Ram Rai's Test of Sprit
Although Guru Gobind Singh formally passed the Light of Nanak to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib in 1708, throughout the lives of the Sikh Gurus, the Granth experienced its own evolution. Not just in terms of its physical form, but also in terms of the spiritual laws under which it would operate. When the Light of Nanak passed to the Granth, certain realities had already been established in history – about the Granth’s sovereignty; about Its Identity in the Etheric dimension as well as the physical; about Its importance to the future of the human race.
Here re-told in honor of the 300th anniversary of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib receiving the Light of Nanak are some of those stories. Re-told with an eye to the message of what the Guru Granth would become. Re-told from the perspective of knowing today how important the Shabad Guru is to the future.
When people speak about Aurangzeb as a Muslim ruler, they misunderstand the point. Aurangzeb came to power in an inhumane way. He was the Hitler of his time. Though the third son of the Emperor Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb raised an army, fought his brothers, had the eldest son, Dara Shikoh, murdered, and threw his father in prison. In this way, he seized the throne in Delhi and claimed himself Emperor. His approach to securing leadership created so much disdain among people of spiritual understanding and consciousness, that when he sent an offering to Mecca in celebration of his triumph, it is said Mecca returned the offering to him untouched. Mecca, the spiritual center of the Muslim world, wanted nothing to do with Aurangzeb’s rise to power.
It was this insult, this slap in the face from his spiritual elders that caused Auarngzeb to vow that he would create more Muslims than any other ruler. Needing to prove himself a true Muslim king, Aurangzeb believed that if he could convert enough people in India to the faith of Islam, then Mecca would have to recognize him. It was this desperate drive for recognition, the belief that the political clout of huge conversions would earn him a spiritual position that fueled the unspeakable tortures and cruelty for which his reign would be remembered. Convert or die in the most horrible ways imaginable.
That was his psyche. That through force, mental manipulation, political games, and sheer violence God Himself could be conquered.
For the entirety of Aurangzeb’s reign, the court and protection of the Sikh Gurus would be the one place where people could breathe free. Where people could ignore Aurangzeb’s dictates without fear of retribution. But we have to understand that time and space is not about what happens among individuals. There are currents of karmas that come into the world. Leaders act out the collective karma of the people over which they rule. Something was happening in India. A soul group had come in to test which was stronger – spiritual knowledge and wisdom? Or political pressure and acumen? Which energy would be superior? Which inferior? And this karma would play itself out during Aurangzeb’s reign – even in the family and court of the Guru.
The eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan, Dara Shikoh, had a genuine spiritual life. He was poised to become Emperor and rule not only with political power, but also with wisdom. He had studied under the Sufi saint Mian Mir. He had also taken the time to meditate and understand the ways of both the Hindus and the Muslims, so he had a much more transcended perspective than his brother. What kind of ruler he would have made, we can only imagine.
In his youth Guru Har Rai had given Emperor Shah Jahan an herbal remedy when Dara Shikoh had become ill and no one else could heal him. So, in some ways, it was natural that when Aurangzeb was pursuing his oldest brother, with the intent to imprison and kill him, Dara Shikoh took refuge in Guru Har Rai’s court.
It is said that Guru Har Rai and Dara Shikoh met and spoke on many matters. Some spiritual. Others political. In the spiritual realm, Guru Har Rai honored Dara Shikoh’s spiritual knowledge, and furthered his education by sharing spiritual instructions with him. The Guru saw that the young man had already earned his spiritual empire. On the political side, however, Guru Har Rai counseled Dara Shikoh that he had no other choice but to fight Aurangzeb and to take back the throne in Delhi. It is said that the Guru told him to do everything in his power to prevent the establishment of Aurangzeb’s authority.
Dara Shikoh valiantly tried to prevent his brother’s rise to power, but his victory was not the will of God. The young Emperor fought his younger brother, but was defeated and brought back to Delhi in chains. Aurangzeb charged his brother with not only political misconduct, but also heretical beliefs - a sign of the fanaticism that was to come. He was condemned to death based on his “heresy.” And what could have been a golden age of spiritual enlightenment and tolerance dissolved into darkness.
In time, Aurangzeb turned his attention to the Sikh Guru who had given shelter and comfort to his brother. What he desired more than anything was that the Sikh Guru should convert to Islam. And thus began a game of spiritual wisdom versus political intrigue that would last through the time of Guru Gobind Singh. Aurangzeb commanded Guru Har Rai in a letter to appear in his court. But Guru Har Rai had already made a commitment to himself that he would never meet in person with Aurangzeb. Desiring to teach the false Emperor what he had lost, Guru Har Rai wrote back to Aurangzeb and chastised him for his behavior.
“The empire he (Dara Shikoh) has received is imperishable. It is only those who God loves who can be like Dara Shikoh. If you have any doubt as to the empire that Dara Shikoh has received, meditate on him as you go to sleep and you will have a vision of the reality.”
The Guru’s words came true. One night, while sleeping, Aurangzeb received a vision. In the vision, his brother presided on a throne, while celestial angels surrounded him. Everyone in the court had been anointed with sandalwood, attar of roses and other precious perfumes. Garlands of the most beautiful flowers adorned them. As for Aurangzeb, in the vision, he was wearing dirty clothes and carrying a basket filled with muck. Rain fell from the sky and the muck spread all over his body. Then a slave-driver came to him and hit him so hard with a stick that he fell on his face.
When Aurangzeb awoke from his dream, he thought the Guru had some type of magical powers and had sent him this terrible vision. Rather than seeing the truth in the dream, the experience deepened Aurangzeb’s resolve to conquer Guru Har Rai. He called one of his nobles before him, instructing him to go to the Guru’s home, arrest him and bring him back to Delhi. The noble never made it. He died of food poisoning along the way.
Aurangzeb’s attempt to summon the Guru had failed. The noble sent to capture him had died. Now Aurangzeb’s court moved into a mode of deceit and social manipulation. The priests of Aurangzeb’s court counseled the Emperor to write to Guru Har Rai again – this time in a friendly and diplomatic way – inviting him to Delhi. When the Guru arrived, the Emperor would then have the power to do what he wished. So in alignment with the advice of these counselors, Aurangzeb wrote another letter – asking the Guru to come and teach him the ways of God.
When Guru Har Rai received the letter, he brought the matter to his Sikhs and asked their opinion. It was a moment where political concerns and spiritual concerns were weighed and discussed. Some, feeling afraid of Aurangzeb’s power, thought it best for the Guru to appease Aurangzeb and meet him in court. But the Guru could not go along with it. It is reported that he said,
“What you counsel is political, but I have taken a vow that I will never look at this terrible man. In the first place, I have no business with him. Secondly, he is very deceitful and treacherous. Thirdly, he imprisoned his father and put to death his brother, Dara Shikoh, who was a great saint, and believed in the One Divine Spirit. Fourthly, the Emperor is cruel and bigoted. He murders holy men and is everyone’s enemy.”
It is an interesting moment in history – this moment of Aurangzeb’s letter to Guru Har Rai; this clash between the spiritual court of tolerance and transcendence, and the political court of intolerance, intrigue and power. Guru Arjun had sacrificed his life to protect the sovereignty of the Sikhs. Guru Hargobind had established the Akal Takhat on the earth – the only throne where political power and spiritual power had merged to protect the entire human race from oppression and persecution. But for that vision of the Khalsa Nation to come to life, there was a fear to overcome. A fear present in Guru Har Rai’s court. And perhaps even with us still today. It was a fear that survival depends upon catering to people who are perceived to have the most power – regardless of their morals or integrity.
Guru Har Rai saw that fear and refused to give into it. He understood – and wanted his Sikhs to understand – that moral integrity is the greater power. And that wealth, influence, armies, titles, thrones without moral integrity is a trap worse than death.
Ram Rai, the eldest son of the Guru, entered the court while the discussion was going on. One can only imagine how he must have seen himself. As the first son of Guru Har Rai, he must have believed that he would inherit the Guruship one day. And probably in his mind he was making his own plans for when that day would come. What he would do. How he would wield that power. What he might do the same as his father. What he might do differently. All of this being a natural psychological process for the first born of a patriarch to go through when contemplating his future.
When Ram Rai heard the discussion at hand, perhaps he saw an opportunity to make his mark, to begin his era of leadership. He disagreed with his father and said that someone must of course go to the Emperor. Otherwise it would put the Sikhs in a very difficult position. Those assembled in court who felt similarly supported Ram Rai’s words.
“You are the oldest son of the Guru,” they said. “You are very capable. Go to Aurangzeb and settle this situation, otherwise there will be great trouble for us. If you do not go, it will lead to a huge fight. It is not safe for us to have a quarrel with the ruler of the time.”
Ram Rai listened, and replied that he would go visit the Emperor himself and create a satisfactory settlement if the Sikhs wished it. Guru Har Rai gave his permission, but also sent his son with this advice. “Whatever happens, if you keep faith in the Guru, the Guru will be with you,” he said. The Guru also emphasized how critical it was for Ram Rai to not cater to any of the objections that Aurangzeb might have to the Guru Granth. “The Emperor Jahangir told my great-grandfather Guru Arjan that certain passages referring to the Muslims should be taken out of the Granth Sahib. But Guru Arjan refused and said he would never alter or abridge the writings of the Gurus. He suffered so much as a consequence, but he never catered to or flattered anyone.” And with these words in his mind, Ram Rai departed.
There are different stories about what happened when Aurangzeb and Ram Rai met. It is said Aurangzeb gave Ram Rai a robe of poison, but the poison had no effect. It is said that the Emperor had a sheet spread over a deep pit, but when Ram Rai stood on the sheet – the sheet did not give way.
Yet for all of the ways that Ram Rai was absolutely protected from death, with all the miracles that happened, nothing could protect him from his own insecurity, from his own doubts. The Emperor gathered his priests to interrogate Ram Rai about the Shabad. The Shabad - which Guru Nanak said was his own spiritual Guru and guide. The Shabad - which caters to no politics, no man’s ego, no sense of territory or power, but purely and simply provokes the man out of his limited self into Universal consciousness. And the priests objected to one of Guru Nanak’s lines.
"The ashes of the Muslim fall into the potter’s wheel.
Vessels and bricks are fashioned from them – they cry out as they burn."
Aurangzeb proposed a Devil’s deal with Ram Rai. If Ram Rai would consent to alter the line, all position, status, titles and worldly wealth would be his. If Ram Rai refused, the punishment was death.
Sometimes, a soul is born with tremendous spiritual privilege. Wisdom is there. The opportunity to serve is there. But the Creator tests His creation. Like a gold smith seeking to extract pure gold for His work, the Creator puts us into the heat, into the fire. So what is not of the Essence burns away. And all that remains is that purity, that light.
Those tests of consciousness come to everyone. To all of us as we travel on our spiritual path. No one is spared. And they are difficult because so many times – all of the luxuries and comforts of the Earth present themselves as the reward for going against our consciousness. For betraying our values. No one soul in the history of humanity faced that test more blatantly, more brutally than Guru Har Rai’s eldest son, Ram Rai.
What does it mean to hold spiritual power? Does it mean having wealth and status, title and command over others? Or does it simply mean having the capacity to lay down one’s life to defend certain principles and values – no matter who or what the challenge may be?
So there was Ram Rai, in Aurangzeb’s court, with Death on one side and the absolute riches of Maya, including politically-conferred spiritual status, on the other. And all he had to do to get the Maya was to cheat a little. Give in a little. Cater just a word to the illusion that another human being has the power to give us something or take it away.
In the heat of that fire, in the face of that test, Ram Rai broke. He truly wanted to please Aurangzeb – to secure a peace of sorts between the false Emperor and the Guru. He wanted to be successful in his own mind, in his own image, as he imagined it. And to achieve those goals, he turned his back on his lineage and tradition, ignored the advice of his enlightened father, and agreed to alter the line to suit Aurangzeb’s taste.
Ram Rai said to the Emperor, “Your Majesty, the correct line is that the ashes of the faithless, not of the Muslim, fall into the potter’s clod. The text has been corrupted by some ignorant person and your Majesty’s religion and mine have been made to look the worse because of it.”
One tiny word. One second to choose. And the dimension of Ram Rai’s spirit shifted from the Perfect Court of the Guru to the false one of Auruangzeb.
When word of Ram Rai’s behavior reached Guru Har Rai, the Guru became very upset at the way his son had insulted Guru Nanak and the Granth Sahib. Guru Arjan had sacrificed himself in torture and flame to protect the Granth Sahib’s purity and sovereignty. Yet Ram Rai did not have the strength to defend it. Guru Har Rai decided that his eldest son was not fit to receive the Guruship, and renounced him as his son. “The Guruship is like the milk of a tigress which can only be contained in a golden cup,” he said. “Only a person who is ready and willing to devote his life to it can be worthy of it. Ram Rai will never look upon my face again. Let him live with Aurangzeb and amass money in his court.”
If we freeze-frame this historical moment and look at it a little deeper, a premonition of what the Granth Sahib would become is revealed. To be the Guru was to be someone willing to die to defend the Shabad. It was never a question of personal power, charisma, gain or influence. The Sikh Gurus didn’t live for themselves. They lived for the Shabad. The Guruship was reserved for those persons who understood, were merged into, and could die protecting the Shabad as contained in the Granth Sahib.
Guru Har Rai was a custodian of the Shabad – preserving it and passing it forward to the future generations. We may even take a perspective that the entire time and space of the physical Gurus were a gestation, birth and development of the Granth Sahib. That the physical Gurus simply served as guardians and protectors so that one day the Shabad, Itself, would reign in the hearts and minds of men.
For it is through the Shabad and Its transcendent, universal wisdom that people can be lifted out of the pain and suffering created by the garbage in their subconscious minds. Lifted into the light and happiness of experiencing the Deathless Reality of their own Inner-Divinity. It is this consciousness of knowing oneself – in the Ultimate Way – that must eventually replace the politics of power and greed. That is what a sovereign Khalsa spiritual nation would be. The consciousness to choose God, to choose the Reality and Experience of the Divine, no matter what the challenge or test. This consciousness is not something we can give to ourselves. It is not something we can command or create with our own mind. But through the Guru’s grace and the practice of the Shabad, this consciousness is something that can be born within us, can grow and stand firm in the face of the challenges of time and space.
Ram Rai gained a temporary earthly protector, but lost his spiritual father. Ram Rai gained his own temporary spiritual community, but lost his position with the Sikh community. Ram Rai gained the temporarily opulent court of Aurangzeb, but lost the right to be present in the Guru’s court. Most importantly, Ram Rai gained a politically-appointed spiritual position, but lost the authority of his own consciousness. For in catering to Aurangzeb and the so-called spiritual people of that false court, he was forever doomed to a life of twisting spiritual truth to accommodate temporary earthly politics.
In the following years, when Aurangzeb had people tortured and killed for refusing to convert to Islam, what could Ram Rai do?
Political leadership without spiritual integrity creates misery on the earth. And what this lesson from history shows us is that the words of the Shabad cannot to be twisted or misrepresented to achieve political advantage and power. It is a mistake worse than death – for even in death, we might hope to have the Guru’s darshan.
All Love in the Divine,
Ek Ong Kaar Kaur