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A Sikh perspective on Interfaith

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A Sikh perspective

 

The strength and beauty of all faiths

 

Guru Nanak had a strong conviction and clarity of the beauty and strengths of all faiths. During his early life, he disregarded the prejudices and cultural gaps and presented his religion based on truth, humanity and divine wisdom as the bridge between warring faiths and creeds. When Guru Nanak had the calling to leave his job and start teaching he was asked whether he was a Muslim or a Hindu. He answered,

 

I am transfigured by the blazing light of God who is neither Hindu nor Muslim. I am a brother and even humble servant of all the true seekers of God.’ He visited, Hindu and Buddhist centres, travelled to Tibet, South India, Ceylon, Baghdad and Mecca.

(Trilochan Singh, The Message of Guru Nanak)

 

He was open to share and learn and eventually was able to develop the values and beliefs we have today.

 

In this Dark Age, Guru Nanak revealed: God the Supreme Being is One and no other; He initiated his disciplines with charnamrit: Water sanctified by the touch of his lotus feet, And gave a new code of conduct, As the High Way of spiritual life. Thus, Guru Nanak gave to dharma, its lost legs; He blended various faiths and creeds into one: the Sikhs. He gave the lowliest, social equality with kings. He taught humility to all the world.

(Bhai Gurdas Var I, 24)

 

 

Sikhs value and consider that there is the intuitive divine spirit that resides in us all. From a very early age children in Sikh families are taught to love and not judge others. Every faith and belief is considered important; we do not believe that any one worldview, including our own, is more important than another. In fact, the Guru clearly indicates that a spiritually devout person maintaining his or her discipline and walking on the path towards enlightenment is as equal as another. ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ (SSS Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, Yogi ji)

 

Different paths but one God

There are of course different paths and practices but the Creator of all is one and the change is in time. Our belief is that we are all connected to the same divine force, but the worshipping of that same God has been changing with time and continues to do so.

 

In the Golden Age of Sat Yuga was truth: in the silver Age of Trayta Yuga, charitable feasts; in the Brass Age of Dwapar Yuga, there was worship. In those three ages, people held to these three ways. But in the Iron Age of Kali Yuga, the name of the Lord is your only support.

(SGGS p. 346)

 

The truth remains that, ultimately, everyone’s end is the same; our traditions or practices, however, are different according to time, place and capacity. For example, we can all relate to hunger as we as humans have an appetite. How we choose to fulfil this need depends upon time and place, culture and customs. Some will choose sliced bread, others choose loaves and others rice. Similarly, we all need to cover our body, but which cloth, which colour? The way in which we choose to dress ourselves is also dependent on personal style, the country and seasons. Another example that is common to us all is travel; for centuries the only method was by foot, then horses and bicycles and now we use cars, planes and trains.

 

The idea is that we do not get too caught up with the times, differences or similarities but concentrate more on the goal. Each belief encourages spirituality in some form or another and the focus is ‘within’ instead of ‘without’. Guru teaches us that the spark of divine light lives in every living being and we have just one chance in the human form to reunite, rejoice and radiate love to one another consciously.

 

In Sikhism, we are encouraged to meditate and look after our bodies on a daily basis, tune ourselves into the divine frequency and then go out into the world to do good. We are taught to act selflessly or share what we have with those that are in need; whether we share financially or share our time is irrelevant. The idea is to give and to give to all, not just members of your own community or faith group. In fact, living in the West, people will share food and offerings with neighbours and friends especially when they are celebrating sacred festivals. They are sharing their faith with another without imposing it on anyone, just living it personally.

 

Learning and sharing

This is the reason that our holy book, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, has the teachings of different saints, sufis, poets, musicians included. The Guru recognised and acknowledged the beauty and truth of other cultures, languages and traditions and used them to teach humanity what it needed to learn. He was also not afraid to teach others from different traditions to become more aware, especially when they were being misled.

 

There is a beautiful example of this in the life of Guru Nanak. There was an ancient practice of feeding one’s ancestors after they had died to gain prosperity in modern-day life, by spraying water in one particular direction. In order to prove that this practice was empty, limiting and not liberating the individual, Guru Nanak started spraying water in the other direction. When approached and questioned by the village folk, Guru Nanak said, ‘I am sending water to my fields in Punjab that are drying out from the heat.’

 

‘How can this water reach your fields? You are wasting it, the fields are so far away.’

 

Guru Nanak then said, ‘If my water cannot reach my fields, then how can your water reach the mouths of your dead ancestors? Don’t waste the natural resources of the land for empty ritual traditions that will not benefit you.’ The idea was to learn and share knowledge and awareness with others. The focus was union with the beloved, not ways to please or bribe God.

 

Sweet is the season when I remember you. Sublime is that work which is done for you. Blessed is the heart in which you dwell, O giver of all. You are the Universal father of all, my Lord and my Master.

(SGGS p. 97)

 

There is no teaching in the Scriptures that claims that Sikhism is the perfect, or the only, way to enlightenment or God. All beliefs are respected, and continue to be to this day, in the heart of every Sikh. Anyone can visit a Sikh gurdwara and participate in the service, take the blessed offering of Prasad (blessed sweet) and all are invited to eat in the free kitchen.

 

I remember as a child not being offered Holy Communion because I was not baptised a Christian. I took this very badly as I wanted to be acknowledged and I remember feeling very rejected by God. As a teenager, I did not know any better, but it was the rejection that started my hunt and my real urge to learn about spirituality and different practices. I always say till this day that it was the nuns at the priory, where I had my secondary education, that ignited my search and helped me find Sikhism and what I believe in today.

 

The interfaith part of faith is very much alive in all Sikh practices. Sikhs believe that we are a ‘multiple combination of everything which ever existed, because we have a focus: and our focus is the reality of God in the totality of man.’ (SSS Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, Yogi ji)