The Sikh Religion
Principal Teja Singh
The aim of life, according to the Sikh Gurus, is not to get salvation or a heavenly abode called paradise, but to develop the best in man which is God.
"If a man loves to see God,
What care he for salvation or paradise." – Guru Nanak's Asa
"Everybody hankers after salvation, paradise or Elysium setting their hopes on them every day of their lives. But those who love to see God do not ask for salvation. The sight itself satisfies their minds completely." – Guru Ram Das in Kalyan
How to see God and to love him? The question is taken up by Guru Nanak in his Japji.
"What shall we offer to him that we may behold His council chamber?
What shall we utter with our lips which may move Him to give us His love?
In the ambrosial hours of morn meditate on the Grace of the True Name;
For your good actions may procure for you a better birth, but emancipation is from Grace alone."
"We should worship the Name, believe in the Name, which is ever and ever the same and true." – Sri Rag of Guru Nanak
The practice of the name is emphasized again and again in the Sikh Scriptures, and requires a little explanation.
The Nature of God or the Name
God is described both as Nirgun, or absolute, and Sargun or personal. Before there was any creation, God lived absolutely in Himself, but when he thought of making Himself manifest in creation. He became related in the former case, when God was himself self created, there was none else. He took council and advice with Himself; what he did came to pass. Then there was not heaven, or hell, or the three regioned world. There was only the Formless. One Himself; creation was not then (Gujri Ki Var of Guru Amar Das). There was then no sin, no virtue, no Veda of any other religious book, no caste, no sex (Guru Nanak's Maru Solhe xv, and Guru Arjan's Sukhmani xxi). When God became Sargun or manifest. He became what is called the name and in order to realize Himself. He made Nature wherein He has His seat and is diffused everywhere and in all directions in the form of love' (Guru Gobind Singh's Jaap 80).
In presenting Gurus double phase of the Supreme Being the Gurus have avoided the pitfalls into which some people have fallen with them, God is not an abstract idea or a moral force, but a personal Being capable of being loved and honoure, and yet He is conceived of as a being whose presence is diffused all over His creation. He is the common Father of all, fashioning worlds and supporting them from inside, but He does not take birth. He has no incarnations. He Himself stands for the creative agencies. Like the Maya, the word and Brahma, He Himself is Truth, Beauty and the eternal yearning of the heart after Goodness (Japji 21 ) in a word, the Gurus have combined the Aryan idea of immanence with the Semitic idea of transcendence; without taking away anything from the unity and the personal character of God.
"O give me, give some intelligence of my Beloved".
I am bewildered at the different accounts I have of Him. O, happy wives, my companions, say something of him. Some say that he is altogether outside the world, Others that He is altogether contained in it.
His colour is not seen; His features cannot be made out;
O happy wives, tell me truly.1
"He lives in everything; He dwells in every heart. Yet He is not blended with anything;
He is separate."
"Why does thou go to the forest in search of God? He lives in all, is yet ever distinct; He abides with thee too.
As fragrance dwells in a flower or reflection in a mirror.
So does God dwell inside everything, seek Him therefore in thy heart."2
People who came with preconceived notions to study Sikhism often blunder in offering its interpretation. Those who are conversant with the eastern thought fix upon those passages which refer to the thought of immanence and conclude that Sikhism is nothing but an echo of Hinduism, while those who are imbued with the Mohammedan or Christian thought, take hold of transcendental passage and identify Sikhism with Islam or Christianity. Others who know both will see here no system, nothing particular nothing but confusion.
If, however, we were to study Sikhism as a new organic growth, evolved from the existing systems of thought to meet the need of newly evolving humanity, we would find no difficulty in recognizing Sikhism as a distinct system of thought.
Take, for instance, Guru Nanak's Asa-Di-Var, which in its preliminary stanzas lays down the fundamentals of Sikh belief about God. It is a trenchant clear-cut monotheism. God is called 'the in dweller of Nature', and is described as filling all things by an art that is artless' (xii,1-2). He is not an impotent mechanic fashioning pre-existing matter into the universe. He odes not exclude matter, but includes and transcends it. The universe, too is not an illusion. Being rooted in God who is real, it is a reality; not a reality final and abiding but a reality on account of God's presence in it (ii, i). His will is above Nature as well as working within it and in spite of its immanence it acts not as an arbitrary force but as a personal presence working "most intelligently" (iii-3). The first thing about God is that He is indivisibly one, above every other being, however, highly conceived, such as Vishnu, Brahma or Shiva (1), or Rama and Krishna (iv-2). The second thing is that He is the highest moral being (ii-2), who has inscribed all men with His Name or moral presence (ii). He is not a God belonging to any particular people, Muslim. or Hindu, but is the dispenser of life universal (vi). The ways to realize Him are not many, but only one (xii-3) and that way is not knowledge, formalism (xiv-2, xv1-4) or what are received as meritorious action which establish a claim to reward (viii 2), but love (xiii 2) and faith (xiv 2) the aim being to obtain the grace of God (iv-2, v-2,viii-1). The only way of worshipping Him is to sing His praise (vi-1,vii-ix-xii-2,xx-2,xxii-3) and to meditate on His Name3(ii,vii.,1.,ix-2,xviii).
Uplife Of Man Based On Character
This life of praise is not to be of idle mysticism but of active service done in the midst of wordly relations. "There can be no worship without good."4 actions. These actions, however, are not to be formal deeds of so-called merit, but should be implied by an intense desire to please God and to serve fellow-men.
"Without pleasing God all actions are
Worthless. Repetition of mantras, austerities,
Set ways of living. Or deeds of merit leave
Us destitute even before our journey ends.
You wont't get even half a copper for your
Fasts and special programmes of life.
These things, O brother, won't do there:
For the requirements of that way are quite Different.
You won't get a place there for all your
Bathing and wandering in different places.
These means are useless; they cannot
Satisfy the conditions of that world.
Are you a recite of all four Vedas? There
Is no room for you there.
With all your correct reading if you don't
Understand one thing that matters, you only
I say, Nanak, if you exert yourself in action, you will be saved
Serve your God and remember Him,
Leaving all your pride of self.5
The Gurus laid the foundation of man's uplift not on such short cuts as mantras miracles or mysteries but on man's own humanity, his own character as it is character alone-the character already formed-which helps us in moral crisis. Life is like a cavalry march. The officer of a cavalry on march has to decide very quickly when to turn his men to the right or left. He cannot wait until his men are actually on the brink of a nulla or khud. He must decide long before that. In the same way. When face to face an evil, we have to decide quickly. Temptations allow us no time to think. They always come suddenly. When offered a bribe or an insult, we have to decide at once what course of action we are going to take. We must decide on the impulse. And this can be done only if virtue has so entered into our disposition that we are habitually drawn towards it, and evil has got no attraction for us. Without securing virtue sufficiently in character, even some of the so called great men have been known to fall an easy prey to temptation, it was for this reason that for the formation of the Gurus did not think it sufficient to lay down rules of conduct in a book; they also thought is necessary to take in had a whole people for a continuous course of schooling in wisdom and experience, spread over many generations, before they could be sure that the people thus trained had acquired a character of their own. This is the reason why in Sikhism there have been ten founders instead of only one.
Before the Sikh Gurus, the leaders of thought had fixed certain grades of salvation, according to the different capacities of men, whom they divided into high and low castes. The development of character resulting from this was one sided. Certain people belonging to the favoured classes, got developed in them a few good qualities to a very high degree, while others left to themselves got degenerate. It was as 'if a gardener, neglecting to look after all the different kinds of plants entrusted to him were to bestow all his care on a few choosen ones, which were in bloom so that he might be able to supply a few flowers every day for his master's table. The Gurus did not want to have such a lop sided growth. They wanted to give opportunities of highest development to all the classes of people.
"There are lowest men among the low castes.
Nanak, I shall go with them. What have I
got to do with the great?
God's eve of mercy falls on those who take
Care of the lowly."
"It is mere nonsense to observe caste and
To feel proud over grand names."6
Some work had already been done in line. The Bhagats or reformers in the Middle Ages had tried to abolish the distinction between the high class Hindus and the so-called untouchables, by taking into their fold such men as barbers, weavers, shoe-makers etc. But the snake of untouchability still remained unscotched, because the privilege of equality was not extended to men as men, but to those individuals only who had washed off their untouchability with the love of God. Kabir, a weaver and Ravidas, a shoe-maker, were honoured by kings and high-caste men, but the same privilege was not extended to other weavers and shoe-makers who were still held as untouchables. Ravidas took pride in the fact that the love of God had so lifted him out of his caste that even the superior sort of Brahmans came to bow before him," while the other members of his caste, who were working as shoe-makers in the suburbs of Benares, were not so honoured.7
The Sikh Gurus made this improvement on the previous idea that they declared the whole humanity to be one, and that a man was to be honoured, not because he belonged to this or that caste or creed but because he was a man, an emanation from God whom God had given the same senses and the same soul as to other men:-
"Recognize all human nature as one."
"All men are, the same, although they
Appear different under different influences."
The bright and the dark, the ugly and the beautiful, the Hindus and the Muslism, have developed themselves according to the fashions of different countries.
All have the same eyes, the same ears, the same body and the same build-a compound of the same four elements."8
Such a teaching could not tolerate any ideas of caste or untouchability. Man rose in the estimation of man. Even those who had been considering themselves as the drags of society, and whose generations had lived, as groveling slaves of the so-called higher, fired with a new hope and courage to lift themselves as equals of the best of humanity.
Women too received their due. "How can they be called Inferior," says Guru Nanak, "When they give birth to kings and prophets?9 Women as well as men share in the grace of God and are equally responsible for their actions to him,10 Guru Har Gobind called women the conscience of man."Sati was condemned by the Sikh Gurus long before any notice was taken of it by Akbar.
The spirit of man was raised with a belief that he was not a helpless creature in the hands of a being of an arbitrary will, but was a responsible being endowed with a will of his own, which could do much to mould his destiny. Man does not start his life with a blank character, He has already existed before he is born. he inherits his own past as well as that of his family and race. All this goes to the making of his being and has a share in the moulding of his nature. But this is not all. He is given a will with which he can modify the inherited and acquired tendencies of his past and determines his coming conduct. If this were not so, he would not be responsible for his actions. This will again, is not left helpless or isolated; but if through the Guru's word it be attuned to the Supreme Will, it acquires a force with which he can transcend all his past and acquires a new character.
This question of human will as related to the Divine Will is an intricate one and requires a little elucidation.
According to Sikhism, the ultimate source of all that is in us is God alone. Without Him there is no strength in us. Nobody, not even the evil man, can say that he can do anything independent of God. Everything moves within the Providential domain.
Thou art a river in which all beings move:
There is none but Thee around them.
All living things are playing within Thee.11
The fish may run against the current of the river or along with it, just as it likes, but it cannot escape the river itself. Similarly man may run counter to what is received as good or moral, but he can never escape from the pale of God's will.
Then who is responsible for his actions? Man himself. We learn from the first shlok of Asa-di-Var's 7th Pauri that man is given a free will, which leads him to do good or evil actions, to think good or evil thoughts, and to go in consequence to Heaven or Hell.
"Governed by his free will he laughs or weeps; Of his free will he begrimes or washes himself;
Of his free will he degrades himself from the order of human beings:
Of his free will he befools himself or becomes wise." The next shlok we read:
"Self-assertion gives man his individuality and leads him to action:
It also ties him down to the world and sends him on a round of births and deaths.
Wherefrom comes this assertion of self? How shall it leave us?
It comes to man form the will of God, determines his conduct according to his antecedents.
It is a great disease; but its remedy also lies within itself. When God sends grace to man, he brings to obey the call of the Guru.
Nanak says: Hear ye all, this is the way to cure the disease."
The source of evil is not saten or Ahrman, or other external agency. It is our own sense of Ego placed by God in us. It may prove a boon or a curse to us, accordingly as we subject ourselves to God's Will or not. It is the overweening sense of self that grows as a barrier between God and man and keeps him wandering from sin to sin-
"The bride and the bridegroom live together with a partition of Ego between them."12
The Infinite is within us engraved in our being lie a cipher which is gradually unfolding its meaning as we listen to the voice of the Teacher. It is like the light of the sun ever present, but shut out of our sight by the cloud of ignorance and selfishness.
We sin as long as this light remains unmanifested and we believe in our self as everything to us.
Regeneration comes when, at the call of Grace we begin to subject our tiny self to the highest Self, that is God, and our own will is gradually attuned to His supreme will, until we feel and move just as He wishes us to feel and move.
Really the problem of good and evil is the problem of Union and Disunion13 with God. All things are strung on God's will and man among them. As long as man is conscious of this, he lives and moves in union with him. But gradually led away by the overweening sense of self, he cuts himself from that unity and begins to wander in moral isolation. It is, however, so designed in the case of man that whenever he wishes he can come back to the bosom of his Father and God resumes his position there. Guru Nanak says in Maru:
"By the force of Union, we meet God and enjoy him even with this body:
And by the force of Disunion we break away from him;
But Nanak, it is possible to be united again."
When we come into this world, we begin our life with a certain capital. We inherit our body from our parents, and there are divine things in us as the spirit and the progressive tendencies, which serve as forces of union and keep us united with God. But there are also evil tendencies in us inherited from our past lives which serve as forces of disunion and draw us away Him towards moral death. Of Guru Nanak in Maru:
Man earns his body from the union of his mother and father:
And the Creator inscribes his being with the gifts of the spirit and the progressive tendencies.
But led away by Delusion he forgets himself."
This teaching about the freedom of will and the progressive tendencies raises the spirit of man and gives him a new hope of courage. But that is not enough to enable him to resist evil and to persist in positive virtue. The temptation of evil is so strong and the human powers for resisting it in spite of the inherent progressive tendencies-are so weak that it is practically impossible for him to fulfil that standard of virtue which is expected of him. It was this consciousness of human weakness which made Farid say: "The Bride is so weak in herself, the Master so stern in His commands."
That is, man is endowed with such weak faculties that he stumbles at each step, and yet it is expected of him that:-
"He should always speak the truth, and never tell lies."14
"He should beware of even of an unconscious sin."15
"He should not step on the bed of another's wife even in dream.'16
These commands cannot be fulfilled simply with the strength of knowledge and inherited tendencies. They will not go far even in resisting evil. The higher ideal of leading a life of positive virtue and sacrifice is absolutely impossible with such a weak equipment. When what is to do done?
The prophets of the world have given many solutions of this problem. Some get round the difficulty by supposing that there is no evil. It is only a whim or false scare produced by our ignorance. They believe in the efficacy of knowledge. Others believe in the efficacy of Austerities; still others in Alms given in profusion to overwhelm the enormity of sin. There are, again, a higher sort of teachers who inculcate the love of some great man as a saviour. What was the solution offered by the Sikh Gurus?
They saw that although it was difficult for a man to resist evil and to do good with his own powers, yet if he were primed with another personality possessing dynamic powers he could acquire a transcendental capacity for the purpose. This personality was to be the Guru's.
1. Jaitsari of Guru Arjan.
2. Dhanasri of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
3. Name is term like logos is Greek bearing various meanings. Sometimes it is used for God Himself as in Sukhmani xvi 5; "The name sustains teh animal life, the name supports the parts and the whole of the universe." It is described as being immortal, immoculated indweller of all creation, and is to be sung, utter thought upon served and worshipped. In most cases in means the revelation of God as found in the sacred word.
5. Gauri Mahala of Guru Arjan
6. Sri Rag of Guru Nanak. See also Guru Arjan's Jaitsari ki Var, vii and Guru Amar Das's Bhairo.
7. Ravidas in Rag Malar
8. Akal Ustat of Guru Gobind Singh
9. Asa di var, xix
10. Guru Ram Das in Asa
11. See Guru Amardas's Var Sukhi, vi, (Japji, ii)
12. Guru Ram Das in Malar
13. Japji, xxix
15. Guru Tegh Bahadur
16. Guru Gobind Singh
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All