GURU NANAK IN HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
1.1 This paper primarily gives a brief outline of the Sikh ideology, as expounded in the bani of Guru Nanak, recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib. The object is to explain how this ideology differs from the earlier traditions, and to highlight how Guru Nanak completely rejected the world-view of earlier dichotomous religions, giving instead a new ideology combining the spiritual life with the empirical life of man, based on his own revelation. This radical departure marked the beginning of a new faith. In fact, Guru Nanak’s system, his concept of God and His creation, the fundamental principles of his faith, his analysis of the problems of mankind, his views on the purpose of human life and its specific goal alongwith methodology for its attainment, and his over-all world-view, constitute what is admittedly the latest in the succession of major religions of the world. A few studies dealing with some of these aspects, have recently appeared. Towards the end of this paper the validity of interpretations contained therein will be examined.
II. The Sikh Ideology
2.1 In explaining the Sikh ideology, as Guru Nanak’s ideology is now called, we shall discuss only its major elements like the Guru’s concept of God, his views about the reality of the world, the goal of life he fixes for the religious man, the methodolgy prescribed for following the religious path, and the essentials of the duties and responsibilities of the seeker and god-man, referred to in the bani as gurmukh or sachiara.
2.2 Concept of God: Some earlier systems like Yoga, Sankhya and ]ainism, were dualistic, assuming two kinds of reality, namely, Atman (spiritual) and Prakirti (material). Man was considered a combination of both, and belief in God as a single ceative basic reality was conspicuous by its absence. Sankra’s system is strictly monistic, and the world and its activities are considered ‘unreal’ or Mithya. Still other systems were pantheistic, and attached no spiritual value to the moral life. On the other hand, Guru Nanak’s religion is uncompromisingly monotheistic. In the very Mul Mantra God is described as ‘the sole One, the Creator, Self-existent and Immanent, Un-incarnated and Timeless’. God is the Creator of the universe, which is separate from Him and not His emanation. He is Transcendent as well Immanent in His creation. He looks after His creation benevolently and is happy to
do so”.1 He feeds all,’ even those created in water’.2 His benevolence knows no bounds. He continues to be gracious and never tires of doing so, although those who receive might.,3 He is the ‘Ocean of Virtues’4 . He is all Love, the rest He is ineffable.5 In truth, Love is His language’.6 He has a Will, which is altruistic.
‘Everybody is under His Will. Nobody is outside its scope.7 Only by recognizing and following His Will, can the wall of falsehood, which separates man from Him, be demolished.,8 Implications of belief in such a God are clear for the seeker. The seeker must see His immanence in all fellow beings. He must love the entire humanity as His creation, and express this love through service. This is the way how one can carry out His altruistic Will.
2.3 Reality of the World: In Sankra’s Vedanta, which has dominated the Indian religious thought for a very long time, the world is Mithya or ‘unreal’. It does not deserve to be taken
seriously, since its existence is an illusion. Buddha looked at the world as a place of suffering. In contrast, Guru Nanak asserted that the world is ‘real’ as a creation of the Creator, the True One. He says:
True and holy are Thy continents and universes;
True and holy are Thy worlds and the forms created by Thee;
True and holy are Thy doings and Thy contemplations;
True and holy is Thy Decree and Thy Court
True and holy is Thy Ordinance, Thy command;
True and Holy is thy Grace and the mark thereof.
Holy Lord, millions upon millions supplications to Thee I utter.
By the might and strength of the holy Lord subsist all.
Holy is Thy laudation, holy Thy praise.
Holy King, true and holy is Thy creative might,9
Holy Himself, holy all existence
Of this the Master by the holy Word realization has granted.,10
Guru Nanak does not regard the world as a place of misery.
He created night and day, seasons and occassions;
So also Air, water, Fire and the Nether regions:
Amidst these has He fixed the earth,
the place for Righteous Action:11
This world is the chamber of the Holy Lord;
It is His abode.'12
Else where the world has been referred to as ‘bhum rangavali,13 (colourful earth), and ‘phullan ki baghaat’ (garden of flowers). God has been praised for His innumerable gifts available in this world. In contrast to the earlier belief that human birth was a punishment for past actions, Guru Nanak looked upon it as a rare opportunity to meet the Lord. Constantly he reminds us to avail overselves of this opportunity, so that the ‘jewel’ of human life is not wasted. The emphasis is on taking the world seriously, since it is real.
2.4 Goal of Life: In Sankhya, as also in Yoga and Jainism, where no God is assumed, the goal is isolation of the spirtual monad from the material element. In Sankra’s Vedanta the goal is realisation of the self, recognizing the unreality of world. In Buddhism the goal is’Nirvan or liberation from the cycle of transmigration or the cycle of birth, life and death. All these goals and even merger with the ultimate spiritual Reality, are strictly individual and to a degree personal or selfish. These demand withdrawal from life and imply a complete lack of concern for the society. These goals were, therefore, not acceptable to Guru Nanak. In Guru Nanak’s bani the ideal man has been referred to as gunnukh or sachiara. In ]apu ]i the Guru asks :’ How to become a sachiara ? And how to break the wall of falsehood that separates a man from the Lord?,14 He himself answers :’By moving according to His Will and Ordinance: The gurmukh recognizes the altruistic Will of God, and is completely attuned to it. God is all Love, and so is the gurmukh. This love is expressed in the form of altruistic deeds or service of mankind. The gunnukh is characterised by his unbounded enthusiasm for service and sacrifice for others 15 . He is conscious of the immanence of God in all beings. He has no trace of selfishness. The Guru’s deep concern for the entire humanity, was voiced by the Fourth Guru when he said: ‘O Lord, the world is in flames. Save it by whatever means you may be pleased to do it: 16 His concern is so genuine, that any claim for exclusive prophethood does not even cross his mind. Following his Guru, the motto of the gunnukh is ‘ aap mukt, mukt kare sansar’17 (Salvation of the entire humanity along with his own, is his goal)
2.5 The Path: The methodology or the discipline and practices, prescribed in Guru Nanak’s system for the achievement of the goal, are completely different from those of earlier faiths. Practically all the previous religious systems laid stress on withdrawal from life, and asceticism was considered essential for spiritual progress. Since world was considered mithya or unreal and a place of suffering, withdrawal was the only course for liberation. Dichotomy between the spiritual and empirical life was complete. The Naths or Yogis took three oaths at the time of initiation, namely, living on alms (following no occupation), celibacy, and Ahimsa. In Buddhism life as a Bhikshu (one who lives on bhiksha or alms), enjoyed high merit. The same was the case with monks in Jainism. The Sanyas or Varanashram dharma among the Hindus was also a compromise between the ascetic and the empirical requirements of life. Guru Nanak rejected the notion that worldly activities were a hindrance to spiritual progress. His thesis was that the two are not only compatible, but they are complementary and essential to each other. This was a complete break from the old tradition developed over more than two thousand years. Since Guru Nanak’s ideal man, Gunnukh, is attuned to the Will of God, recognition and carrying of out His altruistic Will must constitute the substance of the discipline required to achieve that state or the Gunnukh pad. His Will manifests itself in looking after His creation. So Guru Nanak prescribed the path of a householder for his disciples., involving marriage, children, looking after a family, and work to earn a living. He decried the parasitic life of Yogis and other ascetics, who live on begging. The Guru says:
‘The egoist in a fit of passion deserting home is ruined. And then at others’ home casts covetous glances. His householder’s duty he neglects; Devoid of contact with the holy Preceptor, in a whirlpool of false thinking is he fallen’ .18
He asks the Yogi,” Are you not ashamed of begging from door to door ?” Again he says about the ascetic: “He sets out to instruct the world; his mind is blind, and begging from door to door he loses his honour,,19 . Guru Amardas later explained it thus: ‘If I become a Yogi and wandering in the world, beg from door to door how shall I settle so many accounts, when called upon to do so ?,,20 Rejecting mendicancy Guru Nanak prescribes his own solution in the following hymn:
“One, incapable of earning a living, gets ears slit like yogis:
Practises mendicancy giving up caste identity,
Claiming to be a religious teacher, and goes out to beg,
Touch not his feet.
Those that eat the bread of their labour
and share their earnings with others
Saith Nanak, they truly recognize the way.”21
This is indeed a revolutionary idea, and the Yogis’ objection to it is represented in the famous question asked by them: ‘O Nanak, why have you added.Kanji (of worldly life) to the(sacred) milk (of spirituality)?”22 Kanji is an acidic ferment of black carrots, which spoils milk, rendering it unfit for consumption. The Guru explained to them how they had missed the very elements of spirituality from their very initiation. The Guru also took them to task for their escapism and for neglecting their duties towards their fellowmen.
2.6 The Guru also defined what kind of house-holder his disciples should be :
‘The true householder must his faculties restrain:
should beg of God to grant him prayer,
austerities and self-discipline:
Should ind uce himself to good chairtable deeds
Such householder is pure as Ganga water."23
He warned against acquisitiveness, accumulation of wealth and self-indulgence or what is called consumerism, pointing out that ‘wealth without evil-doing comes not, but in death it accompanies him not’. The emphasis is on charity or sharing the earnings from hard and honest work, with the needy. Saith Nanak: ‘In the hereafter is received reward for what man from his own earnings offers’.
2.7 Sikhism is often referred to as a structure based on three pillars, namely,Naam Japna (Remembering God or dedication to Him), dharam di kirat karna(work through righteous means), and vand chhakna (Sharing one’s earnings with others). It is only a householder’s life that offers all the three opportunities together. He earns for his own living and shares it with his own family and others in whom he sees the immanence of God, constantly reminding him of God. These three duties or responsibilities are conjoint and cannot be segregated.
2.8 The place of honour given to a householder’s life, is a rejection of celibacy which was considered essential for spiritual pursuits in almost all other Indian religious traditions. In the Guru’s system this is an unnatural restriction, and is, in fact, based on a hatred of women. This had led to the inferior status being accorded to women by practically all religious leaders before Guru Nanak.
2.9 Guru did not preach the householder’s way of life merely through words. He actually lived it to set an example for his followers. He established a colony at Kartarpur,and settled as a peasent, working with his own hands, and involving other members of the community. The produce was shared by all including those who came from outside. He ran a common kitchen which was open to all.
2.10 Emphasis on Deeds and Truthful Living: This is one of the most important features of Guru Nanak’s religion. Truth and its knowledge are stressed in most faiths. In fact, knowledge of Truth or Gian is the goal of some religions, the highest thing attainable. Guru Nanak, however, is not satisfied with knowledge of truth alone. ‘Truth is higher than everything. Higher still is true living.,24 Truth has to be practised in the form of good deeds. ‘Good and bad deeds are not things merely to be discussed. Each action is recorded for later life’. 25 Approval or rejection by God is determined on the basis of one’s actions. This is understood easily, when one considers the fact that Guru Nanak’s religion was based upon his mystic experience with the Ultimate Reality as Love. Love cannot be exercised or expressed in a vacuum. It can be practised in a becoming world and can be expressed only in virtuous actions or deeds. ‘By service in this world, shall ye get a place at the Divine Portal.’26
2.11 Naam : There are repeated references to Naam in the hymns of Guru Nanak. But it does not mean merely a mechanical repetition or muttering of a word or a name. It denotes a realization of the immanence of God, and expresses itself in devotion to or service of His creation or one’s fellow beings. It does not mean idle samadhi or prolonged one-point meditation, which the Guru declares as futile. This is not to say that uttering of the Lord’s name is of no use. However, it has value only if it is an expression of one’s love for Him, and leads to altruistic deeds, in accordance with His altruistic Will. Altruistic work is His worship.
2.11 Equality of Human Beings: Guru Nanak’s concept of human equality can rarely be surpassed. ‘ I consider all men high and I acknowledge none as low. One God has fashioned all the vessels, one light pervades the whole creation. One findeth this truth by His grace, no one can efface His gift.,27 Guru Nanak rejected thousands-of-year-old caste system sanctioned by the Vedas and other religious scriptures. ‘Vain chatter is the boast of caste, vain chatter is the boast of fame. All living beings are under the protection of One. If one maketh himself known a good man, it will be true only, Nanak, when, his faith is approved by the Lord.,28 ‘Caste can gain nothing. Truth within will be tested.,29 ‘Appreciate the Light, do not ask the caste, there is no caste hereafter’.30 Caste and power are of no avail hereafter. On their account nobody is honoured, or dishonoured for want of them. Those alone will be deemed good, whose faith receives His approval31 . Guru took Bhai Mardana, a low caste Muslim as his companion in his famous Udasis or world travels, to set a practical example. He laid the foundation of a casteless society by organising a Sangat (society or congregation) and langar (refectory) or pangat open to all castes. Such sangats he organised wherever he went. He rarely lost an opportunity to denounce any discrimination based on caste or creed. During his visit to Eminabad, the Guru accepted the hospitality of a low-caste artisan in preference to a high-caste Chief. He declared: ‘There are lowly among the low castes, and the lowest among the lowly: Nanak stands by their side, and envies not the high-castes. Lord, Thy grace falls where the lowly are cherished.’ 32
2.12 “Status of Women: The concept of equality of man and woman touched unprecedented heights with Guru Nanak. It is extremely doubtful, if womankind can find a greater advocate of their equality with man. Woman had a very inferior status in most Indian faiths. She was looked upon as a’ temptress’, ‘poisonous like a snake (nagini)’, ‘gateway to hell’, and was treated almost like a Sudra during certain periods of her normal life. Tulsi Das the great religious philosopher and author of Ramayana, wrote in his wisdom, ‘Cattle, fools, Sudras and woman are ever entitled to rebuke.’ Woman was considered fit only to be burned alive with her husband when he died. In Digambra Jainism a woman has to take another birth as man in order to be a candidate for salvation. Even in other major faiths of the times, treatment meted out to women left much to be desired. A more powerful case could hardly be claimed for women than the one Guru Nanak did in Asa di var, over five hundred years ago:
“From woman is man born, inside her is he conceived;
To woman is man engaged, and woman he marries.
With woman is man’s companionship.
From woman originate new generations.
Should woman die, another is sought;
By woman’s help is man kept in restraint.
Why revile her of whom are born Kings (or great ones of the earth)?
From woman is born woman, no human being without woman is
Saith Nanak : The holy Eternal alone with woman can dispense.’33
In Guru Nanak’s system woman enjoys perfect equality with man. When missionary work was organised, women were placed in charge of some districts.
2.14 Socio-Political Responsibilities: Active participation in social and political activities is a direct corollary of the Guru’s religion of Love expressed through deeds, while carrying out His Will. His was a crusade against all evils, religious, spiritual, social, political. His teachings covered every dimension of human life. His scathing criticism included in its scope not only religious prejudices, hypocrisy and bigotry of religious leaders (Mullahs and Pandits), social discrimination of the upper classes, but extended to corruption of the administration, oppression of the rulers and tyranny of the invaders. He condemned the invaders as a horde of sin. He took the rulers to task for their unpreparedness and fall in virtue which brought indescribable suffering to the people. He exhorted the people to action, pointing out the futility of prayer alone and the worship of their deities.
“Hindu temples and Muslim sacred spots went up in flames,
And, princes cut to pieces with dust were mingled.
No Moghul with such spells was struck blind;
None by their spells was affected.’,34
A parallel to such intense reaction is hard to find in contemporary history of India. He even complained to God thus:
“As in the agony of suffering the people wailed,
Didst Thou feel no compassion for them?
Listen, Thou, who art Creator of all.
Should a powerful foe molest one equally powerful,
Little would the mind be grieved,
But when a ferocious tiger falls upon a herd of kine,
Then the Master must be called to account”.35
The Guru’s message of socio-political responsibility is clear. His Sikh has thus to accept full social and political responsibility, and is enjoined upon to resist oppression and to protect the weak and down-trodden. That is the only way to express and test his love for the Lord and His creation.
2.14 The above teachings should leave no doubt that Guru Nanak’s methodology for attaining the status of gurmukh or suchiara, is based upon love of God and His creation expressed through virtuous actions. There is no place for dichotomy between the spiritrual and the empirical life of man. Life has to develop as a whole. The concept of spiritual progress without attention to empirical aspects is untenable and is, therefore, rejected, as lopsided and escapist. His followers have to resist aggression and injustice, from whatever quarters it should come. Guru Nanak’s path is for the fullest development of the individiual as well as the society. There is no separation of religion from politics. The doctrine of Miri-Piri, formally symbolised by Guru Har Gobind at the time of his succession was in fact laid down by Guru Nanak, being the base of his religion.
3.1 Misinterpretation of the Sikh ideology is an old game. Since this ideology, in its essential details, was diametrically opposed to earlier religious beliefs, opposition started from the very times of Guru Nanak, and has continued upto the present day. Frequently the criticism is due to a lack of understanding. Quite often, however, it is the result of religious prejudices and arrogance of the critics. As explained earlier asceticism or withdrawal from life, was the hallmark of practically all Indian religious traditions. Guru Nanak rejected this in favour of a householder’s life, with emphasis on good deeds, social responsibility and a moral life. Naths who were champions of the earlier system, were probably the first to criticise the sanctity accorded by Guru Nanak to the householder’s way. For our present discussion, however, we shall first take the contrasting views of two western Scholars who about a century back tried to give their own understanding of the Sikh religion. After that we shall examine in some detail another view expressed, more recently.
3.2 Macauliffe published the findings of his classic study in six volumes of ‘The Sikh Religion’ in 1910. He summed up the moral and political merit of the Sikh religion thus:
“It prohibits idolatry, hypocrisy, caste-exclusiveness, the concremation of widows, the imrnurement of women, the use of wine and other intoxicants, tobacco smoking, infanticide,
slander, pilgrimage to sacred rivers and tanks of Hindus; and it inculcates loyalty, gratitude for all favours received, philanthropy, justice, impartiality, truth, honesty and all the moral and domestic virtues known to the holiest citizens of any country.’.36
On the originality of the Sikh religion Macauliffe’s conclusion was:
“The illustrious author of the vie de Jesus asks whether great originality will again arise, or the world would be content to follow the paths opened by the daring creators of the ancient ages. Now there is here presented a religion totally unaffected by Semitic or Christian influences. Based on unity of God, it rejected Hindu formalities and adopted an independent ethical system, rituals and standards which were totally opposed to the theological beliefs of Guru Nanak’s age and country. As we shall see hereafter, it would be difficult to point to a religion of greater originality or to a more comprehensive ethical system.”37
3.3 The second study we want to mention is the one conducted by Trumpp (a German), a couple of decades earlier than Macauliffe, who failed to see such merit or originality as pointed out by the latter. His views, quoted below, were far from complimentary:
“The SikhGranth is a very big volume which I find incoherent
and shallow in the extreme, and couched at the same time, in
dark and perplexing language in order to cover these defects.
It is for us occidentalists ,a most painful and stupefying task
to read even a single raga”.38
This damaging view has been quoted to illustrate how personal prejudices and wrong methodology and lack of understanding, can lead to disastrous results.
3.4 It is now proposed to analyse the findings of a recent publication that seeks to reconstruct Sikh History from Sikh literature.39 Evidently it will not be possible to deal with every part of this publication. The comments in the following paragraphs will be confined to the views expressed in the book on the ideology of Guru Nanak. It is necessary to do so, as the interpretation presented is likely to mislead an unwary reader, and the book constitutes the latest attempt in the series brought out with the same superficial understanding as that of Trumpp. The author has obviously not followed any standard methodology for the study and presentation of Guru Nanak’s ideology, and his interpretations show a clear materialistic or Marxian influence. This partly accounts for most of his erroneous conclusions.
3.5 The chapter on ‘The Bani of Guru Nanak’ begins with the statement:
“In Guru Nanak’s view of universe, the unreality of the world is contrasted with the ‘reality of God: Once the significance of this idea is grasped it is possible to see that he looks upon the contemporary world as disintegrated and delegitimized. With this awareness begins a new ‘religious construction of society’ which results in the emergence of the Sikh Panth”.40 This is the basic assumption on which the entire structure of his thesis is raised. He has not quoted any part of Guru Nanak’s bani to support it. In the earlier section we have quoted numerous hymns of the Guru stressing the reality of the universe, which need not be repeated. But the author has carefully suppressed all those quotations. Even in that he has not been that careful, since one quotation from Guru Nanak, which demolishes his assumption,has unwittingly appeared in his selections, viz., “Ja tu sacha sabh Ko sacha, Kura Koe na Koi.,,41 Author’s own translation is, “No being is unture, since God is True.’ In fact Guru Nanak’s statement is more positive: ‘Since thou art True, all are true; None are untrue.’
Evidently the ‘unreality’ of the world attributed to the Guru, is a hat trick of the author’s imagination. The book starts with a baseless assumption, and thus reveals its purpose and level. The hymns quoted by him in the text refer to evanescence or the becoming nature of life and the worldly possessions. There is not even the remotest hint as to the unrealty of the world. In fact, the Guru refers to this world as’ dharamsal, installed in the midst of air water, fire and nether regions, as a place for righteous actions,.42 Elsewhere in the Guru Granth it is described as the ‘Lord’s chamber in which He dwells.43 , He is True; so is His creation:44 For Guru Nanak life is not merely real, it is very meaningful. It is a rare opportunity for meeting the Lord45 through love which manifests itself in the service of His creation or man’s fellow beings. Love cannot be exercised in a vacuum. The object of love has to be real.
3.6 The author seems to have taken his views from some earlier faiths like Vaishnavism, Vedanta, Nathism, etc., which do not consider the world as real or worthwhile and are otherworldly. May be, he is following Max Weber who finds all Indian religions to be life-negating. Max Weber’s failing was that he never examined Sikhism in coming to his conclusion. As Mark Juergensmeyer has stated, ‘had Weber examined Sikhism, he could not have made his sweeping observation about all Indian religions being life-negating.46
3.7 Quoting Guru Nanak the author points out: “Kings, subjects, shiqdars would not remain for ever. Shops, bazaars and cities would be in ruins in accordance with God’s Hukm.” The verses simply bring out the evanescence of human lifeand worldly possessions, and indicate their time dimension. His contention of ‘unreality’ of the world and suggested negativism are clearly rejected in the bani of Guru Nanak. To every student of the Guru Granth and the lives of the Gurus it would appear a clear distortion.
3.8 At another place the author puts forward an illusory distinction,by resort to jugglery of words,when he says that for the Sikhs the objective world was not unreal but non-real. This is a distinction without a difference, the reality of which has no basis Obviously he is trying to imitate Sankra who referred to maya as mithya, which was neither saty(real) nor astay(unreal), but saty-asaty. There is, however, no such confusion in the Guru’s bani.In verse after verse he has stressed the reality of the world, and has repeatedly exhorted his followers to take it seriously and avail of the rare opportunity for fulfHment of their spiritual destiny. On page 5 the author says: “Guru Nanak refers to palpable reality of Kaliyuga”. Does it not contradict his own theory of unreality of the world atttributed to Guru Nanak? It seems beyond the realm of reason or sense that the Guru who rejected, the centuries old doctrines of asceticism, monasticism, celibacy and ahimsa, and accepted instead a house-holder’s life believed in the non-reality of the world.
3.9 The author has borrowed another assumption from Tawney, quoting him as follows: ‘
“The state is something more than an institution, created by material necessities or political convenience. It is the temporal expression of spiritual obligations. It is a link between individual souls and the supernatural society of which all are held to be members. It rests not merely on practical convenience, but on the will of God”.
Obviously, the author assumes that the above view is universally accepted, and is shared by Guru Nanak. Both these assumptions are incorrect. Among the Western religions, in Judatsm even kings like David and Solomon wereseverly criticized by their prophets. Christianity, an offshoot of Judaism, also never accepted this view, and in fact their sufferings in the earlier centuries were due to this. The only notable exceptions were the ancient Egyptian and Roman cultures which accepted their emperors as representatives of God on earth. On the other hand, Guru Nanak has made it abundantly clear in his hymns that he conceded no such divine rights to kings or rulers. His criticism of the kings and the ruling class as well as the religious leaders who colluded with them in the exploitation of the poor subjects, is scathing in the extreme, and is unparallelled in its intensity. He describes the kings as (man-eating) tigers: officials as hounds’ or ‘eagles’ trained to bring their Own folks to gallows47 , The author has himself presented a fairly representative selection of the Guru’s
hymns attacking the rampant corruption in the political, administrative and religious spheres and the atrocities committed on the helpless people. The intensity of Guru’s feelings can be
judged form the fact that he did not hesitate even to complain to God saying, ‘O Lord, did you not feel any pain, when such intense suffering was inflicted, and there was so’much wailing?48
In order to give practical shape to his idea of resistance against political oppression Guru Nanak took three tangible steps. He organised his society, removed the hurdle of ahimsa, and created the system of succession, to enable his Panth to undo the oppression. No other religious leader had done such a thing before in India. However, the author is in no mood to give any credit to Guru Nanak. He concludes with impunity: “Guru Nanak’s intense reaction to the politico-administrative set-up is more symbolic than realistic.” In the context explained above the author’s conclusion is clearly self contradictory, untenable and illogical.
3.10 The author has mentioned Weber’s idea of ‘active asceticism’ only to create confusion in the interpretation of Guru Nanak’s bani. The idea itself is a contradiction in terms. When applied to the system of Guru Nanak, it is manifestly in appropriate. For, in India guru Nanak is the first spiritual leader who rejected asceticism, monasticism, celibacy, sanyas, etc., and instead, recommended a householder’s life. What is even more important, in dealing with political misrule and tyranny, he unhesitatingly rejected ahimsa, which, as also in pacificist Christianity, from where the author has borrowed the ill-assorted Weberian phrase, had been virtually a permanent bar against a religious man fighting against oppression of the weak. Guru Nanak never imposed any harsh and unnatural ascetic or monastic discipline. His message, as further explained by the Fifth Guru later, was “Liberation can be attained in a life of smiling playfulness, and enjoyment of wear and food,49 . Guru Nanak has repeatedly referred to the futility of yogic practices and one point meditation. The so-called ‘interiority’ which Mcleod is so keen to thrust on Guru Nanak’s religious system, comes under the same
category, and is of little value without carrying out the altruistic Will of God and service of mankind through noble deeds and a moral life. No religious leader has emphasized moral deeds, the sap that sustains social structure, more than Guru Nanak who says that man’s assessment is on the basis of his deeds, and that one is near or away from God by one’s deeds alone.50
3.11 Bellah has been quoted as follows”Four-class system appears to be the characteristic of all the great historic civilisations: a political-military elite, a cultural-religious elite, a rural lower-status group (peasantry), and an urban lower-status group (merchants and artisans)” Here again neither the generalisation of Bellah is correct, nor is its reference concerning Guru Nanak’s bani relevant. The Brahminical four-class system, as is well known, is singular in its fabrication and religio-spiritual sanction. Bellah seems to be unaware of the scriptural sanction of the Varanashram dharma, which governs the entire gamut of Hindu society. One cannot be a Hindu without belonging to a caste, for, in that case his spirituo-moral role and future will remain undetermined. While the four-class structure in other societies or cultures could be changed, such a caste reform is impossible internally in Hinduism. It is for this reason that Guru Nanak criticised the Vedas for giving sanction to it, and at the very start of his mission, gave a blow to it, by taking Mardana, a low-caste Muslim, as his life companion. For the same reasons the later Gurus created separate institutions and centres of the Sikh faith, besides a new Scripture, wholly governing the Sikh way of life.
3.12 The author concedes that Guru Nanak succeeded in reconstructing the society. But while talking of symbols to express a new faith, he quotes Durkhem to suggest a virtual impossibility of the task, saying: “Whether those will resemble those of the past or not, and whether or not they will be more adequate to express the reality which they seek to translate, that is, something that Surpasses the faculty of human sight .” It has already been stated how emphatic was Guru Nanak on bringing religion into the empirical life of man, and making his religion wholly life-affirming and responsible in respect of every aspect of social life. His diagnosis is that without the cementing force of altruism it is impossible to maintain socio-political cohesion, and that the various institutions of life whether political or social structures would inevitably become corrupt and disintegrate. On Guru Nanak’s success in establishing a new society with new values, one may ask the learned author, whether it was due to the pacificism attributed by the author to the Guru’s system, or an active interest in the spirituo-social welfare of humanity.
3.13 On page 13, the author writes:
“An analysis of the theological imagery of Guru Nanak, indicates that he addressed himself largely to petty traders, artisans and to bond-servants of the moneyed magnates.”
The inference is based on a very distorted spectrum, and is patently illogical. Guru Nanak was one of the greatest travellers in world history. During his sojourns his encounters with all sections of society in countless regions are recorded. He had occassions to meet all strata of people from the lowest to the highest, and in his bani there are plenty of references to all groups and professions. Tradition in India lists professions under four categories, viz farming, trading, service and begging. All find detailed coverage in the Guru’s hymns, besides the leaders and priest of different religious faiths and the administrative or ruling hierarchy.
3.14 on page 19 it is stated:
“Almost a complete transvaluation of values is achieved. ‘The blind man is called a leader, the sleeper, awake: the awakened, a sleeper; the quick, the dead; the dead, the quick; the newly arrived, the goner; the goner, newly arrived; stranger’s property, their own;their own, not likeable; the sweet, bitter; the bitter, sweet.They worship the maid maya, not the master God.Thus they speak ill of God intoxicated men.”
There is no clear indication in the above by the author as to who is being quoted,and what message is intended to be conveyed.
3.15 The author concludes his chapter by quoting Bellah
“Religion provided the ideology and social cohesion for rebellions and reforms. on the other hand, religion performed the functions of legitimation and reinforcement of the existing social order, specially under the Sikh rule.’The conclusion is rather extraordinary, since it suggests that, on the one hand, the Guru’s bani led to revolution and reform, and on the other, it served to legitimize the Sikh rule. The self-cotradictory nature of this conclusion is matched only by the arbitrariness of the initial assumption of the unreality of the world attributed to Guru Nanak with which misconception or prejudice the author starts the first chapter of his book. We have already stated the three major steps the Guru took to organise the society, that ultimately not only demolished the three-thousand year old caste differences, but also overthrew the oppressive political system. To call Guru Nanak a status-quoist giving sanction to an unjust existing social or political order, appears to be a sheer exhibition of bias or perversion.
3.16 The author has quoted selectively from the bani of Guru Nanak. In a number of cases, however, the translaltion has not been very accurate. A few examples are given to illustrate how his in accuracies whether deliberate or negligent have been used to make major misinterpretations.
tis seon nehon na kijaee jo disai chalanhar (page 2)
sagal jot rup tern dekhiya sagal bhavan teri maya (page 3)
Jat aja t ajoni Sambhao na tis bhao na bharma (page 4)
app sujan no bhulai sacha vad kirsan (Page 17)
The world is unreal and unworthy of human attachment.
Social distinction are metaphysically invalid, because of two principles. They are distinctions in the realm of unreality or Maya, and they are false, because the light of God shines in everybody everywhere.
Without any caste, love or illusion.
God never forgets that ‘Truth is a peasant.’
Translation by Talib 51
Attach not yourself to what is evanescent.
In all universe is manifest thy might. In all manifestation is seen thy form.
Not characterised by high or low caste -
Un incarnated, self-existent; from fear and doubt free.
The Lord, holy Master-Cultivator is not neglectful.
gori seti tute bhatar putingandh pave sansar
Woman is satisfied with her husband, sons continue their family succession
Should the husband with the wife have break of relations, through progeny are their bonds forged again.
3.17. We have shown how in every aspect Guru Nanak’s system and his activities are life-affirming, aiming clearly at revolutionary changes in religious ideology, social structure and political approach and objectives. The author’s observations regarding his bani and activities are exactly contrary to what Guru Nanak stated, preached, practised and aimed at. In the Guru’s model, the centre of religious practice is the householder who lives in a becoming world, as real as the Lord who created it, and who is immanent in it; who earns his living through honest means and shares it with others in need; who is ever engaged in carrying out the Will of God through altruistic deeds; and who accepts social responsibility as an active member of a society committed to a just political order or Kingdom of God on earth. The author wants us to believe on the authority of Guru Nanak, that the world is unreal and unworthy of attachment, interest or activities, social or political. To support his indefensible thesis the author has made ample use of the art of suppression, misinterpretation and even mistranslation. And yet he could not avoid glaring contradictions between the verses quoted and the conclusions drawn. Some times Marxist writers are able partly to hide their bias under verbose jargon but the author’s obsession with his faith is so nauseating that he has not stopped short of violating norms of academic expression.
1. Adi Granth, page 7, Japu.
2. Ibid, P 955, Var Ramkali mahala 3.
3. Ibid, P 2, Japu. .
4. Ibid, P 9, Rahras, Asa M.1.
5. Ibid, P 459, Asa M. 5.
6. Ibid, P 2, Japu.
7. Ibid, P 1, Japu.
8. Ibid, P 1, Japu
9. Ibid, P 463, Var Asa M. 1.
10. Ibid, P 1012, Maru,M.1.
11. Ibid, P 7, Japu.
12. Ibid, P 463 Farid.Var Asa M.I.
13. Ibid, P 66, Farid.
14. Ibid, P 1, Japu.
15. Ibid, P 273, Sukhmani, M.5.
16. Ibid, P 853, Var Bilawal, M.4.
17. Ibid, p295 Gauri M.5.
18. Ibid, P 1012, Maru Ashtpadi 7, M.l
19. Ibid, P 903, Ramkali, M.l.
20. Ibid, P 1089, Var Maru,M.3.
21. Ibid, P 2245, Sarang.
22. Bhai Gurdas, Var 1.40.
23. Adi Granth, p 952, Var Ramkali, M.3
24. Ibid, P 62,Sri Rag M.1.
25. Ibid, P 4, Japu.
26. Ibid, P 26. Sri Rag. M.l.
27.lbid, P 62, Sri Rag,Asa 6.14
28. Ibid, P 83, Var Sri Rag. Sloka 1, Pauri 3.
29. Ibid, P 142, Var Maj, P. 10.
30. Ibid, Asa 1.3; p-349
31. Ibid, P 469,Var Asa, S.3, P. 11.
32. Ibid, P 15, Sri Rag.
33. Ibid, P 473, Var Asa.
34. lbid, p418, Rag Asa.
35. Ibid, P 360, Rag Asa.
36. Macau1iffe, MA: ‘The Sikh Religion”, Vol. I. Preface page xxiii,1910, S.Chand
& Co., New Delhi.
37. Ibid, chapter ii, Page 1 iv.
38. Trurnpp, E.: “The Adi Granth”, Preface page vii,Second Edition, 1970, Munshi
Ram Manohar Lal New Delhi.
39. Hans, S.:”A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature”, Chapter 1,
The Bani of Guru nanak. pp 1-41. ABS Publications, Jalandhar, 1988.
40. Ibid, Page 1.
41. Adi Granth,page 145,Var Majh, Slokas 1,2 Pauri 1.
42. Ibid, Page 7, Japu.
43. Ibid, page 463, Var Asa, M.l.
44. Ibid, Page 294, Gauri M.5.
45. Ibid, page 12, Rahras, Asa M.l.
46. Juergensmeyer, M.:JourSikh Studies, GND Univ.Amritsar, 1980-81.
47. Adi Granth, page 1288, Var MaIhar 1.
48. Ibid, page 360, Asa 1.
49. Ibid, page 522, Var Gujri, M.5.
50. Ibid, page 8, Japu.
51 Talib, G.S. : “Shri Curu Cranth Sahib in English Translation”; Punjabi Univ. Patiala, 1988.
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