Thursday, November 02, 2006

Reason and Faith - Nām Sevā (no "and"!)

One of the motivations for the Pope's speech at the university in Regensburg, Germany was the apparent decline of faith among Catholics. The Pope and the Catholic clergy are worried that reason or science is overtaking the element of Faith. Some of you may have read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown of the Da Vinci Code fame. This topic was precisely the intertwined theme of that novel in addition to Brown's infatuation with anti-authority - the theme revolved around the fear of a fictitious pope who believed that science was going to disprove faith and cause its eventual futility. It was a theme created in a novel by Dan Brown, is it a real issue for them?. Obviously the Pope in Regensburg thought so and that was really the topic of his talk. It is unfortunate that as a result of bad judgement (IMHO) he quoted an obscure text (not endorsed the text, just "quoted") in which the Prophet Mohammed and the Islamic faith was portrayed in a negative light.

But on the topic of Reason and Faith the Economist reported an interesting development in an article titled Islam and the Vatican in their Oct. 19th issue. Islamic scholars have asked that the tiff between Catholics and Muslims be taken off the streets and into the debating chamber. I quote:
Vatican officials have cautiously welcomed the scholars' letter, saying they too see prospects for a tough, meaningful conversation. After all, they point out, the pope has often said that the two faiths have different, but related problems: for the Christian, today's adversary is “reason without faith” or cold secularism. For moderate Muslims, it is “faith without reason” or violent fundamentalism.
This is indeed an issue that is simmering and will soon reach boiling point. My 9 months in Europe gives me this inherent sense.

However, for me personally I have reflected on the state of the Panth at the moment. The recent Inder Singh Ghagga incident made me think about the clash of Reason and Faith in our own belief system. (I may be getting in trouble here because ppl will think I am taking sides, but bear with me I consider myself one of the "neutral Singhs" too, just like the ones that hosted the debate in their basement!!). So, while not getting into the details about the controversy (just read it and hear it on, I would like to submit that it is within our Panth where we have an emergence of two different schools of thought or practitioners. One group relies heavily on "faith without reason" and another group relies heavily on "reason without faith". Is this a new trend? Is this something that will lead to the demise of the Panth as we know it and cause even further disintegration?

Well, I remembered a paragraph from an essay by Principal Teja Singh ( guessed it, who else but him, he is my favorite author along with Prof. Puran Singh). The point of that paragraph is to show that there has existed this dichotomy of groups within our Panth from a very long time. This is nothing new. It is unfortunate that all the debaters are excellent Gursikhs and are very adept at Gurmat (bānī, rehat and tvārikh) but didn't look at the historical context of the clash of reason and faith within Sikhī. Knowing the historical precedence of this debate could have added better or more information to deal with this controversy. Here are the couple of paragraphs. Taken from Essays in Sikhism, by Principal Teja Singh in the essay "The Singh Sabha Movement".

At present there are mainly two schools of thought: one dominated by the Chief Khalsa Diwan, which, continuing the old tradition of the Amritsar Diwan, is more conservative; and the other by the S.G.P.C, which, inheriting the extreme tendencies of the Lahore Diwan, is more critical. The former, inspired by Bhai Vir Singh and his paper, the Khalsa Samachar, emphasises the divinity of the Gurus who are identified with God, while the latter believes in the humanity of the Gurus and is less mystical. The one stresses the worship of saints, and comes out now and then with biographies of holy men, who preached asceticism and self-renunciation; while the other party holds this kind of thing as a mere man-worship and does not encourage too much kowtowing before human beings. They also do not favour the use of a rosary in worship, the whispering of Mantras in private into ears of disciples, the letting or sub-letting of recitations and other mysteries which are indulged in by the saints of these latter days.

In my view, there are two great elements of Sikhism: One is Nām (or the Name) and the other is Sevā (or Service). The Chief Khalsa Diwan has come to emphasise the practice of Nām, and does not see much opportunity for Sevā, while the other party has come to monopolise Sevā, without seeing much use in the practice of Nām. The desireable thing would be to combine the two. When that is done, the Khalsa will be one and supreme.
Okay, I would like to caution that I am not making direct comparisons between the Chief Khalsa Divan and theAKJ, Taksal, Tapoban group on one hand and the SGPC and Inder Ghagga group on the other hand ( btw I will not associate Ghagga and group with Sikh Missionary College - but that's another topic).

But understand the point of Teja Singh's words and its relevance today. Sikhī is all about balance. That is why the path of Sikhī is "sharper than the edge of a sword and thinner than a strand of hair" (khaneo thikī vālo nikkī...). It is not easy to balance Reason and Faith, but nevertheless, both do exist and can exist in perfect harmony.

I completely disagree with those that say that the whole point of Sikhī is only Nām japnā. I content that the whole point of Sikhī is only Nām japnā, kirt karnī and vand chaknā. I think Principal Teja Singh would agree. The crux of the matter is that now a days all the well meaning Gursikhs are lacking in a proper articulation of a balanced Sikhī.

Remember, there is no "and" in the following Sikh vocabulary phrases:

sevā simran
sant sipāhī
degh tegh
sangat pangat
grihast udāsi
mīrī pīrī

Each phrase is a unique singhle thought merely utilizing two words. When talking about it you simply cannot put the word "and" between them. Therefore, it is all about balance between two complementary ideas. Think about it! Am I off track?

Carhdī Kalā!


  1. Very well written veerji!

    I completely agree with you about the concept of balance..

    and yes sikhism is more than just nam japna..that is just one part of being a sikh =)

    guru ang sang!

  2. Anonymous9:25 AM

    "I would like to submit that it is within our Panth where we have an emergence of two different schools of thought or practitioners. One group relies heavily on "faith without reason" and another group relies heavily on "reason without faith". Is this a new trend? Is this something that will lead to the demise of the Panth as we know it and cause even further disintegration?"

    I completely agree to the above statement and I think I am guilty of belonging to latter one "reason without faith", cause of personal life instances and my inability to understand the Hukum (though, I guess as a sikh we are not suppose to question the "Bhana" of waheguru").

    Anyways, I have debated this issue many times on sikh forums with parties that belong to both side,and my only understanding is that man seeks faith out of ones constant need of growth.
    Some use love as their tool and others use logic to seek answers. But in the end, no matter what religion one chooses, man's personal quest should be attain a higher state of mind (that have attributes of Guru).

    Though, an excellent post by you, but my question -- how do you make a person love the creation and the creator?

  3. You're right on track with your contention:
    "I content that the whole point of Sikhī is only Nām japnā, kirt karnī and vand chaknā."

    WaheGuru! Dhan Guru Nanak!

  4. Prabhu Singh - I am "right on track"!? I thought I hit the nail on the head and "mai pahuch gaia" - meaning "I've arrived at my desitnation...". :-) Just kidding.

    But seriously, I do believe I am on track because I maybe know what the theory is at least at an intellectual level. Walking the path as put forth by the three cardinal rules of Guru Nanak and actually putting the rules of life into practice would be "hitting the nail on the head". As I also do believe that the path or the process is as important, if not more, than the goal.

  5. Harkiran Kaur - "how do you make a person love the creation and the creator?". This question is a very easy one to answer as per the Guru Granth Sahib. It deserves a separate post as I have one sabad in mind. Keep a lookout for it.

  6. Anonymous1:18 PM

    This post is quite a mind-boggler.Balance is the most important thing to be achieved in every sphere of life.God has kept entire universe in balance!Such vast gravitational force but think how all stars and planets stay in balance
    darkness and light
    sorrow and happiness etc. if you analize every aspect has two extremes...
    Its their balance which makes the world go.
    The faith without reason is like quick-sand and reason without faith is like hitting your head on hard concrete.Guru Nanak's teachings are absolutely scientific and there is no reason to be apprehensive to answer any questions. But the debate should always be with a cool mind.The problem only comes when we become unreasonably obstinate and try to defend our views whether right or wrong. We get so much carried away by our ideas that we forget to ask Guru...

    ਸਲੋਕੁ ਮ: ੫ ॥
    ਉਦਮੁ ਕਰੇਦਿਆ ਜੀਉ ਤੂੰ ਕਮਾਵਦਿਆ ਸੁਖ ਭੁੰਚੁ ॥
    Make the effort, and you shall live; practicing it, you shall enjoy peace.

    ਧਿਆਇਦਿਆ ਤੂੰ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਮਿਲੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਉਤਰੀ ਚਿੰਤ ॥੧॥
    Meditating, you shall meet God, O Nanak, and your anxiety shall vanish. ||1||

    Its only balance which can make you do simran and acheive your goal.

  7. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Needless to mention. You ARE on right track. It appears you have lived sikhi... A few understand when we talk in general lives. You have put this balance in right words that makes it easy to present.

    But keep going, This is guru kirpa that you are able to think sharply and present amazingly.

    -Preet Kaur