Conversation on Conversion

These answers according to Gurbani, to my three questions did make sense to me....

A few years back, I was returning back to USA after a family visit in India. I was at the Amsterdam Airport lounge waiting for my connecting flight. While waiting there, I was reading the book "Further Along the Road Less Traveled" by Dr. M. Scott Peck. A young man about twenty five years old came by and sat next to me and started a casual conversation about the book I was reading. Slowly, he veered the direction of the conversation and started imploring me to read Bible and accept Jesus Christ as my savior. I told him thank you for the suggestion and that I respected Jesus Christ and his teachings, but I already have my savior and I am quite happy with the arrangement. He continued his pitch and said that from the type of book I was reading, indicated that I have religious inclination, therefore he was recommending Bible. He said by accepting Jesus Christ as my savior I will be resurrected and accepted in Heaven. I did not want to argue about the merits of my savior Guru Vs his savior, so without a word I returned to my book.

But he would not relent, interrupting he broached the subject again. Finally, I told him that I was not going to change my faith and belief system and wished him best of luck in heaven, thus ending the conversation. I have heard that there are ministers who feel that they have met their goal in life as they have brought XXX number of people to Christ. In fact, I have even witnessed the interfaith meeting platform being used to target representatives of other faiths as potential targets for conversion. So, we see that for some overzealous conversions have become a mission and purpose of life.

But few things did stay back with me from this unique encounter. First, why are these folks trying to convert others, and why are they so passionate, persistent about it? Why it is so important to them? Second, how can they guarantee heaven? Have they already been there and that they are concerned that others don't miss out? Third, how are they convinced that they alone have the exclusive entry tickets to heaven?

The answer to first question came to me in the writings of Ray Blunt who said; "That the evangelical church's message has been diluted through its misperception of Matthew 28 Great Commission as a call to make converts." That was an "Ah!" moment. Blunt further expounds that Jesus calls those who follow him to go and make disciples, not simply converts. But, today it has become an easy affirmation, as a bumper sticker on the car or an ornament hanging from the rear view mirror of the car. The second question had deeper connotations because Guru Ji's teachings required working on the self and bringing about transformation in the self. As Guru Ji has said:

"Awpx hQI Awpxw Awpy hI kwju svwrIAY ]"

"Aapan hatthhee aapanaa, aapae hee kaaj savaaree-ai." (SGGS, Pg. NO. 474)
Meaning: With our own hands, we have to accomplish our tasks.

Then, Guru Ji has said when this work is accomplished then one becomes divine being with Guru's grace:

"bilhwrI gur Awpxy idauhwVI sd vwr ] ijin mwxs qy dyvqy kIey krq n lwgI vwr ]"

"Balihaaree gur aapanae, de-ohaaree sadh vaar. Jin maanas tae dayvatae kee-ae, karat, na lagee vaar." (SGGS, Pg. No. 463)
Meaning: I am sacrifice to my Guru; hundreds of times a day; as he has made divine beings and in doing it does not even take a minute.

In contrast the resurrection was being guaranteed just with acceptance of savoir, which was not convincing to me. This is where Dr. Dallas Willard's writing helped. Dr. Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy says; "There is a widespread notion that just passing through death transforms human character. Discipleship is not needed. Just believe enough to 'make it.' But I have never been able to find any basis in scriptural tradition or psychological reality to think this might be so. What if death only forever fixes us as the kind of person we are at death? What would one do in heaven with a debauched character or hate filled heart?"

Now, that does makes sense. It means followers have to become Jesus like and they in turn will be transforming others into divine beings as well. The followers became Jesus like not just by simply claiming to be following his teachings, but by incorporating them in their lives just as Jesus lived his life. That means the teachings were embedded in the hearts of the followers, who in turn helped others to develop these traits. Now, that is like creating a quantum leap in the quality of human minds. This is precisely what Dr. Willard has described in his book. He says; "Churches today are full of people who haven't been invited to become disciples." He also adds about discipleships' approach in these words; "I will learn to do all the things that Jesus said to do." Then he says; "Through this process we learn things we never thought about. Our sense of the scope of the commitment grows."

What is discipleship? Dr. Willard answers; "In the New Testament, discipleship means being an apprentice of Jesus in our daily existence. A disciple, then, is simply someone who has decided to be with other person in order to become what that person is or to become capable of doing what that person does."

Now, is this not what Guru Ji's teachings are too? They did not convert people instead they asked them to become a better disciple or an apprentice, and not remain confined to rituals alone. When we look at the life of Bhai Lehna Ji, we see a transformation taking place. During the first meeting with Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Kartarpur, he had decided to become an apprentice. The love that Bhai Lehna had for Guru Ji has no parallel. He devoted seven years of his life in dedication and in service of the master. Those seven years completely transformed the disciple. When the call from heaven came for Guru Ji to depart from this world, Guru Ji anointed Bhai Lehna as his successor Guru. Guru Nanak Dev Ji blessed him and said; "You are my equal. You are my limb (or ang), a breath of my being, one with me in spirit, blended with my soul." Guru Ji even gave Bhai Lehna a new name and he became known as Guru Angad. In fact Guru Nanak dev Ji bowed to Guru Angad dev Ji after having him seated in his own place. Now, this is the highest testimonial of discipleship, a living experience, not after death but while still being alive. This model was replicated again when Baba Amar Das Ji came to Guru Angad Dev Ji. This tradition has been replicated ten times by our Gurus. The only change made by Guru Gobind Singh Ji was to make Guru Granth Sahib as the living Guru. This is the model that Guru Ji has set for his Sikhs, and this piece of history is the ideal and inspiration for all Sikhs. It s no wonder that Guru Ji gave the name of Sikhs to his followers. Sikh means a student who learns all the things that Guru Ji said to do. It is for this reason Guru Ji has defined becoming Sikh as:

"isKI isiKAw gur vIcwir ]"

"Sikhee Sikhe-aa gur veechaar." (SGGS, Pg. NO. 465)
Meaning: Sikhee is reflecting and learning Guru's thought process.

Now, the answer to third question is provided by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in these words:

"glI iBsiq n jweIAY CutY scu kmwie ]"

"Galee bhisath n jaaeeai chhuttai sach kamaae." (SGGS, Pg. NO. 141)
Meaning: By mere talk, people do not earn passage to Heaven. Salvation comes only from the practice of Truth.

These answers according to Gurbani, to my three questions did make sense to me. So, essentially if the fundamentals are clearly understood, then the urge to convert others will be replaced with a desire for self-improvement. Those who have raised the quality of their lives by incorporating their savior's teachings, their living style becomes an inspiration for others. Then the need to convert others will be unnecessary, as others will flock with the desire to experience that quality of life in themselves. If we have full faith in the legacy left behind by the Gurus then there will be no need to turn to others for help or salvation. The zeal to entice others to change their faith, belief, either with convictions, or with inducements or with strings attached will be replaced with admiration of differences as that is God's creation as well. Instead, a feeling of reverence for all religions and desire to help others will grow, and their own faith will also blossom. Now that is the inner growth which the religion can bring out, no matter what their institutional religious badge or label is.

For the transformation to take place we have to relate the teachings in our daily lives by asking: Why I am here? What did I do today? Where I am in my career today? Where do I want to be career wise? What about my debts, home and family? What is purpose of life? How would Guru Ji handle these real life situations? Guru Ji has provided us with the answers in their own writings in Guru Granth Sahib. In fact, no other religious scripture besides Guru Granth Sahib have been written by their own founders. Let us seek answers from it and apply them to our life situations instead of relying solely on our own thoughts, rationale etc., or seeking external professional help. It is this relationship that will nurture our inner self, and thus duplicity or duality which has become our second nature will be replaced with transparency. Transparency means being same on outside and inside, being an open book. It means what you see is what you get. This will happen with Guru Ji's teaching and guidance, as Kabir Ji has said:

"rwm rmq miq prgtI AweI ] khu kbIr guir soJI pweI ]"

"Ram ramat mut pargatee aaee. Kahau Kabir gur sojhee paaee." SGGS, Pg. No. 326)
Meaning: Kabir says - Guru has blessed with this understanding, which I obtained through meditation of God.

With this new understanding the daunting challenges, and the associated stress can not only be withered successfully, but that they become bearable and tamed. When this type of faith and conviction is developed then any amount of proselytizing, offer of position with standing or monetary inducement cannot make one change their faith. Sikh history is full of such examples where the faithful gave their lives but did not accept conversion as an option. Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dayala are prime examples of the transformation that can be brought about when Guru's thought process appeals to the heart. No one can be in a more dire straits than them, as the only other option for them to conversion was death.

Let us pray that may the Guru's thought process may become a part of our understanding too. These challenges of life will disappear and even the issue of conversion will become a non-issue. Let us pray that the lines from our prayer (Ardas) which start with "Jinhaa'n Singha'n Singhnee-a'n ne dharm het……" becomes our ideal, inspiration and a role model. That ideal can make our life a "work in progress". It is true progress as there the inner development and transformation is taking place. It is only with this work and transformation brought about by it will be our gain and that entry ticket to heaven. We will realize that it is not just an exclusive preserve of any particular faith alone, but also that with Guru's guidance it can be experienced now while still being alive without having for death to experience it.

Bhupinder Singh (Houston)


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