Religious Studies

Sikhism: good and evil

All religions teach the difference between good and evil, but have different beliefs about evil and suffering.

The two types of evil

Religion has a great deal to say about ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Religious leaders and sacred texts all encourage believers to live ‘good’ lives. The problem of evil and suffering is one of the commonest reasons people give for not believing in God.

There are two types of evil:

  • natural evil - suffering caused by events that have nothing to do with humans, and which are to do with the way the world is eg, natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, floods or earthquakes
  • moral (or human) evil - suffering caused by humans acting in a way that is considered morally wrong eg, bullying, murder, rape, theft or terrorism

Human evil and natural evil can often work together, with human evil making natural evil worse - or better! For example, the suffering caused by an earthquake or floods can be made worse by people looting, but it can be made more bearable by people showing compassion and making personal sacrifices to help those who are suffering.

It is important to remember that: 'evil' is a cause of suffering; 'suffering' is a result of evil.

Sikhs believe that suffering is not inflicted directly by God but is permitted by God as a test of courage and faith.

What does Sikhism teach about good and evil?

  • Everything that happens is Hukam, the will of God (Waheguru [Waheguru: A Punjabi term used in Sikhism to refer to God. ]). People should live their lives in obedience to God’s will.
  • God created everything and gave people free will [Free will: The ability to choose for oneself. ].
  • Suffering is not inflicted directly by God but is permitted by God as a test of courage and faith. Suffering is appreciated for the good that it often brings out in humanity eg, compassion. It is a person’s own actions that are responsible for their suffering.
  • There is a divine spark or soul, which is part of God, in everyone. This spark or soul is re-absorbed into God when a person is finally released from the cycle of births and deaths.
  • The soul lives through many different forms of existence before being born into a human body. There are 8,400,000 different forms of life, and many souls have to travel though many of these before they can finally reach God.
  • Only humans know the difference between right and wrong, and can make moral choices. So it is only when the soul is in a human being that the cycle can be broken. Freedom from this cycle of rebirth is called mukti.
  • Good actions do lead to good karma. However, Guru Nanak preached that the birth is due to a person’s karma, but the final liberation (mukti) is due to God’s grace.

There are several things which can stop a soul reaching mukti:

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

Sikhs try to live without these influences and devote their lives to sewa, selfless service to others.

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