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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sikhism Paper

Beau Hilton
Dr. Keller

The Goal of Each Day of Life Should Be to Be Fully Immersed in God

I was a minstrel, out of work, when the Lord took me into His service.
To sing His Praises day and night, He gave me His Order, right from the start.

God, the great giver, hears the prayer, and summons the
Minstrel to the mansion of his presence
Gazing upon God, the minstrel is rid of pain and hunger;
He does not think to ask for anything else.[1]
            Drowning in the morass of text, both sacred and secular, which has been written on religion and religious truths can make it difficult to recall the real purpose of religion: union with the infinite. Without denigrating sacred text, I suggest that perhaps we often look beyond the mark and forget to see the God in the Word. This subject has weighed heavily on my mind as of late, as these essays and others I have engaged in over the past short while tend to be of a religious nature. I have examined scripture with the eye of a scholar while trying to examine scholarship with an eye of faith, and I must admit that I have come short in both capacities. Studying Sikhism and immersion in God has regrounded me, brought me back to the core of worship – mysticism in the best sense: interaction followed by union directly with Deity. Three aspects of Sikh faith have had great effect on me, in particular. These are, namely, admittance of our nothingness without God, the peace and power that is found when connection is made with God, and the divinity of the domestic.
            If one affirms the existence of a supreme being, one necessarily affirms one’s own non-supremacy. While not sharing the same stance on creatio ex nihilo, Latter-day Saints and Sikhs both look to hukam, or divine command, as the organizing principle upon which life is built. Vahiguru spoke, and all the earth came into its organized state. Vahiguru spoke, and humankind breathed its first breath.[2] Truly, we owe our existence and our continuance to the Divine Being we all worship. “He gave you your body, your wealth, but you gave not Him your devotion. Says Nanak, ‘O foolish mortal, why shake you with fear now?’”[3] So wrote Guru Tegh Bahadur. It is not only logically inconsistent to admit the existence of God without then giving God one’s full devotion, it is also ungrateful and stupid. We ought to “shake with fear” at the thought of an all-powerful being’s displeasure, especially when that displeasure is wholly caused by not confessing His hand in all things. Nanak’s three-day conference with True Name yielded the reality of God’s broadness – there is neither Hindu nor Muslim, there is simply a race of God’s children who ought to give devotion and thanks for their very being. Not only is our existence owed to Vahiguru, but our continued happiness is also indebted. “From God alone all comforts, peace and from no other. Says Nanak to his heart, pay heed, remembering Him is the certain path delivering.”[4] The material world is in Vahiguru’s hands – the places, things, and people that sustain us are gifts and may be fleeting. The spiritual world is no less under Vahiguru’s control: “By His grace an individual meets his liberator, enabling a disciple to meditate on God's name, by His bhana [divine will] the universe was created and those blessed by Him joyfully accept the bhana.”[5] Grace is very active in the Sikh faith, and without God’s will or bhana, none will enjoy happiness.
            Having finished a brief discussion of what we are not when we are without God, let us turn to what we are when we are with God. The Sikhs have a history of greatness in martial ability, and respect for Sikhs in this matter is widespread. When a person is immersed in God, then maya and fear fade away. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji teaches that only those who seek the True name attain this status. “All the rest of the world is enticed by Maya; they do not obtain the state of fearless dignity.”[6] “Abiding in His Love, the fear of death has run away.”[7] It makes sense that a saint-soldier of Sikh caliber is one whose fear of death is swallowed up in True Name, who can charge into battle with thoughts only for the liberation of the oppressed and the glory of God. By extension, fearlessness contributes to vigorous activity in all spheres of life – if control of one’s life is surrendered to God, then no negative outcome is possible, regardless of the arena of action. Surrender to God also draws the “Glance of Grace,” though it must be remembered that Vahiguru’s grace falls where Vahiguru wills, and no amount of good deeds can force it. God’s grace cleanses one of all sin and makes “the dry wood blossom forth again in lush greenery.” [8] Finally, “One whose mind is filled with constant thought of God does true fulfillment find; Between such a person and God, know Nanak as truth, there is no difference left.”[9] Here we have mystical union – when one is with God, one is fulfilled because God is fulfilled, one is mighty because God is mighty, one is true because Sat Sri Akal. This ultimate identification with the divine would completely remodel the attitude with which one views earthly life. Equanimity, charity, insight – all of these come as a result of immersion in God.
            It is very good to wander about in the clouds, but one must remember the ground one’s feet are planted on. Theological ecstasy is nothing if it does not translate into vibrant and holy home life. Sikhism affirms the importance of home and family and, unlike many other traditions, places the highest path not in asceticism or withdrawal, but in domestic activity. “One who works for what he eats, and gives some of what he has – O Nanak, he knows the Path.”[10] Gurinder Singh Mann points out that liberation will come to individuals in families, engaged in domestic life.[11] It brings to mind the words of the Buddhist monk Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, “Dhamma is duty, duty is dhamma… If you are going to do something, see it as dhamma.”[12] The actions of a person fully immersed in God may not outwardly appear much different – they eat, sleep, go to work, spend time with their families, laugh, cry – but the intention and vision behind these actions is far from mundane. Doing the dishes becomes a significant religious act when one sees the doing of those dishes as supporting the most essential unit in God’s grand design – the family. It is easy to see the great wandering holy men and have envy. What spiritual heights they reach in their solitude! But the Guru Granth teaches,
Those who have truth as their fast, contentment as their sacred shrine of pilgrimage, spiritual wisdom and meditation as their cleansing bath, kindness as their deity, and forgiveness as their chanting beads - they are the most excellent people. Those who take the Way as their loincloth, and intuitive awareness their ritualistically purified enclosure, with good deeds their ceremonial forehead mark, and love their food - O Nanak, they are very rare.[13]

While Guru Nanak was respectful of the accoutrements of the religious milieu he found himself in, he nevertheless recognized the importance of simplicity and inward commitment over outward forms. Abandoning home and family is detrimental to spiritual growth, not beneficial. Donning a loincloth (or doffing a loincloth, in the case of the Digambara monks) and wandering is inferior to simply following the Way in the context of home and family. Sikhism teaches a simple doctrine: do not abandon life, but embrace it (with all of its mundane and sublime trappings), and do so while immersed in the Deity whose name is high above all.
            It might not be very professional to say so, but I love the Sikhs. Every Sikh I have ever met has been an example of righteousness and commitment to God and religion. As I have read the Guru Granth Sahib I have felt resonation on par with any I feel while reading the Standard Works. With many of the religious traditions I have studied, I have felt strongly that God’s hand is present. With Sikhism, I know it is. Spending time in the Granth has given me an appreciation for God’s greatness and the incredible benefits that I would get if I would seek His presence daily with more earnest. The three points I have outlined are not just a scholarly thesis; they are my own personal thesis. I believe more now than I ever have that I am nothing without God, that I am everything with Him, and that my greatest role in life is as a member of a family. I have often seen the note at the bottom of my papers, “Good job. You have the idea.” In this case, by God, I hope I do. Sat Sri Akal.

[1] Pp. 376, 371. From Divine Bliss to Ardent Passion: Exploring Sikh Religious Aesthetics through the Ḍhāḍī
Genre. Author(s): Michael Nijhawan. Source: History of Religions, Vol. 42, No. 4 (May 2003), pp. 359-385. Published by: The University of Chicago Press. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/378759 .

[2] P. 80. Mann, Gurinder Singh. Sikhism. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.
[3] P. 300. The Evanescent World and the Eternal Reality: The Last Hymns of the Ninth Sikh Guru. Author(s): Surjit Dulai. Source: Journal of South Asian Literature, Vol. 28, No. 1/2, MISCELLANY (Spring, Fall 1993),pp. 297-307. Published by: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40873346.
[4] Ibid. P. 304
[5] P. 194. Brotherhood of the Pure: The Poetics and Politics of Cultural Transgression. Author(s): Harjot Oberoi. Source: Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), pp. 157-197. Published by: Cambridge University Press. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/312721.
[9] P. 300. The Evanescent World and the Eternal Reality.
[11] P. 82. Sikhism.
[12] Dhamma is Duty, Duty is Dhamma. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. Atammayatarama Buddhist Monastery tract. Woodinville,WA.
[13] Guru Granth, 1245.

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