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Time, Reality And Religion: The Vedantic And Sikh Conception


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Time, Reality and Religion: The Vedantic and Sikh Conception
by Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia

Copyright © Dr. Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia

Formerly Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia is the author of over two dozen books on philosophy, literary criticism and poetry. --Editor

The problem of correlation of time and reality may be discussed under the following concepts : (a) Relation of time to reality (whether time is external to reality?); Temporal order (whether time is per se non-directional, that is, isotropic? or anisotropic?); (c) Absoluteness or relativity of time (whether all events are co-ordinable in a single all-embracing temporal series of succession? or whether events in different frames have :rent temporal series all contemporaneous with one her to make possible the simultaneity of durations or fluxes?); (d) Structure of time (whether it is atomistic? infinitely divisible? or a stream-like permeation?). The answers to these questions depend upon points which refer: to the underlying conceptions of reality.

For classical materialism, time was external to reality, that is, to the events, From this angle, time became a space-like container of matter. With Newton1 "Absolute true time", was there, "without relation to anything external". In this way, time had an ontological priority over reality (matter). To this basic tenet of classical materialism, the classical forms of idealism are complementary.

Kantian idealism went to the extent of making time epistemologically prior to reality and, in this way Kant provided a philosophic justification to Newtonism.2 Whereas Kantian idealism denied temporal character of reality by making time epistemologically prior to reality classical materialism did the same by making it spatialized, that is, a space-like container of matter implying its externality to time. A denial of temporality as a characteristic of reality is nothing but a denial of charge as an inner characteristic of reality which, as such, becomes static, changeless, permanently selfsame. Barrow, the teacher of Newton, by holding time to be space-like container arrives at the static conception of reality when he says that time is "the continuance of anything in its own being.”

The relational theory of time denies its externality to reality. Berkeley was the spokesman of this theory. In modern times, this theory has been expounded, among others, by Grunbaum and Reichenbach. But as we shall see, there is a radical difference between the conception of Berkeley and that of Grunbaum and Reichenbach. Bergson's theory is "relational" in the sense in which it asserts the internality of time to reality. The classic relational theory thought of time or temporality as a relation of events, the succession of which gave rise to the idea of temporal order. We find that for Berkeley, time (or temporal order) was a derivative of succession of ideas in the mind,4 as against the subsequent position of Kant who wrote:

"For neither coexistence nor succession would ever come within our perception if the representation of time were not pre-supposed as underlying them a priori.

"Only on this pre-supposition of time can we represent to ourselves a number of things as existing at one and the same time (simultaneously) or at different times successively."5

For the Empiricists (especially Hume), the relation of succession between two mental events was contingent. There was no inner necessary connection between the two succeeding events which would make the order of succession non-contingent or irreversible. This was in keeping with the Empiricists' conception of laws of association which externally brought about the get-togetherness of mental events.

The successive order of events being reversible, the resultant temporal order, ipso facto, became of the same nature-reversible or, in other words, isotropic. The Empiricist school of philosophy, which gave rise to subjective idealism, shares with its opposite school, classical materialism, this supposed quality of time-isotropy. For both of these schools of thought, time is isotropic or symmetrical, meaning thereby that it, per se, does not carry any temporal order and is, as such non-directional.

The isotropic nature of the Newtonian time of classical materialism is given by its spatial character. If time is a space-like container, then, its instants are analogous to points of space which do not admit of any differentiation, per se, in terms of "before" and “after". Space being isotropic as such, the spatialized time comes to partake of the same characteristic.

This supposed isotropic character of time has been losing ground in modern times, particularly since the coming of the relativity theory. Time is now thought to be tropic (directional) in the sense that it, per se carries its temporal order in terms of which the relation of succession (earlier-than, later-than) is irreversible. The objective basis of this irreversibility of temporal order is given by the irreversibility of phenomena of modern physics. In other words, this anisotropic theory of time is “relational” in character.

Time, in this case, is considered not something (in itself) external to or independent of events (reality) but an intrinsic characteristic of phenomena. The irreversibility of succession of phenomena is the objective basis of the irreversibility (anisotropy) of this type of "relational" time. The relativity physics confirms the irreversibility of relational time. Writes Milic Capek: "Einstein himself admitted that the asymmetry of time is preserved even in its relativistic fusion with space...."6

Einstein's special theory of relativity states that there is an upper limit to the highest velocity of any cosmic action. The upper limit is the velocity of light. For this reason, the notion of instantaneous propagation of action at a distance (as contended by classical materialism) is shattered. If there are two events related to each other as cause and effect, occurring in one frame of reference in succession, then, according to the relativity theory, the temporal order of succession of these two events will remain invariable in all frames of references, because there is no instantaneous propagation of events conceivable now. This phenomenon of irreversible events, establishes the anisotropy of time within the framework of the relativity theory.7

The isotropic quality of time of the Empricists and of the classical materialists leads to their rejection of the reality of change. This isotropy means that time, per se, is without any intrinsic directionality or temporal order; from here it follows that the instants of the isotropic time are not differentiable with reference to one another in terms of invariable, absolute relation of "earlier-than" and "laterthan". But real change presupposes such intrinsic differentiation of instants of time.

By "change" is meant that the temporal order between two changing states (of an object) is predicable in terms of absolute relations of "earlier-than" and "later-than". But if time does not have intrinsically any order, then, the very reality of change is denied. A denial of change is nothing but a static view of reality. On the other hand, the anisotropic view of time implies differentiation of itself in terms of irreversible temporal order; so it admits the reality of real change, giving rise to the dynamic historicist conception of reality. Consciousness implies the anisotropy of psychological time8 which is what makes the stream-like character of consciousness possible.

Coming to the question of structures of time, we find that in the past two answers have been given to it: mathematical continuity and atomicity. The Newtonian classical materialism contended the mathematical continuity of time whereas the Empiricists took it to be atomistic, composed of discrete units (instants). The point may be explained by reference to a straight line which may be considered as a continuity or as constituted by a succession of discrete minute points (atomicity). Kantian idealism shares with classical materialism its belief in the mathematical continuity of time which is also known as infinite divisibility. This means that time is continuous in the sense that any duration or interval of time is divisible and the sub-division so obtained is further sub-divisible ad infinitum. Time is, as such, capable of infinite microdivisions. This is also referred to as the homogeneity of classical time.8

What is the bearing on the question of reality, of time being quanta continua in the language of Kant.10 If time is of the nature of homogeneous continuity as discussed above, then, it follows that it confers no qualitative differentiation on an object (in such a time) which remains in the selfsame state in any microdivision of infinitely divisible time. To suppose that some micro-interval or micro-duration does invest the object with qualitative differentiation, peculiar to itself, would mean that that point of time is not homogeneous with the rest but heterogeneous. This is contrary to the definition of the classical time as homogeneous continuity. As such, all the characteristics, that an object possesses, belong and inhere in it a priori-none being derived from its location in any interval or duration of time. This is an anti-historicist view of reality.

We have already seen that the isotropic quality of time of classical materialism denies the reality of changes as inner characteristic of time. This quality together with the mathematical continuity of time leads to the classical materialist conception of reality as a substance to which qualities belong and in which they inhere, and which, as such, endures or continues to be in the selfsame state in time. In this sense, the mathematical continuity of time ensures the permanent, unchanging, endurance of substance (the reality of classical materialism) in time.

The time of the Empiricists is not continuous as above but atomistic; so, for them, there is no permanent enduring substance, physical (Berkeley) or mental (Hume). With them, what creates the illusion of continuity or endurance of a mental or material substance is the cinematographic succession (in atomistic time) of passing states. These passing states are not of any underlying object. The object is nothing but that particular state at a particular moment.

This atomistic conception of reality, in the language of G.J. Whitrow, is "a metaphysical theory of momentariness of all things according to which everything exists but for a moment and in the next moment is replaced by a fascimile of itself cinematographically as it were. This theory ...........presupposes the resolution of time into 'atoms’11..........". Consciousness from this angle becomes a succession of "glow-worm sparks" in the language of William James.12

There is, in a sense, a correspondence between the idea of infinite divisibility of time of classical materialism and its notion of infinite velocity of cosmic action. As the temporal interval grows smaller and smaller infinitely, the velocity of cosmic phenomenon becomes higher and higher infinitely. But, as the special theory of relativity places an upper limit on the velocity of cosmic action (equal to velocity of light) so, consequently the ultimate temporal interval can never be lower than a particular limit. This lower limit has been calculated to be of the duration of 4.5 x 10-24 second-a chronon. This is how the infinite indivisibility or mathematical continuity of time was shattered.

A new version of atomic theory appeared as such in modern times stating that time was a succession of chronons. But any atomic theory, apart from its philosophical consequences, has certain logical contradictions. If between one atomistic time-unit (t1) and another unit (t2), a third cannot be placed, then, in that “betweeness", time does not exist or it stands still. It would be a strange proposition that there are "holes" in time in which there is no time. If it be said that there is no such hole or "betweeness" separating (t1) and (t2) meaning thereby that (t3) can be placed in-between, then, it amounts to infinite divisibility and not atomicity.

Apart from this logical contradiction, the atomicity of time philosophically leads to the "momentariness" of reality as against its unchangeability and permanence guaranteed by the conception of time as infinitely divisible or mathermatically continuous. There is a third solution apart from the "momentariness" of reality, or its static permanence. This is the dynamic, historicist conception of reality made possible by treating time as an indivisible whole14 constituted by the flow of time (anisotropy) of past into the present. This view of time is compatible with the conception of reality of change as a process wherein the past is not lost but is assimilated into the present. Reality, then, is not synonymous with any particular passing state in the midst of change; it is, rather, the process of becoming, of qualitative transformation.

Is time absolute? Before the relativity theory, the predominant theories deemed it to be absolute-as, for instance, in the case of classical materialism. By the absoluteness of time is meant that all events are coordinable in a single all-embracing temporal series of succession with a cosmic 'Now' as a world-wide stretch, the occupation of which by the events at different places makes them absolutely simultaneous. But the relativity theory denies the absolute simultaneity of events at different positions of the stretch of the so-called cosmic Now.15 The relativity theory, as such, is a negation of the absoluteness of time; different frames of reference have their own different times.

The relation between these different times is that of contemporaneity; the different temporal series of succession of a person asleep is contemporaneous (though unequal being measured differently) with the clock-time of a person awake.

The various post-modernist conceptions of time can be consistently woven into what may be called a dialectical historicist theory of time. The dialectical process-thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis-is essentially an irreversible relationship; hence it invests the dialectical time with the anisotropic quality which is consistent with the relativity theory. As discussed earlier, it is the quality of isotropy which makes time spatialized, that is, a space-like container external to and non-participating in the events (reality) that it supposedly contains and, as such denies temporality and change as the inner characteristic of reality which thus becomes static, changeless. The dialectical time, being anisotropic, at once becomes dynamic, accordingly, having acquired characteristic of temporality and change. The dialectical time is relational in the sense that it denies its externality to reality and asserts its fusion with it. This is in accordance with the relativity theory which has fused matter with space and space with time.

The fusion of the dialectical time with reality confers on the latter a dialectical character. Now, the dialectical process implies is A and non-A simultaneously. Accordingly, the dialectical reality would not be monistic but pluralistic in nature. Nevertheless, its pluralistic nature is of a special type; it is monistic pluralism- monistic in the sense that the same dialectical process is in operation everywhere. To admit the pluralistic character of the dialectical reality is to knock out the absoluteness of time, as it is absolute monistic view that entails the absoluteness of time. So the dialectical time is relativistic in the sense that it is a contemporaneity of different times or different temporal series

As the dialectical relation implies the interpenetration of the opposites as also the (modified) continuation of the thesis and the antithesis into the synthesis, so, from here, the dialectical time turns out to be of the nature of the Bergsonian duree stripped of its idealistic trappings. Only such a theory of time is fully compatible with the dynamic, historicist conception of reality.

It is often said that Bergson has de-spatialized time. On the other hand, there is Einstein who has integrated time with space to form a four-dimensional space-time continuum. The contradiction here between Bergson and Einstein is more apparent than real. The Bergsonian liberation of time is from that space which makes it (time) atomistic in the sense of a series of mutually exclusive moments succeeding each other like, say, electric poles in space or rungs of a ladder which in itself remains static.

Further, it is emancipation of time from that space which made it (time) a sort of container of events like the Newtonian space. In fact, as Spengler says, such a spatialized concept of time (as container) is nothing but rejection of time as time, and positing in its place another space along with the ordinary.16

So the Bergsonian despatialization of time means treating it neither as atomistic, nor as a Newtonian container, but perceiving it as a flow (as against the static atomistic time) which is not a container of events but the very matrix of them. As such, from the Bergsonian angle, to say that an object is in time is to mean that it partakes of time, that it is conditioned or created by time, that it is not thing-become (spatialized) but the thing-becoming (la duree). That is how the Bergsonian time is creative.

When Einstein integrated time with space, he did not do so by leaving space as a passive medium, substratum or container of matter. He, in a sense, de-spatialized the Newtonian space and attributed to it the conditioning or creative functions. Thus Einstein says:

".......in the minds of physicists space remained until the most recent time simply the passive container of all events playing no part in physical events itself. Thought only began to take a new turn with the wave theory of light and the theory of the electromagnetic field of Faraday and Clark Maxwell. It became clear that there existed in free space conditions which propagated themselves in waves as well as localized fields which were able to exert force on electrical masses or magnetic poles brought to the spot".17

This is how there emerged "a new conception of space in which space was deprived of its rigidity and in which its power to take part in physical events was recognized as possible."18

It was to such a notion of dynamic space that Einstein added the dimension of time to form a single unified space-time framework which became the real determinant of the qualities of an object in that framework. From this angle the attributes or qualities of an object do not belong a priori to that object but emanate from its space-time framework.19 This view is contradistinguished from the Lockean conception of an object as a substance or with innate (primary) qualities of its own.

Analogous to this Lockean notion is the Rationalists' view of mind, as substance with inherent, a priori ideas. This treatment of mind or matter as substance with inherent, a priori qualities implies a denial of the temporal character of reality,20 because temporality means that no quality of an object (mind or matter) is an a priori or inherent possession of that object; the object derives its qualities from temporality: the Bergsonian duree, Einstein's space-time framework, or the dialectical historicity.


Religion envisions the Absolute (God in some philosophies; Brahman in Hinduism; Shunyata in Buddhism; Ik Onkar in Sikhism, etc.) as timeless.

Ordinarily the concept of 'timelessness' is interpreted in the following ways:

First, a thing is said to be timeless, when, though in time, it is not subject to or under the influence of time, that is, when it is not subject to the temporal processes of origination, development and disintegration. This, in other words means that such a timeless thing has an essence, essential property, substance or substratum, that does not change at all and remains in the self-same state of being, irrespective of its location in any temporal instant or duration (past, present, future) of time. Time might affect its non-essential, secondary characteristics or its external form, but its essence remains uninfluenced by time.

The Newtonian matter is such a timeless substance in time. Similar is the Sankhya theory of timelessness in the continuum of which the transformation of A (milk) into B (ghee) is only a change of form, and not a change in the underlying substance which remains the same. The effect B, prexists in the cause, A. The three causal gunas inherent in the Sankhya prakriti (substance) and subsisting in passive equilibrium, give rise to the effect in the form of the phenomenal world, when the initial equilibrium is disturbed. What is potentially pre-given manifests itself in a changed form.

Obviously, there is no new creation., no novel development, no real evolution, as these concepts imply change to be the innate characteristic of time, whereby to be in time would mean to be subject to change, not only in form but in essence as well. But in the Sankhya parinamvada what is potentially pre-given and precontained manifests itself out in a changed form. The same, mutatis mutandis, applies to the Vedantic form of parinamvada; in Brahmanparinamvada, the saguna Brahman is only a changed form of the nirguna Brahman. Behind this secondary, phenomenal form is the primary noumenal substance which alone is the Real (sat) in the sense of eternal, timeless, ever-same Being in relation to which the world of becoming has either derivative reality, or no reality at all.

In Indian thought the quality that remains eternal or unsublated is indicated by the traditional term sat, which is not any determinate characteristic but is only the logical quality of "isness" of substance (being). The timeless-intime, whether considered idealistically (Vedantic Brahman), or materialistically (Newtonian matter) implies an isotropic, ahistorieist conception of time called "spatial" by Bergson. Here time is conceived of as the space-like container of substance, and partakes of all the qualities of space: homogeneity, infinity; continuity. uniformity; directionlessness; reversibility and causal inefficacy.

The characteristics of spatial time, mentioned above. flow from its homogeneity which means that all temporal instants and intervals are in every respect equivalent t and identical with one another. Hence no temporal instant can be said to be "before" or "after" any other instant. So is no beginning, no end of time, which as such, has to be conceived of as uncreated. Time, accordingly, becomes infinite duration or durational infinity. Further, if time admits of no internal differentiation per se in terms of “before" and "after", then, the correlative concepts of succession, causation, change, origination, development, evolution, disintegration, etc., become meaningless and unreal. Hence the Real is that which remains eternal, that is the self-same state of being in infinite duration stretching from beginingless past to endless future.

As seen above, the concept of eternity implies infinite duration of isotropic time. For a consistent monist viewpoint there cannot be three simultaneously existing infinites- Brahman, infinite time and infinite space. So infinite time and infinite space must be deemed as aspects or dimensions of the ultimate reality- Brahman. As infinite time and infinite space are both devoid of "content", so their being the aspects of Brahman would not make the latter a determinate Being. Thus the ultimate reality, having infinite time and infinite space as its aspects, retains its abstractness as well as its timelessness, that is, its unchangeability. And by being so congruous with infinite time and infinite space, it comes to be seen as "immanent" in time and space.

The archetypal concepts and categories of Hindu thought such as karma, sansara, reincarnation, samadhi etc., partake of the isotropic, spatial conception of time. As distinct and different from the Sikh conception, karma in Bhagavad Gita is "not action in time but action in Eternity." As regards the law of karma, says N. A. Nikam

“It is evolution through the infinities of space and time is the field for the operation of the law of karma".

Here evolution does not mean real development, which is something more than displacement in passive time and space, or a mere change of form. The Vedantic conception of change, of cosmological transformation, leading to the existential appearance of sansara does not mean real change in the sense of an evolutionary process. The spatial nature of time implies that it is per se without any intrinsic directionality, or irreversible temporal sequence, in terms of "before" and "after", of the precedent (cause) and the consequent (effect), of the lower and the higher stage in an evolutionary process. Accordingly the Hindu law of karma (cosmological causation) entails cyclic reversible succession (avagavan) in which there can be a transition from "ascent" to "descent", as much as from "descent" to "ascent". This viewpoint stands in sharp contrast to the Sikh conception which envisages an irreversible evolutionary process :

For several births you were just a worm
For several births, an elephant, a fish, a deer
For several births, a bird, a serpant
For serveral births served as a bull, horse
This is the moment of union with God-
Now that you have, after ages, evolved into the human for
Many times destroyed in the womb
For countless times subjected to vegetative growth
Passing through myriads of species
Through communion with the Holy you arose into a man
Serve now the Lord, meditating on the Guru's word. (Guru Arjun)

This evolutionary process proceeds beyond the material domain, and comprehends the moral and spiritual development of man as stressed by Guru Nanak in his Japji wherein five successive stages (khands) are envisioned leading to the spiritual union of man with God.

It is due to the reversibility of spatial time that the three gunas can roll back into their original state of equilibrium of the Sankhya prakriti, thus ending the sansara. Further, it is the reversibility (that is, the cyclical nature) of time that makes it possible for Hindu thought to go back in time to regain the Paradise Lost- satyuga-in its quest for betterment of life, which, as such, does not remain a question of developing and evolving, in the future, new human and societal life-patterns.

The state of samadhi in which one could unaffectedly subsists for quite a large stretch of time is logically possible only on the basis of spatial notion of time in which it is conceivable to be timeless while in time.

The Buddhist theory of causation known as "dependent origination" (paticca samuppada) is also based on the spatial notion of time. The differentiation of instants of time in terms of "before" and "after" being ruled out in spatial time, the cause and the effect, then, must be seen, occurring simultaneously and not successively. This is the very essence of the Buddhist "dependent origination".

Writes N. A. Nikam : "The peculiarity of the notion of the Dependent Origination is that it presupposes the notion of simultaneous occurrence of cause and effect .... "22 This peculiarity, in fact, is the peculiarity of the underlying spatial, ahistoricist view of time. It was owing to such a notion of time that the Buddhist phenomenalism, despite rejection of the static category of substance (being), could not result in a dynamic, historicist conception of reality, but got evaporated into the concept of nothingness".

Modern thought under the impact of the relativity physics has rejected the static, isotropic notion of time in favour of the anisotropic conception, that is, "asymmetry of time"23 involved in the dynamic, historicist view of reality. The relativity physics implies that no quality of an object remains eternal in time as well as in space, and further that an object derives its qualities from its location in the saptio-temporal continuum; in fact an object is nothing but a particular, mutuable configuration of and in the space-time continuum. Thus the essence of an object lies not in its so-called underlying unchanging substance (sat) but spatio-temporal relationships. This is how the correlative concepts of eternity and substance are knocked out. The concept of timelessness-in-time (the Vedantic akal), which is the very core of Vedantic thought no more remains ontologically valid and logically tenable.

As against the Vedantic idea of akal (timelessness) the Sikh concept of Akal Murat refers to the supra-temporal, time-transcedent nature of God. Now time-transcendence is also conceived of in many ways in speculative thought. The time-transcendence of the ultimate reality in the Kantian sense is different from what it means in the Sikh thought. With Kant, the noumenal reality transcends time for the reason that time is an a priori form of mind external to the Real-in-itself. Time here, is an aspect of the subjective apparatus of cognition and is not a form, mode, dimension, condition or characteristic of the objective Being-in-itself,24 which is timeless in the sense of being supra-temporal as such.

God has created matter (mountains), and time (aeons)25
God has created all things, all beings. And day and night also.26

A number of corollaries follow from this “createdness" of time. Time being created, the Creator must be prior to His creation both logically and historically, as envisioned in Sikhism. In Hegelian thought this priority is only logical, because here what is meant by creation of B by A, or development of B out of A, means only that B is logically deducible from A. Dialectical development for Hegel means only a kind "deductive necessity".27 Time being a created phenomenon, it cannot be treated to be eternally "there", either co-extensively or congruously with the ultimate reality. The durational infinity of time is also knocked out, as the created time must be deemed to have a beginning.

In this context we can understand the real meanings of the terms aad sach, jugad sach; hai bhi sach; Nanak hosi bhi sach in Guru Nanak's Japji. The term aad sach refers to the logical priority of (indeterminate) reality of the Absolute before creation of time, while the second term jugad sach indicates the historical priority of the (determinate) reality of the Absolute qua Spirit in the beginning of (created) time (aeons=jug). The third and the fourth expression refer to the reality of God in the present and the future respectively. Traditional interpretations, rendering the term aad and jugad as meaning one and same thing (in the beginning of time) have all failed to comprehend the distinction between the two concepts : one referring to the logical priority and the other to the historical priority of God.

This distinction also reveals the "createdness" of time, that is the nature of time with a beginning, as against the eternal duration of Vedantic time. Further, this significant distinction also provides a clue to the understanding of the key-note concept of Akal Murat, God is supra-temporal or time-transcendent in two senses. The logical priority given by the term aad sach refers to the time-transcendence of the ultimate reality as indeterminate Being, while the historical priority reveals the time-transcendence of the ultimate reality qua determinate Being that expresses itself in self-created time as the Spirit.

The new conception of God becoming determinate qua Spirit in time and space marks a qualitative change in the cognition of the ultimate reality : from Being to Spirit. This evolutionary change, heralded by Sikh metaphysics in the history of Indian religious thought, involves a new conception of time.

The concept of Being (substance) involves the notion of uncreated, eternal, isotropic (spatial) time which is the continuance of anything in its own being. On the other hand the idea of Spirit partakes of anisotropic time of which the conception of historical time, as implied in Sikh metaphysics, is one form.

The Vedantic thought (in its generic form) is essentially based on the cognition of the ultimate reality in terms of Being (substance) with its corresponding isotropic notion of time which, divested of its essential temporality and historicity, turns out to be a static space-like continuum, an unchanging state of being as substance. (Individual soul as a micro cosmic form or part of the ultimate reality is also conceived of as an "abiding substance") In other words the Vedantic conception of the Akal refers to the timelessness of the ultimate reality, that is, to its eternal, self-same state of being in the static continuum of time. This is contradistinguishable from the Sikh concept of Akal Murat refers to the a priori, in-itself, time-transcendence of God Who qua Spirit descends in historical time.

The point is that the connotation of the term Akal Murat can be properly understood only in the perspective of the view that Sikhism is essentially a religion of Spirit contra-distinguishable from the preNanakian religions and religious philosophies (Vedantic) which partake of the concept of Being (substance) as the ultimate reality.

The concept of Akal Murat is the key-note term of the Sikh Mul Mantra-the quintessence of the Sikh doctrine. But almost all of its traditional interpretations follow the Vedantic conception of time and reality. As such the entire Mul Mantra is rendered in a Vedanticized way. Take, for instance, A Rendering from the Japuji28 by Prof. Gurbachan Singh Talib. Herein, Prof. Talib has rendered Sat Nam as "Reality Eternal". The opening passage of the Japji- aad sach, jugad sach - has been translated as: "The Eternal, the Holy ever was, ever shall be". Further, Prof. Talib refers to the "eternity" of God in the sense of His “immutabibity in all time."

With Prof. Talib and other scholars following the Vedantic tradition, timelessness of God means not a supra-temporal state, but a quality of being eternal, that is immutable in all time. Eternity as a state of being (immutable) in time is a category applicable to the Vedantic ultimate reality- Brahman qua Being (substance)- and not to the Sikh conception of the Absolute qua Spirit conceived as Akal in the sense of being supra-temporal or time-transcendent.

Herein lies the essential difference between the general Vedantic thought and the Sikh metaphysics. The Vedantic Brahman, accordingly, is envisaged in terms of sat (being), chit (consciousness), and anand (bliss), but the quality of being the Creator is not attributed to it. Further, Brahman in Vedantic thought is chit (consciousness), but not "self-consciousness".29

The above differentiation is essential for understanding the real, logically consistent, connotation of the Mul Mantra terms of metaphysical nature: Ik Onkar, Sat Nam, Karta Purakh and Akal Murat. The first term refers to the in-itself, indeterminate essence of the ultimate reality which is supra-temporal (Akal Murat) vis-a-vis the realm of time and space created by the Absolute as the creative Spirit (Karta Purakh). The Absolute through the creative act becomes determine reality- Sat Nam- in the sense of determinate Infinity as against the abstract Infinity given by the category of Ik Onkar. As it is in the creative act that the abstract Infinite becomes the determinate Infinity, so the created realm comes to be seen as a determination of the Absolute, which in the Sikh idiom is called His Name:

All that He has created is His name.30

The Sanskrit word sat, like the English term being, refers neither to the ideal nor to the material aspect of reality; it rather, connotes the logical aspect under which all that can be said is, that the Real is. In their abstractness the Vedantic (nirguna) Brahman (Being) and Buddhist Shunyata (Nothingness) tend to be indistinguishable from each other, for the simple reason that when the ultimate reality is seen as excludent of all determinations, qualities, attributes and predicates, then, there remains no (epistemological) way of distinguishing Being from Nothingness. As such, though epistemologically there remains no determinate distinction between the Vedantic Brahman and the Buddhist Shunyata, yet the former is posited in the logical aspect of "isness". Brahman, while sharing its indeterminacy and abstractness with the Buddhist Shunyata, is sat: Being-in-itself.

It was to emphasize such logical "beingness," (isness) of the (nirguna, nirankar) Absolute that Guru Nanak placed Ik -the numerical one- (as a sign of positivity in contrast to the Buddhist negativity given by the term Shunyata) to constitute the term Ik Onkar to symbolize “beingness” (isness) of the Absolute, notwithstanding its abstractness and indeterminacy.

Having thus contradistinguished his doctrine from the Buddhist concept, Guru Nanak, then, proceeds to differentiate it from the Vedantic Brahman which is sat not Sat Nam. In other words, Guru Nanak does not rest content merely with positing the logical being (sat) of the ultimate reality, but goes on to make the indeterminate Absolute manifest itself as determinate Infinity, Sat Nam, in, the creative act qua Spirit.

Thus the term Sat Nam does not mean that "His Name is Truth", or that "His Reality is Eternal". It would be much more appropriate to render it as such: “His Name (qua determinate Infinity) is True.” It is in this sense Guru Nanak says that all that God has created is His Name.

In other words, this term Sat Nam emphasizes the reality of the (relational) determinate aspect of the Absolute, as the expression "Ik Onkar" stresses the in-itself indeterminacy and abstractness of the Absolute, the positivity of which is simultaneously underscored as to contradistinguish it form Buddhist Shunyata (Nothingness).

Reality as pure Being (substance) devoid of all determinations and qualities when approached idealistically takes, interalia, the form of the Platonic (abstract) Universal, or the Vedantic Brahman.When seen materialistically the (abstract) substance turns to be the empty substratum, or the Kantian thing-in-itself. As such the determinate, phenomenal world of time and space is reduced to the Platonic appearance, the Vedantic illusion (maya), or the Kantian projection- of the (epistemic) mental forms of cognition onto the thing-in-itself.

Existential reality comes to be seen in terms of nihilism or solipsism. Sociologically such an attitude towards the worldly reality ends up in a status-quoist value-pattern. When the Real is taken as the abstract Being, for man there can be no ideal other than that of getting rid of all the sensory contents, or the determinate characteristics, that constitute the individuality of person. The resultant abstract individual is, then, amenable to being subsumed under this or that type in a totalitarian system. The lopsidedness inherent in this approach and trend is corrected in a religion of the Absolute qua Spirit.

In the Indian context the transition to a religion of spirit in the form of Sikhism as against the earlier religions of being corresponds to and involves a process of change heralding the post feudal value-pattern. Such is the revolutionary role played by Sikhism in the history of Eastern civilization. The Sikh doctrine contains the potential, as well as the dynamics, of a new civilization qualitatively different from the earlier Indic and the Hindu civilization in India. This potential remains to be realized.


1 Newton, Mathematical Principles, A. Motte, ed. Fcajori, Berkeley, 1934, p.6.

2 Milic Capek, The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics, N.Y., 1961, p.38

3 Quoted by C.J. Whitrow in his The Natural Philosophy of Time, London, 1961, p.132

4 C.J. Whitrow, op. cit, p.74

5 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, tr. Norman Kemp Smith, 1950, p. 48

6 Milic Capek, op. cit., P. 160.

7 Milic Capek, op. ciz, pp. 166 ff.

8 Adolf Grunbaun, Philosophical Problems of Space and Time, London, 1964, p. 289

9 Milic Capek, op. cit, pp. 38-41

10 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason,p. 204

11G. J. Whitrow, op. cit., p. 154.

12 William James, The Principles of Psychology, N.Y., 1918, p. 606

13 Milic Capek, op. cit., p. 231

14 G. J. Whitrow, op. cit., p. 156

15 Milic Capek, op. cit., p. 167

16 The Decline of the West, London, 1959, P. 125.

17 Einstein. Essays in Science, Philosophical Library, N. Y., p.66

18 Ibid., p.68

19 Christopher Candwell, The Crisis in Physics, London, 1950, p. 11

20 History of Philosophy (Eastern and Western), ed. by a Board of Editors ;aded by S. Radhalrishnan, Vol. II, 11952, p. 206

21 Sri Guru Granth, p. 176

22 V.A.Nikam, Some Concepts of lndian Culture, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla,19b7. p. 31 The Sikh conception is closer to the Biblical thought in that it considers time to have begun with the creation of the exisential reality. God as Karta Purakh created not only the world, but also time as the mode or the constitutive aspect of the phenomenal reality.

23 Milic Capek, op. cit., p. 160

24 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, tr. by N.K. Smith, 1950, p. 48

25Guru Nanak, Sri Guru Granth, p. 929

26Guru Arjun, Sri Guru Granth, p. 1003

27J. N. Pindlay, Hegel: A Re-examination, George Allen and Knwin, London. 1970, p.81

28J. N. Pindlay, Hegel: A Re-examination, George Allen and Knwin, London. 1970, p.81

28 Journal of Sikh Studies, Vol II, 1975, Guru Nanak Dev University,. Amritsar (lndia).

29 Wilbur Long, 'Religion in the Idealistic Tradition, in Religion in Philosophical and Cultural Perspective, ed. byJ-C. Feawerand William Horosz, D. Van Nostrand Co., London, 1967, p. 32

30 Guru Nanak, Sri Guru Granth, p. 9



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