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Who is a Sikh?

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The word Sikh literally means "a learner" and is derived from the Sanskrit word "shishya" which means disciple or student or learner; the term is also related to "Saknoti" which means "able and strong".

In the Punjabi language the word Sikh literally means to learn. A Sikh is a follower of the religion called Sikhi or Sikhism, which is the fifth largest organised religion in the world. A Sikh is a disciple of the Guru Granth Sahib which is more than a Holy book for the Sikhs - It is their perpetual and living spiritual teacher and guide.

Who is a Sikh?

Fortunately for us, this question has been answered by the Sikh Gurus who created this word; so it is not difficult to arrive at an answer. However, it appears that many politicians and the legal system in India have taken it upon themselves to redefine this word. This is not a wise move. It is always dangerous when some small section of the global community decide to redefine a term that has overtaken them and has now become an international term.

The word now does not just apply to people who reside in India; many millions of Sikhs live outside India and many will have never seen India and many will never ever go to India! Further, there are many non-Sikhs who love and follow the teaching of Guru Nanak and are drawn to the faith; how can a few politicians in a small state of India called Punjab decide on the terminology used worldwide?

The founder Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak first used the word 'Sikh' in about 1500; since then during the time of the first 9 Guru's, many millions of Sikhs roamed Punjab and the rest of the Indian sub-continent. Many Sikhs were found in surrounding countries like Afghanistan, Nepal, etc. All these Sikhs understood who they were and what there faith was; they knew the message of the Sikh Gurus and they followed it as best as possible.

Word established over 239 years

The Sikh Gurus over a period of 239 years established the faith known as Sikhi and in so doing gave meaning to the word "Sikh". It appears that the politicians are not satisfied with what the Gurus have said and wish to make their own definitions. This cannot be acceptable to the follower of the Sikh Gurus. Sikhi is an inclusive religion and the term Sikh has a wide coverage; it is not an exclusive term. The meaning of the word has been a reality and a certainty for many hundreds of years; the meaning of the word has been established by the Gurus and must remain so forever. It should be our task to understand what meaning the Gurus gave to this word rather than to tinker it to suit our present political needs.

The word "Sikh" appears in the Guru Granth Sahib English translation 156 times as Sikh, Sikhs, Gursikh(s), Sikh(s) of the Guru, etc. In some of these places, the Guru explains and defines this word. The definition of this word is a combination of all these explanations found in the holy Granth in these 156 locations.

Only the careful study of these verses, where this word appears would yield a good idea of the meaning of the term. However, one could also, combine with this the explanations found in the Dasam Granth and also the text by historic scholars like Bhai Gurdas, {{Bhai Nand Lal]], etc.

2 Words: "Sikh" and "Khalsa"

The word "Sikh" and "Khalsa" are treated differently in the holy Granth and must be treated separately in real life. Although there is some overlap in the definitions of these words, they are two different and distinct terms. There is considerable confusion in some Sikh sections about this distinction and some elements in the restricted establishment have lost the vision to cater for the global Sikh community. This is a un-welcomed situation which could be extremely detrimental to the Sikh panth and to the spread of the universal message of Guru Nanak and the Sikh Gurus.

Rather than get unnecessarily involved in any ugly proceedings of the current drama taking place the the Courts and the political arena in India, let us turn to what has been said in the Guru Granth Sahib regarding this word - Sikh or Gursikh?

Summary of the message of Gurbani

The list below summarises the Shabads found in the next section dealing with Gurbani. Only Shabads that offer an explanation of the term and are different from previous Shabads mentioned are listed. In taking all the Gurbani's definition of a Sikh into cosideration, one can summarise these as follows:

  • 1. A true Sikh of the Guru mediates on the Lord's Name regularly early everyday.
  • 2. The Guru's Sikh stays away from evil deeds
  • 3. Instead of just pursuing the gathering of wealth and property, the Guru's Sikh is happy to meet the Guru and follow the teachings of the Guru.
  • 4. The true Gursikh will side with the Guru always and not turn his back when things get hard.
  • 5. Have faith in Gurbani and trust what it says as ordained by the Lord.
  • 6. Do not mingle with the false and adhere to the path of righteousness as stipulated by the Gurus.
  • 7. Remember the Guru (the Lord) at all times and acts according to his instructions.
  • 8. Do not keep company with anyone who wants to deceive and be involved in deception.
  • 9. Recognise that the mission of the Sikh is the same as that of the Sikh Gurus - to spread the teaching of Gurbani.
  • 10. Keep your mind clear; do not let your emotional attachments cloud your judgement.
  • 11. Respect all the people and their implements of those who walk on the path of righteousness for this is the sacred mission of the Sikh.
  • 12. Conquer the mind and do not let it distract you from the path of Dharam.
  • 13. Respect and accept Gurbani as the path of the Lord; do not be doubtful!
  • 14. Only by embracing love for the Lord will this priceless human life's mission be accomplished.

Gurbani

1. This Shabad by the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das gives in one compact paragraph the precise definition of a Gursikh. What is interesting is that most of the condition pertain to the frame of mind and the habits that endear the Sikh to the Guru rather than to the physical form. It is accepted that this may have been developed by later Gurus, but what is important to understand where the importance was laid by the Gurus in the initial stage of Sikhism. Further, the later Gurus did not modify this shabad or add anything very different to the holy Granth to reflect any major change in this definition.

The important of meditating on the Lord's Name is central and main theme of the whole hymn. Then comes the need to do this yourself and to encourage others to do it; finally the prefered ways to carry out this practise. In the early hours; after bathing but standing or sitting is not important to meditate on His name. Keep the Lord in your mind at all times!

ਮ: ੪ ॥
ਗੁਰ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਜੋ ਸਿਖੁ ਅਖਾਏ ਸੁ ਭਲਕੇ ਉਠਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਵੈ ॥

ਉਦਮੁ ਕਰੇ ਭਲਕੇ ਪਰਭਾਤੀ ਇਸਨਾਨੁ ਕਰੇ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਸਰਿ ਨਾਵੈ ॥
ਉਪਦੇਸਿ ਗੁਰੂ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਜਪੁ ਜਾਪੈ ਸਭਿ ਕਿਲਵਿਖ ਪਾਪ ਦੋਖ ਲਹਿ ਜਾਵੈ ॥
ਫਿਰਿ ਚੜੈ ਦਿਵਸੁ ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਗਾਵੈ ਬਹਦਿਆ ਉਠਦਿਆ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਵੈ ॥
ਜੋ ਸਾਸਿ ਗਿਰਾਸਿ ਧਿਆਏ ਮੇਰਾ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਸੋ ਗੁਰਸਿਖੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਮਨਿ ਭਾਵੈ ॥
ਜਿਸ ਨੋ ਦਇਆਲੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਮੇਰਾ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਤਿਸੁ ਗੁਰਸਿਖ ਗੁਰੂ ਉਪਦੇਸੁ ਸੁਣਾਵੈ ॥
ਜਨੁ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਧੂੜਿ ਮੰਗੈ ਤਿਸੁ ਗੁਰਸਿਖ ਕੀ ਜੋ ਆਪਿ ਜਪੈ ਅਵਰਹ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਾਵੈ ॥੨॥

Mėhlā 4.
Gur saṯgur kā jo sikẖ akẖā▫e so bẖalke uṯẖ har nām ḏẖi▫āvai.

Uḏam kare bẖalke parbẖāṯī isnān kare amriṯ sar nāvai.
Upḏes gurū har har jap jāpai sabẖ kilvikẖ pāp ḏokẖ lėh jāvai.
Fir cẖaṛai ḏivas gurbāṇī gāvai bahḏi▫ā uṯẖ▫ḏi▫ā har nām ḏẖi▫āvai.
Jo sās girās ḏẖi▫ā▫e merā har har so gursikẖ gurū man bẖāvai.
Jis no ḏa▫i▫āl hovai merā su▫āmī ṯis gursikẖ gurū upḏes suṇāvai.
Jan Nānak ḏẖūṛ mangai ṯis gursikẖ kī jo āp japai avrah nām japāvai. (2)

Fourth Mehl:
One who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru, the True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord's Name.

Upon arising early in the morning, he is to bathe, and cleanse himself in the pool of nectar.
Following the Instructions of the Guru, he is to chant the Name of the Lord, Har, Har. All sins, misdeeds and negativity shall be erased.
Then, at the rising of the sun, he is to sing Gurbani; whether sitting down or standing up, he is to meditate on the Lord's Name.
One who meditates on my Lord, Har, Har, with every breath and every morsel of food - that GurSikh becomes pleasing to the Guru's Mind.
That person, unto whom my Lord and Master is kind and compassionate - upon that GurSikh, the Guru's Teachings are bestowed.
Servant Nanak begs for the dust of the feet of that GurSikh, who himself chants the Naam, and inspires others to chant it. (2)

2.

ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਸਿਖੁ ਬਿਕਾਰ ਤੇ ਹਾਟੈ ॥
Gur kā sikẖ bikār ṯe hātai.
The Sikh of the Guru abstains from evil deeds.

3.

ਨਰ ਪ੍ਰਾਣੀ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਮਾਇਆ ਧਨੁ ਖਾਟੇ ॥ ਗੁਰਸਿਖ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਗੁਰੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਗਲਾਟੇ ॥
Nar parāṇī parīṯ mā▫i▫ā ḏẖan kẖāte. Gursikẖ parīṯ gur milai galāte.
The mortal man loves to accumulate wealth and property. The GurSikh loves to meet and embrace the Guru.

4.

ਸਚਿਆਰ ਸਿਖ ਬਹਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪਾਸਿ ਘਾਲਨਿ ਕੂੜਿਆਰ ਨ ਲਭਨੀ ਕਿਤੈ ਥਾਇ ਭਾਲੇ ॥
Sacẖiār sikẖ bahi saṯgur pās gẖālan kūṛi▫ār na labẖnī kiṯai thā▫e bẖāle.
The truthful Sikhs sit by the True Guru's side and serve Him. The false ones search, but find no place of rest.

5.

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਸਤਿ ਸਤਿ ਕਰਿ ਜਾਣਹੁ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਕਰਤਾ ਆਪਿ ਮੁਹਹੁ ਕਢਾਏ ॥
Saṯgur kī baṇī saṯ saṯ kar jāṇhu gursikẖahu har karṯā āp muhhu kadẖā▫e.
O GurSikhs, know that the Bani, the Word of the True Guru, is true, absolutely true. The Creator Lord Himself causes the Guru to chant it.

6.

ਕੂੜਿਆਰ ਕੂੜਿਆਰੀ ਜਾਇ ਰਲੇ ਸਚਿਆਰ ਸਿਖ ਬੈਠੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪਾਸਿ ॥੨੬॥
Kūṛi▫ār kẖūṛi▫ārī jā▫e rale sacẖiār sikẖ baiṯẖe saṯgur pās. (26)
The false go and mingle with the false, while the truthful Sikhs sit by the side of the True Guru. (26)

7.

ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਵਰਤੈ ਜੋ ਸਿਖਾਂ ਨੋ ਲੋਚੈ ਸੋ ਗੁਰ ਖੁਸੀ ਆਵੈ ॥ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਆਖੈ ਸੁ ਕਾਰ ਕਮਾਵਨਿ ਸੁ ਜਪੁ ਕਮਾਵਹਿ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾਂ ਕੀ ਘਾਲ ਸਚਾ ਥਾਇ ਪਾਵੈ ॥
Gursikẖāʼn anḏar saṯgurū varṯai jo sikẖāʼn no locẖai so gur kẖusī āvai.

Saṯgur ākẖai so kār kamāvan so jap kamāvėh gursikẖāʼn kī gẖāl sacẖā thā▫e pāvai.

Deep within the hearts of His GurSikhs, the True Guru is pervading. The Guru is pleased with those who long for His Sikhs.

As the True Guru directs them, they do their work and chant their prayers. The True Lord accepts the service of His GurSikhs.


8.

ਜਿ ਠਗੀ ਆਵੈ ਠਗੀ ਉਠਿ ਜਾਇ ਤਿਸੁ ਨੇੜੈ ਗੁਰਸਿਖੁ ਮੂਲਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥
Jė ṯẖagī āvai ṯẖagī uṯẖ jā▫e ṯis neṛai gursikẖ mūl na āvai.
One who comes to deceive, who rises up and goes out to deceive - the GurSikhs shall never come near him.


9.

ਗੁਰੂ ਸਿਖੁ ਸਿਖੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਹੈ ਏਕੋ ਗੁਰ ਉਪਦੇਸੁ ਚਲਾਏ ॥
Gurū sikẖ sikẖ gurū hai eko gur upḏes cẖalā▫e.
The Guru's Sikh, and the Sikh's Guru, are one and the same; both spread the Guru's Teachings.


10.

ਸੋ ਗੁਰੂ ਸੋ ਸਿਖੁ ਕਥੀਅਲੇ ਸੋ ਵੈਦੁ ਜਿ ਜਾਣੈ ਰੋਗੀ ॥ ਤਿਸੁ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਕੰਮੁ ਨ ਧੰਧਾ ਨਾਹੀ ਧੰਧੈ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਜੋਗੀ ॥੫॥
So gurū so sikẖ kathī▫ale so vaiḏ jė jāṇai rogī. Ŧis kāraṇ kamm na ḏẖanḏẖā nāhī ḏẖanḏẖai girhī jogī. (5)
He alone is said to be a Guru, he alone is said to be a Sikh, and he alone is said to be a physician, who knows the patient's illness.

He is not affected by actions, responsibilities and entanglements; in the entanglements of his household, he maintains the detachment of Yoga. (5)


11.

ਤਿਨ ਕਾ ਖਾਧਾ ਪੈਧਾ ਮਾਇਆ ਸਭੁ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹੈ ਜੋ ਨਾਮਿ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਤੇ ॥

ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਘਰ ਮੰਦਰ ਮਹਲ ਸਰਾਈ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹਹਿ ਜਿਨੀ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸੇਵਕ ਸਿਖ ਅਭਿਆਗਤ ਜਾਇ ਵਰਸਾਤੇ ॥
ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਤੁਰੇ ਜੀਨ ਖੁਰਗੀਰ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹਹਿ ਜਿਨੀ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸਿਖ ਸਾਧ ਸੰਤ ਚੜਿ ਜਾਤੇ ॥
ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਕਰਮ ਧਰਮ ਕਾਰਜ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹਹਿ ਜੋ ਬੋਲਹਿ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮੁ ਹਰਿ ਸਾਤੇ ॥
ਜਿਨ ਕੈ ਪੋਤੈ ਪੁੰਨੁ ਹੈ ਸੇ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸਿਖ ਗੁਰੂ ਪਹਿ ਜਾਤੇ ॥੧੬॥

Ŧin kā kẖāḏẖā paiḏẖā mā▫i▫ā sabẖ paviṯ hai jo nām har rāṯe.

Ŧin ke gẖar manḏar mahal sarā▫ī sabẖ paviṯ hėh jinī gurmukẖ sevak sikẖ abẖi▫āgaṯ jā▫e varsāṯe.
Ŧin ke ṯure jīn kẖurgīr sabẖ paviṯ hėh jinī gurmukẖ sikẖ sāḏẖ sanṯ cẖaṛ jāṯe.
Ŧin ke karam ḏẖaram kāraj sabẖ paviṯ hėh jo bolėh har har rām nām har sāṯe.
Jin kai poṯai punn hai se gurmukẖ sikẖ gurū pėh jāṯe. (16)

The food and clothes, and all the worldly possessions of those who are attuned to the Lord's Name are sacred.

All the homes, temples, palaces and way-stations are sacred, where the Gurmukhs, the selfless servants, the Sikhs and the renouncers of the world, go and take their rest.
All the horses, saddles and horse blankets are sacred, upon which the Gurmukhs, the Sikhs, the Holy and the Saints, mount and ride.
All the rituals and Dharmic practices and deeds are sacred, for those who utter the Name of the Lord, Har, Har, the True Name of the Lord.
Those Gurmukhs, those Sikhs, who have purity as their treasure, go to their Guru. (16)

12.

ਧਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਭਾਗ ਤਿਨਾ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਾ ਜੋ ਗੁਰਸਿਖ ਲੈ ਮਨੁ ਜਿਣਤਿਆ ॥ ਸਭ ਦੂ ਵਡੇ ਭਾਗ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਾ ਕੇ ਜੋ ਗੁਰ ਚਰਣੀ ਸਿਖ ਪੜਤਿਆ ॥੧੮॥
Ḏẖan ḏẖan bẖāg ṯinā gurmukẖā jo gursikẖ lai man jiṇṯi▫ā. Sabẖ ḏū vade bẖāg gursikẖā ke jo gur cẖarṇī sikẖ paṛ▫ṯi▫ā. (18)
Blessed, blessed is the good fortune of those Gurmukhs, who live as Gursikhs, and conquer their minds.

But the greatest good fortune of all, is that of the Guru's Sikhs, who fall at the Guru's feet. (18)


13.

ਗੁਰਸਿਖ ਮੀਤ ਚਲਹੁ ਗੁਰ ਚਾਲੀ ॥ ਜੋ ਗੁਰੁ ਕਹੈ ਸੋਈ ਭਲ ਮਾਨਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਕਥਾ ਨਿਰਾਲੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Gursikẖ mīṯ cẖalhu gur cẖālī. Jo gur kahai so▫ī bẖal mānhu har har kathā nirālī. (1) rahā▫o.
O Sikhs of the Guru, O friends, walk on the Guru's Path.

Whatever the Guru says, accept that as good; the sermon of the Lord, Har, Har, is unique and wonderful.(1)(Pause)


14.

ਉਪਦੇਸੁ ਸੁਣਹੁ ਤੁਮ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਹੁ ਸਚਾ ਇਹੈ ਸੁਆਉ ॥ ਜਨਮੁ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਸਫਲੁ ਹੋਇ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਲਾਇਹੁ ਭਾਉ ॥
Upḏes suṇhu ṯum gursikẖahu sacẖā ihai su▫ā▫o. Janam paḏārath safal ho▫e man mėh lā▫ihu bẖā▫o.
Listen to these Teachings, O Sikhs of the Guru. This is the true purpose of life.

This priceless human life will be made fruitful; embrace love for the Lord in your mind.


This article is part of the series on the "Message of Gurbani"

These are the Popular Banis of Sikhism

Mool Mantar | Japji | Jaap | Anand | Rehras | Benti Chaupai | Tav-Prasad Savaiye | Kirtan Sohila | Shabad Hazaray | Sukhmani | Asa di Var | Ardas

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