Sunday, February 19, 2006

The World View in Sikhism

I found this article while looking through "Current thoughts on Sikhism". It is very intelligently written and certainly worth reading. I've also put this article in the Essay/Thoughts area for download as a Word document. If it looks a little long, please at least read the middle section (part II) for I think its incredible.

The World-view in Sikhism
Dr. H.S. Virk

What is the meaning of World-view? It is a set of fundamental beliefs, attitudes, values, etc., which determine or constitute a comprehensive outlook on life and the universe (1). In every religion or spiritual system, the concept of God, or ultimate Reality, determines its World-view and its structure (2). Our thesis on the World-view in Sikhism will be formulated on three basic concepts:

  1. Concept of God/Reality,
  2. Concept of Universe/World,
  3. Concept of Ideal Man/Society.

1. Concept of God/Ultimate Reality in Sikhism:

The Sikh scripture, Adi Guru Granth Sahib, defines the concept of God through His attributes: Eternal Unity, the Om that has assumed the Creation-body; Being of Truth; Creator person; without fear or hatred; Beyond Time and Space; Spiritborn/Unborn; Self-Existent; Transcendental Cosmic-Spirit made manifest by grace of the Guru (3). The concept of God as Creator-Person of the world has far reaching implications in the religious history of India. A positive relation between God and the world is a revolutionary postulate in Sikhism which forms the basis of Sikh Cosmology. God is both Transcendent and Immanent. He is both in the universe and outside it. Sikhism dialectically unites the ideas of God and World. Transcendence shows that God is prior to and distinct from the world. Immanence of God is a symbolic way of expressing God's connection with the world. God himself transforms into creation, that is, changing his nirguna form into sarguna form (4). The formless God manifests Himself in the creation and there in no dichotomy in nirguna and sarguna forms.

Nature of Reality

Metaphysics is a systematic and sustained enquiry into the nature of ultimate reality. It is an attempt to know the reality against mere appearance. Religion relies both on reason and revelation in its attempt to study the nature of reality. To the Indian philosopher, experience is the ultimate test of truth. Since the reality is trans-empirical, it cannot be known through sense experience but through intuitive experience (anubhuti); it is the experience of the highest level, for it transcends both the rational and the sensory aspects of human experience with which we are normally acquainted (6).

Mystics believe in the integral or holistic experience of reality. We need not rest content with the partial truths revealed by astronomy, physics, biology or by history; each true in its own field, non-complete in itself, non-giving the whole picture; nor yet with the truth of mathematics or the truth of language, primarily truths of expression, obeying rules which men themselves have made. Beyond all these, beyond the contradictions of each separate truth, lies concealed, the supreme and final truth (7).

The following hymn of Guru Angad Dev alludes to the transcendental nature of reality (8) : "In this realm, one sees but without the eyes; one listens but without the ears; one walks but without the feet; one works but without the hands; one speaks but without the tongue; thus attaining life in death. O Nanak, one meets God after realisation of the divine law."

According to Upanishads, Brahman or Atman which is the ultimate reality is of the nature of existence (Sat), consciousness (Cit) and bliss (Ananda). It is one only and non-dual. The pluralistic universe is only an illusory appearance of Brahman or Atman due to maya or avidya. There are two views of reality in the Upanishads, the cosmic view and the acosmic view. These two views serve as the bases for theistic and absolutistic schools of thought in Vedanta.

Sikhism fundamentally differs from this standpoint of Vedanta. The world is neither maya nor a perversion. It is a dharamsala, a place for righteous actions. Guru Nanak discards the Vedantic conception of reality in Asa-di-Var and definitely proclaims that this universe is real, not an illusion (9). He says, "Real are thy continents; Real is the universe; Real are these forms and material objects; Thy doings are real, O Lord." Further, the Guru calls the universe as "His Mansion" (10). "This moving universe is the divine mansion of the Being of Truth; And the Lord Truth lives therein".

2. Concept of Universe/World

According to Deussen, there are four different views of creation of universe in the Hindu philosophy:

  1. Matter is eternal and Purusha (Creator) has always been independent of God. God does not create the matter but moulds it into creation as a potter maketh the earthen pots.
  2. Purusha is the cause and creator of matter. But after the creation, God does not interfere in its working and it continues according to its own fundamental laws.
  3. God himself transforms into creation, i.e., changing from nirguna to saguna form.
  4. Creation is a play of maya. It is a mere illusion. Only God is real.
The age of the Universe according to the Hindu World-view is infinite. There are innumerable Brahmas who are employed in the process of creation. Each Brahma has as life time of 100 years. On astronomical time scale, the year is much longer than our solar year. Some of the time units of Hindu Calendar are given below:

1 Maha yuga = S+D+T+K (Four Yugas) = 432 x 10^4 Solar years.

1000 Maha-yugas = Kalp = Day = Night (Of Brahma)

Age of Brahma = 73x432x10^10 Solar years.
Sikh Cosmology challenges the Hindu World-vew as archaic and based on dogma. In Japuji, Guru Nanak sums up his view-point about creation of the universe which he elaborates in a most scientific manner in Raga Maru Solhe. His creation hypothesis is summed up as follows:
"God created the Universe by uttering a Word" (11).

Guru Nanak poses the next question:
"What was the time and the moment,
The day and the month,
When the world was created?" (12)
In the next stanza, he talks of the prevailing view-points:

"Neither the Pundit can predict this date
by looking through the Purana texts,
Nor can the Qazi tell from the Koran,
Neither the Yogi nor any one else knows
the day, week, season and month of creation,
The Creator who creates the world,
He Himself knows the time." (13)
In Maru Solhe, Guru Nanak versifies his thoughts about the 'epoch' before creation which is referred to as 'sunya', a concept at variance with the Sunyata philosophy of Buddhism. The Guru envisages creation out of this 'sunya' Phase (14) :

'The creator was all alone. He created the water, earth and the sky; even the sun and the moon from this Sunya.'
According to Guru Amar Das, (15) the 'sunya' phase lasted for as long as 36 yugas (38.88 x 10^6 solar years) before the creation phase started.

According to the "Big Bang" model of the Universe, the creation started some 20 billion years ago from the "big bang" epoch in the history of the Universe when infinitely denser matter, 'Primeval Atom,' exploded, creating an immense flux of radiation (energy quantas). Within a microsecond, elementary particles were created, which are building blocks of matter. From this primeval nebular medium known as 'gas-cloud', galaxies and solar systems emerged. This creation process is going on till date. Stars are born in galaxies, a million times brighter and heavier than our Sun, grow from 'red giants' to 'white dwarfs' and explode either as 'supernovas' or turning into invisible "black holes." It is predicted that 'black holes' are such demons that can annihilate the solar systems and other celestial bodies. Such is the fate of this universe, yet to be fully explored by cosmologists.

This wonderful drama of creation is elucidatged further by Guru Nanak in his mystic reverie in Maru Solhe, which has assumed the role of touchstone for Sikh cosmology, vis-a-vis its scientific counterpart. Surprisingly, there is a perfect correspondence between the epoch of 'big-bang' and the creation out of sunya phase as enunciated in Guru Granth (16).

"From the True Lord, proceeded the air, and from air became the water. From the water, God created the entire world, and in every heart He infused His light"

The Guru further elucidates (16a) :
"For billions of years, there was nothing but utter darkness. There was neither day nor night, nor moon, nor sun, but the Lord alone sat in profound trance. Neither there was creation, nor air, nor water. There were no continents, nor underworlds, nor seven oceans, nor rivers, nor the flowing of water. There was neither death, nor time. There was no Brahma, nor Vishnu or Shiva.

When He so willed, He created the world and supported the firmament without support. He created Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and extended the love of mammon. He founded the continents, solar systems and underworlds, and from the Absolute self, he became manifest."
Guru Arjan Dev describes, in Sukhmani (17), the myriad forms of creation:

"There are millions and millions of galaxies and solar systems in the universe. The phenomenon of creation has occurred so many times. But the one Lord remains for ever and ever."

The riddle of creation of the Universe will remain an enigma for cosmologists, and there is no final word yet in cosmology. About the present theories and models, we may conclude with a quotation of the Tenth Master from Akal Ustat in the Dasam Granth (18) :

"Everyone explains the creation process according to his intellect, but no one can tell, O Lord, how You first created the Universe."

(c) Concept of Ideal Man/Society

The most important concept in the Sikh World-view is the creation of an Ideal man in the universe, the 'Gurmukh' of Guru Nanak and the 'Khalsa' of Guru Gobind Singh. In the opening stanza of Japuji, Guru Nanak poses the question (19) :

"How can we become Sachiara?
How can we break the bonds of falsehood"?

And then he answers himself in the same stanza (19) :

"By obeying His Will, as ordained by Him."

Guru Nanak makes a radical departure from the earlier Indian religious systems in expounding his concept of Gurmukh, the harbinger of dharamsal on this earth. The Gurmukh promotes the Naam culture of Guru Granth. In Siddha-Goshth, Guru Nanak propounds and promulgates his concept of ideal man, the Gurmukh. When the siddhas ask the Guru to spell out the reasons of his quest (Udasis). The Guru gave an emphatic reply (20), 'I am looking out for a Gurmukh in the World. The Guru has a firm belief that God has created the earth so that man can attain the emancipated state of a Gurmukh. (21)

It is in the background of his spiritual experience and his concept of God, that Guru Nanak lays down the ground rules and methodology of his system. (22) The first corollary of it is that withdrawal, monasticism and asceticism are unacceptable and instead, the householder's life is accepted. He condemns the yogis for "being idlers, and not being ashamed of begging alms at the very door of the householder whose life they spurn." He declares that liberation is possible even while playing and laughing and that the God-centred (Gurmukh) lives truthfully as a householder. In Siddha-Goshth, Guru Nanak gives a beautiful analogy (23) to explain his concept of a householder's life: "The life of a worldly man should be like that of a lotus on the lake, and as of the duck on the river, living in them and still unstained by their waters."

To sum up, in words of Puran Singh, "If the Sikh, as he was born, had ever been afforded opportunities of spiritual isolation from the rest of the world, to develop his powers of self-realisation, and his instincts of art and agriculture and colonisation, his would have been by now, one of the best societies of divinely inspired labourers, of saint-soldiers living by the sweat of their brow" (24) .

"But Brahminism was there to engulf it from within. His political temper, the result of his complete mental liberation and his passionate love of liberty pitched him against the Mughals from the time of its birth. Out of the jaws of death, if the Khalsa has still come out, there is much hope for it yet. All is not yet lost" (25)


  1. Nirbhai Singh, Hermeneutics of Sikhism in contemporary Contextuality, J. of Religious Studies, vol. XXIII,no.2, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1993
  2. Kharak Singh, "Sikhism : A Miri-Piri System," Dharam Prachar Committee (SGPC), Amritsar, 1994.
  3. Puran Singh, "Spirit of the Sikh", Part II, Vol. 1, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1980
  4. Sri Guru Granth Sahib p. 290
  5. Ibid, p. 250
  6. "Essays on Hinduism", PunjabiUniversity, Patiala, 1968.
  7. Virk, H.S. "History and Philosophy of Science", Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, 1988.
  8. Sri Guru Granth Sahib p. 139
  9. Ibid, p. 463
  10. Ibid, p. 463
  11. Ibid, p. 3.
  12. Ibid, p. 4
  13. Ibid, p. 4.
  14. Ibid, p. 1037
  15. Ibid, p. 949.
  16. Ibid, p. 1035.
  17. Ibid, p. 276
  18. Akal Ustat, Dasam Granth
  19. Sri Guru Granth Sahib: p.1.
  20. Ibid. p. 939
  21. Ibid. p. 941
  22. Kharak Singh, "Sikhism : A Miri-Piri System", Dharam Parchar Committee (SGPC), Amritsar (1994)
  23. Sri Guru Granth Sahib: p. 938
  24. Puran Singh, 'Spirit of the Sikh' Part II, Vol. 2, P. 321 Punjabi University, patiala, 1981./
  25. Ibid, p. 322.


Gurpreet Singh said...

nice read

Anonymous said...

Love it. Thanks!