Who is a Sikh?

Every religion of the world tells us that that which we call God, that which we call Truth, is everlasting.

Who is a Sikh? Sikh means “student,” “disciple.” Sikhs are students of the universal message of religion. It was taught in India by a series of ten spiritual teachers called Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak. He was born in fifteenth century northern India, when the people were under great pressure, and ignorance, crime, disrespect, and rascality were rampant. The instructions that Guru Nanak gave were not confined to any barriers. He taught that God is one, and that we are to love God. He taught that God is not confined to any one land. Nothing in the entire cosmos has been created without God’s order.

The people in India who loved God, who followed the teachings of the ten Sikh Gurus, were following religion as it has been taught in all countries. We say that those who follow Jesus are Christians, but the real meaning of the word “Christian” is “one who loves Jesus.” The real meaning of the word “Muslim” is one who follows the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Otherwise such labels are just worldly terms. Similarly, at that time there was the idea that a person who believes in Guru Nanak, in Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth Sikh Guru), is a Sikh. However, the real meaning of “Sikh” is one who accepts the Teacher’s training, who takes the words given and worships them, and who follows the Teacher’s orders.

Guru Nanak always said, “God is One. Understand Him. God is within you, and within the whole Creation. God wants you to love everybody and serve everybody. Do not hate anybody.” The Gurus, all of whom were of the same Light, were very opposed to distinctions of caste and lineage. They were very opposed to distinctions between high and low. The Third Guru said, “God put His Light into each person’s body, and then the person took birth in the world.”

Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh stressed that God has no boundaries. God can be seen in animals, in trees, in the earth. In religion, there should be no coercion, and no caste distinctions. They emphasized that God has given us free will, and that we should allow each other to remain free. We should not put pressure on anyone to change their religion; we should not try to collect people into one society.

Guru Nanak stressed that we should do only those actions in which there is no self-interest. He emphasized controlling one’s desires and continually thanking God, with every breath. Our gratitude should begin with getting up early in the morning in order to thank the One who gives us everything. Whenever we receive anything, we should recognize it as a gift from God, and know that we are not worthy of it.
The Gurus always spoke against ego and corruption, and in favor of love and voluntary service. One of their main messages was that everyone should work, not only to support themselves but also to help others. They especially emphasized helping those who are frightened, downtrodden, suppressed. If people are weak, give them courage. If someone needs food, feed him; if he needs clothes, clothe him. If someone needs attention, give him time. If he needs inner wisdom, give him wisdom. If he is feeling weak, teach him that God is very powerful, that God will bless you, that God’s gate will never be closed to you. One may also serve by giving from the wealth that God has bestowed. Perhaps one may even need to sacrifice his own body in order to serve others.

“Sikh” means to protect others without any self-interest. After serving others, the Sikh does not expect anything in return. Instead, a Sikh thanks God: “Oh God, this power which has come forth in me for helping others, for loving, for being compassionate, is Your power. I am only its instrument.”

The Sikh Gurus were never in favor of collecting charity in order to serve others. They emphasized that God has given us hands, feet, energy, and mind. With them we should work hard, serve others, and always love God, whose Power is endless, outlasting everything else. In every way of giving, there should be no selfish motive. One should give and then forget it.

A Sikh is one who respects whatever is true in any religion, and who respects and learns from anyone who lives a virtuous life. The Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred Sikh scripture, is a collection of inspired hymns by people from many walks of life, including Muslim and Hindu saints as well as the Sikh Gurus. Those whose writings were included in the holy book were those who worked hard, helped others, and thanked God. They were those to whom God gave spiritual light, and from that inner light they wrote.

These holy people whose writings comprise the Guru Granth Sahib encouraged respect for the scriptures of all religions. They did not feel it was right to criticize other prophets and other scriptures in order to promote one’s own. “Receive blessings from them all,” they said. Guru Nanak never said, “Convert to my religion because it is better.” He taught people to believe in God, because God is very loving, very compassionate, always taking care of the whole Creation.

Guru Gobind Singh, in his enlightened vision, saw that God is in the water, in the earth, in the mountains, in the caves; God exists throughout the cosmos. Guru Gobind Singh gave the same instructions as Guru Nanak. Both spoke against egotism, against anger, against taking offerings. They emphasized that God is richest of all, and that in this world, the richest person is the one who has the inner gift of remembrance of God, of love, of compassion, of service.

This spiritual wealth is the definition of a Sikh. You can say that any person who is a good human being, who is hardworking, truthful, loving, and compassionate, who serves others without any self-interest, who maintains faith in God and meditates on God, is a Sikh.