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Religion Library: Sikhism

Community Organization

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Behind Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, the Sikhs form the fifth largest organized religious community in the world. However, most of the world's Sikhs live in India, the vast majority in Punjab. About 10 percent of the 20-plus million Sikhs live in other parts of the world, and that number is growing.

The Sikh community is an egalitarian community where inherent human equality is shared amongst both genders and all social strata. Guru Nanak (1469-1539) wrote about the God-given equality of all people:

What is inside, see on the outside as well, there is never any other!
The pious see all as one, with divine light in each heart
. (GG 599)

. . . He's assigned us all to our work, and sweetened it with attachment
We all eat and drink the same, we all have to be content with His will
. (GG 434)

This is the path to peace:
See all as one, receive divine boons, and be content with the Word
. (GG 879)

A pious Sikh is referred to in Sikh literature as a gurmukh, sant, or sadh—the latter two can be translated as "saint." The congregation, or sangat, is often called the Sadh-Sangat or the Satsang ("society of saints"). For Bhai Gurdas, the 17th-century Sikh thinker, this is what Kartar would say to his favorite sage if one could hear him speak:

O Sage Narad, the saints' society is my own abode
     Audience with the saints' society reveals my own form
The saints' society is my mother, father, family, and friends
     The saints' society is my peerless, most noble son
The saints' society is the source of all life's treasures and energies
     The saints' society is the place to worship and the way to liberation
The saints' society enjoys love's liquor, elation and ease
     The saints' society's eminence is beyond comparison
(Kabitt 303)

That is, Kartar Himself is present in the Sikh congregation, and all fruits of the divine presence are available in the congregation that sings the divine praises.

Allegiance to the Sikh Panth, or Sikh community in its entirety, requires exclusive commitment from each member. According to the central Sikh doctrines, a Sikh bows to no other authority than the Guru, community, and scripture. Membership in the Panth has been determined by exclusivity.