By Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt. (Hons).
Science and Sikhism: Conflict or Coherence (Anthology of Essays on Various Concepts in Sri Guru Granth Sahib)
334 pages – By Dr. D.P. Singh
Singh Brothers Publishers, Amritsar, India
Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org
When I received the newly published book my first reaction was, oh’ another book on a subject which so many have already written about. Earlier, even I had written a lengthy treatise on the subject. Therefore, who wants to read on this subject again?
I found the book very different than other books with similar titles that I had read before.
As a matter of fact, I find the book title deceptive in that the book does not go into a justification of science and religion existing side by side, as most books do. Instead, the new book visions the Divine, the Creation, the religion, and its practices today through the eye of a scientist.
When Guru Nanak came out of his long trance at the banks of Vein rivulet in Northern India, he told those waiting for his return from his trance that he had a unique type of vision. That vision inspired him further to share with the world the wisdom he received during his trance. Also, he revealed a new symbol to represent his Divine. This symbol we now know as Ek Onkar, simply translated – One virtual reality manifested in all creations. Guru Nanak further prophesized that humanity would achieve the purpose of their living on this earth through an uninterrupted relationship with this virtual reality through observing, connecting, and relating to the reality all around.
The relationship of the human intellect with that Virtual Reality may be achieved by a vast variety of tools, and science is one such tool. And that is the path the author takes in this new book. He defines a Sikh, Gurmat or the religion of the Sikhs, through the eyes of a scientist.
Since the Sikhs are those who seek the required wisdom through the hymns embodied in the Guru Granth, the author so defined Sikhs as all those seeking the ultimate and the awesome wisdom. When one goes further into it, one finds that there are diverse ways that lead to the same goal including the pathways of the same inquiry the scientist takes. The organizational part of the Sikhs is only formulating the path that is fitting within a culture, and science is the one discipline of that culture. Such an approach may be described with a beautiful parable – “We cannot stop the winds, but we can adjust our wings if we are so taught.” Yes, the Guru Granth prepares us to respect all adjustments that civil societies apply to their wings. The discipline of science teaches one such change, and the current book illustrates it amply.
Thus, even when Sikhism may be known as an organized religion, it does not require that one adheres to the organizational walls. That is how we remember Guru Nanak as Jagat Guru, meaning the one to shine over the whole world and not limited to any culturally or geographically defined community.
In this short review, I will not go into the definitions and formats of “Wisdom.” Human history is replete with examples how people in various cultural and various national boundaries successfully conceptualized and defined wisdom. It is perhaps this aspect that led the author to dedicate the book to “Inquisitive Human Mind.”
The real subject of this book is how the authors of the Guru Granth imparted the wisdom to its adherents; who become the Sikhs, meaning the seekers of the wisdom embedded in the verses of the Guru Granth. Among them are scientists. The author who himself spent his life as a professional scientist made it more accessible in the lingua-franca of a scientist to seek the Wisdom of the Guru Granth. In the new book, it is through the eye of a scientist that one looks at the Sikh theology. Such an approach though vital in the digital age has been neglected among the Sikh masses and even in Sikh scholars. The author very wisely undertook to make up for this weakness in our community.
To judge the extent of the new book, it may be best to list all the Sections that comprised the book. This way you may get a bird’s eye view of the book.
The book is organized into many sections and subsections.
The section on Religion, Science, and Mankind is divided into subsections into Misconceptions, Transitions, Awakening, and Coherence. The Section on Sri Guru Granth Sahib: A Universal Perspective is subdivided into subsections on, Universal World View, Egalitarian Social Order, Eternal Ethics, Harmony with Nature, Search for Truth, and World Peace. The Section on Guru Nanak’s Teachings: A Scientific Perspective, is divided into sections such as Search for Truth, Search for Spiritual Knowledge, Keen Observer, Advocating Universal Egalitarianism, Exposing Taboos and Shams, Debunking Futile Rituals, Confronting Vain Practices, Censuring Dogmas, Challenging Superstitious Customs, and Denouncing Stereotypes.
Next Section on Sunn (Primal Void): Nothing or Everything? is sub-sectioned into The Void, Sunn: The Primal Void, Sunn and Creation, Sunn and the Modern Physics, Sunn: Creator and the Annihilator, and, Sunn Samadhi: The Way to Perceive Ultimate Reality.
The Section on Creation of Universe: A Fabulous Tale, is divided into subsections, Before Creation – Birth of the Universe, – Process of Creation, – Time of Creation, – Vastness, – Origin of Life, –Diversity of Life, – Earth’s Support in Space. – Ultimate Fate of the Universe: Dead End or Recreation.
The Section on Panch Tattva: The Five Classical Elements, is sub-sectioned into – Five: A Special Number, – Element: Meaning of the Term, – Five Classical Elements in Various Religions, – ‘Panch Tattva’ in Gurbani, and Scope and Significance, – Panch Tattva: The Essence of Life, – Panch Tattva and Spirituality, – Lessons from Panch Tattva, and – Conclusion.
The Section on Kudrat (Nature) in Guru Nanak’s Holistic Vision is sub-sectioned into – Nature, – Primal Cause, – Time of Creation, – Vastness, – Diversity of Life. – Working of Nature, – Wonders of Nature. Nature and Divinity, – Nature and Spirituality, and – Nature and Humanity.
The Section on Sun: An Enigmatic Star, is sectioned into, – Sun: A Physical Body, – Creation of Sun, –Role of Sun, – Sun: As Metaphor, – Sun: As Metaphor for Lamp, – Sun: As Metaphor for Divine Light, –Sun: As Metaphor for Spiritual Enlightenment, _ Sun: As Metaphor for Maya, – Sun: As Metaphor for Narhi (Sun Channel), – Lessons from the Sun, – Conclusion.
The Section on Earth: A Great Mother, is divided into – Earth: A Physical Body, – Creation of Earth, –Prime Cause, – Process of Creation, – Earth: A part of Nature, – Earth: Bonding the Fire and Water Together – Earth and Natural Law (Hukam) – Earth’s Support in Space – Earth: Geographical Changes – Earth’s Seasons – Wonders of Earth – Earth’s Impermanence – Numerous Earths – Earth: A Great Mother – Earth and Spirituality – Earth: A Metaphor for Human Body – Lessons from Earth – Pollution on Earth – Sustainability: Need of the Hour.
The Section on Moon is subdivided between Moon: An Esoteric Neighbour – Moon: A Physical Body –Creation – Role of Moon – Moon: As Metaphor – Moon: As Metaphor for Lamp – Moon: As Metaphor for Divine – Moon: As Metaphor for Spiritual Enlightenment – Moon: As Metaphor for Narhi (Moon Channel) – Lessons from Moon.
The Section on Lotus: A Mystical Flower is sub-sectioned as – Lotus: A Unique Flowering Plant – Uniqueness of Lotus and Gurbani – Lotus in Indian Mythology – Lotus in various Religions and Cultures – Significance of Lotus – Lotus: A Metaphor for Exquisite Divine Beauty – Lotus: A Metaphor for Detachment – Lotus: A Metaphor for Manmukh and Gurmukh – Lotus: A Metaphor for Eternal Peace and Salvation – Be a Lotus.
The Section on Flowers: Mysterious Messengers is subdivided into – Flowers: Exquisite Beauty and Fragrance – Creation of Flowers – Flowers’ Perpetuation – Flowers as a Metaphor – Flowers: A Metaphor for Divine – Flowers: A Metaphor for Dharma (Righteous Action) – Flowers: A Metaphor for ‘To Blossom Forth’ – Flowers: A Metaphor for ‘Futile Life’ – Flowers: A Metaphor for ‘Impermanence’ – Lessons from Flowers .
The Section on Basant (Spring): The Splendour of Nature, is subdivided into – Spring celebrations in different Cultures – Basant as a Metaphor – Basant: ‘A Season’ – Basant: A Raga (Melodic Modes)–Basant: A metaphor for ‘A State of Mind’ – Basant: A metaphor for ‘To Dwell’ – Basant: A metaphor for ‘Springtime’ – Basant: A metaphor for ‘Divine’ – Welcoming Spring in Our Life.
The Section on Wismad (Wonderful Bliss): A Transcendental Experience is sub-sectioned into Wismad –Physical Wismad – Meta-Physical Wismad – Mystical Wismad – Wismad: The Pinnacle of Spiritual Experience.
The Section on Impermanence: The Path to Liberation has divided into Understanding Impermanence – Impermanence and Change – Impermanence and Human Life – Impermanence and Attachment –Impermanence and Worldly Passions – Impermanence and Renunciation – Impermanence: The Path to Liberation – From Impermanence to Permanence.
The Section on Ecological Concerns in Sri Guru Granth Sahib in divided into – Grave Crisis – Interdependence – Nature: A Spiritual Guide – Harmony with Nature – Earth: A Dharamsala – World Society – Prudent Life-Style – Integrated Approach to Sustainability.
The Section on Interdependence: Imperative for Twenty-First Century is divided into – Interdependence in Nature – Interdependence of Body and Universe – Global Interdependence – Interdependence Sustainability: Need of the Hour.
The Section on Relevance of Guru Granth Sahib in Twenty-First Century is divided into – Environmental Concerns – Menace of Corruption – Drug Abuse and Aids – War, Terrorism, and World Peace
The Section on Peaceful Co-existence and Role of Sikhs is divided into – Co-existence – Types – Need –Fostering Co-existence – Role of Religion – Role as an Individual – Role as a Family Member – Role as a Community Member – Relations with Other Communities – Role at National and International level – Role at Universal Level – Role of Sikh Organizations/Institutions – Conclusion.
The Section on Religious Experience in Science is divided into subsections as – Religion and the Scientists – Synthesis of Religion and Science – Religious Spirit of Science – Religiousness: An Indispensable Condition – Congruence of Religion and Science – Scientists and the Religious Experience – Science and Divinity.
The final Section is on Interpreting Gurbani: Formulating a Methodology 316-334. This Section is divided into – Hermeneutics: The Basics – Gurbani Hermeneutics – Various Schools of Gurbani Interpretation – The Principles of Gurbani Interpretation – Some Common Exegetical Fallacies, and Conclusion.
There needs no convincing on the width and breadth of coverage attempted in the book. At the same time, the author does not subject the reader with a bombastic style. He writes in simple English but sticks closely to the evidence with full citations and references.
The book is recommended to both the public and the scholars. It will be particularly useful to Sikhs katha-kars (preachers) undertaking Gurbani exegesis in English, or the Sikh millennials organizing discussion groups using English as their medium of discussion. The book dwells on many metaphors often used in Guru’s hymns.
This is a big plus.
Please join my mailing list. I’ll use your email address from time to time to send you newsletters and other information.
Send all communications to:
Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt (Hons)
Professor Emeritus & Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neurosciences, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Professor Emeritus, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.