Dr Kanwar Ranvir Singh
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.
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.
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 intermediaries.
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."
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