Dr. J. S. Neki – “The Sikh Doctrine of Revelation”
Notes from talk, by Balbir Singh:
Author and scholar, Dr. J. S. Neki, from New Delhi, currently visiting the US, spoke on September 15, 2012 at a Vichaar session of Chardi Kala in San Jose, California on Revelation. Here are some highlights from his talk.
Revelation or uncovering may have already taken place — our ignorance may be due to our ignoring it. Mankind, by and large, ignores its Creator. Hence over the ages, sages have appeared to re-acquaint us with what we have ignored. As per Tantric, Vedantic and to some extent Sikhi, they have used three methods of revelation.
The first one – Verbal – has four stages: Shakti or ascendant energy; undifferentiated pure thought; differentiation into name and form; and lastly, phonetic expression of thought as in our day-to-day conversation. All four are present in the four uttered phonemes of the sound “Om.” In the transcendent stage this becomes Shabd Brahm. The second method of revelation is through nature. As one ponders at Creation, its immensity, its extent, and its beauty, one can become wonderstruck. Even scientists, who do not acknowledge the existence of God and do not know much about consciousness, often concede that they see a design behind nature. As to who the designer is, may still be debatable. The third method of revelation is nonverbal, propositional. A holy man, seeing you may give you a pat on the back as a complete act of communication with you.
In Judaism, one of the first Semitic religions, man by himself cannot know God except through Torah, a divinely sent holy book. In the Christianity of the New Testament, you can know God only through the person of Jesus. Is he God himself or is he revealing God? St. Paul and St. John pondered this question. Their reconciliation in either case is that Jesus is God. He came to atone for the sins of humanity after the fall. Regardless of the nature of the sins, atonement is possible only through Jesus. In Islam there is a personal God who revealed Himself to prophet Mohammed. It acknowledges that earlier prophets, Abraham through Jesus, also had revelations, but revelations to Mohammed were exclusive and final. Both Waheez (inspiration) and Tanzeel (what descended on Mohammed) are included in Quran. In Hinduism, which is a way of life rather than a religion, two sacred writings cannot be ignored – Vedas and Bhagwat Gita. Sages dispelled darkness and revealed the Truth in a clear form, which is now contained in Rig Veda and other Vedas. In Vedanta, God reveals Himself as un-struck sound, to those able to shield themselves from the worldly sounds. Arjun, in Gita, declares that whenever the world is in a bad state, He appears as an incarnate of God.
In Sikhism, unlike in Judaism or Christianity or Islam and to some extent, in Vedas. Revelation is non-exclusive. Just as many seasons are caused by the same Sun, many religions have emanated from one God. Hence, Sikhs are admonished against considering other holy books as false – false are those who ignore them. Revelation is possible only through the mystic experience of a Guru. Sikhs such as Mardana, Satta and Balwant were also able to attain such a stage of revelation. But no incarnation of God is possible through the womb. As Guru Gobind Singh told us anyone who regards such a guru as God will burn in hell. There are some verses that do suggest that at some advanced spiritual stage a Guru becomes indistinguishable from God. But the emphasis is on spiritual ascension of man rather than God descending to become human. Unlike in Christianity, there is no vicarious atonement, which must be earned by each human on his own. A right hand cannot atone for the misdeeds of one’s left hand.
During Guru Nanak’s river Baini mystic experience, he was revealed the Mool Mantra in sets of nine syllables. In this description the absence of certain attributes e.g., akaal, nirbhau, nirvair, ajooni are at least as significan as the affirmative ones e.g. Omniscient. One can have mystic experience by meditating on these attributes to a point of content-less consciousness or super-consciousness where one becomes part of the creation beyond himself, like a pot of water is, when immersed in an ocean. Focus of attention, e.g., on the word Waheguru and dhyan melts away in such a samadhi. Three experiential dimensions of such a mystic experience are: Spiritual Wonderment (expressed in spontaneous Wah wahs); Anand of a non-ephemeral nature; and an all inclusive expansion of the Self in which everything else has a part in you and vice versa, so that it becomes impossible to hate anyone or anything. God was Daata before He was Karta. To bestow divine love he created Naam, the universe and took abode in what He created. But in Sikhi He also extends beyond His creation. Whatever love you get from mother, father, sister, spouse, friend or foe is His own love flowing to you. Whoever serves you, even metal has God and His love in it — because of your love for the divine, in a Sehaj Samadhi. So Revelation in Sikhi is of many more varieties. It is an evolutionary, ecumenical and inclusive revolution. It stresses spiritual egalitarianism and dignity of labor. Guru Nanak never claimed to be God. He excluded no religion from his respect. He identified with the lowliest of the lowly. He said, “Wherever the lowliest are cared for, there is `nazar of teri bakhshish’.” Guru Arjun reiterated, “I am not alienated from anyone, no one is my enemy. This is the wisdom I acquired from my Guru, to keep.”
Video of the session: