Sikhism: is it monotheistic or monistic?

In relation to Sikhism and its teaching about God/the Supreme Being/Ultimate Reality, etc., the content of Frank’s email touches on a matter of profound and central importance: is Sikhism monotheistic or is it monistic? We can say with certainty it is neither polytheistic nor dualistic, but is it really monotheistic? I used to think it was, then I read around the subject some more and listened to informed Sikhs, and now I incline toward the view that the religion may actually be monistic.

Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

In monotheism there is the idea, in most understandings of the term at least, that God, etc. exists somewhere out there, far away, an entity separate from its creation (if God created at all, that is). But the concept of monism implies God is not only close to all and every thing all the time, but is an integral part of all and every thing that exists. Think of it like this, if you wish: a bit of God exists in all things, sentient or otherwise. This is an idea that cannot readily be accommodated in monotheism because, if a bit of God is in every thing, this would, if nothing else, compromise the concept of God’s indivisibility, so central to most interpretations of monotheism – although some allege that the Christian concept of the trinity compromises that sense of indivisibility, despite Christians insisting they are monotheistic. Moreover, as a general rule monotheists have the rather cute idea that God is only ever good, but, if a bit of God existed in something or someone manifestly bad/evil/immoral/unethical, people might therefore assume that at least bits of God are other than good.

To explain the idea a little differently, in monism everything is God/a part of God and God is never absent from a single thing that exists within the universe, sentient or otherwise. When Hindus greet each other with the word “Namaste” – often translated into English as “May that in me which is God greet that of you which is God” – the idea of monism is made accessible/explicit in everyday speech.

Mind you: I am only a waster and a non-Sikh, so am ill-equipped to speak about these matters with authority. Moreover, some translations into English of the Mool Mantra imply that there are many parallels between the Sikh concept of God and the concept of God subscribed to by monotheistic Jews and Muslims, and such translations also have parallels with how Christians conceive of God the father, a third of the trinity. But the Mool Mantra is not the only attempt in Sikh scripture/literature to engage with the concept of the divine, is it?

Now: if some of what I say is correct about Sikhism (no matter what term we apply to the Sikh belief about God), we may have identified yet more reasons why Sikhs will be “distrusted” by Muslims.

Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

P.S. Quotes from the Guru Granth Sahib sent to me by Sikhs are sometimes supportive of monism and sometimes supportive of monotheism. Some even imply monism and monotheism at the same time! Does this exercise simply confirm that scripture can never be other than ambiguous and inconclusive? Perhaps someone will soon provide us with a definitive interpretation of God/the Supreme Being/Ultimate Reality in Sikhism. For the moment I continue to incline toward monism.


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