Sikh Missionary Society
Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Charity No: 262404
Sikhism & Bioethical
SEEKING GURBANI GUIDANCE
(Partly based on articles by of Dr I J Singh (New York) and Dr. G S
(Note: Following retirement in June 1996, I worked with The Sikh
Missionary Society UK for a few years. Due to rapid advances in science
in areas such as genetic engineering and cloning etc Sikh views were
sought on such issues by those in interfaith, educational, research and
media fields. On 12 June 2001, I wrote to Dr I J Singh, New York, about
the need to develop a Sikh view about bioethical issues. The following
thoughts were sent to him, and later produced as an article.)
Gurmatt based framework for reaching decisions on bioethical and other
21st Century issues
In discussing religio-social issues, and dilemmas and problems facing
today’s society led by the rapid advances in science and technology,
two basic rules of Gurbani teachings would seem to be relevant:
(1) Human life is at the apex of life on earth. It is an important
phase in the evolution of a human being towards complete God-centred
(2) Family life and the institution of marriage are central to Sikh
teachings which stress man/woman complementary roles in a spirit of
equality. Sikhism does not accept monasticism or any type of “opt-out”
way of life.
The emphasis of Gurmatt (Guru’s guidance) is not on the laying down of
highly precise and rigid rules of how man might utilise his God-given
knowledge; the essence of Sikh teachings is to provide man with a
healthy, progressive and responsible philosophy for addressing modern
issues. It provides a framework and not definitive answers for the
(Derived mainly from Dr I J Singh’s essays)
1) Not all actions can be universally condemned in all situations at
2) Instead of providing fixed unchanging answers to changing problems,
Sikhism provides an unchanging process based on moral framework in
which one can devise moral and ethical criteria by which an ethical
dilemma can be negotiated.
3) Inherent in Sikh teachings is the principle that all rights come
with responsibilities and no actions are free of accountability.
4) Before committing to an action, a human being must delve into his or
her essential being. “Recognise the divine spark within you”, says
Sikhism. (“Mann toon Jote Saroop hain apna mool pacchaan.”)
5) The divine spark is discovered and nurtured by love, by service to
the community and by recognition of the same spark in all of us.
6) In the process of self-realisation, the sangat, a congregation of
similarly dedicated people becomes critically important. God and Guru
pervade such a congregation.
7) The discerning intellect that Sikhism asks of its followers is far
from perfect, but grows only by use, prayer and grace. In this role the
Sikh community, the sangat becomes paramount. Individual lives exist as
biosocial contracts within the historical framework of a community.
8) The decision making process does not occur in isolation and the
individual choices are ratified by the sangat (congregation).
From what has been said so far, one may conclude that Gurmatt based
decisions regarding bioethical and other issues should be made
intelligently (i.e. in the light of all the research and information
that is available), ethically and collectively in any given situation.
The mental/spiritual mode required is that of complete humility,
complete harmonisation with the Will of the Creator, sense of service
to all creation and a highly responsible attitude towards human values
and the progress of human institutions (e.g. the institution of family
The ethical objectivity of knowledge must never be lost. The objective
of human progress is to improve the quality of life so that it becomes
God-centred and not self-centred. Research in the spiritual and
temporal fields, is encouraged by Sikhi. The pre-condition is that it
must be guided by Gurmatt as continually interpreted by Gursikh
scholars, and applied accordingly. We must not start tinkering with the
building blocks of life without taking full responsibility and seeking
the Guru’s guidance.
With such a decision making framework in which science and enlightened
religious thought work together (convergence of science and religion),
one can turn to the specific questions.
Let us take genetic engineering as an example. According to Gurmatt,
the main purpose of life is to achieve a harmonious relationship with
the Supreme Soul (Param-atma) during this life. Pursuit of worldly
power, comfort and pleasure, and attachment can lead one astray from
the path of Gurmatt. In fact, pain is prescribed as a “medicine” (“dukh
daaroo”) when the human mind loses direction due to single-minded
pursuit of worldly achievements. However, in Sikhi physical pain or
suffering is not a pre-condition to becoming a God-centred being.
Science should be used to provide relief from such pain, although,
Sikhi would not recommend the ending of life (euthanasia) as a means to
ending physical or mental pain. This is a topic which needs to be
developed further in the context of euthanasia.
Use of genetic engineering in non-human life forms may produce “better”
vegetation and animals (from the human view point). It may be argued
that the main purpose of these life forms is to sustain life itself
(“Jian ka ahaar jee khana”) and is not the same as human life.
Presumably, the Sikh religious criteria for genetic engineering of
non-human and human life forms would be based on different
One is reminded of the word “mann” in Gurbani which is self awareness
in time/space but which is also the light of God in man (“Mann toon
jote Saroop hain”). This would seem to be a uniquely human faculty,
which distinguishes man from all other life forms. In relation to
genetic engineering this theme needs further Gurmatt research. Sikhs
are not forbidden from eating meat but would Gurmatt allow the use of
animals in scientific experimentation? A very cautious and conditional
“yes” may be the response. The same would apply to human volunteers.
A balanced human family life is essential for achieving the human
life’s goal. To achieve this objective, the same person needs to play
many roles and needs many different skills to develop a full and
balanced personality: marriage partner (including the sexual aspect),
parent, roles in different relationships, thinker, writer, craftsman,
saint, soldier etc. Responsible genetic engineering will need to take
account of all these considerations. For example, to produce super
unbalanced beings in test tubes would be totally unethical. Generally,
Sikhism’s response to human cloning for the purpose of producing
“carbon copy” human beings would be in the negative. On the other hand
providing cure from disease and enhancing the quality of life would
accord with Sikhi.
To conclude with a quotation from Dr I J Singh:
“The discerning intellect that Sikhism asks of its followers is far
from perfect, but grows only by use, prayer and grace. In this role the
Sikh community, the sangat becomes paramount, the process does not
occur in isolation......individual lives exist as biosocial contracts
within the historical framework of a community.” (“The Sikh Way: A
Pilgrim’s Progress” p. 25)
Man needs to be aware of own imperfections and proceed with great
caution, and continuous and continual vigilance when applying science
and technology to the alteration of own hereditary characteristics
evolved over millions of years by nature. He must proceed in humility
and prayer and be prepared to take full personal and collective social
responsibility for the consequences of genetic engineering and similar
advances in science.
Please acknowledge quotations from this article
Articles may be published subject to prior approval by the author
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