Concept of GOD, the Ultimate Reality, in Sikh Religion

The God and Man inter-relationship as Father, Mother and Bridegroom makes its correspondence with Christian concept of G...

All religions claim that their prophet is unique and salvation is possible only by following the path shown by their prophet. Concept of God is also unique to each religious tradition. Most religions believe in One God but in Hinduism, the number of demi-Gods can go up to thirty three crores (330 million). The description of God also varies in each religion. Some believe in anthropomorphic God, while others believe in a God beyond description. The methods to achieve God are also different in different religions. If there is only one God of the whole universe then why is there so much conflict in different religions? Why do religious leaders fight over the superiority of their prophets and their traditions? This is the most complex problem and there are no simple solutions to it in sight. Interfaith dialogues are a step in the right direction to reduce the internecine conflicts between different religions. Scientific revolution may also help us in the unification process of religious traditions as it has done in science.

In Scientific God journal [1], the views of 50 Nobel Laureates and 50 other great Scientists are given who believe in God. Stephen Hawking is not among them as he established theoretically that creation of the Universe happened without intervention of God. Many Scientists do not believe in a theological God but believe in a God of Spirituality. Sukhraj Dhillon [2] has a reason to believe in God of Spirituality: “Instead of searching for God that is tangled up with violence and survival, today we should search for God of spirituality". According to the author: “God is Energy or Energy is God”. He develops his idea of God on the basis of Laws of Thermodynamics, which is ridiculous.

Bhai Harbans Lal [3] gives a description of anthropomorphic God: “We call an anthropomorphic God a God concocted by clergy. This clergy-created God sits faraway in the heavens as a majestic human figure micromanaging the human affairs. Our houses of worship told us that humans must fear this God; otherwise, He will dish out punishments like pain, disease, and calamities; and after death we will live like suffering animals. Further, this God had to be searched and venerated. This God needed appeasement through clergy intermediaries”.

He juxtaposes the God of Sikh religion conceived by Guru Nanak: “Five centuries ago Guru Nanak began his mission by alerting people against this clergy-made God. Instead, he preached God as a virtual reality in all creation. Guru Nanak depicted his God through an icon, ੴ, pronounced as Ek ongkar. Nanak prescribed a meditation on this icon along with the meaning behind it. He brought in a metamorphosis that transformed humans into gods”:

ਜਲਿ ਥਲਿ ਮਹੀਅਲਿ ਪੂਰਿਆ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਸਿਰਜਨਹਾਰੁ ॥Jal thal mahī▫al pūri▫ā su▫āmī sirjanhār.
The Creator Lord and Master is pervading the water, the land, and the sky.

ਅਨਿਕ ਭਾਂਤਿ ਹੋਇ ਪਸਰਿਆ ਨਾਨਕ ਏਕੰਕਾਰੁ ॥Anik bẖāʼnṯ ho▫e pasri▫ā Nānak ekankār.
In so many ways, the One, the Universal Creator has diffused Himself, O Nanak.

                                                                  (SGGS, M.5, P.296)

The purpose of this essay is to explore the concept of God, the Ultimate Reality, in the Sikh religion, one of the five major religions of the world. Our thesis will be based on Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), the Sikh scripture, and the Sikh theology derived from its basic concepts. We shall mostly rely on foundational principles of Sikhism preached by its founder, Guru Nanak. In the opening stanza of Japuji in SGGS, known as the commencing verse (Manglacharan or Moolmantar), Guru Nanak defines God or Ultimate Reality as follows:

ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ 

Ik▫oaʼnkār saṯ nām karṯā purakẖ nirbẖa▫o nirvair akāl mūraṯ ajūnī saibẖaʼn gur parsāḏ.

Guru Nanak’s vision of God (Reality) can be translated allegorically as follows [4]: “Reality is one and non-dual. Hence the Manglacharan [5] commences with the numeral 1 before 'Open Oora', which represents Existence or Being. It is followed by Satt(i) Naam which means the Supreme Reality is true and it is manifested in Truth, Existence and Being. The other features of Reality are its transcendence and immanence, creator person, without fear or hatred, beyond time and space, self-existent, transcendental cosmic spirit made manifest by grace of the Guru”. 

Dr SS Bhatti in his Essay “God in Sri Guru Granth Sahib” defines it in his unique way [6]:

ੴ [Ik Oankar]

G-O-D [Generator-Operator-Destroyer]

IS 

ONE

All-Inclusive, All-Pervasive

Truth, the Unchanging Reality

Transcendent Being

One may Name Him thus

Intrepid, Uninimical

Imperishable Icon

Beyond the Cycle of Birth and Death

Self-Existent

By the Grace of God, the Guru

This Creed is proclaimed

The first sloka of Japuji after the Moolmantar elaborates further the nature of Ultimate Reality. Reality or God was in existence before the commencement of creation and time during the epoch of cosmic void. God existed at the beginning of this universe, i.e., creation of space and time. God exists now and will also exist in the future (even when the universe is annihilated).

ਆਦਿ ਸਚੁ ਜੁਗਾਦਿ ਸਚੁ ਹੈ ਭੀ ਸਚੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਹੋਸੀ ਭੀ ਸਚੁ ॥੧॥

Āḏ sacẖ jugāḏ sacẖ. Hai bẖī sacẖ Nānak hosī bẖī sacẖ. ||1||

True In The Primal Beginning. True Throughout The Ages.

True Here And Now. O Nanak, Forever And Ever True. ||1||       (SGGS, Japuji, P.1)

What is the nature of God in Sikhism? Endless debate is going on this topic on Gurmat Learning Zone (GLZ), a forum for learning concepts of Sikhism with a membership of more than 10,000. Some say, God in Sikhism is monotheistic; others say, it is pantheistic and monistic; and still others claim it is panentheistic. Without going into rigmaroles of definitions, we can find an excellent explanation of the nature of God in Sikhism in the paper published in the journal: Religious Enquiries [7]: “Sikhism as a religion is uncompromisingly monotheistic. The Gurus have described God in numerous ways in their hymns mentioned in the Guru Granth Sāhib, but the oneness of the deity is consistently emphasized throughout their literature”.

Furthermore, it goes on to sum up the idea of God in Sikhism [7]: “The fundamental belief in Sikhism is that God exists not merely as an idea or concept, but as a real entity. God is indescribable, yet knowable and perceivable to anyone who is prepared to dedicate the time and energy to become perceptive to His persona. The Gurus never spoke about proof of the existence of God. For them, He is too real, and something obvious does not require any logical proof. God is transcendent and all-pervasive at the same time. Transcendence and immanence are two aspects of the same single Supreme Reality. The Reality is imminent (immanent?) in the entire creation, but the creation as a whole fails to contain God in its entirety”.

It clearly shows that TRUTH of God in Sikhism is not bound in philosophical or mathematical definitions. Sikh Gurus realized the truth in their lives and practiced and preached it in their sermons recorded in SGGS. This Paper [7] explains transcendence and immanence of God in a unique way: “God is immanent in the created world but is not limited by it”. What does it imply? It is elaborated by Guru Arjun in Sukhmani Sahib by explaining the process of creation by God:

ਕਈ ਬਾਰ ਪਸਰਿਓ ਪਾਸਾਰ ਸਦਾ ਸਦਾ ਇਕੁ ਏਕੰਕਾਰ 

Ka▫ī bār pasri▫o pāsār. Saḏā saḏā ik ekankār.

So many a times He expands Himself into such worlds;

Forever and ever, He remains the same One, Ek oankār

                                              (SGGS, M. 5, P. 276)

In Sikh religion, God is represented by a unique alphanumeric divine symbol, ੴ (IkOnkar), called a logo by Eleanor Nesbitt and DS Chahal [ 8, 9]. Nikky-Guninder Singh [10] illustrates that three modes of knowledge have been used to signify the Divine symbol - numerical, alphabetical and geometrical. Significantly, the prime number ‘1’ is recognized by individuals of all languages, cultures and religions. It is “followed by the alpha of the Gurmukhi script, which is the sign for One (being) and completed by the sign for Kar (Is), a geometrical arc reaching away into space. This doctrine of oneness is frequently expressed by Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus throughout the SGGS:

ਏਕੋ ਏਕੁ ਏਕੁ ਹਰਿ ਆਪਿ Ėko ek ek har āp. 

The One Lord Himself is the One and Only.

(SGGS, M.5, P. 289)

ਏਕੋ ਹੈ ਭਾਈ ਏਕੋ ਹੈ ॥Ėko hai bẖā▫ī eko hai. ||
He is the One and Only; O Siblings of Destiny, He is the One alone.

(SGGS, M.1, P. 350)                                                                       

ਏਕੋ ਕਹੀਐ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਦੂਜਾ ਕਾਹੇ ਕੂ ॥ Ėko kahī▫ai nānkā ḏūjā kāhe kū. ||
Speak of the One Lord, O Nanak; how could there be any other?          

(SGGS, M. 1, P. 1291)                                                                  

Different Aspects of God in Sikhism

God in Sikhism is depicted in three distinct aspects: God in Himself, God in relation to creation, and God in relation to man [11]. God by himself is the one Ultimate, Transcendent Reality, Nirguna (without attributes), Timeless, Boundless, Formless, Ever-existent, Immutable, Ineffable, All-by Himself and even Unknowable in His entirety.

Transcendence and Immanence of God [12]: God’s transcendence means that God is above and beyond what He has created. His immanence means He continually upholds His creation by His presence within it. Sikhism believes that God without Universe will still be God, though the Universe without God would be non-existent. This contradicts Pantheists hypothesis that God Himself would have no existence without the Universe. In Sikh religion God is perfect with or without creation of the Universe. Transcendence and immanence are not incompatible but complementary concepts. Guru Arjun beautifully illustrates this inter-relationship as follows:

ਆਪੇ ਕੀਤੋ ਰਚਨੁ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਰਤਿਆ ॥ Āpe kīṯo racẖan āpe hī raṯi▫ā.
He Himself created the Universe; He Himself imbues it.

ਆਪੇ ਹੋਇਓ ਇਕੁ ਆਪੇ ਬਹੁ ਭਤਿਆ ॥ Āpe ho▫i▫o ik āpe baho bẖaṯi▫ā.
He Himself is One, and He Himself has numerous forms.

ਆਪੇ ਸਭਨਾ ਮੰਝਿ ਆਪੇ ਬਾਹਰਾ ॥Āpe sabẖnā manjẖ āpe bāhrā.
He Himself is within all, and He Himself is beyond them.

ਆਪੇ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਦੂਰਿ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਜਾਹਰਾ ॥Āpe jāṇėh ḏūr āpe hī jāhrā.
He Himself is known to be far away, and He Himself is right here.

ਆਪੇ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਗੁਪਤੁ ਆਪੇ ਪਰਗਟੀਐ ॥Āpe hovėh gupaṯ āpe pargatī▫ai.
He Himself is hidden, and He Himself is revealed.

ਕੀਮਤਿ ਕਿਸੈ ਨ ਪਾਇ ਤੇਰੀ ਥਟੀਐ ॥Kīmaṯ kisai na pā▫e ṯerī thatī▫ai.
No one can estimate the value of Your Creation, Lord.

ਗਹਿਰ ਗੰਭੀਰੁ ਅਥਾਹੁ ਅਪਾਰੁ ਅਗਣਤੁ ਤੂੰ ॥Gahir gambẖīr athāhu apār agṇaṯ ṯūʼn.
You are deep and profound, unfathomable, infinite and invaluable.

ਨਾਨਕ ਵਰਤੈ ਇਕੁ ਇਕੋ ਇਕੁ ਤੂੰ ॥੨੨॥੧॥੨॥  Nānak varṯai ik iko ik ṯūʼn. ||22||1||2||.
O Nanak, the One Lord is all-pervading. You are the One and only.

                      (SGGS, M. 5, P. 966)

These aspects are represented in Indian Philosophy by the concepts of nirguna and saguna. Sikh Gurus have used these terms frequently to describe the transcendental and immanent aspects of God. In SGGS (Raag Gauri Sukhmani), Guru Arjun made use of these concepts to describe God [4]: 

ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰ ਆਕਾਰ ਆਪਿ ਨਿਰਗੁਨ ਸਰਗੁਨ ਏਕ ॥Nirankār ākār āp nirgun sargun ek.
He Himself is formless, and also formed; the One Lord is without attributes, and also with attributes.

ਏਕਹਿ ਏਕ ਬਖਾਨਨੋ ਨਾਨਕ ਏਕ ਅਨੇਕ ॥੧॥ Ėkėh ek bakẖānano Nānak ek anek. ||1||
Describe the One Lord as One, and Only One; O Nanak, He is the One, and the many. ||1|| 

                                                    (SGGS, M. 5, P. 250)

ਸਰਗੁਨ ਨਿਰਗੁਨ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰ ਸੁੰਨ ਸਮਾਧੀ ਆਪਿ ॥Sargun nirgun nirankār sunn samāḏẖī āp.
He possesses all qualities; He transcends all qualities; He is the Formless Lord. He Himself is in Primal Samaadhi.

ਆਪਨ ਕੀਆ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਫਿਰਿ ਜਾਪਿ ॥Āpan kī▫ā nānkā āpe hī fir jāp.
Through His Creation, O Nanak, He meditates on Himself.

                                               (SGGS, M. 5, P. 290)

God as the Person: Rajinder Kaur [13] establishes that God is a perfect Person in her Ph.D. Thesis submitted to Punjab University, Chandigarh, published as “God in Sikhism”. In Sikh Scripture, God is mostly addressed as Thou (You), which means for the Sikhs, God communicates with individuals through revelation and who Himself is communicable by way of spiritual religious experience. God is defined as “Karta Purakh'' in Moolmantar, i.e., a creative Person who creates the Universe. He is called “Adi Purakh”, the primeval Being, and all powerful “Samrath Purakh”. Guru Ramdas addressed God as that Person “So Purakh'' who is pure and inaccessible: 

ਸੋ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਅਗਮਾ ਅਗਮ ਅਪਾਰਾ 

So purakẖ niranjan har purakẖ niranjan har agmā agam apārā.

O Lord, Thou are the Prototype Person, Immaculate and Pure. The Lord is Inaccessible, Unreachable and Unrivalled.                                          

ਤੁਧੁ ਆਪੇ ਸ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਸਭ ਉਪਾਈ ਜੀ ਤੁਧੁ ਆਪੇ ਸਿਰਜਿ ਸਭ ਗੋਈ 
Ŧuḏẖ āpe sarisat sabẖ upā▫ī jī ṯuḏẖ āpe siraj sabẖ go▫ī.
You Yourself created the entire universe, and having fashioned it, You Yourself shall destroy it all.                                                                                           (SGGS, M. 4, P. 11)

Guru Nanak calls God as the Creator Person, inaccessible but pervading in the Universe: 

ਤੂ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਅਗੰਮੁ ਹੈ ਰਵਿਆ ਸਭ ਠਾਈ 

Ŧū karṯā purakẖ agamm hai ravi▫ā sabẖ ṯẖā▫ī.

You are the Creator Person, the Inaccessible Lord God; You are all-pervading everywhere.

(SGGS, M. 1, P. 1291)

ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੰਭੌ ਮਨ ਸਿਮਰਤ ਠੰਢਾ ਥੀਵਾਂ ਜੀਉ ॥੨॥
Akāl mūraṯ ajūnī sambẖou man simraṯ ṯẖandẖā thīvāʼn jī▫o. ||2||
Timeless, Unborn, Self-illumined Person: remembering You in meditation, my mind is filled with a deep and profound peace. ||2 ||                                                        (SGGS, M. 5, P. 99)                                                                                        

God and Man Inter-relationship: In Sikh scripture (SGGS), the Human (homo sapien) are considered as the summon bonum of creation. Spiritual experience is the privilege of human beings only. God is Person and as a Person can reveal Himself to persons. Guru Arjun makes this unequivocal declaration in SGGS: “O Man, you stand in a special category of creation. All other creatures exist to serve the purpose of your spiritual illumination”.

ਅਵਰ ਜੋਨਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਪਨਿਹਾਰੀ ਇਸੁ ਧਰਤੀ ਮਹਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਸਿਕਦਾਰੀ 
Avar jon ṯerī panihārī. Is ḏẖarṯī mėh ṯerī sikḏārī.
Other people may be your water-carriers; in this world, you may be a ruler.

                                                  (SGGS, M. 5, P.374)

God is presented as Father and Mother in many hymns in SGGS. One can refer to the following hymns of Guru Arjun to bring home the truth of point under discussion: 

ਤੂੰ ਸਾਝਾ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਬਾਪੁ ਹਮਾਰਾ ॥ Ŧūʼn sājẖā sāhib bāp hamārā.

You are the Universal Father of all, O my Lord and Master.

(SGGS, M.5, P. 97)

ਤੂੰ ਮੇਰਾ ਪਿਤਾ ਤੂੰਹੈ ਮੇਰਾ ਮਾਤਾ ॥ Ŧūʼn merā piṯā ṯūʼnhai merā māṯā.
You are my Father, and You are my Mother.                         

(SGGS, M.5, P. 103)  

ਮਾਤ ਪਿਤਾ ਸੁਤ ਬੰਧਪੋ ਤੂੰ ਮੇਰੇ ਪ੍ਰਾਣ ਅਧਾਰ ॥ Māṯ piṯā suṯ banḏẖpo ṯūʼn mere parāṇ aḏẖār.
You are my mother, Father, son and relative; You are the support of the breath of life.

 (SGGS, M.5, P. 203)

ਭਾਈ ਪੂਤੁ ਪਿਤਾ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਮਾਤਾ ॥੩॥ Bẖā▫ī pūṯ piṯā parabẖ māṯā. ||3||
God is my Brother, Son, Father and Mother. ||3||                       

(SGGS, M.5, P. 240)

Relationship of Bridegroom and Bride between God and Man: In Sikh scripture, a unique relationship exists between God and his devotee. The metaphor of Bride is used for the soul of man and the metaphor of Bridegroom for God. I believe in no other religion such an intimate relationship exists between Man and God. The following quotes from SGGS establish the validity of this relationship: 

ਮੁੰਧੇ ਪਿਰ ਬਿਨੁ ਕਿਆ ਸੀਗਾਰੁ ॥ Munḏẖe pir bin ki▫ā sīgār.
O Soul-bride, without your Husband Lord, what good are your decorations?
   (SGGS, M.1, P.18) 

ਆਪੇ ਹੋਵੈ ਚੋਲੜਾ ਆਪੇ ਸੇਜ ਭਤਾਰੁ ॥੧॥ Āpe hovai cẖolṛā āpe sej bẖaṯār. ||1||
He Himself is the Bride in her dress, He Himself is the Bridegroom on the bed. ||1||

 (SGGS, M.1, P.23)

ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਹੁ ਘਰ ਮਹਿ ਬੈਠਾ ਸੋਹੇ ਬੰਕ ਦੁਆਰੇ ॥੨॥ 

Kaho Nānak saho gẖar mėh baiṯẖā sohe bank ḏu▫āre. ||2||
Says Nanak, my Bridegroom is sitting in my home; the gates of my body are beautifully adorned. ||2||                                             (SGGS, M.5, P. 452)

  Conclusions: Rajinder Kaur [14] comes to the conclusion that Sikh concept of God cannot be discussed under any accepted “Isms” of Philosophy. It is neither Theism nor Monotheism strictly. The Sikh concept of God is certainly not Pantheism, and it is again not Penentheism even though the Sikh religion believes in Transcendence and Immanence of God. Sikh concept of God is rooted in God the “Person”. Hence, if we want to give it a label, it can be “Personism'' or “Purakhvad”. I do not agree with the new label suggested by Rajinder Kaur. 

The fundamental belief of Sikh Religion is that God exists as an Ultimate Reality which is beyond description. However, in Sikh religion, the God can be realized in person by a God-conscious person, called Brahmgyani by Guru Arjun in the Sukhmani Sahib (SGGS). The status of Brahmgyani in Sikh religion is so exalted that the distinction between Man and God disappears. I think the following quotes are the best examples of Personification of God in Sikh religion:

ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਕਉ ਖੋਜਹਿ ਮਹੇਸੁਰ ॥Barahm gi▫ānī ka▫o kẖojėh mahesur.
The God-conscious being is sought by the great god Shiva.

ਨਾਨਕ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਆਪਿ ਪਰਮੇਸੁਰ ॥੬॥ Nānak barahm gi▫ānī āp parmesur. ||6||
O Nanak, the God-conscious being is Himself the Supreme Lord God.

ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਕਾ ਸਗਲ ਅਕਾਰੁ ॥Barahm gi▫ānī kā sagal akār.
The God-conscious being owns the entire creation.

ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਆਪਿ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰੁ ॥Barahm gi▫ānī āp nirankār.
The God-conscious being is Himself the Formless Lord.

 (SGGS, M. 5, PP. 273-74)

The nature of God revealed by study of Sri Guru Granth Sahib leads us to conclude that God in Sikh religion is not confined to the narrow boundaries of any definition. It is compatible with monotheism of Islam. Its transcendence and immanence (nirgun & sargun) aspects establish its relationship with Vedantic Hindu concept of God. The God and Man inter-relationship as Father, Mother and Bridegroom makes its correspondence with Christian concept of God as a viable option. As a consequence, the Sikh Scripture qualifies as a Universal Scripture for all mankind.

References

References in Text are from SGGS (Sri Guru Granth Sahib). (M = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, represents the succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Guru Nanak, P = Page of the SGGS. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Golden Temple Press, Amritsar. 
  1. Scientific GOD Journal. March 2010. Vol. 1, Issue 3, PP. 143-273, www.Sci.GOD.com
  2. Sukhraj Dhillon. In Search of GOD: The God of Spirituality. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform 2011, Pages164.
  3. Harbans Lal. Guru Nanak’s God. https://seekingwisdomblog.wordpress.com/ July 17, 2021.
  4. HS Virk. Concept of Reality in Sri Guru Granth Sahib and its Physical, Metaphysical and Mystical aspects. In: Scientific Vision in Sri Guru Granth Sahib & Interfaith Dialogue. Singh Brothers, Amritsar, 2007
  5. SGGS. Manglacharan/Commencing Verse, P.1 
  6. SS Bhatti. God in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Personal Communication. A post on GLZ.
  7. MM Alimardi. God in Sikhism. Religious Inquiries 2013, Vol. 2(4), 77-92.
  8. Eleanor Nesbitt. SIKHISM. A Very Short Introduction. OUP, 2005.
  9. DS Chahal. Understanding ੴ- Designed by Guru Nanak to represent Eternal Entity (God). Sikh Philosophy Network, 18 August, 2020.
  10. Nikky-Guninder K. Singh. Sikhism: An Introduction. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, New York 2011.
  11. Harbans, Singh. The Encyclopedia of Sikhism. Punjabi University, Patiala, 2001.
  12. Rajinder Kaur. God in Sikhism.The Sikh Itihas Research Board, SGPC, Amritsar 2003, P.66.
  13. Ibid, P. 82.
  14. Ibid, P. 113. 

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