Sikhism: The World's Fifth Largest Religion (with video)
Although it is the fifth largest religion in the world, with over 20 million followers worldwide, Sikhism is relatively unknown outside its native India. This may be due, perhaps, to the fact that historically, Sikhism was formed relatively recently—in the fifteenth century—and doesn’t have the lengthy history of Buddhism, Christianity, or even Islam. And although it doesn't actively seek converts, Sikhism emphasizes a universal spirituality that many say may prove an important message for the twenty-first century.
Sikhism has its geographic roots in the Punjab, the area that now is northern India and eastern Pakistan, where for centuries, there has been a literal battleground between the two dominant religions of the area, Islam and Hinduism.
Nanak (1469--1539), the historical founder of Sikhism, was born into this turbulent land during a most turbulent time. After a religious transformation when he was about 30 years old, Nanak began teaching that the apparently different paths of Islam and Hinduism were missing the true path of the one true god. He believed that Hindus and Muslims really worshiped the same god, which he called the “True Name.”
Nanak with the Ten Sikh Gurus
Implied in this “True Name” designation is that the true deity transcends human thought and language and that any verbal representation of the divine is limited and restrictive. Furthermore, Nanak thought that the rituals and beliefs of those two traditions had grown to be hollow and superficial.
Nanak taught that a new social order based on devotion to the one god, whom Nanak perceived as formless, would be a society where there is equality, justice, and mutual service for all people. Nanak, now referred to as “Guru Nanak” because of his teaching and spiritual leadership, was succeeded by the Ten Sikh Gurus.
The history of this succession, however, involved oppression and widespread violence against the Sikh community. The Ninth Guru, for example, was martyred, and his son, the Tenth Guru, transformed the tradition into “saint-warriors” to seek the truth. The duly initiated men were given the surname “Singh” (meaning “lion”) while the women were given the name “Kaur” (meaning "princess"). Together, the initiates formed the Khalsa ("pure ones"), a community committed to a code of strict spiritual discipline, including a mission to resist oppression.
The key belief of Sikhism is the loving devotion to one god. This one god transcends any specific reference or form, but is often referred to as “Truth” or as “the One Supreme Being.” To the Sikhs, the divine god is a pure being, without form, but is manifested through the Gurus (the perfect masters), the Guru Granth Sahib (the sacred scriptures of Sikhism), and through all of creation. Thus, according to their belief, god pervades the world; the world is not separate from god, who can be found in everything. Because of these beliefs, Sikhism doesn’t attempt to convert people, nor does it claim to have the only path to god.
Gurdwara, the Golden Temple
The discipline of Sikhism is reflected in sacred practices, including daily prayer (often taking as much as two hours of each day), repetition of the name of god, and intentional detachment from negative thoughts, ideas and actions.
An initiate must purposefully struggle against feelings of lust, anger, attachment, greed, and ego. A communal and public worship at Gurdwara, the most holy Sikh temple, is also an important practice to reinforce the discipline at the heart of this religion.
Although growing out of a specific geographic region, Sikhism today is recognized as a religion that can establish its discipline on any continent, in any cultural setting.
The message of a transcendent deity, beyond the names and forms claimed by any one religion, is growing in appeal to a world-culture expected to accept claims that god has only one name and that all other forms are wrong and should be destroyed. Sikhism’s vision--which many believe was conceived much ahead of its time--of a religion based on equality for all people, is proving to be an evermore attractive message for many seeking a modern spiritual path rooted in ancient beliefs
Images via: Wikipedia.org
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