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"FUTURISTIC VISION OF SIKHISM" by Dr. Prithipal Singh Kapur

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This page was last updated on April 9th 2000.





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Futuristic Vision of Sikhism

Future as usually referred to has been a subject of special concern for humans. It has two facets, the period coming immediately after the present and "life after death". These facets represent such diverse areas of study that it becomes a study in Contrast between the empirical and the mystical; the latter having figured constantly in the domain of major religious systems. In the study of scriptures, we come across various futuristic concepts like the Biblical, Quranic and the Bhavishya Puran (Hindu). Both the Semitic and Oriental religious systems carry the burden of the principles of immorality of human soul and life after death. By referring to these matters, it is intended to bring out the distinct and unique features of Ihe Sikh approach to various pro jections of future in order to identify its futuristic vision. Uncompromising monotheism is basic to the Sikh doctrine-the One and Only is FIrantar (Formless), beyond time and also beyond incarnation and mortality. This formless absolute being is the object of veneration and has to be approached by treading the path shown by the Guru (Gurmukh gaadi raah). The position in this regard is made clear for our understanding by the first exponent of the Sikh doctrine, Bhai Gurdas, when he states "the true Guru makes the seeker tread the path to the abode of truth by distancing him from the five evils. attuning his mind by recitation of the name (sabad) or the Lord and inspiring him to live pure amidst impurities like the lotus in water."' This should make it amply clear that the primal concerns of the Sikh faith are not ''otherworldly". The fifth Guru, the compiler of the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. makes the matter more explicit.

"Saith Nanak; make life fruitful this time 
Never more shalt thou see birth."

Thus, the gospel of Sikhism carries within itself a futuristic vision that is not "otherworldly." "Desire not residence in Paradise, nor fear being cast into Hell", says the Guru. In fact, Guru Nanak's endeavour to relieve the misery of mankind and invoke the grace of the Lord is explained in a more forthright manner when Guru Angad states: "This world is the holy Lord's chamber and in it is His abode" besides declaring that the Sikh way of life is essentially that of a householder.

Having said that, it has to be ascertained that Guru Nanak's concepts of God and the universe were essentially futuristic. He envisioned the universe and God in a much wider sense that had hitherto been known. Bhai Gurdas says: "Guru Nanak visualised all the then known nine divisions of the earth." He held no particular country, land or river as sacred. He visited major pilgrim centres of Islam (Mecca and Baghdad) and Hinduism (Banaras, Hardwar, etc.) and expounded the fallacy of the West and East being sacred directions of God's abode. God for Guru Nanak is the eternally unchanging formless One; inscrutable, beyond time and beyond the reach of human intellect. it is because of this distinctness that Pincot finds the Sikh Concept of God unique in itself. Guru Nanak decidedly likes to see God through a vast spectrum, which sustains today and will remain relevant for the times to come. It is interesting that Guru Nanak's gospel has so far defied Classification and Sikhism appears neither a Westem nor an Oriental religion in content and practice. The Sikh exponents themselves call it the "pure path" or the "other (some interpret it as the third) path." But Guru Nanak stands for "welfare of mankind and the universe in totality," and Guru Amar Das invokes God "to save by Thy Grace, the world in flames: save it at whatever portal it may be Saved." What I wish to emphasise is that these concepts have stood the burden of ever-expanding spiritual knowledge and complexities of developed civilizations.

The nine Gurus coming after Guru Nanak and enunciation of the Concept of Gum Panth and Guru Granth thereafter remain an exclusive as well as unique feature of Sikhism. Scholars who have tried to look at Sikhism in close proximity of the medieval Bhakti movement opine that "nomination of Angad was a matter of supreme importance as it put the movement under the guidance and control of a definite and indisputable leadel:" History has proved that this act of Guru Nanak had a bearing on the future of Sikhism as also the spiritual concepts that came in contact with the Sikh thought. The core issue to be noted in this regard is the emphasis laid on the fact that the Sikh Gurus represented the same light, spirit, and thought. The various stages in the development of Sikhism could neither be looked upon nor interpreted in isolation. Emphasis on this fact was first laid by Satta and Balwand whose composition appears in Guru Granth Sahib. They say: "Proclamation concerning Lehna by Nanak was now spread: the same light permeated him, the same praxis-only the Master, his visible form had Changed." And at this point Sikhism Comes out of the fold of traditional Bhakti movement." In this regard, it has to be noted that Guru Nanak gave his disciple, Lehna, a new name-Angad, which traditionally has been interpreted as a part of his (Guru Nanak's) body and soul: literally, it implies an ornament lending grace and glamour to the body But the former interpretation has stayed in the Sikh tradition, thought, and historical interpretation Guru Gobind Singh himself has laid stress on this peculiar doctrine associated with the institution of Guru in Sikhism. It The Sikh Gurus had thus perceived the onset of difficult times ahead and therefore managed to steer clear the tardy path on which Sikhism had to tread Guru Angad had to act as interpreter and custodian of the doctrine of Guru Nanak because various groups of people claimed the heritage of Guru Nanak, interpreting his teachings (swans) in their own way. Angad remained steadfast and declared that Guru Nanak's faith was essentially meant for the householder. Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das took care of organizational affairs so as to fulfil the societal needs of the growing faith. The transcendental wisdom contained in the word of the Guru (bani) was compiled by Guru Arjun. Few select compositions of some medieval Bhaktas and Sheikh Farid were also included in it. The purpose was to preserve the authenticity of the Sikh doctrine for the future and obliterate possibilities of misrepresentation.

The scripture thus prepared was invested with a unique status hitherto unknown to scriptures of any of the other faiths. When Guru Gobind Single the tenth Guru, decided not to name a successor and invest the Granth (scripture) with the status of Guru, he was only abiding by the wishes of his predecessors. The doctrine is repeatedly laid down in Guru Granth Sahib: "The revelation is the Guru and the Guru is the revelation. " Bhai Gurdas, the celebrated Sikh theologian of the Guru period, had started clearly that "only the Shabad as revealed by the Guru is the real portrait of the Guru. " What the Granth says is of universal import it remains symbolic of Sikh sovereignty; as also an important component of the futuristic vision of Sikhism.

The doctrine of miri and piri (the spiritual and the temporal) is found embedded in the gospel of Guru Nanak in the oft-quoted hymn of Guru Nanak figuring in Rag Asa in Guru Granth Sahib, wherein Guru Nanak refers to the Mughal invasion, the Lord himself is described as the driving force behind all the political developments. In this very hymn, compassion of God is also invoked: "As in their agony or suffering, the people wailed, didst Thou feel no compassion for them ?" Indicating thereby that the spiritual and temporal authority remain in unison with God Almighty and emanate from Him. This is also repeated by Guru Gobind Singh "Those of Baba (Nanak) and those of Babar, God made them both" in this way tlle "spiritual and the temporal have to be looked upon in unison": when we find Guru Nanak launching a Nirmal Panth, a pure and sacred path with a universal perspective, we have to accept him as guiding spirit of both the forces. The manifestation of the temporal force by Guru Hargobind with the raising of Akal Takht (it has to be noted that the seat remains as that of the Almighty) and Guru Gobind Singh's creation of the Khalsa to assert the spiritual dignity of the people have not to be independent of each other The order of the Khalsa as anointed by Guru Gobind Singh was destined to be a body of the dedicated, consciously trained persons following a self-imposed code of conduct, imbued with service and Sacrifice. The initiation ceremony was essentially a spiritual exercise wherein singing of bani of the first, third, and tenth Gurus was to remain central. It has to be noted that the order of Khalsa was not dedicated to the achievement of political ends but to transform the entire human race into a universal brotherhood wherein the racist, sectarian of colour distinctions do not remain relevant. This was essentially a departure from the principle of genius belonging to a particular system like Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, or a class of people. The gospel as pronounced by the ten Gurus through precept and practice stands for a more amplified belief and different vision of the future world culture. They preached the doctrine of "a growing culture, coming to fruition through a process of mutual assimilation and evolution of the truths in the consciousness of mankind as a whole." Thus Sikhism envisioned an ideal social order wherein the Khalsa is to wage a continuous struggle to uphold truth' and remain an ally of goodness and virtue and let none encroach upon other's rights.

The Sikh Gurus had anticipated that with the material advancement, primary importance shall come to be attached to the human being and his faculties temporal aspirations, and material well-being. The religious systems that attached importance to life after death could not meet the challenge of what came to he called humanism during the course of time. The ideal to strive for establishing a social order where in justice for all was ensured and to launch an on-going struggle for upholding truth, was fully integrated with temporal human aspirations in the Sikh religious scheme. But submission of the human being to the Divine Will (Hukam and Raza) was made primary, diligence and honest-earning remaining complimentary This is how Sikhism forestalled the threat of humanism and atheism to the realm of religion. It is from this standpoint that the futuristic vision of Sikhism needs to be perceived.

It is obligatory for the followers of the Sikh faith to attune with the Guru, body and soul. As per Sikh tradition, Lehna (later Guru Angad), when questioned by Guru Nanak as to why he always followed him like a shadow, replied that "he knoweth not where else to go." The Sikh Gurus upheld the supremacy of religion as a binding force for mankind. For this they had to withstand the dissent from within. Guru Nanak's elder son, Sri Chand, wanted the traditional ascendancy of the ascetic to be maintained in the religious hierarchy. Then followed the state abetted dissent from Prithi Chand and Ram Rai. Thc Sikh Gurus could steer clear of all these situations and upheld the doctrines enunciated by Guru Nanak, even when they had to offer martyrdom Guru Arjun's refusal to submit to the state authority and pay a toll because he was from the Khatri caste provided an Opportunity to those who saw it as a challenge to the elitist concept Of religious denominations.. Shailkh Sarhidi's response in this regard needs special notice. Guru Tegh Bahadur gave his life for freedom of worship, one of the important components of the concept of human rights. Guru Gobind Singh kept up by launching a crusade against "those who have evil minds, are intent upon trouble-making and are enemies of religion" (Benti Chaupai). With the creation of the Khalsa, he brought forth a guide-model for the future world society. On the Vaisakhi day of 1699. the clarion call of Guru Gobind could be answered only by those five elevated souls, who had truly imbibed the teachings of the Gurus in their lives.

They became the beloved ones after having been administered the holy nectar (amrit). They were given an exalted status among the multitude (sangat) and received the honnur of administering amrit to the Guru himself. But still they remained first among equals. It was typical of the democratic order that Guru Gobind Singh ushered in. The Panth became the Guru, and the Guru a part of it: he attributed all his achievements to the people who joined the fold of Khalsa. He sings the praises or the Khalsa: "I have achieved victories on the battlefield only through the grace of these people. Their help has enabled me to be compassionate to all... through the grace of these people knowledge and learning was imparted to me. I enjoy all status and dignity because ot these people, otherwise there are millions like me in this world." Many facets of the miracle wrought by Guru Gobind Singh in the form of the creation of the Khalsa are discernible today in many a socio-political institution.

The principles enunciated by Guru Gobind Singh within the framework of the Khalsa tradition became operational even during the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh. The Sikh tradition has it that the Guru himself bowed to the collective counsel of the Khalsa while vacating Anandpur fort and an improvised fortress at Chamkaur. Saluting Dadu's grave is believed to be another such incident. When Banda's fight against the Mughals put the Khalsa on the road to sovereignty, the Khalsa body politic got into full operation. The abolition of mansabdars as an institution of Government machinery, and inspiring the tillers of the soil to stand on their own, were signs of fruition of the Khalsa ideal of insulating the lowest of the lowly against exploitation and giving them confidence to stand on their own. The coin was stuck in the name of the Gurus, Nanak and Gobind Singh, no high sounding titles were either assumed or conferred. The Sikh misaldars following Banda Singh Bahadur called themselves only 'Singh Sahibs' which clearly indicated that they remained first among equals. Lehna Singh Bhangi. the dauntless conqueror of Lahore, refused to become a satarap of Ahmad Shah Abdali and issue coin in his name. On the other hand, he told an emissary of the Afghan invader, that the Sikhs recogniscd the Akal as the sole sovereign and the Khalsa would wield sovereignty in his Name only. This was implied when the Khalsa was declared a state in 1748. As clearly indicated on the inscription at Darbar Sahib even Ranjit Singh was addressed as Singh Sahib, and the title of Maharaja was bestowed on him by Baba Sahib Singh Bedi on behalf of the Khalsa in 1799.

The successors of Baba Ala Singh of Patiala got the title of Maharaja only after they accepted the protectorate of the British. It is interesting to note that whenever Ranjit Singh tended to behave in a wayward manner and gave precedence to political expediency over the Khalsa doctrine, chiefs like Hari Singh Nalwa and Akali Phoola Singh (also Jathedars of Akal Takht) did not hesitate to express disagreement and sometimes even resentment. However, Ranjit Singh's coins continued to bear the names of the Gurus and his court was named as Khalsa Darbar, despite his other monarchical aberrations. The post-Ranjit Singh period witnessed certain developments when attempts were made to revert to the Khalsa tradition. The battles against the British werc fought in the name of the Khalsa and the soldiers of the Khalsa army offered to forego salaries to pay the war indemnity imposed by the British in 1845 to stall the so-called sale of Kashmir to Gulab Singh Dogra. Such was the strength of the democratic institutions that came in the train of the Khalsa. They got weakened due to the inherent weakness of all democratic institutions when it came to faction fighting and internecine groupism. Guru Nanak while "striking the coin in this world", as Bhai Gurdas puts it, had before him a vision that transcended ages. The future of humanity was his prime concern. He kept in view the march of life in totality. The Sikh Gurus conceived such institutions and ideals that have stood the test of the time. Each current of modern human activity can look back to the tradition of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh. The twin doctrines of Guru Granth and Guru Panth have sustained. The prophetic slogan of Guru Nanak "Truth shall triumph ultimately" stands ingrained in the minds of the Sikh people. As such, a true Sikh remains an embodiment of optimism. Guru Gobind Singh inspired the Khalsa to look ahead and the Khalsa never faltered. The worst holocausts in 1745 and 1762 could not deter them. For the Sikhs, history is a saga of turmoil a and test of fortitude, from the battles of Anandpur to the battering of Akal Takht in 1984. The Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh rises like a phoenix after every ordcal and keeps in mind futuristic vision of an egalitarian global fraternity.

The above are a few stray thoughts about the futuristic vision of Sikhism. I am sure that the galaxy of scholars who have converged here from India and abroad have many more important issues to put forth. The outcome will surely present a multi-facet study of Sikhism which is already in focus before the scholars all the world over.

Keynote address delivered at the Khalsa Tercentenary Intemational Seminar held at Punjabi Univcrsity, Panala. on 18-20th, November, 1999.



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