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 Sikhism: Introduction

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Silver Wind
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PostSubject: Sikhism: Introduction   Wed Aug 22, 2007 3:07 pm

Age of Sikhism: The history of Sikhism began with the birth in 1469 CE of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Guru of the Sikhs. The initiation (baptism) ceremony and other traditions of the religion were formalized by 1699 CE.

Size of Sikhism: Sikhism is the fifth largest world religion. Among all world, regional, and atheist traditions, Sikhism is the ninth largest religion. Sikhs currently number approximately 25 million across the globe, placing Sikhism below Buddhism and above Judaism in terms of size.

Role of Women: Sikhs view men and women as being completely equal. Women are expected to participate in daily and religious life in the same way as men. Barring or discouraging women from any activity or position based on sex is against the principles of Sikhism.

Role of Clergy: In Sikhism, every person is fully responsible for leading a moral life. Sikhs do not believe an intermediary can supplicate on one's behalf to God. Hence, Sikhs have no priestly class. Those educated in religious affairs or with a special insight on God are free to teach or guide others, but they cannot claim to have a monopoly on access to God. Religious services are usually conducted by a Giani, literally, one who is educated in religious affairs. However, members of the congregation are also expected to be active participants.

Conception of God: Sikhs do not view God as a man in the clouds or any other form of human being, male or female. The concept of God in Sikhism is of oneness with the entire universe and its spirit. God is found not by searching in remote places, but by eliminating ego, which is said to allow a deeper, more accurate perspective on the nature of reality.

Life After Death: Sikhs believe that upon death one merges back into the universal nature, just as a drop of rain merges back into the ocean. Individuality is lost. Sikhs do not believe in heaven or hell. Heaven can be experienced by being in tune with God while still alive. Conversely, the suffering and pain caused by ego is seen as hell on earth. Sikhism views spiritual pursuits as positive experiences in and of themselves that transcend death, not as sacrifices made in order to collect a reward that is waiting until after death.

Religious Texts: The only authenticated text of the Sikhs is Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, a 1430-page text containing hymns written directly by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and later Gurus. This text was ratified by Guru Gobind Singh Ji as the final authority on Sikh spiritual doctrine. Later, other texts such as Dasam Granth were incorporated into Sikhism's practice, but these texts are of much less importance and their authenticity has been disputed.

View of Other Religions: Sikhs believe they have no right to impose their beliefs on others or even to cajole members of other religions to convert. Such practices are strictly forbidden in Sikhism. Sikhs are required to defend the freedom of worship of other religions just as they would their own. Sikhs do not believe that followers of other religions are doomed in the eyes of God regardless of their personal character and behavior, nor does being born into a Sikh family guarantee salvation. However, this does not mean Sikhs view all religions as being similar. The philosophy, practice, and history of Sikhism are unique and seen as clearly distinct from any other religion.

Eligibility for Participation: All individuals, regardless of race, gender, or nationality, are free to become Sikhs. Young children who are not yet capable of understanding the philosophy of Sikhism and making their own decisions are not eligible to be initiated into the faith until they have grown older. One does not have to be a Sikh to participate in Sikh religious services and activities. Members of other religions are welcome.

Outlook: Like the Jewish faith which has been subject to extreme historical persecution, Sikhs have faced extreme pressure from a variety of groups. Being a small but vocal minority, they were nearly wiped out by Muslim invaders on multiple occasions and again later by the British Raj during the colonization of India. More recently, they have suffered a great deal from attacks by Hindu fundamentalists. However, they have always seemed to rebound strongly and overcome such horrors. Sikhs played the leading role in ending both the Mughal imperial rule and the British Raj of India. Sikhs today are thriving and remain one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Practitioners of Sikhism can now be found in every major city in the world.

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