Essentials of Sikhism
by Sirdar Kapur Singh
(National Professor of Sikhism)1960
Religion deals essentially with three subjects of the nature of reality, the nature of man and it relation to this reality, and lastly, with the way to reach this reality. The first two subjects belong to philosophy proper and it is the third subject which brings the other two also into the domain of religion. As long as religion merely defines the nature of reality and seeks to lay down the true values of human activity, it is no more than philosophy and ethics, but when it seeks and promises to help human soul to take these truths to heart and to put them into action with the object of resolving the problem of suffering, which is inherent in the innermost core of man, the self-consciousness, then it becomes religion proper. Man can possibly keep his mind away from the intellectual problems of the mystery of universe, the nature of his own self and that of the world around him and the nature of the relationship that binds both, but he cannot help yearning and suffering. As Pascal has said, "Man is the only wretched creature that there is", and a religion which did not whole-heartedly tackle this problem would ring hollow. In this sense, Buddhism was eminently right when it declared that the basic problem, demanding resolution of religion is "sab dukhan", i.e., that all individuated conscious existence entails suffering, which means that suffering inheres in the very nature of the human individuality.
Sikhism is essentially a Religion of the Way, i.e., something that must be lived and experienced rather than something which may be intellectually grasped and comprehended. True, there can be no practice without the doctrine. Sikhism, therefore, has its doctrines, its views of reality, its view of the nature of man, and their interrelationship, but it lays primary stress on the practice, the discipline, "the way which leads to the cessation of suffering", as Gautam, the Buddha, had formulated it.
A careful reading and understanding of the contents of the Sikh scripture shows that the religion of Sikhism has three postulates implicit in its teachings.
|One, that there is no essential duality between the spirit and the matter.|
|Two, that man alone has the capacity to enter into conscious participation in the process of evolution, which further implicates that the process of evolution, as understood by the modern man, has come to a dead-end and it, therefore, must be rescued by the conscious effort of man who alone is capable now of furthering this process. |
|Three, that when man reaches the highest goal of evolution, namely, the vision of God, he must not be absorbed back into God of voidness, but must remain earth-conscious so as to transform this mundane world into a higher and spiritual mode of existence. Brahmgyani paropkar onmaha.|
The first of these propositions is a postulate of philosophy, though in the context of philosophic speculations of the world, it is startling enough. The view taken by Sikhism on this point is that the spirit and the matter are not antagonistic to each other, the one subtle, the other gross, and that the core of the human nature, wnich is self-conscious, and the physical nature, are accountable ultimately in terms of the subtle. The mathematico-physical aspect of the universe is as real as its subtle aspect is, though to a mode of consciousness which is pin-pointed and individuated, they appear to be poles apart. A true comprehension, however, which results from the religious discipline of sublimating and integrating the human faculties, removes this basic duality between the mind and the matter. "When I say truly, I knew that all was primeval. Nanak: the subtle and the gross are in fact identical.'  This assertion is repeated in the Sikh scripture again and again in exegesis of the basic formula of Sikhism given as the opening line of the Sikh scripture in which it is postulated that, "The Primary is true, the pre-Temporal is true, the Phenomena is true, and also the yet-to-be-evolved is true."  This view of reality, which Sikhism postulates, has far-reaching implications, both in respect of the traditional Hindu philosophy, and the problem of the true conduct for man. Firstly, it, in essence, repudiates the basic concept of Hindu thought embodied in the doctrine of maya, which is postulated as the illusory power which createth appearances and ignorance. True, the subtle Hindu mind characterises it as anirvachnEya, "unsayable whether is, or is not", "real, yet not-real", but it definitely is a veiling obscuring power of nature, and an agent of error and illusion, accountable for the manifestation of all phenomena. In Sikhism, the term maya is retained, but it is interpreted otherwise so as to make it not a category of existence, but a characteristic of a stage and plane in the involution of the spirit. The result of this reinterpretation is replete with tremendous consequences for the practical outlook of man. The world of phenomena is no longer a dream and a phantasmagoria in the minds of the gods, to be bypassed and shunned. It is as real, in fact, as the Ultimate Reality, but the perceiving human mind is beset with limitations that must be transcended and cut asunder before it can be seen thus. It is this that made it possible for Sikhism to lay down that the highest religious discipline must be practised while remaining active in the socio-political context, and not by giving up and renouncing the worldly life. It is this which has given the Sikh mind a sense of urgency, and imparted to it a genuine strain of extroversion which the Western mind has achieved only through adopting basically different postulates, such as, that this one life on earth is the only life a soul may look forward to till the end of time, and that the essence of the real is its characteristic of being the object of sensory-motor perception. It is the peculiar virtue of Sikhism that while it retains the primacy of the spirit over the matter, it prevents human life degenerating into the purely secular, utilitarian and expedient modes of activity. It is a further virtue of this postulate of Sikh religion that it lends the necessary sense of urgency to the mind of man,  and imparts to it an extrovert motivation in so far as it is essential to retain them for human welfare, material prosperity and spiritual advancement of this earth.
The second postulate inherent in the teachings of Sikhism is that the blind urge of evolution, after reaching the point of creating the self-conscious man, has come to a dead-end and, by itself now, it is incapable of making any further progress, unless the self-consciousness, in which is grounded the will of man, now takes a consciously guided and directed part to goad the evolutionary urge and guide it. "Hail the Guru, for, he teaches and aids the ascent of man over himself.'  This line of thought, in various forms, runs throughout the voluminous Sikh scripture, and it is legitimate to say that the concept of the 'superman', which agitated the mind of Nietzsche during the 19th century in Europe, and from whom the modern Indian thinker, Aurovindo Ghose, has taken his cue, is first of all and truly adumbrated in the Sikh scripture; and that the conscious effort of man alone is at this stage, capable of furthering the process of evolution that has gone so far to make and shape the material and human world, is now more or less accepted by the thinking modern minds.
But by far the most startling postulate of Sikhism is that the true end of man is not such a vision of God which culminates in re-absorption of the individual into the absolute reality, but the emergence of a race of God-conscious men, who remain earth-aware and thus operate in the mundane world of the phenomena, with the object of transforming and spiritualising it into a higher and more abundant plane of existence. "The God-conscious man is animatcd with an intense desire to do good in this world."8 In the past, the aim of the highest religious discipline was taken and accepted as the attainment of identity with or propinquity to God. It was not thought in terms of utilising the God-consciousness for transforming and spiritualizing the life on earth, and the humanity. It is this revolutionary postulate of Sikhism which is the true prototype of the sophisticated philosophy of the modern Hindu sage, Aurovindo Ghose, though there is no concrete evidence to suggest that he is directly indebted to the Sikh thought. Those, however, who know how basic and revolutionary postulates of this kind are capable of influencing men and minds, far separated by distance and time from the original epiphany of the doctrine, may perceive no difficulty in seeing the connection between the two. In this connection, it is interesting to recall that not long ago, when Ramakrishana Paramhansa, the modern Hindu savant, was at his most critical stage of theophanic development, it was a Sikh ascetic, Udasi Totapuri, who imparted to the Paramhansa the Sikh esoteric instruction efficacious for removing impediments on the spiritual path, and that is why the most illustrious chela of the Paramhansa, Swami Vivekanand, so often uttered and introduced into his writings, the Sikh mystic formula, Waheguru. Again, the Maratha upsurge of the 18th century, the pride and symbol of the political consciousness and self-respect of the modern Hindu nationalism, is admitted as having been directly inspired and nourished by the teachings of Ram Das Samarth, the spiritual guide of the great Shivaji, and it is a true, though obscure, fact of history that Ram Das Samarth is directly indebted to the Sikh teachings as imparted to him when he met the Sixth Nanak, Guru Hargobind, in Kashmir, in 1634. As the Gurmukhi manuscript (Khalsa College Library, Amritsar, circa 1780 ), Pothi Punjab Sakhian accounts, the Guru taught the Maratha saint that the essence of Sikhism is to be an ascetic within and secular without, for Guru Nanak taught mankind to transcend the little ego and the appearances and not to renounce the world, whereupon the Maratha saint exclaimed: "This appeals to my mind." The inspirer and preceptor of the founder of the Arya Samaj, Vrijanand, a high-caste Brahmin, native of Kartarpur in the Punjab, had before settling down at Banaras as a Vedalearned man, imbibed the Sikh declaration that "unless the mankind pays heed to that which is true essence of all Veda, namely doctrine of the Name, they shall remain confused and misdirected.''  Be that as it may, the effects of the seminal ideas of Sikhism can be shown to have molded and shaped the entire history of modern India.
What is the discipline and the practice which Sikhism recommends as necessary and efficacious for attaining this God-consciousness, and for yoking it to the evolutionary urge for transformation of life and humanity on this earth, and on the plane of mundane existence? It is the doctrine and practice of the Name. "In the age through which humanity is passing now, no other practice but that of the Name is efficacious. Therefore, practice the discipline of Name.'' [1l] This message is repeated again and again in the Sikh scripture. "O, my soul, there is no help but in the Name; other ways and practices are not so sure.''[l2]
Now, what is this 'discipline of the Name', which Sikhism teaches as the essence of the religion for mankind in the present age?
In the history of religion, broadly speaking, five paths have been recognised as efficacious for leading to liberation, i.e., for achievement of the summum bonum of religion:
|(1) disinterested action, known as the Karmayoga in Hindu religious thought;|
|(2) devotion, known as bhakti;|
|(3) gnosis, the jnan;|
|(4) the ritual, known as yajna; and|
|(5) asceticism, maceration or tapas.|
This fifth and the last path to liberation is a typical Indian contribution to the history of religious practices. All the other four have been, more or less, universally accepted in some form or other, with varying degrees of stress on each, as valid paths to liberation. In the Sikh scripture, the first three are variously mentioned and subsumed under the inclusive title, 'the discipline of the Name'. No logically systematic account of the theory or practice of the Name is given in the Sikh scripture, however, for the idiom of the writings itself forbids such an approach, but throughout its voluminous pages it is stressed again and again with a wealth of metaphor and imagery, illustrative material and exposition, that, at the present stage of mankind the discipline of the Name is the only suitable and efficacious practice for leading to the vision of God and for achieving the unitive experience of the Numenon. The discipline of Bhakti and discipline of Karma, the disinterested works, is also mentioned variously, commended and praised but throughout it is tacitly assumed that it is a part and parcel of the generic discipline, "the practice of the Name." The limitation and the sickness in the soul of man can be removed only by mercerizing it with the chemical of the Name.  The vision of God is not easier to have by any other endeavor than that of the Name and man engages in this effort only by good fortune, for all the other disciplines and practices pale into insignificance before the practice of the Name.  It is asserted that the true knowledge is a fruit of the practice of the Name, and that devotion, Bhakti, is a corollary of the discipline of the Name. [l6] It is further said that disinterested action, the practice of Karmayoga, is a natural disposition and propensity of the man in whom the discipline of the Name is ripened. Prabhu kau simarahi se paropkari. 
It is clear, therefore, that Sikhism teaches a religious discipline which is in essence a practice which includes the techniques of yoga, the psychological and spiritual integration, the technique of bhakti, the supreme training of the emotions in the service of one supreme end, and a socio-politically active life motivated not by the little ego of the individual, but by an individual self which is yoked to the universal self.
The technique of yoga has aroused a great deal of interest in the West and in the whole of the modern world during the recent years, but mostly as a technique for achieving mental poise and physical health, though this is not the true purpose of the science of yoga as originally conceived. The concept of yoga, though, not the term, is as old as the Rig Veda itself. That the Vedic material is complex is recognized in the Nirukta itself which takes account of several methods of its exegesis. In recent times, particularly by Western scholars of archaeology, it has been suggested that Vedic material is primarily historical events transmuted into myth. It is said by others that it consists of poetic exordium to the Brahminic ritual. There is then a theory, recently revived by Sri Aurovindo Ghose, that the Veda is a vast piece of symbolism representing the passions of the soul and its striving for highest spiritual realms, a concept which he himself has adopted as the prototype of his great poem, the Savitri. Again, Bergaigne suggested the theory that all mythological portrayals in the Veda are variants of the sacred fire and the sacrificial liquor, the Soma. Whatever maybe said about this last as a general theory of interpretation of the Vedas, it has the merit of suggesting a method which appears to be plausible, for, obscure Vedic texts assume some kind of coherence in general if in them we seek an attempt at portraying correspondences between the world of men, the performers of the yajna, and the immaterial ethereal world of the gods, in short, the microcosm and the macrocosm. The primary function of the rishis, the revealers and preservers of the Veda, was to ensure the ordered functioning of the mundane world, and of the religious ritual, by reproducing the succession of cosmic events in their ritual and in the imagery which that ritual embodies, and this is the true meaning that tne Vedic ritual signified. The term rita, the basic concept of Vedic imagery, is a designation of the cosmic order which sustains the human order, the social ethics and the social coherency. Terms such as dhaman, kratu, have a two-fold significance according to whether they refer to men or the gods, to the plane of the adhyatmam or the adhidaivatam, as the Upanishads point out. Thus understood, the Veda portrays the cosmic magical synthesis, symbolically expressed. The cosmic order is conceived as a vast yajna, the prototype of the yajna which the men must perform so as to ensure the integration of the two. Thus, Vedism is already a form of collective, communist yoga in which the gods and men both play their parts as witnesses and participants. It is this strain of thought which accounts for the yearning of the Hindu mind that constantly seeks hidden correspondences between things which belong to entirely different conceptual systems. The science and the technique of yoga, as it has been developed in India for thousands of years, is thus as old as the Hindu thought itself. The term comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to yoke or join together. As the specific science of spiritual discipline, it is intended to signify the union of the individual self with the universal self, the vision of God or the absorption into God. As an art, the technique of yoga has been used, since the beginning of Hindu historical times, as the archaeological discoveries recently made in the Indus valley, Mohenjodaro, show, where a big tank surrounded by unventilated cubicles, designed to ensure deoxygenation calculated to alter body chemistry facilitative of introvertion, has been unearthed, lending support to the speculation that already in the millennia before the dawn of the Christian Era, the art and practice of yoga was well-developed and well-established. Its techniques and teachings have been accumulated through a continuous stream of adepts who have handed them down from generation to generation. Patanjali, a Hindu savant of the 4th century B.C., is the author of the text Yogasutra, which is now the most ancient text extant on the science of yoga, though its opening sutra says, "Now, a revised text of yoga", which makes it clear that this text is, by no means, the first of its kind, The philosophical basis of this system of yoga, as expounded by Patanjali, is the Sankhya which teaches that the world order is risen and is an expansion of the highest kind of intelligence, the Mahat; that there is no part without an assignable function, a value, a purpose; that there is always an exact selection of means for the production of definite ends; that there is never a random aggregation of events; that there is order, regulalion and system. It postulates two ultimate realities, the spirit and the matter, the purusha and the prakriti, to account for all experience, as logical principles out of which all things evolve. The fundamental tenet of the Sankhya is that creation is impossible, for something cannot come out of nothing, ex nihilo nihilfit, and that the real movement, therefore, only consists of modification. This is the central doctrine of the Sankhya, and is called, satkaryavada, (Sankhya Karika, 9) and its whole system evolves from this as its logical ground. The Sankhya divides this process of cosmic modification into 25 categories of mind and matter, and shows how the whole phenomena has evolved out of these two sources in accordance with these categories. The philosophy of orthodox yoga postulates that what is true of this macrocosm is also true of the human microcosm and that, as the individual soul has involuted, through a set process, out of the universal Spirit, it can, by the reverse process, evolute into the universal spirit. The yoga assumes that the individual soul is the part and parcel of the universal substance, but so involved in the context of time and space as to have lost all his own and original position, to absolve him from the clutches of matter and to return to the essence from which he came, and thus to abstract him from every aspect of time and space.
Since Sikhism abolishes the duality of mind and matter, it, by implication, refuses to base the philosophy of its discipline of the Name on the orthodox categories of the Sankhya. The Sikh doctrine of the Name does not assume the traditional cosmological theory as set forth in the Sankhya system, but it does assert that the basic sickness of the human soul arises out of its individuation, its involution and descent from the universal Spirit, and that the cure and health lies in a process of evolution towards its primal source, which is God. For this, it recommends a psychological technique, the first step and ingredient of which is the mechanical repetition of the Name of God accompanied by a constant and unceasing effort to empty the individual mind of all its sensory and ideational contents, conscious as well as sub-conscious.  Since Sikhism recommends that religion must be lived and practised in the socio-political context, it has modelled this practice of the yoga of the Name so as to make it possible and practicable for a person to pursue this discipline simultaneously while engaged in earning honest livelihood. The complicated technique of yoga, as laid down in the text of Patanjali, and the philosophical concepts by which it is validated, both go together and the earning of livelihood and this practice of the yoga, as it is explicitly laid down, cannot go together. In Sikhism, this predicament has been trancended by evolving a technique which is at once practicable and efficacious. This practice of thc Name is mechanical to start with, but has its dynamic adjuncts, without which it cannot succeed. The first adjunct is the ethical life. The Sikh scripture lays constant stress on it that unless a man leads an ethical life, he cannot come nigh unto God, although Sikhism does not confuse the ethical commandment and value with the religious experience and value as such. A Sikh, engaged in the discipline of Name, himself must lead a life of the highest ethical purity, in word, thought and deed, every faltering from this path of rectitude constitutes a stumbling block in the path of his ultimate realisation of God. "A man of religion must be wholly motivated by ethical rules of conducts.''  He is bidden to rely upon prayer and the company of holy men to support and sustain him in his life of ethical rectitude. As he progresses in the path of spiritual realisation, he must deem it as his duty to persuade and help others to tread the same path through socio- political activity which must be progressively purifled of all taints of selfishness. This is the doctrine of seva of Sikhism, without which, the Sikhism declares, the practice of Name does not fructify.
It is further laid down in the Sikh scripture that the discipline of Name must be constantly vitalised by bhakti, devotion to God. "Increase your devotion to God in an ever-ascending measure so that your mind may be wholly purified." The word bhakt, has the literal meaning of 'well joined'. The word, bhakti, occurs in the Svetasvetara, the ancient Hindu text, which Otto Schrader in his Der Hinduismus (Tubingen, 1930, p. 1) calls, "the gateway to Hinduism", although the earlier, Panini, in his Grammar, also appears to refer to it (IV. iii. 95-98). It was the bhakti principle which brought about the transition from the neuter to the personal principle in Hindu religious speculation. Since bhakti is 'joining with' or 'participation' in God, it presupposes an object distinct from the subject. A purely monistic environment, such as the Sikh doctrine projects, is not a very fertile ground for bhakti. Bhakti, therefore, has always been better adapted to a Vaisnavite background wherein a personal God is postulated as assuming human and sub-human forms in the phenomenal world. The orthodox Hindu theory of bhakti is that, a God without attributes is inaccessible, and that, there must be an intercessor. Since Hinduism has no founder or prophet God-incarnate, the 'Word made flesh', as the Christians say, this intermediary synust be one of the human or subhuman forms of Vishnu, which he has assumed in various time-cycles of thc creation. This is the basic doctrine of Hindu bhakti, though gradually it has acquired many shades of secondary meanings. Since Sikhism does not countenance avtarvad, the doctrine of incarnation of gods of the God, it uses thc term bhakti, in its pristine sense of canalizing and sublimating the whole emotive energy of the individual to sustain the continuous yearning for a vision of God.  This form of bhakti, the Sikh scripture declares, is the necessary adjunct of the discipline of Name: Gurman mario karsanjog, ahinis ravai bhagat jogi. 
The last adjunct of the discipline of Name, thc Sikh scripture say