Sikh means disciple and the Prophets are called Gurus, which means Teacher. The ﬁrst Guru, Nanak Dev, founded Sikhism in 1469 AD. He endeavored to create a casteless society from the existing four castes of Hindus (the most practiced religion in India at that time): priests - “Brahmin”; warriors – “Khatries”; merchants – “Vaishias”; and menial workers - “Shudras”. Muslim rulers were exploiting Hindus and high-caste Hindus were exploiting low-caste Hindus. Guru Nanak’s ﬁrst sermon delivered in 1499 AD stated: “No one is Hindu or Muslim. All are children of God, so they are equal.” It is your deeds which make you great, not your religion or caste.
Thus Guru Nanak Dev laid the foundation of “Human Rights for All” in 1499 AD. He endeavored to create a casteless society in which there will be mutual coexistence and cooperation because of the universal Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind. There are 10 consecutive Gurus who contributed in different ways to the spiritual, social and idealized behavior formation of the Sikh. The teachings of the Gurus are preserved in the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib.
Principles of Sikhism
In Sikhism, life is not sinful in its origin, but rather emanates from a Pure Source. The True One abides in it. Sikh philosophy, history and character flow from this principle. Sikhs do not believe in the caste system, idol worship, rituals, superstitions, gods and goddesses, karma and reincarnation. Sacrifices, austere living or gifts of money cannot manipulate God. Sikhism does not accept the ideology of pessimism. It advocates optimism and hope.
Sikhism does not believe that mental illnesses are caused by spirit possession or violation of some religious principles and healing done through supernatural powers or rituals. In fact the third Guru made hospitals to treat the sick, the fifth Guru treated lepers and the eighth Guru treated smallpox patients.
Psychology based on Sikhism
Maya is the term used for the temporal world and human attachment to it, called “worldly attachment”. The Sikhs believe that maya is the universe created by God for human beings to enjoy and is real. However, too much attachment to maya is not good. Humans can make choices and if one falls victim to maya, one cannot blame God. While living in this world of maya, we encounter five evils which are Kam, Krodh, Lobh, Moh and Ahnkar, i.e. Lust, Anger, Greediness, Attachment, and Pride. One has to keep these evils under control. One does not have to be a Sikh to accept that these five are in fact evils.
The Guru says that one should live in the world of Maya like lotus flowers in a pond. The lotus lives and takes its nutrition from the pond, but it does not get wet and dirty with mud from the pond.
Haumai, pride, is the term the Gurus use to account for the flaw in human personality. Ego is the interpretation of the word. The Guru says that haumai is a great disease. Acceptance of humility and rejection of pride, ego, haumai are the main principles of Sikhism. Ego affects positive relations with others. It affects the working, social and family life of the individual. Ego-bound individuals get stress and mental health problems when triggered. Learning to control ego by accepting humility as prescribed in Sikhism can directly improve the mental health of the individual. True humility is the recognition of one’s imperfections. The material conception of life enables us to find faults in others by ignoring our own. According to Gurbani (Sikh scripture), humility is a formidable weapon. It can be used to free us from ostentatious, assuming, arrogant, scornful, stubborn and self-justifying behavior.
Persons possessing true humility (Gurmukhs) are full of inner joy. In contrast, proud, ego-oriented people (Manmukh) do not even seem to laugh much. If Manmukhs do laugh, their laughter is phony, shallow and contemptuous. They have anything but inner joy and peace. Thus, true humility is becoming Naam or God-immersed, contented, attaining intuitive understanding, being free of arrogant pride and ego, enjoying inner peace and joy, abiding in truth, performing pious deeds, being liberated, satisﬁed, fulﬁlled, kind, merciful, modest, full of inner beauty and free of sinful mistakes, untouched by sorrows and the pains of material life.
Humility does not mean one should not assert one’s rights. Being a true devotee does not mean to give up rights. Being a humble servant of God does not mean that you let others walk all over you. Humility teaches equality, not manipulation. This is the reason, Gurmukh, a truly humble person is equated to a saint as well as a soldier (Sant-Sipaahee). Thus, without true humility, there can only be manipulation, anxiety and hurt. Most world conﬂicts could be resolved if all world leaders could relinquish ego, haumai, and accept humility to improve the mental health of the world populace.
The Sikhs believe that the prime cause of disease is rooted in the mind. The mind by its very nature is a non-stop thinker and creates a continuous stream of thought patterns, some evil and some pious. These thought patterns are the cause of the disease. Ordinarily the mind functions on two planes, the conscious and the unconscious. But, there is another level, called the “super conscious”, where one becomes a different person after meditation.
Study on transcendental meditation has shown that the electroencephalograph has an increase in alpha-wave activity indicating greater tranquility of mind, decrease in the heart rate, 20% decrease in oxygen consumption, diminished effects of epinephrine and other stress-related hormones and increased skin resistance.
With meditation, clients and psychotherapists have recorded improvements in anxiety, depression and the development of insight. In Sikhism, meditation is not only done to gain control over involuntary vital body functions, but also to gain peace of mind. This can be achieved by combining meditation with spirituality, called spiritual meditation. Spiritual meditation is done on the Naam of the Supreme Teacher, WAHEGURU, to achieve a super-conscious and blissful state in which one ﬁnds oneself close to or one with the God in addition to relaxation of body and mind.
One can meditate at any time, but the best time according to the Guru is in the early ambrosial hours of the morning before sunrise, after a body bath. Personal hygiene has been given great importance by the Gurus. Naam Simran (loving remembrance of God) is the universal religion because the practice of Naam Simran does not require any ritual. It requires a person simply to stabilize his/her mind in the remembrance of the Supreme Soul. Simran does not differentiate between persons on the basis of religion or nationality. Naam Simran is a way of life that is based on correct conduct and moral values and ensures a human being peace of mind in all circumstances. It is spiritual science and moral hygiene that cures the mind of tensions and worries. It rids the soul of the dross and dirt and clears the conscience of evil inﬂuences (vices).
Those people who go beyond meditation into the realm of spirituality report that they sense closeness to God while meditating. Such people have had better health and more rapid recoveries.
Sikh view of mental illness
Though Sikhs are religiously a separate entity, they share many beliefs and practices with the broader South Asian community. Many South Asians believe that mental illness is caused by the evil eye (jado- tuna), possession of demons and evil spirits (bhuta-preta). Many believe that it is a punishment of God for their sins in a previous life and it is their karma. Rituals to please gods by reciting the Holy Scripture, visiting temples, taking a bath in holy rivers, ponds (sarowars) and exorcism are practiced. The mental health professional is contacted only after all these rituals fail. There is a stigma attached to mental illness. Sufferers hide it from the community and even from relatives. They do not talk openly about their problems with the doctor, so they tend to somatize the symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose the condition. Sikhs, like other South Asians, do not believe in talk therapy.
Spirituality in everyday life
Spirituality is not worship or rituals to please God, but deeds and a positive attitude towards the self and others to make life joyful. Happiness does not come from external sources but from within. Being rich does not bring happiness, nor does being poor bring unhappiness. It is the attitude towards money that makes one happy or unhappy. In the same way one’s attitude towards illness brings unhappiness. If one changes one’s attitude towards one’s illness, one will feel happy while being sick. Research has shown that religion and spirituality are important in the recovery process for many who have mental illness. The emotional support spirituality provides is through the comfort it gives, feelings of being cared for, and feelings that one is not alone.