Sri Guru Granth Sahib and Contextual Theology
Before analytically studying the contextual theology of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the concept of contextual theology seems necessary to be clarified. Theology is such a discipline of knowledge, which has been developed to explain the religious conduct and practices in a rational manner. In Webster’s dictionary theology has been defined as under:
Theology: Rational interpretation of religious faith,. Practice and experience specially: a branch of systematic theology dealing with God and His relation to the world.”
In other words, theology is concerned with the with the rational explanation of religious faith and practices and tends towards defining God and His relationship with the creation. The traditional or classical theology which goes into the religious conduct and behaviour is mostly concerned with the other world and the divine power, the creator of the universe. Human life too is defined in this context only. The prevalent form of theology appears to deal more with the other world than this world. In the context of ever developing knowledge and science of the present day, a turning point has reached in religious thinking. As a matter of fact, the age we are living in today is called the age of explosion of knowledge. The rapid development of knowledge and technology in this century has put a question mark around many of the traditional beliefs and estsablishments; especially as a result of new developments in human science, science of language (linguistics), social science and psychology, such important insights have been obtained which have provided a new direction to the human experience and intellect. Thus the modern age is that of new learning which is according new meaning to the traditional knowledge and beliefs. In such a situation, it is natural that theology too should be influenced by this. The new cocept of theology which has come to the fore and in the building of which the new learning has played its role, addresses the present problems of human society and explains its implications. This theology can be given the name of Contextual Theology because it has been developed to make the heritage relavnt to the new conditions. What are the special features of this newly developed Contextual Theology? What are its problems? And how to study these problems? Keeping these basic questions in view, the distinct nature of this new discipline of knowledge can be explained. The Contextual Theology was built mainly keeping in view two problems. Firistly, it kept before it the new religious thinking and secondly, separting the religious conduct and practices from the other worldliness and trying to connect it with the problems of the living creatures (of this world).
The new thinking about religion begins gnereally with the initial writings of Marx, where religion, in the context of other worldliness, was regarded as such a system of beliefs as created false notions about reality. This false notion is ‘ideology’ the thought process, according to Marx. The traditional Marxism kept before it this basic insight only and regarded the religious conduct as a part of the super-structure built above the social and economic foundations. Thus the religious behaviour has been regarded as the behaviour directly influnced by the class interests. This view of relgion, has been influenced by Marxist thought. The moot point for discussion has been whether the religion is the symbolic outcome of the prevalent social-economic relationships or it has its own independent existence. To solve this problem, theory of creativity, symbolism and new Marxism have played a special role. Besides, the role of available insights into social science and human-scince is of no less importance.
The basic belief developed out of the new learning is that religion is a distinct type of cultural system. Its basic concern is to propagate the main principles of the reality of human life through symbolism. The religious conduct or practices makes use of such conceptual systems as are more often concered with the other world and this. But still the religious behaviour influences human society in a significant manner. It organizes the multitudes of people for a common endeavour; fosters unity and affinity. It is important to note that the present thinking has not taken literally the conceptualized religion, but has laid emphasis on symbols used for economic growth (and production). Thus the other-wordly face of relgion gets defined realistically through the medium of spirituality. This is a revolutionary view.This new and revolutionary view about religion, instead of rejecting it outright as a purely other- worldly pursuit, has accepted it as an important means of economic production like other forms of culture. The hold of this traditional heritage is still very strong in the mind of the people. This is the reason while people organized in the name of relgion had been used for achieving the political ends, this has given rise to tension and clash among various communities. It is the positive role of the religious forces that can be made to work for the welfare of the entire society or for meeting the narrow ends, wedge can also be created among people. The use of relgion for nefarious ends can be found extensively in human history but the moral forces also worked equally effectively as the basis of cultural revolutions. For example, the saints, bhagats and sufis of the medieval times wrested the control of relgion from the hands of the ruling classes, and made it the medium of a cultural revolution. It was a powerful attempt at organizing relgion as a strong force.
The example of many countries of Latin America and Poland is before us in the modern times where relgion was successfully used as the supplementary force for bringing in revolutions. In many countries of the third world, the liberation theology, black theology and dalit theology, etc. are the clear proof therefore which gave rise to new religious thinking. The different theologies, in their own cultural fields and in accordance with their own economic and political realities, gave new meanings to the traditional religious heritage.They point to the development of Contextual theology. But in the present day meaning thereof, Contextual theology cannot be accepted as the tool for pure political ends also as the elements of exisrentialism have become its constituents. Therefore it would have to be accepted as the symbolic faith concerned with the realities of life.
It has to be seen now how can the new Contextual Theology be constructed. As we have seen, relgion is the cultural system of presenting the realities of human life in spiritual context. The religious behaviour is generally seen expressing itself in other-worldly assumptions, myths and rituals as also through the sayings of the prophets as also the scriptures. This entire set up can be viewed in the light of symbolism on which is based its interpretation. But the question is that having regard to the principles of religious systems received in legacy, the type of religious practices institutionalized long back, how can the new or distinct Contextual Theology be evolved? This problem places us face to face with another problem under which a new interpretation is needed of the old values. Thus the solution seems to lie in viewing the available matter in the light of the new learning. While the classical theologies have been interpreted after studying the scriptures and discourses in their application to human race, the contextual theology has to be evolved in the context of its applicability to the present day human concerns which necessitates it redefining. It does not, however, mean that the religious legacy can be interpreted by this contextual theology in any manner it suits it. The fact of the matter is that the Contextual Theology tries to adopt the collective wisdom of the religious texts. The difference is only that in this process our mind is concentrated on the present day conditions, social and historical, and the problems connected therewith and revolves around the re-defining of religious discourse as symbolized therein.
After a brief explanation of the concept of Contextual Theology, we turn now to the point under our consideration. Our concern is to study the text of Gurbani in the light of the Contextual Theology and to reinterpret it. We have to see in this context that the man living in the present day society, is faced with serious problems concerning his existence and how far Gurbani goes to help him in solving these problems. For achieving this end, we will have to study the poetics of Gurbani and the various methodoligies adopted in this regard.
Gurbani is basically connected with the symbolism present in the hymns of Sidhas and Nathas. This can be seen by having a cursory look at the vocabulary used in gurbani. For example words like, sehaj (equipoise), sehaj sukh (the bliss of equipoise), naad (sound), bind (dot-sperm), anhad nad (unstrung sound), sunn (zero state), niranjan (without the effect of maya), nirban (salvation), surti (attention), nirt (dance), etc. are used in the Sidha-Natha tradition and the world like Ram (God), Hari (God), Hari Naam (God’s Name), Gobind (The sustainer of the universe), Bhagat (devotee), naad (sound) etc symbolize the nirguna bhagati (devotion to the Formless) or Saint tradition. Besides these, in Gurbani we find the use of words of Islamic concept also which presents its form risen above communal thinking. The important point to be noted here is that Gurbani holds a dialogue with the contemporary and previous thought and tends to create an original type of creative cohesion. This unique and distinct philosophy of Gurbani can be construed the original way of life expressed through it and can be accepted as the best presentation thereof.
Gurbani makes life and explanation of the universe and the Surpreme Truth and existence (true, truthful, true lord, Formless One, Brahm, Parbrahm, Doer of everything), as the basis of its conceptual system and regards human being as part of the same Supreme Light. The spiritual problem of man is that, living in the world, he becomes the victim of the illussion pervading it. This problem has been presented in a systematic way in Japuji Sahib:
Kiv sachyara hoyiai, kiv koodai tuttai paal.
Hukam razai chalna, Nanak likhya naal. (SGGS, p.1)
(How can one become truthful and break the walls of falsehood.
(The answer is) By submitting before His Will, sayeth Nanak, it is ordained.)
Evidently, falsehood, truth, truthful conduct, command, Will, Shabad (Word) are the codes connected with religion which need to be decoded to go deep into the import thereof. Falsehood and truth are significant symbols in Gurbani. They have been explained here and there in many places in Gurbani text. For example, the couplet in the beginning of Japuji can be studied –
‘Adi Sach, Jugadi Sach Hai bhi
Sach, Nanak Hosi Bhi Sach.’
(True in the beginning, True throughout the ages, Is True now
and shall be True, Nanak, for ever. )
God is the Truth which is Eternal. As against this, falsehood is that which is subject to destruction, temporary. Thus Truth is the symbol in Gurbani and conforming to Truth is the human problem which is sought to be solved in Gurbani through union with immortal, indestructible and eternal Truth. The solution has been linked with Hukam (His Comand). What is Hukam (Command)? According to Japuji, it is
‘Hukmai ander sabh ko bahar Hukam na koye.
Nanak Humai je bujhai, ta haumai kahai n koye.
(Everyone is subject to His Command, and none out of it. If one
follows His Command, Nanak, he will not be called egoistic.)
In other words, Hukam pervades throughout the universe as the symbol of spiritual system and nothing can be outside the purview of Hukam. But in the human context, Hukam has been placed against haumai (Ego) which becomes a special type of way of life. This way of life envisages living without caring for selfish motives or being surrounded by narrow approach of self-centred notions. Against this the life based on following the Hukam is indicative of universal consciousness –
‘Na ko bairi, nahi begaana,
sagal sang ham ko ban aiyee
(There is no enemy nor another one; we are supposed to live in amity with everyone).
Thus these religious symbols made use of in Gurbani point to the life in tune with the universe. What is the contemporary relevance of this type of way of life? This problem links us to the Contextual Theology.
The present socio-economic system developed after the decline of the feudal system in which a person is not only deprived of his work but also of himself. Individualism and consumerism are the symbols of its decay. Besides, the collapse of medieval thinking has become the problem of human way of life. With the rise of the philosophy of Reason (Logic), the cracking of beliefs gives birth to doubtful existence. Thus the human being suffers from a special kind of meaninglessness which is evidenced by his shattered existence. What is the message of Gurbani for such an individual, suffering from the meaninglessness and shattered existence? And what is the remedy for his ailment? These questions can be answered by Contextual Theology only. The meaning of getting away from Ego-centric way of life and to attain the state of being ‘Under His Command’, according to the present day context, is to get rid of narrow vision and to take to the way which awakens the great power of world view, which could help man in collecting the pieces of his shattered personality and to rise above the complex meaninglessness. In the Mool Mantra, the basic philosophy of Sikh faith, The Timeless (God) has been described as ‘free of fear’ and ‘free of animosity’ and this is the spiritual model connected with the real concerns of human life. Fear and enmity are destructive forces. If fear tends to destroy the diginity of man, enmity is a force which endagers one’s own and other’s existence. These words of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur have been said in this context only “
‘Bhai kahoo kau dait nahi, nahi bhai manat aan.(SGGS, p.1427)
From moral point of view this can be accepted as the best quality of human life wherein not only one’s own but others’ independent existence has also been respected. In the entire discourse of Gurbani, examples of this type of dignified, free of fear, free of animosity, way of life have been given at many places. For the building of the Contextual Theology of Gurbani, these religious symbols have to be separated from the other-wordly concept and studied and redefined in relation to the basic concerns of human life. Study of the vast treasure of Gurbani from this point of view is a gigantic task and a matter of serious research. Here we can only point to this direction. We cannot deny the meaningfulness of classical study, under which, according to Gurbani, the academic or compartive study of concepts like Brahm, Naam, Guru, Hukam, Srishti, etc. has brought to the fore many endeavours made in this direction but our submission here only is that making this important cultural text of Gurbani and rich spiritual heritage relevant to the present day man is of no less importance.
The second important aspect of the building up of the Contextual Theology of Gurbani is to take into account the historical concerns of the contemporary social/cultural life which confront us today. These problems are the economic exploitation of man by man and social injustice meted out to different classes of people, tyranny perpetrated, discrimination between man and misue of relgion in the political field, religious fundemantalism and communalism guided by this. The question that arises is whether the discourse of Gurbani can provide guidance or insight for the solution of these contemporary problems and can become a beacon of light in this regard? Certainly the discourse of Gurbani provides spiritual insight to deal with these problems. The need only is to study the message of Gurbani to make it relevant to the new context.
When we study the problem carefully we find that the social injustice and economic loot are built on the foundation of selfishness and narrow-mindedness. A way of life in which selfishness is give up and living under ‘His Will’ is accepted, can smash this foundation. When one sees the light of the same lamp in the entire universe, where would be the need for exploitation or injustice ?
Sabh mahi joti joti hai soye.
Tis dai chanana sabh mahi chanan hoye. (P.663)
(The same light shines in everyone. This light illuminates one and all.)
The realization of one light in all the creatures makes all distinctions of caste, class, lineage or the sex meaningless. In the present context, the insight into the atrocities being commited against the ‘Dalits’ (Down trodden) and the injustice meted out to them can be made the spiritual inspiration. In the hymns of the Bhagat poets included in Gurbani, a very clear message to this effect is available. A few lines in this regard-
‘Garabh vas mahi kul na jati.
Brahm bind tai sabh utpati.1. (Kabir)
(There is no distinction of caste or lineage in the womb of the mother. All are conceived and born of the Divine seed.)
Tum kat Brahman ham kat sood.
Ham kat lohu, tum kat doodh.(Kabir,p.324)
(How are you of high caste, and I of low
Blood flow in my veins, milk in yours?
Sabhai ghat Ram bolai.
Ram bina ko bolai re. (Namdev, p.988)
(God throbs in all hearts, None but God, verily.)
When Bhagat Ravidas, himself connected with the depressed class, says –
‘Aisi Lal tujh bin kaun karai?
Gharib nivaz gusaiyaan maira mathai chhatar dharai.
Ja ki chhot jagat kau lagai ta par tuhi dharai.
Neechah ooch karail maira Gobind, kahu te na darai’ (Ravidas,p.1106)
(Who except you can do this, my Lord?
The helper of the poor, my Master,
Puts the royal umbrella over the head.
Whose mere touch pollutes the people,
They receive thy compassion, Lord.
The sustainer of the universe, my Master,
Raises us from low to high positions.)
From these lines is seen the spiritual insight in its bright light for uplift of the depressed. As a matter of fact the entire thought process of Gurbani stands against Brahmanism and caste system and regarding the human being as part of the same Light, makes all the distinctions of no importance. Thus when we study the symbolism in Gurbani in the context of the present situation, we easily understand its relevance to the contemporary scene. This type of text read in the new light as a system can be used for building up Contextual Theology.