Gurus - Sikh Panth. (By Daljit Singh) | Sikh Philosophy Network
  • Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

Gurus Sikh Panth. (By Daljit Singh)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004

Sikh Panth. (By Daljit Singh)


Guru Nanak Dev Ji, The Founder of the Sikh faith, taught and practised a devotional and loving attitude (bhakti) towards the Supreme Being, a belief and practice current in the Saints (sants and bhagats) of his time and area, like Kabir, Ravidas and Namdev - whose hymns are also included in the Sikh's sacred scripture the (Adi Granth also referred to as the Guru Granth Sahib). However, there is uniqueness about Guru Nanak Dev Ji's beliefs, since at the start of his revelation he proclaimed, "There is no Hindu or Muslim. So whose path shall I follow? I shall follow God's path." God is termed Akal Purakh, the Timeless Being. But this is an abridged version of the full doctrinal definition, which Nanak gives on the opening page of the Adi Granth: Ik Onkaar, Satnam Karta Purukh Nirbhau Nirvair Akaal Moorat Ajooni Sai-bhang Gurprasad. Jap: Aaad sach, jugaad sach, Naak hosi bhi sach ("God is the One mystic Sound, His name is Truth, He is the Creator, Without Fear, Without Enmity, Timeless Form, Unborn and Self-existent, Known by the Guru's Grace. He was the Truth in the beginning, Truth when time began; even now He is the Truth and will always be the Truth.”)
(Mool mantar, Adi Granth, p.1).

For Nanak, liberation (i.e., freedom from the compulsive, ignorant and deluding activity of worldly life - samsara) was and is only achieved through the divine Name (Naam). Transmigration (the endless round of birth and death of chuarsi lakh jooni) occurred in accordance with one's deeds (karma), and liberation is seen as the ending of this process. The concept and doctrine of karma is an integral part of the belief system of the Sikhs. The law of moral cause and effect means that every word and action has a sequence and a consequence. This does not necessarily mean that birth and death disappear, but that one will live in the world truly i.e. creatively and subserviently according to Akal Purakh's Will (hukam, bhana, raza) and not habitually and destructively according to one's selfish will or motives (haumai). For there is a divinely sanctioned order to things that should be adhered to: "He who created the world watches over it, appointing all to their various tasks." (A.G., p.765).

One is not to renounce worldly life, but live in the world whilst not being of it. Thus the ascetic (sanyasi/yogi/siddha) of the wilderness is married to the householder (grihasti) of the village-city whose aim is to become a jivanmukta, liberated-in-life. That is the sole purpose of being born in this world, to eventually seek salvation. A traditional saying is: "Nam japo, kirt karo, vand chhako": Recite God's name, work honestly and share your earnings. Liberation is not something attained after death but realised in life and lived. Guru Nanak Dev Ji believed that liberation was intimately linked with being true in one's deeds: "Highest is truth, but higher still is truthful action". (A.G., p.62) And man, "shall be known as true when he dwells in the pilgrimage of his heart." (A.G., p.468). This is achieved by constantly remembering one's true love (i.e. Akal Purakh) in all action. The mind and heart are to be always focused on Him and His wondrous doings. This, however, can only be achieved if God bestows His grace (nadir, kirpa, karam, Prasad, mihr, daya or bakshis). God was seen as a non-dual One; in Nanak's mystic vision God is both personal and impersonal; He is seen to be both formless, transcendent (nirgun) and present within in all forms of creation (sargun). This presence of the divine Name, is communicated via shabad, which is the Word, Instruction or mystical Voice of the True Guru (satiguru). If one meditates on this shabad (truth/instruction/name as Guru) then the means of liberation will be appropriately and progressively revealed until one reaches a condition of ineffable and blissful union (sahaj avasstha). In Nanak's hymns where there is love (bhaau) for the Supreme Being and fear (bhau) of him, then there is virtue and truth and so also spiritual illumination. Consequently where there is love and fear of another - i.e. of a mother, husband, work, recreation, etc., independent of one's love of God as one and all - then there is duality, delusion and wrongdoing, collectively known as maya.

God, for Guru Nanak Dev Ji, is the eternally unchanging, Formless One. He has no material sign; He is inscrutable; He is beyond the reach of human intellect. He is boundless, beyond time, beyond seeing, infinite, unsearchable, beyond description, eternally constant, unborn, self-existent and wholly apart from creation. God created the universe as and when He wished. Consequently, he came to acquire attributes which become the means of understanding Him. He is the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer of the universe. As some say, GOD aptly stands for generator, operator and destroyer. He is the only One; there is no second; there is no partner. God possesses unqualified power and absolute authority. God is omnipresent and immanent as well as omnipotent and transcendant. “Within all there is light and it is thy light which is in all.” (AG 13,663)

In Nanak's teaching there are two kinds of people; those who listen and act on the Word of the True Guru called Gurmukh (he who faces the Guru) and those that do not, called Manmukh (he who has turned his back on the Guru(bemukh) and does as he pleases). This is the basic doctrine that all the Ten Gurus preached though it takes on different emphasises and forms in each according to the historical time and the audience listening.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1538) led a simple spiritual and divine life. As a young man, he received a mystical call from Akal Purakh to preach the means of liberation by the divine Name. Nanak travelled around India (traditionally to East India, Sri Lanka, Mount Sumeru and Mecca) singing the praises of the Lord. He critically challenged the hypocrisy of those claiming to be religious people, and the empty ritualistic behaviour of many Indians. He married Bibi Sulakhani and had two sons Lakhmi Das and Sri Chand to show that the one can still be a devout person as well as living the life of a house-holder (grihasti); that those who had taken the vow of celibacy and had renounced the world (yogis, sadhus, siddhas), were no different to 'worldly' people. Finally, he settled in a village he founded as Kartarpur on the right bank of the River Ravi, North-East of Lahore. During his life, he attracted a sizeable devotees and appointed Lehna as Angad as the successor True Guru (satiguru) before he died. Lehna was changed to Angad making him “a limb” of the Founder of the Sikh faith.

During the time of the first four Gurus, the Sikh Panth had no distinctive dress, or external symbols to denote the uniqueness of their faith. This is understandable since the main thrust of the early Gurus, and especially of Nanak, was a shift away from external symbols, rituals and practices of Hinduism and Islam, to a focus on the interiority of religious devotion within the heart. Guru Nanak Dev Ji is said to have cross-dressed the Muslim and Hindu attire.

Most of the activity of the Sikh Panth was in the Panjab, North India. The first centre established by Guru Nanak was and still is at Kartarpur. It was here at Kartarpur, where he imparted his sermons (viakhyas) to his disciples and exhorted his followers to cultivate inner devotion and truly recognising the greatness of God and reflect upon His revelation
There is no divergence in belief between the Gurus but there is significant development. Guru Amar Das Ji emphasised the belief that every cosmic age (yuga) has its corresponding and appropriate religious practice or faith (dharma). There are four ages that progressively degenerate; we are in the fourth and most degenerate age (kaliyuga). The appropriate religious practice for this age is the remembrance and meditation upon the divine Name (Naam). There is no guru but the True Guru (Satiguru) who can manifest in any form. So the living Guru can manifest the satiguru as can the Word (shabad) of their hymns. Guru Amar Das Ji, following Guru Nanak Dev Ji's belief that there is One Nondual Reality/Being, saw God Himself as both Guru and disciple is the father, the mother, the brother, sister, friend and relation. Guru Arjan Dev Ji reaffirmed this too (Adi Granth, p.103). Thus the revealed shabad of the satiguru is not only bound to the living Guru or scripture. The collective body of the Sikhs (sangat) are believed to be favoured by God. Arjan's emphasis lay on the Guru as the true King, the centre of a true social organisation. Guru Arjan Dev Ji, also expounds much more strongly the belief in the true/saintly congregational association (sat/sadh sangat).

Guru Angad Ji(1504-52) after his conversion became a humble Sikh (disciple, learner) and served Nanak as though he were part of Nanak's own body (ang means limb). He married Mata Khivi and had three children. He is noted by tradition for his unquestioning obedience to the Guru's Will. Under Angad the Panth grew and before he died he appointed a store-keeper (bhandari) and a master cook (rasoiya), Amar Das as his successor.

Guru Amar Das Ji(1479-1754) became a Sikh after hearing Angad's daughter singing Nanak's religious hymns which so captivated him at the age of seventy three. He was also married and had two sons and two daughters. Amar Das Ji was sent to the village of Goindwal to make this his centre. The Panth was now large enough to justify Amar Das appointing manjis, which literally means 'string-bed' upon which devout Sikhs would sit above others who sat on the floor and preach to them the Sikh way of life. The Sikh Gurus insisted that we are all one caste before the Supreme Being. Therefore to banish the hypocrisy and social iniquities of the caste system, Amar Das instituted the free Kitchen and dining hall (langar). This allowed people of different caste and religious beliefs to eat together as equals. To keep the growing Panth together and focused, Guru Amar Das Ji designated two festival days (which Hindus already celebrated), collated and recorded many of the previous Gurus' hymns into four volumes (Goindwal Pothis) and he constructed a sacred well (Baoli sahib) with eighty-four steps as a Pilgrimage centre in Goindwal. Before his death, he appointed Ram Das.

Guru Ram Das (1534-81) excavated a large pool which eventually became the city of Amritsar ('the nectar of immortality'). The manjis of Amar Das were superseded by Ram Das' masands (representatives of the Guru in his absence). This brought greater organisation to the Panth, wherein offerings would be made to the Guru wherever Sikhs were via the Masands. Ram Das composed many hymns in praise of the divine Name, which were sung by the Panth. The tradition of singing these sacred hymns, initiated by Nanak, continues today. Ram Das appointed his youngest son Guru Arjan Dev Ji to be his successor, leaving Mahadev and Prithi Chand out. Hereafter, the remaining Sikh Gurus were all Guru Ram Das' male descendants.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji(1563-1606) continued the emphasis on scripture (like his father, Guru Ram Das), writing the greatest number of hymns of all the Gurus. The Minas were distributing spurious hymns competing with those of the authentic hymns of the first four Gurus. Thus Arjan determined to create a definitive book (granth) containing all the authentic hymns of the Sikh Gurus and even including those of the renowned nirguni saints/sants. Bhai Gurdas worked as his scribe. The scripture was completed in 1604. The Sikh Panth now had a sacred scripture in written form, the Adi Granth. At this time, the Sikh Panth had grown considerably and its presence and popularity throughout the Panjab was felt and feared by the Mughal ruler Jahangir, who declared that if the Guru would not accept Islam the Sikh Panth had to be extinguished. Guru Arjan Dev Ji was captured and tortured in Lahore for not converting to Islam. He is remembered by tradition as the first Sikh Guru martyr who sacrificed his life but not his Sikh faith.

Up till now the Sikh Panth had been an exclusively religious sect, however with the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji ,the need for socio-political freedom became ever more necessary. Before his death, Guru Arjan Dev Ji told his son and successor Hargobind to bear arms so that the tyranny of Mughal hostility would not obliterate the Sikh Panth. Guru Amar Das shifted the centre from Kartarpur to Goindwal. Guru Ram Das established Amritsar which Guru Arjan completed. This is the most important epicentre of the Sikhs for devotion and pilgrimage. All three villages have become major centres of Sikh activity today. Guru Arjan Dev Ji founded Tarn Taran and Sri Hargobindpur in the Bari Doab and Kartarpur in the District Jalandhar Doab of the Panjab.

Though there is no deviation in belief between the Gurus there is significant elaboration, expansion and development. Guru Tegh Bahadur believed that life was short and that time passed away without individuals seizing the opportunities given to them. He reiterated the idea of liberation in life by saying that there should be engagement but without entanglement. This ideal led to his teaching that this was only possible by conquering the fear of death. As Sikhs were becoming warriors this was seen as of paramount importance. Guru Tegh Bahadur, like the early Gurus, also refuted the belief that occult powers were a sign of one's spiritual achievement.

The terminology of the Gurus also changes in time. This is most evident with the Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who called Akal Purakh, Sarab Loh 'All Steel'. Gobind believed that God commissions particular individuals to fight evil, and that he had been chosen to defend his people and fight against Mughal and Afghan persecution. Thus, he developed his Grandfather Hargobind's teaching in the unity of the socio-political and the religious realms (miri-piri) into the Saint-Soldier (sant-sipahi) who fights only for righteousness (dharam) at Akal Purukh's calling. The affairs of the temporal world and the spiritual world are believed to be coterminous. Gobind believed that it is righteous to pick up arms when all other means fail, providing it is the will of Akal Purakh/Sarab Loh. The warrior Singhs abided by a code of conduct (rehat maryada) given to them by Gobind.

Before Guru Gobind died he sanctified the scripture as the next Guru, thus the Adi Granth became the textual Guru Granth Sahib for the Khalsa Singh. And with the inauguration of the Khalsa, the Sikh Panth was transformed into the Guru Panth. Now decisions made in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib by the Guru Panth were (and are today) seen with equal authority as that of the Gurus' decisions amongst his Sikhs and Singhs in the past. This logically followed from the previous Gurus' equation of the Word (shabad) with the true Guru (satiguru).

Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) wore two swords at the time of his succession; one representing temporal power (miri) and the other spiritual power (piri). To accompany the Harimandir Sahib's (Golden Temple's) religious and spiritual focus, he built the Akal Takht (the Throne of God) opposite it to represent a temporal and political focus. He went hunting and trained his Sikhs to fight. As expected, Hargobind engaged in four skirmishes with the Mughal Army. He withdrew his army to Kirtapur at the edge of the Shivalik Hills outside of Mughal territory. Hargobind had three wives and had five sons and one daughter. Hargobind's eldest son was Gurditta. Gurditta's younger son Har Rai was chosen as the next Guru. This omitted Gurditta's eldest son Dhir Mal who started his own group.[

Guru Har Rai (1630-61) withdrew, after his grandfather's death, even further back into the Shivalik Hills to avoid further conflict and settled in the territory of Sirmur. His time was spent teaching and this he did sometimes beyond Sirmur on the plains. Har Rai's elder son Ram Rai sought to ingratiate himself with the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb by changing a word in a hymn of the Adi Granth that was offensive to Muslims . Displeased with Ram Rai, Guru Har Rai appointed his younger son Har Krishan at the age of five to succeed him.

Guru Har Krishan (1656-64) was summoned by Aurangzeb to Delhi. The Guru contracted smallpox there and before he died, tradition says, he uttered the words 'Babba Bakale'. This referred to the next Guru, who is a Baba (elderly man, grandfather) in the village of Bakala, near Amritsar. This evidently meant Baba Tegh Bahadur, son of Guru Hargobind.

Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-75) was schooled in languages and religious knowledge by Bhai Gurdas and trained as a warrior by Baba Buddha Ji (the first reader of the Granth in the Golden temple). After the death of his father Hargobind, he settled in Bakala, near Amritsar and concentrated on meditation. Many rivals descended in Bakala hoping to become the next Guru. But none succeeded despite exercising considerable influence at this time. Guru Tegh Bahadur fought for the right of religious freedom. In 1669 Emperor Aurangzeb issued a general order that all non-Muslim schools and shrines should be destroyed. The Mughal persecution and forcible conversions of the Hindus became intolerable to the Guru. He decided to stand up for their rights and became a martyr for the cause of religious freedom. He was executed at Chandni Chowk in Delhi by Aurangzeb. Gurdwara Sis Ganj commemorates the martyrdom of Guru Tehg Bahadur Ji. Before leaving for Delhi he appointed his son Gobind Das (later Gobind Singh) as his successor.

Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) educated in Sanskrit and Persian poetry also learned martial arts. Like his father he enjoyed hunting and engaged in battle with the Hill Chieftains. He created and inaugurated the Khalsa Panth (initiated Sikhs) in 1699 on the month of Vaisakh and this was done to provide the Sikhs with a distinctively visible identity which would transform Sikhs (disciples, learners) into Singhs (lions, warriors). Guru Gobind Singh beautifully proclaimed: Chirion se main baz turaun; sawa lakh se ek laraun.

Tabe Gobind Naam kahaun (I have turned sparrows to hawks. A single Singh can triumph over a hundred thousand in battle. Then alone can I call myself Gobind Singh).This would enable them as Singhs to fight for their religious rights against Mughal and Afghan persecution. Furthermore to have a united Panth meant that the divisions occurring to the now corrupted Masands (representatives of the Guru) had to be remedied. The Guru therefore abolished the Masands and called all to unite in his newly created Khalsa advocating principle of equality, fraternity and unity. Many battles were fought and won. The Guru lost all his four sons. As tradition has it, he therefore, appointed the Adi Granth as the Guru Granth, thus ending the line of human Gurus. He prepared the final version of the Adi Granth including his father's (Tegh Bahadur's) hymns. He did not include his own hymns which were later collected by Bhai Mani Singh. In 1708 Guru Gobind Singh was stabbed and wounded by a Pathan connected with Wazir Khan and Guru Ji proclaimed the Guru Granth Sahib Ji as the Living Guru for the Sikh Panth.

Scripture became symbolic of the living Gurus, especially Guru Nanak, and is today treated as though it was his living embodiment.

Most of the activity took place in the Panjab, which still remains the centre of Sikhism. Hargobind constructed the Akal Takht 'the Immortal Throne' and a Fort called Lohgarh for the purpose of defence. Guru Tegh Bahadur founded the city of Anandpur, and it is also where Guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa. Today Keshgarh Sahib in Anandpur Sahib is one of the five Takhts and this is the second most important Sikh centre.

Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed the Guru Granth Sahib as the guidance and the Sikh Panth evolved and today around the world the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the beacon of light for the Sikhs. All the Gurdwaras have the Guru Granth Sahib Ji where devotees attend to listen to the Banis and immerse themselves in Naam to achieve a union with God; an important experience is visamad, the awe-inspiring vision of God’s greatness and the feeling of ecstasy from it. The more the devotee shows his love and devotion to God, it leads to higher and yet higher levels of understanding and experience. The Gurus as one jot contributed to the development of the Sikh Panth and the basic principles of remembrance and utterance of Naam just to achieve divine connection with God and salvation.

Sikh Panth, stands for the Sikh faith as well as for Sikh people as a whole. Panth is about a way. Passage or path and figuratively, a way of life, religious creed. The Panth thus emerged as a comprehensive concept standing for the totality of the Sikh faith. The Panth contains itself the power of the Guru; the panth comprises the devoted and disciplines worshipers of God. Guru Nanak Dev Ji has chartered “a royal road” (a gadi rah) for all to tread irrespective of the religious faith they subscribe to. It is a highway on which all vehicles of all brand, sizes, shapes and speeds ply and reach their destination. The message is crystal clear and via intense love and devotion, salvation will be achieved. As Dr. De Bittencourt (Sikh way of life xiii) has rightly commented: Here comes a second uniqueness of the Sikh religion: “concerned with now and here” the Sikh way of life leads us straight to our goal- the realisation of God within us. We can find God and be united to Him, not after death in some unknown region but now and here in this very life. There will be no more delusion, no more sin. We get celestial peace, bliss and joy everlasting now here in the very life.

Daljit Singh


Create an account or login to comment

You must be a member in order to leave a comment

Create account

Create an account on our community. It's easy!

Log in

Already have an account? Log in here.

Shabad Vichaar by SPN'ers

ਗਉੜੀ ਮਹੱਲਾ ॥੫॥ Raag Gauri | Guru Granth Sahib 199

ਗਰੀਬਾ ਊਪਰਿ ਜਿ ਖਿੰਜੈ ਦਾੜੀ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਸ ਅਗਨਿ ਮਹਿ ਸਾੜੀ ॥੧॥ ਪੂਰਾ ਨਿਆਉ ਕਰੇ ਕਰਤਾਰੁ ਅਪੁਨੇ ਦਾਸ ਕਉ ਰਾਖਨਹਾਰ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

ਆਦਿ ਜੁਗਾਦਿ ਪਰਗਟੀ...

SPN on Facebook