One of the most interesting parallels to be drawn between near-death experiences and the religions of the world can be found in Sikhism. Though relatively recent on the world scene, in this tradition we find many examples of an encounter with Divine light, as well as the accompanying ecstasy. The Sikh faith states quite explicitly this kind of experience not only awaits the person who is about to die, but with proper faith can also be realized in this life.

Sikhism traces its roots to a man named Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikh faith. Nanak was born in 1469 CE (AD) in what is now Pakistan. By early adulthood, Nanak believed himself to have been called by God, and embarked upon a spiritual mission. This included the message that "there is no Hindu here, nor a Muslim," implying that spirituality comes from within, not from labels. He adhered to a monotheistic form of belief, while recognizing the validity of meditation. Nanak's poetry comprises 974 poems which were later included in the Adi Granth, the canonical sacred scripture of the Sikhs.

Following Nanak came a succession of ten gurus, two of which are especially germaine to this study. Guru Arjun (1563-1606) was the 5th in the succession. Arjun built the Golden Temple at Amritsar, which even today is considered to be a central place of worship throughout the Sikh world. He was also the first to start compiling the Adi Granth, and authored the Sukhmani, a collection of highly spiritual poetry and prose which later came to form part of the Adi Granth.

The tenth and final guru of the Sikh tradition was Gobind Singh. Like some of the Sikh gurus before him, Singh was obliged to engage in war with both Hindu and Muslim forces. The Sikhs met with some stunning victories, but were defeated on one occasion due to divisions on the basis of caste within the Sikh ranks. From that point on Guru Singh worked to unite the faithful by "obliterating the differences" between Muslims and Hindus, and the various classes and castes. Singh also instituted external signs of Sikh devotion that have lasted until the present day, namely wearing unshorn hair; a comb for the hair; a steel bracelet signifying the omnipresence of God; a special set of drawers to signify chastity; and a sword, symbolic of resistance to evil.1 Singh re-compiled the last and most recent version of the Adi Granth. However, even though he wrote many highly spiritual works, he never included them as part of the Sikh holy book.

The writings of these gurus give us some of the sharpest parallels with modern NDEs of any of the world's religions. The Sikh tradition makes frequent reference to these kinds of experiences, although often in the context of the attainment of that state of being in this life. Sikhs achieve this state of being through a combination of devotion, meditation, proper actions, and familiarity with the Divine Word.

Sikhs do not consider death to be simply the end of physical existence. Rather, death is separation from God, whether in this physical existence or in the spiritual life to come. By contrast, union with God overcomes death, and is perfect joy -- the ultimate bliss. This can happen either in this life, or following physical death. In fact, if one does not overcome death (i.e., the separation from God), then one will be trapped in an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This cycle is ultimately undesirable, because it means being tied to maya -- to lies and misperceptions -- which necessarily keep one distant from the Divine. By becoming aware of Divine truths, however, such as those taught by Guru Nanak, the tradition tells us that we can realize God and overcome death forever. As Nanak says,

No one can comprehend the Creator, who is beyond human grasp, immeasurable. The soul is deluded by maya, drugged by untruth. Ruined by the demands of greed (such a person) repents eternally, but he who serves the One knows Him, and his cycle of birth and death comes to an end....2




Divine Encounters


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