Sikhism: The Fifth Largest Religion in the World

Sikhism symbol

Sikhism: A Tradition Striving for Unity and Truth

Sikhism guru_nanak
Guru Nanak

Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world(one of the fastest growing, too) and originated in Northern India in 1469. Sikhis (meaning disciple or learner) are monotheistic, believe in the unity and equality of all mankind, engage in selfless service, and strive for the prosperity of all life. There are over 25 millions Sikhis in the world.

Sikhism originated in a guru tradition in 1469; Guru Nanak was the first to establish what because a religious tradition over the course of centuries. Ten gurus followed in Guru Nanak’s footsteps and after the death of the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the Guru Granth Sahib became the literal embodiment of the eternal, impersonal guru and serves as a guide for Sikhi’s.

The Ten Sikhi Gurus (each represents a divine attribute) are:

  1. Guru Nanak – Humility
  2. Guru Angad – Obedience
  3. Guru Amar Das – Equality
  4. Guru Ram Das – Service
  5. Guru Arjan – Self-sacrifice
  6. Guru Hargobind – Justice
  7. Guru Har Rai – Mercy
  8. Guru Harkrishan – Purity
  9. Guru Tegh Bahadur – Tranquility
  10. Guru Gobind Singh – Royal Courage

A couple of the Sikhi gurus are also Bhakti saints giving Hinduism an interesting relationship with the origins of the Sikh religion. The goal of the Sikhi is unison with the divine and they believe that no one tradition has a monopoly on the divine and emphasizes the “five thieves” of god’s presence: lust, rage, greed, attachment and conceit.

The Origins of Sikhism

Sikhism was created in the Punjab region, which is between India and Pakistan. In the time of the first Guru, Guru Nanak, there were two competing religions of the Muslims and Hindus. Legend says Nanak went into a river at 28, proclaimed there is no Hindu or Muslim, only god and that he continued to bring Sikhism into the world.

The 5th Guru, Arjan was a scholar and helped to build the Sikh religion by creating the first scripture. However, he was seen as a threat by the state and executed for his faith in 1606.

The 6th Guru, Hargobind eventually moved to militarize the community and the Sikhs learned to fight to preserve their faith. They became relatively peaceful until Tegh Bahadur, the 9th guru, was executed in 1675 by Aurangzeb, the Moghal Emperor. The Moghal Empire consolidated Islam in South Asia, and spread Muslim (and particularly Persian) arts and culture as well as the faith.

The 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, created the Khalsa as a military group so that they could forever defend their faith.

The Sikhs continued to rebel against Muslim oppression and eventually became a state of their own. But then they were defeated by the British. Then they became peaceful for a while, until 1919 when there was a massacre of over 400 dead and 1,000 wounded by British soldiers who fired on a crowd of protesters. A few historians signify this event as the beginning of the decline of the British Empire in India.

The Sikhi god: Ik Onkar

Ik Onkar is the Sikhi word for god and means ‘all pervading spirit’. This spirit has no gender, is beyond time and space, is without form, beyond the comprehension of humans, but not completely unknowable. The spirit is visible sikhism_ik_onkareverywhere to the spiritually awakened through the heart or “inner eye”. The religion prescribes meditation to allow for communication between god and man.

The Opening Line of the Mool Mantar:

“There is but one all-pervading spirit, and truth is its name! It exists in all creation; it does not fear; it does not hate; it is timeless and universal and self-existent, you will come to know it through seeking knowledge and learning!”

The ultimate goal of a Sikh is to be completely united with god. They achieve this state of liberation (mukti) by focusing on god rather than themselves.

Maya: the Worldly Illusion

Maya is a spiritual concept that has evolved over time and crosses over nearly every eastern religion in one way or another. Literally, Maya means delusion, extraordinary illusions of power, the veil of perception, magic, and “unreality”.

These worldly illusions are viewed as a direct opponent of realizing god in this lifetime (the goal of the Sikh is to realize god). It is believed that the object of Maya, or object of the senses, lust, desire, attachment, ego, greed, and anger which are known as the 5 thieves and are believed to take away from the individual’s relationship with god by distracting and hurting the individual.

Once god is fully realized, the individual is considered jivanmukta and liberated in this lifetime, which is a belief also shared in Hinduism. After this liberation, the individual is ceaselessly united with Brahman (the supreme truth underlying all of reality, but hidden by it). Sikhs also believe in reincarnation and karma.

The Khalsa – the Nation of Sikhs

The Khalsa is the collective body of all Sikhs. The Khalsa was initiated on March 30 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Sikh guru. The word Khalsa means “sovereign”, “free”, or most often “pure”. Being initiated into the Khalsa is a type of baptism and males are entitled Singhs (lion) while females are titled Kaurs (princess).

The Khalsa is responsible for all executive, military, and civil authority in the Sikh society. They are considered the pinnacle of Sikhism and perform no rituals and believe in no superstitions. They only believe in god who is the master and creator of all, the only destroyer/creator.

A Sikh is defined as any human being who faithfully believes in one immortal being; ten gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, the teachings of the ten gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth guru.

Culture, Observations, and Rituals of Sikhism

Most Sikhs wake up early to meditate on the name of god. Then he/she bathes in a pool of nectar (I’m not really sure what this means, probably some type of sweet herbs and spices). Then he chants the name of the lord. All sins, misdeeds, and negativity is erased through this process. When the sun rises, the Sikh is to meditate on the name of god again. The idea of the Sikh’s existence is to worship god so that they can maintain a close relationship to god.

There are 5 K’s(panj kakaar) or articles of faith that baptized Sikhs are obligated to wear:

  1. Kesh – uncut hair, usually tied and wrapped in a Dastar (a style of turban)
  2. Kanga – a wooden comb, usually under the dastar
  3. Kachera – cotton undergarments worn by both sexes to symbolize chastity
  4. Kara – an iron bracelet, a weapon and a symbol of eternity
  5. Kirpan – an iron dagger of differing sizes. In the UK it is very small and in Punjab it can be up to three feet long.

Sikhs are also very interested in music, many instruments were supposedly created by gurus. These instruments include the Rebab, the dilruba, the taus, the jori, and the sarinda. They would often play drums or Nagaras while marching into battle.

The Modern Sikh and Sikh Statistics

There are about 27 million Sikhs worldwide and 83% live in India. 76% live in Punjab where they form Modern_Sikh2/3rds of the populace. Sikhs were some of the first to migrate to Britain from India and were used in the Indian Civil service and so were spread out over the entire British empire. Many have spread throughout Europe and Northern America.

The caste system is still very prevalent within the Sikh religion, even though their gurus denounced the system. Untouchables, or Dalits still face harsh discrimination.

The first gurdwara (place of worship) was established in the United States in Stockton, California.

Discrimination against Sikhs has risen since the 9/11 attacks. They are said to be often confused with Arabic or Muslim Middle Eastern men because of their turbans and CNN suggested an increase in hate Crimes against Sikh men after the attacks. I’ll leave it to a few clips from CNN and other news to show you what I mean by discrimination (it involves racism and persecution because of ignorance).

  • The U.S. has the highest murder rate of affluent democracies. America had an extreme homicide rate of 5.4 per 100,000 people in 2008-2009, compared with a 1.43 rate in England and Wales and a 1.3 rate in Italy. Japan has 1/10 of the murders of the US. Don’t be surprised about how often this happens.
  • [September 24th, 2013] A Columbia University professor who wrote about hate crimes against Sikhs may have become a victim of one himself when 12 to 15 people attacked him while shouting anti-Muslim slurs, police said.
    Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh and a professor of international and public affairs, said the attackers were yelling “get Osama” and “terrorist” when they swarmed him Saturday night near Central Park in New York.
    “There were about 20 of them. A few surrounded me, and started punching me,” Singh said, according to the Sikh Coalition. He suffered injuries to his face, including displaced teeth and a possible fracture in his lower jaw. CNN ARTICLE
  • [August 5th, 2012] There was a shooting of 6 people in Wisconsin in a hate crime on August 5th 2012. ‘He said members described the attacker as a bald, white man, dressed in a white T-shirt and black pants and with a 9/11 tattoo on one arm — which “implies to me that there’s some level of hate crime there”.’The gunman started shooting in the parking lot, then entered into the temple and proceeded to open fire. Most of the victims were leaders of the church, men with turbans. CNN ARTICLE
  • [September 13th, 2015] A Sikh American man says he was taunted as a “terrorist” and “bin Laden” by another driver this week, and then beaten unconscious in his car. Police in the Chicago suburb of Darien are investigating the alleged incident as a hate crime and a road rage incident that escalated into a violent attack, Chief Ernest Brown said. CNN ARTICLE
  • [January 6th, 2016] A $10,000 reward is being offered in the slaying of a 68-year-old Sikh man brutally murdered in a central Fresno convenience store on New Year’s Day. They have video of a light-skinned suspect between 16 and 18 with a red hoodie that waited outside for about 5 minutes for a man named Gill to be in the store alone. Once Gill (Sikh man without any Sikh attire on) was within about a foot, the suspect stabbed Gill repeatedly. Gill tried to push himself away, retreated and picked up a golf club. The suspect knocked Gill to the ground before returning to the cash register, which he could not open. He then took something from a shelf and walked out of the store in the same direction from which he approached. Gill died of his wounds minutes later. Sikhs were anxious about heading back out into the community because of another attack that occurred on December 26th. FRENSO BEE ARTICLE
  • [March 2nd, 2016] Balwinder Jit Singh says a passenger beat him while calling him a terrorist and a suicide bomber last year in Inglewood. YAHOO NEWS ARTICLE

So this is very real, and its happening right now. This article from THE INTERCEPT talks about how Donald Trumps campaign makes it extremely hard on Sikh’s because hatred and violence are condoned. These are Americans that are discriminated against in our own country. And in lots of cases the police turn a blind eye, refuse to investigate, or whatever nonsense racism and ignorance they can make up. But this seems to happen a lot and we, as a nation, should not allow this kind of intolerance or ignorance. This is the 5th largest religion in the world!

 

References:
  1. Institute of Sikh Studies
  2. Sikhs dot-org
  3. BBC Religion
  4. Sikh Coalition
  5. Sikh Net
  6. Maya Wikipedia
  7. Sikhism Wikipedia
  8. Religion Facts

Letting Ego Go

Sigmund_Freud

The ego is a concept used to describe consciousness, made famous by Sigmund Freud and used consistently in religion to talk about the principles of “reality” and the functioning of the mind. The ego is an illusion, ultimately it does not exist outside of your own head.

There are three primary reasons for the existence of an ego, the first and most important is survival. This includes sex, feeding, and unavoidable needs (excretion, water consumption, regular movement). The secondary purpose of the ego is regulation of social hierarchy, which is more important and prominent in pack mammals such as monkeys or dogs.

The ego can also be examined as the internal dialogue, though aspects of the internal dialogue can certainly transcend the ego. The real key to understanding the ego is considering that the ego cannot exist outside of a subjective mind. This is what makes an ego so necessary for survival, it allows the do-er to differentiate itself from its environment to act upon it. So in many ways, birds must have at least a small ego because an ego provides a sense of worth to a being. A sense of purpose in survival.

Do-ers can also transcend their ego, acting as a part of the whole of their surroundings and not considering their own survival as more necessary than that of others. It is possible to unify with the self, therefore transcending ego and simply being, rather than doing. The difference between being and doing is pacificity, surrender, letting go of the ego’s need to feel gratified by actions or thoughts.

The unification with the environment allows for the do-er to become the receiver, outlet, and observer, rather than the one who is acting. With this realization comes a tremendous amount of freedom in existence, the do-er becomes an illusion, part of Maya, of Samsara. Oneness is understood.

However, ego is still necessary in many situations, it must be renounced as false and an entity that does not truly exist except in the mind. At a certain point, your ego will stop serving your self and this is the situation you should be looking for in renouncing the ego, that you simply do not need it as much any more. This is why transcending the ego takes a serious amount of time in stillness, meditation, and peace. The only way to renounce the ego is through both thought and action and there are many spiritual traditions that teach about various aspects of the paths to the renounced state, where the individual is able to see past the illusion into the oneness of the Brahman and live in a state of togetherness with nature.

Freud liked to talk about the ego and Id together, but I think that we should give ourselves a better identification; ego can be looked at as the internal dialogue or at least a piece of this. In Freud’s terms, some of this is powered by the ID (the instinct drive), but we can do away with this idea for modern neuroscience and talk about the lower level functions of cognition. We humans have very basic cognition that fuels us in social situations and teaches us how to react when in groups, on teams, in the classroom, etc that can be considered Freud’s ID. This is what we are looking to renounce, the part of the mind that “overthinks” social situations in whatever way this manifests itself. Most of the time, it occurs in hubris, or excess pride.

The Ego is something that was once completely necessary for survival, but with the technological and societal advancements in the 21st century, many people are finding that their egos hamper their work. Art is one of these professions that is a constant battle against ego, trying to express self and the soul rather than the be side-tracked by the ego. But with the proper mindfulness, you can let go of that voice inside your head that is always talking shit in your head. (or maybe it is just talking)

Upaya | उपाय

the Buddha teaches the Lotus Sutra

Upaya is a term that is used in Mahayana Buddhism as a reference to a method of teaching liberation through conscious and voluntary action without reasoning the direction. In other words, they are short cuts that are created for students to expedite them along the path to enlightenment. It is essentially adaptations of certain teachings to bring the practitioner closer to the goal of enlightenment, even though the teachings may be untrue. The use of skill is extremely important here because one needs to adapt teaching to the audience that is receiving the message and teachings.

The concept was revolutionary for Buddhism and has some powerful implications. It essentially allows for skillful teachers to show the student half-truths to reach further into the path of awareness and enlightenment. In Buddhist tradition, it was later understood that the Buddha had given his followers various upayas, rather than whole truths, because they were not ready for the ultimate truth. This allowed for many of the prior doctrines of buddhism to be disregarded in favor of higher ones.

This allowed buddhist practitioners to build a kinda of step system from the elementary teachings of Buddhism into the most advanced and profound. The most important aspects of teaching this way are through skillful means guided by compassion and wisdom. This means treating each person as a different potential, because of their different capacities and ability to comprehend the lessons.

This is used to explain some of the crazy wisdom that buddhist monks and practitioners use when teaching, including an example where a monk slammed a door shut on a disciples leg and in the process gave him a deep insight. There are two primary examples or metaphors that are used to explain the concept in Buddhism: an empty fist and a burning house. In the example of the burning house, a man uses white lies to get his sons out of a building that is on fire and to get them to safety, because he knows that they will not pay attention if he tells them the truth. The empty fist is used as a metaphor to grab the attention of children, but really it is a teaching to allow the student to understand the emptiness and to focus on the essence of mind rather than the distractions of it. Both teachings are understandably adapted to each situation and each student. The teachings are quite powerful and you can read about them in Lotus Sutra, a Chinese buddhist text from around 300CE.

These teachings are powerful for the modern world, showing teachers to meet students where they are and to teach with compassion in a system that is optimal for the aspirant. Modern yoga does a very good job of doing this.

 

Maya | माया | Illusions of Reality (Cartesian Skepticism)

Maya_padayoga_GatesofHell_rodin

What is Real?

Maya is the concept of illusion. Mostly this pertains to consciousness, and it’s limitations. Consider that everything you have ever known or seen is only a half truth, if that. In reality, you can see far less than half, smell far less, and hear far less than what is really in your environment. Luckily we don’t need to see more to survive on this beautiful planet we call home.

I hope this title doesn’t turn you off, because I my own mind this will be the most interesting article to date. This is a way for me to talk about mind and matter under a reasonably explicit title, together, with lots of philosophical nomenclature.

I have recently come to the conclusion that it does not matter whether or not god exists. Whether there is an extreme nothingness at the source of the universe, or an extreme somethingness at the core of the universe, it doesn’t seem to matter. I have obtained this belief from the contrast of Hindu and Buddhist believe systems and learning how both are supported in my own experience in different ways.

Maya’s Source

My personal definition of god is the pulsation of the universe, the energy behind the sustenance of existence, if you will. The reason why there is something, other than nothing. The closest religious depiction of this is Lord Vishnu, who is the protector and sustainer of the universe, from Hinduism, though his cosmic form isn’t talked about often in the Ancient Indian texts.

After studying Jainism and learning more about the eastern religious concepts of God, I have concluded that there cannot be a creator “god” behind the creation of the universe. It is an illogical conclusion, because even if this “god” created the universe, something would necessarily have to create “god”. If you want to consider “god” as the creator, you have to address the creation of this “god”, that super cedes universal existence. And for that, we need a bit of evidence, which no human has ever been able to provide. So I say, god or no god, the universe exists and to my knowledge and in the relativity of my current existence, it is infinite. I understand that there is a lot of evidence to support a beginning of the universe, but I do hypothesize that we are looking at only a small, imperfect picture of the universe’s history and that it could be far vaster and more complex that humanity can even imagine at this point in our evolution. So I choose to believe in thermodynamics and unknown compressive forces behind black holes that seem to be at the core of existence.

The Dream of Consciousness

I hope that explained a bit about my stance entering the conversation of what reality is. The possibility that we live inside of a dream, or an alternate reality, or the matrix and what we, as individuals, experience.

Lately I have been listening to a lot of philosophical talks, to aid in mediation and generally to learn more about eastern philosophy, I do have to thank my friend Kyle for telling me who Alan Watts is and I have listened to him, Osho, and a few other philosophers over the past couple of weeks and their talks on consciousness.

I am very luck to have been educated by Jesuits, perhaps the most philosophically inclined religious sect in existence in the Western world.

It is important, when discussing consciousness, to bring up the idea of subjectivity, and the infinite randomness of the universe. We have created, for our own benefit, systems of knowledge that can accurately and precisely categorize, therefore, predict future events in our relative sphere. However, this overgeneralization is an illusion, as is the illusion of a “normal” or undeviated being.

Maya in the Modern World

The United States does not really exist, it is simply a collection of people who live in an area that are grouped together for administrative purposes. Just as the human race does not truly exist, it is simply a way of identifying our own species. So to understand the variances of consciousness, we must view it as a spectrum, as infinitely varied as the human species itself.

In this world, there are many illusions created by the subjectivity of our consciousness This illusion is the same as the illusion of separateness. Humans share 99.99999%, yet all we see is diversity. In truth, the difference lies in our path, the journey we are pulled towards, and our in own interpretations of how the individual interacts with the world. So I will attempt to explain how this illusion seems to function, in its most basic of forms.

You only know you exist because you are reflected by the external world. If you had no effect on the world, you would not know, or have any credence to support the idea of your own existence. You see this in a mirror, in your best friend’s perception of you, of the opinion of your parents, of the way you are treated by strangers. You begin to learn more, at least about how you as a person are perceived by the other humans around you. We see this in a crappy movie like “ghost” where the hero doesn’t realize he is dead until enough events pass, and eventually finds a mentor to teach him how to interact with the world in his present form. He learns his own existence from the external environment. It is why we feel fast, or strong, or confident, because we have had significant experience with our environments, in the case of fast and strong, our muscles, and in the case of confidence, our past dealings with other humans.

It is the opposite when you explore the external world, you find different aspects of yourself that you did not know existed. This occurs because you are pushing the limits of comfort, or normalcy, and are expanding upon your prior experiences. So we cannot truly know about how we would act in a situation unless we are put into that situation, because everything else is idealism. The environment forces us to comes to terms with our humanity, our limits, and our exceptional qualities. Indeed, if used often in the external world, our human capacity seems to have a tremendous potential for creation. However, that is a different argument all together.

But what does Consciousness really do?

Consciousness seems to function optimally in the state of learning, or at least adjusting to the external environment internally. This is the reason why consciousness seems to have come about to begin with; to fine tune the functioning of life to the sun, essentially. It is why all mammals have a pineal gland, to regulate the resting/waking cycle of the being’s existence and to keep the being in a rhythm that corresponds to the rhythm of that being’s relative cosmos, in our case the sun. So we can establish the consciousness exists because of the external environment. To perceive and interpret, in whatever limited fashion it can, the electromagnetic spectrum of energy and its effect on the being. So from the beginning, we must accept that consciousness is extremely limited in its perception, if it can indeed perceive anything at all.

Life itself, is a process, a constantly evolving thing that cannot be defined by a state by itself. The qualities change over time and therefore, even in the individual’s lifespan, there is a tremendous amount of change in the individual. We learn through the patterns, through the causes and effects that we realize and know as conscious knowledge, and the things we learn subconsciously as a part of the unconscious mind. But our own view of life and our experiences are the result of experiments and predictions and observations that we have taken from the outside environment and taken to be a repeated pattern. So we start to see the world in sorts of patterns and that really is the nature of consciousness, at its essential functioning, even cognitive neuroscientist will agree with me, in essence, the way the world changes, shifts, and the patterns interact in the world around us. This is, in essence, the way the entire universe functions, in patterns and changes and constantly evolving changes and fluctuations of energy.

Karma in Maya

I will hypothesize that the only true way to know the world is to act upon it, in it, as a part of it to see where your ripples effect that of the entire “pond” of the world. This is the essence of Karma, or existence in the world. No animal was ever fed by thinking, “I want eat.” It requires the physical act of eating, if nothing else.

You cannot use the language of the illusion without getting into confusion, for it is ever paradoxical. This is why reality, enlightenment, and the illusion (maya) are so difficult to grasp. They are the different sides of the same coin, and to the unseeing eye, they are parallel and exist as the same.

Humanity is a part of the cosmic nature of things, rather than some being that was kind of plopped here and told to make due by god. This assertion, in fact, becomes completely ridiculous in the eyes of a skeptic, because there is no evidence.

We question the true unity of the universe is a function of the cosmos. If we are all one massive collection of energy, simply broken down into electrons and quarks and all of those subatomic particles, then again, we are missing something. The idea that I am, as a separate function that of the universe, that I can realize that I, in fact, do exist, even if it is true that I do not exist.

Either nothing exists at all, or its all one big massive collection of energy that we categorize with the feebleness of our own consciousness. But there is still this issue of the separateness of consciousness which doesn’t seem to make sense if we are all the same.

Our understanding of the functioning of human consciousness will change drastically over the next thirty years as alternative forms of consciousness are explored in greater degrees, mainly referring to that of our primate cousins and the large mammals that live in the depths of the ocean. Their conscious functioning in combination with increases in the field of neuroscience, particularly imaging, are really required to know how the spectrum of conscious experience varies on the planet. But if you don’t believe other animals are conscious, spend some significant time with an intelligent animal, such as a chimp or a dolphin. Their ability to interact with you is proof enough that they can at least predict and analyze your own behavior, let alone adjust their own behavior according to yours, which is an extremely intense conscious experience of learning.

We have to resolve separateness by consideration of subjective dimensions, which is again, part of the illusion. We are separate because it allows for the compartmentalization and therefore specialization of energy. It is how complex organisms evolved from single-celled organisms, and eventually led way into the human being, one of the most complex beings on the planet (it depends on how you measure complexity).

Maya Tricks us into Separation

So in reality, everyone on earth is really a part of the earth. To think we are separate is a part of the Maya, the illusion of consciousness. If we humans destroy our planet, we are inevitably committing suicide. Unless we become a part of another planet before the extinction date, or event horizon, or whatever. We contribute to and fluctuate with the planet, the waves, the sun, the sky, the trees, the wind, everything really. Reality seems to be the recurrence, the constants, the things that are unchanging and always seem to exist; however, there is a taint, and that taint is your self and the culmination of your prior experiences and genetics and anthropological background that has led you to now. Reality is the present, tainted by the lackings and shortcomings of the human’s limited perception of his world (consciousness), which without illusion (maya) of separateness, has glimpses of awareness of the constant fluctuations of energy and form and nothingness. This is consciousness, to know and enjoy the limits of perception and to be constantly pushing them, exploring and playing with all that you can while on the planet.

Always remember, people will show you what they feel they are lacking. It is the nature of the ego. The teachers and people who talk about love, light, peace, etc tend to talk about it so much because they feel they are missing something, or lacking in some way and therefore have to make up for it by being perfect. But in fact, the human is already perfect, already lovely, already beautiful. So saying these things is an affirmation, something that the ego needs to feel validated. Goodie goodies are the thieves of virtue. To be perfect is to be something that isn’t human, so beware of anyone that does not show you their humanity. The true teachers have the most awkward senses of humor, have an attitude about things as being the way they are, and is a bit of a rascal, or a bit of a motherfucker, if you will. Just a few notes about from the Dao that rang true for me.