Scientific Vision in Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Dr Hardev Singh
Religion and Science are both engaged in the exploration of Ultimate Reality. The field of religion concerns consciousness and its flux in molding the destiny of man. Science explores the nature or its manifestation through the material world. It starts from gross matter and moves toward subtle consciousness pervading in the material world. Scientists use physical and chemical methods to discover the secrets of universe while the Prophets use divine intuition to reveal these secrets. All their conclusions may not coincide but their objective remains the same to explore the secret of Laws of Nature. Indeed a scientific perspective is conducive to and valuable in comprehending the scope of the vision of the Sikh Gurus.
Typically it is scholars in the fields of literature, philosophy, and history who undertake an analysis of Sikh scripture and with the inclusion of scientists – physicists, astronomers, chemists, geologists, biologists, the exegesis of the text is only enhanced. For instance, Guru Nanak’s vision : “patala patal lakh agasa agasa — worlds below worlds, worlds above worlds” (Japuji, 22) leave us wide-eyed, but they acquire a real palpability and concreteness when we look at them through an astronomer’s telescope. As we apply the empirical data of our Milky Way galaxy with its hundred billion stars and the scientific observations regarding billions of other galaxies, we really begin to visualize what Guru Nanak meant, and thereby gain a fuller understanding and appreciation of his verse. The scientific adventure, its observations, and factual data, do not clash with Sikh sacred scripture; they reveal its intrinsic vigor, its far-reaching insights, and its contemporary relevance.
Glimpses of Scientific Vision in SGGS
(a) Cosmology in SGGS
There are a large number of theories about the creation of the universe but so far ‘Big Bang Theory’ is widely accepted by many scientists. However, with every new scientific discovery the theory may undergo a drastic change in the future. One must keep in mind that theories are based on some scientific information and use of logic and it will change as soon as more facts are discovered. Many theologians emphasize that theories propounded by scientists change with the time, therefore, the science is not a stable field. On the other hand, they say that the God has revealed the theology to the deities, prophets, Gurus; therefore, it cannot change. But one should also not forget that God has also revealed principles of science, Laws of Universe, to the scientists. Therefore, science and theology cannot contradict each other since both have been revealed by God .
It is my considered opinion that Sikh Cosmology as enunciated in SGGS has been found to be most scientific and compatible with the modern cosmological theories of science. In Japuji, Guru Nanak sums up his ideas about creation of the Universe, which he elaborates further in the most precise and scientific manner in the Raga Maru Solhe in SGGS. The creation hypothesis is summed up as follows by Guru Nanak :
‘God created the Universe by uttering a word.’
kIqw pswau eyko kvwau ] iqs qy hoey lK drIAwau ]
Thus the problem of ‘singularity’ faced by the Big-Bang model of the Universe is solved by the Guru by bringing in God as the creator of the Universe. Once this riddle is solved, the sequence of creation, its epoch and extent is described in SGGS in a most rational manner. Guru Nanak poses the next question in Japuji :
‘What was the time and the moment
the day and the month,
When the world was created?
kvxu su vylw vKqu kvxu kvxu iQiq kvxu vwru ]
kvix is ruqI mwhu kvxu ijqu hoAw Awkwru ]
In the next stanza, Guru Nanak provides the answer :
‘Neither the Pundit can find this date
by looking through the Purana texts,
Nor can the Qazi tell from the Koran,
Neither the Yogi nor any one else knows
The day, weak, season and month of creation,
The creator who creates the World,
He alone knows the time’
vyl n pweIAw pMfqI ij hovY lyKu purwxu ]
vKqu n pwieE kwdIAw ij ilKin lyKu kurwx ]
iQiq vwru nw jogI jwxY ruiq mwhu nw koeI ]
jw krqw isrTI kau swjy Awpy jwxY soeI ]
Guru Nanak does not want to formulate any hypothesis based on false assumptions and leaves this question open. The creation process is started under the command of God, the creator of the universe. The Guru envisages the creation of the Universe out of ‘Sünya’ which is devoid of matter but not of energy. Hence a beautiful analogy with quantum concept of creation ‘out of nothing’ as a vacuum fluctuation is established in Raga Maru Solhe :
In the Primal Void (Sünya), the Infinite Lord assumed His Power
He created the air, water, earth and sky out of Sünya;
He created universe and the man in the fortress of body
suMn klw AprMpir DwrI ]…………………
pauxu pwxI suMnY qy swjy ] isRsit aupwie kwieAw gV rwjy ]
This wonderful drama of creation is elucidated further by Guru Nanak in his mystic reverie. Surprisingly, there is a perfect correspondence between the epoch of ‘Big-Bang’ and the creation out of Sünya phase as enunciated in Maru Solhe, the most beautiful hymn on Sikh Cosmology :
‘For billions of years, there was nothing but utter darkness. There was neither day nor night, nor moon, nor sun, but the Lord alone sat in profound trance. Neither there was creation, nor air, nor water. There were no continents, nor underworlds, nor seven oceans nor rivers, or the flowing water. There was neither death, nor time. There was no Brahma, nor Vishnu or Shiva.
When He so willed, He created the world and supported the firmament without support. He created Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and extended the love of mammon. He founded the continents, solar systems and underworlds, and from the Absolute self,He became manifest.”
Arbd nrbd DuMDUkwrw [[Drix n ggnw hukmu Apwrw [[
nw idnu rYin n cMdu n sUrju suMn smwiD lgwiedw ]……
Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru and compiler of SGGS, describes in Sukhmani the myriad forms of creation. The cyclic theory of creation is accepted in SGGS :
There are millions and millions of galaxies and solar systems in the universe. The phenomenon of creation has occurred so many times. But the one Lord remains for ever and ever.”
keI koit KwxI Aru KMf ] keI koit Akws bRhmMf ]
keI koit hoey Avqwr ] keI jugiq kIno ibsQwr]
keI bwr psirE pwswr] sdw sdw ieku eykMkwr]
The universe is still expanding since the Big Bang occurred. And no limit has been established according to the present day knowledge of science. Guru Nanak explains infiniteness of universe in his own inimitable style after rejecting the hypotheses put forward by religions of both the oriental and occidental traditions, as follows :
There are hundreds of thousands of nether worlds, and hundreds of thousands of skies.
After great research the Vedas have failed to say it definitely.
The Semitic books say that there are eighteen thousand worlds, and they claim it is the factual truth.
pwqwlw pwqwl lK Awgwsw Awgws ]
EVk EVk Bwil Qky vyd khin iek vwq ]
shs ATwrh khin kqybw AsulU ieku Dwqu ]
However, Guru Nanak does not enter into any mathematical rigmarole to make an assessment or count of the celestial bodies comprising our Universe. After quoting the prevalent tradition or information available at that time, Guru Nanak records his own observations in SGGS in the form of his mystic reverie. He says that the cosmos (universe) contains countless number of celestial bodies. The real number would be known only to the God, the creator of the Universe :
It cannot be possible to count (number of the celestial bodies in the universe),
Because the accounting person may reach the end of his life during counting,
It will still be incomplete.
Guru Nanak says that the God is the Great,
Who knows the account (of the celestial bodies in the universe).
lyKw hoie q ilKIAY lyKY hoie ivxwsu ]
nwnk vfw AwKIAY Awpy jwxY Awpu ]
According to the present scientific information available there are billions of galaxies and each galaxy is composed of billions of stars and their planets and moons. Our sun, having nine planets revolving around it, is one of the billions of stars of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
The riddle of creation of the Universe will remain an enigma for cosmologists and there is no final word yet in cosmology. About the present theories and models, we may conclude with a quotation from the Benti Chaupai in Dasam Granth :
“Everyone explains the creation process according to his intellect,
But no one can tell, O Lord,
How you first created the universe”
Awp AwpnI buiD hY jyqI [ brnq iBMn-iBMn quih qyqI [
(b) Concept of Time in Science and Sikh Tradition
Concept of Time was central to the laws of Physics formulated by Newton. However, he considered Time as absolute in the same way as Space and God. In other words, flow of time is constant irrespective of the motion of the observer or of moving bodies. It was Einstein’s theory of special and general relativity which brought a revolutionary change in the conception of space and time. General theory of relativity predicts that time should appear to run slower near a massive body like the Sun. Space and time are now considered to be dynamic quantities: when a body moves, it affects the curvature of space and time. Space and time are not flat but curved by the presence of massive bodies. Space and time are not absolutes: they are affected by everything that happens in the universe.
It is very clearly mentioned in SGGS that Time is created along with the Universe by God. This conception of Time is analogous to creation hypothesis of Big-Bang. Space and Time are created out of a “Singularity” at the epoch of Big-Bang along with the creation of matter and radiation. Time has a beginning and an end and it cannot be treated as absolute or eternal as God.
Different manifestations of Time are also elaborated in SGGS. In most of the Gurbani sabads, Time is equated to death (Kal). Time has a predominant role to play in Sikh metaphysics and it is being used as a tool in the hands of God to annihilate everything created by Him. But God himself is beyond the grip of Time. Hence God is defined by a key-note attribute as Akal Murat (Time-Transcendant Reality), which is evident from the following verses in SGGS:
Fruitful is the Blessed Vision of His Darshan;
God is Time-Transcendent, He is and shall always be. (SGGS, M.1, P. 609)
sPl drsnu Akwl mUriq pRB hY BI hovn hwrw ]
His form is Time-Transcendent, it is never destroyed. (SGGS, M.5, P. 1082)
Akwl mUriq ijsu kdy nhI Kau ]
You are the Deathless Primal Being
Death does not hover over Your head. (SGGS, M.1, P. 1038)
qU Akwl purKu nwhI isir kwlw ]
The Vedic seers (Rishis) were fully aware of the changing nature of the universe. They knew that to change means to perish. Hence they termed Time as Kal, which means death in its literal meaning. Indian seers never differentiated time from death. In SGGS, Sikh Gurus have followed the same tradition and Time (Kal) is used to represent death. Death cannot be avoided or postponed; however, the fear of death can be removed by meditation on True Name:
Meditating continuously on the True Lord, I am rid of the fear of death. (SGGS, M.5, P. 200)
hir ismir ismir kwitAw Bau kwl ]
Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master, has personified God by the term Akal, the Time – Transcendant Reality. He has saluted God in the form of Akal and sought his protection for promoting Dharma and rule of law on this earth. Creation of Khalsa was under the command of Akal with the ulterior motive of establishment of divine sovereignty of Akal in this universe. Guru Gobind Singh claimed that Khalsa is the sovereign army of the Akal Purkh:
Khalsa is sovereign army of God, Khalsa creation is sanctioned by God.
Kwlsw Akwl purK kI POj ]
pRgitE Kwlsw pRmwqm kI mOj ]
(Kwlsw mihmw, srbloh gRMQ)
Eternity of Akal is stressed in the composition of Bachitar Natak (The Wonderful Drama) by Guru Gobind Singh:
God exists in time when He creates the World,
Brahma and Shiva also exist in Time;
And so are the demi-gods and other creatures;
All creations of God are subject to whims of Time,
Only the God, the Timeless Being, is ever eternal.
kwl hI pwie Bgvwn su jwgq Xw jg jwkI klw hY [
kwl hI pwie BXo bRhmw isv kwl hI pwie BXo jugIAw hY [
kwl hI pwie surwsr gMDRb j‘C BujMg idsw ibidsw hY [
AOr so kwl sBY bs kwl ky eyk hI kwl Akwl sdw hY [
(Bachitar Natak, Dasam Granth)
Kal is interpenetrating into Akal, the ultimate Reality, in the same way as Sargun and Nirgun are two aspects of the same Reality.
(c) Concept of Origin of Life and Evolution
There is no general consensus among the scientists about the origin of life in the universe. Various theories have been put forward to explain the origin and evolution of life in the same manner as the origin of universe and our solar system. A group of scientists believes that there is no life in the universe except on our earth. However, the search for extra – terrestrial origin of life is being supported by another group of scientists. It still remains a mystery for the scientists.
Evolution of Life: Most of scientists believe in ‘cosmic evolution’ leading to formation of galaxies, solar systems and planets, and the ‘organic evolution’, leading to different species of living organisms. Both these processes have been going on in the history of our universe, cosmic evolution leading the organic evolution almost by more than a few billion years.
Charles Darwin’s hypothesis of natural selection is the most splendid theory of organic evolution. It is based on the concept of survival of the fittest. Natural selection thus brings about the gradual evolution of new specie of those already in existence. This theory considers that living organisms began with the appearance of ‘protoplasm’ about two billion years ago in sea waters. The plants and animals developed from single cells over the next billion years leading to the final stage of evolution, the man. According to evolutionary theory, man is undoubtedly the highest and the most complex form of life and has reached the highest rung of the evolutionary ladder. Our closet relatives are apes, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Our genetic code is almost identical with them. There are many opponents to evolutionary theory of origin of species but it is the most successful theory till date in biology. The most vehement opposition to this theory came from the Christian church as it demolishes the genesis story of the Bible.
Origin and Evolution of Life in SGGS: Various theories of origin and evolution of life have been put forward in the holy books of all religions. But one thing is common to all of them: God is the creator of life in this universe. Guru Nanak also accepts this postulate of God as the Creator of the universe and life in all its manifestations. However, Guru Nanak also accepts the theory of evolution in his own characteristic manner without taking recourse to the concept of natural selection in the Darwinian way.
In Japuji , Guru Nanak refers to the creation of various forms and living beings under the divine law (hukam). But this divine law is incomprehensible.
hukmI hovin Awkwr hukmu n kihAw jweI]
hukmI hovin jIA hukim imlY vifAweI ]
In SGGS , Guru Arjun poses the question about the origin of life and he answers it as follows:
Where do we go in the end?
All creatures belong to God, Who can place a value on Him?
ikQhu aupjY kh rhY kh mwih smwvY]
jIA jMq siB Ksm ky kauxu kImiq pwvY]
In Siddh-Goshit [13-14], Guru Nanak answers the queries of Siddhas regarding creation of life, mind and the universe as follows:
Q.1 When this heart and the body did not exist, where did the mind reside?
jw iehu ihrdw dyh n hoqI qau mnu kYTY rhqw]
A.1 When the heart and the body did not exist, O hermit, then the mind resided with Absolute Lord in the void.
ihrdw dyh n hoqI AauDU qau mnu suMn rhY bYrwgI ]
Q.2 What is the root, the source of life? What teachings hold for these times?
kvx mUlu kvx miq vylw]
A.2 Pray Sir, it is air that supports life. And, the true Guru’s message is the creed of the day.
pvn ArMBu siqgur miq vylw]
According to Guru Nanak, all the living things such as plants, birds and animals etc. are made of three elements, namely, material body, soul and prana. These elements owe their origin to the Absolute Lord. The hypothesis of Guru Nanak  is simple and straight forward:
The True Lord created the air, from air, water arose.
From water, creation arose. His Light permeates all creation.
swcy qy pvnw BieAw pvnY qy jlu hoie]
jl qy iqRBvxu swijAw Git Git joiq smoie]
We find reference to evolution of species in the universe in Gurbani without taking recourse to any scientific theory of evolution. Sikh Gurus generally followed the traditional Hindu view of eight million and four hundred thousand species  of living organisms in the universe. Man is the summum bonnum of this creation.
“God has created eighty four lakh (8.4 million) species of beings”
lK caurwsIh jMq aupwey]
There is a classification of all living organisms into four categories [17-18] on the basis of their origin. They are grouped as under:
i. Those born from egg (andaj);
ii. Those born from womb (jevaj);
iii. Those born from earth (utbhuj), and
iv. Those born from sweat (setaj).
“Egg born, womb born, earth born and heat born; are all Thine creatures.
Oceans, mountains, and all beings - O Nanak, He alone knows their condition.
O Nanak, having created the living beings, He cherishes them all”.
AMfj jyrj auqBujW KwxI syqjWh]
so imiq jwxY nwnkw srW myrW jMqwh]
nwnk jMq aupwie kY sMmwly sBnwh]
“Egg born, womb born, earth born and heat born; are all created by You.
I have seen one glory of Yours, that You are pervading and permeating in all”.
AMfj jyrj auqBuj syqj qyry kIqy jMqw]
eyk purb mY qyrw dyiKAw qU sBnw mwih rvMqw ]
In SGGS, it is also mentioned by Bhagat Namdev  that forty two lakh species exist in water and the same number may exist on land. Science has failed to confirm this hypothesis.
bieAwlIs lK jI jl mih hoqy bITlu BYlw kwie krau]
The message of Sikh Gurus is enshrined in SGGS. In the final analysis, we can quote a relevant stanza in support of biological evolution of species :
In so many incarnations, you were a worm and an insect;
In so many incarnations, you were an elephant, a fish and a deer;
In so many incarnations, you were a bird and a snake;
In so many incarnations, you were yoked as an ox and a horse.
Meet the Lord of the Universe – now is the time to meet Him.
After such a long epoch, you are born as a human being.
keI jnm Bey kIt pqMgw]keI jnm gj mIn kurMgw ]
keI jnm pMKI srp hoieE]keI jnm hYvr ibRK joieE]
imlu jgdIs imln kI brIAw]icrMkwl ieh dyh sMjrIAw]
End Note: The text of this essay is based on my recently published book, “Scientific Vision in Sri Guru Granth Sahib and Interfaith Dialogue” by Singh Brothers, Amritsar. The full implication of the theme can be realized by reading this book. It must be pointed out that SGGS is not a text book of Science but the Vision of Sikh Gurus recorded in it is far more scientific as compared to the Holy Books of other faiths. Guru Nanak gave a clarion call to reject rituals and myths and promoted a scientific vision of life in this Universe. The Sikhs have failed to realize the full potential of Sabad Guru (SGGS) by adopting it as a tool of idolatry worship.
1. Nikky- Guninder Kaur Singh, Foreword to Author’s book published by Singh Brothers, Nov. 2007, p. 15.
2. DS Chahal, Understanding Sikhism: The Research Journal, Vol. 9(1), p.46, 2006.
3. Guru Granth Sahib, M1, p.3.
4. Ibid, M1, p.4.
5. Ibid, M1, p.4.
6. Ibid, M1, p.1037.
7. Ibid, M1, p.1035.
8. Ibid, M5, p.276.
9. Ibid, M1, Jap 22, p. 5.
10. Guru Gobind Singh, Benati Chaupai, Dasam Granth, Published by Bhai Chattar Singh - Jeewan Singh, Amritsar, 1902, p.1387.
11. Guru Granth Sahib, M.1, P.1.
12. Ibid, M.5, P.1193.
13. Ibid, M.1, P.945.
14. Ibid, M.1, P.942-943.
15. Ibid, M.1, P.19.
16. Ibid, M.1, P.1190.
17. Ibid, M.1, P.467.
18. Ibid, M.1, P. 596.
19. Ibid, Bhagat Namdev, P.485.
20. Ibid, M.5, P.176.