A Human's View of the Sikh Path

A commentary on Sikhs by Sebastian Carranza, born a Christian.

The History of the Sikh Path

It is not possible to understand the Sikhs or appreciate the Sikh Religion without studying their history and the circumstances under which the Sikh Religion was born.

Guru Nanak Dev (1469 to 1539) was the founder of the Sikh religion. Sikhism began with the preaching of Guru Nanak during his travels all over India and the neighboring countries. Sikhism is thus, the youngest faith of our times.

In simple religious terms, Guru means a spiritual enlightener and Sikh means a follower or disciple of a spiritual enlightener or one who reads Gurbani from Guru Granth Sahib, understands it and lives life accordingly.

Guru Nanak Dev based his teachings on his personal experience of a command or revelation (hukam) received directly from God.

Guru Nanak, in fact, revealed a new gospel, and founded a new faith, the perfect example of piety and deep devotion.

The new religion founded by Guru Nanak was nurtured by nine other Gurus who succeeded him in the holy office of Guruship and who further promoted what was set in motion by Guru Nanak. The other Nine Gurus were:

1. Guru Nanak Dev 1469-1539 A.D
2. Guru Angad Dev 1504-1552 A.D
3. Guru Amar Das 1479-1574 A.D
4. Guru Ram Das 1534-1581 A.D
5. Guru Arjun Dev 1563-1606 A.D
6. Guru Hargobind 1595-1644 A.D
7. Guru Har Rai 1630-1661 A.D
8. Guru Har Krishan 1656-1664 A.D
9. Guru Tegh Bahadur 1621-1675 A.D
10. Guru Gobind Singh 1675-1708 A.D.

The Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib is the present and Eternal Guru of the Sikhs for seeking guidance on all aspects of life. Sikhism's chief doctrines are the Oneness of God, unity of humankind, honest and truthful living, accepting social responsibility by sharing one's earnings with others, living harmoniously with God's creation, firm belief in the sovereignty of all humans, imbibing and living life in the world, but not of the world, rooted in the vibration of the Eternal Sound Current, the Word, the True Name,

According to the Scripture, every moment of every day of each month is auspicious when a follower lives in Naam lives his or her life in the flow of the One creative power.

Guru Nanak advises that assessment of humans will be entirely according to a person's deeds and that final approval will only be by Guru's Grace "Guru Parsaad," which can be acquired grace. Meditation, daily spiritual practice, mindfulness, reading, understanding and applying the teachings of Gurbani in daily life and, above all, listening deeply. This really implies that all humans are treated as equals; and women have equal rights to men.

Rituals like idol worship are considered futile; the caste system is rejected; asceticism is considered escapism from real life; and monasticism, celibacy, etc, which were highly regarded in other Indian religious systems of that time are not regarded as paths of liberation.

"I do not keep the Hindu fast nor the Muslim Ramadan;
I serve Him alone who is my refuge
I serve the One Master; who is also Allah
I have broken with the Hindu and the Muslim,
I do not worship the Hindu way nor, like the Muslim, go to Mecca.
I serve Him alone and no other,
I will not do puja nor say the Muslim prayer
I shall put my heart at the feet of the one Supreme Being
For, we are neither Hindus nor Mussalmen."
(Guru Granth Page 1136)

When we talk of Sikhism, we are implicitly talking of Sikhism as enshrined in the Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, containing the holy utterances of the Gurus, and other Saintly people whose writings find place in Guru Granth Sahib, and also the lifestyle as practiced by the Gurus and those Saintly people themselves in their lives.

Sikhism is altogether different from both, Hinduism and Islam.

We have nothing in common in terms of religious philosophy and practices, with what both Pandits and Mulaans (Muslim Priests) preach and practice. We have not accepted anything that Pandits and Mulaans have written about their religious philosophies and practices.

I may add here, very humbly and politely that, though all Sikhs are very proud to be Sikhs, most of them have forgotten the real essence and meaning of the word "Sikh" for they have gone astray from the Real Path of Sikhism as defined by Guru Nanak and enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib, the "Scripture". They call themselves Sikhs, but do not live according to the essence of Sikhism itself.

Present history of the Sikhs is an altogether different subject. For three generations during the life, and until almost 70 years after the passing of Guru Gobind Singh, most Sikhs lived their lives based on the principles and daily practices laid down by the Gurus and as enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib. Thereafter, and most specifically, after the Sikhs established their own rule in the state of greater Punjab, many Sikhs started deviating from the path and principles as taught and lived by the Gurus.

This deviation from the real path and from the message and lifestyle of Guru Nanak is continuing more rapidly to-date. This deviation started when the Sikhs were struggling for their survival and were driven into the forests by the Islamic zealots who were hunting them down day and night for more than hundred and fifty years. At the same time, the Brahmins (the Hindu priestly class of the time who could read and write) were busy creating literature in such a convoluted way that it distorted the entire history of the Sikhs and the principles laid down by the Gurus. This time was very crucial for the Sikhs survival and it kept the Sikhs away from their daily practices and readings of Guru Granth Sahib.

Ultimately, by the time the Sikh Raj of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was established in 1801, the Sikhs did not understand the literature the Brahmins had created and started following the practices and rituals laid down in that literature without any understanding. This happened to such a degree that the Maharaja assigned big properties under the names of the Sikh Gurdwaras without knowing what practices were being carried on by the Pujaries, the care takers of the Gurdwaras.

God represents Love in Sikhism and God is gender neutral. God is the `Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Friend and Companion of us all'.

In the very opening line of Guru Granth Sahib, God is described by Guru Nanak as follows:

Formless into form
Thou art that

Flowing through all
Dance Beyond death
Shine Beyond birth
Guru's Grace

God resides in its creation, i.e. in and around us all and not somewhere in the sky or in other worlds or at a distant location somewhere.

God's creation is God in manifestation – The formless and the forms are the same ONE

Merger in God is completely foreign to the Sikh theology.

It is freedom in union/connectedness with God but not merger that is aspired to, for merger involves loss of identity and our identity is a tool that can be used to do work on the Earth.

God in Sikhism never takes birth and never dies. God is present within all creatures through all incarnations.

The Sikh Gurus did not claim to be incarnations of God, or God in human form.

The human body represents a place where soul/God energy resides. The human body is composed of five basic elements (tattwas) - air, water, fire, earth and ether and enlightened by God with the installation of soul (Godly energy) in it. The soul never dies, and the physical container goes back to earth, air to air, ... (dust to dust) after death. The soul, also known in Punjabi as Jote (light from God,) merges back into the ONE Light.

God according to Sikhism is Transcendent and Immanent. The becoming world is God's creation in every moment. "From the True Lord came the air, and from the air came water. From water, God created these worlds. In each and every heart, the ONE has infused Its Light." Page 19, Guru Granth Sahib.

Air is a connection to the Guru in Sikhism, water, like a father, forms the seeds of life and the Earth is like a great loving mother that feeds and sustains all living beings without any distinction. Air, Water and Earth are gifts from God for each living organism and so are the Sun and Moon. Love for God's entire creation, and living consciously and harmoniously in God's Creation, which includes birds, animals, trees, water, life under water, etc is emphasized over and over in the Holy Scripture.

A Sikh bows out of reverence to the ONE and to the universal message inscribed in Guru Granth Sahib when it is installed in a Gurdwara. Before entering the worship hall, one is requested to remove one's shoes, wash one’s hands and to ensure that one’s head is covered.

Sikhism does not believe in idol or image worship. While celebrating the birthdays or transition days of the Gurus and the other 30 saints whose writings find place in Guru Granth, focus is on remembering the contributions made by such great people to humanity and learning lessons from them in order to become better human beings. Celebrations are not to worship them and celebrations are not a mere show of piety.

Life is Heaven on earth for a God-centered person and Hell for a self-centered (obsessed with ego/arrogance, anger, greed, lust, and attachment) person who does not have compassion, love or respect for others and who instead uses others for their own ego gratification, hurts others, thinks ill of others, etc. Sikhism does not believe in Heaven or Hell after death or salvation after death. One’s death is as one’s life.

Salvation in Sikhism is defined as union with God, which can be achieved by being focused on the ONE in everyone, selfless service to the community and by giving up self-centeredness.

Sikhism rejects for any healthy person to be living off the travails of others. Instead, it asks everyone to earn their living by honest means, engaging in the selfless service of the community and by sharing ones earnings with those less fortunate with no expectations or strings attached. It asks everyone to meditate on Naam.

Sikhism asks its followers to live a householder’s life, the most natural way of life in society. The Gurus held that humans can obtain eternal happiness without forsaking their ordinary worldly duties. All the Gurus and the Bhagats (Saints) whose writings find place in Guru Granth Sahib, emphasized that union with the Absolute should be the supreme objective of human devotion and aspirations.

In Sikhism all humans are considered equal and have equal rights for freedom of worship and to practice a faith of their choice. “No one is higher or lower.” (Guru Nanak Dev Ji.) Sikhism believes in righteousness and justice for all. The Gurus knew the importance of maintaining freedom and justice for all. The Sikhs were commanded by all Gurus, and most specifically by the sixth and the 10th living Guru, to stand up to tyranny, no matter where it exists and not be just passive spectator. They were certain to pass this legacy on to the Sikh nation.

In Sikh ethos, the spiritual and temporal are closely inter-related. Accordingly, there is an inseparable bond between the spiritual and temporal, between the Sikh religion and governance, so alien to many in the secular Societies in the present world. Sikhism is thus a whole life system in which it is considered a right and a duty to use force (but only as a last resort) if required to seek justice in society.

Sikhism is thus a system of hope, activity and optimism about the future of humans, with willingness to co-operate with other religions, while accepting God's graciousness in creating other faiths or paths as well. All paths lead to the ONE.

Two of its other features relate to its universalism. First, the Guru prays to God to help the troubled world by any means. Second, it is Guru Nanak Dev who says that his mission is, with the cooperation of other God men, to ferry humans across the troubled sea of life.

Guru Nanak's simple monotheistic creed, supported by a set of humanitarian principles of conduct, and presented with humility and conviction, made a deep impact on the Indian population, which at that time was suffering due to the unjust and brutal rule and due as well to the corrupt and manipulative priestly class of the time.

Through his own radiance, Guru Nanak won a large number of adherents to his teachings. It was the beginning of a new religious fellowship, which, in course of time, developed into a well-defined new faith.

Sikhism is universal and egalitarian. It is a whole-life Dharma/way of life suitable to our times, humanitarian in spirit, affirmative in ideology, modern in outlook, scientific in analysis, radical in views, International in approach and practical in adaptability, suited to the needs, aspirations and conditions of modern human beings and their social set-ups. It knows no ethnic, racial or regional limitations; it recognizes no distinctions because of birth, gender, sexuality, status, caste, creed, color, calling, country or community and embodies, on the other hand, universal respect and concern for all, while regarding all as equals with equal respect and honor, cherishing its Founder's inimitable advice:

“Call everyone noble, for none is low. The One Potter Has fashioned all vessels alike. And it is the ONE light alone that shines in all creation.”

and also

"First, Allah created the Light, then by Creative Power made all mortal beings. From the One Light, the entire universe welled up. So, who is good, and who is bad?"  Bhagat Kabir Ji, Page 1349, Guru Granth Sahib.

It is thus a Dharma/Lifestyle, which is not only a theological path, meant to lead towards spiritual progress and Ultimate Reality, but it is also one which is equally concerned with the establishment of just and altruistic social order and is totally committed to human equality, truthful living and peaceful coexistence; as proclaimed by its fifth Guru, in the following verse:

“None shall domineer over another or cause pain to them. All shall abide in peace and happiness, and the governance shall be gentle and compassionate.” Guru Granth Sahib Ji - P 74

God is the `Ocean of Virtues.' Sikhs of the Guru are enjoined to absorb these virtues without which, no salvation is possible.

The path of virtuous deeds is the only discipline acceptable to God. It has been emphasized over and over in Guru Granth Sahib through various hymns. Guru Nanak advises that assessment of humans is entirely according to their deeds and that final approval is only by God's Grace.

God runs the universe with "Its Will" which is ever creating, sustaining and transforming the creation and exists simultaneously as pure, compassionate awareness. A Sikh must tune in to God's Will and flow in harmony with it to bring about the kingdom of awakened and aware people on earth.

Guru Nanak never tried to convert anyone to his Dharma, he simply asked people to live an honest and truthful life.

With a firm belief in essential righteousness, the Gurus understood that all religions preach a similar good message among their followers, so there was no need to convert anyone. Let each follow their own path. All rivers lead to the ocean. He simply served as an example of truthful, compassionate living with love and respect for all.

If one doesn't see all humans as equal, then what is the point of any Religion? Religion should not be aimed at converting; it should be aimed at making humans better at serving each other and caring and loving others as being created equally.

The largest impediment to world peace is organized religion itself. All religions try to inflate their egos by increasing their number of their followers, as if there are elections to be held sometimes in the very future and they do not want to miss out on the chance to win the seat for their version of God. Often in this process of trying to increase their followers, they create much more violence than peace.

The contribution of Sikhism to world peace lies in the principle that God exists in all humans and there is no better religion than living humanely. So, if all humans move beyond this attachment to any one religion and see the One Light in all, then there will be no need to call ourselves Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh ... etc. We will all collectively be "children of God." As Gurbani explains:

"The ONE is our father and mother: we are the children of the ONE. The ONE is our Guru, our Enlightener." Guru Granth Sahib Ji - Page 611

To conclude, all religions are valid and no religion can claim that their path is the only way to God. Accordingly, if all religions stop converting others and rather move beyond this and start speaking the language of love for all, start loving and caring for others without distinction of cast, creed, gender, rich, poor, skin color, language spoken, ethnicity, country, or any other dividing quality, violence in the World can be significantly reduced. This will be the first large step towards a peaceful world.

Guru Nanak's plans and practices were supported and further promoted by nine other Gurus successively. This process spanned a period of almost 239 years. Followers of his way of life are called the "Sikhs," ones who learn from the True Guru. Sikhs of the Guru who understood and practiced the lifestyle as introduced by Guru Nanak were baptized by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru as the family of Khalsa (Pure Ones) and he gave them a new common middle name "Singh" for men and "Kaur" for women (meaning respectively, lion or lioness) for reasons of equality of all humans and to eliminate the caste system among the followers of Guru Nanak.

Before Guru Gobind Singh passed away, following what Guru Nanak and other Gurus always claimed, he commanded the Sikhs that Guru Granth Sahib is their true and Eternal Guru from which to seek guidance.

If I have made any errors in the above text, please forgive me. - Sebastian Carranza

Add a Comment