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Religion Library: Sikhism


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Guru Nanak demanded that religious leaders hold themselves to higher personal standards:

Stupid ones sing songs of God
Hungry Mullahs live in the mosques
Do-nothings pierce their ears and become Yogis
Renouncing wealth, another loses his place in life
Some call themselves 'Guru' but beg around
Don't pay them any heed
Only he who earns his food and gives charity
Knows the true way, says Nanak
(GG 1245)

It is clear from historical sources that the members of the new community revered Guru Nanak's own teachings as the center and foundation of their spiritual lives. Guru Nanak's successor, Guru Angad (1504-1552), wrote that he had little to teach those lucky souls who had learned from Guru Nanak himself (GG 150). Guru Nanak's teachings, enshrined in his compositions and added to by his successors, became the basis for Sikh scripture.

This scripture is one of the unique aspects of the Sikh tradition amongst the world religions. Included in it are the poems of those religious personalities, from a variety of religious backgrounds, whose ideas meshed with Guru Nanak's. The low social status of many of these writers testifies to the Sikh ethic of egalitarianism, and the multi-faith authorship of the verses speaks to the openness of the tradition to acceptability of ideas that resonated with the Sikh tradition's own ethics.

Study Questions:
1.     How do Sikhs feel about their tradition being described as a mix of Hinduism and Islam, and why?
2.     How might have Guru Nanak's geographical location have had an influence on his religious experiences and thought?
3.     What role did Guru Nanak's teachings have in the early community? In what form are they available to Sikhs today?
4.     What were some of the most important institutions of the early Sikh community?