SIKHS: A DISTINCT RELIGION, PANTH & NATION THAT WELCOME ALL
The scientific fact about Sikhism is that it is neither a syncretism, an amalgam and intellectual extraction from other religions and creeds nor a sect of Hinduism or Islam as has been variously asserted from time to time by numerous authorities. It is an autonomous, independent religion, complete and whole, with its validity inhering in its own revelations and proclamations such as are repeatedly made in the Sikh Scripture, its pious literature and its historical movement.
*Sirdar Kapur Singh, An Incomparable Prophet: Guru Amar Das
Sikhism asserts its own unique scriptural canon, prophets, places of worship, traditions, ceremonies, and institutions. There are over 20 million followers of the Sikh faith worldwide. In terms of the number of adherents, it is the fifth largest religion in the world.
Sikhism teaches that only one God exists. God's name is synonymous with the Truth. God is the sole Creator, Destroyer, and Caretaker. God is described as Omnipotent, Eternal, Fearless, and Without Enmity. God is Self-Illuminated, Self-Existent and is experienced through the grace of the Guru (Master, Enlightner).
Whereas the sphere of this essay does not permit a detailed treatise on Sikhism, it is important to provide a brief history of the religion and outline a few key concepts that serve as the core of the religion. Approximately five centuries ago, Sikhism's founder, Guru Nanak, denounced the disunity in society caused by religious divisions. He emphasized complete equality and strove to create a spiritual community where social hierarchy, gender biases and caste divisions would be dissolved, and all would be recognized as One.
The Sikh Gurus initiated profound social reforms and created institutions as well as traditions to facilitate spiritual and worldly upliftment. In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh_the tenth Sikh Guru_established the Khalsa (meaning "belonging only to the Divine"), a new, voluntary order of the Sikhs. The Khalsa consists of Sikhs who undergo an initiation ceremony and dedicate themselves to the high standards of the Sikh Gurus, by attempting to practice Sikh principles at all times. They maintain a distinct physical appearance by wearing a uniform consisting of five articles of faith. Guru Gobind Singh passed the status of eternal Guruship to the Khalsa, and the Sikh Scripture as enshrined in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), an anthology of sacred revelations documented by the Sikh Gurus and selected Saints.
A Sikh's ultimate goal is to experience constant oneness with God. The Sikh Gurus have prescribed certain means to achieve this: simran (loving remembrance, faith and meditation on God) and seva (selfless service towards all humanity).
The Sikh Rehit Maryada (Code of Conduct) was formulated to provide concrete guidelines and promote this discipline. For example, it promotes praying three times a day, in the morning, evening, and before bedtime, to remember and thank God throughout the day. The Sikh Scripture is very clear in saying that meditation in seclusion alone is not enough to reach communion with God. Sikhs must maintain the highest moral values and be virtuous in their actions. Sikhs should earn an honest living through hard work and share what they earn with others. They must commit to community service and the betterment of society by combating social ills, inequality, injustice, and oppression. This very political aspect of the religion has led some outside observers to label it not just a religion but a way of life.
The Sikh Scripture (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) incorporates hymns of spiritually accomplished individuals who were considered Muslim or Hindu, as a unique feature. Perhaps this inherently catholic nature of Sikhism has led other traditions to claim it as their own child sect. Being a relatively young religion that has always been surrounded by a large Hindu community, Sikhism has interacted with Hinduism quite a bit. Thus, Hindu culture has socially influenced the Sikh community and vice-versa. However, the assertion that Sikhism is a sect or "offshoot" of Hinduism, or Islam for that matter, remains false. A very definitive scriptural and theological basis clearly depicts this.
Broadly, there are two main types of claims about Sikhism being a subset of Hinduism:
Based on the early scholarship on Sikhism in the English language: European scholars discovered Sikhism during the late 19th century. The early work on Sikhism was rather superficial and unfortunately, the views of those scholars are still broadly accepted. This is so because a small number of scholars have done adequate research on Sikhism until the present time. Moreover, a textbook chapter in a book on something as broad as Eastern Religions typically contains a few paragraphs on Sikhism and says only a few simple things about the religion. Usually, the most easy-to-understand -but incorrect - introduction about Sikhism is to consider it a syncretism of Hinduism and Islam, or a sect of Hinduism.
More recent scholarship in Western academia, in the past two decades, has understood Sikhism as an independent religion in its own right. Unfortunately, this research has not been reflected in introductory textbooks or general books covering Eastern or World religions broadly.
Claims from the traditionally dominant Hindu institutions and their scholars which have propagated hegemony over scriptural, intellectual, philosophical, and sociopolitical aspects of Sikhism, as well as other religions originating in the Indian subcontinent, including Buddhism and Jainism. These are the very institutions and personalities whose authority is unequivocally rejected by the Sikh Scripture in principle, and by the actions of Sikhs over the course of their history.
The Sikh Scripture asserts its originality and completeness:
The Sikh scriptural canon makes clear, emphatic and repeated assertions about Sikhism being nothing short of a complete religion, in its own right, as well as in contrast with Islam and Hinduism. The Janam Sakhis which document many tales from the life of the founding Master of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, tell that Guru Nanaks first sermon was based on his direct encounter with God:
As God willed, Nanak, his devotee, was escorted to His presence, to the divine presence, and then a cup filled with Liquid of Immortality was given him, accompanied by the command: Nanak, pay attention. This is the cup of holy adoration of my Name; drink it. I am with thee, and thee I do bless and exalt. Go, rejoice in my Name, the Name of God, and preach to others to do the same. Let this be thy calling.
Guru Nanak himself refers to this divine assignment with deep gratitude: "I, an unemployed minstrel, was assigned a very rewarding task, indeed." [Var Majh M.1 SGGS 150]. The Janam Sakhis further tell us that Guru Nanaks first sermon was na ko Hindu, na Mussalman, "there is no Hindu, no Muslim." Guru Nanaks own Word denies any distinctions among humankind. Thus, to consider him as a Hindu saint or reformer is thus erroneous. Furthermore, the Sikh scriptures deny deriving any authority or inspiration from any scriptures of any religion, and repeatedly refute the authority of the Vedas and other Hindu texts.
Gauri Ki Vaar, Mahla 4, page 308, SGGS:
O Sikhs of the Guru, know that the Bani, the Word of the True Guru, is true, absolutely true. The Creator Lord Himself causes the Guru to say it.
Raag Bhairo, M. 5, p. 1136, SGGS:
I do not keep fasts, nor do I observe the month of Ramadaan. I serve only the One, who will protect me in the end. || 1 ||
The One Lord, the Lord of the World, is my God Allah. He administers justice to both Hindus and Muslims. || 1 || Pause ||
I do not make pilgrimages to Mecca, nor do I worship at Hindu sacred shrines. I serve the One Lord, and not any other. || 2 ||
I do not perform Hindu worship services, nor do I offer the Muslim prayers. I have taken the One Formless Lord into my heart; I humbly worship Him there.||3||
I am not a Hindu, nor am I a Muslim. My body and breath of life belong to Allah to Raam the God of both. || 4 ||
O Kabeer, this is what I say: meeting with the Guru, my Spiritual Teacher, I realize God, my Lord and Master. || 5 || 3 ||
Raag Ramkali, M.3, Anand, p. 920, SGGS:
Bani, the Word, other than that of the True Guru, is false.
Raag Maru, M.3, p. 1066, SGGS:
The Bani (Word) of the Guru prevails throughout this world. Through this Bani, Gods Name is obtained.
Raag Maru, M.1, p. 1028, SGGS:
Accept as True, Perfectly True, the Word of the True Guru's Bani.
In this way, you shall merge in the Lord, the Supreme Soul. || 14 ||
This central message of Revelation from the Guru is the crucial foundation of the Sikh faith. Throughout the SGGS, the ultimate guide of Sikhs, this message is repeated and emphasized to solidly instill it in the minds of Sikhs. The great Sikh evangelist, Bhai Gurdas, who lived and worked in the presence of several Gurus, elaborates this message in several beautiful compositions (called Vaaraan, Ballads).
Sikhism is a strictly monotheistic religion:
The SGGS begins with the Mool Mantra, Guru Nanaks description of God:
One God exists and is Omnipresent. Gods Name is Truth. God is the Creator, the Doer, Fearless, and without Animosity. God is Timeless, Unborn, Self-Illuminated and Self-Existent. One experiences God by the Grace of the True Guru.
Thus, Sikhism is more akin to the Semitic religions, than Hinduism. A Hindu might worship one or more of several Avatars reincarnations of God or any of countless gods and goddesses, or nothing at all. The Sikh practice of congregational prayer parallels Semitic prayer as well.
Unlike Hinduism and several other religions, Sikhism rejects the possibility of incarnations of God. The One True God is Timeless and Unborn, beyond the mortal cycle of Life and Death. This should be recognized as an axiomatic difference between Hinduism and Sikhism.
Sikhism denies the divine authority of classic Hindu scriptures:
Although it remains difficult to define what Hindu texts can be considered the indisputable scriptural canon of Hinduism, most scholars generally have taken the Vedas and additions made to them (Upanishads, several Puranas, Samhitas and Smritis) as classic religious texts of Hinduism. The unclear and fluid boundaries of Hindu scriptural canon are in sharp contrast to the very structured Sikh scriptural texts. The Sikh Gurus themselves compiled the Sikh scriptures in a meticulously indexed and marked fashion. The Sikh Scripture, unequivocally and unambiguously, rejects the divine authority of the Vedas and other Hindu texts, as well as Semitic texts.
Raag Tilang, Kabir, p. 727, SGGS:
There is but one God, the creator, obtained by the grace of the True Guru.
The Vedas and the Scriptures are only make-believe, O Siblings of Destiny; they do not relieve the anxiety of the heart. If you will only center yourself on the Lord, even for just a breath, then you shall see the Lord face-to-face, present before you. || 1 ||
O human being, search your own heart every day, and do not wander around in confusion. This world is just a magic-show; no one will be holding your hand. || 1 || Pause ||
Reading and studying falsehood, people are happy; in their ignorance, they speak nonsense. The True Creator Lord is diffused into His creation; He is not in the image the dark-skinned Krishna of legends. || 2 ||
Raag Asa, M.5, p. 397, SGGS:
He (God) is beyond the world of the Vedas and the Semitic texts.
The Supreme King of Nanak is immanent and manifest. || 4 || 3 || 105 ||
The Tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh, rejected the authority of Hindu texts, saying, "All the Smritis, Shastras, Vedas etc. claim to reveal many divine secrets, but I do not recognize even one of these." The Gurus message recognizes these texts as well as holy books of other faiths as possible useful sources of knowledge and that may benefit humankind. However, the source of liberation, the channel for mankinds union with God is the True Guru. Moreover, for a Sikh, the Word of the True Guru, as enshrined in the SGGS, remains the ultimate spiritual guide:
Raag Malaar, M.3, p. 1276, SGGS:
The world is involved with the words of the Vedas, thinking about the three gunas - the three dispositions. Without the Name, it suffers punishment by the Messenger of Death; it comes and goes, in cycles of births and deaths, over and over again. Meeting with the True Guru, the world is liberated, and finds the Door to Salvation. || 1 ||
Raag Ramkali, M.3, Anand, p. 920, SGGS:
The [Hindu] Smritis and the Shaastras discriminate between good and evil, but they do not know the true essence of reality. They do not know the true essence of reality without the Guru; they do not know the true essence of reality. The world is asleep in the three modes and doubt; it passes the night of its life sleeping. Those humble beings remain awake and aware, within whose minds, by Guru's Grace, the Lord abides; they chant the Ambrosial Word of the Guru's Bani. Says Nanak, they alone obtain the essence of reality, who both night and day remain lovingly absorbed in the Lord; they pass the night of their life awake and aware. || 27 ||
Sikh practices make a clean and abrupt break with Hindu practices:
The Sikh scriptures do not malign any other religion, and in fact instruct Sikhs to respect the beliefs and practices of other faiths. However, the Sikh Gurus do "call a spade for a spade." They openly criticize the tyrant, oppressor, hypocrite, or any behavior or practice which takes one farther away from experiencing the Truth. In the Zafarnama (Epistle of Victory), Guru Gobind Singh openly criticizes Aurangzeb, a powerful Moghul Emperor, for his tyranny and destructive ways. The Gurus over and over criticize the Brahmin priests for their hypocrisy and promotion of caste ideology and inequality.
Raag Asa, M. 1, p. 471-72, SGGS
They wear their loin cloths, apply ritual frontal marks to their foreheads, and carry their rosaries, but they eat food with the Muslims. O Siblings of Destiny, you perform devotional worship indoors, but read the Islamic sacred texts, and adopt the Muslim way of life. Renounce your hypocrisy. Embrace the true Lord, and attain salvation. || 1 ||
The man-eaters say their prayers. Those who wield the knife wear the sacred thread around their necks. In their homes, the Brahmins sound the conch. They too have the same taste. False is their capital, and false is their trade. Speaking falsehood, they take their food. The home of modesty and Religion is far from them. O Nanak, they are totally permeated with falsehood. The sacred marks are on their foreheads, and the saffron loin-cloths are around their waists; in their hands they hold the knives - they are the butchers of the world! Wearing blue robes, they seek the approval of the Muslim rulers. Accepting bread from the Muslim rulers, they still worship the [Hindu] Puraanas. They eat the meat of the goats, killed after the Muslim prayers are read over them, but they do not allow anyone else to enter their kitchen areas. They draw lines around them, plastering the ground with cow-dung. The false come and sit within them. They cry out, "Do not touch our food, or it will be polluted!" But with their polluted bodies, they commit evil deeds. With filthy minds, they try to cleanse their mouths. Says Nanak, meditate on the True Lord. If you are pure, you will obtain the True Lord. || 2 ||
Raag Gauri. Bhagat Kabir, p. 324-25, SGGS
While dwelling in the womb man hath not family or caste; All men have sprung from the same seed of Brahm. || 1 ||
Say, O Pandit, since when hast thou been a Brahman? Waste not thy life in calling thyself a Brahman. || 1 || Pause ||
If thou art a Brahman born of Brahmani mother, why hast thou not come some other way? || 2 ||
How art thou a Brahman and I a low caste? How am I of blood and you of milk? || 3 ||
Says Kabeer, one who contemplates God, is the true Brahmin among us. || 4 || 7 ||
Many of Hindu practices were created by the Brahmin priest caste to take advantage of the lower castes and promote their position as the controllers and channels of "divine" knowledge. Thus, Sikhism rejects major Hindu practices such as idol worship, caste system, ritual taboos, social taboos (i.e. untouchability), food taboos (in cooking and eating), vegetarianism, ritual sacrifices, religious fasting, auspicious and inauspicious days, astrological superstition, ancestor-worship, spirit-worship, pilgrimages, and more.
Raag Gujri, Bhagat Ravidas, p. 525, SGGS
"The calf hath spoiled milk in the cows udder by tasting it; The bumblebee hath spoiled the flowers, and the fish the water. || 1 ||
My mother, where shall I find anything to offer in Gods worship? I cannot perform Gods adoration and worship according to Hindu rites || 1 || Pause ||
Numerous rituals and taboos are involved in Hindu ceremonies and worship practices. In order to combat these customs, the Sikh Gurus established new ceremonies for the occasions of birth, marriage and death. During these ceremonies, Sikhs sing hymns from the SGGS and pay respect to the SGGS as well as the congregation, instead of conducting it under the stewardship of a priest or paid clergy with recitations and chanting of mantras, as well as other rituals. In fact, no priestly class exists in the Sikh Religion. Anyone can be trained to perform the aforementioned ceremonies.
The Tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh, established the Order of the Khalsa and issued an injunction to the Sikhs to keep the distinct Sikh appearance and code of conduct, including the rejection of their previous caste. Sikhs are required to keep the five articles of faith and live according to the discipline inherent in the teachings of the religion.
Sikhs do not consider themselves Hindus:
Any practicing Sikh with even a small amount of awareness and knowledge of the Sikh Scripture would deny being a Hindu just as strongly as they would resent being labeled a Muslim, Christian, etc. Even though many Sikhs may have descended from Hindu families, live in a part of the world where Hindus are in great majority, share languages, culture and social relationships with Hindus, does not make Sikhism a sect of Hinduism.
The assertion that Sikhs have fought against Muslims in order to save India and Hinduism also remains false. Sikhs consider it a religious duty to defend all those who stand in need of protection, and oppose tyranny and oppression be it from those who are considered Hindu or Muslim or anything else.
Historically, Sikhs provided support to Hindus against colonial tyranny of the Mughal rulers. In fact, the Ninth Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur, gave the supreme sacrifice when he was martyred in 1675 to preserve the freedom of choice and religion of many thousand Brahmins of Kashmir who were under severe persecution by the Indian imperial authorities. Is it not ironic that Guru Nanak, at the age of nine, refused to allow the Brahmin to place the jenoo ("sacred thread") on him as it represented social apartheid, yet in his ninth form, stood up for the Brahmins' right to make the religious choice to wear it. It may be ironic that the Tenth Nanak fought more defensive battles with "upper caste" Hindus than with Muslim rulers.
Great numbers of Hindus have become Sikhs over the span of 500 years of Sikhism. None of this, however, can refute the fundamental features of Sikhism, which render it a distinct religion. Moreover, there have been and are many Sikhs who are descendents of Muslims, Christians and Jews, among others.
Following are a few more excerpts from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth, which includes the writings of the Tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh. These writings further clarify that Sikhism is not a sect of Hinduism or any other religion. The quotes included are only a small sampling and a thorough study of the Sikh Scripture is necessary to grasp its universality.
Rag Bhairo, M. 5, p. 1136, SGGS:
ONE UNIVERSAL CREATOR GOD. OBTAINED BY THE GRACE OF THE TRUE GURU:
Setting aside all other days, it is said that the Lord was born on the eighth lunar day. || 1 ||
Deluded and confused by doubt, the mortal practices falsehood. The Lord is beyond birth and death. || 1 || Pause ||
You prepare sweet treats and feed them to your stone god. God is not born, and He does not die, you foolish, faithless cynic! || 2 ||
You sing lullabies to your stone god - this is the source of all your mistakes. Let that mouth be burnt, which says that our Lord and Master is subject to birth. || 3 ||
He is not born, and He does not die; He does not come and go in reincarnation. The God of Nanak is pervading and permeating everywhere. || 4 || 1 ||
Savaiya, M. 10, p.254, Dasam Granth:
Since I have clung to thy feet, never have I reckoned any other deity.
(Incarnations like) Ram and Rahim, (and scriptures like) Puranas and the Quran, preach various creeeds, but I do not believe in any one.
All the Smritis, Shastras, and Vedas preach various ways (to meet the Lord), but I have acknowledged none.
O Timeless One, with Sword in Thy Hand! Its by Thy Grace, and not my endeavor, that I have described Thy Glory.
Raag Kalyan, Shabad Hazare,M. 10, p. 710, Dasam Granth:
Do not worship any one other than the Creator. Regard God, who was from the beginning unborn, invincible and indestructible, as the supreme being. ||1|| Pause ||
What does it matter if Vishnu came into the world and killed the demons? By showing his wiles to people, he exhorted them to call him God. How can he (Vishnu) be called God, the Destroyer, the Creator, the Omnipotent, the Eternal? He (Vishnu) could not save himself from the blow of the sword of death. || 2 ||
O fool, listen, how can he, who himself is sunk in the ocean of the world, save you? You can escape from the noose of Death only if you seek the refuge of the One who existed before the world came into being. || 3 || 1 ||
Raag Bilaaval, Shabad Hazare, M. 10, Dasam Granth, p. 711.
Why should God appear in human form? The Sidds have failed to see him anywhere, in spite of their meditations. . || 1 || Pause ||
(Ancient Indian sages) Narad, Bias, Prasur and Dhru have sincerely meditated on God without avail. The Vedas and Puranas have failed and given up their effort for realizing him. || 1 ||
There are numerous other instances in the Sikh Scripture that validate Sikhism as an independent religion. The Guru Granth Sahib simply points out the Sikh world-view through simile and metaphor of the Gurus experience of the One Lord Almighty. The Sikh religion strongly emphasizes the oneness of all humanity, transcending ethnic, religious, social and other classifications.
To be a Sikh means to be completely guided, in personal and corporate life, by the teachings of the Sikh scriptures and the example of the lives of the Sikh Gurus. The Sikh Scripture stresses the independent foundation of Path of the Guru, a vital precept in Sikhism. No amount of cultural, ethnic, geographical similarities, chronological sequences or any other arguments can invalidate the fundamental features unique to Sikhism. Upon examining the Sikh scriptural canon, the lives of the Sikh Gurus, the institutions, traditions and the historical movement cherished by Sikhs, one cannot escape the conclusion that Sikhism is recognizable as a world religion.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Several Translations.
Writings by the Tenth Guru from the Dasam Granth. Several Translations
Vaaraan by Bhai Gurdas.
Hum Hindu Nahin (We are not Hindus) (Punjabi) by Kahan Singh Nabha, originally published 1898; Fifth Edition 1920, reprinted 1992 by Singh Brothers, Amritsar, Punjab, India.
Some Insights into Sikhism by Sirdar. Kapur Singh, published by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab, India, 1995
Parasaprasna by Sirdar Kapur Singh, same as above. published by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab, India, 1995
A Brief History of the Sikhs by Ganda Singh and Teja Singh, published by Punjabi University, Patiala, 1989.
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In the light of the enormous propaganda by the RSS recently trying to convince people that we are Hindus, let us read what Guru Arjan Dev ji said on this issue. His views are explicitly stated on page 1136 of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and are quoted below:
"I keep not the Hindu Fast, nor do I observe Muslim month of fast;
I serve only him, who emancipates all; He is my Gosain;
He is my Allah; I have found release from the Hindus and the Turks;
I visit not the pilgrim places of Hindus, nor go to Kaaba for Haj;
I serve only God, I serve not any other;
I worship not the Hindu way, nor say the Hindu prayers;
I bow to the one God within my heart;
I am neither a Hindu nor a Muslim;
For, my body and life belong to Him, Allah and Ram."