Guru Nanak's Ecumenical Religion (Sikhism)
– The Savior of Mankind –
Over 500 years ago in sub continental India arose Sikhism one of the five major world religions as a unique renaissance and resurgence of the human spirit. The spirit of man, realizing afresh its kinship, its integral bond, with the spirit Divine, liberated itself out of the obsolescent, dogma encrusted existence and came into its own efflorescent, as a dynamic force, a creative impulse. The élan vital of Sikhism had great potential for ushering in a new civilization qualitatively different from the earlier Indic and Hindu civilizations, thereby raising humanity to a new level of cultural and civilization progress. In its universal dimension Sikhism introduced a new concept of man, of society and state and in its historical dimension; this religion awakened medieval Indian society out of its collective amnesia, its inertia, and shook it out of its bondage to the dead past.
Sikhism arises from the teachings of Guru Nanak, the first guru, or teacher, who is believed to have been divinely inspired. Nanak was followed by nine other Gurus, all of whom are revered as great teachers and leaders. The words of the Gurus are preserved in Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth. Sikhism in itself consists of both, spiritualism and humanity. A Sikh must have love for humanity and he should be ever ready to serve the human beings without distinction of any kind.
George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegal (1770 –1831), a German idealist thinker, in his celebrated work, ‘The Philosophy of History’ gave due regard to democratic, universal and humantarian spirit of Sikhism. He perceives Sikhs as a community, whose constitution is thoroughly democratic and who have broken off from the Indian as well as from the Mohammedan religions, and occupy an intermediate ground - acknowledging only one Supreme Being.
Guru Nanak proclaimed his concept of the oneness of God (Ik Onkar) not only as a theological precept but also as a sociological principle that challenged the very basis of the hierarchized society, one manifestation of which was the caste system with differential ethics. Dharma as a complex of differential codes of ethics, different for different castes had degenerated into a disintegrating force it got rejuvenated as unifying force with the Nanakian concept of unity of Godhead.
Nanak’s religion consisted in the love of God, love of man and love of godly living. He gave his love to all, Hindus, Muslims, Indians and foreigners alike. His religion was a people’s movement based on modern conception of secularism and socialism, a common brotherhood of all human beings. Like Rousseau, Nanak felt 550 years ago that it was the common people who made up the human race. They had always toiled and tussled for princes, priests and politicians. What did not concern the common people, was hardly worth considering.
At the time of Babar’s invasion when he saw murdering slaughtering and plundering. Guru Nanak’s heart wept for those people who became the victims in the hands of tyrant Mughal forces. Guru Nanak saw the critical condition of the people. Men women and children were being murdered mercilessly in cold blood. Respectable and beautiful women were being dragged by the hair in the streets and bazaars. The soldiers of Mughal forces, intoxicated with power and position were spreading fire and rape. Guru Nanak could not tolerate this miserable plight. Condition of the country women was all the more pessimistic and sad. Women were being treated like animals.
He told his follower that it was sin for man if he tolerated that a part of humanity may be rolling in affluence while others may be starving. It was sin for him to tolerate that a part of humanity may be crushed under social and racial inequalities. It was sin for him to tolerate that any human beings be denied the freedom of worship. An ideal man must work for establishing perfect justice and equality among mankind. And to achieve goal of life man must become ideal and complete.
Guru Nanak’s aim was not merely to lay down the outline of a theoretical religious system but to organize a society which should accept the social responsibility of confronting, fighting and eliminating injustice and aggression in the socio-political field. Guru Nanak prescribed four empirical responsibilities for the spiritual man, namely, to secure the brotherhood of man, second, the importance of work and sustenance of life, third, fair distribution of wealth and the bounties of nature , and fourth, justice in society and confrontation with the unjust and the oppressor of the weak.
Guru Nanak wanted to establish a new society based on democratic principles in their widest sense. The aim of Guru Nanak was to save society from slavery, tyranny and unjustice. The newly created society was to be based on health and rational principles of politics and social relationship. He says that the state i.e. the ruler should create those conditions that may help the individual to further his personality. He believes that the state invariably be based on justice and equality. In general, it had always been stressed that kings should be dispensers of justice and equality. Guru Nanak criticized the rulers of Northern India for ignoring the basic principle of justice.
Guru Nanak declared that for the social welfare it was essential to introduce social equality. First of all, he challenged caste ridden discriminations. The protagonists of Varna Dharma had issued from the four limbs of Parjapati-god. In order to contradict this so called divine origin of Varna, Guru Nanak declared that in the court of God caste shall not be recognized. On the other hand, righteous deeds of the man shall get credit.
In Guru Nanak’s system, to ensure equality and fair play and to react against injustice and aggression, become the religious duty and responsibility of the Sikh. Since the dawn of civilization, the greatest oppression and injustice have undeniably been done by the rulers, the State, or the Establishment, who have possessed all the instruments of power and coercion. It is impossible for individuals to confront such power. This leads to two important inferences. First, that in a whole life system like Sikhism, which combines spiritual life with the empirical life of man and accepts the Miri-Piri doctrine, the religious man must, as a religious duty, resist and confront injustice, wherever it takes place. Second that such a religious man should not only be cognizant of such injustice, but also organize a society that should be in a position to face the challenge of such injustice and oppression. This follows logically both from Guru Nanak’s Bani and his system.
Sikhism endeavored for a new dispensation characterized by the values of liberty equality, justice, tolerance and non violence discarding discriminations of all kinds on grounds of creed, caste, class, race region, sex etc. God is realizable by man in this very earthly household life through spiritual enlightenment moral responsibility intellectual catholicity and social commitment. Real spiritual life involves the acceptance and practice of the idea of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man in actual living. The Gurus stress that God pervades all hearts and one can tune oneself to him and develop a new state of higher consciousness.
Sikhism is based on humanistic and universal values of the purest form. Human freedom and dignity, self realization and self confidence, service and sacrifice have been the essential elements of its ethos. Humanism properly assimilated does not remain at the level of a therapy or ideology, it becomes a matter of faith and praxis, and it recognizes the entire humanity as one single race, free from racial barrier, free from caste and gender bias. Humanistic vision of the future presents the picture of a multi faith society blessed with fraternal feelings and harmonious relations. Religious communities will remain, but communalism will vanish.
The first prophetic message of Guru Nanak, "there is no Hindu, no Muslim" emphasized the primacy of the innate human spirit partaking of the divine essence with the implication that man’s identity acquired from the variables of time and place, though important, is of secondary significance. The humanism of Guru Nanak regards all human beings of the world as part of the great universal fraternity. It brings all humanity in its purview.
Guru Nanak wished to create a society where Surati, Mati, Mana and Buddhi co-ordinate to make man a beautiful piece of work. He wanted to procure a balance among the emotions , desires and thoughts of man. He never conceived of a society, in which on the one side there were only the elite, and on the other, the superstitious, the mentally backward and the down trodden people.
The Sikh Pattern is not only non-differential but is also non-individualistic; the stress is not on self-seeking, individual liberation but on altruistic concern for the humanity as a whole (Sarbat da bhala). The Sikh ethics is, as such of corporate character. Sikhism is also distinct in stressing the virtue of selfless service to humanity and contribution to its welfare. It arose as a new mode of humanitarian thought, heralding a new concept of Ultimate reality and a new vision of the universal man which gave to a new outlook of human spirituality and a whole life religious system This system is based on the dual aspects of temporal and spiritual concepts called Miri and Piri in the Sikh parlance It integrates the spiritual values with the worldly, for an ideal life rather than considering the world Mithia and entanglement, a place of suffering; and condemning worldly life as a false snare, or renouncing it to become a recluse, shunning social duties and house hold responsibilities.
Sikhism favors a plural, free open and progressive human society, God oriented, non aggressive but firm and ever ready to combat rise and growth of evil through organized resistance, and forward looking yet non ambitious. For facilitating emergence of this state of affairs it has conceived of and recommends organized and co operative efforts of men of good will, indicating the true sources of dynamism available to man for this purpose. It is evident from the Bani of Guru Nanak that in his endeavors to promote an egalitarian society, he aspired to raise the social and religious position of women and the lower castes. His endeavors however, were not confined to metaphysical concepts such as the afterlife. Rather, he practised what he preached by overthrowing notions of inequality through his open association with the lower castes and his social comment and concern for females.
Guru Nanak was in favor of multi cultural society. Throughout His life, he advocates harmony, peace and truthful living. He preached an ecumenical and universal religion. He broke away from the parochial barriers of caste, creed, color, race, language etc. His mission was to divinize the mankind and to facilitate the union of an individual with an Ultimate Reality. He was harbinger of liberty, equality, justice and fraternity in the darkest period in the history of India. He is indeed a true liberator of mankind. His message works like a light house in the present age of confrontations, clashes and conflicts in the name of religion, caste, and class among people belonging to various racial, religious and cultural groups. Mankind sees a ray of hope in his cosmopolitan vision and Divine hymns to fight against injustice, exploitation and inequality in the 21st century.
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