A Brief History

Sikh Art by G.S. Sohan Singh – art-heritage.com.

Over  500  years  ago,  Guru  Nanak  taught  that  Truth  is  a  universal  constant,  and  nobody  has  an  exclusive right to it. Like the story of the six blind men describing an elephant, most of us have our  own  version  of  truth.  Fortunately,  there  have  been  enlightened  teachers  like  Guru  Nanak  who periodically come to remind us of the ultimate truth underlying the unity of humankind. They serve to awaken each of us to our own highest consciousness. Within the context of their historical time and space, these great souls have all taught the same universal truths of infinite consciousness. Many of these teachings became the foundation for the world’s religions. The Sikh path began in India when a man called Nanak said that people shouldn’t fight about how to worship God.  He  proclaimed  that  there  is  One  God,  one  universal  Creative  Energy,  which  pervades  the  entire  creation (ek ong kaar), so we should respect all religions.

Guru Nanak saw God everywhere, in everyone. To him, everyone was equal in the eyes of God. At a time of widespread religious intolerance in India, Guru Nanak said, “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim.” This was  a  unique  perspective,  when  Hindus  were  objects  of  scorn,  suffering  unspeakable  persecution  by  the  Mughal conquerors. Those who followed Nanak’s teachings, his students, were called shishyas or as we now say, “Sikhs.” He was  called  Guru,  a  general  term  which  means  “Teacher.”  Actually,  for  Sikhs,  the  title  of  “Guru”  is  very  specific, for only Guru Nanak and his successors are ever accorded that special title. In the Hindu tradition, many spiritual teachers are called gurus. In the Western world since the 1960s, it was common to call any teacher from India who sets up shop on these shores a “guru.” Now the term “guru” is used to describe your tennis instructor (“tennis guru”), or even your financial advisor (“money guru”). To Sikhs, the term is sacred, and can never be applied to anyone except Guru Nanak and his successors. 

What is  a Guru? In Sanskrit, “gu” means darkness and “ru” means light. A “Guru” takes a person from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge. So, the Guru is the one who enlightens you. 

“Guru”  in  the  Sikh  tradition  is  an  enlightened  messenger  of  the  Timeless.  The  Sikh  Gurus  served  as  reminders  of  the  eternal  wisdom,  which  is  free  from  bigotry,  rejects  superstitions, dogmas and empty rituals, and emphasizes the value of a sacred life. Guru Nanak was a Teacher whose words transformed and elevated the listener. He taught through the example of his life,  and  the  words  that  flowed  through  him  came  out  in  exquisite poetry with mantric power. He formed analogies and  comparisons  to  current  happenings  to  educate  and  inspire  people  to  discard  superstition  and  empty  rituals. His words awakened rich and poor, peasants and emperors, Hindus and Muslims. Both women and men came to be his disciples,  students  of  Truth,  his  shishyas.  Thus  Sikhs  were  born. Over the period from 1469 to 1708, Guru Nanak and each of his nine successors added and expanded upon his teachings and laid the foundation for Sikh Dharma.

By setting exceptional examples, the Gurus taught how to live spiritually fulfilling lives with dignity and honor while remaining active in the world. 

Sikh Art by Jaswant Singh – https://sikhphotos.com.

The Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, formally enthroned the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, as the everlasting living Guru. It is the earthly physical container for the vibratory power of the Shabd Guru; the word of the Guru. There  is  a  saying,  “Where  you  bow,  there  you  shall  be  blessed.”  When  a  person  bows  to  the  Siri  Guru  Granth  Sahib,  he  or  she  is  bowing  to  the  infinite  sound  current  which  holds  the  universe  together,  that  which  is  beyond  all  personality,  time,  and  space.  It  is  the  Shabd  Guru,  a  compilation  of  words  spoken  by  enlightened beings, and contemporaneously recorded for posterity. The place where one feels humble before the Infinite is called the Isht.– It is the sacred spot where one bows one’s head in reverence. It can be anywhere. It is personal. Some people climb a mountain, some go deep into the forest, some go to church or temple or have an altar, or “sacred space” at home. The act of bowing gives the physical experience of surrendering, of “giving one’s head,” or mental chatter and personal ego to the Infinite Self. When we bow with humility and reverence to the Shabd Guru, it can create a space of deep openness and connection to the Infinite. 

~This information was originally shared in the book Heroes, Saints and Yogis (2012) by Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa and Guruka Singh Khalsa.