On Nov. 3, 1974 the author arrived at Toronto to attend to certain engagements when he learnt that in the Oecumenical Institute of the University was scheduled to meet on the 5th November, to consider as to how best all the world-religions can mutually cooperate to help solve the most urgent current problems of mankind of peace and war, hunger and emergence of a world society, that is God-oriented.
The author learnt that no Sikh had been invited, although preparations for this gathering had been afoot for the whole of the past year.
On his enquiries he was informed that “Sikhism” was not accepted as an autonomous or a world-religion and the representatives of Hinduism, therefore, were deemed as sufficiently qualified to refer to Sikhism, if necessary, during those momentous discussions.
As Sirdar Sahib expressed a wish to participate in these deliberations, as a Sikh spokesman, he was shown the courtesy of being formally invited.
The gathering was about 50 to 60 strong elite, representing, Hinduism, Buddhism (Hinayana, Mahayana, Tantrayana, Tibetan Buddhism and modern western Buddhism), from India, Ceylon, Tibet, Korea, North Vietnam and Bhutan, and Islam was represented by Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi and Ismaili sects of Islam. Almost all sects of Christianity were well represented, as was Judaism.
On the following note being considered, it was deemed of sufficient importance to claim most of the time of the deliberations and in conclusion there was reached a consensus that in Sikhism as the most recent and modern world-religion was entitled to special attention in relation to the problems that had engaged the minds of the delegates. We hope the readers will find it very informative and interesting.
I may say that there are broadly speaking five categories of religions from the point of view of outlook and institutional action, that is their scope of prevailment.
1. Religions that are ethnic, grounded in the conviction that entitlement to and direct benefits of the, or their religion are divinely and irrevocably reserved for a particular ethnic tribe constituting the God-ordained elite of Religion, “the Chosen People”, in special covenant with God. Judaism is the well-known instance of this category of religions.
2. Those who claim that entitlement to and direct benefit of their religion are freely open to the Jew and the Gentile. That is, all the people of the world of and only if they accept the religion in question and its verbal formulations as the exclusive repository of Truth. The ecumenical religions of Christianity and Islam belong to this category.
3. Religion that insists that since penultimate and highest experience is essentially obtainable as the end-result of a long series of birth and re-births of a soul within the context of a particular geographic and cultural milieu through the process of merempsyehosis. The path and benefits of the true religion are accessible exclusively to a genetic racial group confined to a specified geographic habitat. By understanding thus alone can the Hindu claim that “It is an exclusive privilege and grace of God that enables man to be born a Hindu in the sacred land called, Bharat, that is India. A birth in the other lands, no matter of how excellent a condition and however frequently, is no better than a repetitious frustration and wearisome waste.”
Krsnanugrahato labhadava manave janam bharte, anyasthane birtha hanam misphlanca gata gatam.
The basic postulate of this doctrine is that the multitudinous personal experiences of the present as well as the characteristics of the body holding the experiencing self are the expression of the past acts in some residual and seminal form by a transmigrating entity or principle. A Hindu would explain that the fundamental convictions of the votaries of religions (1) and (2) arise out of the prolonged and laborious studies of obscure phenomenon and mysterious human facilities, that can be understood properly only if the aforementioned basic postulate of Hinduism is conceded and accepted which provides the rationale of Hindu claim regarding birth in a genetic Hindu family in India.
4. Religions that postulate that the fact of religious experience being non-intellectual and non-cognitive implicates that operative level of the religion must be the upaya, the provisional means, and not doctrines and concepts, beliefs and dogmas. And these upaya have to be as variable as the beings whose spiritual foods they are meant to supply. Buddhism as the export-form of Hinduism, is a religion of this category with its numerous expressions ranging from Hinayana, the original ethico-philosophical religion, to Mahayana, Vairayana. Tantrayana, Mantrayana, Tibetan Buddhism and the Zen to mention only the major manifestations of Buddhism.
5. The religion that aims at transcending of all particular-ism in religion and points towards a religious experience realized as the All-Ground of all-particular religious experiences and which, therefore, does not confront dogma with dogma and belief with belief. And which does not aim at religious conversion so much as the authentic religious life and is thus primarily a bridge-maker and not a universal conqueror or all-leveller, such as ecumenical religions, like Islam and Christianity tend to be. Sikhism, being a religion of this category does not outright reject or oppose other doctrines or dogmas but demands true dialogue rather than conversion as the goal transcending particular-ism of other religions. As it preaches that beyond, lies not a universal concept, not synthesis or syncretic amalgam but deeper penetration of one’s own religion in thought, devotion and action. It upholds that in depth of every religion-living religion—there is a point at which religion itself loses its importance. And that to which point it breaks through- particularly elevating it to spiritual freedom and with it to a vision of the spiritual presence in other expression of the ultimate meanings of existence.
I. The religions of the category (1) are of due exclusivity engrossed in and preoccupied with the maintenance and preservation of their own identity and their status spiritual privlegentia through political and social viability.
II. The religions of category (2) in the case of Christianity, believing that, the nature of things is divine love for the created world, aim at a will to create through suffering. And a movement of such wills that is expected to lead to establishment of a new “Kingdom” and state of affairs in human history in which God’s Will is “done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
III. The other variety of category (2), of which Islam is an expression par-excellence, aims at and strives for, al-jihad. A universal or dominant monolithic, close Muslim world –society in which the laws of personal conduct and social organisation revealed unambiguously and finally by God through Prophet Mohammed are obeyed and enforced. This being the ultimate purpose of God in creating the world and the man-and which Muslim society is to be enlarged and strengthened progressively through the policy of “enforcement of Islamic laws through sword.” as-shara’ tahatus-saif.
IV. The category (3) religions are insular, self-sufficient and self-engrossed, concerned only with ensuring external non-interference and their internal purity.
V. The religions of category (4) are a-social, catholic and concerned exclusively with awakening in the individual in his personal capacity and not in his position as a limb of the society-transcendental consciousness, prajna the wisdom that liberates from the limitations of all names and forms.
VI. The religions of the category (5) that is Sikhism, freely recognizes that search for a fundamental unity of religions or the attempts at the religions rapprochement have their limitations. For, there are fundamental differences in the conceptions of reality and attitudes towards the world, permanently impeding a real and lasting synthesis between basically incompatible elements. Sikhism preaches frank and unreserved dialogue between various religions, and the human groups that owe allegiance to these religions, so as to arrive at the experience that transcends religious particular-ism and realizes a base of identity underneath all modes of religious expression. As a corollary thereof Sikhism favours a plural, free, open and progressive human society, God-oriented, non-aggressive but firm and ever ready to combat against rise and growth of evil, through organized resistance, and forward looking yet non-ambitious. For facilitating emergence of this state of affairs it has conceived of and recommends organized and co-operative efforts of man of good-will, indicating the true sources of dynamism available to man for this purpose, the details of which however are outside the scope of this short note.
The Sikh Review, May 1975