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Gurmat - Literally means to have your face towards the Guru

Gurmat is about liberation - liberation from the cycles of birth and death in which we chase our tail, liberation from the five urges that we worship rather than God, liberation from mythologies, which contradict the scientific knowledge we have painstakingly accumulated, liberation from male exploitation of women, religious persecution and hatred, racial injustice and oppression of human rights. The chains that bind any one of these categories slip into all of them. We love these chains. We are like prisoners that cannot cope outside of jail. To be chained is not to be Free, to despise any is to be far from (yet one is always near to) Love. “The mouth of the hungry is the golak of the Guru.” Sikhism without social activism is sick. Let us all drink the medicine of the Word and Name.”

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“The next pious word is Gurmat. The founder and the head of this Trust, Sant Waryam Singh Ji, preaches Gurmat philosophy and inspires us to become 'Gurmukh' by following the teachings of the Great Gurus. His teachings emphasize the abstinence from the worldly egos and from false notions because these pollute the human soul. The entire spiritual path is a process of spiritual transformation of human soul from 'Manmukh' to 'Gurmukh'. The teachings of the Great Gurus are for human beings irrespective of their caste and creed. Our great Gurus blessed the downtrodden by their personal care. The Gurus imbibed a new spirit in their lives and consoled them and explained to them the spiritual realities and brought them out from their worldly illusions. The Gurus prayed to God to bless the people for their welfare and goodness, so that the people may not suffer from worldly temptations. The Gurus even paved the way towards the salvation of those human beings who were oppressed and not allowed to pray in the places of worship or religious institutions. The Gurus inspired the people to worship the omnipresent existence within the human body irrespective of caste and creed.”

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GURMAT (gur-mat, mat, Sanskrit mati, i.e. counsel or tenets of the Guru, more specifically the religious principles laid down by the Guru) is a term which may in its essential sense be taken to be synonymous with Sikhism itself. It covers doctrinal, prescriptive and directional aspects of Sikh faith and praxis. Besides the basic theological structure, doctrine and tenets derived from the teachings of Guru Nanak and his nine successors, it refers to the whole Sikh way of life both in its individual and social expressions evolved over the centuries. Guidance received by Sikhs in their day-to-day affairs from institutions established by the Gurus and by the community nurtured upon their teachings will also fall within the frame of Gurmat. In any exigency, the decision to be taken by the followers must conform to Gurmat in its ideological and/or conventional assumptions.

The 'Guru' in Gur-mat means the Ten Gurus of the Sikh faith as well as Gur-bani, i.e. their inspired utterances recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib. The instruction (mat) of the Guru implies the teaching imparted through this holy word, and the example set by the Ten Gurus in person. Direction derived from these sources is a Sikh's ultimate norm in shaping the course of his life, both in its sacred and secular aspects. The spiritual path he is called upon to pursue should be oriented towards obtaining release, i.e. freedom from the dreaded bondage of repeated births and deaths, and standards of religious and personal conduct he must conform to in order to relate to his community and to society as a whole are all collectively subsumed in the concept of Gurmat.

Theologically, Gurmat encompasses a strictly monotheistic belief. Faith in the Transcendent Being as the Supreme, indivisible reality without attributes is the first principle. The attributive-immanent nature of the Supreme Being is also accepted in Sikhism which posits power to create as one of the cardinal attributes of the Absolute or God of its conception. The Creator brought into being the universe by his hukam or Will, without any intermediaries. Man, as the pinnacle of creation, is born with a divine spark; his liberation lies in the recognition of his own spiritual essence and immanence of the Divine in the cosmic order. Fulfilment comes with the curbing of one's haumai or ego and cultivation of the discipline of nam, i.e. absorption in God's name, and of the humanitarian values of seva, selfless service to fellow men, love and tolerance.

The way of life prescribed by gurmat postulates faith in the teachings of gurbani, perception of the Divine Will as the supreme law and honest performance of one's duties as a householder, an essential obligation. The first act suggested is prayer—prayer in the form of recitation by the individual of gurbani, thus participation in community service, or silent contemplation on the holy Word in one's solitude. Kirat karni, vand chhakna te naam japna is the formula which succinctly sums up what is required of a Sikh: he must work to earn his living, share with others the fruit of his exertion, and practise remembrance of God's Name. Gurmat has evolved a tradition of observances and ceremonies for the Sikhs, mostly centred around the Holy Book, Guru Granth Sahib.

Gurmat recognizes no priestly class as such. Any of the Sikhs admitted to the sangat may lead any of the services. He may lead prayers, perform the wedding ceremony known as Anand Karaj, and recite from the Guru Granth Sahib. The rites of passage, viz. ceremonies connected with the birth of a child, initiation, marriage and death, all take place in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. They conclude with an ardas and the distribution of sacramental karahprasad. The recital of six stanzas from the Anand (lit. bliss) is well-nigh mandatory for all occasions, whether of joy or sorrow, wedding or death.

On the ethical plane, gurmat prescribes a code of duties and moral virtues, coupled with the distinctive appearance made obligatory for the Khalsa. A Sikh becomes a full member of the Khalsa brotherhood after he has received the rites of initiation and the vows that go with it. Violation of any part of the code (particularly the four prohibitions) of the Khalsa is treated as disregard of gurmat and renders the offender guilty of apostasy. The tribunal of Sri Akal Takht at Amritsar has traditionally been regarded as Supreme in religious, social and secular affairs of the Sikhs and has the authority to issue edicts for providing guidance to the Panth as a whole and to excommunicate any individual who has acted contrary to its interests or who has been found guilty of attempting to overturn any established Sikh religious convention.

Directional injunctions under gurmat can be issued to individuals or communities by Panj Piare, the five select ones. They will provide solutions to problems that arise or problems brought before them. Or, one 'consults' the Guru by presenting oneself before the Guru Granth Sahib to obtain in moments of perplexity his (the Guru's) guidance which comes in the form of the shabda, i.e. hymn or stanza, that first meets the eye at the top of left-hand page as the Holy Book is opened at random. There are instances also of the community leaders deciding on a course of action through recourse to such consultation. The institution of gurmata (sacred resolution), unanimous decision taken or consensus arrived at in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, dates back to the early eighteenth century.

Some of the conventions and customs established to resolve lingering controversies have become part of gurmat. In regard to the wedding ceremony for instance, the custom of anand karaj has gained universal acceptance which was not the case until the beginning of the twentieth century: any other form of the ritual will not have the sanction of gurmat today. As regards meat-eating, gurmat has not given a final verdict, both vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism being concurrently prevalent. The use of intoxicants is, however, clearly prohibited. Casteism and untouchability are ruled out in principle; any vestiges of it such as use of caste-names as surnames are generally considered against gurmat. The 48-hour- long uninterrupted recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib, called akhand path, has over the decades come to be accepted as part of the Sikh way of life.

Gurmat does not approve of renunciation. It insists, on the other hand, on active participation in life. Human existence, according to Sikh belief, affords one a rare opportunity for self-transcendence through recognizing and contemplating on the Name and through deeds of selfless service. One rehearses the qualities of humility, compassion and fraternal love best, while living in the world. A householder who works to earn his living and is yet willing to share with others the fruit of his exertion and who cherishes God always in his heart is, according to Gurmat, the ideal man. Even as reverence for the pious and the saintly is regarded desirable, parasitism is forbidden in gurmat. The cultivation of the values of character and of finer tastes in life is commended.

The writings of the Gurus preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth best interpret and elucidate what gurmat is. Some anecdotes recorded in the Janam Sakhis also help explain gurmat principles. A systematic exposition of Gurmat principles was for the first time undertaken by Bhai Gurdas (d. 1636), who in his Varan elaborated upon terms such as Gurmukh, one attuned to the Gurus' teaching, sangat, fellowship of the holy, and seva, humble acts of service in the cause of the community and of fellow men in general, besides evolving a framework for the exegetics?? of Gurbani. The process of exposition, continued by men of learning such as Baba Miharban (1581-1640), Bhai Mani Singh (d.1737) and Bhai Santokh Singh (1787-1843) and by the writers of Rahitnama literature reached its culmination in the Singh Sabha movement which produced interpreters of the calibre of Bhai Kahn Singh (1861-1938), Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957) and Bhai Jodh Singh (1882 1981).


1. Kahn Singh, Bhai, Gurmat Martand. Amritsar, 1962

2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmat Nirnaya. Ludhiana, 1932

3. Caveeshar, Sardul Singh, Sikh Dharam Darshan. Patiala, 1969

4. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

Above adapted from article By Wazir Singh