Outlines of Sikh Doctrines
Outlines of Sikh Doctrines: Principal Teja Singh
|MISSION OF THE HUMAN LIFE|
|THE GURU IN THE PANTH|
The aim of life, according to the Sikh Gurus, is not to get salvation or a heavenly abode called Paradise, but to develop the best in us which is God.
If a man loves to see God what cares he for Salvation or Paradise?
“Everybody hankers after Salvation, Paradise or Elysium, setting their hopes on
them every day of their lives. But those who live to see God do not ask for
Salvation: The sight itself satisfies their minds completely.”
How to see God and to love Him? The question is taken up by Guru Nanak in his Japji:
What shall we offer to Him that we may behold His council chamber?
What shall we utter with our lips, which may move Him to give His love?
In the ambrosial hours of the morn meditate on the grace of the true Name;
For, your good actions may procure for you a better birth, but emancipation is
from Grace alone.
We should worship the Name, believe in the Name, which is ever and ever the
same and true.
The practice of the Name is prescribed again and again in the Sikh Scriptures, and
requires a little explanation.
God is described both as nirgun, or absolute, and sargun, or personal. Before there was any creation God lived absolutely in Himself, but when He thought of making Himself manifest in creation He became related. In the former case, when God was Himself self-created, there was none else; He took counsel and advice with Himself; what He did came to pass. Then there was no heaven, or hell, or three-regioned world. There was only the Formless One Himself; creation was not then. There was then no sin, no virtue, no Veda or any other religious book, no caste, no sex.
When God became sargun or manifest, he became what is called the Name, and in order to realize Himself He made nature where in He has His seat and is diffused everywhere and in all direction in the form of Love.
In presenting this double phase of the Supreme Being, the Gurus have avoided the pitfalls into which some people have fallen. With them God is not an abstract idea or a moral force, but a personal Being capable of being loved and honored, and yet He is conceived of as a Being whose presence is diffused all over His creation. He is the common father of all, fashioning worlds and supporting them from inside, but He does not take birth. He has no incarnations. He Himself stands for the creative agencies, like the Maya, the World and Brahma; He Himself is Truth, Beauty and the eternal yearning of the heart after Goodness (Japji). In a word, the Gurus have combined the Aryan idea of immanence with Semitic idea of transcendence, without taking away anything from the unity and the personal character of God.
O! give me, give some message of my Beloved.
I am bewildered at the different accounts I have of Him.
O happy devoted souls, my companions, say something of Him.
Some say that He is altogether outside the world;
Others say that He is altogether contained in it.
His color is not seen; His features cannot be made out; O happy devoted souls
tell me truly.
He lives in everything; He dwells in every heart;
Yet He is not blended with anything; He is separate.
“Why dost thou go to the forest in search of God?
He lives in all, is yet ever distinct; He abides with thee too. As fragrance dwells in a flower, or reflection in a mirror, So does God dwell inside everything; seek Him therefore in the heart.
People who come with preconceived notions to study Sikhism often blunder in offering its
interpretation. Those who are conversant with the eastern thoughts fix upon those passages which refer to the thoughts of immanence and conclude that Sikhism is nothing but and echo Hinduism, while those who are imbued with the Mohammedan or Christian thought take hold of transcendental passages and identify Sikhism with Islam or Christianity. Others who know both will see here no system, nothing particular, nothing but confusion.
If however, we were to study Sikhism as an organic growth evolved from the existing systems of thought to meet the needs of a newly evolving humanity, we would find no difficulty in recognizing Sikhism as a distinct system of thought.
Take, for instance, Guru Nanak’s Asa-ki-Var, which in its preliminary stanzas lays down the fundamentals of Sikh belief about God. it is a trenchant clear-cut monotheism. God is called the in-dweller of Nature, and is described as filling all things ‘by an art that is artless’. He is not an impotent mechanic fashioning pre-existing matter into the universe. he does not exclude matter, but transcends it. The universe too is not an illusion. Being rooted in god who is real, it is a reality; not a reality final and abiding, but a reality on account of God’s presence in it. His Will is above Nature as well as working within it, and in spite of its immanence it acts not as an arbitrary force but as a personal presence working most intelligently.’ The first thing about God is that He is indivisibly one, above every other being, however highly conceived, such as Vishnu, Brahma, or Shiva, or as Rama and Krishna. The second thing is that He is the highest moral being, He is not a God belonging to any particular people, Muslim or Hindu, but is ‘the dispenser of life
universal’. The ways to realize Him are not many, but only one, and that way is not knowledge, formalism, or what are received as meritorious actions which establish a claim to reward, but love and faith, the aim being to obtain the grace of God.
The only way of worshiping Him is to sing His praises and to meditate on His name.
UPLIFT OF MAN BASED ON CHARACTER
This life of praise is not to be of idle mysticism, but of active service done in the midst of wordly relations. “There can be no worship without good actions.” These actions, however, are not to be formal deeds of so-called merit, but should be inspired by an intense desire to please God and to serve fellow-men.
“Without pleasing God all actions are worthless.
Repetition of mantras, austerities, set ways of living, or deeds of merit leave us
destitute even before our journey ends.
You won’t get even half a copper for your fasts and special programmes of life.
These things, O brother, won’t do there: for the requirements of that way are quite
You won’t get a place there for all your bathing and wandering in different
There means are useless’ they cannot satisfy the conditions of that world.
Are you a reciter of all the four Vedas? There is no room for you there.
With all your correct reading, if you don’t understand one thing that matters, you
only bother yourself.
Nanak says, if you exert yourself in action, you will be saved. Serve your God
and remember Him, leaving all your pride of self.
The Gurus laid the foundation of man’s uplift, not on such short-cuts as mantras, miracles or mysteries, but on man’s own humanity, his own characters already formed which helps us in moral crises. Life is like a cavalry march. The officer of a cavalry on march has to decide very quickly when to turn his men left or right. he cannot wait until his men are actually on the brink of a nulla or khud. He must decide long before that. In the same way, when face to face with an evil, we have to decide quickly. Temptations allow us no time to think. They always come suddenly. When offered a bribe or an insult, we have to decide at once what course of action we are going to take. We cannot then consult a religious book or moral guide. We must decide according to our impulse. And this can be done only if virtue has so entered into our disposition that we are habitually drawn towards it, and evil has got no attraction for us. Without securing virtue sufficiently in character, even some of the so-called great men have been known to fall
an easy prey to temptation. It was for this reason that for the formation of character the Gurus did not think it sufficient to lay down rules of conduct in a book; they also thought it necessary to take in hand a whole people for a continuous course of schooling in wisdom and experience, spread over many generations, before they could be sure that the people thus trained had acquired a character of their own. This is the reason why in Sikhism there have been ten founders, instead of only one.
Before the Sikh Gurus, the leaders of thought had fixed certain grades of salvation, according to the different capacities of men, whom they divided into high and low castes. They development of character resulting from this was one-sided. Certain people, belonging to the favored classes, got developed in them a few good qualities to a very high degree, while others left to themselves got degenerate. It was as if a gardener, neglecting to look after all the different kinds of plants entrusted to him, were to bestow all his care on a few chosen ones, which were in bloom, so that he might be able to supply a few flowers every day for his master’s table. The Gurus did not want to have such a lop-sided growth. They want to give opportunities of highest development to all the classes of people.
There are lowest men among the low castes.
Nanak, I shall go with them. What have I got to do with the high castes?
God’s eye of mercy falls on those who take care of the lowly.
It is mere nonsense to observe caste and to feel proud over grand names.
Some work had already been done in this line. The Bhagats or reformers in the Middle Ages had to abolish the distinction between the high-caste Hindus and the so-called untouchables, by taking into their fold such men as barbers, weavers, shoemakers, etc. But the snake of untouchability still remained unscorched; because the privilege of equality was not extended to men as men, but to those individuals only who had washed off their untouchability with the love of God. Kabir, a weaver, and Ravidas, a shoemaker, were honored by kings and high-caste men, but the same privilege was not extended to other weavers and shoemakers who were still held as untouchables. Ravidas took pride in the fact that the love of God has so lifted him out of his caste that even “the superior sort of Brahmins came to bow before him,” while the other members of his caste, who were working as shoemakers in the suburbs of Ben ares, were not so honored.
The Sikh Gurus made this improvement on the previous idea that they declared the whole humanity to be one and that a man was to be honored, not because he belonged to this or that caste or creed, but because he was a man, an emanation from God, who had given him the same senses and the same soul as to other men:
Recognize all human nature as one.
All men are the same, although they appear different under different influences,
The bright and the dark, the ugly and the beautiful, the Hindus and the Muslims,
have developed themselves according to the fashions of different countries.
All have the same eyes, the same ears, the same body and the same build- a
compound of the same four elements.
Such a teaching could not tolerate any ideas of caste or untouchability. Man rose in the estimation of man. Even those who had been considering themselves as the dregs of society and whose whole generations had lived as groveling slaves of the so-called higher classes, came to be fired with a new hope and courage to lift themselves as equals of the best humanity.
Women too received their due. “How can they be called inferior,” says Guru Nanak, “when they give birth to kings and prophets?” Women as well as men share in the grace of God and are equally responsible for their actions to Him. Guru Hargobind called woman “the conscience of man.” Sati was condemned by the Sikh Gurus long before any notice was taken of it by Akbar.
The spirit of man was raised with a belief that he was not a helpless creature in the hands of a Being of an arbitrary will of his own, with which he could do much to mold his destiny. Man does not start his life with a blank character. he has already existed before he is born here. He inherits his own past as well as that of his family and race. All this goes to the making of his being and has a share in the moulding of his nature. But this is not all. He is given a will with which he can modify the inherited and acquired tendencies of his past and determine his coming conduct. If this were not so, he would not be responsible for his actions. This will, again, is not left helpless or isolated; but if through the Guru’s Word it be attuned to the Supreme Will, it acquires a force with which he can transcend all his past and acquire a new character. This question of human
will as related to the Divine Will is an intricate one and requires a little elucidation.
According to Sikhism, the ultimate source of all that is in us is God alone. Without Him there is no strength in us. Nobody, not even the evil man, can say that he can do anything independent of God. Everyday moves within the Providential domain.
Thou art a river in which all beings move:
There is none but Thee around them.
All living things are playing within Thee.
The fish may run against the current of the river or along with it, just as it likes, but it cannot escape the river itself. Similarly man may run counter to what is received as good or moral, but he can never escape from the pale of God’s Will.
Then who is responsible for his actions? Man himself. We learn from the first shlok of Asa-ki-Var’s 7th pauri that man is given free will, which leads him to do good or evil actions, to think good or evil thoughts and to go in consequence to Heaven or Hell:
Governed by his free will he laughs or weeps:
Of his free will he be grimes or washes himself;
Of his free will he degrades himself from the order of human being:
Of his his free will he befools himself or becomes wise.
In the next shlok we read:
Self-assertion gives man his individuality and leads him to action:
It also ties him down to the world and sends him on a round of births and deaths.
Wherefrom comes this assertion of self? How shall it leave us? It comes to man
from the Will of God and determines his conduct according to his antecedents.
It is an extremely harmful disease; but there is also remedy for it.
When God sends grace to man, he begins to obey the call of the Guru.
Nanak says; Hear ye all, this is the way to cure the disease.
The source of evil is not Satan or Ahriman, or any other external agency. It is our own sense of Ego placed by God in us. It may prove a boon or a curse to us, according as we subject ourselves to God’s Will or not. It is the overweening sense of self that grows as a barrier between God and man and keeps him wandering from sin to sin-
The Lord and the Consort live together, with a partition of Ego between them.
The infinite is within us, engraved in our being, like a cipher which is gradually unfolding its meaning as we listen to the voice of the Teacher. It is like the light of the sun ever present, but shut out of our sight by the cloud of ignorance and selfishness. We sin as long as this light remains unmanifested and we believe in our own self as everything to us.
Regeneration comes when, at the call of Grace, we begin to subject our tiny self to the highest Self, that is God, and our own will is gradually attuned to His Supreme Will, until we feel and move just as He wishes us to feel and move.
Really the problem of good and evil is the problem of Union and Disunion with God. All things are strung on God’s Will, and man among them. As long as man is conscious of this, he lives and moves in unions with Him. But gradually led away by the overweening sense of self he cuts himself away from that unity and begins to wander in moral isolation. It is however, so designed in the case of man that whenever he wishes he can come back to the bosom of his Father and God and resume his position there. Guru Nanak says in Maru:
By the force of Union we meet God and enjoy Him even with this body;
And by the force of Disunion we break away from Him:
But Nanak, it is possible to be united again.
When we come into this world, we begin our life with a certain capital. We inherit our body from our parents, and there are divine things in us, as ‘the spirit and progressive tendencies,’ which serve as forces of Union and keep us united with god. But there are also evil tendencies in us inherited from our past lives which serve as forces of Disunion and draw us away from Him towards moral death. Guru Nanak says in Maru:
Man earns his body from the union of his mother and father;
And the Creator inscribes His being with the gifts of the spirit and progressive
But led away by delusion he forgets himself.
This teaching about the freedom of will and ‘progressive tendencies’ raises the spirit of man and gives him a new hope and courage. But that is not enough to enable him to resist evil and to persist in positive virtue. The temptation of evil is so strong and the human powers for resisting it-inspire of the inherent progressive tendencies-are so weak that it is practically impossible for him to fulfill that standard of virtue which is expected of him. It was this consciousness of human weakness which made Farid say:
The Bride is so weak in herself, the Master so stern in His commands.
That is, man is endowed with such weak faculties that he stumbles at each step,
and yet it is expected of him that He should always speak the truth, and never tell
O ignorant man beware of sin.
He should not step on the bed of another’s wife even in dream.
These commands cannot be fulfilled simply with the strength of knowledge and inherited tendencies. They will not go far even in resisting evil. The higher ideal of leading a life positive virtue and sacrifice is absolutely impossible with such a weak equipment. Then what is to be done?
The prophets of the world have given many solutions of this problem. Some get around the difficulty by supposing that there is no evil. It is only a whim or a false scare produced by our ignorance. They believe in the efficacy of Knowledge. Others believe in the efficacy of Austerities; still others in Alms given in profusion to overwhelm the enormity of sin. There are, again, a higher sort of teachers who inculcate the love of some great man as a Savior. What was the solution offered by the Sikh Gurus?
They saw that although it was difficult for a man to resist evil and to do good with his own powers, yet if he were primed with another personality possessing dynamic, he could acquire a transcendental capacity for the purpose. This personality was to be the Guru’s.