THE SIKH RELIGION
ITS GURUS, SACRED WRITINGS AND AUTHORS
BY MAX ARTHUR MACAULIFFE
INTRODUCTION : CHAPTER III
India contains a population who profess many religions. It would be a great mistake to put them all on the same footing. Some make for loyalty and others for what we may call independence. Some religions appear to require State support, while others have sufficient vitality to dispense with it. The Jewish religion has survived for many centuries without a temporal head and in the face of endless persecutions. Islam has spread in many lands, and does not solicit or require much support from temporal power. Muhammadans only claim the free exercise of their religion, and this is allowed them in India. Many members of other religions, believing that they are direct emanations from heaven, may not suppose that they require State countenance or support, but the student of comparative theology must be allowed to entertain a different opinion.
Our little systems have their day:
They have their day and cease to be.
To enumerate a few instances. When Constantine, the Roman Emperor of the West, after his conversion to Christianity, withdrew his support from the ancient religion of his country, it rapidly declined. Then vanished, in the words of Coleridge,
The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of the old religion,
Its power, its beauty, and its majesty.
Budhism flourished in India, its parent home, many centuries ago, but the successors of the renowned Asoka, who were not so spiritual or enlightened as he, allowed their religion to be completely banished from Indian soil, like an exile, to find in foreign lands the repose and acceptance
it had vainly sought in its own country: The great Emperor Akbar, by an eclectic process, evolved what he considered a rational religion from Islam, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism, but it perished when it received no support but rather opposition from his son Jahangir. The religion of the Cross was banished from its parent home of Judaea and supplanted by the religion of the Crescent. Christianity, however, or the civilization which passes under its name, gained in other countries much more than it lost in its own. Organization and the material forces by which it is maintained have obviously contributed to that result.
The Emperor Akbar’s historian, Abul Fazl, very clearly saw the advantage of State support to a religion. He says in his Ain-i-Akbayi: ‘Men of deep insight are of opinion that even spiritual progress among a people would be impossible, unless emanating from the king, in whom the light of God dwells.’
As Budhism without State support completely lost its hold in India, so it is apprehended that without State support Sikhism will also be lost in the great chaos of Indian religious systems.
The dialects and languages of the Gurus are now largely forgotten. There are no readable or trustworthy commentaries or translations of their compositions in any language, and the Sikhs find it difficult or impossible to understand them. Added to this is the custom of writing the sacred hymns without any separation of words. As there is no separation of words in Sanskrit, the gyanis, or interpreters of the Gurus’ hymns, deem it would be a profanation to separate the words of their sacred writings. It cannot be said that the object of the gyanis has been to keep all divine knowledge to themselves, but at any rate the result is, that the Sikh laity have now thrust aside the gyanis and their learning, and are content to dispense with both.
The sequel is a general relapse to Hinduism, which is principally a system of domestic ritual. Hinduism has six philosophical systems, two of which, the Sankhya and Mimansa, if pushed to their legitimate consequences, are practically
atheistical. The followers of the Hindu god Shiv may curse the followers of the Hindu god Vishnu, and the followers of Vishnu may retaliate on the followers of Shiv. To be deemed an orthodox Hindu it is only necessary to be born in Hinduism and to conform to certain external observances, such as not eating or touching what its followers believe to be unclean, avoiding contact with persons who are deemed of lower caste, cooking food in a particular manner, and not allowing the shadow of strangers to fall on it. The old Levitical Law of Moses and its accessory regulations were sufficiently strict, but Hinduism surpasses all the religions that have ever been invented in a social exclusiveness which professes to be based on divine sanction.
Truly wonderful are the strength and vitality of Hinduism. It is like the boa constrictor of the Indian forests. When a petty enemy appears to worry it, it winds round its opponent, crushes it in its folds, and finally causes it to disappear in its capacious interior. In this way, many centuries ago, Hinduism on its own ground disposed of Budhism, which was largely a Hindu, reformation; in this way, in a prehistoric. period, it absorbed the religion of the Scythian invaders of Northern India; in this way it has converted uneducated Islam in India into a semi-paganism; and in this way it is disposing of the reformed and once hopeful religion of Baba Nanak. Hinduism has embraced Sikhism in its folds; the still comparatively young religion is making a vigorous struggle for life, but its ultimate destruction is, it is apprehended, inevitable without State support. Notwithstanding the Sikh Gurus’ powerful denunciation of Brahmans, secular Sikhs now rarely do anything without their assistance. Brahmans help them to be born, help them to wed, help them to die, and help their souls after death to obtain a state of bliss. And Brahmans, with all the deftness of Roman Catholic missionaries in Protestant countries, have partially succeeded in persuading the Sikhs to restore to their niches the images of Devi, the Queen of Heaven, and of the saints and gods of the ancient faith.