Science and Sikhism
Religion has acted as the launching pad of human imagination ever since man emerged out of the jungle into caves. Without free play of imagination, vision would have been limited to deduced theories from experience only. Experience has been the mainstay of Science as man stumbled on new discoveries. Meanwhile human mind soared to unlimited heights, dreamt of riding the waves as a fish, to soar into winds like birds and aimed targets miles away with deadly weaponry, what was at one time considered by scientific minds as wild imagination and part of religious fancy, myths. On the other hand, the study of Science comprises of physical facts, features and attributes of matter available. Beyond it, Science holds all as doubtful, without material proof to sustain claims, whatever the subject. It is supposed to keep its feet steady on firm ground. That is its strong point as well as its limitation. That happens to restrict its scope. It happens to limit Science to pure Physics. In fact, Science prefers not to get involved in subjects other than physical and material, whatever is not proven by common sense and logic.
Steadily, man has progressed from thinking on physical ground to the meta-physical and to evolve solutions of mysteries which have been beyond the pale of physical equations. However, new discoveries and inventions do happen, widening the range of science and ushering in new horizons and dimensions so that firm theories of yester-years are dropped and fresh claims are raised. In this unending struggle to break the barriers of available knowledge, scientific theories cannot be termed as ‘natural laws’, as these are subject to revision in due course. It must be borne in mind that the span of Wisdom is unlimited, yet to be conquered. In Religion, the concept of the Creator, the driving force destined towards perfection, has been established as an irrevocable entity, whatever the various revisions in the course of time, to its definition. On the whole, scientific parameters do not apply to mystical experience and trying to forge a link between the two is an ineffectual exercise.
For the present, Religion and Science have different perceptions even of the word ‘definitions’. For instance, darsana in every day usage denotes ‘a glimpse or meeting,’ but in mysticism it stands for knowledge, comprehension; prasad means eatables in general parlance, but in religious sense it represents ‘pleasure’ or ‘grace’. It becomes terse to interpret a word or phrase in common idiom to both. It must be borne in mind that for human ambition and welfare, Religion is as important as the progress in Science, more so in the recent times. In an effort to achieve a harmonious balance, Science and Religion should be working together, in mutual respectful trust and not at loggerheads with each other.
Science, as we know it today, was not clearly defined in the times of the Gurus. It is, therefore, only hypothetical to suggest that Guru Nanak expounded theories of cosmic origin of the universe in strictly scientific terms. He has repeatedly stated that the Creator alone knows the facts of the origin of the Universe. Ja karta sristi ko saaje aape jane soi. (Jap). There are only human conjectures, which still are being debated and last word has not yet been said. Whatsoever available in the Guru Granth Sahib are mystical revelations which the modern scientists try hard to fit in with the current theories and terminology which may be subject to revisions in due course in accordance with further enquiry and scientific development.
Most scientists rigidly view things from their close perspective, ready to pounce on any theory where physics is not on so sure grounds. It is easy to caste aspersions and trade blame on spirituality in Religion, whereas finding a synthesis of the scientific and the spiritual must need an equal knowledge and experience of both streams. In fact, a good scientist must appreciate the limiting factor of his subject instead of evaluating Religion on the yardstick of Science and claiming its universality to provide answers to all subjects. One can appreciate the role of Religion only by experiencing its deeper and finer aspects. For instance, the psychiatrists have made good advancement to utilise hypnosis to unravel knotty cases of personality imbalances in patients, carrying the case from the present life course to previous life spans and by introducing many more characters and situations to arrive at the exact cause of a patient’s hysteria or misery and suffering. Not long ago, it would have been shouted down as heresy and irrational. Our scientists admit not being sure of more than five percent of the whole cosmos puzzle. Sometime in the distant future, a direct link up between the Religion and Science is no more a crazy perception.
In the European conditions, the hegemony of the Christian Church and the strict adherence of the Papal authority as the only valid canon in the middle ages brought stress in relations of Religion versus the scientists who had to submit to dictates of the church many times in spite of being on surer grounds, which created alienation between the two. But that wall of resistance has largely broken down and time has come for science and religion to be together, helping the common man to find solutions to his subtle problems within their respective fields. Moreover, as far as Sikhism is concerned, it always viewed matters, material and spiritual by discursive and inductive reasoning of all issues. It cannot be compared with the Eurocentric sophism. Both streams will have to develop empathy to each other’s views and appreciate the ground realities. Without it, the entire exercise will become contentious. That is to be avoided at all costs.
An instance to this position is the revival of the oral tradition of evidence that was felt as redundant and cast off not long ago. The Universities and research academies are reviving Oral Cells as the medieval habit of recording and diary keeping is fast eroding in a world of computerisation of interviews, frequent travels and press conferences of which authenticated records are not always well-preserved.
Religion has made strides to cope with the requirements of a fast changing scenario. Sikhism has demonstrated the futility of (i) baths at so called sacred places, tirathas, (ii) formal motions of worship with a wavering and wandering mind, (iii) alms to glorify self-esteem, (iv) specific times and seasons for contemplation, (v) fasting, (vi) renunciation, (vii) sacrifice, (viii) asceticism and (ix) abstention and many more of that genre. In short, it has reduced the mental exercise from a wild, imaginative wish-list to pertinent questions. No body can fault the emphasis of the Sikh Masters on adopting and developing virtues and shedding evils in mind and practice to become better individuals and citizens of a welfare state, towards which Sikh ethos worked hard to create a congenial atmosphere and the Sikhs endured hapless sufferings to fight inequality, injustice and forced imposition of any sectarian code of conduct by the state. They continue to struggle against repressions and thrust of the dominant communities to overwhelm the small and scattered communities of Sikhs all over the world. It is in this context that we must study the impact of science on religion, to create an atmosphere of mutual benefit and a constructive bid to the good of both. There is no scope of any confrontation in Science and Sikhism. Modern science has to understand and accept the difference between God, the Creator-Person and His Creation, the Nature in its immense variety. Like poets, sculptors or painters who dwell and pulsate in poems, sculpture and their paintings, but possess a personality above and beyond their creation, though God is in deed immersed in His creation, His personality is infinitely larger in scope and span and imperishable. God is limitless whereas Nature enfolds in myriad hues and moods and ultimately folds up.
Sikhism touches finer cords in human heart that are tuned to experience mysticism, the poetic refrain, and see each sight in its colourful richness and splendor. It reasonably employs logic and totally rejects all mythology of the ancient faiths, but it also reaches out to spheres beyond its veracity. Verily the Guru Granth Sahib avers:
AKI bwJhu vyKxw ivxu kMnw sunxw ]
pYrw bwJhu clxw ivxu hQw krxw ]
jIBY bwJhu bolxw ieau jIvq mrxw ]
nwnk hukmu pCwix kY qau KsmY imlxw ]
To See beyond sight; to hear further than ears,
Walking without feet and to work without hands,
To say with no tongue, thus to die while living,
Nanak! Decipher Divine order to meet the Lord.
Guru Granth Sahib, p. 139
In the collection of essays presented herewith, that has been the guiding principle in our selection. Instead of disputing and debating the mysticism of Religion on the gauge of the current awareness of Science which may be redrawn in due course, both have to exist and thrive side-by-side in appreciation of their respective fields for human progress. We refrain from any disparagement on the subject. We are, in deed, grateful to all the intellectuals who sent in their scholarly essays.
Note: We acknowledge with thanks the efforts of our distinguished member, Dr. H.S. Virk who collected the material from various sources and has assisted as the Guest Editor of this special issue of ‘The Abstracts of Sikh Studies.’