Every faith has in its tradition an event, an experience, in which transformation has come about…. a moment when all the forces of history seemingly converge to produce a moment of insight, of initiation, an immortal image of sacrifice and ecstasy….

FOR Christians this moment came at the Crucifixion, and lives on in Communion of bread and wine. For Jews it came with the arrival of the Holy Land, and lives on in the taking of bitter herbs to honour the suffering of the wanderers; for Muslims it came in Mohammed’s solitary meditations, and lives on in the Ramadan fast. For Buddhist this moment came in the Buddha’s deep deliberations under the Bodhi Tree, and lives on in the renunciations of hundreds of thousands of monks the world over. In each case, we find an apotheosis. In each case there is a sacrament which attempts to recreate that primal insight and experience for devotees through the ages. Theology and religious culture are cousins twice removed from these instances of the confluence of mortal and immortal, time with timeless, self with selfless.

A smaller, younger faith, the Sikh Faith also relates to its moment of historical crisis and insight, and its corresponding sacrament preserved through the generations. Since all these events, which form the critical nexus of human history, are also allegorical accounts of the crisis of awareness and sacrifice through which we all, as individual humans, must ultimately pass, it should prove of benefit to us to study the Vasakhi day of the Sikhs, when occurred the ordination of the Khalsa.

In the month of Vasakh, in the spring season of 1699 (approximately corresponding to April 13 in the Christian calendar), there occurred a large gathering of Sikhs near Anandpur, a village in the Punjab. This sangat, or congregation, had been called by the Tenth Master of the Sikhs, then known as Gobind Rai, at the time only 33 years of age. Estimates of the crowd assembled around a platform by the tent of the Master on that day go as high as 80,000. The people were of all castes and stations: Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, man, woman, and child and all chanted together the Name of God which had been evolved through the generations by the Sikhs, Sat Nam, Waheguru (the True Self, the Indescribable Wisdom).

As the vast multitude gathered, the Guru stood before them, and began to explain how their faith had been constructed in tremendous adversity, through the nine masters who had preceded him.

He retold the old stories of tyranny, forced conversions, massacre and humiliation, including the public execution in Delhi of his own father, Guru Tegh Bahadur. he drew a picture of continuing and increasing oppression in the years to come.

He told them that now was the time to choose between life in subjection, or death in sacrifice for the basic human dignities which had been trampled by the Mughal Raj.

The people had heard such words before from the Master, and expected to hear them again. They sat patiently to hear him deliver his sermon, all of them knowing the truth of what he spoke, but ready to leave their fate in the hands of others. They knew they would soon return to their land and not have to face this terrible decision about which their Master spoke and that somehow life would go on without their commitment. Gobind Rai spoke on, casting his piercing eyes over the unmoved assembly.

THEN began the timeless and unexpected drama. With a lightning motion, Gobind Rai drew his sword, a stridently called out to the crowd, “Is there one here who will give his head for the Truth”? A stunned silence followed, gradually giving way to stirrings and mutterings as the people. asked each other, “What can he mean’”? “Is this man not our leader, our protector?” The sword, highly polished, flashed in the morning sun, its reflections playing over the crowd. The Guru spoke again: “Is there any disciple who wishes to die under my steel?” Still no response, and some talked among themselves that perhaps the pressures of this leadership and his constant deep meditation had at last driven the Master out of his mind.

His arm trembling with the sword, face flushed, Gobind Rai again issued his terrible challenge, and this time a stirring was seen within the sangat, and the crowds parted to allow the passage of a man, Daya Ram, 30, who folded his hands before Gobind Rai and said, “My head has always belonged to the Truth. Under the edge of thy steel, O Master, shall I find the highest bliss”.

The eyes of Master and disciple met for an instant; Daya Ram, trusting his man of God, was awed to behold in Gobind Rai the ferocious glance of one communing with the powers of life and death, enacting the drama again on the stage of consciousness and history. Such a glance must have passed between Abraham and his son, Isaac, as Abraham life the sacrificial dagger to carry out the Lord’s order, the supreme test of will and sacrifice imposed at the ultimate moment of union. Such a glance must have passed between Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper, as he told them, “This is my body, this is my blood. Eat and drink thus in remembrance of me”. Krishna and Arjuna were contained also in this glance, the disciple Arjuna at last driving his chariot into the battle for righteousness and dharma at the urgings of Krishna. And so each of us must ultimately in some way feel that glance upon us, as our limitations of life and death blend themselves one day into timeless existence, as sacrifice ultimately conquers ego and the long drama of birth and rebirth comes to its climax.

Disciple followed Master into the nearby tent and those close to the scene heard the swish of the sword through the air, and a thud of steel meeting flesh and bone; the word flashed throughout the congregation that the Guru had killed Daya Ram.

Horrified now, many of the people began to melt away, unable to comprehend what was happening in this bright hill, an occasion which all had looked forward to as one of joy. Others held their ground, fascinated, to watch what might come next.

Guru Gobind emerged from the tent, again holding his sword aloft, but this time it was dripping with blood. He cried out: “This sword clamours incessantly for another head to be sacrificed at the altar of. righteousness. Is there one who will submit”? All shrank back, save one — Dharm Das, who came through the crowd, bowed before him and said, “I now have the opportunity which my soul has awaited. Please excuse me, Master, for the delay in offering myself. Pray make my imperfections perfect”. The Sikh and his Guru, images of the mortal and the immortal, once again walked into the tent, and the swish of the sword and the thud were heard again. Now a stream of blood began to flow from underneath the tent. The people were convinced that Dharm Das too had falled victim to the Master’s strange insanity, and more left the scene. Some went to the Master’s mother, and begged her to intercede and talk sense to her son. Others approached the Master’s wife with similar Supplications. Neither moved to interfere, and the agitation of the people grew when Gobind Rai, his fervor increasing, emerged from the slaughter tent to demand yet another head to appease his sword.

Again, the people made way to Mohkam Chand, a simple laborer. Minutes later, a fresh stream of blood flowed. Yet again the call came, and this time Himmat Rai, whose head bowed to the cause of the Truth, and the sangat began to wonder if all were to be consumed in this orgy of violence. They prayed to God to deposes their Guru, but the Master demanded more human sacrifice, and Sahib Chand answered the challenge.

This time, there was a longer pause inside the tent, and the crowd began to conjecture wildly about what was going on inside. After a time, the Tenth Gum emerged, but this time his demeanor was totally changed. His eyes glowed with satisfaction and fulfillment, and his face beamed with joy. From behind emerged, to the great astonishment of the people, all five disciples who they thought had been done to death by the merciless sword! They all seemed to emit the same glow as the Master himself. all wore clothes dyed with saffron, the color of the sun; all wore turbans on their heads and swords at their sides. They had given their heads, and had thus partaken of the sweetness of surrender, the nectar of infinity. Many began to understand the mystery which had been veiled and revealed by the Master’s actions, as he called for an open steel utensil and water.

Thus far, all the participants in the drama had been men. The Master now called upon his wife, Mata Jito, to come in, He said, “Welcome, good lady. Power without sweetness, and surrender without compassion mean little. Please sweeten this nectar with your grace.” Whereupon Mata Jito placed some fresh crystals of pure sugar in the steel bowl and Gobind Rai began to stir the solution with his small dagger, saying,

There is one God,

Eternal Truth is His Name;

Maker of all things,

Fearing nothing and at enmity

with nothing,

Timeless is His Image;

Not begotten, being of His own Being;

By the grace of the Guru, made

known to men. Meditate!

As He was in the beginning: the Truth,

So throughout the ages,

He ever has been: the Truth,

So even now He is Truth immanent,

So forever and ever He shall be Truth eternal.

He instructed the five to kneel before him. With his fingers, he splashed drops of water, which he called Amrit, or nectar of immortality, into their eyes, exclaiming, Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh! (The purified ones belong to Infinite Wisdom; that Infinite Wisdom is the one who triumphs) again and again. The Master called them the Punj Piaras (the five beloved ones), the pillars on which a spiritual commonwealth would be built.

The people sat transfixed, noting with rapt attention that progress of the sacrament of Amrit Prachar, drinking the nectar of immortality. They could see their horror had been just the fear of their own death, and that one who can die consciously to the self-contained ego while yet alive is one whose uncontainable spirit shall truly live forever. They realized that with a small levering of such beings, their entire nation could be transformed.

“You shall always wear this uniform of the Khalsa, the brotherhood of the pure ones”, said Gobind Rai, “and you will meditate daily before the rising of the sun, on Waheguru, the Inexpressible Wisdom. You will stand fearlessly for truth, no matter what the cost, protect the oppressed, consider all men as equal and respect all religions, while adhering without compromise to the discipline of the Khalsa. You will share what you earn with the community, uphold the grace and dignity of woman, and never indulge in intoxicants of any kind, save that of the Name of God, which shall be your continual rosary. The wisdom of the ages, of all masters, is incarnate in you, and wherever five of you shall thus gather, there shall I be in Spirit to guide you. You are my sons, in flesh and in spirit, for today you are reborn”.

The long, electrifying shout went forth from the Master, “Boleeeee So Nihal”, and a thunderous roar returned from the sangat, ‘‘Saaaaat Siri Akal!”” (He who speaks now, shall be blessed. And the reply, The Truth shall never die.)

One further surprise awaited the new transformed and joyous people. The Master himself knelt before the Punj Piaras, in the same humble posture, and asked them to administer the Amrit to him, for he too wished to join the new order of the Khalsa! “O Master,” said one, “you do not require this from us, for you have led us into immortality. We are not worthy to presume to give you this nectar”.

“No, dear one, the Master and the disciple are one”, said Gobind Rai, “Never should you call a man God. Do not feel that you are lower or higher than anyone”. And so the cycle of initiation was completed, the nectar raining down on the Master who had created it.

Article extracted from this publication >>  April 10, 1987