Sikh Teachings About Animals – by Charanjit Ajit Singh

Charanjit Ajit Singh is a Sikh patron of the Animal Interfaith Alliance, Chair of the International Interfaith Centre in Oxford, Chair of the Hounslow Friends of Faith, a Vice President of the World Congress of Faiths and a member of the Peace Commission of the International Association of Religious Freedom.  She also serves on the editorial board of  the interfaith magazine ‘Faith Initiative’.

In the late 1980s, I was fortunate enough to be involved in an inter-religious project led by Alliance of Religions and Conservation in partnership with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) who produced nine statements on Nature including the Sikh statement which I did with my husband, Ajit Singh. We presented the Sikh statement to the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s Consort and the then President of the WWF in 1989.

The reason behind the project was to disseminate the link between faith based spirituality and the environment, to connect human and animal life with nature, to recognise our inter-dependence, to understand the fragile nature of our globe, our mother earth and to do something about it; to work towards ensuring the survival of the endangered species and their habitats, which is not just a scientific need but more of a spiritual and religious need.

The Oneness of God and Oneness of Creation

The Sikh faith has, since its beginning in the late 15th century, inculcated the message of the ‘oneness of God and oneness of Creation’ in all its diversity.  Every morning, a practising Sikh is reminded by the hymns of Guru Nanak, the founder, that the whole creation came into being through the one utterance by the Creator (kita pasao ekay kawao). We should abide by His Command as we are part of His Creation. Otherwise even the mighty rulers are not equal to the humble ant who never forgets its goal.

There are numerous references about domesticated and other animals in the Sikh scripture and what they can teach us.  There is a story about Guru Nanak as a teenager, being provided a shade on a very hot summer’s day by a cobra when he fell asleep in the pasture where he had been sent by his family to graze cows. Animals provide a great inspiration on our spiritual journey as the following hymns show us:-

Oh my mind, cherish the love for the divine, like the fish for water…

Oh my mind, love God as the pied-cuckoo loves the rain…

Oh my mind, love God as the shadrake loves the sun…

             (GGS p60)

Furthermore, as God’s stewards on earth, human beings are expected to take care of all life-forms. The scientists are still finding many so-called new species because they don’t know how many there are.  We are told that:

Life forms – egg-born, womb-born, earth-born, sweat-born

Only God knows their existence, in oceans, mountains, everywhere

Nanak says, ‘God created them and takes care of them all’.  (GGS p467)

Transmigration through the Life Forms

Animals should be respected. We are also taught that there is no difference between the human sphere and the sphere of nature. Both were created from the same divine light. The Sikhs believe that there are 8,400,000 life forms on this earth and the precious human birth has been achieved after a long transmigration through other life forms. This is our golden opportunity to achieve closeness to God and indeed our responsibility that we look after all those life forms. Serving them is true service to the Creator, because we are part of that cycle.

In many lives we were born as worms and moths

In many lives we were born as elephant, fish and deer

In many lives we were born as birds and snakes

In many lives we were domesticated as horses and oxen

In this life seek to be one with the Divine.

Sikh Vegetarianism

There is a strong vegetarian tradition in the Sikh faith. At the Sikh place of worship, the Gurdwara, there is a free vegetarian meal provided to whosoever comes, a Sikh and non-Sikh are served alike and large numbers are catered for.  No meat, fish or eggs are allowed. 

The Story of Sobha Ram           

We were taught as children this story:-.

            There was an open air meeting, taking place in the presence of the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh. Suddenly, the audience’s attention turned to some noise outside the arena where a man was performing a circus act with a dancing brown bear.  One of the Guru’s disciples, Bhai Keerta, got very excited by it, saying, ‘Look how good the bear is? How well he is dancing.’

The Guru responded by asking him the question, ‘Do you know who he is?’

Bhai Keerta did not know. The Guru told him that the bear was Bhai Keerta’s father, Sobha Ram in his past life, who was also a disciple who had become very arrogant.  Another disciple, a busy farmer, desperate to receive the Guru’s blessing in the form of holy pudding, requested Sobha Ram to be served fast, as his oxen were fast moving while tilling the soil. Instead of paying attention to the farmer’s request, Sobha Ram rebuked him with the words, ‘How dare you come rushing like a bear?’ The farmer politely responded, ‘You have called me a bear, may God make you one.’ His words came true and Sobha Ram became a bear in his next life.  At this Bhai Keerta requested the Guru to save his father from his existence as a bear. Being compassionate, the Guru bought the bear from the juggler, fed him the holy pudding and delivered him from his bear’s existence. That was over three hundred years ago.

O God, may your will prevail and may the whole creation benefit.

I feel that the adherence to the three key principles of the Sikh faith provide a valuable way forward for me and the Sikh community. They are:-

      Nam Japna, Kirat Karni and Wand Chhakna.

These can be translated as:

– Praying to God, remembering and submitting to God’s authority;

– Earning an honest living, not taking what does not belong to me or more than I need – essential truths for relationship with the environment and fellow beings;

– Share with others what we have – this includes all creation and not just humans.

Every prayer said individually or in a congregational setting, ends with ‘O God, may your will prevail and may the whole creation benefit’.

I would like to conclude with the following hymn from Guru Nanak, a great expression of love for our fellow-beings , nature and the Divine.

If I were a doe living in the forest, eating grass and leaves

With God’s grace I will find my groom, I would ever be a sacrifice to Him.

I am a shopkeeper trading in the Divine

Trading your Name is my business

If I were a cuckoo living in the mango tree,

Contemplating and singing the Word

God reveals through his mercy

Immense beauty and wonderful vision

If I were a fish living in water

Observing all the creatures therein

And my beloved on both sides of the water

I would hug Him with stretched arms

If I were a female snake dwelling in the ground

Let God’s word be in my being

My dread would vanish

Says Nanak, she is forever married as light meets light.

(GGS p167)


References

1.Guru Granth Sahib ( GGS) quotations translated by the author

2. The Sikh statement on Nature, WWF 1989

3.  Gurbachan Singh Bachan, Guru Nanak and Ecology published

      by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India ,2004

4. Charanjit K.Ajit Singh, The Wisdom of Sikhism, One World,

   Oxford, 2001