by Tonia Shoumatoff
"If we agree to love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury, but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any good. Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace."
“Before dawn, the 'ambrosia hour', the hour of the angels and the saints, is the time when the world is clear, quiet and fluid. This is the prime time for yoga, meditation and prayer. These hours are most effective for cleansing the subconscious and releasing the hurts and angers of the previous day in preparation for a new beginning. This is called “Sadhana” or daily practice and is the cornerstone of Sikh dharma or way of life.
“It begins with a cold shower to stimulate circulation, after almond oil has been rubbed into the body for insulation. Then, one hour of kundalini yoga, followed by 1-2 hours of meditation and prayer. Although this may seem extreme, each one of us has the capacity to begin each day by remembering God and his or her own spirit. Life flows more easily by starting with something sacred, a prayer, a meditation, gratitude or just feeding the birds.
“I find the easiest way to learn meditation is 'pranayama' or breathing exercises. This example is for rejuvenation and is quite powerful:
“Sit in a comfortable position with hands together as if praying, elbows at your side, eyes slightly looking down. Inhale in four equal parts through the mouth, and then exhale in four equal parts through the mouth. Do this for five minutes, then relax.
“At first you may feel edgy and want to stop. This is normal. Just go through it. As a result you will feel centered and relaxed and energized. For an added challenge try this for forty days and see what happens!”
The youngest of all the major world religions, the Sikh tradition is only 500 years old and was started by Guru Nanak in 1469. There are approximately 20 million Sikhs worldwide and the basic message of the religion is “We are all one.” The goal of Sikh practice is union with God who is believed to dwell within each of us no matter what our religion, sex or social status is.
Sikhs, literally “disciples” or “seekers of truth”, emanate from a mixture of the Hindu and Islamic traditions although they have their own scriptures. Guru Nanak was a Hindu who was brought up by Muslims in India and wore a mixture of Hindu and Moslem dress although he broke away from both traditions. His intention was to transcend the limitations of all religions and he developed a theology that combined elements of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity while going beyond what he saw as the limitations of all of them.
The famous poet Kabir was also a Sikh who captured the devotional aspect of meditation and “kirtan”, the devotional singing of God's name with praises, are an integral part of Sikh spiritual practice. Guru Nanak was often accompanied by a minstrel called Mardana who played beautiful hymns inspired by God on the rebeck, a three-stringed musical instrument. These hymns embody the ideas of the Sikh doctrines and put Sikh aspirants in touch with the holy vibration of the divine.
Guru Nanak's revelation came when he disappeared for three days while bathing in a river and returned saying he had been taken up to “God's Court” and given the holy nectar (“amrita”) of God's Name and had been told to rejoice in the name of God and to teach others to do the same. His first pronouncement upon emerging out of the water was: “God is neither Hindu nor Muslim, and the path I follow is only God's: One Universal Creator God. The name is truth. Creative Being personified. No fear. No hatred. Image of the undying. Timeless and formless. Beyond birth and death. Self-existent. Self-enlightened. By the Guru's Grace He is known.” This is also referred to as the “mool mantra” or the first mantra that Guru Nanak uttered after emerging from the river. Nanak understood that God is One and transcends all separation and pervades “all forms, castes and hearts.”
Nanak rejected the entire Hindu social caste system, Vedic rituals, and the subjugation of women but accepted the Hindu cosmology of how the world was created and the nature of the soul. He advocated the middle way in which the extremes of asceticism and self-indulgence were to be avoided. There is no promise of a luxurious paradise in the Sikh tradition as in Islam because the love of God is considered to be all sufficient. One Hindu ritual that was retained by Nanak was the continual repetition of God's name—“Amar Das” and “Sat Nam.”
The Sikh doctrine can be summarized thus: There is one God, infinitely holy, wise and lovable who can be approached by prayer and praise and devotion of the whole heart. He needs no ascetic practices but neither can he be found in the worldly and the self-indulgent. The caste system has no importance in his eyes and all people, including women and outcasts, are equal. All religions are also alike. The one needful thing is to worship with absolute sincerity and simplicity. God or “Sat Nam” has no form or substance but His Grace can be invoked by faith and righteous living. Sikhism believes that the utterance of the Name, the guidance of the Guru, the company of the Saints, righteous living and service to humanity (seva) are means to salvation.
One of the Sikh webpages (Sikhnet.com) says that “the universal nature of the Sikh path reaches out to people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds, encouraging us to see beyond our differences and to work together for world peace and harmony.”
Sikhs consider the pantheon of Hindu deities to be mere vassal spirits created by the Supreme Deity--they eschew pilgrimages and the honoring of idols. Their main holy place is the Hari Mandar Sahib (Temple of God), or the Golden Temple, so-named because of its glistening gold-covered exterior, is located in the city of Amritsar in Punjab. It was built by the fourth Sikh Guru in 1577, although the pool around it was not completed until 1601. This place is a source of inspiration for all Sikhs. To this day the water is still considered to have healing powers (“amrita”) and many healings have been attributed to it.
The Golden Temple was built with entrances on all four sides to welcome people of all faiths: “My faith is for the people of all castes and all creeds from whichever direction they come and to whichever direction they bow.” Unfortunately the Golden Temple was desecrated by a local ruler in 1740 and blown up by Muslims in 1761 and then rebuilt in its present form in 1764.
Sikhs believe that men should marry and live the ordinary life of this world but remember God all the time. If they do this God will save them from having to be born again and again and they will find deliverance from suffering in Him. The Sikhs do not adhere to the same dietary strictures that the Hindus do. They do not use alcohol, drugs or tobacco but do not have strictures against eating meat although most Sikhs choose to adhere to a vegetarian diet.
The office of Guru became hereditary and Arjun and Gobind Singh were considered to be the greatest gurus after Nanak. The “Granth Sahib” became the Bible of the Sikhs. It was later called the “Adi”.
There has been a difficult history between the Sikhs and the Hindus. The son of the Hindu king Akbar tortured and killed Guru Arjan for not erasing certain passages from the Sikh scriptures. After this the Sikhs bore arms and became a militant theocracy involved in a war of territorial independence from India.
In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Order (literally “Pure Ones”) and the title “Singh”(“Lion”) was also added to each male Sikh's name and the title “Kaur”(“Princess”) was added to each female Sikh's name. The titles were a way of rejecting the caste system. From that time on Sikhs's started wearing turbans. They also wore five distinguishing articles all starting with the letter “K”: “kes”--long hair, “kangha”--comb, “kripari”--sword, “kach”; knee breeches and “kara”--a steel bracelet.
Sikhs rose early, bathed in cold water, and each new disciple was enrolled as a warrior and received the “Baptism of the Sword.” They were encouraged to eat meat to develop strong bodies and became known as great fighters who were highly esteemed for their bravery by the British who referred to them as Punjabis. Sikhs had their own separate regiments under British rule.
Unfortunately in recent years the Golden Temple has been the site of bloody clashes with Hindus, starting in 1984 when Indian troops stormed the holy shrine and killed hundreds of Sikhs who were demanding independence from India. Later that year, two Sikhs in Indira Ghandi's personal bodyguard assassinated her. Hindus then rioted and slaughtered hundreds of Sikhs living in New Delhi. This continuing conflict continues to claim hundreds of Indian lives each year. Most recently Sikhs have been persecuted in the United States by ignorant people who confuse them with Muslims.
The highest concentration of Sikhs, many of whom are highly successful businessmen, live in Punjab which is one of the richest of India's provinces. Although Sikhs only make up about 2 percent of the population of India they are more determined than ever to become an independent nation called “Khalistan.”
One of the most popular Sikh teachers in the United States today is Yogi Bhajan who has been called “a teacher for the Aquarian Age.” Yogi Bhajan is a Master of Kundlini Yoga, a champion of World Peace and an ayurvedic healer who felt a destiny to help drug-addicted children of the 'sixties. He says: “ Each soul has a role to play... may universal consciousness prevail so we can come through the veil of arrogance and ignorance to joy... may we count our blessings to we can be beautiful, bountiful and blissful.”
Important site to visit for Sikhism: www.sikhism.com.
Tonia is a Writer, Producer and Media Specialist. She has served as a Communication Director for a range of non-profit organizations. Tonia lives in Wassaic, NY.