truth, “There is no Hindu; there is no Muslim; only God.” Like Hindus, Sikhs believe in samsara, the cycle of rebirth, and like Muslims, Sikhs are monotheists. Yet all Sikhs are dedicated to realizing God in the world, embodying God in the actions of man. After the death of Guru Nanak, there were a total of ten Sikh Gurus. Upon the death of the tenth Guru, authority of the community was transferred to the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, which was now known as the Guru Granth.

Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world yet many practitioners of other religions know little about the Sikh religion. When encountering the ideas of Sikhs, however, the individual is quickly impressed by their central tenets. The three central tenets of Sikhism are working diligently to earn one’s living, sharing one’s earnings with others, and remembering God at all times. Sikhs do not withdraw from the world of the householder to find God. Rather Sikhs find God in the midst of their daily work and daily responsibilities. Sikh soldiers-saints are also pledged to protect the religious freedom of all religions. Sikhs treat all people equally. In Neil Patel’s article in Parabola, the beauty of Sikh service is perfectly recorded. As Mr. Patel noted as he walked through the Golden Temple; a temple built during the leadership of the Fifth Sikh Guru, the altruistic actions of an army of Guru Nanak’s disciples cleaned, served, and cherished the temple and its many visitors. My favorite line from the piece is when Mr. Patel concludes with these moving words:

What is the Golden Temple? At one level, an important and popular religious pilgrimage site. Below the surface, it’s a complex ballet professionally coordinated with humble effortlessness and ease, powered by pure-intentioned service from an army of visible and invisible hands.”

It is for these gems that I read Parabola Magazine: “An army of visible and invisible hands.” Yes, that is the heart of Sikhism. To work, to share, and to know God at all times. As God is the doer, so too is the Sikh a vehicle for God’s magnificent doing. For the Sikh is charged with realizing God in his daily actions, realizing God in the world. As a denizen of the Western world, there is this culture of fame that seems to touch every corner of our lives. There are selfies and the self constantly taking credit for deeds done and deeds only imagined like a small child demanding his father’s attention. Yet in the beautiful world of the Sikh, to give to others is to know God. The Sikhs perhaps offer a new word to our digital lexicon: the selflessie, that photograph taken of the beautifully altruistic deed to improve our world where the doer is invisible…just like God.♦