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Sikhism founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and nine successive gurus in fifteenth century Northern India, is the fifth-largest religion in the world. This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (literally the counsel of the gurus) or the Sikh Dharma. Sikhism originated from the word Sikh, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit root sisya meaning "disciple" or "learner", or siksa meaning "instruction."

The principal belief of Sikhism is faith in Vahiguru - represented using the sacred symbol of ek oa?kar, the Universal God. Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. A key distinctive feature of Sikhism is a non-anthropomorphic concept of God, to the extent that one can interpret God as the Universe itself. The followers of Sikhism are ordained to follow the teachings of the ten Sikh gurus, or enlightened leaders, as well as the holy scripture entitled the Guru Granth Sahib, which includes selected works of many philosophers from diverse socio-economic and religious backgrounds. The text was decreed by Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, as the final guru of the Khalsa Panth. Sikhism's traditions and teachings are distinctively associated with the history, society and culture of the Punjab. Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs (students or disciples) and number over 23 million across the world. Most Sikhs live in the state of Punjab in India and, prior to the country's partition, millions of Sikhs lived in what is now the Punjab province of Pakistan.

Philosophy and Teachings

Sikh religious philosophy has roots in the religious traditions of northern India. The Sant Mat traditions are fundamental to the teachings of Sikhism's founder, Nanak. Especially important to the connection with Sikhism were the teachings of some of the saints such as Ravidas and Kabir. Sikhism is also inspired by the emphasis on devotion to God in the traditions of Vaishnavism, especially through the Bhakti movement, as well as influences of Sufism. However, Nanak's teachings diverge significantly from Vaishnavism in their rejection of idol worship, the doctrine of divine incarnations and a strict emphasis on inward devotion; Sikhism is professed to be a more difficult personal pursuit than Bhakti.The evolution of Nanak's thoughts on the basis of his own experiences and study have also given Sikhism a distinctly unique feature.

God

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion. In Sikhism, God-termed Vahiguru-is formless, eternal, and unobserved: nirankar, akal, and alakh. The beginning of the first composition of Sikh scripture is the figure "1"- signifying the universality of God. It states that God is omnipresent and infinite, and is signified by the term ek oankar. Sikhs believe that prior to creation, all that existed was God and his hukam (will or order). When God willed, the entire cosmos was created. From these beginnings, God nurtured "enticement and attachment" to maya, or the human perception of reality.

While a full understanding of God is beyond human beings, Nanak described God as not wholly unknowable. God is omnipresent (sarav viapak) in all creation and visible everywhere to the spiritually awakened. Nanak stressed that God must be seen from "the inward eye", or the "heart", of a human being: devotees must meditate to progress towards enlightenment. Nanak emphasized the revelation through meditation, as its rigorous application permits the existence of communication between God and human beings. God has no gender in Sikhism, though translations may incorrectly present a masculine God. In addition, Nanak wrote that there are many worlds on which God has created life.

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