Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that began in the 16th century in the Punjab region of what is now Pakistan. It was started by a succession of 10 gurus, who wrote the religion's holy scriptures. The gurus were influenced by the dominant Punjabi religions, Islam and Hinduism. However, Sikhs consider it offense when outsiders claim their religion is a mere amalgamation of the two larger faiths. They do differ in significant ways, and Sikhism considers itself an iconoclastic solution to problems in existing religions like corruption, greed, oppression, inequality and castes.
Sikhs believe in a very strict interpretation of karma. Good karma is the result of living a good, ethical life that is fully integrated in the social world. Sikhs believe that God particularly values generosity, kindness and humility, and these will be rewarded in the current life, as well as in the next. They believe that there is a strict tally of one's good and bad deeds. This holds for all people, with one exception: those who repent to God benefit from his merciful nature and receive grace. Upon repentance, the bad actions of the past can be canceled.
Sikhs do not believe in a time of judgment during which human souls are rewarded by entrance to heaven or punished with an eternity in hell. Nor do they believe in a resurrection of the human body. Rather, judgment operates through the process of karma. Sikhs are taught not to practice ascetic rituals like fasting that isolate them from the rest of humanity. Ethical practices and commitment to social justice also play a role. Finally, it is deemed important to remember one's commitment to the one God at all times; chanting his name can be a conduit to bring the believer closer to God.
Liberation in the Social World
Sikhs who live faithful and ethical lives experience a form of heaven in the world as it is. The Sikh holy book, called the Guru Granth Sahib, notes that "The Lord is the provider of all peace and comfort. There is no other at all." Good acts combined with faith bring liberation during life. Every individual is responsible for attaining her own liberation. Relationships with others are a crucial part of this process, acting as opportunities for Sikhs to become closer to God.
The Hindu caste system holds that poverty was evidence of spiritual failing in the previous life. Sikhism upholds the Hindu belief in reincarnation, but rejects the part about the class hierarchy. They hold that every soul starts out in a lower animal species but moves ahead to be closer to God through a succession of lives. When the soul at last receives a human body, this means that it is getting closer and closer to God. If the person lives a good life, they may be reincarnated as another human, or they may be released from the reincarnation cycle to spend eternity with God.
Liberation in God's Kingdom
One verse in the Sikh holy book, called the Guru Granth Sahib, notes, "Those who meditate on God attain salvation. For them, the cycle of birth and death is eliminated." When God judges that the soul is ready, he allows it to merge with him after death. This is a type of heaven, but Sikhs don't think of it as a physical place in which the souls of humans exist as separate entities from God, as Christians do. Sikhs do refer to eternity in a "court" ruled by God, but they use this imagery in a metaphorical sense. Instead, Sikhs view heaven as oneness with God, who is omnipresent. Merging with God is the final reward for the eternal soul.
- Patheos Religion Library: Sikhism - Afterlife and Salvation
- Sikhs.org: Introduction to Sikhism
- Realsikhism.com: FAQ - How Can One Attain Salvation?
- Sikhism Guide: An Introduction to Sikh Belief
- Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance: Sikhism - Its Beliefs, Practices, Symbols and Names
- All About Sikhs: Sikhism FAQs - God and His Universe - What Happens to the Individual After Death?
- All About Sikhs: Sikhism FAQs - God and His Universe - Is There a Judgment?
- All About Sikhs: Sikhism FAQs - God and His Universe - Is There a Hell or Heaven?
- All About Sikhs: Sikhism FAQs - God and His Universe - What Is Hukam?
- BBC Religions: Sikh Beliefs
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