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Sikhism Overview

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Sikhism comes from the word Sikh, which means a disciple. A Sikh is a person who believes in One God and the teachings of the Ten Gurus, enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.

While both Buddhism and Jainism were inspired by religious and social ideas that emerged from an exclusively Hindu (or, technically speaking, Vedic) background, Sikhism, a more recent development, has similar links to both Hindu and Islamic ideals as well.

Sikhism shares beliefs with both Islam (e.g. monotheism) and Hinduism (e.g. Bhakti and monism). Sikhism should not, however, be regarded simply as two older religions blended into one, but rather as a genuinely new religion. Its followers believe it to have been authenticated by a new divine revelation

This religion was founded by Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 to a Hindu family. After several years of wandering, Nanak had a call to teach. He preached before Jain and Hindu temples and Muslim mosques and, in the process, attracted a number of sikhs or disciples. Religion, he thought, was a bond to unite men, but in practice he found that it set men against one another. He particularly regretted the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. He wanted to go beyond what was being practiced by either religion and hence a well-known saying of Nanak is, "There is no Hindu and no Muslim."

Nanak was opposed to the caste system. His followers referred to him as the guru (teacher). Before his death he designated a new Guru to be his successor and to lead his community. The tenth and the last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 A.D.) initiated the Sikh Baptism ceremony in 1699 AD ; and thus gave a distinctive identity to the Sikhs. The five baptised Sikhs were named Panj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones), who in turn baptised the Guru at his request. This is an empowering and democratizing phenomenon rarely seen in other major religions, i.e. a leader acknowledging the primacy of their followers. This empowerment of the Sikh community, the Khalsa, can be compared with the baptism of Jesus Christ by one of his followers, John the Baptist.

Shortly before passing away the Guru ordered that Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Scripture would be the ultimate spiritual authority for the Sikhs and temporal authority would vest in the Khalsa Panth - The Sikh Commonwealth. The Sikh Holy Scripture was compiled and edited by the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan in 1604 A.D. This is the only scripture in the world which has been compiled by the founders of a faith during their own life time. The Sikh Holy Scripture is written in Punjabi with parts in Bhojpuri and Urdu.

Nanak's doctrinal position is fairly simple, despite the appearance that it is a blend of insights originating from two very different faiths. Sikhism's coherence is attributable to its single central concept - the sovereignty of the One God, the Creator. Nanak called his god the "True Name" because he wanted to avoid any limiting term for God. He taught that the True Name, although manifest in manifold ways and in manifold places and known by manifold names, is eternally One, the Sovereign and omnipotent God, at once transcendent and immanent, creator and destroyer.

Nanak also subscribed to the Hindu belief in Maya. Even though he regarded material objects as realities and as expressions of the creator's eternal truth, they tend to erect "a wall of falsehood" around those who live totally in the mundane world of material desires. This prevents them from seeing the truly real God who created matter as a veil around God, so that only spiritual minds, free of desire, can penetrate it.

The world is immediately real in the sense that it is made manifest to the senses by maya, but is ultimately unreal in the sense that God alone is ultimately real. Retaining the Hindu doctrine of the transmigration of souls, together with its corollary, the law of karma, Nanak warned his followers not to prolong their round of reincarnation by living apart from God - that is, by choosing, through egoism and sensuous delights, to live in a worldly manner, abandoning God.

To do this is to accumulate karma. One should do nothing but think of God and endlessly repeat God's name (Nama Japam), another Hindu practice, and so have union with God. Salvation, he said, does not mean entering paradise after a last judgment, but a union and absorption into God, the true name.

Political pressure from surrounding Muslim nations forced the Sikhs to defend themselves and by the mid-nineteenth century, the Punjab area straddling modern-day India and Pakistan was ruled by them. The Sikh khalsa (army) was a match even for the invading British army.

History of Sikhism
Guru Nanak (1469-1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in present-day Pakistan. His parents were of Hindu background and he belonged to the mercantile caste. Even as a boy, Nanak was fascinated by religion, and his desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home. He wandered all over India in the manner of Hindu saints. It was during this period that Nanak met Kabir (1441-1518), a saint revered by both Hindus and Muslims. He made four distinct major journeys, which are called Udasis spanning many thousands of miles.

In 1538, Guru Nanak chose Lehna, his disciple as a successor to the Guruship rather than his son. Bhai Lehna was named Guru Angad and became the second guru of the Sikhs. He continued the work started by the Founder. Guru Amar Das became the third Sikh guru in 1552 at the age of 73. Goindwal became an important centre for Sikhism during the Guruship of Guru Amar Das. Guruji continued to preach the principle of equality for women, the prohibition of Sati and the practise of Langar. In 1567, even Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have Langar. Guruji trained 140 apostles of which 52 were women to manage the rapid expansion of the religion. Before Guruji died in 1574 aged 95, he appointed his son-in-law, Jetha as the fourth Sikh Guru.

Jetha became Guru Ram Das and vigorously undertook his duties as the new guru. He is responsible for the establishment of the city of Ramdaspur later to be named Amritsar. In 1581, Guru Arjan Dev , youngest son of fourth guru became the Fifth Guru of the Sikhs. Guruji was responsible for the construction of the Golden Temple. He was also responsible for preparing the Sikh Sacred text and his personal addition of some 2000 plus hymns in the SGGS. In 1604 Guruji installed the Adi Granth for the first time as the Holy Book of the Sikhs. In 1606, for refusing to make changes to the SGGS Guruji was tortured and killed by the rulers of the time.

Guru Hargobind, became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. Guruji carried two swords – One for Spiritual reasons and one temporal (worldly) reasons. From this point onward, the Sikhs became a military force and always had trained fighting force to defend their independence. In 1644, Guru Har Rai Ji became Guru followed by Guru Har Krishan, the Boy Guru in 1661. Guru Teg Bahadur became Guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675, when he sacrificed his life to save the Kashmiri Hindus who had come to him for help.

The final Sikh Guru in human form was Guru Gobind Singh who in 1708 made Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji the last, perpetual living guru of the Sikhs.

The Gurus of Sikhism
The Ten Gurus of Sikhism
Sikhism was established by ten Gurus, teachers or masters over the period 1469 to 1708. These teachers were enlightened souls whose main purpose in life was the spiritual and moral well-being of the masses. Each master added and reinforced to the message taught by the previous and they ‘reined’ in succession resulting to the creation of a new religion that we now call Sikhism. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the First Guru and Guru Gobind Singh the final Guru in human form. When Guru Gobind Singh Ji left this planet, he made the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (SGGS) the ultimate and final Sikh Guru. The SGGS is more than a holy book for the Sikh people.

1. Guru Nanak Dev 2. Guru Angad Dev 3. Guru Amar Das
4. Guru Ram Das 5. Guru Arjan Dev 6. Guru Hargobind
7. Guru Har Rai 8. Guru Har Krishan 9. Guru Teg Bahadur
10. Guru Gobind Singh
For information on this section select The Ten Gurus of Sikhism

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib
The Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the living, perpetual and current Guru of the Sikhs. The eleventh and final Guru of the Sikhs is held in the highest regard by the Sikhs and is treated just like a living Guru. The SGGS forms the central part of the Sikh place of worship call a Gurdwara ? the Sikh Church. The Holy Scripture is during the day placed in a large hall on a dominating platform on which is placed the throne upon which the SGGS is with great dignity and respect placed on expensive and colourful fabric.

For more information see Sri Guru Granth Sahib

Sikh Religious Philosophy
The Sikh Religious Philosophy can be divided into 5 Sections:

Primary Beliefs & Principles:
One God: - There is only ONE God who has infinite qualities and names; S/He* is the same for all religions;
Re-incarnation, Karma & Salvation: – Creature has a soul that passes to another body on death until Liberation is obtained.
Remember God: Love God but have fear of Her/Him* as well.
“Humanhood” (Brotherhood/Sisterhood*): All human beings are equal. We are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty.
Uphold Moral Values: Defend, safeguard and fight for the rights of all creatures and in particular your fellow beings.
Personal Sacrifice: Be prepared to give your life for all supreme principles – see the life of Guru Teg Bahadur.
Many Paths lead to God: – The Sikhs believe that Salvation can be obtained by non-Sikhs.
Positive Attitude to Life: “Chardi Kala” – Always have a positive and optimistic and buoyant view of life.
Disciplined Life: Upon baptism, must wear the 5Ks; strict recital of the 5 prayers Banis, etc.
No Special Worship Days: Sikhs do not believe that any particular day is holier than any other.
Conquer the 5 Thieves: It every Sikhs duty to defeat these 5 thieves - Pride, Anger, Greed, Attachment, and Lust
Attack with 5 Weapons: Contentment, Charity, Kindness, Positive Attitude, Humility.
For more on this section select Sikhism Primary Beliefs and Principles

Underlying Values:
The Sikhs must believe in the following Values:

Equality: All humans are equal before God
God’s Spirit: All Creatures have God’s spirits and must be properly respected.
Personal Right: Every person has a right to life but this right is restricted.
Actions Count: Salvation is obtained by one’s actions – Good deeds, remembrance of God, etc
Living a Family Life: Must live as a family unit (householder) to provide and nurture children.
Sharing: It is encouraged to share and give to charity 10 percent of one’s net earnings.
Accept God’s Will: Develop your personality so that you recognise happy event and miserable events as one.
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:
Non-Logical Behaviour: Superstitions; rituals, which have no meaning, pilgrimages, fasting and bathing in rivers; gambling; circumcision; worship of graves, idols, pictures; compulsory wearing of the veil for women; etc;
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.
Sacrifice of Creatures: Sati – widows throwing themselves in the funeral pyre of their husbands; lamb and calf slaughter to celebrate holy occasions; etc
Non-Family Oriented Living: A sikh is not allowed to live a recluse, beggar, yogi, monk, Nun, celibacy, etc
Worthless Talk: bragging, gossip, lying, etc are not permitted.
Intoxication: Drinking alcohol; Drugs; Smoking tobacco; consumption of other intoxicants; etc
No priestly Class: Sikhs do not have to depend on a priest for any of the functions that need to be performed.

For more information on this section select Sikhism Prohibited Behaviour

Technique and Methods:
Naam Japo: – Meditation & Prayer, Free Service Sewa, Simran, Sacred Music Kirtan
Kirat Karni: - Honest, Earnings, labour, etc while remembering the Lord
Wand kay Shako: - Share with Others who are deserving, Free Food langar, 10% Donation Daasvand, etc

For more information select Sikhism Technique and Methods

Other Observations:
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 S/He* is our Father/Mother.
All Welcome: Members of all religions can visit Sikh temples (Gurdwaras) but please observe the local rules – cover your head, remove shoes, no smoking or drinking intoxicants.
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.

For more information on this section select Sikhism Other Observations

‘*’ = 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.

Sikhs Five Ks
Main article: The Five Ks

Sikhs are bound to wear five items, known as the 5Ks, on them at all times. It is done either out of respect for the tenth prophet, Guru Gobind Singh, or out of sense of duty.

The 5 items are: Kaysh, Kanga, Kara, Kirpan & Kacha which translate into: Uncut hair, small comb, bangle, small sword, shorts. Most male Sikhs will wear a turban over the uncut hair.

Sikhs today
Today, Sikhs can be found all over India and also elsewhere in the world. The observant men can be identified by their practice of always wearing a turban to cover their long hair. The turban is quite different from the ones worn by the muslim clergy. (In some countries, laws requiring motorcyclists to wear crash helmets had to be modified to accommodate them.) They almost universally use the surname Singh1 (meaning lion).

Of course, not all people named Singh are necessarily Sikhs! Sikh men are also supposed to have the following items on them at all times: a comb, short breeches, a steel arm bracelet and a sword or dagger. In modern society, of course, one cannot really carry a sword or even a large dagger, but even a good penknife or a miniature dagger is sufficient to express the symbolic meaning. They are known by many as the five 'K's.

By carrying a weapon, the Sikh is reminded of the persecution his religion has experienced and the need to defend the weak against the mighty. The breeches are a symbol of chastity and monogamy. The steel bracelet, the Kara, indicates bondage to God. A corollary being that a Sikh does not bow before anyone except his master i.e God. A Sikh is supposed to never cut his hair, both to indicate a lifelong search for spirituality and acceptance for God's gifts to man. A comb is to keep the hair tidy, a symbol of not just accepting what God has given, but also an injunction to maintain it.

Sikh women would generally wear typically North Indian dress. Ideally they should use the surname Kaur (traditionally believed to mean "princess", but actually means "lioness" to match the singhs as lions), rather than the name Singh that is actually meant only for the men, but few countries allow this.

In the late 1970s and 1980s a limited separatist movement began to create a separate Sikh state, called Khalistan, in the Punjab area of India and Pakistan.

Currently, there are about 23 million Sikhs in the world, making it the 5th largest world religion. Approximately 19 million Sikhs live in India with the majority living in the state of Punjab (keep in mind that the 'greater Punjab' extends across the India-Pakistan border but few Sikhs remained in Pakistan due to persecution during the split of India in 1947). Large populations of Sikhs can be found in the United Kingdom, Canada, and USA. They also comprise a significant minority in Malaysia and Singapore, where they are sometimes made fun of for their distinctive appearance and are very subjected to stereotypes, but are respected for their drive and high education standards, as they dominate the legal profession.

Sikhs operate a security firm, Akal Security, that provides security for major facilities such as Los Angeles International Airport. Another Sikh security firm provided security at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City until it was destroyed April 19, 1995.

Following the Indian general election, 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh has become the first Sikh Prime Minister of India. He is also the first non-Hindu Prime Minister of India.

Modern persecution of Sikhs
India, 1980s
In India, Sikhs faced persecution following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This assassination was an act of revenge by her Sikh body guards for the Golden Temple Massacre of 1984, when a group of Sikh separatists (some say terrorists) following Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale took refuge or occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a Sikh holy site.

After attempts at negotiation failed, Gandhi ordered the temple cleared by troops. Refusal to depart peacefully resulted in a firefight, with 83 army personnel killed and 493 Sikh occupiers killed, as well as many more wounded. Many Sikhs considered the use of force in their holy place to be an unforgivable insult, and her assassination was claimed to be a response. Supporters of the government move argue that attack was justified since large amounts of ammunition were being stored by Sikh terrorists within the temple, and guns and shells were indeed recovered during the army move.

In the aftermath of the assassination, many Sikh communities were attacked by some fanatic members Gandhi's Congress Party, then under the control of her son Rajiv Gandhi, who would go on to become Prime Minister. Thousands of Sikhs died as a result of this persecution.

United States, 2000s
Following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack some Americans turned on Sikhs. They mistook symbols of religious belief, such as turbans and beards, for the garb of those who carried out the terrorist attacks. Some vigilantes in the United States threatened and hurt individuals within the Sikh community. In the months after 9-11, the Sikh community received nearly 300 reported incidents of threats, assaults, violence, and even death. While these incidents do not constitute persecution of Sikhs per se, but rather persecution for perceived adherence to Islam, they illustrate a profound lack of awareness of the distinct traditions of the Sikh community.

The U.S. senate issued a resolution which condemns bigotry against Sikh-Americans. The texts of Senate Concurrent Resolution 74 and the introductory statement by Senator Richard Durbin from the October 2 Congressional Record are available here:

U.S. Senate condemns bigotry against Sikhs (http://usinfo.org/USIA/usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01100320.htm)

France, 2000s
The French state has recently (February 2004) sought to ban children in schools from wearing 'ostentatious' signs of their religion. While the law is primarily intended to ban the Islamic Hijab from schools it catches the Sikh Turban too. Whilst French Sikhs number only 5,000-7,000, internationally Sikhs have been making representations to their Governments to put pressure on France to either drop the ban, or make an exemption for Sikhs.

There are many present day sects of Sikhsim, such as Namdhari, Nirankari, Ravidasi, 3Ho led by Yogi Bhajan ("new age" sikhism), Balmiki etc... Namdharis have a living Guru and as such do not install the Guru Granth Sahib in the Gurdwara. Ravidasis believe in bhagat Ravidas (a pre-nanak saint of the bhakti-sant movement) as Guru Ravidas Ji, they do not uphold the 5Ks strictly and they perform Arti in the temple, which is called a Bhawan rather than Gurdwara. Balmikis install the Ramayana in the temple alongside the Guru Granth Sahib and honour Balmiki, the author of the Ramayana as Guru alongside Guru Nanak.
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