By Ranvir Singh | Opinion |
– 1 and 0 is the surest way to explain Gurmat thoughts. Addition of elements may lead to duality
– 1 and 0 can explain all elements of Sikh thought, including panentheism, grace, meeri-peeri, the cultivation of virtue, spiritual and mental wholeness in the Now and an inclusive vision for a borderless world Here
Sikh translations of the 1980s commonly used the idea of “One God” and the pronoun “He” to explain Sikh teaching. It is not hard to see where this came from. The writers were familiar with the King James Bible and Shakespeare and had simply co-opted this usage. This could be interpreted as blind following but it should also be seen as an attempt to make the translation meaningful to a target audience. Sikh “theology” was something written by British conquerors of Panjab or Sikhs re-negotiating their position within that framework.
This is the background that I inherited in the 1990s as a British born Sikh. The simple truth is that, by design, there is nothing complicated about Sikh “theology”. Since the Gurus promoted a direct relation between the Creator and created there was no place for priests. If there are no priests there is no one to produce or benefit from a “theology”. All Sikhs know quite well what the religion is about, explaining it is the problem. If that is the case, why should I explain it? To navigate my place in the world and to change my own and its direction.
Guru Nanak assumes that a seeker wants to connect with Reality or Sat and fulfil themselves by becoming sachiara or ‘Real-i-sed’. The point is not right belief but right or real life. It is less about orthodoxy and more about orthopraxis (right living) and that is why “saints of other worlds” are as welcome as saints from religious traditions in this world. The role of right beliefs are that they may point a way, a direction. All the answers we need are within us as Life reaches out to us. This flow of love for us or Grace is called the ‘Guru’, the destruction of ignorance, bringer of Light. Guru is sometimes linked to Sat making SatGuru. Being and Love, the fundamental nature of life. People may follow other gurus, indeed the sum of our life choices reveals what we truly worshipped and valued. This is based on common sense. Either every single religious experience in human history is false but if even one is true the way of the mystic is real. If a mystic wishes to live her life fully, openly, socially then she will change the world around her. The authentic mystic, by necessity, is a revolutionary.
The easiest way to explain the Guru is 1ness. That is because the sacred text, the Guru Granth Sahib, even starts with the numeral 1. What is distinctive is that whereas the One is often contrasted with ‘other’ in other systems of thought here there is no other. Indeed the 1 is joined to ‘oan’ made up of letters representing the alphabet and then a graphic pronounced ‘kar’ which is the top half of a circle connecting the alphanumeric graphic to the rest of the text beginning with Sat, which is reality or being. All Reality is One, there is no other. As the Creator made the creation and the Giver gifts, there is a separation but this is not a binary opposition since the Creator is the “divine spark” of being at the root of creation, fulfilling itself through creation. The problem with the idea of fulfilling itself is the implication that it is not full, that it lacks, but this is not so for the divine is unique, the Creator is unique, the Giver is unique, a perfection that expands beyond itself through creation, where the simplicity and completion of 1 becomes 11 infinitely. But this infinite expansion requires the possibility of zero. Therefore, in Sikh thought 0 is the key to possibility, chances and choices, greatest among them Love for “only those who Love have got the divine.”
Unity between divine and human, mind and body, men and women, believers and unbelievers, self and society, society and nature replaces duality, marginalisation, exclusion, repression and oppression of the ‘other’. Union is a truth in our relationship to the divine, between our own mind and body, between different people and so on. Our being in the world represents another 1 or ‘I’ but since this is connected to The 1, what you have is 11 or put another way, ‘I’ becomes ‘we’. At least this is what happens when we live in the flow of Life. Another or ‘an’ other is one other, 1 and 1.
When we are in opposition to Life, we dam the flow to build ourselves. With the dam, there are boundaries or ‘othering’, treating persons as objects or things, draining them of Life and meaning. We are one and whatever we are rejecting is zero. These are the binary divisions of the world before the coming of Guru Nanak.
The self or ego is an ‘I’ or 1. The aim of Life is not for it to become nothing — it has been called into being — but to join with the 1, as “water joins with water”. It is to align with the 1 within us living as “fire inside wood”, “reflection within a mirror” or “fragrance within a flower.” Such mystical union is not unique to Sikh thought but the idea that mysticism or spirituality is true religion is. Guru Nanak himself explains that his way starts “from the first breath.” It is natural and inescapable like breath. Represented, it could shown as:
11 You unite with I, fulfilling me
10 You reach out (grace) but I shut you out
01 You are outside the world, I am here separate from You
00 You do not exist and I am a projection of a bundle of chemical reactions
It is sahej or ‘just so’, natural and effortless, a submission to the flow of grace within us and Reality of Being outside that empowers and channels us. Heroism lies in following everyday and everytime common sense.
The universality and simplicity of Sikh teachings can be seen in the scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which includes dialogue with Tantric Siddhas, among multiple writings of Muslim Sufis, Hindu bhagats and those of no faith, like Kabir. All of these sit together, worshipping in unity.
The idea that there is one Sacred — literally the numeral 1, pronounced “ik” which is the same 1 as Sunnya, the Void, 0, and this penetrates our world giving it Sense and Life is the beating heart of gurmat or way of the Guru. The Guru is the Light of the 1, that lights candles — the ten Gurus, to burns in the scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru is the Light/spirit/soul — “Jyot” — that makes us beings and persons and not merely chemical reactions — the Guru is the heart and mind of the universe as well as every being.
So far, so easy. Things often become more complex when applied to history or interfaith dialogue or other areas of life, what might be termed the gurmatification of knowledge, because at that point, Sikhs leave the Unity of Being and introduce new characters — 2s if you will, a duality that is alien to gurmat. Duality is a turning away from the 1.
Guru Nanak establishes a model community at Kartarpur and this becomes the Khalsa Commonwealth from 1699. Citizens pledge themselves to join a citizen militia, wear a uniform, become literate, to calling on their Creator and to human equality/opportunity. Our lives tell us what we really worship, what we truly seek.
It is beyond scarcity and sacrifice — we are good enough and just need to make the right choices. Sat or Reality is about What Is, not mental understanding. It is about the metaphysics of being, not philosophy of religion. This is important as many non-Sikhs fail to grasp the centrality of meeri-peeri, social and spiritual transformation. God or religion inhabit a different space and time than us. From a Sikh lens the Presence and a Presence of Grace demands social change. If I see the Light of you, I cannot exclude you. Guru Nanak’s teachings can be seen as combining Universal Spirituality with a Spiritual Revolution.
Gurmat is about panentheism not monotheism; Grace not human effort; virtue ethics through emotional and social intelligence not rules; spiritual-worldly transformation not the brainwashing of priests and kings; and a borderless Now, not idolisation of fictional lines and narratives. This has been obscured by Singh Sabha activists trying to influence a Christian audience and by Sant Babas writing for a Hindu one.
This idea of self or ego overcoming makes gurmat a type of virtue ethic where the divine is seen in the godly as “the cow is seen in the calf.” While people might disagree about religious laws and rules — whether to eat beef, pork, fish or vegetables — there is no disagreement about Spirit born virtues — love, faith, patience, forgiveness to name a few.
(This is an abridged version of the article. For the full article, click here)
Writer, activist. Architect para 67 of UN Declaration Against Racism 2001, introduced ‘worldviews’ in UK RE education. PhD International Studies, FCollT, FCIEA. You can follow Ranvir Singh here
We must stop using the term ‘Sikhism’ and assert uniqueness of ‘Sikhi’! (Asia Samachar, 25 July 2021)
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