Gurmat and Hinduism
As we have seen Gurmat is universal mystical revolution.
Hinduism is hard to pin down but there are certain fundamental beliefs
focusing around a national-political project which has been active in
India since the Aryan invasion three
and a half thousand years ago. But whereas the western Aryan belief
systems such as the ancient Greek and Roman were changed by the
influence of Judaism and Christianity, the eastern Aryans have not made
this change, since the earlier attempts of Jainism and Buddhism were
effectively marginalised in India,
the land of their birth. There is also a gulf between sramanic beliefs
of the indigenous Indians which were later taken over and interpreted by
the Aryan priests the brahmins, and brahminism. Sramanic beliefs include
devi (the Goddess), music and dance as symbolised by Shiva and Krishna,
and the Guru-chela relationship implied in the Upanishads. The brahmin
texts include the Rig Veda, Manu and other simritis, shatras, purans,
tales of Ram (Ramayana) and Mahabharata. While the sramanic tradition
deals with the dynamic tension of opposing forces in the universe (male
and female, Guru and apprentice) which exist in the universe and within
ourselves, the brahminical deals with social order as expressed in the
caste system and the subjection and elimination of forces outside the
brahminical social order which hope is expressed in the figure of Kalki,
the final incarnation of Vishnu who is yet to come.
In contrast with Hindus, Sikhs do
not accept animistic or polytheistic beliefs. Moreover, its monotheism
does not contain any belief in avatars - that God incarnates as a man
and dies. Its method of realisation, or soteriology, does not involve
renunciation, but rather social transformation through living in reality
and social responsibility, both within the inner family unit, the
intermediate family (sangat) and humanity. The doctrine of Meeri-Peeri
is that spiritual and social transformation are
linked, which is why Sikhs do not believe in the caste system,
and believe that women are equal to men. Moreover, Sikhs do not accept
the Vedas, Ramayana, Gita, Purans or Laws of Manu but believe in Guru
Granth Sahib Ji solely.
ONE GOD OR MANY?
A unique belief of the Sikhs is
universal grace. It is that "God" saves everyone, whatever
their race, religion, or sex. God is thought of in many ways, as Void,
as Zero, as Person, Mother, Father, Lover, Friend, Nature, The Force,
Amazing Grace (Wah-Guru) among others. People, however, must be willing
to be saved and that means accepting the One as the True Religion.
Clearly, this is different from worship of different gods and goddesses.
Sikhs do not associate anyone with God. One God is Supreme. The Khalsa
is that Sikh who "repeats day and night the name of That One whose
Light is Unending, and who does not think of any except God...in whose
heart the light of the Perfect One shines, that one is recognised as a
complete member of the Khalsa." (First of Thirty-Three Swayyas)
Sikhs worship the Creator, not any created.
The Hindus teach that there are 33
million gods and goddesses. There are some important ones, such as Indra
- king of the gods, Vishnu - preserver, Brahma
- creator, Shiva - destroyer. Moreover, some of these are
sometimes associated with God, when they are regarded as avatars, or
incarnations. Vishnu has many incarnations. Among these the most
important are Rama and Krishna. However, two agnostics, the Jain
founder, Mahavir and Lord Buddha are alleged incarnations, although this
is obviously disputed by members of those religions. Some Hindus also
regard Guru Gobind Singh as an incarnation. This seems difficult since
the Guru wrote:
"Say if Krishan were the Ocean
of Mercy, why should the hunter's arrow have struck him? If he can save
other families, why did he destroy his own? Say why did he who called
himself the eternal and the unconceived, enter into the womb of Devaki?
Why did he who had no father or mother call Vasudev his father?"
(33 Swayyas, no.14.)
"Why call Shiv God and why speak of Brahma as God? God is not Ram
Chander, Krishan, or Vishnu who you suppose to be lords of the world.
Sukhdev, Parasar, and Vyas erred in abandoning the One God and
worshipping many gods. All have set up false religions; I in every way
believe that there is but One God. (33 Swayyas, no.15)
This fits with the teaching of the
Guru Granth Sahib Ji where Saint Kabir writes: "Beings like Hanuman
and Garuda, Indra and Brahma know not, O God Your attributes. The four
Vedas, Simritis and Purans, Vishnu and Laksmi know them not. Says Kabir,
whoever touches God's feet and seeks Divine shelter shall not wander in
reincarnations." (Kabir, Raag Dhanasari). He also clarifies the use
of Ram in Guru Granth Sahib Ji. "Kabir, call him Ram who is
All-Present; we must make distinction between two 'Rams'. The One Ram is
contained in All. Ram Chander is only contained in one thing,
himself." (Kabir, Sloks). Ram as a name for God is used by the
Sikhs, and as Sunnya (Void), Allah and others. But Ram as Ram Chander is
only a created being. Sikhs worship only the One God, and do not
associate God with any created being.
REVELATION OR MYSTERY?
The Gurus state that they are not
saying anything themselves. Rather God is speaking through them and they
are simply the instrument through which God, the True Guru, the Breath
of Life blows. The melody of their lives is the result of God's play.
"O holy God, by Your Favour it is not I who have been speaking: You
have said all that has been said." (Guru Gobind Singh) The same
claim is also made for the religious books of the Semitic religions -
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All claim that God has sent their
books, as do the Sikhs.
However, the various books of the
Hindus have been written by different saints, such as Mahabharata by
saint Vyas, the Purans, the Laws of Manu by Manu as their own
inspiration, not as the Word of God. The Gita is claimed to be the word
of Krishna. However, Krishna claims to be God, not a servant of God.
These are called Simriti. The other Hindu writings are Sruti which are
claimed to come from the gods, though they were not written down for
centuries later. These include the Vedas, which tells us about medicine,
the invasion of India by the Aryans and their religion - their main
gods, Indra the king, Agni, the fire, and their important ritual, the
sacrifice of horses. There is mention of the One in the Upanishads
written a thousand years later. Mountain recluses, the rishis who kept
uncut hair, wrote these. But they are the writings of the saints
intoxicated with God, not the Word sent down by God which is what the
Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Qu'ran and Bible claim to be.
The Guru Granth Sahib Ji is written
in the common language of the people. It includes regional languages
such as Bengali and Punjabi, the language of yogis Sanskriti, of Muslims
Arabic and Persian, and also Brij Basha which was a lingua franca in
northern South Asia in that time. All of these writings were set to
music. Some like Raag Maru were favoured by the yogis, other raags by
the Muslims, others by indigenous, tribal peoples and some were
universal. In this way, God communicated to a whole range of people in
their own languages and their own preferred music. The common people of
many races, religions, and regions of South Asia and the Middle East
could understand the message. The Hindu books were written in Sanskrit,
the language of the gods, and only brahmins were allowed to study and
interpret the scriptures. The Gurus got rid of the need for
DIRECT LINK OR INTERMEDIARY?
There is no intermediary between
the human and God according to the Gurus, but the brahmins are the
central feature of the Hindu religion. Without the brahmins there would
not be any religion. The gods of the Hindus have changed - Vishnu and
Brahma replaced Indra and Agni, and their rituals have changed - from
horse sacrifices to vegetarianism under the influence of Buddhism. Their
relevant holy books have changed, from the Vedas and Mann to the
Mahabharata, Gita and Purans, and their attitudes to violence has
changed, from hunters like Ram and Krishan whose dialogue, the Gita, is
telling his friend Arjun to kill his relatives, to the non-violence of
Gandhi. But the brahmin has been the constant of Hinduism, which is why
Hinduism is sometimes termed as brahminism.
The fundamental belief of the
Hindus is the role of the brahmin, for without the brahmin no ritual is
complete. Not anyone can become a brahmin. One must be born a brahmin.
But Kabir says, "In the womb there is neither family pride nor
caste, all beings have been created from the Divine essence. Speak
brahmin, when did brahmins originate?...How are you brahmins and we
sudras? How were we made of mere blood and you of milk?" The status
of the brahmin is fixed in the oldest Hindu scripture, the Rig-Veda. In
the Purusa-Sukta, verse 12, we are told that the sacrifice of the first
man led to "His mouth became the brahmin...and from his feet the
sudras are born." In this shabad in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji Kabir
is challenging the Hindu religious belief with the Sikh belief that all
have come from One God and so all humanity is One. Guru Gobind Singh
taught, “Recognise all humankind as One.”
The caste system is based on race.
"Varnas" means colour. The top race is the brahmin, the second
is the warrior - kashatri, then the skilled worker, unskilled worker,
then the untouchables, dalits, who are the descendants of those
conquered by the Aryans. Caste determined your profession, your position
in society, whether you could worship - dalits were excluded from Hindu
temples. The Gurus condemned caste as meaningless, and caste has played
no part in Sikh history, religious or political.
According to the Gurus, God dwells in everyone as a fragrance
in flower, reflection in a mirror, or fire in wood, so everyone is equal
for all partake in God's society of love. Women and men are equal
according to the Gurus. They can take part in all religious events as
keertanees (hymn singers), granthis (looking after Guru Granth Sahib
Ji), or in panj piyaras (in Khande-de-Pahul ceremony - initiation by
Guru Khalsa Panth). They have their own names from birth till death -
Kaur, meaning Princess. They do not use their father's name and
husband's name which means that they belong to these men. If they have
entered the Khalsa they should know self-defence and defence of the weak
and helpless, if necessary, by use of the kirpan - sword of mercy - in
the Sikh martial art - gatka. Sikhism is a feminist religion.
This differs from the Hindu legal
scripture, the Code of Manu 5: 147-9. "By a girl, by a young woman,
or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her
own house. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth
to her husband, when her lord (husband) is dead to her sons; a woman
must never be independent. She must not seek to separate herself from
her father, husband or sons; by leaving them she would make both her own
and her husband's families contemptible."
TREATMENT OF DIFFERENT RELIGIONS
Hindu belief is that "It
cannot be said that Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are separate
religions. All these four faiths and their offshoots are one. Hinduism
is an ocean into which all the rivers run. It can absorb Islam and
Christianity and all other religions and only then can it become the
ocean." Mahatma Gandhi, (Collected Works, Vol. 90, p.177).
By way of contrast, the Sikhs prefer pluralism. Sikh belief
is that "The Teacher of teachers is One, though manifesting in
different ways. The Way, which praises the Name is the Way of ways.
Follow that way which glorifies God. Pause and reflect. Just as seconds,
minutes, hours, days, weeks and months are derived from One sun, as are
the seasons, so, says Nanak, God is One but manifests in different
religions." Guru Granth Sahib Ji, daily bedtime prayer)
The natural result of this pluralism is the Bhagat Bani, which is part of Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The bhagats were saints who lived before the Gurus, but who preached the way of the Name. From their own spiritual experiments they had found the limits of the beliefs, rituals, and disciplines of the various religions. Their conclusion was that Truth was most easily realised by looking for Divine Support which was open to any who looked for it whatever their race, religion, or sex. A person had to turn their focus away from "I" to "You". Instead of facing the ego, they should turn the face - "mukh" towards WaheGuru, from "munmukh" (facing ego) to "Gurmukh" (facing Grace). Thus, some of the bhagats were Muslims, Tantric Buddhists, etc. and some rejected all religious identities. The inclusion of the Bhagat Bani in the Sikh Scripture by the Gurus is the Sikh way of manifesting the transcendental unity of religions but also respect for the genuine differences of multiple religious traditions, the forms of the Formless.
Dr Kanwar Ranvir Singh