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Spirituality And Science In The 21st Century


Jun 1, 2004
Spirituality and Science in the 21st Century
Gurbakhsh Singh (USA)

The thought of spirituality is as old as humanity itself. Along with the development of human knowledge, the nature of the faith in the supernatural authority has also changed.

Hinduism, a major faith in the East, claims it originated in antiquity. Its date of founding and the name of the founder cannot be identified. It started even before man developed written language. Many sages and holy men have contributed to it over ages. It is a complex combination of many beliefs, sometimes mutually contradicting each other. Semitic religions of the West describe their origins from the very first human beings, Adam and Eve. The first faith, named Judaism, was followed by Christianity and Islam. Native people of North America, Africa, Australia, and other regions of the world, have their own spiritual beliefs and methods of worship, uninfluenced by the above mentioned major religions.

Faith vs Science: Science dealing with matter and space has slowly but surely revolunized the thinking of man. Scientific discoveries, however, did not always agree with the beliefs of the faiths. As the human knowledge developed, many early religious beliefs were accepted only as mythology and legends. Later discoveries of science did not agree with even the basic beliefs of the faiths. Hence the scientists came into clash with the protectors of the faiths. About five centuries ago, Galileo stated that the earth revolves around the sun. He was penalized by the Pope because this observation was different from the what is stated in the Bible. (In 1986, the Pope regretted the punishment given to Galileo and he accepted that the scientist was correct and the Pope was wrong.) On the basis of his findings in the 19th century, Darwin theorized that the life on earth, including humans, was not created on a specific date(s), but evolved over millions of years. Whereas the scientist now accept it as a fact and teach it in the schools, those who take the Bible literally still do not believe in the theory of Darwin.

The same is true for the religious beliefs in the East. The people worshipped the sun, the moon, and some creatures, as gods, some do it even today. They also believe that only some specific days/dates are sacred for certain religious or social activities. With all this the science does not agree.
Faiths as Fountains of Conflict: Based on the religious beliefs, the major faith groups we have today are theists, agnostics, atheists, and those who believe only in the soul, but not in God. Basic morality preached by different faiths in general is, however, similar. It is strange, that those who believe in Creator, God, do not have the same definition of Him. Therefore, each religion claims that only the believers of that faith are qualified to be admitted to Heaven. People of other faiths, even though they are theists, will not be permitted entry into Heaven because they believe in a "false God". and not the "true God."

These beliefs have split society into opposing - and mutually hating - groups which behave as enemies of one another. Different religious beliefs have been the cause of most of the world’s wars. this has done great harm to people all over the world. Ironically, even within the same
faith, bloody intra-religious fights are going on among their sects. For example: Protestant and Catholic clashes in North Ireland, Shi’ite and Suni Muslim battles in the middle east, high caste and low caste Hindu killings in India, violent tribal clashes in Africa and other places. Maybe because of this, (challenge from the science and inter - and intra-religious fighting) the world famous British historian, Arnold Toynbee was pessimistic about the acceptance of the traditional religions by the people in the coming times.

Search for Peace: In the East, a holy man, Guru Nanak, who went to a nearby river, disappeared for three days. People, both Hindus and Muslims, gathered around him when he came out of the river, and asked him, "Where were you?" Nanak revealed a new thought in the field of spirituality to the people gathered there. He told them, "I was summoned by the Creator - our common Father-Mother, and was given the holy message to be shared with all the people. The sermon God gave me is: Do not divide human beings into Hindus, Muslims, or into other groups/faiths; they are all my children and equal. I love all of them, they may love Me by any name - Allah, Ram, etc. No one should be hated or considered alien."

Guru Nanak gave up a career and his family to undertake long journeys all over Asia to the holy places of the Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. Wherever he went, he preached, "Anyone who loves God realizes Him, and achieves the mission of human life. Beyond this earth, there is no physical place assumed to be Heaven or Hell anywhere in outer space. When we love the Lord and sing His virtues, we enjoy heavenly bliss. When we ignore Him and become prisoners of vices such as ego, lust, anger, and greed, we undergo the sufferings of hell here on this very earth."

Guru Nanak founded people’s institutions, called Sangats (a congregations of equals without discrimination) where people of all faiths - Hindus, Muslims, low cast, high caste, rich, poor can sit together and recite His praises. For this, they adopted many names, (Allah, Ram, Rahim, Gopal, Krishan, Niranjan, Satguru) with equal respect for all names, then in vogue among people of different faiths. The holy scriptures compiled by Nanak’s successors include hymns by about three dozen devotees of God, irrespective of their being a Hindu or a Muslim, low caste or a high. They adopted different names for God, but they all realized the ultimate truth, "The same Lord, our common Father-Mother, is reflected in every human being. We can love Him in any language and by any name, the way we may address our father as daddy, or papa. The best way to worship God and please Him is to sincerely serve all people whatever their faith, caste, color, or race. Hurting anybody’s mind displeases the Father, and is, therefore a sin."

This thought united the mutually hating Hindu-Muslim communities. It also removed the inferiority and superiority complexes among Hindus of different castes. They joined together in common congregations and brought peace to a split-society. They were called the Sikhs, the students, or the seekers of Truth. Their faith came to be known as Sikhism, its actual name is Gurmat, the wisdom coming from the Guru, the guide.

It is probably because of the universal message and the non-discriminatory nature of the hymns in the sacred writing of the Sikhs that made Toynbee conclude: "Mankind’s religious future maybe obscure; yet one thing can be foreseen. The living higher religions are going to influence each other more than ever before....In this coming religious debate, the Sikh
religion and its scriptures, the Guru Granth, will have something special of value to say to the rest of the world."

Challenge & Opportunity for Sikhs: Sikhs should not sit on their laurels, considering: "Our scriptures are great, they are for all people, they are non-divisive. Our Gurus suffered for religious freedom and human rights of the weak. They fought against state terrorism, social evils and injustice being done to the helpless." If we are sincere in our faith, the question before us should be: "Will the Gurus who suffered for preaching truth be proud of us and our contribution to the world peace?"

The challenge before the Sikhs are:

(i) Educate yourself, know the truth, and be convinced of its greatness and its necessity for the world peace today. Let us not sell our faith and its future for transient a temptations available to us in India or anywhere else. Living according to our faith should always have a first priority, whatever sacrifice it may need. Once a Sikh preacher was asked, "What is the use of keeping uncut hair and tying a turban?", he replied, "If the Sikhs submit to ego, greed, lust, anger, etc, as do the other people, this question will continue to crop up in the minds of our youth. The best answer is that Sikhs start living the life of a Sikh, at least majority of them, should be known for living an upright and virtuous life as required by our faith. Without being described people will know how great is the value of the turban of a Sikh."

(ii) Share the teachings and heritage of the Khalsa Panth with the rest of the world searching for peace in society. People want to live in safety without being harassed for their beliefs and without being deprived of their human rights and individual dignity.

The field is open for scholars and leaders gifted with political acumen and awareness of the modern society and those who can provide right leadership and motivate the people, in particular the Sikhs.



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