Beliefs, Teachings, Wisdom, Authority

Amritsar-golden-temple-00

Interpreting teachings, sources, authorities and ways of life in order to understand religions and beliefs;

 

Understanding and responding critically to beliefs and attitudes.

 

Basic Beliefs

Sikhs believe that God loves humans and reaches out to all humans through Grace – gurprasad or True Guru. Therefore, the proper religious practice is to respond to God through prayer and/or song. Since God reaches out to all humans, everyone is equal and religious identity is meaningless. If humans choose God and live a God-centred life they will join with God in the afterlife. If humans have centred their energies on something else, Sikhs believe they will suffer in heavens and hells before returning to the cycle of rebirth and will roam through species till they again receive the opportunity of human life.

The Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a collection of the hymns of six of the human Gurus and 36 mystics from a variety of religious traditions including Islam and Hinduism. Sikhs also follow the historical practice of the ten human Gurus who lived between 1469 and 1708. In particular, they follow the example of the final human Guru who instituted the Khalsa.

Sikh practice should be based on the teachings in the Guru Granth Sahib, examples from the life of the human Gurus, and the Code of Conduct of the Khalsa (Rahit Maryada).

Distinctive features of Sikhism include equality of women and men, no priesthood, inclusion of writings from members of different religions in the sacred text and belief in 1 Unborn God (Judaism and Islam) combined with belief in rebirth, samsara, the Void and the Middle Way (Buddhism).

Individual Sikhs feel confidence in a Being that loves and supports them – they are fundamentally ‘ok’ – and show tolerance and curiosity in the culture and beliefs of others. As a community Sikhs have championed progressive social, political and economic change in India due to the teachings on equality, democratic decision-making (the Khalsa), the dignity of labour and the importance of sharing and social justice. Having no priesthood has led to difficulties in transmission of the religion to younger generations, particularly in the West, but at the same time makes possible fresh interpretations of the tradition that have contributed to successful integration of the Sikh Diaspora into host communities around the world.

The Scriptures and Authority

The sacred text known as the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the most important source of authority for all Sikhs. Second, Sikhs will look to the Sikh Rahit Maryada or Code of Conduct developed and re-developed by the Khalsa. Third, they will re-consider the practice of the Gurus which are collected in Janam Sakhis or ‘life stories’.

1. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji can be translated as the ‘Respected Guru Folio’. ‘Sahib’ means ‘respected’ and a ‘folio’ is simply a large bound book. It is a chorus of praise for God. There are 36 authors in addition to six Gurus.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539 CE) collected the writings of mystics from different traditions that had predated him. Their writings along with his own were handed to his successor. This is suggested by the evidence that later Gurus have used phrases from or commented on phrases in the writings of previous authors. The collection was then arranged according to ragas or Indian musical measures by Guru Arjan Dev Ji in 1604. He collected the preachings of six gurus and two non-Sikhs.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1708 CE) completed the work and declared that the Granth would be his successor and so became the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, or ‘ Holy Book, Guru’. Thus the text became the permanent authority or Eternal Guru of the Sikhs. The writings bear witness to the spiritual experiences of people from different religious traditions across five centuries of South Asian history – twelfth to seventeenth centuries.

The Guru Granth Sahib Ji does not contain stories but covers both religious and social subjects, such as devotion to God, the importance of the Guru and the need to be pure, as well as breaking down the caste system, service to others and family life. The most sacred section of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the Mool Mantar which encapsulates Sikh beliefs.

There is one God

Eternal Truth is His name:

The Creator, devoid of fear and hatred

Immortal, unborn, self-existent,

Great and bountiful …

2. The Sikh Rahit Maryada, the Code of Conduct, was announced at the Akal Takht which is part of the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. If clarification is required for the Code of Conduct, or a new issue has emerged, the mukhi (mouthpiece) of the Akal Takht will call a meeting to which all Sikhs may attend. The consensus decision reached will be announced from the Akal Takht.

Sikhs may choose to ignore provisions of the Sikh Rahit Maryada. This is because they might feel that a mistake was made. However, Sikhs do not defy the authority of the Akal Takht which would be the same as defying the authority of the Khalsa, which is the organization set up and joined by the last human Guru.

3. The stories connected with the Gurus exist in texts called janam sakhis or life stories. The stories show how the Gurus are regarded as being guided by God, at one with the Divine Light, forms of the Formless, visualizations of God in the same way as one can see a cow in a calf.

The most significant complementary texts are the writings of Bhai Gurdas which are regarded as a basic summary of the main themes of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. There were also texts written by the poets of the court of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. They wrote a range of texts, including the Diwan-i-Goya.

Founders of Faith

For Sikhs the Ten Gurus are the foundation of Sikhism and the main sources of Sikh inspiration. The Gurus are considered by Sikhs to be spiritually perfect and morally correct.

Sikhism began with the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539), who came from Talwandi, near Lahore (now Pakistan). Nanak’s teachings were composed in the context of, but distinguished from, the Hinduism and Islam of his day.

Guru Nanak, also known as the First Great Master, emphasised meditation on the Word of God (Naam Japna) and taught that all human beings were equal, regardless of caste or creed. As well as preaching against prejudice and unjust discrimination, he put his words into action by starting the institution of the langar, where people sit together to eat without any distinction.

He was followed by nine further Great Masters:

– Guru Angad (1504-1552)
– Guru Amar Das (1479-1574)
– Guru Ram Das (1534-1581)
– Guru Arjan (1563-1606)
– Guru Hargobind (1595-1644)
– Guru Har Rai (1630-1661)
– Guru Harkrishnan (1656-1664)
– Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-1675)
– The final human Guru, Guru Gobind Rai (1666-1708) formed the Khalsa and was renamed Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Sikhs today continue to follow his example in joining the Khalsa.

The final Guru is the holy text of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji itself (see ‘The Scriptures and Authority’ above).

An Exemplar of Faith

Although the Ten Gurus are regarded by Sikhs as the template for all things spiritual, some Sikhs have become internationally renowned for their work and spiritual advice. One such is Puran Singh (1904-1992). Puran Singh worked tirelessly for the poor since the Partition of India in 1947. He received the highest national civilian award in India and the institution he founded continues to collect funds from around the world. Through humble service for the poor and destitute, through the return of his civilian award following the attack on the Golden Temple, through raising awareness about soil erosion and encouraging the planting of trees, Puran Singh has shown the spiritual way for other Sikhs. However, Puran Singh also focused on helping the poor of all faiths during periods of communal violence for almost half a century. He demonstrated that service may be more powerful than politics. He showed that love for all people is greater than hate for some of them. His environmental focus was ahead of its time. The idea of service of the poor is for all times. He was inspired to become a Sikh as a result of receiving langar – free food in a free kitchen and he contrasted the simple act of receiving langar with his previous experience of feeding brahmins and receiving nothing.

Websites

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