Humility: A Spiritual Journey – 4
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In the previous article, we saw how Guru Nanak Dev Ji was blessed with the utmost humility and how it became part of his nature in life. So, when the time came for Guru Nanak Dev Ji to choose his successor, humility became an important criterion for selection. Guru Ji put his disciple Bhai Lehna through numerous tests before declaring him as his successor and giving him the name of Guru Angad. Bhai Lehna had devoted eight years of his life in the service of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Every word from Guru Ji was taken at face value by Bhai Lehna Ji and every request was complied with, without any delay. Let us start from the beginning of the association between Bhai Lehna and Guru Nanak Dev Ji, we will discover that humility was the super bonding glue between them. In fact, we can say that Guru Nanak Dev Ji and all the subsequent Gurus used humility to face all the challenges and opposition in their lives. Guru Arjan Dev Ji describes it as a weapon for defense:
"Gareebee gadhaa hamaaree." — (SGGS, Pg. No. 628)
Meaning: Humility is my spiked club (for defense).
Now, let us try to look for a glimpse of humility in the life of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in his first interaction with Bhai Lehna. In 1532, Bhai Lehna was leading a party of pilgrims from his village Khadur to Jwalamukhi. The party camped at the outskirts of Kartarpur. Bhai Lehna decided to utilize that opportunity to visit Guru Nanak Dev Ji. That evening, leaving his pilgrims behind, he proceeded towards Kartarpur on his horse. On his way, he met a tall, old, yet strong and cheerful man, whom he asked for directions to Nanak Tapa's place. The old man gently replied, “You can follow me, as I am going that way myself.” Bhai Lehna was relieved that the search for Guru Nanak Dev Ji was finally coming to an end. Bhai Lehna started following the old man on his horse. Upon reaching the house, the old man asked Bhai Lehna to tie his horse to the peg, freshen up, and go inside to visit Guru Nanak Dev Ji while the old man provided food and water to the horse. Bhai Lehna freshened up, then walked into the house and was shocked to see the same old man seated there. He was quite embarrassed of his discourteous behavior, as he was riding on the horse and the person he wanted to visit, had been walking the entire distance. When Bhai Lehna apologized, Guru Nanak Dev Ji comforted him, assuring him that he had done nothing wrong. Guru Ji also added that it was the host's duty to serve the guest. This incident made a great impression on Bhai Lehna of humility in Guru Ji and his heart was filled with deep love for Guru Ji. After visiting with Guru Ji, Bhai Lehna was a transformed man. His desire to visit Jwalamukhi had vanished completely; he decided to spend the night there so that he could attend the morning satsang. According to Hari Ram Gupta in his book History of Sikhs, “Lehna came to Kartarpur to pay a casual visit and caught for good.”
Bhai Lehna made up his mind; he went back to the camp and informed his group that he would not be going to Jwalamukhi with them. They were disappointed and vehemently protested, but finally decided to proceed without Bhai Lehna - their leader.
Bhai Lehna went back to Kartarpur and started serving Guru Ji. He became Guru J’s personal attendant and in the process was completely transformed himself. Bhai Lehna had won the heart of Guru Ji and sangat by his humility and soon they all started addressing him as Baba Lehna. Before being appointed as the successor, Bhai Lehna had been through many tests where he showed extreme humility in all situations. Guru Nanak Dev Ji named him Angad, meaning “part of me” and installed him as his successor. Bhai Gurdaas has captured this historical fact in these words:
“Jyotee jot milaaeikai satigur naanak roop vaTaaeiaa.” — (Bhai Gurdaas, Vaar 1.45)
Meaning: Guru Nanak now transformed himself by merging his Divine light.
With the same Divine light in him Guru Angad, became epitome of humility. Let us look at how Guru Angad Dev Ji exercised this acquired virtue of humility in his life. After bestowing guruship, Guru Nanak Dev Ji asked Guru Angad Dev Ji to move to Khadur, away from the jealousy of his own sons whom he had not chosen as his successor. One time there was a severe drought in Khadur. As a result the crops and animals started dying. The villagers approached Tapa Shiv Nath for succor. The Tapa told the villagers that the Rain God was angry, as a householder claiming to be the Guru was living in Khadur and the villagers were holding him up in reverence. He asked the villagers to go to Guru Angad Dev Ji, request him to make the rain fall. Under the influence of this suggestion, the villagers pleaded with Guru Ji to bring rain; and if he should fail, he should leave the village. Guru Ji replied that only God can bring rain, but if my going away can do that I will gladly do. Upon hearing this response, the villagers asked Guru Ji to leave the village as the Tapa had promised that he could bring the rain to the drought-hit village within 24 hours. Guru Ji did not retaliate against the villagers or the Tapa; but quietly left the village on his own accord. The story later unfolds in that the Tapa failed to bring much needed succor and ended up losing his life at the hands of the villagers. But the point we are concerned with here is how Guru Angad Dev Ji proved to be an epitome of humility, despite the conspiracy of the Tapa. There is eyewitness evidence from Guru Granth Sahib in the words of Balwand that this trait was passed on to him:
"Jot ohha jugat saae saeh kaaiya fer palteeai." — (SGGS, Pg. No. 966)
Meaning: They shared the One Light and the same way; the King just changed His body.
One time the Siddhas, who held a marathon debate with Guru Nanak Dev Ji, heard that it was in front of Bhai Lehna now called Guru Angad, Guru Nanak Dev Ji had bowed and appointed as his heir, and they came to him to inquire how it transpired. When they arrived, they shared the motive of their visit with Guru Angad Dev Ji. They said that they had tried to convince Guru Nanak Dev Ji about the superiority of their order (see Chapter III), and invited him to join them, by bowing in front of their leader. However, they failed and instead they bowed before Guru Ji. This piece of historical evidence of Siddhas bowing to Guru Nanak Dev Ji has been captured by Bhai Gurdaas Ji in these words:
“Sidhh bolan subh bachan dhhan Nanak thaeree vaddee kamaaee.” — (Bhai Gurdaas, Vaar 1.44)
Meaning: Now, speaking benign words, the Siddhs said, Nanak, your achievement is great.
Then, they wanted to find out how Guru Angad Dev Ji made Guru Nanak Dev Ji bow to him. Guru Angad Dev Ji explained that like a child he had stretched his arms out and asked Guru Nanak Dev Ji to lift him up and take him in his bosom. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was really bending over the floor to pick me up-just as a father would bend down to pick up a crawling child. Although they were impressed by the humility, the Siddhas were still not ready to give up, so they asked Guru Angad to ask for anything he desired. Guru Angad Ji response was:
“Kyaa maagu kichh thir na rahaae'ee.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 481)
Meaning: What shall I ask for? Nothing is permanent.
It is then that the Siddhas realized that Guru Ji had no desires at all, but had plenty of humility.
Now let's look briefly at how the other Gurus also displayed extreme humility, even under challenging situations. This is the legacy that was carried out by each of the subsequent Gurus. Guru Angad Dev Ji had installed Guru Amar Das as his successor, and asked him to set up his base in Goindwal. So, Guru Amar Das Ji moved to Goindwal and started holding diwan (congregation) sessions there. However, after the death of Guru Angad Dev Ji his son, Sri Dattu Ji, declared himself as the heir, claiming that Amar Das was just an attendant to his father. However, the sangat refused to accept him as Guru so Sri Dattu Ji decided to unseat Guru Amar Das in Goindwal and take over the position. When he reached Goindwal he went to Guru’s seat and yelled, “Only yesterday you were a water carrier in our house. And today you sit as the Guru.” Sri Dattu Ji, feeling deprived of what he considered his birth-right and inheritance, kicked Guru Amar Das Ji in the back. Guru Amar Das Ji, who was delivering a sermon from his seat, fell down and Sri Dattu Ji quickly occupied the seat. Without a concern about his own well-being, Guru Ji inquired about Sri Dattu Ji’s welfare and began massaging his feet saying, “My hard bones might have hurt your tender feet.” Sri Dattu Ji ignored Guru Amar Das Ji and kept insisting that he was the real Guru. Guru Amar Das Ji simply walked out and left the village towards his home village of Basarke. Sri Dattu Ji's claim of being the Guru was not accepted by the Sikhs, so he made a hasty retreat back to Khadur from Goindwal, after taking possession of the valuables. In fact later Sri Dattu Ji deeply regretted his arrogant behavior and when Guru Arjan Dev Ji visited Kadur he asked for forgiveness. The eye-witnessed account of this extreme humility demonstrated by Guru Amar Das Ji was penned by Bhatt Salh in these words:
“Dharm dhhanakh kar gehiou bhagat seeleh sar larri-ao.” — (SGGS, Pg. No.1396)
Meaning: Holding the bow of Dharma in His Hands, He has shot the arrows of devotion and humility.
Sri Ram Das Ji, son-in-law of Guru Amar Das Ji, was completely dedicated to serving Guru Amar Das Ji. When Sri Ram Das Ji’s family members came to visit Guru Ji in Baserke, on their way back to Lahore from their visit to Ganga, they were pained to see their own brethren (although a son-in-law by relationship) was working like a laborer in the construction of the water pond. Hearing the taunts of his relatives, Sri Ram Das Ji asked for forgiveness from Guru Amar Das Ji, saying that they did not know that the service was above caste, creed, and relationship. For him, Guru Amar Das Ji was not his father-in-law, but his master and preceptor. His words were:
“Koee bhalaa kaho bhaavai buraa kaho hum tan dheeou hai dhaar.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 528)
Meaning: Some may speak well of me, and some may speak ill of me, but I have surrendered my body to you.
This incident took place before Sri Ram Das Ji was anointed as Guru. Now, let us look at another incident after he became the Guru. Baba Sri Chand, the older son of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who had disassociated himself from the house of Gurus because of a grudge he held at being overlooked for succession. So, he had stayed away from second and the third Gurus. But now his anger was calmed and he decided to visit Guru Ram Das Ji at Goindwal. Upon learning the news of Baba Sri Chand's arrival, Guru Ji came out and welcomed him with respect as he was Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s son. Guru Ji made an offering of a strong beautiful horse and five hundred Rupees in cash. Upon seeing Guru Ji, Baba Sri Chand asked Guru JI in a taunting manner, “Have you grown a long beard on a purpose?” Guru Ji replied in all humility; “Oh Holy Sir! I have grown this beard to wipe the feet of holy men”. Saying this, Guru Ji started wiping the feet of Baba Sri Chand with his beard. Baba Sri Chand felt uneasy and pulled his feet away. Baba Sri Chand's response to Guru Ji is worth remembering, “It is because of this sweet humility alone you have become heir to my father.” Baba Sri Chand admitted that he lacked the quality of humility, and it was because of this that he was not chosen as the heir by Guru Nanak Dev Ji. After saying these words, he bowed to Guru Ram Das in reverence and deep humility.
Now let us look at an incident that took place after Guru Arjan Dev Ji was enthroned as the fifth Guru in 1581. The news spread around like wild fire and the devotees eager to have a direct glimpse of Nanak, the Fifth, set out for Amritsar from distant places. In this spiritual quest, the sangat (a group of devotees) from Kabul was also on its way to Amritsar. They were determined to reach the holy presence of the new Guru, but could not make it, and had to camp few miles away from Amritsar Sarovar (the holy tank in present Amritsar, Punjab) on the last day of their journey. The sangat included the old and young people. Tired and hungry, they yearned for a blessed vision of the Holy Guru the next morning.
In the meantime Guru Arjan Dev Ji asked his holy wife Mata Ganga, to prepare plenty of food with her own hands. Guru Arjan Dev Ji, along with Mata Ganga, then carried the food and water on their heads, barefoot to the camp site to attend to sangat. They served the food and water to all the tired and hungry sangat. One old man, who was very tired, was massaging his own legs. Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, with folded hands begged for this service and started massaging the legs of the old man. The whole night, Guru Ji and his wife served the sangat and fanned them with hand-fans to provide cool breeze so that they could sleep well in hot summer.
Early the next morning, the excited sangat set out for Sri Harimandir Sahib. Upon arrival, they took off their shoes outside and their leader asked for volunteers to guard and look after all the belongings including shoes. But everyone was thirsting for a blessed glimpse of the new Guru. Interestingly, Guru Ji, again with folded hands volunteered for that service. After being seated inside, the visiting sangat did not find the Holy Guru on His seat. Their leader inquired to Baba Budha Ji for Guru Ji’s whereabouts. He was told that the Guru Ji and his wife had gone to serve the incoming sangat from Kabul last night and had not yet returned. The leader from Kabul shared with Baba Budha Ji that a very simple and humble young couple had come last night with food and water, and had been in service of the sangat the whole night. When told that he was left outside to guard the belongings and the shoes, Baba Budha Ji, along with the sangat leader, proceeded to the said spot. They found Guru Ji ecstatically absorbed in cleaning the shoes left in his charge. Baba Budha Ji started crying and so did the sangat. Baba Ji said, “O our Lord Satguru Sache Patshah! What are you doing?” Gur Ji’s humble reply was; “Baba Ji! Please do not stop me from serving beloved Sikhs of my Guru Nanak.”
This clearly shows that Guru Ji not only possessed humility, but also got great satisfaction in serving the devotees. Today, Gurdwara Pipli Sahib, in Amritsar District, honors this historical act of humility of Guru Ji.
Guru Ji got the remaining unfinished excavation work of tanks- Santokhsar and Amritsar completed. Then in January 1589, he invited Main Mir, a famous Sufi saint of Lahore, to lay the foundation stone of Shri Harimandir. This was a unique example of humility, where the honor to lay the foundation stone was given to a leader of another faith.
Now let’s look at another incident from the life of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. One day in 1594, Mata Ganga, the wife of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, once asked him, “You grant wishes of everyone, please grant one wish of mine.” Guru Ji, in an act of humility, decided to let Baba Budha Ji be the conduit for granting the wish. He told her that God grants wishes of His dear ones, and to go and ask Baba Budha Ji. Mata Ji decided to act on the advice. The next day, she had food prepared by her cooks and had the offerings readied. Along with an entourage of female attendants, she departed on a decorated bullock cart. When they arrived at their destination, she placed the offerings in front of Baba Ji and expressed the purpose for her visit. Baba Budha Ji replied, “O Mother! I am only a grass cutter. I am a slave of slaves and devoid of any power of granting wishes. If I had those powers, why would I cut grass and take care of the horses in the stable?” Mata Ji returned back home feeling very dejected, lost in grief, and later related the entire episode to Guru Ji. Guru Ji consoled Mata Ji, and advised her that the proper etiquette is to approach the saints in humility. So on the next day, Mata Ji, acting on his advice, prepared a hearty meal from scratch, with her own hands and walked over to visit him carrying food on her head. While walking she kept praying to him, as instructed by Guru Ji.
Baba Budha Ji saw her coming from a distance and welcomed her, saying a mother knows when a child is hungry for food. He joyfully accepted the offering and blessed Mata Ji in these words, “O Mother! Your son will be Master of Masters. He will break the power of Mughals as I break these onions under my fist.” Within a year, Mata Ganga Ji gave birth to a son who was named Hargobind. Guru Arjan Dev Ji in all humility declared that it was blessing of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in these words:
“Satigur saachai dheeaa bhej.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 396)
Meaning: The True Guru has truly (blessed and) given a child.
This is how first five Sikh Gurus displayed extreme humility, and also set an example for all of us. In the next article, we shall look into the episodes of humility from the lives of the next five Gurus.
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