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  Gur Panth Parkash
Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh







NATHISM AND SIKHISMWe find that the answers of Nathism and Sikhism to the sevenissues indicated by us are mostly opposed in their implications. Sikhism is a theism. Nathismbeing a Saiva cult also claims to be such, but leans more towards pantheism. In both casesthe world is taken to be real. But, here ends the apparent similarity. As we probe further, sharp divergences begin. The two systems have entirely different methodologies, goals and world views. In Nathism the world is a misery and liberation from it has to be sought by vows of celibacy, Ahimsa, and non-participation in the affairs of man. The Nath cuts himself off from the world as far as he can because his goal is liberation from it. Once liberated, the superman merges in Siva in peace and bliss. The discipline to reach the goal is all formal, ritualistic and Yogic.

The Sikh Gurus feel very differently. They say that “by despising the world one gets not to God.” They consider the world to be a beautiful place for all spiritual endeavours. As such, participation in the activities of man becomes essential. The responsibilities of the householder’s life are freely accepted. God being the Ocean of virtues, He shows His deepinterest in the world and man. Therefore, in Sikhism the superman has to be the instrument of God in alleviating man’s sufferings and solving his problems. God’s Will is Attributive and man’s goal is always to carry it out. The Sikh prayer is not for liberation from the world, but for being given millions of hands to serve Him, for, God showers His Grace where the weak are helped. As to the spiritual discipline, there is only one method, the way of good deeds, and deeds alone. The Gurus do not believe in Ahimsa, nor do they preclude the use of force when necessary. The lives of Gurus clearly show that. Applying the test of the unity of perception, ideology and activities, this is the only inference we could draw from the lives of the Gurus. Accordingly, we conclude that the two systems hold diametrically opposite world views.

Not only is the contrast between the two systems glaringly evident, but every student of the Guru Granth knows, that Nathism is one of the few systems the approach, the ethodology, the formalism and the goal of which have been strongly criticised by the Gurus. There arenumerous hymns in which the ways and the ideals of the Naths have been denounced andthe right ways and approach indicated. For example, in the following hymns the Gurus reject the otherworldliness, asceticism, and formalism of the Naths and, instead, recommend thatvirtues should be cultivated and practised.

“Instead of wearing Mudras and carrying a beggar’s bag and staff and rubbing ashes on the body, one should cultivate contentment and self respect, do effort and always keep God inmind.” “One has to control one’s mind, treat all beings as of one status and salute Him alone.”1 Again, ‘’The spiritual path (yog) does not lie in wearing Mudras in ears, and anecklace of beads, nor does it lie in keeping a staff and a horn, nor in rubbing ashes on thebody and making a close shave of the head. Real Yog (spiritual way) is to remain tranquil andbalanced among the turmoils of the world.” ‘’The spiritual path can be trodden not by merewords and talk, but by actually treating all men alike and as one’s equal. Yog does not lie inliving in cremation grounds, doing one-point meditation, or in roaming all over places, invisiting places of pilgrimages, but in remaining balanced and God-centred while doing theaffairs of the world.”2

The Yogic methods have also been clearly rejected. “Neoli and other yogic methods are useless. The only thing worthwhile is the love of God and to keep Him in one’s mind.”3“The rubbing of ashes on the body and other rituals have no meaning, unless vices andegoism are given up and the heart is imbued with God.”4 The Gurus lay’ down that “noworship of God is possible without the practice of virtues.”5 “God lives in the hearts ofthose who avoid the property and women of others.”6

In the Guru’s system, “to lead the house-holder’s life truly is the best one from among allthe religious paths.”7 The Guru deprecates the Yogi who gives up the world and then is notashamed of begging from door to door.

In Nathism celibacy is essential. Woman, as in the other Hindu systems, is deemed to be atemptress. The Naths would not sit and eat with even Nath women. But in the Guru’ssystem, down-grading the woman has been denounced8 and she is deemed to be an equalpartner in man’s spiritual venture. When the third Guru organised districts of religiousadministration, women too were selected9 to head them. All this was wholly contrary to theentire Indian tradition in which woman has been given only a secondary place and hasgenerally been considered to be an impediment in the spiritual path. In all ascetic andmonastic systems woman has been dubbed as evil. That is so even in systems that renouncethe world either on account of Bhakti or devotion or for other reasons. But in the Guru’ssystem her role is significant and equal to that of man.

The Gurus emphatically reject the other-worldly approach of the Naths. They deprecate renunciation of the world and one who does not earn his living. In all the hymns of the Gurus, the emphasis is on shedding vice and on virtuous living. “The householder who is benevolent, merciful and disciplined is the purest of persons. “10 To give up vice and topractise righteousness and virtuous are the ways to realize the essence of God.”11

A confusion has arisen in the minds of some students of religion because the Gurus haveused some words in their hymns which have also been employed by the authors of otherreligious books, but with a different meaning and import. For example, the Guru says that atthe final stage of spiritual achievement one gets the bliss of “Anhad Sabad” or unstruckmusic. But this “Anhad Sabad”, as the Gurus call it, has nothing to do with the “AnhadSabad”, as used by the Nath Yogis. In the Hath Yoga “Anhad Sabad” is a sound which theYogi hears when the Kundalani is raised through the Nadis and the Chakras in the body.This is a sound which appears at a far lower stage of the Yogic exercise than the final one ofbliss when the union of Kundalani takes place with Siva at the Sahasrara, in the top of thehead. As such, the “Anhad Sabad” of the Naths, as Dr. Jodh Singh has also stated, hasnothing to do with the “Anhad Sabad” of the Gurus which indicates the bliss one gets at thetime of the final spiritual achievement. In fact, the Gurus have described this ultimate statein Sikhism with many other terms like “Nirbana”, “Turya”, “Mukti”, “Sahj” etc. But, these words have quite different import and implications in the other religious systems where toothese terms have been employed. A close study of the Guru Granth makes it clear what arereally the contents and meanings of these terms. These are Gurus’ own and are quite variantfrom the way other systems use them. For example, Buddhist “Nirvana” is entirely differentfrom what the Gurus conceive and convey by this term. They only mean union with Naam.Sometimes, the Gurus’ use of these terms is only metaphoric. Therefore, the use of somewords, also employed by the Nath Yogis, does not mean that the Gurus accept the HathYoga methods. In fact, the Gurus definitely reject and denounce them. Though McLeodappears to have been misled in. his conclusions by the use of some such terms, yet even heconcedes that the Guru Granth does not mention the system of Ida, Susumana, Pingla,Chakra and pranayama which is fundamental to the Hath Yoga methodology. The Guru Granth clearly records, “I shall sing and imbibe the name of God and achieve the higheststage; I reject the methods of Ida, Pingla and Susumana and of the union of the Sun and theMoon (as in Hath Yoga, the sun representing Siva, and the moon, the Kundalani). I shallreach Him otherwise. “12

One more point of contrast. In Nathism the method of sense indulgence is accepted as an alternative discipline for spiritual attainments. In the Guru Granth there is not the faintestsuggestion of this kind. Rather, Nath celibacy and its ill effects are denounced. “He carries abeggar’s bowl by giving up the world and women. But overpowered by passion, he isinfatuated by women of others.”13

In short, Nathism and Sikhism present opposite world views. It is the compulsions andimplications of each world view that lead the two systems to move in different directionsand to give opposing answers, practically, to each of the seven issues raised by us. The fundamental difference is that Nathism rejects the world and life as misery. But, Sikhismaccepts them as spiritually meaningful. Therefore, in Nathism withdrawal from the world,asceticism, Ahimsa, celibacy, the downgrading of women, solitude, yogic methodology, etc.,become naturally essential. But, in Sikh ism, God being Attributive, virtuous participation in the world, the house-holder’s life and responsibilities, the consequent raising of the status ofwomen and the love and service of man in all spheres of his life become logically necessary.Because, here the key test of spiritual growth and stature is the deeds of the person andwhether or not the person earns his living, shares his income with others, and treatseveryone as his equal. In one case, the goal is merger or union with Siva, involving eternalpeace and bliss without any role for the superman. In the other case, the goal is always tocarry out the Attributive Will of God and a continuous virtuous endeavour to solve theproblems of man. There is hardly a meeting ground etween the two systems.

Our survey and history of the system shows that Vaisnavism is, in every way, a part andparcel of the Brahmnical complex. As of all other Hindu systems Vedas and Upanisads areits scriptures. The answers of Vaisnavism to the seven issues are opposed to those given bySikhism. Crooke and other authorities define the four essentials of Hinduism as belief in thescriptural authority of Vedas, the theory of Avatara hood: the caste system, and venerationfor the cow. 14 These are also the four fundamentals of Vaisnavism. In addition, it has faithin the mystic potency of words and Mantras. The theory of the Avatars of Visnu is infact, aVaisnava creation and not a part of the earlier Vedic religions. Probably because of its faithin the Vedic system, Bhakti in Vaisnavism is basically formal and ritualistic, without its everfructifying into virtuous deed in the social field. The Vaisnava Bhakti remains confined tomeditational practices and formal and devotional idol worship in the temples.

But, Sikhism clearly denies the four principles of Vaisnava Bhakti. Not only is the scriptural authority of the Vedas and Upanisads repudiated, but the following hymn is critical of theVedic caste. “The distinctions of high and low castes and colour, hell and heaven introducedby the Vedas are misleading.”15 There are numerous hymns clearly denying the Avataracharacter of all Vaisnava gods.

Having rejected the fundamentals of Vaisnavism the question of any similarity between the two systems does not arise. While Sikhism is strictly theistic, Vaisnavism is, broadly speaking,pantheistic. In Vaisnavism the emphasis is merely on formal devotional methods of worshipdivorced from deeds. And this devotion involves an otherworldly life, leaning towardsSanyasa and celibacy. In Sikhism the path is entirely different. Sheer devotional dancing isconsidered to be of no consequence. It is virtuous deeds which are of the essence of theSikh spiritual life. “With God, only the deeds one does in the world, are of any avail.”16 “Viceis our enemy and virtue the only friend. “17

The Vaisnava saints were too preoccupied with formal devotion to enter the social field. Not even one of them did so, nor did their devotional system permit it, much less prescribe it.

As against it, the Gurus insist on virtuous deeds so as to seek the Grace of God. The firstGuru started the organisation of the Sikh panth. As soon as the organisation was sizeableenough, it was the fifth Guru who took the initiative, by helping Khusro, and provoked thewrath of Jahangir. This socio-political confrontation was continued by all the subsequentGurus. The sixth Guru fought battles with the Imperial forces. The seventh Guru attemptedto come to the military aid of Dara, the rebel against the then Emperor. The eighth Gurudied very young. Aurangzeb suggested to the ninth Guru not to dabble in the sociopoliticalfield. But he rejected this suggestion and sought martyrdom by openly coming to the aid ofKashmiri Pandits in defiance of the Imperial policy of religious persecution. The tenthGuru’s creation of the Khalsa and confrontation with the Empire is well known.

There is another major difference between the two. Vaisnavism accepts the sensual path as an alternative spiritual approach but Sikhism rejects it outright. The conclusion is evidentthat there is an obvious contrast between Vaisnavism and Sikhism on all the essentials of thetwo systems and the issues stated by us.

Nathism and Vaisnavism, as we have surveyed and discussed, squarely fall within the ambitof the old Indian traditions, namely, Sramanic, Upanisadic, Vedantic or Yogic. In all thesetraditions world is deemed to be a misery or Mithya (illusory), and the spiritual value ofSanyasa, asceticism, celibacy and Yogic methodology is recognised. “To steer clear of theesoterism and mysticism of austerities, self-mortification, and the general negativism of suchcults and sects as those of Jain Sanyasis, of Nathpanthis, Aghora panthis, Kapalikas andother kindred sects on the one hand, and of the orders of the emotionally oriented andsurcharged Vaisnavas of the Bhakti movement surrendering abjectly and absolutely as muchto the Personal God as to the established social order, was not a very easy task in the contextof the time and the space we are speaking of. But this is exactly what the Sikh gurus seem tohave been aiming at, and evidence at our disposal leaves no room for doubt that they succeeded to a very large extent in doing so.”18 “Neither the leaders of the Bhakti movement, nor of the Nathpanthis and the Sant Synthesis attempted to do what Guru Nanak did, not isany systematic manner at any rate. These leaders seem to have been individuals working outfor their own problems and towards achieving their personal religious and spiritual aims andaspirations.”19

The contrast between the non-participation of Nath Yogis and Vaisnava saints in the socio- political field and the repeated entry and confrontation of the Sikh Gurus in defence and aidof righteous causes in this sphere is not just incidental. The truth is that non-entry in one case and the acceptance of social responsibility in the other case are the compulsiveconsequences of the ideologies and objectives of the respective religious systems. Saivismand Vaisnavism apart, purely devotional spiritual systems have appeared in all ages the worldover, in Greece, Germany, France, Spain, England, Iran and the Middle East. Nowhere thedevotional mystics, whether Greek, Christian, Sufi or Indian have ever partaken in the socialfield as the Sikh Gurus did one after the other.

In Sikhism to be a man is a very great privilege, since he has the glorious opportunity of not  only knowing the truth, but also more glorious responsibility of living it; of not only  understanding the Creative Will, but also of carrying it out. For, God works, not through miracles but through man whose resources and capacity are enormous.

Therefore, in Sikhism the ideal is not to know the truth but to live the truth. The realisation  of truth is not an end in itself, but only a means to the highest end of creative living, the  latter alone being the correct test and index of the former. In fact such an effort is not  optional but obligatory, it being the sole measure of spirituality.

Applying the principle of the unity of perception, ideology and activities the basic contrast between Nathism and Vaisnavism on the one hand and Sikhism on the other becomes all the more evident and conspicuous.

In the face of the historical background and the contrast between..the  quietism of these mystics referred above and the activism of the Sikh Gurus, it would just be idle to suggest  that the ideology or the religious perceptions of the Sikh Gurus were in any manner akin to the ideologies and perceptions of the quietist religions. The contrast is too glaring to be  glossed over. It would be equally idle to suggest the soil-seed theory, or the one of  environmental development or religious growth. How could it be that while devotional but  quietist religious systems and mystics have arisen in all ages, climes and countries, not even  at one place has a quietist system been followed by an activist ideology or a religion with  socio-political concern or involvement. It is too much to believe that nowhere the quietists  were able to prepare the soil to enable the activist seed to sprout, or that no one ever arose to sow the activist seed there. Nor is the suggestion of growth or development  understandable. For, in India Saiva, Yogic, Bhagvata and other devotional systems have  existed side by side for over two thousand years and yet never did an activist amalgam or  growth take place. Facts and realities about the Sikh ideology and history are too obvious to  be explained by such simplistic suggestions or conjectures.

The two classes or religions are entirely different in their approach and aims, their ideas and ideals and their modes and methods of worship and working. In the traditional mystic  systems the goal is either to make room for the holy by the ‘emptying of consciousness’, or  to reach the state of ‘gnostic knowledge’, through the ‘internally isolating techniques’ of ‘concentrated meditation’. But, in the Guru’s system the Immanent (Naam) is the Ever-fresh  Fount gushing forth into the universe. The human goal is to establish an intuitional or  mystic link with this Neverebbing Spring in order to be the humble but conscious vehicle of  this Creative Flow of Love. The mystic’s role is dynamic. The aim is not to merge in the  Self-absorved Void. In the one group of systems, one rises towards the heavens to join the  Transcendent. In Sikhism one tries to bring the Transcendent to the earth. For, the Gurus  emphasise that the Transcendent is Immanent too, deeply interested in His creation. It is in  this perspective that we have to view and understand the message of Guru Nanak.  Accordingly, we find that in the earlier Indian tradition there was no trace of the  fundamentals comprising the Sikh wordview. In all its basic doctrines, Sikhism is alien to the  Indian Tradition, much more so to the Saiva, Nath, Yogic or Vaisnava traditions. In Sikhism  at the time of Amrit or baptism, the Sikh gains five freedoms : (i) deliverance from the  bonds and prejudices of all previous religious, customs and practices, (ii) Obliteration of and  deliverance from the effects of the earlier deeds (iii) freedom from the influence of the previous caste or family lineage, (iv) freedom from the stigma attached to a’ previous calling  or a hereditary profession, and (v) deliverance from all previous rituals, prejudices and  inhibitions. There is, thus, a complete break with the earlier ideologies and religious goals  and practices. Our conclusion is that far from being connected, Nathism and Vaisnavism on  the one hand and Sikhism on the other hand are completely contrasted in their  fundamentals, ideologies, goals methodologies and world views.

And, yet, it has been stated: “perhaps the most important difficulty with Sikhism for the compilers of the ‘world religious’ text books is the question whether Sikhism is, indeed, a  religion.”20 “The term founder is misleading for it suggests that the Guru (Nanak) originated  not merely a group of followers but also a school of thought, or a set of teachings.”21 “It was  the influence of Nath doctrine and practice upon Vaisnava Bhakti which was primarily  responsible for the emergence of Sant synthesis.” “This is precisely the doctrine which we  find in the works of Guru Nanak.”22 “The Sant tradition was essentially a synthesis of three principal dissenting movements, a compound of elements drawn mainly from Vaisnava  Bhakti and the Hathayoga of Nath Yogis, with a marginal contribution from Sufism.”23  “With early Sikhism, the ancient tantric practices, submerged beneath the Bhakti tradition of  the early medieval period, re-emerge in Sant synthesis in the form of Yogic ideas and practices of the Naths.”24 “Referring to Guru Nanak McLeod writes, “Nath beliefs certainly  exercised an influence and we encounter many examples of Nath terminology in his  works.”25 “Nath influence emerges in much of the basic terminology used by Kabir (and later  by Guru Nanak).”26 “What Guru Nanak offers us is the clearest and the most highly  articulated expression of the nirguna sampradaya.”27 “The indigenous elements in Sikhism  are largely those customs of the tribes of jats, who made Sikhism their own, and the marginal  elements are those of the Nath Yogic tradition, which, with Vaisnava Bhakti, was primarily  responsible for the Sant synthesis.”28 “The teachings of Nanak do not have a direct causal  connection with the later growth……which should be understood largely in terms of the  historical events of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”29

Our examination reveals that such views about Sikhism, Nathism and Vaisnavism are not only without any basis but also betray an ignorance of the history and the essentials of the three systems.



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