An Introduction to Sikh Belief
By P.M. Wylam (Manjit Kaur)
When Guru Nanak first began to preach his message, it was not with the intention of starting a new religion. He was such a gentle person, full of selflessness and humility that it was not in his nature to arrogate to himself the position of a leader. He never stopped to think or calculate about the impact on the world which his teaching would make. He was, as he often asserted himself, a humble servant of God and he was only concerned with doing God’s will in the world; with suggesting practical ways of countering the evil, ignorance and superstition which had laid hold of the common people. Guru Nanak was, in fact, primarily concerned with the spiritual welfare of the common people. He understood well enough the complicated beliefs, religions and philosophies currently held by the Brahmins, various holy men and Muslim quazis, and he could converse and argue with these on equal terms. However, religion, he believed should be equally accessible to the ordinary man, the simple potter, the peasant, the shopkeeper or even the lowest outcasts. Therefore, Guru Nanak taught only one simple belief, and only one simple religious practice which, once imbibed into the heart of a sincere devotee, could save him from all evil and temptation. The belief was in theOne-ness of God, the Creator, and the practice was in the constant remembrance of His Name, with the ultimate aim of achieving salvation.
The Oneness of God
Like the people of ancient times, the common people of Guru Nanak’s day paid tribute to a number of minor gods and goddesses which were then known to Hinduism. They were attached to these in superstitious bondage and fear evolved over the centuries, and which had no relation at all to religion as such. Instead of deriving comfort, therefore, such adherents suffered more from fear and worry. Superstitious ceremonies were encouraged by Brahmin priests and astrologers who made handsome profits out of the gullibility of the people. It was to exterminate these practices and to counteract these evil influences that Guru Nanak emphasized strict monotheism in his teachings. He, therefore, composed the Mool Mantra and taught it to all his followers:
"There is one God
His Name is Truth
The all-pervading Creator, Without fear, without hatred Immortal, unborn, self-existent, By grace, the Enlightener.
True in the beginning, true throughout the ages, True even now, Nanak, and forever shall be true.
(Japji, Mool Mantra)
His devoted follower, Lehna, who was destined to become the second Guru, took this verse seriously to heart. Lehna, on becoming Guru Angad, propagated this thesis, and said that it was intended to be learned and understood and repeated by all Sikhs in order to remind them of God’s One-ness and of His other most important attributes.
God is Everything to the Sikh: His attributes are endless and all goodness, mercy and love are contained in Him. He has created all things and remains enshrined within them as both mind and matter. He is immanent. He is also transcendent; for He can and does exist without creation, above and beyond everything. He is All-powerful; nothing exists or happens without His knowledge or without His permission; He sees into all things and directs even the smallest affairs of His creatures. God is the Divine Father who cares for His children, bestows upon them all the manifold blessings of this world and listens to their prayers. He knows the most secret desires of every heart and is the essence of love and forgiveness. God is directly accessible to everybody and man’s soul itself is a part of the Immortal One.
As belief in the All-pervading Unity is the basic belief of Sikhism, similarly, simran, or the remembrance of God’s Name by constant repetitions, is the basic practice. This is more important and fundamental than any of the ceremonies forms and symbols which are, in fact, only supplementary to the religious practice. This remembrance consists of the constant and regular application of the mind to the many different aspects of God by which He is known to mankind. God’s attributes are, in fact, so numerous and great that it is beyond the power of man’s mind to encompass them all.