May 2004

Copyright © Dr. N Muthu Mohan




The present paper is an attempt to read Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scripture as a search for an authentic way of living. The terms ‘authenticity’ and ‘authentic way of living’ were made prominent by the existentialist philosophers in twentieth century, particularly when the modern forms of life started exhibiting symptoms of crisis. In between the two world wars, the European philosophers acquired a new sensibility that began doubting the Enlightenment promises of Modernity and intensified their search for alternatives. Their search took them to questioning the fundamentals of Western civilization including the basic assumptions of Western metaphysics. This is the context of the emerging of the theme of authenticity in Western philosophy. The search for authentic living, however, is not over. The post-modernist philosophers continue the search with additional vigor. The post-modernists have socialized the problem and proceed the probing. Although we cannot claim that the historical conditions of the European scene and that of Indian context are same, however we can state that there are certain remarkable modes in the birth of Sikhism that the Sikh scripture places the theme of finding out an authentic way of life as its basic problem.

The problem:

Guru Granth Sahib opens up with the poetic composition of Japuji Sahib, a wonderful composition of Guru Nanak Dev that contains the first and fundamental formulation of the question of authentic way of living. “How to Live Truly? How to get rid of the veil of Falsity?” these are basic questions raised by the Japji Sahib. This formulation is evaluated by the scholars of Sikhism as the programmatic problem of Guru Granth Sahib. The entire Granth Sahib is said to be addressing the question in all its possible dimensions and searching for appropriate answers to the question. In the context of medieval Indian social settings, the question is concretized by the Sikh Gurus in so many ways. Why the traditional religions have failed? Why the leaders of religions have become corrupted? Is this world worth living or not? Is this world a mere appearance and the only way out is becoming a recluse? What is the meaning of the sectarian identities of the religions? Do they really serve the purpose? Why do people go behind wealth, power and status? Is there any real value in these? Is there a necessity for a new religion or not? These are some of the questions asked again and again in Guru Granth Sahib in its search for an authentic way of living.

Critique of the Inauthentic Modes:

The term authenticity acquires meaning along with our sense of inauthentic forms of life that dominates human existence. The humans are encircled and engulfed by false ways of living and they personally develop into incapable of overcoming the environment. It is a state of thrownness into a given world. The humans yield before the facticity of worldliness and that of the externalities of the religions at hand. The given is seen as inevitable and irrevocable. It is in such situations, strong interferences become necessary to check the course of development and redirect the humans by addressing to their conscience. It is a moment of truth and radical entry into the existing conditions of life. The existentialist philosophers may suggest that in such situations one may begin by analyzing the uncritical modes of every day life. “That which is ontically closest and well known, is ontologically the farthest and not known at all, and its ontological signification is constantly overlooked.” (Johnson J. Puthenpurackal 1987: 11). The ontical is the factual conditions of givenness whereas the ontological is the understood or analyzed state of affairs. Guru Granth Sahib begins from analyzing the ontically closest, that is, the every day life into which the humans are thrown. The humans are automatized by the floating values of every day life. Without exhibiting any effort to evaluate them, they just yield themselves to those values.

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