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Sikhism Nanakian Philosophy - Basics For Humanity

Discussion in 'Book Reviews & Editorials' started by drdpsn, Sep 18, 2011.

  1. drdpsn

    drdpsn Canada
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    Apr 7, 2006
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    By Devinder Singh Chahal

    Published by Institute for Understanding Sikhism (IUS)

    Laval, Quebec, Canada

    Distributed by Singh Brothers, Amritsar

    Pages: 382, Edition 2008, Price (Hard Cover): Rs. 450 CAN$30

    A Review by Dr. D. P. Singh*

    Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was a great spiritual leader, a distinguished social reformer and a litterateur of high calibre. He was also a great inspirer of altruism and egalitarianism. Above all, he was a great philosopher and rationalist of the Period of Renaissance. Possessing a lucid scientific mind, he promulgated a unique and universally acceptable philosophy, called Nanakian Philosophy.
    Professor Devinder Singh Chahal in his book titled “Nanakian Philosophy - Basics for Humanity” has made a successful attempt to portray the philosophy of Guru Nanak, scientifically and logically, in its real perspective. The author articulates that Guru Nanak’s unique philosophy is universal in theme and is suitable for the modern scientific era. The book is an anthology of 26 essays, containing 24 illustrations and 4 figures.
    In the ‘Introduction’ the author outlines the purpose of the book as: to interpret the Bani of Guru Nanak scientifically and logically, to portray Nanakian Philosophy for the humanity of the Current Science Age and to bring it to the notice of philosophers of the world.
    Prof. Chahal regrets that Sikhism is being promoted as a mystical, esoteric, enigmatic and ritualistic religion even in the present age. Often, it is done in total contradiction to the philosophy of Guru Nanak. The author points out that many illogical and miraculous stories have been fabricated about Guru Nanak’s life. In old Sikh literature (Janam Sakhis), he has been described as a mystic having spiritual powers to perform miracles. But Guru Nanak’s philosophical, scientific and logical approach to various issues of life and society is clearly indicated in his discourses with Sidhas, Pundits and Mullahs, as is evident in his Bani e.g. Jap, Asa Di Vaar, Babar Bani, Sidh Gost and Oankar Bani.
    The life history of the great Guru is traced out in the chapter titled: ‘Nanak - The Guru’. After a detailed analysis of the writings of several Sikh scholars, author concludes that one cannot pinpoint a particular time of revelation for Guru Nanak rather it was a continuous process since the beginning of his life.
    After a critical study of the historical literature related to Guru Nanak’s travels to Middle East, the author recommends that serious research is needed to settle various issues related to these travels. He emphasises that such research projects have the potential to reveal apt information to construct the life of Guru Nanak and his mission in real perspective. The author also points out that the issue: ‘Whether Guru Nanak be represented in painting and / or in idol form?’- is still unresolved.
    Discussing the ‘Continuity of the Mission of Guru Nanak’, the author opines that a thorough research is needed to settle various issues related to amalgamation of Vedantic philosophy in the teachings of Guru Nanak. Prof. Chahal asserts that a critical study of Guru Nanak’s Bani reveals an original and unique philosophy, having a great similarity with that of rationalistic and scientific philosophies. The author emphasises that as Guru Nanak was instrumental in laying the foundations of ‘Natural Philosophy’ so he was not only a ‘Natural Theologian’ but a ‘Natural Philosopher’ as well.
    The term ‘Nanakian Philosophy’ is defined as the philosophy promulgated by Guru Nanak in his Bani (verses) and elaborated by the successor Gurus (in their Bani), as incorporated in Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS). The author points out that the only authentic source of this Philosophy is Guru Nanak’s Bani and its right explanation is also in his Bani and the Bani of his successor Gurus.
    Discussing the causes of ‘Misinterpretation of Gurbani’, the author points out that the interpretation of Gurbani and Sikh literature is fully saturated with ancient mythology and ritualism till today. This false information is so strongly imprinted on the minds of traditional Sikh theologians that the new scientific and logical approach to interpretation of Gurbani is taken almost as a blasphemy. The author asserts that with apt understanding of Nanakian Philosophy, the original and unique interpretation of Gurbani could be easily attained.
    The author recommends the use of Nanakian Methodology to achieve a consistent and accurate interpretation of Gurbani. According to this methodology, the Gurbani is to be interpreted critically and logically, keeping in view the scientific information available on the theme of the verse. Quoted allegories, metaphors, similes and mythical works be carefully studied to understand their context in the verse. To explain a concept or a principle outlined in a verse, any dependence on mythical or inauthentic work be avoided. The author admits that as a result of the application of Nanakian Methodology, the interpretation of Gurbani is sometimes quite different from what has been published so far. But, such interpretation is in great consonance with the essence of Guru’s eternal message.
    After critically examining the grammar rules, as propounded by Prof Sahib Singh and Principal Harbhajan Singh, for Gurbani, the author suggests that these rules appear to be non-applicable to many phrases / verses of AGGS. He stresses that there is a dire need to do further research to evolve standardized grammar rules for the interpretation of Gurbani. Deliberating on the ‘System of Referencing Bani’ the author regrets that the Sikh scholars are yet to evolve a uniform system of referencing Bani from AGGS. After a critical analysis of the various systems (of referencing Bani) in vogue, the author has proposed three system of referencing and has recommended one.
    Prof. Chahal emphasises that the in the ‘Commencing Verse of the AGGS’ is wrongly pronounced as ‘Ek Oanakaar’ or ‘Ekankaar’ by many Sikh theologians, preachers, and Sikhs at large (under the influence of Vedantic Philosophy). The author’s research based on Guru Nanak’s Bani indicates that it should be pronounced as ‘Ek Oh Beant’ (One and Only, Oh, the Infinite). The author insists that has nothing to do with OM or AUM, which represents Trinity of God. He points out that is an original and unique logo coined by Guru Nanak.
    It is opined that scientific and logical study of the Commencing Verse of AGGS indicates that it is not a mantra but a precise and concise definition of the Transcendent Entity (God). It could be called a Manglacharan but definitely not a Mool Mantra because there is no place for any type of mantra in Nanakian Philosophy. The author points out that whenever words such as Mantra, Mool Mantra, Beej Mantra or Gur Mantra etc appear in Gurbani that means teachings / philosophy of Guru Nanak.
    After investigating different forms of Commencing Verse, Prof. Chahal points out that the Commencing Verse appears in the beginning of the AGGS and in the beginning of every new Raga, new Section and new subsection, throughout the AGGS, either in full form or in abridged form. Its shortest abridgement is ਸਤਿਗੁਰਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ. He deplores the fact that the use of a fictitious abridgement ਸਤਿਨਾਮੁ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂis now prevalent in the Sikh world. He insists that the use of this phrase should be discontinued immediately. He rejoices the fact that the usage of the right abridged form ਸਤਿਗੁਰਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿhas been reinitiated recently in some Gurdwaras in Canada. Prof. Chahal detests the practice of inventing new terms, new phrases, new codes of conduct and new rituals (often contrary to the essence of Gurbani) by various Sikh scholars, preachers and Sants. He points out that this malpractice provides a fertile breeding ground for new controversies.
    Elaborating on the ‘Concept of God’ the author points out that different people believe in different forms of God. He reports that Guru Nanak has discussed ‘God’ mostly allegorically or metaphorically. According to Nanakian Philosophy, God created itself from Sunn (Nothingness/Singularity) and exists forever. It created ‘Nature’ and its Laws and pervades in Nature. All the phenomena occur under the laws of Nature. As God is inaccessible (Agam) and Ineffable / unfathomable (Agochar) so no descriptive or specific name can be assigned to it. God does not come into anthropomorphic form and there is no Trinity of God. It is beyond time and space. It is a Transcendent Entity (beyond our comprehension) and is Nirgun in this respect, but as it pervades in all Nature, so it is Sargun as well. Reporting the views of several eminent scientists on God, the author wonders that these views appear to be greatly similar to that conceptualised by Guru Nanak during 15<sup>th</sup> and 16<sup>th</sup> centuries.
    Examining the views of several philosophers and thinkers about ‘God vs. Science’ controversy, the author reports that Religion and Science can’t clash, provided religion is taught in its real perspective. The author emphasises that though the realms of Religion and Science are clearly marked off, yet there exists strong reciprocal relationships between them. Citing several examples Prof. Chahal demonstrates that the application of science and logic in the interpretation of Gurbani helps us to understand it in real perspective. He asserts that Sikhism, as based on Nanakian Philosophy, has no clash with science rather it is a religion of logic and science.
    Prof. Chahal articulates that scientists use scientific method to discover the secrets of Universe while the prophets have divine intuition to do so. The ‘Origin of the Universe’ is one of the most important questions discussed by prophets and scientists. After discussing various theories of the ‘Origin of the Universe’ the author points out that Guru Nanak’s ideas about it are very similar to that of Big Bang Theory.
    Deliberating upon ‘Hukam - The Laws of Nature’ Prof. Chahal emphasises that the most important message of Guru Nanak is that every phenomena in Nature, occurs only under the Laws of Nature. The performance of any miracle is not possible as none can violate the Laws of Nature. Any so-called miracle is only the delusion of mind. The author reports that the other meaning of ‘Hukam’ in Gurbani is to understand and follow the ‘Teachings of Guru Nanak’.
    After critically examining the pros and cons of Astrology the author asserts that it cannot be treated as a scientific subject. He articulates that Guru Nanak made the people aware about the futility of the astrology since the 15<sup>th</sup> century. He opines that many Sikh families, because of the lack of scientific temper, still strongly believe in horoscopes and consult astrologers for their business and family affairs. He reiterates that it is sheer folly to depend on astrology for any purpose of life as there is no scientific proof that the positions of planets at the time of one’s birth or at any time thereafter has any effect on one’s future life.
    Discussing about ‘Vedas and Yugas’ the author infers that neither Buddha and Kabir nor Guru Nanak were in favour of following the philosophy of Vedas. Scientific evidence indicates that Homo sapiens sapiens (modern man) appeared on earth about 50,000 years ago and Hindu philosophy started about 3000 years ago. Hence, the appearance of various incarnations of God in various Yugas (about 1.3 to 4.3 million years ago), is nothing but a mythological work. The author highlights that in Guru Nanak’s Bani the reference to Vedas and Yugas is only metaphorical and/or allegorical, to describe the prevalent ancient concepts of his times. He regrets that some Sikh theologians take these mythological works as true and interpret Gurbani accordingly. But the truth is that Vedas and Yugas system don’t have any role to play in Nanakian Philosophy.
    Prof. Chahal reports that ‘Naam Japna’ and ‘Naam Simarna’ activitieshave become very common among Sikhs although Guru Nanak has not assigned any name to the Entity, called God. Only the term ਨਾਮੁ(Naam), an abstract noun, has been used as a metaphor for God. The author asserts that in Gurbani, there is no recommendation to repeatedly recite any name of God or any phrase, verse or stanza. Rather, deliberation and pondering upon Gurbani to understand and practise its message in one’s life is emphasised.
    Deliberating on Ardaas (Prayer) the author highlights that people of all religions perform prayer for grant of their wish-fulfilment. But several studies on the efficacy of prayer have failed to establish its effectiveness. The so-called effect of prayer is not due to any divine intervention but is generally due to psychological and physical benefits. The author reiterates that Guru Nanak condemns performing prayer to seek material gains rather it should be done to seek wisdom to understand God and for thanksgiving, for all the bounties provided by God.
    After discussing various aspects of life, death, consciousness, soul, and its transmigration, the author points out that due to the varied interpretations of Gurbani different opinions about the existence or non-existence of soul are prevalent in Sikh theology. The author reports that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of soul. Elucidating on the topic ‘After Death’, the author points out that the concepts of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ are widely accepted in almost all religions. But atheists, rationalists and scientists don’t believe in the existence of such places. The author asserts that even in Nanakian Philosophy, these concepts have no place. Nanakian Philosophy does not accept the concept of life after death. According to it, one is born or dies under the Laws of Nature.
    After a critical examination of ‘Food Fads’ Prof. Chahal highlights that Nanakian Philosophy makes us aware that no food should be declared as forbidden on the basis of unscientific or illogical religious concepts or traditions. Both, Science and Nanakian Philosophy substantiate that as it is difficult to distinguish between a plant and animal, so there is no sin in eating food originating from them.
    Deliberating on ‘Nanakian Philosophy for the World Peace’ the author highlights that the root-cause of worldwide conflicts is the absolute belief of every religion in its own superiority. He recommends that to tide over divisive and sectarian tendencies, the authorities of every religion should stop emphasising their own superiority and divine rights upon others rather they should start practising altruism and egalitarianism. He is optimistic that interfaith conferences would definitely lead us to inter-religious understanding and cultivation of broadmindedness and tolerance. The author asserts that to eliminate clash of civilizations and to establish world peace, interfaith understanding is a sine qua non factor. Citing several basic principles of Nanakian Philosophy the author concludes that Nanakian Philosophy with its universally acceptable and applicable characteristics has the potential to usher in an era of Universal brotherhood and World peace.
    Prof. D.S. Chahal has done a momentous work in projecting the rational, logical and scientific vision of Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus through this book. The universal and unique characteristic of Nanakian Philosophy comes out brilliantly through this work. Although the book is a gist of several research papers prepared by the author, yet each article is complete in itself and is a treat to read. The use of apt illustrations and figures to explain the topic at hand makes the reading interesting. Though there has been some repetition of Gurbani quotes and textual material in the book yet it does not take the reader astray, in fact, it helps in better understanding. The various issues raised by the author are worth pondering over. These issues have the potential to lead the younger generation of the Sikhs to do further research to understand Gurbani in its real perspective. It is pertinent to add that this is one of the best books ever authored on this topic till date and has the potential to provide foundation for interpretation of AGGS into a standardized English translation. I strongly recommend that this book should be on the shelves of all the libraries and distributed by all Gurdwaras. It is imperative that the Sikh youth of today are encouraged to read works of this nature.


    *Dr. D. P. Singh M.Sc. Ph.D. is a noted author and critic on Scientific, Environmental and Religious issues.
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    #1 drdpsn, Sep 18, 2011
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  3. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller United Kingdom
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    Jan 31, 2011
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    Re: Nanakian Philosophy - Basics for Humanity - A Review by Dr D P Singh


    This has absolutely hit the spot for me, everything stated makes much much sense, but it also confirms all the different interpretations that exist in sikhism and why.

    There is no jadoo, no miracles, no fireworks, everything just is, and we have to try and understand it with the minimum of faith and the maximum of knowledge.
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