Whenever I read interpretation of Gurbani by various Sikh and non-Sikh
theologians, writers, and researchers, it reminds me the following observations
of Professor Puran Singh’s study of 1920s:
“It is to be regretted that Sikh and Hindu scholars are interpreting Guru Nanak in the futile terms of the colour he used, the brush he took; are analyzing the skin and flesh of his words and dissecting texts to find the Guru’s meaning to be the same as of the Vedas and Upanishad ! This indicates enslavement to the power of Brahmanical tradition. Dead words are used to interpret the fire of the Master’s soul! The results are always grotesque and clumsy translations which have no meaning at all.”
The irony is that it is still going on as recorded by Taran Singh, the then Head, Department of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala, that universities have taken good steps, although their research could only establish that the truth in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) is not different than the truth of ancient India but this is a powerful achievement. He further made it clear that Gurus’ philosophy was not only accepted as Vedantic philosophy by the early Sikh scholars of 17th to 19th century but the contemporary university scholars are also confirming it so.
This type of work done by the university scholars and other writers, has encouraged some scholars to declare clearly and loudly that there is nothing new in the philosophy of Guru Nanak since it is propounded in Vedas and Upanishads.
Alas, when the contemporary Sikh scholars for unknown reasons have exhibited their failure in comprehending Nanakian Philosophy in its originality, it certainly seems like an insurmountable task to explain Guru Nanak’s philosophy in its originality to the researchers and the Sikhs at large.
Now the question before us is:
Is the philosophy of Guru Nanak Original and Unique?
To answer the above question the following remarks of Arnold Toynbee, the
world-renowned historian that has touched my heart, is to be considered seriously:
“Mankind’s religious future may be obscure; yet one thing can be foreseen: the living higher religions are going to influence each other more than ever before, in these days of increasing communication between all parts of the world and all branches of the human race in this coming religious debate, the Sikh religion, and its scriptures the Adi Granth, will have something of special value to say to the rest of the world.”
Toynbee admits that “Mankind’s religious future may be obscure;” I agree with him to a great extent. But the second part of his above statement that “…the Sikh religion, and its scriptures the Adi Granth, will have something of special value to say to the rest of the world.” has inspired me for conducting research to explore if there is any uniqueness and originality in the philosophy of Guru Nanak embodied in his Bani, which could have special value to the rest of the world. In this respect the Institute for Understanding Sikhism, Laval, Québec, Canada has already published two research momograph, ‘JAP: The Essence of Nanakian Philosophy’ and ‘Sabd Guru to Granth Guru’ to meet the above challenge. The current research monograph, ‘NANAKIAN PHILOSOPHY’ has been written especially for the humanity of Current Science Age to portray its uniqueness and originality, and its universal acceptability and applicability during the 21st century.
In continuation of the above mission I am trying to make Nanakian Philosophy
more ennobled and profound by the application of current knowledge of Science
and logic as recommended by Albert Einstein, the Nobel Laureate:
“After religious teachers accomplish the refining process indicated, they will surely recognize with joy that true religion has been ennobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge.”
I must admit here that I have quoted Albert Einstein, Nobel Laureate Scientist, besides others, very often since it appears to me that he was following Nanakian Philosophy although he was not aware of Guru Nanak and his philosophy.
However, I must also admit it that the above mission is not only very strenuous task but equally troublesome to convince the uniqueness and originality of Nanakian Philosophy to scholars who are heavily burdened under the influence of ancient philosophy, mythology and Vedantic philosophy.
Therefore, to free the Sikh scholars from such a burden it was necessary to explain reasons and objectives of the book in Introduction. It was followed by explanation that Nanak is the Guru, which has been accepted by Sikh Gurus, who succeeded to the ‘House of Nanak’. It was also considered necessary to distinguish two major terms, ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Religion’, beside some others since the term, ‘Philosophy’, is usually missing in most of the writings of Sikh theologians. The next important subject discussed in this book is the ‘Methodology’ used by Guru Nanak to write his Bani. I named it as ‘Nanakian Methodology’ and it is must to understand it before attempting to interpret the Bani of Guru Nanak in its real perspective.
Since the book is entitled as, ‘NANAKIAN PHILOSOPHY’, the term, which is not familiar with many Sikh theologians, scholars and researchers of Gurbani, was defined and the bases on which it was defined were also explained. Thereafter, it also became important to convince the scholars that ‘Nanakian Philosophy’ has been strengthened, explained and preached by the Sikh Gurus who succeeded to the ‘House of Nanak’.
Since there was no standardized system of referencing the Bani from the AGGS and every writer has been using his/her own system, therefore, a Chapter on, System of referencing the Bani from the Holy Granth of the Sikhs, has been added in this book as a guidance for the researchers of Gurbani to bring uniformity in referencing the Bani in Sikh literature. This system was formulated by the Institute for Understanding Sikhism and is followed strictly in their all writings.
Before going into detailed discussion of ‘Nanakian Philosophy’, it was also necessary to make the readers aware of the ‘Misinterpretation of Gurbani’ In this chapter it has been shown that scientific and logical interpretation can reveal the real theme of the Bani. Therefore, many researchers will notice at once that my interpretation of Gurbani is quite different than that of the traditional interpretations found in the old and current Sikh literature. It ought to be, since application of Science and logic can only interpret the Gurbani in its real perspective as pointed out by Einstein. I do not claim that my interpretation is the final truth; however, I can vouch for that it is as close to the real perspective as possible subject to further improvement.
I may add here that it may appear as blasphemy to some but I am sure that
a serious study of this book will soon convince them that it is leading towards
the discovery of truth in the Bani of Guru Nanak.
“All great truths begin as blasphemies.”
George Bernard Shaw
After discussing basic information explained in the first few Chapters to achieve success in my mission I selected a few important topics (rather the whole Bani of Guru Nanak) for discussion to prove uniqueness and originality of Nanakian Philosophy by interpreting related Bani of Guru Nanak scientifically and logically. Along with that I have also been pointing out strengthening and explanation of Nanakian Philosophy by the Sikh Gurus who succeeded to the ‘House of Nanak’.
It was noticed that even the very ‘Commencing Verse’ of the AGGS, commonly called as Mool Mantra, is not well understood by many theologians and researchers. So I have discussed the ‘Commencing Verse’ in three Chapters.
It is well known fact that God is different to the followers of different religions. Thus I have discussed ‘Concept of God’ in one Chapter and then ‘Concept of God in Nanakian Philosophy’ in another Chapter. However, ‘God vs. Science’, a common topic of the day, has also been discussed still in another Chapter to show that what the God of Nanakian Philosophy is, it is the same what the scientists want to know.
After portraying the major principles of Nanakian Philosophy I turned to discuss Cosmology as understood by Guru Nanak, which is almost comparable to what is being theorized by the Astronomers and Physicists in these days. In this connection I have discussed ‘Origin of Universe’, Hukm – The Laws of Nature’, ‘Astrology’, and ‘Vedas and Yuga’.
Thereafter, I turned towards religiosity. On this issue I have discussed ‘Mantra System’, Naam Japna and Naam Simarna’, and Ardaas’. In continuation of discussion on religiosity, it is also necessary to understand about ‘Life, Death’ and Soul’, ‘After Death – Heaven and Hell’, and ‘Food Fads’.
Finally, I discussed ‘Nanakian Philosophy and Science’ rather “Religion vs. Science’ or ‘Sikhism vs. Science”. Then I ended my discussion on ‘Nanakian Philosophy’ by portraying some of its principles, which may prove to be one of the important approaches to maintain peace on this tiny planet of our Solar System – the Earth in a Chapter, ‘Nanakian Philosophy for World Peace’.
I have tried to portray philosophy of Guru Nanak scientifically and logically in its real perspective. Now it is up to the erudite researchers, theologians and critics with Babaek Budhi (discriminating intellect) to find out if this study represents originality and uniqueness of ‘Nanakian Philosophy’, which also portrays its universal acceptability and applicability by the humanity of Current Science Age or it is syncretism or it is based on Vedantic philosophy as has been said in the past and still is being preached so.
In spite of my above statement I sincerely hope that this study could also be a steppingstone or foundation for interpretation of the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) into a Standardized English Translation. The resulting Standardized English Translation could serve as a role model for further translations of the AGGS into the world languages to disseminate Nanakian Philosophy in the world.
Devinder Singh Chahal
Laval, Québec, Canada
February 11, 2008