I seem to gravitate toward discussions of faith and religion.
I find myself having conversations with people regarding their beliefs and traditions all the time – on the train, sporting events, and sometimes in line at the grocery store. Perhaps it’s the uniform that encourages the discussion – nevertheless, I appreciate hearing people’s personal way they define and practice their spirituality…well, at least most of the time.
Lately, I find myself having more and more conversations with other Sikhs about Sikhi and somewhere in the discussion they’ll say, “Well, I consider myself more spiritual than religious.” That’s usually the point where my eyes glaze over. Not that I don’t care about their opinions and personal views on connecting with God, but at that point I no longer feel we’re having a conversation about Sikhi.
I feel my definition of a Sikh and Sikhi is quite broad, but if a goal of a Sikh is to let go of our ego and become a Gurmukh (literally, face toward the Guru) through learning Gurmat (the Guru’s way), then where do all these individual views on “spirituality” fit in?
This debate over being spiritual versus religious is not isolated to Sikhs, and is actually quite popular amongst Americans who seem to be drifting from organized religion and in to a more nebulous category of “spiritual.” And although a quick Google search will show you how passionate the debate is on either side, the definitions of what is “spiritual” and what is “religious” are still quite vague.
If I try to strip away biases each side has toward these terms, spirituality seems to be associated with developing an inner relationship with God (or higher power). God is spoken about in more close and personal terms (in your heart rather than in heaven), there’s more tolerance of other faiths, and more references to being God-loving versus God-fearing. But the primary focus seems to be on the individual journey to enlightenment rather than subscribing to any specific rituals, practices, or “rules.” Religion, however, takes inspiration from the past, has traditions and customs that go back generations and is often based on scripture. Religions provide a framework, guide, and sometimes a set of rules and/or practices to reach enlightenment. Religions tend to have a more defined following and build structures and institutions to support the congregation.
Reflecting on these two thoughts and relating it to Sikhi, I think there is clearly spiritual elements – in fact it is one of our primary goals in life to overcome the five vices, self-realize, and recognize Waheguru within ourselves. That to me is a very personal journey – but for a Sikh, does it stop there?
Guru Sahib also tells us to surround ourselves with saadh sangat, others who are seeking truth (or already found it) so we can collectively more further along the path. So how “individual” is this journey after all?
If we look at history, the establishment of dharmshalas to the initiation of the Khalsa all points to creating a sense of community, structure, and institutions. This to me is far beyond the boundaries of spirituality’s inward journey.
And the creation of the Khalsa, along with its discipline and uniform, is designed to take that inner spirit and proclaim to the world that we are sons of daughters of Guru Gobind Singh – and here to serve a greater good….so where does this leave us?
Where does spirituality and religion fit in Sikhi? Or better yet…
Which are you? Do you consider yourself Spiritual? Religious? Both? Or Neither?