At this writing, little is known regarding the shooting yesterday at the Oak Creek Sikh Temple in which seven people died, including the shooter. We do know that police were called at about 10:15 AM. Upon arrival some police officers began immediately helping a wounded victim. At that point the officers were ambushed by the perpetrator, and one was shot multiple times. A second officer shot and killed the shooter. Of those killed, four were inside the temple; two, plus the shooter, were outside.
But what are the basic premises of the Sikh religion?
Basic to the system of panentheism, of which the Sikh religion is a part, is the belief that a divine exists, suffuses every element of nature, and extends beyond it in space and time. In panentheism, believers assert that God pervades the cosmos. “All is God.”
The Sikh religion, the fourth largest in the world, centered in India, is more specific. The origins of Sikhism are found in the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev who said that “Realization of Truth is higher than all else; higher still is truthful living.” Sikhs strive to achieve the qualities of a “saint-soldier.” A Sikh must have the courage to defend the rights of the wrongfully oppressed or persecuted, regardless of race, place of origin, creed, or gender.
In Sikhism, the Supreme Being is termed Vahiguru. The figure “1” signifies the universality of God, who is shapeless, timeless, and sightless. Before creation, Sikhs believe, nothing existed except God and “hukam” which is interpreted as God’s will, or order. And when God willed, the cosmos was created. Vahiguru then nurtured “enticement and attachment” to maya, or the human perception of reality.
Guru Nanak Dev said God is not wholly unknowable. He is omnipresent in all creation and visible to the spiritually awakened. Through meditation, Guru Nanak continued, comes communication between God and human beings. Readers may be interested to learn that Nanak taught that there are many worlds on which God has created life.
Sikhi is strict. Followers may neither cut their hair nor shave. Ordinarilly Sikh men wear a lavish turban, and always a beard. Drugs, alcohol, and tobacco are forbidden. We note that some Sikh followers allow the use of cannabis for the purpose of meditation.
In Sikhism, couples maintain a faithful relationship. They must refrain from premarital or extramarital sexual relations. Forbidden are pilgrimages, fasting, circumcision, and grave worship (the practice of a wife throwing herself of the funeral pyre of a dead husband). Animal sacrifice is also forbidden. As a saint-soldier, a Sikh is encouraged to live not as a recluse, beggar, yogi, monk, nun, or celibate. However, obsession with material wealth is discouraged. Gossip, lying, and slander are not permitted. In the words of the Guru Granth Sahib, “Your mouth has not stopped slandering and gossiping about others. Your service is useless and fruitless.”
Mughals, who were Muslims, ruled India in the 17th century. Hindus and Sikhs were humiliated and prevented from conducting their religious practices. Mughals took Hindu and Sikh women as their property, and attempted to force all to accept Islam. The non-Muslims were sometimes killed in this process. But Sikhs have always believed in a right to practice the religion of their choice, and the need to fight against tyranny.
In an interesting albeit grotesque anecdote, Jahangir, the fourth Mughal emperor, was obsessed with the notion of forcing Guru Arjan Dev Ji to practice the Islamic faith. In 1606, still defying the emperor, that Guru was put to death by being boiled in a cauldron and being placed on a hot iron plate.
President Obama has expressed his sympathy to the survivors of the Wisconsin shooting. In the coming days, we expect more details will be forthcoming.