His Teachings

Beyond Monotheism: Unraveling Guru Nanak’s Profound Vision of God & Oneness in Sikhism

Understanding Different Beliefs about God

When people meet someone who follows a religion they’re not familiar with these days, they
will often ask them whether they believe in God, and if so, who is that God?

This question, of course, assumes that all religions, spiritual traditions, and forms of devotion are
essentially structured in the same way; they have a God who they worship and whose attributes
form the character of their religion.

We may have heard of categories such as “monotheistic,” “polytheistic,” “atheistic,” and perhaps
even also “pantheistic” being used to classify religions. On the surface, they seem like natural
categories. Surely they must take into account all the varieties of religious traditions?

Understanding Different Beliefs about God

Sikhism (or, as we call it, Sikhī; more about that later) is often described as “monotheistic.”
religion. When we examine Guru Nanak’s ideas more closely, however, we find that they do not
conform readily to this or any other of these readymade categories

An aspect of the term “monotheism” points in the right direction; the “mono-” part,
the Greek prefix which refers to the singular, the one. Guru Nanak often talks about the

concept of ēkta, or “oneness,” in his works. To begin to understand his concept of oneness,
we can start with his very first utterance, ੴ, pronounced ek oankār, the “seed mantra,” which
begins the whole of the Sikh scripture known as Guru Granth Sahib.

The Essence of Guru Nanak’s Teachings: A Journey towards the Oneness of Creation

ੴ is comprised of the numeral one, ek, followed by the symbol oankār. Ek oankār has often
been translated as “one God.” But the meaning of oankār does not really correspond to the
notion of God as a creator-being who stands apart from their creation. Rather, oankār more
productively refers to the ongoing process of creation. Therefore ek oankār refers to the essential
one-ness of this universal unfolding of creative energy.

So Sikhs, or followers of the Sikh tradition, might be described not so much as “mono-theists”,
believers in “one God,” as those who are on the path to experiencing and realizing the one-ness
of creation, the inter-connectedness of all beings and all things, animate and inanimate, material
and immaterial, that exist in the world. In our next installments, we will explore further how
Guru Nanak describes the nature of this creation and the path he outlines for the true devotee to
experience this ēkta or one-ness.


A Tradition of Empowering Women

A Tradition of Empowering Women

In spite of long standing social oppression of women, the Sikh Gurus have always proclaimed a women’s right to equality. At a time where customs like child marriage and sati, or the burning of a widow on a husband’s funeral pyre, were common, Guru Nanak spoke out against women’s oppression. He insisted that they receive […]