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Sunday September 2, 2007 ■ CatholicNews

RELIGION

SIKHISM IS RELATIVELY new among the major religions of Asia. It was founded just over 500 years ago in the Punjab district which today lies in both India and Pakistan. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) as a response to the political suppression, social divisions, religious conflicts and superstitious practices in North India. He taught respect for all religions and advocated the equality of all people. Guru Nanak was the first of the 10 “gurus” (spiritual teachers) whose followers are known as Sikhs. The word “sikh” is derived from the Sanskrit word “shishya” which means a disciple, learner, seeker of truth. “Gu” means darkness and “ru” means light. The guru is therefore “light that dispels

the darkness” and is a model of wisdom and spiritual perfection. Sikhism is the understanding and practice of the teachings of the gurus. A Sikh, according to Guru Nanak, is one who obeys the commands of the guru and is guided from darkness to enlightenment, from rebirth (“samsara”) to spiritual realization and release (“moksha”). His goal is to uplift his soul from the shackles of materialism (“maya”) and live a virtuous life that is attuned to the will of God, which would lead him to the ultimate state of eternal bliss and union with God. Being a monotheistic religion, Sikhism preaches the existence of one supreme reality, uncreated and eternal. God is seen as the creator and source of all things. Sikhism is not an evangelical religion so Sikhs do not proselytize. Sikhism believes that every person has the right to choose the path he deems best to commune with God. It believes that if one is a Christian, then one should be a good Christian; if a Muslim, one should be a good Muslim, etc. However, if anyone wants to convert to Sikhism, he or she is welcome to do so through a process involving

a simple baptism ceremony. In Sikhism the importance of good actions is emphasized over the carrying out of rituals. A Sikh does good deeds not to appease God but to lighten his burdens; bad deeds, on the other hand, are seen as saddling life with unnecessary burdens. Sikhs do not recognize the caste system nor worship idols. Theirs is a religion of practical living, of rendering service to humanity, and of accepting the rights of everyone. Sikhism teaches that salvation can be achieved by anyone who earns an honest living and leads a life in harmony with the teachings of the gurus, which implies a life in harmony with Truth (“Satnam”), the metaphor for God. Sikhs believe that to lead a good life one has to keep God in heart and mind at all times, live honestly and work hard, treat everyone equally, be generous to the less fortunate, and serve others. Sikhs strive to practise meditation (“simran”), service (“seva”) and congregation (“sangat”) and lead a healthy, holy, honest and humble life which would lead them ultimately to the spiritual union of their soul (“atma”) and God (“Parmatma”). ■

Sikhs wait for their food at the free kitchen, which is an integral part of the Sikh temple. The kitchen promotes generosity, equality, service and humility.

The Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book) is read at a religous service at the temple. The holy book is usually placed on a raised dais covered with a canopy as a sign of respect.

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) is the founder of the Sikh religion. The most famous teachings attributed to Guru Nanak are that there is only one God, and that all human beings can have direct access to God without need of rituals or priests. His most radical social teachings denounced the caste system and taught that everyone is equal, regardless of caste or gender.

THE SIKH SCRIPTURE is a 1,430-page book called the Guru Granth Sahib which contains the writings of the Sikh gurus, Hindu saints and Muslim holy men. The Sikh scripture is unique in that the Sikh gurus themselves were responsible for its compilation. Its subject is Truth – how to live a truthful life. The tenth and last human Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh (16751708), decreed that after his death the spiritual guide of the Sikhs would be the teachings contained in that book. Thus the book not only has the status of a guru, but is revered as

the permanent guru. When Sikhs could not find answers to specific issues in the Guru Granth Sahib, they should decide as a community, such decisions to be based on the principles in the book, he instructed. In the temple, the Guru Granth Sahib is usually placed on a raised dais covered with a canopy. Its contents are set to music and are sung regularly at Sikh religious services. Sikhs also seek advice and instructons pertaining to their faith and life from the the Sikh central authority based in Amritsar, Punjab. ■

All male Sikhs have the name “Singh” as their last name while all female Sikhs have “Kaur” as their last name. Singh means lion; and Kaur means princess. This naming system was introduced by Guru Gobind Singh to reflect Sikhismʼs teaching that everyone is equal in the eyes of God, regardless of their social status. Singh and Kaur replaced the caste names originally used. ■

THE SIKH TEMPLE is known as a “gurdwara” (which means doorway to the guru). It is devoid of images and statues as Sikhs worship God in his true abstract form. The Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Holy Book) is placed at a prominent position in the gurdwara. There are daily religious services at the gurdwara but the majority of Sikhs attend the Sunday service, which lasts several hours. Devotees have to remove their footwear and cover their heads at the temple. (Tobacco and intoxicants are not allowed in the temple.) On entering the congregation hall, Sikhs kneel and bow with heads touching the floor as a sign of respect to the Guru Granth Sahib. They then sit on the floor, men at one side of the hall, women at the other. There are no specially trained priests to perform religious services and any Sikh who can read the Punjabi script, male or female, can perform the religious service. But for convenience, a granthi (a reader of the Guru Granth Sahib) is usually employed. The granthi sits behind the Guru Granth Sahib and waves a chaur (a whisk made from long animal hair) over the

holy book as a sign of reverence. The service includes hymn singing, scripture reading and a sermon. At the end of the service, a sweet pudding, which has been blessed by the prayers and reading from the Guru Granth Sahib, is distributed to all. The congregation then proceeds to the free kitchen for a vegetarian meal prepared and provided by volunteers. They sit in rows and eat the same food from the same type of utensils to emphasize equality of all persons regardless of their social standing. The food is served to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. The free kitchen is an integral part of the Sikh temple and promotes good values such as generosity (exemplified in the giving and sharing of food and other necessities); equality (by sitting together for the meal); selfless service and humility (through service in the kitchen). Every gurdwara has an elected committee that manages the temple. Funding for the gurdwara comes from membership fees and donations from the congregation and well-wishers. Besides being a place of worship, the Sikh temple is also a place for social interaction and scholarship. It is also a community centre offering food and shelter to the poor and needy. Major ceremonies like marriage and funerals also take place there. ■

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