DEISTIC REFORMING SECTS
Century, Body, Govind, Religious, Spirit, Sect
We have just referred to one or two reforming sects that still hold to the sectarian deity. Among these the M[=a]dhvas, founded by (Madhva) [=A]nandat[=i]rtha, are less Krishnaite or R[=a]maite than Vishnuite, and less Vishnuite than deist in general; so much so that Williams declares they must have got their precepts from Christianity, though this is open to Barth's objection that the reforming deistic sects are so located as to make it more probable that they derive from Mohammedanism. Madhva was born about 1200 on the western coast, and opposed Çankara's pantheistic doctrine of non-duality. He taught that the supreme spirit is essentially different to matter and to the individual spirit. He of course denied absorption, and, though a Vishnuite, clearly belonged in spirit to the older school before Vishnuism became so closely connected with Ved[=a]nta doctrines. It is the same Sankhyan Vishnuism that one sees in the Divine Song, that is, duality, and a continuation of Ç[=a]ndilya's ancient heresy.
Here ends the course of India's native religions. From a thousand years B.C. to as many years after she is practically uninfluenced by foreign doctrine, save in externals.
It is of course permissible to separate the reforming sects of the last few decades from the older reformers; but since we see both in their aim and in their foreign sources (amalgamation with cis-Indic belief) only a logical if not an historical continuance of the older deists, we prefer to treat of them all as factors of one whole; and, from a broader point of view, as successors to the still older pantheistic and unitarian reformers who first predicated a supreme spirit as ens realissimum, when still surrounded by the clouds of primitive polytheism. Kab[=i]r and D[=a]d[=u], the two most important of the more modern reformers, we have named above as nominal adherents of the R[=a]m[=a]nand sect. But neither was really a sectarian Vishnuite. Kab[=i]r, probably of the beginning of the fifteenth century, the most famous of R[=a]m[=a]nand's disciples, has as religious descendants the sect of the Kab[=i]r Panth[=i]s. But no less an organization than that of the Sikhs look back to him, pretending to be his followers. The religious tenets of the Kab[=i]r Panth[=i]s may be described as those of unsectarian Unitarians. They conform to no rites or mantras. Kab[=i]r assailed all idolatry, ridiculed the authority of all scriptures, broke with Pundit and with Mohammedan, taught that outer form is of no consequence, and that only the 'inner man' is of importance. These Panth[=i]s are found in the South, but are located chiefly in and about Benares, in Bengal in the East, and in Bombay in the West. There are said to be twelve divisions of them. Kab[=i]r assailed idolatry, but alas! Discipline requires subordination. The Guru, Teacher, must be obeyed. It was not long before he who rejected idolatry became himself a deity. And in fact, every Teacher, Guru, of the sect was an absolute master of thought, and was revered as a god.
In the fifteenth century, near Laho[.r]e, was born N[=a]nak (1469), who is the nominal founder of the Sikhs, a body which, as N[=a]nak claimed, was a sect embodying the religion of Kab[=i]r himself, of whom he claimed to be a follower. The Granth, or bible of the Sikhs, was first compiled by the pontiff Arjun, in the sixteenth century. Besides the portions written by N[=a]nak and Arjun himself, there were collected into it extracts from the works of 'twelve and a half' other contributors to the volume, Kab[=i]r, R[=a]m[=a]nand, etc. This Granth was subsequently called the [=A]digranth, or First Book, to distinguish it from the later, enlarged, collection of several books, one of which was written by Guru Govind, the tenth Sikh pontiff. The change from a religious body to a church militant and political body was made by this Govind in the eighteenth century. The religious sect settled in the Punj[=a]b, became wealthy, excited the greed of the government, was persecuted, rose in revolt, triumphed, and eventually ruled the province. One of the first to precipitate the uprising was the above-mentioned Arjun (fourth pontiff after N[=a]nak). He played the king, was accused of rebellion, imprisoned, and probably killed by the Mohammedans. The Sikhs flew to arms, and from this time on they were perforce little more than robbers and plunderers. Govind made the final change in organization, and, so to speak, at one blow created a nation, for the church at his hands was converted into the united militant body called Kh[=a]ls[=a] under the Guru as pontiff-king, with a 'council of chiefs.' They were vowed to hate the Mohammedan and Hindu. All caste-distinctions were abrogated. Govind instituted the worship of Steel and Book (sword and bible). His orders were: "If you meet a Mohammedan, kill him; if you meet a Hindu, beat and plunder him." The Sikhs invoked the 'Creator' as 'highest lord,' either in the form of Vishnu or R[=a]ma. Their founder, N[=a]nak, kept, however, the Hindu traditions in regard to rites. He was a travelled merchant, and is said to have been in Arabia. As an example of the Sikh bible may serve the following extracts, translated from the original dialect by Trumpp and Prinsep respectively:
True is the Lord, of a true name, But the import of (this) language is Infinite. They say and beg, give, give! The Liberal gives presents. What may again be put before (him) By which his court may be seen? What word may be spoken by the mouth, Which having heard he may bestow love? Early reflect on the greatness of the True Name. From his beneficence comes clothing, From his look the gate of salvation. N[=a]nak (says): Thus it is known, That he himself is altogether truthful.
Thou art the Lord, to thee be praise; All life is with thee. Thou art my parents; I, thy child. All happiness is from thy mercy. No one knows God.
Highest Lord among the highest, Of all that is thou art the regulator, And all that is from thee obeys thy will, Thy movements, thy pleasure; thou alone knowest. N[=a]nak, thy slave is a free-will offering unto thee.
The religious side of this organization remained under the name of Ud[=a]sis, or Nirmalas ('spotless ones'). The [=A]digranth was extended by other additions, such as that of Govind (above), and now constitutes a large heterogeneous collection of hymns and moral rules. Seven sub-sects of the religious body were developed in course of time. The military body has a well-known history. They were complete masters of the Punj[=a]b in 1764, and remained there as an independent race till that province was occupied by the British in 1848. Both Kab[=i]r and his follower N[=a]nak were essentially reformers. They sought for a religion which should rest on the common truths of Hinduism and Mohammedanism. As a matter of form the political party of Govind, the Govind Singhs, or Simhis, worshipped the Hindu gods, and they showed respect for the Brahman priests for a long while; but they rejected the Vedas and caste—the two most essential features of orthodoxy.
D[=a]d[=u], the second great reformer, who shows Mohammedan influence quite as plainly as does Kab[=i]r, also claimed R[=a]m[=a]nand as his teacher. The sects that revert to D[=a]d[=u], D[=a]d[=u] Panth[=i]s, now number more than half an hundred. Some of the votaries are soldiers; some are mendicants. The founder lived about the end of the sixteenth century. The outward practices of the sects differ somewhat from those of other sects. Like Persians, they expose their dead. They are found about [=A]jm[=i]r and other districts of the North, in the seats of the Jains. Their faith and reformatory tendency may be illustrated by the following extract, as translated by Wilson:
"He is my God who maketh all things perfect. O foolish one, God is not far from you. He is near you. God's power is always with you. Whatever is to be is God's will. What will be will be. Therefore, long not for grief or joy, because by seeking the one you may find the other. All things are sweet to them that love God. I am satisfied with this, that happiness is in proportion to devotion. O God, Thou who art truth, grant me contentment, love, devotion, and faith…. Sit ye with humility at the feet of God, and rid yourselves of the sickness of your bodies. From the wickedness of the body there is much to fear, because all sins enter into it. Therefore, let your dwelling be with the fearless, and direct yourselves toward the light of God. For there neither sword nor poison have power to destroy, and sin cannot enter. The greatest wisdom is in preventing your minds from being influenced by bad passions, and in meditating upon the One God. Afford help also to the poor stranger. Meditate on Him by whom all things were made."
This tradition of reform is maintained by others without intermission down to the present century, and the M[=a]dhvas and Sv[=a]mi N[=a]r[=a]yana, of whom we have spoken above as being more directly connected with sectarian bodies, are, in fact, scarcely more concerned with the tenets of the latter than were Kab[=i]r and D[=a]d[=u]. Thus the seventeenth century sees the rising of the B[=a]b[=a]l[=a]ls and S[=a]dhus; and the eighteenth, of the Satn[=a]mis, 'worshippers of the true name,' who, with other minor bodies, such as the N[=a]ngi Panthis, founded by Dedr[=a]j in this century, are really pure deists, although some of them, like the Vi[t.]h[t.]hals, claim to be followers of Kab[=i]r. And so they are, in spirit at least.
|Written By Edward Washburn Hopkins|
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