In the long tale of sages and seers as well as saints and devotees in the religious life of India for the last 3000 years, Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh have both of them got their place of honour, and they are looked upon as being fully within the orbit of Brahmanical Hinduism. Although there is a mentality among certain members of the Sikh community which is separatist and which would like to dissociate all connexion between Sikhism and the various other of Brahmanical Hinduism, the controversy is not germance in the present situation. The entire body of the Hindus have without any question accepted the Sikh Gurus as great leaders of Hinduism, and many orthodox Hindus take spiritual guidance from Sikh Gurus; and this is looked upon as perfectly. Unfortunately, because the Sikh tradition, owing to reasons which may be enquired into, gave up the Sanskrit background of Hinduism, the Sikh faith with its philosophy and its practical religion took up a special cachet of its own. But nevertheless, it is quite easy to see, when we read the English translation of the Guru Grant by Dr. Gopal Singh, or a commentary on it in Bengali by the late Prof. Haran Chandra Chakladar, we see how Sikhism as formulated by Guru Nanak and later on by Guru Gobind Singh is based on the Vedanta and on the Bhakti cult of medieval India. There are certain influences (but they are not of such fundamental character) which came from Islamic Tasawwuf and Tasawwuf of Sufiism is denied a place within Islam by ultra-orthodox Islam which professes to base its thought and ideology on the Shar ‘ryat. However, discriminating Brahnanical Hindus would regard the fundamental thoughts of Sikhism as being just a form of the Vedanta; and the Japji of Guru Nanak, which form the core of Sikhism with its mul-mantra forming the opening verse of the Sikh scriptures, is just a modern Upanishad. As we have comparative studies of the different schools of Hinduism, similarly it would be quite a useful line of study to compare the philosophy of Sikhism with the other forms of Hindu faith or Hindu Sectarianism, which have all emanated from the common source which is in the Vedanta, embellished in many cases by the later schools of Bhakti.
In the present work the author Dr. Sunil Kumar Das has essayed a philosophical enquiry into the points of agreements between Sikhism as preached by Guru Nanak on the one hand, and the Vaishnava faith which Sri Chaitanya preached about the same time in Eastern India. Three great teachers in Hindudom were contemporaries of one another, and they were each of them great man, each in his own way. They were-
(1) Guru Nanak (1469-1538)
(2) Chaitanya-Deva (1485-1533)
(3) Sankara-Deva of Assam (1463-1533).
The Bhakti School of Chaitanya centering round the mystic eroticism of the Radha- Krishna cult is on the face of it quite different from the sturdy Monotheism of Guru Nanak who in his basic faith believed in a Unique Divinity and for whom it was only the worship of the one and thorough exclusion of the Many; besides, unlike Chaitanya, Nanak was a thorough non-believer in some of the most characteristic social and other ideologies of Hinduism like caste. Sankara-Deva on the other hand aceepted, which Nanak also tacitly did, the Puranic Mythology of common Hindudom. But in his doctrine which he called Ek-saraniya, there was an abandon of faith only in the Supreme Deity who was no one else than Krishna of the Sanskrit Puranas. Prof. Das has written his book as an essay in the study of Comparative Religion within the restricted orbit of Hinduism, beseeking to place side by side the basic ideals of these two great contemporaries-giants in the realm of Indian thought who flourished in the 15th -16th centuries. One feels sure that, coming as it does from a capable and a qualified scholar like Dr. Das, this study has thrown valuable light into the problems of Sikhism and Gaudian Vaishnavism which present, one might say, tremendous diversities inspite of their fundamental unity. This of course, as a scholar’s book, written by a scholar for scholars, and a scholarly appreciation on a historical and comparative basis of Sikhism, is something which will certainly be welcomed by all serious students of Sikhism and also of Comparative Religion. I hope this work will receive its full appreciation from interested quarters-students of Indian Philosophy who want to go deep into the bases of Sikh thought and Sikh faith.
A study in the Socio-religious and cultural history of India remains incomplete without a reference to the sacred contributions of the medieval saints in the of spirituality, which represent the true spirit of Indian tradition. The synthetic outlook of Indian thought is conspicuous in the field of religion as in other fields. The medieval saints lived an ideal life based on true moral and spiritual principles, and saved many a people from moral and spiritual death by removing the deep-seated superstitions and the veil of ignorance. Sri Caitanya and Guru Nanak are the two echoing souls of the voice of God on earth, who made their appearance in this period. They brought the divine message of love and spirituality for the people at large. There had been many other saints as well. But I have selected these two spiritual leaders for a comparative study of their faiths, principles and practices, who come from two distant provinces of India, but were contemporaries. My objective in view in making this comparative study has been to bring into focus the spirit and inspiration of the teachings of these two saints who contributed immensely to the Bhakti renaissance of the medieval India.
I have divided the whole work into eight chapters. In the first chapter, I have given a short introduction to the nature and importance of the comparative study of religions, and a brief life-sketch of Sri Caitanya and Guru Nanak. In the second chapter, I have tried to trace the origin and development of Vaisnavism and Sikhism, and to show that while Sri Caitanya’s was a religion the fold of Hinduism itself with liberal outlook, Guru Nanak founded his religion by synthesis of Hinduism and Islam to the effect that his religion was neither Hinduism nor Islam in particular. The history of Sikhism starts with Guru Nanak, while Sri Caitanya comes at later stage of the history of Vaisnavism. The third chapter has been devoted to the metaphysical views of the two thinkers. In this chapter my finding is that Sri Caitanya and Guru Nanak differed widely in their metaphysical standpoints the main point of difference being in respect of the concept of Reality. While according to Sri Caitanya, God is a concrete personality, Guru Nanak takes Him as the formless Absolute. According to the former, God is wholly transcendent to the Jivas in the sense that absolute merger of the finite soul in God is impossible, but, according to the latter, it is not so, and the Jivas ultimately merge in God. In the fourth chapter, I have tried to show that although they differed widely in their metaphysical views, Sri Caitanya and Guru Nanak came very close to each other in their spirit of approach to Reality. In spite of metaphysical differences the two systems of thought meet on the path of unalloyed devotion to God. Both assigned the highest place to Bhakti in preference to Karma, Jnana and Yoga. It is, however, to be noted that for Sri Caitanya, Bhakti is both a means and an end, but for Guru Nanak, it is not an end-in-itself, but only a means leading to self-realization and God-realization. This is due to the difference in their conception of God and the finite self. In Sri Caitanya’s thought there is no room for mysticism, as he believes that God is a concrete person wholly transcendent to the finite selves; but, Guru Nanak’s conception of God as the formless Absolute, leads to mystic union of the finite and the infinite. In the fifth and sixth chapters, I have tried to throw some light on the moral and social views of these two thinkers. Both of them recognise the necessity and importance of morality for the preparation and continuity of religious life. But while Guru Nanak was a religious, as well as, social reformer, Sri Caitanya brought about a reformation only within the fold of his own Caitanaya brought about a reformation only within the fold of his own religion. In the seventh chapter, I have show both Sri Caitanya and Guru Nanak reacted adversely to Yoga and Tantra. In the eighth chapter, I have summed up all the common points and difference of the two schools of thought, and this gives an idea of the whole work at a glance. I have also said a few worlds on the influence of Sri Caitanya’s Guru Nanak’s thoughts, and also on the importance of the study in the present age of moral and spiritual crisis.
The subject I have dealt with is one which has seldom been studied before. In making this comparative study. I have collected material from original sources as far as possible, and depended on authentic translations by well-known scholars. I have tried to expound the thoughts of these two spiritual aspirants in a way which is meaningful to both Eastern and Western Scholars and also does justice to the doctrinal faiths of these systems.
This book in its present form is a revised version of my thesis entitled ‘Sri Caitanya and Guru Nanak: A Com-parative Study of Their Thoughts’ approved for the Ph. D. degree of Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta, in 1971. While it goes to see the light of the day after more than a decade, I must take this opportunity to express my deep respect and gratitude to my Professor Dr. Nanilal Sen, formerly Head of the Dept. of Sanskrit and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Rabibdra Bharati University, Calcutta, but for whose kind advice, help and inspiration this work could not have been completed. I must also take this opportunity to pay my humble homage to Late Dr. Suniti Kummar Chatterji, a Scholar extraordinary, who favoured me greatly by writing a valuable ‘Foreword’ to this book. I shall be failing in my duty, if I do not also acknowledge my indebtedness to Dr. Debipada Bhattacharya, formerly Vice-Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta, and to Dr. Ajit Kumar Ghosh, formerly Vidyasagar Professor & Head of the Dept. of Bengali, Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta. Who have taken keen interest in the publication of this book. I am also indebted to Late Tridandi Swami Bhakti Hriday Bon Maharaj (Vrindaban), Dr. Trilochan Singh (of Ludhiana), Prof. H.S.P. Bhattacharya (of Patna), Late Pandit Baidyanath Kavyatirtha (of Basirhat), Pandit Krishnadas Bhaktitirtha (of Vrindaban), Late Dr. Ram Chandra Pal (formerly Head of the Dept. of Philosophy, Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta), and Captain Bhag Singh, M.B.E. (of Calcutta), who helped me in many ways in connection with my research work on the subject. Last, but not the least, I must also thank my student Dr. (Miss) Krishna Chattopadhyay, who took the trouble of preparing the ‘index’ of the book.
May I fervently hope that my humble work would go a long way in fostering fraternity among the multi-national Indians, and would help achieving, to a degree, the emotional integration that is the crying need of the day for all of us.
Apprach to the Comparative Study of Religion:
‘Al roads lead to Rome.’ All religions lead to one God. True, diversity is the mosaic of the university of views n the field of religion as in other field is a facy; yet, it is only one aspect of the truth. No two things of the world are completedy identical; yet, no two things are totally unrelated Unity is the inner truth of things. Reality is one,-the learned call it by many names. God is one; but there are many paths to follow in our journey towards Him. The one God is approached by people from all directions, for there are no two rival Gods. The end is one and the same, but the means or ways are many. The different religions are different approaches to the same God who may be viewed from different angles of vision, as He has innumerable aspects. Just as the same individual stands in different relations to his followmen and appears to them differently, e.g., father, son, uncle, brother, husband, etc., so, the same God is revealed differently in different religions. But the centre of all the religions is the same God. If this is kept in mind, many of the misconceptions about and hatred against other religions can be removed.
A comparative study of religions should be undertaken with an unbiased mind which must have equal revere for all religious tolerance and sympathy. Every religion has to be expounded from within. First, to understand what a religion has to say, and then to judge whether it could say anything better. If the points of difference between two religious schools are unduly exaggerated neglecting their resemblances, bitterness would grow. We are to remember that in spite of many point of difference, all the religions of the world have a common centre of gravitation, that is, God. Religion is a way of life, a mode of conduct, that is directed, that is directed towards reaching the highest goal of life, that is, God. As all rivers ultimately reach the same ocean, so all paths ultimately lead ultimately reach the same ocean, so all paths ultimately lead ultimately reach the same ocean, so all paths ultimately lead to God.
“Religions”, as Dr. Flint defines it, “is man’s belief in a being or beings mightier than himself and inaccessible to his senses, but not indifferent to his sentiments and actions, with the feelings and practices which flow from such a belief”. An analysis of the definition reveals the there elements of religious consciousness, viz., (1) knowledge, (2) feeling and emotion, and (3) conation and action. Jnanayoga Bhaktiyoga and Karmayoga-all are included in Dharmayoga (Religion). But, in different religions, emphasis is laid upon different elements.
Religion is not a means, but also an end. As an end, it is eternal (Sanatana), it is the eternal bond between the finite souls and the Infinite God-the object of love and worship. The finite souls follow from God, and however far they may move, they can never sunder themselves away from God. To re-live this relation is religion. This relation is not established by any human being-it is eternally there, but the Jivas forget it under the bondage of earthly life. The task before a spiritual is to recall is to recall this forgotten but eternal relation. When a finite Jiva by following the moral and spiritual disciplines, come to the remembrance or realization of this eternally existent relation, and lives in communion with God, he may be said to have reached the highest end of life. Thus, if an individual comes to such a realization of God, to that extent, he may be said to be religious.
So long in the past, a comparative study of religions was undertaken mainly from the theological and metaphysical points of view. But while we cannot such an approach, since there is no religion which does not contain some theology and also some philosophy, it would be wrong to take such an approach as the only possible one. Because, if we compare two religions only from metaphysical and theological points of view, then, we can very rarely reach any unity that way, as dogmatic theology and metaphysics create dangerous differences among men. Hence, in our metaphysical and theological to religion, we must be on our guard as to how far the theological and metaphysical account of a religion is harmonious and consistent within itself.
An ethico-social and mystical approach to religion is likely to foster sympathy and mutual understanding. The ethical foundations of the various forms of religion have strong points of resemblance. The mystic experiences of the saints of the highest order have been the same all over the world. Miss Evelyn Underhill writes: “Though mystical theologies of the East and West differ widely-though the ideal of life which they hold out to the soul differ too-yet in the experience of the Saint this conflict is seen to be transcended. When the love of God is reached, divergencies become impossible, for the soul has passed beyond the sphere of the manifold and is immersed in the one Reality”. Again, “one cannot honestly say that there is any wide difference between the Brahmin, Sufi, or the Christian mystics at their best”.
The historical and anthropological approach to religion has done a lot of service to it, but it views religion only externally. So, while making an historical and anthropological survey of the religions, it would be proper not to judge their value in terms of their historicity alone, but to see how far these religions being in history also transcend the relative historical process.
While undertaking a comparative study of religions, we should not be, as already stated, biassed by any subjective feeling, that is to say, our study of religions should be objective. Some agnostic scholars, however, claim that a nonreligious approach to the comparative study of religions is the only objective one. But this amounts to saying that only those who are sceptics and ignorant of religion are competent to study the subject from a comparative point of view. This is absurd. Although our approach to the study is objective, it is not so in this sense. Indeed, the non-religious approach to religion is to try to see with the ears and to hear with the eyes; or, we might say, it is an attempt to define a silver coin with the brain of a baboon. This is a stark reproach to any meaningful approach. Moreover, mind can never be reduced to the state of an air-free test-tube; it has, along with the Kantian categories of thought or the Buddhist Vikalpas, its impressions, appetencies and aversions which serve as the subterranean drives of all human action and ratiocination. So our approach would be to let each religion disclose its real essence from within. As Dr. Radhakrishnan says: “We must experience the impression that has thrilled the follower of another faith, if we wish to understand him.” Thus truly speaking, our approach would be both subjective and objective-subjective in so far as the mind has to be attuned with the subtle nuances of the religious experiences lest it forfeits its claim for eligibility for the pursuit.
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