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Sikhism As Key To Global Living


Jun 1, 2004
Sikhism as Key to Global Living
Dr. N. Muthumohan

Let us ponder over the importance and relevance of the teachings of Guru Nanak to modern life, to the youth of this country, to the students of our times. I know a bigger part of the students of this Guru Nanak College@ undergo their education in science and technology, in commerce and management studies.

The present-day life demands the most up-to-dated education of this kind. And the humanitarian sciences are also undergoing radical changes nowadays shifting themselves to modern problems and social needs. It is understood that Indian universities, colleges and other educational institutions are coming forward to prepare our youth and students to another phase of development of our country, which goes with the name of globalisation and global living. With a developed infrastructure of science and technology, with a new work-ethics, and a fresh entrepreneurial spirit, and a revised social policy of distribution of wealth, indeed at the threshold of 21st Century, no country can remain isolated from the global processes.

However, slavish copying of western sciences, or industrial and managerial techniques, cannot transform us into a modern nation. There needs a fundamental revolution in our ethos, mental attitude to meet the challenges of modernity. Culture and social ethos are the collective memory of the people which conditions its members to move faster, as well as to be entangled in stagnation; to have a universal vision, or to be engulfed by narrow sectarian views. Social scientists and psychologists have identified that Indian mind has an accumulated kind of inertia, which works against any radical change in our social set up, has developed a type of passivity and limitedness which makes us stop before any fast growth. These values of inertia, passivity and inaction relate with the culturally conditioned ethos, and with certain trends of our age-old traditions, religions and philosophies. Of course, this is not the whole picture of Indian culture. However we must acknowledge that some of our religions and philosophies have imbibed in us, deep in our consciousness, a type of attitude, and a temperament which pulls up back before any global and universal thinking and living.

Can one meet the challenges of global living with the ideology of renunciation and world-negation? Can one declare the earthly life in toto as maya, and then work out a social ethics? Can one go for global living with the varna ,or caste system, which we have preserved so long?

Can we be globalised with our theories of touchability and untouchability? Can we programme a modern work ethos with an ideology that every action leads to bondage and suffering?

It is in this context that we have to ponder over the alternative models of living, different types of societal ethos, activistic ideologies which would liberate us from some of the passivistic pullings of our own culture. We can be sure that such alternative ways of living are available in the cultural heritage of this land, which is multifarious and varietuous. One has to keep one's eyes open and, without bias and prejudice, look for those indigenous socio-cultural and axiological programmes available in the cultural memory of our people.

Again, it is at this juncture, one identifies the life and teachings of Guru Nanak who teaches us and encourages us to adopt a positive type of social ethos, universal living, dynamism, human dignity and activistic understanding of life. All these are achieved not at the cost of the ethical values but on a deepened ground of individual enlightenment and awareness of universal justice.

Guru Nanak refuses the assertions that the world is maya and so one has to renunciate the world to reach or practice Truth. He warns: don't revile this world which has been created by God and at every moment God recreates the world. Spirituality is not something which is to be achieved only at on few passive meditative moments. Spirituality is not something static and enbloc searched and reached beyond the world. It is here and now, it is you who by your dynamic and truthful living make it explicit. Guru Nanak debated with the Siddha yogis, questioned them for keeping themselves beyond the boundaries of everyday life. Guru Nanak declared his philosophy of meeri-piri, by which he united the dichotamised existences of religiosity and secularity. Life is one, it is united, religiosity is to be practised at every moment of gross earthly life.

Guru Nanak's thesis of the reality of the world as it has been created by God has many very deep implications. These implications have elaborate relevance to the problem we are discussing, namely the issue of modern global living. Guru Nanak says that the earthly life is meaningful and it is the place for righteous deeds. It means that Truth is to be sought not in any transcendental realm, but it is to be sought here and now and, even more, Truth is to be lived and practiced with your total being. This standpoint brings the idea of spirituality intimately linked with every one of our earthly activity. Whether you are a student or teacher, engineer, manager, a social worker or a doctor, a businessman - whatever may be your occupation, the Great Guru teaches you a new work-ethos, a dynamic and pious attitude to the profession with which you are associated. This new work-ethics is not directed just to produce wealth for your individual consumption, but your honest labour itself as expression of your existence in Earth. Labour and activity transform the conditions to which man is entangled, and labour and activity transform the man and his inner world too. Labour is no more painful, it is not suffering, neither is it a curse. Labour is not related with consumption as with its opposite. Consumption is only a physical condition for our activities which are to be dyed with spirituality. A celebrated poet and writer of Punjab, Prof. Puran Singh says - "Physical labour is the only way to transcend the physical. Labour is true knowledge that resides in human limbs, it is brought out by work. Work is worship. Transcending the physical is to rise above the physical in rest, in sleep, in ecstasy, in rapture of the spiritual infinite by incessant labour. Bird and beast, man and tree in physical labour to this great end." (Puran Singh, Spirit of the Sikhs. Part II. Vol. I. 1993. p. 69).

I continue reading the beautiful words of Puran Singh on Guru Nanak's message: "The Guru extalts honest work and labour; he abhors indolence. There is indolence of body, there is indolence of mental life, of mere conceptions, and both are not of the true spiritual activity. Service through work is the best of thoughts - it is thought personalised. Mere thinking is impersonal. Diligent work is the worship both of man and God. Labour is the perfume of life. In the Guru's system, labour is the only right knowledge. Ecstasy that is not the fruit of labour is superstition. Sweating in hard labour is true prayer; tolling the bells and telling of beads seem to mock at the eternal truth." (Ibid. p. 69)

When I represent Guru Nanak's ideas so intensely stressing on human labour, this type of work ethics does not imply that the conception of human activity is purely anthropocentric and that it can go egoistically detrimental to its natural and social environment.

According to Guru Nanak, labour is the expression of beauty and dynamism of human being who is part and parcel of the beauty and dynamism of nature, society and the total existence. One part should not act in detrimental to the other parts. For example, nature is not a raw-material which can be exploited irresponsibly by human labour.

We find in Guru Nanak a deep awareness of the environment, an eco-philosophy in which nature has been portrayed as the kith and kin of man. Guru Nanak says:

"The air is the Guru Water our father And the great earth our mother. Days and nights are our two nurses, male and female, Who set the whole world a playing." (Mecauliffe. Vol. I. p. 217)

Guru Nanak expounds here a familial relation with the natural environment of human labour. Consequently, Nature should not be exploited in the egoistic interest of mankind, but cherished and preserved in a harmonious life cycle.


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May 19, 2006
Great article and great truth! and great to see facebook link facility on SPN! I would request members to make full use at linking to all social sites.
This is also a sewa!



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