Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sikhism: The Path of the Masters (Sant Mat)


The Path of the Masters (Sant Mat) © 1987
By John of AllFaith

Part 1: Introduction

Nanak says:
Sing the praise of God and you shall know the Unknowable Lord

(GGS 13).

Of all the religious systems born in India, perhaps none is so misunderstood as Sikhism. Their turbaned heads, long beards, and the ever-present sword which hangs from their sides creates an intimidatingly exotic mien which few, especially in the West, see beyond. Yet despite this facade, behind their fierce presence, beats a heart of love and justice, a religion of intense joy. Sikhism is a path of bliss, devotion, austerity and determination. It is, in short, the Path of the Masters (S 50).

The discipline of Religious Studies, it seems to me, is vitally important. As the world becomes a smaller place in which to live, its cultures and religions are losing their ability to exist as in a vacuum. All too often violent confrontations arise between good-hearted people simply because they do not understand one another. Religious Studies, as a discipline, can do much to remedy this situation by presenting information to the public that rightly reflects the various Traditions. In this way all may see that 'religion is fundamentally one, though the sages call it by different names,' to paraphrase the Upanishadic wisdom.

In this attempt there are two (at least) schools of thought. There are those who approach religions and texts critically, academically. Such people call into question all the traditional doctrines and beliefs, demanding that they be validated by contemporary scientific and philosophical methodology. The other view is that the traditions should be honored, and not subjected an excessive amount of critical analysis from another discipline. According to this view, religio/spirituality is based on entirely different premises than contemporary philosophy, archeology, science etc. If theories such as natural selection or determinism were subjected to religious criteria, they would not fair so well either (of course with the advent of the new sciences such as chaos theory, it is quite possible that science will confirm the religio/spiritual understandings and dispose of its own) [note 1 below].:

There is, in my opinion, room and need for both methods of inquiry. As the Hindu Swami Vivekanada so aptly said:

"One thing should be especially remembered here, there is no connection between these historical researches and our real aim, which is, the knowledge that leads to the acquirement of Dharma. Even if the historicity of the whole thing [in this case the Mahabharata] is proved to be absolutely false today, it will not in the least be any loss. Then what is the use of so much historical research, you may ask? It has its use, because we have to get at the truth; it will not do for us to remain bound by wrong ideas due to ignorance. In this country [India] people think very little of the importance of such inquiries ... But our duty should be to convince ourselves of the truth, to believe the truth only (SV 101, 102).

I am in basic agreement with this statement and, as the Swami, prefer to work from the religious perspective. What follows therefore is an attempt to introduce the reader to Sant Mat, the Path of the Masters, not to a critical analysis of Sikhism. Herein I seek to speak from within the tradition. It should be noted perhaps, that I am not a Sikh and personally can not accept several of their basic premises. I simply intend to present the tradition as it is.

The Sikh religion is not old by Indian standards [note 2 below]. and yet as it reaches into the heart and exemplifies the Truth which is ever-present within each of us, it is, by those same standards, the primordial philosophy. It claims to be "not a blend or reproduction of earlier religions but ... a new revelation altogether. The teachings that the [founding] Gurus gave to this world, came DIRECT to them from God, which the Gurus confirm: This word comes from Him, Who hath created the world" (SR 3, emphasis theirs).

Part two Coming Soon!

Interested in this series? Let me know!

Notes for Part One

  • Note 1: For more information on the New Sciences see: Algeny by Jeremy Riffkin (Viking Press New York, 1983) or The Turbulent Mirror by John Briggs & F. David Peat (Harper & Row, New York, 1989).
  • Note 2: At various times in Indian history the country was divided and subdivided into various kingdoms. For simplicity sake, I will refer to India as a single country. For information on these divisions see footnote 11.
References for the entire series:


  • BI: History of British India Under the Company and the Crown, P.E. Roberts,
  • Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, Oxford University Press, Great
  • Britain, 1958
  • CC: Shree Caitanya-Caritamrita, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, translated by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, New York, 1975
  • EDY: Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga, Georg Feuerstein, Paragon House, New York, 1990
  • ER: Encyclopedia of Religion, Mircea Eliade, MacMillan Publishing Co. New York, 1987
  • G: Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, Los Angeles, 1973
  • GGS: Hymns From Guru Granth Sahib, Hemkunt Press, New Delhi, 1975
  • GiS: The Guru in Sikhism, W. Owen Cole, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1982
  • GM: The Great Moghuls, Bamber Gascoigne, Harper & Row, New York, 1971
  • GoI: The Gods of India, Alain Danielou, Inner Traditions International LTD. New York, 1985
  • GSK: Gods, Sages and Kings, David Frawley, Passage Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1991
  • HBI: History of British India, P.E. Roberts, Oxford University Press, 1958
  • HM: A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History, and Literature, John Dowson, M.R.A.S., Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1979
  • I: India, Madeleine Biardeau, translated by F. Carter, Vista Books, 1960
  • ICS: India: A Country Study, Foreign Area Studies, The American University, United States Government, 1985
  • LoI: The Legacy of India G.T. Garrett, Oxford University, Clarendon Press, 1937
  • LTM: The Life and Times of Mohammed, Sir John Glub, Stein and Day Publishers, New York, 1971
  • M: Mandukyopanishad, Translated by Swami Sarvananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, India, 1972
  • NG: National Geographic, April, 1985
  • P: Based upon private and public conversations with Pramjit Singh at the El Sobrante Sikh Temple, 3550 Hillcrest Rd. between 10/17/91 and 11/25/91
  • PoM: Philosophy of the Masters, Three volumes, Huzur Maharaj Sawan Singh, Radha Soami Satsang, Beas, India, 1972
  • PT: The Peacock Throne, Waldemar Hansen, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1972
  • PWB: The Portable World Bible, Robert O. Ballou, Penguin Books, 1980
  • S: Spirituality: What it is? Kirpal Singh, Ruhani Satsang, Sawan Ashram, Delhi India, 1959
  • SB: Shreemad Bhagavatam, Translated by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, New York, 1976
  • SED: The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Vaman Shivram Apte, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1989
  • SIT: Sources or Indian Tradition, Vol. 2, edited by Wm. Theodore De Bary, Columbia University Press, New York, 1958
  • SoS: Ruhani Satsang: Science of Spirituality, Kirpal Singh, Sawan Ashram, Delhi-7, India, 1970
  • SR: Sikh Religion, no author given, Sikh Missionary Center, Detroit, 1990
  • SW: The Sacred Writings of the Sikhs, Translated by Trilochan Singh, Jodh Singh, Kapur Singh, Bawa Harkishen Singh and Khushwant Singh, Unesco Collection of Representative Works: Indian Series, Samuel Weiser, Inc. New York, 1973
  • WR: Eerdmans' Handbook to the World's Religions, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Wm. B. Eerdmans' Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Mich. 1982

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