Introduction to Sikhism

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Ek-Onkar by Sewa Singh Courtesy

Sikhism, the youngest of the world's religions, is barely five hundred years old. Its founder, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469. Guru Nanak spread a simple message of "Ek Onkar": we are all one, created by the One Creator of all Creation. This was at a time when India was being torn apart by castism, sectarianism, religious factions and fanaticism. He aligned with no religion, and respected all religions. He expressed the reality that there is only one God with many paths that lead to Him, and that the Name of God is Truth, "SatNam".

Guru Nanak's followers were Sikhs (seekers of truth). He taught them to bow only before God, and to link themselves to the Guru, the Light of Truth, who lives always in direct consciousness of God, experiencing no separation. Through words and example, the Guru demonstrates to followers how to experience God within themselves, bringing them from darkness into light. Guru Nanak was a humble bearer of this Light of Truth. He opposed superstition, injustice, and hypocrisy and inspired seekers by singing divine songs which touched the hearts of even the most callous of listeners. These songs were recorded, and formed the beginnings of the Sikhs' sacred writings, later to become the "Siri Guru Granth Sahib".

Guru Nanak: Main Lessons

Nam Japna - To get up each day before sunrise, to clean the body, meditate on God's Name and recite the Guru's hymns to clean the mind and throughout the day to continuously remember God's Name with every breath.

Dharam di Kirat Karni - To work and earn by the sweat of the brow, to live a family way of life, and practice truthfulness and honesty in all dealings.

Vand Ke Chakna - To share the fruits of one's labor with others before considering oneself. Thus, to live as an inspiration and a support to the entire community.

The Golden Chain

The Ten Gurus of the Sikhs

The foundation of Sikhism was laid down by Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Guru Nanak Dev Ji rather than simply passing the Guruship of his teachings onto his own sons (as was the custom at the time) looked for someone to show up who revealed himself as the most deserving of the Guruship. Choosing his replacement he laid his hand upon him and announced him 'Angad' (part of his own body). Subsequently the light of Guruship was passed in the same manner, always to the person who showed himself to each new 'Nanak' as his replacement. The word "Guru" is derived from the root words "Gu", which means darkness or ignorance, and "Ru", which means light or knowledge. Thus, a "Guru" is one who takes a person from darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge. The "Guru" guides us to experience the Truth (of God).

Each one of the ten Gurus represents a divine attribute:

Guru Nanak Dev Ji - Humility
Guru Angad Dev Ji - Obedience
Guru Amar Das Ji — Equality
Guru Ram Das Ji - Service
Guru Arjan Dev Ji - Self-Sacrifice
Guru Hargobind Ji - Justice
Guru Har Rai Ji - Mercy
Guru Harkrishan Ji - Purity
Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji - Tranquility
Guru Gobind Singh Ji - Courage

Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the Tenth Guru, exemplified the Sikh ideal of the 'Sant-Sipahi', which directly translates as Soldier-Saint. He was also an inspired and prolific writer, courageous warrior, and a source of Divine Wisdom to his Sikhs. "When all other means have failed," he said, "only then is it righteous to take up the sword." He was the defender of the poor, the meek, and the oppressed masses of India.

These are the Ten Gurus of Sikhism

Guru Nanak | Guru Angad | Guru Amar Das | Guru Ram Das | Guru Arjan | Guru Hargobind | Guru Har Rai | Guru Har Krishan | Guru Teg Bahadur | Guru Gobind Singh

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib

Main page: Guru Granth Sahib

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib or Adi Granth Sahib Ji, is more than just a scripture of the Sikhs. The Sikhs treat this Granth (holy book) as a living Guru.The Sri Guru Granth Sahib, or SGGS for short, is more than a holy book of the Sikh people. The Guruship of the Sikhs was passed by decreed of Guru Gobind Singh ji to the Granth, which is the eleventh - eternal Guru of the Sikhs. The Shri Guru Granth Sahib is held in the highest regard by the Sikhs and is treated just as their living Gurus were with the same decorum and loving traditions shown to the 10 living Gurus. The SGGS forms the central part of the Sikh 'house' of worship called a gurdwara.

The Holy Scripture is placed on the dominant platform (a throne with beautiful and colourful fabric) in the main hall of the gurdwara during the day. The respect held for the Holy Granth is illustrated best at the Harmandir Sahib or as it is better known around the world the Golden Temple. Early each morning with the sound of a regal trumpet announcing the coming of The Holy Granth which is lovingly carried in a Silver and gold Palki from its place of rest at night in the Akal Takhat to the Harmandir Sahib itself to the Darbar Sahib (The Court of the Lord). Along the way a Sikh volunteer waves a Chaur Sahib over the Granth in the same manner accorded the living human Gurus. Inside the Sanctum the Guru Granth Sahib's Manji (throne) is placed so that the Granth is seated higher than any other seat in the Darbar. The process is repeated each evening in reverse. The Chaur Seva is just one of those core traditions that the Sikhs practise to honour their Guru with the high regard and respect that Gurbani deserves.

A striking video of the Granth's procession to its place of rest in the Akal Takht can be viewed on Youtube - here. If you haven't been to a Gurdwara, let alone the Harmandir Sahib, this short video will let you see firsthand the reverence recorded the Shri Guru Granth Sahib.

The Sikhs do not 'worship' the SGGS for that is forbidden – Only the One Almighty God is to be worshipped, for He is the Creator of everything that can be perceived and also those things that cannot be perceived.

During the time of the first ten Gurus, the congregation (Sangat) and Sevadar (volunteers) who came from afar to see the Gurus, wanted to be close to the Gurus and listen to their advice and guidance (Shabad). So they would sit near Guru ji and listen to the words of wisdom from the Guru and do Chaur Seva for the Guru. This seva was done turn by turn by many members of the congregation (Sangat) to be as close to their Guru as possible.

The Making of the Khalsa

Main article: Khalsa

Guru Gobind Singh was the last Guru of the Sikhs in human form. He created the Khalsa, a spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood devoted to purity of thought and action. He gave the Khalsa a distinctive external form to remind them of their commitment, and to help them maintain an elevated state of consciousness. Every Sikh baptized as Khalsa vows to wear the Five "K's":

  1. Kesh - uncut hair (from head to toe) and beard, as given by God, to sustain him or her in higher consciousness; and a turban, the crown of spirituality and a symbol ordained by the Guru so that they would stand out to be recognized, in a crowd or lonely pathway as a becon of help, one who anyone, in danger or need could easily identify and turn to for help.
  2. Kangha - a wooden comb to properly groom the hair as a symbol of cleanliness.
  3. Katchera - specially made cotton underwear as a reminder of the commitment to purity.
  4. Kara - a steel circle, worn on the wrist, signifying bondage to Truth and freedom from every other entanglement.
  5. Kirpan - the sword, with which the Khalsa is committed to righteously defend the fine line of the Truth.

Khalsa also vows to refrain from any sexual relationships outside of marriage, and to refrain from taking tobacco, alcohol, bhang and all other intoxicants (see Rehat Maryada). Furthermore, some Khalsa are against the consumption of any food containing meat or eggs (see Vegetarianism and Vegetarianism Other Views).

Then Guru Gobind Singh infused his own being into the Khalsa, declaring that the Khalsa was now the Guru in all temporal matters. For spiritual matters, the Guruship was given to the "Siri Guru Granth Sahib", a compilation of sacred writings by those who have experienced Truth. For Sikhs, "Siri Guru Granth Sahib" is the living embodiment of the Guru, and is regarded with the utmost reverence and respect wherever it is found. Sikhs all over the world look to the "Siri Guru Granth Sahib" as their living Guru, as the source of spiritual instruction and guidance.

Sikh Religious Philosophy

These articles deal with Sikh Beliefs

Primary Beliefs and Principles | Technique and Methods | Religious Philosophy | Prohibited Behaviour | Underlying Values | Basic Tenets of Sikhism

The Sikh Religious Philosophy can be divided into 5 Sections:

Primary Beliefs and Principles

  1. "Ek Onkaar" - One God: There is only one God, who has infinite qualities and names; She or he (see note below regarding sex neutrality) is the same for all religions.Thou have no sex, but is present within all things and all places.
  2. Rise Early and Meditate: The early morning hours, before the rising of the sun are used for meditation and experiencing union with God.
  3. Earn One's Living Righteously: One must work hard and honestly and never live off of others, but give to others from the fruits of one's own labour.
  4. Share With Others: One's home is always open to all. All are served and all are welcomed. The fruits of one's labours are always shared with others.
  5. Re-incarnation, Karma & Salvation: All creatures have souls that pass to other bodies upon death until liberation is achieved.
  6. Remember God: Love God, but hold the awe of her or him as well.
  7. Humanhood: All human beings are equal. We are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty.
  8. Uphold Moral Values: Defend, safeguard, and fight for the rights of all creatures, and in particular your fellow beings.
  9. Personal Sacrifice: Be prepared to give your life for all supreme principles – see the life of Guru Teg Bahadur.
  10. Many Paths lead to God: The Sikhs believe that Salvation can be obtained by non-Sikhs as well.
  11. Positive Attitude to Life: “Chardi Kala” – Always have a positive, optimistic, buoyant view of life.
  12. Disciplined Life: Upon baptism, Sikhs must wear the 5Ks, strictly recite the 5 prayers (Banis), etc.
  13. No Special Worship Days: Sikhs do not believe that any particular day is holier than any other.
  14. Conquer the 5 Thieves: It is every Sikh's duty to defeat these 5 thieves: ego, anger, greed, attachment, and lust.
  15. Attack with 5 Weapons: Compassion (Daya), Truth (Sat), Contentment (Santokh), Humility (Nimrata) and Love (Pyar).

For more on this section select Sikhism Primary Beliefs and Principles.

Underlying Values

The Sikhs must believe in the following Values:

  1. Equality: All humans are equal before God.
  2. God’s Spirit: All Creatures have God’s spirits and must be properly respected.
  3. Personal Right: Every person has a right to life but this right is restricted.
  4. Actions Count: Salvation is obtained by one’s actions – Good deeds, remembrance of God, etc.
  5. Living a Family Life: Must live as a family unit (householder) to provide and nurture children.
  6. Sharing: It is encouraged to share and give to charity 10 percent of one’s net earnings.
  7. Accept God’s Will: Develop your personality so that you recognise happy events and miserable events as one.
  8. The 4 Fruits of Life: Truth, Contentment, Contemplation and Naam, (in the Name of God).

For more information on this section select Sikhism Underlying Values.

Prohibited Behaviour

  1. Non-Logical Behaviour: Superstitions and rituals not meaningful to Sikhs (pilgrimages, fasting and bathing in rivers; circumcision; worship of graves, idols, pictures; compulsory wearing of the veil for women; etc;)
  2. Material Obsession: (“Maya”) Accumulation of materials have no meaning in Sikhism. Wealth, Gold, Portfolio, Stocks, Commodities, properties will all be left here on Earth when you depart. Do not get attached to them.
  3. Sacrifice of Creatures: Sati – widows throwing themselves in the funeral pyre of their husbands; lamb and calf slaughter to celebrate holy occasions; etc are forbidden.
  4. Non-Family Oriented Living: A Sikh is not allowed to live as a recluse, beggar, yogi, monk, nun, or celibate.
  5. Worthless Talk: Bragging, gossip, lying, etc are not permitted.
  6. Intoxication: Drinking alcohol, using drugs, smoking tobacco, and consumption of other intoxicants are not permitted.
  7. No Priestly Class: Sikhs do not have to depend on a priest for performing any religious functions.

For more information on this section select Sikhism Prohibited Behaviour

Technique and Methods

  1. Naam Japo: - Free Service Sewa, Meditation & Prayer Simran, Sacred Music Kirtan
  2. Kirat Karni: - Honest, Earnings, labour, etc while remembering the Lord
  3. Wand kay Shako: - Share your food with others in need, Free Food langar, Donation 10% of income Dasvandh, etc.

For more information select Sikhism Technique and Methods

Other Observations

  1. Not Son of God: The Gurus were not in the Christian sense “Sons of God”. Sikhism says we are all the children of God and by deduction, God is our mother/father.
  2. All Welcome: Members of all religions can visit Sikh temples (Gurdwaras) but must observe certain rules – cover your head, remove shoes, no smoking or drinking intoxicants.
  3. Multi-Level Approach: Sikhism recognises the concept of a multi-level approach to achieving your target as a disciple of the faith. For example, “Sahajdhari” (slow adopters) are Sikhs who have not donned the full 5Ks but are still Sikhs nevertheless.


The Punjabi language does not have a gender for God. Unfortunately, when translating, the proper meaning cannot be correctly conveyed without using Him/His/He/Brotherhood, S/He etc., but this distorts the meaning by giving the impression that God is masculine, which is not the message in the original script. The reader must correct for this every time these words are used.

See also