Sikhs believe that there is One at the heart of the universe, a unity of Being. Oneness is so central that the Sikh scriptures use the number 1, rather than the word. To fulfil our lives and properly flourish we need to connect to that heart. The One loves humans and reaches out to all humans through Grace – gurprasad or the True Guru. To restore that flow we need to remove the blockage of haumai – literally, ‘me-ness’. Once removed we turn from being a manmukh – self-facing, to a gurmukh – Grace-facing. Connected with the flow of that current the gurmukh is a lamp that shows the Presence of divine qualities, called Naam, literally, name.
Since the One reaches out to all humans, everyone is equal and religious identity is meaningless. Sikhi is about living in the right way, orthopraxy, not having the right belief, orthodoxy. One of the morning prayers includes the affirmation, “I salute the One beyond religions” (Jaap Sahib). Religions at best can point the way to the One but from the Sikh perspective cannot be confused with the One. Rather, all the answers we seek are written into our very being by the One Being. We are persons because the Universe has a personality. From the Sikh perspective we are not just biological, chemical organisms because the universe is not dead. Its life or mind is what Sikhs think of as the One. Scripture says that the One is within us as “fire inside wood, a reflection in a mirror, fragrance within a flower” (Guru Granth Sahib: 606, 684). The True Guru is our Inner Tutor, our intuition, our common sense. This is the hukam or will of the universe that we must, naturally, spontaneously give expression for, rather than opposing. Naam japna or mindfulness of the Presence is opening oneself to the energies or way of the One.
In the Sikh worldview what counts is how people live, not what they believe. If they choose the One, they will connect with Life here and in the afterlife. If humans have centred their energies on something else, Sikhs believe they will miss the path. They will suffer in heavens and hells as their actions deserve. However, this judgement is not final. The love of the One means that there is another chance through the cycle of rebirth. People may roam through species till they again receive the opportunity of human life.
Distinctive features of Sikhi include the equality of women and men, rejection of priesthood, the 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). As the One lives in the world Sikhs believe in ‘chardi kala’ or rising energy in the world. The world should be continually improved and so the Sikh ideal is a saint-soldier, a saint allowing the Light to shine through them and a soldier connecting with others to reduce darkness in the world.
The sacred text is the Guru Granth Sahib. ‘Sahib’ is a title of honour, ‘Granth’ means folio or book. Therefore, the Guru Granth Sahib is the Respected Guru-Book of Enlightenment. It is a mirror reflecting the True Guru who is Life and the Voice of Love within us. It 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 and none. For Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib is an answer to the question. “How can we be real? How can we break the dam of waste blocking us from the 1Reality?” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji: 1). The self is what separates us from unity of being.
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. The Khalsa is a religious order of people who have pledged themselves to active discipleship of the Guru. This fellowship of saint-soldiers has a rule, which is the Rahit Maryada or code of conduct.
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.