Sikh basics and misconceptions .

Considering that the Sikhs are one of the most visible of communities there is a surprising lack of knowledge and understanding about them. Let us look at the basics and dispel some common mistakes and misconceptions about Sikhs and Sikhism.

A Sikh is a person who believes in the ten Gurus – the lineage that begins with Guru Nanak Dev Ji born in 1469, and concludes with Guru Gobind Singh Ji who ascended the heavens in 1708. The teaching of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and his successors concerning liberation through remembrance of the divine Name are incorporated in the holy scriptures known as the Aadh Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Sikhs also acknowledge the practice of naam-simram to be mandatory, though for some the acknowledgment may be implicit and the actual practice rudimentary.

The building which houses the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is called a Gurdwara and all Sikhs acknowledge the sanctity that the scriptures confers on it. They also recognise the role of the gurdwara in expressing the anti-caste ideals of the Gurus. This is done through the distribution of karah-parshaad and the institution of langar.

Those who acknowledge allegiance to Guru Nanak Dev Ji and his successors constitute the community originally known as Nanak-panth but now is simply called Panth. During the time of Guru Gobind Singh Ji members of the Panth were summoned to accept initiation into the Khalsa order and therefore to observe its code of discipline, the Rehat. Prominent among the many features of the Rehat are a series of obligations which include the Five K’s. Two particularly conspicuous items are the prohibition of hair -cutting and a rigorous ban on smoking.

Shortly before the ascension of Guru Gobind Singh Ji to heaven, Guru Ji declared the line of personal Gurus to be at an end and transferred the authority to Aath Guru Granth Sahib Ji and the Guru Panth. Orthodox Sikhs believe that the Guru Panth consists exclusively of initiated members of the Khalsa. All orthodox Sikhs accept these statements as the authentic commandments of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and although a proportion do not actually undergo initiation into the Khalsa they will at least observe the basic requirements of the Rehat.

Those who have undergone initiation are known as amrit-dhari Sikhs. If they have not been initiated but still accept at least the fundamentals of the Rehat they are regarded as Kes-dhari Sikhs. Acceptance must include the ban of cutting hair. Those Sikhs who are not kes-dhari and who do not follow the Rehat are known as Sahaj-dhari Sikhs, slow learners.

Sikhs reject the claim that they are a variety of Hinduism.

Sikhs are heirs to a history and a fund of tradition which they regard as a continuing source of guidance and inspiration. Although most Sikhs are Punjabis, the Panth is open to any who accept its doctrines and practices. Sikhism is not a religion of “you are either with us or against us.” It is a faith where we are all brothers and sisters and can sit down together in peace.

 

 

There are four castes of Hindus and four sects of Muslims in the world
The members of both religions are selfish, jealous, proud, bigoted and violent.
The Hindus make pilgrimage to Hardvar and Banaras, the Muslim to the Kaaba of Mecca.
Circumcision is dear to the Muslims, sandal mark (tilak) and sacred thread to the Hindus.
The Hindus invoke Ram, the Muslims, Rahim, but in reality there is only One God.
Since they have forgotten the Vedas and the Katebas, worldly greed and devil have led them astray.
Truth hidden from both; the brahmins and maulvis kill one another by their animosities.
Neither sect shall find liberation from transmigration.
(
Guru Nanak dev Ji.)

 

1. Sikhs are the same as Muslims or Arabs.

 

Sikhs must not be confused with muslims, it is difficult for people from the west to distinguish between different ethnic groups of people from the east. Due to recent events and to the great dismay of Sikhs all over the world they have been mistaken for muslims with tragic consequences, two Sikhs have been shot dead in the USA and many many more harassed. This is due to images of muslims wearing beards and turbans. The reality is that 95% of all men with turbans and beards are Sikhs. While it is true that some Muslims wear turbans, the majority of people in the world wearing a turban are Sikhs. Sikh males, and some females, wear a turban to keep their long, uncut hair neat. Muslims, even those who wear turbans cut their hair. While orthodox Muslim males wear a particular style of trimmed beard, an adult Sikh male's beard is full and uncut. In addition, Sikhs do not profess the Muslim religion.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji said "There is no Hindu, there is no Mussulman." By this Guru Sahib was not belittling these faiths, but saying that in the eyes of God all are the same.

 

  The Q'uran holds no significance for a Sikh.
  Fasting holds no relevance to a Sikh.
  Circumcision holds no relevance to a Sikh.
  Sikhs do not go in for ritual slaughter of innocent animals.
  Sikhs do not face in any particular direction, east or west, when praying.
 

Sikhs do not hold any significance in ritual shaving of the head, in fact removing of hair is forbidden in Sikhism.

 

One commonly encounters the insistent claim that Sikhism owes much to Islam and specifically to the Sufi tradition. Some have carried this theory to the point of claiming that Sikhism can be treated as an example of conscious syncretism, one which deliberately tried to blend Hindu and Muslim ideals. This claim can be dismissed, it is true there are parallels of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teaching and Sufism but that can be traced to Bhaghti sources. Guru Nanak Dev Ji certainly chose Muslim terminology in a few shabads, but only because the shabads were addressed to a Muslim audience.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji viewed both Hindu traditions and Islam in a typical Sant manner. In there conventional form, both offered systems of belief and practices which largely relied on external authorities and outward responses. As such both were to be condemned. Only those who perceived the inner reality of truth could achieve deliverance and this end could be attained regardless of whether one was a Hindu or Muslim. Those who follow this inner path are the true believers as opposed to the false believers who continue to put trust in ritual and pilgrimage, Barhamins and Mullas.

Guru Ji used this true false theme in many shabads, one being in a shalok from Var Manjh :

 

Make mercy your mosque and devotion your prayer mat, righteousness your Qur’an.
Meekness your circumcising, goodness your fasting, for thus the true Muslim expresses his faith.
Make good works your Ka’bah, take truth as your pir, compassion your creed and your prayer.
Let service to God be the beads which you tell and God will exalt you to glory.

 

This is classic Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s approach, typical both in terms of its insistent interior emphasis and its striking use of imagery.

Sikhs do not believe in a last prophet. There have been many men of God who have put people on the path of the Almighty and there will be many more. Who are we to put a stop on the Almighty’s will? If He wishes he will send down as many prophets as he likes.

Sikhs do not believe in a judgement day when all dead people will rise and be judged. We are judged every single day, every single second of every minute of every hour and meted out judgement as appropriate. If a person dies and is buried in the ground his decomposed body will release it's material into the earth. That material may get into the food chain and be consumed by another person. On this ‘judgement day’ who will rise from the dead to be judged? The first person or the second person and how can the first person rise if he is now part of the second person?

 
First Mehl:
The clay of the Muslim's grave becomes clay for the potter's wheel.
Pots and bricks are fashioned from it, and it cries out as it burns.
The poor clay burns, burns and weeps, as the fiery coal fall upon it.
O Nanak, the Creator created the creation; the Creator Lord alone knows.
||2|| Guru Nanak Dev Ji

 

 

What Sikhism teaches and what other faiths teach are separate paths. The aim of most other faiths is to reach heaven and avoid hell with devils and Shaitans to way lay you and put you off your path. ‘They’ are the only people who will reach heaven and non else. Some promise hourries, fairy maidens to satisfy your every whim with wine to drink, golden palaces to reside in and servants at your beck and call. Sikhism neither wants nor needs any of these enticements. All Sikhs want is to merge with the one True Lord from whence we have come, as a drop of water merges with the ocean. Merging with the almighty liberates one from the circle of life and death and salvation is achieved by the grace of Waheguru.

As for Christianity, Sikhs do not believe that the Almighty sent down his son who will take all your sins upon himself only if you believe in him. You are the perpetrator of your sins and only you will have to answer for them. Of course if you submit to the will of God and ask for forgiveness then God as your true father will forgive all your misdemeanours. There is no one person or faith that has a monopoly on salvation.

 

1 a . Did Guru Nanak Dev Ji not have a robe with quotes from the Q'uran ?

 

Guru Nanak Dev Ji traveled east to Nepal and the Himalayas visiting sacred centers of the Hindus on the way like Benaras and Hardwar. On an another udassi (journey) Guru Ji traveled south to Sri Lanka again visiting many places of learning. On a separate journey to the west Guru Nanak Dev Ji with Mardana traveled to Bhagdad and Mecca, not as a pilgrimage as some would suggest but on Gods mission to spread Gods word and to put people on the path of righteousness.

On Guru Ji's travels through Bhagdad, Mardana would play the rabab and Guru Sahib Ji would sing about the infiniteness of God and His Creation, wherein occurred the following expression: “ patala patal, lakha aghasa aghaas” - there are countless patals (earths) and innumerable akashs (sky). Which goes contrary to Muslim belief, as they only know of 7 earths and skys, When some Muslim who was listening to it and understood its purport went and reported the blasphemy of the utterance - inasmuch as the Qu'ran had mentioned only seven earths and seven skies - to the Sajjdanashin of the Shrine of Pir Dastagir, Abdul Qadir Jilani an agitated crowd gathered on the spot. The people were on the verge of throwing stones when they heard the Guru’s divine invocation. The sweet words of God entered their ears and the people in remorse of their actions went to their Pir and told him of the presence of a holy man.

The Pir, having reached the place, enquired from Mardana who the holy man was. He was told that he was Nanak who had rejected all others except one God who was all pervading on earth, sky and in all four directions. Guru Nanak Dev Ji stayed for a number of days and the people flocked to his side eagerly listening to the word of God. Guru Sahib Ji had many discourses with the local holy men.

One day Guru Sahib Ji was sleeping and his feet were towards the Kaaba. When challenged by the local Imam, Guru Ji replied “point my feet where God is not.” The local Imam ashamed of his actions asked Guru Sahib Ji to do kalma with him. As the Imam started his kalma Guru Ji did not. Guru Ji asked him “What is the use of meaningless ritual when your mind is somewhere else trying to work out how to get the best price for your horses.” Guru Ji had no need for kalma for he sang the Almighty's name 24/7.

Before his departure from there he was presented a chola (robe) as a token of respect on which verses in arabic were inscribed. This chola lies preserved in the Gurdwara at Dera Baba Nanak, in Pakistan. The chola was given to Guru Sahib Ji by his devotees in Bagdhad and there was no alterier motive, Guru Sahib Ji took it in the spirit in which it was given. Pir Babhol, a Sufi saint was deeply influenced by Guru Nanak Dev.

 

2. Sikhs are Hindus or Sikhism is a Hindu sect.

 

Sikhism and Hinduism are distinctly separate religions. Hinduism believes in caste distinctions, worships idols, and astrologic divination. Most Hindus are not monotheist, that is, they worship a god or goddess from a large array of deities. Sikhs on the other hand believe in the equality of all persons of both genders, do not believe one day to be more auspicious than another, and worship One, timeless God who is beyond birth and death.

  Although respected, the Vedas, Puranas, Shastras (Hindu scriptures) hold no relevance to Sikhs.
  Sikhs do not believe in fasting
  Sikhs do not believe in the tilak and jineu, marks of the Hindu
  Sikhs do not believe in high caste or low, all are one in the eyes of the Lord.
  Sikhs do not hold any significance in ritual shaving of the head, in fact removing of hair id forbidden in Sikhism.
  Sikhs reject of Idol worship
 

Although Sikhs respect great deities like Brahama, Shivji and Vishnu there belief in the One almighty God is unshakable.

 

 

You may bathe and wash, and apply a ritualistic tilak mark to your forehead, but without inner purity, there is no understanding. ||6|| Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Raag Raamkalee. p903


 

Guru Gobind Singh Ji explores the austerities carried out mostly by Hindus and concludes that they are of no avail unless you have the True Lord in your heart.

 
Swine eats filth, elephants and donkeys bespatter themselves with dust.
Jackals live at places of cremation.
Owls live in tombs, deer wander alone in the forests, trees ever die in silence;
The man who re-straineth his seed should only have the credit of the hermaphrodite
Monkeys ever wander bare-footed.
They who eat grass and renounce the desire of wealth are no more then calves and oxen.
They who engage in meditation resemble cranes, cates and wolves
For grazing on akk, eating fruits and flowers, and ever wandering in the forests, there is no animal like the goat.
In the cold season the jackal barketh five times. and the elephant and donkey utter various cries
If anyone were by repeating Gods name to obtain God (who cannot be obtained just by lip-worship), then the warbler ever uttereth "Tu hi ! Tu hi ! (would have obtained salvation)"
 

The Akal Ustat from Dasam Granth

 
The Lord Akal creates millions of Krishna, annihilates them and recreates them.
Some hang stones as gods around their necks, while others erroneously call Mahesh 'God'
I have discarded all these false religions and am of the firm view that He who is the creator of the Universe, is the only Lord.
Everyone is caught in the noose of Death, no Rama or prophet can escape from it. All of them who made grand claims of being Avtars of God died repentant. Why doest not thou, O, hapless being seek the shelter of the One Lord.
(15th swayya) Dasam Granth

Even the ancient Hindu books only deal with those in the varn jati. Anyone outside this so called fluidity is a malesh. No matter if a Muslim has been a pious person all his life, never lied and always remembered Allah, in Hindu scriptures he/she will be a malesh.

 

2 a . Did the Gurus not write about Hindu deities ?

 

It is indeed correct that Hindu deities are mentioned many times in Guru Granth Sahib Ji and Dasam Granth Ji and it is true that in many shabads (hymns) they are shown great respect, but it does not follow that the Hindu deities are revered in any way. In fact the deities – Brahman, Vishnu, Shiv Ji, Parvati, Hanuman – are shown to be spiritually higher life forms but who have flaws and are influenced by Maya/illusion, ego and the vices.

Guru Granth Sahib Ji and Dasam Granth Ji both mention Avtar/incarnations of past ages. God who is Nirgun (He has all qualities so He is without any single quality, hence Nir(no) Guna(Quality)) to restore order in his manifestation, the whole universe(s), from time to time will take the form of mighty men and women, who display some of his qualities, which is called Saguna - Sa(with) Guna (Qualities). So as per Dasham Granth Ji Saguna forms were described to show the might of Nirguna. The ultimate power is God - AkalPurkh, Waheguru, Paarbrahm, Ram, Allah - what ever you want to call Him, He has many names, and only Sikhism respects all great Saguna Saroops (forms) of God in all faiths.

First and foremost the Gurus remind us that the deities were all created (and will be destroyed) by the Almighty. This shows clearly that the Gurus had respect but in no way revered the deities.

 

 
So many winds, waters and fires; so many Krishnas and Shivas. Guru Nanak Dev Ji Japji.
 
He created air, water and fire, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - the whole creation. Guru Nanak Dev Ji
 
The realm of Shiva, the realms of Brahma and Indra as well - no place anywhere is permanent.
 

Guru Arjun dev ji.

 

The Gurus remind us time and again that the gods and goddesses have meditated for eons but still have not understood the secret of the Almighty.

 

 
Shiva, Brahma and all the silent sages cannot understand the state of the Lord. Guru Arjun Dev Ji
 
The wise one, Shiva, remains absorbed in himself, but he is engrossed in dark passions and excessive egotism. ||2|| Guru Amar Daas Ji Raag Vadhans p559
 
Shiva meditates through lakhs of methods (postures) but still could not recognise the form, hue and guise of the Lord.
 
Vishnu incarnated himself through lakhs of creatures but he could not recognise even a bit of that Lord. Var18.
 

Beings like Sanak, Sanand, Shiva and Shaysh-naaga - none of them know Your mystery, Lord. ||1|| Bhagat Kabeer Ji Raag Dhanaasree p691

 

In the following shabad Guru Arjun Dev Ji describes Maya – illusion. Maya has the whole world in her embrace and even the mighty gods and goddesses cannot escape her.

 
Aasaa, Fifth Mehl:
A frown creases her forehead, and her look is evil.
Her speech is bitter, and her tongue is rude.
She is always hungry, and she believes her Husband to be far away. ||1||
Such is Maya, the woman, which the One Lord has created.
She is devouring the whole world, but the Guru has saved me, O my Siblings of Destiny.
Administering her poisons, she has overcome the whole world.
She has bewitched Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Only those Gurmukhs who are attuned to the Naam are blessed. ||2||
Performing fasts, religious observances and atonements, the mortals have grown weary.
They wander over the entire planet, on pilgrimages to the banks of sacred rivers.
But they alone are saved, who seek the Sanctuary of the True Guru. ||3||
Attached to Maya, the whole world is in bondage.
The foolish self-willed manmukhs are consumed by their egotism.
Taking me by the arm, Guru Nanak has saved me. ||4||2||96||
 

Guru Arjan Dev Ji in Raag Aasaa p394


 

The deities are chastised for not putting people on the path of the one Almighty but rather making them their own devotees.

 

Those who serve Shiva and Brahma do not find the limits of the Lord. Guru Amar Daas Ji. Raag Gujri p516

 

 

This is not to say that the Gurus did not write about the deities with warmth and affection.

 
The true Vaishnaav, the devotee of Vishnu, is the one with whom God is thoroughly pleased.
He dwells apart from Maya.
Performing good deeds, he does not seek rewards.
Spotlessly pure is the religion of such a Vaishnaav;
he has no desire for the fruits of his labours.
He is absorbed in devotional worship and the singing of Kirtan, the songs of the Lord's Glory.
Within his mind and body, he meditates in remembrance on the Lord of the Universe.
He is kind to all creatures.
He holds fast to the Naam, and inspires others to chant it.
O Nanak, such a Vaishnaav obtains the supreme status. ||2||
Guru Arjan Dev Ji in Raag Gauree p274

 

Guru Nanak Dev Ji describes the wonders of Akal Purkh and mentions that even Vishnu and Brahma could not comprehend the vastness of the Lord.

 
Gujari, First Mehl:
From the lotus of Vishnu's navel, Brahma was born; He chanted the Vedas with a melodious voice.
He could not find the Lord's limits, and he remained in the darkness of coming and going. ||1||
Why should I forget my Beloved? He is the support of my very breath of life.
The perfect beings perform devotional worship to Him. The silent sages serve Him through the Guru's Teachings. ||1||Pause||
His lamps are the sun and the moon; the One Light of the Destroyer of ego fills the three worlds.
One who becomes Gurmukh remains immaculately pure, day and night, while the self-willed manmukh is enveloped by the darkness of night. ||2||
The Siddhas in Samaadhi are continually in conflict; what can they see with their two eyes?
One who has the Divine Light within his heart, and is awakened to the melody of the Word of the Shabad - the True Guru settles his conflicts. ||3||
O Lord of angels and men, infinite and unborn, Your True Mansion is incomparable.
Nanak merges imperceptibly into the Life of the world; shower Your mercy upon him, and save him. ||4||2||
Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Raag Gujri. Pannaa 489

 

Bhagat Kabir Ji whose hymns are found in Guru Granth Sahib Ji says :

 
Raag Dhanaasaree, The Word Of Devotee Kabeer Jee:
One Universal Creator God. By The Grace Of The True Guru:
Beings like Sanak, Sanand, Shiva and Shaysh-naaga - none of them know Your mystery, Lord. ||1||
In the Society of the Saints, the Lord dwells within the heart. ||1||Pause||
Beings like Hanumaan, Garura, Indra the King of the gods and the rulers of humans - none of them know Your Glories, Lord. ||2||
The four Vedas, the Simritees and the Puraanas, Vishnu the Lord of Lakshmi and Lakshmi herself - none of them know the Lord. ||3||
Says Kabeer, one who falls at the Lord's feet, and remains in His Sanctuary, does not wander around lost. ||4||1||
Bhagat Kabeer Ji in Raag Dhanaasree on Pannaa 691

 

Only Sikhism acknowledges that there are many paths to the Almighty and respect other faiths.

 
The followers of the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran, standing at Your Door, meditate on You.
Uncounted are those who fall at Your Door.
Brahma meditates on You, as does Indra on his throne.
Shiva and Vishnu, and their incarnations, chant the Lord's Praise with their mouths,
as do the Pirs, the spiritual teachers, the prophets and the Shaykhs, the silent sages and the seers.
Through and through, the Formless Lord is woven into each and every heart.
One is destroyed through falsehood; through righteousness, one prospers.
Whatever the Lord links him to, to that he is linked. ||2
||Guru Arjan Dev Ji in Raag Gujri on Pannaa 518

 

Guru Gobind Singh Ji in his Dasam Granth has written many compositions that tell the lives of deities worshipped by Hindus. It is their misunderstanding (intentional or unintentional) that the Guru Ji revered or worshipped the deities.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji had faith in the one almighty God and him alone. The opening of every composition in the Dasam Granth is a homage in praise of the one formless God, in the case of his autobiography, Bachittar Natak, the first quarter of the composition is in praise of God. The compositions Jaap Sahib and Akal Ustat (Eulogy to God), which being the Dasam Granth, are totally in praise of the Amlighty. As for the compositions Var Bhagauti Ki (Chandi di Var – composition re-telling the story of the goddess Durgas battle with the demons) and Chaubis Avtar ( the telling of the twenty four incarnations of Vishnu which include Bhagwan Krishan Ji, Sri Ram Chandar Ji, Macch Avatar, Kacch Avatar and Kalki Avatar) again the first part is in praise of the Almighty. So the notion that somehow Guru Sahib Ji revered or worshiped these deities is totally false.

Here is the start of Var Bhagauti Ki.

Var Bhagauti Ki
First and foremost I remember Bhauguti Ji (God) and then set my mind on Guru Nanak.
Then I seek the help of Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das. Arjan, Hargobind and (Guru) Har Rai be remembered.
Sri Harkrishan be meditated upon whose mere glimpse removes all sorrows. (Guru) Tegh Bahadur be remembered as it causes the home to flourish.
They all help me at all times.
The Lord first created Khanda, the double edged sword and then his manifest world. Having created Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, He created the entire play of Kudrat (manifest world).
He created the oceans, mountains, earth and sky which stands above, unsupported by any pillars.
He created both gods(deities) and demons and then created polemic.
It was You who created Durga so as to destroy the demons.
Rama also took strength from you to kill Ravan with his arrow.
Krishan also got strength from You and thus threw down Kansa by his hair.

Many great deities and ascetics underwent hard austerities, but none could fathom thy greatness.

Please see elsewhere on this site for a fuller explanation.
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