Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Basic Tenets of Sikhism

Today is the 550th birth anniversary of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev.

As commonly understood, and according to nothing less than Wikipedia, the basic teachings of Guru Nanak can be summarized as:

ਨਾਮ ਸਿਮਰੋ, ਕਿਰਤ ਕਰੋ, ਵੰਡ ਛਕੋ

Loosely translated as: Keep remembering the name, work for your living, and to share one's wealth with the community.

However, it is a myth that these are the three tenets of Sikhism.  Nowhere in the Guru's teachings, except for passing references to the working for one's living and being kind, are the latter two tenets mentioned.  Far be from it that the latter two tenets are "central" to Sikhism.

The first tenet ("remember the name") is indeed mentioned repeatedly in the Guru's teachings.  But as I have written previously, almost universally, Sikhs are either ignorant or confused about what the "name" refers to, and what does it mean to "remember" the name.

Most Sikhs take it to trivially mean just chanting "Satnam Waheguru".  This particular mantra, and this particular practice of chanting is nowhere mentioned in the Sikh gurus' teachings.

I would love to be proven wrong.

Spirituality as Analgesia

"Religion is the opium of the people."  (Karl Marx, 1843)

Of course, as is well-understood now, by this statement, Marx indicated that religion offers a coping mechanism to numb the suffering in one's life.

In his words:
... Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
The new-age corollary to this dictum is:

Spirituality is symptomatic relief for the ills of modernity.

Spirituality offers a feel-good state, a state of "inner" peace or bliss, which is to be achieved by efforts directed solely at modification of one's inner state.

If the circumstances of modernity, and the ills thereof, are unaddressed, then spirituality can be considered a painkiller which does naught for the underlying disease.

Of course, analgesia is an important discipline in medicine, to lessen suffering while the real disease is cured over time, or deemed incurable.

But it is possible to be merely addicted to painkillers, or spiritual practice, without having any insight into the disease (or one's life situation), and efforts to address the cause.

Unless a spiritualist is also engaged in effectively transforming his living situation, spiritual practice is akin to taking an aspirin everyday for a wound that continues to fester.  The need for that aspirin will continue, and may even increase.  Except in the happy circumstance that the wound gets healed on its own.  Which is possible.