Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Concept of Sahaj in Guru Nanak’s Theology - Prof. Nihar Ranjan Ray

Excerpt from "The Sikh Gurus & The Sikh Society - A Study in Social Analysis." [Punjabi University, Patiala 1970] This may be read in the continuation of Professor Ray’s article "One Message, One Mission : A Study in Social Analysis from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singhji"- SR Feb 1999.

All knowledgeable Sikhs and students of Sikhism recognize that the ultimate goal which the religious and spiritual discipline laid down by Guru Nanak was supposed to lead to, was the experience of Sahaj. Sahaj, according to him, was indeed the last reach of human experience, beyond which lay the realm of formlessness, of inarticulation. What is this Sahaj experience, what is its nature and character? Howdoes one achieve it, how does one recognize it?  In common with Kabir and other sants of medieval India, Guru Nanak came to recognize and accept that religious and spiritual quest was a matter which was altogether internal to man. Negatively speaking, it was not a matter of external practices and observances of traditional forms and prescriptions of religion. Positively, it was a matter, first, of cleansing and purifying one’s heart and mind; secondly, of filling them with an intense love for - and devotion to - God, the Ultimate and the Absolute, and waiting cravingly for His grace (kirpa, prasad, daya etc.,), and thirdly, striving unceasingly for a complete, unalloyed and absolute blending of one’s individual self, or atma, with the Universal Self or Paramatma who is none other than God Himself. For each one of these stages Guru Nanak laid down certain discipline which each individual aspirant was called upon to go through to prepare himself for the final merger or blending. An analysis of these disciplines seems to indicate that what Guru Nanak was aiming at was a transformation of the individual psyche and will, by bending and directing both towards the ultimate goal of achieving the merger with the Ultimate Absolute. It was only when the soil of life was made ready that the final ascent could be made. This ascent too, wasin several khands, or stages, in spiritual progress, as Guru Nanakdescribed them; they were five in number, namely, Dharam Khand, Gian Khand, SaramKhand, Karam Khand and Sach Khand. For the purpose of this essay it is notnecessary to go into an explanation and analysis of these khands; itwould be enough to indicate that neither God’s grace nor the merger or blendingwith Him was any matter of accident, happening as if in a sudden flash. Toreach upto the ultimate state of Sahaj or absolute union, merger orblending, one had to prepare himself through a rigorous process of sadhana or discipline and proceed stage by stage.How does one recognize that one has reached the state of Sahaj; whatis the nature and character of Sahaj experience?Ascent of Spirit: Sach Khand, the last of the five khands or stages is the realm of Truth, the ultimate stage of human aspiration andexperience in which one reaches a state of blending with the Absolute, a statewhich is beyond words, beyond articulation and can be known only in experience.It is beyond the three gunas; tamas, rajas and sattva, and ishence called the chautha pad, the fourth state. It is also called the sahaj pad, turia pad or avastha, that is, the supreme state, the parampad, the absolute state, the amara pad, the deathless state. It is astate of absolute peace and tranquillity, of changelessness since it liesbeyond the cycle of birth and death, and of eternal wonder and bliss; it isalso a state of ineffable glory and light radiating beyond the dasam duar or the tenth door. The Sahaj blending or merger is like the blending ofthe light of the individual with the light of God, like that of a drop of waterin the ocean. It is a state of existence in which the atma of theindividual is dissolved and absorbed in the Paramatma, and the innerduality dies within. It is variously described as sunn (sunya) samadhi,sahaj samadhi, sahaj yog, for instance, and the experience itself as mahasukh,param sukh, param anand. Indeed, the Sahaj state is not merely theUltimate Reality, it is the Lord (Prabhu), the ultimate in-dwelling Beloved inwhom one is merged or absorbed. One who achieves this state of being isdescribed by Guru Nanak as jivanmukta, and the state itself is describedas that of jivanmukti.Unity of Spirit: The word in which this absorption or blending ormerger is characterised is a very significant one; it is either samati or samauna as in sahaji samati, sahaji samauna, joti-joti samauna,sabadi samauna, sachi-samauna, for instance, the root verb in each casebeing sam which literally means to equalise, merge, blend, absorb, fill,pervade, unify. But from the context in which the word samati or samauna is used it is clear that what is meant is absolute absorption, unification,merger or blending in a manner so as to leave no trace or consciousness ofduality or separate identity.Apart from the characteristics of peace and tranquillity, of wonderment andbliss and of ineffable radiance by which one recognized the Sahaj stateof being, Guru Nanak recognized another, that of anahad sabad, anunstuck sound which he used to experience within himself at that ultimate stateof being.All said and done, the fact remains that in whichever manner one seeks todescribe the Sahaj experience, its real nature must elude understandingin humanly communicable language. The articulation of an experience which wasessentially a mystical one and, hence, according to Guru Nanak himself, wasincapable of being translated in communicable terms, was indeed beyond humanexpression, had necessarily to be in traditional mystical terms made currentand somewhat understandable by his predecessors belonging to various mysticorders of sants and sadhus, and in well-known traditional symbolsand images that had some meaning, howsoever vague and generalized, to thosewhom his words were addressed.Sabad, the Holy Word: What I have just essayed to do is to present,as faithfully and as briefly as possible, the nature and character of Sahaj as was sought to be articulated by Guru Nanak himself at different places ofhis enormous corpus of sabads, or dohas and slokas. Yet ismust be recognised that, the ultimate analysis, the essential nature of theexperience lay in the experience of the actual absorption or union itself byone who experienced it in the lineaments of his being. That Guru Nanak wasconvinced that one did so by one’s senses and the mind - all physical entities- there is no scope for doubt. He is very clear, precise and definite when hesays: "This body is the abode of God, His palace where-in He shines ininfinite radiance. By Guru’s word one is ushered into the palace. There aloneone comes face to face with God."Was Guru Nanak absolutely original in what he said about Sahaj, itsnature and character? Were the terms and concepts like sahaj, anahad sabad,samati and samauna, mahasukh, sahaj samadhi, jivanmukti, etc. and thenature of the description of the experience of Sahaj entirely his own?There are many points of similarity and divergence between Guru Nanak on theone hand, and the totality of the Indian medieval protestant and non-conformistmystic tradition, and the individual mystics belonging to this tradition, onthe other. But for the purpose of this paper I shall confine myself to oneconcept alone, that of Sahaj, and its nature and character, of theIndian medieval mystics, considered individually and collectively, and try tofind out answers to the questions I have put to myself in respect of this oneparticular concept.Synthesis: One of the tallest of Guru Nanak’s predecessors, perhapsan elder contemporary, in the line of mystic sants and sadhus,and the greatest representative of what is called the Sant synthesis, wasKabir, and it was Kabir’s way of life and thought that seems to have had animpact on the life and mind of Guru Nanak, the Nathapanthi and Kanphata yogis and the leaders of the Bhakti movement, figures like those of Ramanand andNamdev, for instance, being the next formative influences on him.But in so far as the concept of Sahaj is concerned it would be enoughif we turn to Kabir and the Nathapanthi yogis in the first instance, andin the second, to the Sahajayani Buddhists and their spiritual descendants, theSahajiya Vaishnavas and Bauls of Bengal, since all these sects and cults cameto accept Sahaja as the Ultimate and Absolute reality. The Sufi saintsdid not accept the term, but they too conceived the Ultimate Reality in termsof the Supreme Beloved, just as Kabir and Dadu, even Guru Nanak, the SahajiyaVaishnavas and Bauls of Bengal and other devotional sects and cults did underthe impact of the Bhakti movement. The sants and sadhus ofNorthern India seem to have had already achieved a kind of synthesis betweenthe Sahaja and Sufi ideas when Guru Nanak emerged on the scene ofmedieval Indian religious thought and activities. It must be pointed out atonce that the sants and sadhus, including Kabir and Guru Nanak,were never tired of asserting that Rama or Krshna was not any historical oreven a mythological person, not any incarnation of God nor even of Rama orKrshna himself; indeed he had no anthropomorphic form whatsoever. As a matterof fact they conceived their Rama or Krshna as an in-dwelling principle which was the Ultimate, formless, colorless reality immanent in man; it wasnone other than God himself. Sahaj experience was indeed with them Godexperience itself.Kabir characterises the experience of Sahaj as the ultimate human experienceof bliss and peace; he calls it sahaj samadhi which one can attain byfinally arresting all the functions of the mind and hence by creating anabsolute vacuity within. He therefore characterises Sahaj as suni(sunya) sahaj which he describes, just as Guru Nanak does, a state ofsupreme peace and bliss, of mahasukha. It was a state of absolute mergerin which there was left no trace of duality. What is significant is that theterm for merger or blending or union that Kabir uses is samana which is thesame as in Guru Nanak. Speaking of Sahaj Kabir says : "Everybodyspeaks of Sahaj, but nobody knows what Sahaj really is. Sahaj really is when one gives up all his desires, keeps his senses under his fullcontrol, when his son, wife, wealth and desire are all kept aside and whenKabir becomes the maid of Rama; that is real Sahaj when one is unitedwith Rama, that is, with the Lord, in a natural manner.Guru’s Role: It is perhaps necessary to mention the elements thatwere the pre-conditions of the Sahaj experience, that is, these elementsconstituted the stages of preparation and of the psychological pre-conditionwhich led to the experience of that state of peace and bliss, happiness andradiance which was called Sahaj. Negatively speaking, these were (a)sharp criticism and rejection of all external formalities in regard toreligious practices and spiritual quests, and (b) protest against and rejectionof priestly and scriptural authority, celibacy, penances, austerities and thelike. Positively, the most important elements were (a) recognition of the Guru as essential for any spiritual exercise and quest, (b) recognition of the humanbody as the seat and habitat of all religious and spiritual experience, indeedof the Truth or Ultimate Reality and hence rejection of any transcendentalreality external to man, and finally, (c) recognition of the experience of theUltimate Reality as one of inexpressible happin ess and ineffable radiance,waveless equipoise, absolute peace and tranquillity, and of absolute non-dualityor complete unity. The Sahajayani Buddhists, the saintly poets of the Santtradition, Kabir and Guru Nanak knew thi s experience of the Ultimate Reality as Sahaj; indeed the sants and Guru Nanak seemed to have receivedthe term and concept as an inheritance from the Sahajayani Buddhists who intheir turn seem to have received - not the term but - the concept of theresolution of the duality through an absolute union of two principles, one maleand another female; as well as the nature and character of the ultimateexperience, from the older Mahayana-Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. TheSahajayanis too, knew this experience as one of mahasukha.Judging by the north Indian regional literatures on the Nathasiddha yogis and the variety of myths and legends connected with them, it would seem thatthe Natha movement was at least a pan-north Indian one, and if Matsyendranathais regarded as one of the originators of the cult, its antiquity must be atleast as old as that of the Sahajayana. Apart from a general predilectiontowards occult practices and acquisition of supernatural powers, theNathasiddhas owed their religious affiliation to the Siva-Sakti cult, but theirreligious discipline was that of Hathayoga, which was almost an articleof faith with them. Yogic practices, some-what of the nature and character ofthose of the Natha yogis, were common to the Sahajayani Buddhists andother esoteric sects, but with the Natha-yogis these were the mostimportant means of achieving their goal, while with the others theseconstituted only one of the disciplines. With the former it was altogetherphysiological, while with the latter it was also a psychological discipline.Final Goal: The most important difference lay in the ultimate goalitself. The ultimate objective of Guru Nanak was the achievement of Sahaj experience which the Sahajayanis identified with mahasukha, but theNatha-yogi objective was to attain the state of jivanmukti orimmortality in life, according to their own way of life and its interpretation.How did they propose to achieve this end? Bereft of esoteric complexitiesand scholastic niceties as recorded in relevant texts their position may bestated, for our present purpose, as follows:This ordinary human body is a raw, indeed a very imperfect, a mostinadequate object for the achievement of jivanmukti, that is, forfreedom from bondage of decay and death, in other words, of immortality. Butthrough the yogic processes of ulta-sadhana, that is, by making thevital fluid flow upwards instead of downwards, which is the natural physicallaw, and of kaya-sadhana, that is, by the disciplining of the muscles,sinews, ducts, nerves and nerve centres, as well as of the mind, throughperfect control of the vital wind, this raw, imperfect body can be transformedfirst, into a pakkva deha or ripe body and then transsubstantiatedsteadily into a divya deha or divine body, which was the only way toovercome decay, destruction and death. This disciplining of the body and themind involved, a detailed classification and analysis of the entire humanphysiological system so well-known in Hathayoga; it also involved according toNathayogic interpretation, a number of theoretical postulates and actualphysiological processes which have all been studied, analysed and described insome detail by competent scholars.For our purpose, I need not go into any of these very intricate details; Ineed only point out that the conception of the sun and the moon - identifiedrespectively with Sakti and Siva on the one hand and with womanand man on the other, had an important role to play in the yogic scheme ofthings of the Natha-yogis.Their attitude towards - and aversion of - women was unacceptable. EvenKabir refers to women as tigresses who were always seeking men to prey upon tosuck their vitality out of them. Guru N anak derided such attitude, holdingwomen as deserving of respect.Sahaj & Amrit: Guru Nanak uses the term amrit, in thesense of nectar of immortality. His use of the term is found in associationwith the Naam, the na me of God, His name being the Truth. "WhateverGod has made is the manifestation of His Naam" says the Guru."There is nothing in creation which is not such a manifestation".This Naam is veritably the amrit (=namamrita) the nectar ofimmortality, and it is in this sense and in this context that the word amrit is more often than not used. Nowhere do I find any yogic meaning of the term.In common with the Sahajayani Buddhists Guru Nanak used the term mahasukha to describe the nature of the experience of the sahaj state of being,which may at once suggest a very close and intimate association with Sahajayaniyogic practices, especially because he also uses the phrase sahaj yog inthis context. But here too, one must take into consideration the fact that heuses the term mahasukh - not in its technical Tantric yogic meaning -but synonymously with paramsukh and paramanand, that is, in itsliteral sense of supreme pleasure, supreme joy and bliss. A technical term isnot interchangeable, but Guru Nanak seems to have admitted theinterchangeability of mahasukh with param sukh and param anand,and - by and through - this simple means he seems to have divested the term andconcept of mahasukha of all its exclusive Tantric yogic significance.Guru Nanak also uses the term and concept of jivanmukti. But heretoo, if one has to go by the context, he seems to have used the term in its literal sense of liberation from bondage in one’s temporal existence, and not in the Tantric sense in which the Nathapanthis used the term. Indeed, with the latter jivanmukti, which they interpreted in terms of immortality, was the ultimate objective of their spiritual pursuits, while with Guru Nanakjivanmukti was but another name of what was the Sahaj state of experience.

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