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INTERPRETATION OF GURBANI:
A SCIENTIST'S APPROACH

Prof. Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD

"Religion without science is blind.
Science without religion is lame."
Albert Einstein (21)

INTRODUCTION

Guru Nanak through his ten forms (Guru Nanak 1469 . . . to Guru Gobind Singh . . . 1708) founded a religion, Sikhism, for the welfare of the humankind of this planet, the earth. Due to certain activities of unscrupulous Sikhs, Sikhism has been wrapped in a cocoon woven with the silken fibers of ancient writings based on mythology, unscientific and illogical concepts, traditions and stories. Consequently it has been represented as a ritualistic and mythic religion like others. Even today, in the Space Age and the Computer Age, Sikhism is being interpreted along the lines of these ancient writings without looking into their authenticity and validity according to the present day knowledge of science and Gurbani, the touchstones of the truth. Gurbani is the word revealed by the Sikh Gurus, which has been incorporated in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) by the Fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan, and the Tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh. As Sikhism is based on Gurbani, therefore, it is imperative to adopt a scientific approach to interpret Gurbani in its real perspective to represent Sikhism.

Nevertheless, there are many conventional and conservative theologians who accept that the religion is a belief in spiritual and metaphysical phenomena and science has nothing to do with it. Because science deals with the physical matters, which can be seen and felt (20). They also feel that its application in religion will disrupt the fundamentals of Gurbani consequently will degrade Sikhism. Unfortunately they have absolutely wrong impression about science. Science deals with all types of matters: inanimates and animates and all the stages through which an inanimate becomes animate; all the invisible matters and all their stages through which they become visible and can be felt; and all the stages from nothingness to matter to existence. There is nothing in the universe that can escape the application of science. In fact the objective of science is to find the truth (21).

The Period of Renaissance and Guru Nanak

During the period of renaissance (14th - 17th century) the beginning of modern science challenged the existing fundamentals of church in Europe. Galileo (1564-1642) was imprisoned for life because he challenged the fundamental belief of the church that earth is the center of the universe. He proved the theory of Copernicus (1473-1543) that the earth is a planet of solar system and it revolves around the sun (23).

During the same period of renaissance, about a century before Galileo, Guru Nanak started the most modern and scientific religion, Sikhism - based on the Gurbani revealed by him. He challenged the misconceptions in the religions of Indian Subcontinent. The misconception that the earth is resting on the horns of a bull was removed by Guru Nanak by explaining that the earth is staying in the universe under the control of the Laws of the Almighty (Scientists call them Laws of Nature) (1, 19). Guru Nanak also explained about the creation of the universe by a process very similar to the "Big Bang" theory and expansion of the universe according to the Laws of the Almighty (Nature) (2, 19). The theory of "Big Bang" was propounded by scientists in 1921, i.e., about five centuries after Guru Nanak. I must explain here how are the Nature and the Almighty visualized by the scientists and by Guru Nanak? According to scientists "A creative and controlling force in the universe is a Nature." According to Nanak "The creative and controlling force in the universe is the Almighty." Moreover, Guru Nanak also considers the Nature as the creation as well as the creator (19).

On the front of sociology and theology, Guru Nanak challenged the caste system created by the Jogis and Brahmans and explained that the whole humankind belongs to one class (3, 4, 5); and challenged the Brahmans that the Almighty takes neither birth nor dies, is not reincarnated into human form (6, 7, 8), can never be structured into any shape in stone or any other material (9), and neither has father, nor mother, nor son, nor relative, nor wife nor any lust (10).

Space Age/Computer Age and Gurbani

Mr. Bestien (18) reported that thirty years ago only one percent of people said they were of no religion. Now about 10% of people say they have no religion. And forty years ago 70% people regularly attended weekly worship service, now only 20% do so. His comments on this information were: The main reason of decreasing population of believers in religion is that teaching of religion is too stodgy and stern for modern man swiftly changing knowledge of science. Very similar situation is developing in Sikhism throughout the world including India. The young Sikhs of Space Age/Computer Age are not interested in Sikhism and visiting Gurdwaras as they do not get the real picture of Sikhism, because of its presentation by quoting mythic, unscientific and illogical stories.

Recently Dr. Mann (22) has pointed out that even very reputed Sikh scholars, e.g., Dr. Gopal Singh, and Dr. G. S. Talib, have not been able to free themselves from the dominance of Hindu mythology while rendering the translation of stanza 37 of Jap. They could not resist bringing Prince Rama and his wife, Sita, into the picture. The word 'sito-sita' has been confused with Prince Rama's wife, Sita, and the word 'Ram' which actually stands for the Almighty, for Prince Rama. However, in common Punjabi folklore 'sito-sita' means fully sewn or stitched. Interpretation of Gurbani under the influence of ancient mythology is very common with many theologians.

Dr. Mann (22) has again expressed his disappointment in the interpretation of 'Gur Prasad' in the UNESCO Collection (24) by the most reputed theologians, e.g., Bhai Jodh Singh, Kapur Singh, Trilochan Singh and Bawa Harkrishan Singh and a Sikh historian, Khushwant Singh. They have translated 'Gur Parsad' in Moolmantra as: "By the Grace of the Guru made known to man." This interpretation is accepted by almost every Sikh theologian. But Dr. Mann interpreted it as: Gur = Great and Prasad = Bountiful/merciful. However, logically Gur Prasad stands for "Grace of the Almighty" with which Guru Nanak revealed the Moolmantra (11). Unfortunately, it is termed as Moolmantra by almost all the Sikh scholars and they justify its title by quoting the verses where the word 'mantra' has been used, forgetting that 'mantra' has been used as simile or metaphor in such verses. In fact there is no place of mantra in the Gurbani. Scientific and logical analysis of this verse clearly indicates that it is a definition of the Almighty not a Moolmantra (19, 20). Similarly, scientific and logical interpretation of the first verse of Jap (12) is as: "The Almighty was in existence before the time, during the times, at present, and will exist forever." The word 'such' is usually translated as 'true' in this verse. Actually 'such' here means 'existence'.

Unfortunately almost all the theologians have interpreted or translated two words, 'sanjog' and 'vijog', as union/separation of families or union/separation of man with/from God. In fact 'sanjog' is: The union of atomic nuclei to form heavier nuclei resulting in the release of enormous quantity of energy, i.e., fusion. Release of energy from sun is by fusion. The simple meanings are union of two things into one. And 'vijog' is: Splitting of an atomic nucleus resulting in the release of a large amount of energy, i.e., fission. An atom bomb is the result of a fission (splitting) of an element to release energy. The simple meanings are splitting of a thing into two parts. Thus in 'sanjog vijog duey kar chlaweh' (13) is interpreted on the fact that here Guru Nanak is talking about the control (nathi) of all the actions and reactions, i.e., the work (kar) and its control rests with the Almighty (Nath) in this stanza. Thus, its interpretation is: "The work (kar) is done by the energy released by fusion and by fission." In another verse it has the same meanings: "He Himself initiates the fusion (sanjog), He Himself initiates the fission (vijog), He Himself creates, and He himself reverses the creation" (14).

At another place these words have entirely different meanings: "Splitting (vijog) and pairing (sanjog) of chromosomes are performed according to the already decided laws. By putting together five elements, a new body is formed" (15). Here the Fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan, has explained the conception and birth of new body (baby). Here vijog means splitting of pairs of chromosomes of sex cells of a man and of a woman. And sanjog means combination or pairing of one set of n-number of chromosomes from the man sex cell with the n-number of chromosomes of woman sex cell resulting in a zygote of 2n-chromosomes. This zygote continues to divide resulting into a multicellular organism that develops into a new human being.

Some fundamentals of some religions are being continuously attacked by science since the advent of the period of the renaissance. A controversy is going on between the scientists and the church about the evolution theory. The children of the Space Age/Computer Age, who have studied the theory of evolution in schools are not going to believe in church that Adam and Eve were created as a man and woman as such to procreate on the earth. Because the scientific evidence indicates that the man came into existence as modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens) of today only 35,000 years ago after passing through a long process of evolution of millions of years (23). However, Guru Nanak declared about 340 years before the famous naturalist, Charles, R. Darwin (1809-1882), that the present status of man was achieved by him after passing through a long process of evolution (16, 17). Thus, a religion based on unscientific and illogical principles will not survive very long.

It is crystal clear from the above very brief discussion that Gurbani has stood the test of the time so far. And it is my strong conviction that there is no test in the world that could challenge its truth, if it is presented scientifically and logically in its real perspective.

REFERENCES:

    AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint) 1430 p. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i.e., succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Guru Nanak, P = Page of the AGGS).
  1. AGGS, Jap 16, p 3 : dhoal dharm day-a ka poot. Santokh thaap rakhia jin soot.
  2. AGGS, Jap16, p 3 : keeta pasao eko kawao.
  3. AGGS, Jap 28, p 6 : a-ee panthi sagal jamati.
  4. AGGS, Jap 33, p 7 : Nanak utam neech na koay
  5. AGGS, M 1, p 62 : sab ko ucha akhiey neech na deesey koey
  6. AGGS, M 1, p 931 : janam maran nahi dhandha dhore.
  7. AGGS, M 5, p 1095 : tu parbrahm parmesar jonn na awey.
  8. AGGS, M 5, p 1136 : janam maran te rehit narain. so mukh jallu jit kahey thakur jonni.
  9. AGGS, Jap 5, p 2 : thapea na jaey keeta na hoey.
  10. AGGS, M 1, p 597 : na tiss matt pita sut bandhap na tiss kaam na naari.
  11. AGGS, Manglacharan, p 1 : ek oankar sat nam karta purkh nirbhao nirvair akal murit ajuni sabhangh gur parsad.
  12. AGGS, Jap 1, p 1 : aad such jugad such hai bhi such Nanak hosi bhi such.
  13. AGGS, Jap 29, p 6 : sanjog vijog duay kar chlawey
  14. AGGS, M 3, p 1045 : aapey jor wichorey aapey. aapey thap uthapey aapey.
  15. AGGS, M 5, p 1007 : sanjog vijog dhurh hee hua.
  16. AGGS, M 1, p 20 : sachey tey pawana ....
  17. AGGS, M 5, p 176 : kai janam bhaey keet patanga.
  18. Bestien, Mark. 1991. Most Canadians shun religion as relic of the past. The Gazette, Montreal, November 19.
  19. Chahal, D. S. 1992. Philosophy: Scientific interpretation of the Sikh scriptures. The Sikh Review, Vol. 40 (July): 5-20.
  20. Chahal, D. S. 1993. Debate: Scientific interpretation of Gurbani. The Sikh Review, Vol. 41 (December): 23-35.
  21. Davies, P. 1983. God and the New Physics. J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd., Toronto. (Quote on the inside title page of this book).
  22. Mann, T. S. 1995. Problems of decoding Gurbani: The revealed Word. Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh.
  23. Reader's Digest History of Man: The Last Two Million Years. The Reader's Digest Assoc., Montreal, 1973.
  24. Singh, Trilochan; Singh, Bhai Jodh; Singh, Kapur; Singh, Bawa Harkrishan; Singh, Khushwant. 1973. Selections from the Sacred Writings of the Sikhs. Samuel Weiser, Inc., New York.

Reproduced from:

  1. Chahal, D. S. (1996) The Sikh News & Views, Ontario, 21: March.
  2. Chahal, D. S. (1995) World Sikh Meet 1995, Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, Sri Amritsar, pp 36-38.
  3. Chahal, D. S. (1995) The World Sikh News, Stockton, March 6-12.