The study of Sikh Religion in the West has raised a number of problems. In this note it is intended to refer to one aspect of it. In the last few years there has been a growing desire among Sikhs in the West to initiate and promote the study of the Sikh Religion. Quite a number of Sikh Societies have arisen with the object of disseminating knowledge of Sikhism both among the Sikhs, particularly the youth, and nonSikh. This healthy desire has also led to a 1 move for promoting a high level academic study of Sikhism.

According to the Gurus, Sikhism is a revealed religion and the Bani comprises the command of God and the lives of the Gurus have been lived in furtherance of that spiritual thesis, involving the creation of a Panth that was anti-caste and is antic lass. Secondly, Sikhism is not a tradition, nor can it be studied as such. Sikhism has a recorded Scripture authenticated by the Guru himself. To view or study its principles as a socio political development or as a growth of cultural or class interest or as a tradition is a clear distortion, for, a tradition according to Webster relates to a system or doctrines that are unrecorded and conveyed orally.

But some Western scholars insist on using the methodology of their respective disciplines in interpreting Sikh religion and miss the quintessential thought contained in the message of the Sikh Gurus. For instance, McLeod asserts that from the sixth Guru onwards, because of the influx of Jats among the disciples of the Guru, the Sikhs turned their back to the teachings of Guru Nanak and pursued militancy. This, he says, happened because of Jat cultural patterns and economic reasons. He does not believe in the creation of the Khalsa by the tenth Guru appointment of Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru. Militancy and kakars were accepted because these were he says, Jat practices; and that later this community created the institution of Guru Granth Sahib because of its need for cohesion. Whatever be the antecedents or credentials of McLeod, he is deemed to be a scholar of Sikhism and was appointed a professor in the Department of South Asia Studies at Toronto University. In short, me: Leod clearly follows the reduction is it or mechanical methodology After McLeod, Dr. J.S. Grewal has been appointed as professor a Toronto. About him the following was written to the Punjab government about his interpretation the Gurus;

A few instances stated below would show that writings produced by certain teachers of these institutions are inflicting irreparable damage and eroding the roots of our faith,

(A) GURU NANAK IN HISTORY by Dr. J.S. Grewal of GURU NANAK DEV UNIVERSITY. Regarding this book for the sake of brevity, we shall narrate only two instances,

(i) GURU NANAK IN POLITICS:WHERES Sir Gokal Chand Narang believes The steel for the sword of Guru Gobind Singh was provided by Guru Nanak,” DOROTHY FIELD says “Guru Nanak paved the way for a political development.” J.C. ARCHER says, “Guru Nanak’s reforms made for a religion and State.” Dr. JS. GREWAL, on the contrary, observes, “A categtorial statement on the response of Guru Nanak to his political milieu may seem inadequate or superficial.”

(ii)GURU NANAK IN SOCIETY: Guru Nanak has been called an apostle of universal brotherhood, the emancipator of women, the upholder of equality and casteless society, the severe critic of social evils and a great reformer by different authors, including Bhai Kahan Singh of Nabha, Teja Singh, DOROTHY FIELD, Yusaf Hussain and others; but Dr, J.S. Grewal writes in his book, “It appears in fact that Guru Nanak has very little directly to say about what today are called social evils. In theory he appears to discard the VARNA ASHRAM ORDER, he sees no use in caste but he does not appear to conceive of equality in any social or economic terms.”

(iii) In another article on the idea of equality in the Sikh Society Punjabi Monthly Journal “SEDH” Dr.J.S. GREWAL sum: up, “The conclusion is that Gun Nanak’sand Guru Gobind Singh’ idea about equality related chiefly to the field of religion. Its effect in the political and social field was nominal.

(iv) In the same article Dr, JS, GREWAL writes, “Guru Gobin Singh Sahib had’ from the very Start of his Guruship begun military preparations, His dependence ‘on JATS is obvious from his decision to raise JATS to the level Khatries and Brahamins, “This most ignoble aspersion, input in almost pure opportunism to Gur Gobind Singh.

The tone and temper of hi interpretation of Sikhism ‘Appear quite similar to those of McLeod The chair on which Grewal works is partly funded by contributions from the Sikhs. The point for emphasis is that in the Department of South Asia Studies there is hardly any obligation to follow the discipline for the study of Religion. Now, take the case of another chair established at Vancouver which too is partly funded by contributions from the Sikhs. The incumbent selected there is a scholar of cultural history. He has written, “if there is any such thing as a key to historical problems, in case of the Sikh tradition it is to be found in its social constituency. Sikh religion is first and foremost a peasant faith. Sociologists have often spoken of how Islam is an urban religion, Sikhism may be spoken of as a rural religion. When dealing with the beliefs, — it is always worthwhile to constantly remind ourselves that we are fundamentally dealing with the peasantry and the world view of this social class has historically always been very different from other social classes. A lot of knotty issues to do with Sikh studies would become easier to solve if we stop applying paradigms that have developed out of the study of urban social groups — merchants, middleclass or city workers — and deploy concepts that relate to the day today life of the peasantry”. This finding in the paper read at Berkely is partly based on the fact that in the 1911 census less than 3% Sikhs had been mentioned as followers of Sakhi Sarvar as well. He does not say that this was an aberration despite the teachings of the Gurus and of the writings of Sikhs enjoining the worship of God alone, In short this thesis is in line with the thesis of McLeod that Sikhism is a Jat or peasant development and not the religion preached by the Guru which according to McLeod largely ended with the fifth Guru and that the Sikh religion and society should be understood mainly as a development of the “Jat cultural pattern” or the “peasant class”,

In this background, what we seek to stress is that taking into view the objective and scope of South Asia Studies Department, they would pursue the line they are doing already. These departments are not obliged to follow the discipline of Religious Studies which accept the ontological existence of 4 spiritual Reality. Sikhism can never be understood without its Ontological doctrines and teachings, Nor can its phenomenon or history, which has an integral relation with its ontology, be understood as divorced from its ontology or the Bani in the Guru Granth Sahib, On the other hand, these Departments are naturally obliged to follow the disciplines of Social Sciences in which fields the validity of the spiritual element is not accepted because these study phenomenology and not ontology. And when these Departments prescribe qualifications a Master’s degree in Religious Studies or the Philosophy of Religion is not prescribed. This is what has been written by experts in this regard:

Meanwhile, in increasingly strident voices, the few defenders of metaphysics have warned us of the danger of nihilism inherent in this development, and although they themselves seldom invoke it, they have an important argument in their favour: it is indeed true that once the super sensual realm is discarded, its opposite, the world of appearances as under stood for so many centuries, is also annihilated. The sensual, as still understood by the positivists, cannot survive the death of the super sensual. No one knew this better than Nietzsche who, with his poetic and metaphoric description of the assassination of God in Zarathustra, has caused so much confusion in these matters. Ina significant passage in The Twilight of Idols, he clarifies what the word God meant in Zarathustra. It was merely symbol for the super sensual realm as understood by metaphysics; he now uses instead of God the word true world and says: “We have abolished the true world. What has remained? The apparent one perhaps? On no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one”.

“Ninian approaches religion from the angle of phenomenology and the social sciences, whereas I a philosopher, find phenomenology confing. Ontology is too central to be bracketed”.

(Huston smith)

Article extracted from this publication >> July 22, 1988