Continuing the series of articles on Sikh views on ethical finance

Hard Work and Sharing One’s Wealth


The reputation that Sikhs have gained within India and throughout the Diaspora of being successful businessmen, industrialists and entrepreneurs can be explained by the commitment to the twin ethical principles of kirat karna and wand kay chhakna:

  1. Kirat Karna – earning an honest living through hard work;
  2. Wand Kay Chhakna –  sharing one’s wealth for the benefit of society and for building an inclusive community life.

Hard Work – Kirat Karna

For a Sikh, doing good is an implicit and desirable outcome of wealth creation. The pursuit of excessive profits is not the aim, nor is making money for the sake of it. As such, investing in stocks and shares may not appeal to many Sikhs.

In early Sikh history, the Gurus encouraged the creation of wealth by establishing new townships in the Punjab. They invited traders, artisans, craftsmen and shopkeepers to these new towns, and as a result of this strategy, a number of these towns emerged as flourishing trade centres. However, although the Sikh Gurus encouraged the creation of wealth, they categorically rejected unethical or immoral means of accumulating it.

Gambling is forbidden by the Rehat as it is seen to contravene the principle of kirat karna. Consequently, many Sikhs might interpret ‘playing the stock market’ for short term gains as a form of gambling. Given the principle of responsible investing, however, Sikh investors might be more open to long term/sustainable outcomes from their investments .

Sharing One’s Wealth – Wand Kay Chhakna

When it comes to sharing one’s wealth, Sikhs believe in the concept of Daswandh tithe, or the sharing of 10% of one’s income for charitable or religious purposes.

Philanthropy and charitable donations are an integral part of the Sikh tradition.  It is the way in which Sikhs ensure the upkeep of their places of worship (gurdwara), supporting the religious and cultural activities provided by the gurdwaras and ensuring a daily langar (the community kitchen).

Gurdwaras are built by way of voluntary donations as the centres of religious and cultural activities, actively nurturing ethical values amongst young Sikh children and promoting inter-faith dialogue and understanding. There are over 200 Gurdwaras  in the UK which have been built through such voluntary donations. Charitable giving also supports educational and health care projects within and outside of Sikh communities.

Although there is emphasis on daswandh, Sikhs are encouraged to combine financial contribution with volunteering their time, talent and energy. This is the concept of sewa –  unconditional, selfless service without expectations of reward or approbation to the community (sadh sangat).  Practical expressions of this could be supporting activities in the gurdwara such as helping prepare or serve the langar,  and volunteering time or expertise in community projects.

The rationale for combining sewa and daswandh is simple. It reinforces the faith’s emphasis on social awareness and the societal outcomes of an individual’s active participation in the community.  It reminds Sikhs that their faith was founded in the 16th Century during a period of grave social injustice in India due to the caste system and gender inequality, and in a time of political tyranny and religious persecution under the Mughal empire. The message is that Sikhs, led by their Gurus and at terrible cost to themselves, were fighting for social justice, equality and religious tolerance; and that legacy has to be cherished, sustained and passed on.

The langar, which is open to everyone irrespective of faith, colour or creed, represents the concept of brotherhood, equality and humility, and a humanitarian, compassionate attitude to one’s actions in life. Sewa is a way of ensuring equality and social reform and inclusive access to education, health or commerce for all members of the community.