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Religion Library: Sikhism

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

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The sovereignty of the divine is linked to the Sikh community's sovereignty on earth. That is to say, the Sikh community is an independent and autonomous unit, and these characteristics reflect the deity it worships. Sikhs have a strong notion of interaction with this divinity in their daily lives. The divine's presence is perceived by humans in the Naam ("name," or essence), which is a state of being that is available through the grace of the Guru and via the medium of the Shabad ("word"), which Sikhs can hear and utter as the compositions enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Gurus were not divine incarnations, but divine mouthpieces. Sikhs remember the transmission of the office of Guru as a royal coronation, and the passing of the spirit of one Guru into the other's body like the merging of light with light (GG 967). The Guru was a medium of revelation from Kartar himself, and carried divine authority into the world like a viceroy. On earth, he was a king and the world of men and women were his subjects. With this belief system, the early Sikh community set the stage for seeing their community as a governing body parallel to the Mughal state, and their leader (the Guru) as a sanctified king.

In Sikh belief, a congregation immersed in the Shabad is a holy body of people. By the early 17th century there was a clear conflation in Sikh thought between the authority of the Guru, the authority of the word, and the authority of the congregation. This provides the ideological underpinnings of the 18th century's articulation of the doctrines of Guru Granth Sahib. Bhai Gurdas, the 16th-century scribe, wrote that two Sikhs formed a holy congregation, and where five congregated, Kartar himself was present. Today in the community, this means that the Guru's teachings represent the Guru's presence, and the congregation has the sanctioned decision-making authority.

Sikhs believe that the more one says about Kartar, the more there is left to say. Fools talk and talk, or write and write. Those who truly seek to know Kartar, try to enact his truth in their lives. Guru Nanak writes:

As great as You are, all goodness flows from You
As true as You are, all is true, and nothing is false
Speaking, beholding, talking, walking, living and dying we go
By His command, He creates, the True One keeps us
(GG 145).

Study Questions:
1.     What are the characteristics of the divine in Sikh thought?
2.     How do Sikhs characterize the transmission of the office of Guru?
3.     In Sikh beliefs, what makes a body of people holy?