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Gateway to Sikhism

Kam (concupiscence)

Kam, as a disposition, is criticized by the Gurus in Sikhism but the word kam is used by them very often without delineating its meanings. However, generally speaking, the Gurus use kam in the sense of an unbalancing propensity. Guru Nanak says, "And kam is the adviser ... and subjects are blind and like the dead they dance to the tune," of kam and other propensities such as covetousness, etc.

The notion of kam as an unbalancing propensity is older than Sikhism. It is used in the Sanskrit language in a variety of meanings, so much so, that, according to an Indian scholar, "kama suffers in the Sanskrit literature from a profuse, popular and indefinite usage." In the Amar Kola one finds eighteen synonyms for kam at one place and six at another. Kam, in old literature, is understood as: (1) an energy (Kam Sakti) motivating and energising all our activities, (2) the process of desiring itself (Kam chesta) and (3) the object of desire or ambition (kaman or kamana). We may thus see that it is used for desire in general.- But it is also used for the sexual urge or concupiscence in a particular sense. In Sikhism one notices both these meanings given to it but usually it is used in the special sense of concupiscence or lust. The reference to this propensity as such is found in the utterances of all the Gurus but we find some detailed reference to it by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru. In a passage of the Adi Granth he has this to say, "0 kam, thou lands men in hell, and makes them wander through myriad wombs, and cheatest all minds, sways all the three worlds and vanquishes all one's austerities, meditation and culture. Thou, whose pleasure is illusory, thou that makes one unsteady and poor [weak] and punishes the high and low alike."' We find Guru Arjan Dev referring to it in some detail in two other passages also, apart from the general reference to it throughout the Adi Granth. He says, "The elephant is lured by kam to his enslavement and he goes as he is led by another. And the deer is lured to death by the sweet melodies of music. Seeing his family, the man is enticed away by the sense of possessiveness and the love of mega. And then one becomes a part of it and owns it, but it forsure leaves him in the end." This passage seems to conjoin the general meanings of desire as well as the special meanings of lust by the use of the analogy of the ele¬phant. We may refer to yet another passage in which this stress on the special sense is brought out more clearly, before we take up its analysis. It is said by Guru Arjan Dev that "the man of lust is satisfied not with any number of women and breaks into others' homes. He sins and then regrets; so he withers away by sorrow." Elsewhere also, the same Guru has said that "some feed eyes on the beauty of others' women, hid from the world's eyes, yea, if these be their deeds, they come to grief," The last two passages seem to refer to the feeling of guilt involved in this deviant response of the person under the influence of lust.

The language of these passages is terse and the use of the symbols and the analogies seeks to convey more than what meets the superficial eye. The elephant (kunchar) and deer (mrig) are understood in India as symbols of kam.

Nature of Kam

The nature of kam, as understood in Sikhism, can be stated briefly. It seems to go beyond Greek's sense of mere intemperance though it appears to have some resemblance with it in the sense of licentiousness. The special stress seems to be on the need to escape from being overpowered by it. We may conclude the following from the passages cited above : (1) Kam blinds the individual to higher values. The person seems to lose the power of discrimination, (2) Kam as a response of the person may be generalized. The habit of promiscuity may lead to generalized deviant sex response. The person is not satisfied with any one object of lust. We may usefully refer here to a study by Bandura and Waters who refer to many cases of generalization of the sex response some of which "eventually required clinical treatment."' (3) The satisfactions from kam are relatively short lived, though, as a propensity, it is fairly permanent. (4) All individuals, in whatever position they are, may be affected by it. One is reminded of the Brhadaravyaka Upanixd (2.3,6) where it is said that icarn has an irresistible urge and even the sages of yore were led astray by sexual passion and were constrained to- commit sin. (5) The psychological propulsion which this motive commands may make the individual oblivious even to his own self-preserva¬tion. (6) One who is enticed by it becomes weak and unsteady in one's rational judgement. (7) It has a great capacity and possibility of robbing the mind of its supreme authority. (8) It is a complex propensity and may be operative in collaboration with other motives or propensities.

This analysis reveals some unique features of kam as a pro-pensity. Usually it is examined merely from the affective aspect, but in the Sikh ethics all the three aspects, namely, its adverse effect on affective, cognitive and conative are examined. From the affective aspect under cruelty generated by it, the self may be blinded to tender feelings. As to the cognitive aspect it may blind the perception of moral values. And cona¬tively speaking it may even lead to actions of self-destruction. The second feature, which also comes to light, is the recogni¬tion of both the increase and the inhibition of action affected by this propensity ; that is to say, certain activities are accen¬tuated under it (i.e. intensity of feeling and intensity of effort) and some are hampered or even suspended and stopped (such as reflective activity or feeling of self-preservation). Guru Tegh Bahadur views lust conjointly with a mercurial mind and holds that it keeps a person always restless?

It is perhaps because all these would lead to the moral degradation of the self that St. Augustine had said, "Justly is man ashamed of this lust, and justly are those members (whom lust moves) called shameful."2 And Dorothea Krook has pointed out that "St. Augustine's account of concupiscence is at once a peculiarly representative and peculiarly definitive statement of the Christian view." We may thus notice a sort of similarity in the ethical evaluation of this propensity in Christianity and Sikhism.

Among the Hindu schools of Indian Philosophy also, him, as a propensity, is recognised. According to Prasastapada of Vaigegika, it is "sexual craving" though he says that sexual craving, when particularised, may mean "longing for happiness in heaven." Vatsyayana of Nyaya, however, does not state käm as a separate drive for action but traces passions and emotions to one root, viz., moh (delusion)5 though by deriving it from delusion, its moral evaluation is indicated. Jayanta in Nyaya Manjari also traces it to delusion the latter being a sort of disorder of reason.6 In Jivanmuktiviveka of Vidyaranyasvami of the Vedanta School, wisanas (tendencies) constitute the source of the emotions and the passions which are unreflective and spontaneous. Kam is included in desire for carnal pleasures (cleh vasana) and it is declared to be inauspicious tendency (aiubh-vasana). These evil tendencies are further declared to be the cause of birth and participation in the world.' The views of Buddhism are well known on the subject. Edward S. Thomas relates an incident from the life of Buddha. According to this scholar Buddha thought that "when the fire of passions is extinguished, the heart is happy ; when the fire of hate, the fire of stupidity are extinguished, it is happy ; with the extinction of pride, false views, and all the depravities and pains, it is what is called nibuttam that, is, happy." A somewhat extreme position appears to have been taken by Jainism in this regard, where complete abstinence of sexual indulgence is regarded as a high ideal. In Jainism abrahmacarya that is, "unchastity, idulgence in sexual intercourse mentally or physically" is considered as one of the eighteen demerits or vicious acts.

We have already referred to the fact that this propensity seems to be criticised in Sikhism as a learnt sentiment and not wholly as a biological one. The analysis of Kam in Sikhism, therefere, may be understood as pointing to a propensity which may attain a dimension, morally and spiritually harmful, in terms of the characteristics already noticed by us. Sikhism, however, does not go to the extreme of declaring all normal sexual relationships as immoral. This conclusion is also reinforced from the direction of the Gurus to lead a life of the householder, as well as from their own lives. The Sikh Rahit Maryada (code of conduct) seeks to channelise this propensity into normal marital sex consummations. The Gurus them¬selves were married and had maintained families. The only conclusion, therefore, which can satisfactorily explain their treatment of this propensity is that the heightened passionate sensualism, which may overpower all the activities of the self, is evaluated as moral sickness and evil. In regard to the sex impulse a scholar has pointed to a possibility in a different context when it may result in "a domination of the motions, perceptions' and social incorporation of the person" and "the whole environment and most bodily feelings become sexualized."' Guru Nanak has also pointed out that "the lover of women is lured by lust ... the man of passions is lured by another's wife and he engages himself in strife." It is thus the lasciviousness which is disapproved of and not the consummation of relationships within the marital bonds. This seems to be a special connotation of kam. The sex response, when it is transformed and fortified through loyalty, purity of mind and marriage, is held to be desirable in Sikhism. A psychologist, advising a wholesome attitude towards sex, maintains that "most important of all is adoption by the adolescent of a pattern of values in which sex gratification plays a role, but not the dominant role." In Sikhism the Gurus advise the seeker to sublimate and regulate various propensities and responses in terms of the various moral virtues which we shall examine in the present book.

Source: Ethics of the Sikhs: Avtar Singh

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