From the book "Jap Ji – The message of Guru Nanak", written by Sant Kirpal Singh

Religion, as it is generally understood today, has been grossly misconceived. Prayers consisting of set phrases, forced ceremonials, time-consuming rituals, adherence to outward symbols at the sacrifice of their inner spiritual meaning and superiority of one creed over another – these and similar other absurdities have usurped the title of religion. One religion is waging war against the other; brothers are fighting with brothers, on the plea of differences of opinion regarding the means to salvation. Bloodshed, falsehood, hatred, intolerance and bigotry have often been preached in the name of religion while the vital offices of religion, the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, are set at naught.

Reason has been banished altogether, reducing religion to a mere profession of creeds and dogmas. Words have replaced deeds. Religion no longer seems to be concerned with such ennobling issues as the knowledge of one's self, and union with the Divine origin. The seeking of God in the observance of outward means, and the repetition of verbal formulae, the haunting of pilgrimages and synagogues amidst unfeeling hearts, reveal the depths to which religion has sunk. Many God-gifted men in the past when faced with similar situations revolted against the fossilized religions and the ritualistic codes of priest craft.

Is not all this deplorable? It is a sad spectacle, indeed! Fortunately, all this is due to human ignorance of true religion which knows no artificiality or fabrication. The slavery of the priest craft is not the aim of religion. Its aim is not to bind but to set man free from its slavery.

The Master prescribes a religion which teaches the equality of Man. Nature does not distinguish between a Hindu, a Mohammedan or a Christian. All belong to the one humanity on earth. Guru Nanak exhorts us to accept this  – the brotherhood of man – as the grandest religion (Stanza 28).

We should consider all men our equals, irrespective of colour or creed. Just as in a class, boys of all sects and denominations sit together, play together, love each other and learn the same lessons from one and the same teacher, just so the whole world should be as one class. No distinction of caste or colour should be observed. The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man are the true essence of religion. All humanity are alike, no matter if they pose under the garb of Sikhs, Hindus, Mohammedans, Jews, Christians, Buddhists or the materialists.

All living beings are at Thy Feet, O Lord,
Thou carest for them all,
Whatever pleaseth Thee is good,
Nanak beseecheth Thee in this wise
.  Bilawal M.1

The Master loves Nature and conforms to all the laws of Nature. He knows no artificiality or fabrication. Nature is beautiful, except when tormented by man. He therefore leaves Nature to take care of the outer man and to preserve it as best it may. The majority of the sages both in the East and West – Christ, Buddha, Ramakrishna and others – did not interfere in the least with the bodily form Nature gave them. There is in fact no higher religion than this. It is one aspect of religion, the objective side. But there exists also the other aspect which may be termed the subjective – the inner side of it of which we have no knowledge at all. In this respect the Master teaches us to develop the subjective life by the natural means, which consists in living in Divinity and realising the presence of God in our souls. This is the true nature of religion. It is not merely an oral profession, but a highly practical and living essence.

The first lesson to be learnt is to realise the existence of the Divinity in man and to feel, nay – see, its very presence everywhere. It is an ever-active and moving principle diffused throughout creation that accounts for the existence of the universe itself. Nature, with her immutable laws, infinity of forms and phenomena, is not a mere edifice of chance. By one Supreme Ruler is this universe pervaded, held in control and kept in order.

Man must reap the fruit of what he sows here or hereafter. All are subject to the domain of the Karmas and none is exempt there from. The only competent means for obtaining emancipation from bondage to the inexorable law of Karmas is communion with the Holy Naam – the Divine Word, learnt at the feet of a Gurmukh, a Master. When one has understood this, one is fit enough to take the next step.

All men are equal and carry with them the spark of the Divine Light, ever effulgent and eternal. The rites of the synagogue or the mosque, the Hindu ways of worship or the Muslim prayers or the devotional services of the Christians, are but different ways of offering love to the one Supreme Lord.

All of us are playing in the lap of Dame Nature, day and night, serving in the capacity of either male or female, one the ever-active and the other passive. All live on the same earth, under the same sky, breathe the same air, drink the same water. In a few words, all are nourished by the same elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.

Again, all enjoy the same privileges. All have the same eyes to see, the same ears to hear, the same limbs to move about and the power of articulation to speak. None is deprived of Nature's instruments, for Nature extends the same facilities to all alike and grants equal protection to each.

All human beings – here, there and everywhere – are the children of one Father, and form the links in the unbreakable chain of Divinity, like beads on one string. If you try to tamper with any one of them, you are bound to affect the whole chain. Therefore, molest not anyone is the injunction of the Saints. Baba Farid says in Guru Granth Sahib:

If thou hankereth after a union with the Lord,
torment not the heart of anyone.
– Shalok Farid

Guru Nanak would have each one of us breathe affinity to the whole creation, and look upon the world with boundless compassion from the very core of our hearts, wishing peace unto all. He has set forth the above in beautiful words:

O Nanak, may we rise up on the current
of the Holy Naam – the Divine Word – to Thy Presence,
And wish peace unto all the world, under Thy Will.

Why, then, does there exist all this variety in the outward symbols and external observance of the different religions ? This, the Master explains, is due to the different formalities and customs prevailing in different countries. He says:

Hindu temples and the mosques of the Muslims are all the same.
The Hindu ways of worship and the Namaz (Muslim mode of prayer)
are all the same unto Him.
All mankind is but an emanation from the same source of life.
The differences between the men of various creeds
– Turks, Hindus and others – are due to the customs
and modes of living in their different countries.
– Guru Gobind Singh

Let us take one instance: To go about bare-headed is a sign of respect in the West, whereas in the East it is taken as disrespect. This evidently changes the outward mode of worship of the West from that of the East. The Christians conduct their services in churches bareheaded, but in the East devotees perform their prayers with their heads always covered.

The climatic influences also play a great part in determining the mode of ritual. In Arabia, the cradle of Mohammedanism, for example, the Arabs, because of the scarcity of water, perform Namaz (offer prayers), after Wazu (washing of the face, hands and feet); but where water is not to be found at all, they have to be content with Tayumum, which is the use of sand for cleansing their limbs, before saying prayers. With the Hindus, in India, the use of water is profuse and a bath is considered necessary before observing religious practices. Such is also the case with dress and other similar matters. These regional practices were assimilated into the religions which sprang up there; and it is this which accounts for the differences in the rituals and customs that we find among various religions today. Again, there are differences in temperament of the people in different parts of the world. When each one has his own inclinations and his own modes of thinking, it would be simply cruel if one were to force the same views on all. As a result of this tendency, we have the different systems or schools of thought as they exist today, and these keep on increasing and multiplying with the progress of time. All are, of course, meant to make progress in the development of men's intellects. All men must therefore choose what is best for themselves; until at last they come to the subjective aspect of religion, which is one and the same for all humanity.

The subjective or the true religion, then, refers to an eternal principle, not to outer forms and customs, and is, therefore, universal. It insists on the internal spiritual advancement, instead of attaching mind to external formulae. It is the one aspect where all religions meet. The same strain throbs in the teachings of all spiritual Masters who visited this earth of ours. We will see the truth borne out in the following pages, by giving illustrations and quotations to support this view.

There are then two aspects of religion: the one is the outer, which is the shell and the other the subjective, which is the pith or substance. Man has begun to realise that outer religion aims at the social reformation of a certain class of people only. Their advancement in the way of religion, each establishing its own rules and laws for observance, makes the conduct of life easy in weal or woe. It means giving up one's all for the service of that class of people alone. This, of course, is necessary for a man to live in the world. Following outer customs results in the several societies and communities as they exist today. This may be defined as social religion.

But the subjective religion is quite independent of the societies and communities, although they are the superstructure based on this solid foundation. Deterioration is the feature of time. Those who started the social religions, being fully aware of the subjective side, have left traces of Truth gleaming through their codes of outer rites and observances on which they were based. As time wears on, posterity simply hands down these codes, growing more and more ignorant of the great and noble truths around which they were originally built. In these circumstances, adherence to outward rituals and forms inevitably takes the place of the inner meaning they once symbolised. Thus the material aspect remains and the essence is lost. Fanaticism, bigotry, casteism and sectarianism then are the inevitable results, as the followers of all religions betray in one form or another in the conduct of their lives. It is this that explains the corruption that has entered into the vitals of religion, making it not the bond of union, but the apple of discord.

The subjective aspect of religion gleams through the teachings of all the great scriptures of the world. There is no religion without a spark of Truth in it. All faiths are to be respected from this point of view. The subjective side of the religion is what all the Masters taught. It is one and the same for all. No distinction is made for any creed or class. All are welcome to partake of Truth without detriment or interference with their respective creeds. It is part and parcel of all the creeds, and affords men a deeper insight into their particular faiths. Subjective religion is not a matter of books. It is our own experience which stands to prove the truths taught by the various religions.

We will now go on to attempt an examination of this inner phase of religion, as conceived by Guru Nanak.

The Master explains the basic principles. There is One Being, who is the Creator and the Uncaused Cause of all. He has created the whole universe through His Ever-Active Will which is diffused throughout. The scientists have now come to find a unity in the varieties of the world's great phenomena. They trace the whole creation back to the one primal cause from which it evolved. It irresistibly follows that there is one Cause alone which upholds the whole creation. Like the Sun, which is a responsible agent for the changes of seasons and growth of the vegetable kingdom, there is such an Existence responsible for all the phenomena of the world. The Master speaks of it as "There is One Being." This numeral "One" is used only to denote the Absolute – the Wordless. Since we are finite, we express Him in finite terms.

Thou art beyond all finiteness; we, being finite, praise Thee in finite terms.
How can we know how great Thou art?
– Sorath M.5

Whoever knows the mystery expressed by numeral 'One' he becomes one with Him.

– Ramkali M.1