Sikhism, The Zenith Of Eastern Cultivational Spirituality

Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Sikhism, the Zenith of Eastern Cultivational Spirituality

by: Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD, FICS

The cultivational spirituality stresses the inner development of spirituality. It takes into account individual variation. The prescriptive spirituality seeks directions from outside. It is more collective and can not easily accommodate individual differences. The cultivational spirituality is based on knowledge (“Gian”) which helps us to understand ourselves and our surroundings. The ultimate stage of development can be called “Braham Gian” (Highest spiritual knowledge). It can also be called “Tat Gian” (Essence of Knowledge) or “Vaastavic Gian” (Real Knowledge). At this stage of knowledge, there is complete self-realization, where a person realizes that he is part of the whole. Guru Nanak preached that there is only one source of creation for all men , planets and the universe. Therefore, there is only one true reality. It is a curtain of ignorance which makes us believe that we are separate from the others. The Indian subcontinent has contributed the maximum towards cultivational spirituality. The favorable climatic conditions may have played a significant role in the subcontinent’s contributions.

Chronologically, the Sikh religion is the last major religion to develop in the Indian subcontinent and in the world. Due to this, the Sikh religion gained an opportunity to study other religions as well as other ideologies. It studied the positive aspects of other religions and therefore was able to develop those concepts further. The Sikh religion clarified and simplified them in order for ordinary people to understand them better. By using Punjabi, which was the language of the people, this purpose was easily served.
If we try to analyze the evolution of the Indian thought then one fact becomes obvious. There are two main tendencies existing in the Indian spiritual evolution; the first is known as Braham Gian, which means “the highest spiritual knowledge,” and the other is known as Karm Kand, meaning “rituals.”

Buddhism and Jainism primarily emphasized knowledge. In the Buddhist religion, Buddha, the highest spiritually-developed person, means an enlightened person. According to them, knowledge alone can lead to salvation. Both religions did not accept the authority of the Vedas and did not believe in God, but they have promoted the concepts of cultivational spirituality. The concept of not believing in God was a deviation from the traditional Indian thought. The Rig Veda, which laid the foundation of the Indian thought, had emphasized the concept of God.

Islam brought new ideas to the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism, which had spread widely before the Islamic invasion of India, could not withstand the armed onslaught of the Muslims as well as the Hindu revival. Therefore, Buddhism was almost completely wiped out from the Indian subcontinent.

Out of the interaction between the Hindu and the Muslim religions came a new movement called “Bhakti,” meaning “devotional” movement. It tried to bring together the good points of both these religions. The Sikh religion can be considered the climax of the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti movement emphasized the Braham Gian and de-emphasized Karm Kand. This movement strongly emphasized cultivational spirituality.

Guru Nanak, while emphasizing the importance of spiritual knowledge, also stressed the role of loving God. He described God as a timeless and constant creator who is formless and infinite. God is both transcendent and immanent .The immanent aspect of God is manifested in nature. Guru Nanak preached love, tolerance, peaceful coexistence, universal concern, and universal well being. Guru Nanak had a universal outlook and a global perspective. Guru Nanak was a great advocate of dialogue, pluralism, and diversity. These same principles form the basis of multiculturalism.

The principles of the Sikh religion are very relevant and important for mankind and the world. We have a major contradiction in the world today. On one hand we have evolved into a global community, but on the other hand we have been unable to develop a global perspective. The Sikh religion can provide that global perspective, which is heavily needed, and help to resolve this contradiction peacefully.

The western prescriptive spirituality has been unable to meet the challenges of the western society because the political and social systems promote individualism whereas the prescriptive spirituality has a collective approach . As a result of this situation, a spiritual vacuum has been created. The eastern cultivational spirituality can aid in filling this vacuum. Historically, the Indian subcontinent has been the main seat for the development of cultivational spirituality. The Sikh religion should be seen as the essence of the eastern spirituality and the highest developed form of Indian thought. The evolution of Indian thought should be seen as a continuos phenomenon--starting from the vedic period to the evolution of the Sikh religion--in a shape of a pyramid where the Vedic religion forms the base and the Sikh religion forms the peak.

Dr. Swaraj Singh is Chairman of Washington State Network for Human Rights, and Chairman of Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice

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