Philosophy of Sikhism

"What is the use of studying philosophy if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life".

Human being has been intellectually trying since ages to understand and interpret the philosophy of ultimate Reality. Religion and philosophy are two different approaches to determine its nature.

Philosophy intellectually analyzes the religion and its problems that arise in all forms including the problems concerning the nature of God, Grace, freedom, immortality, creation of universe, and ways of life in that particular religion. The understanding of religious philosophy may not help directly to deepen the spiritual life but it helps in understanding the intellectual gifts of a person.

According to Encyclopedia Americana,

"in the 20th century, the philosophy of religion has often stressed the analysis of the nature of religious language and religious symbols, the relation between scientific knowledge, and religious belief, the significance of mythical modes of thought, and the search for religious understanding through the encounter of the thought of the Eastern Asiatic traditions with the West."
-Encyclopedia Americana, 23, p.361(1975)

Sikhism has a distinct set of fundamentals in which religion and philosophy are interwoven. It is not based on metaphysical speculations but it is based on experience of practical life.

According to Sher Singh,

"Religion is older than philosophy. It is the idealisation of the finer aspects of the life that human beings at a particular time aspire to live.....Soon after a religion is formulated, the critical faculty begins to work and 'reason' wants to know the 'how' and 'why' of the ideals of religion."
(Philosophy of Sikhism p-1)

Mortal can find answers to his questions through theoratical philosophy and practical philosophy.

Philosophy is derived from Greek word which means (love of wisdom) study of the Ultimate Reality, causes, and principles underlying being and thinking. Western philosophy, dating from 600 BC, when the Greeks established inquiry independent of theological creeds, is traditionally divided into five major branches.

  1. Metaphysics inquires into the nature and ultimate of the universe, holding reality to subsist in thought (idealism), in matter (materialism), or in both (dualism).
  2. Logic is concerned with the laws of valid reasoning.
  3. Epistemology investigates the nature of knowledge and the process of knowing.
  4. Ethics deals with the problems of right conduct.
  5. Aesthetics attempts to determine the nature of beauty and the criteria of artisti judgment. (From-Encyclopedia-Book shelf)

Guru Arjan Dev says,

"One may perform worship and recite by heart the wisdom of the six schools of philosophy, yet peace will not enter his heart even for a moment without singing praise of God which can be attained through His grace."
ਖਟੁ ਸਾਸਤ ਬਿਚਰਤ ਮੁਖਿ ਗਿਆਨਾ ॥ ...

Guru Amar Das says,

"The six philosophies (Of the six Shastras) are in vogue
but the philosophy of the Guru is incomprehensible and boundless".
ਖਟੁ ਦਰਸਨੁ ਵਰਤੈ ਵਰਤਾਰਾ ॥
ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਦਰਸਨੁ ਅਗਮ ਅਪਾਰਾ ॥

Sikh religion is a way of life

Sikh religion has its own ideology, philosophy, beliefs and practices. Sikh philosophy is enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It is Divine wisdom. The Sikh religion is based on rationalised faith than on reason but the faith is not blind and ritualistic. It deals with the way in which life is to be lived. It has its own theory of Ultimate Reality which is spiritual in nature. The religious philosophy of Sikhism manifests itself through the hymns of the Gurus and saints enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Sikh philosophy means religion in action. It is called Gurmat. It is thought, view, belief, doctrine and religion of the Gurus. It is Gurmat Marg or Gurmat Rah. The religious philosophy of Sikhism is apparent in Gurbani and is propounded through Gurbani Shabads of love and devotion. Guru Nanak's philosophy starts with inquiry of Ik (One God) who is all Pervading, the Eternal, the Creator, the Cause of causes, without enmity, without jealousy and who can be attained with His Grace.Adi Granth which covers the span of six centuries, is concerned primarily with the nature of Reality. Sikh religion is strictly monotheistic, believing in One Supreme God. Absolute yet All-pervading, the Eternal, the Creator, the Cause of Causes, without enmity, without hate, both Immanent in His creation and beyond it. One God is no longer the God of one country, one nation, but the GOD OF GRACE. He is Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient.

That being so, He creates man not to punish him for his sins, but for the realisation of his true purpose in the cosmos and to merge in from where he emanated. So Sikh religion and philosophy revolves around One God, His mystery and knowledge of self as narrated above.

It is very essential to know thyself

Guru Amar Das says,

"O my mind, thou art the embodiment of Divine Light, so know thy Essence.
O' my soul, the Lord is ever with thee, through the Guru's teachings enjoy His Love.
Knowing thy essence thou knowest thy Lord and knowest thou the mystery of birth and death."
ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਆਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥
ਮਨ ਹਰਿ ਜੀ ਤੇਰੈ ਨਾਲਿ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮਤੀ ਰੰਗੁ ਮਾਣੁ ॥
ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣਹਿ ਤਾਂ ਸਹੁ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਮਰਣ ਜੀਵਣ ਕੀ ਸੋਝੀ ਹੋਈ ॥
"O' vicious mammon worshipper recognize thy origin.
This body is made from blood and semen and shall be taken to fire.
According to true mark on the brow (fate), the body is in the power of breath."
ਸਾਕਤ ਨਿਰਗੁਣਿਆਰਿਆ ਆਪਣਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਪਛਾਣੁ ॥
ਰਕਤੁ ਬਿੰਦੁ ਕਾ ਇਹੁ ਤਨੋ ਅਗਨੀ ਪਾਸਿ ਪਿਰਾਣੁ ॥
ਪਵਣੈ ਕੈ ਵਸਿ ਦੇਹੁਰੀ ਮਸਤਕਿ ਸਚੁ ਨੀਸਾਣੁ ॥

The 'Sidh Gost' which Guru Nanak Dev had with the Yogis, is a long philosophical discussion. Sidh Gost is a great philosophical dialogue on Nam Yoga or Sahaj Yoga which stresses the value of Holy Name in preference to the performance of miracles and occult powers. According to S.S.Kohli,

"The Sikh philosophy recognizes three means of knowledge."
  1. Perception (Partakh),
  2. Inference (Intellect - vichar) and
  3. Scriptural testimony (Intuition- Anubhav).

(a) Firstly, the perception includes the perception of ordinary persons i.e. the contact of the soul with sense organs and objects through mind, the perception of the 'liberated souls' e.g. the Guru and the True Sikh and the perception of God Himself.

(b) Secondly, inference is based on perceptual knowledge. It includes comparison and presumption as well.

(c) The third source of knowledge is Shabad or verbal testimony. The testimony may either be sacred or secular. Sikhism believes in unity of these three sources of Gian. It is a continuous process which starts with perception and culminates in intuitively realizing mystic unity in Ik

The metaphysical knowledge (Tat Gian) has no degrees.

From the above sources of knowledge, the Sikh philosophy as contained in Adi Granth will bring us the thoughts about Brahma, Jiva and Maya.

God and His realization

God is One (non-dualism) and second to none. He is called by different names by people of different religions. He is Nirgun (unmanifest- impersonal) and Sargun (Manifest-personal). Manifest world according to Sikhism is real. Reality is unity.

The unity concept may either be personal or impersonal. God has metaphysical, ethical, aesthetical, logical, epistemology and indescribable attributes as appear in Mul Mantar and Sri Guru Granth Sahib. God is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent. He is Karta Purkh. He is the parent of all. His Creation is limitless. There are countless universes. God created countless species (84 Lakhs) of diverse forms. God enjoys His sport after creation of universe. God is devoid of fear and enmity. He is eternal. He is Adi Guru (Beginning)and Jugadi Guru (Primal age). He does not take birth and never He dies. He can be attained with His Grace.


Jiva is immortal. It is part of Supreme Soul but it is not Brahma in itself. However it carries the attributes of Supreme Soul. Because of Jiva's actions involving with Maya, It goes through cycle of births and deaths in human form till it merges with the Supreme Soul. Body dies but not soul. Soul is immortal like Brahma. It continues for ever but it works under the Will of Brahma.

Microcosmic theory in Sikhism

As the rays (Kiran) absorb into the Sun and the drops of water absorb into the ocean, similarly, the micro-unity (Joti) of the realized self is absorbed into the macro-unity of the spiritual continnum (Joti).

God is macrocosm (Brahmand) as well microcosm (Chhota Brahmand; Body is microcosm / Pind ). It means that same power is in action , both in body and vast cosmos.

Suraj kiran mile jal ka jal hau ram
joti joti rali sanpuran thia ram--
(Bilawal M. 5 ,P. 846 )

Sikhism accepts that the universe is macrocosm and the human body is the microcosm or the body is a miniature of the universe.

According to Gurbani,

"this entire world, which you see is the manifestation of the Lord. He not only creates the universe from within Himself, but He also reflects through it and sustains it."
ਏਹੁ ਵਿਸੁ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ ਤੁਮ ਦੇਖਦੇ ਏਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਰੂਪੁ ਹੈ ਹਰਿ ਰੂਪੁ ਨਦਰੀ ਆਇਆ ॥
(922 M-3)
After creating the creation, the Creator is beholding it.
ਕਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਵੇਖੈ ਸਿਰਜਣਹਾਰੁ ॥


The world seems to be of two kinds; one is the creation of God and other is the snare. If man perceives that all that is created is the revelation of God and it is his sole motive to attain the Creator, then the mortal can head towards union with God. If the mortal, on the other hand perceives that materialism or Moh-Maya is end of every thing, then he gets into the web of Haumai and would remain in the cycle of births and deaths. So it depends on, how the response is made by the mortal.

Sikhism and Maya

Sikhism believes that the world is not mere hallucination or illusion, it is rather reality seen in a distorted fashion. God is its Creator. What God created is real in the obvious sense. So it cannot be illusory. It is a stage for the practice of righteousness.

Guru Angad Dev says,

"This world is abode of True Lord. The Lord Himself resides in it."
Ih jag Sachei ki hai kothari sachei ka vich vaas
ਇਹੁ ਜਗੁ ਸਚੈ ਕੀ ਹੈ ਕੋਠੜੀ ਸਚੇ ਕਾ ਵਿਚਿ ਵਾਸੁ ॥

According to Sikhism this world is not illusion or a world of suffering but it is reality. World is product of God�s creation. He is the Creator. He Himself manifests in the created units. It is abode of True Lord. Universe is His wonderful play. This new thought of Guru Nanak caused a revolution in the attitude of people.

Guru Nanak Dev says,

"True are Thy regions and true Thy universes:
True Thy worlds and true Thy creation."

God Himself is real and what ever He created is also real and true. God is manifest in His Cosmic order. Life is real as God lives in it. God Himself has assumed all of His creations and the creations are real. The entire manifest phenomena is intrinsically one with Reality and is realized as relative reality unlike the Vedantic conception of this world as Maya. Sikhism believes in transcendent (Impersonal-Nirankar-Nirgun) and immanent (personal-Sargun ) aspects of Reality. There is no duality between these two.

Due to ignorance, the egoist human being does not feel illumination of the Creator in His creation. Jiva gets into the bondage of Maya (wealth) which creates five Vikars (vices).

  1. Lust
  2. Anger
  3. Greed
  4. Attachment
  5. Ego

The mortal gets confused and forgets God. When the snare of false Maya vanishes, Jiva mingles with the Supreme Soul.

Guru Tegh Bahadur says,

"What ever we see (Materialism) is subject to vanish like the shadow of cloud.
O' slave Nanak, he who knows the world to be unreal, lives under God's protection."
ਜੋ ਦੀਸੈ ਸੋ ਸਗਲ ਬਿਨਾਸੈ ਜਿਉ ਬਾਦਰ ਕੀ ਛਾਈ ॥
ਜਨ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਗੁ ਜਾਨਿਓ ਮਿਥਿਆ ਰਹਿਓ ਰਾਮ ਸਰਨਾਈ ॥

Guru Tegh Bahadur further says,

"This world is false like a mirage to the deer.
Even after beholding the delusion, the mortal runs after it.
" ਮ੍ਰਿਗ ਤ੍ਰਿਸਨਾ ਜਿਉ ਝੂਠੋ ਇਹੁ ਜਗ ਦੇਖਿ ਤਾਸਿ ਉਠਿ ਧਾਵੈ ॥

Attitude of Man to Nature

Nature is portrayed as beauty and wonder created by God. This colourful earth is a garden of flowers. It has kith and kin relationship with humanity in Sikhism.

Guru Nanak Dev says,

"The air is the Guru, water is our father and great earth is our mother.
Days and nights are our male and female nurses in whose lap the entire world plays."
(Jap Ji)

The reality is that the world is like a garden of flowers where life is always in bloom. It is duty of a human being to keep its fragrance evergreen and fight the five evils lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride from within and without. This would dispel false Maya and awake him to Reality.

Whatever we see, is creation of God. Materialistic attractions take the mortal away from God and lead him towards transmigration. Maya is the bondage of the Jiva. It stands in its way to unite with the Supreme Soul. It creates ego and human being continues in the cycle of births and deaths.

Universe is creation of God. It reminds us of the Creator. Maya takes the mortal away from God and leads him towards transmigration. Maya is the bondage of the Jiva. It stands in its way to unite with the Supreme Soul. It creates ego and human being continues in the cycle of births and deaths.

Creation theory

According to Sikhism, God created every thing. His creation is real and limitless like Him. He created numerous nethers and earths. He created countless species of different forms and colors.

God is Creator of the universe. No body knows the exact time when the universe was created. It is God only who knows all this, not the human being.

(a) Microcosm: Human body is microcosm.

(b) Macrocosm: Universe is Macrocosm.

5. Karma theory

Other philosophical concepts -

6. God and His Grace

7. Thought on Virtue and Vices

8. Thought on Ego / Haumai

9. Concept of Mind and intellect

10. Concept of death. Death comes to all. It is not fearful.

11. Health

12. Yoga

13. Bhakti, Simran-Nam Japna

14. Kirt Karna, Wand Chhakna and Nam Japna.

15. Holy Congregation / Sangat

16. Truth

17. Ceremonies

18. Concept of Bhana

19. No renunciation of the world but life of a house holder is recommended

20. No belief in blind rites, rituals, fasting, pilgrimage, austerities or superstitions

21. Liberty, Equality and fraternity. ਸਵਾਧੀਨਤਾ, ਸਮਾਨਤਾ, ਭਰਾਤਰੀ ਭਾਵਕਤਾ All are equal before God and every body has the right to get equal opportunities.

Concept of God in Sikhism

According to Sikhism, God is One. He is second is none. He is Creator, Sustainer, Destroyer and Recreator. He dwells in His Creation and in every humanbeing. He is gracious. He preserves every body. He is Pursha. He is Creator of this Universe and three Gunas. He is Ad-Purakh, Karta-Purakh, Sat-Purakh, Akal-Purakh (Immortal person) and Niranjan-Purakh (Without influence of Maya). He is devoid of fear and enmity. He is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent. Everything is born of Him and ultimately is absorbed in Him.

ਜਿਸ ਤੇ ਉਪਜੈ ਤਿਸ ਤੇ ਬਿਨਸੈ ਘਟਿ ਘਟਿ ਸਚੁ ਭਰਪੂਰਿ ॥

He is not bonded by birth or death. He is unborn and self existent. He is beyond death and transmigration. Death cannot assail Him. He is Nirgun and Sargun. The Formless Supreme Being abides in the Realm of Eternity. He is qualityless as well treasure house of qualities. He is Bliss, Love, Benevolent, Righteous, Just and Graceful.

He is Din Dyal, Dukh Bhanjan, Bakhshind, Palanhar, Sukhdata, Garib Nawaj, Dani, Rahim, Meharban, Patit-Punit. He is Sundar and Mithbolra (Handsome and sweet tempered). He is protector and savior of his creation. He is Kirpanidhi (God of Grace).

God as Truth

Truth is fundamental concept in Sikhism. It has different meanings. Literally, Truth means Sach, Sat, Reality, veracity, honesty, justice and righteousness. Importantly, in Sikhism, Truth (Sach) stands for God who is Ultimate Reality. God is Sat. God is Truth and Truth is God. Truth is bliss. Truth is always fresh and fragrant.

Guru Nanak Dev says,

"Truth is the highest of all, but higher still is the truthful living."
Sachon oarai sab ko ooper sach achar.
ਸਚਹੁ ਓਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਉਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ ਆਚਾਰੁ ॥
He alone is an enlightened soul, says Nanak
Who frightens none, and fears none.