The main problem of man has been that of adjustment: with nature, with society and with its own self. The dialectic of life is such that in this process of adjustment the unititve experience of undifferentiated immediacy with nature develops a dichotomy with itself. The self feels alienated from non-self; man is separated from nature and the individual from society. This dichotomy generates certain polarities in the realm of nature (the natural vs. the supernatural) as also in the domain of society (the permissible vs. the non-permissible conduct). Religion in its nomizing activity, that is, in its role of ordering social reality, effects legitimation of the polarity of social life through the polarity of the natural and the supernatural.
What is permissible in social value pattern is seen as sanctioned by and grounded in the supernatural, the transcendental. This legitimation is done not only on the conceptual level but more significantly on what is termed as the activational level of religion which constitutes the matrix of ritual. In other words, ritualization plays an important role in nomizing process of religion at an empirical level.
Religious rituals by relating the empirical to the transcendental (deemed as the sacred) performs a significant sociological function in creating the value-pattern of society: equally important role is played by ritual in preserving the value-pattern and “re-affirming” social values. Through ritual an individual gets a “storehouse of adjustive responses”; he unconsciously tends to conform to the social norms and codes through what are known as “rites of passage”. In case of violation, the individual is re-united to the social order by observing expiatory rituals. Ritual provides, to an individual, a frame of reference wherein he overcomes his feeling of anomy and alienation and realizes unity or communion with the Other: the cosmic order (rta); immanent Being (Brahman), transcendental Spirit (God), as well as their surrogates at the societal level – Dharma, King, Church, etc.
But ritual has a dialectical nature. While bridging the outer gulf between the self and the other, it creates an inner dichotomy within the self whereby one part comes to be seen as the sacred as against the other which is unreal and profane.
So far as the Sikh religion is concerned, the question of the theological significance of sacrament and ritual is intertwined with its sociological function, for the reason that Sikhism is essentially a revolutionary Prophetic religion striving for a new social and statal order.
Before projecting the Sikh viewpoint it would be worthwhile to draw a distinction between ritual and sacrament. Sacrament is a kind of ritual. While the sociological function of sacrament is similar to that of ritual, the former has certain characteristics and elements not shared by the latter. For example, in sacrament, the participant undergoes a process of inner change, of regeneration seen as bestowal of grace in the holy communion with the Divine Personality who enters into a covenanted relationship with the recipient of the sacramental food; the bond so established is symbolized by investiture, insignia and signs.
Looked at from this angle the initiation ceremony of khande-da-amrit (whereby a Sikh is admitted to the Order of the Khalsa) is of the nature of sacrament and not ritual in the ordinary sense of the term. As we shall see later the other Sikh ceremonies are also non-ritualistic in content and import. Sikhism rejects rituals (ceremonalia as possessive of intrinsic potency latent in the form or the accompanying formula), ritualism (as a way to God) and ritualization (nomization through the mechanism of ritual). The reasons for this total rejection are metaphysical, theological and sociological.
The Sikh viewpoint can be best understood in relation to the Hindu thought and ethos, which constitute the background in which Sikhism arose. The Hindu conception of ritual has at its core the Vedic notion of rta as the all-embracing cosmic universal Order, to which even the gods are subjects and subservient. In its essence the Vedic rta is a logical order of causation in which the effect emerges from the cause with logical necessity and inevitability. What is rta at the cosmic level is rite at societal level, seen as Dharma, which keeps the society in order and maintains the social nomos, just as rta is the principle that keeps the cosmos in order. As such observance of ritual is compliance with Dharma, which in turn is identification with the cosmic Order.
Through the idea of satya the Vedic notion of rta and rite is correlated to the Vedantic conception of Brahman. satya is the principle of self-sameness of being in all times. The Vedic rta is satya, being a cosmic Order invariable and self – same in all times. So is the Vedantic Brahman. Accordingly, rta comes to be seen as manifestation of Brahman. As Vedic rite is grounded in rta , so performance of ritual is not only identification with the cosmic Order but also realization of the Absolute (Brahman). Hence, the Hindu conception of ritualism (karam kand) as a way to God.
Now satya is a category of spatial time – time deemed as space – like homogenous continuum in which a thing maintains its self – sameness at all-points. The spatial notion of time involved in the concept of Brahman (satya) makes it an immanent Being and not a transcendental Spirit. As it is only in the case of transcendental Spirit, as a personal God, that there arises the question of communion, so the conception of Vedantic Brahman admits of no personal relationship of communion; all that is possible is an impersonal relation of identity (tat tvam asi) in the manner in which a drop of water has an identity of essence with ocean.
What is, then, sought is the aboriginal state of undifferentiated immediacy (as an object) with Brahman present in nature and not a relation of communion (as a subject) with God, descending into Time, History and Society. This state of undifferentiated immediacy is realized by true knowledge (gian marg) that there is a priori identity between the self (atman) and Brahman – the two constituting an indivisible unity. The existential separativeness is as such just an illusion (maya). Where the existential separativeness is considered reality real, the desired identity with Brahman is realizable through Bhakti or karam kand (ritualism, that is, ritualistically performed duties and action).
Sikhism does not accept the postulates of the Hindu view of ritual; the notion of rta ; the nature of the Absolute as Immanent Being; the ideal of undifferentiated immediacy with Brahman. The Sikh religion envisages God as transcendental Being having determinate, personal relationship with man (The concept of akal in the Sikh Mul Mantra refers to the time – transcendence of God and not to eternity such as is characteristic of the Vedantic Brahman).
The aim and ideal of life as such turns out to be a relation of communion with the Divine and not that of undifferentiated immediacy. The way to communion is the testament of the Divine Word (Sabda) and the sacrament of the nectar (“khande-da-amrit”). The testament of the sabda and the sacrament of the amrit are not two different ways; these are rather two aspects of one and the same thing. Partaking of the amrit is realizing the sabda in a sacramental form.
The sabda alone is (the essence of) the nectar,
Realizable through the Divine grace. (SGGS, p.644)
The idea of grace (Gur Prasad), which is a distinguishing feature of sacrament as against ritual, is stressed in the Mul Mantra itself. The grace of God rules out the raison d’etre of propitiatory as well as expiatory rituals.
In place of the Vedic concept of rta as the “logical” cosmic order, Guru Nanak has proclaimed the idea of hukam as the teleological Order operative in the cosmos. Accordingly, the expression, Dharma comes to have a different connotation in Sikhism. Dharma no longer means a ritualistic performance of the pre-given duty for its own sake, on the assumption that the due effect would follow with logical necessity: it rather means pursuing ethically determined aims and ideals. In other words, Dharma is not a system of rites but an ethical code of life.
The Divine Being, being directly realizable in and through the sabda, there remains no need of meditation of ritualism (karam khand) which is seen as irrelevant and shallow.
It is in the sabda
that the Absolute becomes the determinate Being,
It is in sabda that
the communion is realized. 
Guru Arjan says:
“Ritualistic performances are useless,
Leading man to egoistic illusion and not to reality.” 
As mentioned above ritualization has been a traditional technique in the nomizing activity of religion. What is socially permissible is termed as the sacred and what is considered sacred is ritualized. But soon the reverse process also comes into being. Whatever is ritualized is ipso facto considered sacred. This is how ritualized moral code and social norms become absolutized by the mechanism of ritual, which as such serves to conserve the given value-pattern of society.
With a view to making its assault on the old system effective in the context of the given Hindu ethos, Guru Nanak made a concentrated attack on the value-conserving potency and absolutising tendency of ritual. He de-sacradlized what was held ritualistically sacred, adding that what is considered profane (and hence subject to purificatory rites) may not be so at all. Referring to the belief that the impurity and profanity, supposedly attaching to a woman who has given birth to a child, is removed only after certain purificatory rites involving sacrificial fire and coating of the place around the hearth with cow dung, Guru Nanak questions the very efficacy of the ritual: If impurity and profanity arises out of child-birth, then, how could cow dung and wood remove the same in purificatory rites when numerous organisms are continually rising and dying in the ritual material itself (cow dung and wood). Elsewhere Guru Nanak says that all profanity is illusion born of a dualistic approach ( the sacred vs. the profane; the noumenal vs. the phenomenal). Guru Nanak here is rejecting the very polarity of the sacred and the profane and the concomitant nomic differentiation of social reality effected and fortified by religious ritual.
But there arises a paradox. If Sikhism was merely a religion of mysticism, it would have rested content by just debunking the old norms and values and the attendant rituals. But Sikhism was envisioned by its founder as a Prophetic religion ushering in a new commonwealth of God on earth; it reveals an inherent tendency towards institutionalization in the form of a Church as well as a State. In other words, Sikhism is not a mystical but a nomizing religion. Religion has traditionally employed ritual in its nomizing role. Having rejected, ritual, ritualism, and ritualization, how would Sikhism perform its nomizing function? What is the substitute mechanism? The ritual based polarity of the sacred and the profane is subject in the notion of the holy. The nomizing Sikh ceremonies (Child-naming, “Anand” Marriage, Initiation) are of the nature of the holy sacrament sanctified by the testament of sabda.
The chief Sikh sacrament is that of khande-da-amrit. This ceremony has all the ingredients of a sacrament. The holy nectar, administered at the ceremony, whereby a Sikh is knighted into the Order of the Khalsa is essentially an act of grace by the Divine Being towards man; it is not the result of the human effort like the one involved in the mythical churning of the ocean:
The nectar sought by the gods, sages and men
was atleast received by the grace of the Guru (GOD). 
On the Baisakhi day of the year 1699 at Anandpur Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh, addressing the congregation with a sword in hand, asked for a disciple who could sacrifice his head then and there. One devotee stood up; he was taken to an adjoining enclosure by the Guru who returned to the gathering with a blood-soaked sword and asked for and got four more disciples with their offer of heads. The sacramental significance of the event lies not in its facticity but in the resurrection of the ‘Five Beloved Ones’, who after partaking of the amrit were re-born into a newly created Order of the Khalsa. That the amrit is administered to a Sikh by five Singhs qua the Five Beloved Ones, originally baptized by Guru Gobind Singh means that it is a reminder that this initiation is in essence a resurrection. In the communion realized by the sacramental intake of the amrit the initiated person enters into a covenated relationship with God, symbolized by the expression:
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
This, in other words means the bestowal of temporal sovereignty on the Khalsa by the Divine Person as an act of grace. This is how the Sikh community, resurrected into a political nation, by the sacrament of the amrit , claims transcendental legitimation for its right to sovereign existence and identity.
The essence and efficacy of the Holy Eucharist in Christianity (particularly the Roman Catholic) lies in the belief that the body and blood of Jesus Christ, “truly, really and substantially” pass on to the bread and wine, respectively, used in the sacrament and that Christ “perpetually reappears” on earth as such. Behind this notion of “perpetual reappearance” of Christ (transubstantiation) lies the conceptional idea of Christian philosophy that God is not only the creator but also the sustainer of the universe; the world is not self-sustaining and self-operative but is dependent on God whose continuous outpouring is necessary to keep it going in the way in which the continual inflow of electric current is required to keep the bulb aglow. The belief of perpetual reappearance of Christ, transubstantially, in the sacramental material of the Eucherist is homologous to the metaphysical conception of continual descent of God’s attention, energy, power into matter to keep the world going.
The essence and efficacy of the amrit is not due to the so-called real, physical presence of the Divine in the sacramental matter; the corresponding metaphysical idea referred to above is also not admitted in Sikh philosophy which envisages that the world created by God has been made self-sustaining and self-operative by imparting to it once and for all the teleological principle and the self-governing law and order (hukam). There is no continual inflow from high above; all that was to be given for self-sustenance of the world has been bestowed once and for all, as contended by Guru Nanak in Jap(u):
Jo kichh(u) paia su eka var. (SGGS: p.7)
If in Christianity there is the idea of transubstantiation, that is, of perpetual reappearance of Jesus Christ in the sacramental material of the Last Supper, in Hinduism there is the notion of incarnation of God in individuated form as “avatar”.
The Sikh viewpoint differs from the Christian and also from the Hindu approach. Sikhism envisages the transcendental God as self-realizing in History, qua the historical spirit infused ‘once for all’ in society. This is symbolically expressed in the notion of the ‘Sikh Panth becoming the Guru Panth’. The “akal” (supratemporal Absolute) determines itself in time in the collectivity of the Khalsa born out of the sacramental amrit as written by Prehlad Rai, a court poet of Guru Gobind Singh:
Akal purakh ki surat(i)eha pragat(i) akal khalsa deha.
Coming back to the point, the sacramental nectar derives its efficacious qualities from the testament of the sabda that is recited during the preparation of the amrit . But unlike a mantra recited during the performance of a Hindu ritual, the sabda does not inject any indwelling quality out of itself into the sacramental water, the mere intake of which would suffice to create a magical or mysterious effect on the recipient. The sabda is neither the Divine becoming the flesh nor an embodiment of mysterious spell. The sabda, rather, is the Divine testament. Recitation of the Divine Word creates a numinous state of mind in which the recipient by drinking the nectar comes to partake of the Divine qualities that elevates him to a higher state of spiritual enlightenment, moral consciousness and social responsibility.
Such is the mystery of the Sikh sacrament.
1 Raymond Firth, Religion in Social Reality, Reader in Comparative Religion, compiled by W.A. Lessa, E.Z. Vogt and Raw Peterson and Company,
2 Clyde Kluckhohn, Myth and Ritual, Ibid. p.147
3 E.O James, Comparitive Religion, Barnes and Noble.
4 Ammirit(u) eko sabad(u) hai Nanak gurmukh(i) paia
5 Sabade hi nau upajai sabda mel(i) milaia
6 Karam khand ahamkar(u) na kijai…
7 Jekar(i) sutak(u) manniai sabtai sutak(u) hoi; Gahe atai lakari andar(i) kira hoi, Ibid., p.472
8 Sabho sutak(u) bharam(u) hai dujai lagai jai, Ibid.
9 Sur(i) nar mun(i) jan ammrit(u) khojade su ammrit(u) gur te paia, Ibid, p.918.
10 C.W. Leadbeater, The Science of the Sacrament.