[Reproduced from Sikhism: Its Philosophy & History, Chandigarh, 1997, Pp 85-98; ISBN:81-85815-03-8]

The basic problems of Sikh thought are naturally the same as those of other world religions and, as may be expected, their treatment by Sikhism is, in the main, on the lines of the Hindu and Buddhist speculative thought.  Wherever Sikhism differs or departs from these lines of thought, it does so, as a rule, not by introducing new terms or concepts but by underlining an already familiar concept, or by amplifying or interpreting it otherwise.  This is, as it should be, for, thus alone is it possible to effect a new advance of expansion in the cultural and religious horizon of mankind, and it is thus that all great cultures and civilizations have emerged and developed.

In Sikh thought, the final duality between the Matter  and Spirit is denied.  The basic Sikh thought is strictly monistic:
“From One the Many emanate, and finally into the One  the Many submerge.”1

All that exists, whether in the form of phenomena and appearances, as Becoming, or as Numenon and Reality, as Being, is, in fact, the Spirit and the Mind.  The individual mind, the numerous forms of life and the inanimate matter are all Spirit in different forms.  Out of its own impulse and initiative of the Spirit a process of involutions occurred for some limited purpose, the precise nature of which is beyond human comprehension.  All we can say is that such is its nature and such its pleasure.  The fraction of the universe in its initial form, which the modern theorists, such as Abbe Lamatre call, the Primaeval Atom, resulted from the involutionary impulse of the Absolute Spirit, God.  In this Primaeval Atom was originally concentrated, in a super-dense state, that which expanded and disintegrated, through an antithetical evolutionary impulse, for thousands of millions of years of the human mind, and finally into the universe as it is today.  This eruptive, fissionary impulse, whereby the Primaeval Atom has issued into the innumerable forms constituting the universe, has reached its highest point, up-to-date, in the creation of man, and man, therefore, is the point in creation from where the inverse movement of evolution may take a further leap towards the Spirit.  These two processes of involution and evolution, apasarpani and upasarpani as the profound ancient Jaina thought speculated, constitute a double but simultaneous movement, and thus creation of the universe is an involution-cum-evolution process, a descent and an ascent.  The universe, thus, is nothing but God-in-Becoming.  “The Formless has become all the innumerable forms, Himself.  He, that is beyond the attributes, inheres.  Nanak declares the doctrine of the One Absolute Being, that is Becoming, for, the One indeed is the Many.”2

The main doctrines of Sikh theology are grounded in this view of the Ultimate Reality and its nature.

With regard to the coming into being of the Primaeval Atom, the Sikh doctrine is that the process was instantaneous, caused by the  Will of God.  “The forms become in consequence of the Divine Will.  Comprehension fails at this stage of understanding of the Divine Will.”3

After thus stating this beginning of the Becoming, the further statements made in the Sikh scripture about the creation and evolution of the universe, are remarkably akin to the picture which has now been adumbrated by scientific speculation after considering the data revealed by the recent advances in Observational Astronomy and probes into the heart of Matter.  One of the basic hymns in the Sikh scripture, which may be called, the Hymn of the Genesis, says :
“For millions upon millions, countless years was spread darkness,
When existed neither earth nor heaven,
But only the limitless Divine Ordinance.
Then existed neither day or night, nor sun or moon;
The Creator into unbroken trance was absorbed.
Existed then neither forms of creation, nor of speech;
Neither wind nor water;
Neither was creation, or disappearance or transmigration.
Then were not continents, nether regions, the seven seas,
Nor rivers with water flowing.
Existed then neither heaven or the mortal world
or the nether world.
Neither hell or heaven or time that destroys.”
“As it pleased Him, the world He created;
Without a supporting power the expanse He sustained.”
“None His extent knows.
Of this from the Master, perfectly endowed comes realisation.”4

Paul Tillich identifies man’s basic predicament as existential estrangement from his essential being, estrangement which is expressed in anxiety about meaninglessness of life, gnawing awareness of alienation and incurable lack of wholeness, as his existential dilemma :  “my bedstead of anxiety, strung with strings of pain and my cover quilt of alienation is my existential predicament.  O, my God, take note of it and have mercy upon me.”5

Paul Tillich, the modern Western man, was not aware that in the Sikh scripture, not only the human predicament has been noted, but the way to its cure has also been pointed out : Let man take refuge in God and proceed to cure his incurable sickness through identifying himself with God’s purposes; “How else can man secure abiding peace and wholeness except through refuge in and communion with God ?”6

Man being the highest-yet point in the process of creation, where the evolutionary impulse has apparently near-exhausted its initial momentum, it is man on whom now the responsibility rests for consciously revitalising this impulse for a further evolutionary leap.
“Thou art the very essence of God.  Therefore, know thyself as such.”7
“You have received this gift of the human body and it is from here that the further upward movement towards God-realisation starts.  Therefore, now make an all-out effort to reach the Goal and do not waste human life in frivolities.”8

It is the involution-cum-evolution which is responsible for the creation of the universe, and which after reaching the point of human consciousness, has reached a stasis, and the man is thus a voluntary diminution of the infinitude of God, for some obscure but limited purpose, as, indeed, all forms of existence, represent a diminution of God.  Since God is truth, knowledge, bliss, light, harmony and immortality, the involuted forms of creation are so much less of all these.  Man being the stage at which the evolution has emerged into self-consciousness, man is capable of knowing that he has reached a particular stage of the creative process, and he is capable, volitionally, of taking steps to evolve upwards to the next stage.  This is the stage of the brahmajnani, or the God-conscious man, and it is  this notion of evolution, the premonition of which finds expression in the later 18th and early 19th century West European  literature in the form of the concept of ‘the Superman.’  “Lo, I preach to you the Superman; Superman is the meaning of the earth,” said Nietzsche.  Again, “Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman ……  what is great in man, is that he is a bridge, and not a goal.”9  Sikhism agrees with this except, that Sikhism declares that ‘the meaning of the earth’ reaches far beyond the stage of the Superman, and Superman is only an interim stage ‘a bridge and not a goal.’  Sikhism endorses Neitzsche that the sphere of the activity of the Superman, and of the higher-still goal of the evolution, is ‘the earth’, in the sense that it is on this earth that a perfect human Society of God-conscious men, a psycho-social perfection, is the ultimate objective of the impulse of God, which has originally given rise to the process of creation.  In contradistinction to all those and previous philosophies and religions, which taught that the ultimate goal of man was either absorption into God, or entry into a supramundane Kingdom of God, wherein there is abiding propinquity to God, Sikhism urges man to divinize the whole of humanity on this earth by transforming mind, life and matter, through a conscious effort and will, and with the aid of the spiritual technique of the Namyoga, which is capable of taking along the whole psyche of man to a level of existence, undreamed of before, where pure knowledge, limitless harmony and divine bliss would prevail.  This indeed would be a Society of god-like-beings, and the ultimate purpose of the divine impulse of creation is the establishment of this Society of human deities in the terrestrial spheres of the universe.  It is the teaching of the Sikh Gurus that the supreme duty of man is to make an all-out effort towards this divine goal, and the Sikh Gurus not only point out this goal, but also reveal the way towards it.  “Hail, the Guru, a hundred thousand times, hail, for, He reveals the secret of  transforming mankind into deities, and that, too, in an instant.”10

The Sikh concept of the Ultimate Reality is more akin to the Judaic notion of an Almighty Person than to the Aryan concept of an immanent neutral Principle.  The basic formula of Sikh dogma is the opening line of the Sikh scripture which characterised the Ultimate Reality as follows :
“The One Becoming-Being.  Truth.  Numenon.  Creator.  Person.  Without fear of another.  Without animosity towards another.  Beyond Time.  Form.  Unborn.  Self-expression.  Light.  Contacted by human mind through (His) Grace.11

The doctrine of maya has been basic to the Hindu and Buddhist speculations from the very beginning.  The best known work, apart from the omniscient, Mahabharta, in which the term, ‘maya’ (relative truth) is employed as a philosophical concept, is the metrical treatise, Karika, by Gaudpad, where-in, unlike the Mahabharta (Bhagwadgita  XVIII.  61), the term is not taken for granted, but is explained and defined.  Since this name, Gaudpad, was borne by the teacher of the famous philosopher of Hindu monism, Samkara, the author of the Karika may be the same person who might have lived at the end of the 7th century.  This work, Karika, is usually printed with the Mandukya-upanisad, and for practical purposes, is regarded a part of it.  In language and thought, both, it bears a remarkable resemblance to Buddhist writings of the Madhyamik School, and the criticism of the Hindu orthodoxy that the monism of Samkara, in which the doctrine of maya is embedded, is, in reality, crypto-Buddhism, is not without substance.12  In the Karika, the world of appearances is compared to the apparent circle of fire produced by a whirling lighted torch.  This striking image first occurs in the Maitrayana Upanisad (VI.  24).  It also occurs in the Buddhist Mahayan scripture, the Lankavtarsutra, which purports to be an account of the revelation of the true Religion of Gautama, the Buddha, when he visited Ceylon and there gave discourses to the King of the island, Ravana, and his wife, Mahamati.  This represents a well matured phase of speculation in Buddhism, as it criticises the Hindu schools of philosophy of the Samkhya, Pasupat, as well as other schools.  It includes a prophecy about the birth of Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist savant of the 4th century A.D., and it mentions the advent of Guptas which marks the renaissance of Hinduism in India.  It also alludes to the fresh incursions of the Hunas into northern India, which incursions destroyed the Imperial Gupta dynasty at the end of the 5th century A.D. Throughout the Hindu speculative and religious literature ever since, this doctrine of maya is admitted as in some way an independent principle of the process and ontological structure of creation.  True, the subtle Samkara asserts that the principle of maya is aniravacani, that is, it can neither be said to exist nor not to exist.  A is neither A, nor not A.  Whatever else this statement may mean, it does concede that maya has a positive existence.  Sikhism denies the doctrine of maya, thus conceived.  As ignorance and nescience have no positive existence, they merely being the aspects of the self-limited involuted Spirit, likewise, maya, as such, has no positive existence.  It is merely a way of saying that the individual consciousness perceives the Reality only in the form of partial knowledge, which is there on account of involution.  As the darkness is merely a negative aspect of the light of the sun, similar is the case with ignorance and nescience.
“What is there positive to which we can give the name of maya ?  What positive activity is the maya  capable of ?”
The human soul is subject to the pleasure and pain principle in its very nature, as long as it operates on the individuated plane of consciousness.

Again, “Maya, in the form of a snake, entwines to render human mind immiscible with the real, and the more it is accepted at its face value, the more it misguides.  Rare indeed is such a man who overcomes and casts it away.”  Further, “what is maya except a befooling magic trick ?  Yea, a dry blade of grass afire, a passing shadow of a summer cloud, a momentary flooding after a tropical rain, for him who is out of communion with God.”13

What do these dissertations on maya, in the Sikh scripture mean ?

Maya is the antithesis of moksha in Hindu thought.  But maya is not the antithesis of the Absolute Reality.  There is no incompatibility between the brahma and maya, for the former is not opposed to the Many.  It is advanda, non-dual, that is, it has no opposite being outside all classification.  To be precise, ‘classification’ is exactly maya.  Maya noun of Sanskrit is derived from the root matr, ‘to measure to form, to build, to lay out a plan’, the same root from which Graeco-Latin words, ‘metre’ ‘matrix’, ‘material’ and ‘matter’  are obtained.  The fundamental process of measurement is division.  Thus, the Sanskrit root, dva, from which we get ‘divide’, is also the Latin root of ‘dus’, and  the English, ‘dual.’  To say, then, that the world of ‘facts’ and ‘events’ is maya is to say that the words, ‘facts’ and ‘events’ are terms of measurement rather than the real itself, per se.  ‘Measurement’ is setting up bounds of all kinds, whether by descriptive classification or by screening.  Thus, the ‘facts’ and ‘events’ are as abstract as lines of latitude or feet and inches, metres and centimetres.  This is not to be confused with the “Idealism” or  “Monism” of the Western philosophy, for all concrete things are not, in reality, illusion, unreal, or just, the One.  They are not unreal and illusory, because maya is not non-existence; it is a wrong mode of apprehension.  It is not ‘One’, because ‘One’ is a thing, a mode of measurement and, therefore, itself maya.  To join the ‘many’ into ‘one’ is as much maya as to separate the many from one.  The world, as we perceive it, is made up of surfaces and lines, of areas of density and vacuity, but the ‘maya’ concept of the Sikh scripture says that these forms and appearances, these things and events have no “own-being”, svabhava; they do not exist in their own right, but only in relation to one another, like “the spark of a dry blade of grass”, or like “the fleeting shadow of a summer cloud.”  Concretisation and formalisation is maya, when the human mind attempts to comprehend and control that which impinges upon his consciousness.  This is the unreal world of Buddhism, the world of ‘name and form’, nama-rupa.  When the Sikh scripture says that “maya is a snake which entwines human consciousness, and whosoever takes it at its face value, him  maya misleads and confuses”, it means that man confuses his measures with the world so measured, of identifying money with wealth, fixed convention with fluid reality.  The Sikh doctrine of maya points out the impossibility of grasping the actual world in the verbal net of man’s mind and the fluid character  of those very constructions he thus artifacts.  This world of maya escapes both the comprehension of the philosopher and the grasp of the pleasure-seeker, like water from a clutching fist, “like the fleeting shade of a summer cloud.”

This interpretation of the concept of maya in Sikh terminology has far-reaching consequences in so far as it pulls the Hindu mind out of the slough of indolent introspective pre-occupation, and subjectivism, generated by the belief that the whole world of the appearances in which man is born to pursue his socio-political life, is no more real than a phantasmagoria in the minds of the gods above.  By giving a foundation of solid reality to the world of appearance, this re-interpretation of the concept of maya conforms to a sense of reality, a feeling of urgency and an objectivity to the whole frame of mind of man, which is necessary for the all-out effort to speed up the evolutionary process through the human will, and this is the core of the precepts of Sikhism, as a way of life.

The fact that religious experience, per se, is non-moral, has been known to Hindu thought from the very beginning.  In the West, it has been recognised clearly only in recent times.  It was Dr Otto who in his Idea of the Holy,  about a quarter of a century ago, made this point finally clear.  In the Judaic religious tradition, for all practical purposes, religious life and ethical conduct appear to have been made identical.  The ten Commandments of Moses are ethical precepts.  In the Koran, it is these ethical commands which are presented as the essence of religion.  Western scholars are sometimes shocked at the stories narrated in the ancient Hindu texts, of the conduct of gods that does not conform with strict ethical standards, and about which the narrator of the story expresses no moral horror and passes no censorial judgement.  From this, the Western reader erroneously concludes that ethics has no place in the Hindu religious practice and tradition.  This is far from the truth.  From the very beginning, it has been recognised that ethical conduct is the very foundation on which the life of a religious man must be based.  The rules of conduct of the Buddhist sharamans, the formulary of conduct of Jain bhikshus, the daily rules regulating a Brahmin’s life, bear ample testimony to the fact that the relation of ethics to religious experience is well recognised and established, though a man with secular sovereign status is exempted from moral censure.12  This moral exemption, however, is more a juridical rule rather than a moral precept.  The case of non-human gods, though is obviously on a different law.  In Sikhism, while it is recognised that the religious experience belongs to a category of values which has a unique status and ontological structure in its own right, it is, nevertheless, insisted that without strictly ethical purity of conduct there is no possibility of any advance in the religious experience.  A religious life, not strictly grounded in ethical conduct, or a religious discipline which ignores the ethical requirements, is considered as a highly damaging error.  “The seed of the teachings of the Guru cannot germinate except in the field of ethical conduct, constantly irrigated by the waters of truth.”15  “A man of religion is ever characterised by ethical deeds, honest living, sincerity of heart, and a fearless passion for truth.”16  “Nanak maketh this emphatic declaration, let all men ponder over it.  Ethical conduct is the only true foundation of human life on earth.”17  Sikhism, thus, lays a stress on morality which raises the moral law to a higher and absolute status such as was not so in the Hindu and Buddhist thought.

The Buddhist and Brahminic systems appear to assume tacitly that morality is a means to felicity and that it is not obedience to a law which exists in its own right as demanding obedience, what Immanual Kant called, the Categorical Imperative.  It is true that by them moral conduct is regarded as governed by the cosmic law, called, the law of karma, which means that good deeds bring good results and evil deeds bring evil results.  “The evil deeds I did in past lives have now become impediments and misfortunes for me.”18  Sikhism, however, raises ethical conduct to a higher and more independent, absolute status, and makes it as the true expression of the harmony of human personality with the Will of God.  All ethical conduct, therefore, is not merely conducive  to good results such as happiness, but it is primarily, an act of establishment of concord between the human personality and the Person of God.  Since this concord is the highest end and the goal of human existence and endeavour, it is, therefore, the basic ingredient of the highest activity of man which is religion.  Thus, Sikhism while recognising that the order of Reality which is revealed as numenon to the human experience does not fall under the category of ethical experience, it unequivocally  emphasises that the two cannot be divorced or separated, and that the nature of the numenon is such that its realisation is impossible without ethical conduct.  The ethical category and the numenal category are distinct, but are structurally and inseparably joined.

In this way, the Sikh thought fuses the Hindu thought and the Semitic tradition on the subject of ethics and religion.

European philosophy and theology have been much exercised on the subject of the ‘free will’, while the Hindu tradition has considered this subject as of minor importance.  The explanation for this lies in the analytical understanding of the concept by both the traditions.  In European thought, an individual is conceived of as a permanent fixed entity, basically separate from the rest of the world which is his universe.  It is argued that without freedom of will there is no moral responsibility, there can neither be guilt nor punishment, either in society or hereafter, before the throne of God.  This problem has not much troubled the Hindu thought which considers that there is no such thing as a completely free and stable entity, called, ‘the individual’, and secondly, the Hindu argues, that if the human will is not free then what does the term, “freedom”, mean ?  What instance shall we bring forth with which to contrast the supposed determination of human will ?  Our notion of “freedom” is inalienably derived from our own experience to which we give the name of “will.”  Whatever, therefore, we may mean by “freedom”, it is ultimately in the terms of our own ‘will’, that we give meaning to it.  Thus interpreted, to say that human will is free, is an axiom, as well as a tautology.  There is no meaning in the thesis that human will is not free, for, “free” is that which is like unto the human will.  The trouble, however, arises when we give to the expression, “free will”, a meaning which we have not derived from our experience of our ‘will’, but which have been superimposed by our intellect.  Thus, we like to think that, “free will” is that power of volition of the human individual which is totally uncaused and unconditioned.  The concept of ‘self-caused inevitability’ and ‘freely chosen determinism’ would appear as puzzling, if not altogether non-sensical to the Western mind.  A little reflection, however, will show that such a “freedom” does not, and cannot, in fact, exist, and further, that, if it did and could exist, it will destroy all foundations of ‘moral responsibility’, ‘sense of guilt’, and justification for ‘punishment’ either here or hereafter.  To begin with, there are the facts of heredity, the environment, and the subconscious mind.  There is not much doubt that the individual is the product of his heredity, the inner mechanism of which the science of biology has discovered recently in the fertilized germ-cells and its genes, which make all the organic cells that make up the body including the brain and the nervous system.  This pattern we inherit from our parents and our ancestors and it is certainly a determination of the choices that we make in our lives from time to time.  Psychology has revealed to us that subconscious layers of human mind as the seat of instincts, emotions, and intuitions, for those who faithfully follow the dogma of the Church Council of Constantinople (553 A.D.) which anathematised the doctrine of transmigration, in the race during evolution of millions of years; or, accumulated, for those who hold the doctrine of metempsychosis as fundamental, accumulated in the course of untold numbers of previous births and rebirths of the individual.  They are certainly a determinant throughout a man’s life in the matter of his choice and the conduct that follows it.  Again, from outside, the social environment is active in continuously influencing and moulding the individual’s mind, and thereby his power of choice and conduct.  These three factors, the physical, the environmental and the hereditary, are there as a fact, and their powers of influencing the human power of choice cannot be denied.  In this sense, there cannot be a ‘free will’, as an uncaused and unconditioned factor which solely determines as to what choice, in a given situation, an individual will make.  But, even if there were such a “free” will, it will entail disastrous consequences.  If a man’s actions are not free, when they can be shown to be casually chained to his character, the sum total of his heredity, past experiences and environment, then the only circumstances in which it would be proper to call a man “free”, would be those in which he acted independently of his received character, that is, of his habits, desires, urges, and perspective on life, and all the rest.  But, if this agent of ‘free’ action, is not to be equated and identified with that which is subject to particular desires and urges, which is circumscribed by a given environmental and circumstantial set-up, which is devoid of character, motives, persistent interests and the like, then who is this agent of ‘free’ choice, the ‘he ?’ Such a notion of ‘free’ will completely dissolves the agent of action; a person with such a ‘free’ will is a completely disembodied and unidentifiable entity.  Such an entity can neither be blamed nor praised.  Indeed, such an entity would be truly like the “Superman” of Nietzshe, “beyond good and evil.”  Nor can such an entity be held responsible for what it does, for, it would be clearly unreasonable to hold an individual responsible for his actions, if we did not think there was a cause and effect connection between his character and his conduct.  When we can show that there is no such connection, as, for instance, an act is committed as a result of coercion, we do not normally hold him responsible.  The reason is not that the one act is ‘uncaused’ and ‘free’, while the other is ‘determined.’  In one case, the cause lies in the character of the individual over which he has, in some sense, control while in the other case, he has no such control.  As we gain new knowledge about the kinds of causes that affect conduct, we change our mind about the kinds of behaviour for which we should hold men responsible.  The recent shifts of stress in the science of Penology in the modern world, and the ancient wisdom of the East and West, which iterated that an individual is ultimately responsible for nothing, must be appreciated in the context of this analysis, and not in the superfine frame of reference of ‘determinism’ and ‘free will.’  “A man reaps only  what he sows in the field of karma,”17  declares the Sikh scripture.  It simultaneously says, that, “Say, what precisely is it that an individual can do out of his free choice ?  He acteth as God Willeth.”20  And the Bhagvadgita asserts that, “God sits in the heart of every creature with the consequence that all revolve in their set courses, helplessly tied to the wheel of maya.”21  That man is free to choose and act to some extent, and to the extent that he is so, to that extent alone he is morally responsible and subject to praise and blame, is a true statement.  That there is no such entity, and no such entity is conceivable, which is wholly ‘uncaused’ and ‘undetermined’, and further that in the ultimate analysis, the whole area of individuality can be linked to a cause of causes which are supra-individual, is also a true statement, and these two true statements are not self-contradictory or incompatible with each other, constitutes the Sikh doctrine on the subject.

This brings us back to our immediate experience that seems to carry its own certitude with it, that, in some sense, we are ‘free’, for, we have the notion of ‘freedom’ as the core of this experience.  Sikhism, while implicitly taking note of the three factors which determine the powers of human choice, lays stress on this fourth factor, perpetually present and operative in the human mind, which possesses the autonomous power of choice.  This autonomous power is the divinity in man, according to Sikhism, and it is this core around which the whole human personality is built.  It  is, at heart, “the source of all human misery, as well as the panacea of all his ills.”22  “How may man demolish the wall of nescience that separates him from God ?  By being in tune with the Will of God.  And how shall we know the Will of God.  Nanak answers : It is embedded in the very core of human personality.”23  It is this autonomous power of free choice which is given to every human personality, and by virtue of which the effects of the other three determining factors of human choice are interfused, and, thus, the act of free human choice gives birth to a new event, which is not wholly determined, and which is not a mere combination and aggregational consequence of all these four factors, but which is a new event, unique in nature, and potently capable of giving rise to other similar events in the future.  It is this power of free choice that is included in man’s original heritage, which has the capacity to go beyond this heritage, and thus, within the limits given, a human being is free to shape his own destiny.  Nor are the other three factors, his received character, the environment and the subconscious mind,  merely accidental and fortuitously superimposed upon the individual, for, they too are the fruits of his past karma of uncounted previous births, and thus, they are self-determined, self-caused, result of free choices earlier made.  When and why and how did an individual make the first free but wrong choice ?  This question relates to the First Things, and, therefore, exhypothesis, the individual comprehension fails at this point : “the son observeth and knoweth not the birth of his father.”24

The doctrine of karma is not the same as the doctrine of pre-destination of the Christian theology.  Karma is, in a sense, fate, self-caused inevitability, not pre-destination, for, within the limits given, (and these limits constitute the karma inherited from the previous births), a man is free.  This karma is  not ‘fate’, because all the time we are making our own karma and determining the character of our further status and births.  The doctrine of karma as understood in higher Hinduism, and as expounded in Sikhism, merely teaches that our present limitations are traceable to our acts of autonomous choice in our past lives, and as such, our karma is a source of rewards and punishments which we must enjoy and endure, but this idea differs from the idea of ‘fate’, as commonly understood in European thought, in as much as it is not inexorable, for all the time we are making our own karma within a context, the core of which is always free and autonomous.

The existence of evil, it might be said, is the main reason for the keen interest in religion, and, therefore, the explanation of evil is the chief problem of theologies and religious philosophies.  Whether it was God who created evil, and whether evil is due to misuse of the gifts of free will, are problems which constantly occur and recur in almost all religions of the world.  But, the presence of evil, as a de-tranquilliser and disturber of the composure of the human mind, cannot be ignored or argued away, so much so that perceptive minds regard it as the preponderant characteristic of the existential human situation.25

The main trend of Hindu thought on this problem is that since the world itself is unreal, the existence of evil in it is not of greater concern to the individual than the world itself.  He asserts that the proper course for the human soul is to seek mukti, liberation or unison with God by renouncing and discarding this vain show of appearances, called, the world.  The Hindu, thus, is not very much concerned to prove that evil does not really exist in the world, or to explain why God allows it to exist.  Since the world itself is no more than a phantom and an insubstantial dream, the evil itself cannot be of a more enduring substance, and, at any rate, it is of no direct concern to the man of religion.

Sikhism cannot and does not adopt this view, because Sikhism does not accept the ultimate dichotomy of matter and spirit, and does not accept as an independent entity, the principle of illusion, maya.  Since Sikhism postulates that religious activity must be practised in the socio-political context of the world, the problem of evil is very much a real problem to Sikhism as it is to the European thinker.  Sikhism, therefore, returns almost the same answer to the problem of evil which the European pantheist gives, namely, that since God is all things and in all things, evil is only something which is a partial view of the whole, something which appears as such, when not seen from the due perspective.  Sikhism asserts that there is no such thing as the independent principle of evil, as some theologies postulate, although there are things in this world which are evil.  This antithesis of evil and good, according to Sikhism, is a necessary characteristic of the involution syndrome involved in the process of creation of the world.  Evil and good appear at one stage of this involution-cum-evolution and they disappear when the process of evolution culminates into the unitive experience of God, just as the white ray of light splits into its variegated spectrum while passing through a prism, and again gathers these multichromatic hues into its all-absorbing whiteness, when it becomes itself again.  In the final stage of things, “all evil transmutes itself into good, and all defeat into victory.”

When a complete perspective is granted to man by the Grace of God, all evil melts into its source which is All-Good.26  There is no independent principle of evil in the universe because God is All-Good and, “nothing that proceeds from All-Good can be really evil, and there is naught, which proceeds from any other source but God.”27
But this Sikh metaphysical speculation on the ontological status of evil, does not supply a clear cut answer to the problem of evil as man encounters it in his everyday experience and life.

Ours is a time of upheaval political, social, religious, and moral; our most urgent problem is to forestall the catastrophe that menaces us, catastrophe of total destruction, and unprecedented unrest and violence.  The causes of the present troubles and future dangers can all be traced back to the lack of  any root-principles, generally agreed in philosophy, religion and politics.  Everywhere, old class structures of society have been undermined by the advent of democracy.  European hegemony and overlordship in Asia and Africa have yielded place to independence or partnership.  In religion, the simple faith in the ancient theologies, and in their sacred writings as the explanation of the universe and as the foundation and sanction of morals, has been shaken by the impact of modern science.

Civilisation has been disadjusted, and confusion prevails.  General consensus is that the present age is mostly concerned, not with the world of ideas, but with the world of things, material things that we make and use, sell and buy.  Though physical sciences, technology and  economics are of immense value to mankind, it is not anywhere in that world that we may hope to find the solution to our problems, and that solution, whatever it might be, lies in the world of ideas.  Men’s actions are determined by their ideas and not vice versa, as fanatical Marxists fondly hope and obstreperously assert.  Right ideas are those that lead to good actions, and good actions are those that are known to lead to welfare.  Wrong ideas are those that lead to opposite results, suffering and disaster.  Welfare means everything worthwhile, material, intellectual, moral and spiritual welfare.

To discover wherein welfare consists, and to find ways to attain it, constitute a continuous enquiry, discussion, study, meditation and argument.  Thus, the ancient problem of evil is reopened, and the explanation of it that monotheistic theologies give, namely, to argue it away at the transcendental level, appears unsatisfying : the two world-wars of our times, for instance.  If God is omnipotent and benevolent, why are there wars ?  The answer that the ontological status of evil is negative and non-existent, or the answer implicated in the Book of Job, constitute an impressive argument and a magnificient poem, respectively, but in the face of the concrete evil, the latter appears a sterile philosophy and the former an evasion, but no straight answer.  In the case of a dualistic theology that concedes two real and positive opposing powers, good and evil, it would appear that if God has created a maleficent power, the power of evil, of negation and denial, then God is not all Benevolent, but if this power is co-equal and co-existent then God is not All-powerful.  The problem of evil may be a mere abstraction, but there are problems of evil everyday in tangible and concrete situations, and they raise not merely the philosophical questions about the status and origin of evil, but also what is the moral imperative for man, in dealing with evil situations, in day-to-day life.

Sikhism takes direct and full cognizance of this aspect of the problem.  While it denies evil an ultimate status in the structure of Reality, it squarely faces the concrete existence of evil in the day-to-day life of man, as well as the agents of evil in human affairs.

“The cannibals say ritual prayers of Islam, and the assasins strut about as practising Hindus ……  All concern for human decencies and respect for ethical conduct has disappeared and the evil rules supreme.”28
Sikhism calls upon all men of moral perception and spiritual awakening to oppose the agents of evil, the evil-doers and their aides singly, through appropriate organisation, to oppose relentlessly, till the end, till this evil is destroyed or contained.  The Light of God, that shone through the Sikh Prophets, to guide mankind is unambiguous and uncompromising on this point : “O, God of Benedictions, this blessing above all, we do ask of You : the will and tenacity to tread the path of good promoting actions and fearlessness in opposition to the agent of evil.”29   “The Light of Sikhism is for the supreme purpose of urging men to destroy and extirpate evil-doers.”30

But, since according to Sikh metaphysics, the evil is just a passing phase, a phenomenal occurrence, neither there in the beginning nor there at the end, and, therefore, having no substance or real existence, why should any man of understanding bother to oppose it or to destroy or contain it ?

Sikhism answers this question.  The ancient Hindu insight into the scientific laws governing character formation, tells us that, “what a man does, what he  attitudinises, that he becomes.”31  To tolerate evil, to co-exist with it, and not to confront it, is to accept and compromise with it.  Such acceptance and compromise are antivirtuous passivity and negative life style, and the destiny of ethical and spiritual negation is hell.  A negative personality is a naked personality.  In the absence of a proper covering of virtue and merit, there is no more frightful fate that can overtake man : “On its predestined march towards hell, a naked soul looks truly frightful.”32
Jacob Boehme in his, Signatura Rerum, tells us, “What is evil to one thing, that is good to another.  Hell is evil to the angels, for they are not created thereunto, but it is good to the hellish creatures.  So also heaven is evil to the hellish creatures, for, it is their poison and death.”

Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) wrote in his, Heaven and Hell :
“No punishment is from the Lord, but from Evil itself; because Evil is so joined with its own punishment that they cannot be separated.”
By co-existence and non-confrontation with evil things, man is utterly degraded from his essential humanity, and becomes a hellish creature, and thus, his punishment is great.
“Fall and rise, rawness and ripeness are known and seen hereafter in the next world.”33

Samsar is the principle of change, which determines the world of phenomena, and in Hindu thought and in some other  systems of metaphysics, it has been argued that on this account it is unreal.  It is presumed as axiomatic that the real must not be infected with change.  The basic formula of Sikh dogma, with which the Sikh scripture opens, is proceeded by the exegetic statement that “all change, all evolution, all that is characterised by the time-process, is ultimately real.”34

The numenon, the order of Reality, which is revealed to the human mind through gnosis, therefore, is not something which is fundamentally different and away from the phenomenon, altered in the gnosis is not that what really is, but it is the mode of perception and the quality of prehension of the individual, which is transformed, thus revealing the vision of the numenon.  It is this very mundane and the material world and the phenomena which is fresh and differently prehended and cognised by the human consciousness, a consciousness that is enlarged and uplifted.  Sikhism, therefore, is in agreement with the aphorism of the great Buddhist philosopher, Budhagosa who declared, that, “yas-samsaras tan-nirvanam”, that is, “the flux and the Absolute are the same.”  “This world of fleeting appearances that you see, is, in fact, the true face of God, and as such, it is revealed to the consciousness of emancipated man.”35


1.     Ikkas te hoio ananta, Nanak ikkas mahi samae jio.  — Majh, p. 131.
2.     Nirankari akar apu nirgun sargun ek, ekahiek bakhanano Nanak ek anek Gauri, Bavan akheri, p. 250.
3.     “Hukmi hovan akar hukam na kahia jai.”, p. 1.
4.     Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 1035-36.
5.     Ibid., p. 1379.
6.     “Har nah na miliai sajanai  kat paiay bisram ?”, G.G.S., p. 133.
7.     “Man tu jotsarup hain apna mul pachhan.”  — Asa di var, G.G.S., p. 441.
8.     “Bhai prapat manukha dehuria, gobind milan ki eho teri baria, saranjami lagu bhavajalu tarankai, janamu birtha jat rangi mayakei.”  — Asa di var, G.G.S., p.12.
9.     Thus spake Zarathustra. I. 4.
10.     Balihari gur apne diohari sadvar, jini manas te devte kie karat no lagi bar. — Var Asa, G.G.S., p. 462.
11.     “1. Onkar, Satu, Namu, Karta, Purukhu, Nirbhau, Nirvaira, Akal Murti, Ajuni Saibhang, Gur Prasadi.”  G.G.S., p.1.
12.     Mayavadam asachhastram, prachhannam bauddham. — Padam-purana.
13.     “Maya kisnau akhiye ?  kia maya karam kamai ?  dukh sukh iha jio baddh hai haumai karam kamai.”  G.G.S., p. 67.
“Maya hoi nagani jagati rahi laptae, is ki seva jo kare tisi hi ko phir khae, gurmukh koi garadu tini mali dali laee pae.”  G.G.S., p. 510.
“Mai maya chhal; trin ki agan, megh ki chhaya Gobind bhajan binu had ka jal.”  — G.G.S., p. 717.
14.     Samrath ko nahin dos gusain. — Tulsi, Ramcaritmanas.
15.     Amal kar dharti bij sabdo kar sace ki ab nit deha pani — Srirag, G.G.S., p. 24.
16.     Sac karni sac taki rahit, sac hirdai sac mukhi kahit — Sukhmani, G.G.S., p. 283.
17.     Bhanat Nanak bujhe ko bicari, isi jag mahi karni sari — Sorath, G.G.S., p. 599.
18.     Purva janamam kritam papam byadhi rupen pidatam :  Sarvadarsan Samgrah.
19.    Jeha bijai so lunai karma sandra khet — Baramaha, G.G.S., p.134.
20.     Kahu Manukh te kia hoe ave ?  jo tisi bhave soi karaye. — Sukhmani, G.G.S., p. 277.
21.     Ishvrah sarvbhutanam brideso Arjun, nishtoti, bhramayan, sarvabhutani yantrasudhani maya.                    — XVIII. 61.
22.     Haumain diragh rog hai daru bhi is mahi. —Var Asa, G.G.S., p. 466.
23.     Kiv saciara hoiai kiv kude tuttai pal ?  hukamrajai callana, Nanak likhia nal. — Japu, G.G.S., p.1.
24.     Pita ka janam kai janai put — Sukhmani, G.G.S., p. 284.
25.     Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ills
And while the sun and the moon endure
Luck’s a chance but trouble is sure
I’d face it as a’wise man should,
And train for ill and not for good. — Houseman, A.E.
26.     Guru Granth Sahib; p. 1302.
27.     Isu te hoe su nahi bura, orai kahahu kinai kachhu kara. — Sukhmani, G.G.S., p. 294.
28.     Manas khane karahi nivaj churi vagayin
tin gal tag …… saram dharam ka beda dur,
Nanak kud rahiya bharpur.  — Var Asa, G.G.S., p. 471.
29.     Deha siva bar mohi ihai subh karman te kabahun
na taraon, na daraon, ari sio jab jae laraon. — Dasamgranth
30.    Eha kaj dhara ham janamam …… dust sabhan kau mul ukparan. — Ibid.
31.     Yatha kari yatha cari tatha bhavati.
32.     “Nanga dojak calia ta disai khara draona.”  — Asa Var, G.G.S., p. 471.
33.     Kacc pakai othe pai, Nanak gaia jape jae. — Japu.
34.     Adi sacu, jugadi sacu, hai bhi sacu, Nanak, hosi bhi sacu. — Japu, G.G.S., p.1.
35.     Ihu visu sansar tum dekhde ehu hari ka rup hai, harirup nadri aia. — Ramkali., G.G.S., p. 922.


One thought on “Sirdar Kapur Singh’s interesting perspective on Sikh Worldview

  1. The first para was a little problematic for me initially. But as I thought it out it makes sense, except the part about “Hindu & Buddhist speculative thought”. I think the “Hindu speculative thought” as manifested, say, in Giani Gian Singh’s initial writings or the writings coming from Nirmala and Udasi tradition generally, are a problem and do not form part of what may be termed as “Sikh thought”. The stream of Sikh thought has been running through our history in two forms – Gurbani and the writings of personages like Bhai Gurdas, Sainapat, Ratan Singh Bhangu, and in the late 19th century propagated at a mass level by Prof. Gurmukh Singh, Giani Ditt Singh and others who benefited from the initiatives of Singh Sabha movement. Sikh thought, thus, is distinct from any other existing thought in its treatment of issues – because the worldview it bases its argument on is not similar to Hindu thought at all while sharing some aspects with Buddhist thought. Since the logic on which the Sikh worldview is based is unique to Sikhs in the annals of religions, if another religion’s idiom is applied to study Sikhism the results will be a distorted picture of Sikhism – because one is looking through a different lens. This is apparent in the writings of G C Narang (Arya Samajist lens), Sumit Sarkar (Marxist lens), Ernest Trumpp and W H McLeod (Christian missionary lens), Latif (Islamist lens), and various current publications which distort Sikhism by design to fit it into the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s rabidly extremist Hindu worldview.

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