Guru Teg Bahadur (1621-1675)
Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth Master in Sikh Dharma from 1665 to 1675, and the son of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru. His name means “Mighty of the Sword” and he embodies the quality of tranquility. Guru Tegh Bahadur holds a unique place in the history of all religious martyrs because he didn’t sacrifice his life for his own Sikh religion, but for the religious freedom of the Hindus.
There is a beautiful story about the Guru. There was a merchant trader named Makhan Shah. Once when his cargo ship was in a dangerous storm, he prayed to the Guru to save him and privately promised five hundred gold coins for rescuing his ship. After the eighth Guru died without naming a specific successor, various imposters came forward claiming to be the next Guru. Makhan Shah went to each of the would-be Gurus and offered two gold coins; they happily accepted the donation. But when he came to Tegh Bahadur, the Guru said, “Where is the rest of what you promised me?”
Intuitively, the Guru knew the truth. Makhan Shah immediately recognized him as the Guru and was so excited that he climbed to the roof of a house and shouted at the top of his lungs, “I have found the Guru! I have found the Guru!” (This moment captures the joy of having found one’s authentic spiritual path.)
Guru Tegh Bahadur composed 116 poetic hymns included in the Sikh scriptures, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, including this beautiful passage:
“He who is pained not by pain, Nor affected by pleasure, nor affection, nor fear; and gold to him is as is dust;
And who is swayed neither by praise nor dispraise, nor by greed, attachment, or ego,
And who rises above both joy and sorrow, honor and dishonor;
And forsakes hope and desire and remains detached from the world:
And whom lust and wrath visit not, within him abides God.
He on whom is the Guru's grace, he alone knows this way.
Says Nanak: ‘He merges in God, as water mingles with water’.”
The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had begun a vicious campaign of conversion – where the Hindu leaders were asked to accept Islam or suffer inhumane torture and death. A group of Hindu leaders came to Guru Teg Bahadur and asked them to intercede on their behalf with Aurangzeb. Knowing it meant his own death, Guru Teg Bahadur agreed. He made an offer to the Emperor – that if the Emperor could convert him, all of the Hindu leaders would accept Islam. But if the Emperor could not convert him, then the Hindus would be left in peace.
Guru Teg Bahadur, along with three of his Sikhs – Bhai Matti Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dayala, willingly allowed themselves to be locked in Aurangzeb’s prison and subjected to truly horrific torture. The three Sikhs died. Guru Teg Bahadur’s torture, however, continued. The Emperor would ask the Guru for some sign that he was a holy many – some miracle. But Guru Teg Bahadur refused to perform any miracles and refused to convert. Instead, he would ask his torturers, “Why are we spending our time together this way? We could be meditating and praying together, instead.” Eventually, the Emperor realized that his prisoner would not convert. Rather than freeing Guru Teg Bahadur, he ordered the Guru’s head to be chopped off.
Before agreeing to go to prison, Guru Teg Bahadur had written a note to the Emperor to be delivered to the Emperor after the Guru’s death. When the note was delivered, Guru Teg Bahadur had written very simply. “This, then, is the greatest miracle. That I gave my head, but not my faith.”
Imagine Guru Tegh Bahadur’s calm resolve and courage, and the expansiveness to stand for the religious freedom of others. Now imagine that courage residing in yourself.