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Sikh Beliefs: The Philosophy, Principles And Practices


Jun 1, 2004
By Daljit Singh

Each religion is based on the teachings of great thinkers or inspired souls like the Great Gurus, or the Tenth Masters and it is through this path, that one overcomes the problems. Panth in Sanskrit means way or route and in the Sikh faith is come to be known as Panth. The Sikh faith has various established beliefs and values that are inherent in the basic philosophy of the faith. A Sikh believes in only one God; there is only one Creator.
The Sikh Panth originated with Guru Nanak Dev Ji and subsequently, propagated by the successive Gurus. The faith advocates that it is beneficial that the followers to attend congregational gatherings or sadh sangat where the devotional Naam is uttered; the faith is strictly monotheistic, meaning the belief or doctrine that there is only One God.
The fundamental Sikh beliefs and principles are the belief in One God, the belief in the teachings of all the Gurus; the belief in the Guru Granth Sahib, the belief in freedom and democracy. The rules of conduct are life of honesty, truth, humility, transparency, restraint, piety and life of householder (grihashti).

Truth living in the Sikh faith context are to earn one’s livelihood through creative, productive and honest labour(kirt karni); to be in tune with the infinite through meditation on Divine qualities so that the believer becomes filled with His Naam(Naam Japna) and to share the fruits of earnings with then needy(Wand chakana). The individual has to live in and as part of this world while resisting all temptations and at the end of the day, all humans are seekers of salvation or as it is called moksha, which is to achieve liberation from the cycle of births and deaths.

In the Sikh faith, prayer is an essential part of life. To those who are unable to recite the prayers, to initially utter and remember the mantra or Naam is suffice as gradually the knowledge and love grows for the faith. The rest comes later for the Gursikh and with the Grace of Waheguru, practice makes perfect and set of prayers just becomes an integral part of the life of that individual.

As the Bani says: Without the Naam, everyone is a pauper (Bin navai sabh koi niradhan; Satguru bujha bujhai-SGGS 1232) . As nutrients strengthen the body, prayers purify the mind and uplift the soul. They are expected to recite the Gurbani (morning and evening prayers), collectively known as Nit-nem, literally meaning the daily routine or regular habit. The faith also advocates self-discipline over kam (passion), karodh (anger), lobh (greed), mohb (attachment) and angkar (pride)

The Mool Mantar informs us that there is God or vahiguru is One. He is all pervading. Being pervasive, He is the embodiment of Truth. The Truth is the Creator. He is perfect. The seed of the Sikh Dharam (Mool Mantar) is up to the word Gurprasad, which is His Grace.

(Ik Onakar, Satnam, Karta Purubh, Nirbhau, Nirvair, Akal Moorat, Ajooni Saibhang, Gurprasad). The Sikh faith begins with a numerical Ik (One) and the word Ongkaar is followed by the numerical. Ik means that there is only one Force which exists and there is no other second force or power (shakti) running parallel with it. The first meaning of the word Ongkaar is sound. Ong means sound (dhuni) and Kaar means this entire universe which is a symbol of Power. The rounded line over oohraa on top of the word Ong is the sound of which the entire expanse of creation, this entire structure of Khand Brahmand(Khand means half the universe and Brahmand means the complete universe has come into existence).

The Second meaning of the word Ongkaar is that which exists is all pervading and it is everywhere.

The Third meaning is that there are three Gunas in this universe: Rajogun, Tamogun and Satogun- the creator, sustainer and destroyer. These three constituents of nature are the basis of the substance. Ongkaar stands for all the three Gunas. It does make sense when they say GOD stands for generator, operator and destroyer.

This Ongkaar is Satnam. Naam means existence or being. The existence has two forces, mortal and immortal. He is the creating Power (Karta); He is perfect or complete (Purukh); He is devoid of fear (Nirbhau); He is devoid of enmity (Nirvair); He is deathless (Akal moorat). He is beyond the cycle of births and deaths i.e. transmigration of soul (Ajooni). He is self-existent(saibhang) form the Sanskrit word swayambhu. He is known by Gurprasad, the Grace of the Guru).

The Sikh Holy Scriptures, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji explains the various facets of God in substantial detail. This principle leads to the concept of equality amongst all human races, sects, gender, social classes, and creed. There is a recognised belief system that people of other faiths can also reunite with God provided they follow the true path of their own religion. So the Sikh does not believe that they have a monopoly on God or are the ‘chosen’ people.

The emphasis is laid on the positive action and effort(udham) in any situation. The results are not in one’s control. They are dependent on the karmic forces and therefore is required is acceptance of and surrender to the Divine Will called the Raza or Bhana. Guru Nanak Writes in Jap Ji Sahib: countless suffer pain, hunger and adversity; even theses, Lord, are Thy gifts.’ Release from the shackles of rebirth, is at the Divine Will (Hukam); none can say aught else.’

The Sikhs believe in the evolution of the Soul and the principle of reincarnation. The soul is believed to be a tiny spark of God’s light detached from the Almighty.

This spark is separated from God and wants to become pure so that it can reunite with God. For this to happen, the Soul has to evolve and purify itself so that this reunification with the Supreme Soul can take place. The Law of Karma is another concept central to the Sikh faith. One’s actions in this life will have a direct influence on the type of life in your next existence! So to adhere to these principles, the dedicated follower must lead a disciplined personal life and must uphold the moral and ethnical rights of all the peoples of the world. So it is a must to lead a spiritually correct life at all times and to be ready to be subjected to personal sacrifices if the liberty of any weak person(s) is at stake.

Another central tenet of Sikhism is the concept of ‘Chardi kala’ – to remain positive and in high spirits is central to the Sikh philosophy. The positive attitude to life at all times and graciously accepting the will of God at all times (Hukam)and is done so with meek humility. The Sikh is also to always lead one’s life unattached and untangled with the material world and not to be influenced by Maya, i.e. the illusionary and transient world around us. “To remain detached like the lotus in a pond and yet stay uncontaminated from this world but to recognise ones duties to God and his creation( As the lotus lives detached in waters, as the duck floats carefree on the stream, so does one cross the Sea of existence, his mind is attuned to the Word. H e who lives detached, enshrining the one Lord in the mind, shorn of hope, living in the midst of hope, and sees what is unperceivable and unfathomable, to him Nanak is a slave.”(SGGS 1281).

There is only ONE God who has infinite qualities and names; He is the same for all religions; God is Creator & Sustainer -All that you see around you is God's Creation; He is everywhere, and in everything; He is fearless and with no Enemies; Only God is without birth or death and He has and will exist forever.

God the creator? SGGS 1036:

Sikhs believe that every creature has a Soul; on death, the Soul is passed from one body to another until Liberation. The journey of the Soul is governed by the deeds and actions that we perform during our lives. If we perform good deeds and actions and remember the Creator, we attain a better life.

On the contrary, if we carry out evil actions and sinful deeds, we will be incarnated in “lower” life forms – snakes, ghosts, animals, and 84 other million species. It seems frightening as certain species live up to 500 years and some 5000 years. When will this end until the person is born in human form to attain salvation again? The person who has evolved to spiritual perfection attains salvation – union with God.

The following lines from SGGS explain how our deeds and actions (or Karma) have an impact on the future of the soul and reincarnation:
Love God but also have fear of Him as well. Only by keeping the Creator in your mind at all times, will you make progress in your spiritual evolution. The Sikh Guru asks the devotees to meditate with single-mindedness; dispel doubt; remain focused; subdue their ego; thus glory will be obtained.
The following lines from SGGS elaborate on the importance of remembering the Almighty Lord:

Those contented souls who meditate on the Lord with single-minded love, meet the True Lord.

Those who are imbued with the love of the Name of the Lord are not loaded down by doubt.

The pure swans, with love and affection, dwell in the Ocean of the Lord, and subdue their ego.

The Gurmukh remains forever imbued with the Lord’s Love. Meeting the True Lord, glory is obtained.

Sikhs believe that all human beings are equal. “We are sons and daughters of Vahiguru, the Almighty”. Sikhs have to treat all peoples of the world on an equal footing. No gender, racial, social, or any discrimination is allowed. This is the message of Guru Nanak as taught by the Ten Sikh Masters during the period 1469 to 1708.

Guru Angad Dev Ji stood for a caste-less and class-less society, in which no one was superior to the other and no one, through greed or selfishness, could be allowed to encroach upon the rights of others. In short, he visualised a society in which members lived like a family, helping and supporting one another. He not only preached equality but practised it. To promote the acceptance of human equality, Guru established a community kitchen where all sat together in a row, regardless of caste or status, and ate the same food.

Guru Angad Dev Ji said, “He Himself creates, O Nanak; He establishes the various creatures. How can anyone be called bad? There is One Lord and Master of all; He watches over all, and assigns all to their tasks. Some have less, and some have more; no one is allowed to leave empty.”
Furthermore, the Guru stressed the importance of adopting a uniform way of praising God and the utility of a social organisation based on equality. He established a holy congregation, or Sangat, where people of different beliefs and varying social status sat together to hear the Master’s singing of hymns/or sermons (katha) and to be inspired to lead a noble life.
The following lines from SGGS explain about the importance of treating every person as an equal:

“They look upon all with equality, and recognize the Supreme Soul, the Lord, pervading among all. Those who sing the Praises of the Lord, Har, Har, obtain the supreme status; they are the most exalted and acclaimed people. ((2))” SGGS Page 446

“He is within - see Him outside as well; there is no one, other than Him. As Gurmukh, look upon all with the single eye of equality; in each and every heart, the Divine Light is contained. ((2))” SGGS Page 599
“There is only one breath; all are made of the same clay; the light within all is the same. The One Light pervades all the many and various beings. This Light intermingles with them, but it is not diluted or obscured. By Guru’s Grace, I have come to see the One. I am a sacrifice to the True Guru. ((3))” SGGS Page 96

The Sikh Gurus have defended, safeguarded, fought and sacrificed to uphold the rights of others no matter what their religion, caste, gender or race.

The message promoted by the Guru is to allow all to live freely without undue interference and restrictions. No one is to be forced into a different belief system under threat of force. This philosophy was vigorously defended by all the Sikh Gurus but came into sharp focus when the Ninth Sikh master, Guru Tegh Bahadur choose to sacrifice his life for the defence of the Kashmiri Pandits who were being persecuted by the Mughal Rule.
The Gurus have left a legacy for the Sikhs to follow.
To uphold high moral standards and to undertake personal sacrifice to protect and guard these high principles. The prime candidates in understanding this principle is realised by examining the lives of Guru Arjan Dev (5th Guru), Guru Tegh Bahadur (9th Guru) and Guru Gobind Singh (10th Guru) and not forgetting the rest of the Gurus and pirs and seers.
Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life to save the Kashmiri Pandits from persecution by the Mughal rulers. When these Pandits came to ask for help from the Guru, the Guru did not flinch from his responsibility to protect the weak and in so doing, paid the ultimate price. The tyrant Emperor Aurangzeb gave the instructions to behead the Guru at Chandni Chowk in Delhi for not converting to Islam. But this sacrifice, the Guru's determination and sacrifice showed the rulers the solid resolve of the masses and thus the persecution of the masses subsided.

By carrying out this ultimate sacrifice, the leader of the Sikhs showed them the way to challenge oppression. Oppression and tyranny had to tackle with a strong and unwavering resolve. Many other examples like this can be found in the History of the Sikhs.

On page 1377 of SGGS the Guru tells us:

“Kabir, if you desire to play the game of love with the Lord, then cut off your head, and make it into a ball. Lose yourself in the play of it, and then whatever will be, will be. Kabir, if you desire to play the game of love with the Lord, play it with someone with commitment. Pressing the unripe mustard seeds produces neither oil nor flour. ”

So can play this game of love with commitment and sacrifice.
The Sikh Gurus tell us that salvation can be obtained by following various spiritual paths. Therefore, Sikhs do not have a monopoly on Salvation – “Many Spiritual paths lead to God” – Sikhs do not therefore consider themselves as having a monopoly on God or a “superior” right to salvation.
The Sikhs do not consider themselves as the “chosen people of God”. However, the Sikh Scripture is probably the only known Living Guru that advances this message of “religious equality” and offers advice for Muslims to be better Muslims and for Hindus to be better Hindus. Christian, Hindus, Muslim, Jews, and other faith to all have the same right to liberty as a Sikhs.

The following lines from SGGS explain about the importance of treating every spiritual path as an equal and valid path to God and salvation:
“One who recognizes that all spiritual paths lead to the One shall be emancipated. One who speaks lies shall fall into hell and burn. In the entire world, the most blessed and sanctified are those who remain absorbed in Truth. One who eliminates selfishness and conceit is redeemed in the Court of the Lord. ”

“Some read the Vedas, and some the Koran. Some wear blue robes and some wear white. Some call themselves Muslim, and some call themselves Hindu. Some yearn for paradise, and others long for heaven. Says Nanak, one who realizes the Hukam of God’s Will, knows the secrets of his Lord and Master. ”

“Practice within your heart the teachings of the Koran and the Bible; restrain the ten sensory organs from straying into evil. Tie up the five demons of desire with faith, charity and contentment and you shall be acceptable. ”

“Do not say that the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran are false. Those who do not contemplate them are false. You say that the One Lord is in all, so why do you kill chickens? ”

“By His Power the Vedas and the Puraanas exist and the Holy Scriptures of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions. By His Power all deliberations exist.”

Chardi Kala This term is an important expression used in Sikhism for a mind frame that a Sikh has to accept and practice. It loosely means a “positive, buoyant and optimistic” attitude to life and the future. Always be – in "high spirits", "ever progressive", "always cheerful", are some other terms used to describe this phrase.

The Sikh faith dictates that Sikhs believes in the Will of God and that God is without enemies and is always merciful. Hence acceptance of his Will is in the interest of and for the benefit of His Creation, even if at times one suffers severe hardship.

This attitude of "Chardi Kala" is to allow one to sail through the turbulence of life with as little harm as possible to the individual.
To join and help others in their hour of need is part of this “Chardi Kala” spirit.

The Sikh faith condemns empty rituals and superstitions. The practice of blind rituals, worshiping of idols and inanimate objects, participating in religious fasts, pilgrimage to holy places, offering of food to sadhus (religious leaders), or believing in any other such rituals, superstitions or fads, will not bring one closer to God or make one a better human being. In all societies round the world, through fear and uncertainty, members undertake in ritualistic and worthless behaviour at times of worry, uncertainty or trouble. These poor people wrongly believe that undertaking these empty customs and penances will bring them special assistance from Vahiguru some other higher power.

Upon initiation into the faith, the Sikh must wear the Sikhs Five Ks (5Ks); strict recital of the 5 prayers Banis, and adherence to rule of conduct called the Rehat Maryada.

Sikhs do not believe that any particular day is holier than any other.
It's every Sikh duty to defeat these five vices: Lust (Kam), Anger (Krodh), Greed (Lobh), Attachment (Moh), and Ego (Ahankar). Within each person live these five vices and it’s the duty of every Sikh to exercise self-disciple and control the behaviour of these emotions and enemies.

The following lines from SGGS explain about the dangers of these negative energies and how they lead to pain and suffering:

“All of my companions are intoxicated with their sensory pleasures; they do not know how to guard their own home. The five thieves have plundered them; the thugs descend upon the unguarded village...”

“Within this body dwell the five thieves: sexual desire, anger, greed, emotional attachment and egotism. They plunder the Nectar, but the self-willed manmukh (ego minded person) does not realise it; no one hears his complaint. The world is blind, and its dealings are blind as well; without the Guru, there is only pitch darkness. ”

"All the sins of that humble being are taken away, all the pains are taken away, all diseases are taken away; sexual desire, anger, greed, attachment and egotistical pride are taken away. The Lord drives the five thieves out of such a person of the Lord. Chant the Name of the Lord, O Holy Saints of the Lord; meditate on the Lord of the Universe, O Holy people of the Lord. Meditate in thought, word and deed on the Lord, Har, Har. Worship and adore the Lord, O Holy people of the Lord."

A Sikh must always strive to imbibe the following virtues:

Humility (Nimrata) Compassion (Daya), Truth (Sat), Contentment (Santokh), and Love (Pyar)

This is what the SGGS say about the virtues:

The fruit of humility is intuitive peace and pleasure. Bow in humility within your heart, and you will not have to be re-incarnated over and over again. Humility is the word, forgiveness is the virtue, and sweet speech is the magic mantra. Wear these three robes, O’ Sister, and you will captivate your Husband Lord. You have no compassion; the Lord’s Light does not shine in you. You are drowned, drowned in worldly entanglements. The love of the Truth is my karma and Dhrama-my faith and my actions, and my self-control. O’Nanak, one who is forgiven by the Lord is not called to account. The One Lord erases duality. Practice truth, contentment and kindness; this is the most excellent way of life. One who is so blessed by the Formless Lord God renounces selfishness, and becomes dust of all.
Through truth and contentment, doubt is dispelled. Those who practice Truth, contentment and love, obtain the supplies of Lord’s Name. So banish corruption from your mind, and the True One will grant you the Truth. Truth, contentment, compassion, Dharmic faith and purity-I have received these from the Teachings of the Saints. Says, Nanak, one who realizes this in his mind, achieves total understanding. The armour of self-restraint, truth, contentment and humility can never be pierced.

The essence of the Sikh panth then is harmony, universal love, honest labour, moderation in living and complete faith in One God-the God of all creation; a way which is simple to describe but not to easy to follow. God is not vengeful but benign. Though Omnipotent, He is loving and magnanimous. The Gurbani names God in some of his Infinite qualities and forms: Daata(giver), Pritam(lover), Sahib(Master), Pita(father), Bhandap(friend), Raakha(Protector), met(friend), Thakur(ruler). The Gurus, refer to themselves as neech(lowly), garib(poor), das(servitor), Nimana(worthless), banda(bondsnman), binwant(supplicant and other humble terms to describe themselves.

Sikh faith is the youngest faith and the faith has its derivatives from other faith and belief system. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib contains 36 great souls (Gurus and Bhagats) from different faiths have their lofty ideals and exalted thoughts expressed in this Holy Scripture called The Living Guru. The focus of worship is the One Supreme, Formless, Eternal Lord and not any icons or human beings.

The young generation wants to know the gist of what THEIR BELIEFS AND PRACTICE OF THE FAITH. When they do not hear from their role model, they drift away to embrace other faith. The Sikh faith also believes in Universal brotherhood who are dedicated to sewa and pray for the good of all (sarbhat da bhalla). The Sikh faith also advocates the basic three teachings of the faith: Naam Japna (remember God at all times. Naam is the living presence on the one, formless God. The Sikh way of life brings Naam into our everyday lives. The only command in the Sikh Scripture is Jap meaning respect, remember and understand. When we say Jap we say Yes to God and Yes to life).

Secondly, kirat Karna (Earning an honest living without greed and the exploitation of others. The Gurus promoted the life of a householder and placed great importance on the family and living within a given society.) Thirdly, Wand Chakna (sharing with others and helping those who are needy. The concept of Sewa is very important within Sikh way of life; every action matters and as long as this in registered as voluntary and not looking for recognition, it is sewa, a beauty of the Sikhs.


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Randip Singh

May 25, 2005
United Kingdom
On the contrary, if we carry out evil actions and sinful deeds, we will be incarnated in “lower” life forms – snakes, ghosts, animals, and 84 other million species. It seems frightening as certain species live up to 500 years and some 5000 years. When will this end until the person is born in human form to attain salvation again? The person who has evolved to spiritual perfection attains salvation – union with God.

Ghosts? :p
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