Punjab: History and Culture
Introduction to Sikhism: Message of Sikhism
"Truth is higher than everything,
But higher still is truthful living"
(Guru Nanak, the 1st Sikh prophet)
Unlike many other Eastern philosophies which preach asceticism and escapism, the Sikh religion exists as a faith of life-affirmation. A Sikh regards the world not as a place of suffering, but as a meaningful creation of God wherein noble, truthful, and selfless actions can bring a person closer to realizing Him. Sikhism preaches universal equality, and therefore, regards all religions and people as equal before the eyes of God. A Sikh is enjoined to rise above ego, live a truthful family life, share earnings with the less fortunate, and, as a human being, work toward progress on the individual and social level.
THE BASIC BELIEFS OF SIKHS
The Mool Mantar (literally, the root verse; the first hymn composed by Guru Nanak) sums up the basic belief of the Sikhs. Guru Granth Sahib begins with the Mool Mantar. Every Sikh is expected to recite it daily. The English translation is given below:
|Ik Onkaar||There is only one God|
|Sat Naam||His Name is Truth|
|Karta Purkh||He is the Creator|
|Nir Bhau||He is without fear|
|Nir Vair||He is without hate|
|Akaal Moorat||He is beyond time (Immortal)|
|Ajooni||He is beyond birth and death|
|Saibhang||He is self-existent|
Gur Parsaad He is realised by the Guru's grace.
The Sikh religion is strictly monotheistic, believing in One Supreme God. Absolute yet All-pervading, the Eternal, the Creator, the Cause of Causes, without enmity, without hate, both Immanent in His creation and beyond it. It is no o longer the God of one nation, but the GOD OF GRACE. That being so, He creates man not to punish him for his sins, but for the realization of his true purpose in the cosmos and to merge in from where he issued forth.
'O my mind, thou art the embodiment of Light; know* thy Essence'
'O my mind, the Lord is ever with thee; through the Guru's Word enjoy His Love.'
'Knowing thy essence thou knowest thy Lord; and knowest thou the mystery of birth and death'.
(Guru Granth, P. 441)
The basic postulate of Sikhism is that life is not sinful in its origin, but having emanated from a Pure Source, the True One abides in it. Thus sayeth Nanak:
'O my mind, thou art the spark of the Supreme Light; know thy essence.'
Not only the whole of Sikh Philosophy, but the whole of Sikh history and character, flows from 'this principle'.
The Sikhs do not recognize the caste system nor do they believe in Idol-worship, rituals, or superstitions. The gods and goddesses are considered as nonentities.
This religion consists of practical living, in rendering service to humanity and engendering tolerance and brotherly love towards all. The Sikh Gurus did not advocate retirement from the world in order to attain salvation. It can be achieved by anyone who earns an honest living and leads a normal life.
'He alone, 0 Nanak, knoweth the Way, who earneth with the sweat of his brow, and then shareth it with the others'.
(Guru Granth, P. 1245)
Nanak gave new hope to the down-trodden mankind to join his fraternity as equals. He is a creator of the NEW MAN in the New World supported by a New morality.
Riches and personal possessions are not hinderence in living by spiritual ideals. Sikhism does not believe in the maxim, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eyes of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God". On the other hand the Sikh dictum is as under:
'They, who are attuned to the Lord, by the Guru's Grace, Attain to the Lord in the midst of Maya, (i.e. Wealth).'
(Guru Granth. P. 921)
Sikhismdoes not accept the ideology of pessimism. It advocates optimism and hope. The maxim, "Resist not evil but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also", does not find any place in Sikh way of life. On the other hand it enjoins its followers:
"When an affair is past every other remedy It is righteous, indeed, to unsheathe the sword."
(Guru Gobind Singh)
The message of Sikhism is contained within the sacred writings of the Gurus, forever enshrined in the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib (the writings of Guru Gobind Singh form another compilation). The Guru Granth Sahib consists of the writings of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and ninth Gurus, as well as the writings of several prominent saints who were either contemporaries of, or lived before, the Sikh Gurus. The writings of these non-Sikh mystics correspond to the teachings of the Sikh Gurus; and more importantly, the inclusion of their writings into the Sikh holy scripture indicates the universality of Sikh philosophy. Written in musical measures of Indian classical music called ragas, the Guru Granth Sahib literally serves as the ultimate guide of spirituality (the living embodiment of the spirit of the Gurus) and is revered, not worshipped, as such by the Sikhs.
CONCEPT OF GOD
According to Sikh religious thought, God is both transcendent and immanent. God is beyond the empirical universe (what can be sensed or measured), but resides in it as well. Since God exists within and beyond existence itself, human beings can aspire toward living and acting in accordance with His will
THE PURPOSE OF LIFE
Sikhism accepts the idea of reincarnation. Life as a human being is considered the last step before realizing God. Whether or not one attains union with God depends on that one person's actions in this life. Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh prophet writes:
He who sings His praises and does good actions
Will merge into Him.
Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh prophet, explains the purpose of life when he writes:
Having gained a body this time, A rare opportunity you have got;
This is your chance to meet God.
Your other pursuits will be of no avail at the end.
Seek the company of holy men, And learn to meditate on God.
Set your mind on crossing the sea of life;
Life is being wasted away in pursuits of sensual pleasures.
Essentially, according to Sikh philosophy, human beings should free themselves from the cycle of reincarnation (births and deaths) by abandoning self-centeredness and embracing God-centeredness. In Sikhism, God is metaphorically known as Truth. With this in mind, a human being who embraces God-centeredness is living a life devoted to the fulfillment of Truth. Furthermore, Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh prophet states that:
God is just, And honors the truthful.
In Sikhism, surrendering to the Will of God implicitly requires that man abandon ego. Guru Nanak makes this point clear when he addresses God, saying:
Where ego is, Thou are not;
When thou art within me,
Then I am not.
THE MEANING OF SIKHISM
Sikh philosophy is composed of progressive ideals, a positive worldview, and a crystal-clear message: a Sikh constantly learns to be a better human being. Not coincidentally, the word itself, Sikh (disciple), is indicative of the perpetual learning process that is life.
In Sikhism, a human being, in order to attain God, must rise above five basic vices: lust, anger, greed, pride, ego. Anyone who successfully avoids these five transgressions, and who lives a truthful living, is considered to be a God-conscious person.
Sikhism recognizes other faiths as equally conducive for the development of spirituality; however, as a revealed and distinct religion in of itself, Sikhism offers its followers a viable path toward the selfsame goal, God.
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 passed away 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 Gurudwara (a Sikh temple) or in their home. All people of all religions are welcome to the Gurudwara. A free community kitchen can be found at every Gurudwara 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 Harmandir 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.
Excerpts taken from:
‘Sikhism – An Introduction’
Dr Sukhbir Singh Kapoor
Vice Chancellor World Sikh University, London