God in Sikhism

The "God" or the "Lord of the Sikh" is uncompromisingly monotheistic, as symbolized by "Ik Onkar" (one all pervading spirit), a central tenet of Sikh philosophy. However Sikhs believe that God also prevails in everything. The fundamental belief of Sikhism is that God exists, indescribable yet knowable and perceivable to anyone who is prepared to dedicate the time and energy to become perceptive to their persona.

The Sikh gurus have described God in numerous ways in their hymns included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of Sikhism, but the oneness of the deity is consistently emphasized throughout. God is described in the Mool Mantar, the first passage in the Guru Granth Sahib, and the basic formula of the faith is:

ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥

ikk ōankār sat(i)-nām(u) karatā purakh(u) nirabha'u niravair(u) akāla mūrat(i) ajūnī saibhan(g) gur(a) prasād(i).
There is but one all pervading spirit, and it is called the truth, It exists in all creation , and it has no fear, It does not hate and , it is timeless, universal and self-existent!

, You will come to know it through seeking knowledge and learning.

(SGGS. Pg 1)

Knowledge of the ultimate Reality is not a matter for reason; it comes by revelation of the ultimate reality through nadar (grace) and by anubhava (mystical experience). Says Guru Nanak, budhi pathi na paiai bahu chaturaiai bhai milai mani bhane which translates to "He is not accessible through intellect, or through mere scholarship or cleverness at argument; He is met, when He pleases, through devotion" (SGGS, 436).

The Guru Granth consistently refers to God as "He" and "Father". However, this is simply because the Granth is written in north Indian Indo-Aryan languages (mixture of Punjabi and dialects of Hindi) which have no neutral gender. Since the Granth says that the God is indescribable, the God has no gender according to Sikhism.

Guru Nanak prefixed the numeral one (ik) to it, making it Ik Oankar or Ekankar to stress God's oneness. God is named and known only through his Own immanent nature. The only name which can be said to truly fit God's transcendent state is Sat (Sanskrit Satnam, Truth), the changeless and timeless Reality. God is transcendent and all-pervasive at the same time. Transcendence and immanence are two aspects of the same single Supreme Reality. The Reality is immanent in the entire creation, but the creation as a whole fails to contain God fully. As says Guru Tegh Bahadur, Nanak IX, "He has himself spread out His Own “maya” (worldly illusion) which He oversees; many different forms He assumes in many colours, yet He stays independent of all" (SGGS, 537).

God is Karta Purakh, the Creator-Being. He created the spatial-temporal universe not from some pre-existing physical element, but from His own Self. Universe is His own emanation. It is not maya (illusion), but is real (sat) because, as say Guru Arjan, “True is He and true is His creation [because] all has emanated from God Himself” (SGGS 294).

But God is not identical with the universe. The latter exists and is contained in Him and not vice versa. God is immanent in the created world, but is not limited by it. “Many times He expands Himself into such worlds but He ever remains the same One Ekankar" (SGGS, 276). Even at one time "there are hundreds of thousands of skies and nether regions" (SGGS, 5). Included in Sach Khand (Realm of Truth), the figurative abode of God, there are countless regions and universes" (SGGS, 8). Creation is "His play which He witnesses, and when He rolls up the play, He is His sole Self again" (SGGS, 292). He is the Creator, Sustainer and the Destroyer.

What is the Creator's purpose in creating the universe? It is not for man to inquire or judge the purpose of His Creator. To quote Guru Arjan again, "The created cannot have a measure of the Creator; what He wills, O Nanak, happens" (SGGS, 285). For the Sikhs, the Creation is His pleasure and play "When the showman beat His drum, the whole creation came out to witness the show; and when He puts aside his disguise, He rejoices in His original solitude" (SGGS, 174, 291, 655, 736).

Purakh added to Karta in the Mool Mantar is the Punjabi form of Sanskrit purusa, which literally means, besides man, male or person, "the primeval man as the soul and original source of the universe; the personal and animating principle; the supreme Being or Soul of the universe." Purakh in Mool Mantar is, therefore, none other than God the Creator. The term has nothing to do with the purusa of the Sankhya school of Indian philosophy where it is the spirit as a passive spectator of prakriti or creative force.

That God is nirbhau (without fear) and nirvair (without rancour or enemy) is obvious enough as He has no sarik (rival). But the terms have other connotations, too. Nirbhau not only indicates fearlessness but also the absence of fearfulness. It also implies sovereignty and unquestioned exercise of Will. Similarly, nirvair implies, besides absence of enmity, the positive attributes of compassion and impartiality. Together the two terms mean that God loves His handiwork and is the Dispenser of impartial justice, dharam-niau. Guru Ram Das, Nanak IV, says: "Why should we be afraid, with the True One being the judge. True is the True One's justice" (SGGS, 84).

God is Akal Murat, the Eternal Being. The timelessness involved in the negative epithet akal has made it popular in Sikh tradition as one of the names of God, the Timeless One, as in Akal Purakh or in the slogan Sat Sri Akal (Satya Sri Akal). One of the most sacred shrines of the Sikhs is the Akal Takhat, the Eternal Throne, at Amritsar. Murat here does not mean form, figure, image or idol. Sikhism expressly forbids idolatry or image-worship in any form. God is called Nirankar, the Formless One, although it is true that all forms are the manifestations of Nirankar. Bhai Gurdas, the earliest expounder and the copyist of the original recension of Guru Granth Sahib, says: "Nirankar akaru hari joti sarup anup dikhaia (The Formless One having created form manifested His wondrous refulgence)" (Varan, XII. 17). Murat in the Mool Mantra, therefore, signifies verity or manifestation of the Timeless and Formless One.

God is Ajuni, un-incarnated, and saibhan (Sanskrit svayambhu), Self-existent. The Primal Creator Himself had no creator. He simply is, has ever been and shall ever be by Himself. Ajuni also affirms the Sikh rejection of the theory of divine incarnation. Guru Arjan says: "Man misdirected by false belief indulges in falsehood; God is free from birth and death. . . May that mouth be scorched which says that God is incarnated" (SGGS, 1136). Nevertheless, there are verses in the Guru Granth Sahib that seem to support the teaching that God incarnated, on which the some Sanatan Sikhs call on, like:

ਜਗ ਅਉਰੁ ਨ ਯਾਹਿ ਮਹਾ ਤਮ ਮੈ ਅਵਤਾਰੁ ਉਜਾਗਰੁ ਆਨਿ ਕੀਅਉ ॥ jag aour n yaahi mehaa tham mai avathaar oujaagar aan keeao || In the great darkness of this world, the Lord revealed Himself, incarnated as Guru Arjun.

ਤਤੁ ਬਿਚਾਰੁ ਯਹੈ ਮਥੁਰਾ ਜਗ ਤਾਰਨ ਕਉ ਅਵਤਾਰੁ ਬਨਾਯਉ ॥ thath bichaar yehai mathhuraa jag thaaran ko avathaar banaayo || O Mat'huraa, consider this essential truth: to save the world, the Lord incarnated Himself. (SGGS 1409)

The Mool Mantar ends with gurprasadi, meaning thereby that realization of God comes through Guru's grace. In Sikh theology Guru appears in three different but allied connotations, viz. God, the ten Sikh Gurus, and the gur-shabad or Guru's utterances as preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib. Of God's grace, Gurus' instruction and guidance and the scriptural Shabad (Sanskrit sabda, literally 'Word'), the first is the most important, because, as nothing happens without God's will or pleasure, His grace is essential to making a person inclined towards a desire and search for union with Him.

God is thus depicted in three distinct aspects, viz. God in Himself, God in relation to creation, and God in relation to man. God by himself is the one Ultimate, Transcendent Reality, Nirguna (without attributes), Timeless, Boundless, Formless, Ever-existent, Immutable, Ineffable, All-by Himself and even Unknowable in His entirety. During a discourse with Hindu recluses, Guru Nanak in reply to a question as to where the Transcendent God was before the stage of creation replies, "To think of the Transcendent Lord in that state is to enter the realm of wonder. Even at that stage of sunn, he permeated all that Void" (SGGS, 940). This is the state of God's sunn samadhi, self-absorbed trance.

When it pleases God, He becomes sarguna (Sanskrit saguna, with attributes) and manifests Himself in creation. He becomes immanent in His created universe, which is His own emanation, an aspect of Himself. As says Guru Amar Das, Nanak III, "This (so-called) poison, the world, that you see is God's picture; it is God's outline that we see" (SGGS, 922). Most names of God are His attributive, action-related signifiers, kirtam nam (SGGS, 1083) or karam nam (Dasam Granth, Jaap Sahib). God in the Sikh Scripture has been referred to by several names, picked from Indian and Semitic traditions. He is called in terms of human relations as father, mother, brother, relation, friend, lover, beloved, husband. Other names, expressive of His supremacy, are thakur, prabhu, svami, sah, patsah, sahib, sain (Lord, Master). Some traditional names are ram, narayan, govind, gopal, Allah, khuda. Even the negative terms such as nirankar, niranjan et al. are as much related to attributes as are the positive terms like data, datar, karta, kartar, dayal, kripal, qadir, karim, etc. Some terms peculiar to Sikhism are naam (literally name), sabad (literally word) and Vahiguru (literally Wondrous Master). While nam and sabad are mystical terms standing for the Divine manifestation and are used as substitute terms for the Supreme Being, Vahiguru is a phrase expressing awe, wonder and ecstatic joy of the worshipper as he comprehends the immenseness and grandeur of the Lord and His Creation.

Immanence or All-pervasiveness of God, however, does not limit or in any way affect His transcendence. He is Transcendent and Immanent at the same time. The Creation is His lila or cosmic play. He enjoys it, pervades it, yet Himself remains unattached. Guru Arjan describes Him in several hymns as "Unattached and Unentangled in the midst of all" (SGGS, 102, 294, 296); and "Amidst all, yet outside of all, free from love and hate" (SGGS, 784-85). Creation is His manifestation, but, being conditioned by space and time, it provides only a partial and imperfect glimpse of the Timeless and Boundless Supreme Being.

That God is both Transcendent and Immanent does not mean that these are two phases of God one following the other. God is One, and He is both nirguna and sarguna. "Nirguna sargunu hari hari mera (God, my God is both with and without attributes)," sang Guru Arjan (SGGS, 98). Guru Amar Das also had said, "Nirguna sarguna ape soi (He Himself is with as well as without attributes)" (SGGS, 128). Transcendence and Immanence are two aspects of the same Supreme Reality.

The Creator also sustains His Creation compassionately and benevolently. "My Lord is ever Fresh and ever Bountiful" (SGGS, 660); "He is the eradicator of the pain and sorrow of the humble" (SGGS, 263-64). The universe is created, sustained and moved according to His hukam or Divine Will, and Divine purpose. "The inscrutable hukam is the source of all forms, all creatures. . . All are within the ambit of hukam; there is nothing outside of it." (SGGS, p. 1). Another principle that regulates the created beings is karma (actions, deeds). Simply stated, it is the law of cause and effect. The popular dictum 'As one sows so shall one reap' is stressed again and again in the Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS, 134,176, 309, 316, 366, 706, 730).

The created world, though real, is not eternal. Whenever God desires, it merges back into His Timeless and Formless Self. Guru Gobind Singh calls this process of creation and dissolution udkarkh (Sanskrit utkarsana) and akarkh (Sanskrit akarsana), respectively: "Whenever you, O Creator, cause udkarkh (increase, expansion), the creation assumes the boundless body; whenever you effect akarkh (attraction, contraction), all corporeal existence merges in you" (Benati Chaupai). This process of creation and dissolution has been repeated God alone knows for how many times. A passage in the Sukhmani by Guru Arjan visualizes the infinite field of creation thus:

Millions are the mines of life; millions the spheres;

Millions are the regions above; millions the regions below;

Millions are the species taking birth.

By diverse means does He spread Himself.

Again and again did He expand Himself thus,

But He ever remains the One Ekankar.

Countless creatures of various kinds

Come out of Him and are absorbed back.

None can know the limit of His Being;

He, the Lord, O Nanak! is all in all Himself.

(SGGS. 275-76)

Man, although an infinitesimal part of God's creation, yet stands apart from it insofar as it is the only species blessed with reflection, moral sense and potentiality for understanding matters metaphysical. Human birth is both a special privilege for the soul and a rare chance for the realization of union with God. Man is lord of earth, as Guru Arjan says, "Of all the eight million and four hundred thousand species, God conferred superiority on man" (SGGS, 1075), and "All other species are your (man's) water-bearers; you have hegemony over this earth" (SGGS, 374). But Guru also reminds that "now that you (the soul) have got a human body, this is your turn to unite with God" (SGGS, 12, 378). Guru Nanak had warned, "Listen, listen to my advice, O my mind! only good deed shall endure, and there may not be another chance" (SGGS, 154). So, realization of God and a reunion of atma (soul) with paramatma (Supreme Soul, God) are the ultimate goals of human life. The achievement ultimately rests on nadar (God's grace), but man has to strive in order to deserve His grace. As a first step, he should have faith in and craving for the Lord. He should believe that God is near him, rather within his self, and not far away. He is to seek Him in his self.

Guru Nanak says: "Your beloved is close to you, O foolish bride! What are you searching outside?" (SGGS, 722), and Guru Amar Das reassures: "Recognize yourself, O mind! You are the light manifest. Rejoice in Guru's instruction that God is always with (in) you. If you recognize your Self, you shall know the Lord and shall get the knowledge of life and death" (SGGS, 441). The knowledge of the infinitesimal nature of his self when compared to the immenseness of God and His creation would instil humility in man and would rid him of his ego (a sense of I, my and mine) which is "the greatest malady man suffers from" (SGGS, 466, 589, 1258) and the arch-enemy of nam or path to God-Realization (SGGS, 560). Having surrendered his ego and having an intense desire to reach his goal (the realization of Reality), the seeker under Guru's instruction (gurmati) becomes a gurmukh or person looking guruward. He meditates upon nam or sabda, the Divine Word, while yet leading life as a householder, earning through honest labour, sharing his victuals with the needy, and performing self-abnegating deeds of service. Sikhism condemns ritualism. Worship of God consists of reciting gurbani or holy texts and meditation on nam, solitary or in sangat or congregation, kirtan or singing of scriptural hymns in praise of God, and ardas or prayer in supplication.

Qualities that Sikhism attributes to God

Below are the main qualities that Sikhism attributes to God:

"Blessing us with His Grace, the Kind and Compassionate All-powerful Lord comes to dwell within the mind and body. (Guru Granth Sahib Page 49)"

"The Cherisher Lord is so very merciful and wise; He is compassionate to all." (Guru Granth Sahib Page 249)

"The Lord is kind and compassionate to all beings and creatures; His Protecting Hand is over all." (Guru Granth Sahib Page 300)

"O Nanak, God has been kind and compassionate; He has blessed me. Removing pain and poverty, He has blended me with Himself." ||8||5|| (Guru Granth Sahib Page 1311)

"Nanak is attuned to the Love of the Lord, whose Light pervades the entire Universe." (Guru Granth Sahib Page 49)

See also


    1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granthsar, 1959
    2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmati Nirnaya. Amritsar, 1932
    3. Pritam Singh, ed., Sikh Phalsaphe di Rup Rekhla. Amritsar, 1975
    4. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
    5. Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna. Amritsar, 1989
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