What is a Sikh?

It is the active, experiential relationship of the Sikh with the Bani that helps that Sikh attain Guru and thus realize ...

I have been assigned the arduous task of writing an article called "What is a Sikh?" I have tried to pass the buck on this article three times, but it seems that it is simply my dharam, my duty, to write this article.

Before I write it, lend me your attention for a moment. I am not an authority on Sikhs or Sikhism and neither is Sikh Dharma Worldwide. It is not the intention of this article to say who is a Sikh and who is not. If you would like a categorical, intellectual, and philosophical answer to the question "Who is a Sikh?" why not try Hew McLeod's essay by the same name. Instead I will use my own experience and things that I have learned from other's sharing their experiences.   

Sikhna is the Punjabi word that means "to learn." Sikhna should be differentiated from the word parna, which means "to study" or "to read". Sikhna would be the word you would employ if, say, you were to tell someone that you had learned to play a musical instrument. The word implies active experiential learning rather than passive study. In the first verse of Guru Nanak's Dev Ji's Jap Ji Sahib, he states:

"Sochai soch na hovaee, jay sochee lakh vaar"

 "You think and think ten thousand thoughts but not one thought will give you what you seek."

While there is absolutely much study in the life of any Sikh, it is a Sikh's very existence, which is their spiritual experience rather than the intellectual dissection of a particular religious law or code.

The most important thing in the path of a Sikh is Guru. Guru, in its original sense, means spiritual master. A guru is someone to whom you are devoted in order to conquer your ego and attain the state of connection to all. But to Sikhs, Guru is not a person, per se. Guru is conceptual as well as practical. Guru is the amalgam of excellence that all people ultimately strive for. Guru is Love, Service, Peace, Strength, Dignity, Oneness, Humility, Wisdom, and Purity and infinitely more attributes. The way that Sikhs relate to Guru is Bani.

Bani is musical verse written by those whose minds were in the state of Guru. Bani is sect-less, genderless and race-less. It is meant to enchant its listener to fall in love with Ik Oankaar, Sat Nam, the One Being, True Self. Guru plays matchmaker between the Sikh and the One, Bani is the love letter.

"Bani Guru Guru hai bani vich bani amrit sare"

"Bani is Guru, and Guru is the Bani. Within the Bani, the Ambrosial Nectar is contained."


"Gur bani kahai sevak jan manai partakh guru nistare||5||"

"Guru emancipates the servant who is mindful of Guru's Bani."

It is the active, experiential relationship of the Sikh with the Bani that helps that Sikh attain Guru and thus realize the One, the True Self. How does this relationship materialize? There are traditions and actions seen as universally Guru-ward: Service, meditation, and pure actions. Any service, big or small is seen as service to Guru. Meditation, whether on Bani or other, clears the mind for Guru to govern it. Pure actions are those that exercise the Sikh's wisdom as given by Guru.

It is between the Sikh and the Guru that lifestyle, identity, and behavior is decided. I cannot comment on those things.      


- reprinted courtesy of Sikh Dharma Worldwide    

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