Every religion provides a code of conduct for its followers, and Sikhism is no exception to this rule. There is no formal list of commandments and prohibitions in the Sikh Scriptures. But they have been tabilized in the “Rehat Maryada.” The Gurus by their words and deeds guided their followers to a holy and purposeful life. Guru Nanak declared:” Without virtuous living , there can be no devotional worship.” (AG, 4) He elaborates this idea through the homily of the love of a bride for her groom. The good wife adorns herself with patience, contentment and sweet speech in order to win the love of her husband. Then gives up anger, covetousness and pride, so that she may enjoy bliss with her lord. Hence, morality is the basis of spiritual life. Holiness and altruistic action go together. The perfect man will always try to help others.
The sources of Sikh Ethics are the Guru Granth Sahib, the Dasam Granth, compositions of Bhai Gurdas, Janam-sakhis, Rahit-namas and The Sikh Rahat Maryada as issued by the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. The Sikh principles of conduct and dynamic participation in secular matters are based on the stories and poems (hymns) contained in this literature.
Concept of Virtue
It is difficult to define virtue or morality. Dictionary definitions cannot possibly cover its entire dimensions, but they all agree on “Righteous action and honorable conduct” In the Sikh credo, virtue in its essence is love. That universal love which finds expression in the brotherhood of man and in respecting the common man. This love is the source of selfless service and charitable work. It drives Out ego, which is the root of conceit and exploitation. In its real sense, virtue means the love of God and His creation. Guru Gobind Singh declared:” Only those who love God unite with God.” So basically, any action which takes one nearer to God is virtuous. Guru Nanak says: “All meditations, disciplines, happiness, repute and respect O Musan, I will sacrifice again and again, for a moment of love.” (AG, 1364) Putting it in different words, all that is pleasing to God is virtuous and holy. According to the Gurus, fasting, mortification, asceticism, poverty are not virtues, for they affect the body adversely, as do an over-regard for eating, drinking, dressing and amusement. The Guru lays down a simple rule, namely, “Shun those things which cause pain or harm to the body or produce evil thought in the mind.” This rule is basic to the Sikh way of life.
Sikhism believes in divine justice and the morality of the world order. Evil will ultimately fail, though it may often seem to succeed for a while. God alone is the Perfect Judge; He cannot be deceived by hypocritical acts or any cunning of man. He reads all hearts and knows every person’s innermost motivation. Goodness is to be rewarded and wickedness punished. Ultimately Truth alone will prevail.
Sikhism does not regard altruistic acts or good conduct as ends in themselves. These are a means to achieve the goal. Man’s divine spark is dimmed only by his ignorance or indifference to the force and suddenness of the temptations that constantly beset him; it is this inbuilt weakness that leads to his surrender to such forces and pressures. It is only by association with good and virtuous people that he will feel encouraged to “gird up his loins” and face the challenge of life.
Another important touchstone or yard-stick for man is the quest for “The Truth.” The Gurus considered Truthful living to be better than only a belief in “The Truth.” Many people swear by truth, knowing very well that they are following the path of falsehood or cant. Such double-conduct is found not only in political leaders, but also in men of apparent goodness and piety. The Gurus insisted on overcoming these negative forces before one attempted purity of conduct. The Guru says:
“Shun vice and run after virtue; those who commit sins wilt have to repent;
Those who cannot distinguish between right and wrong will, sink in mud repeatedly
Shun greed, give up calumny and falsehood, then you may come to “The Truth.” (AG, 598)
A common human weakness is to criticize the vices of others, without trying to eradicate them in one’s self. One should endeavor to correct himself, before he criticizes others. Generally he finds excuses and compulsions for his own defects and lapses: This means that he is not true to himself. Progress follows where one can see oneself objectively.
Sikhism itself enjoins positive action and moral conduct. It must originate from good motivation and tend to further the right objective. We do many traditional things, little realizing that they have no meaning or value.