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What's Sikhism?

>From: dchakrav@netserv.unmc.edu (Dhruba Chakravarti)
>Subject: The Sikhism Debate

Why scriptural evidence?
I have protested against political slogan-mongering as a means to
judge such issues as we are discussing here, namely, whether
Sikhism is an independent religion or a sect of Hinduism.  Some of
us have indicated that it is more proper to ignore the suggestion
that Sikhism is an independent religion, distinct from Hinduism.
Being a Nanakpanthi Hindu myself, it is not fair on us that some
politicians will come and throw us out.  In any case, the debate
did not end.  Mr. Samra has a interest in calling me "silly", he
would rather keep me outside of it, lest the world according to
him, "that knows" his way, finds out differently.  Balbir Purewalji
wanted Hindus to read up about Sikhism, before making any
judgements.  By all means, Balbirji, we can use some education.
Some others suggested that Sikhs are merely a group formed to fight
for the Hindus against the Muslims.  Sir, I like to think that the
teachings of the 10 Gurus were for individual salvation and not for
military purposes.  It is merely incidental that at some point in
history, they fought for such causes.  Samraji countered such fact
with the argument that Sikhs fought more battles against Hindus
than against others, but Hindus also have fought against each other
from time immemorial. What a strange argument!
Since I did not read this book called "Hum Hindu Nahin" that Mr.
Samra would like all of us to read and abide by, I did not know
what to say.  Unfortunately, I am not willing to accept the
authority of a political documentary.  I will however, accept a
scriptural evidence.  I had also contacted several people in India
and asked them whether they would be aware of any evidence that
distinguishes Sikhism from Hinduism, all of them said that they did
not know of any such evidence.
Comparative religion
I would like to discuss why I insist so much on scriptural
evidence.  The question should be in theory, under the subject
"comparative religion".  While the scholars have inspected
Christianity, Islam and Buddhism well, to my knowledge, Hinduism
has been seen mainly from an outsider's point of view.  The general
model that is the framework of much of the subject as I understand
(1) the major purpose of religion is an *integrative* function that
is concerned with the explanation and expression of the ultimate
values in society and it has a *defense* function providing ways of
managing tension and anxiety of individuals.
These observations are supposed to be valid whether or not a
particular religion is considered to belong to a "primitive" or
"civilized" society.  However, since we are not discussing the
nature of religions, I would like to draw attention to the next set
of observations they use, which is relevant to our discussion.
(2) The evolution of religions is supposed to follow a model,
monotheism to polytheism to back to monotheism.  The idea is
central to most of their deliberations and suggests that initially
the concept of a "primitive High God" is espoused that develops
later into polytheism and later is reformed back to monotheism.  If
the world only had the Judaic-Christian-Islamic religions and some
tribal religions, then such an observation can not be questioned.
But this model fails to capture the essence of Hinduism.
More modern developments in this subject deals with the connections
of social anthropology with religion, that uses event-analysis as
the major technique (means analysis of evolutionary history as they
see it).  For example, Anthony Wallace described events in terms of
stress in society, implying that religion is a mechanism of stress-
reduction in society.  In an oversimplified way, there are five
stages: (1) steady state: when the people who originally espoused
the existance of "high God" is tolerated by some others in society
whose stress is not suitably addressed to, (2) period of increased
individual stress: when the stress-reduction techniques do not work
for most of the people, (3) period of cultural distortion:
resulting from prolonged stress, it divides society into two
groups, one who are lexible and therefore willing to try different
and the other who are rigid and chose to endure high levels of
stress.  As the inadequacy of religion as a stress-reduction
technique becomes insurmountable, (4) a period of revitalization
comes about when the society reformulates, organizes, adapts,
routinize and thereby transform society and finally (5) a new
steady state arrives, that is the result of cultural
transformation.  In short, it is the Christian world view, when the
deviants finally come to terms with the ultimate and there is peace
for a thousand years.  Personally, I have no objection to such a
In other words, they do not bother too much with the most important
thing for a believer: the scriptures.  For similar reasons,
political slogans are not admissible in our discussion.
My perception of the trends in Hindu history
We need to find the answer to the question "What is Mainstream
Hinduism" from understanding the principles and trends of the
different ideologies.  We had four major  theological phases:
vedic theology, Gita-Upanishadic theology, tantrik theology and
Bhaktibadi theology, interlaced with many major and minor revivals
of veda-affiliated theologies.
The vedic theology is monotheistic and allows the worship of mainly
three expressions of Divinity as Indra, Varun and Agni. The worship
of these gods is not really polythiesm since they are not
independent gods. Some of us use  expressions like "Hindu pantheon
of Gods", that implies a show-case of Gods who are like the Gods of
Greek and Roman temple Pantheon.  Unlike the pantheonic Gods, Hindu
gods are the first batch creation of Parameswar (the second batch
being Humans), and as much under the control of God Parameswar as
the humans are.  Therfore, that is an inappropriate suggestion.
The vedic culture generated a class of followers who called
themselves "vedabadi" and thought spirituality is merely the
exercise of rituals.  The writers of the vedas were the elite
section of the society and did not approve of the vedabadis, while
the vedabadis carried a section of the masses with a certain
popular appeal.
By the time of Mahabharata , the compilation of the vedas was
completed, but the sages continued to generate mantras and
Upanishads in the vedic tradition.  We would have expected to see
continual expansion of the vedas but somehow theology grew in the
form of Upanishads. We have quite a few Upanishads that are not
connected with any of the four vedas.  The most dominant one is in
Gita and Bahagabat ( both have the same theology).  Lord Krishna
preached it and it was the most important religion of India for a
long time.
The tantrik theology is based on minor portions of the Athavaveda
and mostly on Purans, probably had its peak later, and lasted till
the time of Buddha, and outlasted Buddhism in India.
The current mainstream Dharma in India is Bhaktibad, which started
in a big way during Moghul regime, when there was a vacuum in
Hinduism.  In this theology, the Guru is extolled like never before
and recognized most of the other branches of theology as
supplementary.  Guru Nanak in the west, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the
east, Thyagaraja in the south are prime examples of this.  Although
these traditions are very strong and changed the basic patterns of
Hinduism, the theology itself is unambitious, therefore, its
clientele is still limited.
Scriptural evidence for the independence of Sikhism
An young friend, who doesn't like to write here but reads us, wrote
to me about a verse from Guru Granth Sahib.
This is from an English translation from Sri Guru Granth Sahib by
Gopal Singh (I think he was an MP in India and a non-separatist).
Again, it is in Bhairo Rag, page 1136 in the original Sri Guru
Granth Sahib.
Bhairo M. 5
Neither I keep the fast (like a Hindu), nor observe the month of
Ramdan (like a Muslim), For, I serve only Him, who Emancipates all,
in the end.  [1]
The same is my Gosaien, the same my Allah, For, I have found
release from the Hindus as from the Muslims.[1-Pause]
Neither I visit the pilgrim-stations of the Hindus, nor I go to the
Kaaba to perform the Hajj: Yea, I serve only the One God: Nay, I
serve not another.  [2]
I worship not the Hindu Way, nor say prayers like the Muslim,
For, I Greet only the One Absolute God within my heart.  [3]
I am neither a Hindu, nor a Muslim, For, my body and vital breath
belong to the God of both.  [4]
Says Kabir: "So I utter the Truth, That Meeting with my Guru who's
also my Peer I have Realised myself my God."  [5]
Among other places in the verse, the translator, to add a comment,
put a superscript next to "Says Kabir" and "Peer".  In the footnote
for the former, he says:  "This seems to be or [sic] quotation from
Kabir, though the hymn is from the fifth Guru."
In discussing the origin of this verse with other people, I have
been told that Guru Arjan Dev Ji never signed his own name on his
verses. He, as the other Gurus did, signed as Guru Nanak, or he
signed his verses with the name of Kabir (this was new to me).
This happens more than once and therefore explains why the
translator mentions this in his footnote.  I do not think that
Gopal Singh, being a Sikh, would try to manipulate the Scriptures
by falsely saying that this was Guru Arjan Dev Ji, and therefore I
accept his word, because if it really wasn't it would be
blasphemous (cf. Guru Har Rai's son, Ram Rai) and highly
In answer, I wrote: (edited)
Sant Kabirdasji has said that all his life.  That should not be
a surprise at all. Sant Kabirji was born into a Muslim family and
almost single handedly founded the Sufi movement in India.  Sufi
movement is truly an independent faith.  The reason we do not get
to hear of it so much is because of its relatively small following.
Consider this please, although Sant Kabirji is referenced in the
Guru Granth Sahibji, he is not among the 10 Gurus.  That reference
form Sant Kabirdasji however should not be taken lightly.  It has
the essence of Guru-bhakti. Guru Granth Sahibji, that is the
"Bangmayi murti" (wordy expression of God) and in this case,
probably means that in the eyes of God (or Guru) no one is a Hindu
or a Muslim, but a devotee of God.
He wrote back:
I have read books by other non-Sikhs saying that Guru Nanak Dev Ji
was a follower of Kabir Ji, though there is no evidence that Guruji
ever met him.  I say this because there is also a feeling that
Sikhism is very similar to Kabir Ji's faith.
(In answer to my suggestion above, he says):
Not only in the eyes of God, but also in his own eyes.  Guru Arjan
Dev Ji also says in the verse "I worship not the Hindu Way, nor say
prayers like the Muslim."
In answer, I wrote that it may be a difficult descision to separate
Sant Kabirdasji from Guru Arjan Singhji and also requested him to
look for any other scriptural evidence to this effect.  I would
like to ask you to do the same.
We also talked about Bhaktibadi traditions in general and discussed
other related issues.  I also quoted this:
> Excuse me for I do not know the proper Gurmukhi:
> Ik Onkar Satinamu Karta Purkhu Nirabhou Niraboiru
> Akaalamurati Ajuni Saivang GuruPrasadi Japu.
(One is Onkar.  One is unique Prameswar known by Onkar.  He is the
creator. He is Purush of Courage and is indomitable by enemy. His
person is untouched by time and space.  He was born by Himself, not
of a woman.  Worship Him with the blessing of Guru.)

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