SIKHISM AND THE 21ST CENTURY
Dr. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia
Religion in its broadest, general sense implies a belief that this-worldly earthly life and man’s ethical, social, economic and political activities have sense and significance, value and validity, sanctity and legitimacy only with reference to some ‘outside’, transcendental reality for principal. Material reality , being considered dependent upon or derived from spiritual reality, is thought of as having no autonomy, no internal principle of dynamism of its own. The nature of the other-worldly value-source and of its relationship with this-worldly reality, and particular with man, is differently perceived and conceptualized in different religions; but in their generality almost all religions – original Buddhism being an notable exception – invest earthly life with meaning and purpose in terms of some super- reality outside, behind or beyond the phenomena of time and space. This general belief, till the advent of the renaissance age in the west, resulted, on existential level, in the coalescence of the religious and the secular, and/or the predomination of the religious authority, edicts and institutions over the secular authority and its laws and institutions.
Modern civilization, heralded by the western renaissance and other correlative movements, brought about a turning point in the relationship of the two domain through different routes – philosophical, sociological and political. The most significant and revolutionary breakthrough in old modes of thinking came about with Certesian dualism of mind and matter, which with one stroke rendered material reality both insulated against and liberated from non-material reality, thus paving the way for exploration of material phenomena in terms of their own internal, autonomous patterns, principles and laws, without any reference to the so-called transcendental ones. Philosophy of empiricism stressed that reality was knowable to man only through the senses and apart from the sensory mode, man has no other intuitive, mystical or revelational access to reality. The unknowable – that not knowable through the sensory mode – became indistinguishable from nothingness, leaving it to the mystics to lend any substance, attribute or meaning to this ‘nothingness’ (shunya). On another level, this new secular mode of thinking brought in the philosophy of humanism, which asserted that it is man who is the measure of all things and not any ‘outside’, transcendental reality or principle. The normative in man’s life is historically given and not transcendentally determined – this was claimed by different varieties of historicism – evolutionary, dialectical, etc. Existentialism postulated that particular ‘existence’ of the individual is prior to and more significant than the ‘essence’ standing for the ideals that are treated only as secondary abstractions from the given particularities; the transcendental absolutes are thus totally knocked out form man’s reckoning of what is significant in life. Freudian psychology would like us to believe that it is not God Who created man, but man who created God as a projection from within the sub-conscious repressions.
The cumulative result of the above philosophies and ideologies since the sixteenth century was that man’s life, his realm of reality, derived its sense and significance, value and validity, sanctity and legitimacy not form any outside or noumenal or transcendental source but form within the this-worldly reality, from within the manifold of phenomena, from within the phenomenal reality, from within the concrete existence of man.
The above are some of the ideological strands that constitute the fabric of the modern (Western) civilization. The world view of the modern civilization is, essentially, influenced by dualism and dichotomy of reality – ontological and epistemological – coupled with reductionist methodology. The noumenal was demarcated from the phenomenal, the spiritual was separated off from the terrestrial; mind was cut off from matter; the transcendental was counterpoised to the empirical; the world hereafter was differentiated away form the world here and now; the sacred was opposed to the profane, the mental-psychological life of man was seen as divorced from the physical spect; the religious life of the individual was treated as unconnected and unconcerned with his secular (social, economic, political) life. Correspondingly, there prevailed the dichotomous view of cognition characterized by the externality and dualism of the subject (the knower) and the object (the known). The resultant world view-dualistic dichotomous, reductionisitc, atomistic – is qualitatively different from a holistic view that treats reality in its concrete wholeness, integrality and inter-connectedness and inter-dependence. The traditional worldview, on a sociological level, implied a differential view of society in which hierarchy is accepted as the normative principle of social organization, Secualrism which is considered to be one of the highest achievements of the modern (Western) civilization – as against predomination of the ecclesiastical authority over the secular domain – is also based on dualism. And in this dualism – which treats the spritual-religious domain as distinguishable from the secular domain – lies the inadequacy of secularism in reconciling secular nationalism to religious nationalism. Writes Mark Juergensmeyer: ".there can ultimatley be no true convergence between religious and secular political idelogies." In fact, secular nationalism, politcal unitarianism (unitarian polity) and social homogenization – which, in a sense, refer back to ontological dualism, epistemological dichotomy and methodological reductionism – are correlative to each other and add strength to each other reciprocally. Western secularism has been adopted with some modifications in the developing countries of the East in the standard form of equidistance of the State from all religions. This kind of secularism having dualistically cut itself off from the spiritual domain of religion is ab initio incapacitated to positively accomodate within secualr polity the variety of faiths and diversity of religious comunities, the self-identites of which are, then, sought to be homogenized and sublated into secular nationalism. A monolothic unitarian polity is , accordingly sought to be erected on such an attempted homgenized social base. The nation-State demands absolute allegiance of the citizen to the exclusuion of his all other allegiances to his religion, community, culture and ethnicity.
The contradiction of the religious and the secular nationalism is one of the main factors in the rise of religious fundamentalism, the forms and courses of which are different in differnt countries depending upon the variables of time and place. The matrix of this contradiction is the dialectic of unitarianism and pluralism, which can be resolved only in a holistic view of reality in which religious and political pluralism would come to be seen as complementary to each other. This is how secular and religious natinalism would come to terms with each other, without the two being treated as mutually exclusive and without the one trying to subordinate the other.
The growing antagonism between religious nationalism on the one side and secular nationalism on the other side (which also marks a shift from class contradicitions to ethno-religious, ethno-social and ethn-political contradictions in the fourth quarter of the present century) is just one of the consequences of the (dualistic) worldview of the modern civilization. When we reflect back on the end-results of this civilization, the scenario that emerges, on different levels of life and society, is not encouraging at all. Exploration of the mechanics of nature, treated as existing independently of any organic, integral realtionship with man – has not yielded insight into the mystery of life. Economic development and technological advances have widened the gulf between the rich and the poor countries; economic disparities have increased within almost all of the countries of the world. Economic development stands divorced from social justice. An equalitarian global dispensation is no where in sight. Human rights violations, not only by terrorist groups but also by the State, have come to be seen as a "routine" phenomenon. Violence in intercommunity affairs is escalating. Terrorism, including State-sponsored terrorism within and across the antional borders, is on the increase everywhere. A new cold war is latent in international arena. Religious fundamentalism – the root cause of which has been referred to above – is not only affecting socio-political lifebut also eclipsing the liberal humanistic values and essentials of religion; the universaqlistic concerns of religion have been made subordinate to parochial concerns of religiousity. Religions assertiveness casts its shadow over religious dialogue. On macro-level, the eco-system of the earth is under unprecedented strains that threaten the very existence of life on this planet, Consumerism as a "value-less culture" is much more devastating than merely as an economic activity which drives the material resources of the developing countries into non-essential sectors; consumerism does not produce the goods to satisfy the wants; it rather, through high-profile adveritsements, publicity blitz, exhibitons, fashion shows, "produces" the wants to cater to which are produced the goods. Material affluence among the upper strata is growing side by side with impoverishment of the soul. Man is de-humanized. He has become a commodity, a consumer, a voter etc.He has become an "object", no more remaining the subject.
On the threshold of the 21st century, mankind is questing for a new worldview – a "paradigm shift" – a post-modern dispensation. Modern civilization – the ideological postulates and premises of which have been indicated above is in a sense, based on the primacy of Reason. At the beginning of the modern civilization the philosophy of rationalism took reason as the only way of knowing reality. The concurrent school of thought known as empiricism held the senses to be the primary source of knowledge. Soon the two schools of thought joined hands for propogation of the view that (the known) reality was constituted by the application of the active categories of understanding onto the passive discrete sense-data received from the senses. The structuring role of Reason led to the view that the very structure of reality is rational too. Kant stressed the rationality of human nature as well, and this rationality, with him, constituted the basis of ethical action and motivation of man. Reason was saluted as reigning supreme in all realms – nature, life, and society.
Paradoxically, the inadequacy of Reason was revealed by Reason itself, when it encounterd elementary particles which refused to behave in "rational" manner; they refused to disclose their simultaneous position and momentum at any given point of time. W. Heisenberg has sanctified this failure of Reason, this "unknowability" of elementary reality, in the form of the principle of Indereminacy. There was an impasse beyond which Reason could not go in its understanding of reality. The notion of the objectively "given" reality, with rational structure in the traditional sense, knowable independently of the knower (the observer), stands knocked out. The knower and the known are being seen as intertwined, mutually exclusive. It is being felt that the traditonal (dualistic, atomistic, reductionist) view is incapable of revealing the essence of reality, its mystery, its teleology. A new view – holistic – is needed that would see reality in its concrete (determinate) wholeness, in terms of integrality, inter-connectedness and inter-dependence – a view that would see the whole in the parts and the parts in the whole, envisioned as dynamic becoming and not static being.
This necessitates what is termed as the "paradigm shift" or the breakthrough of a new problematic in our thinking. This would not mean a negation of Reason but going, beyond it, to the realm of Spirit. On the eve of the 21st century, mankind is seen turning to spirit. The Absolute is not indeterminate Being (Vedantic Brahman), not abstract Platonic Idea; not the a priori Reason; not the existentialist Particular but Spirit (Karta Purakh in Sikh religion).
The post-modern concept is different from the Hegelian view that treated the Spirit’s development (Self-determination) only as a logical process and not as a temporal, historical process.
As religion is the realm of the revelations of Spirit from time to time, mankind, while approaching the next century, is looking upon religion in a new way; a quest for the Spirit of religion, flowing in different faiths, as distinct from its dogma hardened in different religiousities.
A true religion, like a prism, radiates out the Divine ray into a variety of colours with an inner unity. Unfortunately when a religion become a dogma, it tends to contain, to imprison, the Divine ray within its narrow bounds.
In the process of ushering in a new holistic world view for the post-modern global society of the 21st century, Sikhism can play a vital role both on metaphysical and sociological levels.
Sikhism is essentially a religion, the basic category of which is spirit and not Vedantic being (Brahman). The Absolute in Sikh religion is not only Sat (being), Chit (consciousness) and Anand (bliss) – as in Vedanta – but also Karta Purakh (creator). The Absolute, aboriginally indeterminate abstract Being (Ik Onkar), qua Crearor (Karta Purakh) becomes the determinate Spirit. God, as such, comes to have determinate relationship (Satnam) with His creation (nature, man) which reveals Him.
A number of qulitatively new metaphysical points – with revolutionary sociological implications – are involved in the Sikh concept of the Absolute as the dynamic Spirit. For the first time in the history of Indian speculative thought, Sikh metaphysics brought in the conception of historical time, of the historicity of time. Guru Nanak, the first of the ten Prophets of Sikhism, used a very significant expression : Aad Jugad – in his composition Japji.
To distinguish eternity of time from its createdness, Aad refers to logical beginning and Jugad refers to temporal, historical beginning. Spirit descends in time, in history, in historical time, which, in technical language, menas the Self-determination of the Spirit ( in an through the created world) in time, in history, in historical time. The Self-manifesting Spirit is revealed in different religions from time to time. Hence, no religion can claim to be the full and final revelation. Guru Nanak stresses, in the Japji, the inexhaustability of the attributes of the Divine and the relativity of the human modes of perception, and figuratively expresses this idea in this way; The brave sees God in the form of Might; the intellectual comprehends Him in the form of Light ( of knowlege); the aeshtete perceives the divine in His aspect of Beauty; the morlaist envisions Him as Goodness, etc.
Different revelations of the Spirit are like the variety of different seasons which refer back to the same Sun:
Numerous are the seasons emanating from the one Sun
Numerous are the guises in which the Creator appears
For Sikh religion, all revelations of God are equally co-valid, having been given to man relative to the variables of time and place. This rules out any room for dogmatic assertion of fullness and finality of any single religious revelation as well as for religious totalitarianism which is not accepted in Sikhism. Though Sikhism embraces the other-worldly concerns of man as well as the this-worldly concerns of society and State, it is not a totalizing ideology.
All revelations being relatively co-valid, no "ism" – religious or secular – can claim to be the sole way to God, the exclusive path to salvation.
The world is ablaze
O Lord shower your benediction,
Through whichever door it can be delivered
Save it that way
(Guru Amar Das)
This accounts for the basis and significance of religious pluralism in Sikhism. From here it follows that unity of different religions – or the global ethic – need not be artificially conceptualized on the basis of the lowest denominator common to all religions; it can rather be realized spontaneously on the basis that different religions are differetn stages of the revelation of the one and same Divine Spirit manigest in different forms in different faiths. The descent of the divine Spirit in time is, in a sense, the ascent of man in his spiritual development.
The conception of religious pluralism, as envisaged in Sikhism, provides a postive basis not only for co-validity and co-existence of different faith, in dynamic interaction with each other, but also for co-equality and co-existence of different religious and ethno-religious communities and their co-participation in the national body-politic of their respective countries. Here co-participation of the religious, ethno-religious or simply ethnic groups, or of the minorities – based on religion, region, ethnicity, culture etc. – means co-particiapation in their corporate capacities, through their own political organizations, representing the social collectivities with their respective self- identities which in no case should be diluted, homogenized or sublated into an over-arching "secular" nationalism of the Western type adopted and adpated in the third world countries. Political articulation of communitarian interests and aspirations by the minorities – religious, ethnic, etc. – should not be dubbed as communalism at variance with secularism.
In fact the holistic world view of Sikh religion brings forth a new plank for solving the dialectic of the religious and secualr nationalism. In Sikhism the relation between God and nature, including man, being that of the Creator with His creation, there remains no dualism between spiritual and phenomenal reality, the two domains are complementary to each other. Correspondingly, the religious and secular (political) domains are not seen as dualistically cut off from each other; secularism or secular nationalism need not be erected on the artificial dualism and compartmentalization of man’s integral religious, social, and political life. In the integral holistic view, the religious and the secular domain stand in relationship of complementarity and mutual compatibility on the one hand and relative autonomy on the other hand – This new model of secularism which would harmonize the secular with the religious nationalism is based, not on dualism, but on what may be called unity-in-differentiation.
Coming back to the question of the revelation of the Divine, the Spirit-in-history realizes Itself in "peoplehood", the sociological category of which, in the Sikh parlance, is known as the Khalsa.
This verily is the phenomenal form of the Timeless Who manifests Himself in the corporate body of the Khalsa.
-Prehlad Rai, author of Sikh
The Khalsa is my determinate form
I am immanent in the Khalsa
-Guru Gobind Singh
Spiritual spect of the Divine sovereignity is revealed in the Holy Word (Guru Granth) and the temporal aspect of the sovereign Spirit becomes diffused in the body-politic of Guru Panth.
(The Hegelian Spirit reaches its fullest manifestation in the institution of the nation State which he identified with the Prussian State; on the other hand, in Sikhism, it is the "peoplehood" and not the nation-State which is the vehicle for sovereign self-realization of Spirit). Here is a new mode of the Divine revelation on societal level. The conception of the Absolute (God, Brahman, Idea, etc.) becoming manifest in space (nature), or in the Word, or in the soul, has been recurring in both Western and Indian philosophy. But the idea of the Spirit, Self-determinating in history and then getting diffused in the Khalsa, in peoplehood, appears for the first time, through Sikh metaphysics, in the history of speculative thought of the world. The Khalsa here does not mean a particualr community in a particular form, in a particular region; it rather means a commonwealth of enlightened human beings at a higher level of spiritual growth – a Divine Brotherhood of those who in the language of Guru Nanak are sachiar (embodiment of Truth and truthful living) and in the language of Guru Gobind Singh are jujhar (the socially committed and active for righteous cause). Here was a new revolutionary concept in the history of the world; Divinity in Humanity and Humanity in Divinity. Baba Farid, a Muslim Sufi, whose compositions are included in the Sikh Scripture, expresses this idea in the following holy words:
Says Farid: God is present in Humanity
Humanity lives in the Divine.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Prophet of Sikhism, carrying the above thought further, gave to mankind the following universalistic commandment:
Recognize all Humanity as one in Spirit
Earlier Guru Nanak had said:
All partakes of the same effulgent Spirit
The human spirit partakes of the Divinity of the Absolute Spirit. That is how the human spirt is sovereign in its inalienable dignity, worth and freedom. This Sikh thought, in a sense, heralded the ideals enshrined in the Preamble to the United Nations Charter which, interalia, reaffirms "faith in the fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations, large and small."
We are approaching in the year 1999 the 300th anniversary of that divine moment in the flux of time – the creation of the Khalsa Panth in the the year 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh – that ushered in a new praxis, full potential of which awaits to be realized in the post-modern global society and civilization of the 21st century.
Let us bequeath the 1999 celebration of the Human Spirit to the next century and the new millennium, which would, hopeably, usher in a new era for "peace, justice, and sustainability", so poignantly stressed in the Millennum Call of the Millenium Institute, U.S.A., addressed to the People of Earth. That time span form 1999 to 2001 is envisioned as the Millennium Moment augurs well, with the grace of the Guru and God, for the future of man on this Earth and beyond. The best way to commemorate that divine moment – and to re-new our commitment to the sovereignity of the Human Spirit – would be to celibrate 1999, collectively by involving the peoples of all faiths, the peoples of all lands.