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Universality Of The Sikh Philosophy: An Analysis


Jul 23, 2004
Courtesy: Dhillon, S.S. "Universality of the Sikh Philosophy: An Analysis" The Sikh Review, Volume 52:5, Number 605, pages 15-20, May 2004


Dr Sukhraj S Dhillon, PhD
Cary, NC 27511, USA

Not only the western world, but most younger generation, in this modern era of science and technology, believes secular humanism as a spiritual and healing force, and religion as a possessive and destructive force. With spirituality they find no rules related to God's love and God's ability to sustain us. With religion they feel possessed by rituals and guilt the religion imposes. Right interpretation of gurbani provided in our eternal guru "Sri Guru Granth Sahib" (SGGS) can provide us new realities which are more spiritual and more logical than mere blind faith and rituals.

The true guru in sikh faith is one who unites all the people of various faiths together (Nanak satgur aessaa jaaniay jo subsae laey milaaye jio.. SGGS, p 72; meaning: O Nanak, know him as the true guru, who unites all with the Lord). If the founding Guru Nanak was born in the west, Sikhism would have been the world religion in this age of Science and Technology. With all the claims and it’s compelling moral appeal, the fact is: Sikhism has yet to be perceived as a universal religion. What we really need, in this time and age, is to promote and practice Universal Philosophy of Sikhism in Gurbani.


The religions of the world fall in two categories: Prayer-oriented religions and ritualist meditation-oriented religions. Christianity, Mohammedans, Hindus, Sikhs and other popular religions of the world are prayer-oriented. To pray, we need some higher power to which we can pray. That higher power is God. The meditation-oriented religions are Buddhism, Taoism, and Jainism. These are not prayer-oriented since there is no direct use of God as in other religions. Whether, through meditation or prayer to God, (or varied individual beliefs) the real aim of a religion is spirituality-- which is the realization of spirit that exists in each and every person. That is what is the realization of God, the connection between atma and parmatma, the realization of ultimate truth.

Gurbani (which is extension of Guru Nanak’s Japuji) directs us towards ultimate reality, towards ultimate truth. To be able to reflect reality is to know God. God is just another name for reality - another name for ultimate truth being there forever (aad sach jugad sach hai bhi sach Nanak hosi bhi sach.. SGGS, Jap 1, p 1; meaning: ultimate truth or God was there when there was nothing; was there in the past before all ages began; is there in the present, O Nanak; and will be there in the future forever). And a man is really sane when he knows the truth because in the realm of truth, the formless Lord abides (sach khand vasae nirankar.. SGGS, Jap 37, p 8; meaning: in the realm of truth, the formless Lord abides).

Truth brings liberation, truth brings sanity.

Truth brings intelligence, Truth brings innocence.

Truth brings bliss, Truth brings celebration.


In Jap, Guru Nanak raised the same question “Kiv sachiara hoviai kiv kurai tutae pal (SGGS, Jap 1, p 1; meaning: How to become truthful; and how can the veil of illusion be torn away?).

His answer “hukm rajai chalna, Nanak likhia naal (SGGS, Jap 1, p 1; that is walk in the way of His Will).”

Accepting the “Will of God” was the basic philosophy of religious prophets. Nanak called "Hukm" to His will. Taoism called "non-interference", Zen called "let-go", Christianity called "surrendering to the will of God."

Not only the religious acceptance, but accepting the laws of nature is also accepting the “Will of God.” Nature functions in perfect order. We have seasons because of order, we have day and night because of order. Planets revolve around the sun because of order. The galaxies and solar systems are balanced in space because of order. Protons and electrons are balanced in an atom because of order. Photosynthesis in plants and plankton in the ocean produce oxygen, that we breathe, because of order. The grass grows, the trees flower because of order. Our heart beats, our food digests and produces energy-- all because of order, because of law, because of organization that exists in nature. (No scientist can deny this organization, because according to the law of entropy things deteriorate: as for example car in junk yard will rust rather than the other way around.) And acceptance of the laws of nature is acceptance of “Will of God/The Divine Will.”

Accepting the “Will of God” or Understanding the ‘Divine’ (The knowledge of the “Divine Will”) means the destruction of the ego - whether it is the racial ego, the religious ego, the spiritual ego, or the individual ego: “Nanak hukme je bujhe ta haumai kahi na koe.. (SGGS, Jap 2, p 1; meaning: O Nanak, one who understands ‘Divine Will,’ is freed from ego.)

The racial and religious ego, which is the root cause of religious wars, is far more dangerous than the individual ego. But the individual ego is the building block for any kind of ego. The iron curtain of individual ego separates us from each other and from understanding God.

Absence of ego means that we all are actually the one humanity or one spirit or one universal mind regardless of our color, caste, creed, and sex.

“An Enlightened person sees not only himself in the world, but the whole world in himself.”

A universal mind or one mind or one God of which we are part of is universal energy, because “the universe is all energy and the energy is all universe.” Albert Einstein discovered: the energy can convert into matter and matter can convert into energy. The basic units: atoms and subatomic particles-- that form molecules, and cells, and tissues, and organs, and individuals, are our common origin. The atoms and subatomic charged particles do not grow old and are ageless and timeless. The atoms in a child or a seedling are no younger than that of a wrinkled person or a yellowing leaf. It's only when we look at life in a specific form, we fall victims to our separation from rest of things. That separation is called the ego. The ego is a false self that we made up to compete with God based on the thought that we're separate. That iron curtain of selfish ego separates us from Universal Spirit or God. Once we accept the God within and realize that it's not possible to be separate from God and that we are one with God, then we know that we are love and we are peace and we are joy and we are happiness and we are eternal.

In everyday living, just as a sunbeam can't separate itself from the sun, and a wave can't separate itself from the ocean, we can't separate one mind from another. We have characteristics of our own like Individual waves that can be high or low, aggressive or passive but part of the same ocean. Similarly, we can look at us like the spokes on a wheel, all radiating out from the same center. If we define ourselves according to our position on the rim, we seem separate and distinct from one another. But if we define ourselves according to the center of the wheel, we're a shared identity with the same mind. Our grades, credentials, jobs, cars, and homes are like a spoke at the rim, a sunbeam, and a wave-- all with characteristics of their own but a part of the same source-- the wheel, the sun and the ocean. We are all part of one indivisible divine mind or the universal mind or Universal Energy or God. Our individual mind or soul (atma) is divine image of supreme (or Parmatma), but we have to recognize it (mun tu jot saroop hai, apna mool pashaan...SGGS, p 441; meaning: O’my soul you’re the image of Divine light; so know your source). And the same mind or one mind, is the same as one God (Ek Onkar).

In addition to recognition of the Universal Mind, the Universal Spirit or the Universal Energy, the universal message in Nanakian Philosophy contains two words: compassion (daya) and contentment (santokh). The righteousness is born out of compassion and contentment upholds the order of nature (Dhaul dharam daya ka poot; santokh thap rakhiya jin soot.. SGGS, Jap 16, p3). The implication is that “Be compassionate to others; and be content within yourself.”

The two words, compassion (daya) and contentment (santokh) combines the philosophy of whole world: Christianity in the west and all the eastern religions. ( Details in Dr. S.S. Dhillon, "Universal Nature of Sikhism and Endorsement of Sikh Definition" The Sikh Bulletin, Volume 4, Number 12, Dec 2002).

Here’s is another good example of Universal Nature of Nanakian Philosophy:

Some one asked the Late noble laureate Rabindera Nath Tagor: “you have written national anthem for India. Can you write international anthem for the whole world?” “It’s already written not only for international but for the entire universe in 15th century by Nanak,” replied Tagor. He rightfully referred to aarti (ceremony of light). What can be more universal than aarti authored by Guru Nanak. Beyond boundaries of any religion or any country. He is recognizing: “God created humanity; God created universe including earth. (gagan mai thaal rav chand deepak banay taarikaa mandal janak moti; meaning: Upon that cosmic plate of the sky, the sun and the moon are the lamps. The stars and their orbs are the studded pearls. Dhoop mal-aanlo pavan chavro karay sagal banraa-ay foolant joti; meaning: The fragrance of sandalwood in the air is the temple incense (dhoop), and the wind is the fan. All the plants of the world are the altar flowers in offering to You, O Luminous Lord. kaisee aarti ho-ay; bhav khandnaa tayree aarti; meaning: What a beautiful Aarti, lamp-lit worship service this is! O Destroyer of Fear, this is Your Ceremony of Light. SGGS, Page: 13, Line:1- 3, Author: Guru Nanak Dev)

"God created humanity, we created religions!

God created earth, we created boundaries!!

In the name of our creations, we continue to destroy His creations!"

If we could practice this universal message (of dya or compassion and santokh or contentment, and natures universal aarti beyond the confines of any religion or country), not only we control the ego that creates enemies and wars, but imagine the satisfaction and happiness it would bring.

The possibility of experiencing unity has tremendous implications in life, because when there is harmonious interaction between us and our extended body, we feel joyful, healthy, and youthful. "Fear is born of separation." The transformation from separation to unity, from conflict to peace, is the goal of all spiritual traditions.

Once we recognize our Universal nature then: we have no one to fear from (nirbhau) and no feelings of enmity (nirvair) towards others (nirbhau, nirvair.. SGGS, p 1). The fear and enmity are the products of others. The word other separates us from universal mind or universal love. (Guru Arjan’s beautiful gurbani says: bisar gaaee sabh taat paraee; jab te sadhSangat mohi paaee. Naa ko bairee nahee bigaana sagal sang hum ko ban aaee. SGGS, p. 1299; literally means since I have found universal love, there are no more enemies and strangers)

The true guru in sikh faith is one who unites all the people of various faiths together (Nanak satgur aessaa jaaniay jo subsae laey milaaye jio...SGGS, p 72; meaning: O Nanak, know him as the true guru, who unites all with the Lord).

Guru Nanak has given us the universal, the modern, the scientific philosophy that we sikhs have in gurbani. He was guru and pir for Hindus and Muslims (Nanak shah faqir; hindu ka guru, musalmaan ka pir), but now be father for Christians. At a seminar conducted at Simla, by the Panjab Historical Society Lahore in early 1900, the lieutenant governor of Panjab, who was presiding over the seminar said, " according to what had been told by the speaker, Guru Nanak was a great Christian." If he was born in the west, Sikhism would have been the world religion in this age of Science and Technology.

Sikhism is conceptually a universal religion with none of the problems like creation vs evolution, or immaculate conception, or the only son of God or last prophet, or worshipping stones or priestly class. In fact, gurbani explains that there is no such thing as immaculate conception (Jaise maat pita binu baalu na hoee.. SGGS, p 872; meaning: without a mother and father there is no child), or rising from the dead-- resurrection (Kabir maanis janam dulambh hai, hoi na barai baar.. SGGS, p 1366; meaning: Kabir, precious human existence, does not just come over and over again).

Our collective survival lies in recognizing new realities about religion, and its positive relationship to science and spirituality. We must recognize the path of secular humanism, based upon the principles of logic and reason. Right interpretation of Nanak’s philosophy can provide us new realities. This alone offers the hope of providing everybody on this globe with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


We continue to claim: Sikhism is a universal religion! Sikhism is a modern religion! Sikhism is a scientific religion in age of science and technology! As we see in the first part of this article, in theory, it’s true. But can we cure the disease merely by repeating the name of medicine? I guess not. But it will not do any good unless we practice and promote such qualities of our religion.

First of all, we have to properly understand our last living Guru Gobind Singh: if we did we will not be haunted with the Dasam Granth controversy. He asked us to follow Guru Granth Sahib as the sole guru, and it’s teachings to guide us. (guru granth ji maneo, pargat guran kee deh; jo prabh ko mil voch hai, khoj shabad mein leh. Meaning: Guru Granth is our guru and it represents philosophy (body) of all the gurus; only the shabad will connect us with akaal purkh; From Dasam Granth attributed to Guru Gobind Singh p. 248).

Seondly, we have not put in proper perspective the concept of khalsa and khade di pahul: “The greatest contribution of the last living 10th Guru Nanak-- Guru Gobind Singh Ji-- is the creation of Khalsa, the family of pure ones, to which a Sikh may belong through receiving baptism or initiation (Amrit/khande di pahul). Therefore, every khalsa is a Sikh but every Sikh is not a khalsa unless he/she receives baptism.” This statement happens to be supported by two well known historians Dr. H.W. McLeod and Dr. J.S. Grewal. Encourage those who are ready to take Khande di pahul to join the ranks of khalsa, but respect each other as equal sikhs.

Here are some other points to promote and practice Universal Religion Sikhism. I may state that these points need to be considered with logic and reasoning. If some one doesn't agree with any point, I have nothing but same respect for them as for those who agree. We learn from our differences as long as we keep in mind: “Respect for each other is high, but higher still is respect for each other’s views.” Therefore, we do need to seriously consider, modify and expand these points:

•Instructions should be mostly in English along with Punjabi. Every body in the congregation must understand each and every word. Hymns after singing must be explained in Simple English not the English in which the present translations are.

•Many famous scholars had agreed with the practice of using chairs in the west. Dharmik Sulaakaar Committee on 25 April 1935, comprising of: Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, Prof. Jodh Singh, Prof. Teja Singh, Prof. Ganda Singh, Jathedar Mohan Singh passed the following resolution: “In Europe and America, where it is a standard practice to sit on chairs in religious places - there is no impropriety to sit on the chairs in Gurdwaras, provided that Guru Granth Sahib is placed at a higher elevation.” Therefore, install Guru Granth Sahib at a higher level, and resolve chair controversy. Some people, especially the older or with physical problem, can’t even sit on the floor. Why not let everyone choose whatever they feel comfortable with. As a young student at Yale University, I have attended congregation with chairs in New York. On the other hand we have created controversy to ban chairs even from the langar halls. This has already resulted in murders in gurdwaras: For example, in Florida (USA) and Vancouver (Canada), 1998.

•No rituals. Leave eating, drinking, meat consumption to health professionals and individuals. Let us not force the spiritual Gurbani into the physical health issues.

•Questions must be encouraged. If not in presence of Guru Granth Sahib then separately in informal sessions.


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