Sikhism Vs. Sikhi

Those who take the religious-secular dichotomy for granted will fail to recognise Sikhism, as ‘what the modern Anglophon...



Ramblings of a Sikh

ik-onkar (164K)

June 10, 2015:
The term ‘Sikhism’ is a Western term coined by Europeans during the nineteenth century. The term Sikhism like Hinduism is not indigenous to the Indian lexicon.[1] Those who take the religious-secular dichotomy for granted will fail to recognise Sikhism, as ‘what the modern Anglophone consciousness understands as the religion of the Sikhs.’ [2]

Sikhi refers to ‘the internal fluidity that cannot be reduced to pluralism and carries the sense of a qualitative difference through a process of ego-loss even as it maintains a particular identity’ – formalized in 1699 by the creation of the Khalsa.[3] The Punjabi term Sikhi means to learn and unlike the term Sikhism, it does not represent an object but a process of self-transformation.

The ego, the process of constantly grasping and objectifying our environment to create a sense of permanency, stands in the way of the individual becoming a gurmukh – a self-sovereign individual (free from their ego).[4] Those who remain in a state of individuated self-attachment are deluded and are referred to as manmukhs.[5] The transformation from manmukh to gurmukh is achieved by a specific discipline, a process of self-realisation realised through meditation and expressed through an absolute lived experience.

Sikhi, the process of ego-loss, is the fundamental principle of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and runs through all of the key themes – (i) one(ness), (ii) time and contingency, (iii) mind (satguru/ego), (iv) itness/love/non-knowledge.[6]

1. Relationship between a Guru and their student: Vaar 20 is clear that on becoming a Sikh (a disciple) of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, did Guru Angad Dev Ji become a Sikh.

2. The True Guru: Per Vaar 7, the true Guru teaches that which ensures the eradication of ones ego. As a result, per Vaar 9, in the house of Sikhi duality is erased and one becomes one with the One.

3. Orthopraxic: Per Ang 305, Line 16 (Gur Sathigur Kaa Jo sikh Akhaaeae S Bhalakae Outh Har Naam Dhhiaavai) Guru Ram Das Ji makes it clear that only those who shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate can call themselves a Sikh of the Guru. It is through this process that the Gurmukh eradicates their ego (Vaar 9, Pauri 3).

The term Sikhism has been coined by Arvind-Pal Mandair in order to highlight the intertwining of the pre-modern and the modern, suggesting that the indigenous meanings enshrined within the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and Siri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji and Siri Sarbloh Granth Sahib Ji are still alive and have not been completely repressed by the modernising dialectic between the Orient and the Occident.[7] Sikhism refers to the intertwining of Sikhi and the consequences of the demarcation of the religious boundaries of Sikhism – a universal Sikh history, the dominance of the Khalsa sub-tradition and the translation of the non-dual nature of gurmat into the dual nature of ontotheology.

The source of enlightenment, according to Guru Nanak Dev Ji is the satguru (ultimate reality) and is found within all of us as a potentiality that can only be realised if we correctly attune our consciousness. [8] Bhai Gurdas Ji (Vaar 24, Pauri 7) states that Guru Angad Dev Ji upon attuning his word/consciousness to the satguru has chiselled his clumsy mind to make it an ornament.

The agent of this change is anhad shabad, the unstruck celestial melody, which moves the language of the self-realised individual.[9] Thus, the language of the self-actualised emerges from a source other than the ego. Therefore, the satguru consists at the same time and as one, actual words (shabad) and the celestial force behind it (anhad).

Thus Guru Nanak Dev Ji points to the practice of naam simran, a mnemotechnic technique of repeating a mantra within one’s consciousness which through practice will eventually lead to unconscious repetition. The notion that the self-actualised individual speaks from a source that is not the ego displaces the need for a human agent. However, those who have experienced the path of self-realisation can describe the path they followed as the experience is ineffable and can only be experienced.

Those who are of like-mind are drawn together due to their devotion to a spiritual master, one who has experienced the ineffable nature of self-actualization, and by their commitment to a common method of self-realisation, naam simran.[10] The path that the satsangat follows is essentially a temporalising path of the individual in the journey between life and death.

Therefore, the term panth does not correspond to the modern western term ‘religion’ but rather the term represents the temporal life-path for achieving realisation and the spatial world that is lived within.[11]

The inability of the ego to comprehend this leads to a social projection of the ineffable as God in order to objectify the experience. However, the experience of oneness is lost in the objectification of God and leads to competition between social projections of God. Thus, Guru Nanak Dev Ji points directly towards that which prevents the experience of actualisation and is the means of actualisation – the ego. It is only through the process of ego-less that the actualised have experienced the One and thus do not speak from the ego for they understand that within ego the One is not present for it has been conceptualised. The experience of the One refers to a state of jeevan-mukhti, liberation from the ego whilst alive.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji fulfilled Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s mission of upholding the virtue of dharma in the manifestation of the Khalsa in 1699 and the institutionalisation of Akal Purkah Kee Fauj and the concept of sant-sipahi.[12] In essence, the saint-soldiers of all existence are ego-less protectors of dharma.[13] Thus, violence is legitimate as a non-preemptive last resort.

Dharma ‘has no real adequate counterpart in the terminology of European languages’ and is difficult to define in terms of Western thought for it is an all-comprising term including institutions, a way of thinking and living.[14]

However, dharma could be loosely defined, as everyone’s universal birthright to attain a state of self-realization and any action taken out of ego-lessness or in the defense of the right to live in harmony is dharmic. Yet, dharma is more than this, for Guru Nanak Dev Ji states that those who have experienced the ineffable state of realisation do not follow empty religious rituals but are firmly bound to dharma, the natural order that is experienced by the individual in the state of ego-loss.[15] Dharma is thus the natural order understood by those who are, or are becoming, actualised.

Therefore, initiation into the Khalsa is the test of ones commitment to the process of ego-loss exemplified by ultimate sacrifice, illustrated by the five individuals in the congregation that had gathered at Anandpur on 30th March 1699 who heeded the Guru’s call for a head and were decapitated before being resurrected through the administration of amrit.[16] The very process of initiation illustrates the process of ego-loss, illustrated by the meaning of the term Khalsa, a term derived from the Persian term khali?ah, meaning pure, in this instance pure of the ego. Thus, becoming part of the Khalsa is committing to a transformatory process of ego-loss.


[1] Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994):342
[2] Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2013): 12.
[3] Ibid.,16
[4] Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Ang. 21, Line 20. Eaehu Mano Moorakh Lobheeaa Lobhae Lagaa Luobhaan || This foolish mind is greedy; through greed, it becomes even more attached to greed.
[5] Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Ang. 22, Line 5. Sathasangath Sathagur Paaeeai Ahinis Sabadh Salaahi. The True Guru is found in the Sat Sangat, the True Congregation. Day and night, praise the Word of His Shabad.
[6] Christopher Shackle and Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Teachings of the Sikh Gurus: Selections from the Sikh Scriptures (London: Routledge, 2005).
[7] Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2013): 13.
[8] Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Ang. 37, Line 1. Bin Sathigur Kinai N Paaeiou Kar Vaekhahu Man Veechaar. Without the True Guru, no one has found Him; reflect upon this in your mind and see.
[9] Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Ang. 21, Line 2. Anehadh Sabadh Suhaavanae Paaeeai Gur Veechaar. The beautiful, Unstruck Sound of the Shabad is obtained, contemplating the Guru.
[10] Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 10, Line 8. Dhhan Dhhann Sathasangath Jith Har Ras Paaeiaa Mil Jan Naanak Naam Paragaas. Blessed is the Sat sangat, the true congregation, where the primordial essence is obtained. Meeting with His humble servant, O Nanak, the Light of the Naam shines forth.
[11] Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2013): 31.
[12] Bachittar Natak. The Sant-Sipahi was formalized by Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji who took to wearing two swords after the martyrdom of his father Guru Arjun Dev Ji.
[13] Siri Dasam Granth Sahib Ji. Ang 1471, Line 8. Chu Kaar Az Hamah Heelte Dar Guzasht. Halaal Ast Burden Ba Shamsheer Dast. When all other methods fail, it is proper to hold the sword in hand.
[14] J.A.B. Van Buitenen, ‘Dharma and Moksa,’ Philosophy East and West, Vol. 7. No. ½. (1957):36. Pallis, Marco. A Buddhist spectrum. (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1980):102
[15]Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Ang, 3, Line 5. Mannai Mag N Chalai Panthh. Mannai Dhharam Saethee Sanabandhh
[16] The date then corresponded with 30 March 1699, but owing to the adoption of Gregorian calendar by the British in 1752 and the difference between the Christian and the Bikrami years since then, Baisakhi now usually falls on 13 and sometimes on 14 April.

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