Oneness - True Faith
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Sikhism Posted on: 2004/3/20 15:07
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Sikh Origins:
No consensus exists on the origins of this religion.

Historians and specialists in Eastern religions generally believe that Sikhism is a syncretistic religion, originally related to the Bhakti movement within Hinduism and the Sufi branch of Islam, to which many independent beliefs and practices were added.
Some Sikhs believe that their religion is a re-purification of Hinduism; they view Sikhism as part of the Hindu religious tradition.
Many Sikhs disagree; they believe that their religion is a direct revelation from God - a religion that was not derived from either Hinduism or Islam.

Sikhism does contain many unique postulates and principles that are quite different from both Hinduism and Islam. Joseph D. Cunningham (1812-1851), the author of "A History of the Sikhs" (1848), observed: "It has been usual to regard the Sikhs as essentially Hindu... yet in religious faith and worldly aspiration, they are wholly different from other Indians, and they are bound together by an objective unknown elsewhere."



Sikh History:
The name of the religion means learner. It is often mispronounced 'seek' It should be pronounced 'se-ikh', with the final 'kh' sound like the 'kh' in Mikhail Gorbachev.

Its founder was Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, (1469-1538) who was born in the Punjab area of what is now Pakistan. At Sultanpur, he received a vision to preach the way to enlightenment and God. He is responsible for the saying "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim" which has since become one of the pillars of Sikhism. He taught a strict monotheism, the brotherhood of humanity. He rejected idol worship, and the Hindu concept of caste. Guru Nanak and Panth (his followers) later built the first Sikh temple at Katarpur.

A succession of nine Gurus (regarded as reincarnations of Guru Nanak) led the movement during the period from Guru Nanak's death until 1708. At that time, the functions of the Guru passed to the Panth and to the holy text, considered the 11th Guru.

Mogul emperors ruled a large area of South Asia from the 16th century until the end of the 18th century. They attempted to convert the Sikhs to Islam, but were unsuccessful. It has been said of one of the Sikh Gurus (considered by many Sikhs to have been the last guru) that "Had there been no Guru Gobind Singh, the entire country would have gotten circumcised" i.e. been converted to Islam.

In 1801, the Sikh state of Punjab was founded in Northern India by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. According to a historian Vincent Smith, "The Punjab State was neither a traditional Indian territorial State and monarchy, nor merely a dictatorship of one community over another. There was an element of partnership with other communities."

An invasion by Great Britain triggered the Sikh Wars (1845-1849). The British successfully gained control over all of India. After independence in 1947, occupied India was partitioned on religious grounds into a mostly Muslim Pakistan and mostly Hindu India. A mass migration of Sikhs from Pakistan to India and a reverse migration of Muslims resulted, with immense loss of life. Some Sikhs have been seeking an independent homeland since the late 1940's.

Sikhs number about 22.5 million worldwide. 1 Most live in the Punjab. Close to 500,000 live in North America, 1 of whom about 150,000 live in Canada. 2



Sikh Holy Texts:
The holy granth, the Shri Guru Granth, was initially compiled by the fifth guru, Shri Arjan Dev Ji. Subsequently, it was updated to include the writings of the sixth to ninth gurus. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh Ji assembled his writings separately into a number of books, including "Dasam Granth"

The holy granth consists of hymns and writings by the first nine Gurus, along with religious text from different Muslim and Hindu saints like: Kabir Ji, Baba Sheik Farid Ji, Bhagat Namdev, Bhagat Rav Dass Ji, etc. The Shri Guru Granth itself is considered the 11th and final Guru, and the Sikh's holiest religious text. It was made so by Shri Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

At least two English translations are available online:

"The Khalsa Consensus Translation [of the Guru Granth Sahib]...is regarded by some Sikh scholars as being among the finest and most accurate English translation currently available." It is available online at http://www.sikhs.org/english/frame.html
Srigranth.org allows people to search the Sikh scriptures in English, Punjabi, Hindi and Transliteration.



Sikh Beliefs:
Beliefs include:

Goal: The goal of Sikhs is to build a close, loving relationship with God.
Deity: Sikhs believe in a single, Formless God, with many names, who can be known through meditation. This concept is similar to Islam whose followers believe in a single God who has 99 names. Only he can be worshiped. Rahras, a Sikh evening prayer states: "[O God] since I have fallen at your feet, I do not care for anybody else. I do not follow the religious ways preached by various religions believing in Ram, Mohammed, Puran or Qur'an. The Simritis, Shastras and the Vedas lay down different doctrines. But I do not recognize any of these. O God, I have written these hymns with your grace and kindness. All that has been said is in fact spoken by you." 7
Reincarnation: They believe in samsara (the repetitive cycle of birth, life and death), karma (the accumulated sum of one's good and bad deeds, and reincarnation the belief of a rebirth following death. These beliefs are similar to Hinduism.
Caste system: Sikhs have rejected the caste system of the Hindu religion. They believe that everyone has equal status in the eyes of God. This is a very important principle that permeates all Sikh beliefs, behaviors, and rituals.
Code of Conduct: During the 18th century, there were a number of attempts to prepare an accurate portrayal of Sikh customs. None received the support of most Sikhs. Sikh scholars and theologians started in 1931 to prepare the Reht Maryada -- the Sikh code of conduct and conventions. It is "the only version authorized by the Akal Takht, the seat of supreme temporal authority for Sikhs. It's implementation has successfully achieved a high level of uniformity in the religious and social practices of Sikhism" 4 throughout the world. It contains 27 articles. Article 1 defines who is a Sikh:
"Any human being who faithfully believes in
(i) One Immortal Being,
(ii) Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh,
(iii) The Guru Granth Sahib,
(iv) The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and
(v) the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh."

There are a number of traditions within Sikhism. Thousands of Sikhs, both in India and worldwide, follow living gurus who have lineages traceable back to Guru Gobind Singh. In Canada and elsewhere, major strains are becoming evident between liberal and conservative wings of the religion, as some Sikhs accommodate to the surrounding culture.


Sikh Practices:
Prayers: repeated multiple times each day.
Worship: Sikhs are prohibited from worshipping idols, images, or icons.
Temples: There are over 200 Gurdwaras (temples, shrines or holy places) in India alone. The most sacred is at Amritsar.
The Five K's: These are clothing practices followed by stricter Sikhs, called Khalsa saints:
Kesa (long hair, which is never cut)
Kangah (comb)
Kacha (short pants)
Kara (metal bracelet)
Kirpan (a ceremonial dagger)




The Khanda -- the Sikh symbol
The Khanda is the main Sikh symbol. It is seen at the top of this essay, used by permission of www.hatisoft.com 5 It is composed of five items, all traditional Sikh weapons:

A vertical double edged sword with a broad blade, also called a Khanda.
Two curved swords, called kirpans. They are called miri and piri, after the names given to his personal kirpans by Guru Hargobind.
A ring called a chakker (aka chakram). It is a very effective weapon, with a range of up to 50 meters (165 feet). This has been popularized in North America by the television series Xena the Warrior Princess.

The Khanda has been interpreted symbolically in many ways. one is:

"The Sikh emblem, Khanda, contains a ring of steel representing the Unity of God, a two edged sword symbolizing God's concern for truth and justice, and two crossed swords curved around the outside to signify God's spiritual power." 6



Sikh Dispute Concerning Furniture:
A serious dispute has broken out among Sikhs in Canada. This has been described in the media as a conflict between fundamentalists and moderates - terms that the media appears to have adapted from Christian terminology. Sikhs do not use these terms. For example, conservative Sikhs recognize:

Sikhs: those who accept and follow all Sikh beliefs and practices, and
Non-practicing Sikhs: those who follow only some Sikh beliefs and practices. For example, "third and fourth generation Sikhs in England and Canada are more likely to be into drinking beer, smoking, cutting their hair, and living a non-Sikh way of life than being a practicing Sikh." 3

Many persons considered by observant Sikhs as "non-practicing" believe that they have full status as Sikhs even though they have deviated from some of their faith's traditional practices. We will use the terms "conservative" and "liberal" in this essay to describe the two divisions within the Sikh faith group.

For 500 years, Sikhs had always sat on the floor, while eating after religious services. This practice emphasizes the teachings of the Guru that every person is of equal value. The Sikh religion strongly rejects elitism. A few decades ago, some Sikh Temples in Canada deviated from this practice, and introduced tables and chairs. The tables and chairs are made identical in order to preserve the concept of equality. Still, the practice of eating at tables is considered elitism in India, and by many conservative Sikhs.

In 1996, some Sikhs began calling for the removal of the tables and chairs, and a return to floor sitting during meals. Some claim that the dispute over the furniture is largely symbolic, and that the real reason for the dispute is that many Sikhs are weakening their faith by accommodating to modern practices. A riot broke out at the temple on 1997-JAN-11. Several Sikhs have been charged with various crimes, from mischief to attempted murder. Many were injured, but none died.

The Jathedar of the Akal Takhat Sahib is the individual who was elected to guide the modern affairs of the collective world-wide Sikh community. He is the final authority in any religious disputes within the faith. In 1998-APR, he issued a hukamnama (edict) against the use of furniture in Sikh Temples. They ruled that the furniture must be removed by 1998-MAY-29. This ruling was appealed. Those opposing the ruling cited a number of reasons why they prefer to not sit on the floor: the colder temperature in North America makes this uncomfortable, elderly people find the arrangement difficult, and younger members may refuse to be married in the temple if they had to sit on the floor. Some Sikh societies in the United States and England agreed to write to the Jathedar in support of the appeal. The Ontario Gurudawaras Committee, which represents all 25 of the province's temples, sent a letter to Bahai Ranjit Singh, Sikh's highest priest, calling his original ruling "praiseworthy."

Sikh leaders asked members to remain calm until the matter is resolved.

The Akal Takhat reaffirmed the original edict. Thousands of Sikhs in the Greater Vancouver area risked excommunication from their religion if they sat at tables to have the ceremonial meal after prayers on 1998-MAY-30. Leaders of 21 Sikh societies in British Columbia and Alberta vowed to keep the furniture.

By 1998-JUN-8, three reform priests had been suspended for defying the ban on tables and chairs. They have complained to the British Columbia Human Rights Commission, stating that they have been discriminated against on religious grounds. Meanwhile, most Sikh priests in the Vancouver area started a strike as of JUN-2 in order to persuade temple executives to remove temple furniture.

In mid 1998-JUL, five or six prominent liberal Sikhs were summoned to Amristar, India by JUL-25 to explain why they oppose a ban on tables and chairs. The group included a newspaper editor, a priest and three temple executives. They did not appear and were excommunicated. On JUL-26, a disturbance broke out at North America's oldest Sikh temple: the Ross Street Temple, established by the Khalsa Diwan Society in 1905. Conservative Sikhs tried to prevent a liberal, excommunicated executive member from addressing the congregation. On AUG-2, the police shut down the temple. It remained closed until the police chief, Bruce Chambers, was able to broker an agreement between conservative and liberal Sikhs.

On 1998-NOV-18, Tara Hayer was killed by an unknown assassin. He was an outspoken supporter of the liberal side, the publisher of a Sikh newspaper, and one of the 6 who had been excommunicated.

During 1998-NOV and DEC, members voted in favor of liberal slates of candidates for management positions within a number of Sikh temples in British Columbia. Jarnail Singh Bhandal now heads the Ross Street temple in Vancouver. He has called for a peacemaking conference of all Sikh factions - the first community-wide meeting in several years.

The current Sikh Jathedar (senior elected official) is Ranjit Singh. He had planned a visit to the United States in 1999-JAN. Liberal Sikhs appear concerned that his visit might inflame religious tensions in North America. They intervened with the U.S. authorities, pointing out that the Jathedar had served a lengthy jail term in 1980 for murdering the leader of a rival religious sect, and that he has never renounced the use of violence against religious opponents. His visa was canceled at the last moment. A large ad in the Washington Post called on the U.S. president to overrule the immigration authorities, comparing Mr. Singh's status among Sikhs as comparable to the pope among Roman Catholics. Actually, he cannot really be compared to the pope. He was elected to represent the Sikh community, but was granted no higher spiritual authority than any other Sihk.

The present Jathedar is Joginder Singh Vedanti
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