This last week has seen my Facebook homepage abuzz with the news that the Sikh Gurus were right. Yes, in the face of many unbelievers, they were right!
It seems that scientists have announced that there are around 8.7 million life forms on blessed terra firma. Now as those learned Sikhs would know, this is a number most Sikhs are content with, just three hundred thousand out from the magic 8.4 million life forms that the gurus described.
It means that hundred of years ago, with no scientific apparatus to help, limited knowledge of distant lands or even the size of the earth, a value had been placed by ten great souls on the number of animal inhabitants that grace this world. Astounding really.
But what is the net effect of all this hullabaloo? I certainly have not seen Gurdwara attendance rise, or numbers of amritdharis exponentially on the increase. Only have I seen excited social network chatter. This in turn begs the question: Are Sikhs not moved by such monumental discoveries?
A few years ago, I was speaking to my Gurdwara librarian. I had noted that no Sikh Missionary Society books graced the shelves. Piqued by this (as they are a great set of books) I asked why they had been omitted. He replied simply that the narrative in the books did not describe Baba Deep Singh as having his head severed from his body, instead merely slashed and held in place by his hand. The difference to him was monumental.
His belief meant that Baba Deep Singh had fought headless, carrying a sword in one hand and his head in the palm of the other. The other belief suggested a more ‘plausible’ action, as bounded by perceived scientific realities. And Sikhs have been arguing over this point ever since.
But here’s the question: Does it really matter? Does it really effect the belief of a Sikh whether he carried his head in his palm? Maybe there’s room for both beliefs. I mean isn’t it enough that a seventy five year old retiree drew a line in the sand with more courage than any of us will ever have, and resolved to take back his beloved shrine even if it meant death? Maybe, the stories surrounding his head are metaphors for his courage?
Sikhs after all, are no strangers to metaphors. The Gurus used colloquial narratives to create understanding amongst followers. If they wanted a warlike fervour then stories of Shiva (the destroyer) would be told – the anthem ‘Deh Shiva…’ comes to mind. Hence, like all great literature the use of the metaphor was essential.
I make no qualms about the use of the metaphor. Without it, how can we compare, contrast or even understand anything? Surely saying ‘I love her like Romeo loved Juliet’ is more quantifiable and thus understandable than ‘I love her’, especially if one is explaining to one’s parents!
But what is a metaphor and what isn’t? Especially when this is applied to Gurbani? 8.4 million may just be a way of saying ‘it’s been a long journey to come into human form, so don’t screw up’ or it may be a real value, or maybe even both. Either way, the question we need to ask ourselves is: Does it matter to me, and the way I live Sikhi?