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Concept of Sunya (Sunn) in Guru Granth Sahib

Discussion in 'Gurmat Vichaar' started by Aman Singh, Jul 27, 2006.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    Hardev Singh*

    The holy scripture of the Sikh faith, called Guru Granth Sahib (GGS), consists of hymns of devotion to God, inspired reflections on the cosmic order, the vision of the higher life and exhortation to man towards lifting himself to the state of spiritual peace and the attainment of liberation. The sacred volume was completed in 1604 when it was installed in Harmandir Sahib for the first time on 1st of September.
    During twentyfirst century, dialogue between Science and Religion is the order of the day for ushering in world peace. GGS with its universal doctrines based on truth, compassion and justice is destined to play a sterling role at the global level. This is the only scripture, which corroborates modern scientific theories in the domain of cosmology.
    Big Bang cosmology explains many features of our universe and it holds its sway due to experimental support it got during recent years. However, it has many enigmas yet to be resolved. For example: Who created the universe ? What was the pre-creation state of the universe? What will be the end or fate of the universe? Mathematical models fail to answer these questions. In fact, all mathematical equations fail at the moment of creation of the universe and its annihilation leading us to ‘Singularities’, a term which has become a cosmological buzzword these days.
    GGS comes to the rescue of our modern day cosmologists. A wonderful doctrine of Sünya is introduced in the Sikh scripture to explain the pre-creation state of the universe. God is the creator of the universe and He is the annihilator. So there is no enigma or concept of ‘singularity’ in GGS.
    Surprisingly, Quantum Physics allows the universe to appear out of nothing at all, as a so-called vacuum fluctuation using the famous ‘Uncertainty Principle’. Chaotic inflation led to the sudden expansion of the Universe out of a quantum fluctuation. Indian religious literature is full of references regarding creation of the universe. However, the doctrine of Sünya, first introduced in Buddhism has been elaborated in GGS. It is a testimony of intuitive knowledge gained by the Sikh Gurus using dib drishti or spiritual vision which is of transcendental nature.
    Concept of Sünya in Indian Tradition

    Sünyam and Sünyata are two terms of major importance in Buddhism and have been used to denote ‘emptiness’, ‘nothingness’, ‘non-substantiality’ and ‘the inexhaustible’. During the second century BC, Buddhist teachers in India emphasized the ‘emptiness’ as a basic description of the nature of existing things. They were known as ‘teachers of emptiness’ or sunyavadins. The emptiness of all things is a significant part of the Buddhisatva path to enlightenment in Mahayana Buddhism.
    Nagarjuna, the greatest Buddhist philosopher, interprets Sunyata in his treatise, Madhymika sutras.1 He established the theory of Sunyata and accepted it as the fundamental principle underlying creation. The doctrine of the void is a method of rejecting all attachments because things have no ‘self’, that is, they are empty. ‘Void’ is not nothingness conceived in negative terms. This positive concept of ‘void’ is often compared with emptiness inside a vase. The state of Sunyata, or void is one in which all polarity, all subject – object differentiation has ceased to exist. But for a sunyavadin this is a positive concept. Sünyata is the negation of all views and is itself not a view !
    In Siddha-Nath-Yogi tradition2, the term sunya has been used frequently. It is said that sunya is so transcendental that it is neither in the body nor is it out of the body. Sunya has been linked with the sabda or nada. In the Hathyogic and Tantrik cults, Nada or Sabda Brahman had been accepted as the original cause of the cosmos. In the Siddha-Natha cult, sunya was considered as a synonym of Sabda or the absolute Nada, which is nothing but a trait of Absolute Reality. In Gorakh Bani, there is a mention of one Sunyadvara in the gaganmandal wherein complete darkness, lightning flashes and the nectar trickles. The Siddha attains this stage by yoga practices. In the Siddha-Natha literature, the word sunya has been used in the following contexts :

    • a) Supreme Reality (Nada), Supreme knowledge or Supreme nature.

    • b) Brahmanrandhra, Dasam dwara, the Sahsrara chakra and Gaganmandal

    • c) Siva-loka.
    Concept of Sunya in Sikh Tradition

    We find an echo of Sunyata philosophy of Buddhism in Sikh scripture3, Guru Granth Sahib (GGS). Siddh-Nath-Yogis held their sway in Punjab before the advent of Sikhism. They all belong to the Sahajayani sect of Buddhism or its perverted forms after assimilation into Hindu fold. According to Mahankosh, there were twelve panths of Nath cult in Punjab and eightyfour Siddhas, with Guru Gorakh Nath as a leading figure among the Siddhas of Punjab. Guru Nanak’s dialogue with Siddhas is recorded in GGS as Siddh-Goshti which is in the form of a religious debate concerning origin of cosmos, sünya, liberation and various other issues. Guru Nanak rejected the Hatha-Yoga cult of Siddhas and condemned the path of renunciation of the world followed by them. He advocated adoption of house-holder’s life in this world and preached Sahaj-Yoga or Nam-Yoga, the Sikh way of life.
    The term sunya occurs in Siddh-Goshti4 when Siddhas pose a question to Guru Nanak :-
    • Q:- What about the pre-cosmos state ? Prior to it where the Lord of void abide ?
    • A:- The very thought of the pre-cosmos state lands one in a state of wonder. In the profound stillness of the Sunya , the formless one pervaded in continuum then.
    Siddh-Goshti in GGS is a remarkable debate on the beliefs, practices and doctrines of the two systems; one propounded by the Siddhas and the other by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh faith. Philosophical questions concerning the origin of cosmos, life and mind, potency of Sabda, need for the Guru, nature of Supreme Reality and the liberation for human soul are answered by Guru Nanak from the Sikh view-point. The concept of Ideal Man (Gurmukh) is propounded by Guru Nanak demolishing the concept of world renunciation pactised by Siddhas.
    Interpretations of Sünya Doctrine in GGS

    Various interpretations of Sünya doctrine exist in GGS. We have an echo of Buddhist philosophy in the Sikh scripture. Sünya is not equated with void or emptiness in GGS. Rather, it represents the state of equipoise where Absolute Lord exists in primordial trance called sünya samaadhi5 :

    • The Yogi, the Primal Lord, sat within the celestial sphere of deepest trance (samaadhi).
    • – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 685
    In GGS, Absolute Reality or God is both immanent and transcendental.6 He is formless, attributeless and hence beyond description :

    • He possesses all qualities, He transcends all qualities; He is the formless Lord. He himself is in Primal trance (samaadhi).
    – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 290
    In consonance with the Buddhist philosophy of sunyata, subject – object differentiation or concept of duality does not exist in the sunya state as enunciated by saint Kabir7 in GGS :

    • No life or death, no pain or pleasure is felt there. There is only the primal trance of samaadhi, and hence no duality.
    – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 333
    Absolute Reality or God is omnipresent and exists in the present, past and future. The truth of primordial existence of God before the creation of time and space is also explained by Guru Nanak in
    8 :

    • Existed before the beginning of time and space;

    • Existed throughout the various ages in the past;

    • Exists in the present; and

    • Will exist in the future.
    – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1
    There is also an echo of Siddha doctrine9-10 of sunya in the form of Nada in GGS :

    • The deepest samaadhi, and the unstruck sound current of the Naad is there.
    • – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 293

    • There, the unstruck sound current of the Absolute Lord vibrates and resounds.
    • – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 943
    Sünya Phase and Creation of Universe in GGS

    The most original contribution of Sikh scripture is in the field of cosmology. Before the creation of the universe, Absolute Reality or God existed in the Sünya phase, called adi sach by Guru Nanak. When the creation starts, both time and space are also created and this phase corresponds to jugad sach. In Maru Solhe composition in GGS, the process of creation is explained in a scientific manner corresponding to Big Bang cosmology. The primordial state of existence of God or adi sach is synonymous with the Sünya phase as epitomised in
    11 :

    • Billions of years ago,

    • There was nothing but utter darkness,

    • There was neither earth nor sky,

    • And the will of God prevailed.

    • There was neither day nor night, nor moon nor Sun;

    • God sat in primal, profound trance (in Sunya).
    • – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1035
    Guru Arjun, the fifth Nanak, describes the primordial trance of God before the creation process starts as a manifestation of God12 :

    • For countless days, He remained invisibles.

    • For countless days, He remained absorbed in Sünya

    • For countless days, there was utter darkness, and

    • Then the Creator revealed Himself.
    – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1081
    According to Guru Arjun13, there was no duality in the Sünya phase of existence of God as already discussed under the Indian tradition of Buddhist philosophy :

    • When there was no creation,

    • Whence was the need for virtue and vice ?

    • When God was in Primordial trance (Sunya samaadhi),

    • Whence was the need for enmity or jealousy ?

    • When God was not in Its manifested form,

    • Thence who could suffer pain or feel happy ?

    • When God was in Its transcendental Entity,

    • Thence who was lured by attachment or by doubt ?
    However, the most beautiful elaboration of Sunya doctrine is given by Guru Nanak in his composition Maru Solhe in GGS.14 Sünya is compared to a primal void where God exists in Its full effulgence. The creation appears when God wills out of this sünya phase. All the seventeen stanzas of seventeenth Solhe give us a vivid description of sünya and there is no parallel in Indian religious literature to the spiritual vision of Guru Nanak. We may quote only a few reflections from this vision :

    • In the Sünya (Primal void), the infinite Lord assumed his Power.

    • He Himself is unattached infinite and incomparable.

    • From the Sünya, He created air and water.

    • He created universe and the man in the fortress of body.

    • From this Sünya, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva issued forth.

    • From this Sünya, the moon, the sun and the earth were created. They were created from Sünya, and they will merge into the sünya.

    • From the Sünya, the five elements became manifest.

    • From the True Guru, contemplative meditation is obtained.

    • And then, one dwells with the True Lord

    • In His celestial home, in deepest samaadhi of sunya.

    • O Nanak, the immaculate sound current of the Naad

    • And the music of the Sabad, resound;

    • One merges into the True Naam of the Lord.
    • – Guru Granth Sahib, p.1037

    The concept of Sünya as introduced by Guru Nanak in GGS has far reaching implications for understanding the philosophy of Sikhism.15 Apparently, the concept has theoretical linkage with Indian philosophy as it developed during the Buddhist era. Guru Nanak re-interpreted it and hence its import in Sikh metaphysics.
    When Siddhas ask Guru Nanak: “Who are they, who are attuned to this Absolute Sünya”? Guru Nanak answers: “They are the Gurmukhs (Guru-oriented), like the God, from whom they originated.” While Sünya doctrine was used to promote renunciation and monasticism by its Buddhist advocates known as sunyavadins, Guru Nanak condemned it and advocated the life style of a Gurmukh, the house-holder who faces the challenges of worldly life. Thus, theoretical implications of Sünya doctrine may be identical in both Buddhism and Sikhism, but empirical meanings are different in the two systems. In the Sikh metaphysics, Sünya represents the pre-creation stage of our cosmos when God or Absolute Reality was absorbed in Himself, and realm of duality was non-existent.

    • 1. The Encyclopedia of Religion, Editor M. Eliade, published by McMilan New York, 1987, pp. 153-159.

    • 2. Jodh Singh, The Religious Philosophy of Guru Nanak, Moti Lal Banarsi Das, Varanasi, 1981, pp. 207-218.

    • 3. H S Virk, Siddh-Goshti : A projection of Sahaj-Yoga Philosophy of Sikhism; Journal of Sikh Studies, Vol XXIV, no 2, 2000, pp. 99-107.

    • 4. Awid kau kvnu bIcwru kQIAly suMn khw Gr vwso ]
    Awid kau ibsmwdu bIcwru kQIAly suMn inrMqir vwsu lIAw ] (GGS, p. 940)

    • 6. suMn mMfl ieku jogI bYsy ] (GGS, p. 784)

    • 7.srgun inrgun inrMkwr suMn smwDI Awip ] (GGS, p. 290)

    • 8.jIvn imrqu n duKu suKu ibAwpY suMn smwiD doaU qh nwhI ] (GGS, p. 333)

    • 9.Awid scu jugwid scu ] hY BI scu nwnk hosI BI scu ] (GGS, p. 1)

    • 10.suMn smwiD Anhq qh nwd ] (GGS, p. 293)

    • 11.qh Anhq suMn vjwvih qUry ] (GGS, p. 943)

    • 12.Arbd nrbd DuMDUkwrw ] Drix n ggnw hukmu Apwrw ]
    nw idnu rYin n cMdu n sUrju suMn smwiD lgwiedw ] (GGS, p. 1035)
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