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This is the Hari Mandir, the world's largest free kitchen.
It serves free vegetarian food to about 100,000 people everyday.
It's also the holiest site in Sikhism, the 5th largest and youngest of the world religions.
A religion that preaches about love, peace, and the equality of humankind, but also asks its followers to carry swords.
So, who are the Sikhs, what do they believe, and why does everyone confuse them for Muslims?
Well, let's find out.
Sikhism originated in the Punjab area of India and Pakistan, 500 years ago.
The Punjab, the land of 5 rivers, is one of the most historically and culturally dense areas on Earth.
This was the home of one of the world's earliest civilsations, the Indus Valley Civilsation.
Persians, Greeks, Central Asians, Muggles, the British, and others have invaded here.
I meant Mughals, Mughals invaded here.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, and a handful of other faiths have all left their mark on the region.
The diverse culture of the Punjab has heavily influenced the Sikhs.
Today there are about 25 million Sikhs.
They make up about 2% of India's population but about 60% of the Punjab's.
The Sikh diaspora is spread out across the world with concentrations in the UK, Canada, The US, East Africa, Australia, and Malaysia. Sikhs, interestingly enough, make
Sikhs, interestingly enough, make up almost 1.5% of Canada's population, which is second only to India.
The word Sikh means learner.
Sikhs called their religion 'Sikhi', 'Gursikhi' and 'Gurmat'.
You can't really understand the Sikhs without understanding their relationship with gurus.
The word "guru" means a teacher or spiritual guide.
The guru teaches and the sikh learns.
The Sikhs follow the teachings of 10 succeeding gurus that have shaped Sikhism.
The first and most important guru is Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, born in 1469 CE near what is today Lahore Pakistan.
Nanak was seen as special even as a child.
As a baby he was said to have had the laugh of an adult man.
"Here comes the bird."
As a teenager he preferred to listen to Hindu Saints and Sufi Muslim preachers rather than his own parents.
As an adult, Nanak would settle in Sultanpur where he worked for the government.
The actions of his fellow government officials and the rich and powerful disgusted him as they exploited ordinary working people and he hated the caste divisions that he saw all around him.
One day while bathing in a river near Sultanpur Nanak, had a miraculous experience.
He was swept up into god's court where god spoke to him.
Nanak reappeared 3 days later declaring: “There is no Hindu and there is no Muslim. There was only god."
This was a message inspired by his experience with god, one that spoke in favour of the equality of humankind and against caste, ethnic, and religious divisions.
Nanak would later say: "Accept all humans as your equals and let them be your only sect."
Nine human gurus followed Nanak all preaching the same message of One God and the equality of humankind.
Two fundamental events that shaped Sikh history was the martyrdom of 2 gurus.
The first was the fifth guru, Guru Arjan, who was roasted alive by the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir.
The next martyr would be the ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur.
He was beheaded by the Mughals while attempting to defend the religious rights of Hindus.
His son, Guru Gobind Rai, the tenth and final human guru, started a new Sikh community called the Khalsa and ended the line of human gurus by making the "Guru Granth Sahib," the Sikh Holy Book, the last living guru.
We'll take a closer look at both of these in a bit.
So with that brief history out of the way, let's look at the core beliefs of Sikhism.
1. One God
The Sikh Holy Book, the "Guru Granth Sahib's" opening sentence is just two words. 'Ik Onkar:'
"The is only one god"
Nanak made sure it was clear that the focus was on "one." 'Ik,' doesn't just mean one, it
is literary the numeral 1.
One god is by far the most important belief in Sikhism. This may not be the kind of god
you're used to, though. Sikhs believe in a formless, genderless, universal god, beyond
description. This god is all of reality, and is within everything.
They believe no idol or image could ever represent this being, so they use the sacred symbol
of Ik Oankar to represent it instead. Many Sikhs refer to this one God by the name Waheguru,
Guru Nanak and his followers constantly emphasized that this one could be understood in many
different ways. No religion had a monopoly on the truth. Nanak's One could be known
as Vishnu, Allah, the Tao, Yahweh, The Algorithm or any other name or belief. There was no
need to fight over whose god was the true god, as they were all the same One.
"Recognize all mankind, whether Muslim or Hindu, as one.
"The same god is the creator and nourisher of all.
"Recognize no distinctions among them. The temple and the mosque are the same.
"So are the Hindu worship and Muslim prayer. Human beings are all one," Guru Gobind Singh
The lack of a gender for this One god means that there is no difference between men and
women in Sikhism. Sikhism was among the first major world religions to make the radical
suggestion that maybe, just maybe, women are people too.
Women in Sikhism have fought battles, led religious services, and even acted as some
of the longest reigning leaders of the entire community.
Sikhism isn't based on doing things to get into some heaven or hell. Hell is just life
on Earth, which your soul is constantly reborn into after you die. Which is eh, pretty
You see, Sikhs believe in reincarnation and karma, similar to Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains.
But. Sikhs believe that karma is modified by God. As in karma might decide what life
your born into, but god makes sure that everyone can become a good person in their lifetime
if they try.
The goal of Sikh life is to break free from the cycle of rebirth by merging your soul
back into god's soul.
One does this by releasing that you are already a part of god, you just need to let go of
When your soul remerges back into God's this is called 'mukti,' which is similar to
Hinduism's moksha and means liberation. When you remerge your soul is released from the
cycle of rebirth and death and becomes infinite, timeless, and blissful. This is the closest
thing Sikhs have to heaven.
Sikhs believe that god is and created reality. But we forget
this because humans are distracted by illusion or Maya, which is anything that takes your
mind off God. Maya keeps people trapped in the cycle of rebirth and death.
Guru Nanak thought that Maya built a wall between people and god. The wall of Maya is
built with the 5 thieves:
Lust (Kham), Anger (Krodh),
Greed (Lobh), Attachment (Moh),
and Pride (ahankar).
It's the duty of all Sikhs to avoid these thieves.
The 5 thieves are caused by 'haumai,' literally "I, myself." Haumai make people say, "I am this,
I am that." It separates you from others, which blocks you from realising your oneness with
This ego causes people to live only for themselves, to spew negativity, and to crave power and
wealth. Such a person is called 'manmukh,' facing towards desires.
Guru Nanak saw the world's problems as the negative effects of ego. Hindu vs Muslim, Israeli
vs Palestinian, Sitting down wipers vs Standing up wipers.
All of these conflicts are caused by ego and 'maya.' The Guru Granth Sahib said it is not
religion or race but "It is wealth that divides brothers." (GG: 417).
But Guru Nanak taught that there was another direction people could face. By being a spiritual
compassion (daya), truth (sat),
contentment (santokh), humility (nimrata)
and love (pyar)
and meditating on god you could instead become 'gurmukh,' "facing towards the guru."
How does one become 'gurmukh' and egoless?
Well, Sikhism offers a path to follow that can help, called the Three Pillars.
3. Three Pillars
The Three Pillars are:
1. Naam Japo, which is meditation on god and the reciting and chanting of God's Name—Waheguru. This
is normally done in the morning and before bed. This isn't supposed to just be some mindless
ritual either, Sikhs are supposed to genuinely reflect on the qualities of God as they do
2. Kirat Karni: Working hard and making an honest living.
Guru Nanak said, “Only he who earns his living by the sweat of his brow and shares
his earnings with others has discovered the path of righteousness.”
3. Wand chhakna: This is sharing the fruits of your labour with others, providing free food, and
donating to the community. The Sikh tradition of a communal meal or 'langar' at the 'gurdwaras'
is a part of Wand Chhakna.
The 'langar,' or communal free kitchen, inside a Sikh 'gurdwara,' which is their equivalent
of a mosque, a church is open to all who visit, regardless of caste, faith or gender.
These serve vegetarian food to all, not because Sikhs have to be vegetarian, but simply because
that means all people of all diets can partake. So if you want a taste of typical Punjabi
food, just go visit a 'gurdwara.'
In Guru Nanak's time, the idea of different castes sitting together on the floor and eating
side by side was a revolutionary act. Famously the Mughal Emperor Akbar visited Guru Arjan
and the Guru would not meet him until he partook in a 'langar.' Which the Emperor did, sitting
side by side with peasants.
Guru Nanak claimed an enlightened person are "those who view everyone equally, like the
air touching the king and beggar alike." (GG: 272).
Another vital part of Sikhism that isn't one of the Three Pillars is 'Seva,' which is selfless service.
Through service to their community, Sikhs can become more humble and overcome their
'Seva' can include cleaning up the 'gurdwara,' preparing food or cleaning dishes in the 'langar'
or it can include volunteering, building things for your community or subscribing and ringing
the notification bell on educational Youtube channels.
Through remembering god's name, honest work, and sharing, along with selfless service,
and avoiding the Five Thieves a person can rid themselves of egoism and be released from
the cycle of rebirth and death.
4. The Khalsa
Guru Gobind Rai was the son of the ninth guru, Tegh Bahadur, who was beheaded by the Mughals
and his body was abandoned by his Sikh entourage. They fled easily because no one could recognise
them. So, Guru Gobind decided the give Sikhs a distinct look from now on so that they would
always be compelled to uphold Sikh values.
So, in 1699 Guru Gobind brought his Sikhs together at Anandpur. After their morning prayer he
stood in front of the huge crowd and demanded a human sacrifice. The shocked crowd was silent
for a while before 1 Sikh rose up and entered the Guru's tent. The Guru followed them in.
And then, the guru comes out with blood on his sword. He demands another sacrifice,
another Sikh offers themselves and enters the tent. Again, only the Guru comes back
out of the tent, bloody sword in hand. Again, another sacrifice, and again, and finally
after the fifth sacrifice, the Guru reemerges with the 5 Sikhs all wearing saffron coloured
The Guru declares these to be the 'panj pyarey,' the 5 beloved ones. They would form the
centre of a new Sikh community called the Khalsa.
He offered them 'amrit,' a bowl of sweetened water.
And all 5, who belong to different caste groups, drank the amrit from the same bowl, which
would have been a huge deal back then. This signified that they had joined a new, casteless
family, the Khalsa.
Each of the volunteers had to leave behind their old surnames or caste names and adopt
the same surname, Singh. Which comes from the Sanskrit word simbha, meaning lion.
I know right?! It has no relation to the Bantu word 'simba,' which also means lion, it's just
a weird coincidence, which is great!
The Guru then begged the Five Beloved ones to let him join their Khalsa. They offered
him the 'amrit' and the Guru became Guru Gobind Singh.
Women were admitted to the Khalsa, the same way as men. After drinking the amrit they
received the surname Kaur, meaning princess.
The Khalsa gave the Sikhs a new unified identity. Tied together as 1 family, with 1 name,
without caste with the goal of defending the weak and promoting justice. Today many Sikhs
still undergo the Amrit ceremony and take the surnames Singh and Kaur.
The Khalsa were also given new rules to follow which included the wearing of the 'panj kakaar'
or the Five K's.
The first was 'kes,' which is uncut hair to represent discipline.
The second was 'kargha:' a small comb in the hair.
The third was a 'kirpan:' a sword to uphold justice and protect the weak, which is nowadays usually a small sword.
It is importantly not an offensive weapon and the Sikh Code of Conduct claims it can only be used
to "destroy tyrants and oppressors. It must not be used for anything else."
The fourth is 'kachhahira:' a kind of loose fitting boxer shorts, to represent sexual restraint.
And the fifth is 'kara:' a steel bracelet. It's circular shape represents the infinity of god.
Interestingly the turban is not one of the Five K's. Instead it's worn to cover the Sikh's
long uncut hair, the 'kes.' Turbans have become essential to Sikh identity and hold very special
significance to them. Chances are if you see someone wearing a turban the vast majority of the time that
person will be a Sikh not a Muslim. 5. The "Guru Granth Sahib"
The "Guru Granth Sahib" is the Holy Book of the Sikhs. It contains the teachings of the
gurus and acts as a spiritual guide for Sikhs around the world.
It is probably one of the only holy books that contains not only the writings of the
religions' founders, written by themselves rather than after their death; but also the
writing of people from other religions. The writings of Muslims and Hindus can be found throughout
along with references to Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
Before his death in 1708, the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, ended the line of human gurus by bestowing
guruship on the "Adi Granth," turning it into the "Guru Granth Sahib," making it similar to
both the Bible and Koran and a living prophet at the same time. To break down the name, the word guru means guru.
Granth means book and Sahib means lord.
Since that moment, the "Guru Granth Sahib" has been revered as the current living guru. It
is treated with extreme respect and care.
Oddly enough, the Granth is not only read but sung. It's made up of thousands of hymns. Sikhs don't
have mass or service but a kirtan, meaning communal singing. Normally these are set to
classical Indian music. 6. The Gurdwara
Sikhs gather at 'gurdwaras,' a word meaning "doorway to the Guru." A 'gurdwara' is only
a gurdwara because it has a copy of the "Guru Granth Sahib" in it.
Men and women of all castes and social standing gather there to join in prayer, singing, and
This is where you'll find the 'langar.' Anyone can visit a 'gurdwara' and partake in the service
and meal. You only need to follow basic etiquette. Cover your head, remove your shoes, wash your
hands as you enter, and do your best not to bring any drugs or tobacco inside.
The most important 'gurdwara' in the world is the Hari Mandir or Golden Temple in
In 1604, Guru Arjan completed work on the Golden Temple and had the "Guru Granth Sahib" installed
As a gesture of religious tolerance, Guru Arjan invited a Muslim, Mian Mir, to lay the foundation
stone of the Golden Temple.
The Temple has four doors opening on all four sides, to show the openness to all cultures
and peoples. But on the inside only one door leads to the inner sanctum, indicating that
all paths and beliefs eventually lead to the One God.
The Golden Temple is the most visited place in the world with around 6 million visitors
each year. The 'langar' at the Golden Temple serves a free meal to about 100,000 people
each day, making it the world's largest free serving kitchen. All run and staffed
And the waiting list to volunteer in the Golden Temple has hundreds of thousands of names
The people on that list will be waiting for a long time, a good way for them to pass the
time productively would be to listen to audiobooks over on Audible. While researching this video I
listened to "Sikhism A Very Short Introduction," by Eleanor Nesbit, which is an excellent
bite-sized introduction to Sikhism stated in very clear language for people that are completely
new to the topic.
And if you wanna go right to the source, Audible has the complete 90+ hour "Guru Granth Sahib"
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So those are the basics of Sikhism. It isn't even close to covering everything. I probably
only covered about 1%. One video simply can't cover everything. Religions are too diverse,
too deep, and mean too many different things to different people. But learning even the
basics of anything that millions of people deeply care about gives you an insight into
our fellow humans' worldview and I hope you enjoyed it!
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