History of Sikhism

History of the Sikh Religion (Sikhism): It is not possible to understand the Sikhs or appreciate the Sikh Religion (Sikhism) without studying their history and the circumstances under which the Sikh Religion (Sikhism) was born.

Guru Nanak Dev (1469 to 1539) was the founder of the Sikh religion. Sikhism began with the preaching of Guru Nanak during his travels all over India and the neighbouring countries. Sikhism is thus, the youngest faith of the times.

In simple religious terms, Guru means a spiritual enlightener and a Sikh means a follower or disciple of a spiritual enlightener or one who reads Gurbani from Guru Granth Sahib, understands it and lives life accordingly.

Guru Nanak Dev based his teachings on his personal experience of a command or revelation (hukam) received directly from God.

Guru Nanak, in fact, revealed of a new gospel, and founded a new faith, the perfect example of piety and deep devotion.

The new religion founded by Guru Nanak was nurtured by nine other Gurus who succeeded him in the holy office of Guruship and who further promoted what was set in motion by Guru Nanak. Other Nine Gurus were:

1. Guru Nanak Dev 1469-1539 A.D

2. Guru Angad Dev 1504-1552 A.D

3. Guru Amar Das 1479-1574 A.D

4. Guru Ram Das 1534-1581 A.D

5. Guru Arjun Dev 1563-1606 A.D

6. Guru Hargobind 1595-1644 A.D

7. Guru Har Rai 1630-1661 A.D

8. Guru Har Krishan 1656-1664 A.D

9. Guru Tegh Bahadur 1621-1675 A.D

10. Guru Gobind Singh 1675-1708 A.D.

The Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib is the present and Eternal Guru of the Sikhs for seeking guidance on all aspects of life.

Sikhism's chief doctrines are the Oneness of God, unity of humankind, honest and truthful living, accepting social responsibilty by sharing one's earnings with others, living harmoniously with God's creation, firm belief in righteouness of all humans, imbibing and living the life based on the attributes (Naam= Numinous) of God.

According to the Scripture, every moment of every day of each month is auspicious when a follower imbibes on the Naam (Attributes ) of God and lives his/her life as desired by the Creator.

Guru Nanak advises that assessment of humans will be entirely according to a person's deeds and that final approval will only be by Guru's Grace "Guru Parsaad", which can possibly be acquired by reading, understanding and applying the teachings of Gurbani in daily life. This really implies that all humans are treated as equals; and women have equal rights;

Rituals like idol worship are considered futile; caste system is rejected; asceticism is considered escapism from real life; and monasticism, celibacy, etc, which were highly regarded in other Indian Religious systems of that time are not recognized.

"I do not keep the Hindu fast nor the Muslim Ramadan;

I serve Him alone who is my refuge

I serve the One Master; who is also Allah

I have broken with the Hindu and the Muslim,

I do not worship the Hindu way nor like the Muslim go to Mecca,

I serve Him alone and no other,

I will not pray to idols nor say the Muslim prayer

I shall put my heart at the feet of the one Supreme Being

For, we are neither Hindus nor Mussalmans." (Guru Granth Page 1136)

ਭੈਰਉ ਮਹਲਾ 5 ॥ ਵਰਤ ਨ ਰਹਉ ਨ ਮਹ ਰਮਦਾਨਾ ॥ ਤਿਸੁ ਸੇਵੀ ਜੋ ਰਖੈ ਨਿਦਾਨਾ ॥1॥ ਏਕੁ ਗੁਸਾਈ ਅਲਹੁ ਮੇਰਾ ॥ ਹਿੰਦੂ ਤੁਰਕ ਦੁਹਾਂ ਨੇਬੇਰਾ ॥1॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਹਜ ਕਾਬੈ ਜਾਉ ਨ ਤੀਰਥ ਪੂਜਾ ॥ ਏਕੋ ਸੇਵੀ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਦੂਜਾ ॥2॥ ਪੂਜਾ ਕਰਉ ਨ ਨਿਵਾਜ ਗੁਜਾਰਉ ॥ ਏਕ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰ ਲੇ ਰਿਦੈ ਨਮਸਕਾਰਉ ॥3॥ ਨਾ ਹਮ ਹਿੰਦੂ ਨ ਮੁਸਲਮਾਨ ॥ ਅਲਹ ਰਾਮ ਕੇ ਪਿੰਡੁ ਪਰਾਨ ॥4॥ ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਇਹੁ ਕੀਆ ਵਖਾਨਾ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਪੀਰ ਮਿਲਿ ਖੁਦਿ ਖਸਮੁ ਪਛਾਨਾ ॥5॥3॥ (ਪੰਨਾ 1136)

When we talk of Sikhism, we are implicitly talking of Sikhism as enshrined in the Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, containing the holy utterances of the Gurus, and other Saintly people whose writings find place in Guru Granth Sahib and also as practised by the Gurus and those Saintly people themselves in their lives.

Sikhism is altogether different from both, Hinduism and Islam.

ਹਮਰਾ ਝਗਰਾ ਰਹਾ ਨ ਕੋਊ ॥ ਪੰਡਿਤ ਮੁਲਾਂ ਛਾਡੇ ਦੋਊ ॥1॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ …. ਪੰਡਿਤ ਮੁਲਾਂ ਜੋ ਲਿਖਿ ਦੀਆ ॥ ਛਾਡਿ ਚਲੇ ਹਮ ਕਛੂ ਨ ਲੀਆ ॥3॥ (GGS ਪੰਨਾ 1158 – 1159).

We have nothing in common in terms of Religious Philsophy and practices, with both what Pandits and Mulaans (Muslim Priests) preach and practice. We have not accepted anything what Pandits and Mulaans have written about their Religious Philosophies and practices.

I may add here very humbly and politely that though all the Sikhs are very proud to be Sikhs, they have forgotton the real essence and the meaning of the word "Sikh" for they have gone astray from the Real Path of Sikhism as defined by Guru Nanak and enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib, the "Scripture".

Present history of the Sikhs is altogether a different subject. During and almost 50 to 70 years until after the death of Guru Gobind Singh, most Sikhs lived their lives based on the principles laid down by the Gurus and as enshrined in the Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. Thereafter and most specifically, after the Sikhs established their own rule in the state of greater Punjab, many Sikhs started deviating from the path and principles as described and lived by the Gurus. This deviation from the real path and from the message of Guru Nanak is continuing more rapidly to-date. This deviation started when the Sikhs were struggling for their survival and were driven into the forests by the Islamic zealots who were hunting them down day and night for more than hundred and fifty years, while at the same times, Hindu priestly class of the time was busy creating literature in such a convuluted way that it distorted the entire history of the Sikhs and the principles laid down by the Gurus. This time was very crucial for the Sikh's survival and kept the Sikhs away from their daily practices and readings of Guru Granth Sahib. Ultimately, by the time the Sikh Raj of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was established, the Sikhs did not understand the literature the Hindu priestly class of the time had created and started following the practices and rituals laid down in the literature. So much so, the MahaRaja assigned big properties under the names of the Sikh Gurdwaras without knowing what practices are carried on by the Pujaries, the care takers of the Gurdwaras.

God represents "Love" in Sikhism and God is gender neutral. God is the `Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Friend, Companion, Relative of us all'.

In the very opening line of Guru Granth Sahib, God is described by Guru Nanak as " One, True, Creator Person of the Universe with its immanence in its Creation, without fear, without enmity, the Timeless Person, Un-incarnated, Self-existent, and who can be realized by the Grace of the Guru ( Guru Granth Sahib's teachings)."

God resides in its creation, i.e. in and around us all and not somewhere in the sky or in other worlds or at a distant location somewhere.

God's creation is not though identical with God and neither God's emanation.

Merger in God is completely foreign to the Sikh theology.

It is union or connectedness with God but not merger is aspired, for merger involves loss of identity.

God in Sikhism never takes birth and never dies. Sikhism does not believe in the theory of incarnation, because God does not take birth.

The Sikh Gurus did not claim to be incarnations of God, or God in human form.

Human body represents a place where soul/Godly energy resides. Human body is composed of five elements - air, water, fire, earth and ether and enlightened by God with installation of soul (Godly energy) in it. The soul never dies and the rest goes back to earth, air to air, ... (dust to dust) after death. The soul also known in Punjabi "Jote = ਜੋਤ " (light from God) merges back in Light.

God according to Sikhism is Transcendent and Immanent. The becoming world is God's creation. "From the True Lord came the air, and from the air came water. From water, God created these worlds; in each and every heart, God has infused Its Light." Page 19, Guru Granth Sahib.

ਸਾਚੇ ਤੇ ਪਵਨਾ ਭਇਆ ਪਵਨੈ ਤੇ ਜਲੁ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਜਲ ਤੇ ਤ੍ਰਿਭਵਣੁ ਸਾਜਿਆ ਘਟਿ ਘਟਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਮੋਇ ॥ (ਪੰਨਾ 19 )

Air is like Guru in Sikhism, water is like father and earth is like a great loving mother that feeds all living beings without any distinction. Air, Water and Earth are gifts from God for each living organism and so are Sun and Moon. Love for God's entire creation and living harmoniously in God's Creation, which includes birds, animals, trees, water, life under water, etc is emphasized over and over in the Holy Scripture.

A Sikh bows out of reverence to the universal message inscribed in Guru Granth Sahib, the Scripture when it is installed in a Gurdwara. Before entering the worship hall, a person is requested to remove one's shoes, wash hands and to ensure that head is covered.

Sikhism does not believe in idol or image worship. While celebrating the birth days or expiry days of the Gurus and other 29 Saints whose writings find place in Guru Granth, focus is on remembering the contributions made by such great people to humanity and learning lessons to become better human beings. Celebrations are not to worship them and celebrations are not a mere "show".

Life is Heaven on earth for a God-Centred person and Hell for self-centred (obsessed with ego/arrogance, anger, greed, lust, and attachment) person who does not have compassion, love or respect for others and who instead hurts others, thinks ill of others, etc. Sikhism does not believe in Heaven or Hell after death or Salvation after death.

Salvation in Sikhism is defined as union with God, which can be achieved by being God-Centred, selfless service of the community and not by being self-centred.

Sikhism rejects for any healthy person to be living of the free avails of others. Instead, it asks everyone to be earning their living through honest means (ਸੁਕਿਰਤ ਕਰਨਾ), engaging in the selfless service of the community and by sharing ones earnings with less fortunates without any strings attached. It asks everyone to imbibe on Naam and attributes of God.

Sikhism asks its followers to live a housholders life, the most natural way of life in society. The Gurus held that humans can obtain eternal happiness without forsaking their ordinary worldly duties. All the Gurus and the Bhagats (Saints) whose writings find place in Guru Granth Sahib, emphasized that union with the Absolute should be the supreme objective of human devotion and aspirations.

In Sikhism all humans are considered equal and have equal rights for freedom of worship and to practice a faith of their choice..

Sikhism believes in righteousness and justice for all. The Gurus knew the importance of maintaining one's freedom and justice for all. The Sikhs were commanded by all Gurus and most specifically by the the sixth and the last living Guru to stand up to tyranny, no matter where it exists and not be just passive spectator. They were certain to pass this legacy on to the Sikh nation.

In Sikh ethos, the spiritual and temporal are closely inter-related. Accordingly, there is an inseparable bind between the spiritual and temporal, between the Sikh religion and politics in the Sikh tradition, so alien to many in the secular Societies in the present world. Sikhism is thus a whole life system in which it is considered a right and a duty to use force as a last resort if required to seek justice in society.

Sikhism is thus a system of hope, activity and optimism about the future of humans, with willingness to co-operate with other religions, while accepting God's graciousness in creating other Faiths or paths as well. Two of its other features relate to its universalism. First, the Guru prays to God to help the troubled world by any means. Second, it is Guru Nanak Dev who says that his mission is, with co-operation of other God men, to ferry humans across the troubled sea of life.

Guru Nanak's simple monotheistic creed, supported by a set of humanitarian principles of conduct, and presented with humility and conviction, made a deep impact on the Indian population, which at that time was suffering due to the unjust and brutal rule and also due to the corrupt and manipulative priestly class of the time.

Guru Nanak won a large number of adherents to his teachings. It was the beginning of a new religious fellowship, which, in course of time, developed into a well-defined new faith.

Sikhism is a universal and an egalitarian, a whole-life Dharma/religion of our times, humanitarian in spirit, affirmative in ideology, modern in outlook, scientific in analysis, radical in views, International in approach and practical in adaptability, suited to the needs, aspirations and conditions of the modern human beings and their social set-up. It knows no ethnical, racial or regional limitations, recognizes no distinctions on account of birth, sex, status, caste, creed, colour, calling, country or community; and embodies on the other hand, universal respect and concern for all, while regarding all as equals and respectable, and cherishing its Founder's inimitable advice:

Call everyone noble For none seems low. As God, the Sole Potter Has fashioned all vessels alike. And it is God's light alone that shines in all creation.

And also

"First, Allah created the Light, then, by God's Creative Power, God made all mortal beings. From the One Light, the entire universe welled up. So who is good, and who is bad?" Bhagat Kabir Ji, Page 1349, Guru Granth Sahib.

It is, thus a Dharma/Religion, which is not only a theological path, meant to lead towards spiritual progress and Ultimate Reality, but it is also the one which is equally concerned with the establishment of just and altruistic social order and is totally committed to human equality, truthful living and peaceful coexistence; as proclaimed by its fifth Prophet, in the following verse:

None shall domineer over other or cause pain to them; All shall abide in peace and happiness. And the governance shall be gentle and compassionate. Guru Granth Sahib Ji - P 74

ਹੁਣਿ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਹੋਆ ਮਿਹਰਵਾਣ ਦਾ ॥ ਪੈ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਕਿਸੈ ਰਞਾਣਦਾ ॥ ਸਭ ਸੁਖਾਲੀ ਵੁਠੀਆ ਇਹੁ ਹੋਆ ਹਲੇਮੀ ਰਾਜੁ ਜੀਉ ॥ (ਪੰਨਾ 74).

God is the `Ocean of Virtues.' The Sikhs or followers of the Guru are enjoined to imbibe ( absorb) these virtues without which, no salvation is possible.

The path of virtuous deeds is the only discipline acceptable to God. It has been emphasized over and over in Guru Granth Sahib through various hymns. Guru Nanak advises that assessment of humans will be entirely according to their deeds and that final approval will be only by God's Grace.

God runs the universe with "It's Will" which is altruistic. A Sikh must understand God's Will and must carry it out to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.

Guru Nanak never tried to convert anyone to his Dharma (religion), he just asked people to live an honest and truthful life.

Due to a firm belief in righteousness and also that the Gurus understood that all religions preach a similar good message among their followers, so there was no need to convert, but there was a need to live truthfully with love and respect for all.

If one doesn't see all humans as equal, then what is the point of preaching Religion? Preaching should not be aimed at converting; it should be aimed at making Humans better in serving others, in caring and loving others and in truthful beings.

The largest drawback to World peace has been organized religion itself. All religions try to inflate their egos by increasing the number of their followers, as if there are elections to be held sometimes in the very future and do not want to miss out the chance to win the seat for "their version of God". And often in this process of trying to increase their followers, they create much more violence than peace.

Contribution of Sikhism to world peace lies with the principle that God exists in all humans and there is no better religion, except "Humanity". So, if all humans move beyond this attachment to any one religion and see God's light in all, then there will be no need to call ourselves Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh ... etc. We will all collectively be "children of God". As Gurbani explains:

"The One God is our father and mother: we are the children of the One God. God is our Guru, our Enlightener." Guru Granth Sahib Ji - Page 611

To conclude, all religions are valid and no religion can claim that their path is the only way to God. Accordingly, if all religions stop converting others and rather move beyond this and start speaking the language of love for all, start loving and caring for others without distinction of cast, creed, gender, rich, poor, skin colour, language spoken, ethnicity, country, etc, violence in the World can be significantly reduced.

And this will be the first large step towards a better and Peaceful World.

Guru Nanak's plans and his Doctrines were supported and further promoted by nine other Gurus there after. This process spanned over a period of almost 239 years. Followers of his Philosophy are called the "The Sikhs", the disciples of Guru Granth Sahib ( The Scripture). These followers of the Guru who understood the doctrines as introduced by Guru Nanak and who were living their lives accordingly were baptized by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru, and he gave them a new common middle name "Singh" for men and "Kaur" for women for reasons of equality of all humans and to eliminate the Caste system among the followers of Guru Nanak.

Before Guru Gobind Singh passed away, following what Guru Nanak and other Gurus always claimed, he ordained the Sikhs that Guru Granth Sahib, the Scripture of the Sikhs is their true and Eternal Guru to seek guidance from. A humble effort is being made in the following few pages to describe in a very basic and brief manner, the lives of these Gurus, starting with Guru Nanak Dev.

Vieweres are most welcome to send in their suggestions for improving the contents to pabk2010@hotmail.com

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