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Sikhs Today and Academic Challenges of the 21st Century

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Sikhs Today and Academic Challenges of the 21st Century

(A Community Perspective)

by Dr. Jasbir Singh Mann, Anaheim, California, U.S.A.


For any nation to survive, it must protect its scripture and identity. Sikhs moved to the west a century ago and their religion has been established as one of the World's major religions. In order to continue presenting the authenticity of Sikh religion, Sikh scholars must deal with the academic challenges of the 21st century. If they are not dealt with: 1) tremendous socio-psychological changes may occur in the understanding of Sikh religion by the future generations, especially those born outside of India; 2) the western World will have a lopsided view of Sikhism; 3) the doctrinal base of Sikhism as enshrined in Aad Sri Guru Granth Sahib will erode; 4) the economical and political problems with Sikhs in Punjab will be downplayed; 5) Sikh custodians and academicians will fail to fulfill their moral duties.

1.Sikh Identity

Essential doctrine of each religion determines its identity. Sikh identity can be found only through its primary source, Aad Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the history of Guru period (1469-1708). No identity of Sikh religion can be based on secondary sources. Sikh history entered political ups and downs after 1708 when attempts were made to diffuse the Sikh identity. But, as Aad Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the base of Sikhism, so during such confusion, revivalists restored the true identity. Phenomenal studies cannot determine the identity of the Sikh religion because it is Neumenous based. Until now, many politically oriented intentional writers are still attacking the independent Sikh identity. Sikh scholars of this century are challenged to propagate the Sikh religious identity in reference to spiritual experience of the prophets, their concept of one God, and their goal to achieve socio-political justice.1

II. Evidence of Recorded Revelation

The Sikh religion is the only major religion of the world which has its recorded revelation available in the form of Kartarpuri Bir. In Judaism, recorded revelation in the form of Arc of Covenent is missing. In Christianity, there is no recorded revelation and all the Bibles, in the form of Old and New Testaments are historically and culturally based. In Islam, the original recorded revelation papers of history is not available. Both the Bible and Quran have been written after the death of their prophets. Many missionaries are very envious of Sikh treasury and are making attempts to confuse it. Sikh scholars in the 21st century must continue their efforts to end any future controversies about Kartarpuri Bir.2

III. The Punjab Problem

There is enough evidence available that congress leaders, prior to 1947, promised the Sikhs that after the Britishers leave India, Sikhs would have freedom in Northern India. After 1947, all such commitments were violated. Their is enough evidence available that the Punjab problem is an economic and political problem, the truth of which is being suppressed. Rather, the Punjab problem is being dubbed as a problem of fundamentalism. Such scholars usually quote "Fundamentalism among the Sikhs today is apparently the basic cause of current political unrest in India ... It is primarily a movement of resistance and a universe characterized by incoherence and disorder." In actuality, there is no evidence to support this contention and the hard political and economic problems of the Punjab are not being presented in the proper perspective. This challenge for the Sikh scholars will continue into the next century. Sikh scholars must accept this challenge and highlight their economic and political problems in Punjab to the global community.3

IV. Textual Analysis

In recent years, attempts are being made to study Sikh scripture through Judeo-Christian approaches, which is inapplicable to Sikh Studies. Such attempts are being made to diffuse the originality of the revelatory nature of the Sikh scripture. By definition, textual analysis means "to find the original." However, Sikhs have the original Sikh scripture, so textual analysis need not apply to Sikh Studies. The system of textual or redaction analysis is also inapplicable to Sikh scripture as Guru Arjun compiled and authenticated Sikh scripture in order to avoid any confusion. He established the famous doctrine of Kachi versus Pakki, or Sachi Bani, thereby, completely making any manuscript of unacademic importance, whether it is written before or after 1604 A.D., for any comparative study. No manuscript can be accepted on face value until the source of its tradition and authenticity is established - Dr. Pashaura Singh and Dr. Gurinder Singh Marm have raised certain questions that have been answered appropriately by Dr. Pritam Singh and Dr. Balwant Singh Dhillon on this subject. Twenty-first century Sikh scholars are seriously challenged to explain and promote the Sikh doctrine of Kachi versus Sachi Bani.

V. Sikhism: A Religion of Numina (Naam) and not Phenomena Numinous experience is inherent in Fries's Ahndung (longing), Schleiermachar's Feeling, Kant's Things in Themselves (noumena) and Kapur Singh's antithesis of phenomena. Numinous experience stands for "the holy" disregarding its moral factor and without any rational aspect. It is irreducible to any other factor. Numinous consciousness involves shaking fear or repulsion to induce element of powerful fascination. It can only be understood by "ideograms" (i.e. not through logic, but only symbolically). The core of religious experience is inherent in the awareness of non-moral holiness as a category of value. This category of value is called numina. Numina means a spiritual experience of reality peculiar to religion. The numinous experience is the core and base of Sikh religion and its ingredients (i.e., a religiously sensitive mind in relation to his/her apprehension of himself/herself and the universe).

The ultimate reality is not comprehensible through the sensory motor perceptions and speculations. Sikhism is a religion of Naam (numin), which is asserted through 30,000 hymns of Sikh scripture through its revealed statements, literary similes, and allusions. Naam is God and God is Naam, and the practice of religion revolves around Naam. Sikh religious thought cannot be interpreted through any phenomenal process. Naam is timeless. Recently, attempts have been made to dub Guru Granth Sahib as a 16th-century philosophy and change it to fit the present post-technical and capitalistic society of the 20th century. One must understand that AGGS is Shabad Guru and a divine revelation, which cannot be changed. Humankind of technical and capitalistic era of the 20th century has the same wicked mind as of the 16th century human beings. Only the numinous nature of Sikh philosophy can change this human and not the egoistic man of phenomenal society. Such challenges on Sikh philosophy will continue in the 21st century and Sikh scholars must answer them appropriately.5

VI. Related Issues of Dasam Granth and Other Secondary Sources

The primary source for study of Sikh religion and its identity is the Aad Sri Guru Granth Saliib. Any study based on secondary sources, will not be appropriate and can create confusion. Sikhs must work very hard to authenticate the history, authorship, and internal consistency of such secondary sources into an appropriate perspective before they can be used for Sikh Studies. This issue is highly sensitive and needs meticulous handling.6&7

VII. Sikh Bhakti vs. Hindu Bhakti

The Miri Piri concept of Sikhism is unique. It w as started by Guru Nanak and took final shape through Guru Hargobind. Many scholars are creating confusion by interchanging the Sikh Bhakti with the Hindu Bhakti. Sikh Bhakti is an active Bhakti, while Hindu Bhakti is quiet and inactive. The concept of Shakti and Bhakti cannot be compared with the Miri Piri concept. Recently, scholars have differentiated the Bhakti religion in North India. Hindu religion as suguni current, is practiced by Bhramans. Sikhism founded by Guru Nanak and other saints, such as Kabir, Ravidas, Dadu and Shiv Deyal, is being qualified and lumped under the nirguni current. This exercise seems to be diffusing the independent identity of the Sikh religion. Sikh scholars in the 21st century should put Sikh Bhakti and Hindu Bhakti in their appropriate perspective.7&8

VIII. Sikh World View

Most of the higher religions have either become dichotomous or are withdrawing from the main fields of social responsibility, and human reason feels frustrated. Sikh gurus express a comprehensive world view of hope and eternal relevance. Sikhism is universal in its approach and always anxious and willing to cooperate with those who aim at harmony and the well being of human beings. Guru Nanak proclaimed that his mission was to steer humanity across the turbulent sea of life with the help of others. This sentiment is included in everyday prayer of the Sikhs, "May God Bless all Mankind." It is essential to continue to propagate vigorously this Sikh world view towards humanity.9

IX. Importance and Significance of Akal Takhat

Ideological challenge is a normal phenomenon not uncommon in the history of religious thought. In fact it may be desirable for better understanding of religious doctrines and gives the opportunity to affirm faith. But, no religion can run its affairs until there is strong central authority, who can render final decision firmly. Akal Takhat (worldwide) and SGPC (India) are the only custodians of Sikhism. There needs to be education among the Sikh masses about the importance and significance of Akal Takhat. There has been a lot of confusion created about the institution of Akal Takhat. It is the consensus of the Sikh community, especially those who have moved away from India, that in order to save Sikhism from undergoing division, like Christianity, there is an immediate need to set up an office of Akal Takhat in the west, so that the Sikh institutions in the west can harmonize with the Akal Takhat Sahib, Amritsar. There is a need to evolve a system/sectriate/senate under Sri Akal Takhat and form a think tank which can guide...custodians regarding religious, academic, social, and political affairs of the Sikhs in India and abroad. It is the need of the day that the Sikh perspective on different issues cannot be ignored. Sikh intellectuals and clergy must address these issues if Sikhism has to survive in the next century of this dynamic global community.10

X. Guru Granth Sahib as the Living Guru

Personal Guruship was ended by the Tenth Guru after finalizing the Sikh mission and sanctifying and passing succession to the Guru Granth Sahib as the future living Guru of the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh was very clear that no Sikhs should acknowledge a human Guru after 1708. Plenty of historical evidence endorses this significant Sikh doctrine. In spite of this, many Dehdhari Gurus and Sants are proliferating in India and abroad supported by political enemies of the Sikhs. Many present-day holders of Sikh chairs in Western Universities are trying to diffuse the significant Sikh doctrine of Guru Manyo Granth. Such attempts will inevitably continue in the next centuries. Sikhs are challenged to preserve such historically proven doctrines and curtail the flourishing of Sant Samaj and Dehdhari Gurus.12&13

XI. Research in Sikhism and its History

The experience of the last two decades have shown that so-called critical scholarship has used missionary paradigms, ideological blinkers, and inbreeding that have failed to follow the established guidelines for ethnic research. Under the name of research, certain hypotheses about Sikhism were floated and corroborated by the "flag carriers." 14 The sources used could not withstand any historical scrutiny. Rather than answering the issues that were raised, Sikh scholars have been labeled as traditionalists and fundamentalists. No one is objecting observations avoided; instead the only useful path is dialogue and discussion proceeded by a detailed study of Sikh scripture. This avenue is missing from their studies. No understanding of Sikhism and its history can be rational or authentic until the study includes the Guru Granth Sahib and the history of the Guru Period. Otherwise, unidimensional studies cannot obviously be objective and valid. The Sikh community welcomes all young scholars performing genuine research and will provide copious resources. We request young scholars to avoid any academic neurosis and use academic humility. Being open minded allows knowledge come from all directions, and any research under such thought will be welcomed in the new century.

XII. Sikhization of Knowledge

There is an urgent need for establishment of an academic council of Sikh scholars who should compile a detailed framework of Sikh ideology as enshrined in Aad Sri Guru Granth Sahib for the contemporary world. A serious and gigantic effort is necessary to educate scholars to rethink fundamental concepts of modern sciences within the framework of Sikhism. For Sikhs, this endeavor will enlighten the richness of their heritage. For outsiders, it will provide a better understanding and bridge all gaps.

In my opinion, the above topics are the major academic challenges that mainstream Sikh scholars must face. If these are not responded to in accordance to the doctrines as established in Aad Sri Guru Granth Sahib, they will effect the psyche of the 20 million Sikhs, who follow and pray before Aad Guru Granth Sahib in their homes and Gurdwaras daily. Sikhs living in India and Punjab may be in a better position to deal with these problems as they are living in the place where Sikhism was born. Sikhs who have migrated out of India will have very deleterious effects from inaccurate literature because the coming generation may not be able to visit Punjab. If Sikhs read inaccurate books, they may start doubting the authenticity and integrity of our living Guru (Guru Granth Sahib) and the great heritage given to us by the Gurus. The above issues are great challenges for the Sikh scholars to pursue. The hope is that Sikh scholars will face such challenges and give the Sikh religion the proper recognition it deserves among major world religions.


1.Daljeet Singh: Sikhism and its Identity; Abstracts of Sikh Studies, July 1992.

2.Bachitter S. Giani: Introduction: Planned Attack on AAD Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 1994.

3.Kharak Singh: Fundamental Issues in Sikh Studies 1992 and Abstracts of Sikh Studies, July 1992.


4.Rudolph Otto: In Idea of the Holy. Sirdar Kapur Singh in Sikhism and Oecumenical Religion, edited by Gurtej Singh, published by The Institute of Sikh Studies, 1993.

5.Jajgit Singh and Daljit Singh: Abstracts of Sikh Studies, July 1994.

6.Daljeet Singh: Essential of Sikhism published by Singh Brothers, 1994.

7.Bhakti Religion in North India: Edited by David N. Lorenzen. SUNY Press. Albany, NY, 1995.

8.Daljeet Singh: Sikh Word View: Abstracts of Sikh Studies, July 92.

9.Balkar Singh: Sri Akal Takht, published by SPGC, 1995.

10.Harbans Singh: The Heritage of the Sikhs and Perspective on Sikh Studies Deals with Sancification of Guru Granth by 10th Master in 1708.

11.Madanjit Kaur: Guru Granth Sahib Sanctified as Guru in Advanced Studies in Sikhism. published by Sikh Community of North America, 1989.

12.J. S. Mann, S. S. Sodhi, G. S. Gill (editors): Invasion of Religious Boundaries. Published by Canadian Sikh Study and 13.Teaching Society (Vancouver) through Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh 1995.

14. Sikhism by Hew McLeod: Penguin Books, 1997. Dr. McLeod calls his students flag carriers

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