The Philosophy of Sikhism

Guru Arjun Dev Pronounced as Guru

Guru Arjun Dev Initiation as the Fifth Guru

Dr. Avtar Singh


One thing which distinguishes Sikhism from all other civilized religions is its positive and daring approach to anger, pride, desire, possessiveness and ignorance. From ancient days Indian seers have been denouncing them as e.vil. The Jains, the Hindus, the Buddhists, all alike have been preaching a conduct which should totally avoid these five deadly sins. The Gurus have also called them sins but their approach has not been one of avoidance but of conquest. In a way one could say that Sikhism is perhaps the only religion which has developed a monistic conduct. It is one thing to preach theoretically that God alone is truth, but to give a discipline to all human actions, based on this belief alone, requires spiritual boldness and a different vision.

There are several religions which preach that God alone exists. He alone is Sat. But if we examine their ethical system we find that they have a lurking fear of some force which is other than God. Call it sin or evil whatever you like. They have given it many names. They seem to be preaching that a virtuous man should avoid its snares or his soul is lost. Christianity and Islam have accepted this dark, anti-God, element as Satan or the devil. A basic dualism has thus crept into those systems. It is of God and mammon. Whatever attempts Christian and Muslim philosophers and theologians might have made to re-establish monism, the fact remains that their practical life on all steps reflects belief in two supreme entities: one bright, luminous, kind, loving, and the other dark, wicked, cruel.

It goes to the credit of Hinduism that after having realized philosophically 'EKAM SATYA', that God alone is Sat or existent, they have not accepted the existence of the dark power against God. Neither Shaivism nor Vaishnavism nor the Bhakti cult believes in the independent power of a dark being, misleading man and taking him away from God. All the major puranas bear ample testimony to this. Dualism has been altogether removed from the realm of faith by believing that one of the powers of God is Maya and this power has the speciality of having too many forms without any substance.

Man's intelligence and love - the two cardinal forces of divine birth - are lost in the mirage of Maya. It is not only wicked but often assumes shapes better in appearance than Sat, the existent, the real itself. A simile is drawn from the fact that an artificial diamond is brighter than the real diamond. A layman is more likely to go for the artificial than for the real. The real Alladin lamp is lesser in shine and could be exchanged for an ordinary lamp because of the latter' s better shine. This trade has been going on in the world ever since man has existed. Man has been giving up real love under the blinding light of the false one. It has been the pleasure of God to bestow such powers on Maya that she could take up shapes brighter than God himself Maya could be called the Terrible Mother whom psychologists discovered in the last few decades. I will return to this subject later. I would like to say at present only that the religion of the Hindus differs from those religions who have accepted the | existence of Satan and have thus created an irreconcilable rift j of dualism in the soul of man. !

But the Hindus also could not find a way to translate this belief into human conduct. If not their religion, their code of conduct or ethical system is very much based on an avowed dualism. A dichotomy persists in their faith and action. They do not believe that there is any other reality except God. God is both immanent and transcendental. Still their code of conduct does not show that they believe, these misguiding forms of Maya-anger, desire, pride, possessiveness, ignorance-also to be manifestations of God. Their faith must logically preach that these negative forces are mere outer forms and have no malice as their motive. The Fifth Guru said, "Nanak, none is evil." Thus was the dichotomy over- come in Sikhism.

It was left to the Sikhs to remove this dualism from the active life. If I want to avoid anger, pride, desire etc. in my actions, I am bound to recognize these deadly five sins to be existent. Thus evil gets recognition from soul. The soul is Sat and whatever it recognises shall also become existent for it. In a mood of constant avoidance, the Hindus have given an independent existence to these five forces. The Hindu soul is obsessed by them. Maya has thus become for Hindus what evil or devil is for Christians and Muslims-a force anti-God. It was not intended to be such. It was only the step-mother in whose lap the soul is to play in order to acclimatize itself to the conditions of the world. Maya is only the Dragon-Mother, Sursa, who is not to be opposed, for as Fichte said, opposition grants existence to the not-being. Hanuman takes rebirth from her by directing all his cleverness against her opposition. He does not fight her. He treats her with respect and manages to take rebirth from her by quickly coming out of the same mouth through which he entered. His attitude towards Sursa is typical and this is perhaps what the Hindu genius had imagined to be the correct approach to Maya or Asat or Non- existent. He is neither afraid of her nor contemptuous. He is not angry either. He does not argue with her. He does not recognize her powers by surrender or attempt to destroy. All these four attitudes first go to establish the opposite as real. This benefit he does not want to give to Sursa. She has a boon from Brahma that whosoever passes her way shall have to enter into her mouth as her food. Hanuman evolves an entirely original approach. He matches her determined obstruction with cleverness. The element of cleverness in man is given to him to face Asat. He has to use it as an instrument of love and not as an end in itself. The motive behind it is his Bhakti or Love for Rama. It is love which is impetus and the prime- mover.

This further explains the Hindu concept of the evil as non-existent, Maya. It is not real. It becomes real only for the ignorant who hate or fear it or accept it or feel angry at it. One has to. approach it with a sportsman's spirit. He fights the opposite side with all seriousness with a purpose to win. But this fight has neither hatred nor anger.

The Sikh ethics is typical in that, in the true Indian tradition, their attitude is not one of avoiding anger, hatred, possessiveness, desire, pride. By avoiding you establish them. The Gurus taught that emphasis should be on the substance and not on the form. Substance is the real. Form belongs to the realm of the unreal. Anger, hatred, etc., are mere forms. They will cease to be sins if you make them instruments of Divine light, i.e., love. The attitude of avoidance will give them a separate existence. It would be acting against the basic creed of monism. The only existing factor is God who is love. Man exists only as a spark of that light. Anger, desire, pride, etc., are non-existing entities. They are mere forms which ought to be utilized in the service of God. This is the only way to conquer them. If you Tight the passions of anger, desire, etc., you make them resistant and stronger. If you directly subdue them they stealthily enter your inner soul and take their revenge in some of the weaker moments. The right way to conquer them is to make them slaves of the element of love in you. This element is soul or God.

It was a positive and scientific approach. The surrender of passions to love is not easy. It involves a cycle of psychological rebirths. The passions in their intense surge tend to eat up the human soul. The soul takes its rebirth from the eater only when it realized that the eater is unreal whereas the soul is real and the real cannot be eaten or destroyed. 'Nainam chidanti shastrani\ It is only faith in God or love which can manage a rebirth for a brave soul from anger, pride and other deadly sins.

The Sikh Gurus' saintliness is not in having destroyed anger, pride, etc.— something which perhaps is a mere myth. Their saintliness is in remaining thoroughly unaffected by these strong passions. Not for a single moment do they forget that they are mere soldiers of light. They have done penance not to curb human frailties but to let the divine spark merge. For them tap does not mean any torture to body or any suppression of human infirmities. The Gurus realized that to walk on earth, God has made man a queer combinations of the things of light and shade. The so— called infirmity, if properly controlled and subjugated to the Divine light inside, proves to be an essential power to break the 'chakraveuha' of the wicked. They meditated on God with a firm determination to feel Him in their heart as love. It was the descent of God in time and space. Perhaps nothing could be a better gift to posterity from a great man than piercing of the complex of space and time. In the playful scheme of things of God, Divinity in its pure, untainted form stays out of this complex. It is given to man to invite it or not inside time and space. The Gurus prepared their corporal frame to boldly invite the Lord. They realized it was not mortification of flesh that could do this. Human body is the epitome of creation. Whatever is there in it is in a miniature form. To regulate and discipline it in such a way that its negative urges get completely controlled requires a wedding with death. This the Masters knew. The penance of Guru Angad and others is a typical illustration of this. They do not go to the forest. They sit in their house like Guru Tegh Bahadur and meditate and realize the divine meaning of their existence. All the saints since the medieval days have been singing of the vanity of physical tortures and self-denial. The Gurus went a step ahead. They said that it is a matter of courage. One gets from God only what he dares. The sinews and veins, the very heart has to conquer fear of death and destruction, if God is to descend or awaken in our body, though descent and awakening are equally imperfect expressions of a phenomenon which cannot be described perfectly.

The Gurus do not refer to the Chakras and Kundalini like the Yogis. By the time they appeared a countless number of Yogis had already met their doom by concentrating on the art of unfolding the upturned lotuses, the Chakras. They knew it was wrong to use any force to awaken them except courage. When courage surges, no Yogic effort is needed. By themselves the lotuses bloom as in the natural course. Courage is their time-keeper. Courage is their master-Lord. It is mastery over Time which appears in man as courage. Courage is born of a courting with death. "I have shaken my hands with winter my friends. My hands are blue with his hand-shake." So could the Gurus, say, to quote the language of Neitzsche.

The Gurus attached no special uniqueness to the life of one dedicated to God. Such a one was an ordinary being, like the others. Even the first Guru preferred to live as an ordinary farmer, working in the fields with his two sons, facing several doubts even disobedience from them— like an ordinary father. The Gurus' lives were an exercise in courage.

It is difficult for man to brave the fears that surround human life. The fear of the blade and the bullet, of water and frosty winds and of the unknown fate are enough to break the courage of the strongest. But one who braves all these fears, gets reborn through them and he alone is given the subtlest fear, i.e. awe, which is known to have dazed the brightest saints. The Gurus had prepared themselves for this final encounter. The effect of awe could awaken no corresponding sensation in them. They had developed an eye in this careful long journey which had, as they say, "kept watch over man's mortality." It was an eye of compassion and forgiveness. It was the eye of the divine. It could not flinch before awe. When the Master came in his million-horse-driven-chase, such dust and blinding awe was but natural. The Guru had awakened by the single power of courage so as to receive him with a step, unstaggered and firm.

Here is a religion of negatives. Nothing natural is forbidden. Even the hairs that grow naturally have not to be shorn off. Better remain closer to nature or even Maya for the object is neither to question nor to fight Maya. The object is to outwit her. Singular fortitude and courage are required for such a game. It is this spirit which did not let malice or fear of personal grudge rise in the soul of the Gurus. All the time they never forgot that they had to win. The lesson that Krishna taught in Gita had been most diversely and wrongly interpreted. "Thou has not to desire the fruit". This command of the Lord had come to mean almost a murder of the motive. Our race had developed a faith in action for action's sake. The Rajputs would fight only for bravery and honour without ever making victory as their avowed goal. Even to this day a devout Hindu wants simply to do good deeds without a motive. Not to be bound by any desire of fruit or motive does not mean a destruction of it. It further means wastage of human powers in killing motives. Concentrate all your powers, even motives— this was the clairon call of the Gurus. Surrender your soul to God Who is All Light and Love. Once you have done it you have not to fear the bondages of motives. Even motives shall serve the Lord. It was a simple philosophy which very much agreed with common sense and no wonder that thousands and thousands of people from all the four castes and even Muslims thronged at their feet to find the road which grants worldly glory and bliss in the same action.

Here the Guru's concept is very much akin to that of the Tirthankaras. Control your soul and you have controlled everything. Do not bother about your desires, thoughts or motives. The source of all these is the soul. Surrender it to the Lord. It is lazy by habit like a python. It just wants rest and therefore adjusts in every situation. Do not let it sleep. Do not let it compromise. It has to awaken and remain active. Unless the soul has surrendered its pride its beauty cannot awaken which is the same as the Lord. Unless it has tasted the sweetness of God, it cannot realize what light is.

Joy is blinded and lost in its own follies. The soul shall keep on wandering from one life to another. But once it has experienced the flicker of Love and once surrender has risen in it as its strongest passion, it gets into direct communion with the Lord and then all that it does or desires, no matter how ordinary it is, becomes an offering to God. In his eternal fire everything gets renewed and transformed. Even a bloody battle becomes a sacred thing.

It is important to note that the Gurus have nowhere given any importance to Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram. On the contrary this trio has been considered as the finest flower of all philosophy in the east as well as the west. Not only philosophers, but also poets called it so. Keats said: Beauty is truth and truth beauty That is all that ye know on earth And all that ye need to know.

Instead of this trio, the emphasis of the Gurus has been on Sat, i.e. the existent, the real, the popular way for Sikhs to greet each other is: Sat-Srl-Akal. There lies underneath a deep psychological meaning in this choice of the Gurus. It would seem that the main cause for the downfall of Hindu as well as Greek civilization was their emphasis on Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram. They considered this trinity to be the most secular face of God. But a closer examination would show that God is present in the human soul in a more elementary form than this trinity and this trinity is in fact-an outer manifestation of that essence of God in us. God lives in us as Sat, as the Being. The ontological reality is here and now. It exists. We feel it in the form of our Being or Love. Truth is what this essence speaks. Beauty is the shine it imparts to our face and body when we allow it to live in us untarnished. Good is what it does without compromising with anything. As such Truth* Good, Beauty are Asat when placed against this essence of God in us, i.e. Love. Whatever is Asat or non-existent can be changed into other forms. Truth is Asat for it is an outer manifestation of the essence Sat though it expresses the True one. It is not the true one. The Sikh slogan has been therefore: 'More important than truth is a true man'.


They called Him beyond Time-Akal. This was for the first time that God was worshipped as Timeless. No doubt this is one of the many names attributed to Him. But it is the Gurus who enshrined this name. To remember Him as the One whom Time cannot touch being itself only a manifestation of His, was highly exciting and hopeful to a race in despair. Time seemed endless for they were hard times indeed, when the foreign rulers had established themselves on the soil. Life hung on a thread. There was darkness all around. To worship Him as Brahman was not enough to wipe the gloom from the eyes of the common man. It did not enter the dark recesses of time where his soul was imprisoned. But it was really heartening to learn that the Divine cannot be touched by time and is greater, in fact is the Creator of time and that in this insignificant enslaved, dishonoured body of ours lives none else but He Himself as our individual soul. Thus even we cannot be touched by time.

The feelings of a slave mother often create feelings of humiliation in her brave son. Her joys and woes look petty to him as they are all connected with her master. Their narration provokes contempt in him. The communication between the mother and the son gets broken. The son also feels small in going and asking from someone the thing that he most needs: Circumstances often weave such a web that he cannot get it otherwise. He resorts to momentary pleasures or stealing of the desired thing.

This state of affairs had come to be between India and her brave sons before the advent of the Gurus. India has been a cultural unit for thousands of years but those brave sons had forgotten the face of their mother out of shame. The Rajputs in Rajasthan, the Punjabis in Punjab, the Marathas, the Southern people had all lost the ingrained sense of belonging to the same mother. Mother India was no longer the pious goddess-like mother whose hair spread over the white neck of Himalayas and whose lotus feet were washed by the ocean. She had been dishonoured, raped, looted and enslaved. All her glory was shed. She was a slave woman. Therefore her sons preferred to call themselves by their province or city rather than as Indians. This break of communion between the mother and the sorts had its worst effect on the women-folk. They carried the tales of the woes and joys of Mother India in their songs and talks, finding no response in man. It seemed as if men, in their pride did not want to remember their dishonoured and raped mother.

In medieval days in India communion broke down between women and brave, virtuous and learned men. Women started being considered as the companion of the courtier, with no higher destiny to pursue. It was the same woman who had been a companion of man in his highest pursuits in ancient days. A Yajna by Sri Ram without Sita ji was considered incomplete. Yajnavalka had made his wives Maitreyi and Gargi constant companions of his philosophic adventures. Pandavas had made Kunti and Draupadi regular guides in their wars against Kauravas. In fact the best philosophers and rishis and warriors had been inspired and guided by women. Such was the faith in woman and her virtuous being that Rama staked everything to protect the honour of his wife and brave Pandavas forgot everything except the vow to revenge the little act of dishonour that had been done to their common wife. They accepted the provocations aroused by Draupadi" as wise pieces of advice.

But in the medieval days no such faith was felt in women even though thousands of them had started burning themselves to prove their chastity in Rajasthan. All this sacrifice could not succeed to win a place of honour even for a single woman, as friend, philosopher and guide to some great thinker or warrior. Shankaracharya, the greatest intellectual of medieval days denounced them outright. So did the greatest poets of middle ages. Woman came to be considered as a positive hindrance in higher pursuits. The philosophers, poets and warriors were no longer interested in the freedom of India. They had left Mother India, and, as a natural sequence, women to their confusion, sorrow and folly. They were in search of a heaven away from her. Their philosophy therefore grew wings and became more and more abstract. The fine synthesis of this world with the other was lost. The warriors did not think of the honour of India. They were busy with petty quarrels and personal glorification. The dynamic spirit of the Guptas was lost. The effort was to cut 1 out their individual fates from the destiny of the race in the vain hope what they could find their heaven in this way. They did not want to share the dishonour of the race, nor to fight and strive for the restoration of its honour, for the whole affair seemed to be very humiliating. The best among them became therefore impractical dreamers while the ordinary man oblivious of the critical task, became busy with the stolen pleasures of life.

The Gurus broke this torpor. They came to share the grief and dishonour of the race. The tormented soul of Guru Nanak recorded the woes of his time. His heart was outraged at the shame heaped upon the people and the cruelties perpetrated. The Gurus refused to consider women as hindrances in the spiritual journey. Like ancient rishis, from Guru Nanak onwards, they lived in families. They did not wish to keep the world of woman closed to themselves. They in fact enriched their vision from it. They pleaded for woman's emancipation. They stood for the race's freedom and honour. Guru Tegh Bahadur did everything to persuade Aurangzeb to give her rightful freedom of faith back. Finally, when nothing worked, they took to the steel. They were conscious of the weaknesses of the race which was a mere sparrow before the enemy who was like a hawk. But sparrows shall fight the Hawks.

"Sure shall I make one dash against a lakh and more. Then and then alone shall my Mother call me Gobind Singh. "

The Indians had been bearing all kinds of suppression of their culture and social virtues. A fallacy had developed among them that to grow indifferent to pain and inhuman tortures is to conquer them spiritually. The Gurus challenged his myth. They realized that what the race had styled as a spiritual reply to atrocities was in fact an attitude of negativity.

The Gurus gave to love the importance that they gave to nothing else. At all other costs this flame is to be kept alive. It is the direct manifestation of God in us. The form of love in a person in fact shows the level of his spiritual attainment. When human love realizes itself to be but a spark of God, its movement and pleasure in transient things starts fading and a deeper interest rises in it to express its source, i.e. God.

The racial habit of passive grief was an inhuman adjustment with the monstrous situation when the only valuable thing given to men, i.e. love had been extinguished. This adjustment springs from our unconscious. Whenever love is killed in our life, we willingly adopt passive grief as an alternative. It is considered heroic not to weep, not to protest, not to question. Such perverted virtues are the outcome of the racial sin of accepting passively the murder of the divine element in us.

The Gurus said that it was no virtue to hide your face from the plunderer. It was rather carrying his shame in your eyes.


The Sikh approach is monistic. The procedure is of surrender. The layman surrenders his soul to the Gurus. The Guru surrenders his soul to God. The way is of willing subordination to God, i.e. Love or Light.

The individual self has the power of God in miniature form. Ignorance plays upon his imperfection. He builds with those powers a small island for himself. This is his haumai, his ahankara. This isolates him from the Lord. Will is the power which can make a windowless monad of him as well as a soldier of Light and Love. Active participation in the Lord is advocated. It is possible through an act of will. Here the Sikh Gurus differ from other teachers in a major way.

Surrender to the Will of God has been generally understood to be the same as the destruction of personal will or desire. Hence there has been no dearth of saints who have likened desires to serpents who ought to be crushed by one who seeks God. According to psychologists, destruction of desires cannot usher the advent of the Divine Will in us. The Gurus have talked of a positive way. You cannot be in communion with the Will of God by destroying your individual will. A higher effort and determination are required for this. Your individual will is the only link you have with the Divine Will. Instead of destroying your will, make it an instrument of God's Will. The One has transformed into many not only at the spiritual level, but at all levels. The Gurus seem to be saying that this transformation is taking place at all time everywhere. Wherever life is, there transformation is. At the levels of thoughts, feelings and will the same one is appearing as many. None can reach the one by destroying the many. The wise ones learn the spiritual art of rolling back the many into one. To hear the clear call of the one amidst the myriad calls of the many, requires sincere love. It is here, more than any- where else that the importance of love is proved. In the clamour and cry of a thousand warring desires, it is love alone which gives you a trace of the Divine Will. One unawakened by this love is more likely to let pass the Divine Will as one of the many wills. He will know that it is the real will, the only will and all other wills are nothing but its vulgarizations, nothing but the change of the real into so many unreals. It requires the power of love to understand His scheme.

But those who do not realize this central theme of all creation, i.e. love, find themselves preys to ego, haumai. These are two alternatives. The one who goes for ahankara or individuality has not traced yet the home of the lover. Even at the highest spiritual stage, the Gurus never gave any value to their individuated selves. "If I knew Him should I not describe him." (Japji) Such is the humility that Guru Nanak practised. The last Guru went so far as to curse those who thought of building a memorial to him.


In the days of the Gurus, due to a long history of sloth and inertia, mysticism had degenerated into a form of practical escapism. The upanisadic mysticism was beyond intellect. After all intellectual adventures, when the seers found them incapable of revealing the Lord, they used a language which did not convey a definite thing. Later on, after the invasions had sacked the vitality of the race, the cowardly thinkers used mysticism as an escape from reality. The Gurus refused to do so. They banished mysticism from practical life.

C.G. Jung says, "The possession of the mystery cuts one off from intercourse with the rest of mankind." The Gurus neither attained nor aimed at such isolation. They were in constant communion with the people. They broke all barriers between the mystic and the common people. God is not a mystery. No secret or special religious practices were required to invoke Him. We can be in direct communion with Him if we surrender ourselves to Him.

Haumai or ego, is the reverse of Hukum, i.e. a will surrendered to God. A true Sikh has to change haumai into Hukum. Though they have not talked in detail of their spiritual experiences, yet important hints are available. One who by devotion and surrender to love would exchange haumai for Hukum, will get the divine gift of mystical sway. The Gurus asked their disciples not to stop here, to give no importance to the mystical sway which was no more than a snare. Most of the saints have preferred to stop at this. Patanjali had also warned the yogis not to lay much store by such powers. To value them is the same as to miss the end. There is no magical power or miracle with the Sikh Gurus. Like the finest of the seers, like Mahavir and Buddha, they refused to attract people to religion through miracles. They invoked love itself. For one to be able to do this great penance and self-purification are needed. Like speaks to like.

The Gurus inflamed the spiritual spark in the heart of the Indians. The racial consciousness or life-force, through a long career of self-negations, had been atrophied. It had reached a stage when the Indian soul was no longer living. The Gurus had realised the danger. For a country with such an enlightened past it was all the more suicidal. In remote past the Indian soul had touched the supreme heights of evolution, had realised its essence. Now all that wisdom was becoming a subtle bondage. More important than wisdom is the motive behind it. If the motive is of fear or self- withdrawal, wisdom will become a deadly weapon in its hands. In the spiritual language, it becomes a huge merciless serpent which coils round the soul and makes it its own prisoner. The Indian soul has suffered long under this pathetic bondage and too many words are perhaps not required to show what I mean. All our wisdom had been poisoned by a spirit of negation. What should have led the race to higher conquests and fulfilments both here and hereafter, brought only disaster, wastes and pessimism. Why? This was the question that struck Guru Nanak. Why this darkness? asked Guru Nanak, and his anguished soul cried, "Shall I never come out of it." He faced the problem realistically. There was a fundamental difference between the approach of other contemporary saints and of the Gurus. The saints talked of escape. Sankaracharya had paved the way for it by. his brilliant conception of Maya. Tulsi Das, Ramanuja, Vallabha and all other saints were influenced by this life-negating spirit of Sankaracharya. They all agreed on one point at least that it was possible to build a different world within this tormented world of ours and, instead of lamenting for what man has made of man, a wise man should build his private spiritual world and live in it, establishing a close link with God. The Gurus said, No. Not for me, said Guru Nanak, any private world of self-exaltation. Where the common man suffers, there is my field. The Gurus were the first in the medieval days to make an attempt to win back earth for the children of God. They were realistic enough not to be satisfied with any imaginary or spiritually animated world. They were clear that they had to share the common life and its sufferings. They did not mean to use their spiritual powers to build an ivory tower for themselves. They rejected the notion of private, elevated, capsuled life. They did not bow to the forces of darkness. They did not seek compromises for themselves. Whoever was an enemy of the masses, was the enemy of humanity. This approach naturally brought them face to face before a mighty empire and, as time passed, they had to fortify themselves militarily against its injustices and tyranny. This gave a new shape and concept to the Sikh faith. Originally, militaristic activity was not at all envisaged. Guru Nanak lived as an ordinary farmer with his two sons and wife and later on Guru Angad, at that time a disciple, also joined the holy farmer family. Never once the idea to take up arms seems to have struck him.

The Sikh militarism is therefore not an essential part of the creed. It is the turning of philosophers into warriors as a matter of exigency, as a response to their time. Their history records one of the finest dreams, of the awakening of wisdom. Their wars were only expressions of a deeper inner vow of total fearlessness. This is the vow that Guru Nanak took and this is the vow that every Sikh takes to this day. Splendid must have been the sense that led the Gurus to trace the maladies of human soul. In the Mahabharata anger was discovered by Vyas as the root of sins. But much water had flown down the Indus since Krishna called Arjuna to give a battle to the antihuman. Mephistopheles tells the witches in Faust:

"Much water has flown down the Seine and culture had time enough to reach even the Devil since we met last."

Instead of anger, fear had come to be the central vice in the Indian soul. It had become the root of all sins. It had grown and nurtured in a subtle way. The Indians began avoiding square issues and leaving politics to rulers and society to self-acquisitive individuals. This artifice they had contrived in order to keep their peace undisturbed. But peace is not retained in this way. The storm had entered the soul. It could be quietened by leaving those torn by it to themselves. It was a hidden form of cowardice for philosophers to leave the layman with his problems and go for an isolated life. It was the pathos of distance that had entered the soul of the higher ones. When their turn came to give a lead to the erring and confused masses, they stood aside. The bank had broken on a winter night and in cold dark waves millions were struggling. The captains at this time preferred to retire. This was a betrayal. It grew gradually to a deep-seated fear. The Indian people started fearing everything. The rulers they feared. The sadhus, tantriks they feared. They feared even God. They feared to love. They feared to worship openly. To speak the truth was out of the question. In the medieval ages, even those known for their boldness like Kabir, confined themselves to parables. There is not a single treatise composed in medieval days which speaks boldly and factually of the wretched conditions of the people and the atrocities perpetrated on them. Fear had silenced wisdom. There is no history of those days, no autobiography or other record to bring to us a sensitive appraisal of the soul of India. Fear had coiled the soul. The Gurus therefore made courage the cardinal virtue. Fear became the source of all ill. So shall courage become the source of all good. ..this seems to have been the thinking of the Gurus.


There is not much talk about the cosmos and of the situation of the various worlds in Sikh scriptures. It is very rarely that one comes across such allusions. Nonetheless, they have described worlds which a true seeker experiences psychologically like the Dharam Khand, Gyan Khctnd, Saram Khand, Karma Khand, Sach Khand.

Gyan Khand is the world which a true seeker experiences intellectually. It is full of light. The flames of thought keep it bright. A million brooks of joy are there whose origin cannot be traced. Another trace is given in Japuji:- The source-spring of illuminated action is Karam Khand. A seeker can unfold these hidden worlds within his body.

Nirankar, the Lord beyond space and time, resides in Sach Khand.

The Sikhs fall in with the age-old Hindu concept of millions of worlds. Thus they have no fear of contradiction from modern science. What the Yogi or Sikh experiences psychologically is the correct clue to this wonderful creation of God. All these worlds are enfolded in the small human frame by the Creator and a seeker unfolds vast stretches of space and time within himself. Thus when the Sixth Guru Har Gobind sits fully armed on the throne in obedience to the wish of his father, Guru Arjan, he realizes within himself the injunctions not only of his father, but of his predecessors as well.

The Sikh discipline lays great emphasis on human virtues. It is not for men to become a God. "Greater than truth is a true man," said Guru Nanak. Human virtues are important. Here arises the need for spiritual discipline. Nam Yoga and meditation as well as self-restraint were preached and practised by the Gurus with the sole objective of letting the soul of man retain its human qualities against all odds. It was their firm belief that for a communion with God and to be able to express the Will of Wahiguru, i.e. God, retention of the human virtues was very essential. This emphasis of theirs is of utmost importance, the full value of which has not been realized so far. In fact in this single ardour they have managed to retain the best of both the worlds. The vedantists did not care for this and as a result, to exhibit the divine light which had no form or character, the human soul tended to expand itself to breaking stretches ... an effort in which human qualities were lost. The sanyasis had little to offer which was of relevance to human life. In fact human virtues were relegated to the background and a saint was considered to be in no need of them. This error helped in the rise of such dark systems as the Kapalikas and Aghories. All the philosophic systems had become averse to human miseries. Instead of taking a human interest in them, the Yogis tended further to humiliate the layman by telling him that his sufferings were symbols of his sinful life.

The Gurus insisted that the first thing a true Sikh has to ensure is the development of human virtues. Let the soul be first worthy of the body. Then alone will it be worthy of God. The fact that a human body has been given to us is to be justified by moulding the soul in such a way that it grows into human virtues of man. Only such a soul is capable of understanding the message of God.

The Sikh Gurus have given a code of conduct to their disciples which must awaken the soul in them. The moment the soul awakens and becomes active, space and time give it the form of a serpent. Every invisible power, when it tries to express itself through matter, gets automatically the form of a snake. It seems to be a universal phenomenon. Look at wind, electricity, sound or any other invisible power. The moment you try to take their imprint on matter, you find they take up serpentine coils. If you watch the wind agitating a river you find the wind gets the form of a serpent. Similarly when science learnt to record sound, it found sound to be of the shape of a serpent again. It seems space and time contrive to clothe soul with the subtle body of a serpent the moment it wills to express itself in our body. This 'will' comes to the soul of one in hundreds. But all his dreams get shattered for space and time, as has been their custom, give it immediately the subtle body of a serpent. It is called the subtle body, the astral body or the sukshma-sarira. The Sikh faith lays no store by this subtle body. It rather advocates a discipline which empowers the soul to command space and time to provide a subtle human body instead of a serpentine subtle body. The first step in Sikh discipline is therefore the timing of space and time. The subtle body should be human. The saint in Sikhism should be more human than the ordinary men. Only such a man has known the art of awakening his soul, of making it express itself in the body and yet not to get it tempered by the subtle intermediate body of a serpent. If you get the subtle body of a serpent, all your wisdom and virtue, all your love act as a serpent. The motive behind the human becomes the serpent. Hence the wrath and curses and flashing eyes and floating hairs of the traditional saints. The Sikh totally disapproves such a conduct. Guru Tegh Bahadur was a Guru because, even in face of enormous cruelty and heartlessness, his soul did not lose its virtues of human patience and calm. His divine origin was illuminating his sorrowful face with the radiance of love. His divinity was in doing away with the subtle body.

Here I would like to infer from the few words of the Gurus their original interpretation of the Kundalini power in man. The Tantriks and medieval Yogis are unanimous on the point that it is the hidden or residual power lying coiled as a serpent in the root of our existence. In the absence of clear philosophic discussions on the part of the Gurus, much reliance shall have to be put on logical inferences or deductions, in interpreting their thoughts for the modern reader. Prior to Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra, neither the Upanisads nor the Jaina and Buddhist systems speak of the Kundalini as a serpent-like force. I think when the yogis visualized this enormous power it had already been given the serpent-form by space and time, the two intuitions of the soul. The medieval Yogis saw Kundalini in this degenerated form and standardized it. While reading the intense importance to human virtue given by the Gurus, it struck me as highly thought of the Gurus, it is very significant that they have placed a true life even above Truth. This bold statement gives me sufficient clue to infer that the Gurus never thought that the snake was the inevitable form given to Kundalini. It is rather due to an error and ignorance that Kundalini is accepted in the snake form. In a truly evolved soul, Kundalini will take up a human form. It is this human form that we find in the awakened Kundalini of men like Guru Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. Their incessant flow of undying energy at no time is blind or inhuman. It was indeed a miracle. It should be quite confounding to modern evolutionists like Bergson, to see that even the primal life- force, the elan-vital in her wildest, torrential flood in a human being could be so well measured and moralized.

Energy and the ideal have ever been the two ancient dreams disturbing the eye-lids of man. He had always been moved by them. Sometimes they got energy realized in the personality of a Temur, Chenghiz, Atilla or Napoleon. At some other cross-road of history they found the human ideal realized in a Christ, a Tirthankar or a Buddha. But never the same man wielded weapons and lived a life of hectic activity and energy without compromising the ideals. I think the type of hero Neitzsche dreamt of in Zarathustra, had already appeared as Gobind Singh. It is a pity that he never knew of him.

The goal of the Sikh Gurus was not beyond Good and Evil. This philosophic concept had already taken the followers of Sankaracharya to a point from which there was no return. They had broken the human bounds This ideal ultimately produced Kapalikas and Aghoris and several such systems which laid no emphasis on the purity and essential humanness of our conduct.

The Vedic concept was never beyond good and evil. Good has always been the ideal. The difference between a great seer's and an ordinary man's actions is only this that the seer has knowledge of a deeper and more effective good of which the layman is unaware. Even as God does good to us, which we cannot understand, so a great man's actions may not be entirely comprehensible to ordinary man. Nonetheless they are nothing but good. The Vedic seers never thought that a highly evolved man was exempt from the necessity of adhering to good actions or ethical standards.

Actions belong to the world of Asat. Therefore the good and evil actions both are Asat, illusory. Why then be so particular about their distinction? This seems to have been the argument of the followers of Sankaracharya. This resulted in indifference to political miseries and the common joys and sorrows of life. It also helped in the growth of callousness, cruelty and insensitivity in the social life. Guru Nanak recorded, on the other hand in the most sensitive words the miseries and agonies of common man of his time. He suffered the commoner's yoke. ..a true sign of greatness. No doubt Sikhism also holds only God to be the truth. The world is a multi-coloured show without substance. Actions in such a world are also of the nature and stuff of which the world is made. But, the Guru would say, this was no logic for not doing strictly good actions. The task before man was not to live in the world of Maya with detachment. This illusory world has to disappear, has to become a non- entity in the soul of man. This has to be realized as a positive force and not as a mere notion.

The deepest and spontaneous fountains of action in man are not beyond good and evil, but only good. The Divine appears in us as the impetus of good actions alone. Evil is no opposite of Good as an impostor is no opposite of a true heir; as a false Guru is no opposite of a true Guru. In fact but of the many tricks of Maya it is one, and a very confounding one to appear as the opposite of God and thus gain the seat of the rival. The Gurus would say there is no rival to Him. Only He is. He is good. Evil is not His opposite. Therefore, the idea beyond good and evil is meaningless and misguiding. Evil is not the opposite of good but a veil drawn by ignorance, a play enacted for the blinded and those who revel in folly.

The Gurus gave a wild shock to the serpent coiled round ... the racial genius. They said emphatically that good actions were the sole carriers to Nirvana. It was erroneous to think that they too bind. They are of the very nature of God. God does not bind. They dispelled this age-old philosophic error and awakened the race to its pristine wisdom.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Source: From The Philosophical Perspectives Of Sikhism By Dr. Avtar Singh, Editor Dr. Gurnam Kaur.© Guru Granth Sahib Studies Department, Punjabi University, Patiala. Reproduced from under the license Non-Commercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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