Fast Facts on Sikhism
The word "Sikhism" derives from "Sikh," which means a strong and able disciple. There are about 23 million Sikhs worldwide, making Sikhism the 5th largest religion in the world. Approximately 19 million Sikhs live in India, primarily in the state of Punjab. Large populations of Sikhs can also be found in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Sikhs are a significant minority in Malaysia and Singapore, where they are sometimes ridiculed for their distinctive appearance, but respected for their work ethic and high education standards.
Sikhism emerged in 16th-century India in an environment heavily permeated with conflicts between the Hindu and Muslim religions. It was somewhat influenced by reform movements in Hinduism (e.g. Bhakti, monism, Vedic metaphysics, guru ideal, and bhajans) as well as some Sufi Muslim influences. While Sikhism reflects its cultural context, it certainly developed into a movement unique in India. Sikhs regard their faith as an authentic new divine revelation.
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev, who was born in 1469 to a Hindu family. After four epic journeys (north to Tibet, south to Sri Lanka, east to Bengal and west to Mecca and Baghdad), Guru Nanak preached to Hindus, Muslims and others, and in the process attracted a following of Sikhs (disciples). Religion, he taught, was a way to unite people, but in practice he found that it set men against one another. He particularly regretted the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. Guru Nanak's most famous saying is, "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim, so whose path shall I follow? I shall follow the path of God."
Retaining the Hindu doctrine of the transmigration of souls, together with its corollary, the law of karma, Guru Nanak advised his followers to end the cycle of reincarnation by living a disciplined life – that is, by moderating egoism and sensuous delights, to live in a balanced worldly manner, and by accepting ultimate reality. Thus, by the grace of Guru (Gurprasad) the cycle of reincarnation can be broken, and the Sikh can remain in the abode of the Love of God. Guru Nanak taught that salvation does not mean entering paradise after a last judgment, but a union and absorption into God, the True Name. Sikhs do not believe in a heaven or hell. Sikhs also reject the Hindu belief in incarnations (avatars) of God, believing instead that God makes his will know through the Gurus.
The most easily observable Sikh practices are the wearing of the turban and the Five Ks. Sikhs also pray regularly and meditate by repeating God's name, often with the aid of rosary beads. Sikhism rejects the Hindu notion of the four stages of life, teaching instead that the householder is the ideal for all people. A Sikh aims to live a life that balances work, worship and charity. Community is emphasized, and the Sikh temple (gurdwara) is the center of Sikh communal life.
- From Punjabi sikh, "learner" or "disciple"
- c. 1500 in India
- Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1538)
- 23 million
- main location
- Punjab region of India
- original language
- sacred text
- Adi Granth (Sri Guru Granth Sahib)
- spiritual leaders
- Granthi, giani
- house of worship
- Temple, gurdwara
- ultimate reality
- God (Ik Onkar, Nam)
- purpose of life
- Overcome the self, align life with will of God, and become a "saint soldier," fighting for good
- Reincarnation until resolve karma and merge with God.
- major holidays
- Vaisakhi Day
Birthday of Guru Nanak
Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh
- five cardinal vices
- 1. lust
4. worldly attachment
- John Bowker, ed., World Religions (DK Publishing, 1997).
- "Ceremonies and Festivals." Sikhs.org. <http://www.sikhs.org/fest.htm#gurpurbs>
- "Sikh Festival Dates 2004 and 2005." infoplease. <http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777467.html>