(This article is by guest writer Jasmine Morris. For a short bio, see below.)
In 2017, I found a path that would change me forever. And three years later, I found myself on that same path trying to reconcile my practice (which I thought was totally fine) with my evolving worldview. I decided to do research in the hopes that I would find something similar to how I viewed the world, and eventually found spiritual (religious) naturalism. Or as I would say, a way to interpret established religion through a naturalistic lens. One might ask, “Where exactly do spiritual naturalism and Sikhism overlap?” I think in order to properly answer this question, it’s important for me to expand on what the basic foundation of Sikhism is in the first place.
In 1469, a man whose words would later change the land of Punjab named Guru Nanak was born. He was born into an upper caste Khatri Hindu family, and was the younger brother to his sister Nanaki (who is considered by some Sikhs to be the first Sikh). Nanak was an unusual boy, not satisfied with what he had been taught by religious figures growing up. He was actually quite the skeptic, and adamantly challenged others on their ideas of God, the supernatural, and ritual. When he wasn’t doing that, he was working, serving others, and contemplating on what is the essence of this thing people called “God”.
Then according to the Janamsakhis (stories written by his disciples after his passing), one day Guru Nanak immersed himself into the river Kali Bein, and did not emerge. Three days passed, and with no sight of him, people assumed that he had drowned. Then out of nowhere, Guru Nanak mysteriously reappears, having had a divine experience and realization. To him, God was not made of stone, plural, or a person up in the sky, but rather a singular supernatural force within all and outside of all (so panentheism).
Afterwards, he (along with his Sufi counterpart, Mardana) began to travel across the continent, spreading his message, which included a rejection of blind ritual, the caste system, female inferiority, division along the lines of religious affiliation, and so on. To Nanak, life was precious and short, and it was important for people to not just experience the One, but merge into it while yet alive.
But how could people connect with and merge into this One that Guru Nanak continually spoke of? In Ang 213 of the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Arjan (the fifth successor to Nanak) says:
The One is the essence of all. Pause.
Some practice physical yoga, some indulge in pleasures; some live in spiritual wisdom, and some meditate
Some are bearers of the staff (hermits).
Some chant, some practice penance, some perform pooja, some practice daily rituals.
Some live the life of a wanderer.
Some live by the shore, some live on the water; some study the Vedas.
To Nanak, the devotional service (bhagath) of the One is dear.
It is important to know that during this time period in India, most people (both Hindu and Muslim) performed different religious acts and rituals, without cultivating within themselves a connection to the divine. For a follower of Sikh theology though, bhagti (or as some might call it, bhakti) was of most importance. Because no practices were of use to them unless they were simultaneously “striving for a radical, insular, transformative experience of divinity”.
As someone who embraces spiritual naturalism as my world view, my goal differs in that I am not looking to connect with or to merge into a “supernatural force” (for which there is no evidence), but rather to fully recognize my place in the universe, how everything has a singular origin, and how everything in the material world is interconnected. It is to be aware of all the creative, preservative, and destructive processes occurring around us and within us, and to accept the hukam (natural order) of things. Once one realizes this, their sense of ego (the self, self-centeredness) is reduced, and their devotion (or service) to humanity, nature, and other living things increases.
The graphic below summarizes the area where the religion of Sikhism and Spiritual Naturalism overlap.
For me, the practices of simran (meditation and chanting), kirtan (singing and playing instruments), and being shastardhari help cultivate within myself a devotion to “god” (aka humanity, nature, the universe, etc.) that I would probably not have if I was just purely an agnostic atheist. Because like Guru Nanak, I agree life is like one day going to sleep a child, and the next day waking up and realizing that you’re already 80. So instead of wasting this life doing nothing, we should actively strive to create something that will benefit us in the now, and others in the future. May it be so.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
BIO: “An undergraduate student, Jasmine Morris was raised as an evangelical, until doubts would cause her to abandon her faith and embrace critical thinking. Bringing a unique perspective to conversations, she describes herself as a spiritual naturalist living a Sikh inspired lifestyle. When she’s not studying world religions and humanism, she finds herself journaling, watching documentaries, or maintaining her platforms (and the ones of those she works with).