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Religion And Society!


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In the past, numerous attempts have been made by people to define religion and its role in our daily lives. Religion is one of the fundamental institutions of human society. As Davis points out:

"so universal, permanent and persuasive is religion in society that unless we understand it thoroughly we shall fail to understand society."[1]

While contending that religious practices are rooted in society, Durkheim writes:

"there are no religions that are false. All are true in their own fashion; all answer, though in different ways, to the given condition of human existence...If science and philosophy were born of religion, it is because religion began by taking the place of science and philosophy...Men owe it not only a good part of the substance of their knowledge, but also the form in which this knowledge has been elaborated....nearly all great social institutions have been born in religion. If religion has given birth to all that is essential in society, it is because the idea of society is the soul of religion."[2]"

The following article is a brief attempt to establish various theories of religion and its impact on society.

Theories On Religion


Lowell W Bloss[3] divides religious theories into five categories: (i) Rationalistic Theories, (ii) Experimental Theories, (iii) Socio-Economic Theories, (iv) Psychological Theories, and (v) Symbolic Theories.

Rationalistic theories are based on the premise that religion is the result of a rational effort to understand basic questions of existence. Interpreters of these theories based their results on observation of primitive man's behavior to his environment. One such interpreter was Edward Burnett Taylor who attempted to prove that religion originated when primitive man asked himself two questions:

(i) What is the difference between a living and a dead person? A dead body appears little different from the body of a sleeping individual. Why then will one decay while the other will revive?

(ii) What are those shapes that appear in dreams? How could a friend who has died appear in a dream or how could the dreamer leave his body and travel in dreams?

These two questions led the primitive man to posit a soul or spirit which left the body permanently at death, but continued to exist in phantom shape. Taylor calls this belief in souls Animism. Since plants and animals lived and died, it was deduced that they too possessed a soul. Natural phenomenon such as earthquakes, avalanches, etc were thought to be caused by spirit in nature. This gave rise to primitive myths, rituals and beliefs. This reasoning of the primitive man, according to Taylor, is analogous to a child who talks to animals and toys believing these to be rational and alive.

Like Taylor, James George Frazer believes that before religion there was an era in which early man attempted to control nature through magical means. Here, too, the primitive man made two observations:

(i) Like produces like - If rain were desired, a primitive would climb a tree and, accompanied by drums and fire to imitate thunder and lightning, start urinating.

(ii) Law of Contagion - This was based on the belief that objects once in contact will continue to affect each other though they may be parted. Thus a magician may burn an article of clothing to control the person from whom they were taken.

Now man felt he could control and manipulate natural events. However, doubt arose when he found himself incapable of totally controlling nature at his will. Hence came the concept of deities and primitive gods, to whom man directed his worship.

Later, Andrew Lang suggested that when primitive man began making tools, he was confronted with the question:

Who is the maker of myself and the good things of this world?

This led the primitive to believe in a monotheistic non-natural man; a god who is the Father of all things and who has concern for the ethics of his children. It led the primitive into worshipping the deity in awe and obedience. Lang labeled this belief, in the creator, religion. Lang distinguishes religion from mythology, which to him is a product of fanciful and crude imagination. These beliefs gradually bring about the degradation of the faith in a pure moral creator. And, religion falls from rationality and morality to irrationality and mythology.

French sociologist Emile Durkheim begins his argument that religion is a social phenomenon. His conclusions were based upon analyzing the religion of Australian Aborigines. To Durkheim religion served a useful function by fostering a stable and secure culture. Influenced by the views of Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx believed religion to be a projection of human wants and traits on an imagined figure of God. By projecting his own traits to God man has alienated himself. To Marx religion was man-made. Being an illusionary realization it provided man with compensation for suffering. The oppressed are directed to await the promise of religion and not to attempt to change reality. Marx felt that religion would die if man realizes his true humanness and develops an attitude of love and respect for fellow humans.

Unfortunately, the proponents of the socio-economic theory of religion failed to deal in depth a deeper feeling attributed by some as religious experience. No doubt, social aspects of religion were important but was there something beyond that. The discoveries in psychology and the research of anthropologists have allowed religionists to perceive primitive man as a human dealing with basic problems like our own and answering these questions in mytho-poetic manner. Sigmund Freud linked religious phenomenon to the psychological development of the child. The belief in the all powerful Father arises in an infant's helplessness. This powerlessness arouses in the child the desire to cling to a human father for protection and love. When the child reaches adulthood he realizes that his human father falls short of his infantile image.

Freud believes that this situation leads mankind to project a magnified father to the heavens, assuring punishment of those who make us suffer and explaining the privations caused by the rules of society. Also, dreams for Freud expressed unfulfilled or repressed wishes. He, therefore did not dismiss myths as fantasies but human wishes having underlying truth about human wishes and desires. Carl Gustav Jung, a student of Freud, gave a greater scope to the definition of religion than Freud. Symbols were the mode by which the unconscious side of the psyche speaks to the conscious part of the personality. It judges the personality for it represents a message about an imbalance, but it also possesses a power to bring about a new balance. For Jung, this symbol can never be translated, for it affects the total personality including the will, the emotions and the reason. The result of the correct openness to a series of dreams is the healing of the psychic imbalance. This imbalance shows itself in an intense experien

ce of wholeness. Jung equates this experience, which is beyond expression, with the religious experience of the mystic.

One of the early proponents of Symbolic Theory of Religion was an anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski. Myths, Malinowski points out, are not viewed by the primitives as mere stories but as revealing the sacred basis of life.

"Myth fulfils in primitive culture an indispensable function; it expresses, enhances and codifies belief; it safeguards and enforces morality; it vouches for the efficacy of ritual and contains practical rules for the guidance of man. Myth is thus a vital ingredient of human civilization; it is not an idle tale, but a hard-working active force; it is not an intellectual explanation or an artistic imagery, but a pragmatic character of primitive faith and wisdom"

Mircea Eliade believes that religious phenomenon can only be justly dealt with if they are seen as something religious.

"To try to grasp the essence of such a phenomenon by means of psychology, physiology, sociology, economics, linguistics, art, or another study is false; it misses the one thing unique and irreducible element in it - the element of the sacred."

Of course, he continues, there are no pure religious phenomenon because religion as human must also reveal social, psychological and other fundamental aspects of human culture. More specifically, religion exists wherever man experiences a force that is alive, significant, powerful and real as against the profane that is ordinary, undifferentiated and meaningless. It is seen as extraordinary and full of the power of life. The experiencer noting the life-giving force of this sacred object wishes to participate in this power. He therefore orients his whole existence around the sacred.

For Eliade, a truly religious symbol reveals the real or life-power which is not ordinarily evident. The symbol is also able to express the paradoxical while it speaks to a specific existential situation. In this situation, the symbol, as it did for Jung, judges man - reveals something about his existence. In this sense myths reveal powerful activity of the sacred. To Eliade, myth involves participation. The primitive participating in the sacred.

Eliade contrasts the actions of religious people to the mode of life of modern man. He states that while the one seeks to make his life meaningful by participating in the sacred, the other leads a life in the profane, making his own destiny and disdaining the experience of the sacred. Eliade believes that modern man has closed himself to an important human possibility - that of being religious. It is an effort to challenge man to this possibility which would give his life greater depth.

The final category of interpreters of religion is that of the Romantics or Experimental who stressed the intuitive and emotional side of mankind. The most important interpreter of this theory was Rudolf Otto. Otto believes that religion arises in a mystical experience. This experience is totally independent of and irreducible to emotion and feeling, as well as of reason. It arises from a source in the deepest recesses of the human soul that is independent of ordinary senses. Otto contends that, while the experience comes into being amid feelings and in the midst of sensory data, it does not arise out of any of these. The category of religion, for Otto, is the category of the holy. Since this term is ordinarily equated with ethics he coins a term, the 'numinous' to designate the irreducible essence of religious experience that cannot be taught but only evoked. The numinous experience is beyond emotion and reason, and therefore, beyond articulation. However, it has a structure.

Otto believes that when one has had the numinous experience, one is aware of something 'wholly other' outside one's self. This wholly other gives rise to great wonder and blank astonishment to which Otto assigns the term, 'mysterium.' The wholly other's mysterium leads to two other feelings: that of 'tremendum' and that of 'fascinans.' The first is that of religious fear or awe; while the second allures or fascinates the experiencer. However, Otto warns that the he uses words fear or awe only as ideograms that are to provoke the mind and point beyond the ordinary meaning of the word. He is not expressing the experience with such words but only approximating it.

According to Otto, the doctrine of judgement and divine wrath arise from the tremendum aspect, for this induces a feeling of absolute insignificance, dependence and unrighteousness in the experiencer. The element of fascians, on the other hand, leads to the doctrines of grace and salvation, for the experiencer is allured to God by feelings of justice, power and love. Experience and expression are necessary elements in every religious system. The experience must lead to expression for it to speak meaningfully to a specific historical situation. However, expression must continually renew itself in experience or it may become dogma devoid of depth, significance and feeling.

Otto remains one of the most important interpreters of religion. By designating a category of the psyche beyond comprehension - an a priori category that we possess by the fact that we are human - and by positing the numinous as sui generis, so that religion can only be expressed in religious terms, and not reduced to another human dimension such as reason or society, Otto added a necessary dimension of depth to religious phenomenon. If his work is taken seriously, one cannot dismiss religion as merely reason, emotion, or as a reflection of social or economic needs, but must be seen as a separate element of human existence.

Like Otto, Joachim Wach perceives all religious systems as springing from the experience of the numinous which leads to expression. Religious experience for Wach must first be a response to what is experienced as Ultimate Reality. Secondly, it must be one that involves the total individual and awakens a total response. The experience also involves elements of humanness and more. It also involves all aspects of human existence from society, to economics and ethics. It must be the most intense and profound experience of which man is capable. It should be marked by the utmost degree of thrill, zeal and enthusiasm. The fourth criterion is that the experience issues in action. An action that drives the experiencer to communicate his intense feelings. These feelings give rise to beliefs about - how man must orient his life and how he must act towards Ultimate Reality and other humans.

Wach feels that the expression in thought attempts to answer three questions:

(i) What is the nature of the Ultimate Reality that has been so intensely experienced and what is its relationship to man and the universe?

(ii) Why was the world created by Ultimate Reality and what are His plans for the earth?

(iii) What is the meaning of life? Was I placed on earth to do a task?

These questions must be answered in view of the religious experience. The religious experience also gives rise to expression in action. Action takes two primary modes in Wach's scheme:

(i) Patterns of worship, which service, respect and adore the Ultimate Reality

(ii) Actions that involve ethics, or service to God.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith's theory is based on the contention that religiosity springs from the experience of God or the Transcendent, and that it is man's faith in this God - which is the essence of religion. Smith judges that Christians and Muslims have too often come to believe in and to defend their traditional systems instead of placing their faith in God. In other words, a limited and human conceptualization has been substituted for a deeply personal and vivid faith. Smith endeavors to replace the term religion with what he calls 'faith' and 'cumulative tradition.' The former refers to active personal experience of and commitment to God while the latter means rites and doctrines specific to a particular religion.

Act of Revelation And Monotheism


"Generally, we can define revelation as a direct manifestation of God by word, command, action, or event, at a different time and place."[4] "The word revelation (removing the veil) has been used traditionally to mean the manifestation of something hidden, which cannot be approached through ordinary ways of gaining knowledge."[5] "Revelation is the manifestation of what concerns us Ultimately. The mystery which is revealed is of Ultimate concern to us because it is ground of our being."[6]

The Ultimate, according to Paul Tillich, is God Himself. According to Rajinder Kaur[7], Revelation is self-manifestation or self-communication of God to rational beings; it is knowledge about His reality and purpose. God , personally, never appears before man, but He chooses someone as His medium who propagate His revealed word to fellow human beings.

Revelation occurs in human history, either through the medium of 'a word', 'an event,' or 'intuition'. But,

"revelation is not only, the word of God which is communicated through the word of Prophets, but it is at the same time an action of God in history, an act of God, which cannot be ranged under the heading of the 'word' or the speech of God."[8]

God enters into human history through some specially produced events. Something extraordinary occurs indicating the will of God to reveal, and every such event always has some purpose to reveal. It is held that whenever and wherever, He realizes that people are worshipping gods or other natural phenomenon, He sends His message, for the people to bring them out of darkness and lead them towards the way of one God worship.

God first revealed to Abraham near 1700 BC. The tradition preserved in Joshua (24:3) admits that Abraham's ancestors were polytheists. Abraham's vacation however marked a sharp cleavage with the past.[9] And with the help of revealed idea of God, he rejected the gods of his fathers. God of Abraham was the only deity worshipped by the Patriarchs. They called this God by the name Yahweh.

Later, God revealed to Moses, who told his people:

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord."[10]

Out of His Ten Commandments which He gave to Moses on the Mount Sinai, the first was:

"I am the Lord thy God...thou shall not have any strange gods before me."[11]

In the Christian faith, Christ is the revelation of God on earth. Christians believe that God Has revealed His ultimate purpose for the world in a real human life, which lived within the realm of history under conditions of time and space.[12] Christ, to Christians, is the incarnation of God and God's final intervention in history is done through Christ, His son. Christ is thought to be the word of God, because his sole existence is thought to be the revelation of God. Here too, through Christ God rejected the existence of gods and affirm His monotheistic existence.

"This is the first, listen, O Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart."[13] In the same gospel, Jesus says, "He is one, there is no other."[14]

When people in Arabia were worshipping many gods, natural objects and forces, God revealed to Mohammmad. Out of the basic Islamic doctrines, Iman, the belief in one God is the main and the first one. It is believed that when Mohammad received the first verse of revelation from God, through an angel Gabriel, he went into the jungle, "from all the sides whereof he heard the voice crying out loud, Mohammad thou art the apostle of God, the most high and I am the angel Gabriel." Qur'an says, "there is no god but He, there is no god but thou, there is no god but I."[15]

Before Guru Nanak people in India were worshipping many gods and other forces of nature. God chose Guru Nanak as the Prophet, in his time and place. Guru Nanak himself says,

"I speak what I'm commanded to say."[16]


"These words have been spoken by Him, who created the world."[17]

The revelation which Guru Nanak received was an intuitive revelation.

Intuition is having a direct experience of God through the direct communion with God.[18] Whatever was received and propagated by Guru Nanak was the outcome of his communion with God. The very first parable of Sikh faith tells about God's monotheistic existence. Mul Mantra which is the crux of Sikhism starts with Ek Oankar. From then onward, whatever Guru Nanak proclaimed was the revealed truth from God, rejecting the worship of other gods and forces.

The collection of verses written by Guru Nanak and other successor Gurus and some like-minded saints is the Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Granth Sahib has the singular distinction of being a Scripture written by the Prophets themselves. This step was a logical necessity for the Sikh Prophets compiled God's Word in its truest and purest form.

Thus, even though, God makes use of man's reasoning or wisdom, to receive and propagate - the message to the people, it is not the human mind or wisdom but God who is the source of bestowing to the people the knowledge about Himself. Whatever the Prophets or messengers told us was delivered by God Himself, as Karl Jaspers, says:

"If they thought about it, the depth of their words unmatched to this day, and at times of an eternal validity that no one can ignore was probably beyond their comprehension. It could not be their invention, nor the work of men. They bowed to something greater, something encompassing that made them feel like tools."[19]

According to Jabir Singh Ahluwalia[20], to distinguish eternity from its createdness, 'aad' refers to logical beginning and 'jugad' refers to temporal, historical beginning. With its holistic integral vision Sikhism postulates that God qua Spirit descends in time, in history, in historical time. The Self manifesting Spirit is revealed from time to time. Hence, no religion can claim to be full and final revelation. Guru Nanak stresses, in the Japji, the inexhaustibility of the attributes of the Divine and relativity of the human modes of perception, and figuratively expresses this idea in this way: The brave see God in the form of Might; the intellectual comprehends Him in the form of Light (of knowledge); the aesthete perceives the Divine in His aspect of Beauty; the moralist envisions Him as Goodness, etc.

Different revelations of the Spirit are like the variety of different seasons which refer back to the same Sun. Says Guru Nanak:

Numerous are the seasons emanating from the one Sun

Numerous are the guises in which the Creator appears

For Sikh religion, all revelations of God are equally co-valid, having been given to man relative to the variables of time and place. This rules out any rule for dogmatic assertion of fullness and finality of any single religious revelation as well as for religious totalitarianism which is not accepted in Sikhism. All revelations being relatively co-valid, no "ism" - religious or secular - can claim to be the sole way to God, the exclusive path to salvation. Says Guru Amar Das:

The world is ablaze

O Lord, shower your benediction.

Through whichever door it can be delivered

Save it that way.

This accounts for the basis and significance of religious pluralism in Sikhism. From here it follows that unity of different religions - or the global ethic - need not be artificially conceptualized on the basis of the lowest denominator common to all religions; it can rather be realized spontaneously on the basis that different religions are different stages of the revelation of the one and the same Divine Spirit manifest in different forms in different faiths. The descent of the Divine Spirit in time is, in a sense, the ascent of man in his spiritual development.

Down Philosophers Lane


For Pythagoras,[21] the visible world is false and illusionary, a hazy medium in which heavenly light is obscured by the mist and darkness of the world. He was other-worldly and ascetic in his methods. However, he was also scientific in his outlook. He accepted the reality of only the mystic and the spiritual world. On the other hand, to Socrates the supernatural world was more real than the world of senses, and that the soul was immortal. He too, was other-worldly and strongly ascetic. The idea of other-worldliness and consequent deliverance from this bad world, was so strong in him that he asked his companion, Crito, to give a admin cut to Asclepius which was an offering or sacrifice made at the time of one's death in token of one's deliverance from this mundane world. He was a man of free thought who sought justice and truth. For him, no one commits a wrong knowingly, and therefore, imparting knowledge of the good was the way to bring justice to society.

For Plato, there is a God and the eternal world of ideas which is the archetype of the created world. God did not create the world, but only arranged it and He alone can undo it. The soul is immortal, but the present world is illusory and cannot be compared to the supernatural world of ideas which alone is real and eternal. For Plato there is a dualism between the soul and body; reality and appearance. The soul is, thus, unhappy and confused in the sensible world. It can be happy only while in contemplation of eternal things; and in this state gains real wisdom. The body is doubly evil, since it hinders true knowledge of the eternal or spiritual world of Absolute Good and Absolute Beauty, gained only through spiritual or mystic experience. Full knowledge of things eternal can be only had after death.

Both Socrates and Plato, though other-worldly felt it necessary for society to have a philosopher who would play the role of a guide. Plato believed that if a virtuous man did not become a philosopher he would become a bee in his next birth. He believed in transmigration and thought that those who lived a bad life in this world would become women at the time of their next birth. Despite the dichotomy of his thought and its other-worldliness he shows interest in the physical world. To some extent his Utopia is modeled on the practices that existed in Sparta. Plato too divides men into four classes, namely, guardians, soldiers, common people and the slaves. Human equality was missing and it was the duty of the Government to decide for which category a person was fit. Notwithstanding all this, it is true that no other person has so profoundly influenced, Greek, Christian and Western thought, as has Plato.

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For Aristotle, God is the first cause of everything. He suggests that we should love God and try to be like Him. Strangely, he believes that God does not love man. To Aristotle, the soul perishes with the body, but there is a mind part of the soul which remains immortal. This part of the soul, however, never directs the body nor guides it in performing practical things in life. It is the irrational soul that moves and directs the body and then dies. Accordingly, Aristotle does not believe in transmigration, though he does say that women are weak, and cowardly persons become women in their next birth. The Greek bias against women is there. Like other Greek philosophers, for Aristotle too, the activities of the body have no meaning and are perishable. Without the idea of personal immortality and transmigration of the soul, there isn't any incentive for moral activity in the social field.

However, ethical bias is evident in Aristotle's thought. Virtues for him are of two kinds: intellectual and moral. The first category is learnt by teaching and the second is formed by habit. For Aristotle, justice means only a sense of proportion and balance and not equality. For him all means that secure the right end are valid. He suggests friendliness and sociability only with people of one's own class. Like Plato, he also prescribes different kinds of moral codes for each class, as also certain ethical limits for a member of each class that must not be transgressed. For him, the suffering of the masses is not evil and he justifies slavery, except that Greeks should not be made slaves. He supports Machiavellian methods for running the affairs of a state. The hierarchical feeling is so ingrained in him that he suggests that men working for a living should not have the status of citizens of the State. The peasants were ignoble and non-virtuous.

The dichotomy between spiritual life and social obligation was so ingrained in Greek life that later both the Stoics and the Christians felt that one could lead a virtuous life and reach the House of God without being socially involved. For them virtuous life had not much of a relation with socio-political activities, social conditions and environment; and one could be virtuous without the responsibility of reacting against injustice practiced against fellow beings. The logic of this ethical system may be compared to Ramanuja not allowing Sudras to be admitted to the Vaishnav Bhakti, but permitting them instead only to the path of Prapati or self-surrender. Such moral adjustments are quite common among religo-spiritual or other-worldly systems that remain divorced from, or unresponsive to faults in the socio-political condition of the times. Despite the dichotomy of the Greek world-view, both Plato and Aristotle were too serious persons to ignore or lose interest in the life of the world around them.

Plato actually engaged himself as the adviser to the ruler of Syracuse for giving practical shape to his ideas and making the area into a model state. In later centuries, the Cynics, the Sceptics, the Epicurians and the early Stoics continued this other-worldly life. Ultimately, with the Neo-platonism of Plotinus the dichotomy was completed. For Plotinus believed that the life of contemplation was the only life worth seeking. And it was during those times that chaos and corruption in Greek society were the greatest.

Plotinus believes in the spiritual trinity of the One, Spirit and Soul. One is God, Who transcends Being and All. It is present in all things; It is nowhere, yet, there is no place where It is not. One cannot be described or defined. Second, is Spirit, Mind or Nous, the intellectual principle. All activity or divinity is of Nous, Mind or Logos. It is the Self-vision of One seeing the light by which One sees itself. If we give up self-will, it is possible to see the Divine Mind. But to know the Divine Mind, we need to put aside our body and that part of the soul which moulds the body, its senses and desires. Those divinely inspired have the knowledge or vision of it and its presence, though they cannot describe it. Yet, they perceive it inwardly. When divinely inspired, we see not only Nous but also one.

The Sikh Gurus see Him as Hukam, Raza, Command or Will or as Love, that is all ACTIVITY. But, He is indescribable. In the Sikh case the experience of Love gives both command and direction for creative work. The goal of the soul is not merger or passivity after His vision.

For Plotinus the third element is Soul, which is lower than Nous. It is the author of all living things in the world and an offspring of Divine Intellect. Soul has two parts: the inner part connected to Nous and an outer part connected with the world, body, perception and nature. Nature is connected only with the outer soul. We are at the lower level when the soul is linked with the world and the body only. It is not linked with Nous and has no vision of it. Unlike Stoics, Plotinus does not call the world, evil, but is as beautiful as it could be. He believes in transmigration of the soul. After living one life the soul enters another body - it has to be punished for its sins and errors. When a soul is pure it is in contact with all other souls, but when it enters the body, it forgets its relation with other souls; only a few souls are on occasion in touch with Nous and other souls. The body obscures true vision.

This view is in contrast with the idea of the Sikh Gurus, who call human birth an opportunity to meet God, and for that matter, a privilege. They do not consider the soul's entering the body a fall or degradation.

In sum, the Greek thought from Pythagoras to Plotinus has the following fundamental features of its world-view:

(i) Timeless reality of the spiritual world

(ii) Comparative unreality of the present world

(iii) The eternal character of the soul

(iv) Other-worldly approach to the empirical world, which was regarded as second rate, illusory, a burden or even evil; because in working through it, one can never have the highest vision.

This world-view involved ascetic withdrawl that emphasized only contemplative activity of the mind. By definition, all these systems were dichotomous, creating a clear division between the life of the spirit and that of the world. This other-worldly approach starting with Pythagoras, continued increasing till the time of Plotinus, who almost completely discarded interest in the worldly life, especially after the attainment of the spiritual vision. To the Prophets mystic union involved being charged with unlimited energy and vision to carry our His Will or mission in the world unlike the doctrine of other-worldliness and withdrawal which had such an enervating influence that in the course of centuries it inevitably sapped the religious zeal and energies of a society. Says Guru Tegh Bahadur:

"My power has returned; my bonds are loosened and all the doors are opened unto me. Says Nanak: O Lord, everything is in Thy Power, now be Thou with me."[22]

Present Day Issue


Daljit Singh[23] writes that in the 20th century, apart from the two World Wars and their holocausts, five other developments have taken place. First is the phenomenon of Hitler, Stalin, Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Second is the call of the North American Churches that consider Secularism to be a danger and suggest co-operation among different world religions to fight out its menace. Third, the fall of the Russian Empire and a part of the Communist world, an ideological development that the light of reason had placed before man. Fourth is the coming into existence of Secular national states with their own civil religions. Fifth is the rise of religious nationalism in many non-Western parts of the world and increasing tensions, even hostility, between Secular and Religious states. It is in this background of the history of the apparent opposition or even clash between Religion and Secularism that we propose to see the role and the views of Sikhism.

The current and real problem today is Religion versus Secularism. The Western world, as a whole, is wedded to Secularism. This view strongly believes that Religion, as such, has hardly any contribution to make to man's secular life, and, by and large, it pertains to a matter of personal salvation and relation between man and God. In fact, it considers the intrusion of Religion into Secular life to be something quite negative in its impact.

This view is virtually accepted by the American Society of Arts and Sciences that has initiated the Fundamentalism Project in order to study the rise of religious movements in the world, which are many a time national in character. The West regards them as Fundamentalism that impede the Secular progress and look backward. Mark Jurgensmyer in his latest book, The New Cold War, also seeks to present, on a smaller scale, the same problem of Secular nationalism versus Religious nationalism. His assessment is that a virtual war has started between the two ideologies, as had earlier been the case between Democracy and Communism.

The question now is as to what is the historical experience of man about the equation between the Religious and Secular lives, and what is the position of Sikhism in this context.

To understand any religious system, Daljit Singh[24], puts forth the following questions:

(i) What are the broad metaphysical assumptions which the system accepts?

(ii) Is the world real?

(iii) Is life in the world worthwhile or a bondage or a suffering?

(iv) What is the ideal life or goal of man?

(v) What kind of life will lead to that goal?

(vi) What is the role of the mystic or the superman (Gurmukh in Sikhism) after the achievement of the goal?

(vii) What is the attitude of the mystic towards social and political life?

Answering all these questions for the major religions of the world is out of scope for this article. What interests us is the spiritual and temporal aspect of various religious systems and its correlation to the social condition of man through the centuries.

The Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, embody the fundamentals of Jewish thought and ethics. God's Revelation to Moses has socio-political meaning and objective. Through a set of miracles, God humbles the might of the Pharaoh, and frees the Jewish community from centuries of slavery in Egypt. Simultaneously, God goads the reluctant Jews, many of whom preferred the security of slavery to the risks of war, to attack and drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, occupy their country and settle there themselves. Secondly, God clearly sanctions the use of force and war. He says:

"When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzities, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusities, and I annihilate them, you shall not bow to their gods in worship or follow their practices, but shall tear them down and smash their pillars to bits. You shall serve your Lord, the God, and He will bless your bread and water. And I will remove sickness from your midst. No woman in your land shall miscarry or be barren. I will let you enjoy the full count of your days. I will send forth My terror before you, and I will throw into panic all the people among whom you come, and I will make your enemies tail before you."[25]

Third, by agreeing to abide by His Laws and not worship other gods, the Jews, became His Chosen Community. Fourth, the God of the Jews is very stern, almost a vengeful and punishing God. In short, the Torah advocates a whole-life system which involves socio-political participation. In brief, the salient features of Torah as indicated by its scholars are:

(i) It is strictly monotheistic.

(ii) The relation between God and the Jews, as a Chosen Community, is governed by a Covenant. Accordingly, the system is exclusive and national.

(iii) God is very jealous and stern. He remorselessly prohibits and punishes the worship of other gods.

(iv) The system is whole-life, accepts a socio-political role, and prescribes laws, both for religious and empirical lives.

(v) The revealed Commandments have a strong ethical bias. They accept the use of force and war for socio-political objectives.

(vi) Love of God and love of the neighbor is the essence of its ethics.

(vii) It prescribes animal sacrifices as means of atonement, and performing rituals. Other rituals like raising of Altars, circumcision, etc., are also prescribed.

(viii) Because of the story of the Original Sin and banishment from Paradise, the hope of a Messiah, who would redeem the Jews or all men is a part of the later Jewish tradition.

(ix) Man has free will to do right or wrong.

(x) The Laws could be modified as laws were for man and not man for laws. Under certain conditions, it could be necessary even to break the law.

(xi) All punishment and rewards were contemplated in this world.

God presented clear commandments against idolatry, worship of other gods, murder, adultery, theft, false witness and coveting neighbor's wife, slave or property. Following is the rule for slaves:

"When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment...when a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not be freed as male slaves are. If she proves to be displeasing to her master, who designated her for himself, he must let her be redeemed; he shall not have the right to sell her to outsiders, since he broke faith with her."[26]

A significant aspect of Jewish life is its strong emphasis on ethics. God asks Jews to love Him and their neighbors.

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself..."[27]

The Torah contemplates that all reward and punishment takes place in this world. Job does not mention that there is anything like hell or heaven for man. Man's story, he believes, ends with his death.

"So he who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again." "He will perish forever like his own dung.'[28]

Presumably, because of the myth of the fall, Bildad, Job's friend, even talks about the basic sinfulness of man.

"How can one born of a woman be pure?"[29]

In Judaism, the stress is on doing righteous deeds and helping one's fellow beings. The world is the field of doing religious activities and practicing righteousness. Job feels that it is not given to a man to know His logic and ways, he is to do things in fear of God. The Sikh Gurus stress the following:

"Wonderful is His Will, if one walks in His Will then one knows how to lead the life of truth."[30]

Maybe because of centuries of slavery, migration and dispersal suffered by the Jews, there is a streak of pessimism in Judaism as is clear from the Book of Job and otherwise too. For two years, it is recorded, the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, two top theologians, debated about fate and life of man. Finally, they came to the dismal conclusion that it would have been better if man had not been born.[31] But so far as Torah is concerned, it is positively optimistic because it says, "Choose Life." The Old Testament commends a 'doing life,' a life of activity and faith in Him, according to His ethical Commandments. It is the same thing as Guru Nanak lays down for the Sachiara or true person, namely,

"carrying out the Will of God."[32]

The myth of Original Sin and Fall is diametrically opposed to the thought of the Sikh Gurus, who do not contemplate any such Fall. According to this myth man, as a consequence of his Original Sin and Fall from Paradise, is destined to continue in this world. This is an important basic concept which we have to bear in mind in our study of the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All of these whole-life systems accept the above myth. Evidently, when man was thrown into this world for his sin, the question of being raised to hell or heaven or to another world cannot be congruous with the myth of his Fall. Herein lies the contradiction.

In the first century Christ appeared on the scene. Throughout his life he was critical of immorality in society and injustice to the poor, and the ritualistic and other practices that had crept into the Jewish life of those times. Except for the Sermon on the Mount, there is no difference between the religious principles of the Torah and those of the New Testament. As argued by Cahn, germs of the Sermon on the Mount are there in the 25th chapter of the Book of Proverbs which is the same thing as represented by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, i.e. thoughts of non-resistance, forgiveness and succor and assistance to the opponent are also a part of the Old Testament.

Christ's confrontation with the State is of great significance. For, theologians like J.B. Metz, E. Kasemann, Moltmann and others talk of a "political theology" and the "freedom" of man generated by the crucifixion of Christ. Moltmann urges:

"the Cross is our political critique, the Cross is our hope for a politics of freedom. The memory of Christ crucified compels us to a political theology.'[33]

In short, whether it is the process of war, or of martyrdom at the cross, both are monumental political events on the path of confrontation and struggle against the forces of evil. Actually, it is the path of love of God and help to the neighbor against oppression and injustice. For, as Guru Nanak says:

"God is the Destroyer of the evil and the demonical."[34]

Further the Guru says:

"His Will has to be carried out by the man of religion."[35]

Jews belonging to sects like Zealots fought and revolted against the Romans. In their anger, the Romans virtually harrowed Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Rabbis like Akiba and Meir suggested revolt and war against Romans. Rabbi Akiba and his six Rabbi disciples and supporters joined the war against Romans but were destroyed. There was hardly a unified Jewish society to struggle, as a united whole, against the Roman rule. Quietist and mystic sects stood aside divorced from the socio-religious objectives of the Jews. Jews were demoralized and lived in hope of relief to their sufferings. They accepted Christ as the promised and predicted Messiah. For these Christians, he was Word made Flesh. Thus, there came to be a serious rift between followers of Christ who were Jews, and the Jewish elite. Christ was accused of blasphemy and executed. The crucifixion of Christ increased friction between Jews and Christians.

Christians, being pacifists would not join the army and this would further provoke the ire of the State. The century after Christ's crucifixtion is the period of travail and acute suffering for the Christians. Thousands of them were destroyed and martyred because they would not shed their faith in Christ and accept the Roman Empire. Christians lived in the hope of the old Jewish tradition that Christ was the Messiah, i.e., God Himself, who by his crucifixtion had redeemed them. This faith was passed on as "good news" suggesting that the day of redemption and resurrection was not far off, when they would be elevated to Heaven from this mundane world.

During the period of their resurgence, the Christians created a new faith and a new Scripture. It took them 300 years to do so. Ideologically there is hardly a difference between the ideology of the Torah and that of Christ. Accordingly the Christians not only accepted the Old Testament but also reiterate its basic fundamentals. The difference that came to be was that man's future hopes and rewards were to materialize in the next world and not in the present one.

After the initial period of suffering in the 2nd and 3rd century, Christians started converting wealthy and influential people; and Christianity became a religion of kings. Once an emperor became Christian, Christianity became the State religion. Referring to the decision of Constantine to become Christian, some scholars including Gibbon indicate the following reasons:

(i) Christians who were a cohesive group, formed a large section of the army

(ii) A belief had gained currency that the Church had some control over life after death. Something even Popes used during their tussles with the Rulers.

(iii) The power of miracles attributed to the Church and its saints.

(iv) The sense of discipline and the moral level of the Christian community.

After Christianity became the State religion, four developments took place. First was a fillip to scholarship and attempts to standardize the theology and doctrines. Second was a continuous struggle for power and supremacy between the Church and the State. Third, friction within the Church organization. Fourth, began a rapid growth of monastaries all over the Christian world.

From the time of Constantine and onwards, the Emperor became virtually the head of the religion and issued decrees. The Emperors also issued religious edicts. Constantine was trying to unite different groups of the Church but Athanasius was reluctant to forgive the repentent Arians. The Emperor condemned the attitude of Athanasius. Some Bishops were summoned by the Emperor and asked to condemn Athanasius. When they were reluctant to do so the Emperor said:

"Whatever I will, shall be regarded as a canon...either obey or go into exile."

Nobody objected to the Emperor's interference in purely doctrinal matters. In fact, Christ's words, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."

During the first three centuries monasticism hardly had a place in the Christian life. It is only in the 4th century that Fathers of the Church, namely, St Ambrose, St Jerome, and St Augustine, laid down the Christian theology for the Church. All these fathers were emphatic that there was dichotomy between the spiritual life and the secular life. St Jerome himself started life as an ascetic. St Ambrose was against widow re-marriage. Both St Ambrose and St Augustine insisted on the separation of the world of God from the sinful world of man. As sex was sinful, a family man could never be virtuous. St Augustine asked Pope Gregory The Great if a husband and wife who have made love the night before could be allowed to Church, to which the Pope ruled that it was possible if they had performed a ceremonial bath. And yet, in contradiction, they insisted on the supremacy of the Church over the Emperor, who was in charge of the secular affairs.

In contrasting Christianity with the more virile religions of antiquity,[36] Machiavelli wrote:

"Our religion places the supreme happiness in humility, loveliness, and a contempt for worldly objects, whilst the others place the supreme good in grandeur of soul, strength of body, and all such other qualities as render men formidable...These principles seem to me to have made men feeble, and caused them to become an easy prey to evil-minded men, who can control them more securely, seeing that the great body of men, for the sake of gaining Paradise, are more disposed to endure injuries than to avenge them."[37]

St Augustine believes that if parents had not committed sin, posterity would not have died because of their sin. It is the eating of the apple that has brought sin and eternal damnation. And since Christians alone could be saved, those outside the Church are doomed to eternal damnation, torment and misery. As we were all born sinful and wicked, punishment was natural. Grace alone could save man. Therefore no non-Christian could be virtuous or saved. In short, Augustine believed in a pre-determined world of sin. For Augustine, God divided the world into the elect and the reprobate, but both were doomed to damnation.

However, Pelagius, another ecclesiastic scholar, believed that man had free will and questioned the doctrine of Original Sin; adding that man could go to heaven if he did virtuous deeds. St Augustine got these views of Pelagius declared as heretical and observed that Adam had free will only before his fall.

With the vanishing of the Sacredotum as a power, in the medieval ages, the Church became a partner of national government. Machiavelli, with bitter irony, frequently assailed the Church:

"We Italians thus owe to the Church of Rome and to her priests our having become irreligious and bad; but we owe her a still greater debt, and one that will be the cause of our ruin, namely that the Church has kept and still keeps our country divided...The Church then not having permitted another power to do so, has been the cause why Italy has never been able to unite under one head, but has always remained under a number or princes and lords, which occasioned for so many dissentions and so much weakness that she became a prey not only to powerful barbarians, but of whosoever chose to assail her."[38]

The following examples indicate some ways the New Testament Christians came to terms with the values and institutions of world they inhabited..

(i) Slavery is accepted, and slaves are urged to obey their masters with a glad heart.[39]

(ii) Women are subordinated to men, and their roles limited. In particular, they are urged to be submissive to their husbands, to keep silent in church, and forbidden to teach or have authority over men.[40]

(iii) Obedience to the State is sometimes unconditionally and uncritically demanded. Paul says that God has instituted the State to execute wrath on wrongdoers.[41] This implies that if the ruling authorities demand it, Christians should participate in the violence the State employs while punishing evildoers. This is hard to reconcile with Matt.5:38

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Mounting number of divorces, broken homes, drug addiction, alcoholism, and individualism have created such a situation in North America, which made the Christian Church raise a strong voice saying that secularism was a common danger and needed to be eliminated as a social force and that Christianity should seek the cooperation of other religions to combat its influence. Christianity had given to the empirical life in the West its cohesion, strength and elan; the divorce of religion from politics and the empirical life, has left secularism a barren institution without any hope of a creative future. This is the tragedy of both communism and capitalism. It is a tragedy with its dark future that the North American Churches wanted to avoid. But in the temper of the times, the voice of sanity was drowned in an exhibition of suicidal egoism of the European Churches who felt that:

"Secularization, not secularism, is the primary process. It is a process in which some of the values of Christian faith have been put into a secular framework, bringing about a powerful force, which is destroying all old ideas. Hence, secularization is an ally, because it will destroy Hinduism, Islam and other forms of what they considered to be superstition. So, we should ally ourselves with secularization and see it as work of God."[42]

Later it was again repeated:

"We do not feel that we have anything lacking. And so we are opposed to dialogue unless it is for the sake of testifying to Jesus Christ."

They then passed a resolution saying that under no circumstances should multi-religious dialogue be undertaken because multi-religious dialogue puts Christianity on the same level as other religions and this is unacceptable. So, because the European Christians had that point of view, the World Council of Churches has not been able to engage in multi-religious dialogue for quite some time.

Islam is a religious system and culture, which is, in many respects, more comprehensive and unified than the parochial culture of the city states of Greece. The Qur'an says:

"Allah is One, all things depend upon Him; He begetteth not, and He is not begotten; and there is none like unto Him."[43]

The Qur'an reiterates:

(i) man is the chosen of God

(ii) he is His representative on earth

(iii) he is the trustee of a free personality accepted by Him

(iv) he has the capacity of having the vision of God

"God will not change the condition of men, till they change what is in themselves."[44]

Islam preaches brotherhood of man. The lives of Umar Ali, Usman and Abu Bakar, the original leaders of Islam, set the highest and most enlightened standard of human conduct.[45] Equality, solidarity and freedom are the foundations of life. Distribution of wealth to the orphans is recommended. The State is the instrument for realizing the spiritual in the human organization. This is a big contribution of Islam specially because early Christianity completely accepted the political authority of the Romans and took virtually to a monastic life.[46] The fear of God and prayers to Him are the two important instruments to raise the spiritual level of man. The Prophet had a clear call to preach His mission. The Qur'an is a revealed message.

Despite its emphasis on moral and righteous living, Islam denies full equality to women. The Qur'an states:

"Men are the managers of the affairs of women because Allah has preferred men over women and women were expended of their right."[47] "Women have such honorable rights and obligations, but men have a (single) degree above them."[48] "Men your wives are your tillage. Go into your tillage anyway you want."

The value of a woman is half that of man. In the old Islamic law, the worth of a man's life is equal to the market value of 100 camels or 200 cows and that of a woman is equal to half of man's. A woman's testimony in court is worth half that of man.

In Islam, there is the concept of God's wrath and operative factor[49] in the nexus between one's disobedient act and its recompense. Says the Qur'an:

"And on whosoever My wrath comes down, He indeed falls down to the depth."

But the position in Sikhism is different. There is, on the other hand, in Sikh religion the concept of causation whereby the positive or the negative reward, that is, the recompense, is the effect the cause of which is one's own action. There is no room for the mediation of divine pleasure or displeasure in this causality, except when God grants redemption to man as a token of His grace ("nadar").

Sikh religion envisions God as benevolent and not malevolent. Even when man fails or falters in his allegiance to God, in his observance of Divine Commandments, the punishment that he gets is not of the type of divine displeasure (condemning him to hell, etc), but is of temporal nature at the hands of temporal authority, implying thereby that man's relationship to God has bearing on his relationship to state and society. Says Guru Gobind Singh: The spiritual state (House of Baba Nanak) and the temporal state (symbolically as the House of Babur) are both a priori institutions (as creations of God). Those who do not abide by their allegiance to God (and defying Him turn to the worldly state instead), suffer at the hands of the worldly state itself.

As history of religious thought shows there appears at the earlier, lower stage the concept of divine displeasure and God's wrath, serving as a deterrent to keep man on the righteous path. At the higher stage, the stress is on arousing moral consciousness in man. Awakened moral consciousness, inwardly binding on man, takes the place of external deterrence in the form of divine displeasure and wrath.

In Sikhism, which is one of the higher religions, there is no concept of a revengeful, wrathful God. Man is persuaded onto righteous path of goodness not out of fear (say of hell), or temptation (say, of heaven), but out of awakening of moral consciousness. Even when one falters in the religious allegiance to God (House of Nanak), the punishment is not in terms of divine displeasure, or God's anger. By turning his back to the House of Nanak (spiritual state) man suffers, ironically, at the hands of the worldly state itself. Here again the stress is on a moral state of consciousness in which man realizes that loyalty to the worldly state at the cost of the spiritual state in the end proves self-destructive. There is no question of administering punishment, as that would bring by the back door, the concept of a revengeful God who administers justice in a tit-for-tat manner in a hidden way-by proxy.

The political ascendancy[50] of Islam went hand in hand with Islamic theological orthodoxy; the theological formalism with stress on rigid observance of the shariat became an ideological tool of political Islam which became oriented towards totalitarianism. It was a response and reaction to these causes that mystical trends arose within Islamic praxis. The common denominator of these Sufi trends, which gradually developed into institutionalized Orders (silsilas) was the stress on the experimental immediacy in direct communion with God whose unmediated Presence was felt through different stages from the sensuous to the supra-sensory. Whereas Islam emphasizes worldliness, Sufism encourages other-worldliness.

The mystic quietism and other-worldliness of the Sufis appeared during the time of later Caliphs. It has happened in the case of Judaism and Islam, both whole-life religions, that in times when religiously sensitive souls found it difficult to face the social or socio-political challenges, they withdrew themselves into the shell of quietism, otherworldliness, monasticism and asceticism.

The feel of the Divine presence in Sufi thought and practice, that is, Islamic mysticism, is cognized within the basic Islamic doctrine, despite extraneous influences imbibed by Sufism. The metaphysical basis of the Divine Presence - direct communion and experimental immediacy - is distinct from pantheism as also from the Vedantic conception of the immanence of Brahman. The world of time and space (khalq) is deemed to be creation of God (Khaliq). The Islamic idea of creation - which is different from the Christian as well as the Sikh conception - has deeply influenced certain significant Sufi postulates. Islamic ontology takes creation to be of discrete, atomistic character; it is not invested with internal causality (hukam) and the principles of dynamism, which, in Sikh philosophy, makes the universe autonomous in its state of becoming and development. Consequently for Islamic speculative thinking, the universe for its existence is characterized by continual, moment to moment, dependence upon God.

This ontological dependence was turned into the Sufi idea of 'raza' connoting submission and resignation of the individual to the Absolute Will; political Islam used it as an ideological instrument for claiming willing obedience. The Wajudiyyah school of Sufi mystics stressed the absolute, monistic identity of essence and existence (hama ost i.e. All is God). Here essence and existence were seen as one in substantial unity. The other school, Shuhudiyyah, believed in the relative unity of essence and existence - a kind of ideational unity in which the distinctiveness of the two is treated as true and real (hama az ost i.e. All is from God). Here Sufistic 'fana' does not mean self-extinction; it, rather, means self-aspect of the self into its essential aspect into which it abidingly subsists as an idea in the mind of God. Credit goes to Imam Ghazali who taught at Nizamiyah Academy in Baghdad, for providing to Sufi mysticism systematic schemata and bringing orthodox Sufism into Sunni theology.

Islam is against the idea of incarnation of God. But, the doctrine of "Logos" or "Idea of Mohammad" was accepted by Al Ghazali. He reconciles a Transcendent God with a theistic God. The aim of man is the achieve union with the "Idea of Mohammad" which was in pre-eternity as His likeness, in so far as anything can be His likeness. The goal is to lead mankind back to Him. Ibnal Farid in some of his poems claims union with the idea of Mohammad. In other poems he is claiming unity with God which would expose him to the charge of pantheism; eg., "All men are sons of Adam," but, "I alone amongst my brethren have attained to the sobriety of union."

Sufi sects never posed a challenge to the oppression and misrule of Muslim emperors or kings. In this respect, the Jewish prophets were quite bold in their criticism of Jewish rulers, included David and Solomon. It is very significant, and shows the lofty spiritual status of the Sikh Gurus and the basic ideological affinity between the two religions, that a Sufi saint like Pir Buddhu Shah fought and sacrificed two of his sons for the cause of Guru Gobind Singh.[51] But it was the Sikh Gurus and not the Sufis who challenged the growing Mughal tyranny. Some scholars like Iqbal and Abdus Salam believe that like the otherworldliness of the Christians, as in the case of the Roman Empire, Sufis also became a significant cause of the decline of the Muslim cultural supremacy in the world. For, there is considerable truth in Mohammad Iqbal's couplet:

"Whether it be the facade of a great republic, or the domain of a glorious empire, if its polity is divorced of the religious component, the system is reduced to sheer Changezian barbarity and tyranny."

Buddha appeared in 6th century BC when Jainism was already a prevalent religion. On the full-moon day of Vaisakh, Gautama sat under the Bodhi tree not to rise till he had attained enlightenment. The conflict between human passions and the spiritual powers was finally resolved during the night. The human passions were symbolized by mara (darkness or ignorance) and spiritual powers symbolized by Bodhi (Enlightenment or Wisdom). Gautama ascended, one by one, the four stages of trance (dhyana). The last stage of dhyana is marked by pure consciousness and equanimity. It was in this stage of perfection that the bodhisattava perceived those truths that awakened and enlightened him. He had now become a Buddha, the Omniscient (knower of all things).

The Buddha gave his first sermon at Saranatha near Varanasi. The five Brahmin ascetics, who were his companions became his first disciples. Gradually the number of his followers increased. The community (sangha) of the Buddhists included monks (bhikshus) and nuns (bhikshunis), kings and queens, and others from all the castes. The Buddhist faith has its three gems - triratna. They are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. They are called the three refuges (trisharana). The Buddha is the teacher and the revealer of the Truth. He showed the path to Nirvana. The truth is timeless (akaliko dhammo). When a Buddhist says, buddham sharanam gacchami (I take refuge in the Buddha), he means this timeless and absolute Buddha. Dharma is the doctrine and discipline taught by Buddha. It also means virtue, piety and religious life. One of the basic teachings of Buddhism is the doctrine of three marks (lakshanatraya). These are:

(i) all conditioned things are impermanent (anitya);

(ii) all conditioned things are suffering (dukha);

(iii) all conditioned things are not-self (anatma).

Thus impermanence, suffering and substancelessness are the three characteristics of our daily experience. The phrase 'conditioned things' means that things are conditioned or caused ie., they are dependent on causes and conditions. In his first sermon, at Saranatha, the Buddha taught what is called the middle way (madhymamamarga). This way is also called the eightfold way (ashtanga -marga). It consists of:

(i) Right view (samyak drishti)

(ii) Right intention (samyak sankalpa)

(iii) Right speech (samyak vak)

(iv) Right action (samyak karma)

(v) Right livelihood (samyak ajiva)

(vi) Right effort (samyak vyayama)

(vii) Right mindfulness (samyak smriti)

(viii) Right concentration (samyak samadhi)

Buddha's is a monastic system for those who want liberation.[52] Salvation can be achieved only through his system. For nirvana, withdrawal from life is essential. Naturally, it encourages renunciation and asceticism. The best life is that of the wanderer or bhikshu. The homeless wandering ascetic is both a teacher and a pupil. Unchastity is a cardinal sin.[53] In Mahayana compassion is called Bodhi-chitta. It is in harmony with Nirvana. Daily meditations lead to heaven or Brahm-loka. The Buddhist bhikhshu is a reversion of one step from the Upanishadic hermit. The wanderer has to help others. They organize a Bhikhshu Sangha. The wanderers are its members. They live in an ascetic form and take vows of celibacy and poverty (non-possession). They beg for their food. Only eight items of property are allowed. Nobody should denounce others. But,

"void are the systems of other teachers, void of true saints," says Gautama.[54]

In early Buddhism there is not much sympathy for women. This is a sign of all monastic life everywhere in the world. Woman is a temptress. Buddha felt women were soon angered. They were stupid, passionate and comparatively sensuous. "Shun gaze of women, Ananda", says Buddha, "or watch when you speak to them." Buddha wanted all monks to be celibate. He had no duty towards the race. He had only compassion for the fallen who could not be celibate and were entrapped in their own infatuation.[55] Buddha was originally reluctant to admit women to the Sangha. For he deemed it to be a mistake to do so. Later he admitted them. But by their admission to the Sangha he felt that his religion would endure only for five hundred years instead of the anticipated one thousand. The sisters appointed in the Sangha were junior to their brothers.

A male bhikhshu is not supposed to touch and rescue a drowning woman, even if she were his mother.[56] A story tells of how Buddha's step-mother Mahaprajapati, on the death of her husband, shaved off her hair and appeared before the Buddha in yellow robes of the Order. Buddha refused again and again but on Bhikhshu Ananada's insistence agreed to meet with her. Buddha's attitude towards women is clearly shown in his last conversation with Ananda:

How are we to conduct ourselves, Lord, with regard to women?

Do not see them Ananda!

But if we should see them, what are we to do?

Abstain from speech!

But if they speak to us, Lord, what are we to do?

Keep wide awake, Ananda.

Harnam Singh[57] writes: The tragedy of Buddhism is that within the compasses of its earth and heaven, the natural and the supernatural, the mundane and the transcendental mutually exclude each other, never to intersect at any point. So long as you're on earth, you shall not deal with the supernatural; and as soon as you've phased into the state of nirvana, it is, by that state's very nature, impossible to think of the world.

A philosophy that creates watertight compartments between the physical and the meta-physical and is born of dread of pain soon begins to hang heavy on the heads of its adherents. Men and women have minds and bodies whose needs they have to cater to and this is not possible unless heaven and earth interplay.

Does not man want heaven to smile on the earth and to illuminate it with the warmth of its glow? Is there no heavenly touch about the flower that blossoms on its stem, the face of the son so fascinating to the mother and the warm embrace in which two souls interlock?

The difficulty with Buddha is that in the stream of life everything is helplessly drifting away without a place to land or a foothold to stand on. He pays no attention to the perennial source that stands behind as its sustained power and the identity of the current that makes it what it is.

This is why Dr Radha Krishnana, in his widely read History of Indian Philosophy, so aptly remarked that Shankar killed Buddhism by a fraternal embrace. The fraternity lies in this that both systems cry down the world of appearance as an influx of sensations and a creation of the mind. But whereas Shankar believed in the existence of Brahman as the substratum of this universe, Buddhism finds itself centered upon nothingness.

This was the inherent weakness of the thought structure of Buddhism which made its exponents shift and alter its position from time to time and ultimately suffer defeat at the hands of Shankar who challenged it to face the verdict of logic. And it is because of this that we find Buddhism prevailing nowhere in its original form.

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