The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
October 2012 – Vol. 15 Issue 8
According the wise the world over, the aim of human life is the realization of the fundamental identity of the human soul with the divine essence, and of the consequent kinship between humankind and the rest of creation. At the heart of religions lies the eternal truth that our innermost essence is united with the Absolute, and that only our ignorance or partial knowledge makes us unable to see this. We usually consider as external all that is outside our body and very often feel that the outside world is dangerous and hostile. A person with this view is usually convinced of the superiority of his worldview; yet sure of the reality of his ego, body, and the external world, he is lost in illusion and heading for disillusionment.
Such is the situation of one who is ignorant of the higher essence which is immortal, omniscient, and all bliss. The knowledge of the higher self which forms the core of every religion was called by the ancients theosophia, gnosis, or brahmavidya. Knowledge of the self is wisdom. The Upanishads, the flower of Indian mysticism, express the idea this way: “There is a Self which is pure and which is beyond old age and death; and beyond hunger and thirst and sorrow . . . This is atman, the Self of man. The desires of this atman are Truth. It is this Self that we must find and know: man must find his own Self. He who has found and knows the Self has achieved all his desires, he has found the Absolute (Brahman).” The Upanishads discuss the effects that realization of the self can have on a mystic, most importantly the achievement of the state when the knower, the known, and the act of knowledge are one without distinction.
Another idea common to mystical traditions is the essential unity of all life. "All this is nothing but Brahman," say the Upanishads about the world. But to achieve self-realization, one must first realize the illusory nature of the lower self. A. Meibohm writes: “There are a number of ways to reach the truth and there are different methods to attain the same goal, but all adepts of the mystic way are in agreement as to the necessity of abandoning the lower self in order to reach the higher sphere. Islamic Sufis, Jewish Kabbalists, Christian mystics, and Eastern yogis use different methods to reach the condition where the mind is freed of all thoughts and is in direct contact with the higher Self.”
Here arises a very important question: What has all this to do with the reality in which we live our lives? For an unreflective person living by the senses alone, the lower self/ego seems quite real. His knowledge of externals is as immediate as if the senses were windows onto the world around him. But it is not really so, for the function of our senses is to act as a filter eliminating superfluous information. As Dr. C. D. Broad summarizes Henri Bergson: “the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.” What we generally take for reality, then, is actually a personal construction of an individual consciousness. In the words of S. Radhakrishnan: "The objective world exists. It is not a total illusion. It is real not in being ultimate, but in being a form, an expression of the ultimate. To regard the world as ultimately real is a delusion."
The problem of reality is solved for a person who has reached self-realization: he who enters into the self is changed by this experience to such a degree that he is able to see the world differently. He knows that the Absolute (Brahman, Tao, God) is ultimately real, all the rest being only its illusory play. The experience of reality is so immediate that in the presence of this immediacy all thoughts and ideas are satisfied and the difference between oneself and the rest of creation is abolished. As Edward Carpenter said: “if you inhibit thought (and persevere) you come at length to a region of consciousness below and behind thought, and different from ordinary thought in its nature and character – a consciousness of quasi-universal quality, and a realization of an altogether vaster self than that to which we are accustomed. . . . So great, so splendid is this experience, that it may be said that all minor questions and doubts fall away in face of it . . .”
But from ego to the cosmic or absolute self is a long journey winding upwards along the Tree of Life, where each trial is of great importance, as it is a door to a higher sphere of consciousness. Every new sphere of consciousness is associated with a different degree of reality. As Jaroslav Koci writes: "From the point of view of the Self there is no matter nor spirit but an eternal sea of pure CONSCIOUSNESS." To reach this pure consciousness, one must pass many a dangerous turn. If the will is strong, the heart pure, and the mind unshaken he may pass all dangers and continue the great journey right to the absolute Self. A self-realized person has reached the truth and has become free. – Jan M. Kozlovsky
Sikhism is a monotheistic, devotional faith that emerged from Hinduism in the 1500s. In Punjabi sikh means student or disciple, and Sikhs follow a line of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak (1469-1539), born in the Punjab in what is now Pakistan. The tenth, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), announced that after his death there would be no further human Gurus; instead the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth, would be the community’s guide as the embodiment of the Word of God, the Eternal Guru. As a sign of respect this book is usually called Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and Sikhs consider it an inspired text not of human origin.
The Adi Granth is a collection of hymns, mostly from the Gurus but also some from other North Indian teachers. It is written in Punjabi, whose alphabet was perfected by the second Guru to record its words. Compiled and enlarged by several of the Gurus over a period of about 200 years, its 1432 printed pages are divided into three sections: the first 14 pages contain verses most often used for liturgical purposes; the middle section contains hymns organized by rag or metrical form related to how they are sung; the last 78 pages contain very short verses. All community religious actions must take place in the presence of a copy of the Adi Granth, which turns any room into a gurdwara or worship space.
Sikhs hold communal worship, but attendance is not mandatory. Rather, devotees seek to cultivate a constant awareness of the divine Reality around and within them. This essential worship takes place moment to moment in the course of family and professional duties; asceticism and monasticism are discouraged. For convenience communities tend to gather on the holy day of the surrounding culture, but members can worship at the gurdwara any time it is open. Each gurdwara contains a meeting hall, kitchen and dining areas. The terms used to describe it come from the Mughal court, with the scripture honored as the royal person. In the meeting hall the Adi Granth is set on a throne, a raised plat-form topped with a canopy. Those coming into the gurdwara are modestly dressed, with their heads covered and shoes off. They bow to the Adi Granth, touch their forehead to the floor, and then sit on the floor facing it, men and women generally sitting apart in keeping with Indian custom. The worship gathering or diwan (royal audience) consists of readings from scripture by a literate member, singing of hymns from the Adi Granth, perhaps talks by members, and communal eating. Religious duties and offices are open to all members irrespective of sex or status. There is no priesthood.
All who enter the hall are given a taste of a traditional sweet, and after the service all attendees eat a meal prepared on site, generally vegetarian. Traditionally they sit in a single line so there can be no distinction of status by seating position. Eating together demonstrates the equality of humanity since in Hinduism those eating food with lower caste people or women were considered ritually impure. Only those willing to show their acceptance of human equality are welcome at Sikh services. Even the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great had to sit on the floor and eat with all the men and women present before being received by the third Guru.
Muslims had long lived in India, but the Islamic conquest of northern India beginning in Guru Nanak’s time greatly influenced later Sikhism. The fifth and ninth Gurus were executed by hostile Muslim governments, and in the face of a policy of religious extermination the tenth Guru reformed the faith to center on a body of initiated followers, the Khalsa, who are duty-bound to defend Sikhism, by defensive military action if peaceful means fail. Their code of discipline includes tithing, service, not committing adultery, not using tobacco or other drugs, not eating halal meat, and wearing the “5 Ks” (five items that begin with K in Punjabi), the outer signs that distinguish Sikhs to this today. These include: uncut hair, a comb, an iron wristlet, a single-bladed sword, and short trousers usually worn as an undergarment. For men, a turban is also required. The tenth Guru instituted the custom of all initiated men taking the surname Singh (lion) and all initiated women taking the surname Kaur (princess), symbolizing that they belong to one human family.
While Khalsa Sikhs consider themselves orthodox, a significant number of Sikhs are not initiated, some of whom follow the Khalsa code while others do not. At the partition of India in 1947 the Punjab was split and, given historical Islamic oppression, most Sikhs fled to the Indian portion. About two-thirds of Sikhs still live in the Punjab, with the rest evenly divided between Indian urban areas and living abroad. The Sikh spiritual headquarters is the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, a city founded by the fourth Guru.