SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF SIKHISM
The life story of Guru Nanak, called, the Janamsakhi the earliest written record we have of the travels and wanderings of the Guru, records that Guru Nanak summed up the Sikh tenets, forhis audience in the following triple precepts:
kirat karo, wand chhaka, nam Japo
It means, (1) Earn thy livelihood by honest productive labour, (2) Share the fruits of thy labour, and (3) Practice the Discipline of the Name.
These are rightly regarded as the basic doctrines of Sikhism.
We have already explained, in brief, the significance of the Discipline of the Name and its import for the man of religion. This discipline of the Name, a new synthesized and integrated Yoga, is to be practiced in the context of socio-political life in which man does not turn his back on the society and does not renounce the world. The first two precepts, that of honest productive work and sharing of its fruits with neighbours are to constitute the foundation of the Sikh society, while the remaining third is to vitalise and regenerate it.
Sikhism envisages a time, almost within sight now, when the heritages of the different historic nations, civilisations, peoples, and religions will have coalesced into a common heritage of the whole human family, and Sikhism further declares that neither the natural sciences, nor philosophical intellectual speculations which integrate the basic concepts of natural sciences into comprehensive systems, can rescue man from his state of inherent limitation and suffering and that the religious discipline of the Name alone can do it.
“Even if a hundred moons arise and a thousand suns shine together, this light combined cannot dispel the nescience with which man is afflicted and which the light of God, that is the revealed Light alone can dispel and destroy”.1
The words, “sun” and “moon”, have been used in this text in the idiom set by the Veda, for the Vedas imprint upon Hindu mind is permanent and unmistakable, even on those who represent a reaction against Vedism. Vedism is not only a religion, it is even more a technique, a technique of learned theologians and inspired poets, vipra, “the quivering ones”, and it constitutes also the mimamsa, the jurisprudence of the yajna, the ritual act. Vedism has also developed a number of secular disciplines, such as Phonetics, Grammar, Astronomy, and even rudiments of Geometry and Law. Nirghantus is the oldest lexicon in any Indo-European language wherein the words are grouped as series of synonyms. These synonyms, are so arranged as a rule to indicate secondary metaphysical acceptations, slesha, constituted and arrived at in accordance with the laws of occult equivalences. In the Veda, the word employed are multivious, polysignificant, and that is why the Vedic idiom is described as vakrokti, “crooked”, and for this reason the nirukta commentary says that, proksa kamahi devah, ‘the gods are in love with the cryptic’. It is in this sense that the Rigveda declares (X.90.13) that, “the moon took birth in the mind and the sun in the eyes (of Cosmic Man)”. 2 The metaphysical correlation and occult equivalence of ‘moon’ and that of the ‘sun’, the percipience, the facts revealed through perception. In our text the “moon” signifies the integrating speculations, the speculative cogitations of the mind, that result in philosophic systems, based on the stuff of the basic concepts and hypotheses of the natural sciences. Likewise, the term “sun” here means the objective natural sciences, the knowledge of which is derived through the human senses.
In the semetic-Judaic religions, the religion is equated with the ‘law’, reduced into dead letters of utilitarian ethics. Sikhism emphasises that the ‘ethical law’ the decalogue of Christianity, the sunna of Islam and the karamkand of Vedism and Smriti injunctions of Brahmanism, is not religion proper, that the core of religion is the numenon, sacredness in the sense of holiness as a category of value and a slate of mind and a spiritual experience, peculiar to religion and exclusive to man, but that the ethical law is, in some deep profound sense, a necessary adjunct of religious life and a penumbra of the religious experience. It, therefore, insists on these three precepts as necessary ingredients of the life of man who would practise religion.
To begin with, therefore, in the society which Sikhism recommends as the pattern for the global society, every individual must engage himself in honest productive labour. Parasitism, which is the obverse of exploitation, in any shape or form, is not only anti-social, but anti-religious also. It follows, also that there shall be no exploitation of man by man with Capital or spi or spiovery, i.e. the accumulated wealth shall not be employed as the instrument of exploitation and there shall be no priviligentia based on the white collar and the gift of the gab. This is a necessary implication of the precept that religious man must share the fruits of his labour with his neighbour by renouncing self-aggrandizement.
From this it follows, that Sikhism regards a cooperative society as the onlytruly religious society.
How is this Sikh co-operative society distinguished from the modern models of a socialist society, a welfare society, and a communist society?
The basic element which distinguishes a Sikh cooperative society from all these modern social models is grounded in the Sikh view of the worth and status of the individual as the very microcosm of God, and an individual, therefore, must never be imposed upon, coerced, manipulated or engineered.
“If thou wouldst seek God, demolish and distort not the heart of any individual” 3 “I worship God to be freed from all adversatives hostile to the light of God within myself.” 4
Herein lies that which essentially distinguishes a religious cooperative society as conceived by Sikhism from the modern societies that are grounded in the doctrines of socialism, communism and welfarism.
A welfare state is based, primarily, on four precepts, Firstly, it accepts collective responsibility for providing all individuals with equality of opportunity. This implies, among other things, availability of adequate educational facilities, universally, Secondly, a welfare state assumes responsibility for the basic economic security of those, who are unable, to provide such security for themselves. This implies disabled youth and old age pensions, wage legislation and un-employment insurance. Thirdly, it assumes responsibility for reducing permanent disparity in distribution of wealth and bringing about a closer coincidence between the income of an individual and his contribution to society. In a welfare society, the policy of taxation and budgetary trends are primarily determined by this consideration. Fourthly, a welfare society assumes responsibility for promoting full employment of the available manpower and the full utilisation of the national resources, whether in the form of man power, or in the form of the material wealth. It will be seen that all these four objectives on which the concept of a welfare state is based are interdependent and that when one objective is accepted, the others, logically or otherwise follow. It is implicit in a society which is organised as a welfare state that, the extent of obligation of the state to provide the individual with facilities, is also the extent of the power of the state over the freedom and autonomy of the individual as a social unit. Briefly, slavery is the necessary price for security, when security is given by an external authority and is not acquired and maintained, primarily by the individual himself. It is with this implication of the welfare state that Sikhism finds serious fault. Sikhism is not antiwelfare. In fact, it insists that the welfare of an individual mainly consists in the welfare of his neighbourers. What Sikhism opposes basically and uncompromisingly is, the creation of a class of men beset with the sins of bureaucracy and arrogance of meritocracy, who in the name of the state and in the name of the social welfare seize and retain such power which can be and is, more often than not used to coerce and impose upon the individual. Somebody has well quipped : ‘I would never fool with the government. By the time they get around to solving a problem, the guy has either solved it himself or has died.’ This is the bureaucratic sin of procrastination. The other sin of overweening tyranny is capsuled in the Punjabi folk-wisdom : ‘never walk to near the hind legs of a mule or within sight of a bureaucrat’. Again, welfarism is essentially a project for ‘levelling up’ and ‘levelling up’ is a mode of tyranny. Aristotle tells us that Periander of Corinth did not confine himself to lopping off the outstanding and the proud men, he destroyed the twin emotions of pride and confidence among the people, which process, as a side-effect, ostracises the honest and the men of integrity. Aristotle also names the three main aims of tyranny, to keep the subjects humble, to have them distrust each other and to render them powerless for political action. Thus, welfarism has a built-in tendency to bring about depravement and demoralisation of an entire people.
Sikhism, therefore, envisages a social organisation in which the welfare activities of the State are not a result of coercion and imposition from outside but instead result and follow from a transformation, possible through genuine religion only, of the basic attitudes of the individual, which transformation progressively destroys narrow selfishness in him such as is inconsistent with the welfare of the society as a whole. Sikhism does not view tolerantly any arrangement or organisation in which a desire for universal power can raise its head to demand that which is beyond its scope. Sikhism would support Pascal when he says : “These expressions are false and tyrannical, ‘I am fair, therefore, I must be feared’, ‘I am strong, therefore, I must be loved’, ‘I am indispensable, therefore, 1 must be retained’. It is for this reason that Sikhism would not countenance the creation of a welfare state through the coercive apparatus of the state.
The basic objection Sikhism has to a Communist society, or to a socialist society is in principle the same. The ideals of socialism, as a theory are embodied in the ideas of equality, freedom and fellowship. A socialist state is a state which translates these moral ideas into the economic life of its citizens, to man, both, as a consumer and a producer. It is here that the basic disease arises. To translate these eminently desirable ends into action, coercive means of necessity have to be devised and the agency for it is the state. State is merely an abstract term, and not a supra-individual entity as Hegel thought and taught, which thought has become the corner-stone of the modern socialist and communist societies. It is when the apparatus of the state comes to fall into the hands of a class of citizens, who then tend to consolidate themselves into a permanent and self-perpetuating layer of the society, that those characteristics of modern socialist societies arise to which Sikhism is basically opposed. Most of the modern political theories, whether those of socialism or of welfarism tacitly assume the legitimacy of the concept of state as a supra-individual entity to which obedience of the individual is due and for which an individual may be sacrificed. This assumption is the root cause of the tyrannies which are anathema to Sikhism, for, those who suspect socialism as a bridge to totalitarianism are not altogether mistaken as the realities of contemporary world show. Socialists are impressive verbal champions of freedom, but their actions destroy freedom. With increasing state ownership and control over the economy, Trotsky’s warning will come true: “Formerly, the rule was that he who does not work shall not eat, but now the rule is, he who does not obey shall not eat.”
It is by no means an altogether modern notion that the state constitutes a power which is supraindividual and that, therefore, the autonomy ,of the individual can be subordinated to it, and the individual may himself be sacrificed to it as a mere means. The ancient notion of the divine right of the kings to rule, is the real seed out of which the Hegelian concept of the state has grown. Amongst the Hindus, in particular, and in all Asiatic classical societies, in general, there has always been a sentiment of uncritical subservience to the authority of the state. Whatever the doctrine behind this attitude, whether it was that “the King was the human god on earth”, 5 or whether that the individual person himself was only a confection, 6 a fleeting amorphous entity, not entitled to any serious attention, as the Buddhists said, and thus the individual, as such, could claim no right, it is difficult to believe, in the case of the Hindus, for instance, that the Muslim conquerors from the Central Asia, with their completely alien culture and small invading hordes, could have imposed themselves for centuries on the vast Hindu population without this feeling or un-critical subservience to the state. Equally, it is impossible, that the Britishers could have maintained themselves as the rulers of India, for a century and a half, with the aid of a tiny garrison of foreign troops, if this psychological basis for mass acquiescence in acceptance of the state authority, had not already existed. It is this psychological basis which is, and is bound to remain for a long time to come, the main strength of the present or future ruling parties in India. Marquis of Hastings, as Governor General of India, in one of his Dispatches to the Home authorities in England, wrote in AD. 1824 that,
“there is nothing humiliating in our rule, since a paramount power has been for centuries, a notion so familiar that its existence remains almost indispensable”.
There is something in the point which Lord Hastings has made in this observation. The paramount power, whether British or Muslim, could sustain itself only because it was able to rely on the continued loyalty and efficiency of an administrative machine which, mostly must always be manned by the subject and subjugated Hindus themselves. It appears that from the earliest times, Hindus have tended to regard the state power as, maibap i.e. ‘mother-and-father’ the pater-familias, because of the organised work that could be done only by the State agency to secure the water-supply to grow food crops. It must have been obvious and clear to these ancient settled agricultural communities of the Hindus that, without the authority of the state, which alone could construct water-dams and dig and maintain canals, most of them would starve to death. It will be seen, on a closer reflection, that these are precisely the considerations, which in a welfare state, generate the psychological atmosphere in which a class of rulers imposes itself upon the citizens, and the citizens un-critically acquiesce in this imposition as a necessary pre-condition to the welfare which this class guarantees. This psychological attitude was, apparently, further reinforced by a high authoritarian Hindu caste-system and thus, the special Hindu attitude of subservience to the state authority, as maibap, arose and has become a near-permanent of the national character. It is not difficult to see that without this Hindu attitude, whether it arises and is sustained by the considerations out of which it originally arose amongst them, or whether it is justified by the modern doctrines and ideas of socialism and welfarism, the modern states which go under the name of socialist and welfare societies are most difficult, if not altogether impossible to sustain, on a permanent basis.
Sikhism is fundamentally inimical to this attitude and it is in this sense that it is hostile to all the modem socialist organisations in which, for whatever ideological reasons, a class of people seeks to gain the upper-hand over the individual to such an extent as to destroy or curtail considerably his inner autonomy and his worth and status as an individual. While Sikhism is in sympathy with most of the moral ideas with which it is sought to justify the ideals of these social theories, and in fact maintains that the ideal Sikh society shall be broad-based on these ideas, It is out of sympathy with the evolution and growth of any apparatus which enables a class of men to exploit an individual, to suppress and subjugate him in the name of abolishing the exploitation of man by man.
It, therefore, follows that while Sikhism seeks to establish a social pattern, and eventually a global Society in which the socialist moral ideas of individual welfare, equality and freedom for all without reasonable discrimination, shall have acceptance, it is opposed to any development which, in practice, and in reality, seeks to devalue the individual as a mere cog in a machine or a mere honey gathering insect in a beehive. It is for this reason, that Sikhism conceives of the religious evolution of man as a necessary and integral prerequisite and condition of its march towards the ideal Society.
Socialism and Communism are not the same or even similar. For, though their slogans are similar or the same, they are separated by a moral abyss. The immoralism of communism is a basic postulate which stems out of its view of the ultimate Reality which the communists regard as the primacy of the matter over the mind. From the tautology that they do not differ entirely, no conclusion can be insinuated that they do not differ essentially. Dictatorship without popular support, without an independent legal system and without free criticism would seem to be a permanent feature and not a passing phase of the communist society. Communist society is basically a military society which accepts an unlimited military commitment that does not terminate till the end of “the class struggle,” a heritage from Marx himself. This commitment overrides all other merely “civilian” institutional safe-guards, and it rests on two fundamental beliefs, one, that communism embodies the will of the workers and it stands not for what they seem to want now, in the present, for what they ought to want eventually as conceived by their rulers, and, two, that nothing ‘fundamentally wrong could occur in the Soviet Union, or the “Socialist Bloc” because the party of the workers was in power there, guided by an incorruptible top leadership dedicated to the cause of the golden future.
This and Sikhism never shall meet.
Likewise, a democratic stage of modern conception is unacceptable to Sikhism wherein the citizens are required to relinquish their rights by conferring them upon a ‘general will’ of a single and indivisible sovereign people. This ‘general will’, in practice, is only the will of the numerical majority. The omnipotence of the majority is the practical corollary of democracy, and respect for the rights of minorities loses all effectual sanction just because the individuals have forfeited all power to insist upon their rights, by conferring them bodily upon the state. The concentration of an immense power in the hands of an often fictitious and rigged majority is truly tyrannical. There is, therefore, justification to place democracy and despotism on the same plane, in many cases.
Again, where a state-community called, ‘the nation’, does not consist of citizens having a well-accepted uniform political destination and a common purpose, the Anglo-Saxon, ‘one head, one single nontransferable vote’ is, verily, the devil’s device to degrade and liquidate a permanent minority by virtually annulling all genuine representation to such as the Sikhs are hardly one percent of the non-Sikh citizenry of India. The degradation and demoralisation which it entails for the Sikhs is worse than slavery and death.
The current Sikh disquietude and unrest in India is as much due to the realities of the situation as to the basic Sikh doctrine of the worth and status of the individual which is not compatible with the implications of a centralised state and one man, one vote steam roller democracy, and Sikhism, therefore, repudiates the democratic state of this conception, as an imposition and a tyranny, as bad and unacceptable a tyranny and imposition as the Mughal rule.
All political theories and social organisations which proceed from a secular assumption or are based on ideas that generate institutions capable of destroying or curtailing the spiritual autonomy of the individual, therefore, are unacceptable to Sikhism, for, Sikhism perceives the inner contradiction which lies in all such doctrines and practices. This inner contradiction is that these doctrines and practices naively assume that human happiness and prosperity can be achieved through the transformation of the environmental conditions of man, without contemporaneously touching upon and transforming the moral and spiritual make-up of the individual. This is a basic and dangerous fallacy and the dilemma with which the mankind is faced today. The dilemma of today which faces the mankind is precisely this that, man has achieved an understanding of and mastery over nature which has out-paced its understanding of and mastery of himself.
Sikhism warns against the fallacy out of which this dilemma arises, and it uncompromisingly opposes all theories and practices which seek to build a fully happy and prosperous society on a merely secular base.
A possible misconception about the Sikh notions on the subject must be removed here. The ideal Sikh society is not a religious or a church-state, or a theocratic set-up. A religious state is based on the assumption that unity of religion is more or less necessary in order to secure national unity and strength and in order to maintain order and social harmony. The terrible life and death struggle into which the Sikhs were pushed by the Mughal emperors, informed and guided by the doctrines of the political Islam, resulted precisely from this assumption of Islamic polity. The wars of religion, and the prolonged periods of bloodshed which have disfigured the history of Europe for hundreds of years, are also seen to be the necessary concomitant of this assumption. The peace of Augsburg in AD. 1555, concluded to end wars of religion in Europe, on the principle, cuius regis eius religio, that is, that every subject must accept the religion of his ruler, precisely the principle which motivated and sustained emperor Aurangzeb throughout his long and eventful reign. The sub-conscious traces of this assumption, it would seem, still linger in the India of today. Similarly, a theocratic state is based on the presumption that the rulers are answerable not for the welfare of the bodies of their subjects but for the salvation of their souls, and that, the end of all political endeavour is not in this world but in the next. Sikhism considers these assumptions as misconceived, for, it believes that there lies a fundamental and higher unity in all true religions which are apparently diverse and that, therefore, the social harmony and the national unity of a state must be founded on this fundamental unity, accepting freedom of worship. Sikhism takes up the stand that, “the temple and the mosque and the worship of God as differently made therein are not fundamentally different”.7
Sikhism thus holds that it is the duty of an organised religion, which postulate is an article of creed in Sikhism, not only to accept and uphold liberty of conscience to all, but also to defend actively the right to such liberty of those whose conscience moves them in a seemingly different direction. For achieving agreement and unity, the Order of the Khalsa relies upon the methods of enlightenment and persuasion, in place of coercion and brain washing.
For this exposition of social implications of Sikhism it is clear that, all social theories and political organisations which result in the subjugation oppression of the spiritual autonomy of the individual are· unacceptable to Sikhism, and all overdeveloped and centralised societies and states belong to this category. The over-developed societies and a centralised state are a prison in which the Sikh soul withers and against which it is in perpetual revolt. This sense of revolt, inherent in the Sikh spirit, persistently strives to flower in influential nonconformity, and influential non-conformity is rarely tolerated by the organs of social power, though mere crankiness and intellectual clowning may be so tolerated by liberal states.
The cultural and spiritual climate in human societies is decisively conditioned though not wholly generated by their political structure, and cultural and spiritual decay can be arrested, in the main, by a shift in the centres of power. From this follows the Sikh purpose and dream of ‘raj karega Khalsa’ which is solemnly affirmed, twice a day, in all Sikh congregational prayers, throughout the world, wherever the Sikhs as such meet.
These, broadly, are the social implications of Sikhism, in the context of the modern political world situation.
1. je sau canda ugave suraj chadhe hajar, ete chanan hondian gur bin ghor andhar. — Asa
2. candramah manso jatah, caksusurya ajayatah.
3.je tau pia di sikk hia na, thhahi kahida, — Sloku, Farid
4. ar sikh hon apne hi man kau, ihi ialac haun gun tau uccraun, — Dasamgranth
5. mahati devata hyosha nararupena nisrati. — Mahavdharamsastra.
6. vayadhamma samkhara, — Mahaparinirvansutra.
7. dehura masit soi, puja-namaj oee. — Akalustat.