Meaning, Purpose and Truth

Amritsar-golden-temple-00

Exploring some of the ultimate questions that confront humanity, and responding imaginatively to them;

 

The ups, downs and meaning(s) of life’s journey.

 

Religious Experience

For Sikhs, religious experience is the only basis for religious claims. Since these are available to everyone, all humans are considered to be equal and there is no place for priests.

The source of all spiritual experience for Sikhs, is God Himself. For Sikhs, God is seen as a missing dimension of our everyday lives. Nine gates give us sensory impressions of maya but we need to open the Tenth Gate to experience God in our lives and to be authentic or real.

Sikh faith is not about partisan doctrine or debate but the universal human experience and relationship. Rather, feelings are the evidence of faith.

These feelings form the basis of personally informed discussion within the sadhsangat or fellowship. They are also tuned by the Gurbani or sacred song which is organized into 31 ragas or measures of South Asian music that each reflect a particular emotional mood / state of mind.

Feelings and beliefs are experiences that are meaningful to an individual. Sikhs consider that it is not necessary to justified this to any other person whether for reasons of faith or science. An intimate relationship cannot easily be discussed. The Gurus use a variety of terms for God including mother, father, brother, childhood friend, friend and lover. Gwen Griffith-Dickson in her study of the philosophy of religious experience points out, for instance, that people’s reports of sexual experiences will be different and often contradictory. A scientific description of the event will not explain what it feels like or what it means to have one.

Religious practices are only valid if they encourage a spiritual experience:

Of all religions, the best religion is to chant the Name of the Lord and maintain pure conduct. Of all religious rituals, the most sublime ritual is to erase the filth of the dirty mind in the Company of the Holy. Of all efforts, the best effort is to chant the Name of the Lord in the heart, forever. Of all speech, the most ambrosial speech is to hear the Lord’s Praise and chant it with the tongue. Of all places, the most sublime place, O Nanak, is that heart in which the Name of the Lord abides (Guru Granth Sahib Ji : 266).

Ultimate Questions

The Gurus did not believe in religion as such. They were seekers after truth and so the ‘truths’ they promote are to be realized through reflection and experience.

Sikhs regard life as full of choices. Sikhs say that people can either choose to focus on God and live with That in their lives or stumble on with a focus on the doubting self.

Sikhs see Haumai or ‘Am I-ness?’ as the fundamental problem. Doubt leads people to fear and from there to self-centredness. This is the key problem of a manmukh or self-centred person. However, for Sikhs, the real origin of the self is that it has been made by God and contains the Divine imprint or Shabad. This Shabad or Word is God and is the reason why God is with and in all people.

The Gurus taught the Unity of Being: ‘1-All-Creativity Is Reality’. The Gurus taught that separating matter and spirit or the phenomenal and noumenal worlds was the root of ignorance.

Sikhs consider that evil is caused by people and they will be punished for it. It is a result of free will which makes it possible for us to have the chance to enjoy a relationship with God. The Sikh response can be seen as part of a more general mystical theodicy where suffering can cause people to re-focus their lives and bring them closer to God.

The purpose of life is to become a “sachiara” – truthful, real, authentic – by breaking through the “dam of filth” and re-unite with God who dwells inside us as “fragrance in a flower”, a “reflection in a mirror”, “fire inside of wood”. In re-connecting to the “breath of life” humans connect with God as “water flows into water”.

The final destiny of all beings is to re-unite with God as “sparks from a fire”. These images are not literal descriptions of the relationship between humans and God, however, since what language can tell us about can be defined as the world of phenomena. What lies beyond the reach of language is the Naam, the person of God, the Numinous who is known through personal experience through God’s own power, God’s grace.

God

It is impossible to describe God. As it says in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji:

If it is sayable, it is within the range of the word, If it is unsayable, it is outside the steady grasp of the mind, The real is where the sayable and the unsayable meet.
What the real truly is, is altogether beyond comprehension (GGS 340).

Although people can say something about their relationship with God there is a limit to what can be communicated through language. Kabir writes: “Inexpressible is the story of Love. It cannot be revealed by words, Like the dumb eating sweet-meat, Only smiles, the sweetness he cannot tell”. The implication of this is that the maps of the different religions, including Sikhism, can be used or ignored; what is important is the personal experience of the actual territory of God. Guru Gobind Singh Ji writes: “I salute That which is beyond religion.”

For Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is an answer to the question. “How can we be Real? How can we break the dam of waste blocking us from Reality?” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 1)

“1 God is Reality, Naam” (Guru Granth Sahib: 1). The numeral ‘1’ at the beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib emphases that there should not be any confusion about the Oneness of God and the Unity in existence.

Religion and Science

The Gurus have no concept of ‘science’ as an independent area of enquiry. The aim of a Sikh life is to be a ‘sachiara’ – truthful or real or authentic – in every area of life.

Sikhs consider that both science and religion are enterprises to do with seeking the truth. The word ‘Sikh’ is etymologically linked to with ‘seeker’ of truth.

Sikhs feel that religious experience cannot be explained as language cannot ‘capture’ God.

Sikhs consider that both science and religion are engaged in the same process, i.e. discovering the truth.

There are similarities in some fundamental Sikh beliefs, for instance, that all life has evolved from water. “O Nanak, this world is all water; everything came from water” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 1283).

One could argue that life derived from carbon found in rocks and/or exists deep inside rocks: “From rocks and stones He created living beings; He places their nourishment before them” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 10).

On the other hand, there are some ideas yet to be confirmed by science. There is a clear idea that there are limitless worlds and that God can be approached in many different ways. Therefore, there are saints of other worlds – in other worlds, intelligent and indeed religious life on other planets. Speaking of the Court of God, “The devotees of many worlds dwell there. They celebrate; their minds are imbued with the True Lord” (Guru Granth SahibJi : 8).

Websites

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