Religious Studies

Sikhism: beliefs about life after death

Death is the one thing in life we can be sure about and that is why religions have beliefs about what it means! Everything else ‘might’ happen to us: we might get married, be rich, be happy, have children, open our own business or travel the world, but the only real certainty is that we will die.

Faith and death

It is not surprising that people have always asked questions about what, if anything, happens after they die.

Although some people claim to have had ‘near-death experiences’ (NDEs), and others claim to be able to talk to the dead, or to have seen ghosts, there is no scientific proof that such experiences actually provide a glimpse into a possible afterlife. It is possible, therefore, that when people die, they simply stop living and that there is nothing beyond this life.

Ideas about what happens after death, and its connection with how life is lived on earth, is a fundamental part of all religions. The details may differ between religions, but belief in an afterlife almost always:

  • helps people to make sense of life, particularly when life seems unfair or at times of suffering (their own, and others people’s)
  • gives support and comfort at times of loss and bereavement
  • provides a purpose to life

Sikhism and death

Sikhs believe in reincarnation. This means that a person’s soul may be reborn many times as a human or an animal. Therefore, for Sikhs, death is not the end. The Sikh sacred text, the Guru Granth Sahib, says that the body is just clothing for the soul and is discarded at death.

Sikhs believe that everything that happens is Hukam – the will of Waheguru (God).

There is a divine spark which is part of Waheguru in each person and this spark or soul is taken back to join Waheguru when a person is finally released from the cycle of rebirth. Sikhs believe that there are 8,400,000 forms of life and that many souls have to travel though a number of these before they can reach Waheguru. When something dies their soul is reborn. Only humans know the difference between right and wrong and so it is only when the soul is in a human being that there is a chance of the cycle being broken.

Sikhs believe in karma. This belief says that actions and the consequences of these actions decide whether a soul can be set loose from the cycle. Freedom from the cycle of rebirth is called mukti.

These things can stop a soul reaching mukti:

  • hankar - pride
  • kam - lust or desire
  • karodh - anger
  • lobh - greed
  • manmukh - being self-centred instead of God-centred which is Gurmukh
  • maya - illusion - looking at the world and ignoring Waheguru
  • moh – being too attached to the world

Someone who manages to live without these influences will devote their life to sewa - selfless service to others. To avoid these dangers Sikhs try to follow rules of conduct:

  • there is only one God – Waheguru
  • worship and pray to Waheguru alone, and remember Waheguru at all times
  • always work hard, and share with others
  • live a truthful life
  • remember that men and women are equal in the eyes of Waheguru
  • the whole human race is one - distinctions of caste, colour and class are wrong
  • idols, magic, omens, fasts, marks on the face and sacred threads are banned
  • dress simply and modestly
  • Sikh women should not wear the veil
  • neither women nor men should make holes in their ears and noses
  • live a married life
  • put your faith in the Guru Granth Sahib
  • avoid lust, anger, greed, attachment to worldly things and arrogance
  • live a humble and simple life

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