Saturday, November 18, 2006

Three Pods of Pepper

On November 24, Sikhs around the world will be celebrating the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bhadur Sahib, the Ninth Guru, also called more poetically Dharam di chadaar, the Shield for Faith. There is an interesting story associated with the event. The Guru went to Delhi, having been approached by some Hindus, asking him to help intercede with the Emperor Aurangzeb, a Muslim, who was attempting to convert them by force. In the course of his journey, he was arrested and brought before the Emperor Aurangzeb, who was Muslim. The Emperor told the Guru of a vision he had had, in which God had said to him that he should convert all the world to Islam; and he laid out his policy for doing so, whereby those who converted would receive land, money, and preferment.

"So you see," the Emperor said, "you would do well to convert. Your reputation for goodness is already known far and wide; with my backing you could gather many disciples and become a great teacher of Islam. Become Muslim, and receive your heart's desire."

The Guru reflected on this, and then asked the Emperor for a hundred pounds of black pepper. When it was brought he set it on fire, and let it burn for a whole day until it seemed to be nothing but ash. Then he had people sift the ashes. Out of all the pepper that had been burned, three little pods of pepper remained.

Then the Guru said to the Emperor, "O Emperor, you who are mighty among men, you wish to make one religion out of two religions." He spoke, of course, of Islam and Hinduism. "But God, O Emperor, wishes to make three religions out of two. For just as three pepper pods were saved out of that fire, so shall three great religions exist in India, Muslim and Hindu and Sikh."

At this, the Guru was imprisoned and given three choices: to embrace Islam, to perform a miracle to show his worthiness as a Guru, or to prepare for death. And he replied, "A miracle is not within the will of God. For me there is only one religion, that of God; and whoever belongs to it, be he Muslim or Hindu or Sikh, has his place not with the temporal and changing but with the eternal and undying. As for those who attempt to convert others by force, they are charlatans. I do not fear physical death. The Emperor may do as he pleases. "

And so the Emperor did; the Guru was tortured and beheaded. He was succeeded as Guru by his son, Gobind Singh.

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