Friday, July 24, 2015

The Sikh Religion, Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, by Macauliffe

Several years ago an elderly Sikh man who looked to be in his 80's started waving at me frantically as I was driving through the neighborhood.  I stopped and he jumped into my car and started saying something like "gudwara".  It was quickly clear that he didn't know a word of English, but was frantic to get somewhere.  I pondered the situation for a moment and decided that there should be some entertainment value to following this elderly gentleman's instructions, so started driving ahead and pointing different ways at the intersections to see if he approved.  After several miles we drove into a neighborhood that I wasn't familiar with and onto a "Gurdwara Road".  This quickly brought us to a Sihk temple where a number of other elderly Sikhs were waiting outside for my client.  I dropped him off and everyone waved, but I was almost as much in the dark when this was done as when I started.  My next door neighbor is a Sikh family.  Yet I know almost nothing about Sikhism.

Librivox.org has this work on the Sikh religion which I though it good to listen to for my commutes.  So far I am into the introduction which has shed a little bit of light onto the subject.  The religion was started by Guru Nanak in the 15th century.  I learned that the English officers encouraged their Sikh recruits to be good followers of their religion, since this facilitated military discipline, bravery and loyalty.  Although we might argue about loyalty when discussing the assassination of Indira Gandhi.  There was also some discussion of the pre-Sikh history which begins with the Brahmins driving out the Buddhists, and later the Mohammedans forcing their religion into India with the most brutal techniques known to man.  

Macauliffe explains his goals of providing a text on the subject that was as accurate as possible, avoided slanders, and met the approval of the Sikh gurus of his day.  These goals seem to have been met in their entirety.  This has me pondering the modern intellectual who will do almost the exact opposite with Christianity:  To meet scholarly approval, a work on Christianity must slander, defame and twist, ideally along new directions that had not previously been considered.  Anyway, I am glad to have such an introduction to Sikhism.
Something that I have wondered about is regarding the exodus of westerners from Christianity.  Even the Pope is ashamed to be known as a follower of Christ and chooses instead to be publicly known as a disciple of Marx.  In this mad rush, westerners have settled into all kinds of religions, but I have yet to see one embrace Sikhism.  Why is that?

Macauliffe tells a little of his problem of bringing Sikhism to the Western reader.  This relates to the original gurus preferring the vernacular, which is now a dated version of Punjabi.  To this is mixed in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic, with some special terms that only the gurus can explain.  This creates an extraordinarily complex linguistic problem that can only be addressed in India in careful consultation with the gurus.  A related problem is that the Sikhs themselves might not be terribly well informed of their religion.  The first volume of this is 14 hours of recording, and it seems that there are 6 volumes to the set.  If I survive this will I achieve nirvana?

6 comments:

Inklings said...

It was very good of you to help the elderly man and take him to where he needed to go. I am wondering if I would have felt that brave,but it was the right thing to do.

Looney said...

I am more nervous about young folk with tattoos and colored hair asking for rides than elderly Sikhs!

Rummuser said...

It is the simplest of languages to read, the Gurmukhi script and there is not much written in that script or in Punjabi about the Sikhs. Most of the writing about them come down through other languages and the most is in English after the English took over the government of India from the British East India Company. The religion and the people are simply wonderful. I personally am a great admirer of them except for one quirk which they value but which is meaningless now. They took a vow not to shave or cut their hair till the Muslims were driven out of India. That is simply never going to happen and that is the reality. They should instead be happy that they don't have to worry any more about being massacred by the Muslims.

Inklings said...

Looney, I won't tell you the long story behind this, but I found myself lost on the Las Vegas Strip all day about 2 years ago. When I tried to ask respectable people to help orient me, none of them would give me the time of day. Scary- looking and very tattooed and pierced people, on the other hand, graciously helped me get back to where I needed to be, and it was such a surprise to me!

Looney said...

@Rummuser, you are now tempting me with your comments about the Gurmukhi language!

Just noticing that the Sikh leader of India seems to think reparations from England would be beneficial.

Looney said...

@Inklings, appearances certainly don't tell the whole story. Maybe someday I will get more comfortable with the modern westerner taking on some strange aboriginal appearance!