SIKH COSMOLOGY From the very beginning man has been curious to know about the structure and constitution of the Universe and its origin. To locate the stable base of this universe and to fix his own place in it have been the subjects of his constant search and speculation for him. The Gurūs brought their own mystical and philosophical powers to solving the riddle. In their poetry in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, they have expressed their sense of wonder and sung paeans of praise for the Almighty. A minute observation of the phenomenon of nature forms an important part of the Sikh metaphysical insight. It brings into view a palpable vision of the Creator and His creation. The medium used is poetry of far-reaching import. It is at the same time poetry of elemental beauty as well as of grandeur.
The Gurūs have unequivocally and forcefully stressed the unicity of the Godhead. There is no room in it for any dualisitic or polytheistic doctrines. The deities of the Hindu mythology, for instance, have no place in their belief as the objects of worship ; nor was anyone of them regarded co-eternal with God. The matter out of which forms are shaped and the selves that inhabit them are eternal in Him but not with Him. Again, the God of Sikh teaching is not a mere concept or principle ; He is the Ultimate Reality. True and eternal, He is the Power that has existed for ever and will continue to exist when everything else has ceased. This power is endowed with will and supported by a conscious intelligence, which serves as the chief instrument for the fulfilment of His designs and purposes. With this will He comes out of His transcendental state of absorption in the Self and becomes the all-powerful immanent Creator (kartā purakh). When He so wills, He draws it back, which is its dissolution.
The world for the Gurūs is a creation, and owes its existence to the will of the Divine. It is the Creator's sporting gesture, līlā. He Himself is its material as well as efficient cause. Says Gurū Nānak, "tūṅ kartā purakhu agammu hai āpe srisṭi upāti-- You are the creator, unknowable ; you have yourself created the world" (GG, 138). There was a time when the world had not yet appeared and there will be a time when the world will again disappear. Says Gurū Arjan, "kaī bār pasario pasār sadā sadā ik akaṅkār-- Many a time you have projected this creation, yet you always remained the only formless One" (GG, 276).
The Gurūs have called the pre-creation state śunya, meaning 'empty void', 'negative abyss', 'nothingness.' Describing this stage, Gurū Nānak says :
For countless ages utter darkness prevailed
There was neither earth nor heaven,
The will of the Infinite Lord reigned everywhere.
There was neither day nor night,
Nor sun nor moon,
Only Śunya (the Absolute self) stayed in solitary meditation.
For a good many ages
Utter darkness filled everywhere.
The Creator was wholly absorbed in deep meditation.
There existed only His true nām, His glory,
And the lustre of His eternal throne.
Many schools of thought have put forth the view that the world was born out of nothingness. However, the Śunya of the Gurūs does not correspond to the Buddhistic concept, nor the absolute nothingness, the 'ex-nihilo' of other schools. The "nothingness" of the Gurūs refers to absence of creation, and not to the absence of the Creator or His essence or potency. The Gurūs have used "Śunya" in conjunction with terms like samādhī, tāṛī (trance, meditation) or sahaj (equipoise, balance) or sach (holy truth). These terms describe the state of complete tranquillity and oneness of the Absolute Self, and refer to that latent form in which every aspect of creation lies dormant in Him, waiting for the operation of the Divine urge for its unfoldment. With this urge, from apparent nothingness, the Formless assumes form, "The unattributed becomes the Attributed ---"nirguṇ te sarguṇu thīā" (GG, 940) and thus this world of a myriad colours takes shape.
The Gurūs do not subscribe to the view that the world suddenly appeared in its finished form. It has passed through a gradual process of evolution. They also reject the view that it has been produced' or 'manufactured' mechanically as an artisan might produce an article out of a given substance. God and His creation are one --- the creation was merged in Him. God raised the creation out of Himself. It is a gradual unfoldment of what lay folded within the Ultimate cause---the Absolute Self.
From the state of Śunya,
The latent form became active.
The elements of air and water
Were evolved out of Śunya...
Within the fire
Water and living beings is His Light,
And the power of Creation lies within Śunya....
From Śunya came out the moon
The sun and the firmament....
The earth and heaven have been evolved out of Śunya.
Gurū Nānak mentions three stages in the process of cosmic evolution. The first is the atmosphere when there was only all-pervasive air. The second stage was that of water ; the third was lithosphere when the crust of the earth took form. Situated in the midst of the elements, the self has to evolve its potentialities to merge into the Absolute, which is the state of liberation. Thus, a theory of spiritual evolution is implicit in this process.
The source and origin of Creation is shabad, śabda, (sound), nām, nād, bāṇī or anāhad śabad. The will of God (hukam) becomes synonymous with the word of God. Gurū Nānak says, "kītā pasāu eko kavāu tis te hoe lakh darīāu” --- With his Primal Word (kavāo) originated creation and millions of rivers were set bowing" (GG, 3). Gurū Amar Dās says "utpati parlau sabade havai sabade hī phirī opati hovai-- Through śabad (word) creation and dissolution take place and through śabad creation takes rebirth" (GG, 117).
The creative power of śabad (Word) is a concept common to most religious traditions, Śabad has been referred to as nād, vāṇī or vāk in Vedic and Upaniṣadic literature. There are clear references to it in the Zoroastrian sroasha, the Word or Logos of the Christians, and Kun or Kalima of the Muslims. To quote the Bible, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... All things were made by Him; and without Him was not made anything" John, 1,1,). The poets of the nirguṇa school like Kabīr and Dādū also equate the śabad (Word) with the Creator.
Śabad (sound manifested) produces the subtle element akāsh (ether), from which the other four subtle elements emerge, which in turn give rise to the five gross elements. Air evolves from ether, fire from air, water from fire, and earth from water. The Gurūs regard these five elements as the basic constituents of the whole creation. Gurū Nānak says, "paṅch tatu sunnahu pargāsā-- From śunya the five elements manifested themselves" (GG, 1038). "Pañch tatu mili ihu tanu kīā-- The human fame is also constituted of (these) five elements" (GG,1039).
The evolution of the world from śabad (Word) indicates that the Gurūs do not accept the traditional division of the world into matter and spirit. Since the light of the Lord (śabad) pervades the entire universe, what has sprung from Him cannot be lifeless or inert. Gurū Nānak says "sāche te pavanā bhaiā pavane te jalu hoi-- From the eternal being air evolved and from air water" (GG,19). Lifeless matter can neither respond to outer and inner influences, nor can it be translated into an evolutionary process. There is no such thing as pure matter in the entire universe.
Forms may be with or without a self or soul. The ensouled forms have been called jīvas. In and through them the conscious luminous spirit, a spark of the Divine Flame, gains vital expression. While jīvas have been divided into four broad categories (khāṇis) --egg-born, womb-born,-- earth-born and sweat-born references-- are also made to the gods, ghosts and the like. Gurū Nānak says, "Innumerable are the categories of creation in various colours and forms." Creation cannot be limited to any fixed number of categories.
The Gurūs have given vivid accounts of the visible and invisible worlds. They refer to countless kinds of creation. They speak of innumerable mountains, oceans, countries, continents, galaxies and universes. Gurū Nānak’s composition "Japu" which is considered to be the epitome of the entire Sikh philosophy, gives a highly imaginative account of the gross and subtle worlds in the stanzas known as "khaṇḍs" (regions). Metaphorical references to the three worlds (tribhavan), the nine divisions (nav khaṇḍ), the fourteen regions (chaudah bhavan or lok) of Hindu and Muslim belief are also referred to, but the Gurūs repeatedly say that like the Lord, His creation is also limitless. Says the Gurū, "Without limit is creation, without measure. Millions long to find the limit, but limitless is creation." Again, "Countless are the atmospheres, waters and fires ; countless the clouds, the moons and the suns, infinite are the spheres, infinite the space." The Gurūs believe that there are many solar systems like that of ours and each solar system has its own Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśa (gods of creation, sustenance and dissolution). So great is the Lord and so boundless is His creation that countless planets and worlds are being created and dissolved in it in the twinkling of an eye.
Time and space are two very significant factors in the process of creation. The whole creation is under their influence and sway. It is, therefore, subject to growth and decay. Only the Creator, the Transcendental One, is beyond the influence of time and space. Gurū Nānak calls Him akāl mūrati, "you transcend time, time has no effect on you -- tu akāl purakhu nāhī siri kālā" (GG, 1038). In fact time and space exist only as part of the creation. Not only is creation in time and space, it can only be understood in relation to them. When creation itself dissolves at the time of pralaya (dissolution), time and space also merge into Eternity. Therefore, the Gurūs do not accept the independent existence of time and space.
Time has been dealt with in Sikh teaching in detail. While the Creator has been called Akāl (Timeless), which is a central concept in the Sikh philosophical thought, the universe is governed by the element of time. There is a continuing process of creation and dissolution. Says Gurū Arjan in Sukhmanī: Kai bār pasario pāsār, sadā sadā iku ekaṅkār--
Numerous times has the visible Universal expanse been manifested;
Only the Supreme Being is eternal,
In Gurbāṇī, temporality and eternity are constant opposites. Time itself is immeasurable, beyond human conception. During it the universe has appeared and disappeared through endless ages. In Rāgā Mārū Solahe, by Gurū Nānak (GG, 1035), occurs a long disquisition on the process of creation. "Through millions of years was there utter darkness enveloping the space; everything was at standstill. Then He by His will created the universe, the continents, regions, and the nether worlds. And the unmanifest made himself manifest."
Sikh cosmology maintains the fourfold division of time. Time is divisible into four yugas. The computation of time is in accordance with the Bikramī era, which precedes the Christian era by 57 years. Occasionally the kali yuga era too is mentioned. In the sum, for most practical purposes the prevalent Indian computation of time has been adopted.
The Gurūs regard man as the crown of creation. Unique is the structure of his body which is "the temple of the living God -- hari mandaru ehu sarīru hai.... " (GG,1346). It is in this worthy temple that the Creator is to be realized and worshipped. Gurū Amar Dās says :
In the body are contained,
Pearls and treasures,
The storehouse of devotion.
The nine regions of the earth,
Shops and markets
And the nine treasures of nām, the divine
Are contained in this frame.
The human body is the model of the whole creation, We, each one of us, are the complete universe. Man is the microcosm of the cosmos which is the macrocosm. The study of this macrocosm can reveal all the secrets contained in the macrocosm. Our body is the epitome of all creation and we have only to turn within to seek the truth. There is a complete parallel system between the physical processes of the universe and the biological processes in the body of man, Above and beyond the nine visible "gates" (eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth and the two lower apertures) of the body there lies the invisible "tenth door" (dasam dūār) where the true śabda, in all its resplendent glory and bliss, keeps ceaselessly resounding. This unstruck music (akhaṇḍ śabad), the stream of perennial life, the true Nectar is incessantly in operation in the "tenth door" from where man can travel back to his true Home (sach khaṇḍ) on the ship of the Word (śabda). He can then merge his individual self in the universal self to obtain lasting release from the cycle of birth and death. In fact, the human body is a precious gift, the golden opportunity which the great Lord mercifully grants to creation so that it may realize its true self and become one with the transcendent. To utilize the body for this purpose is the real goal and end of life, and the only justification for man's sojourn in this world.
The concept of cosmology advanced by the Gurūs is not merely theological or speculative. It is the outcome of their own spiritual and mystical experience. The Gurūs were unmatched spiritual teachers who in their own spiritual ascent beheld the splendid vision of the entire creation. They described what they themselves saw vividly revealed within (GG, 894). Their personal mystical experience is the real base and authority of their revelation. They established a living communion with God and possessed first-hand experience of all the secrets of creation. However, in their humility the Gurūs time and again have proclaimed that the mystery of creation is known to the Creator alone. Unlike those creeds which have set dates for the origin of creation, the Gurūs have visioned it as wrapped in the mystery and infinity of the Creator. As stated in the Japu, none can claim knowledge of this mystery which the Creator alone beholds.
Gurdīp Siṅgh Bhaṇḍārī