Identity, Diversity and Belonging

Amritsar-golden-temple-00

Understanding how individuals develop a sense of identity and belonging through faith or belief;

 

Exploring the variety, difference and relationships that exist within and between religions, values and beliefs.

 

Foundations of Identity and Belonging

Practising Sikhs visit the gurdwara often and may wear the 5Ks of the Khalsa – the kesh (uncut hair), kara (bracelet), kirpan (sword), kachera (breeches) and kangha (comb). Joining the Khalsa is the most obvious way of showing commitment to the Guru. It is an act of active discipleship. Sikhs commit to saying daily prayers, avoiding four taboos and behaviour expected of a son/daughter of Guru Gobind Singh Ji and Mata Sahib Kaur.

Religious / Spiritual Identity

For Sikhs, joining the Khalsa and receiving amrit demonstrates the relationship between belief and action.

When a Sikh joins the Khalsa they leave behind their previous identity and take the new surnames, ‘Singh’ for men and ‘Kaur’ for women. The Khalsa becomes their new family.

For the individual they commit themselves to something beyond themselves, they actively commit to following the Guru. For the community it means continuity.

Sikhs are expected to live according to the threefold golden path – acknowledging and remembering God at all times and places, earning an honest living and sharing.

For a Sikh this can be sensed in terms of a godly personality.

If a Sikh has joined the Khalsa they will have the 5Ks. If not, Divine qualities will be present in them ‘just as a cow is visible in a calf’.

Morally, a Sikh will have control over the emotions of anger, lust, pride, greed and losing yourself in dear ones. The Gurus provide the exemplars for living a good life.

The energies Sikhs call virtues belong to God and are a gift from God.

Since, for Sikhs, the goal is to develop a relationship with God, everything is personal. No one else can know what sort of relationship any two persons have.

Sikhs believe that each person is unique as their track way across life is unique. All humans have the opportunity to enjoy a relationship with God and from that vantage point humans can have a particular relationship.

Haumai or ‘Am I-ness?’ is the fundamental problem. Doubt leads people to fear and from there to self-centredness. This is the key problem of a manmukh or self-centred person. However, Sikhs believe that the real origin of the self is that it has been made by God and contains the Divine imprint or Shabad. This Shabad or Word is God and is the reason why God is with and in all people. The Shabad is called the alchemist’s stone that can turn a person from lead to gold.

The Gurus taught that finally everything turns to God as sparks return to the fire, or waves return to the ocean. Each drop has its own unique relationship to the ocean and this play of union and separation from God is the basis of the Sikh’s Grace-filled and loving relationship: ‘God never abandons us and we always seek Him’.

Amongst Sikhs there is a sense of optimism and Divine support for the future and people develop a sense of themselves through a personal examination of the past.

Family and Community

The Gurus taught that people should live in families. Nine of the ten human Gurus were married and had families. Sadhsangat or fellowship is also very important as this is regarded as the source of values, emotional support and intellectual guidance for the spiritual journey.

Sikh parents encourage their children to take part in the four rites of passage (see Practices and ways of life > ‘The Journey of life’). They will also perform the Nitnem or daily prayers and attend the gurdwara frequently.

Practice may involve a range of daily, weekly and monthly programmes in the local gurdwara and, sometimes, across gurdwaras.

The impact on the community occurs during processions marking important dates in the Sikh calendar. Free food and drink is made available to non-Sikhs as well as Sikhs along the route of the procession. The langar is open for free food and serves an important community need for certain people as well as Sikhs.

Sikhs regard their private beliefs as personal and do not seek to convert other people. The challenge is to live an authentic life and that challenge has been unchanged from the past to the present and will remain unchanged in the future.

Sikh Diversity

There are Sikhs by belief and Sikhs by birth. A Sikh’s belief is defined in article one of the Sikh Rahit Maryada (Code of Conduct). However, there are people who would identify themselves as Sikhs but who may not believe in the religion. It was in recognition of this distinction that Sikhs successfully lobbied for paragraph 67 of the 2001 UN Declaration against Racism which takes note of the multiple bases of identity.

Within mainstream Sikhism there is the unifying belief in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the Guru Khalsa Panth (Khalsa). Variant groups that exist are the Namdharis and the Nirankaris who believe in a living human Guru. Combined, these groups number in excess of ten thousand.

Within the community there are different attitudes towards the Khalsa. Some regard the Khalsa as an ideal and choose not to join it. Others differ over interpretations of the Sikh Rahit Maryada (Code of Conduct) and follow what they regard as a more traditional line (for example, Akhand Keertanee Jatha and Damdami Taksal) or the interpretations of a holy person (Sant Baba).

Other Religions & Beliefs

Sikhs welcome inter-faith dialogue as it can be argued that Guru Nanak Dev Ji was engaged in it hundreds of years ago. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji contains the record of his debate with the Siddhas (a group of Buddhists) and the accounts of his life (Janem Sakhis) discuss his meetings with Hindus and Muslims. His collection of the hymns of saints from a variety of traditions now contained in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, provision of free vegetarian food to all (langar), and insistence that people of any faith could know God meant that inter-faith worship has always been a part of Sikh worship. This is symbolized by the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) being laid by a Muslim saint, Mian Mir.

Sikhs have welcomed the modern world of religious pluralism, challenge to religious myth and ritual and the emergence of humanism since these values are inherent within the tradition.

Of all religions, the best religion is to practice Naam (Name of God) and to do pious deeds (truthful living). Of all rites, the best rite is to remove the filth of soul by association with the saints (spirituals – pure ones). Of all efforts, the best effect is to, ever, heartily utter the Name of God. Of all speeches, the ambrosial speech (Amritbani) is to hear God’s praise and to repeat it with the tongue. Of all places, that heart (soul) is the best place wherein dwell the Name of God, O Nanak (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 266).

Websites

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