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Continuity-Sikhism connections to Hinduism and Islam

Exploring Sikhism's cultural and thematic connections to Hinduism and Islam.

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  • spunky sam green style avatar for user Azriel Lopez
    What is a yogi and what does it do?
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Rahul
    At about , Kabir says that people who worship a stone idol will be drowned in the river of darkness. Does that mean Sikhs believe in hell, or is this all figurative?
    (5 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user martin-maria
    What was the rosary about?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      First, a time signature for that reference would have helped. I had to listen to all 12 minutes to find the word "rosary".
      So, let's start here: The original statement that was quoted at the end was not made in English, what we have here is a translation.
      Many religions have strings of beads which a person moves through from end to end, reciting particular prayers with each bead. In different religions, these strings of beads have different names.
      The "string of prayer beads" that is most familiar in places where English is used is the rosary, which is used by many Roman Catholic believers as an aid to prayer.
      The translator who put this statement into English for us, rather than saying "string of prayer beads" helped us by using a single-word, "rosary" which she hoped would be familiar.
      (5 votes)

Video transcript

- [Instructor] In previous videos, we've gone into reasonable depth on the narrative of how the Sikh religion was started, initially by Guru Nanak and then it how it developed under the next gurus all the way until the tenth guru and finally as it was compiled in the Guru Granth Sahib, which is considered by Sikhs to be the last and final guru. Sikhism is oftentimes compared to both Hinduism and Islam, sometimes with reference to the idea that it has elements of both, while others would argue that no, it is a completely independent religion and any similarity is just coincidental, so let's tackle that central question. What elements of continuity does Sikhism represent? And in this video, we're gonna think about continuity in terms of religious continuity and in particular, does it have elements from Islam or Hinduism in it? So we could first focus on some of the cultural trappings or some of the historical trappings of Sikhism and think about the connections to both Hinduism and Islam. The first obvious connections is that Guru Nanak, the first guru, and many of the early gurus grew up in Hindu families. But there are also cultural connections to Islam. The Sikh religion emerges in Punjab, which is where or near the various Muslim rulers of the time held their capitals, whether we're talking about the Delhi sultanate, which was in power for over 250 years when Sikhism started to emerge with Guru Nanak, but also the Moghul empire, which really developed in its early stages at the same time that Sikhism develops, so that many of the followers of Sikhism were both Hindu and Muslim. A lot of the terminology of Sikhism borrows words and borrows ideas from both Islam and Hinduism. The word Allah is used to refer to god in parts of the Guru Granth Sahib but so is the word Ram. One of the first and closest followers of Guru Nanak, who was with him most of his life was Bhai Mardana and even today, many pictures of Guru Nanak would have Bhai Mardana in them. Guru Nanak famously as someone who was spiritually precocious and spiritually curious, traveled through India and Persia and the Middle East so he visited many temples but there's also many historic accounts of him going to Mecca and performing hajj. The Guru Granth Sahib, which is considered the spiritual book the 11th and final guru for the Sikhs, of the contributors to them, you have Kabir, who grew up in a Muslim family, he lived either around the time of Guru Nanak or in the century before Guru Nanak and would write about both Allah and Ram, although he was often critical of both Hinduism and Islam, and you also have Shaikh Farid, who was a Muslim Sufi writer and spiritual figure and he has also contributed to the Guru Granth Sahib. There's also important rituals that come from Hinduism, so for example, when Sikhs pass away, like Hindus, they are cremated, so just looking at this list, you immediately see that there's definitely cultural elements whether we're talking about words, whether we're talking about rituals, whether we're talking about even just the historical narrative of how and where Sikhism started that are closely tied to ideas of Hinduism and closely tied to ideas of Islam. But now let's look at the scripture itself and see if we can glean any more similarities or differences. This is the Mool Mantar which means main mantra or the basic teaching of Sikhism and it comes from Guru Nanak and this is an English translation, you'll see variations of this but it essentially says one universal creator god, the name is truth, creative being personified, no fear, no hatred, image of the undying, beyond birth, self-existent, by guru's grace. Throughout the Guru Granth Sahib and much of the writings of especially Guru Nanak focus on devotion to god, the one universal god, and so many of you might think, well that seems to have connections to Islam but then you could say, well even in Hinduism, although there are many aspects of god, the various deities, but there's this notion of a fundamental reality of Brahman so maybe it has elements of that or maybe this is just independently developed but there definitely are parts of the Guru Granth Sahib which seem to have elements that are close to Islam. This is a quote from Guru Nanak. He is Allah, the unknowable, the inaccessible, all-powerful and merciful creator. So one argument is he's using the Arabic word for god, he's using Allah. Now another argument, counterargument, would be well, he's just using the language that his followers knew and many of his followers were Muslim and so would have used the word Allah for god, but he is not saying that it necessarily has to be the exact concept of god as in Islam. Now this is from Kabir. Someone sets up a stone idol and all the world worships it as the lord, those who hold to this belief will be drowned in the river of darkness, and this is in the Guru Granth Sahib. This notion of being against idol worship comes out very clear in this quotation and that is another idea that is often associated with Islam. But as I mentioned, there's also many parallels with Hinduism. In the first video on Sikhism, I gave you this quote from Guru Nanak, the world is a drama, staged in a dream. Which alludes to the Hindu notion of maya, the physical reality is all an illusion, we wanna pierce through that veil. What should the yogi have to fear? Trees, plants, and all that is inside and outside is he himself. So this is an idea that we get very clearly from the Upanishads, any notion of duality, of me being different from you or even one versus god, it's all an illusion, all is one. By the karma of past actions, the robe of this physical body is obtained, by his grace the gate of liberation is found. So clear references to the Hindu notions of karma, that action drives consequences, that you enter one physical body after another, but that's not your true self, the robe of this physical, there's a true self and eventually, through the grace of the ultimate reality, you might be able to have liberation, have moksha, so clear Hindu parallels as well. One angle is that Guru Nanak and Sikhism was attempting a reformation of both, taking elements that were compelling in either and then purifying them, making them more internal focused, less focused on ritual, less focused on the external, and more focused on meditation and the true self. There's a lot of quotations in reference to both religions that make it clear that it was something different and is critical of at least how both religions seemed to be practiced in India at that time. Guru Nanak famously said there is no Hindu, there is no Musalman. Most people feel that he's saying this distinction that we make between human beings based on these belief systems, that these are superficial, that these are to some degree transient, that we are all part of the universal, part of the ultimate reality, part of god. This is from Guru Arjan, the Muslim god Allah and the Hindu god Paarbrahm are one and the same. So here, trying to unify these ideas, and listen, this is in a context where many of the followers are Muslim and many are Hindu and putting it in words that they understand. My body and breath of life belong to Allah, to Ram, the god of both. So once again it's this bhakti, this devotional aspect, surrendering to god and using the terminology that would be familiar to people in that time and in that space. So I encourage you, go out there, research, think about it for yourself, Sikhism for sure has its own unique identity and pretty much every religion is a product of the context in which it emerged and has elements from other religions, whether or not that was done intentionally, whether or not it's chance, there does seem to be parallels. We can make a whole tree of religions if we like, if we put Sikhism right here, the question mark of this video is you have this narrative of Islam, to what degree does it influence Sikhism? And many would say that especially the Sufi orders of Islam have much to do with Sikhism. Sufism is a school of Islam that is more inward looking, that is about devotional love to god and that's what a lot of Sikhism is focused on, but as mentioned, one could also think about Hinduism, which is much older than pretty much any other living religion today and in other videos, we talk about the bhakti movement, which is about devotional love to god, there's also a school of thought in Hinduism known as Vedanta, which is more focused on the core spiritual ideas of the Upanishads, the notion of the ultimate self, the ultimate reality, escaping from the cycle of births and deaths, from samsara, achieving liberation, moksha. All of these ideas are in Sikhism and to make the point clear that all of our major religions are connected to each other, we can keep drawing this tree. We talk about how Buddhism springs out of Hinduism, that Buddha was a Hindu and it might have been in reaction to some of the ritual and the caste that Buddha saw in Hinduism or at least in Hindu culture. In fact, some of those same motivations might have motivated Guru Nanak. Islam, we talk about in other videos, famously emerges from a Judeo-Christian tradition. The most important prophets in Islam after Mohammed are Jesus, Moses, and Abraham and Christianity of course comes out of a Jewish tradition, Jesus was Jewish. And one could say that there's even some direct connections between Judaism and Islam, notions of not eating pork, notions of halal and kosher, ideas of circumcision. And one could even argue that Judaism and Islam also have close ties to Zoroastrianism, a very ancient monotheistic religion and Cyrus the Great of Persia was the one who really spread Zoroastrianism and he is considered a messiah amongst the Jewish people because he liberated them from the Babylonian captivity, helped them re-settle in Jerusalem, and helped rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. Zoroastrianism also has ties to Islam. Zoroastrians pray five times a day just like Muslims, they have the ritual bathing before the prayer, just like Muslims, at the same time of day. So once again, amongst all of these religions, they definitely came in contact with each other and you definitely have ideas that are shared amongst the religions, so with that, I'll leave you with one last quote from Guru Nanak. And this one would arguable be addressed to his Muslim followers but it gives you a sense of his trying to bring people back to the internal, trying to make people less focused on external ritual, external physical reality, and more on internal goodness and your actions being more important than your words or your rituals. "Make kindness your mosque, sincerity your prayer carpet, "what is just and lawful your Quran, "modesty your circumcision, civility your fasting, "so shalt thou be a Musalman," or a Muslim. "Make right conduct your Kaaba," making reference to the pilgrimage site Muslims go to and pray towards, "truth your spiritual guide, good works your creed "and your prayer, the will of god your rosary, "and god will preserve your honor," Guru Nanak.