Apropos the Nath Yogis of Gorakhpur, I believe one should re-read Guru Nanak's Theological debate with the 84 Siddhas.
It has become extremely relevant today as it helps us to understand how we have evolved as a sub- continental civilization, a pluralistic society and a modern democratic nation.
I think every citizen of India needs to read this 500 year old authentic recorded theological and moral debate to be found in 8 pages of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib starting at page 938 of the Granth Sahib and ending at page 946.
(The Google link is Siddh Goshtt Search Gurbani)
I have begun to understand it is not mere theology in a narrow sense-it has strong political social and historical implications
This debate of immense philosophical importance in the history of the world at large, had an unbelievably transformative influence in the shaping of India and Indian thought in the past 500 years and shows how and why we chose, yes, chose, through our rich tradition of debate and discussion, to go the syncretic way, the Sufi way, the Bhakti way, the inclusive and pluralistic way when world religions came knocking at our doors, for we had developed a capacity for embracing the infinite, the timeless, the universal to an extent which neither the Graeco Roman nor the Mesopotamian or Egyptian civilizations had , which is why they perished and we continued to flourish.
We are wont to quote Iqbal and say quite off-handedly, carelessly , and as a matter of right, with a blind sense of enlightenment, as if it would remain forever true without our having to make any effort, just because it has been true in the past:
"Yunaan-o-Misr-o-Ruma sab mit gaye jahaan se
Kuchh baat hai ke hasti mit-ti naheen hamaari"
But do we realise how much hard labour, how much intellectual rigour, emotional investment, physical effort and spiritual energy went into the effort to engage, to debate, to come up with alternative inclusive narratives, to create new models of syncretism in the face of rigid orthodoxy and forces of regression, hatred, exclusion, ritualism, irrationality prevalent among some misled spiritual seekers and practitioners, who in turn influenced large sections of lay people, ready to believe them because they had learnt some magic tricks, or gained the power to perform small acts contrary to the normal laws of nature?
Do we know what it took to re-establish the simple principles of love for mankind, for truth, moderation, justice, rationality, straightforwardness and sanity in social intellectual and spiritual life whenever forces of darkness, hatred, intolerance, discrimination and violence took over?
That is the tradition you can see in action, in all its beauty and complexity, in its frank exchange of ideas, of intellectual give and take that engages, enriches and educates the audience, and the readers down the generations, as much as it does the debators.
This is the way and the path of the true seekers after Truth, whose honest expression of differences and interchange of philosophical viewpoints help society to evolve in the spirit of Voltaire's aphorism that states
"I do not agree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it"
By the way, this is how Shastrarth or genuine debates ( still called Wrangling, very seriously, in the School of Theology at Oxford) used to be conducted in our country since ancient times.
Perhaps College and University Administrations and even TV anchors can learn from its courteous methodology and its liberal ambience, which efficiently yield fruitful results, with rich dividends for society at large. This is how societies evolve and create enabling environments for their members to develop and prosper in an ever-changing universe, not by sticking their heads in the mud, or by taking an untenable and regressive "my way or the highway stand" that brooks no argument. Stifling of healthy , respectful and rational debate on any or all topics from the sacred to the profane is a sure way to kill a society, a culture, a nation, or a civilisation.
The main thesis of the Siddh Gosht is that the Siddhas and Yogis, ascetics and renunciates, who roamed India in their thousands in the time of Guru Nanak i.e. the 15th and 16th centuries, believed that it was only through turning their back on social life and giving themselves up to physical and mental exertion , and yogic practices and rituals that they could attain miraculous powers and thus obtain liberation from the limitations of human life while still alive, and thus find God.
Guru Nanak on the other hand felt that it was only by contemplating the Divine and meditating in the infinite while living the life of a householder and doing useful work and earning an honest living while also contributing to society and doing good to ones fellow human beings that salvation could be achieved and God be found.
To this end he advocated contemplation of the infinite while living a good, honest and full life in the world.
In the Siddh Goshtt recorded in Raag Ramkali , composed at Achal Batala around the turn of the 16th century, Guru Nanak debated with the Yogis Charpatnath, Bhangarnath, and Loharipa. While they urged him to adopt their path of the 12 Sidhis and 6 Philosophies, he expounded the superiority of a truth oriented, honest, God-contemplative, hard working householder's life.
Here is an extract that gives one a taste of the discussion:
"Haati Baati rahey niraarey Rukkh Birakkh Udiaaney||
Kandh mool aahaaro khaayeeye Audhoo boley gyaaney||
Teerath nhaeeyey sukh phal paaayeye maiyl na laggey kaayi ||
Gorakh Poot Lohaaripa boley Jog jugat bidhi saayi ||7||"
"Haati Baati Neend na aavey par ghar chitt na dolaayi ||
Bin naavey mann tek na tikayi Nanak Bhookh na jaayi ||
Haat Pattan ghar Gur dekhaayeya sahjey sacch vapaaro ||
Khandat nidra alap aahaaro Nanak Tatt bichaaro || 8 ||"
"Stay away from the marketplaces and common pathways; live among the trees and the shrubs of the forests ||
Let roots and fruits provide you with sustenance, this is the wisdom of the renunciate ||
Bathe in sacred places of pilgrimage; in that way , no blemish will stick on you , you will remain pure ||
Lohaaripa the disciple of Gorakhnath speaks thus, and says that this is the only way and method to attain Yoga ||7 ||"
" In Marketplaces and Pathways you cannot go to sleep or lose awareness of self and you should not covet what lies in other's houses, nor wander there asking for alms||
Sayeth Nanak, without the sustenance of the Name , your mind will not be at peace, nor will your hunger leave you||
The Guru has shown the marketplaces and pathways within myself and I serenely go about my true business ||
With broken sleep and frugal diet, Nanak, meditate on the essence of things ||8||"
In essence, Lohaaripa tells Guru Nanak that complete renunciation is the only way to liberation and salvation.
In reply, Guru Nanak points out the hidden hungers that such renunciation leaves unresolved and advocates a detached engagement .
The discussion then moves forward
EXTRACT FROM SIDDH GOSHATTH
"Darsan Bhaekh karo Jogindra Mundra Jholi khinttha ||
Baahar antar vekh sarevhu Khatdarshan ik Pantha || 8 ||
Eh bidh mann samjhaayeeye purkha baahurh chot na khayeeye||
Nanak bolai Gurmukh boojhai Jog jugat iv paayeeye || 9||
Antar shabad nirantar mudra haumai mamta duur kari ||
Kaam krodh ahamkaar nivaarey gur kai sabd su buddh pari ||
Khinthha jholi bharpoor raheya Nanak taarey ek Hari||
Saachaa Sahib Saachee Naayi Parkhey Gur ki baat khari || 10 ||
(Siddh Goshatth, Ramkali Mahla Pehla, SGGSJi Ang 929)
"Make your appearance like that of a King of Yogis, wear earrings, a patched coat , and shape your cowl into a begging bowl ||
Among the twelve schools of Yoga, ours is the best; among the six schools of philosophy ours is the most superior ||
This is the way to instruct the mind so that you will never suffer the blows of life again ||"
Nanak speaks : " The Gurmukh, the man attuned to God , understands, this is the way to attain Yoga ||9 ||
Let constant absorption the Celestial Sound of the Word deep within that be your earring
That will put an end to egotism and attachment ||
The wisdom that you attain through the Word of the Eternal Guru will help you to get rid of Desire, Anger and Ego ||
Let the realisation that the Universal Supreme soul is all-Pervasive be your patched robe and your begging bowl||
Sayeth Nanak It is thus that the One True Lord will ferry you across the dark ocean of worldly life ||
True is Our Lord and Master , and is true is his name. Analyse it and test it, you will find that the word of the Guru is true||10||"
(SGGS ji Page 929)
Once again, the Yogi points to externalities, while the Guru takes the discussion to a much higher spiritual level, at once abstract and practical. You see the Way of the Ascetic contrasted with the way of a highly evolved and balanced Seeker of the Truth - a Guru in the true sense, and you come away enthralled and elevated from reading the debate about what really matters in Man's eternal quest for meaning in Life.
May we forever feel free to have more and more of such frank and fruitful discussions in our social, political, and spiritual lives, and prove ourselves to be worthy heirs of our own rich, liberal and generous intellectual, cultural and civilizational traditions!