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Ethico-Spiritual Dimensions of Sikh Philosophy

A Review by Prof Kulwant Singh*

Author : Dr Anita Malhotra
Publisher: Ajay Book Service, New Delhi - 002
Price : Rs 395/- Pages : 203

The major ethico-spiritual tenets of Sikh philosophy according to Dr Anita Malhotra, author of the book under review, are: Sikh belief in the monotheism of the godhead which in the form of eternal primal energy and life force is a creator, beyond fear and rancour, dimensions of time, birth, death and is universally and indiscriminately compassionate and immanent. Besides these divine attributes, the other ethico-spiritual tenets which form the bedrock of Sikh philosophy are belief in and practices of the integrated spiritual and active social life of a householder completely opposed to a life of renunciation; creation of an egalitarian society based on equality and amity free from the shackles of caste, peaceful coexistence; fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, and emancipation of man jiva from a state of egocentrism manmukh to a state of spiritual enlightenment gurmukh through devotion and faithful obedience to God’s will. The Sikh way of life and practice of social activism demonstrated through acts of community service, charity, active defiance of tyranny and exploitation, and inculcation of moral values of truth, honesty, uprightness in words and deeds, are a natural corollary and a practical manifestation of the basic ethico-spiritual tenets of fundamental Sikh philosophy and belief.

Before we elaborate the basic tenets of Sikh philosophy as recorded by the author, a few words about Dr Malhotra’s credentials as a serious scholar of Religion and Spiritualism. A teacher of philosophy at Miranda House, Delhi, she has completed her post doctoral research in philosophy from university of Delhi. A few of her well-researched articles on Gita, Guru Granth Sahib and Sikh philosophy have been published. Thus, she seems to be fully qualified and competent to write on the subject she has chosen for this book.

Tracing the origin of the concept of monotheism from the ancient Judaic tradition with God’s revelation and commandment to Moses on Mount Senai, through the monotheistic concept of God in vedanta, the author delineates the course of monism to Guru Granth Sahib with its explicit declaration in Moolmantra. She interprets Guru Granth Sahib as a text expounding Sikhism as a “Monotheistic – Monistic creed”. She writes, “Guru Nanak’s emphasis on the numeral One in the prologue to Japuji tends to emphasize the unity of Godhead while rejecting the existence of the lesser gods. Of course there is a mention of names of different gods such as Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma and many others, but this does not mean they have their existence as God. These are only used as the powers of the God.”

Thus, Sikhism emphasises ‘non-duality of absolute reality.’ Gurbani’s use of two symbolic names Ekonkar and sat are most important. “Ekonkar is the holiest of all the symbols taking into its fold the entire Sikh metaphysics and philosophy”, she writes. The other Divine attributes enumerated in the Moolmantra are further dimensions of the same Absolute Reality. Like the philosophical streams of Satkaryavada, Sankhya and Ramanuja of Indian philosophy about the integration between causation and effect, Sikh philosophy also believes in the inclusive reality, she opines. Since God is the only eternal creator, and created the creation on His own volition, it is wrong to confuse several incarnations of other gods with Him. Myriads of such spiritual entities are at His command.

From the Divine to the human, man has been created by the creator and placed on this earth. Being the Creator’s own creation, man has all the attributes of the Divine. But His creation has been mainfested through human body. Man is made of body and soul. Since body is made of flesh and blood, it is subject to all the pulls and pressures of the flesh. But equally strong is the soul inside the body. It is this tug of war or co-ordination between the two which determines the quality of life that a human being lives on this earth. Here a certain amount of free will has been granted to man to choose his course of life. It is this choice which makes a man manmukh (ego-centric) or gurmukh (God-oriented). But this choice is not for once or forever. At each stage, man can change his choice. Gurbani in the role of Guru is always there to help man to make the right choice and then enable him to continue to exercise the right choice. Infact, the road map has been made clear for the life’s voyage from the state of manmukh to that of gurmukh. For the “pilgrim’s progress” towards emancipation of man or jiva, Gurbani guides man to complete this voyage. A Sikh, believing in Sikhism and its ethico-spiritual tenets, must keep on discarding the bodily urges and go on imbibing spiritual attributes till his soul develops a good coordination and communication with the Divine. The Higher the degree of this synchronization, the greater is the presence in man of the Divine attributes of love, compassion, co-existence, absence of rancour and malice. Such an enlightened man or jiva is an asset not only to his own self but to his family, society and world at large as well.

The author states that concept of Guru and concept of Naam are interrelated and interreplaceable in Gurbani. Naam stands for word or sabad denoting God. Sabad or word, which is coterminous and equivalent to logos in Greek terminology, is to be concentrated upon, repeatedly articulated, and its melody, both heard and unheard, is to be followed, experienced and finally embedded in human body and soul. Gurbani, as one reads and understands, keeps on highlighting the word or Naam which, in turn, keeps bridging the gap between the human and the Divine. Thus sabad word or naam is the medium between Divine and the human, and Gurbani is the guide, Guru or technique to use this medium for human emancipation. The Sikh Gurus, Gurbani and Guru Granth Sahib give the highest significance to Naam and discarding all other kinds of rituals and elaborate ceremonies. Naam and its cultivation is the noblest and highest occupation worth man’s cultivation. Spiritual progress and emancipation are guaranted through practice of this activity. It is the panacea for all human ills.

Finally, another corollary and logical consequence of this course of life is the adoption and cultivation of moral values and life of social activism. Once the dirt and dross has been washed out of body and mind by the cultivation of Naam and jiva is purified inside out, the urge to do noble deeds such as service of humanity, charity, love and amity for others is born spontaneously and instinctively. Thus, the seeds of social emancipation lie in individual emancipation. Triple principle of Sikh philosophy Naam Japo, Kirat Karo, Wand Chhako (meditate, work and share) sums up this interlinked progress of individual and social emancipation.

The author singles out the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak for his singular service in reforming the society and places his role above the role of other Indian reformists like Sankara, Ramanuja, Ramanand, Kabir and other leaders of the Bhakti Movement. As compared to their piecemeal and segmental reforms, Guru Nanak’s contribution is greater and unique in the sense that he laid the foundation of a society based on equality and egalitarian values. Guru Nanak also had the courage to denounce the barbarity and brutality of foreign invaders as well as the exploitation of the masses by his contempory priestly class.

The book gives the impression of a scholarly understanding of Sikh philosophy and a critical analysis of its ethico-spiritual dimension vis-a-vis the tenets of other Indian religions and their philosophical tenets. It is a fine synthesis of the conceptual and practical aspects of Sikhism. The book is worth perusal for scholars and enlightened sections of society. However, the text suffers from infinite number of spelling mistakes which disappoint the reader coming as it does from a scholar with a post doctoral degree. A little more minute proofreading would have made it a perfect read.


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