Meaning of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking has been in the news for a long time now with various countries already having incorporated such skills in their educational schemes with some beginning right from the elementary level.


What exactly is critical thinking?

Some definitions :

  • Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment, the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking.
  • Someone with critical thinking skills is able to understand the logical connections between ideas, to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe.
  • Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.

Gurbani defines critical thinking as Bibek Budhi or discerning intellect. And as Sikhs we need to remember that, in fact, ours is already a ‘schooling’ religion with the teacher (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji) and of course we Sikhs are the students.

Milestones in Indian History Correlated to Critical Thinking in Sikhs

1. Before Guru Nanak

People in India were at the mercy of not only the local rulers and officials but were also the victims of religious leaders under the caste system. Rituals and superstitions had overtaken any sensible thinking.

With the invasion from Mahmood of Gazni in the eleventh century to the Moghuls in the sixteenth century, the situation only worsened. Social discrimination led to persecution, plunder and massacre. How could the unlearned population think of anything beyond their physical survival?

Guru Nanak describes the situation as:

(SGGS 145 Raag Maajh M :1)

ਕਲਿ ਕਾਤੀ ਰਾਜੇ ਕਾਸਾਈ ਧਰਮੁ ਪੰਖ ਕਰਿ ਉਡਰਿਆ ॥

Kal Kaathee Raajae Kaasaaee Dhharam Pankh Kar Ouddariaa ||

Kings are butchers Cruelty their knife, and Sense of duty and responsibility have taken wings and vanished.

2. Spread of Sikh Philosophy

The reformative philosophy of Guru Nanak was indeed a new way of life as it centred on the universal brotherhood of man and fatherhood of God. The answers to the most intricate questions about life, its purpose, and how to achieve it were simple to understand and even simpler to abide by than the hotchpotch they were used to.

Hence the population only needed critical thinking for them to appreciate and acknowledge the futility of having faith in and adhering to

– existing rituals n superstitions

– discriminatory caste system by Brahmins

– gender discrimination in the social system

– abuse of power by officials, rulers and priestly class

– existence of innumerable ‘deities’

– idol worship


(SGGS 1114 Raag Tukhaari M : 4)

ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧਿ ਬੀਚਾਰਿ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦਿ ਖਿਨੁ ਖਿਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਨਿਤ ਚਵੇ ॥

Bibaek Budhh Beechaar Guramukh Gur Sabadh Khin Khin Har Nith Chavae ||

With clear and precise understanding, the Gurmukhs contemplate the Guru’s Shabad; each and every instant, they continually speak of the Lord.

Yes, with the awakening of critical thinking, people of all segments and status realized the existence of the Cosmos and the Creator and were able to recognize the Creator within them.

(SGGS 754 Raag Suhi M : 3)

ਕਾਇਆ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਆਪੇ ਵਸੈ ਅਲਖੁ ਨ ਲਖਿਆ ਜਾਈ ॥

Kaaeiaa Andhar Aapae Vasai Alakh N Lakhiaa Jaaee ||

The Lord Himself dwells within the body;

He is invisible and cannot be seen.

People began to accept Gurbani (scriptures by the Gurus) as their guide and Gurmatt (Guru’s wisdom) as their path. This new identity gave them respect and pride and also raised their self-esteem!

(SGGS 1356 Salok Sehshritee M : 5)

ਸੈਨਾ ਸਾਧ ਸਮੂਹ ਸੂਰ ਅਜਿਤੰ ਸੰਨਾਹੰ ਤਨਿ ਨਿੰਮ੍ਰਤਾਹ ॥

Sainaa Saadhh Samooh Soor Ajithan Sannaahan Than Ninmrathaah ||

The Holy people are an invincible army of spiritual warriors; their bodies are protected by the armor of humility.

The new spirituality eventually enabled them to uplift themselves out of their predicament of social and economic exploitation! The new Sikh populace emerged in the form of ‘saint-soldiers’ who were ready to die for their belief and records reveal many martyrs and warriors etched in history.

3. After Banda Singh Bahadur (1716 to 1733)

After Banda Singh Bahadur’s death in 1716, the next 80 years saw relentless persecution by the Mughals aimed at total extinction of Sikhs.

Sikhs lived in jungles and deserts under extreme conditions of poverty and helplessness. It became a life of physical survival during this brutal ostracisation. Despite that, did their spiritual level falter? No! They did not succumb nor waver from the path of truthful living.

(SGGS 142 Raag Maajh M : 1)

ਜੇ ਦੇਹੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਲਾਈਐ ਪਾਪ ਗਰਹ ਦੁਇ ਰਾਹੁ ॥

ਰਤੁ ਪੀਣੇ ਰਾਜੇ ਸਿਰੈ ਉਪਰਿ ਰਖੀਅਹਿ ਏਵੈ ਜਾਪੈ ਭਾਉ ॥ ਭੀ ਤੂੰਹੈ ਸਾਲਾਹਣਾ ਆਖਣ ਲਹੈ ਨ ਚਾਉ ॥੩॥

Jae Dhaehai Dhukh Laaeeai Paap Gareh Dhue Raahu ||

Rath Peenae Raajae Sirai Oupar Rakheeahi Eaevai Jaapai Bhaao ||

Bhee Thoonhai Saalaahanaa Aakhan Lehai N Chaao ||3||

If my body were afflicted with pain, under the evil influence of unlucky stars; and if the blood-sucking kings were to hold power over me – even if this were my condition, I would still worship and adore You, and my longing to chant Your Praises would not decrease. ||3||

How could this tough life have time for any learning or thinking beyond shelter and food? Hence all religious institutions were ultimately left in the control of fake Sikhs nominated and supported by those in power who remained in charge even throughout the Khalsa Raj established by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1801 and also later under British rule from 1858.

Thus the Nirmalas, Mahants and Udasis had two generations to establish control and thereby incorporate practices mostly in line with Vedantic traditions. Many principles decried by Guru Nanak were now deviously distorted via deliberate and deceitful misinterpretations of Gurbani.

4. Singh Sabha Movement (early 1900s)

The fresh century started with a new movement called Singh Sabha. Aimed at the search for Sikh identity and self-assertion ‘that we are not just another sect of Hinduism,’ it influenced the entire Sikh community and reoriented its outlook and spirit.

Government legislation was attained and historic shrines like Nankana Sahib, Punja Sahib, Golden Temple, Tarn Taran Sahib were freed from the hold of hereditary mahants who were practising rites and rituals inconsistent with Sikhism.

Sikh traditions, doctrines and rites were established. Khalsa College was established at Amritsar and hundreds of Khalsa Schools were opened throughout Punjab. Interest in Gurbani was reawakened with new schools of thought. The wave of re-education had begun!

Nearly 50 of the works of grammarian, scholar, theologian and author, Professor Sahib, were published between 1927 and 1977. This included the Gurbani Viakaran published as early as 1932 in which he articulated fundamental grammar principles in Gurbani text, especially the interpretation of vowel endings in inflexions of nouns and verbs. His other notable contribution is his monumental 10-volume commentary, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan, published during 1962-64.

With the higher level of literacy, it was inevitable that a fresh dose of critical thinking would now lead Sikhs to secure recognition for themselves. Notably, too, many Sikhs ventured outside India during this period and settled in Malaysia, Canada, U.K, Africa and USA. The roots of Sikh diaspora were laid worldwide!

(SGGS 317 Raag Gauri M : 4)

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧਿ ਹੋਇ ॥

Guramukh Giaan Bibaek Budhh Hoe ||

The Gurmukh is blessed with spiritual wisdom and a discerning intellect.

5. Partition and Independence (1947)

However, this peaceful time did not last due to the agitation against the British rule and the demand for partition. The proposed area of Pakistan included most of the Punjab and created a new paradigm. People faced indescribable acts of violence, were forced to migrate hundreds of miles and became homeless refugees all in the name of religion!

Although Sikhs in the region were often landlords or moneylenders for poor Muslims, the transfer of power process in India did not translate into

a privileged position for most of them in the new territories.

This uprooting of millions was once more a survival game in rebuilding lives from scratch and the traitors and pakhandis (fakes) took advantage! Once again they attempted at the deceitful adulteration and dilution of core Sikh values. Unfortunately there was little resistance as Sikh leadership was weak and fragmented.

(SGGS 1171 Raag Basant Hindol M : 1)

ਸਾਹੁਰੜੀ ਵਥੁ ਸਭੁ ਕਿਛੁ ਸਾਝੀ ਪੇਵਕੜੈ ਧਨ ਵਖੇ ॥

Saahurarree Vathh Sabh Kishh Saajhee Paevakarrai Dhhan Vakhae ||

Guru Nanak pointed out that God’s bounty is a commonwealth for all to share, but there is maldistribution due to haumai (self-centeredness) and greed:

The damage to the Sikh psyche could not be stopped and even the establishment of the state of Panjab could not undo this damage. In fact,

those with vested interests succeeded in deceiving the populace even more with the availability of publishing houses and the support of political parties!

6. Indian Government’s Siege of Darbar Sahib (1984)

Indian premier Indira Gandhi’s military operation to tackle Sikh ‘guerrilla activity’ involved the siege of the Golden Temple and rounding up of so-called ‘militants’ in the surrounding villages. She was subsequently assassinated by two of her Sikh guards and that triggered the outbreak of anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, where 3000 Sikhs were killed.

(SGGS 1031 Raag Maroo M : 1)

ਦੁੰਦਰ ਦੂਤ ਭੂਤ ਭੀਹਾਲੇ ॥ ਖਿੰਚੋਤਾਣਿ ਕਰਹਿ ਬੇਤਾਲੇ ॥

Dhundhar Dhooth Bhooth Bheehaalae ||

Khinchothaan Karehi Baethaalae ||

They are argumentative demons, terrifying goblins.

These demons stir up conflict and strife.

How ironical that forty years after fleeing the establishment of a religious state in 1947, Sikhs were brutally murdered after the army entry into the Darbar Sahib in a country that they regarded as their own home!

Current Trends in Sikh Diaspora

1. Sectarian Divisions and Influence of Infiltrators/Traitors

Awareness of the deception by infiltrators and traitors has taken root, yet a few generations have already been brainwashed with a large percentage of Sikhs having totally accepted the teachings by the various sects and splinter groups – deras and jathabandhis and other self-titled groups who have been converging like vultures!

(SGGS 1246 Raag Sarang M : 1)

ਇਕਨਾ ਸੁਧਿ ਨ ਬੁਧਿ ਨ ਅਕਲਿ ਸਰ ਅਖਰ ਕਾ ਭੇਉ ਨ ਲਹੰਤਿ ॥

ਨਾਨਕ ਸੇ ਨਰ ਅਸਲਿ ਖਰ ਜਿ ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਣ ਗਰਬੁ ਕਰੰਤਿ ॥੨॥

Eikanaa Sudhh N Budhh N Akal Sar Akhar Kaa Bhaeo N Lehanth ||

Naanak Sae Nar Asal Khar J Bin Gun Garab Karanth ||2||

Some are not blessed with understanding, intelligence, or sublime intellect; they do not grasp the mystery of God’s Word.

O Nanak, they are donkeys; they are very proud of themselves, but they have no virtues at all. ||2||

Weak leadership, involvement of political parties, corruption and complacency – all are contributors to the bedlam and juxtapositions of Sikh beliefs in present day Panjab!

2. Re-emergence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Purists


Gurbakhsh Singh of Kala Afghana has devoted the past twenty (or so) years of his life, since retiring from Punjab’s police force, to dispelling the ritual and mythology that has gradually contaminated Sikhism over the years since its pristine birth in 1469.

(SGGS 285 Raag Gauri Sukhmani M : 5)

ਬੁਝਨਹਾਰ ਕਉ ਸਤਿ ਸਭ ਹੋਇ ॥

Bujhanehaar Ko Sath Sabh Hoe ||

All is True to one who understands.

He believes that like Buddhism and Jainism, Sikhism too would have been absorbed into Hinduism were it not for the unambiguous and consistent delineation of Sikh theology provided by Sikhism’s primary scripture, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.

His most influential work is the multi-volume epic in Panjabi titled Biparan Kii Riit Ton Sach Daa Maarag (From the Practice of Ritual to the Path of Truth). The series expounds in great detail on the astonishing number of rituals and mythologies that have gained currency in contemporary Sikhism. All explanations are corroborated with verses from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.

(SGGS 1002 Raag Maroo M : 5)

ਫੂਟੋ ਆਂਡਾ ਭਰਮ ਕਾ ਮਨਹਿ ਭਇਓ ਪਰਗਾਸੁ ॥ ਕਾਟੀ ਬੇਰੀ ਪਗਹ ਤੇ ਗੁਰਿ ਕੀਨੀ ਬੰਦਿ ਖਲਾਸੁ ॥੧॥

Footto Aaanddaa Bharam Kaa Manehi Bhaeiou Paragaas ||

Kaattee Baeree Pageh Thae Gur Keenee Bandh Khalaas ||1||

The egg of doubt has burst; my mind has been enlightened.

The Guru has shattered the shackles on my feet, and has set me free. ||1||

3. Rise of Authentic Sikhi

The slow trickle of Guru Nanak’s authentic philosophy is gaining momentum and Gurbani is being studied vigorously despite meeting with enormous opposition from all vested quarters. Sadly however, the miscreant sects are unable to face the exodus of their supporters and are even advocating violence with attacks on purist preachers like Gaggha, Panthpreet, Dhundda, Daddrianwale and others.


(SGGS 1410 Salok Vaaran Vadheek M : 1)

ਪਹਿਲਾ ਵਸਤੁ ਸਿਞਾਣਿ ਕੈ ਤਾਂ ਕੀਚੈ ਵਾਪਾਰੁ ॥

Pehilaa Vasath Sinjaan Kai Thaan Keechai Vaapaar ||

First, examine the merchandise, and then, make the deal.

Salvation in Nanakian philosophy (Gurmatt) means “emancipation” from ignorance, falsehood, prejudice, superstition, corrupting influence of maya (material world), poverty and political, religious and economic subjugation and exploitation.

(SGGS 293 Raag Gauri Sukhmani M : 5)

ਗਿਆਨ ਅੰਜਨੁ ਗੁਰਿ ਦੀਆ ਅਗਿਆਨ ਅੰਧੇਰ ਬਿਨਾਸੁ ॥

Giaan Anjan Gur Dheeaa Agiaan Andhhaer Binaas ||

The Guru has given the healing ointment of spiritual wisdom, and dispelled the darkness of ignorance.

With the advent of social media, there is continous exposure to Gurbani on facebook and whatsapp chats. Now information is being promptly shared with smartphones and laptops, heralding the age of critical thinking and the return of the fundamentals contained in Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.


(SGGS 1287 Raag Malar M : 1)

ਇਕਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾ ਗਲੀਂ ਜੰਜੀਰ ਬੰਦਿ ਰਬਾਣੀਐ ॥ ਬਧੇ ਛੁਟਹਿ ਸਚਿ ਸਚੁ ਪਛਾਣੀਐ ॥

Eikanaa Galeen Janjeer Bandh Rabaaneeai ||

Badhhae Shhuttehi Sach Sach Pachhaaneeai ||

Some have chains around their necks, in bondage to the Lord.

They are released from bondage, realizing the True Lord as True.

5. Critical Thinking and Soul Searching

A Sikh is a student learning from his teacher, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji. The qualities required in a teacher are all there but what about the learner? What attributes should there be in a good learner? Basically the learner’s capacity for learning is stimulated by his inherent intelligence and the environmental influences.

Essential to the success of the learner is his attitude. Is it positive, negative, keen or just plain lackadaisical? What can make the most impact on the thinking of the learner? His desire to learn will form his receptivity towards the lesson.

Students should be life-long learners. But are we? What is our status today? Are we even learning? And do we have the ability to think critically?

Concluding Remarks

Are Sikhs in slumber mode? No, you say. But look how we believe in any miracle and other short cuts to spirituality like chanting and ‘simraning.’ Have we abandoned the real messages of our gurus?

Are many of us even aware that we have been taken for a ride by unqualified preachers? Can we recognise the crafty fakes being peddled as the original product? Or is it a case of the blind leading the blind?

How can one acquire the Truth and how can one get rid of ignorance and falsehood that clouds one’s thinking? Guru Nanak says the answer lies in the understanding of Hukam (Cosmic Law) and living in harmony with it. And Gurbani is all about Hukam.

(SGGS 1 Jup M :1) 

ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥੧॥

Hukam Rajaaee Chalanaa Naanak Likhiaa Naal ||1||

O Nanak, it is written that you shall obey the Hukam of His Command, and walk in the Way of His Will. ||1||

When was the last time you were in an open discussion in the gurdwara premises where views were shared on the incorrect translations of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji and authentic Sikhi was introduced?

Awakening cannot be done by performing rituals, reading and praying the way we are doing in our so-called religious places. It has to be studied at the dining table with the family, in our group discussions, and formally in classrooms; the way we do our projects. It should be applied in our daily life the way we are applying the rules of law, engineering and medicine. 

On our lifelong journey as a seeker, each individual student has to be armed with an understanding of Gurbani and consequently apply critical thinking to proceed on the path in achieving our aim to ‘become Gurbani.’