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Guru Nanak's Teachings on International Conflict Resolution

Guru Nanak's noble ideals of universal fellowship, the welfare of all (Sarbat da bhala), compassion, Selfless Servi...

Currently, relations among many countries have often been afflicted by territorial disputes, ceasefire violations, cross-border terrorism, etc. Improving mutual ties is crucial for all such countries, as it would mean stabilizing world peace and improving the economies of all nations. A strong political will to mend the international relationships at the current juncture is direly needed. A constructive approach and confidence-building measures among nations can be crucial to improving their mutual relationships. 

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About 550 years ago, Guru Nanak preached a special universal message of truthful living, faith, and love [1]. His message was not addressed to a specific ethnic or religious group. It was meant for all humanity. Let us look at Guru Nanak's teachings in building good neighbourly relations among nations and countries and see what kind of prescriptions and insights he offers us to face the challenges of contemporary times. 

When India's environment was full of conflict between Hinduism and Islam, Guru Nanak proclaimed a beautiful universal message for all people, highlighting equality for all, without any consideration of caste, colour, creed, gender, or race [2]. He asserted that the same One God creates all, whether we call him Ram, Allah, God, or any other name. Moreover, he emphasized that "Perceive the Divine essence in all." Therefore, people of faith should recognize the Divine essence in everyone. 

ਸਸੈ ਸੋਇ ਸ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਜਿਨਿ ਸਾਜੀ ਸਭਨਾ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਏਕੁ ਭਇਆ ॥

Sasai so▫e sarisat jin sājī sabẖnā sāhib ek bẖa▫i▫ā.

Sassa: He (Divine) who created the world, is the One Lord and Master of all. (M.1, SGGS, p. 432) 

ਇਕਨੈ ਭਾਂਡੇ ਸਾਜਿਐ ਇਕੁ ਚਾਨਣੁ ਤਿਹੁ ਲੋਇ ॥

Iknai bẖāʼnde sāji▫ai ik cẖānaṇ ṯihu lo▫e.

The One God has fashioned all beings (the vessels), and His essence pervades everywhere (the three worlds). (M.1, SGGS, p. 62) 

So long as a person holds feelings of hatred or contempt in his heart and fails to see the Divine in others, he will never be able to experience the Divine Presence within himself fully. Therefore, Guru Nanak proclaimed that social ranks based on class, creed, caste, gender, race, and religion were meaningless and discrimination, ill-treatment or hatred based on such labels was immoral. He says:

ਜਾਣਹੁ ਜੋਤਿ ਨ ਪੂਛਹੁ ਜਾਤੀ….॥

 Jāṇhu joṯ na pūcẖẖahu jāṯī āgai jāṯ na he.

 Recognize the divine essence within all, and do not consider social class or status;…(M. 1, SGGS, p. 349) 

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Though the primary focus of Guru Nanak's teachings is spiritual, the path preached by him is a balanced and integrated one that combines spiritual enlightenment with an active, engaged life. Divinely inspired humans can and should be a force for good in society. The God-conscious person overcomes his ego and is not driven by anger or a desire for revenge. He can be a force for the peaceful resolution of conflicts through amity and discussion rather than violence. On the path shown by Guru Nanak, enlightened God-conscious beings would address many of today's global challenges by working for global fairness and justice, equality and freedom, tolerance, and peaceful co-existence [3]. The best way of conflict resolution is through dialogue and debate instead of force. Guru Nanak always practiced dialogue to remove ignorance, sectarian practices, and irrational divisions in the social structure.

Of course, this doesn't always work, as there is evil in the world too. Several negative factors drive many people who are in positions of power. Guru Nanak also exemplified that we must be willing to stand up to evil and injustice. A peaceful protest based on principle and a willingness to make personal sacrifices can be a powerful means of political transformation. However, there may be times when all peaceful attempts may not succeed, and force is the only solution against evil and injustice. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Nanak, declared that when all other means have failed, it is righteous to draw the sword. It would be cowardly and immoral to submit without a fight in such a situation. Guru Nanak expresses such a view as; 

ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ ॥ਸਿਰੁ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਆਉ ॥ਇਤੁ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਪੈਰੁ ਧਰੀਜੈ ॥ ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਕਾਣਿ ਨ ਕੀਜੈ ॥

 Ja▫o ṯa▫o parem kẖelaṇ kā cẖā▫o. Sir ḏẖar ṯalī galī merī ā▫o. Iṯ mārag pair ḏẖarījai. Sir ḏījai kāṇ na kījai.

 If you want to play this game of love (for God and His creation), you must be ready to make sacrifices while stepping onto this path. Therefore, if you need to sacrifice your life for this cause, do so unhesitatingly. (M.1, SGGS, p. 1412). 

It is important to emphasize that Sikh doctrines did not condone violence. The armed struggle is to be used only as a last resort after all attempts at peaceful resolutions have failed. Guru Gobind Singh made this very clear in his composition Zafarnama. 

ਚੁ ਕਾਰ ਅਜ਼ ਹਮਹ ਹੀਲਤੇ ਦਰ ਗੁਜ਼ਸ਼ਤ ॥ ਹਲਾਲ ਅਸਤ ਬੁਰਦਨ ਬ ਸ਼ਮਸ਼ੀਰ ਦਸਤ ॥

 Chu kar az hameh heel-te dar guzasht, Halal ast burdan b-shamshir dast. 

When all the stratagem employed for solving an affair or problem are exhausted, (only) then taking your hand to the sword is legitimate. (Patshahi 10, Zafarnama)

Multicultural societies appear to be the future of humanity. However, we are yet to learn a lot about resolving the differences and conflicts between the different sections of society and nations. Guru Nanak's approach to dealing with conflict, discord, and injustice is three-pronged:

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    Resolve conflict through discussion and debate based on mutual respect and goodwill. God-conscious beings that see the divine light in all can play a significant role in bringing about this kind of resolution.

  2. When those in positions of power and authority are driven by their ego and are not amenable to solutions based on mutual respect, peaceful, nonviolent protest is called for. It demands dedication and personal sacrifice.
  3. When all attempts for peaceful resolution fail, armed struggle against injustice and tyranny and in defence of liberty is called for. 

When everything fails to convert bitter, hostile diplomatic relations between the two archrivals, art and culture (sharing of virtues) perhaps is the only genre that can do wonders for converting antagonistic relations into friendly and cordial relations. Therefore, to build good neighbourly ties between communities and nations, Guru Nanak encourages us to share our virtues with others for the benefit of others and society.

ਜੇ ਗੁਣ ਹੋਵਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ਸਾਜਨਾ ਮਿਲਿ ਸਾਝ ਕਰੀਜੈ ॥

Je guṇ hovniĥ sājnā mil sājẖ karījai.

O My friends! If you have virtues, we must share them. (M. 1, SGGS, p. 765)

ਸਾਝ ਕਰੀਜੈ ਗੁਣਹ ਕੇਰੀ ਛੋਡਿ ਅਵਗਣ ਚਲੀਐ ॥

Sājẖ karījai guṇah kerī cẖẖod avgaṇ cẖalī▫ai.

Let us share our virtues; and abandon our faults, to walk on the path (of love of God and His Creation). (M. 1, SGGS, p. 766)

He encourages us to shun wrongdoings and to make wise decisions for a better and prosperous future.  

ਮੰਦਾ ਮੂਲਿ ਨ ਕੀਚਈ ਦੇ ਲੰਮੀ ਨਦਰਿ ਨਿਹਾਲੀਐ ॥

Manḏā mūl na kīcẖ▫ī ḏe lammī naḏar nihālī▫ai.

Do not do evil; look ahead to the future with foresight. (M. 1, SGGS, p. 474)

Bhagat Kabir, a saint-poet of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, explicitly articulates that one must never think wrong of one's neighbours (other people) as whatever happens to one's neighbours can happen to oneself too. He states: 

ਪਾਰੋਸੀ ਕੇ ਜੋ ਹੂਆ ਤੂ ਅਪਨੇ ਭੀ ਜਾਨੁ ॥

Pārosī ke jo hū▫ā ṯū apne bẖī jān. 

Remember that whatever happens to one's neighbours can also happen to oneself. (Bhagat Kabir, SGGS, p. 1373) 

Guru Nanak preached that the goal of human life is to grow and attain a state of harmony with God and His creation [4]. Guru Nanak's vision is a World Society comprising God-conscious human beings. To these spiritual beings, the earth and the universe are sacred; all life is part of a Universal Unity. We are all connected. 

It is encouraging to note that the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak has been a pivotal event in the history of Indo-Pakistan ties. The two countries had been archrivals for several decades. The decision to open the Kartarpur Corridor and the visa-free access to followers of Guru Nanak's philosophy to the shrine at Kartarpur in Pakistan's Narowal district, less than 4 km from Dera Baba Nanak, another revered place of Sikhs in Indian Punjab, is a testimony to Baba Nanak's teachings of love, fellowship, and universalism. This development has opened a new era of mutual trust between the two countries. 

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Guru Nanak's noble ideals of universal fellowship, the welfare of all (Sarbat da bhala), compassion, Selfless Service (Seva), resource-sharing (Wand Chhakanaa) and its principles of social equality, justice, liberty, and fraternity place tremendous responsibility on all of us for addressing the problems of peaceful co-existence across the world. To achieve sustainable peace worldwide, we must strive to lead our lives according to these cherished ideals and principles.    

Concluding, I would like to say that improved international relations can ensure addressing any threat the world peace may face in the future. Moreover, cooperation and co-existence through trust among nations of the earth can establish a peaceful and prosperous era for humanity.

References
1. Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), 1983 (Reprint). S.G. P. C. Amritsar, India. 
2. Singh, D. P. (2015). Relevance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the Twenty-first Century, The Sikh Bulletin, USA, 17 (7 & 8). 18-22.   
3. Singh, D. P. (2018). Peaceful Co-existence and the Role of Sikhs, in Science and Sikhism – Conflict or Coherence, Singh Brothers Publishers, Amritsar, India. 283-301. 
4. Singh, D. P. (2022, July 21). Guru Nanak – An Apostle of Peace. Sikhnet.com

Related article: Guru Nanak – An Apostle of Peace 

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Dr. Devinder Pal Singh

Dr Devinder Pal Singh, Center for Understanding Sikhism, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, has published about 100 articles on various aspects of Sikhism in several newspapers and magazines of English, Punjabi and Hindi.

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