ORIGIN OF SIKH FAITH
1. The Issue
When Guru Nanak appeared on the Indian scene Nathism and Vaisnavism were the two religious systems popularly known in Northern India. The Nath-Yogis, who had owned Yogic methodology, were an ascetic cult of the ancient Saiva system. Vaisnavism, a system of worship, had a very long history in the country. It was the Gita that for the first time accepted in the orthodox systems, the worship of the Lord as an alternative method of Moksha. Later, Vaisnavism developed its basic doctrine of the Avtarhood of Visnu that tended to absorb within its fold even some of the heterodox systems like Buddhism and Jainism.
A revelatory religion, as Guru Nanak called his system, is by its very nature new. However, the questions before us are whether Nathism or Vaisnavism contributed anything to the fundamentals of Sikhism, whether Guru Nanak accepted and incorporated in his own religion anything from the essentials of the two earlier systems and whether the statement that Vaisnavism and Nathism have no affinity with Sikhism has a valid basis.
In our attempt to sort out and solve this issue we shall first identify the essentials of the three systems of Nathism, Vaisnavism and Sikhism. Secondly, we shall specify the similarities and dissimilarities among these systems in order to determine how far, if at all, these are connected with each other either in their ideology, their methodology, or their world-view.
2. Principles of Comparative Study
Before we proceed with the consideration of the subject, it is necessary to indicate the basic principles of such an examination. For evident reasons, the comparison should not only give a clear and correct picture of each system, but it should also bring out the very essentials of it. It is with this object that the following questions have been framed.
(a) What is the metaphysical view of the system, Le. whether it is a theism, dualism, pantheism or monism ?
(b) Whether or not the world is real?
(c) Is the world a place of suffering and misery, or a meaningful arena of spiritual endeavours?
(d) What is the spiritual goal of life?
(e) What methods should be adopted to achieve the goal?
(f) What is the role in life of the person who has achievedt he spiritual goal?
(g) What is the overall world-view of the system? It is in the background of these questions that we shall undertake a comparative study of the three systems.
3. Unity of Perception, Ideology and Activity
Before we start with the description of the systems, it is essential to emphasize the importance of one point, namely, the unity of perception, ideology and activity. For a true understanding of a religious system, it is vital that we bear this unity in mind.
Let us first explain what we mean by the unity of perception, ideology and activity. Almost every religion owes it’s origin to the mystic or higher religious experience of some personality or prophet. Actually, it is this experience which forms the real fount of the entire ideology, mission and activities of the mystic. In this sequence, the first stage is the perception or the religious experience. At the second stage, the saint, naturally, tries to understand and absorb it, and reacts to it. This reaction constitutes both the ideology and the proposed plan of the saint for giving practical shape to the ideology. This ideology and plan are generally understood and interpreted by others from the words expressed or other means of communication resorted to by the saint. The third stage is the life actually lived by the saint. This forms his real response to his higher religious experience - and reflects his ideology and the decisions made thereunder. For, example, if the religious experience of a mystic is that God is all love, is the Shelter of the shelterless and Help of the helpless, the mystic’s ideology is that God is the Ocean of virtues and a God of Attributes. In line with it, and as a reaction to this experience, he compulsively frames a plan. of action of love and help to the poor and the needy. Accordingly, the activities undertaken and programmes initiated and executed by the saint are the true reflection and projection of his higher religious experience and the consequent ideology. The fourth Sikh Guru explains the point in a beautiful and apt simile, “While experiencing You, the “I” or ego is gone. The difference of “You” and “I” is obliterated. It is now only “You” flowing out.”1 The activities of the saint are only the external form, projection and shape which the basic experience directs and takes. Such mystics rarely express in words the nature of their religious experience, it being generally ineffable. And, even if they do, the description is too inadequate to form the basis of a rational system. For the same reasons, even the utterances and statements of these persons are not always clear and precise. It fact, these are not meant to be such; nor are these always aimed at laying a comprehensive religious philosophy. It is in the interpretation of these statements that students of religion and others make major errors of understanding and deduction. But, it is the deeds and activities of the person that portray truly and directly his higher religious experience and ideology. All we seek to stress is, first, the inalienable unity of religious experince, ideology and activities; and, secondly, the activities of the saint alone being the right key to the understanding and appreciation of his perceptions and message. So often, mere statements, taken in their isolation, have been wrongly interpreted, especially by those distant in time and area. Because, howsoever sophisticated, rational tools cannot rise above the prejudices and predilections of the person employing them.
Scholars, trained in a behaviouristic, or mechanical methodology, have generally a tendency to trace one religious development from a preceding one. But, trying to build such a chain of ratiocination is a virtual denial of the validity, the very novelty, and the free character of the religious experience. Hence, the need for adhering to the principle of the unity of experience, ideology and activity, and of understanding and interpreting a religious message purely from the activities of its author. Otherwise, so often students of religion fall into the error of picking up seemingly common utterances of two religious pioneers and then of trying to relate them to a common source or a connecting bond. Mere words and statements, unrelated to the deeds of their author are quite likely to be misunderstood and misintepreted. Deeds alone are the true index of the ideology of the author.
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