The Nirgun-Sargun conundrum Part 1 - 2

By Abu Adeeba & Abu 'Abdur-Rahman


Similar to Hinduism, but not entirely the same, Sikhi describes God as Nirgun and Sargun.
Etymologically the suffix 'gun' means 'attributes', 'sar' means 'with (all)' and 'nar' means 'none'.
God is, thus, described as Sargun - a deity with attributes (attributed) - and also Nirgun - an attributeless deity (unattributed).

The Adi Granth states:

Nirankaar aakaar aap nirgun sargun ayk.
He Himself is formless and also formed; the One Lord is without attributes and also with attributes.
(Guru Arjan Dev pg.250)

Aap akaar aap nirankaar
He Himself is formed, and He Himself is formless.

(Guru Arjan Dev, pg.863)

Raaj joban prabh thoon dhhanee, thoon niragun thoon saragunee

O God, You are my power, authority and youth. You are absolute, without attributes, and also related, with the most sublime attributes.
(Guru Arjan Dev, pg.211)

The above is confirmed and agreed upon by the following authors:

In the Sikh Scripture, the concept of the supreme reality is not only dynamic and reverberating but many pluralities such as nirguna-saguna and transcendent immanent are subsumed in it. He is nirguna or without attributes. Yet He is saguna or with attributes, too, because in the manifested state all attributes are His.

With this urge, from apparent nothingness, the Formless assumes form, "The unattributed becomes the Attributed - nirgun te sargunu thia" (GG, 940) and thus this world of a myriad colours takes shape. [bold ours][1]


God is manifest in its creation and has 2 forms Nirgun (without attributes) and Sargun (with attributes). Having created this creation, God is manifest within it in all forms and at the same time is at a distance in its formless form. [bold ours][2]

However, the Nirgun-Sargun duality, respectively, is often rendered and interpreted by various oft-repeated descriptive terms, such as: transcendent-immanent or absolute-personal or formless-manifest: 

As per Gurbani our soul is the part of the Nirgun form of God, while our body is the part of the Sargun form of God. Clearly, God is both the forms resides within us. Our body is the temple of Lord. [bold ours][3]

God is described as both nirgun, or absolute, and sargun, or personal There was only the Formless One Himself; creation was not then-When God became sargun or manifest, he became what is called the Name, and in order to realize Himself He made nature where in He has His seat and is diffused everywhere and in all direction in the form of love. [bold ours][4]

God is both Transcendent and Immanent does not mean that these are two phases of God one following the other. God is One, and He is both nirguna and sarguna. "Nirguna sargunu hari hari mera, (God, my God is both with and without attributes)," sang Guru Arjan (GG, 98). Guru Amar Das also had said, "Nirguna sarguna ape soi (He Himself is with as well as without attributes)" (GG, 128). Transcendence and Immanence are two aspects of the same Supreme Reality.
In the teaching of Sikhism God is conceived as being without form (nirankar/nirakar)-All existence is God's visible form, but no part of it is a substitute for God. God is also Nirguna (unattributed) as said earlier.

It was the One and the Only God, the Lord of Universes who was at once transcendent (nirguna) and immanent (saguna). Although immanent in His Creation He was yet apart from it, being its Creator.

Sikhism does recognize the traditional categories of transcendent and immanent as also of nirguna (without attributes) and saguna (with attributes, sarguna in Punjabi), pertaining to God, but not the Sankarite distinction between higher and lower Brahman. The emphasis here is on the unicity of Ultimate Reality, the "1 Onkar". The term Parbrahma (Sankara's Para Brahman) appears frequently in the Sikh Scripture but Aparbrahma or Apara Brahman never.  For the Sikhs the same Absolute is both nirguna and sarguna (GG, 98, 128, 250, 287, 290, 862). The nirguna Brahman manifests himself as sarguna Brahman, in relation to His attributes. [bold ours][5]

An emphasis has been given to these terms in order to show a general acceptance of interpretation within the academic circles that God prior to creation was Nirgun (attributeless, formless, transcendent), but upon creating became Sargun (attributed, personal, immanent, diffused in creation, manifest) although it is stressed that He is still ONE (ik onkar); as Nirgun as well as Sargun.


[1] CONCEPTS IN SIKHISM, Cognitive Psychology-Mind Map Approach To Understanding Sikhism For the Second Generation Sikh Children
Compiled and Edited by
 Dr. J. S. Mann, M.D. & Dr. S. S. Sodhi, Ph.D.
[3] Ibid.
[5] CONCEPTS IN SIKHISM, Cognitive Psychology-Mind Map Approach To Understanding Sikhism For the Second Generation Sikh Children
Compiled and Edited by
 Dr. J. S. Mann, M.D. & Dr. S. S. Sodhi, Ph.


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