way of life and philosophy well ahead of its time when it was founded over 500 years ago, The Sikh religion today has a following of over 20 million people worldwide. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality of mankind, social justice and denounces superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Who and What is a Sikh?
The word ‘Sikh’ in the Punjabi language means ‘disciple’, Sikhs are the disciples of God who follow the writings and teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus. The wisdom of these teachings in Sri Guru Granth Sahib are practical and universal in their appeal to all mankind.
“I observe neither Hindu fasting nor the ritual of the Muslim Ramadan month; Him I serve who at the last shall save. The Lord of universe of the Hindus, Gosain and Allah to me are one; From Hindus and Muslims have I broken free. I perform neither Kaaba pilgrimage nor at bathing spots worship; One sole Lord I serve, and no other. I perform neither the Hindu worship nor the Muslim prayer; To the Sole Formless Lord in my heart I bow. We neither are Hindus nor Muslims; Our body and life belong to the One Supreme Being who alone is both Ram and Allah for us.” (Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Granth Sahib, Raga Bhairon pg. 1136)
“Any human being who faithfully believes in: (i) One Immortal Being, (ii) Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, (iii) The Guru Granth Sahib, (iv) The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and, (v) the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion is a Sikh.” (Rehat Maryada, Sikh Code of Conduct)
Philosophy and Beliefs
There is only One God. He is the same God for all people of all religions.
The soul goes through cycles of births and deaths before it reaches the human form. The goal of our life is to lead an exemplary existence so that one may merge with God. Sikhs should remember God at all times and practice living a virtuous and truthful life while maintaining a balance between their spiritual obligations and temporal obligations.
The true path to achieving salvation and merging with God does not require renunciation of the world or celibacy, but living the life of a householder, earning a honest living and avoiding worldly temptations and sins.
Sikhism condemns blind rituals such as fasting, visiting places of pilgrimage, superstitions, worship of the dead, idol worship etc.
Sikhism preaches that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God. It teaches the full equality of men and women. Women can participate in any religious function or perform any Sikh ceremony or lead the congregation in prayer.
History and Practices
The founder of the Sikh religion was Guru Nanak who was born in 1469. He preached a message of love and understanding and criticized the blind rituals of the Hindus and Muslims. Guru Nanak passed on his enlightened leadership of this new religion to nine successive Gurus. The final living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh died in 1708.
During his lifetime Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa order (meaning ‘The Pure’), soldier-saints. The Khalsa uphold the highest Sikh virtues of commitment, dedication and a social conscious. The Khalsa are men and women who have undergone the Sikh baptism ceremony and who strictly follow the Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions and wear the prescribed physical articles of the faith. One of the more noticeable being the uncut hair (required to be covered with a turban for men) and the Kirpan (ceremonial sword).
Before his death in 1708 Guru Gobind Singh declared that the Sikhs no longer needed a living and appointed his spiritual successor as Sri Guru Granth Sahib, his physical successor as the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh felt that all the wisdom needed by Sikhs for spiritual guidance in their daily lives could be found in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Eternal Guru of the Sikhs. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is unique in the world of religious scriptures because not only is it accorded the status of being the spiritual head of the Sikh religion, but besides the poetry of the Gurus, it also contains the writings of saints of other faiths whose thoughts were consistent with those of the Sikh Gurus.
Sikhism does not have priests, which were abolished by Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru felt that they had become corrupt and full of ego. Sikhs only have custodians of the Guru Granth Sahib (granthi), and any Sikh is free to read the Guru Granth Sahib in the Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) or in their home. All people of all religions are welcome to the Gurdwara. A free community kitchen can be found at every Gurdwara which serves meals to all people of all faiths. Guru Nanak first started this institution which outline the basic Sikh principles of service, humility and equality.
The most significant historical religious center for the Sikhs is Harmiandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) at Amritsar in the state of Punjab in northern India. It is the inspirational and historical center of Sikhism but is not a mandatory place of pilgrimage or worship. All places where Sri Guru Granth Sahib are installed are considered equally holy for Sikhs.
The Palace of the Lord God is so beautiful. Within it, there are gems, rubies, pearls and flawless diamonds. A fortress of gold surrounds this Source of Nectar. How can I climb up to the Fortress without a ladder? By meditating on the Lord, through the Guru, I am blessed and exalted. The Guru is the Ladder, the Guru is the Boat, and the Guru is the Raft to take me to the Lord’s Name. The Guru is the Boat to carry me across the world-ocean; the Guru is the Sacred Shrine of Pilgrimage, the Guru is the Holy River. If it pleases Him, I bathe in the Pool of Truth, and become radiant and pure.” (Guru Nanak, Sri Rag, pg. 17)
The word “Guru” is a Sanskrit word meaning teacher, honoured person, religious person or saint. Sikhism though has a very specific definition of the word Guru. It means the descent of divine guidance to mankind provided through ten Enlightened Masters. This honour of being called a Sikh Guru applies only to the ten Gurus who founded the religion starting with Guru Nanak in 1469 and ending with Guru Gobind Singh in 1708; thereafter it refers to the Sikh Holy Scriptures the Guru Granth Sahib. The divine spirit was passed from one Guru to the next as “The light of a lamp which lights another does not abate. Similarly a spiritual leader and his disciple become equal, Nanak says the truth.”
“They distinguish and separate one Guru from the other. And rare is the one who knows that they, indeed, were one. They who realised this in their hearts, attained Realisation of God.” (Guru Gobind Singh, Dohira, Vachitra Natak)
There is only one God, he is the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer.
“You are the Creator, O Lord, the Unknowable. You created the Universe of diverse kinds, colours and qualities. You know your own Creation. All this is your Play.” (Guru Nanak, Var Majh)
“The Formless Supreme Being abides in the Realm of Eternity. Over His creation He casts His glance of grace. In that Realm are contained all the continents and the universes, Exceeding in number all count. Of creation worlds upon worlds abide therein; All obedient to His will; He watches over them in bliss, And has each constantly in mind.” (Guru Nanak, Japji)
God cannot take human form.
“He neither has father, nor mother, nor sons nor brothers.” (Guru Nanak, Maru)
“Burnt be the mouth that asserts, the Lord takes birth. He is neither born nor dies; neither enters birth nor departs. All pervasive is Nanaks Lord.” (Guru Arjan Dev, Raga Bhairon)
The goal of human life is to break the cycle of birth’s and deaths and merge with God. This can be accomplished by following the teachings of the Guru, meditation on the Holy Name and performance of acts of service and charity.
Without devotion to the Name Divine is birth in the world gone waste. Such consume poison, poisonous their utterance; Without devotion to the Name, without gain they die, and after death in transmigration wander.” (Guru Nanak, Raga Bhairon)
“True life is life in God, contemplation on the Name and the society of the saints” (Guru Arjan Dev, Dhanasari)
“I shall merge in the Lord like the water in the sea and the wave in the stream. The soul will merge in God and like air I shall look upon all alike. Then why shall I come again? The coming and going is under the Will of the Lord and Realising This Will, I shall merge in the Lord” (Bhagat Kabir, Maru)
“The disciple of the True Guru (God) dwells upon the Lord through the teaching of the Guru and all his sins are washed away” (Guru Ram Das, Var Gauri)
“Our service in the world gets us a seat in the Court of the Lord” (Guru Nanak, Sri Rag)
“One known as disciple of the holy Perceptor must, rising at dawn, on the Name Divine meditate” (Guru Ram Das, Raga Gauri)
The five cardinal vices are; Kam (lust), Krodh (anger), Lobh (greed), Moh (worldly attachment) and Ahankar (pride). If one can overcome these, they will achieve salvation.
“Five thieves who live within this body are lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. They rob us of ambrosia, but the egocentrics do not understand it and no one listens to their cries” (Guru Amar Das, Sorath)
“I am in the Refuge of the Lord; Bless me, O Lord with your Grace, so that the lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego may be destroyed” (Guru Arjan Dev, Gauri Sukhmani)
Narm Marg; emphasizes daily devotion to the remembrance of God.
“Meditation of the Lord is the highest of the deeds, through which myriads obtain release, through which the thirst (of desires) is quenched, through which one becomes all knowing, through which the fear of death goes away, through which all the desires are fulfilled, through which the dirt of the mind is cleansed and the Nectar of the Name of God is absorbed in the mind” (Guru Nanak, Gauri Sukhmani)
Rejection of all forms of blind rituals such as fasting, religious vegetarianism, pilgrimages, superstions, yoga, as well as any form of idol worship.
“Let good conduct be thy fasting.” (Guru Nanak, Var Majh)
“You keep the fast to please Allah, but slay life for your relish..But you do not reflect on the Lord, Who is within you” (Bhagat Kabir, Asa)
“Only fools argue whether to eat meat or not. They don’t understand truth nor do they meditate on it. Who can define what is meat and what is plant? Who knows where the sin lies, being a vegetarian or a non vegetarian?” (Guru Nanak, Var Malar)
“The world is in agony because of the filth of ego, the word is filthy because of duality; The filth of ego cannot be washed away, even if one bathes at one hundred holy places.” (Guru Amar Das, Sri Raga)
“They go to holy places for a bath, Their minds are impure and bodies are like thieves; If by bath their dirt drops down, they got on themselves twice as much dirt and ego.” (Guru Nanak, Var Suhi)
“Whosover controls the mind, he is a pilgrim” (Guru Arjan Dev, Maru Solhe)
“You calculate the auspicious moments, but do not realise, That God is far above the effects of these auspicious moments.” (Guru Nanak, Ramkali)
“Good omens and ill omens stick to him Who does not remember the Lord.” (Guru Arjan Dev, Asa)
“The way to true yoga is found by dwelling in God and remaining detached in the midst of worldly attachments.” (Guru Nanak, Suhi))
“Pandits are busy studying Puranas, Yogis are busy in yogic meditations; Sannyasis are intoxicated with ego, Tapsis are intoxicated with secrets of Tapas; All are intoxicated, none is awake, With them are thieves robbing them.” (Bhagat Kabir, Basant)
“Five are the Muslim prayers; five their appointed hours, Five their names. These be the true prayers: The first is Truth, the second is lawful earning and the third is to beg the Graces of God for all, The fourth is the right intention in the mind and the fifth is the praise of the Lord.” (Guru Nanak, Var Majh)
“He reads the holy books with commentaries, He does not remember God, his way of living is not flowless. He instructs and makes other people firm, But does not practise, whatever he says. Understand the substance of the Vedas, O Pandit!” (Guru Arjan Dev, Ramkali)
“The stone he calls his god, in the end, drowns him with itself… Know that a boat of stone carries one not across” (Guru Arjan Dev, Suhi)
“The stone neither speaks nor gives anything. Therefore its service is fruitless and its worship is of no avail.” (Bhagat Kabir, Bhairo)
Normal Family life (Grasth) is encouraged, celibacy or renunciation of the world is not necessary to achieve salvation. The devotee must live in the world yet keep his mind pure. He must be a soldier, a scholar, a saint.
“Beauteous lady! hast not heard with thy ears, To the husband’s home must thou come, nor for ever canst thou in the parental home abide” (Guru Nanak, Sri Rag)
“I that in the parents home on the Lord meditated, In the husband’s home bliss have found. Blessed is the entire life of such.” (Guru Ram Das, Sri Rag)
“Those known as celibates knowing not the right device, discard house and home.” (Guru Nanak, Asa)
“Forsaking the household, one’s mind took him to the forest, but it could not get peace even for a moment; but when it sought the refuge of the Saint of the Lord, its wanderings ceased and it returned to its own home. One abandoned his relatives and became a Sannyasi, but the craving of the mind did not cease. One’s desires are not finished without the Word of the Guru, which alone can bring peace. When hatred for the world wells up in ones mind, he becomes a naked recluse, but the mind wanders ceaselessly and these wanderings do not end his desires, but when he meets the saints, he reaches the House of Mercy. Siddhas learn numerous Yogic poses; but their mind only after miraculous powers yearns. Thereby comes not to them fulfilment, content and peace of mind.” (Guru Ram Das, Bilaval)
The Sikh Holy Book (Guru Granth Sahib) is the perpetual Guru, there is no place in Sikhism for a living Guru today.
“The bani is the preceptor and the preceptor is the bani, All the nectars are present in the bani: If the faithful follows the bani of the preceptor, The preceptor himself helps him in the realisation of his ideal.” (Guru Ram Das, Nat)
Sikhism rejects all distinctions of caste, creed, race or sex.
“All are created from the seed of God. There is the same clay in the whole world, the potter (God) makes many kinds of pots.” (Guru Amar Das, Bhairo)
“Recognise the light (of God) and do not ask for the caste, There is no caste in the next world.” (Guru Nanak, Asa)
The Guru’s stressed the full equality of women, rejecting female infanticide, sati (wife burning), permitting widow remarriage and rejects purdah (women wearing veils).
“We are born of woman, we are conceived in the womb of woman, we are engaged and married to woman. We make friendship with woman and the lineage continued because of woman. When one woman dies, we take another one, we are bound with the world through woman. Why should we talk ill of her, who gives birth to kings? The woman is born from woman; there is none without her. Only the One True Lord is without woman” (Guru Nanak, Var Asa)
“They cannot be called satis, who burn themselves with their dead husbands. They can only be called satis, if they bear the shock of separation. They may also be known as satis, who live with character and contentment and always show veneration to their husbands by remembering them.” (Guru Amar Das, Var Suhi)
Honest labour and work (Kirat Karna) are the approved way of living ones life. It is considered honourable to earn ones daily bread through honest work and not by begging or dishonest means.
“He who eats what he earns through his earnest labour and from his hand gives something in charity; he alone, O Nanak, knows the true way of life” (Guru Nanak Dev, Rag Sarang, pg. 1245)
Vand Chhakna, sharing with others is also a social responsibility. The individual is expected to help others in need through charity.
Seva, community service is also an intergral part of Sikhism. The free community kitchen (langar) found at every gurdwara and open to people of all religions is one expression of this community service.
At the time of the Gurus women were considered very low in society. Both Hindus and Muslims regarded women as inferior and a man’s property. Women were treated as mere property whose only value was as a servant or for entertainment. They were considered seducers and distractions from man’s spiritual path. Men were allowed polygamy but widows were not allowed to remarry but encouraged to burn themselves on their husbands funeral pyre (sati). Child marriage and female infanticide were prevalent and purdah (veils) were popular for women. Women were also not allowed to inherit any property. Many Hindu women were captured and sold as slaves in foreign Islamic countries.
In such a climate Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism shocked the entire society by preaching that women were worthy of praise and equal to men. Five hundred years later, the rest of mankind is only now waking up to this fundamental truth. The Gurus actively encouraged the participation of women as equals in worship, in society, and on the battlefield. They encouraged freedom of speech and women were allowed to participate in any and all religious activities including reading of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Views of the Gurus
Guru Nanak broke the shackles of women by admitting them into the sangat (congregation) without any restrictions or reservations. Guru Nanak felt that his message was meant as much for women as for men.
Guru Angad encouraged the education of all Sikhs, men and women.
Guru Amar Das
Guru Amar Das condemned the cruel custom of sati, female infanticide and advocated widow remarriage. Guru Amar Das also believed that women wearing veils (purdah) was demeaning. The Guru refused to meet the queen of Haripur or to allow any women into the congregation wearing a veil.
Guru Hargobind respected women and declared, “women is the conscience of man”.
Guru Gobind Singh
Guru Gobind Singh made the Khalsa initiation ceremony open to men and women alike, a woman being just as worthy. At the time of Amrit a man is given the name Singh meaning lion, the woman is given the name Kaur, meaning Princess. A Sikh women is an individual in her own right, she does not have to take her husband’s name and is Kaur till her death. Guru Gobind Singh did not see any distinction between the Khalsa, men or women could keep the 5 K’s. Guru Gobind Singh issued orders forbidding the Khalsa having any association with those that practiced female infanticide. Guru Gobind Singh also forbade Sikhs to exercise any proprietary rights over women captured in battle, they could not be kept as slaves or wives but were to be treated with the utmost respect.