Who is good, Who is bad?
In SikhRI’s new monthly blog series, Sabads previously transcreated for the Sabad of the Week podcast will be revisited, with the offering of an individual understanding and perspective on the application of the Sabad’s message in daily life.
First, Allah1 created Light. All beings are of Creation.
The entire universe was created from One Light—
Who’s good, who’s bad? 1.
O! People, O! Brother,
doubt not, forget not.
Creator within Creation,
totally permeating all spaces. 1. Reflect
Creator created many forms from one clay.
Flawless is the clay pot, flawless is the Potter. 2.
Within all is the same Eternal One.
All things occur because of the One.
Call that person the Banda,2
who recognizes Hukam3 and knows the One.3
Allah is imperceptible, cannot be perceived,
Guru granted sweet jaggery-perception.
Kabir says: My doubt destroyed,
seeing Immaculate everywhere. 4.
Bhagat Kabir ji in Rag Prabhati | Guru Granth Sahib 1349
- The God in Arabic.
- Divines’ Own being.
- Literally, Order or Divine Will.
Sikhi: To be in harmony with the Divine.
Lately, I have been feeling a lot like the world is on fire. I know that is dramatic — but there are moments when I worry and worry and worry about the state of things. And I know that the world has always kind of been on fire, but now we know about all the places where the fire rages on. We are inundated with news at all hours of the day; we scroll through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and we are more informed than ever before about what is happening in places that are far removed from us. But I also worry about the way it is easy these days to exist in our echo chambers, and the way those echo chambers further cement our already existing views, further alienate us from those whose opinions are different from ours, and close us off to learning from one another.
In the context of the recent happenings in Kashmir and the ensuing rise in Indo-Pak tensions, I fixated on the unfolding violence and violent rhetoric, and it tore my heart up. I read Arundhati Roy, Cynthia Mahmood and Pankaj Mishra, trying to understand something that cannot be understood — the way human beings can become so full of hate and so full of misplaced vengeance and so ready to act on it.
I was trying to pick from a compiled list of sabads to think about this month, and this sabad seemed to be following me everywhere. I heard it at Gurduara, I heard my grandfather listening to it one night, and the often-quoted line kept repeating in my head:
Who is good, Who is bad?
So I thought I would take the hint and see how Bhagat Kabir’s words could help me think about the conflicts around the world that I have been particularly emotionally keyed into these days. I thought a lot about how the idea of Ik Oankar (One Force), the worldview informed by an understanding that we are all of the same Light, is generally difficult to grasp day-to-day, and easy to lose sight of as we move through the world and its many motions, playing the game of life and dealing only in immediacies.
It is even harder to grasp the idea that there is a Oneness that pervades everything — that touches every corner of the earth and everything beyond us — when we are in conflict. It is the forgetting that makes it easy to separate ourselves from one another, that makes it easy to draw lines and create categories of “others,” and act on those views, as misguided as they are.
I have been thinking a lot about places on Earth where there are cracks in the pavement, where the ground seems to have been split wide open by trauma, places you can walk through and still sense that those gaping wounds have never been mended because they haven’t ever had a chance to be. How that means those places and the people who inhabit those places become subject to never-ending violence that breeds never-ending violence. How it means that the people in those places that are forced to carry their trauma around with them — that are surrounded by it, that have to step past it or in it every day — have been exhausted by the constant struggle to be seen as humans worthy of dignity and freedom. I have been thinking of cycles of violence and displacement, how the same things seem to happen again and again, how the world makes me worry and worry and worry.
...how people live and cope with a world that is hard...
I have also been thinking of something an old professor of mine said, that when we study religion what we are really studying is how people live and cope with a world that is hard. How they collect the strength of the people who came before them and draw upon that history, how they talk to the Divine with a thousand voices to get by, how they cry and scream and shake their fists at the Divine just to get by. We are all just trying to understand, and when we lose sight of the fundamental truth of all of this being human, when we can no longer see the Divine in everything and everyone, we can easily become swallowed up by fear and doubt and hatred.
Thinking about this sabad and its message was really hard because it is hard to admit how easily I have fallen into this way of thinking. It is hard to read about conflicts around the world and think through them without finding myself picking a side and completely forgetting the idea that there is Divine Light even in the perpetrators of violence. This is the challenge I think Bhagat Kabir is asking us to take up — to remember and really understand Ik Oankar as unconditional, across time and space and every context and conflict imaginable. It is when we lose sight of the One that we are able to easily believe in these divisions. It is also really difficult to believe the statement that everything that occurs is within Hukam (Divine Will). It is hard to feel like the world is on fire and to also trust that everything is a part of a larger Divine Plan. I don’t know if I will ever get there in this lifetime, but I will try a little bit every day to open myself up to that understanding.
And until I get there, I will choose to focus on the ways that people have shown utter humanity even in the darkest of times. I will think about the people and organizations who, during the slow burn riots that unfolded after the Pulwama district attack, stood outside of colleges in the event that more mobs arrived, provided transportation, security, and food to those who needed it, and reached out over the gaping wounds of endless and exhausting violence to open their homes and their hearts and keep Kashmiris safe. I will continue to work towards understanding Bhagat Kabir’s message, and hope that one day I will experience a change within myself, and begin moving through the world with sweet perception and sweet speech, doubtless and humbled by the understanding that we are all part of this incomprehensible vastness.
Jasleen Kaur is a lover of poetry and the power of words, of everything outside (especially birds), and of the study of religion. She serves as a researcher at SikhRI.