Sikhism and Christianity: A Comparative Study
A Christian is someone who lives according to the teachings of Jesus. The word ‘Sikh’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shishya’ meaning disciple or student of dharma (spirituality) and is someone who follows the teachings of the 10 Sikh Masters,which are all embodied in the 11th and final master,which is the Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (SGGS),the word.
Oneness Of God
Both Sikhs and Christians accept that God is one. In Christianity this is described as the trinity consisting of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit,three aspects of a single deity. Sikhism teaches that God is both within the Creation and separate from it at the same time. The SGGSJ says, "You have thousands of eyes, and yet You have no eyes. You have thousands of forms, and yet You do not have even one. You have thousands of Lotus Feet, and yet You do not have even one foot. You have no nose, but you have thousands of noses. This Play of Yours entrances me. Amongst all is the Light-You are that Light. By this Illumination, that Light is radiant within all."
There are common principles ideas in all religions of the world and this is also true for Sikhism and Christianity. A Christian is someone who lives according to the teachings of Jesus. The word ‘Sikh’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shishya’ meaning disciple or student of dharma (spirituality) and is someone who follows the teachings of the 10 Sikh Masters, which are all embodied in the 11th and final mas- ter, which is the Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (SGGSJ), the Word.
History of Christians and Sikhs
The Church has opposed the abolition of slavery, been responsible for the forced conversion of many people such as Native American Indians, Jews in Spain and Portugal, and have been responsible for meaningless holy wars, such as the crusades. The history of the Sikh community is completely different, and is one which has upheld the qualities of service to humanity, unconditional love and right of people to practice whatever faith they wish.
Equality between Men and Women
Christian views of women vary considerably today and have varied even more throughout the last two millennia. The Bible and Christianity in general have been interpreted as prescribing separate gender roles, with women being commanded to submit to male’s authority and excluded from Church leadership. Critics of Christianity regard the prescribed gender roles as unequal and accuse Christianity of being misogynistic and incompatible with gender equality. Sikhism promotes complete gender equality between the sexes. There is no position reserved solely for a male and no prescription of separate gender roles.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
The Bible says that when Jesus was on the cross, he experienced separation from God and he said "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Sikhs have also had to endure huge hardships and two out of the ten Sikh Gurus were martyred. However, the Sikh Masters and all their disciples never experienced separation from God. Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Master, was tortured for five days and five nights. He was made to sit in boiling water and made to sit on a scorching iron plate with sand poured over his body. The Guru tolerated this pain and sat there repeating, "All is happening, O Lord, according to Thy Will. Thy Will is ever sweet to me." Attitudes Towards Self Defence ‘Turn the other cheek’ is a famous phrase taken from the Sermon on the Mount in the Christian New Testament. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
Sikhism does not solely support turning the other cheek as this will only work with people who have a conscience. Turning the cheek is not a tool to be used against dictators like Hitler. This is why Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Master said, "When all means of exhausting injustice have failed then it is indeed righteous to draw the sword”. When the sixth Master, Guru Hargobind Ji, was asked about the unusual mix of martial arts and meditation, the Guru said, "I am internally a hermit and externally a prince. Arms mean protection to the poor and destruction to the tyrant.
Baba Nanak had not renounced the world but renounced Maya (materialism) and ego." Heaven and Hell The standard Christian position is that anyone who rejects Christ will end up in Hell where they will be punished for eternity. However, if they profess a belief in Christ then they will be given ever lasting life. Sikhism supports the theory of karma and reincarnation. An all-loving God would not condemn a soul to eternal punishment. Every soul will get the opportunity to attain Oneness through many incarnations in the precious human form.
The Key to Salvation
Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of humanity, so effectively our sins have now been paid, so long as we accept Jesus as our Saviour. Sikhs do not support the idea that by belief alone or a religious label, one can attain salvation. The Sikh Gurus have taught that our good actions will give us liberation. The SGGSJ says, "Those who receive His Mercy obtain the True One. The Gurmukhs (those who follow the Guru’s Teachings) dwell forever in balanced restraint. By true actions, the True Lord is met, and the Guru's Teachings are found. Then, they are not subject to birth and death; they do not come and go in reincarnation."
Oneness of God
Both Sikhs and Christians accept that God is one. In Christianity this is described as the trinity consisting of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, three aspects of a single deity. Sikhism teaches that God is both within the Creation and separate from it at the same time. The SGGSJ says, "You have thousands of eyes, and yet You have no eyes. You have thousands of forms, and yet You do not have even one. You have thousands of Lotus Feet, and yet You do not have even one foot. You have no nose, but you have thousands of noses. This Play of Yours entrances me. Amongst all is the Light-You are that Light. By this Illumination, that Light is radiant within all."
The Humility of Christ and The Sikh Gurus Before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that he would soon return back to God, he gave his disciples a lesson in humility by washing their feet. Sikh history and the Sikh scripture is full of examples of the importance of humility and gentle sweetness. The SGGSJ says, "O Inner-knower, Searcher of Hearts, O Primal Being, Architect of Destiny: please fulfil this yearning of my mind. Says Nanak, Your slave, begs for this happiness: let me be the dust of the feet of the Saints."
Also, the SGGSJ says, "Those contented souls who meditate on the Lord with single-minded love, meet the True Lord. O Siblings of Destiny, become the dust of the feet of the humble Saints. In the Society of the Saints, the Guru is found. He is the Treasure of Liberation, the Source of all good fortune."
Temple of God
The human body is described as the temple of God. The Bible says, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?...For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are." This is the same view supported by the Sikh way of life, and this is why a Sikh abstains from alcohol, meat, drugs and smoking, because the temple must be maintained and respected in order to serve others effectively.
Purpose of Life
Christians believe that God created humans to have a relationship with God. This is why God created a universe fit for human life, and why God laid down guidelines for how to live our lives. So it would follow, that the purpose of human life is to have a relationship with God. Sikhism expands on the concept of a relationship with God by saying that the goal of human life is to merge soul (Atma) with God (Paramatma) through love, devotion and service.
Giving to the poor, widows and orphans has historically been an important part of Christian charity. Sikhism also stresses the importance of giving, both at a personal and a community level. At a personal level, a Sikh is required to give ten percent (Dasvandh) of their income and time to noble causes. At a community level, Sikhism encourages the running of free community services such as the Langar, or free kitchen, which serves meals to everyone.
Prophets and Children of God
Christianity focuses on the teachings of Jesus alone, and considers Jesus the only son of God. Sikhism does not consider Jesus to be the only son of God. The SGGSJ says, "He cherishes all His beings and creatures, as the mother cares for her children. The Destroyer of pain, the Ocean of Peace, the Lord and Master gives sustenance to all."
Sikhism respects the divinity and contribution of all the sages, prophets and spiritual teachers but instead focus on the teachings given by the ten Sikh Masters which are considered to be the essence of all religious teachings, in their most preserved form, the Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. This is because the SGGSJ is the only world scripture which was both written and signed by the Prophets/Gurus themselves.
Harmonisation of Science and Religion
It took the Catholic Church more than 300 years to apologise for imprisoning the great 17th Century astronomer Galileo Galilei because his research went against the Church’s teachings. The Bible also contains many unscientific ideas such as the seven day creation story called Genesis. In Genesis the light and the sun happened independent of each other, and there were ‘days’ before the sun was created for the Earth to rotate around. Also, the order in which animals, plants and other elements of life appear contradict the order that appears in the fossil records. Finally, the order of creation of the stars, the sun and planets also contradict what we know scientifically.
Sikhs encourage the development of technologies and science for the benefit of humanity. There are many passages from the Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji which show its harmony with modern science. An example is, "Having created the creation, He watches over it. By His Glance of Grace, He bestows happiness. There are planets, solar systems and galaxies. If one speaks of them, there is no limit, no end. There are worlds upon worlds of His Creation. As He commands, so they exist."
Authenticity of the Religious Scripture
The Bible was not authored by Jesus and has gone through uncountable translations and changes over time. This has meant that although the gist of the message is still present, it is unclear what is the revealed Word of God and what is manmade opinion.
The Sikh scripture has only ever had two versions and both of these were compiled, reviewed and installed by the fifth and tenth Masters, Guru Arjan Dev Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji respectively. The message is presented in poetry format with a unique poem-author numbering system, which makes it difficult to modify, add or subtract content. Thus the Sikh scripture is the only one of its kind to be authored by the founders of the faith.
Despite the surface similarities between the two religions Sikhism and Christianity are based on very different philosophies and practised for widely differing ends. When talking with a Sikh don't begin by listing what you consider the shortcomings of Sikhism. But do get to know how his beliefs and practices influence the, way he thinks about. spiritual matters..
As the Guru Granth Sahib is made up entirely of poetry it is rich in mysticism and can be interpreted differently by different people. It is more a hymnbook than a statement of faith. The Bible does have some mystical passages but there is also a great deal of straightforward moral and ethical teaching, and statements about God's character and his activity in the world.
THE NATURE OF GOD
Guru Nanak emphasized the oneness of God and his role as the supreme creator. He presented him as supremely a God of love. But Nanak had no place for God's wrath. Men and women, he said, should not fear God's anger but be afraid of not receiving all the benefits of his love. In contrast to Sikhism the Bible declares that God is righteous and holy. When his holy standards are violated he displays his wrath. Yet his wrath is not incompatible with his mercy and love. It is meant for the ultimate good of mankind. .
In some ways the Sikh concept of God is contradictory. Whereas some statements seem to mean he is personal others state that human souls eventually merge back into God, who is' an impersonal essence. The Westerner cannot resolve these apparently contradictory statements but Sikhs seem to have no difficulty in doing so. God is said by them to be both the creator and the created, the fisherman and the fish, the water and the net.
THE NATURE OF HUMAN BEINGS
Sikhs deny the reality of man's sinful nature. They teach that people are essentially good; the divine spark within them needs only to be fanned into a flame of goodness. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that men inherit a sinful nature from Adam; a person's guilt must .be atoned for. Guru Nanak taught that a man's sins are moral lapses caused by his environment. They may be cleansed through meditation and prayer.
UNIQUENESS OF CHRIST
This is the area of greatest disagreement between Sikhs and Christians. Sikhs reject the uniqueness of Christ as the only way to God. They say he is one with Moses, Mohammed, Buddha and the Gurus and that all paths to God are equally valid. The concept of faith in a person and the saving action of his death and resurrection are totally absent from Sikhism.
The Gurus taught that if deliverance is sought in the proper manner all will eventually receive it. Nevertheless most Sikhs are uncertain of salvation. Grace is viewed as something, which God bestows on those he chooses. A man or woman receives salvation when it is in their destiny to do, so. But given, enough time and rebirths all will eventually reach that point. So Sikhs believe that there is no such thing a seternal damnation; all -will eventually achieve deliverance from the bondage of earthly life. Therefore ultimately no one is lost but is re-united with the divine absolute. There is no personal resurrection. The human soul is of the same essence as God, comes from God and will eventually be merged back into him. Heaven and hell are not places where individuals live for eternity but refer to different stages of a person 's earthly life. In contrast Christians believe that those who receive Christ as their Savior are adopted into God's family. After their earthly life is over they will have eternal fellowship, with him in heaven. They will not lose their unique personal identity: Similarly hell, is a reality where those who have rejected the Lord will spend eternity.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
Christians believe that the presence and power of the Holy spirit is essential if a person is to live as God intends he should (Galatians 5:13-26). Sikhs believe in the presence of the divine soul within man but don't look to it as a means of helping them to live their earthly life. They have no satisfactory answer to the question of how a man can live a life that pleases God except, `try harder'. Christianity makes impossible demands on a man or woman but at the same time indicates that the Holy Spirit is the power through whom these may be fulfilled. The concept of the Trinity is foreign to Sikhs. However their concept of Guru, Nam and Shabad (chapter 6) could be useful in explaining it.
GOOD AND EVIL
Despite the stress on the love of God in Sikhism there is a darker side. Sikhs believe that both good and evil come from God. Though some of them think evil spirits exist they have no sense of an evil being who opposes God. Sikhs are never told to resist the devil, as a Christian is, because they do not believe in him. Evil, they believe, is the result of a person making wrong choices.
Sikhs believe that meditation on the Granth draws them closer to God; it cleanses a person from sin and instills godly qualities in him. They see it as a means of salivation. Christians do not believe that meditation can set anyone free from sin but do value it as way of drawing closer to God, hearing his voice and discerning his will.
SALVATION WHILE FOLLOWING SIKHISM
Despite all the similarities between Christianity and Sikhism the latter saves humanity by focusing on praying to One God. Sikhs do not have to believe in a good God vs evil. Bible was not written by Jesus Christ himself, then it is questionable to believe in the stories of Bible which were not written by Jesus Christ himself whereas the teachings of Sikhi were written and compiled by the Gurus themselves. Sikhi believes that you can get salvation no matter which path or prophet you choose to follow, however if you are following one particular path over another, then make sure that you are still true to the One God who is the Creator of all, for your everyday life. The tenants of Sikhi are to pray in God's name, work hard in your life and share your gifts from God with those who are less fortunate. That is the only way to salvation. In addition, Sikhi believes in fighting for the rights of those who cannot fight for themselves, Sikhi teaches you to try and attain salvation by taking the path of a Saint Soldier- a saint who prays on God's name and a soldier who fights against injustices towards the less fortunate. Sikhi believes that the Creator is within the Creation, so no one has to worry about heaven or hell. A human being's actions and beliefs are the only things that can bring you closer to God. Salvation for a Sikh is becoming one with the Creator and getting released from the cycle of life and death.
THINGS TO DO
- If a Sikh friend has any criticisms about Christians, listen to them. If they are the result of misunderstandings try to clear them up. If Christians were unnecessarily hurtful, apologise for them.
- At your next meeting start to talk about beliefs you have in common. Then gently introduce those over which you differ. Be gracious about how you do this. Don't get into an argument.
- Set aside time to pray with your Sikh friend especially bringing to mind
anything you have talked about concerning the differing but still the same One God.
- If you do not yet have a Sikh friend get to know someone of that religion in the ways already suggested in this book.
- Work out how you would explain to a Sikh the Christian truth about atonement for sins. Use simple, everyday words rather than religious terms.
- Lions, Princesses and Gurus-Chapter 13, Ram Gidoomal & Margaret Wardell).