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ARC Home > Faiths and Ecology > Sikhism > Sikh Theology of Food :

Sikh Theology of Food

Whatever one plants in the farm of the body, that will appear before him in the end
Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) 1417

Food as a Divine gift

Ravneet Pal Singh and Bandana Kaur



Food is part of the spiritual life of every Sikh, and is commonly referred to as rijak, divine sustenance, or giras, nourishment. According to Sikh thought, after creating the Creation, the Divine continuously nourishes it and sustains it through breath and food. As the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das writes: ‘The Creator created the creation; the Creator gazes upon it, and blesses it with breath and nourishment’ (SGGS, 1055).

The Gurus remind us that constant nourishment by the Creator enables us to maintain a healthy mind and body, which we treat as a temple for the Divine. A person who is spiritually eats according to need, avoiding overindulgence.

The Gurus laid great emphasis on the state of mind with which we accept the blessings of this world, living in harmony with the Divine, as seen in this verse:

‘While laughing, playing, dressing, and eating, one is liberated (SGGS, 522).

They remind us that even in the normal activities of our lives, we can attain union with the Divinity contained in one’s own self. It is through eating as well as drinking, playing, and laughing, that we achieve union with our Inner Master, the highest power contained in all. 

During the time of the Sikh Gurus, who lived and taught between 1469 and 1708, Sikhs who lived in rural areas often specialised in agriculture and artisanship, while those living in towns and cities excelled in trade and commerce. For all kinds of work, the Sikh Gurus narrated three basic principles to daily living:

Blessing the meal (photo by Gurumustuk Singh, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)
Naam Japna living consciously with the Divine

Kirt Karna ethical and honest work

Vand Chakna sharing one’s earnings with others.

So central are the ideas of ethical living and honest work that all the ten Gurus tried to exemplify them throughout their lives. Today, Sikh children are taught that the best food is that which is made with pure intention.

 

Food production

The Gurus used the language of the people to communicate how to live a harmonious life in this world. While speaking to farmers, the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan, used the metaphor of cultivating land with one’s own hands to describe union with the Beloved:

  By Your Command, the month of Saawan (monsoon season) has come.
I have hooked up the plough of Truth, and I plant the seed of the Name in hope that the Lord, in His Generosity, will bestow a bountiful harvest.

SGGS, 73

Guru Nanak further uses the metaphor of cultivation to describe how one should farm the mine-field of this world:

Make love the farm, purity the water, truth and contentment the cows and bulls; humility the plow, consciousness the plowman, remembrance the preparation of the soil, and union with the Divine the planting time.
SGGS, 955

According to the Sikh Gurus, righteous living in honest labour, with one’s mind attuned to the Divine, will render a bountiful harvest.

While intensive farming has come under greater scrutiny in recent years, through the heavy use of genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and farm machinery, Sikh thoughts continue to encourage us to marvel, and be in awe of and to live in harmony with Creation, for it is only the Divine that knows the true nature of the created Universe.

As the first Guru, Guru Nanak says: ‘Nature is created by the Will of the Divine. The Divine knows best and having created everything complete. The Divine has left no process incomplete.’ The Sikh Gurus remind us that humans are unique, yet we do not have the right to exploit nature. Since the Earth is created by the Divine, everything has the right to live, exist and flourish. To destroy or exploit Creation would be tantamount to exploiting or disrespecting the Creator.

The Langar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar feeds around 65,000 people a day.
Langar: A food system based on compassion

  One of the most important traditions in Sikhism is Guru Ka Langar, the community kitchen. In every gurdwara, or temple, there is a kitchen, open to all regardless of caste, creed, gender, social standing or need. The tradition was not intended to be a symbolic gesture of charity, but to fully involve all who came to the gurdwara in the cultivation and provision of food.

In the times of the Sikh Gurus (from the late 15th to early 18th centuries), all who sought the Guru’s guidance would first receive a lesson in the oneness of humanity, through sitting together on the ground enjoying basic meal with others. This sharing of food would embody the two traditions of sangat (the ennobling influence of people who meet in a shared aspiration toward truthful living) and pangat (the family of humanity, sitting together and serving one another). In doing this, the Sikh Gurus placed more importance on our common humanity than the barriers of caste, creed, class, age, gender or any other divisions that come between people.

Soon, farmers became accustomed to bringing the first crop from their fields – whether wheat or fruit – to their nearby gurdwara. Hence the supply of food was bountiful.

In Punjab and many parts of South Asia today, langar is offered daily in nearly all gurdwaras. Every day around 65,000 people come to eat at Darbar Sahib, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar. In order to make the food acceptable and delicious to the widest possible number of people langar is traditionally vegetarian.

Today langar kitchens are looking at issues such as composting, waste disposal, and using biofuel or solar energy instead of wood, so they do not produce unnecessary waste. 

A page from 'We Have Only This Planet To Live With'
Helpful resources

EcoSikh

The EcoSikh website has many useful resources and much information, including a more detailed document on Environmental Theology in Sikhism

Tavleen Foundation

Based in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India, the Tavleen Foundation produces inspirational aids and information for Sikhs, including an environmental booklet 'We Have Only This Planet To Live With'

. The booklet has a useful page about food which compares the number of people that one 2.5 acre field can feed depending on what the land is used for. If potatoes are grown then it will produce enough to meet the food energy needs of 22 people, but if it used for beef then only 1 persons food energy needs will be met. It will also take 441 gallons of water to produce each pound of beef.


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Related information

Sikh Faith Statement
A formal statement of Sikh beliefs about creation and ecology: "The name “Sikh” means disciple or learner of the Truth."
October 22 2013:
Four years of Sikh environmentalism caught on film
A short film from international environmental organisation EcoSikh charts their amazing progress since starting out in 2009.
Amritsar and the Green Pilgrimage Network
Information about the sacred site of Amritsar and the ways in which the religious and civil authorities are collaborating to make it a green pilgrimage destination.