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The Path of the Masters (Sant Mat)
The Nature Of God

© Sat Kewal Singh (John of AllFaith)*


The Guru Granth Sahib begins with the Sikh definition of God:

There is but one God
He is the Eternal Truth
The Creator, All-Pervading Divine Spirit
Unfearful, Without hate and enmity
Immortal Entity, Unborn, Self-Existent, and
He is realized by His Own Grace.

Meditate upon:
Who was True before the Creation
Who was True in the beginning of the Creation
Who is True now, and
O Nanak, Who shall be True for Ever.
(SR 255).

The entire Guru Granth Sahib is viewed as the explanation of the above definition. Within these lines resides the heart of Sikhism. God, for the Sikhs, is the Unseen, the Infinite and Eternal One Who is not subject to death or change. At first glance this definition seems to suggest that the Sikhs view God in the same light as most other theistic religions. Such is not the case however. Sikhism's Indian origins are clearly seen in the Sikh view of God note 30.. Theirs is an utterly transcendent and as well as fully imminent conception of the One Divinity.

Harmonious with Judaism, Islam, Christianity and other monotheistic religions, Sikhism depicts an utterly transcendent personally existing Deity Who is concerned with the world and its inhabitants. But God is simultaneously more. Those conceivable aspects of the One God that are knowable or describable -- "My gracious Lord, keep me under Your protection" -- are only one element of the utterly transcendent Divine Nature (GGS 53). Sikh teacher Pramjit Singh explained this to me as Saguna ("with qualities") and Nirguna ("without qualities") Brahman or "vast expanse" or "state of being" (P; EDY 64). As in some post 8th or 9th century B.C.E. Hindu philosophies, Sikhs acknowledge the existence of these two levels of reality note 31.. Brahman, according to such Hindu thinkers as Srila Shankaracharya, is ultimately nirguna, devoid of all material qualities. God is therefore utterly one, indefinable and indivisible. According to Shankara's interpretations of the Upanishads, all particulars that exist, from the basest to the most exalted, are "real" or "existing" only in that they arise from Nirguna Brahman. It is only due to avidya or "all-pervasive ignorance" that they appear real to mundane senses. In reality, only Brahman exists and then only as Nirguna. All else is Saguna and destined to total resorption into the a-cosmic totality which is Reality (ER 10.58).

Sikhism is in basic agreement with this understanding, but adds, along with Srila Ramanuja note 32., Srila Radhakrishnan and others that "the Absolute [Brahman] is a living reality with a creative urge. When this aspect is stressed, the Absolute [Brahman] becomes a Personal God, Ishvara [in saguna]." Ishvara is not therefore something different from or added to Brahman, Ishvara or God is Brahman Personified (ER 59). It is for this reason that Sikhism speaks of God as both an Impersonal Cause-Ground and a Personal Divinity:

He has no name, no dwelling-place, no caste; He has no shape, or color, or outer limits. He is the Primal Being, Gracious and Benign, Unborn, ever Perfect, and Eternal. He is of no nation, and wears no distinguishing garb; He has no outer likeness; He is free from desire. To the east or to the west, look where you may, He pervades and prevails as Love and Affection (Dasam Granth, Jap 80, SW 267).

And again:

God is indeed Limitless, but we limited beings try to limit Him in measured and restricted terms, for we cannot know Him at all until we become one with Him (S 37)



  • Note 29: The Golden Temple is the physical heart of Sikhism. It is the most important of the five major Takhts ("thrones") of the religion. The temple was built and the Gurmukhi, or hymns of the Gurus (and others), was enshrined here by Guru Arjan in 1604. Return
  • Note 30: As discussed above, Sikhism maintains that their understanding is not based upon the teachings of any other religion or culture. To honor this, one might say that Hinduism had previously received the same light. See above. Return
  • Note 31: It was not until the Shata-Patha-Brahmana (8th or 9th century B.C.E.) that the word brahman acquired the now prominent philosophical connotation of the Absolute or Vast Expanse. Previously it was understood as a 'prayer' or 'meditation' employed to evoke the universal power (also called brahman). Its root brih means "to grow" or "to expand" (EDY 64). Return
  • Note 32: Shree Ramanuja further insists that brahman is essentially saguna. Nirguna brahman is known as the brahmajyoti or spiritual effulgence of the saguna totality as the rays of the sun emanate from that luminary (HG 107). Return

* © Sat Kewal Singh (John of AllFaith) 1987 (last updated: September 15, 2017)

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