Basic Principles of Sikh Gurus (Part1) – Interview

Amarjit Singh Gulati Small ImageGodly or divine principles, when adopted, has the ability to elevate anyone to become a divine being. I’ve always wondered what were our Gurus like? What kind of divine principles did they adopt? What is the purpose of our presence in this universe…and other questions.

This interview was conducted between two brilliant authors and Sikh theologians; Dr. Devindar Pal Singh (Interviewer) and Dr. Karminder Singh Dhillon. As to why the interviewer chose Dr. Karminder S. to be the host of the interview, this is what he shared:

Dr K is committed to bringing out the truths of Gurbani logically, rationally and authentically. With his excellent professional and academic training – coupled with his devotion to Gurbani – he is eminently qualified to do so. He adheres to the belief that Sikh Gurus’ Philosophy is perennial and universal in its approach to understand Cosmology, Nature, life, and human behaviour in the present scientific era. He emphasizes that Sikh Gurus’ philosophy, bani, and Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) delineate the basics of life befitting the 21st century. Keeping in view his outstanding contributions to the propagation of Sikhi, his opinions on various aspects of Sikh Philosophy are presented here for the benefit of readers.

Dr Devindar Pal Singh Small Img

Q1: You are a social scientist by training and an administrator by profession. How have you become interested in Sikh theology?

Dr Karminder Singh Dhillon Img Small

Dr. K: All three fields function to benefit humanity. And the nexus that binds all three is the same. Thomas Aquinas used the term “Common Good” to describe this function in the 13th century. Socrates – the father of social science – used the word “Ethics” to explain that nexus. Administrators use the word “Values.” Guru Nanak used the term Divine Virtues (Naam). He used the term Naam Japna to advocate that humankind Realize and Become Divine Virtues.

Social Scientists and Administrators who speak loftily about ethics and values but are devoid of their practice end up serving private interests instead of the common good. Sikhs are largely empty of Divine Virtues because we have misinterpreted Jaam Japna as sitting in a corner and chanting on a rosary or merely reciting out these virtues; instead of realizing them. I guess this void in all three fields got me interested in studying them at various phases of my life.

Dr Devindar Pal Singh Small Img

Q2: What are the basic principles of Sikh Gurus’ philosophy?

Dr Karminder Singh Dhillon Img SmallDr. K: One can talk of the primary objective of the Sikh Guru’s philosophy as contained within Gurbani – Become Divine through becoming Divine Virtues. The verse is Satgur Ki Bani Sat Sroop Hai Gurbani Banneay. But it is unhelpful to talk of fundamental principles for two reasons. One, the concept of basic principles is not found in Gurbani. Second, people tend to make up their own basic principles for their own reasons.

The most common expression of basic principles amongst Sikhs is “Naam Jupna, Kirat Karni and Wand Chakna.” And it is attributed to Guru Nanak.  The distorted meanings of each that have come to settle within our psyche notwithstanding, these “basic principles” cannot be found in Gurbani as such, and certainly not in the writings of Guru Nanak.

These terms were coined by Nirmla Bhai Veer Singh. In my estimation, the Nirmlas did more to distort Sikhi than propagate its proper understanding. Come to think of it, one in nine persons in the world goes to bed on an empty stomach every night. One in three persons in the world is malnourished.

Seven hundred million people live on $1.90 per day. How are these people going to practice Vand Shakna to qualify as Sikhs? Why would Guru Nanak make such an improbable practice a “basic principle” of Sikhi? It is a temporal virtue, yes – for those who can afford it. It is part of our humanitarian role, yes. But to link it to spirituality is to take it to an untenable realm.

Other individuals have designated other “basic principles” – all of which are equally unhelpful. Examples are Naam, Daan, IsnaanSat, Santokh, Vicharo, and Deg, Teg, Fateh. Reducing the divinely rich philosophy of Guru Nanak to such catchphrases does injustice to it all.

Dr Devindar Pal Singh Small Img

Q3: As per Sikh Gurus’ philosophy, what is the meaning or purpose of our presence in this universe?

Dr Karminder Singh Dhillon Img SmallDr. K: To realize the divinity that is within us and to become Divine. Guru Nanak used the term Sachiara for such a purpose and objective.

The discourse on the how and why of it, the road map, markers and directions are contained within the Gurbani of the SGGS.

Dr Devindar Pal Singh Small ImgQ4: What is the perspective of Sikh philosophy about the existence of God? Can faith in God be justified?

Dr Karminder Singh Dhillon Img SmallDr. K:  Sikhi does not have a concept of a God as an entity that is distinct and separate from the creation. Sikhi does not advocate a God who sits up there somewhere and runs creation. Faith in such a God has no place in the philosophy of Sikhi – even if a large percentage of Sikhs have faith in such a God. It is misplaced faith in a non-existent entity.

The Creator of Sikhi is within His Creation. The verse is Balhari Kudrat Vasiya. Such a Creator is not the function of faith but realization. He is to be realized within. Realization needs effort and work, not faith. The verse is Taisay Hee Har Basaiy Nirantar Ghat Hee Khojo Bhayee. The phrase Ghat Hee Khojo means to realize Him within. Creation in Sikhi is a manifest extension of the Creator. The verse is Eyk Roop Saglo Pasara.

Next Up…

Some of the questions that will be covered in Part-2 are:

  • What are the authentic sources of the Sikh Philosophy?
  • What makes Sikh Gurus’ philosophy original and unique?
  • Some scholars claim that Sikh Gurus laid down the foundations of a new social order. Do you agree?
  • What is the relevance of Sachiara, as envisioned by Guru Nanak in his Jap composition, in the modern context?

Credits: AsiaSamachar


  • Dr Devinder Pal Singh

    Dr. Devinder Pal Singh is a teacher-researcher with over 35 years of experience teaching Physics at the college and university levels. In addition, he is a profound scholar of Sikhism. In Sikh theology, he has published three books, two booklets, 300 articles, 15 book reviews, and seven chapters in edited books. He is also a Member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the research journal -The Sikh Review, Kolkata, WB, India. Currently, he is the Director of the Center for Understanding Sikhism, Mississauga, ON, Canada. He is reachable via the links below.

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