Concept of Rebirth
(A Tool to Transcend Death)
Mystery mystifies mankind. The thrill of the unknown has always attracted the human mind. This attraction is so deeply ingrained by evolution that man accepts it as a challenge and starts treading the unknown territories. In fact, it is this journey into the unknown that has resulted in all the knowledge that we have so far. Be it science or religion or any other field. Basically, the entire knowledge is footsteps of mankind into the unknown. This journey is still on, and will probably never end.
Death and Birth are the most mysterious of all mysteries. And since the beginning man is struggling to unravel these mysteries. A plethora of theories has been developed to explain these mysteries. Birth and Death are stark realities faced by mankind. They see it happen to them and other species around them all the time. In most cases, the female conceives after intercourse and gives birth to a child. Then they all age and disappear into death. If it is so obvious and real then what is mysterious about them? What is it that mankind is trying to understand about this reality? Let us delve a bit deeper into it.
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What is the meaning or purpose of our life? At some juncture of our life, this question has invariably crossed the mind of every single person on this planet. Humans are designed to question, and they can’t help to interpret their very own being, their very existence. It is a kind of hermeneutical conundrum and also a paradox that human existence is both the subject and cause of this query. There are plenty of answers floating around. Several scientists, philosophers, and theologians have spent their lifetime finding an answer to this question. Besides, due to the ever-growing knowledge and consequent changes in human lifestyle, these answers are also being reinterpreted and new answers are also coming up. The place and milieu a person is born and lives in determines the first answer he or she will get in his life. Most people prefer to live with that answer but there are a few who feel prodded to pursue a solitary path. They question the existing answers. Before discussing the purpose of life as per “Gurmat” i.e. as per the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, the text Sikhism is based on, it is appropriate to discuss some of the existing answers n brief.
Scientific View: Let us start with the scientific view. Darwin’s theory of evolution is now a universally accepted view among the scientific community. Most atheists also prescribe to this view. As per this theory life on earth evolved to the current state through natural selection and is still evolving. Evolution is a relentless and inexorable force that drives every specie to replicate itself via its DNA as quickly as possible. Natural selection ensures that only the most suitable or fit survive to replicate themselves. This process and the varying climate conditions in different parts of the world resulted in the spectrum of species that we have today. There is ample data and solid proof to support this view. However, while this view does explain what Aristotle called “material cause”, “formal cause” and “efficient cause” but it does not explain what he called the “final cause” i.e. the purpose or end (telos) of this process. (1) Human mind is trying to understand what is the purpose of all this creation? Is creation a purpose in itself? Why there is suffering in life? What happens after death? These and some other questions are still to be answered to the satisfaction of the human mind.
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Ever since Homo sapiens evolved into thinking beings, they have been troubled, agitated and obsessed by two questions day in and day out. In order to get rid of this restlessness they have been trying to find an answer to these questions by unravelling the mystery of life and death on earth and the origin of this universe. The entire spectrum of knowledge that sapiens have accumulated so far is in fact nothing but an effort to get an answer to these questions. History is witness to the fact that they have been finding answers and revising them as their knowledge increased. Religion is also an attempt to answer these questions. In fact the concept of God in religion is an answer to these questions. However different religions have different concepts of God. This write up is an attempt to understand the concept of God the way it is defined in Sikhism.
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(A word of advice to my son on his marriage)
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Sikh way of marriage is called Anand Karaj. Let me start with giving you some historical perspective of Anand Karaj. Everything in Sikhism starts with Guru Nanak. It was Guru Nanak who refused to get married as per the traditional Hindu way by performing some rituals in front of the god of fire and Havana. He successfully argued to get his marriage solemnized remembering God that pervades and permeates the entire cosmos. It was not an easy job. Some people even tried to kill him for doing this. Message of Guru Nanak was followed by his successors. But the movement did not really picked up during the time of Gurus though there is enough evidence in history showing that it was getting adopted by Sikhs. There is a mention in Sikh history of the marriage of Bhai Kamila and Matho having been performed by reciting verses written by Gurus. Marriage of Veero, the daughter of Guru Hargobind, was also solemnized in the same manner. In fact it also became a kind of necessity for the Sikhs. When Sikhism started spreading in a big way the Brahmin priest tried to stop this by refusing to officiate at the marriage ceremonies of Sikhs. There was one Sikh named Randhawa who faced this problem at the time of the marriage of his daughter. When the Brahmin refused to officiate he went to Guru Amar Das for advice who sent his son in law Bhai Jetha (later Guru Ram Das) to officiate at the ceremony. Interestingly the clever Brahmin later took an about turn for monetary reasons and started officiating at the marriage ceremonies of Sikhs. However for varied reasons the Sikh way of marriage fell into disuse to be revived only later in the nineteenth century. It was at this revival that Sikhs started calling it Anand Karj and the four stanzas of the verse composed by Guru Ram Das were read and became a standard norm for Anand Karj. An act called Anand Marriage Act was also passed by Indian government in early 20th century but it is yet to become a law for political reasons.
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Often it comes from those who are recognised as intellectuals and those who pride themselves in being called “modern Sikhs”. In their opinion what happened on Vaisakhi of 1699 is better filed away as something obsolete as it is no longer require by Sikhs living in today’s world. They say this was a necessary but temporary reaction to the needs of that time and we no longer need it. Are they right or wrong? Or is it a deep-rooted conspiracy to derail Sikhism on to the track of apostasy. An humble attempt has been made in the following lines to understand the whole issue.
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Once a Sikh steps out of his house he is destined to face one question. Why don’t you cut your hair? The simple and most appropriate answer to this question is that a Sikh keeps his hair unshorn, as his Guru has ordained it and it is an article of his faith. Most people accept this as a reasonable explanation but there are many who continue to prod further and further and some even go to the extent of making fun. Sometimes these people are unnecessarily vocal and their curiosity is not for knowledge but they have something else up their sleeves. What is really tragic and ironic is that even people who call themselves Sikhs, but do not keep unshorn hair, are asking this question. It is understandable if it comes from a Sikh child who tries to understand the rationale behind keeping the hair unshorn, but the situation has come to such a pass that many Sikh adults are putting this question to their fellow Sikhs who keep their hair unshorn. I have also faced this question many times. An attempt has been made in the following lines to answer this question and to understand the reality behind the concept of Sikh Appearance or Saabat Soorat.
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It is often said that different religions in this world are only different ways people take to reach the same destination. It is like saying that God is sitting in some central place and people of different religions are heading towards It from different directions taking different routs. Is this true or false? Do people invariably have to take different routs to reach their destination? Guru Nanak challenged this concept and said that there is only one way leading towards God, and we are all required to walk this way irrespective of the religion we belong to or not. What is that one way? An attempt has been made in the following lines to explain and understand the religion or way revealed by Guru Nanak. It is the way that transcends all religions.
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It was a time of great festivity in the household of Mehta Kalu, a prominent resident of village Talwandi. It was the time (1479) when his only son Nanak would be given a Janeu (the sacred thread) to put on by Pundit Hardyal, their family priest. It was the first major religious ceremony in the life of his only son. Lot of preparations were going on. An atmosphere of hustle and bustle was visible all around. A big feast was planned for the event. Lots of relatives, friends and everyone in the village were invited to participate in the event and enjoy the feast.
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