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Karam

Gajindar Singh*

The biggest impediment to furtherance of knowledge is the human faith in the correctness of one’s convictions. Wherever the scholarly pioneers have wanted to expand the horizon of knowledge, people have stood up to defy all such attempts and snubbed, ridiculed and tried their best to silence the progressive voices of dissent. Old dogmas and precepts, thus, continue to hold their own, even when people realize the triviality of those doctrines and affirm to be the adherents of the new divergences in philosophy.

Guru Nanak came to us with such a new and advanced philosophic mission. He gave new dimensions to the misspelled doctrines. He inspired deeper and fresh investigations into the speculative theories of old religions. He picked fresh connotations in the universal beliefs. After five hundred years, his approach remains modern and logical. But ironically, the man-in-street likes to live his life by set rules and traditions, of habit and routine, to avoid logic and reason. Yet he would like to be counted in the circle of intellectuals. The Sikhs, literally ‘the student’ are supposed to explore the truth in fuller detail, yet they seem to prefer remaining ensconced in the discredited old traditions and routine, thoroughly confused. This attitude was severely criticized by none else than Guru Nanak in his sabds. For instance, Gau Brahmin ko kar lavo, gobar turn n jai.(SGGS 471)

One wonders, to what consequence were those long arduous journeys of Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus, since the Sikhs continue to think and act in line with the old discarded interpretations to the unique doctrines of Guru Nanak. It is an accepted fact that Guru Nanak did not consider the Vedas, Shastras and Koran as the last word in metaphysics, although the flight of imagination attempted by those seers is, indeed, scholarly. He did not seek solace in make-believe theories about the soul and its destiny. Ikna hukmi bakhsis, ik(i) hukmi sada bhavaieh. (Jap-2). At various places in the gurbani, the question is left in suspense and wonderment, why some receive God’s Grace and comforts while others toil endlessly. The Upnishads make very interesting reading. The hypothesis and assumptions were remarkable for that age. But the resulting theories of life and after-life and the varna-ashram with its inflexibility as well as the intra-caste structure, which was the outcome of all that study and the foundation of the Hindu society was frankly rejected, even condemned. The Hindu emphasis was on covering the deficiencies of man by cleansing on the strength of the Vedic chants and sacrificial fires to remove the ill-effects of bad actions as a sort of protective umbrella.

Atma and Pramatama were agreed to, whereas the Jains repudiated it and Buddhism stayed clear of it. On the other hand, the individual in Sikhism was placed under an overall discipline and orderly harmony of Parabrahma. Man was the object of study by our Gurus, but with a view to contain his waywardness and to tame him for the role of a good citizen, a useful and gentle person attuned to love of God and His creation, not to serve demands of a raw, untaught, self-centered ogre. As each soul struggled to come to terms with the order and harmony of the Supreme Being, the Guru (sabd-Guru) assisted the individual to graduate from the state of gross ignorance of an ego-centric being, a manmukh to the sublime objective of the God-oriented, the gurmukh.

Thus, the entire humanity was divided into two groups, namely the manmukhs and gurmukhs. Unlike the old division into the rigid compartmentalization of castes and sub-castes by birth, any person was to be freely promoted or demoted from the position of manmukh to gurmukh and vice-versa, the emphasis being on the precondition of good societal behaviour and actions to qualify to the fraternity of the gurmukhs, a stage, where a person consistently remained merged in God.

The above stipulation clearly delineates the departure of the Sikh stance from the basic Hindu posture. Consequently, there should have been a clear departure from the Hindu postulates to be eschewed. In practice, the same old stereotyped assumptions are being touted, unhindered, about the cause of birth, life cycle and death of a self-willed brute, as well as the post-death Hindu speculations. It has become customary with our Bhaiji, the priest to invoke Almighty to seek a place for the deceased in the lotus feet of God and keep it from the cycle of rebirths! Has God lotus feet? Is there really an abode out there in the skies? What is the value or purpose of such sham prayer to grant absolution to everyone from the so-called cycle of rebirth, without merit? Does such prayer work at all, without reformation of a vicious person into leading a virtuous life? Does God adopt human standards of judgment? Gurbani finds it a puzzle how someone may sleep cozy under cushions while the other person stands guard (SGGS 471). What is this great enigma? This theme reappears at several places in the Guru Granth Sahib in the banis of Guru Nanak, (SGGS 566): Guru Amar Das, (SGGS 644) and Guru Arjun Dev (614). The mystery persists. Instead of adopting the traditional solution of action and reaction, karam-bhog, Guru Arjan Dev in Canto 21 of the celebrated Sukhmani challenges the concept of Karam-Bhog.

There is, indeed, mention of reincarnation and Heaven and Hell fires in their sermons recorded in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, obviously for consumption of the congregations with Hindu and Muslim participants who perhaps had not yet formally adopted the Sikh way of life. The very purpose of Guru Nanak’s philosophy is stated clearly on the first page of the Guru Granth Sahib, to become attuned to godly qualities and that the whole creation is acting in accordance with His Will. God is our role model, our utopia, our beau-ideal. Nothing prospers, or, let us say, even happens that is against His command and He represents harmony in divine order. Wherefore, the discussion about one’s karma is rendered obsolete. It is confined to sakta who hanker after the supremacy of individual’s Will. Karma rules over lives of those societies.

Till such time that the self, atma is given all importance, as is the case with the ancient faiths, the debate about right and wrong, to the benefit of the individual and its atonement by the Vedic yagnas, vidhis, havans or puja, archa, vandhna, will maintain their validity. There will be no difference in going to a gurdwara in stead of the temple. The hopes and prayers of the unrestrained egotist will be the same as were practised in the pre-Nanak times. The alternatives as suggested by the six schools of Vedanta or the breakaway Jainism and Buddhism will continue to be operative in the life of our people. They are even quizzical about the significance and new dimensions of the gurmat dynamism! We are told that in the Guru period, many ordinary Sikhs were knowledgeable enough to put forth the Sikh point of view, to the stupefaction of the learned enquirers. Many missionaries from the times of Guru Nanak preached the Sikh philosophy far and wide and created sangats all over the sub-continent and beyond. With the shrinking of the missionary activities, the uniqueness of the Sikh panth tends to be less appreciated, even in the very cradle of our faith, in Punjab itself.

There has been a paucity of good scholars among the Sikhs attuned to the gurmat philosophy and the traditional point of view of the Brahmin, based on his scriptures and speculations is easily swallowed and readily dispensed by our priests and sant babas. In fact, all ancient religions did their best for those times and situations. Those theories and assumptions and presumptions now stand unfounded, outdated, not potent anymore. We are easy prey to any disinformation. It is no use pointing finger at the squeezing, stifling embrace of the old society as we are perpetuating the act ourselves in our stark ignorance.

In Sikhism, the exercise is heavily weighed about converting base stock, the manmukh to the supreme state of gurmukh. Instead of avoiding the issue, by renunciation, by running away from the problem or the vidhis and puja as a post-event surface-dressing, the Guru teaches the Sikh to face adversities by adopting virtues, discarding vices, maintaining calm and poise at all events, fighting weaknesses of character, to become a useful member of the society and recognizing the divine principle of harmony with nature. Whereas a traditional prophet or avatar propounds doctrines in God’s name, to his flock as strictly laid down by him, Guru Nanak had prepared for his mission by his study and enquiry of the various schools of divinity and deep meditation to evolve a mature, well considered thesis. Besides all the rich tomes of the past literature in India, he had occasion to study in depth the Islamic and older versions of the biblical theories. Many a time, Guru Nanak refers to not only Koran but to Kateban, in plural, the other holy books of the Semitic stock. In his sojourn in the Middle East for upward of two years, it is not possible that he did not come across or notice the grim rivalry of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic bid for supremacy, staying in hot spots like Madina, Baghdad and Turkey. There is definite semblance of the Guru’s thought beyond the current Hindu and Moslem stance, with the Christian doctrine of Grace, the search by the Church on the basic moral significance, rather than blindly accepting the traditional value systems, like flogging, stoning, beheading, and their treatment of sins and pride and covetousness as the main evils, as well as the Buddhist postures about consciousness, detachment and naam, among others. That there is no direct mention about Christianity or Judaism in his writings is due to negligible presence of these systems in India during Guru Nanak’s period and his addresses mainly to the Hindu and Moslem congregations and assemblies. Similarly, there is little mention of Buddhism, because, there were hardly any numbers of that faith in India at that time. On the other hand, there are strong references to Jainism which was then quite active in western and northern India. The interaction of Guru Nanak and his successors with Buddhists was, in fact quite intimate in the Indo-Tibetan regions where Guru Nanak is still remembered in Buddhist monasteries and their periodic pilgrimages to some of the Sikh historical shrines.

There is an interesting Surah Wakiah in the Holy Koran where God says that many generations of estranged people were given opportunity repeatedly, to revert to godly ways, but they did not. There are, therefore, three queues of people. Those on the right are those who will be passable to heaven, and those who fully deserve to cross over to all the luxuries therein, but those on the left, who were unresponsive to the prophets, are destined by providence to perpetual hell and no advocacy from any angel or prophet will ever redeem them. This theme is repeated in the Koran, for instance, in Surah Muhammad. God is stated to have deliberately sealed ears and eyes of infidels against the right path and their noncompliance with God’s Will. There is, thus, no scope left at all for their redemption. There are two points to be noted: Firstly, it divides hopelessly the faithful from the kuffar. This has been followed to the hilt by the faithful who are guided by the wrath of Almighty to the lot of unbelievers, called Jehad (Ref. Muhammed:4) Secondly, God has evidently given up on this wretched multitude without any chance of deliverance and resurrection.

It is extraordinary that the Sikh philosophy should likewise divide humanity in the right and left grouping, but, of course, with the addition that anyone and everyone is allowed compassion and a chance at any time to cross over from left to the right and claim the privilege to enter the heavenly state. Those who still do not heed to the opportunity are comparable to demonetized, base coins destined to be put through the process of revivification, gharie sabd sachi taksal, in the Sikh parlance, or whatever it may mean, the perpetual Semitic hell fire or the long drawn cycle of reincarnation of the Indo-Buddhist speculation. Also mark the similarity in rigidity of the Islamic justice comparable to the grossly inflexible Hindu theory of transmigration through what is a variable hell of 8.4 million rebirths to each soul for all acts, fair and foul.

Notwithstanding these controversies, there is total change in the Sikh definitions of hell and heaven from old physical destinations to spiritual moorings, like the torturous mental sufferings of the manmukh compared to the tranquility of the saintly gurmukh. Guru Nanak has given a new dimension to the well entrenched Vedic division into the four yugas, time scales, refer sabd Ramkali M:I, Guru Granth Sahib, p 902. Soi chand chadhe se tarey… All yugas manifest simultaneously now and here, according to each person’s perception, character and actions! The ardas, our ardent and earnest prayer is sufficient to motivate virtues and dispel vices, over mechanical reading of scriptures and karamkand practices of the other systems being increasingly adopted and propagated and in turn, confused with the Sikh philosophy by the unsophisticated preachers and sant-babas wallowing in outdated and discarded Hindu precepts. Guru Nanak had a clear perception of a much traveled and experienced person about the mythical bull of the puranas, supporting the mother Earth. Dharti hor parey hor hor, tis de bhar taley kwan jor? Earth extending far and still farther away; how many bulls would be supporting it? And for that matter, the myth of the sacred rivers, eventually, issuing forth from the tresses of Mahadev or the gomukh? Refer to, Kita pasao eko kavao, tis te hoe lakh dariao. Creation happened at one go, all rivers being sacred since they are God ordained. Water is the pita, life bestowal. He deliberated, therefore, on qudrat kwan kaha vichr, varia n java ek var, who has the wherewithal to explain the mystery of Creation. (Jap)

Guru Nanak has repeatedly wondered in his celestial utterances about the heavenly dispensation, while one is bestowed with all luxuries and basks in all sorts of comforts, there are others who toil for their very existence. It happens according to God’s will and pleasure and cannot be judiciously explained by all sorts of theories proffered and plausible arguments extended by the ancient sages. The votaries of the Bhakta School abjectly based all adversities on the previous karma of the individual in line with the ancient texts, but Guru Nanak blamed the lax attitude of the people in adopting the virtues in their character and curbing evils as essential preparation to face the exigencies of the given situations, instead of the tantras and mantras of the ancient beliefs. He did not hesitate to reproach God in Eti mar pae kurlaney, (Page 360) for the unequal combat to which the ill-equipped populace was subjected. The usual Hindu pattern would be to blame the ‘past’ misdeeds of each person so involved in the Invasion!

In the old texts of all ancient faiths, one point is common, that is, punishment against bad acts. Acts of vices, the bad acts, however, are always far more than virtues, the good acts, due to the inherent baseness born of ignorance in human nature. It has been presented, in the old religions, in the manner of a horror story to put the fear of reprisals into the die-hard criminal. Yet the effect has been nominal, as only those respond who are either good by nature or weaklings. The remedial measures suggested to correct the anomaly have proved to be inadequate, which is, of course, admitted universally by the old religions. The reasons seem to be that

a) There is little importance given towards strengthening the basic human character and its responses, only secondary in nature, to the preliminary routine of dedicational practices,
b) More emphasis is placed on circumventing the weaknesses in character by additional load of repetitive prayers, meditations, invoking heavenly pardon, ignoring the primary need of eradication of flaws in human mind and their essential rectification to the benefit of the society. The routine prayers, the harsh body tortures of Hath yogins, the tantric-magical mantras and special readings of scriptures did not yield the results.

Whereas the Indo-Buddhist schools rigidly affirm the indispensable course of payback of all actions, good and bad, the Semitic emphasis is on redeeming the transgression by means of prayers and simple remembrance of God’s name. The Sikh point of view is that salvation is not possible; howsoever one may meditate on God’s name, and good deeds do not compensate or wash away the bad ones, until the vices are converted effectively to virtues, beneficent to the society. (Without virtues devotion is impossible – Jap: 21) Once the faults are removed from the character of a manmukh, he emerges as a perfected soul. Also, anyone and every one, irrespective of community, caste, class or gender may be able to effect this change of attitude and characteristics at any time and accomplish the transformation. Another difference in the Sikh reckoning from earlier systems is that such a being is automatically resurrected beyond any charge-sheet of his earlier misdemeanors, his status being a jiwan-mukt. (Guru Granth Sahib, p 614: 1348:698:38)

Whatever happens to those who are not perfected souls? Gurmukhs are a rarity, but the much-reformed souls who have crossed over from the stark stage of self-centered egoists, are assured of being protected by liberated gurmukhs, as guides and masters, (they take many with them to the state of liberation – Jap.) For those dedicated Sikhs, at any stage, firmly committed to the path to perfection, the charge-sheet is obsolete and ineffective, which is affirmed in the Guru Granth Sahib. ‘What will the Dharamrai ever do when the charge-sheet stands annulled’ (Guru Granth Sahib, p 614).

One point needs to be clarified is that in Sikhism, it is neither the function nor the privilege of a heavenly appointed prophet, nor the prerogative of a liberated soul or God’s angels to secure allowance to an unworthy soul to sneak through by the strength of any stratagem, either as their witness or pleadings into devlok or the Garden of Eden. To a gursikh, therefore, the philosophy of Karma as defined in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism or Islam does not apply. How our priests blindly acquiesce to it is neither correct nor permissible. It is a system wherein the scholar (Sikh) learns the values of good over evil and sets about shaping his life in accordance with the heavenly discipline, (raza). How it may be achieved is in tempering his personality by the positive yoking of the five tendencies, namely, desires, wrath, pride, avarice and egocentricity to contain them. Instead of man’s helpless reaction to these vigorous urges, overwhelming him and driving him wild, one has to harness and control these base powers to the best effect. The whole matter is reduced to the proposition, whether one remains a hapless witness to his destruction by these forces, inherent in his nature, defined as weaknesses, for which the ancients chanted mantras as antidote as well as the prescribed prayers, or, to be the wielder of the moral sword to cut them down to size and to one’s emancipation as the gurmukh.

Karam, is therefore, used by Guru Nanak predominantly as a heavenly opportunity to perform righteous deeds. That was its earliest connotation when in the Vedic period it stood for pious and religious acts. It was the later corruption when it was qualified as kukaram, bad deeds and sukaram, good deeds. In Persian, karam is benevolence, grace, kindheartedness and a good turn. Karam in the Sikh parlance, thus, means heavenly grace, gracious act and kindness. It has been also used simply as an act or deed. It depends on the interpreter how it is correctly construed. It is possible to totally go haywires in narrow-minded explanations, depending on the stretch and vision of the scholar. But it should be clear that the karam-phal syndrome of ‘action-and-reaction’ as defined in the ancient religions does not pertain to the Sikhs of the Guru, who are steered by heavenly discipline and live in God. They are protected by the Creator who is also the Doer and the Sikh understands it while going about his chores. After all, to be good, does not need inducements of bonus or rewards. It is the sacred duty of all of us to do good and act for the improvement and betterment of the society in general. Let others roast in hell or bask in heavenly comforts for their bad and good deeds, but a Sikh lives a clean life in step with God as his role-model and there is no need for such devices creating threat or fear psychosis at motivation. It is not rare that one comes across such peaceful and contented Sikhs who create serenity and harmony wherever they happen to be, in whatever situation, as they remain merged in God. Gurbani exhorts the Sikhs to search for such company of the saintly so that evil is routed and heaven prevails.

 

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