I accepted the invitation of the College for an occasion when saner counsels should have propelled me to be a listener rather than a speaker. The subject is weighty and the inadequacy of my grasp evident enough.
We have assembled here today to observe and celebrate the life of an iconic personality, the founder of a faith who like other such figures in human history was a mediator between the divine and human realms and who devoted his life to bringing hope to anxious human beings in a period of turmoil and despair that characterized 15th century India.
He appeared in a land renowned for its spirituality yet unable to overcome the apparent contradictions between its various manifestations.
Such a personality was Baba Nanak ji. His appearance in rural Punjab in a period of social disruptions inspired him to draw upon ‘the basis compassion of Hinduism and the essential brotherhood of Islam which looked upon the faithful as equals in the sight of God’ to identify the inconsistencies in the practices of both resulting in social discord. Two Urdu couplets sum it up:
Ke uske paas seene main taqaddus aafrein dil tha
Raaz-qudrat ke khabardaar Guru Nanak the
Waqif-e-aalam-e-israar Guru Nanak the
The result of his endeavour was not high philosophy but practical common sense. I am struck by the simplicity and power of some of his dicta:
His treasure houses are in all places
If I remember Him I live
If I forget Him I die.
There is but one God. He is all that is,
He is the Creator of all things and He is all pervasive,
He is without fear and without enmity,
He is timeless, unborn and self-existent,
He is the Enlighter
And can be realized by his grace alone,
He was in the beginning; He was in all ages,
The True One is, was, O Nanak, and shall forever be.
Most of us know that faith is a powerful motivator in the psychological makeup of normal humans. It manifests itself in different ways: as a source of spiritual power that brings forth the noblest in human character; the same faith however can do the reverse when it emerges as a motivator for lesser objectives. The challenge for humans at every stage of history has been to promote the former and subdue and resist the latter.
We have succeeded at times and benefited from the resulting human enlightenment, but failed at others and undergone suffering in some form or other.
The challenge is perpetual; it is individual as well as collective. It is as much for the young people in this audience as it is for their teachers and the rest of us.
Let us all resolve, on this auspicious day, to respond to it positively for the betterment of humanity.