The Ethics and Attributes of ‘Sant Sipahi’

Shanti Kaur Khalsa (USA)*

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Since the time of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib, Sikhs have walked the path of Sant Sipahi - the Saint-Soldier.  As a young man of eleven years, Guru Hargobind Ji had to bear the heartbreaking martyrdom of his saintly father, Guru Arjun Dev Ji, at the hands of the Moghul court in Delhi.  This experience transformed young Hargobind and, when he stood before his people for the first time as Guru of the Sikhs, he boldly wore two swords. This was an awakening for the gentle followers of Nanak. He declared one sword as “Miri”, the temporal strength of a soldier and leader.  The other sword he proclaimed as “Piri”, the spiritual and saintly aspect of the inner world of deep meditation. 

Taking the sensitive grace of a saint, and the fierce skills of a soldier, Sikhs have claimed a unique and important role in the panorama of humanity.  The teaching of the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, gives the Sikhs an avenue for martial strength and noble defense while retaining saintly and moral principles that assure a stable society.  These teachings define the ethics and attributes of Sant Sipahi.

In the rapidly changing world scenario today, human values are still constantly challenged.  Life is confrontational by its very nature as good and evil interact in our world.  We find ourselves constantly defining who we are, and who we are not, as the world quickly shifts around us.  The need for a saint-soldier is as acute today as it was during Guru Hargobind’s time.  Exalted souls are needed to protect the saints, defend the helpless, and preserve righteousness on the path of human endeavor. 

Who is Sant-Sipahi:

An enlightened human being, with equal love of meditation and martial skill, was the life of Guru Gobind Singh Ji and the legacy of the Saint-Soldier that he left to his Sikhs. The Khalsa were saints in service and soldiers in action. The Guru established the character of a Sikh to be a saint as well as a soldier, in one harmonized value system.

Guru Gobind Singh knew that something of value could not be retained unless it could be defended.  In his autobiographical writings, the Guru wrote that he took human birth to live as a saint spreading dharma, and to act as a warrior protecting the saintly people.  He built a nation of Saint-Soldiers who made a dramatic impact on humanity. He wrote:

           XwhI kwj Drw hm jnm

          smJ lyhu swDU sB mnm

     Drm clwvn s¼q aubwrn

     dust sBn ko mUl aupwirn [

       I took birth only for this purpose;

       Understand this in your heart, O holymen!

       To spread Dharma and protect the saints,

       And to uproot all the demons and fiends. (43)

[Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Bichitra Naatak – Apnee Kathaa]

A Saint-Soldier is one who is committed to his spiritual life, but with the will and the skill to defend saintly values from the evil that will harm them.

Sant-Sipahi are protectors of the weak:

We must learn to protect others and ourselves because righteousness and unrighteousness are always at loggerheads.  Might is not always right, and a Sikh is the one who will stand against the unrighteous aggressor.  Sant-Sipahi is not a coward; he is a fighter.  But as a Sikh of the Guru, he has clear rules of engagement.  Sant Sipahi will never initiate combat, and will only act in self-defense.  Military might shall be employed by a Sikh only after all peaceful attempts to rectify the situation have failed.  But when a Sikh does strike, he should be so skilled and so victorious that no second strike is needed. 

       cMU kwr Az hmw hIlqy dr guzSq]

     hlwl Asq burdn bSmSIr dsq]

       When all endeavors to restore peace have failed

       It is righteous and just to unsheathe the sword (22)

[Guru Gobind Singh Ji ,Zafarnama]

Many people are afraid of arms, but Guru Gobind Singh’s philosophy was simply that those who respect weapons would never misuse them. For this reason, the sword has been elevated to a position of holy honor and respect, and is found on the altar of a Sikh. Guru’s tenet was that excessive force is not acceptable under any circumstances.  Only defensive force has a place in the Khalsa’s life.  In Guru’s court, if a person violated this concept of Sant-Sipahi he was asked to surrender his sword as a chastisement of supreme dishonor.

Sant-Sipahi are fearless in action

If you live in fear, then you have no life. If all your life energy is used to contain your fear, then your life becomes a slow death.  Fear takes away your joy, your happiness, and your experience of life.   

       “Guru Nanak said in the Mool-mantra ‘Nirbhao, Nirvair’ – Fearless and revengeless.  You should not have fear and you should not take vengeance.  When you live in fear and take vengeance, you cause the cause.  And then the effect continues.  But if you forgive and be compassionate then nature takes care of things.  And the hand of nature is very powerful”

[Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogi Ji 7/6/93]

Most fear comes from the fear of death.  For a soldier, this is the essential heart of the martial experience.  We perceive death to be a dreadful occurence, a tragedy. Most religions see death as punishment at the hands of the Eternal Judge.  To a Sant-Sipahi, death is a concept that is embraced because he knows that the time of our death, as well as the days of our lives, are in the hands of God and God alone.  There is no intermediary between the Sikh and God, and no circumstance in which God will reject the Sikh.

       isrIrwgu mhlw 1 ]

     mrxY kI icMqw nhI jIvx kI nhI Aws ]

     qU srb jIAw pRiqpwlhI lyKY sws igrws ]

     AMqir gurmuiK qU vsih ijau BwvY iqau inrjwis ]1]

       I have no anxiety about dying, and no hope living. 

       You are the Cherisher of all that begins - You keep the accounts of our breaths and morsels of food.  You abide within the Gurmukh.  As it pleases You, the allotment is decided.

[Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Siri Guru Granth Sahib: page 20-21]

In preparing the Sant-Sipahi, Guru Gobind stripped away the fear of death in his soldiers by teaching them to embrace death, to befriend death, and to consider death their protector. By enlisting death as an ally rather than an enemy, the supreme fear of battle became impotent. Rather, without the fear of death, a soldier is empowered with an almost supernatural courage in battle:

       srb kwl rCw sB kwl[

     loh rC srb dw ibswl[

     FIT BXo qv ikRpw lKweI[

     AYNfo iPry sBn BXo rweI[

       The “Eternal Death” provided protection at all times

       The “All-steel” provided safety from all sides

       Realizing His kindness, I became courageous

       And started to operate with dignity and honor, considering all other supports and protection as inferior (9)

[Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Sarb Kaal Ki Bentee]

As beautifully stated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji, once the fear of death is contained, then the human is free to act with dignity and honor.  A leader who employs his soldiers out of the terror of his own mortality will bring pain and suffering on his people. However, decisions that once were dictated by instincts of survival instead can be acted upon with grace, compassion, and regard for the good of all when the fear of death is not a factor. 

Sant-Sipahi lives in Chardi Kala

The most beautiful attribute of the Sant Sipahi is the eternally uplifted spirit of Chardi Kala. Chardi Kala is to be conscious in the moment, without guilt, without regret and without fear.  Chardi Kala is a positive projection that comes from a direct relationship with Infinity, without thought, and without fantasy. This state of mind is the true exaltation of the self, which comes through God’s Name.

This does not mean that we do not have personal tragedy and unhappiness.  But a Sant Sipahi knows that we are not meant to live depressed and negative, and so these emotions are not a permanent state of mind.  This human life is given as a gift to live in total awareness, fullness and grace, making the most of each waking moment.

       “Chardi Kala is a very simple thing.  Welcome tomorrow and forget yesterday.  We welcome tomorrow with the spirit of perpetual endurance.  Because God gave you breath of life for tomorrow and if that breath is true for you, then you should be true for it. The moment you start welcoming tomorrow consciously, ‘Ang Sang Wahe Guru’ will happen.”

[Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogi Ji]

Military might and depression make deadly partners. If a person, or a country, holds the power of life and death by brute force, then anything that hinders the clarity of decision making must be eliminated.  A depressed state of mind that is consumed with the past is more likely to make mistakes in judgment than a mind that is clear, focused, and in the present.  For the General as well as the soldier, this attribute is essential.

Sant-Sipahi lives in humility:

Humility is not a characteristic that is often associated with soldiers.  But in the realm of Sant Sipahi, humility is a basic attribute that contains the physical might of a warrior.  When you view the world with humility, you see the hand of God in the worst situations as well as the best.  Humility is a state of alertness and consciousness where you see things as they actually are and not clouded by colors of your own ego. Humility is a source of courage, strength and power. This is a critical trait to make clear decisions that affect the life and death of others.

       “In this Raaj Yog, the higher you are the more humbler you must be. Humility means there is nothing impossible in your life. Humility means you will be humble before the light of God and get the power and accomplish what you have to accomplish. Call of duty is the beauty in life. That’s humility.”

[Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji]

Humility does not mean you are meek or that you subjugate yourself to the will of another.  Rather, being humble means you are complete, you are aware, you are conscious, and you know that the Immortal God is the commander of your life.  This allows you to act with compassion and consciousness, without fear or ego.  As spoken by Guru Arjun Dev Ji:

       jb iehu mn mih krq gumwnw ]

     qb iehu bwvru iPrq ibgwnw ]

     jb iehu hUAw sgl kI rInw ]

     qw qy rmeIAw Git Git cInw ]1]

     shj suhylw Plu mskInI ]

     siqgur ApunY moih dwnu dInI ]1] 

       When this mind is filled with pride,

       then it wanders around like a madman and a lunatic.

       But when it becomes the dust of all,

       then it recognizes the Lord in each and every heart.  || 1 ||  

       The fruit of humility is intuitive peace and pleasure.

My True Guru has given me this gift

[Guru Arjun Dev Ji, Siri Guru Granth Sahib: page 235]

It is a law of nature that a person of higher consciousness will automatically elevate one of lower caliber, that love will resolve hatred, and that truth will win out over deception.  For over 300 years, the Khalsa has evolved the ethics of Sant Sipahi to be an advanced form of humanity that now needs to be put into service on a worldwide scale.  If the Sikhs, as a segment of world society, fully embrace the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh, our prayers alone will elevate humanity. World political leaders and military commanders must be elevated in consciousness, or death and destruction will continue to visit upon our generations in dramatic proportions.

The Sikh Panth at large has not cherished, documented or archived this important technology of Sant Sipahi as given by Dasmesh Pita, Guru Gobind Singh Ji.  Instead, the Panth has abandoned these precious teachings to the exclusive venue of the Nihang Dals. By Guru’s Grace, these selfless soldiers of the Panth have propagated and protected this knowledge in the shelter of their own people. Following Guru Ji’s plan they have kept this knowledge covert, and so protected it from the contamination that would have inevitably come during the years of British colonialism and the social modernization that followed. Consequently, today, we have the rare opportunity to apply these teachings in their purest form.

Now is the time to bring forward the technology of Sant Sipahi into the mainstream of Sikh culture so that we can impact world leadership and effect military decisions being made at the highest levels.  The hearts of the Sikh youth in every country are crying for the experience and understanding of Sant Sipahi, because intuitively they know how important it is in the world arena.  When this technology is fully embodied by the Sikhs, the course of military history in the world will change. 

       “There are two ways to understand destiny. One is that you live and you die like earthworms.  Or, you do certain deeds that cause you to be remembered unto Infinity.  If you carve your place into the memory of this planet earth, your destiny is served.  That is why it is said, “Live like a saint, die like a soldier.”  Then you shall carve your destiny into the planet earth.”

[Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogi Ji]