“Singing and dancing in ecstasy are no worship; love and the giving up of ego are the ways of real worship.” [GGS pp. 159, 465]
“Singing and dancing in ecstasy are no worship; love and the giving up of ego are the ways of real worship.”
[GGS pp. 159, 465]
“Drive out selfishness and one is fulfilled.” “Where the weak are cared for, there is showered God’s mercy.”
“Engage in the Service of the Weak.”
[GGS pp. 15]
“One becomes good in good company. God sends saints to reveal God’s concern for man..”
[GGS p. 929A].
“Evil separates, good deeds unite.” “Service in the world is the way to be fulfilled.”
There is, indeed, no spiritual progress without active moral functioning.
The service of God is a synonym for the service of man.
Moral activities have the highest priority in Sikhism, these being the best means of training.
The use of human rationality and analytic sense (babek budhi) have a distinct place in moral life.
Sikh theology being non-deterministic, man has a distinct moral freedom and responsibility in the choice of his actions.
It is this exercise of right choice that determines his spiritual progress.
“By use of distinguishing good from bad or by intellect one serves God.”
By differentiating good from bad or by intellect one serves God. [GGS page 1245A].
God’s concern for the moral development of man can be gauged from the fact that it is “His innermost nature to help the erring.”
“With self-control and discipline, we forsake vice and see the miracle of man becoming God.”
“With self-control and discipline, we forsake vice and see the miracle of man becoming God.” [GGS pages 343, 347].
“With self-control and discipline, we forsake vice and see the miracle of man becoming God.” [GGS pages 343, 347].
For the moral life of man two virtues, namely, humility and love, find the highest priority in the Guru’s ethical system and the discipline prescribed for the seeker.
(c) Remembering God And Prayer :
In Guru Granth Sahib, there is considerable emphasis on remembering God.
But, the remembering of God is by itself not enough to link oneself with Him.
This contemplation does not mean yogic practices for the achievement of the so-called bliss as an end in itself.
We are unaware of any hymn in Guru Granth Sahib recommending yogic practices or any tradition in this regard.
Nor are we aware of any hymn in Guru Granth Sahib which, apart from recommending prayer and keeping the fear of God always in one’s mind, directs the practice of day-long meditations in seclusion, and away from the day’s work.
There are clear hymns against the use of such a course as a means of spiritual advancement.
“Every one repeats God’s name, but such repetition is not the way to God.”
“With guile in heart, he practises guile but mutters God’s name. He is pounding husk and is in darkness and pain.”
“With guile in heart, he practises guile but mutters God’s name. He is pounding husk and is in darkness and pain.” [GGS page 656].
The Gurus deny the utility of any mechanical means of worship or mere repetition of words or hymns.
But remembering can be a way to keep in mind one’s basic ideals.
Evidently, remembrance of God is a kind of preparation for the virtuous activities to be undertaken in the social life.
It is actually the character of the subsequent deeds that will be the test of man.
This remembering is like keeping the fear of God in mind and moving in life strictly on the moral path.
It does not mean mechanical repetition every day or morning.
That is why the Guru says that “it is only one out of crores who remembers God.”
“It is only one out of crores who remembers God.” [GGS page 1428].
Prayer as in any other theistic system, finds a place of eminence in Guru Granth Sahib.
Prayer, expresses the humility and insignificance of the devotee.
It is a mode of seeking God’s Grace.
It is a humble attempt to draw upon God’s strength so as to restore one’s sagging energies and will in the moral struggle of man.
“My energies are exhausted and I am helpless.
But O God, with Thy Grace nothing is difficult for me to accomplish.”
“My energies are exhausted and I am helpless. But O God, with Thy Grace nothing is difficult for me to accomplish.” [GGS page 1429].
Such a prayer is not a repetitive formula or practice, nor is it an end in itself.
It is really a preparation for the moral activity to be undertaken in the world.
In fact, it is inalienably linked with the subsequent activity.
Without its external operation, the internal activity remains invalid.
The very fact that the Gurus started no monastic system shows that they never advocated either prayer or any other meditational system as an independent mode of spiritual training.
“One is emancipated while laughing and playing in life and living a full life.”
“One is emancipated while laughing and playing in life and living a full life.” [GGS page 522].
“The God-centred lives truth while being a householder.”
“The God-centred lives truth while yet a householder.” [GGS page 661].
8. Sikh Bhakti and Society
We have already come to the conclusion that in Sikhism moral activity is the chief method of spiritual growth.
This raises two issues.
- The first concerns the approach of the gurmukh towards social institutions and making changes in them.
- The Gurus, and more especially Guru Nanak, have been sharply critical of the evil socio-political institutions and customs of the times.
About prejudices regarding caste and against women (which had recieved almost religious sanction), the Gurus say, “The Vedas make a wrong distinction of caste, colour, heaven and hell.”
The Gurus say, “The Vedas make a wrong distinction of caste, colour, heaven and hell.” [GGS page 1243].
“No one should take pride in caste; foolish man be not proud of caste; this pride leads to innumerable evils. They make distinction of four castes, but all are born of God.”
“The whole world is made of the same elements. Then why make distinctions ?”
“The whole world is made of the same elements. Then why make distinctions of caste ?” [GGS page 1128].
“They talk of pollution and warn others not to touch their food, lest it should be defiled.
But their own bodies are impure.”
“They talk of pollution and warn others not to touch their food, lest it should be defiled. But their own bodies are impure.” [GGS page 472].
“Why call woman impure when without women there would be none.”
“Why call woman impure when without women there would be none.” [GGS page 473].
Evil social practices and customs have been denounced.
God-consciousness consists in treating all as equals.
The idleness of yogis and ascetics, hypocrisy of priests and Brahmins, and inequalities in the economic field and the amassing of wealth have been condemned.
“God’s riches are for all but men try to grab them for themselves.”
“God’s bounty belongs to all, but in the world it is maldistributed.”
“God’s bounty belongs to all, but in the world it is maldistributed.” [GGS page 1171].
“Man gathers riches by making others miserable.”
“Man gathers riches by making others miserable.” [GGS p. 889].
“Riches cannot be gathered without sin and these do not keep company after death.”
“Riches cannot be gathered without sin and these do not keep company after death.” [GGS page 417].
“ O yogi, are you not ashamed of begging from door to door for your food?”
“ O yogi, are you not ashamed of begging from door to door for your food?” [GGS page 886].
“The man incapable of earning a living, gets his ears split (to become a yogi) or becomes a mendicant.
He calls himself a guru or saint but begs for food from door to door.
Never look up to such a person or touch his feet.
He knows the right way who earns his living by hard work and shares his earnings with others.”
“ He only knows the right way to life who earns his living by hard work and shares his earnings with others.” [GGS page 1245].
Similarly, in the political field, the oppression of the rulers, the tyranny of the invaders, and the corruption of the officials have been deprecated.
For, an important function of religion is to create and “establish powerful, pervasive and long lasting moods and motivations in men.” [Juergensmeyer, M., (Ed.) : Sikh Studies. page 75].
Two important things should be understood in regard to this criticism.
This criticism is the direct consequence of the Guru’s ideas about God and the reality of the world.
Their world-view is clearly of life-affirmation.
The brotherhood of man is the basis of their socio-spiritual approach.
Hence their three-pronged attack on all kinds of socio-political evils and inequalites, on downgrading the socio-religious status of women, and on idleness, renunciation and withdrawal from the world.
Secondly, this condemnation was not a mere verbal exercise, it was an essential step to educate the people, change their ideas and build up fresh motivations.
For, an important function of religion is to create and “establish powerful, pervasive and long lasting moods and motivations in men.”
[Juergensmeyer, M., (Ed.) : Sikh Studies. page 75].
Further change in social institutions could never have been brought about unless this calculated change in the moods and the minds of people had been brought about before that.
The second issue concerns the remoulding of social institutions and organisations, and the means to be adopted for the desired purposes.
The Gurus describe God not only as the Helper of the weak, the shelterless and the supportless, but also the Destroyer of the oppressor.
The Sixth Guru clearly stated that his sword was both for the help of the oppressed and the destruction of the tyrants.
It evidently implies that the Gurus contemplate reconstruction and creation of alternative moral institutions.
Naturally, alternative human institutions can come up only by the substitution, remoulding or destruction of the old and unwanted organisations.
The lives of the Gurus are a clear pointer that, in their system, change of environment to improve the moral climate in all fields is clearly envisaged and sanctioned.
In any system where moral life has an independent validity and an importance of its own as a desirable end, the making of environmental and organisational changes for that purpose would ipso facto be justified.
The Gurus accordingly envisage a change in environment and the remoulding of social organisations.
An allied important issue is the means to be adopted for bringing about the desired institutional and other changes.
In God’s world all form and progress are the product of force; since no change is possible without the use of force.
Again, as all encroachment on the rights of others involves aggression, the same cannot be undone except by the use of an equal and opposite use of force.
In fact, all action and activity, howsoever good, involve the use of force, because action and force are synonymous.
Action not involving the use of force is a contradiction in terms.
Therefore, except by some miracle, it is impossible to bring about a change in the social or institutional environment without the use of requisite force.
It is significant to note that in the entire Guru Granth Sahib there is no miracle attributed to a Guru.
In the Guru’s system, only the miracle of deeds are performed.
Logically, it is impossible to construct anything without destroying or remoulding the existing structure.
Of course, the force used should not seek to serve any selfish or egoistic purpose.
In the background of the Indian tradition this issue about the use of force as the means for a moral end needs some clarification, since a lot of confusion among some scholars has arisen on this score.
The alternative to the use of force or killing and meat-eating is the doctrine of ahimsa.
Ahimsa has been advocated by most Indian religions, as was also done by Bhagat Kabir.
But, it is of significant importance that it is Guru Nanak who opposed this doctrine.
“Men discriminate not and quarrel over meat-eating.
They know not what is flesh and what is non-flesh, and in what lies or does not lie a sin.”
“Men discriminate not and quarrel over meat-eating. They know not what is flesh and what is non-flesh, and in what lies or does not lie a sin.” [GGS page 1289].
In his hymns, the Guru details his views concerning the issue of means and the cant about meat-eating.
He chides the Brahmins for their pretence about meat-eating.
He describes how the ways and processes of life involve the transformation and the use of the flesh.
He also explains that life is present in every grain of food and even in the fire-wood and the cow-dung which the Brahmins use for the purpose of purification.
The Guru exposes the fallacy that life, much less a moral deed, is possible without the use of force.
He means that immorality does not lie in the use of force, which is inevitable for all living, whether moral or immoral, but it lies in the direction or the purpose for which force is used.
The significance and thrust of these hymns have often been missed.
Evidently, from the very start Guru Nanak contemplated a change in the socio-moral atmosphere and institutions.
The doctrine of ahimsa was a serious hurdle in disturbing or demolishing the status quo.
Therefore, as a prophet of a new religion, he once and for all made it plain that, so long as one worked in the midst of social life, all arbitrary prejudices against meat-eating or the use of force as such were wrong and meaningless.
It is very significant to note that the religious systems that insisted on ahimsa were either ascetic or monastic, or suggested withdrawal from the world.
The Radical Bhagats were neither monastic nor ascetic, but they never considered social involvement to be a duty or a field of spiritual training and growth.
Kabir deems the world to be a trap from which deliverance has to be sought.
His attitude towards woman is exactly like that of monastic or ascetic religions.
While referring to the Bhakti cults of India, Ray says that these had completely surrendered to the status quo and the socio-political establishment of the day.
All we wish to emphasise is that no religious system that suggests the love of man as an essential part of the love of God can accept or suggest the limitation of ahimsa for work in the moral or the social field.
Ahimsa is inevitably linked with religious systems that have a world-view of life-negation and are unconcerned with socio-political changes.
It is, in fact, an ascetic tool, being the product or a part of an ascetic or monastic methodology.
The situation became so frustrating for the Mahatma that he even thought of committing suicide so that ... [Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad : India Wins Freedom, page 34].
It may be argued that great pacifists like Mahatma Gandhi successfully employed non-violence as the means of bringing about socio-political changes.
But, it is now well-known that when the Mahatma had to face the major challenge of his life, he found himself helpless.
The Mahatma being the greatest exponent of non-violence in modern times, when the Second World War broke out, the pacifists of the world looked up to him for a lead.
But the Mahatma could furnish or suggest no non-violent or effective remedy.
Ahimsa could be of little help to him in stopping the holocaust.
The situation became so frustrating for the Mahatma that he even thought of committing suicide so that if he could do nothing to stop the destruction, he would at least not live to see the misery caused by it.
[Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad : India Wins Freedom, page 34].
The two occasions when he had to discard ahimsa as a tool are quite well-known, namely, when he agreed to the Congress accepting the responsibility of the war effort, and, again, when in 1947, he had no objection to the entry of Indian forces in Kashmir for its defence.
Another great pacifist, too, had to take a contrasted stand when faced with a crucial issue.
During the First World War Bertrand Russel opposed the idea of war and violence to the point of being arrested in pursuance of his pacifist beliefs.
But, later, after the Second World War, Russel himself suggested an attack against Soviet Russia before it became a major atomic power and a threat or menace to the entire world.
“Great pacifist, Bertrand Russel himself suggested an attack against Soviet Russia before it became a major atomic power and a threat or menace to the entire world.”: [3. p. pages 53-57, Unpopular Essays.].
The issue needs some further clarifications.
Reasons and force are two tools available to man for work and progress in the socio-political sphere.
Without the use of both these means, it is impossible to bring about any social change.
In fact a high sense of reason or discrimination is the chief faculty that distinguishes man from other animals.
We have seen that the Gurus clearly indicate reason to be a good instrument of religious progress.
“By the use of discrimination of intellect one serves God. By discrimination one is honoured.
By intellect and study one understands things.” “It is the sense of discrimination that makes one charitable. This is the right way, rest is all wrong.”
“By the use of discrimination of intellect one serves God. By discrimination one is honoured. By intellect and study one understands things.” [GGS page 1245].
“Man is blessed with the light of reason and discrimination.”
“One in fear of God and discriminating between good and bad, appears sweet to God.”
“By the use of discrimination of intellect one serves God. By discrimination one is honoured. By intellect and study one understands things.”
[GGS page 763].
Yet in the history of civilisation human reason or intellect has also been used as the greatest instrument of oppression and destruction.
Human rationality has been called a convenient and clever cloak to cover man’s bestiality.
Does it imply that we should altogether discard reason as a useful tool for religious progress.
We have already noted what is the answer given by the Gurus on this point.
The fact is that both reason and force are neutral tools that can be used both for good and evil, for construction and destruction.
The Gurus unambiguously accept the use of both of them as the means of religious functioning and progress.
In doing so they made major departure from the earlier Bhakti and religious traditions.
This break with the past was the direct result of their new religious methodology and goals and consequent social involvement and objectives.
All consciousness or life is nothing but a centre of perfection, deliberation, activity and organisation.
The Gurus accepted life, the world and its responsibilities in toto.
“Despise not the world for it is the creation of God,” says the Guru.
As the instruments or the servants of God, they had to carry out God’s Will in helping the weak and destroying the oppressor.
Their spiritual system, therefore, involved the use of all the available tools, including reason and force, for the purposeful progress of man and his organising consciousness.
According to the Guru, the malady is not the use of reason and force, which can both be used and abused, but the egoistic consciousness of man, which is narrow and inadequate in its perception and partial in its outlook and functioning, because it stands alienated from the Basic Reality.
Therefore, the way out is the development of a higher consciousness in order to become a whole man or superman with a sense of kinship and total responsibility towards all beings.
The higher the consciousness, the truer its perception and the greater its capacity for organisation and functioning in order to execute God’s mission.
Man’s greatest problems today are poverty, disease and wars.
Undoubtedly, these need the greatest organisational effort in the socio-political field.
The diagnosis of the Gurus is that the egoistic man has neither the perception nor the vision nor even the organisational, moral and spiritual capacity to solve the problems of man.
It is only the religious man with a higher consciousness, who alone can fulfil God’s mission of creating the Kingdom of God on earth.
The Guru indicates the path of progress or evolution : “God created first Himself then haumain, third maya and fourth the state of poise and bliss.”
“By the use of discrimination of intellect one serves God. By discrimination one is honoured. By intellect and study one understands things.” [GGS page 113].
And in the second and third stages man’s development is only partial.
The aim is the achievement of the fourth stage. In Sikhism, the development of union with God is not an end in itself.
The goal is the development of a higher consciousness, so as to discharge the total responsibility devolving on man in order to create a world of harmony and happiness.
The Gurus say that human problems cannot be solved at the third stage of man’s development.
These can be dealt with adequately only at the fourth stage.
And, this development of a higher consciousness is for a religious purpose.
That purpose or mission is epitomised in the lives of the Gurus.
Guru Hargobind in his talk with Saint Ramdas made it clear that what Guru Nanak had given up was mammon and not the world, the enrichment of which, in accordance with the attributive Will of God, was the mission of the Gurus, as also of every God-conscious man.
In such a righteous world alone the problems of poverty, misery, disease, war and conflict can be solved. The development of superman is, therefore, the spiritual purpose for which life has been striving.
- 1. Guru Granth Sahib.
- 2. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad : India Wins Freedom.
- 3. Russel, Bertrand : Unpopular Essays.
- 4. Hari Ram Gupta : History of The Sikh Gurus.
- 5. Juergensmeyer, M., (Ed.) : Sikh Studies.
Back to previous page