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Introduction to Sikhism
Introduction to Sikhism

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: Introduction to Sikhism: Contents

Section II: God and His Universe

  1. Can we prove the existence of God?
  2. What do we know of God?
  3. Can we exist without a belief in God?
  4. Can we reconcile the existence of a merciful God with the problem of pain in the world?
  5. What was God's purpose in creating man?
  6. Is the worship of God necessary?
  7. How was the world created, according to Sikhism?
  8. What is the microcosmic theory in Sikhism?
  9. What is the concept of Truth in Sikhism?
  10. What happens to the individual after death?
  11. Is there a judgement?
  12. Is there a hell or heaven?
  13. What is Hukam?

Q20. Can we prove the existence of God?

The existence of God cannot be proved in a scientific way by means of observation, experiment or other verification. This type of proof is possible only in the field of physical phenomena.

There are two types of evidence, direct and indirect. Indirect proof is based on probabilities and circumstances. Criminals may be convicted on the basis of circumstatial evidence. Only the existence of God can be accepted on this basis or circumstantial evidence coupled with the testimony of saints and prophets.

God cannot be known through the five senses. Just as there is the electro-magnetic wave which cannot be seen, heard, tasted or touched yet it carries sound through the ether, in the same way, God's existence is inferred, though it cannot be demonstrated. You may as well ask the scientist to show you electric energy or magnetism.

Moreover, the personal testimony of saints who have realized God is acceptable as is the large percentage of our knowledge which comes to us second-hand. There is little that we know through the direct experience.

The existence of the universe and the design or pattern behind it make people feel that it could not "just have happened", that there is a Great Designer. Just as a big mansion cannot be built without a master-builder or architect, in the same way, the universe must have been created by a Master-Designer who we designate as God.

Our awareness of a moral sense within the individual is also a reflection of some moral order in the universe. We know that truth is better than a lie, love better than hate. Where did these beliefs come from? They are an indication of the Creator who requires respect for these values in life. The Sikh Gurus never felt the need to prove the existence of God. They regarded Him as everpresent, not in theory but in fact. Guru Nanak thought Him visible and manifest.

Modern scientists and thinkers have come to realize the existence of "A Power" or "the moving hand", which designs and controls the phenomena of nature. The pattern of the universe and the regularity of the laws behind its working confirm the belief that there is a "Lord of the universe".

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Q21. What do we know of God?

Guru Nanak describes the attributes of God in the prayer, Japji: "There is but one God. His name is True and Everlasting. He is the Creator, Fearless and without Enmity, the Timeless Form, Unborn and Self-existing."

Sikhism rejects the theory of incarnation. God does not take birth. He is self-existent and not subject to time; He is eternal; He can be realized through (His own grace or) the teachings of a spiritual guide or Guru, but such a guide must be perfect.

Sikhism believes in a personal God. The devotee is compared to a bride yearning for union with her husband and waiting on his pleasure to do his bidding.

The Gurus have called God by different names-Ram, Rahim, Allah, Pritam, Yar, Mahakal. There is no such thing as a God of the Hindus or a God of the Muslims. There is the "Only One God" who is a presence, and is called Waheguru by the Sikhs (wonderful enlightener and wonderful Lord).

Is God transcendal or immanent? He is both. He is present in all things and yet they do not cover His limitless expanse. When God is seen through the universe, we think of him as Sargun(Quality-ful); when we realize His transcendence, we think of Him as Nirgun(Abstract). Truely speaking, God is both in and above the universe. God is the Whole and the world a part of that Whole.

A complete knowledge of God is impossible. Guru Nanak says, "Only one who is as great as He, can know Him fully." We can only have some glimpses of Him from His works. The universe is His sport in which He takes delight. The world is a play of the Infinite in the field of the finite.

By His order, all forms and creatures came into existence. It is the duty of man to study the laws of the universe and to realize the greatness and glory of the Supreme Being. He has created an infinite number of worlds and constellations. The world in which we live is a small atom as compared to other worlds. Scientists like James Jeans, Hoyle and Narlikar have confirmed this theory.

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Q22. Can we exist without a belief in God?

There are atheists who deny the existence of God. They are in a way free from moral rules and the stings of conscience. However, the atheist finds no meaning and purpose of life. He misses the inspiration and consolation of religion. He misses the companionship of God and Guru, and has, no future to hope for.

Again, there are agnostics who are not certain about God, because they do not wish to get 'involved'. They fear that religion may entail austerity and sacrifice. Such people regard religion as a gamble and are not prepared to take the plunge.

In Sikhism, the belief in the existence of God is a must. The disciple knows that God is knowable, but is not known to him. It is for him to study the scriptures and follow the instructiosn of the Guru to learn about God. A thorough knowledge, serious effort and steadfast devotion are necessary.

Moreover having a belief in God turns men's minds to His qualities: love, justice, charity, mercy, peace, wisdom, truth, goodness and beauty. When we meditate on His qualities, we imbibe often unknowingly some of these traits. Throughout the ages, prophets have given their concepts of the Creator. To the Christians, God is revealed as a Trinity: God, His son Jesus and the Holy Ghost. The Hindus accept the theory of incarnation and affirm that God appears in human form to save the world at the times of crisis. Islam believes in the one God who gave his message to Mohammed the Prophet. Ths Sikh Gurus emphasise the unity of God. He is the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer. He manifests himself as NAM, "The TRUTH" and "the WORD".

Undoubtedly, you can live without a belief in God. You can inflate your ego. But the spirit will remain stunted and starved. You can develop the spirit only through spiritualiy, which means pracitising a devotion to God.

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Q23. Can we reconcile the existence of a merciful God with the problem of pain in the world?

Undoubtedly, the world is full of evil and misery. Look at the many wars, slave-raids, tortures, concentration camps, atomic attacks. Do they not show that man, without a sound moral basis is worse than a wild beast?

The problems of pain and suffering seems to be rooted in creation itself. We find one species of animal or fish feeding on another. Think of the epidemics and plagues. Everything is subject to disease and decay. Earthquake are due to a 'fault' in the earth's crust. These, in addition to the eruption of valcanoes, cause a great loss of human life and property. Some calamities like famine and floods can be prevented by human ingenuity. We do not blame God for them.

On the other hand, the world contains many lovely things: sunshine, flowers and fruits. The picnic spots in the hills, the splendour of the sunrise and sunset show that this world is full of beauty. Farid said, "The world is a beautiful garden."

God's purpose in creating the universe is to watch His play, to see how men and women behave in different circumstances. He has given man reason and freedom. Man may do good or evil. All his acts are recorded and he gets rewarded or punished accordingly.

Sikhism believes in a just, and merciful God. God does not, on His own cause suffering: "The Creator takes no blame to Himself." All things work under His las, He does not undermine His own law by making exceptions. Man sows the seed of action and gets the fruit accordingly. God is like a supreme judge who deals with people according to their deserts. It is also His privilege to pardom an erring but repentful soul. A deep study of the problem of pain makes us feel that pain has a good and useful purpose to serve. It draws out great kindness and compassion in this hard world. Pain is also a test, an ordeal, to assess man's convition and courage. According to Guru Nanak, "Pain is a remedy, and pleasure the disease." Physically, pain is an index of ill-health, a kind of alarm-bell. When you feel physical pain you consult the doctor. Why not also do so for spiritual pain? God gives us timely warning through our conscience. Our Guru is the Doctor for these pains.

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Q24. What was God's purpose in creating man?

It may never be possible to understand fully God's purpose in creating man, but prophets have told us something about man's goal. It is generally accepted that God's purpose is for man to realize his divine inheritance while living in this mortal frame.

God made man in His own image. He put His divine spark in man which is called "The Soul". The soul enters bodily forms according to individual's actions. The wall of ego separates the soul from God. This leads to the cycle of birth and death. Metempsychosis can only be ended through meditation or the acquisition of divine grace.

God is not a cruel monster out for sport with mortals. On the contrary, He is like a benevolent father. He gave man a good start in this life by providing him with all the needs for his upkeep at the time of birth. Just as the body is sustained by food and drink, in the same way the soul is nourished by virtue and devotion. When the soul progresses with the performance of good deeds and the remembrance of The Name, it becomes more worthy of a merger to Divinity.

Man is a focal point in the universe. He is the apex of creation, the final stage. Human life is the starting point for God-realization. You cannot own salvation as an animal or stone. Only human life, offers this grand opportunity for spiritual attainment.

Man is made of spirit and matter: shiv and shakti. The spirit is subtle, while the body is gross. The body has to be cared for, because it houses the soul. A house-holder's life is the best life because it offers scopre for acts of charity and social service. Escapism or ascetisism is not advocated by Sikh religion.

Life may be compared to a game of chess or cards. Where the individual does not frame the rules or control the game. The cards are given to him; it is upto him to play the cards well or badly, wisely or foolishly. God watches over him and will reward him according to his efforts.

In the ultimate analysis, human life is a rich gift, not something to be flittered away in frivolity. If one fails here, one has to go through the cycle of birth and death. It is man's option(what he can) to save himself from this chain of transmigration.

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Q25. Is the worship of God necessary?

God does not insist that we worship him. In His generosity, He gives to all, the high and the low, the educated and the illiterate, even to those whoa are anti-God; Athiest.

Some people are under the impression that God, just like an army commander, demands respect and worship. God does not need man's flattery or praise. Guru Nanak says: "If all people start praising Him, it will not make the least difference to His greatness." Just as the sun does not need light of the lamps so in the same way, God does not need the praises of men.

God is not a Dictator. People worship Him from a sense of duty, Dharma. They are convinced that God who made this universe can be known and loved. Those who know His nature and qualities are wonder-struck by His greatness. In their ecstasy, they exclaim "Wahguru", Wonderful Lord. They want to love Him as devotedly as a wife loves her husband.

Moreover, many people feel that human life is the supreme opportunity for spiritual attainment. A worldly man who makes no effort towards spirituality stands in great danger of joining the cycles of birth and death.

A sense of spiritualiy is a sheet-anchor for the individual. It gives purpose and meaning to life. Guru Arjan writes in The Sukhmani Sahib, "The seed of the Lord's Divine knowledge is in every heart." Thus, a sense of emptiness may be replaced by a sense of richness. Only those who are egoistic and wallow in their material possessions, refuse to accept the comfort of divinity.

Man is not potentialy evil, but is weak and ignorant. When temptation faces him, he is likely to succumb to it. At that moment, he needs a support, an inspiration. If he remembers his divine essence and calls on his moral courage, he will get the necessary strength to overcome the temptation.

A positive approach to God will yield results. Union with God is our goal. Hiw great qualities, Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Love, Purity, Peace, Wisdom, Justice, Mercy etc. are the ladder to Him. By concentrating on these qualities, we through auto suggestion, imbibe such qualities. Man rises to God, while God stoops to lift man.

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Q26. How was the world created, according to Sikhism?

God existed all alone in His abstract form - Nirgun - before He created the Universe. This may be called the state of precreation. God was in the state of sunn samadhi=state of pre-creation, state of contemplation of the void.

According to Guru Nanek, there was darkness and chaos for millions of years. There were mists and clouds. None existed except God. Guru Nanek says:

"There was darkness for countless years.
There was neither earth nor sky; there was only His Will.
There was neither day nor night, neither sun nor moon.
He (God) was in deep meditation.
There was nothing except Himself."
(A.G., pg 1035)
Then God willed the creation of the universe. He became manifest: Sargun. He diffused Himself in nature. Guru Nanek says:
"Thou created all Thy Universe to please Thyself, to enjoy the spectacle, the reality, which is the light of Thy own Reality-self."
When was the world created? This is a mystery. Was this process of creation a sudden and impulsive one or was it one of evolution and growth? Only God who created it knows. Like a spider, God spun Himself into a web. A day will come when He will destroy that web once again become His sole self.

The Parkriti of three attributes (Rajas, Tamas, Satav) was created by God. Maya, attachment and illusion are also His creation: Guru Gobind Singh(10th Guru) writes:

"He created the Shakti of three Gunas(attributes)
The great Maya is His shadow."
The Universe is not an illusion. It is reality, not final and permanent but a reality on account of the presence of God in it.

This world is the abode of the Almighty and yet He transcends it.

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Q27. What is the microcosmic theory in Sikhism?

Sikhism accepts the theory that God dwells in the body. As such the body is called 'The Temple of God'. In one of his hymns, Peepa in Guru Granth Sahib writes:
"Whatever is found in the Universe is found in the body,
whoever searches it shall find it."
The microcosmic theory is here in a nutshell. The Universe is the macrocosm, while the body is the microcosm, that is, the body is a miniature of the Universe. The Universe consists of atoms, the body consists of atoms. Superficially the parallelism is true: the Universe is composed of five elements, ether, air, fire, water, earth; and the three Gunas: Rajas, Tamas, Satav, so also the human body has these elements. In the Pran Sangli, the comparison is further amplified. The sun and the moon are represented by human eyes; light and darkness are reflected in sleep and wakefulness; heavean and hell are represented by joy and sorrow.

According to Indian tradition, the Tantrikas dilate on the fact that the truth is to be realized through the body. The body is an epitome, a small index of the Universe. What we are, the world is. The physical processes of the Universe are paralleled by the biological process in the human body. Perhaps the understanding of the cosmos may best be done through the ramifications of human body. Guru Amardas puts it thus:

"Everything is in the body, the regions, the spheres and the nether worlds.
There are jewels in the body, there are stores of Bhagti.
There is the Universe of nine regions within the body.
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva reside in the body."
In the body, which is an epitome of the Universe, resides the Lord of the Universe. The devotee explores the body and finds hidden treasures therein. Ultimately he finds God within his own self.

Physical sciences have not yet been able to unearth the mysteries of the Universe and the miracle of the human body. There are millions of solar systems, and our earth is a very small part of the universe. Perhaps, the working of the laws of the Universe in the human system may be found in detail in the years to come.

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Q28. What is the concept of Truth in Sikhism?

The concept of Truth - Sach, Sat is basic and fundamental in Sikhism. In the Japji Guru Nanak deals with the subject of Truth. The word "Truth" has different meanings in different contexts. The most important connotation of Truth is God. The Almighty is Truth(Sat Kartar, Sat Nam, Ad Sach Jugad Sach, Hai Bhi Sach, Nanak Hosi Bhi Sach, Ap Sach Keenay Sabh Sach). Another meaning of Truth is Virtue (Apay Gun, Apay Gunkari) which includes qualities like honesty, righteousness, justice, compassion, detachment, humility etc. The third meaning of Truth is pure, holy, sacred (Sacha Chauka Surat Ki Kar). The fourth meaning of Truth is that which is correct and proper (Jo Kuchh Karay Sat Kar Man). The fifth meaning of Truth is eternal happiness of bliss (Tatah Tut Milay Sach Paya).

But who can give the Truth? God being the source of Truth gives truth (revelation) direct to the holy and the enlightened (Jis Tu Deh Tis Milay Sach, Ta Tini Sach Kamaiya). Secondly the Satguru (or Guru) can give Truth to the devotee through his teachings and example (Satguru Milay Sach Paya, Jini Wicheu Ap Gavaiya). Thirdly the Sadh Sangat or Holy Congregation can impart an understanding of Truth to the disciple (Sach Sangat Pavah Sach Dhana). So God, Guru, or Holy Gongregation can grant the gift of Truth to a devotee.

The gift of Truth comes to the deserving. The Sikh must satisfy some requirements to be a candidate for the gift of Truth. He must follow the Guru's teaching: he must do charitable and altruistic deeds; he must submit to the will of God; he must do spiritual cleansing through remembrance of the Holy Name (Mun Davah Shabad Lagau har siu Rahau Chit Laai); finally, he must pray for God's grace (Jah Prasad tu Pavah Sach, Ray Mun Meray Tu Ta Siu Raach).

In Sikhism greater than Truth is Truthful living. One must lead a life of Truth. He must speak the Truth, act the Truth and think the Truth (Sach karni Sach Taki Rahat). A noble character implies the practice of humility, compassion, meditation and a desire to serve and guide others on the spiritual path. Such a devotee earns the gift of Truth and ulitmately merges with the Eternal (God) like the rain drop losing itself in the ocean.

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Q29. What happens to the individual after death?

Human life is just a stage in the upward march of the soul. The individual has got birth as a human being, after going through lower forms of life. Human life is the final stage in the soul's progress to divinity. It is for us to make the most of this opportunity and thereby end our cycle of transmigration.

Death means the destruction of the physical self. The ashes and bonedust mix with the elements. But the soul which leaves the body, awaits a new dwelling. Just as a person casts off worn-out garments and puts on other that are new, so the subtle soul casts off the worn-out body and dwells in a new form. If there were no continuance of the soul after death, how could it become perfect to merit union with the Almighty?

Sikhism believes in the immortality of the soul. The devotee has no fear of the pangs of death. In fact he welcomes death, because it gives him a chance for the merger into Divinity. The evil person, however, dreads death. For him, it will lead to the unending cycle of birth and death. After death, man comes to the next birth according to what he deserves. If he has been wicked and evil, he takes birth in the lower species. If he has done good deeds, he takes birth in a good family. The cycle of birth and death keeps the soul away from Divinity. It can merge with God, only if the individual, by spiritual effort, has amassed the capital of the Name(the Holy spirit as understood by Christians) and thus lives with the Holy Spirit.

Guru Arjan in the Sukhmani dwells on the sad plight of the soul which is not endowed with the Name. The soul in its lonely march through darkness can only find sustenance in the word of God. Otherwise it feels the weariness and pain of isolation.

The soul, Jiva, is a part of God. It is deathless like Him. Before creation, it lived with God. After Creation it takes bodily forms according to His Will. The soul is, however, nourished by virtue and meditation on "The name". The transmigration of the soul can come to an end by meditation and divine grace.

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Q30. Is there a judgement?

Sikhism accepts the theory of Karma: That man is punished or rewarded according to his actions. Man's actions in this world will bear witness at the time of judgement. The messengers of the god of death, Yama, takes the individual to the god of justice, Dharam Raj, who is very strict like a moneylender. The scribes of Chitra and Gupta who have written out the account are called forth to present the balance-sheet of his actions. What does the balance-sheet show? It contains a record of good and evil deeds.

The god of justice cannot be bribed or influenced. He is strict and impartial and exacts a clear account. Certain faiths affirm that their prophets wil plead for their followers in the court of justice. Sikhism does not accept this idea. Man is responsible for his own actions and cannot escape punishment through the intervention of a spiritual leader.

Perhaps the Gurus borrowed the old Puranic machinery of Dharam Raj and Chitra Gupta to impress on the minds of people the need for righteous and noble actions. Guru Nanak says: "According to one's action, one gets near to or distant from God". Elsewhere, the Guru affirms that the judgement on man's actions determines the next birth or form for the individual's soul. The best action in the world is to meditate on 'The Name'. This alone can earn salvation or freedom from metempsychosis.

The law of Karma is inexorable. Man's life is a series of actions. According to Sikhism, "Conduct is the paper, mind the inkpot; the good and the bad (virtue and vice) are both recorded thereon." Man sows the wind and yet expects that no whirlwind will follow. Man's choice of action will determine his future and next life. However by repentence, prayer and love, man earns God's grace which neutralises his previous Karma. There is no accounting of Karma, for one who surrenders himself to God. The true Sikh in a spirit of dedication and resignation invokes His grace and mercy, thereby inducing God to exercise his prerogative of admitting an erstwhile erring but now repentent soul, to His kingdom.

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Q31. Is there a hell or heaven?

Man is judged according to his actions. If he has done evil deeds, he goes into lower forms of life; if he has done noble deeds, he gets a human life again. The idea of hell and heaven is a mere hypothesis. The picture of hell as a place of varied and terrible tortures is symbolic:
"There is a stream of fire from which comes poisnous flames.
There is none else there except the self.
The waves of the ocean of fire are aflame.
And the sinners are burning in them."
(A.G. p 1026)
Shaikh Farid tells us that hell is a burning lake resounding with terrible cries. It may be added that the result of a sinful life is its adverse effect on character from which ultimately comes suffering and torment. In short, to be in hell is to be out of the presence of God.

Similarly there is no actual place called heaven. Sikhism does not regard the winning of a place in heaven as a worthy object. The old Indian concept of heaven is of a beautiful place providing all sorts of comforts and luxuries. The devotee is neither afraid of hell nor anxious to go to heaven. In a way, hell and heaven are conditions of mind. The virtuous man is happy and contented, as if he is living in heaven.

The concept of hell and heaven is just a rough illustration for clarifying the doctrine of Karma. Hell and heaven refer to evil or good stages of life repectively and they can be lived here and now in our earthly existence. According to Guru Arjan, "Whereever the praises of God are sung, there verily is heaven." Likewise, the society of the wicked is a hell. The condition of an average man is described thus: "Like birds that flock in the evening on a tree, flutter with pleasure and pain, scan the skies morning and evening, wandering everywhere, driven by hunger. So the soul of man wanders and suffers on earth." The worldly man eats, enjoys and sleeps, unmindful of the higher things of life. He is free, and perhaps, may choose wrongly.

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Q32. What is Hukam?

Hukam means order: that is God's order. By God's order all forms came into existence. The Divine Will is responsible for the creation, sustenance and dissolution of man and the Universe. Whatever happens is by His Will. Hukam takes the form of Natural Laws or Universal axioms. All the parts of the Universe are under His control.

According to Sikhism, true happiness is attained by accepting and submitting to the Divine Will. Guru Nanak says:

"How can I be truthful and break the wall of falsehood?
By submission to His Will, as it is ingrained in me."
(A.G., p.1)
Living in harmony with the Divine Will brings everlasting peace. Like a child, the disciple is to be guided by the elders. Everything emanates from Him and is, therefore significant. Saints and martyrs, in spite of occult powers, have submitted to torture and death in order to honour His Will. "Thy Will be done" is one of the basic principles of Sikhism. This does not imply the negation of individual volition. A Sikh must bring his will in line with the Will of God.

What is God's Hukam? The Gurus tell us that God's command is that one must merge one's will in His Will. The service of God's creation is the best way of working in harmony with the Divine Will. Secondly, God desires that man who has the Divine essence in him should once again merge in Him and thereby end the cycle of Karma and transmigration.

Submission to God's Will produces a sense of humility and self-abnegation. When man surrenders himself completely to him, he regards himself as an instrument of His Will. He realizes that whatever comes from Him is for his own good. Every misery that he faces is a sort of mercy. He is full of gratitude and prayer for all he has done. Guru Arjan says:

"What pleases Thee, O Lord, that is acceptable.
To Thy Will, I am a sacrifice."
(A.G., p.676)
The only antidote for egoism and vanity is complete surrender to His Will. Only by conquering the self, can one enter the realm of God's Grace.
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