Introduction to Sikhism:The Sikh Philosophy
(Besides the absolute value of the Divine itself the Sikh Value System comprises the following.
(I) Physico-economic values : A Sikh treats body as the sacred abode of the Spirit. There is no place for austerities and torturing of the body as a way of salvation.
(2) Intellectual Values : Knowledge and wisdom are the key concepts; reason plays the pivotal role and truth is the highest value to be cherished.
(3) Aesthetic Values : Loving devotion to the Lord, generating ecstatic state of bliss leading to the enjoyment of the grandeur and beauty of His creation.
(4) Ethical Values : Virtue as reflected in valor, purity of conduct, realization of the Divine presence in all the human beings and service of the mankind.
(5) Spiritual Values : Mukti and Nirvana in Sikhism is emancipation in life through Divine Grace.
The three pillars of the Such way of life are –
a) Naam-Japna: Meditation of God
Sikhs are directed to concentrate their minds on God, to reflect on God’s virtues such as love, benevolence, and kindness. Sikhs practice this to inculcate such virtues into their own character. This can be done by reciting Gurbani, by listening to the singing of hymns from Gurbani, or by sitting in a quiet place and attentively thinking of God, forgetting all else.
Through this constant meditation, and not simply the repeating of a mantra, Sikhs develop a feeling of affection and love for humanity. Such a person does not merely talk about the brotherhood of humanity but actually tries to feel it continuously throughout their life. The thought of being a member of this human family becomes stronger and stronger and soon this fact is reflected in the daily behavior of the devotee. Such a Sikh derives immense pleasure and satisfaction by observing the presence of God in every human being.
This achievement or realization changes the thinking and behavior of such persons and instead of hurting others, they enjoy utilizing their life serving society. They cannot think of doing any act to harm others, because they “see” the living God inside every human being. This is why Nam is given the highest priority in the Sikh faith.
b) Kirt Karni: .Earningwith hard labor.
Sikhs are advised to earn their livelihood by honest means. They are not supposed to be a parasites on society. Non-earners become dependent on others and because of this, are influenced to think and act as their benefactors expect. Such a person is unable to think or act independently.
Furthermore, a Sikh’s earnings, however large or small, should come from honest means. If a person is dishonest, and takes what is not justly his, the Gurus declare these earnings as the ‘blood of the poor’. They are prohibited to Sikhs, just as beef is prohibited to Hindus and pork to Muslims.
There is temptation to live a comfortable life by earning money through unfair means. The Gurus want us to resist this desire by keeping in mind that such earnings pollute the mind in the same way that blood stains our clothes. Only honest earnings are like “milk” and hence “nourishing”.
Kirat Karni is one of three primary pillars of Sikhism. The term means to earn a honest, pure and dedicated living by exercising ones God given skills, abilities, talents and hard labour for the benefit and improvement of the individual, their family and society at large. This means to work with determination and focus by the sweat of your brows and not to be lazy and to waste your life to time. To do these things without ‘personal gain’ becoming your main motivation – Make Simran and dedication of the work to God your main motivation. To perform Kirat is like saying a prayer or performing meditation. It is equal to your Sunday Service attendance at your place of worship.
On page 8 of SGGS, Guru Ji says: Those who have meditated on the Naam, the Name of the Lord, and departed after having worked by the sweat of their brows
-O Nanak, their faces are radiant in the Court of the Lord, and many are saved along with them! ||1||And again on page 317
Deep within the hearts of His GurSikhs, the True Guru is pervading. The Guru is pleased with those who long for His Sikhs.
As the True Guru directs them, they do their work and chant their prayers. The True Lord accepts the service of His GurSikhs
c) Wand Chhakna: Sharing one’s earning with the needy.
The recitation of Nam helps disciples realize that they are members of the human brotherhood. This thought creates in them feelings of kindness and love for those who need their help. As a consequence, they enjoy sharing their earnings with those less fortunate. The Guru advises them that it is their duty to share their earnings with the needy just as it is the duty of parents to supply their children with clothing and other necessities.
This sharing must be done out of a sense of responsibility, and not of pride. A person can judge their closeness to God by sharing their bread with the needy. If this can be done without feeling as if they are doing someone a favor, then they are on the right path and are close to God.
Some broadcast their contributions and feel proud of their “benefactor”image. It is this ego (ahankar) that denies them the spiritual benefits obtained by remaining humble.
d) Worshipping the Eternal God (Puja Akal Ki)
The Guru advises us to worship only the one almighty God and not to worship forces of the universe or mythical beings. It is the Creator, and not the creation, that is important. Hinduism encourages its followers to venerate many different mediators. It differs from Sikhism in this fundamental issue and because of this, Sikhism cannot be considered a sect of Hinduism.
How do Sikhs worship God? By thinking of Him and by believing in the brotherhood of mankind. For Sikhs, God does not reside in the seventh or fourteenth sky, or any other place far from the earth. God lives in the hearts of humans. There is no place without Him. He expresses Himself through His creation. In other words, worship of God is accomplished by meditating on Him, His virtues and His grace.
e) Understanding Gurbani (Paricha Shabad Ka)
Sikhs are required to regularly read and understand the Gurbani written within the Guru Granth Sahib. Gurbani teaches God’s virtues and how they can be revealed to us.
The daily recitation of hymns reminds us repeatedly of the pitfalls of egotism, anger, lust, attachment, and greed. The hymns encourage readers to develop good character by constantly reminding that these virtues bring peace.
Sikhs accept the word of the Guru as their guide. They regard the Guru Granth Sahib as their living Guru because from Gurbani, they obtain the spiritual guidance they need.
f) Appreciating the Sikh Reht (Didar Khalsa Ka)
Sikhs do not worship pictures or idols of God or the Gurus. Nor do they honor any living individual as their Guru. They respect the decision of the corporate body of the Singhs, the Khalsa, since the tenth Guru bestowed the authority of Guruship on this body.
g) Working and wishing well for all of humanity (Sarbat ka bhala)
The importance that Sikhs attach to working and wishing well for others can be seen in the fact that Sikhs pray aloud at least twice a day:
“O God, in Your Name, shower Your blessings on everyone.”
In other words, Sikhs pray not only for themselves alone but also for all of humanity.
This belief in the oneness of humanity, and the insistence on working for the welfare of all people, whether Sikhs or not, at the cost of sacrificing one’s life, is what sets Sikhism apart from religions. In a world, which is torn by strife because of differing beliefs, Sikhism is unique. Sikhs treat all people with equal respect, irrespective of their faith. All people are offered free meals and other facilities in Gurudwaras. Sikhs do not harbour ill will against any person, including adversaries.
There are numerous examples of Sikhs helping foes in need. After battle, Bhai Kanahya, a water-carrier of Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur Sahib, used to give water and first aid to ALL wounded persons, Sikhs and non-Sikh alike. Three centuries ago, Guru Gobind Singh made arrangements to take care of and help all the wounded after battle, whether they were his own men or his opponents.
It has been explained in the discussion of Nam Japna that Sikhs respect all persons. People may appear different because of their language, color, social habits but these variations are superficial and the result of different cultures and climates. Internally, we all have the same spirit. Just as gold can be made into ornaments of different designs but it remains gold, so people’s outward appearances can be different but still they remain human beings created by the same God.
h) Maintaining ethical behavior (Sacha Achar)
For Sikhs, as for the followers of many other faiths, lying, cheating, stealing etc. are forbidden. Sexual relations are restricted to married couples only. Recognizing that during the medieval ages, after battle women of the defeated side were often raped as an expression of power over the enemy, Guru Gobind Singh ordered that any person guilty of rape would be expelled from the Khalsa Panth.
The moral character of Sikhs, in war and in peace, was praised highly by Muslim historians of those times. Nur Mohammed, though he expresses extreme hatred for Sikhs, still cannot help admitting their high character. In his book, “Jang Nama” he writes:
In no case would they slay a coward, nor would they put an obstacle in the way of a fugitive. They do not plunder the wealth or ornaments of a woman, be she a well-to-do lady or a maidservant. There is no adultery among these ‘dogs’ nor are these mischievous people given to thieving. Whether a woman is young or old, they call her a ‘buriya’ and ask her to get out of the way. (The word “buriya” in the Indian language means “an old lady.”) There is no thief at all among these ‘dogs’ nor is there any house-breaker born among these miscreants. They do not make friends with adulterers.
i) Accepting the Will of God (Bhana Mannana)
We sometimes suffer from the misconception that we alone are responsible for the benefits we gain from our labors. Sikhs believe that these benefits are gifts from God and we are mere actors on stage. God rewards us and whether our efforts are successful is determined by His will. If we accept this philosophy, we will always be in peace with ourselves and with our environment and we will stop worrying about the ‘failure’ of our efforts
God has given us life, an expression of His Will. He has created the sun, the moon, vegetation, animals and everything else without which we cannot survive. When we plant a fruit tree, it grows naturally, with the help of sun and rain, and it bears fruit all without our help. Laws of nature govern the smallest seed and the largest plant.
The philosophy, that everything happens according to God’s will, can be explained by another example. A person driving on a road finds an old woman walking. She stops the car, picks up the woman, and drops her at her home. Although it appears that the driver’s body has carried out these actions, in fact, these actions originated in the mind due to a desire to help. Hence, actually it is the mind, controlled by the nature of the soul that helped the old woman. The body of the driver was merely an agent, which executed the decision for the ‘mind.’ Similarly it is the bigger soul, God, who motivates us to act. We are the executors of His Will.
If we choose an action, which we think is right, only to discover that it does not eliminate the situation we set out to abolish, we should not consider that our right action was useless. We should trust that in God’s larger plan, which we cannot understand, our right action has meaning and effort. We must believe that every righteous action will eventually lead to a favorable result.
The faith that our right actions are part of God’s great design, even if we do not see the results, dispels worries about our failures and brings us peace. We will realize God’s presence in ourselves; there is no higher goal in life than that.
Thus Sikhism was not the ‘transvaluation’ of the existing faiths and cults; it ushered in a new spiritual as well as social and political matrix of conduct for mankind.
Violence and peace as concepts for the social behavior are conspicuous to the Sikh way of life.
Sikhism does not support militarism or glorification of war and yet wielding the sword is warranted in extenuating circumstances. Sikhism upholds war against oppression and aggression. The sword is a symbol of power both temporal and spiritual in Sikhism. A Sikh doesn’t frighten anyone nor is he afraid of anyone.
Technically, the first date of Sikhism is 1469, the year of Guru, Nanak’s birth, but ideologically its origins may well he traced in the twelfth century, when the celebrated poet Jaidev and Sufi saint Sheikh Farid flourished on the soil of India. Their hymns find a place of honour in the Guru Granth, compiled in 1604.
The fact that Oamkar in the Mantra is preceded by I (one) shows that in spite of the many-ness of the revealed world, its oneness is not to be lost sight of. It is rnonistic in character, though pluralistic in content. It is many, yet one.
In this I-Thou relationship of love between man and God, the pole of human love is expressed in terms of loving devotion, and the other pole, of God’s love for man, in terms of his Grace.
On one side is bhakti or loving devotion, on the other side is. moral act. Both are complementary to each other; both taken together constitute the make-up of ideal person of the Guru’s conception. Gurbani commends the blending of simran and voluntary service called sewa; both are essential for a balanced life.
The Sikh ideal of salvation is jivan-mukti which is composed of two components-‘jivan’ (life) and ‘mukti’ (emancipation). It refers to the highest spiritual state of the individual, in tune with the Ultimate and at peace with human society. One. who attains to such a state of liberation in his or her lifetime, is called jivan-mukta.,
The foremost was the institution of Guruship itself. The second was langar or the community kitchen serviced by the Guru’s disciples for the benefit of visitors and inmates alike. Another was sangat: or congregation of the Guru’s followers sitting in audience and singing hymns to the accompaniment of music (kirtan).
Gurbani also refers to kings (patshahs), but indication of panchayati raj and spirit of democracy is available in plenty. It clearly says-Takht bahai takhta ki layik-that is, a ruler should occupy the throne only if he is qualified and deserves todo so. Guru Arjan Dev refers to the ideal state which guarantees comfort and welfare of the people, calling it ‘Halemi Raj’. Sense of humility and justice are its hall-mark.
Faith in God to the exclusion of concern for man has never been the forte of the Sikh.
Spiritualism has value, not for God, but for man.
if ethico-spiritual is one major theme of the thought-content of Gurbani, socio-cultural is the other. Both share a common objective, namely, welfare of man.
Excerpts taken from:
‘Sikhism – An Introduction’
Dr Sukhbir Singh Kapoor
Vice Chancellor World Sikh University, London