Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with approximately 30 million followers, 75% of them in the Punjab state in northwest India where the religion began. The religion was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539), who showed early signs of brilliance in philosophy as a child. At 30 years of age he proclaimed his mission to teach the new religion. As was his habit, he went to bathe in a nearby stream, when he suddenly disappeared in the water and was presumed drowned for three days and nights, when he suddenly reappeared and said he had been in the presence of God who charged him with a mission to bring people back to holy ways of living.


Sikhism therefore believes in One God/Creator; that all people are created equal; human life is a precious blessing and opportunity to learn to come back to God; that we should live a life of service to the Creator and our fellow humans; that Sikhs are warriors of Truth;  and that Salvation is possible in this life. His teachings were complete in the lives of ten Gurus who succeeded Guru Nanak till 1708 and continues in the holy book of Sikh teaching, the Granth Sahib, which is the eleventh and final Guru.


Sikh: the word means ‘Learner/Student’. ‘Sikhism’ is a Western term referring to those who follow the Sikh religion. To Sikhs it is not a religion as such but more a way of life.


Based on Hinduism and Islam: The Indian state of Punjab where Sikhism evolved, is at the crossroads of what is now Islamic Pakistan and Hindu India. It is not surprising therefore that Sikhism combines the teachings of devotional Hinduism (Bhakti Marga) and mystical Islam (Sufi) teachings.


Monotheistic: Devotion/surrender to the One God, ‘Ik Onkar’ (‘One with Everything’), and ‘Wahe Guru’ (‘Wonderful Teacher’). All powerful, non-understandable God. Rejection of idol worship and the caste system of Hinduism. Devotion is prized over intellectual understanding. Unlike other monotheistic religions, Sikhism does not seek to actively convert others to their faith. It stresses living their beliefs: Sewa: service to humanity; Simran: remembrance of God by repetition or recital of His Name or Naam.


Guru: the keystone of Sikhism is devotion to a teacher, or Guru. Without a Guru as a guide you cannot reach Moksha (release from the cycle of reincarnations). But the Guru himself/herself is not to be worshiped.


Maya (Illusion): people live in a state of illusion or the Hindu concept of ‘Maya’, remote from their true God-like qualities due to the operation of the ‘Five Thieves’: Ego, Anger, Greed, Attachment, and Lust. These qualities divorce us from God. We are in love with the Five Thieves and have forgotten God. We must disconnect from Maya and reconnect with God. We need to look inward to find what we already know in the better part of ourselves – ‘Akal’ – the purpose of life – to reconnect with the Oneness of Truth. There is no Heaven or Hell. Release from this life of dedication to worldliness through reconnection with the Oneness. Sikhs believe in Reincarnation (that we are all subject to repeated rebirth), Karma (the law of action and reaction); that we should avoid the illusion of worldly values and behavior (Maya); and in service to other humans, and in social justice.


Devotion: Sikhism has a huge emphasis on remembrance and chanting of the Divine Name. Music is very important as all Sikh hymns are mixed with music. Sikhs should pray at least two hours per day morning and night. In all these things they follow the Hindu tradition of Devotional Yoga or ‘Bhakti Marga’ especially the Hindu practice of chanting mantras (sacred words and phrases) in a group setting called ‘Kirtan’.


Service: service to the community in action is what kills out Ego. Three types of service: Tan: Physical Service; Man: Mental Service; Dan: Material Service. Sikhism has a huge emphasis on social justice and helping people to live better lives.


Family Life: Sikhism believes in the equality of men and women. Sikhism rejects asceticism and expects all Sikhs to marry and family life is central to Sikh culture: ‘Be in the world but not of it’.


Khalsa: refers to both a special group of initiated Sikhs, as well as a community that considers Sikhism as its faith. All Sikhs initiated into the Sikh way of life have the surname – ‘Singh’ (Lion) if a boy, and ‘Kaur’ (Princess) if a girl. Initiated Sikhs must follow the Five ‘K’s’: Kesh: Don’t cut your hair; Kara: wear a metal bracelet; Kanga: wear a wooden comb; Kirpan: carry a sword or dagger; and Kacclera: wear a special undergarment/shorts.


Holy Book: The Guru Granth Sahib: a collection of hymns and prayers of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, and the other nine Gurus. The book has a place of honor in every Sikh place of worship (Godwara). Readings take place every week (Sunday) and in its completeness once per year.


The city of Amritsar in the Punjab: the main spiritual center of Sikhism. The Golden Temple with a huge kitchen providing 100,000 to 1 million meals per day free of any charge.


Pilgrimages: Sikhism does not believe in pilgrimages to holy places or the use of priests to recite prayers or perform rituals for others. Every Sikh should be his or her own priest although there are those who perform priestly duties (the ‘Mahant’ belonging to the ‘Udasi’ sect).


Sects and Orders: there are several religious orders of Sikhs based on disputes over the succession of the gurus or points of ritual and tradition- the ‘Nirmala’: a strict sect, ‘Nihangi’: a militant order, ‘Namdhari: an ascetic sect, ‘Nirankari’: includes persons of all religions without the requirement of conversion to Sikhism.


Current Issues: The most important issue, besides various political disputes with the Indian government, is the rejection of Khalsa tradition by the younger generation of Sikhs – cutting of long-hair and shaving beards and gradually relapsing into Hinduism. The many attempts to revive the Khalsa tradition have met with limited success.