The superstructure of the Varna Ashrama Dharma/caste system is supported by karma and reincarnation (transmigration). In other words, both karma and reincarnation are part of the trilogy invented by the Brahmans and they both are designed to justify the caste base factor. The Brahman invoked divine sanctions to perpetuate the caste system for eternity. Hindu scriptures proclaim that Prajapati (God) ordained the four castes. This was followed by the invention of the doctrine of “karma and reincarnation” to desensitize people’s sense of justice and compassion against the atrocities committed on the masses to enforce the caste system.
According to the law of karma, one reaps the fruit in this life for the deeds performed in the previous life. So, if a person is subjected to injustice and cruelty in this life, it is due to one’s own actions in previous life, not due to the perpetrators of cruelty and injustice. By observing the caste rules strictly and serving the superior castes faithfully one can earn the reward for the next life.
In spite of the categorical and unequivocal rejection of reincarnation in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) why do many Sikhs believe in reincarnation?
The main reason for this misunderstanding is the subversion of Nanakian philosophy (Gurmat) by its opponents. The anti-Gurmat Bipran (Brahmanical) literature from the 18th century to the present depicts Sikhism as part of Hinduism, its sword arm against the onslaught of Islam. Further, Christian missionaries and Western writers also relied solely on Bipran literature at the exclusion of AGGS which is the only authentic source of Gurmat. They treated Sikhism as an offshoot of Hinduism or a mixture or hybrid or religious syncretism of Hinduism and Islam.
Besides, as pointed out by Prof. Puran Singh, Sikh scholars/writers have not been able to extricate themselves from Brahmanical influence, and they have followed in the footsteps of Bipran and Western writers without undertaking a serious study of the AGGS:
The words Brahman (Brahm) and Para-Brahm also come in Guru Granth, but as Cunningham says “by way of illustration only”; similarly the names of all gods and goddesses of Brahmanical Pantheon.
It is to be regretted that Sikh and Hindu scholars are interpreting Guru Nanak in the futile terms of the color he used, the brush he took; are analyzing the skin and flesh of his words and dissecting texts to find the Guru’s meaning to be same as of the Vedas and Upanishads! This indicates enslavement to the power of Brahmanical tradition.
Dead words are used to interpret the fire of the Master’s soul! The results are always grotesque and clumsy translations, which have no meaning at all. Macauliffe’s almost school boy-like literal rendering into English, following possibly the interpretations given him by the Brahmanical type of gyanis, the unilluminated theologians who lacked both the tire of inspiration, and the modern mental equipment and who were decayed and eaten up by the inner fungus of the Brahmanical mentality, has made the live faith of the Sikh a dead carcass. It has produced neither the beautiful artistic color of the idol and the shrine, nor the fervor of the inspiration of love. And from his translations, one thinks Sikhism is weak Brahmanism. Much that is redundant is put before a world audience, without the light that made every straw and every little dust particle, every pretty detail even, radiant and beautiful.
More recently, after an in-depth study of AGGS and Varna Ashrama Dharma, Jagjit Singh concludes:
The grounds for the differentiation of the Gurus’ message from that of caste ideology and the caste society were far more basic. The caste ideology was the antithesis of humanism, and the caste society was extremely parochial in its outlook. To belong to it, it was necessary to be born within it. The land where the Varna Ashrama Dharma was not established was regarded impure. and the Aryavarta, the pure land, was at one period circumscribed within the limits of river Sindh in the North and river Carmanvati in the south. The Gurus rejected almost all the cardinal beliefs of the caste society. They repudiated the authority of the Vedas and allied scriptures, discarded the theory of avtarhood. disowned all its sectarian gods, goddesses and avtars, and condemned idol worship, formalism, ritualism, and ceremonialism .
Nanakian philosophy (Gurmat) categorically rejects the incarnation of God in human or any living form. The Commencing Verse of AGGS describes God as Ajuni, meaning God does not come into anthropomorphic forms (does not incarnate/beyond death and birth):
ਸਤਗੁਰੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨੁ ਸੋਇ ॥ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਕਾ ਕਰਿ ਰੂਪੁ ਨ ਜਾਨੁ ॥
Satguru (God) is Nirhnjan (without material content). Do not believe that It is in the form of man. AGGS, M 5, p. 895.
ਸੋ ਮੁਖੁ ਜਲਉ ਜਿਤੁ ਕਹਹਿ ਠਾਕੁਰੁ ਜੋਨੀ ॥੩
May that mouth burn which says that God incarnates! AGGS, M 5, p. 1136.
Sikh Gurus used the terminologies of other religions but their meanings are not necessarily the same in the AGGS. There are frequent references to Hindu and Muslim beliefs and practices as the Gurus’ audience was made up of Hindus and Muslims, but the Gurus did not endorse or accept their beliefs or practices. There are expressions like aavan jaan, aavai jaavai, janam janam, jamai marai and bhavayai which are often interpreted as cycle of birth and death or cycle of transmigration.
However, in the AGGS, these expressions are used as metaphors for spiritual (moral) degeneration and regeneration human beings experience in their lives or pain and suffering or being entrapped in ignorance and falsehood or wandering aimlessly or they represent the Hindu belief of reincarnation/transmigration.
Besides, there are other words and terms that are often misunderstood and misinterpreted like poorab means past, not one’s previous life; poorab janam means past generations, not one’s previous birth, jeev jeev mue or jeevat mare means control of haumai, mue jeeva means transformation of manmukh to gurmukh, jo tis bhaavai means according to Hukam, and God’s Will mean Hukam.
Further as discussed in Chapter 1, Guru Nanak rejected the caste system categorically; so why would he accept the concept of karma and reincarnation /transmigration that was invented to justify the caste system? Moreover, Guru Nanak rejected the concept of soul as a separate entity from God as discussed earlier in this chapter. Nanakian philosophy makes it clear that “Soul” is Hukam, the invisible form of God that pervades the Cosmos. Hukam is Eternal, so what is there that incarnates?
Furthermore, in his composition on the creation of the Cosmos, Guru Nanak makes it clear that the caste system, reincarnation, heaven and hell are man’s invention:
ਦੋਜਕੁ ਭਿਸਤੁ ਨਹੀ ਖੈ ਕਾਲਾ ॥
ਨਰਕੁ ਸੁਰਗੁ ਨਹੀ ਜੰਮਣੁ ਮਰਣਾ ਨਾ ਕੋ ਆਇ ਨ ਜਾਇਦਾ ॥੩॥
ਬ੍ਰਹਮਾ ਬਿਸਨੁ ਮਹੇਸੁ ਨ ਕੋਈ ॥
ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਦੀਸੈ ਏਕੋ ਸੋਈ ॥
ਨਾਰਿ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਹੀ ਜਾਤਿ ਨ ਜਨਮਾ ਨਾ ਕੋ ਦੁਖੁ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਇਦਾ ॥੪॥
ਨਾ ਸੁਚਿ ਸੰਜਮੁ ਤੁਲਸੀ ਮਾਲਾ ॥
ਗੋਪੀ ਕਾਨੁ ਨ ਗਊ ਗਦ਼ਆਲਾ ॥
ਤੰਤੁ ਮੰਤੁ ਪਾਖੰਡੁ ਨ ਕੋਈ ਨਾ ਕੋ ਵੰਸੁ ਵਜਾਇਦਾ ॥੭॥
ਕਰਮ ਧਰਮ ਨਹੀ ਮਾਇਆ ਮਾਖੀ ॥
ਜਾਤਿ ਜਨਮੁ ਨਹੀ ਦੀਸੈ ਆਖੀ ॥
There was neither heaven nor Earth nor the nether world.* There was neither hell nor heaven* nor time, the destroyer: There was neither hell or heaven nor birth or death nor anyone transmigrating. There was neither Brahma, nor Vishnu nor Shiva. There was no one else except the “One and only”. There was no woman or man, no caste or birth or anyone experiencing pain or pleasure. There was no ritual purification or self-restraint or rosary made of basil seeds. There were no milkmaids or Krishna or cows or cowherds. There was no deceit/ hypocrisy of Tantra and mantra or playing of the flute. There was no karma (deeds) or dharma (religious duties) or enchanting Maya (corrupting influence of the world). There was neither caste nor caste-based birth. AGGS, M 1, p. 1035.
*Guru Nanak rejected both Hindu and Muslim ideas of hell and heaven. Guru Nanak’s successor, Guru Angad amplifies the same message by pointing out that the authors of Vedas are responsible for creating the concepts of karma and transmigration, hell and heaven, ritualistic sin and virtue, and caste and gender inequality:
ਕਥਾ ਕਹਾਣੀ ਬੇਦੀਬ਼ ਆਣੀ ਪਾਪੁ ਪੁੰਨੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥
ਦੇ ਦੇ ਲੈਣਾ ਲੈ ਲੈ ਦੇਣਾ ਨਰਕਿ ਸੁਰਗਿ ਅਵਤਾਰ ॥
ਉਤਮ ਮਧਿਮ ਜਾਤੀਂ ਜਿਨਸੀ ਭਰਮਿ ਭਵੈ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ ॥
It is the teachings of Vedas, which has created the notions of hell and heaven, karma and transmigration and ritualistic sin and virtue; One reaps the reward in the next life for the deeds performed in this life = goes to hell or heaven according to one’s deeds. ‘Ihe Vedas have also created the fallacy of inequality of caste and gender for the world. AGGS, M 2, p. 1243.
Additionally, the Gurus have pointed out that ritualistic deeds (karam kaand, krm ka) and vices and virtues are also the invention of the authors of Hindu texts.
Further, AGGS rejects the law of karma and reincarnation, when it urges humans to rise above animal level to become gurmukhs/moral enlightened-beings, and stresses the freedom of action and responsibility for the consequences. Besides, contrary to the law of karma and reincarnation that determines one’s caste and status in society, it is one’s deeds that determine one’s worth and respect in society:
ਸਾ ਜਾਤਿ ਸਾ ਪਤਿ ਹੈ ਜੇਹੇ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਇ ॥
It is one’s deeds that determine oneis respect and social status in society. AGGS, M 1, p. 1330.
Furthermore, AGGS rejects the concept of past or future life when it lays utmost stress on the present life with a clear warning that this is the only opportunity to realize God:
ਸੁਣਿ ਮਨ ਮਿਤ੍ਰ ਪਿਆਰਿਆ ਮਿਲੁ ਵੇਲਾ ਹੈ ਏਹ ॥
ਜਬ ਲਗੁ ਜੋਬਨਿ ਸਾਸੁ ਹੈ ਤਬ ਲਗੁ ਇਹੁ ਤਨੁ ਦੇਹ
O my mind, my dearfriend listen, this is the only time for you to meet God. Moreover, this opportunity will last only as long as the body is healthy and full of vitality. AGGS, M 1, p. 20.
Here Guru Nanak emphasizes that a healthy mind is a must for the realization of God:
ਮਤੁ ਕੋ ਜਾਣੈ ਜਾਇ ਅਗੈ ਪਾਇਸੀ ॥
ਜੇਹੇ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਇ ਤੇਹਾ ਹੋਇਸੀ ॥
One must not think that the benefit of deeds done here will be rewarded in the next life. It is here in this life that one reaps what one sows. AGGS, M 1, pp. 729-730.
ਭਈ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਦੇਹੁਰੀਆ ॥
ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਮਿਲਣ ਕੀ ਇਹ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਰੀਆ ॥
Being born as a human is a blessing as this is your only chance to meet God. AGGS, M, 5, p. 378.
ਆਗਾਹਾ ਕੂ ਤ੍ਰਾਘਿ ਪਿਛਾ ਫੇਰਿ ਨ ਮੁਹਡੜਾ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਸਿਝਿ ਇਵੇਹਾ ਵਾਰ ਬਹੁੜਿ ਨ ਹੋਵੀ ਜਨਮੜਾ ॥੧॥
Look ahead; don’t look backwards. O Nanak, this is your only chance to realize God, because you won’t be born again. AGGS, M5, P. 1096.
ਇਹੀ ਤੇਰਾ ਅਉਸਰੁ ਇਹ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਾਰ ॥
ਘਟ ਭੀਤਰਿ ਤੂ ਦੇਖੁ ਬਿਚਾਰਿ ॥
This is your only opportunity, this is your only time to meet God, ponder and seek within. AGGS, Kabir, p. 1159.
ਜੇ ਜਾਣਾ ਮਰਿ ਜਾਈਐ ਘੁਮਿ ਨ ਆਈਐ ॥
ਝੂਠੀ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਲਗਿ ਨ ਆਪੁ ਵਞਾਈਐ ॥੨॥
When we know that after death we are not going to come back then why waste our lives by clinging to the world of falsehood. – Bhagat Sheikh Fareed Ii, Raag Aasaa, p. 488
These verses clearly emphasize that one’s current life is the only chance to realize God. On the other hand according to the theory of karma and transmigration there could be many chances to meet God, theoretically unlimited chances.
Abridged from an chapter in ‘GURMAT: Guru Nanak’s Path of Enlightenment’ authored by Baldev Singh PhD (1938-2009). Published by Hardev Singh Shergill, President Khalsa Tricentennial Foundation of North America Inc. Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, the Sikh Bulletin
Day 09 – Creation of Karma: Aapae beej aapae hee khaahu (Asia Samachar, 23 Aug 2018)