Introduction to Sikhism
Sikhism is one of the youngest religions, which was founded over 500 years ago. The Sikh religion today has a following of over 20 million people worldwide. The word ‘Sikh’ in the Punjabi language means ‘disciple’, Sikhs are the disciples of God who follow the writings and teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion, remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality between all human beings, social justice, while emphatically denouncing superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
“Any human being who faithfully believes in: (i) One Immortal Being, (ii) Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, (iii) The Guru Granth Sahib, (iv) The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and, (v) the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion is a Sikh.” (Rehat Maryada, Sikh Code of Conduct).
Philosophy and Beliefs
Sikhs believe that there is only one God; he is the creator of life and death. They believe that god exists throughout our daily lives although he may not be visible; he is with us in spirit everywhere we go (‘Ik Om Kar’).
Equality is a very important element within the Sikh religion, regardless of caste and class all humans are seen as equal. Everyone possesses the same rights, with all men and women being treated equally in the Gurdwara (temple). This emphasis on equality then sees many people from all ethnical backgrounds being welcomed into the Gurdwara and in to ‘Guru ka Langar’.
They also believe that when a Sikh dies, his or her soul is recreated in another living body whether this is human or an animal. This depends upon what an individual has done in his or her past life, if it is good their soul is relived within a human, if it is not then it is relived in the form of an animal. Therefore, our deeds in a past life lead way to our life in the future; this is a decision that is in the hands of God.
The Sikh religion encourage that life should be lived in truth and justice. Sikhs should earn their money honestly and not take away from others and they should only consume what rightfully belongs to them. Sikhs should also undertake a form of ‘sewa’ (service to God), by giving to the needy and helping others, this usually takes place at the ‘Gurdwara’.
History and Practices
The founder of the Sikh religion was Guru Nanak who was born in 1469. He preached a message of love and understanding and criticized the blind rituals of the Hindus and Muslims. Guru Nanak passed on his enlightened leadership of this new religion to nine successive Gurus. The final living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh died in 1708.
During his lifetime Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa order (meaning ‘The Pure’), soldier-saints. The Khalsa uphold the highest Sikh virtues of commitment, dedication and a social conscious. The Khalsa are men and women who have undergone the Sikh baptism ceremony and who strictly follow the Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions and wear the prescribed physical articles of the faith. One of the more noticeable being the uncut hair (required to be covered with a turban for men) and the Kirpan (ceremonial sword).
Before his death in 1708 Guru Gobind Singh declared that the Sikhs no longer needed a living and appointed his spiritual successor as Sri Guru Granth Sahib, his physical successor as the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh felt that all the wisdom needed by Sikhs for spiritual guidance in their daily lives could be found in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Eternal Guru of the Sikhs. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is unique in the world of religious scriptures because not only is it accorded the status of being the spiritual head of the Sikh religion, but besides the poetry of the Gurus, it also contains the writings of saints of other faiths whose thoughts were consistent with those of the Sikh Gurus.
Sikhism does not have priests, which were abolished by Guru Gobind Singh. The Guru felt that they had become corrupt and full of ego. Sikhs only have custodians of the Guru Granth Sahib (Granthi), and any Sikh is free to read the Guru Granth Sahib in the Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) or in their home. All people of all religions are welcome to the Gurdwara. A free community kitchen can be found at every Gurdwara which serves meals to all people of all faiths. Guru Nanak first started this institution which outline the basic Sikh principles of service, humility and equality.
The most significant historical religious center for the Sikhs is Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) at Amritsar in the state of Punjab in northern India. It is the inspirational and historical center of Sikhism but is not a mandatory place of pilgrimage or worship. All places where Sri Guru Granth Sahib are installed are considered equally holy for Sikhs.