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SIKHISM AND THE SIKHS

SIKHISM AND THE SIKHS

SIKHISM, the creed of the brave and hardy race that held dominion over the plain country of the Punjab during the first fifty years of the present century, and disputed the sovereignty of northern India with the English, well deserves the study of those interested in the birth and development of religions. Like some other creeds, it had its origin in a profound dissatisfaction with the existing order of things, and a passionate endeavor on the part of its founder to break the chain which Brahminism had fastened round the feet and hands of every Hindu. Later, under the wholesome stimulus of persecution, it became a fierce and inspiring belief, which changed a nation of peaceful peasants into an army of disciplined warriors, who, guided by a leader of genius, were the most formidable armed force that native India had seen since the days of Aurung-Zeb and Shah Jehan. The revolt of Sikhism against Brahminism resembled that of Protestantism against the Church of Rome, in that it was not a contradiction of dogma, but a resistance to the intolerable pretensions of the priestly class. The doctrines of Luther differed in but few and unimportant particulars from those of the orthodox champions of Catholicism. The theological tangle known as Brahminism would have included the doctrinal subtleties and puerilities of Nanak without difficulty. It was itself a compound of mysticism and realism, tolerant and all-embracing—theistic, polytheistic, and pantheistic at the same time. It allowed to the ignorant worshipper a myriad gods, from the ochre-stained stone in the forest to the awful personages of the Hindu trinity; while to the elect, who had risen beyond symbolism to the purer air, it provided conceptions of the Deity as noble and exalted as those to be found in any religion of East or West. But no creed, however lofty in conception or ethically worthy, is tolerable to free and liberal minds in which the power of interpretation and direction is jealously guarded, as an hereditary right, by a corrupt and prejudiced priesthood. It was against this pretension that the reformers of the West and the East took up arms; and it is a strange coincidence that the teaching of both Luther and Nanak was synchronous, and that they were born and died within a few years of each other.

In this paper all that can be attempted is to show, generally, the line of doctrine expounded by Nanak and his eight successors in the office of Guru, or spiritual leader; secondly, to note the important changes introduced by Govind Singh, the tenth Guru and founder of the church militant of Sikhism; and, lastly, to observe the practice of the Sikhs of to-day, and the degree in which they have fallen away from the teaching of both Nanak and Govind and reverted to Hindu ceremonial and modes of thought.

When Nanak, who was born in 1469, began his teaching, Hinduism had long crystallized into the sacerdotal guild which we see in India to-day. It may even be said that its religious aspect was then more lost than now in a multitude of ceremonial observances and social prescriptions; for the influence of missionary and proselyting creeds, like Christianity and Islamism, has been to draw out what is best in Hinduism and encourage cultivated Hindus to reject the material and grosser part of their creed in favor of its higher esoteric teaching. But then, as now, for the uninstructed mass of the people, Brahminism was Hinduism--that is to say, doctrine counted for little or nothing, and the strict observance of the rules of caste, with the Brahmin as the top-stone of the social pyramid, was everything. Caste had been invented by Brahmins for Brahmins; a system by which Hindu society was divided and subdivided by hereditary and impregnable barriers, the Brahmins remaining a sacred priesthood, immeasurably above all others, directing the lives and conduct of all, and without toll to whom none of the ordinary functions of civil life could be effectively performed. The greedy Brahmin demanded his fees at birth and marriage and death, and to feed

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