Wed | Dec 6, 2023
Understanding Sikhism – Part II

Philosophy and beliefs

Published:Sunday | January 26, 2020 | 12:16 AMPaul H. Williams - Gleaner Writer
Guru Nanak Dev
Guru Nanak Dev

Sikhism is religion that was established in Punjab, India, in the late 1400s by Guru Nanak Dev, who was also born in Nankana Sahab, Punjab (which is now in Pakistan, in 1464. It is underpinned by the basic principles of service, humility and equality, and a belief in one God (Ek Omkar).

This one God has no form or gender and which everybody has direct access to and before whom everybody is equal. This eternal being is the “supreme creator”, and Sikhs focus their lives around their relationship with him, and being a part of the Sikh community.

There is a need to understand and experience God, and Sikh spirituality is centred on this need. The ideal is to eventually become one with God. To achieve this oneness, believers must turn the attention from themselves to God. They can only get to this state (mukti) through the grace of God. It is said that God shows people how to get close to him through holy books, and by the examples of saints.

Yet, they believed God cannot be totally understood by human beings, but can be experienced through “love, worship and contemplation”. When they want to see God they look for God within themselves and in the world round them. This is to help themselves achieve liberation and union with God, and to see the divine order that God has given to everybody and everything.


Sikhs believe that God is within everybody, despite how evil and wicked they might seem, and thus change is possible for everybody. However, some people cannot see the true reality of God within themselves because they are “blinded by their own self-centred pride (humain) and yearning for material things”.

Outside of themselves, God’s message can be received through several means, such as looking at all of creation with open eyes and see “the truth of God”, for creation is the visible message of God; understanding that the universe, “a portrait of God’s own nature”, does not exist on its own, but was called into being by God; and receiving it from looking at the gurus’ life, hearing it in their words, and reading it from the scripture.

Living a good life is just as important as living close to God, thus Sikhs “don’t think it pleases God if people pay no attention to others and simply devote themselves slavishly to religion”. Thus, serving others and living an ordinary life is serving God. Living an ordinary life gets people closer to God. “By devoting their lives to service they get rid of their own ego and pride,” they say.

The duties that Sikhs must carry out are listed under three broad headings: keep God in mind (naam japna), earn honest living (kirt kana) and share one’s earnings (vand chhakna). It means that God must be kept in mind at all times. People must make an honest living, and thus avoid gambling, begging and working in the alcohol and tobacco industries. The money earned from working must be shared, especially with charities, and for caring for others.

The service given and the quality of life lived will determine the quality of life lived in the next life. This is karma, which sets the quality of life according to how you had lived in previous lives. The way out of this “painful” cycle, the Sikhs say, “is to achieve a total knowledge of and union with God”. Because they believe in life after death, and reincarnation. Life, then, is a cycle of birth, death and rebirth, known as samsara. Reincarnation is part of this cycle. It is the belief that when humans die they are reborn in a new body.

Thus, Sikhism teaches that every creature has a soul known as the atma, which is a part of the cycle of reincarnation. The atma is given to a creature by God. At death, the atma is reborn into a new body as part of the cycle of rebirth. The body that the atma is born into is determined by the karma it had earned in its previous life.

The highest possible being on Earth is human, and the cycle of samsara repeats itself until the atma has been freed from the pattern and is reunited in mukti, oneness with God.