Stories from Paradise, Gobind Sadan THE WAY OF GOBIND SADAN | Stories from Paradise, Gobind Sadan

THE WAY OF GOBIND SADAN

On the outskirts of New Delhi a unique spiritual community has grown up organically around the revered teacher, Baba Virsa Singh. Born into a family of Sikh farmers, from childhood he had a truly universal vision of the harmony of all prophets. As people gathered around him for his blessings and his teachings, he encouraged them to find God through their own prophet but also to appreciate all other messengers of God. This interfaith message blossomed into the community known as Gobind Sadan, “House of God.” It is a house without walls, without any sectarian agenda. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists of all castes live, work, and worship together here as members of one human family, all understanding that they are worshipping the same God, the same Ultimate Reality.

Baba Virsa Singh left his physical body on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2007. Afterward as I was speaking to him inwardly, as many of us do, I asked him if we should celebrate Christmas. “Yes, passionately!” he responded. So we cremated his body on Christmas morning and celebrated the birth of Jesus the same night with thousands of candles lit throughout the garden where Jesus had appeared to him in 1983. Thus his great encouragement of appreciation of all religions continues, and this living interfaith community—Gobind Sadan—continues to offer sincere prayers around the clock, in many forms, addressed to many manifestations of the same One.

Under Babaji’s directions, places of worship according to many religious traditions had been built. The Guru Granth Sahib, the universal scripture revered by Sikhs, is read around the clock in Darbar Sahib, and the daily devotions follow the pattern begun by Guru Nanak, starting at 2 a.m. every morning and ending with putting the Guru Granth Sahib to bed and saying the final evening prayer. Nearby, offerings, prayers, and scripture readings at a sacred fire continue 24 hours a day, following the ancient Indian tradition of havan. Offerings of ghee (clarified butter oil) and samagri (mixture of grains, dried fruits, and flowers) are continually doled onto the fire on a large scale, in gratitude to the One who cannot be seen, and to spiritually purify the atmosphere. Gobind Sadan’s havan has been burning constantly since 1968, so it has become a very powerful place of prayer and healing. A volunteer named Hardip Singh was blessed by Baba Virsa Singh to pray and make offerings at the havan every hour, around the clock. Doctors say it is not medically possible for one person to carry on like this without sustained sleep, but where God is constantly being remembered, anything is possible, by God’s grace, so the hourly prayers continue.

At the same time, five Namaz are performed daily at Gobind Sadan’s own mosque. It has become such a magnet for Muslims of the area that thousands worship there on special holy days. Those who come for Friday prayers also overflow the mosque into the garden that surrounds it. Gobind Sadan’s imam preaches that Islam is a religion of love—and that in fact, all religions are based on love—and encourages a spirit of brotherhood and sincerity in worship. Thus for Eid celebrations, Hindu and Sikh men worship shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers.

Near the mosque is “Jesus’ Place”—the peaceful garden where a life-sized statue of Jesus has been placed on the spot where Baba Virsa Singh saw Jesus standing with arms outstretched in 1983. Jesus told Babaji that everyone who would come to that place would be blessed. It was not a garden at that time. Rather, it was a place behind the dairy where the manure used to be kept. By Babaji’s order, the dairy was shifted so that the holy place where Jesus appeared could be kept sanctified. When I first came to Gobind Sadan in 1990, we had to walk barefoot across rough thorny ground to reach the sacred place. A simple stone enclosure for divas had been made there, and two young women went there every evening to light the divas in honour of Jesus. According to Babaji’s directions, the area was slowly turned into a lovely garden. Now children of the area happily play on the grass, and every evening hundreds of people gather for nightly prayers before Jesus. They are not nominally Christians, but they love Jesus very much. They touch his feet reverently, put their head in his hands for blessing, and sometimes even hug him. Every day he is bathed and dressed in fresh robes by a Hindu man. Near him is a beautiful statue of Mother Mary, donated by a devotee of Mother Teresa who was very touched by Gobind Sadan. Mother Mary is cleaned and dressed daily by a volunteer from Siberia.  People bring flowers , incense, and robes for Jesus and Mother Mary, and come to lay their problems before them with faith that they are living presences.

Babaji gave me the duty to pray for people before Jesus, and by His grace, many of the prayers are answered. Every evening we light 125 candles around Jesus as Babaji told us to do. We say the Lord’s Prayer in various languages, plus a passage from Psalms and the Sh’ma Israel, and sing a song about Jesus written by one of the Sikh women of Gobind Sadan.  The children also recite in Hindi a prayer given to us by Babaji, which seems very real in our lives:

Dear Lord, please bring us Your happiness, Your love to the earth that exist in heaven. Take away the sorrows and the suffering in the world. Take away thoughts of rich and poor, high and low. Let us all sit together, eat together, live and work together in Your grace and harmony. [1]

In the same garden as Jesus is the “Sh’ma Place.” This is a open-roofed stone enclosure with the Sh’ma Israel engraved in stone in Hebrew, English, and Hindi. Rabbi Hillel Levine of Boston University, who helped to develop the concept of Gobind Sadan’s place for Jewish worship, said that there are three essential features defining Jewish spirituality:  the Torah (represented by the Sh’ma stone), worship (represented by a tall menorah), and acts of charity. To give true form to the latter, a stone-walled storage place was built, for donation and distribution of clothes for the poor. From time to time, Jewish holy days are celebrated at the Sh’ma Place by the whole community.

Around the hillside there are small shrines to various Hindu deities—Lord Krishna and Radha, Hanuman, Kali Mata, Lord Shiva with his son Ganesh, Sita and Ram. A pandit from Nepal  offers traditional prayers to the deities morning and night, keeps the shrine areas clean, and tends their gardens. Every Tuesday night, thousands of poor people come to receive offerings of large rounds of sweet bread—rot—made by the women of Gobind Sadan in honour of Hanuman.

A semi-open stone pavilion in a forest clearing with life-sized statues of Buddha and Mahavir  offers a quiet place for contemplation, including morning meditation by guests staying at the foreigners’ guest compound nearby. Stone plaques have been mounted in the wall behind the statues. Behind Buddha is his saying,

Beware of the restless mind,

Learn to discipline it.

Behind the statue of Mahavir is his teaching,

If the self is conquered you shall be happy

In this world and hereafter.

In addition to the constant round of devotions at all these holy places, Gobind Sadan celebrates the holy days of all religions with sincere enthusiasm. Be it Christmas, Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Zuha,  Janamashtmi,  Navaratri, or the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, Buddha, or Mahavir, Gobind Sadan will be celebrating with flowers, lights, food offerings, and myriads of candles and divas. Speakers will tell the community about the greatness of the day and the prophet or avatar, in this spirit of celebration that God sent this particular messenger or message to the earth to help us all. Babaji urged all holy places and institutions to follow this same model as the simplest way to develop interfaith appreciation among the people. He once explained,

Why do we celebrate all holy days? As Guru Gobind Singh Ji says, all forms of worship are the same, all religious places are the same, and all of humanity should be considered as one human race. Guru Nanak Dev Ji says, ‘There is one Father, and we are all His children.’ Guru Gobind Singh, Guru Nanak, and Jesus all call God their Father. Despite differences in language and ways of worshipping, all the prophets have brought the same message. Jesus says to us, ‘Love my Father and love the people also, for my Father is Love. Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, don’t deprive anyone of their rights, speak truth, do justice, serve others.’ Abraham, Moses, Noah, and Hazrat Mohammad all say the same thing. Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavir say ‘Do no violence,’ for they see life in everything.

Jesus never told people to make boundaries. He says, ‘Love trees, animals, flowers—see Me in the very earth.’ Jesus speaks of the kingdom of his Father, in which there is peace, justice, and truth. He calls it heaven and prays to his Father to bring this kingdom on earth. Guru Nanak refers to Sach Khand, the realm of truth where justice prevails, and he speaks of swarag, heaven on earth. Prophet Mohammad calls it bahisht.

There is only one eternal message of religion, and it has always come from the same Source. However, religious ‘authorities’ have divided the prophets into different religions. The priests have made Jesus a Christian, Moses a Jew, Guru Nanak a Sikh, Krishna a Hindu. The Master is so wide, but humans have made Him so small. They have made the Creator of all Creation just the leader of a sect. . . .

These exclusive ideas propagated by the religious authorities have been repeated so long that it will take some time for people to change their thinking. . . . But as people gradually learn to accept the truth that all prophets are equal, that God is one and God’s message is one, our nervousness and angry conflicts between sects will cease and we will all recognize each other as brothers and sisters. . . .

If a person asks by Babaji celebrates jesus’s birthday, the answer is that Babaji has come from a place where there is neither friend nor enemy, where there is no opposition. For us, Jesus is our life. Hazrat Mohammad is also or life, our love. I deeply love Jesus and all the prophets. I am not celebrating their holy days to please the people. [2]

Whenever he spoke, Babaji always wove together teachings and stories from all prophets and all religions quite naturally, further educating people to disregard the man-made boundaries between religions. He had a visionary relationship with many prophets and avtars, and therefore spoke of them all with sincere devotion. This open attitude was naturally communicated to all who heard him.

We cannot imitate Babaji’s enlightened wisdom, but we can carry on his heritage of genuine appreciation for all messengers of God. Thus we continue daily devotions in all the places of worship and celebration of many religions’ holy days at Gobind Sadan. We have also started a new initiative: weekly interfaith education classes for children. About fifty children from the community and the surrounding area come voluntarily each week, for they love the activities and the teachings. With high spirits and genuine devotion,  the children put on plays ranging from the stories of Guru Nanak,  Bhagat Nam Dev, and Moses  to the Jataka Tales of Buddha. Teachers also tell stories about the lives of the prophets and even of their great forbears, such as the ancestors of the Prophet Mohammad. Videos of stories from all religions are also very popular with the children. When discussing the plays and stories, the children express a deep and natural understanding of their spiritual messages, as well as an astonishing ability to remember and recount the details. They know how to worship the same God in many ways, such as the inner meanings of the actions of Namaz, as taught to them by Gobind Sadan’s imam. By heart they can recite the Mool Mantra of Guru Nanak, the prayer of Jesus, the Sh’ma Israel, the Gayatri Mantra, a passage from Psalms about brotherhood, and sing various Indian songs about the Oneness of God.

This interfaith appreciation comes very naturally to children. Why, then, isn’t it the norm everywhere? Other places tend to belong to some organization, rather than to God. Organizations need to perpetuate themselves; they need to have money to survive. Religious organizations typically try to convince people that theirs is the best path, to enhance their membership. They develop creeds, rules, and power structures by which they distinguish themselves. How, then, can they encourage appreciation of all ways to God?

By contrast, Gobind Sadan is free of any institutional constraints. Babaji used to say, “This is our home. We can do whatever we want in our home.” He also said that he was trying to keep alive the ancient spiritual traditions of India, in which many different strands of spirituality once existed side by side, without any monolithic religion called “Hinduism.” He said, “If you ask us what is our religion, it is the religion of Guru Granth Sahib,” which reflects this intertwining of many mystical paths.

Since childhood, Babaji was taught in vision by Baba Siri Chand (elder son of Guru Nanak) and Guru Gobind Singh (the Tenth Sikh Guru) to respect all prophets. He asked God if it was necessary to become a Christian in order to love Jesus, or a Muslim in order to love the Prophet Mohammad, and he was told, “No—only love.” Baba Siri Chand told him to conduct havan wherever he would go, and so he did, introducing people of all religions to its sacred power.  Guru Gobind Singh’s eternal teaching is “Let all humanity be recognized as one human race,” and so Babaji worked constantly to overcome the barriers that had been erected by humans, dividing the human family into different sects. His communities do not belong to any religious institution which might try to curb their freedom, nor was he beholden to anyone for the sake of money. His communities strive to be self-supporting. From his young manhood, when people discovered his spiritual power and wisdom and started to gather around him, Babaji determined that he and his followers should not ask for charityto support themselves. Being the son of a farmer, he began working very hard to develop barren lands into productive farms whose income helps support his work. He forbade his staff to take any money for spiritual services. At Gobind Sadan, people speak about God and sing to God for love rather than money, and everything is free.

Thus people who come to Gobind Sadan are welcome to worship God in whatever way they choose. “The mission of Gobind Sadan,” Babaji said, “is to help everyone draw closer to God.” Nobody has to change his or her religion in order to find God; Babaji encouraged everyone to find God through their own prophet.

As we try to continue Gobind Sadan’s mission, it is our hope that people everywhere will pick up Babaji’s simple but very effective programme of celebrating all holy days in all places. If religious institutions are too exclusive to allow this within their walls, and professional priests too afraid of losing their jobs to adopt such a programme , then may sincere people find their own ways of sharing with their brothers and sisters of other faiths. And thus may we all draw closer to God and to each other.

–          Mary Pat Fisher, Gobind Sadan, New Delhi, India

Endnotes

  1. Baba Virsa Singh, Loving God,  New Delhi, Sterling Publications/Gobind Sadan, 2006, p. 83
  2. Baba Virsa Singh, quoted in Gobind Sadan Times, International Edition, January 1995, p. 1