Religion has always played a prominent role in the lives of individuals, communities and nations. Today often one’s religious beliefs conflict with new advances in science and technology causing confusion. This conflict can be resolved if science and religion are considered two different approaches to understand reality. Since their aim is the same, so there should be no clash between them. The two, understood properly, can supplement each other. Einstein truly says: “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind”. Hence enlightened persons apply scientific knowledge to give ‘eyes’ to religious wisdom. They re-interpret their religion to retain its contemporary relevance.
Prof Dr Devinder Singh Chahal has done this for Sikhism – the youngest among major religions. With his scientific training and firm religious faith, he is eminently qualified to do so. According to him the essence of Sikhism is Nanakian Philosophy which he defines as, “A philosophy promulgated by Guru Nanak that is embodied in his Bani and has been further explained and strengthened by the Sikh Gurus, who succeeded to the House of Nanak, in their Bani, which is incorporated in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib along with that of Guru Nanak.”
Prof Chahal repudiates the views of earlier scholars who said Guru Nanak’s teachings were based on Vedantic philosophy. He also disagrees with those who think that Guru Nanak merely syncretized Hinduism and Islam as did some saints of the Bhakti Movement. On the contrary, Prof Chahal argues that Guru Nanak propounded original and unique philosophy which can stand the test of scientific scrutiny. Nanakian Philosophy is perennial and universal and most suitable for the humanity of the Current Science Age.
Obviously, orthodox Sikhs object to Prof Chahal’s interpretation of Bani. Some consider it even blasphemous. No wonder Prof Chahal remarks, “… what the Sikhs are doing today is exactly contrary to Nanakian Philosophy.” Only bigots would question Prof Chahal’s credentials and his right to interpret Bani according to his inner light. Prof Chahal, following the example of Guru Nanak, is trying to differentiate between the essence of religion and mere religiosity and rituals. He does not claim that his interpretation is absolute. In all humility like a true scientist he says he is open to reason and welcomes debate and discussion to settle the issue. In a way, he is following the method which Guru Nanak adopted during his dialogues with people of different faiths.
The vital questions which all religions have to deal with are: the concept of God, the creation of the Universe, the origin of life, the reality of death, the immortality of soul. The answers provided by different religions do not convince the inquisitive people of twenty-first century. Prof Chahal proves successfully that answers given by Nanakian Philosophy are in consonance with the discoveries of modern science. This way he has rendered great service to bring out the valuable message Guru Nanak had for the world. His book, being in English will have a greater reach to the philosophers and research scholars of the world.
Sikhs have spread all over the world mainly for economic reasons. By adopting Prof Chahal’s approach they can familiarize the communities of their adopted countries with Sikh religion and culture. This will enhance international understanding and make presence of Sikh Diaspora acceptable abroad. Moreover, this way Sikh Diaspora can pass on their rich religious heritage to their subsequent generations.
Paradoxically crusade and jihads of medieval times have resurfaced in twenty-first century. Terrorism is the greatest menace that the world is facing today. If humanity is to avoid collective suicide, it must avoid the clash of religions and civilizations. Knowledge about religions other than one’s own can make one broad-minded and tolerant. The last Chapter in Prof Chahal’s book highlights the value of Nanakian Philosophy for world peace.
In fact, there is nothing divisive and sectarian in Nanakian Philosophy. Understood properly and followed faithfully, it can turn this world into heaven which many other religions promise to their adherents after death.
I hope Prof Chahal’s pioneering effort will receive serious attention from educated Sikhs, the theologians, research scholars of Sikhism as well as the theologians of other religions and philosophers of the world.
Amarjit Singh Hayre, PhD
Professor and Head (Retired)
Department of Journalism, Languages and Culture
Punjab Agricultural University
February 09, 2008
161 F Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar
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