Sikhism is a way of life and philosophy well ahead of its time when it was founded over 500 years ago, The Sikh religion today has a following of over 20 million people worldwide. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality of mankind, social justice and denounces superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Who and What is a Sikh?
The word 'Sikh' in the Punjabi language means 'disciple', Sikhs are the disciples of God who follow the writings and teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus. The wisdom of these teachings in Sri Guru Granth Sahib are practical and universal in their appeal to all mankind.
"I observe neither Hindu fasting nor the ritual of the Muslim Ramadan month; Him I serve who at the last shall save. The Lord of universe of the Hindus, Gosain and Allah to me are one; From Hindus and Muslims have I broken free. I perform neither Kaaba pilgrimage nor at bathing spots worship; One sole Lord I serve, and no other. I perform neither the Hindu worship nor the Muslim prayer; To the Sole Formless Lord in my heart I bow. We neither are Hindus nor Muslims; Our body and life belong to the One Supreme Being who alone is both Ram and Allah for us."
(Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Granth Sahib, Raga Bhairon pg. 1136)
Any human being who faithfully believes in the
following is a Sikh: (Reht Maryada, Sikh Code of Conduct)
(i) One Immortal Being,
(ii) Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh,
(iii) The Guru Granth Sahib,
(iv) The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and,
(v) the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion
Philosophy and Beliefs
- There is only One God. He is the same God for all people of all religions.
- The soul goes through cycles of births and deaths before it reaches the human form.
- The goal of our life is to lead an exemplary existence so that one may merge with God. Sikhs should remember God at all times and practice living a virtuous and truthful life while maintaining a balance between their spiritual obligations and temporal obligations.
- The true path to achieving salvation and merging with God does not require renunciation of the world or celibacy, but living the life of a householder, earning a honest living and avoiding worldly temptations and sins.
- Sikhism condemns blind rituals such as fasting, visiting places of pilgrimage, superstitions, worship of the dead, idol worship etc.
- Sikhism preaches that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God. It teaches the full equality of men and women.
- Women can participate in any religious function or perform any Sikh ceremony or lead the congregation in prayer.
History and Practices
The founder of the Sikh religion was Guru Nanak who was born in 1469. He preached a message of love and understanding and criticized the blind rituals of the Hindus and Muslims. Guru Nanak passed on his enlightened leadership of this new religion to nine successive Gurus. The final living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh died in 1708.
During his lifetime Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa order (meaning 'The Pure'), soldier-saints. The Khalsa uphold the highest Sikh virtues of commitment, dedication and a social conscious. The Khalsa are men and women who have undergone the Sikh baptism ceremony and who strictly follow the Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions and wear the prescribed physical articles of the faith. One of the more noticeable being the uncut hair (required to be covered with a turban for men) and the Kirpan (ceremonial sword).
Before his death in 1708 Guru Gobind Singh declared that the Sikhs no longer needed a living and appointed his spiritual successor as Sri Guru Granth Sahib, his physical successor as the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh felt that all the wisdom needed by Sikhs for spiritual guidance in their daily lives could be found in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Eternal Guru of the Sikhs. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is unique in the world of religious scriptures because not only is it accorded the status of being the spiritual head of the Sikh religion, but besides the poetry of the Gurus, it also contains the writings of saints of other faiths whose thoughts were consistent with those of the Sikh Gurus.
Sikhism does not have priests, which were abolished by Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru felt that they had become corrupt and full of ego. Sikhs only have custodians of the Guru Granth Sahib (granthi), and any Sikh is free to read the Guru Granth Sahib in the Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) or in their home. All people of all religions are welcome to the Gurdwara. A free community kitchen can be found at every Gurdwara which serves meals to all people of all faiths. Guru Nanak first started this institution which outline the basic Sikh principles of service, humility and equality.
The most significant historical religious center for the Sikhs is Harmiandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) at Amritsar in the state of Punjab in northern India. It is the inspirational and historical center of Sikhism but is not a mandatory place of pilgrimage or worship. All places where Sri Guru Granth Sahib are installed are considered equally holy for Sikhs.
Who and What is a Khalsa?
"He who keeps alight the unquenchable torch of truth, and never swerves from the thought of One God; he who has full love and confidence in God and does not put his faith, even by mistake, in fasting or the graves of Muslim saints, Hindu crematoriums, or Jogis places of sepulchre; he who recognises the One God and no pilgrimages, alms-giving, non-destruction of life, penances, or austerities; and in whose heart the light of the Perfect One shines, - he is to be recognised as a pure member of the Khalsa" (Guru Gobind Singh, 33 Swaiyyas)
The word "Khalsa" means "pure", Khalsa's are Sikhs which have undergone the sacred Amrit Ceremony initiated by the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The Khalsa order was initially created on Baisakhi Day March 30 1699, with Guru Gobind Singh baptizing 5 Sikhs and then in turn asking the five Khalsa's to baptize him. Following this the Guru personally baptized thousands of men and women into the Khalsa order. The Khalsa baptism ceremony is undertaken as part of ones own personal spiritual evolution when the initiate is ready to fully live up to the high expectations of Guru Gobind Singh. All Sikhs are expected to be Khalsa or be working towards that objective.
The Khalsa baptism ceremony involves drinking of Amrit (sugar water stirred with a dagger) in the presence of 5 Khalsa Sikhs as well as the Guru Granth Sahib. The initiate is instructed in the following; (a) You shall never remove any hair from any part of thy body, (b) You shall not use tobacco, alcohol or any other intoxicants, (c) You shall not eat the meat of an animal slaughtered the Muslim way, (d) You shall not commit adultery. The initiate is required to wear the physical symbols of a Khalsa at all times as well as follow the Khalsa Code of Conduct.
Stage 1: Manmukh
A person who is self-centered and only thinks about himself and the material world around him and is totally oblivious to God.
Stage 2: Sikh
Anyone who sets out on the path of learning and meets the specific definition of a Sikh as appears in the Reht Maryada (Official Code of Conduct).
Stage 3: Khalsa
Total dedication to Sikhism. One who has shed his ego and personality and truly honors the memory of Guru Gobind Singh through his actions and deeds.
Stage 4: Gurmukh
One who has achieved mukhti (salvation) and is totally God-centered.
The Khalsa Code of Ethical Conduct
- The Sikh will worship only God. They will not set up any idols, gods, goddesses or statues for worship nor shall they worship any human being.
- The Sikh 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.
- The Sikh will not believe in castes, untouchability, magic, omens, amulets, astrology, appeasement rituals, ceremonial hair cutting, fasts, frontal masks, sacred thread, graves and traditional death rites.
- The Khalsa will remain distinct by wearing the Five K's but shall not injure the feelings of others professing different religions.
- The Khalsa will pray to God before starting any work. This will be over and above his usual prayers.
- Although a Sikh may learn as many languages as he likes,
but he must learn Punjabi and teach his children to learn to read it.
- Every male should add "Singh" after his name and every female Khalsa should add "Kaur" after her name. They must never remove hair from any part of their bodies.
- Drugs, Smoking and Alcohol are strictly forbidden for Sikhs
- Khalsa men and women will not make holes in their ears or nose and shall have no connection whatsoever with those who kill their daughters. Sikh women will not wear a veil.
- A Sikh must live on honest labor and give generously to the poor and the needy thinking all the time that whatever he gives is given to the Guru.
- A Sikh must never steal or gamble.
- Except for the kacha and the turban there is no restrictions on the dress of a Khalsa, but a Khalsa's dress should be simple and modest.
- When a Khalsa meets another Khalsa he will greet him by saying, Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh (The Khalsa belong to God, Victory belongs to God).
During the times of the early Gurus, Sikh places of worship were referred to as dharamsalas. They were a place where Sikhs could gather to hear the Guru speak or sing hymns. As the Sikh population continued to grow Guru Hargobind introduced the word Gurdwara, meaning the gateway through which the Guru could be reached. Thereafter all Sikh places of worship came to be known as Gurdwaras. Any place where the Guru Granth Sahib is installed and treated with due respect can be referred to as a Gurdwara, whether it is a room in ones house of a separate building. Three main functions are carried out in all public Gurdwaras. One is Kirtan which is the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib, another is Katha which is reading of the Guru Granth Sahib and explanations. The third main function which is carried out at every Gurdwara is the Langar, free community kitchen for all visitors of all religions. Along with these main functions Gurdwaras around the world also serve the Sikh community in many other ways including, libraries of Sikh literature, schools to teach children Gurmukhi and the Sikh scriptures and charitable work in the community on behalf of Sikhs.
The Khanda is the symbol of the Sikhs, as the Cross is to Christians or the Star of David is to Jews. It reflects some of the fundamental concepts of Sikhism. The symbol derives its name from the double-edged sword (also called a Khanda) which appears at the center of the logo. This double-edged sword is a metaphor of Divine Knowledge, its sharp edges cleaving Truth from Falsehood. The circle around the Khanda is the Chakar. The Chakar being a circle without a beginning or and end symbolizes the perfection of God who is eternal. The Chakar is surrounded by two curved swords called Kirpans. These two swords symbolize the twin concepts of Meeri and Peeri - Temporal and Spiritual authority introduced by Guru Hargobind. They emphasize the equal emphasis that a Sikh must place on spiritual aspirations as well as obligations to society.
Nishan Sahib is the name given to the flag which is seen flying outside every Sikh Gurdwara (Temple). It is a triangular piece of ochre or saffron coloured cloth with the Khanda emblem in the middle. The flagpost also has a khanda or spear on top and is usually covered with the same cloth as the flag. The use of the Nishan Sahib was first introduced by Guru Hargobind.
"There is Only One God". The first two words in the Guru Granth Sahib & one of the cornerstones of Sikhism. They appear at the beginning of the Mul Mantra written by Guru Nanak describing the qualities of God in the Japji.