The Sikhs believe in one God who has existed from the beginning of time, never dies and will exist for ever. He/She is genderless; without a body; fearless; without enemies; self sufficient; universal to all creation; without limit; unbound; etc – God's qualities are too many for people to narrate.
Below are the qualities that Sikhism attributes to God:
Compassionate & Kind:
- Blessing us with His Glance of Grace, the Kind and Compassionate, All-powerful Lord comes to dwell within the mind and body. (SGGS Page 49)
- The Cherisher Lord is so very merciful and wise; He is compassionate to all. (SGGS Page 249)
- The Lord is kind and compassionate to all beings and creatures; His Protecting Hand is over all. (SGGS Page 300)
- O Nanak, God has been kind and compassionate; He has blessed me. Removing pain and poverty, He has blended me with Himself. ||8||5|| (SGGS Page 1311)
God is everywhere
- Nanak is attuned to the Love of the Lord, whose Light pervades the entire Universe. (SGGS Page 49)
Definition and qualities of God
GOD IN SIKHISM , a term used to denote any object of worship or evocation, signifies the belief of most modern religions in the existence of a "Supreme Being" or "Supreme Spirit" who is the source and support of the spatio-temporal material world.
Theologians remember Him by the name of God. The fundamental belief of Sikhism, too, is that God exists, not merely as an idea or concept, but as a Real Being, indescribable yet not unknowable. The Gurus, however, never theorized about proofs of the existence of God.
For them He is too real and obvious to need any logical proof. Guru Arjan, Nanak V, says, "God is beyond colour and form, yet His presence is clearly visible" (GG, 74), and again, "Nanak's Lord transcends the world as well as the scriptures of the east and the west, and yet he is clearly manifest" (GG, 397).
In any case, knowledge of the ultimate Reality is not a matter for reason; it comes by revelation of Himself through nadar or grace and by anubhava or mystical experience. Says Guru Nanak, budhi pathi na paiai bahu chaturaiai bhai milai mani bhane (He is not accessible through intellect, or through mere scholarship or cleverness at argument; He is met, when He pleases, through devotion) " (GG, 436).
There is only One God
Sikhism as a religion is uncompromisingly monotheistic. The Gurus have described God in numerous ways in their hymns included in the Guru Granth Sahib, but the unicity of the deity is consistently emphasized throughout. Briefly, God for the Sikhs as described in the Mool Mantar, basic formula of the faith, viz.
|Ik oankar satinamu karta purakhu nirbhau nirvairu akal murati ajuni saibhan gurprasadi translates to |
One Supreme Being, the Immutable and Eternal Name, the Creative Principle, Without fear and Without rancour, the Timeless Verity, Unincarnated and Self-Existent, known through His grace.
|(GG. Pg 0001)|
Oankar is a variation of the mystic monosyllable Om (also known as anahata nada, the unstruck sound) first set forth in the Upanisads as the transcendent object of profound religious meditation.
Ek Onkar - Only One
Guru Nanak prefixed the numeral one (ik) to it making it Ik Oankar or Ekankar to stress GOD's oneness. GOD is named and known only through GOD's Own immanent nature. Almost all names are attributive. The only name which can be said to truly fit GOD's transcendent state is Sati or Satinam (Sanskrit 'satya' meaning TRUTH ), the changeless and timeless Reality.
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 immanent in the entire creation, but the creation as a whole fails to contain GOD fully.
As says Guru Tegh Bahadur, Nanak IX, "He has himself spread out His Own maya which He Himself oversees; many different forms He assumes in many colours, yet he stays independent of all" (GG, 537).
God is Karta Purakh, the Creator-Person. He created the spatio-temporal universe not from some pre-existing physical element, but from His own Self. Universe is His own emanation. It is not maya or illusion but is real (sati) because, as say Guru Arjan, “True is He and true is His creation [because] all has emanated from God Himself” (GG 294).
But God is not identical with the universe. The latter exists and is contained in Him and not vice versa. God is immanent in the created world, but is not limited by it. “Many times He expands Himself into such worlds but He ever remains the same One Ekankar" (GG, 276). Even at one time "there are hundreds of thousands of skies and nether regions" (GG, 5).
Included in Sach Khand, the figurative abode of God, there are countless regions and universes" (GG, 8). Creation is "His sport which He Himself witnesses, and when He rolls up the sport, He is His sole Self again" (GG, 292). He Himself is the Creator, Sustainer and the Destroyer.
Why create the Universe
What is the Creator's purpose in creating the universe? It is not for man to enquire or judge the purpose of His Creator. To quote Guru Arjan again, "The created cannot have a measure of the Creator; what He wills, O Nanak, happens" (GG, 285).
For the Sikhs, the Creation is His pleasure and play "When the showman beat His drum, the whole creation came out to witness the show; and when He puts aside his disguise, He rejoices in His original solitude" (GG, 174, 291, 655, 736).
Purakha - Being, Person, Spirit
Purakhu added to Karta in the Mool Mantar is the Punjabi form of Sanskrit purusa, which literally means, besides man, male or person, "the primeval man as the soul and original source of the universe; the personal and animating principle; the supreme Being or Soul of the universe."
Purakh in Mool Mantar is, therefore, none other than God the Creator. The term has nothing to do with the purusa of the Sankhya school of Indian philosophy where it is the spirit as a passive spectator of prakriti or creative force.
Nirbhau - Without Fear
That God is nirbhau (without fear) and nirvair (without rancour) is obvious enough as He has no sarik or rival. But the terms have other connotations, too. Nirbhau not only indicates fearlessness but also the absence of fearfulness.
It also implies sovereignty and unquestioned exercise of Will. Similarly, nirvair implies, besides absence of enmity, the positive attributes of compassion and impartiality. Together the two terms mean that God loves His handiwork and is the Dispenser of impartial justice, dharam-niau.
Guru Ram Das, Nanak IV, says: "Why should we be afraid, with the True One being the judge. True is the True One's justice" (GG, 84).
Akal Murat - Eternal Being
God is Akal Murati, the Eternal Being. The timelessness involved in the negative epithet akal has made it popular in Sikh tradition as one of the names of God, the Timeless One, as in Akal Purakh or in the slogan Sat Sri Akal (Satya Sri Akal).
One of the most sacred shrines of the Sikhs is the Akal Takht, the Eternal Throne, at Amritsar. Murati here does not mean form, figure, image or idol. Sikhism expressly forbids idolatry or image-worship in any form. God is called Nirankar, the Formless One, although it is true that all forms are the manifestations of Nirankar.
Bhai Gurdas, the earliest expounder and the copyist of the original recension of Guru Granth Sahib, says: "Nirankar akaru hari joti sarup anup dikhaia (The Formless One having created form manifested His wondrous refulgence" (Varan, XII. 17). Murati in the Mul Mantra, therefore, signifies verity or manifestation of the Timeless and Formless One.
Ajuni, Outside the cycle of birth and death
God is Ajuni (meaning "without a "juun""), Unincarnated, and Saibhan (Sanskrit svayambhu), Self-existent. The Primal Creator Himself had no creator. He simply is, has ever been and shall ever be by Himself.
Ajuni also affirms the Sikh rejection of the theory of divine incarnation. Guru Arjan says: "Man misdirected by false belief indulges in falsehood; God is free from birth and death. . . May that mouth be scorched which says that God is incarnated" (GG, 1136).
Gur-prasad - With the Guru's blessing
"Guru" in Sikh theology appears in three different but allied connotations, viz. God, the ten Sikh Gurus, the enlightened ones and enlighteners, and the gur-shabad or Guru's utterances as preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib.
Of God's grace, Gurus' instruction and guidance and the scriptural sabad (Sanskrit, sabda, literally "Word"), the first is the most important, because, as nothing happens without God's will or pleasure, His grace is essential to making a person inclined towards a desire and search for union with Him.
3 Distinct Aspects
God in Sikhism is thus depicted in three distinct aspects, viz. God in Himself, God in relation to creation, and God in relation to man.
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.
During a discourse with Siddhas, Hindu recluses, Guru Nanak in reply to a question as to where the Transcendent God was before the stage of creation replies, "To think of the Transcendent Lord in that state is to enter the realm of wonder.
Even at that stage of sunn, he permeated all that Void" (GG, 940). This is the state of God's sunn samadhi, self-absorbed trance.
Nirguun and Sarguun
When it pleases God, He becomes sarguna (Sanskrit, saguna, with attributes) and manifests Himself in creation. He becomes immanent in His created universe, which is His own emanation, an aspect of Himself.
As says Guru Amar Das, Nanak III, "This (so-called) poison, the world, that you see is God's picture; it is God's outline that we see" (GG, 922). Most names of God are His attributive, action-related signifiers, kirtam nam (GG, 1083) or karam nam (Dasam Granth, Jaap Sahib).
God in the Sikh Scripture has been referred to by several names, picked from Indian and semitic traditions. He is called in terms of human relations as father, mother, brother, relation, friend, lover, beloved, husband.
Other names, expressive of His supremacy, are thakur, prabhu, svami, sah, patsah, sahib, sain (Lord, Master). Some traditional names are ram, narayan, govind, gopal, allah, khuda. Even the negative terms such as nirankar, niranjan et al. are as much related to attributes as are the positive terms like data, datar, karta, kartar, dayal, kripal, qadir, karim, etc.
Some terms peculiar to Sikhism are naam (literally name), sabad (literally word) and Vahiguru (literally Wondrous Master). While nam and sabad are mystical terms standing for the Divine manifestation and are used as substitute terms for the Supreme Being, Vahiguru is an ejaculatory phrase expressing awe, wonder and ecstatic joy of the worshipper as he comprehends the immenseness and grandeur of the Lord and His Creation.
Transcends all, yet He is in everything!
Immanence or All-pervasiveness of God, however, does not limit or in any way affect His transcendence. He is Transcendent and Immanent at the same time.
The Creation is His lila or cosmic play. He enjoys it, pervades it, yet Himself remains unattached. Guru Arjan describes Him in several hymns as "Unattached and Unentangled in the midst of all" (GG, 102, 294, 296); and "Amidst all, yet outside of all, free from love and hate" (GG, 784-85).
Creation is His manifestation, but, being conditioned by space and time, it provides only a partial and imperfect glimpse of the Timeless and Boundless Supreme Being.
That God is both Transcendent and Immanent does not mean that these are two phases of God one following the other. God is One, and He is both nirguna and sarguna. "Nirguna sargunu hari hari mera, (God, my God is both with and without attributes)," sang Guru Arjan (GG, 98).
Guru Amar Das also had said, "Nirguna sarguna ape soi (He Himself is with as well as without attributes) " (GG, 128). Transcendence and Immanence are two aspects of the same Supreme Reality.
Sustainer, compassionate and benevolent
The Creator also sustains His Creation compassionately and benevolently. "My Lord is ever Fresh and ever Bountiful" (GG, 660); "He is the eradicator of the pain and sorrow of the humble" (GG, 263-64).
The universe is created, sustained and moved according to His hukam or Divine Will, and Divine purpose. "The inscrutable hukam is the source of all forms, all creatures. . . All are within the ambit of hukam; there is nothing outside of it." (GG, p. 1).
Another principle that regulates the created beings is karma (actions, deeds). Simply stated, it is the law of cause and effect. The popular dictum "As one sows so shall one reap" is stressed again and again in the Guru Granth Sahib (GG, 134,176, 309, 316, 366, 706, 730).
Reality is not eternal
The created world though real is not eternal. Whenever God desires, it merges back into His Timeless and Formless Self.
Guru Gobind Singh calls this process of creation and dissolution udkarkh (Sanskrit, utkarsana) and akarkh (Sanskrit, akarsana), respectively: "Whenever you, O Creator, cause udkarkh (increase, expansion), the creation assumes the boundless body; whenever you effect akarkh (attraction, contraction), all corporeal existence merges in you" (Benati Chaupai).
|Millions are the mines of life; millions the spheres;
Millions are the regions above; millions the regions below;
Millions are the species taking birth.
By diverse means does He spread Himself.
Again and again did He expand Himself thus,
But He ever remains the One Ekankar.
Countless creatures of various kinds
Come out of Him and are absorbed back.
None can know the limit of His Being;
He, the Lord, O Nanak! is all in all Himself.
Mankind's unique position
Man, although an infinitesimal part of God's creation, yet stands apart from it insofar as it is the only species blessed with reflection, moral sense and potentiality for understanding matters metaphysical.
In Sikhism, human birth is both a special privilege for the soul and a rare chance for the realization of union with God. Man is lord of earth, as Guru Arjan says, "Of all the eight million and four hundred thousand species, God conferred superiority on man" (GG, 1075), and "All other species are your (man's) water-bearers; you have hegemony over this earth" (GG, 374).
But Guru also reminds that "now that you (the soul) have got a human body, this is your turn to unite with God" (GG, 12, 378). Guru Nanak had warned, "Listen, listen to my advice, O my mind! only good deed shall endure, and there may not be another chance" (GG, 154).
So, realization of God and a reunion of atma (soul) with paramatma (Supreme Soul, God) are the ultimate goals of human life. The achievement ultimately rests on nadar (God's grace), but man has to strive in order to deserve His grace.
Faith and craving
As a first step, he should have faith in and craving for the Lord. He should believe that God is near him, rather within his self, and not far away. He is to seek Him in his self.
Guru Nanak says: "Your beloved is close to you, O foolish bride! What are you searching outside?" (GG, 722), and Guru Amar Das reassures: "Recognize yourself, O mind! You are the light manifest. Rejoice in Guru's instruction that God is always with (in) you. If you recognize your Self, you shall know the Lord and shall get the knowledge of life and death" (GG, 441).
The knowledge of the infinitesimal nature of his self when compared to the immenseness of God and His creation would instil humility in man and would rid him of his ego (a sense of I, my and mine) which is "the greatest malady man suffers from" (GG, 466, 589, 1258) and the arch-enemy of nam or path to God-Realization (GG, 560).
Surrender your Ego
Having surrendered his ego and having an intense desire to reach his goal (the realization of Reality), the seeker under Guru's instruction (gurmati) becomes a gurmukh or person looking 'guruward'. He meditates upon naam or shabad, the Divine Word, while yet leading life as a householder, earning through honest labour, sharing his virtues with the needy, and performing selfless deeds of service. Sikhism condemns ritualism.
Worship of God in the Sikh way of life consists in reciting gurbani or holy texts and meditation on naam, solitary or in sangat or congregation, kirtan or singing of scriptural hymns in praise of God, and ardas or prayer in supplication.
- 1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1959
- 2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmati Nirnaya. Amritsar, 1932
- 3. Pritam Singh, ed., Sikh Phalsaphe di Rup Rekhla. Amritsar, 1975
- 4. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
- 5. Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna. Amritsar, 1989
Above adapted from article By G. S. Talib
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