SIKHISM : A MlRI PIRI SYSTEM
There is little doubt that Miri Piri doctrine is an essential part of the Sikh religion. But, a misunderstanding that often exists, especially among scholars from pacificist religions, is that the doctrine was introduced or created by the Sixth Master. Because of that misunderstanding many extraneous or environmental interpretations have been devised to explain the seeming change in ideology. In this paper we seek to examine whether the Miri Piri combination in Sikh religion is fundamental to the system of Guru Nanak, or it is a subsequent addition made by the Sixth Master. For any examination of the issue the basic question is what is the Sikh world-view, and what is the nature of the spiritual experience of the Gurus and their definition of the Spiritual Reality. The second question is what is the relation of the Spiritual Reality to the empirical life of man. Because answers to these two questions determine the class and character of a religious system. For, in whole-life or Miri Piri systems like Sikhism, Islam and Judaism the answers to these two questions are quite different from those given by pacificist or dichotomous religions, like Vaisnavism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. Since replies to these questions will mostly be ontological or theological in nature, we shall seek in this paper to state the views of the Gurus, as embodied in the Guru Granth Sahib, and as exemplified in their lives.
2. Sikh Thesis
The rationale of every religious system follows the kind of spiritual reality the author experiences. For the Guru, ‘God is All Love, rest He is ineffable’.1 And, God’s love can be expressed only in a real world; besides, Love is both dynamic and the mother of all values and virtues. In the very opening line of the Japuji, God is called, ‘The Creative Being’, and further He is described as ‘Ever Creative, watching His Creation with a Gracious Eye’.2 The Guru
calls the world real and, ‘The place for the practice of righteousness’?3 God is the ‘Ocean of values and virtues’; ‘Eyes to the blind, milk to the child and riches to the poor’.4 The Guru, thus, emphasizes four things. First, the world is real and meaningful, being the place for the practice of virtues. Second, God too is deeply interested in it. For, He not only looks after it with benevolence, but also expresses His Love and Attributes in this world. Third, this gives spiritual sanction to the moral life of man. That is why Guru Nanak lays down for the seeker the goal of ‘carrying out the will of God’ ,5 God’s will being altruistic and the fount of all values. The Guru further emphasizes this creative or activity aspect of his system when he says, ‘Higher than everything is Truth, but higher still is truthful living’ .6 It is in this context that we understand Guru Nanak’s call to the seeker, ‘If you want to play the game of love, come with your head on your palm’?7 Guru Nanak prescribes a methodology of deeds when He says ‘that it is by our deeds that we are assessed in His Court’.8 And, ‘it is by our deeds that we become near or away from God’.9 The above leads to the fourth principle, the most significant one, that there is an inalienable link between the spiritual life and the empirical life of man. These four fundamentals form the very base of Guru Nanak’s system which is radically different from the earlier Indian religions.
3. Indian Background
In all the earlier Indian religions whether Buddhism; Jainism, Vaisnavism or others, the dichotomy between the spiritual life and the empirical life was an accepted fundamental. In fact, four features are an integral part of all life-negating systems, namely, ,asceticism, Sanyasa, or monasticism, the down-grading of women and celibacy, and Ahimsa. Whether the goal is Kaivalya, Nirvana or Mukti, in each case it is an ideal of personal salvation or isolation. Guru Nanak rejected all the above principles because his is a life affirming system and his spiritual goal is to : carry out the Will of God’. And, God’s will is altruistic and for that matter, wholly Active and Creative. Here it might be asserted that the epics of Mahabharta and Ramayana and the Bhagvad Gita also recommend a life of activity. But, it is well known that the epics, as well as the Bhagvad Gita, fully accepted and sanctioned the Brahmanical system of caste and Varna Ashram Dharma,10 and Lord Krishna asked Arjuna to fight because it was his caste duty to do so. But, Guru Nanak completely rejected caste and his first act after his enlightenment was to take a low caste Muslim as his life companion.
Secondly, in systems that involve withdrawal from life or Sanyasa, celibacy and the consequent down-grading of women become natural features. It is so even with Vaisnavism and Bhagats like Shankradeva and Kabir11 who do not recommend celibacy as an essential part of their systems. Similarly, Ahimsa or complete pacifism is a necessary ingredient of salvation religions or systems in which here is a dichotomy between the spiritual life and the empirical life of man. This dichotomy, we find, is an essential part of all monastic, life-negating or pacifist systems, in fact, of all Indian systems except those which recommend activity as a part of their caste duty. In the Indian systems the goal, as indicated already, is personal salvation, merger in or union with the Spiritual Reality. Such being the goal, other-worldiness, isolation from the activities of life or total or partial withdrawal from it, becomes a natural corollary. Consequently, problems of life and society cease to be the concern of the seeker who tries deliberately to disentangle himself from them.
4. Why a Radical Departure from Indian Religions
Even a glimpse of the earlier Indian religious systems and of Guru Nanak’s religion clearly shows the contrast of perceptions, methodologies, essentials and goals between the two. Guru Nanak’s God is ‘Ever Creative and Altruistic’ and so is His goal set for the seeker, namely, of always carrying out His Attributive Will. Guru Nanak was the first man of God to break the dichotomy that existed among all the earlier Indian religions and, instead, to establish an inalienable link between the spiritual life and the empirical life of man. It is only on the basis of this fundamental change that Guru Nanak brought about that we can understand his hymns about the attributes of God, the goal of man, emphasis on deeds, equality between man and man, and man and woman, the importance of householder’s life, the necessity of work and sharing, his tirade against idleness, the definition of sin, the hymn about the cant of the so called piety of non-meat eating or Ahimsa,12 and his criticism of every corrupt social functionary and institution, whether religious, social, official, administrative, or political, the tyranny of the invaders and the failure of the rulers to ensure safety of the people. His spiritual soul is so sensitive to injustice in every walk of life that he complains to God for allowing the weak to be oppressed by the strong.13 His calling God ‘the Slayer of the villains, and Destroyer of the evil’ .14 has not only an anti-ahimsic import, but it also indicates clearly the role the seeker of his society has to play as the instrument of God. The Bani of Guru Nanak has three clear implications. First, that Guru’s God and the seeker are deeply interested in the world, involving the combination of the spiritual with the empirical. Second, he makes a detailed survey of all aspect of the religious, social and political life around him and specifically identifies and criticises the evil spots therein. Third, during a life full of activity, he takes all tangible steps to found and frame a socio-religious structure and society that should scrupulously pursue the aims and objectives of his radically new system and world-view.
Our discussion and description given above make two things quite plain, namely, that Guru Nanak’s religious system is entirely different from all the earlier religious systems, and, secondly, that the radical departure he makes is due to his intrinsically combining the spiritual with the empirical, thereby breaking the dichotomy that had existed in the earlier religious life in India. This break with the past was so great that the Naths were surprised and questioned Guru Nanak how he claimed to pursue a spiritual path while living a householder’s life. The Guru’s reply that the Naths did not know even the elementaries of the spiritual path is equally emphatic about the clear contrast between his world-view and those of earlier system.15 While the reason for making the radical break with the past is plain enough, the actual contrast is so great that the failure fully to comprehend the significance of that break continued and continues even today, among students of religion, especially among votaries of pacifist religions. In fact, no understanding of Sikhism is possible unless the meanings, compulsions, and corollaries of this break with the past following Guru Nanak’s spirituo - empirical world-view of life is clearly grasped.
5. Foundations of New Structure Laid
The next issue concerns the practical and organisational methods Guru Nanak employed to implement his religious thesis. We shall see that while those methods are clearly in line with his system, those are like his religion, very variant from the methodology of the earlier religions. By taking Mardana, a low caste Muslim with him, he gave a sledge-hammer blow to the then existing caste hierarchy of Varan Ashram Dharma, and Hindu-Muslim antipathy. Besides, it stressed that Guru’s system was not only new and universal in its character, but it was neither Hindu nor Muslim in its basis. The second step he took was to organise, at places he visited, local Sangats of his followers who were ordinary householders dra- wn from all sections of the society, and who met locally at a fixed place called a Dharmsala for purposes of religious worship and training. The significant feature of these societies was that their members were not just seekers of personal salvation or Nirvana practising some esoteric discipline, but were ordinary persons wanting to follow the spiritual path while pursing their normal vocations in life. This was, we find, completely in consonance with the system of Guru Nanak indicated above. Here it is important to mention that after his missionary tours Guru Nanak settled at Kartarpur with members of his family and started work as a peasant. By his personal example he stressed the importance of work and production and the sharing of it. The basic change Guru Nanak made was his emphasis on deeds and discarding ritualism. While addressing the Jogis, he told them that real Yoga lay in treating people equally rather than rubbing ashes on one’s body;16 or that real prayer was to be compassionate and do good works instead of doing ritualistic prayer.17 Since Guru’s followers were normal householders, for them the spiritual path lay in righteous living and not in following any tortuous ascetic or ritualistic routine of a system.
Another institution started by Guru Nanak was that of Langar which had a dual objective, one of breaking caste barriers and ideas of pollution, and the second of creating centres which fed the poor and the needy.
But, the most important step, indicative of profound implications, which Guru Nanak took was to select and appoint a successor in his lifetime. It meant, first, that Guru Nanak’s aim was not merely to lay down the outline of a theoretical religious system but it was to organise a society which should accept the social responsibility of confronting, fighting and eliminating injustice and aggression in the socio-political field. Because, so far as the theoretical system was concerned, it had been fully prescribed in the Bani of Guru Nanak; the subsequent Gurus added nothing to it. But, his system was neither for a few, nor for an elite seeking spiritual attainments. He wanted to build a society with new motivations that should simultaneously pursue social and spiritual ideals, since the two could not be separated in his system. The appointment of a successor, thus, made it plain that the work of creating a social and institutional structure and building a new society was till then incomplete. In the development and growth of the Sikh society, two things are important to study, first, whether or not the institutional build-up of the society made by the later Gurus was squarely based on the foundations laid by Guru Nanak; and second, whether during that period the activities undertaken and objectives pursued or achieved by the Sikh society were strictly in line with the spiritual ideals laid down by the first Guru. The thrust of Guru Nanak’s system is evident from one significant event. When Guru Nanak went to meet Guru Angad at Khadoor Sahib he found that he was leading what he felt to be a life of somewhat isolation. Guru Nanak, therefore, advised him that his primary duty was to organise a mission and lead a new society.18 This sheds a revealing light both on the system and the mission of Guru Nanak.
It is also significant that it is Guru Nanak who eliminated the hurdle of Ahimsa that stood in the way of a religious seeker from joining a righteous struggle against tyranny. In most of the socio-political systems, organisations or societies, the greatest instrument of injustice or oppression is many a time the Political Establishment. Since Guru Nanak wanted clearly to cultivate a high sense of social responsibility in his society, he very sagiously took the farsighted step of removing the handicap of Ahimsa from the path of the religious man; and described his God to be the ‘Slayer of villains and the Destroyer of tyrants.’ It is, thus, plain that Guru Nanak clearly envisages for his society a role, if necessary, of confrontation with an unjust Establishment whether social or political.
The next questions is why did the Guru contemplate such a role for his society. The answer to this question already stands given, namely, that Guru’s God is a ‘Just Emperor’ and embodies the roles both of Miri and Piri. Since the Guru and the seeker have to be the instruments of God’s Will, they too have to play their part in both the spheres of life. Thus, the compulsion and the rationale behind the doctrine of Miri and Piri, is Guru Nanak’s view of God and his essential combination of the spiritual life and the empirical life. An important corollary of this combination and the consequential Miri-Piri doctrine is the emphasis Guru Nanak laid on deeds and the moral life of man (Truthful living being the highest mode of living). Here it is necessary to state the contrast between the priority given to moral life in Sikhism and the virtual lack of that emphasis in the Hindu way of life where ‘all ethics is super moral i.e. it has not much to do with the empirical life of man’.19 Thus Guru Nanak’s combination of the spiritual with the empirical not only leads to the Miri Piri doctrine but also to his emphasis on deeds in the moral life of man. This principle implies two-fold duties of a Sikh both as an individual and as a member of the Sikh society to fight social evils.In sum, the life-affirming thesis of Guru Nanak meant that one should live in the social world and build it on the bedrock of a combination of the spiritual dimension of man with his empirical dimension. Thus, participation in the social life involved four sets of responsibilities, namely, of ensuring justice and equality between man and man, and between man and woman, of creating production and sharing it equitably, and, fourthly, of reacting against every injustice and wrong in the socio-political field both as an individual and as a society In this context, Guru Nanak took three important steps. He laid down all aspects of his life-affirming spiritual thesis in his Bani. Second, he organised a society and by his personal example and leadership, he tried to educate and eliminate from it evils of caste and social discrimination. Third, he clearly identified the socio-political problems of injustice and oppression. Since political problems could not be solved in a short time, he identified them and laid down the target for his society to achieve. What we mean to imply is that Guru Nanak’s strong criticism of the rulers and invaders and the oppression of the weak by the strong was not merely a piece of rhetoric. It was virtually a direction in which his society was to move and a target it was to achieve in due course of time. For, the target of supplanting an empire could not be achieved in a life-time. And, Guru Nanak specifically removed the religious inhibition of Ahimsa that existed for earlier Indian seekers of a religious life. He not only stressed that people did not know what was flesh and what was not flesh and what was sin and what was not sin, but also stated that life was there in every grain of food we take.20 The clarification was essential to make for a prophet who wanted his society to take up political challenges. Two things are very significant about the revolutionary change Guru Nanak made in the religious life of his society. He wanted it to ensure justice and equality in the social field. Hence the necessity of production, equitable distribution, and equality in social status. Secondly, removal of socio-political oppression was also made a target to be achieved by the Sikh society. It is, indeed, unfortunate that many a scholar has been unable to correlate the clear meaning and significance of three uncommon but emphatic facts. First is Guru Nanak’s Babar Vani and his statement that a political system in which the strong oppress the weak is an aberration in the spiritual world of God. Second is his organisation of a society, and the appointment of a successor to develop, strengthen, and mature that society. Third is his elimination of the centuries-old constraint of Ahimsa for the spiritual seeker. We are not aware of any prophet or Bhagat, except Prophet Muhammad, who had specifically related these three points. But in a system in which the spiritual is combined with the empirical, this integration, as it happened, would evidently be natural and necessary, being the base of the Miri Piri world-view.
6. Developments during the Guru period
Seen from the angle of the two objectives mentioned above, the Guru period may be divided into two parts, the one upto the time of the fifth Guru, and, the second thereafter. Here a word of caution. In describing the further growth of the Sikh society, we shall confine our narration only to two aspects of it mentioned earlier, namely, its organisation as a cohesive and responsible society and, second, its capacity to discharge its responsibility in the socio-political field. But it does not mean that the other aspects of the religious society and its members were not developed or taken care of.
Guru Angad took two important steps. First, he improved the Punjabi script so that it could suitably become a complete vehicle of Guru’s spiritual message and thereby wean a way the Sikhs from the die-hard and caste-ridden tradition of the Sanskrit literature considered to be the sacred and sole vehicle of the Hindu spiritual tradition, with Brahmins as its exclusive masters and exponents. Secondly, he excluded the ascetics and other recluses from the Sikh society. It is clearly recorded that in his time the use of meat as food in the Langer or otherwise was accepted.21 The Third Guru took three further steps, First, he made the institution of Langer so Important that no one, big or small, could see him or partake in his Sangat till he had given evidence of his anti-caste and anti-pollution views by partaking of food from the Guru’s common kitchen. Second, he created 22 reaching and administrative centres for the organisation of the Sikh society in areas far and wide. Even women were appointed to head them.22 Third, in order to establish the separate identity of the Sikh society and to dissociate it from the Hindu practices and pilgrimages, he created a Bauly at Goindwal, where the Guru lived, as the alternate place for the religious visits, education, and regeneration of the Sikhs. The ministry of the fourth Guru lasted only for seven years, but he too made the momentous decision of founding Amritsar as the sacred centre of a new community, and developing a new township, which has since then played a crucial role in Sikh history. The role of the Fifth Guru is extremely important. He did the momentous work of compiling and authenticating the Sikh Scripture, thereby making the ideological break with the traditional Indian society complete and unbridgeable. It is in his times that the Sikh society had become ‘a state within a state,23 in which the Guru was called the real emperor (Sacha Patshah). He asked Sikhs to work as traders who brought from the north-west of India horses for sale in the country. It was the Sikh society of the time of the fifth Guru that Jahangir felt could form a potential political challenge that needed to be nipped in the bud by the execution of the Guru.24 The Guru not only accepted the challenge boldly, but by his martyrdom also prepared his people for the confrontation that he had initiated. And it was he who left instructions for his son to start military preparations for the ensuing struggle. Here it is significant to state that Guru Hargobind had started joining hunting parties even in the life time of his father.25 The period of Guru Hargobind was of open militarisation and conflict with the Empire. At the time of his initiation as Guru, he donned two swords one of Piri and the other of Miri, thereby making it clear the future role the Sikh society was to play. Military training was started and even mercenaries were enlisted. There were open clashes with the forces of the state. A fort was constructed at Amritsar and Akal Takhat, the centre of political activity, was created side by side with Harmandir Sahib. Two flags of Miri and Piri were raised at the common compound between Harmandir Sahib and Akal Takhat, being the symbols of the doctrine of Guru Nanak combining spirituality with empirical life.
It is significant that the changes initiated by the fifth and the sixth Gurus in the Sikh life were deliberate and calculated. It is, therefore, naive to say that militarisation of the movement was in any way influenced by Jats in the Sikh society who were clearly in a small minority then. 26 In fact, a notable feature of this radical change the Gurus brought about in the course of the Sikh movement and the Sikh practices is that while the Gurus were very clear and determined about their ideological direction and drive, even some of the Sikhs around them found it difficult, because of the old Indian religious and ascetic conditioning, to comprehend and follow their ideological significance. So far as the outsiders are concerned their lack of understanding it is epitomised by the question of Sant Ram Das of Maharashtra to Guru Hargobind (as earlier of Naths to Guru Nanak) as to how it was that while he called himself a successor of Guru Nanak, he was so anomalously wearing a warrior’s armour and riding a horse. The Guru’s reply, as was earlier the reply of Guru Nanak to Naths, was prompt and categoric. ‘Guru Nanak had given up mammon and not the world. My sword is for the protection of the weak and destruction of the tyrant.27 It is relevant here to recall that it is Guru Nanak who first calls God the Destroyer of the tyrant and the villains. Initially, even men like Baba Budha, Bhai Gurdas and others not only failed to comprehend the true ideological implications of militarization, but they even tried to remonstrate with the mother of the Guru suggesting the risks of the Guru’s policy. In fact, the ideological revolution Guru Nanak had brought about was so great that many scholars fumble in grasping the doctrinal unity of the lives and the practices of the ten Gurus. But, it is quite unfortunate that while they try to give a materialist explanation for this change, they almost invariably ignore or suppress the historical evidence left by Sant Ram Das about Hargobind’s clear clarification of the militarization and the change he had deliberatly initiated.
The seventh and the eighth Gurus not only pursued the policy of militarization, but the seventh Guru even went to the extent of meeting the rebel Dara and offering him military help.28 Evidently, the Guru while he offered military assistance to Dara could not be ignorant or oblivious of the fate of the fifth Guru who had given some help to rebel Khusro. And yet, knowing this, he openly made the offer. All this demonstrates how clear were Guru Nanak and his successors about their ideology, and how, with a single-mindedness of purpose, they pursued their aims and objectives and executed their policy even though some of their own followers were sometimes slow in keeping pace with them or understanding and imbibing the spirit of the movement. No wonder outsiders had difficulties in properly appreciating the real message of Guru Nanak.
Just as the martyrdom of fifth Guru had synchronised with a major- change in Mughal policies from Akbar to Jahangir, in the time of the ninth Guru, Aurangzeb’s policy of Islamisation had become intensly oppressive in its execution. To shake the people out of their fear and timidity and to strengthen his own community for the major struggle ahead, the ninth Guru felt that the occasion was ripe for him to sacrifice himself for the faith. Here it is relevant to state that the Guru had clearly declined the offer of the emperor that if he desisted from political activities he would not be disturbed in his religious interests.29 But the ninth Guru, whose Bani epitomises the tranquility of spiritual depth, chose to intervene and protest against religious persecution and attack by the Empire on the freedom of conscience in Kashmir. He was beheaded in Delhi in 1675 A.D.
After this martyrdom starts the final phase of the Guru period. Guru Gobind Singh was fully conscious of the trial that lay ahead. He organised and militarized his people and trained them in local wars in which he had to partake. Two features of this period come out very prominently. The Guru asked the hill princes to join his struggle against the Empire and make a common cause with him. But they declined to do so,30 because the Guru stood for the equality of men and had broken all caste barriers which the hill princes wanted to preserve, as also their feudal interests. Not only that. Later the hill Rajas even invited the imperial forces to curb the Guru and joined them to attack and fight him. Evidently, the religious and ideological contrast between the Hindu hill princes and the Guru was complete. But, Pir Budhu Shah, a Muslim saint of the area, was ideologically so impressed by the spiritual stature of the Guru that he not only sent his followers to fight for the Guru, but two of his sons actually died fighting in the Guru’s army. These two events, on the one hand, bring out the ideological and religious gulf between Guru Gobind Singh and the old Hindu tradition of Rajput hill princes. On the other hand, these show that the Guru’s mission and his struggle for the cause of man were such as to command the affection and affinities of even a Muslim Sufi saint.
It was on the Baisakhi day of 1699 A.D. that the Guru did the epitomic work of creating the Khalsa and revealing the prime object of his mission.31 In many ways, it was a momentous day. He selected the five beloved leaders of the community on the basis of their willingness to sacrifice their all for the Guru’s cause. Four of these belonged to what the Hindus called the Sudra castes. In order to establish the Khalsa brotherhood, the Guru first baptized (performed Amrit ceremony) all five of them and later requested those five to administer Amrit to the Guru himself. The Guru gave five freedoms to his Khalsa (Dharam Nash, Karam Nash, Bharam Nash, Kul Nash, Kirat Nash).32 It involved a complete break with the past traditional religions, customs, social prejudices, and structures. It was a stage when the Guru felt that the Sikh community had become mature, self-reliant and responsible enough to fight the socio-political injustices and battles of life that lay ahead. A momentous socio-political confrontation had started with the greatest empire of the day. In that struggle the Guru lost his mother and all his four sons. Yet the confrontation was continued by the Guru undismayed and he sent Banda Singh to invade the Mughals in Punjab.
The mission of Guru Nanak was fulfilled, a religiously motivated casteless and classless brotherhood, the Khalsa, had been created to fight for righteousness and against all socio-political injustices. In 1708 A.D. the Guru passed away, leaving the Guru Granth as the spiritual guide of the Sikhs and the Khalsa as the active instrument of conducting the ideological battles of life. This dual succession epitomises the combination of the spiritual with the empricial system of Guru Nanak and the consequent unity of Miri Piri doctrine. It would be naive to suppose that further succession was stopped because the Guru had no progency or for any like reason. The succession was stopped because Guru Nanak’s mission of creating a religious society, fully earth-aware, socially and morally responsible, and ever ready to fight injustice and oppression had been created. It is in this perspective that the history of the Sikhs has to be understood and viewed.
7. The Post Guru Period
The socio moral organisation and society the Guru had created bore one of its fruits in the half century following the demise of the Tenth Master. In 1710 A.D., the Sikh forces, led by Banda captured Sirhind a strong imperial province in the north of India. The Mughal campaign and attacks against the Sikhs started in full swing. A price was put on every Sikh head and twice it was reported. that all Sikhs had been exterminated.33 It is during this very period that Abdali, the greatest general in the East, started his invasions of India; and Sikhs as the self-reliant and responsible community of the area had to face and confront him,. They had no state or political organisation of their own, nor had they any trained leadership as in the Guru period. But, despite persecutions by the state, and pressures from the invaders, the Sikhs as ideologically fired and intensely motivated guerillas, triumphed to form a state of their own in the area. After their success they upset the Zamindari System and distributed land among the tillers of the soil. It was a land-mark Socio-economic revolution which has structured the strength of the community and the Punjab masses. A remarkable achievement of the Sikh forces, despite these having suffered the worst persecution, and, which drew admiration even of their opponents, was their humane treatment of men and women of their defeated adversaries in war.34 This conduct of the Sikh soldiers in victory was such as no modern army has been able to equal so far. It is nothing short of a miracle that a leader less community, without any state, and drawn from the lowest sections of the society was able successfully not only to supplant the empire of the day, but also to repel the greatest invading general of the time and to seal the north-western border against all future inroads into India. Ranjit Singh’s rule was, by all standards, fair and tolerant towards all communities, and humane to the extent that he never found it necessary to sentence even a single person to death, not even those who attempted to murder him.
The struggle of the Sikh society for basic rights of man during the British and the Independence periods of history has been equally outstanding. The first two rebellions against the British, the Kuka Rebellion and the Ghadar Rebellion, were almost wholly manned by the Sikhs While the Sikhs form only two percent of India’s population, during the struggle for Indian Independence, of the 121 persons hanged, 2644 imprisoned for life, and 1300 massacred in the Jallianwala Bagh protest meeting 93,2047 and 799 respectively were Sikhs. Again, of the soldiers who fought under Subash Chander Bose in the Indian National Army, 60% were, Sikhs.35 In 1975, when the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, imposed the Emergency Law, curtailing all human rights, the Sikhs were the only people who sustained and organised a struggle against this invasion on all human freedoms, involving the arrest of over 40,000 Sikhs, when, in the rest of India, not even half that number offered arrest as a protest. It is necessary to state that particularly all these movements initiated by the Sikhs against the state were executed from the precints of Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple and Akal Takht Complex) Amritsar.
The point of importance is why a small and insignificant community is always in the vanguard to make tremendous sacrifices and struggle whenever it is a question of a guarding human rights and freedoms. And the sense of their earth-awareness and social responsibility is significant enough to make them create bountyful production not only to feed and sustain the population of their own state, but also to contribute each year over 60% of the central food reserve that feeds all the deficit areas in the rest of the country. Evidently, it is believed that these achievements are due to the thesis of Guru Nanak combining the spiritual life of man with his empirical concerns, thereby breaking the dichotomy that had existed in the earlier Indian religious systems. It is the thesis of Guru Nanak that the empirical life of man dissociated from his spiritual dimension reduces itself to stark egocentrism, individualism and materialism, leading to perpetual clash and conflicts in the human society .In the same way spiritualism divorced from the empirical life is just barren, ending in escapism and a kind of selfishness for individual salvation.
8. The Western Scene
In this background we shall now discuss the ideological place
and relevance of Secularism, as an institution, which his gained a growing recognition in the western culture in the last two hundred years. Since the days of Constantine, in the Christan society, the Church was considered supreme and gave legitimacy to the kings and political institutions of the state. But, the unfortunate fall in the moral life of the Church gave rise to Protestanism and Calvinism in the 16th century. The Reformation while it purified and shook life in the Church, brought about a major change in the equation between the Church and the State, or between the religious life and the empirical life of man. For, it once for all brought about the supremacy of the national State over the Church, which ceased to be universal, and became virtually a limb of the national State. During a war between two national states, the position of Church became quite anomalous, and each Church prayed for the success of its own State. As Toynbee laments, the Graeeo-Roman ideal of the worship of the National State as the goddess was revived and accepted.36 This was the first major blow the Church Universal suffered at the hands of the State following the Reformation.
The second slow but major erosion of the power and the status of religion took place with the rise of Science, Darwinism, Evolutionism and empiricism. The unstable marriage between Religion and the State gave rise to the off-springs of Monopoly Capitalism in the West, and Communism in the East. The heady wine of power which Science and Technology gave to man so clouded his vision and sense of proportion that religions came to be considered an area of darkness which Science would duly probe, explore, and clear. All progress of man was measured by the power over nature it gave to him. Without realising the inherent limitations of the scientific method in the field of religion and values, its use became so pervasive and dominant even in the field of humanities that ontology virtually lost its hold, and the study of phenomena became an end in itself. Human evolution was deemed dependent on a chance mutation and the definition of values that made for survival ended in mere tautology. Mechanical methodology or reductionism became the standard mode of understanding and interpretation even in the field of religion and the so called social sciences. As with Pavlov and Skinner, human behaviour came to be studied on the basis of animal behaviour, and the phenomena of biology came to be understood on the basis of ‘Physics and Chemistry’.37 Human free will became just a quirk of atoms, and ‘works of art’ were sought to be understood ‘in terms of animal behaviour’.38 No where was confusion more apparent
than in the field of ethics.39 Consequently, the spiritual dimension of Reality ceased to have any fundamental meaning; nor could this aspect of man be the subject of any serious academic study, except as a piece of external phenomena or as a part of social history. Slowly but naturally, Individualism and Consumerism gained social relevance as worthwhile values and Secularism became a part of state policy. But the two world wars within a period of two decades have shaken the scientific man’s faith in himself and the ideal of a continuous linear progress the West was seeking to pursue. It became increasingly clear that if the scientific assumption of the space-time continuum being the complete base of our universe was true, we were living in a world that was wholly void of values and completely amoral in its structure. Values were considered mere utilitarian tools of human creation without any fundamental base or validity. In the wake of this mood of introspection came the warning from the authors of the Limits of Growth that our world system was neither abundant enough nor generous enough to permit for long our self-serving ego-centrism to continue recklessly on the path of aggressive, narrow and suicidal individualism or nationalism.40 A decade earlier Toynbee had already sounded the note ‘wondering whether the technologist’s professional success had not been a social and moral disaster’ and whether he had not placed in the hands of the naked ape the power to destroy the human race.41 These were lone voices, but in the socio-political field the mad race of Goliaths went on with the lolly-pops of Consumerism being offered to lull the peoples at large. On both sides of the line between Capitalism and Communism increasing symptoms of alcoholism, drug addiction, divorces, broken homes and unbalanced children have appeared in the life of man. The basic issue remains, whether man’s rational and moral faculties arise from the same Base of Reality which is the subject of scientific study and is material, neutral and amoral in its structure. With the growing impact of Naturalism and Evolutionism, the landslide which had started with the Reformation, making Religion to be the hand-maid of the State, ended in a virtual divorce between the State and Religion in the conduct of the empirical life of man. Instead Science sanctified, on grounds of dealing with a political world, a close liaison between the State and its new-found Secularism, giving unbridled and uninhibited opportunities to the politicians to serve and satiate their individualism and ego-centrism. It is in the resultant suffocating climate that a person like Galbraith has raised the protest that in the American and British politics greed had openly started masquerading as morality. But, the greatest danger in the modern West is the Frankenstein of a mighty military machine which each national secular State is creating under the garb of ensuring security of its people. Increasingly it has been felt and feared that besides the stranglehold of the military machine, the modern state has an enormous power and subtle and pervasive means of influencing, enervating, and debasing the minds of its people. A day may come, when it would become impossible for the harassed people to dislodge this self-seeking Secularism from the driver’s seat and control.
In this dismal scene there are visibly some welcome developments. The social stagnation in Latin America and Africa has given rise to Liberation theology. It invokes the Bible for its moral sanction and empiricism for its rational analysis. It seeks to highlight the fundamental fact that Christ’s primary dictum of love for one’s neighbour becomes meaningless if the man of religion is unable to confront every instrument of injustice and aggression against the weak. And the State, as in the past, sometimes becomes the greatest instrument of oppression, involving cold extermination of millions of its own peoples. Second, there is a growing realisation that it is sheer moonshine to talk of the brotherhood of man without accepting the fatherhood of God, or that God, as Christ says, is Love. Accordingly, the American Churches have raised a clear voice that in order to fight the menace of Secularism, Christianity should invite the cooperation of all Higher Religions in the world.42
In this context, let us have a look back at Guru Nanak’s system. He made it clear that the fundamental Reality was not amoral but it was the Ocean and Fount of all altruism. Thus, the contrast between Scientism, with its methodology of mechanism or reductionism, and Sikhism with its whole-life approach of the inalienable and fundamental link between the spiritual component and the empirical component of man, is quite clear and complete. In Guru Nanak’ s view ego-centrism is our constitutional handicap. It is man’s chief malady that obstructs his vision from taking a universal world-view. The Adi Granth and the lives of the Gurus make the Sikh position on the issue abundantly clear. The Miri-Piri ideal is an integral symbol and projection of the unified thesis of Guru Nanak and his successors, who have demonstrated its spiritual validity by their very lives. The domain or source of values is the spiritual or the transcendent level of Reality. We shall never find altruism, if we follow the reductionist or the mechanical method of going down the road from biology to physics or from man to the ape, the amoeba, or its genes. We can, at best, talk of a logical or constructed ethics, but we can neither live it nor participate in it voluntarily or spontaneously. The Gurus say that the way forward is to go the path of altruism and combine the spiritual with the empirical, and not the way of dichotomy or of secularism the modern sceptical mind is pursuing. The secular path will inevitably lead to stagnation and discord.
The spiritual path through altruism is for the development of a higher consciousness to enable us to perceive that the Basic Reality, as the Gurus say, is All Love. In Sikhism, we conclude, there is no place for dichotomy between the spiritual and the empirical, and the humble hand of friendship and cooperation has to be extended to every one who believes in Transcendence as the Base or Cause of Love, Altruism and life. And, in life one cannot be a disinterested bystander, since withdrawal is to help the opponents of God’s Will, namely, ignorant egoists or Manmukhs. Hence the fundamental validity of Guru Nanak’s Miri-Piri or whole-life religion.
1 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 459
2 Ibid., p. 8
3 Ibid., p. 468
4 Ibid., p. 830
5 Ibid., p. 1
6 Ibid., p. 62
7 Ibid., p.7
8 Ibid., p. 26
9 Ibid., p. 8
10 Annie Besant, Bhagavad Gita, pp. 252-254
11 Murthy, HVS, Vaisnavism of Shankradeva & Ramanuja, p. 232 Juugenmeyer. M., Sikh Studies, Berkley, pp. 83-88
12 Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 1289-90
13 Ibid., pp. 417-18
14 Ibid., pp. 145,224,1028
15 Bhai Gurdas, Var, I
16 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 730
17 Ibid., pp. 140-41
18 Mehma Parkash I, p. 326, 11, p.9
19 Maitra, S.K.: Ethics of Hindus, pp. 244, 263-66
20 Guru Granth Sahib; p. 472,1289
21 Sarup Das Bhalla, Mehma Parkash Part-Il, pp. 49,64
22 Punjab Past and Present, Oct. 1976, p. 468
23 Gupta, H.R., History of Sikh Gurus, p.110
24 Ibid., p. 102-110
25 Gur Bilas Patshahi Chhevin, pp. 84-85
26 Punjab Past and Present, Vol. III, 1969, p.69
27 Gupta, H.R., History of Sikh Gurus, p.114
28 Daljeet Singh, Sikhism; pp. 277-78
29 Bannerji, A.C. Journal of Sikh Studies, GND University, vol. ll, No I (Feb., 1976), p.61
30 Jagjit Singh, Sikh Revolution, p. 177
31 Sainapat, Guru Sobha, pp. 21,32
32 Gupta, H.R., History of Sikh Gurus, p. 189
33 Ibid., History of Sikhs, Vol. I, pp.27-32, 71-72, 82-83, 176-77, 261, Forster, p.312-13
34 Qazi Noor Muhammad, Jangnama; pp. 172-75; Gupta, H.R., History of Sikhs, p.290
35 Rajinder Puri, Rediscovery of India, p.21
36 Toynbee. A., An Historian’s Approach to Religion, p.210
37 Smith Haston, Beyond the Post Modern Mind; p.136, Francis G, of Molecules and Men, Seattle University of Washington Press, 1966.
38. Ibid., P. 136
38 Ibid., P. 136
39 Schumacher, E.F., A Guide for the Perplexed, p.132
40 Limits of Growth, Report for Club of Romis Project, pp. 191-192
41 Toynbee, A., An Historian’s Approach to Religion, pp. 233-35 42.
42 Dialogue and Alliance; Summer, 1987, Vol. I, No. 2, p.95
©Copyright Institute of Sikh Studies, All
Designed by Jaswant (09915861422)