SIKH CONCEPTION OF GOD
Sikhism — A Monotheistic Religion
Monotheism is the belief-system in one God and deriving the entire existence from the one God. Sikhism preaches a God who is nameless and formless and the entire human existence is explained as the creation of that one God.
Sikh Mul Mantra which appears at the very beginning of Guru Granth Sahib starts with the numeral 1, pronounced as IK. This denotes two important principles which are fundamental to Sikhism. IK stands for the oneness of the entire existence. God is one and the entire existence is united by the all-pervasive principle of God. God is the uniting thread of all that exists. Sikhism differs from other schools of monotheism in that it does not satisfy with the assertion of oneness of God only. God as a single principle unites the entire universe which is full of varieties and diverseness. The principle of IK does not exclude the world of diversity.
Some of the monotheistic religions establish the oneness of God as a separate entity from the existing world. For such schools, God is transcendental to the existing world. God is understood as a metaphysical being completely beyond the world. Such an approach discriminates the world to get the idea of God. Even when their idea of God is one, they inculcate a negative attitude to the world and consequently, they land on two realities, the reality of God and the discriminated reality of world. This paves the way to dichotomy, a dualism of God and world. This happens despite their claim that they preach oneness of God and so they are monotheistic. On the basis of the idea of oneness of God and the discrimination upheld towards the world, the monotheism of such religions can be named as discriminative monotheism. Contrary to this, Sikhism proposes an integrative monotheism. It does not accept the classical oppositions found in the history of religions, such as God and world. Transcendence and Immanence, Nirguna and Saguna, one and many, Creator and created, tranquillity and activity, etc. The genius of Sikhism consists in uniting these opposites and propounding a positive, non-discriminative thought which is at the same time spiritual and empirical, transcendental and temporal, logocentric and somatic. Guru Arjun says :
“ Wherever I look, His sole presence I behold;
Himself in each being immanent
Himself the Sun with rays outspread
Himself the hidden reality
Himself the visible forms
Both in unison one Reality formulate.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 387)
Stressing the unitary aspect of Sikhism, Sikh scholars name it a religion with a whole-life philosophy. By whole-life philosophy is meant the non-discriminatory approach to earthly life and non-acceptance of the oppositions of classical religions. It is not a philosophy of ascetics, because asceticism means the way of life of discriminative monotheism. Sikhism is not a religion of God without man or without nature. It is a united religion of God, man and nature. In Punjabi, the whole-life aspect of Sikhism is expressed by the words ‘miri-piri.’ Originally these are two words. Miri meaning earthliness and Piri meaning spirituality. In the new formulation of Sikhism, miri-piri is a single principle uniting both the aspects of spirituality and phenomenality. In Sikhism, spirituality penetrates the entire earthly life of man, making it precious, meaningful and demands it to be ethical. God, the Creator, is real and holy, and so is the creation. Guru Nanak calls life as a beautiful garden, an alive tree, a dharamasala where righteous acts are to be performed. Sikhism finds no reason to declare the world as unholy and sinful, because it is the wonderful creation of God. The Sikh Gurus use a unique word — Waheguru — to express this wonderful aspect of unity of God and world. Waheguru is not a name of God, neither of the world, but it stands to express the feeling of experience of nature and world which is the brilliant workmanship of the Lord. In the above sense, the Gurus often say that God is beauty and wonder.
In philosophical language, the integrated monotheism is absolute idealism comparable to the system founded by Hegel, the German philosopher of Nineteenth Century. Absolute idealism differs from the discriminative idealism of classical philosophical schools that it sees the presence of Ideal or Spirit in the entire existence. The world is spirit-bound. The spirit is all-pervasive and immanent in everything. Nothing is beyond spirit. “My True Lord has made such an interesting world in which everything is different from the other. He created light and darkness and still there is one element in all and that is He Himself” says the Guru. (S.G.G.S., p. 1055).
The Oneness Of God And Unity Of Being
As has been mentioned already, Sikhism believes in one God. Like Guru Nanak’s utterance, “There is no Hindu and there is no Mussalman”, he also proclaimed the oneness of God. There cannot be a Hindu God and a Muslim God. To conceive separate gods to various creeds, according to Guru Nanak is a superstition :
“ Saith Nanak, when the Guru hath removed superstition
Allah and Parabrahm are the same.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 826)
Guru Nanak does not hesitate to repeat this idea of one God in many of his hymns :
“Know the Lord to be One, even the paths be twain.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 1349)
“He who knows the two paths to be one will alone find fulfilment.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 142)
Guru Nanak uses both the Hindu names and Muslim names for God. Sher Singh brings out that the following Hindu names of God are occurring often in his songs : Bhagwan, Vishnu, Brahm, Gobind, Gopal, Hari, Ishwar, Kesav, Krishan, Madhusudan, Murari, Narayan, Parbrahm, Parmeshwar, Raghu, Ram, Vasudev, etc. Similarly, the Sikh Gurus call God with Islamic names : Allah, Haq, Kabir, Karim, Khuda, Malik, Rabb, Rahim, Rahman, Sahib, etc. But Guru Nanak is sure that God is one despite all these names.
Guru Nanak utters some other names of God which essentially show his non-sectarian and universal approach to God. He calls God Anam i.e. Nameless. Similarly, God has been indicated as without religion or Adharm and Amazahb.
The oneness of God is not a totalitarian concept. God is one and also many. IK and Anek. The one becomes many. In a sense oneness and manyness together show that God is the becoming life itself. One without many and without becoming into many always has the danger of ending in a single static abstraction. But Sikh conception of God is that He is dynamic. He is the Kartapurakh. He is the Creator, and the creative moment is immanent in every being. Therefore, God has been called as the “Life of the Universe!” (Jagjiwan). Bhai Vir Singh, the modern poet of Punjabi, in one of his poems identifies the meaning of life as a pond full of lotus flowers ever blooming and becoming. This is the Sikh message.
The idea of God has been compared to water, the life giving force of universe. Water is a formless, but alive being, also basis for all life-forms. God has also been compared to a tree, which is always in the process of becoming, ever fresh and blooming, growing from a single seed into multifarious branches, leaves, flowers and fruits. Every part of a tree is related not only with other parts but also with the whole. A tree is interrelated not only in itself, but also with the space above and below, with the earth, with the entire environment through lively bonds. A tree is always transcending its previous limitations, rises against the gravitation of the earth, although deeply rooted in it. It is ever colourful, green, fresh and leading to new heights.
The reality of God has also been compared to ocean and waves. The simile is a classical one used in the Upanishads, Guru Nanak revives the early Upanishadic metaphor of one and many united organically. The relation between them is the one between the whole and part. The reality is a great and beautiful structure in which every moment is related with the whole in an organic way:
“ Thou art the Tree
All that is, are Thy flourishing branches,
From subtle didst Thou become palpable,
Thou art the ocean, foam and bubbles —
All that is visible, is Thyself,
Thou the knot, the principal bead,
In the beginning, middle and end is the Lord,
Nothing else exists.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 102)
It is this relatedness which is most important in Sikhism. It represents the unity of Being. Kabir explains the unity in the following verse :
“ The Creator is the creation,
In creation is He.
From one clay, in various forms,
Has He made all creation.
Neither is any pot of clay faulty,
nor the potter,
The Eternal abides in all.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 1349)
Like the principle of Ik, hukam or the ordinance of God is another principle which stands to represent the oneness of reality. Hukam is the unitary, single principle which underlies all the existence :
“He Himself has fashioned all
By His Will He created everything
Himself alone He turned into innumerable forms
Into Him shall all these be merged.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 131)
The Idea Of Creation And Historical Time
The Sikh Gurus portray God as the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer of all existence. Generally speaking, such an idea is already available in the Bhakti religions of India, although there it was mingled with a lot of mythological stories. The Hindu Puranas composed during the medieval period described in all fantastic imagination the stories of gods creating, sustaining and destroying the world many a time. Despite the wild fantasies contained in those stories, the idea of creation etc. had a positive role to play in the history of religions. It is this idea of creation by God which helped the human mind to justify the reality and meaningfulness of earthly living.
In Sikhism, too, such a role to the idea of creation continues to exist. However, Sikhism in a very fundamental way asserts the reality of the created world. A Sikh author asserts that the world is as real as God Himself. The idea of God and the world are true and real, no one side having preponderance over the other. The world is equally true as the idea of God. This is a radical departure from the Bhakti tradition which somehow still had the residue of skepticism in its characterisation of the world.
In Sikhism, the idea of creation, sustaining and destruction is devoid of any mythological descriptions. The idea of creation etc. in Sikhism emerges as a generalised philosophical concept. Consequently, it acquires a new meaning too. Through the idea of creation, sustaining and destruction, Sikhism organically unites the idea of God with Historical Time. In other words, it is through the idea of creation, Sikhism unites the idea of Time with its conception of Reality. We get a conception of Reality which is not purely non-temporal. No doubt, non-temporality, as one of the attributes, occupies a certain place in the Sikh conception of Reality. However, with the generalised philosophical idea of creation, sustenance and destruction, the ideas of Time, history, change, human work, etc. massively enter into the Sikh conception of Reality. Philosophy, as pure metaphysics, ends here and a fresh definition of philosophy appears. Religion is no more pure spirituality having a hatred towards the phenomenal life. Sikhism keys up the dialectics of spirituality and earthliness and it is redefining the idea of religion itself. The radical departure made by Sikhism is comparable to the same type of departure made by Hegelianism in European philosophy.
The idea of creation, sustenance and destruction in Sikhism is not cyclical as it is found in Indian mythological tradition. (Yuga, Pralaya, etc.) The metaphor of tree in Sikhism may explain this. In this metaphor, the change is not purely cyclical, neither it is pure linear. The model of progress conceived is spiral, some old moments of which reoccur, but fresh moments, too, occur to take the change forward. To confirm this idea, Guru Granth Sahib affirms that God keeps creating permanently and always.
Unity Of Transcendence And Immanence
The idea of God transcendent and/or immanent is a problem widely spoken, in the history of religions. God transcendent is beyond the world. He is far away from the world and He is superior and loftier than the creation. The idea of transcendent nature of God expresses the difference of God from the world and even the opposition of God to the world. In any system, where God is only transcendent, all moral and spiritual life and yearning would become pointless, irrelevant and superfluous. All earthly life is meaningless in such a system and asceticism as a style of living is the only way out.
Pure immanence, too, is one-sided. It gives priority to the moment of unity of God and world, and has the danger of becoming pantheistic. It takes one closer to Spinoza’s saying that God is Nature and Nature is God. Pure immanence leads to the mystic declarations such as ‘I am God.’ Immanence cannot suggest an adequate external standard to measure the good and bad of worldly acts.
Sikhism maintains that God is transcendent as well as immanent. It is a conception of unity and difference between the idea of God and the world. Meaning the transcendent and immanent nature of God, the Sikh Gurus defined that God is far and near, within and without, attributed and unattributed.
Immanence has been stressed through the expression that God is all-pervasive. Creation is another argument for immanence, because the world is created by God’s will and maintained by His ordinance :
“ The Lord pervades all creation
In ocean and land His reality operates hidden.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 597)
“ God, who created all creatures has put Himself into each
Yet He is apart from all.”
(S.G.G.S., p. 937)
The transcendent and immanent nature of God is well expressed in the metaphor of lotus, which resides in water, yet keeps itself untouched by it.
1. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Trans. by Gurbachan Singh Talib, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1990.
2. Selections from the Holy Granth, Gurbachan Singh Talib, Guru Nanak Foundation, New Delhi, 1982.
3. Sher Singh : Philosophy of Sikhism, S.G.P.C., Amritsar, 1993.
4. Nirbhai Singh : Philosophy of Sikhism, Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, 1990.