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Religion Library: Sikhism

Afterlife and Salvation

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Service is important to Sikh life because it helps curtail the fundamental obstacle to liberation: the ego (haumai), which binds the individual to a false sense of self and belonging in the world. What is most real is not the world, but the creator who brought it into being. Those who worship the Maker, having seen beyond the made, are the truly pious and attain liberation. Guru Angad (1504-1552) provides the definition of the manmukh, or self-centered person:

Know the manmukh as he who prefers the gift to the Giver
What can we say of such an intellect and its clever ways?
Our actions are known to the four directions, though we commit them at home
Righteous actors are known as righteous, and sinners are known as sinners
Creator! You play this whole game, who else can I mention?
So long as your light shines inside, you speak, without it there is nothing
Nanak says: wisdom comes to the pious one from His grace alone.
(GG 138)

In this citation, the "pious one" is literally the gurmukh ("Guru-facing"), or the one who has put the Gurus' teachings at the center of life.

How one dies can also bring one closer to the divine court. Sikh tradition holds that dying with the divine on one's mind is salvific, as is dying for a just cause. Bhai Gurdas wrote that suffering at the hands of manmukhs would lead to redemption, liberation, and a place in the divine court. Guru Nanak taught that the brave one who died for a good cause would be hailed as a warrior in the hereafter (GG 579-80).

Study Questions:
1.     Why should Sikhs not worry too much about the afterlife?
2.     How do they seek liberation?
3.     What role does service play on the path to liberation?