This month’s book was “Guru Nanak: His Status and Salience”’ by Sirdar Kapur Singh. The book can be found here. Sardar Kapur Singh was honoured with the title ‘National Professor of Sikhism’ by Sri Akal Takht Sahib.
Summary of the themes covered
- Why did the Guru come to earth?
- Was the timing significant?
- Is the Guru an Avtar or Prophet?
- What is a true Guru?
- Does science provide humans with all the answers they need?
- What is the status of the Guru?
- What were the prevailing problems and how did the Guru solve these?
- Do we do Sikhi an injustice by adopting Western concepts?
The book club commenced with a discussion on why Guru Nanak Dev Ji came to earth and whether there was signficance to the time. Sardar Kapur Singh writes that there was a major shift in human thinking and that this was a critical point in human history. Many Sikhs ask the question why the Guru came at a certain time point and not before? Not many people can answer this question clearly. The prevailing argument is that the world had become a dark place which was in need of spiritual light, and this is mentioned within the book. However this raises the question would the Guru have come to earth if the world wasn’t dark in this way? One member mentioned that other Avtars have previously come to the earth at critical time points in history for example Krishna.
Following from this we discussed Sirdar Kapur Singh’s clarification regarding Avtars and Prophets and his argument that Guru Nanak Dev Ji super-ceded these manifestations. His argument was that the Guru is essentially the same as God, and God is free from incarnations. A brief discussion arose regarding whether it is correct for Sikhs to believe in other Avtars and this was not dwelt upon in depth due to a significant difference of opinion amongst members about the validity of the writings of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji that provides a clear answer on this.
One of the important aspects of this book was Sirdar Kapur Singh’s explanation of the term Guru and the different types of Gurus which have existed in history. It is important to recognise that the Sikh term Guru is significantly different from the common concept of Guru within India. Similarly the word reformer is often used to describe Guru Nanak Dev Ji but Sirdar Kapur Singh writes that the term reformer is not appropriate due to reformers being people who restore already established religions to their original purity, accepting allegiance to that faith. Guru Nanak Dev Ji clearly established a new order and didn’t accept allegiance to any other faith. Neither was the Guru an Avtar because an Avtar descends to earth to restore order within chaos, re-establishing traditional values. Guru Nanak Dev Ji created new and higher values. The last Prophets are traditionally thought to be Abrahamic, and these Prophets rejuvenated already preached religions. Guru Nanak Dev Ji does not fit this mould either. “Guru Nanak Dev Ji revealed a new value-system for mankind. He inserted Himself into history to initiate genuine revolution in the form of a new destiny for man.”
The members discussed that Sikhs should be aware of differences in terminology and should avoid using terms which come from other orders, faiths and traditions to describe Sikh concepts. There are many historical accounts which claim Guru Nanak Dev Ji is a saint, Avtar or Prophet, and it can be easy to attempt to Westernise our own language in attempt to make it understandable. We see this when we teach young children – sometimes we dumb down complicated concepts but sometimes we also change these concepts so that they are comparable to other religions for the sake of making things easy to understand. Perhaps we should accept the concepts as they are and let our children explore them naturally as time goes on. One member commented on the word Samaritan being an internationally renown and recognised word with a certain universal meaning. The word Khalsa should have a also have a well recognised meaning so that the world knows what the Khalsa stands for.
Sirdar Kapur Singh was critical of science’s limitations and the members discussed the pros and cons of this argument. We agreed that science is limited to exploration of the external, known world, but does not have the capacity to explore the unknown spiritual world. It has limited understanding depending on the prevalent knowledge of the time, and therefore is in itself a constantly changing knowledge. The universal truths put forth by Guru Nanak Dev Ji are unchanging and constant throughout time. The tradition of Western philosophy is based on Decartes’ concept of ‘I think therefore I am’. This was regarded as a spiritual awakening of that time period. Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s approach is to destroy individual ego and therefore the conclusion is that ‘I don’t exist.’
The members briefly touched about the subject ‘Where is the mind?’ and the relevance of Swarag and Narak, but it was agreed this was not within the confines of the book. We went on to discuss the true meaning of the word Guru in terms of Sikhi, and the relevance of the Guru today. Guru Gobind Singh Ji has stated that the Shabad Guru and Guru Khalsa Panth are the Sargun forms of the Guru, and that the Panj Pyare collectively represent the physical embodiment of the Guru.
We recapped on what Sirdar Kapur Singh felt was the salience of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Two of the points he mentioned were firstly the need for respectful fear of God, and the willingness to contribute to society. There was some debate about the word fear and whether this implied punishment, or whether this was fear linked with a loving relationship between the Sikh and their Guru. Social commitment was discussed as being one of the fundamental points of Sikhism, rather than focus on pure meditation. Sirdar Kapur Singh commented that Guru Nanak Dev Ji accused the prevailing holy men of the time of abandoning their responsibility to the masses in terms of providing spiritual guidance.
Along a similar thread, the members discussed that social commitment has now become more of a monetary thing rather than involving individual sacrifice or the service of wider society. For example, many Sikhs focus on their careers or families and give Daswandh as a solely monetary donation. The members recognised that education plays an important role in life but that it is not the ultimate end point in life.
This month’s discussion concluded with a summary of the members feelings on the salient points within the book, and their feelings on the book club in general. If anyone would like ongoing access to the broadcast of this month’s book club on Facebook please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Facebook.