The Indian sub-continent is blessed with diversity of philosophical strains. A devotee has the good fortune of selecting from amongst many paths, but at times, the mind can be confused too. On a visit to Agra, the fifth Teacher, Guru Arjan Dev was asked for a clarification by the local congregation. There are many paths and ways to choose from, and how should a devotee approach this conundrum? One path is that of being a Vaishnav—nine ways of worship, fasting, pilgrimage—and that will lead to Vaikuntha, the highest heaven. And there are other paths, including Shaivaite philosophy. The Guru said that you can follow any path, but all journeys need friends, and the devotee should take along four on this quest. They will never desert, not even when the mortal frame has fallen; they will become part of your consciousness, and last for eternity. The first co-traveller is Maitri—understanding that all are of one source, and there are no enemies. The second, Mudta—without any rancour, appreciate those who are better than us. The third is Karuna—work with body, mind, and wealth, for serving those who are in difficult circumstances. And finally, Upeksha—not being indifferent, but to practice equanimity and non-discrimination. In the pursuit of finding our true origins, Guru Arjan Dev guides us that whether we pursue the Vaishnav path or other ways, we need Maitri, Mudta, Karuna, and Upeksha.
This discourse occurred in the second half of the 15th century. It is a remarkable historical fact that about the same time, the great Gujarati poet Narsinh Mehta penned the Vaishnav Jan To. This prayer has now become part of the Indian philosophical thought, after it was included in his daily prayer by the Father of the Nation, Mahatama Gandhi. The prayer echoes the advice of Guru Arjan Dev:
Vaishnav are those who:/Feel the pain of others,/Help those in need,/But never let ego enter their minds.