SIKHISM: The Post Modern Religion of the World

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Title: Sikhism: The Post Modern Religion of the World

Editor: Dr. Surjit Singh Dhaliwal

Publisher: Adhyayan Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi

ISBN: 978-81-8435-349-5

Edition: 2012, pp. 109

I was happy to read the title of the book and looked forward to learning a lot more about Sikhi as the post modern religion of the world. Such a vision has been catalyzed by certain encouraging pronouncements about Sikhism by some eminent Western scholars over the last century and my hope was to find a comprehensive treatment in this collection of essays.

Dr. Surjit Singh Dhaliwal, editor of the book, is Assistant Professor, A D College, Moga, Punjab, and has specialization in Religious Interfaith Dialogue. The book is an anthology of 7 Articles by various authors, written at different times, brought together by the Editor to ‘start a discussion on Philosophy of Gurbani regarding information in connection with the present circumstances.’ This sounded a bit unclear but since present times are also dubbed the post modern era, my curiosity led me on.

The title of the book is the title of a paper written by Dr Daya Singh Sandhu, University of Louisville, USA. The other papers are by Surain Singh Dhanoa, Rajinder Kaur Rohi, Kapur Singh, Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia and Harnam Singh Shaan. The Editor has included a three page bibliography in addition to references and end notes by some authors. An index has also been appended for convenient referencing.

Daya Singh prefers to identify pre-modern era also known as renaissance, between 14th and 17th century and modern or rationalist era, from18th to mid 20th century. The post-modern era, starting towards end of World War II to the present is a phase when a realization seems to have dawned that the approaches adopted in preceding centuries had not helped to alleviate problems that had confronted the humanity and the world is looking for new approaches.

This post modern era is characterized by the realization that the Supreme Reality cannot be fully apprehended through empirical methods – a position clear from Gurbani. His source is the paper of Dr H S Virk. Anxiety in a globalised setting points to need for a universal religion, answered so well by Sikhi as spoken by Bradshaw. The era is also shattering many myths and Sikhi record in this arena is good. Example cited is about debunking by Guru Nanak of an ancient belief about the earth being supported on the horn of a bull.

The author then argues that in the post modern era problems like Human Rights, Alcohol & Drug use, violence, terrorism, environmental degradation etc would go away if Sikh thought was put to practice. It may resonate with many of us but the short paper may not be found to make out a convincing case by most of the readers.

A paper by Kapur Singh entitled The Heart of Sikhism recognizes the centrality of the concept of Naam in Sikh thought. He has also very ably addressed many of the misunderstandings that are prevalent about the practice of naam in lived Sikhi and rejects linkage of naam simran to yogic practices. His argument is that classic Patanjali yoga is incompatible with Sikh precept of union with the divine while living life as a householder. He suggests that ‘In Sikhism this predicament has been removed by laying down a technique which is at once practicable and efficacious. This practice of Name is mechanical to start with, but has its adjuncts without which it cannot succeed and fructify.’ The adjuncts a devotee has to cultivate include a strictly ethical life, reliance on prayer, love of the divine, intuitive understanding of philosophical truths.

The concept and praxis on naam is a subject for intense internal Sikh debate. Some practitioners are strong advocates of yogic practice linked to breathing. At the other extreme there are those who even question the validity of the suggested use of the word wahiguru as the naam to repeat. The vision presented is compatible  with the praxis as witnessed in the common understanding of lived Sikhi as disentangled and freed from creeping influence of yoga practices. The paper is a good resource for furthering understanding of the concept of naam and a discerning reader may find in it the comfort that naam practice is not incompatible with present day living.

There are some interesting interpretations. Examples are: aadh – Primary; jugaadh – pre-Temporal; hai bhee – Phenomenon; hosi bhee – yet to be Evolved; maya – a stage and plane in the involution of the spirit; seva – devotee on path to spiritual development deems it his duty to persuade others tread the same path, being progressively purified of taints of selfishness.

Surain Singh Dhanoa’s paper on Guru Granth Sahib & Religions of the World is structured in a contrasting mode, more specific references being to Judeo-Christian ethos and recent hypothesis by a Western scholar relating to religion and the influence of culture – the purpose though seems to be to locate some corroborative positions between Sikhi and these schools of thought and not to draw any comparisons.

In the author’s view Naam is awakening of God inside, accomplished by overcoming of haumai and religion is all about this transformation. When man learns to live per divine will, only then can he be free of haumai and reach his spiritual goals.

The evolved man, Gurmukh, lives in the present, unencumbered by past and unworried about the future for his belief is that it will all work out for the best for a Guru conscious man. The Guru aspect is all grace, an eternal attribute of God.

Guru Nanak ‘did not approve of constricting boundaries of religions.’ Guru is not the human form of the Guru’s being – it is sabd. Humans must be able to free their minds of acquired wisdom and cleverness and seek guidance from sabd to be one with the divine. Universality is inherent in Sikhi but lived Sikhi has to be witness to such universal ethos – question that has not been asked or answered.

Rajinder Kaur Rohi has written a paper on Comparative Study of Religion. After discussing the nature of studies involved, Rohi observes that ‘serious study of comparative religion demands an objective outlook, even while looking through similarities and differences of various religious traditions.’ She observes that in India there has been a ‘very strong tendency to learn about religions of the others and to understand them seriously — Sikhism also — presents a very clear picture of comparative and an objective understanding of various religions.’ Notwithstanding the examples cited from India, she concedes that ‘the distinct academic discipline in the proper and modern sense has actually originated in the west.’

The paper cautions that comparative religion is not another religion. It is only a way to study and understand a religion. The aim of comparative religion should be to unify religions into one fold. She grades perceiving religious history in the light of personal subjectivity as a major offense and to pass value judgment against/for any prophet or belief based on personal feelings, even a higher offense. While the paper offers better understanding of what comparative religious studies are about, its link with understanding of Sikhi or Sikh understanding of other faiths has barely been touched upon.

A short paper entitled the Concept of Nirvana in Sikhism has been written by Dr Surjit Singh Dhaliwal, the Editor. In Jainism the word implies annihilation of the self from the mundane existence. In Budhhism it is a state of eternal, supreme bliss. In Nirvana Sutra, nirvana is attained when one has knowledge and mind becomes free from cravings and doubts. In Mahayana school, it includes attainment of free will, autonomy.

He has looked at the various uses of the word nirvana in classical Hindu texts. In Mahabharat it is used to convey final emancipation from the physical. In Chandogaya Upinshad it is attaining to a state of perfect self realization. In Gita it conveys a state of serene, fearless spiritual peace.

In Sikhism, the Gurus have used a variety of words besides nirvana for the highest state of man’s spiritual development. His list includes param padh, unman avastha, turiya avastha, nirbhai padh, mukta, sehaj padh and many more like agampura, begumpura, abchalnagar etc. He concludes that Nirvana in Sikhism ‘is a sublime experience, an exaltation of self and perfect communion with God — the seeker of Truth not only attains illumination of highest wisdom but also complete freedom from fear and mundane authority and identity of the self with all human beings.’ It was the love of mankind arising out of higher mysticism of action that inspired Guru choices of seva and shahidi commended in Sikhi.

The book also has a well argued paper on Sikhism & Marxism by Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia but the problem of linking the topic to the theme remains unanswered. In any case trying to portray Sikh thought as post modern through the prism of Marxist or any other philosophy that seems to have lost its social relevance would seem somewhat disingenuous.

Thus while the papers included in the book offer a variety of interesting insights, the theme of the book is not quite served. A more in-depth editorial effort might have helped but is not easy to accomplish.

The subject however seems to be catching the Sikh imagination at the moment and I am aware of the forthcoming conference convened by Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, this November, where the ‘scholars are expected to give their views on how Sikhism with its birthplace in Punjab, a province in India, is not bound to any particular region, considers whole earth as its mother and shares with the whole humanity its existential concerns – religious, economic, social, political, and environmental. Deliberations during the two day seminar on the Sikh model of governance based on the Miri Piri concept with the idea of an individual as a saint soldier, and Sikh perspectives on environment will contribute to the world thought in the third millennium in a big way.’ I look forward to reading the erudite papers to be presented.

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Nirmal Singh

Camp: New Delhi

Sep, 2013

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