Faith and Discernment - Sidak and Bibayk

Faith and discernment (reasoning) are two valuable virtues, if they are treated in two exclusive compartments they can b...

an article by Rawel Singh

Faith and discernment (reasoning) are two valuable virtues. However if they are treated in two exclusive compartments they can become pitfalls. For example faith alone may lead to the belief that one’s religion is the only one or the best one. This is used by some as the basis to criticize or even slander other faiths and seek conversions.

The followers of many different religions sometimes try to show that their God is different or that God likes their religion more. The following examples demonstrate this:

The Old Testament quotes God saying to Israel (the Jews): “I shall take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7, King James Version). This made God exclusive to the Jews who consider themselves the chosen ones.

God in the New Testament is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matthew 20:32,KJV).

The Quran says “Surely the religion with Allah is Islam” (3:19). The actual meaning of "Islam" is surrender to the will of God. So any one who does this is acceptable to God, but Islam has come to be known as the religion of the Muslims alone.

The Quran itself removes any misgivings in this regard thus:

“Those who believe in God and the last day, and do good deeds whether they are Muslims, Jews, Sabians or Christians; they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve on judgment day”(5:69).

It is therefore not the scriptures that divide people on the basis of religion but those who interpret them. Such distinctions have been the cause for much bloodshed in the name of religion.

Faith is so misunderstood thatthose who do wrong things like killing in the name of religion come to be called fundamentalists whereas it is the fundamentals of their faith that they,in fact, do not follow. They act in ego derived from the belief that they know what is right. The fundamental virtue of humility taught by all religions is forgotten. It is also experienced that intolerance is almost invariably associated with religiosity or rather assumed religiosity. These are not acceptable to men and women in the modern age of education.

Followers of some religions observe certain rituals and superstitions. They may not be able to explain their significance but those having deep faith do not question them. However educated people want to know.

Disenchantment with rituals andsuperstitions leads some people away from religion altogether. They call themselves rationalists or atheists. For them religion is all superstition. They believe they can decide by reason what is right. So instead of having faith in the teachings of a scripture they believe in themselves. This then becomes their religion without saying so. There is also a major pitfall in this belief of the self. When at crossroads for a decision one is likely to follow a course that is beneficial to one who makes that decision but may not necessarily be moral or ethical. Reason is thus lost and self-interest prevails. Humility therefore becomes a victim here too.

We can therefore see that the common factor in both cases is ego or self-importance. This one thing is at the root of all evil.

We have identified these three problems:

  1. Criticizing other faiths.
  2. Superstitions and rituals leading to disenchantment with religion.
  3. Giving up religion and trying to live a life based solely on reason and rationalism with no authentic source to fall back upon for guidance.

So what is the solution? The way to do it is to satisfy human inquisitiveness either with appropriate answers; or still better by having a faith system such that such questions are not asked. The prescription seems to be leading a life -

1. of practical spirituality;
2. of rationalism bereft of superstitions and rituals;9
3. that embraces universally accepted moral and ethical values.

This seems a tall order.  But no… this is exactly what Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) the Sikh scripture provides for.

It says all evil is caused by a person believing “I can know by myself what is right; I do not need any religious teachings for this”.

ਬੁਰਾ ਭਲਾਕਿਛੁ ਆਪਸ ਤੇ ਜਾਨਿਆ ਏਈ ਸਗਲ ਵਿਕਾਰਾ ॥ ੩ ੯੯੩
The thought that I know what is good or bad is at the root of all evil (M: 3, SGGS, p 993).

In connection with criticism of others, it needs to be appreciated that whatever we call good or bad exists according to Divine plan and it is only our own judgement that makes it seem 'good' or 'bad.'. Accepting everything as the will of God is an important part of Gurmat, the Gurus’ teachings. We are often tempted to say that one must always expose what is wrong. That is true, but it should be evaluated if we are doing it with a missionary zeal or out of ego. A simple test for that is to ask ourselves if we do not suffer from the same affliction.  We may then come to the conclusion which Guru Nanak intended. He says: 

ਨਾ ਹਮ ਚੰਗੇ ਆਖੀਅਹ ਬੁਰਾ ਨਦਿਸੈ ਕੋਇ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰੀਐ ਸਚੇ ਜੇਹੜਾ ਸੋਇ ॥੮॥੨॥੧੦॥ ੧ ੧੦੧੫

I do not call myself good, and see none else as bad;
if we kill our ego we shall look at things as the eternal Master does;
we shall then become like Him (M: 1, SGGS, p 1015).

If the answer is that it is only to criticize, then one should hold back.

Let us look at the relationship of men and women of all religions with God with an open mind. There is only one universe wherein life exists. All religions believe that God created the universe; since there is only one universe there should be, and indeed is, one God. Any distinction in the concept of God between religions is thus misplaced. All creatures belong to the same God who does not discriminate on the basis of religion. We are all His children:

ਏਕੁ ਪਿਤਾ ਏਕਸ ਕੇ ਹਮ ਬਾਰਿਕ ਤੂ ਮੇਰਾ ਗੁਰ ਹਾਈ ॥ ੫  ੬੧੧-੧੨
One father we are all His children (M: 5, SGGS, p 611-12).

To those who love their religion and think that God approves only their faith Bhagat Ravi Das says:

ਆਪਨ ਬਾਪੈਨਾਹੀ ਕਿਸੀ ਕੋ ਭਾਵਨ ਕੋ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਜਾ ॥
ਮੋਹ ਪਟਲ ਸਭੁ ਜਗਤੁ ਬਿਆਪਿਓ ਭਗਤ ਨਹੀ ਸੰਤਾਪਾ ॥੩॥ ਰ ੬੫੮

God does not belong to any person or group,
the Master likes love;
the world is caught in worldly attachments but these do not worry God’s devotee (Ravi Das, SGGS, p658).

So thought of any distinction on the basis of religion would result in losing one’s link to God. Seeing this happening, Guru Nanak wonders:

ਨਾਨਕ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਕੈਸੀ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਸਾਲਕੁ ਮਿਤੁ ਨ ਰਹਿਓ ਕੋਈ ॥
ਭਾਈ ਬੰਧੀ ਹੇਤੁ ਚੁਕਾਇਆ ॥ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਦੀਨੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥੫॥ ੧ ੧੪੧੦

What has happened to this world?
There is no guide and friend; love between siblings and relatives has gone;
for the sake of the worldly ego people have lost their connection to God (M: 1, SGGS, p1410).

In order to re-establish the link with God one must experience the unity of creation and the joy of living by Divine will:

ਤੂ ਸਭਨਾਕਾ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਤੇਰਾ ॥ ਸਾਚੇ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਗਹਿਰ ਗੰਭੀਰਾ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਸੇਈ ਜਨ ਊਤਮ ਜੋ ਭਾਵਹਿ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਤੁਮ ਮਨਾ ॥੧੬॥੧॥੮॥  ੫ ੧੦੭੯-੮੦

You belong to all and all are Yours O profound eternal Lord;
only those are good who are liked by You (M: 5, SGGS, p 1079-80).

Those who submit to the will of God are liked by Him. The third Guru says:

ਜੋ ਤੁਧੁਕਰਣਾ ਸੋ ਕਰਿ ਪਾਇਆ ॥ ਭਾਣੇ ਵਿਚਿ ਕੋ ਵਿਰਲਾ ਆਇਆ ॥
ਭਾਣਾ ਮੰਨੇ ਸੋ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਏ ਭਾਣੇ ਵਿਚਿ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਇਦਾ ॥੧॥ ੩ ੧੦੬੩

Whatever You will to be done is done O Lord,
only a rare one accepts Your will;
one who does so receives comfort, for comfort is subject to Your will (M: 3, SGGS, p1063).

The common human mindset therefore needs to be changed for one to be acceptable to God. The Divine message is one of surrender:

ਆਪੁ ਸਵਾਰਹਿ ਮੈ ਮਿਲਹਿ ਮੈ ਮਿਲਿਆ ਸੁਖੁ ਹੋਇ ॥
ਫਰੀਦਾਜੇ ਤੂ ਮੇਰਾ ਹੋਇ ਰਹਹਿ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਹੋਇ ॥੯੫॥ ਫ੧੩੮੨

If you reform yourself, you will meet me and find comfort:
If you be mine, the whole world will be yours (Farid, SGGS, p 1382).

Guru Arjan has a simple prescription that will result in one looking at all creation as one's friends:

ਮਨ ਅਪੁਨੇਤੇ ਬੁਰਾ ਮਿਟਾਨਾ ॥ ਪੇਖੈ ਸਗਲ ਸ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਸਾਜਨਾ ॥ ੫ ੨੬੬
Shed evil from your mind and then you will see whole universe as friends (M: 5, SGGS, p 266).

Observationof superstitions is a sign of feeling of insecurity. Some people consider the number 13 unlucky. To some, some days of the lunar cycle are auspicious and others inauspicious. In India, if a black cat crosses one’s way it is unlucky and so on. There is no rationale to these things, but people are told they will suffer if they do not follow them. Those who lack confidence believe in them. This in turn is due to the fear of being hauled up for not obeying the laws of nature i.e. Divine commands (Hukam.) At the mundane level it is experienced as not obeying the laws of the land. Those who believe in God follow the rules of how the universe operates and therefore experience a deep sense of security and remain completely free from fear. The fifth Guru says:

ਸਗੁਨ ਅਪਸਗੁਨ ਤਿਸ ਕਉਲਗਹਿ ਜਿਸੁ ਚੀਤਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥
ਤਿਸੁ ਜਮੁ ਨੇੜਿ ਨ ਆਵਈ ਜੋ ਹਰਿਪ੍ਰਭਿ ਭਾਵੈ ॥੨॥  ੫ ੪੦੧

Good and bad omens are for those who do not remember God;
even the messengers of death do not come near those who are liked by God (M: 5, SGGS, p401).

Many people advocate observance of certain rituals like burning incense before, or offering food to idols of deities. There are also rituals of killing animals and birds to propitiate deities, some offer food to the priests in the hope that it will reach their ancestors. A discerning person wants to understand the rationale behind these things. The reason for rituals in the majority of cases is to follow what others are doing; it is to go along with others. Those who engage in idol worship say they do so only to be able to concentrate, but it is a fact that idol worship keeps one in bondage and does not allow Divine experience. Gurbani emphasizes this point about rituals through a metaphor:

ਫਲ ਕਾਰਨ ਫੂਲੀ ਬਨਰਾਇ ॥ ਫਲੁ ਲਾਗਾ ਤਬ ਫੂਲੁ ਬਿਲਾਇ ॥
ਗਿਆਨੈ ਕਾਰਨ ਕਰਮ ਅਭਿਆਸੁ ॥
ਗਿਆਨੁ ਭਇਆ ਤਹ ਕਰਮਹ ਨਾਸੁ ॥੩॥ ਰ ੧੧੬੭

The fruit bearing plant first forms flowers;
when the fruit forms, the flower disappears.
Similarly one puts in efforts to gain knowledge, but once knowledge is gained (through the Guru)  the need for ritualistic efforts ends ( Ravi Das, SGGS, p1167).

Conscious discernment presupposes possessing intellect which is a gift to us humans; other life forms do not have it. If this power of reasoning and discrimination is not used, then the gift of our human birth is wasted:

ਦੁਲਭਜਨਮੁ ਪੁੰਨ ਫਲ ਪਾਇਓ ਬਿਰਥਾ ਜਾਤ ਅਬਿਬੇਕੈ ॥ ਰ ੬੫੮
Human birth is achieved with difficulty based on past good deeds; but it is wasted if the sense of discrimination is not exercised (RaviDas, SGGS, p 658).

Guru Nanak advises to use intellect in every sphere of life:

ਅਕਲੀ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸੇਵੀਐਅਕਲੀ ਪਾਈਐ ਮਾਨੁ ॥ ਅਕਲੀ ਪੜ੍ਹ੍ਹਿ ਕੈ ਬੁਝੀਐ ਅਕਲੀ ਕੀਚੈ ਦਾਨੁ ॥
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਆਖੈ ਰਾਹੁ ਏਹੁ ਹੋਰਿ ਗਲਾਂਸੈਤਾਨੁ ॥੧॥ ੧ ੧੨੪੫

We should serve the Lord wisely and receive honor before Him;
wisdom should be used to understand what is read;
charity should be given with discrimination;
this is the way to go otherwise it is following the devil (M: 1, SGGS, p 1245).

A rationalist or an atheist would say that this is what they also emphasize, i.e., reason and discrimination, so where is the need for religion?

Religion teaches the higher things of life; it teaches ethics; it teaches discipline and it teaches compassion. It is the religious scriptures that educate us on the purpose of human birth and the God-to-human and human-to-human relationship. It is also well known that relief efforts in most cases of natural calamities are usually spearheaded by various religious organizations. Religion should not therefore be dispensed with, but rather the essence of religious teachings should be understood, internalized and acted upon.

The moral and ethical values taught by Gurbani may be encapsulated in one simple sentence:

ਸਚਹੁ ਓਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਉਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ  ਆਚਾਰੁ ॥੫॥  ੧ ੬੨
Truth is higher than everything else, but higher still is truthful living (M: 1, SGGS, p 62).

This calls for being true to one's faith, true to oneself, to one's family, the society, the country and in fact, the whole world.

This is faith with a discerning mind, the confluence of faith and reason.

Rawel Singh-


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