The Idea Of The Supreme Being (God) In Sikhism
Gurbachan Singh Talib
Sikhism A Theistic Creed
Sikhism is a Theistic religion, and totally rejects all reasoning which may attempt to prove that the universe is an automatic machine, or that it is a continuation of atoms which are self-created and self-perpetuating. According to the Sikh belief God is self-created and all that exists, has emanated from Him. As to any speculations about the origin of God or the creation of the universe by Him, no mythological or any other explanation is offered. Man’s intellect cannot penetrate the Divine mystery, and hence all that man can attempt is to feel or realize the existence of God through intuition or spiritual experience, called anubhava in Indian philosophy. Logic or any other kind of reasoning cannot prove the existence of God, for against one kind of reasoning another can be advanced. Hence for man it is to try to realize the existence of God in a spirit of humility, and to engage in prayer and devotion, so that he may become one with the Supreme Reality, that is God. Guru Nanak says in Japji (Stanza 16):
By One Word the whole vastness of the universe was created.
Resulting in millions of streams of existence.
Again, in stanza 21 it is said:
The Yogi knows not the day and date of creation.
Nor any one the month and season.
The creator of the universe alone knows this secret.
God is believed in Sikhism to be eternal
that is, He is without beginning and without end. All else that is visible, had a beginning and will end. Even the sun and the moon, the stars, the earth – all will end. The gods, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Indira – and all others are mortal. In other words, they are subject to the control of Time which marks their beginning, decline and end. God alone is Timeless (Akal). Akal is one of the key-concepts in Sikh spiritual thought. While this term is from the Sanskrit in its origin, consisting of ‘a’ (negative prefix) and Kal (time), the particular spiritual and philosophical signification which belongs to it in Sikh thought is unprecedented in Indian philosophy.
Sikhism is strictly monotheistic in its belief. This means that God is believed to be the one and sole Reality in the cosmos, and no god or goddess or power like Satan or Ahirman or any other has reality such as God’s. God alone is worthy of worship, and the highest end of existence, that is mukti or liberation can come through Devotion to God alone. All other worship is false and a waste of the precious gift of the human life. Besides its monotheism, Sikhism also emphasizes another philosophical idea, which is known as monism. Monism is the belief that all that our senses apprehend is only appearance; that God is the sole Reality. Forms being subject to Time, shall pass away. God’s Reality alone is eternal and abiding. Hence behind the shows of things, the spiritual vision is always aware of the reality of God. According to this philosophy, the differences created by man’s limited thinking which result in selfishness, egoism and hate are meaningless. Since nothing exists except God; the man of God sees in all beings the reality of God. A few texts from the holy Granth Sahib will illustrate this point:
That which is inside man, the same is outside him;
nothing else exists;
By divine prompting look upon all existence as one and undifferentiated;
the same light penetrates all existence. (Sorath M.IIl – page 599).
The Divine (like the lotus) is in the
water; yet untouched by it:
Its light penetrates this water entire;
None is near, and none far;
I find it ever near, and chant its praises.
Nothing else exists inside or outside
All happens as He wills it;
Listen Pharthari: This is what Nanak
says after contemplation.
(Asa M.l Ashtpadiyan I – page 411).
What should the yogi have to fear?
Trees, plants, and all that is inside and
outside, is He Himself.
(Gauri Ashtpadiyan Mi. 7 – page 223).
Differences are owing to man’s ignorance of the Supreme Truth, and to the influence on him of Maya (illusion). Through prayer and devotion and Divine aid the illusion created by Maya is lifted, and then man views the Reality of the universe as one, leaving no scope for hatred, avarice or egoism.
Conception of the Supreme Being
The conception of the Supreme Reality, i.e. God is fixed in Mul Mantra (The Basic Creed) of the Sikh faith, which stands at the head of the Guru Granth Sahib and is considered to be the opening of the holy text of Japji. Mul Mantra is chanted and written on all solemn occasions when Divine blessing is sought to be invoked in any undertaking. In its original form it reads:
Ek Onkar, Sati-Nam, Karta-Purakh, Nirbhau, Nirvair, Akal Murati, Ajuni, Saibhang, Guru Prasadi.
Translated into English, this means~
The One Supreme Being; Eternal Holy
Reality; The Creator; Without Fear;.
Without Rancour; Timeless Form;
Unborn; Self-Existent; Realized Through
The various elements in the above creed on careful study will yield the true significance of the Sikh belief and its idea of God. The first veer-phrase Ek Onkar contains two terms: Ek (One) and Onkar (The Supreme Being). Onkar comes from the Upanishad and is an extended form of Om, which is the holiest of all names of God, In the Guru Granth Sahib Om is also used – once by Guru Nanak and twice by Guru Arjan Dev. Onkar is the Eternal Reality, above gods and goddesses and is holy and self-existent. To it, in order to emphasize the idea of the sole Reality of God, Guru Nanak has added the numeral I, which in several Indian languages is pronounced as EK. This EK Onkar is the transcendental, unattributed Absolute. In other words, it is that which is above all Existence, has no attributes, since these will limit its absoluteness and Eternity. In Sukhmani (xxiii.6) it is said:
Whenever he wills, He creates the vast universe;
As He wills He is again EK Onkar.
EK Onkar here as elsewhere implies that Reality which is above and beyond all other existence.
The next phrase, Sati Nam contains two terms. Sati(Satya) is both Real and Holy. Nam is a spiritual idea, which stands for the Essence, the Absolute Reality. It is not merely the name as is commonly believed, but that for which the name of God stands, that is, the Divine Essence.
Karta Purakh: Karta is Kartar (Creator). The universe is fashioned by God and not by any deity. He is the Kartar, which is one of the commonly emphasized terms for God in Sikh belief. Purakh is the same Purusha (Male, this Mighty Eternal Creator). Purusha has come from the Rig Veda into Indian philosophy, and is one of the holiest words, as implying the Eternal Creator.
Nirbhau (without fear) and Nirvair (without rancour) are two negative attributes, implying God’s absoluteness. Not being subject to any other being, and not being subject to need. He is fearless. Since He is the creator of all existence, He is without hate. He is all love, all benevolence. Hence in Sikh teaching, God is referred to again and again as Father, implying His love and care for all creation.
Akal, as said earlier, is Timeless, Eternal. This term is characteristically Sikh. In numerous Sikh phrases this term occurs. Akal is as unmistakably the Sikh name for God, as Allah in the Muslim tradition.
Ajuni implies that God is not subject to birth and death. Hence the Incarnations of God who are worshipped in various religions in India and outside, are not God, for God is unborn. He is not subject to the physical process of having a father and a mother. Related to this is Saibhang. This is a popular form of Sanskrit Swyambhu (Self Existent).
The last phrase, Guru-Prasadi implies that God’s knowledge or realization can come to man neither through reassuring or learning nor through ritual performances like pilgrimages, fasting and keeping sacred days. None of the attempts in the ritual practice of religion will help His realization. Through devotion and prayer God’s grace (kindness, mercy) may be aroused and through that alone may He be realized. This is the great mystery of mysteries, which no man can understand. Grace comes mysteriously and in ways unexpected. Only prayer and devotion from the depth of the heart may draw it on man. For grace (prasad) other terms employed by the holy Gurus are mehar (love), karam (bounty), nadar (glance of compassion), daya (compassion), kirpa (kindness). So, this last phrase is essential in the enunciation of the basic idea of the Sikh faith.
God Without Fear
In the teaching of Sikhism God is conceived as being without form (nirankar/nirakar). In accordance with this faith, Guru Nanak is known as Nirankari (Believer in the Formless). No image or idol or any figurine can represent God, or be worshipped as God. All existence is God’s visible form, but no part of it is a substitute for God. God is also Nirguna (unattributed) as said earlier. This means that he is not subject to the ‘three dualities’ of ignorance (tamas), passion (rajas), and reasoning intellect (sattva as is all creation or Maya in the different stages of its evolution). God is eternally perfect. Man’s ideal must also be to rise above the three qualities of Maya and enter into the divine state of attributelessness through prayer and devotion. In the state of devotion or bhakti, God is also believed to have certain noble qualities, such as love, compassion, fatherly concern for all creation and the upholding of the moral law in universe. It is through such qualities that He comes close to humanity and becomes ‘the Beloved of His devotees’ (Bhakta vatsala). To love He yields, but no other persuasion.
Man loves Him for the principle of Goodness and Righteousness that is in Him. He is mighty and is constantly intervening in the concerns of the universe by destroying evil. Thus arrogant tyrants such as Ravana, Duryodhana and certain demons in Indian religious history, are destroyed be God’s might operating through certain God-inspired heroes. This belief is also shared by certain other great religions. So, God must be understood to be full of universal love, but also that Might which destroys evil and tyranny. The moral law cannot be defied by man with impunity. Guru Nanak in the hymns on Babar’s invasion points out how the rulers were humiliated at the hands of Babar’s soldiery, which became the instrument of divine justice.
In expressing the idea of God, Guru Nanak and his successors in the holy office of Guruship have employed some other terms which stand for the Absolute Reality. The most commonly used in this respect is Brahm. To give further emphasis to the idea of His transcendental character, this name is used as Par-Brahm (the Brahm beyond human thought). Guru is made to signify the human Preceptor as well as God, from whom all enlightenment and realization proceeds. Guru is also used in the extended compound form as Gurudev – the Lord Enlightened. Satguru (the holy master) is another term used for God. Thakur, Sahib, Swami (all three mean lord, master) are frequently used. From the current Indian phraseology Parmeshwar (the Supreme Lord) is taken. Prabhu (Lord) always stands for God. Often the epithet Sacha (true, holy, eternal) is used as a noun substantive to designate God. Pritam (Beloved), Piyara (Loved One) frequently occur in Gurubani as substantives to designate the idea of God.