Sikhism: Beliefs and Practices
Sikhs are disciples of God who follow the writings and teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus. Sikhism believes there is only One God. He is the same God for all people of all religions. They also believe the soul goes through cycles of births and deaths before it reaches the human form and that the goal of their life is to lead an exemplary existence so that one may merge with God. Sikhs have a duty to remember God at all times and practice living a virtuous and truthful life while maintaining a balance between their spiritual obligations and temporal obligations. They believe the true path to achieving salvation and merging with God does not require renunciation of the world or celibacy, but living the life of a householder, earning an honest living and avoiding worldly temptations and sins. Sikhism condemns blind rituals such as fasting, visiting places of pilgrimage, superstitions, worship of the dead, idol worship etc. They also preach that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God. It teaches the full equality of men and women and encourages women to participate in any function.
The Sikhi temples are called Gurdwaras. The word 'Gurdwara' means 'Gateway to the Guru'. Gurdwara is a room in one’s own house or a separate building where the Sikhs could worship. There were three main functions of the public Gurdwaras: 1) Kirtan, which is the singing of hymns ; 2) Katha, which is reading the Guru Granth Sahib (Holy Book) and explanations; and 3) Langar, which is a free community kitchen for all visitors of all religions. The Gurdwaras are all very community minded by providing teachings, libraries and other charitable work for their own religion.
There are four stages to Sikh spiritual evolution. Manmukh is stage one and a person who is self-centered and only thinks about himself and the material world around him and is totally oblivious to God. During stage 2, a Sikh sets out on the path of learning and meets the specific definition of a Sikh as it appears in the Rehat Maryada (Official Code of Conduct). Stage 3 is called Khalsa and is a total dedication to Sikhism. One who has shed his ego and personality and truly honors the memory of Guru Gobind Singh through his actions and deeds. Gurmukh is stage 4 and is one who has achieved mukhti (salvation) and is totally God-centered.
Over two million Sikhis live outside of India today. Sikhs outside of India today have begun to address issues of Sikh tradition and innovation. There are some who renounce their tradition in order to conform into their host cultures. Other Sikhs choose to limit their interactions in non-Indian settings to people of their own religion grounding themselves in what they may see as a distinctively Sikh way of life. The vast majority of Sikhs are integrating into other cultures while celebrating traditions from their homeland.