Guidance for Life
Sikhs consider that beliefs must translate into action as matter must be energized, maya (the physical world) must be charged with the Name (Being). The phenomenal world should be transformed by the numinous so that through spiritual experience we may enjoy a fully, naturally human life.
Sikhs feel that it is essential to dissuade people from rituals based on the idea that the One is mean, and encourage people to experiment with the graceful, generous Reality. Therefore, Sikhi does not believe in animal sacrifice, fasting or any form of physical or mental deprivation. The only thing that we can offer the One is our self, a space for Being to live with us.
In terms of society Sikhs are taught that, “No one is my enemy, and no one is a stranger. I am friendly towards everyone” (Guru Granth Sahib: 1299). Sikhs believe that the One is not limited to one people, religion or language. Therefore, there should not be boundaries as we are all part of one humanity – there are no outsiders. This is visible in the langar or free kitchen. Anyone, belonging to any religion, ethnic background, social class or gender, is welcome to eat the same food as everyone else, for free.
Regarding the martyrdom of the Ninth Guru (Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji 1621-1675) for leading a non-violent political campaign, Sikh scripture says that:
Tegh Bahadur broke the mortal vessel of his body by striking it at the head of the Emperor of Delhi and retreated to his ‘Original Abode’, The One. Truly incomparable is this great deed done to assert and protect three basic human rights: the first, to secure for everyone the liberty to worship; the second, to uphold the inviolable dignity of every person’s private and personal point of contact with The One and their right to observe dharma, what they conceive as basic principles of cosmic or individual existence, and the third to uphold every good person’s imprescriptible right to pursue their own vision of happiness and self-fulfilment (Dasam Granth, 54).
It is, therefore, fair to say that Sikhs believe in individual human rights: freedom of worship, freedom of conscience and the right to pursue happiness. Sikhs believe that progress in the world will be based on the spiritual sovereignty of the individual.
Regarding the organization of society: “Henceforth: such is the Will of The One: No one shall coerce another, no one shall exploit another. Everyone, each individual, has the inalienable birth-right to seek and pursue happiness and self-fulfilment. Love and persuasion is the only law of social coherence” (Guru Granth Sahib: 74).
In terms of politics there is an emphasis on persuasion and consent. Sikhs reject coercion or force as a method of government. They, therefore, reject the justification of coercion. In 1606 Guru Arjun became the first Sikh martyr and was executed by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. This followed the Guru’s refusal to pay taxes in support of ordinary people who could not afford to pay taxes due to a poor harvest. The Emperor felt he had the divine authority of a ruler; the Guru would not accept this point.
Sikhs have an active obligation to disobey any law that violates these principles. For example, Guru Nanak Dev broke a ban on music in Baghdad and Guru Hargobind Ji commanded Sikhs to bear arms and ride horses in violation of Islamic law on dhimmitude, which reserved these activities for Muslims. He was imprisoned but later released on the Diwali of 1619 from Gwalior Fort. When he was offered a pardon he refused unless 52 princes were also released. The Emperor conceded that he could free whoever held onto his cloak, thereby coming under his protection. The Guru had 52 tassels added to his cloak and holding onto a tassel each they were all freed. Sikhs, therefore, celebrate on the same day as Diwali but call the event Bandi Chor Diwas or prisoner release day.
In terms of economics the idea that people have the right to pursue happiness and self-fulfilment is connected to the idea that “no one shall exploit another.” A Being of grace has created a bountiful world. However, greed has distorted the world. “The bounty of nature is there to be used. There is enough for all but in this world it is not shared justly” (Guru Granth Sahib: 1171). Until a one humanity perspective is taken, economic injustice will continue.