The faith of many religions is centred on a god or gods. Sikhs believe God is ever-present in the universe. God is present in creation. God is not the universe, but is the life within it, its driving force.
The existence of God
There are three positions people can take on the question of the existence of God:
- Theist – someone who believes that God exists. Theists do not necessarily believe they can prove God’s existence. Sikhs are theists.
- Agnostic – someone who holds the view that it is impossible to know the truth about some things, such as God’s existence or the afterlife.
- Atheist – someone who holds the view that there is no God. Atheists do not necessarily believe they can prove atheism to be true.
There are many different kinds of truth:
- historical truth – truth based on evidence from documents or archaeology
- artistic truth – something which people read, see or hear which appears true through how things are or how people behave
- moral truth – people ‘know’ what is right or wrong without evidence to prove it
- scientific truth – established by experiments that can be repeated and always produce the same result
- absolute and relative truth – people may believe that some things are always true while others things may vary according to situation or circumstance
- religious truth – people follow a religion and so discover the ‘truth’ which comes from God and/or a sacred text
The nature of God
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, which means Sikhs believe there is only one god. Sikhs may also be called panentheistic, meaning that they believe God is present in creation. God is not the universe, but is the life within it, its driving force.
“One Light fills all creation. That Light is You.”
Guru Granth Sahib
Key Sikh beliefs about the nature of God include:
- God is sargun – is personal and has qualities and a form.
- God is also nirgun – infinitely beyond all qualities and forms and so is also transcendent, beyond human language and knowledge.
- Sat Nam or eternal reality – the presence of God is the true reality, producing a numinous feeling.
Understanding God’s identity
Guru Nanak regularly used the term Akal Purakh, meaning the Eternal One, to describe God. God is therefore viewed as timeless and immortal. Sikhs regularly use the word Waheguru to describe God.
Although most Sikhs believe there is one god, many believe Sikhism is not the only way to have a relationship with God. People of any religion or no religion can have a relationship with God, who created each of us and gave us the ability to know the difference between right and wrong.
Expressing beliefs about God – sacred texts
The Guru Granth Sahib
The Guru Granth Sahib consists of verses composed by six of the Sikhs’ ten Gurus, starting with Guru Nanak, as well as other spiritual teachers of Muslim and Hindu background.
Guru Gobind Singh declared there would be no more living gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib itself became the Sikhs’ Guru.
The Mool Mantar appears at the beginning and throughout the Guru Granth Sahib and is repeated each day as a prayer. The Mool Mantar forms the basic teaching of Sikhism.
How are sacred texts used by Sikhs?
Sikhs use the sacred texts as guidance for how to live a good life. They believe the writings are the word of Waheguru, revealed to the Gurus.
The Guru Granth Sahib is central to acts of worship, especially in the gurdwara.
Before touching the Guru Granth Sahib, it is covered in a silky cloth as a sign of respect. The book is often read before making important decisions. Some Sikhs bring gifts to the Guru Granth Sahib as a sign of worship.
Expressing beliefs about God – personal duty and family life
Sikhs who are members of the Khalsa will try to observe the Five Ks. These Sikhs will have undergone the Amrit Sanskar ceremony started by Guru Gobind Singh. The Five Ks remind Sikhs of how to behave and are a reminder that God is with them.
The Five Ks
- Kesh – uncut hair reminds Sikhs of the gifts from God and how they accept them.
- Kangha – a wooden comb used to comb the hair reminds Sikhs of how God untangles their lives and helps them to keep things ordered.
- Kara – a metal bracelet is a symbol of God’s never ending love for Sikhs and a visual reminder of their actions.
- Kachera – cotton undergarments are similar to the ones traditionally worn by Sikh warriors, also a symbol of purity.
- Kirpan – a sword that is often worn under a Sikh’s clothes, rather than outside them, serves as a reminder to help someone who is vulnerable and for Sikhs to defend their faith.
The Rahit Maryada is the Sikh Code of Conduct and was published in 1945 after many years of discussion amongst the Khalsa. This provides a common understanding to all Sikhs and gives clear guidance on how to behave.
Rites of Passage
Sikhs express their belief in God through various rites of passage, including:
- Nam Karan – baby naming ceremony. The Guru Granth Sahib is opened and the first letter of the first word in the top left hand corner of the page will be the beginning of the child’s name. A girl will also be given the name ‘Kaur’ and a boy will be given ‘Singh’.
- Amrit sanskar – a ceremony of initiation into the Khalsa. The candidate may be an adolescent but is more frequently an adult. The ceremony is conducted by five initiated Sikhs (known as the Panj Piare or ‘five loved ones’) who wear traditional white, yellow/orange or dark blue clothes, and all have the Five Ks. The Sikh principles which the candidates for initiation must observe from now on are explained. The amrit is stirred while certain passages of scripture are recited. Each candidate receives amrit in his or her cupped hands to drink and then amrit is sprinkled on each candidate’s hair and eyes. Then they all sip amrit in turn from one iron bowl. They all recite the Mool Mantar five times.
Sikhs express their belief in God through prayer at home, or in the gurdwara. At home, a Sikh will bathe in the morning and pray to God. Those Sikhs who have been initiated with amrit into the Khalsa wear the Five Ks as an outward sign of their commitment. Many Sikhs who have not been initiated wear the kara.
At the gurdwara, all remove their shoes and cover their heads as a sign of respect. When they enter, they bow to the Guru Granth Sahib and offer gifts, eg money, milk or flowers.
Justice and equality
Sewa is very important to Sikhs. At the gurdwara, all are welcome to take the communal meal after worship, regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity. Men and women have equal status and both can lead services at the gurdwara and be initiated in the Amrit ceremony.
Justice is important to Sikhs and forgiveness is valued. In common with people of other communities, Sikhs believe that people should be brought to justice for unlawful acts. The Gurus also emphasised that God shows grace and mercy.
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