Religion involves the spirit of inquiry - inquiry into the innerself. With its well directed aim of discovering truth, religion through the millenia, has been helping man to grow physically, mentally and spiritually and achieve fulfilment. The older civilizations took guidance from religion and tenaciously held to a view, which made it a high adventure of the spirit, a converging life endeavour to realize and grasp the hidden meaning of existence. In the absence of this longing and struggle, the belief of the faithful does not differ from the unbelief of the faithless, and the meaning of that and earnestness which proceeds from an inner hunger can hardly be understood. Religion primarily is a matter of inner experience and not an affair of mere belief, or dogma or conformity, which stifle the spirit of free inquiry.
There are two dimensions to every religion, especially to every one of the highly developed world religions-religion as a historically conditioned socio-political expression, and religion as a path to the experience of God, or any value equivalent to it. The first consists of rules and regulations pertaining to the routine living and other social disciplines, besides myths, legends and cosmological theories. These socio-political constituents of a religion demarcate it from other religions. The second dimension consists of the truly spiritual part, with its emphasis on personal morality, worship and adoration and the disciplines designed to ensure the spiritual growth of man. The latter constitutes the essential part, whereas the invariable but non-essential part is also relevant so long as it does not choke the spiritual essense and its growth. Spirituality makes religion not only cultivate a spirit of toleration, questioning, and inquiry in its own sphere, but also foster it in every other department of life. It generates humility, the spirit of self-sacrifice and above all the love for all creation. Religion, says Guru Nanak, spans the true extreme ends-the total indulgence m the world and the total negation of the mundane realties-thus regulating the behaviour of man parvirati nirvirat hatha dovai vici dharamu phirai raibaria (GG. 1280).
There is, however, a contradictory obverse of religion. Bigotry, fanaticism and intolerance have affected the human relations. Wars have been waged, crusades have been launched to establish the supremacy of one religion over the other. The innocent masses nave been massacred to promote the cause of religion. All these misadventures have clouded the true import of religion.
The ancient civilizations were destroyed by the barbarians bred outside those civilizations. But the modern civilization, if allowed to go the same way, will be destroyed by the barbarians bred within the civilization itself. What can save us from this predicament is a little more of 'Christian love' in our hearts for our neighbours, as Bertrand Russell said, or a little 'more altruism' in the words of Pitrim S. Sorokin. This love comes from the practice of true religion as defined by the authentic spiritual teachers of the world. The testament of the great religious teachers is, that religion creates healthy internal environment which pulls down the walls of ignorance and prejudice with the waves of inquiry and illumination.
Sikhism being prominent among the comity of religions has attracted the worldwide attention of scholars and theologians. The Guru Granth Sahib as the mainstay of the Sikh thought gives an insight into the Sikh Weltanschauung. The Sikh religion can be understood essentially as a spiritual-cum-temporal force created in order to meet the challenges of all times. Quite a number of scholars have endeavoured to interpret and explain the subtleties and nuances of the Sikh cosmology and Sikh ethics, as well as the growth of its social responsibility.
But unfortunately in the enthusiasm of producing something 'revealing', some Western scholars recently have indulged in inspired guesses terming it as a syncretic faith, an adumbration of a variety of religious strands; and that the militant nature of the Sikhs grew in this religious community after a particular caste group responded to the call of the Gurus and made inroads into the faith. A whole lot of misunderstanding has been created by the questionable approach adopted by these scholars.
The publication of the present volume ironically synchronizes the turbulent times when the Punjab is passing through a critical phase. The papers included in the book were read and discussed in seminars recently held at the Toronto and other Universities. They remove much of the misconceptions which shrouded the vision of the baffled scholars. The basic issues pertaining to the growth of Sikh consciousness, temporal and spiritual Sikh peculiarities and above all the historical compulsions which motivated the search for Sikh identity, have all been objectively argued and analysed, of course with the sympathetic consideration for other religious traditions. I believe this book of considerable merit would be of immense use for the students and scholars of religion and history.
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