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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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Sikhism in third Millennium Civilization

  Dr. Kiran Arora

The Sikh movement, started by Guru Nanak, culminated in the creation of the Khalsa in 1699. The Khalsa completed 300 years of its life in 1999, when the Tercentenary of its creation was celebrated with great enthusiasm and fanfare all over the globe. The Sikh religion has the potential to play a dominant role in shaping the 21st century society and the third millennium civilization that would be in its fundamental postulates, different from the modern Western Civilization.

As we enter 21st century in the third millennium, it is necessary to recall the message of the Gurus, and to assess our past performance and the present situation for planning our future, because if one forgets one’s past and ignores one’s present, one has no future.

The Guru’s message is for all. It is the message of love, service and sacrifice. It is the message of happiness for other religious beliefs too. It is the message of cooperative effort for eradication of suffering and bringing bliss for all. It is the message of justice and equality. It is the message of not just tolerance, but genuine respect for humanity. The world needs this message, to avert the impending tragedy of clash of civilizations.

The Sikh Scripture is unique in many ways. It is the first religious scripture, among the scriptures of world religions, compiled by one of the Prophets of Sikhism, Guru Arjan Dev and institutionalized as the eternal Guru by the tenth Prophet, Guru Gobind Singh. It is also unique in that it contains holy compositions of not only the Sikh Gurus but also those of Hindu Saints and Muslim Sufis. Thus, it is, verily, the Scripture of a universal Religion and a living example of religious pluralism. Its message of interreligious dialogue and intercommunity understanding has tremendous significance for the present day world, which needs interfaith dialogue to resolve religious conflicts in different parts of the globe.

The emerging third millennium global civilization, it is believed, would have spiritual component as its foundational category in the same way in which the modern Western Civilization arose on the foundation of a deified reason reigning supreme in nature, history and society. Sikhism, with its basic category of spirit, can and should play its due role in the evolution of the new global civilization.

Sikh religion has also the potential of ushering in a new higher civilization qualitatively different from the earlier Indic and Hindu civilizations. The potential of Sikh religion, its elan vital, can play a dominant role in shaping the 21st century society and the third millennium  civilization that would be in its fundamental postulates different from the modern Western Civilization. Islam and Christianity also, in their prime times, had brought about their respective civilizations, but these models were uni-centric, religiously, socially and politically.

The uni-centricity of the Christian, Islamic and modern Western civilization implied homogenization on social level and Unitarianism-totalitarianism on political level. The new global civilization of the third millennium would, hopefully, be pluri-centric. Sikhism, with its inherent religious, social, cultural, economic and political pluralism, can provide ideological postulates for the new pluralist world civilization.

Guru Nanak stresses in ‘Japji’, the inexhaustibility of the attributes of the Divine and the relativity of the human modes of perception, and figuratively expresses this idea in this way: The brave sees God in the form of Might; the intellectual comprehends Him in the form of Light (of knowledge); the aesthete perceives the Divine in his aspect of the Beauty; the moralist envisions Him as Goodness, etc. Different revelations of the Spirit are like the variety of different seasons which refer back to the same sun: Numerous are the seasons emanating from the one Sun Numerous are the guises in which the Creator appears.

For Sikh religion, all revelations of God are equally valid, having been given to man relative to the variables of time and place. This rules out any room for dogmatic assertion of fullness and finality of any single religion’s revelation as well as religious totalitarianism which is not accepted in Sikhism. Though Sikhism embraces the other-worldly concerns of man as well as the this worldly concerns of society and state, yet it is not a totalizing ideology. All revelations being relatively co-valid, no ‘ism’- religious or secular - can claim to be the sole way to God, the exclusive path to salvation.

But if contemporary Sikhism has to play such a role on the global level, it would have to update its praxis and reform its stereotyped mindset in line with doctrines of Sikhism as enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.. The decade (1980s) of Sikh fundamentalism-terrorism (partly state-sponsored) has left behind its toxic effects in the form of asphyxiating orthodoxy, crippling conservatism, conformism, decadent dogmatism, violent intolerance and fetishization of the Sikh symbols. All these after-effects are encrusting the essential spirit of Sikhism. But thanks to the inherent liberalism of Sikh religion, Sikhism has immense potential for self-revival. The Sikh community, today is in a sense, at the crossroads of its history where it either follows the path of revival or chooses the path towards further entrenchment of orthodoxy and dogmatized creed presided over by a mushrooming priestly class and reinforced by fast-growing santdom, both of which have no place in the Sikh doctrine. If the Sikh community is driven to the latter path, it would, for its fresh growth, require another kind of martyrs from within for bringing about the second Sikh revival, long overdue after the first Sikh reformation that arose in the last quarter of the 19th century. The top agenda of the second Sikh revival would most likely be liberation of Sikhism from the over dogmatized Sikhs; just as liberation of the Sikh shrines from hereditary mahants was uppermost on the agenda of the first Sikh revival.

The third millennium mankind is turning to religion in a new way, as the Spirit has manifested itself from time to time in religious revelations. In this context, Sikhism, with its futuristic vision, can play a leading role in evolving the ideology of the coming global civilization. Sikhism is distinct among world religions in that its basic category is ‘spirit’ and not ‘being’; its vision is holistic and not dualistic. For the Sikh religion, God is the creative Spirit (Karta Purakh) distinguishable from, say, the Vedantic and Vedanta-based religions for which Brahman is Sat (Being), Chit (Consciousness) and Anand (Bliss), but not creator. Before the Nanakian speculative thought, whenever the notion of Spirit appeared, it was seen as manifesting and revealing itself in space (nature), in the Word and in the human soul. With Sikh thought comes for the first time in the history of speculative thought of the world, the concept of the Spirit descending, through the Guru-medium, in (Historical) time, in history. The spiritual aspect of the spirit (spiritual sovereignty) becomes immanent in the Word (Guru Granth) and the temporal aspect (temporal sovereignty) becomes determinate in the societal category known in Sikh parlance as the Khalsa Panth or Guru panth.        

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