– Mary Pat Fisher, Gobind Sadan, New Delhi
From different origins, all mystical paths ultimately lead to the same Place: merger with or realization of the One God, the Ultimate Truth. As is written in the Vedas, “Truth is One; the wise know it by many names.” [1] The spiritual traditions by which we may develop this wisdom are many, but all share the intention of going beyond the outer forms of religions to seek oneness with the Divine, realization of Ultimate Reality. Two of these mystical paths that are quite similar in many ways are Sufism and Sikhism.
The path of Sufism began among ascetic followers of the Prophet Muhammad during his lifetime, and eventually reached India. One of the most popular Sufi lineages in India was the Chisti order, which is still famous for its interfaith tolerance, love, and openness.
During the twelfth century, the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti of Chist, Afghanistan travelled to Ajmer in India and became a widely-loved teacher who won hearts by the power of truth, love, and service, following the famous order in the Holy Qur’an: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error.” [2] Many of his students also became great spiritual teachers, and he sent them out to propagate the path of Islam. His final sermon to his followers includes his guidance to
Love all and hate none. . . .
Be overflowing with peace and joy,
and scatter them wherever you are and wherever you go.
Be a blazing fire of truth,
be a beauteous blossom of love
and be a soothing balm of peace. . . .
Dissolve the clouds of discord and war,
and spread goodwill, peace, and harmony among the people. [3]
The first spiritual successor of Shaikh Moiunuddin Chisti was Khwaja Qutb-u’d-din Bakhtiyar Kaki, and his famous successor was Shaikh Farid, many of whose spiritual verses are included in the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. Under guidance from his master, Shaikh Farid undertook extreme ascetic spiritual practices, such as fasting and being hung upside-down by his feet in a well for forty nights to say his prayers. Shaikh Farid taught in a Punjabi dialect and thus his teachings became very familiar among the masses in north India. People sang his and other Sufi masters’ songs as they worked, as well as songs from Hindu bhagats. From this rich oral tradition of devotional music, Sikh Gurus selected hymns that harmonized with their own philosophy and preserved them in written form in Guru Granth Sahib. This scripture continues to be a great non-sectarian treasure of mystical wisdom for all who love the Divine.
Almost three hundred years after the birth of Shaikh Farid, another great spiritual figure was born: Guru Nanak (c. 1469-1539). His birthplace, Talvandi, is in the part of Punjab that now lies in Pakistan. As a young man, he is said to have disappeared into a river while bathing, only to emerge three days later, uttering the mysterious phrase, “There is no Hindu, there is no Mussulman.” Something deeply transformational had happened, such that he left his job and began travelling far and wide to have dialogues with various spiritual groups. Many of his inspired hymns have been preserved in Guru Granth Sahib along with the hymns of ¬¬¬¬5 more of the 10 Sikh Gurus plus 30 Hindu and Islamic saints and other inspired mystical poets.
Guru Nanak’s philosophy was universalist, non-sectarian monotheism, grounded in great devotion to the One God perceived within everything, encompassing everything. In his famous “Mool Mantra” he sang,
There is One God,
Whose Name is Truth
The Creator
Without fear
Without enmity
Of immortal form
Attained by the grace of the Guru.
The Truth before time began
Truth at the beginning of ages
True now, too
And the Truth ever after.
How to find and become merged with this All-Pervading Reality instead of being confined in our small selves? Sufis and Sikhs alike use the path of recitation of God’s Name. Shaikh Farid said emphatically, “Those who forget the Lord’s Name are a burden on the earth.” [4]
The value of continually reciting Nam (God’s Name) is one of the main themes repeated throughout Guru Granth Sahib. If the True Guru chooses, he mercifully bestows the Name. By reciting it, one’s whole life becomes permeated with the Presence of God, as if one were dyed in the colour of God. Guru Nanak sang,
If the body becomes the dyer’s vat,
the Name is put into it as madder
and the Dyer Himself dyes,
such a colour would appear as never before had been seen. [5]
Recitation of Nam is not a mechanical process. If the True Guru blesses, Nam is repeated as a continual expression of love for the Beloved. Of this deep love for God, Guru Nanak sang,
Oh my mind, love God as a fish loves water:
The more the water, the happier is the fish,
the more peaceful his mind and body.
He cannot live without water even for a moment.
God knows the inner pain of that being without water. [6]
The Sikh Gurus said that one should be so saturated with Nam that every pore of the body is singing God’s Name.
Sufi saints and Sikh Gurus alike experienced God as the Formless One, present in every being, every place. Thus there cannot be any distinctions between people on the basis of caste or creed. One of the most touching expressions of this truth comes from Bhagat Kabir, an enlightened master from lowly caste, many of whose songs are preserved in Guru Granth Sahib. Kabir sang,
God is like sugar scattered in the sand.
An elephant cannot pick it up.
Says Kabir: “The Guru has given me this sublime secret:
Become thou an ant and partake of it.” [8]
Not only do worldly goods fail to help one in spiritual progress; they are left behind when one dies. Shaikh Farid insisted that people should take note of this truth and turn toward Allah while they have the chance:
Farid: Do not focus on mansions and wealth
Focus your mind on death, the powerful one.
Remember that place where you have to go. . . .
Oh dears, attach yourself to Allah. [9]
At this point, the paths of Shaikh Farid and Sikh Gurus diverge somewhat. Shaikh Farid paints a pessimistic picture of life in this “false world” and a terrifying picture of the hell that awaits sinners. The path to heaven is very narrow, and this life is our only chance to reach there. He therefore emphasizes self-mortification, poverty, and detachment from worldly life.
By contrast, Sikhs anticipate reincarnation according to their karma. Guru Nanak taught them that the best karma, the straightforward path to God, is to work hard to earn one’s own living, share with others from what one earns, and always remember God. One can live in the world while still being inwardly attached only to God.
Although there is a qualitative difference between Shaikh Farid’s asceticism and the Sikh Gurus’ more life-affirming teachings, both agree that the aid of a True Guru is essential. Only such a teacher can help us to overcome our ignorance, egotism, and sins and put us on the path to God. And both paths teach us to be kind to each other while we are in this world. The last words of Shaikh Farid’s bani quoted in Guru Granth Sahib would be a potent antidote to today’sintolerance, hatred and violence if we were to follow them:
Do not speak even a discourteous word;
The True Master abides in all.
Do not break anyone’s heart;
All are priceless jewels.
The minds of all are priceless jewels;
To hurt them is not good at all.
If you yearn for your Beloved, do not hurt anyone’s heart. [11]

1. Rig Veda
2. Holy Qur’an 2:255
3., accessed 9/9/2017
4. Shaikh Farid, Guru Granth Sahib 488, Rag Aasaa
5. Guru Nanak, GGS 721, Rag Tilang
6. Guru Nanak, GGS 59, Sri Rag
7. Guru Nanak, GGS 4, Jap
8. Kabir, GGS 1377
9. Shaikh Farid, GGS 1380, 488
10. Guru Arjun Dev, GGS 1382
11. Shaikh Farid, GGS 1384