Beyond Belief: A Personal Quest for Self-Realisation

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By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

In the intricate maze of existence, where the threads of traditional belief intertwine and sometimes clash with the unfolding scientific discoveries about the nature of reality and the universe, I find myself on a journey that may not sit well with some of my fellow Sikhs. I could simply close my eyes, place my head in the sand and convince myself that reality is false and that I should avoid entertaining such thoughts. I am convinced this is not the path that Guru Nanak would counsel and in the following reflections I want to share just a few aspects of how my spiritual journey in and beyond belief has developed.

For those who have followed my writings in Asia Samachar and on various media over the past few years, the reflections I offer will be familiar. Yet, I do not doubt, for those who hold strong and literal views about the Sikh faith, what I share here may well be troubling.  All I can say is if this is the case, then please exercise your right to reject my thoughts, or better still, in the true Sikh tradition, engage with me in constructive dialogue so we can learn and grow together. One of the advantages of not belonging to any one faction or the myriad of Sikh jathebandhis (groups) and deras (cults) is that you feel no pressure to tow a party line; one is not beholden to a particular orthodoxy and therefore is relatively free to explore and discover.

The disadvantage of being without backing from a group, one can feel exposed, especially where you are seeking to challenge dogma and traditional beliefs and interpretations. That said, exercising the right to freedom of conscience also demands that one does this with sensitivity and tolerance for contrarian opinions. Hence, my intentions are not to hurt any feelings or to persuade others to follow my path. I guess if anything, I would like the reader to use my reflections to inspire them to advance their path towards their own ‘self-realisation’.

My path through and beyond belief has been one of humility coupled with a relentless and unwavering pursuit of self-discovery. I remember a Jewish colleague once extolling one of the central virtues of Judaism, which he said was to ‘question everything’. In Sikhi we also are required to place great emphasis on ‘khoj’ (research), ‘budh’ (intellectual development) and ‘bibeik (logical reasoning). With each step, armed with these three injunctions, I have discovered new layers of insight into Sikhi, the nature of existence and my place within the cosmos. That does not mean I am any closer to finding an answer to the ultimate question, namely, ‘What is the meaning of life’? However, as I marvel at the intricate and paradoxical nature of life, the universe and existence, with each passing day, and with the help of Gurbani, I am gaining new insights. I can honestly say, that in my ongoing quest, I have never felt closer to the Guru than now.

Ever since I can remember, I have always been sceptical about the notion of a ‘God’, sitting on the clouds or to be found in special buildings, who demands that we perform ritual worship as a condition for his intervention. For me the divine timeless universal entity created the whole universe and then became immersed into it, and in this regard, his intervention was to establish, time, space and all the laws that govern reality, or what in Gurbani we refer to as ‘hukam’; I am not sure there could be a greater intervention than that. Moreover, suppose the laws of nature have stood firm for at least the beginning of the universe some 12 billion years ago. Why would the divine power change these for some followers of a particular religion on one small planet in the vast universe that advocates ritual practices? As Gurbani clearly states, the only way to realise the divine is from within.  In this regard, our prayers should be directed at the divine within to enable us to develop the inner strength to accept and work within the divine will or hukam.

I want to make it clear, that I do not reject the underlying function of religion and faith, namely, to provide certainty and meaning in what may appear like a meaningless life. Indeed, faith is at its best when it opens space for such existential questions to be explored; it’s the ritualistic dogma, institutional corruption and violence associated with religion that I reject. Similarly, I appreciate the immense architectural beauty of religious buildings and I will always go out of my way to see and experience these magnificent structures. My issue is that I cannot accept the proposition that the universal divine entity, most often referred to as ‘God’, would limit himself – for God is always portrayed as a man – to the confines of buildings, however beautiful they may be.

And so, notwithstanding their amazing building, despite or perhaps because of the immense power and influence that organised religions have exercised through complex structures, mysterious pantheons and ritualistic dogmas, I have developed a phobia towards them. However, this does not mean that I align myself with radical atheists, like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.  Instead, I am drawn to the ineffable essence of a universal divine force—a transcendent energy that permeates every facet of the cosmos. It is not the rigid doctrines of faith that resonate with me, but rather the limitless, omnipresent creative divine energy that flows through all things and places.

The concept of a soul confined within a physical body feels restrictive to me. I grapple with the somewhat paradoxical idea of how a non-physical soul can be contained within a material shell. Instead, I embrace the notion of universal consciousness—an interconnectedness that transcends individual identity and spans across time, space, and the very fabric of reality. In this expansive tapestry of existence, for me every thought, action, and movement reverberates outward, shaping the collective consciousness of the cosmos.

While objective evidence for supernatural events remains sparse, many religions still hold a steadfast belief in miracles which are seen as proof of divine interventions. In contrast, enchanted by the awe-inspiring power of nature and the cosmos, miracles do not align with my understanding of the natural world. Instead, for example, I place my trust in the innate healing capacity of the human body. Consider the intricate workings of the immune system, a marvel of natural defence mechanisms that safeguard the body against invaders. In an amazing expression of nature’s profound capacity for healing and preservation, cells within the immune system sacrifice themselves to protect the organism. They are the martyrs of nature itself.

As I have matured spiritually and intellectually and as I delved deeper into Sikh teachings, my perspective on life and death has evolved. The notion of an afterlife, with its promises of eternal reward or punishment, leaves me unconvinced. Instead, I find the idea that all matter is destined to be recycled and my body and soul are part of nature and ultimately part of the oneness of all existence. Hence, the distinctly human real-life issues of liberation, justice, and peace are too vital to postpone until death. Thus, I focus on living in the present moment, which I can be relatively certain about, rather than fixating on an uncertain future.

In the tapestry of existence, my beliefs may diverge from conventional religious beliefs. Yet, they are firmly rooted in a journey of self-discovery and realisation that is guided by Gurbani. With Guru Granth Sahib ji as my ‘satellite navigation system’ I will continue to explore the realms of thought and intellect with an open mind. In doing so, I look forward to new revelations and insights, embracing the boundless possibilities that lie ahead. And when I reach the end of my journey on this Earth, which I am certain will happen one day, perhaps I will realise that my journey was my destiny and that what matters is each moment in one’s life.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

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Miracles and Godmen (Asia Samachar, 31 July 2020)



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1 COMMENT

  1. Respected sir, your observations are compatible with the teachings of our Guru Sahibs. Being an expert in social science, please research/ analyse these teaching’s “Social aspect “. Guru Sahibs have directed Gursikhs to have oneness with ੴ while living in the society i.e we are not to abandon it :
    ( srigranth.org 522) ਮਃ ੫ ॥
    ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਭੇਟਿਐ ਪੂਰੀ ਹੋਵੈ ਜੁਗਤਿ ॥
    ਹਸੰਦਿਆ ਖੇਲੰਦਿਆ ਪੈਨੰਦਿਆ ਖਾਵੰਦਿਆ ਵਿਚੇ ਹੋਵੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ॥੨
    I have noticed that most of our scholars are only focussing on “character building aspect for living a blissful life as per Gurmat ” but not on other aspects like economic, political, cultural, health, educational, social, organisational, etc. Though character building is pre-condition for oneness with ੴ, but other aspects cannot be ignored.
    I am not a social science expert but a medical science graduate, but I tried to look at the “social aspect for living a blissful life as per Gurmat “. I am giving a link with a request to review it for rectifying the errors,f any and an elaborate article on social aspects.
    https://youtu.be/Mq4ZNMEWfzA?feature=shared
    With regards, Karnail Singh

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