According to Sikhism, the very first and primal definition of God is Truth. He is eternal, infinite and omnipresent. He is the creator and is free from birth and death. He can be realized by acting upon the advice of the true Guru, who offers the devotee the wealth of true name instead of asking him to praise the Guru. He has no special temple and has no chosen people. His gifts and bounties are showered equally on all. His abode is the heart of each living person, and he resides on the lips of the saints, who sing nothing but His praises. He is love and expects the whole creation to act in his own love.
According to Sikhism (see Maru Solhe), there was darkness everywhere and the earth, the sun, the moon, the days and the nights did not exist. Only the Omnipotent prevailed in the Sun. There was no sound, no air, no water, no birth, no death, no planets. Then he willed and out of the word expressing his will, the universe came into existence as a hot nebula spinning out different planets and then:
“The True Lord created air,
Air gave birth to water, Water brought forth
life And He Himself is in all the creation.”
The universe comes into existence through God’s creative power (Maya), and it ceases to exist at His will. All that He has created is perfect according to His laws and has been created and recreated time and again. Nothing, except Him, is eternal, though the duration of the existence of some matter is inconceivably long as understood with the limited faculties of the human beings. According to Guru Gobind Singh Ji, it is ‘a play’ and exists only until He brings ‘the play’ to an end. Since the universe is created by the true Lord, we can say that it is a real expression of His supreme reality and is real. But as it comes and vanishes at His Will, it has no infinite or independent existence. It is like the shadow of a cloud or the bubble on the surface of water. Too much involvement in the creation rather than the creator is a sin because it turns human beings away from the service of God. Involvement in the service of self in turn produces egoism. There is no devil in Sikhism but too much involvement in God. It is a human failing and therefore unlike the legendary devil can never challenge God’s omnipotence.
The human soul is a part of the universal all-embracing soul. Like sparks arising from the fire or the waves arising from an ocean, the human soul emanates from God at His will. As water in the well, in the ocean or in the clouds has the same composition and the same properties so have all souls the same attributes. Having assumed a material body the soul has got unduly attached to the pleasures of flesh and thus developed different likes, dislikes, failings and propensities human differences and the universality of the human soul remains clouded from the human eye. When human beings learn to serve God and always keep His presence in mind, doing actions in His will and to His glory, then they develop the Godly traits of love, service, humility, gentleness, courage and honesty. Having developed these qualities, the devotee deserves and yearns for His Grace which unites him with God. This process becomes very simple and easy under the expert guidance of the Guru who, by example and precept awakens true spiritual vision in the heart of the devotee, frees him from ego, dispels his ignorance and unites him with the Lord.
Those who fail to deserve God’s grace suffer from all worldly sins and suffer deprivation of grace and blissful contacts of the company of saints in this world. The results of their egoistic propensities so poison their soul that they get into the endless cycle of birth and death and cease their wanderings only when they meet a true preceptor, repent on their wanderings only when they meet a true preceptor, repent on thier sins and deserve God’s grace. The Guru’s instruction opens the soul’s eyes to the true reality and enables them to see the Lord. God speaks to the true reality and enables them to see the Lord. God speaks to the devotees through the Guru and arouses their souls to true spiritual effort.
The Sikhs believe in the evolution of soul. The good or bad deeds done by any person affect his soul and cause it to have some characteristics peculiar to it. These characteristics determine the future course of the soul. Thieves, for instance, rarely desist from theft because of the inclinations of their soul created by frequent acts of theft. Since the Sikhs believe that a soul never dies so the effects of the actions follow the soul like a shadow. According to Sikhism salvation or deliverance from these impressions can be obtained through good deeds as well as by the grace of God’s name. Guru Nanak explains this point clearly as follows:-
“The mind is the paper on which are recorded our deeds good and bad, as the course of our cumulative actions dictate. But the Almighty is merciful for He can turn dross into gold and extinguish all our passions, and wanderings.”
The Sikhs do not believe in predestined or pre ordained course of the soul. Our present action coupled with God’s grace can change the course and set us on a new road. The sum total of our present actions can over-ride the past impressions and efface them altogether. Virtue or sin, therefore, is in the hands of the individuals. In the company of saints and by acting on the Guru’s advice, the Sikhs change the course of their soul and as Bhai Gurdas puts it: “Take the high way and avoid narrow lanes.” The whole idea is summed up by Guru Nanak in Japji as follows:-
“We so not become saints or sinners
By merely saying that we are:
It is the actions that are recorded.
According to the seed we sow, is the fruit we reap.
By God’s grace, O Nanak;
Man must either be saved or transmigrate.”
In order to deserve God’s grace, the Guru outlines the course of eradicating lust, anger, greed, infatuation and ego, and act in His will remembering Him every moment of life. The householder deserves grace as much as a hermit and there is no need to renounce the world. “He sends His grace to those who work at self-purification through obedience to the Holy word for which the virtues, such as purity, patience, and love are needed which are to be hammered out in our daily dealings with others, with constant suffering and sacrifice. Here we have to choose between God and the false pretty self, and according to our choice our future state will be a sad wandering in the darkness of ignorance of blissful residence with God. Those who succeed in doing so, their faces glow in the very light of God’s own presence.”
All religious leaders were men sent by God to do His work of saving the world from sin and imparting knowledge about God and the best way of leading the life. According to Sikhism, God is never born and He never dies. Men of God like Guru Nanak are so near to the Lord that there is not much difference between the Lord and His messengers. To say that any religious messenger was God is heresy. No Guru claimed to be God and yet all those who met or heard the Gurus in person said that the Gurus were “God in human form.” The Bhatt’s for instance wrote:
“God Himself assumed the form of Nanak
And existed on this Earth.
The invisible became visible to the world.”
This is because the Bhatts found the Gurus perfect human beings worthy of the highest regard and out of respect differentiated them from the rest of mankind. Just as a personal secretary knows the officer so do the Gurus claim to know God, and whatever they have said and left for us is nothing short of the Lord’s commands conveyed to us through them:-
“I know not how to speak Lord,
I have only conveyed your orders.”
Today the Gurus are not amongst us in human form, but their word is making them re-live as such. The Guru’s mind is open to us through the word and that is why the last of the Gurus declared that after him the faithful will call the Holy Book their Guru. Those who want to see the Guru are asked to read, understand and act upon the Guru’s word contained in the Holy Granth.
Yes. Almost all religions agree on the necessity of a religious guide or preceptor. Like all temporal knowledge, ecclesiastical knowledge is difficult to obtain without the help of a teacher. What is quite often forgotten is the fact that it is not the teacher or the guide who is important but his word, and the philosophy he teaches through it. In Sikhism, therefore, the authority of the Guru was vested in the Holy Granth after Guru Gobind Singh, the last Guru of the Sikhs, left this world for his heavenly abode in 1708. Thus in the Holy Granth the personal Guru became the impersonal. This impersonal Guru, the vehicle of the philosophy of Sikhism, presides over all Sikh gatherings and for the Sikhs it is a necessity because the Guru says:-
“As water is contained in an earthen pitcher
Although the pitcher itself owes its existence to it,
So is human mind disciplined with knowledge
And knowledge is impossible without a Guru.”
The search for answers to questions like “What is life?” “What am I?” “Where did I come from?” brings us in touch with a religious teacher or a philosophical treatise. True thirst for knowledge about these questions is never quenched unless a true Guru is found. By the time the thirst is satisfied there remains little difference between the Guru and the disciple. The become “One soul in two bodies.” Having thus imbibed the philosophy of the Guru the disciple becomes one with the Guru and through him one with the Almighty. This fact was practically demonstrated by Angad who from being a disciple of Guru Nanak became so elevated that the Guru chose him as his successor. Amar Das, a devoted disciple of Guru Angad once again demonstrated the same fact and became third Guru and the same light he passed on in turn to Ram Das and thus blessed Sodhi Ram Das became a Guru from a very poor hawker. The Guru is therefore peerless and unique. “The Guru is the awakened God awakening the sleeping God in the disciple. Through sympathy and deep vision, a true Guru sees the Lord Himself suffering in the physically, mentally and spiritually poor. That is why he feels it his joyous duty to assist them. He tries to feed the hungry God in the destitute, to stir the sleeping God in the ignorant, to love the unconscious God in the enemy, and to rouse the half awake God in the yearning devotee. By a gentle touch of love he arouses instantaneously the almost fully awake God in the advanced seeker. A Guru is, among all men, the best of gives. Like the Lord Himself, his generosity knows no bounds.”* The infinite understanding, the infinite love and the all-embracing consciousness of the Guru inspires the disciple and induces in him magnanimity, understanding, compassion and above all loyalty and faithfulness to the Guru and his word. Thus he surrenders his all to the Guru and is cleansed of his ego. He is not buffeted by lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride and his vacillations of consciousness come to an end and he achieves perfect bliss. He attunes his will to that of the Guru and unquestionably follows the Guru’s instructions to the best of his ability. This stops diffusion of the mind which can now concentrate more and more on the Guru’s word. The veil of confusion and delusion is rent asunder giving place to humility and the power of discrimination. Having thus cleansed himself, the disciple begins to realise his divine origin and purpose of life. *(Swami Paramhansa Yogananda). In all this process the Guru, not only acts as a guide but also as an ideal to be followed. The Guru lives by divine principles and through his life demonstrates the spirit of God and his boundless love for all. At this stage the disciple fully realises the value of the Guru’s word and feels:
“The word of the Guru is inner music
The word of the Guru is the highest scripture.”
Guru Arjan explains this point as follows:-
“Dear brother, the medicine of God’s name me within all of us
But without the Guru, we do not know how to use it.
When the perfect Guru administers the medicine with necessary care,
All disease is cured once for all.”
(Gauri Bawan Akhri Guru 5)
A person pure in word, thought and deed and dedicated to the divine mission of remembering God and making others remember Him and acting in His name, is a saint. He is not fettered by ceremonies, outward signs, taboos and rituals. He loves humanity as a whole and does not believe in differences caused by national or geographical boundaries. He is an ideal man whose heart always yearns for service to God through humanity.
“He repeats the Lord’s name and meditates on Him
He looks alike on weal and woe and harbours no ill-will
He is merciful to all and is free from all weaknesses.
He enjoys the food of Lord’s praise and lives in the world like a lotus on water.
He imparts the instruction of God’s name to friends and foes alike.
He listens not to calumny, lives selflessly and considers himself as everybodys’ slave.
These are the qualities of a saint who Nanak calls a Sadh or a friend.”
(Slok Sahskriti Guru 5)
The Sikhs recognize saints as the preachers of the same philosophy as preached by the Gurus. Kabir, Ravidas, Dhanna, Sadhna, Pipa and Nam Dev were some of the saints for whom the Sikhs have a great regard. Some imposters are nowadays raising their heads and proclaiming themselves saints. Like counter-feit coins they have got some currency among the less informed gullible Sikhs. Unlike the above saints none of these has ever written any hymns. They only interpret the Holy word.
Sikhism discredits no religion. According to Sikhism all religions orginated with good intentions and are like different roads leading to the same destination. The Gurus clearly stated the futility of entering into argument regarding the veracity and practicability of the ideas expressed by other religious leaders. They encouraged their followers instead to cultivate a rational attitude and find out for themselves what is right and what is wrong. Guru Granth Sahib is full of such instruction as: “Call not the Vedas and the Semitic books false. Rather he is false who lacks the ability to rationalise.” However the Gurus have very clearly stated their own point of view on matters where they differed and disagreed with other religions. As a testimony to their all-embracing, egalitarian approach to religion. Guru Nanak kept a Muslim with him all his life and visited the holy places of other religions. Guru Arjan had great affection for a Muslim saint, Mian Mir, who laid the foundation stone of the holiest temple of the Sikhs at Amritsar. To crown it all, Guru Arjan included the Hymns of many Hindu and Muslim saints in the Holy Granth, caring little for their caste, social standing and religion. Saint Budhu Shah was a staunch Muslim Faqir and yet he was an intimate friend of Guru Gobind Singh. He had his sons and other relatives butchered in trying to help the Guru in the teeth of Muslim tyranny and bigotry. Nabi Khan and Ghani Khan risked their lives and carried the Guru in a palanquin from one place to another at a time when the penalty of expressing the faith in the Guru was death for all the family and relatives. The Gurus laid stress on the purity of thought word and deed and rejected ritualism and unrealistic blind faith.
Basically all religions are means for the spiritual betterment of human beings and hence are good in their own way. Sikhism as a religion differs from almost all the other world religions in one way or the other. It differs from Hinduism in the way that it rejects the authority of the Vedes and that of the priestly class. It is opposed to the caste system which has been (and still is) the pivot of Hinduism. The Sikhs bow only before the Holy Granth because it embodies the philosophy of their Gurus and are against idol-worship. In Sikhism very little importance is attached to pilgrimages and austerities. God, according to Sikhism, can be realised easily while leading a family life and there is absolutely no need to go to the jungle, resort to asceticism and penances. Animal sacrifice is discredited as useless and unnecessary. Widow re-marriage is encouraged and is common. Sikhism has much in common with Islam but it rejects the theory of the finality of Mohammad as a prophet and that of the Quran as a revelation. Fasting, according to Sikhism, brings no merit to the human soul. Although for personal physical benefit its efficacy is completely ruled out. Women in Sikhism are allowed full freedom in religious worship, social functions and political programmes, and are considered as “Conscience of men.” The Sikhs do not remove any hair from their bodies and special shaving (as Bhaddan) of the Hindus and circumcision (of Muslims) are the things quite alien to the Sikhs. The Sikhs attach no importance to the worship of relics or graves and the only worship they have is the singing of the Guru’s hymns in praise of the Lord. Although the Sikhs have their morning and evening prayers yet they are enjoined to remember God throughout the day whenever they have the time to do so. This is not an impossibility for the Sikhs because they need not adhere to any time schedule, make any postures, have any materials for worship or face in a particular direction. The hymns of the Gurus can be repeated aloud or in the mind, at work, on the road, in the bus or anywhere wherever the Sikh happens to be. Unlike many other religions the Sikhs believe in ten spiritual masters called Gurus. A Guru literally means “one who dispels darkness and floods the soul with light.” No Guru ever called himself “God” and as such though the Sikhs hold their Gurus in high esteem, they do not call them God or “the only sons of God.” Baptism in Sikhism is not ceremonious and hence no infants are baptised. Unlike many other faiths it is the initiate who has to beg for baptism with folded hands and the five Piaras conducting the baptism have the authority to refuse if the initiate has not progressed up to a certain standard. For Baptism no age and no auspicious day is fixed. One may bet baptised at any time and any age. The baptised Sikhs are unique in having five physical symbols, i.e., Kesh, Kara, Kirpan, Kangha, and Kachha. Except for the birth days and the martyrdom days of their Gurus the Sikhs do not have any special days of worship. One other special day is Baisakhi, the day when Khalsa was created. One can go to the Sikh Temple (Gurdawara) on any day and at any time. No special day (like Sunday in the West) is fixed. Although usually the first day of every Indian month is observed in many Sikh Temples. Although special trained Granthis (readers) are nowadays employed in the Sikh Temples, there is no priestly class and anybody having a reasonable proficiency in reading Punjabi can conduct service. Sikhism does not believe in resurrection but in evolution of the soul. The Sikhs believe that transmigration can be halted by acting upon the advice of the Guru, repeating the true name, and doing good deeds. Thus the Sikh belief is not fatalistic predestination but admits a free will and the grace of God. Community kitchen (Langar) is another speciality of Sikhism. Where there is a Sikh Temple, there is a refectory where all can go irrespective of caste, creed or colour and eat whatever is available at that particular time. The Langar is run on public donations from the devoted Sikhs in cash and kind and is a practical example of service, equality and fellowship. Although aspiring for peace, the Sikhs are prepared to go to war if this becomes inevitable. Their solution is “Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh” (The Khalsa belongs to the Lord. Victory be to Him.) Believing in reform, progress, improvement and the betterment of Society, a Sikh works hard and attributes his successes to God, thus annihilating his ego. Optimism is the keynote of a Sikh and he asks for Charhdi Kala (Optimism) everyday in his prayers. But doing all he can do for the Society, he is to remain humble and also ask for the gift of “a humble mind.” Guru Gobind Singh is the ideal example for a Sikh to follow. He sacrificed his sons, his father, his mother and his all, even himself for the people and yet was so humble as to kneel before his Khalsa and ask for a sip of the baptismal water which he himself had prepared.
Sikhism does not claim monopolies. It lays stress on leading a pious life and on deserving God’s grace. The Gurus never claimed that only those stand to fain salvation who come through them or that they had a key to the gateway of heaven. What the Gurus really did was to show a short and simple way of self-realization exemplified by their own lives based on practical experimentation. Sikhism is one of the ways and perhaps the simplest. “The world is ablaze O Lord; Save it in thy mercy. Through whatever way they come Lord; Pull them up to your bosom.” (Guru Granth Sahib)
The Sikhs call miracles and occult powers useless and fruitless because they lead one away from God. As such the Sikhs have been strictly warned not to show any miracles and not to hanker after supernatural powers. All that Sikhs ask for is the true name of the Creator and no miracle is considered greater than just remembering God and controlling one’s mind in such a way as to feel satisfied. “To hanker after supernatural powers” says Guru Nanak “is pandering to low taste.” When Guru Tegh Bahadur was asked to show miracles he only smiled and repeated the following hymns of Guru Ram Das:- “The desire to perform miracles is worldly and created ego, It is an obstacle in the way of repeating Lord’s name that resides in my heart.” The Guru did not show any miracles and only accepted to be beheaded. When Ram Rai, the son of the Guru Har Gobind, showed some miracles to Emperor Arungzeb at Delhi the Guru was extremely angry and refused to see his son for the whole of his life. In spite of the latter words repeated applications the Guru remained adamant and excommunicated his son. Baba Gurditta was so condemned at having shown a miracle that he dared not come before the Guru. Guru Nanak was asked to perform miracles when he visited the Sikhs and his reply was:- “I can do nothing against the laws of nature It is only He who can perform a miracle. For me the True Name is the miracle of miracles I know no other miracle.” The Gurus never performed miracles to convince others of their spiritual superiority or occult powers and only said, “Miracles can delude only the fools.”
Every organization has its code of discipline, vows and signs and so has the Khalsa. Since the code of the Sikhs was prescribed by no less than the Gurus themselves, the Sikhs observe it without any “ifs” or “buts” and take pride in it. The instructions are:
(1) The Sikhs will worship only God. They will not set up any idols, gods, goddess or statues for worship nor shall they worship any human being. “Burnt be that tongue which sayeth, God is cast into the womb.” (Bhairo M.5)
(2) The Sikhs will believe in no other religious book other than the Holy Guru Granth Sahib, although they can study other religious books for acquiring knowledge and for comparative study.
(3) The Sikhs will not believe in castes, untouchability, magic, omens, amulets, astrology, Sharadhs, ceremonial hair cutting, fasts, frontal marks, sacred thread, graves and traditional death rites, “Some worship stones and put them on their heads Some suspend Linghams from their necks. Some say God is in the South, Some bow their heads to the West. Some fools worship idols, Others busy themselves with worshipping the dead. The whole world is entangled in false ceremonies, How can they find God’s secrets?”
I speak verily, hear me all ye people, They who love God have obtained him.” (Akal Ustat 10th Guru)
(iv) The Khalsa will remain distinct by wearing 5 K’s but shall not injure the feelings of others professing different religions.
The names Allah and Abhekh are for the same God The same is referred to in the Puranas and the Quran. All human beings have the same form the same constitution
RECOGNISE YE THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE AS ONE
(Guru Gobind Singh)
(v) The Khalsa will pray to God before starting any work. This will be over and above his usual prayers
“Kita lorye kamm so har pai akhye, karaj de swar satgur sachh sakhye”
“When you intend to start work pray to God for success”
(vi) Although a Sikh may learn as many languages as he likes, he must learn Punjabi and teach his children to learn to read it. “Gurmukhi Akhar jo Hain Bhai, Sikh se seekhe jai” “Gurmukhi script is important my brother, let one Sikh learn it from the other”
(vii) Every male should add “Singh” after his name and every female Sikh should add “Kaur” after her name. They must never remove hair from any part of their bodies. “So long as Khalsa remains distinct, I shall bestow my blessing on it.”
(viii) Opium, LSD, Tobacco, and all other intoxicants are strictly prohibited to the Sikhs. “By getting intoxicated Nanak, you invite many sins.”
(ix) The Sikh men and women will not make holes in their ears or noses and shall have no connection whatsoever with those who kill their daughters. Sikh women will not observe veil (Parda). “Raho Ra ho re bavrya, Ghungat jin kadhe” “Away away ladies who come to me in veils” (Guru Granth Sahib)
(x) A Sikh will live only on honest labour and give generously to the poor and the needy thinking all the time that whatever he gives is given to the Guru. “Work hard and share your earnings Nanak, thus shall you find the way.”
(xi) A Sikh must never steal or gamble and: “Consider another’s daughter as his own And another’s wife as his mother. Love his wife dearly and sincerely And not covet another’s wealth.”
(xii) Except for the Kachha and the turban there is no restriction on the dress of the Sikh’s dress should be simple and modest. “Gaudy clothes, beauty and ornaments Thou leavest in the world. What is more important is our good or bad actions For which thou shalt have to be responsible.”
(xiii) When a Sikh meets another Sikh he will greet by saying, “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.” (The Khalsa belongs to the Lord, all glory to Him). (Adapted from Sikh Rahat Maryada PP 18-20, 11th Edition 1954 Punjabi.)
SOME DONT’ S FOR THE SIKHS
The following instructions are given to the initiate at the time of baptism for strict compliance from that very moment:
1. Thou shalt never remove any hair from any part of thy body.
2. Thou shalt not use tobacco or any other intoxicants or inebrients.
3. Thou shalt not eat Halal (meat prepared by ritual slaughter)
4. Thou shalt not commit adultery. “You shall shower all you love on your wedded wife And shall not approach another women even in a dream.” (Guru Gobind Singh)
Yes. It is disgraceful for a Singh to shear off his hair because by doing so he is disobeying the Guru’s command. Not to obey the commander and yet to claim to be under his command is a contradiction in terms. Similarly to show lip-devotion to the Guru’s instructions and continue to behave according to the dictates of one’s own mind is manmat (egoism). It must be understood clearly that the most important symbol of the Sikh faith is the hair, Miss Jeane Cutler explains this as follows:
“Eliminate symbols my Sikhlings and watch the Khalsa crumble. Take off the turban, cut the hair or throw aside the “Kara,” I can tell you truthfully the result would be embarrassing as well as disastrous. These five symbols have held the Sikhs in united brotherhood. They serve to make a Sikh feel and act as a Sikh. They endow him with courage to accomplish feats which otherwise would be impossible for an average man. To make a long story short, the five symbols have psychological bearing on the man who wears them. They are a manifestation of the Guru eternal.” Thus hair is necessary for a Sikh and a turban is an essential and complementary adjunct to unshorn hair. Let it not be forgotten that Guru Gobind Singh had aimed to change his followers into saint-soldiers modelled on himself and his predecessors. The ideal was expressed in the Holy scripture as follows:- “Saabat Surat Dastar Sira” “Keep your form complete and wear a turban.” To remove hair and turban indicate the weakness of faith and disobedience of the Guru’s commands. It is far easier to slip then to hold the balance. The visible propensity towards shaving the hair especially in the Western World is due to many factors.
(a) Some cut off their hair in order to look fashionable and submit to the worldly ways.
(b) Some find it difficult to get a job after having emigrated and in frustration adopt western ways to achieve easier interaction.
(c) A majority of the so-called shaven Sikhs unfortunately never have had he opportunity to be able to know the history, philosophy and the tenets of Sikhism fully before deciding to cut their hair. The hair signifies the inner dignity and the freedom of spirit of those who wear it, side by side with the integrity and firmness of faith.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji made no fundamental changes in Sikhism. The Sikhs stood against oppression and tyranny right from the days of Guru Nanak, who himself spoke against tyranny and injustice courting arrest and imprisonment. The people had to be made ready to rise up against injustice and high-handedness. All the Gurus did whatever they could do to make the people manfully face and destroy the unjust, tyrannical and bigoted rulers lock, stock and barrel. In this process Guru Arjan accepted death on a red hot iron plate. Guru Tegh Bahadur accepted to be publicly beheaded and many faithful Sikhs accepted to be sawn alive, boiled in water or broken on the wheel. This was necessary to arouse the dormant and long discredited national-spirit of the people and to create the requisite grit and determination to be able to uproot evil. Guru Gobind Singh’s action seen against this background is only the fulfilment of the programme outlined by Guru Nanak. Not to stand against oppression and injustice was a slur on the fair name of Guru Nanak who had said:
“To fight and accept death for a righteous cause is the privilege of the brave and the truly religious.” No one will contend that the cause of Guru Gobind Singh was righteous and just and that his action was in line with the prevalent tradition and precept of Sikhism. War is part of the history of man. To be on the defensive is everybodys’ fundamental right. The history of the Sikhs bears ample witness to the fact that they have never been aggressors. By formally baptising his Sikhs Guru Gobind Singh only laid more stress on external signs and insignia demanded by a disciplined organization which he wanted to create. He made his Sikhs universal and fully representative of the ideal man. As for the five symbols all the Gurus had them except the sword and the steel bangle. Even the sword was used by the sixth Guru and he fought many battles. Nations who could not defend themselves have vanished from the face of the earth and surely Guru Gobind Singh wanted his followers to live as his agents and torch bearers.
To become a Sikh one must declare his total faith in the Guru’s word, surrender to the Lord’s Divine Will and accept the baptism of the sword administered by the five Sikhs in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib (The Holy Scriptures). Having been baptised he or she will have to adopt (and faithfully adhere to) the five K’s, accepting the overlordship of none but God alone, acting and behaving strictly according to the Guru’s instructions imparted to him or her at the time of baptism.
Different cultures and way of life to affect one another but religion is more than mere culture. The strength or weakness of a person lies in his faith and convictions. Only those fall who have a wavering mind or faltering faith and there is no dearth of such people in any religion. A religion does not stand by numbers but by principles. The history of the Jews and that of the Sikhs bears witness to this fact. True Sikhism is as strong now as before. It is better to have only a few faithfuls than to have even one Judas iscariot instrumental in impaling a Christ or a faithless Gangu being the cause of bricking up the master’s sons alive. A wavering mind and pretentiousness are dangerous for any person and any religion. I feel Sikhism has always been shaking off its undesirable paraphernalia and is even now putting faith to the test. Don’t forget that only five could pass the great test set by Guru Gobind Singh to a gathering of 80,000 in the year 1699. I have heard of very few Sikhs who have renounced their faith and accepted any other religion and perhaps as many have accepted Sikhism by renouncing other religions. It is erroneous to think that those who cut off their hair are no more Sikhs. As long as they believe in the Gurus and the Gurbani and are ready to follow Sikh way of life they are as much the members of Sikh community as the baptized Sikhs but of course they are not true “Singhs.” To be a true “Singh” they must follow the Guru’s instructions in their entirety. The writer knows quite a number of shaven Sikhs who are very deeply devoted and pious have a very firm faith in the Gurus and their philosophy. What we can say about these brothers is that under some circumstances they have been compelled to take a retrogressive step and are not lost to Sikhism for ever. There is already a marked trend towards coming back to the fold like the prodigal son and the well-known forty disclaimers of Guru Gobind Singh. It is never too late to mend and never too late to get baptized. “To fall is neither dangerous nor disgraceful, but to remain prostate is both.” (Konrad Adenauer)
Sikhs do not believe in either caste or untouchability. The Sikh Gurus adamantly fought against these social maladies all their lives and even suffered ostracism and scathing criticism. In order to counteract these undesirable traditions of society they invented the institution of Langar (Common Kitchen) where Hindus and Muslims, Brahmans and Shudras, princess and paupers all sit down in rows and take food. In the Sikh kitchen a high-brow Brahman may have to eat the food cooked by the so-called untouchable Shudra. Even Emperor Akbar of Dehli had to sit and dine with sweepers and beggers in the Guru’s kitchen before he was allowed to see the Guru in person. Sikhism is a great leveller of people and emphatically declares the equality of all. “Your actions betray your caste my friend” said Guru Nanak. Perhaps this is one reason why Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, was branded as an iconoclast and even stoned for the courage of his convictions. In order to demonstrate practically that the Gurus meant what they said, Guru Arjan also included in the Holy Granth Sahib we find the so-called low-caste Kabir challenging the high-caste Brahmans thus:- “How is it that you claim to be a Brahman And brand us as untouchables? Do you dare call yourself milk-white And label us as polluted blood? If you claim to be a Brahman because you were born to a Brahman woman; So you also dare to claim that you were born differently?” Side by side with Kabir is Guru Nanak explaining what a Brahman really means:- “Let no one take pride in his caste; Understand ye that a Brahman is only he who seeks Brahman (God).”
There are no professional priests or monks in Sikhism nor any vows of celibacy for any person acting as such. Sikhism is essentially egalitarian. Any special treatment or concessions allowed to a priest mitigate against the very basic principle of equality so vehemently preached by the Sikh Gurus. Anybody having a reasonable proficiency in Punjabi language and script can conduct the service and there is no need of any particular dress, collar or mat etc. Women can also conduct service and act as Granthis (readers).
In Sikhism there’s complete equality between sexes. Women can visit a temple, conduct service, lead Sikh armies, vote in elections and claim all rights enjoyed by Sikh men. The Sikh women are not required to observe Parda (veil) or commit Sati (burn on the funeral pyre with the husband). The Sikhs call a wife as Ardhangni (Better half). There is no restriction on their education or movements as long as they follow the Guru’s instructions. “Eve” in Sikhism is not regarded as temptation-incarnate but as “the conscience of men.” It is on record that Guru Amar Das appointed women as missionaries of the Sikh faith. Guru Tegh Bahadur once remarked that women of Amritsar were nearer to God than men because they accepted “God’s will readily” as compared to their counterparts who were “jealous and cunning.” In Sikh history the part played by Mai Bhago and others is well-known. They denounced their husbands who had deserted Guru Gobind Singh and formed a women-batallion to make amends for their husbands’ folly. They gave a tough fight to the enemy and decimated themselves as a moth on fire.
Sikh boys and girls are married according to Anand marriage ceremony recognized under Government of India Anand Marriage Act of 1909. The couple are taken to a Sikh temple and seated in front of the Holy Scriptures (Guru Granth Sahib). The responsibilities and duties of married life are explained to them by the Sikh Priest (the person who officiates at the ceremony). The bride then holds a sash of the bridegroom and the Priest reads the four Lavan (the epithalamium) of Guru Ram Das which explain the four stages of the human life. After each reading the couple bow to the Holy Book in acceptance of the advice contained in the Lavan. After the fourth stanza, the Anand Sahib of Guru Amar Das is recited and the ceremony is over. Since the whole ceremony takes place in front of the Guru (The Holy Scriptures), no document of marriage is considered to be necessary. However there is no objection to anybody asking for such a document. An ideal marriage has been described by the Guru as follows:- “They are not husband and wife who are joined only for physical contact; Rather they are husband and wife who have one spirit in two bodies.”
Sikhism is basically a religion of action and human freedom. It is rational and based on moral laws which no science has ever challenged. However much science develops man will still require morality to lead a happy life. Ritualism and formalism suffer owing to the scientific approach of the modern mind to human understanding; and Sikhism is free from them. Another important feature of modern society is its tendency towards democratic and socialistic pattern of life. Sikhism is based on democracy instituted by Guru Gobind Singh at the time of starting the baptismal ceremony. He also demonstrated that his five democrats had the authority to order even him. Modern democracy is similarly responsible to the electorate. Furthermore Sikhism seeks social equality through its philosophy of a classless and casteless society and its institution of the Langar. The Sikh Gurus were not scientists but the ideas expressed by them in the Holy Granth find full support from modern science. “There are millions of moons and suns and many solar systems like ours” said Guru Nanak and modern science has confirmed this beyond doubt. “Na kichh aibo na jaibo, Ram ki dohai re” Nothing comes and goes; Believes me it is the divine law.” (Bhagat Pipa-Guru Granth Sahib) This idea has its echo in the law of indestructibility of matter and energy in our modern science. “Jo brahmande soi pinde” “Whatever is in the universe, is in the matter.” (Guru Granth Sahib) In order to see how this idea has been discovered and explained by modern science the reader is recommended to read “Vishav Pariche” written by Dr. Rabindra Nath Tagore. Examples can be multiplied ad infinitum. Modern Science is therefore complementary to Sikhism and is in no way opposed to it.
The Sikhs have very few ceremonies in the strictest sense of the word. Baptism and marriage are the main ceremonies. Baptism is administered by five Sikhs in the presence of the Holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Scriptures). They take some water in a bowl and say the five Sikh prayers and side by side stir the water with a double-edged sword called “Khanda.” Marriage has already been described in question no.24. The Sikhs usually call their ceremonies as Smagam (functions). Akhand Path (continuous reading of the Sikh Scriptures). Child Birth and Death are other such functions. At each function the hymns are read and the sacred food (Karah Parshad) is distributed at the end.
There is absolutely no restriction regarding dress but the Sikhs are asked to avoid immodest and gaudy dress. 5 K’s and the turban are necessary for the baptized Sikhs and they shall in no case wear a cap or a hat.
There are no set times in the sense that missing a time of prayer is to be regarded as sin. The Sikhs are asked to keep repeating the hymns whenever they find time. Usually they read Japji in the morning and Rehras in the evening but there is no set time for them. Some people like to read Japji before sunrise some after if. Similarly some say Rehras before sunset and some after it.
There are no feast days and neither are there any fast days. The Sikhs may have a feast at any time and may observe a fast if they find it useful for health. Observing fasts as a part of religion for spiritual benefit has no value in Sikhism.
Manual labour and service to God’s creation are an essential part of Sikhism. The Sikh Gurdawaras are the training places where the Sikhs practice the teachings of their Gurus demonstratively. In the Sikh Temple the usual service involves singing hymns, sweeping the temple precincts, fanning the congregation, cooking and serving food in the Langar (free kitchen), drawing water or procuring fuel for the kitchen. From an early age the children learn to serve and shoulder responsibility in the kitchen while doing selfless services side by side with the grown-ups. The Gurus laid stress on the purity of life attained through honest labour done with a sense of giving. Guru Nanak argued “This world is the chamber of God wherein the True One resides (Eh jag sachhe ki hai kothri sachhe ka vich wass) so whatever service we do in this world will secure for us a seat in the court of the lord” (Vich Dunia sev kamaye ta dargah baisan paiye). The Guru thus wanted his followers to be the servants of society and move in the rhythm of the universe in harmony with His laws. In Sikhism service is considered to be of three types. It is done with Tan (body-manual service), Dhan (money-material service), Man (mind-intellectual service). Manual service can be done anywhere, i.e., in the kitchen, on the road, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, serving the lepers, repairing the temple, dusting the shoes of the holy congregation, and extending ready patronage to the weak, the needy and the distressed. The Gurus extolled service so much that they said “Useless are the hands and feet if they do not serve humanity (Bin sewa dhrig hath paer). The Gurus practically demonstrated this in their lives. Intellectual service involves understanding the holy scriptures, interpreting the text and education the others about it. It also involves praying for others and wishing the good of everybody. Material service means donating money for langar, school, temples, asylums, hospitals wells and other works of public good. The Gurus have laid down that every Sikh should donate one tenth of his earnings to charity. In donating money the Sikh would not take into account the race, religion, sex, colour or social status of the recipient because this would result in strengthening his egoism. Service done as a labour of love frees man from greed, pride and undue attachment and teaches him humility, forgiveness, mercy, alms-giving, charity and rational understanding. Guru Nanak was the first of all to demonstrate the practically of this idea when he bought a farm at Kartarpur, worked with his own hands and declared: “Work hard and share your earnings with others This is the only way to find ‘the way’.”
Unlike some other religions Sikhism has no aversion for music. The Sikhs consider music as the food of the soul. The sacred devotional music in Sikhism is called “Kirtan.” Wherever a few Sikhs assemble they sing the Gurus’ hymns to the tune of a musical instrument. The necessity of music for spiritual refreshment was first realised by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. He not only composed his teachings in verse but also used 31 popular metres and tunes. Later the befriended a Muslim bard who was an adept musician. The Guru and the bard would sing the hymns on the rabab (a guitar). The 31 musical scores are very rarely sung nowadays but all the hymns are sung to a harmonium or any other musical instrument using modern tunes. Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, was particularly interested in music. He kept professional musicians for daily hymn singing and later when the professionals refused him, he asked his Sikhs to learn music. Music is thus an important part of Sikh faith and Guru Arjan says: “Devotional music is a valuable diamond. The wise imbibe bliss through it.”
Yes, there are a few sects in Sikhism who have some differences with one another. The differences are the result of following different personalities who happened to guide the Sikhs after the Gurus. Bandais follow Banda Singh, Nam Dharis follow Baba Ram Singh, Bhasauria Sikhs follow Babu Teja Singh. Essentially all Sikhs believe in the Gurus and the philosophy expounded by the Gurus in the Holy Granth Sahib. The differences are more of a superficial nature than theological.
The Sikhs do not accept any place as sacred in the sense that a particular place is the only abode of God. For them every Gurdwara is a sacred place. However they consider the places sanctified by their Guru’s as the most sacred places. Nanakana Sahib, Panja Sahib, and Kartar Pur are associated with Guru Nanak and Dera Sahib Lahore is the place of mar- tyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev. They are all in Pakistan now.
Harimandir (Golden Temple) in Amritsar is perhaps the most revered place for the Sikhs all over the world.
Akal Takhat (Amritsar), Kes Garh (Anand Pur), Hazur Sahib, Patna Sahib and Damdama Sahib are the five Takhats (seats of authority) of the Sikhs and are in India. These are the most prominent places. There are thousands of other places sanctified by the Sikh Gurus.
When the Sikhs assemble to discuss an issue affecting the Sikh nation as a whole, the assembly is called The Sarbat Khalsa. Every Sikh is entitled to attend it. Sarbat Khalsa used to meet twice a year on Baisakhi day and Diwali day but the practice became dormant when Ranjit Singh became the king of the Punjab. The practice was revived in 1986 when The Sarbat Khalsa was convened at Akal Takhat (Amritsar) to discuss the implications of the operation Blue Star of June 1984 which resulted in the sacriledge and destruction of the Akal Takhat and holy Sikh Temples at Amritsar and 48 other places. Decisions made at the Sarbat Khalsa are binding on all Sikhs throughout the world.