INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON SIKH STUDIES
Copyright © Dr. N Muthu Mohan
GURU GRANTH SAHIB AND AUTHENTIC WAY OF LIFE
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.
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.
- “ Forsaking God’s relish,
- The humans are intoxicated
- With worthless relish.
- The commodity is within their home
- And they go out to search it” (GGS-376).
The theme of authenticity/inauthenticity is opened up in Guru Granth Sahib with binary concepts such as true/false, God’s relish/worthless relish, within/without etc. That makes the entire conceptual construct and compositional structure of Guru Granth Sahib.
- “ Raiments, ornaments and very exquisite pleasures;
- Those also, I consider to be of no avail.
- Honor, renown, dignity, greatness and obedience of the whole world,
- And jewel like beauteous home are of no avail.
- Viands and victuals of many kinds,
- Very extensive merry makings and entertainments,
- Domain, property as also various commands,
- Neither appease the soul,
- Nor extinguish the desire” (GGS-373).
Guru Granth Sahib has its own identification of classified forms of inauthentic modes of life. They are the Hindu caste system, the Brahmanic and Bhakti ritualism, the luxury-hunger of the rich, the political power mongering of the rulers, the hypocrisy of the religious leaders etc. The false forms of life are elaborately and explicitly criticized by Guru Granth Sahib. The criticisms are not limited to the individual or personal modes human deficiencies but are extended to bring out the socially programmed structures of inequalities, repressions and inhumanness ingrained in Indian civilization.
What is the worth of Vedanta philosophy if it renders metaphysical justification to worst forms of inhuman caste differentiations?
How much Manu Dharma is ethical when it miserably fails to offer a universal ethics? How to justify a Yogin when he closes himself miles away from the thickest problems of human life?
What a Qazi or Mulla is doing when an Islamic ruler brings havoc upon the ordinary people?
What is the use of elongated rituals when dirt is sitting at the very heart of the person performing the rituals?
Guru Granth Sahib makes a radical entry into the Indian civilization, its religiosity and philosophy. The criticisms make the Sikh scripture an authoritative text of fundamental value, a text of revolutionary potentials unknown in Indian history.
Identifying inauthentic forms involves questioning certain values that were considered authentic in the erstwhile society. To put it in other words, it is dethroning and deconstructing the traditional values.
The Vedas, the Shastras, the Dharmas, the rituals, the Darshanas, the ways of politics, the practices of asceticism and yoga, mystery playing and so many other things believed to be legitimate for so many centuries are questioned by the Gurus with utmost courage. By history and by social practice they are proved to be false. It is understood that they are constructs serving the vested interests. They are exposed before the people that they are inhuman and immoral.
Guru Granth Sahib goes for dismantling the old boundaries between the authentic and inauthentic and constructing new boundaries. New scales are proposed for constructing such boundaries. Living for oneself, arrogating with bookish knowledge, hypocrisy, slandering, idle ways of life, social irresponsibility and so many other things too are named as aspects of inauthentic way of living in Guru Granth Sahib. They are criticized in Granth Sahib. They were the burden of a stagnated culture. Thus the Sikh scripture brings to focus the false structures and values of the erstwhile culture both at the macro and micro levels.
Moves Towards Authenticity:
The transition from identifying inauthentic forms to formulating the authentic ones in Guru Granth Sahib contains a spectrum of moves that call our attention. These are moments that invoke awareness or they are expressions of awareness. They are not yet descriptions of authentic modes but attempts to work out such modes. They are symptoms that inform that the way towards authentic modes is sought. It is a fluid state of mind that is open for possibilities. Are we going to call it conscience? Is it expression of the amount of love the Gurus had in their heart towards the suffering people? Or should we name it as care, concern or angst as the existentialists call it? It is an existential state-of-mind that cares for the sufferers. It is a threshold that anticipates alternative possibilities. It is a decisiveness to resist the given, a refusal to succumb to the situation. It is a rare moment of truth.
- “So much beating was inflicted that people shrieked.
- Didst not Thou, O God, feel compassion?
- Thou, O Maker, art the equal Master of all.
- If a mighty man smites another mighty man,
- Then the mind feels not anger.
- If a powerful tiger falling on a herd, kills it,
- Then its Master is to be questioned” (GGS-360).
The Gurus indicate that the dark night of falsehood had engulfed the people and justice had taken wings and fled (GGS-145). Behind such an evaluation there lies a deep commitment to justice and truth. Guru Granth Sahib addresses the concept of truth as the ultimate but yet unknown end of all being. It is an open-ended search for truth and truthful living. It is an intention for truth. It is a call to negotiate truth. The Gurus were in search of truth, true behavior, true name, true leader, true religiosity, true seed, true plowing, true harvest, true wealth, true coins, true commodity, true life, true path, true nature, true essence and what else. The wide variety of terms associated with the practical living of a peasant or a trader or an artisan indicate that Guru Granth Sahib is not traveling in the traditional way of religions to renounce the earthly living as such by declaring it maya etc.
On the other hand, here is a fundamental difference that what is sought is a new set values for authentic living, not an attempt to go beyond life. It means “not renunciation but the progressive consideration of self, or mastery over oneself, obtained not through the renunciation of reality but through the acquisition and assimilation of truth. It has as its final aim not preparation for another reality but access to the reality of this world.
It is a set of practices by which one can acquire, assimilate, and transform truth into a permanent principle of action” (Foucault 1997: 238-239). The quoted words of Foucault, a postmodern thinker, belong to his evaluation of the stoic way of ethics different from the Christian idea of ethics.
- “Build your homeland on truth and righteousness, the unshakable pillars.
- And take the support of the Almighty, who sustains the world”(GGS-320).
Truth, righteousness, justice and God go together in the search of the Gurus. Guru Granth Sahib has registered the metaphor of Thirst as the internal, almost organic, feeling of search for truth. It is an internal rupture, an uneasiness and a discontent towards the existing state of things. Separation from God and truth, longing for union, forgetting of Naam, flight from truth, erring etc, are a few more metaphors the Gurus use to indicate the agony in human mind due the inauthentic modes existence into which humans are thrown.
Guru Granth Sahib addresses the theme of death eloquently in its critique of inauthentic living.
- “ Who knows how we shall come to die?
- And what manner of Death shall we get?
- If the lord is not forgotten,
- Then death is easy.
- The whole world is of death afraid;
- All wish to remain alive
- But he who by the Guru’s Grace dieth in life,
- He alone knoweth His will
- Nanak! he who dieth thus, liveth eternally” (GGS-555).
“Die while you live” is the famous device Guru Granth Sahib uses to make the humans aware of their living. “ He who dies in the Name, does not die again. Without such a death, none can attain perfection” (GGS-727).
Foucault discusses the relevance of the theme of death in the history of ethical thought. Melete thanatou, meditation on death or, rather, a training for it, is the apex of all moral exercises in the Stoic practice, says Foucault (1997: 104-105).
“It is a way of making death actual in life. It tends to make one live each day as if it were the last. By thinking of oneself as being about to die, one can judge each action that one is performing in terms of its own value. Death, said Epictetus, takes hold of he laborer in the midst of his labor, the sailor in the midst of his sailing: And you, in the midst of what occupation do you want to be taken? And Seneca envisaged the moment of death as one in which an individual would be able to judge of himself and assess the moral progress he will have made, up to his final day” (Foucault 1997: 104-105).
The most important thing here is that death is invoked in Guru Granth Sahib not to dismiss the world or life as illusion but to “judge each action in terms of its own value” or in its authenticity, as a way to perfection. A recent scholar of Existentialism quotes from Heidegger. “ This wall, against which Dasein in its experience of ‘death’ strikes, throws the man back into its authentic existence. Without such a backstroke, its authentic self would not have been visible to Dasein” (Puthenpurackal 1987: 50).
Death is not mere nothingness but inducing humans back to life in an authentic way. Life has been valued in Guru Granth Sahib as a precious gift given to humans, and they are advised not to revile life but to live it truly. Death is the radical finitude or limit situation of humans. An authentic way of living is living fully aware of the finiteness of life.
- “ Saith Nanak! True achievement is his’
Who from death derives life”(GGS-361).
>P> Going through the above discussions takes us now to portray the exact form of authentic living Guru Granth Sahib is proposing.
- “ The virtuous deeds are the tree, God’s Name its branches,
- Faith its flowers and divine knowledge fruit,
- Attainment of God its leaves,
- And effacing the ego its dense shade
- Nanak! they who by the Guru’s grace merge in God,
- Wither not and ever remain green” (GGS-1168).
It seems that all the major components of the Sikh way of authentic living have got figured in these lines of Guru Granth Sahib. The humans are asked to open the gates of authentic life through righteousness, truth and justice. And they find the Name ingrained in human mind. Name is the seed of authenticity in human mind.
- “ Within us is the Name treasure,
- But it is obtained through the Guru” (GGS-369).
- “ By God’s favor sow the Name in the body village,
And God will sprout and there shall be a verdant field” (GGS-368).
- “ Within my mind and body is The love and support of God’s Name” (GGS-366).
Name is the concrete concept that stands against the abstract concepts of nirguna, nirvacanya, nirprapanca, nirakara etc that were worked out in the Vedanta philosophy of early medieval ages. Let us recollect that the Upanishads once discarded Name (and Form) as exclusively of temporality against the Brahman that was placed beyond time.
The return of Name as a universal conception opens a fresh making of a concrete concept touching both the transcendental and empirical realities perceiving them into one. Name is the name of the nameless God, as well as it is the Word that invoked the creation of the worlds, gunas and all manifestations.
Name is also the moment of authenticity implanted in human minds. It is interesting to note here that Guru Granth Sahib does not use much the Vedantic term atman in its understanding or exploration of human mind. The Vedantic term of atman was worked out during the pre-devotional period of Indian history and it does not necessarily contain the moment of humility or devotion in itself.
The Vedantic atman is so vague and abstract it refuses to represent the temporal dimensions of reality. Guru Granth Sahib sees the Name implanted in human mind in place of Atman. It is a different paradigm altogether. Once the seed of Name is discovered in mind, it penetrates the entire existence, the body, soul, mind and actions, and it opens the humans to authentic living. The objective of Guru Granth is not to find out an analytical category of atman untouched by earthliness, but to identify a way of true living. God sprouts out of the seed of Name and encompasses the entire existence by His/Her immanent authenticity.
The Name is implanted in the humans after a fundamental deconstruction of the subjectivity of the humans. Haumain is portrayed in Guru Granth Sahib as the basic malady out of which the humans ought to get rid of.
Haumain and Name are one another opposed and they do not abide together (GGS-560). The curtain of egoism is to be removed to disclose the presence of Name. The humans must unlearn the artificial decorations acquired during the course of their being in the temporal life attached to it. With the dissolving of ego one attains the state of Sahaja, the state of naturalness, spontaneity and communication. “ By the love of the Name, one merges in the Sahaj” (GGS-263).
Deconstruction of ego is not an ideal of personal life but it discloses the individual to the larger society. Mingling oneself with the broader society is the natural or spontaneous state of humans.
“ Uniting humans with the Saints’ congregation, The Lord blends them with His ownself” (GGS-361).
It is a social ideal. It is an individual turning into an ethical societal being. It is the making of a social agency to transform the inauthentic existence as such.
The Name being implanted in humans is a natural and spontaneous relationship achieved with the Other, the Other being the Sacred other, above all, the Satsangat, the society, the Nature etc. It is a mystic openness. Guru Granth Sahib is the embodiment of the mysticism of openness. It does not know any boundaries or limits.
- “ The city joyful is the name of the place,
- Suffering and sorrow abide not there.
- Neither is there worry of paying taxes,
- Nor fear of punishment for error nor decline.
- A beautiful homeland have I found,
- Where perpetually reign peace and calm, O friend” (GGS-345).
- “ No one is a stranger or enemy:
- I am friendly to everyone” (GGS-1299).
- “ O Whom shall we call good or evil,
- When all creature belong to Thee?” (GGS-38).
Even the boundaries between God, the Creator and the Gurmukh become evanescent at the state of sahaja.
- “ The Creator takes no bounds
So are we not bound.
- He takes no impurity
- Nor are we made impure.
As is He pure
So are we like Him” (GGS-391).
Guru Granth Sahib, the Gurbani is the carrier of the mysticism of openness as authentic living described above. The musical form chosen is the utmost possible expression of the mysticism of openness. The music, its aesthetics and its stretching out from every human into every other are the appropriate modes of the disclosure of the spirituality Sikhism represents. The Gurbani travels and reaches every other being living over there as the Gurus went and reached the others in the udasi yatras. It transcends the limitations of prose, narrativity, philosophical categorizations, sectarian marks of religions however remaining within the existential horizons. It is easy to deny living itself but working out an authentic living and living it through is the most difficult one.
Foucault Michel. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, Vol I, The New Press Newyork, 1997.
Puthenpurackal Johnson J. Heidegger Through Authentic Totality To Total Authenticity, Leuven University Press 1987.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib Tr. by Man Mohan Singh. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. 1995
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