Political Philosophy of the Sikh Gurus
CONCEPT OF MAN
Man is the central figure in the universe. No philosophy, no religion can exist without man, as these are associated with him only. As Political Science is the study of man, state and government so it is necessary to study the concept of man in Sikhism while studying the whole political philosophy of the Sikhs.
Man is the unique creation on this earth. It is man only who is consciously aware of his surroundings. 'Man has capacity to master not only the forces of nature but also the living beings through his intellect. In the absence of the sentient and intellectual capacity, no allusion or assertion of any sort of Reality is possible. Thus man stands at the highest pedestal of the cosmos; he is last step of the staircase of the creation. Man, since ages, is trying to understand himself. Almost all the schools of thought have propounded philosophies on him; from where he has come, what was the purpose, what he has to do and why, where he has to go? There are many other similar questions also. Almost all schools of thought have tried to answer these and some other questions in their own way. Sikhism also answers the queries about the man in its own way.
The concept of man in Sikhism is based on the intuitive knowledge of the Gurus, some of which they have written in their Bani. Virtually the whole of Sikhism revolves around the goal of man i.e. to know the self,1 and how to achieve this goal. In order to understand the Concept of man in Sikhism, we have to study it under various headings, which are as under:
(1) Man in Relation to the Universe
Man is a tiny creature in the vast natural surroundings. First of all we have to study how this universe came into existence. For Sikhism God is the Primary Cause of the creation. The Sikh thought does not agree with any theory of evolution, which does not show God as the Prime Cause. God was in unmanifested form before the creation. There was God and only God before. Guru Nanak explains the situation:
For aeons of years, there was nothing but chaos,
And there was neither earth, nor the sky
only the God's Infinite Will was.
And there was neither night nor day,
nor the sun nor the moon, and
God was Seated in His Absolute trance. A.G., p. 1035
After that when He willed. He Himself came into manifested form, unfolded Himself and created this universe through His Will:
When such was His Will,
He brought the Universe into being.
And without a seeming contraption,
Upheld He its Vast Expanse.
And Created He also the Brahma,
Vishnu and Shiva, and instilled in
men the ever-mounting desire for being attached.
A.G., p. 1036
He created the universe through Nam, Logos spirit or Word. He Himself created Himself and then Nam (His Name). After that He created the universe and made Himself immanent. Guru Nanak puts it like this:
He the Lord of Himself Created Himself and
Assumed He Himself the Name.
And then He created Nature and Abiding within it,
He Revelled in His Wonder. A.G., p. 463
The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, puts it like this:
As millions of sparks arise from fire separately
but again merge in fire.
Similarly non-sentient and sentient beings spring from God,
Who is manifested in them and all will merge again in Him. Akal Ustati 17/87
But when did this creation take place? Guru Nanak says that no one can know it through his intellect. Even Vedas and Kazis could not find it. It is only God, the creator who knows it- Japuji, stanza 21. While describing the stages of evolution Guru Nanak tells that from the True God came the wind, from wind, water came into existence and from water the universe came into existence. To quote Guru Nanak:
From the True One came the wind;
from wind came the water;
From the water sprang the three worlds;
And He, the Lord Pervaded all. A.G., p. 19
Much later Science discovered that evolution of universe started from the nebula, which literally means fog, mist, vapour or cloud etc. With the process of condensation and contraction it was converted into the state of molten material and finally solid material. According to the views of Sir James Jeans, Our home in space came into being as a globe of intensely hot gas (air) on which no life of any kind could either gain or retain a foothold. Generally this globe of gas cools down becoming first liquid, then plastic.2 The only difference is that Guru Nanak takes God as the Prime Energy or the Primary Source of all the matter.
It is really startling that Guru Nanak stated the facts from his metaphysical vision much before the scientists came to above conclusion after much of laborious work of so many years. In coming times science may also come to the conclusion that the Primary source of the Prime Energy behind the creation is God.
God, similarly, created man also and put His spirit (life) into him. Man's relationship with the universe is that of microcosm and macrocosm. The word Macrocosm has been derived from the Greek makros ('great') and kosmos ('universe'). The term is contrasted with microcosm, from mikros ('small') and kosmos ('universe'). Macrocosm, taken to refer to universe, is set in contrast to man, the microcosm, a little universe.3 The human body is not merely a part of the universe but is an epitome of it i.e., microcosm in relation to the macrocosm. So we can't find anything extra in the universe, which is not there in the human body. There is complete similarity even between the physical processes of the universe and the biological phenomenon in the body of man.4 Bhagat Pipa expresses the similarity in this manner:
God is in the body; the body is the temple of God,
In the body there are pilgrims and travellers;
In the body there are incense, lamps and sacrificial food;
In the body there are offerings of leaves.
After searching many regions,
I have found nine treasures in the body.
Nothing is born and nothing dies. I say in the name of God,
Whatever is found in the universe is found in the body;
Whoever searches it, shall find it.
Peepa says: God is the Primal Essence; He will be known
through the True Guru. A.G., p. 695
Guru Nanak also tells that the human body is the epitome of the universe:
See in the part (individual form)
whatever is in the whole (the universe). A.G., p. 1041
Guru Nanak further says that 'in the body there are cities, shops, fortresses and cabins, wherein True trade is to be done- AG. p. 57. He further explains that 'within the city of the body is the castle of mind; wherein resides the True Lord- A.G., p. 1033. Similarly the third Guru, Amardas, says:
Everything is there in the body,
the regions, the spheres and the nether worlds.
There are jewels in the body; there are stores of Bhakti.
There is the universe of nine regions within the body,
There are shops, bazaars and cities
The Name (full of nine treasures) is found in the body
after contemplation on the Word of the Guru.
There are fear and love in the body,
which are obtained by the grace of the Guru.
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva reside in the body.
A.G., p. 754
The Sikh concept of universe is more realistic. The Sikh Gurus never took the cosmos as unreal. According to them it is created by the Real, it is also real. In this real world God Himself resides-A.G., p. 463. But the cosmos is not an absolute reality. It is a relative truth. Universe is finite and has an end. Because of non-permanence of this world, the Guru called it Maya, an edifice of smoke, a shadow etc. Everything that has been created is n permanent. Only God is permanent.
God has created this universe to create the
personality of a complete man, we may call him saint.
To manifest the holy (saint) has
He the three worlds created. A.G., p. 224
Man is the central figure in this world. He has something unique. He is the master creature in this world because he is consciously aware, due to which he rules the world of creation on this earth. All other creatures have a subordinate position. The fifth Guru says:
All other forms of existence slave for thee,
And you are the overlord of this earth. A.G., p. 374
It is the capacity of man alone to understand and distinguish between worthy and unworthy deeds. It is man alone who, by meditating on His Name, can know about the aim of life. Only he can meditate on Nam. God has given the human body for this cause only. Through it he can gain knowledge about the world, the universe and beyond. This is the stage of a Brahmajnani depicted by the fifth Guru in the Sukhmani. The equivalent of this personality is depicted in the Dhammapada (in Pali language) of Buddhism also. The Dhammapada is in the form of questions and answers. The question is 'who will comprehend this earth and this realm of Yama and this world together with the devas? Who will investigate the well-taught path of Virtue, even as an expert will pick flowers? -IV: 1
The answer is, A disciple will conquer (comprehend) this world and this world of Yama with its gods. The disciple will find out the well-taught path of virtue even as a skilled person finds out the (right) flower.-IV: 2. 'The author of the Dhammapada has used the term 'Sekho', which is often pronounced as 'Sikh'. Disciple is Sanskritised translation of the term 'Sikh' or 'Sekho'. Here this term comes out as equivalent to the term Brahmajnani of the fifth Guru, Arjun Dev. The Guru has answered the above-mentioned question in a similar manner. He has used the term Brahmajnani, in place of Sekho. He tells that this world is full of evil thinking and skepticism due to which one has to take births and rebirths. Only a Brahmajnani, who is not evil thinking and skeptic, swims across this world5 and cycle of births and deaths is not imposed on him. Therefore it does not seem surprising that the Sikh Gurus used the word Sikh in this context instead of the traditional Sanskritised meaning, the Shishya or the disciple.
So it is to achieve this aim of gaining the saintliness that God has created man, after passing the soul through various other species such as worm, elephant, fish, deer, bird, serpent, bull, horse, rock, mountain, vegetation, etc. Only after wandering through such eighty-four lakhs of lives the soul has got the birth as a man. So this is the time to achieve the goal, according to fifth Guru-A.G., p. 176.
So again and again the Sikh Gurus remind the man, that it is only be, who is conscious of his purpose and advise not to forget to achieve that.
(2) Composition of Man
Biologically man's life starts from sperm and ovum. This body takes its form in the womb from sperm of the father and ovum of the mother. To quote the fifth Guru:
You were built with the father's sperm and the mother's
ovary in the Fire of the womb. A.G., p. 706
Bhagat Ravidas described the composition of human body like this:
This body is the wall of water,
supported by the pillar of wind;
the plaster is of the ovary and the sperm.
The framework is of the flesh, bones and veins:
Lo, in it resides the poor bird (of our soul).
A.G., p. 659
This body is supported by food, which is taken in many forms and especially grain. Kabir says:
I seek no more than two seer of wheat flour
With a quarter seer of ghee, and a pinch of salt.
And half a seer of lentils too,
That will support me two times a day. A.G., p. 656
The Adi Granth also describes the physical development of man. Guru Nanak describes nine stages of physical evolution of man, in general:
At ten, one is a child, at twenty a youth and
at thirty he is called handsome.
At forty, he is full, at fifty his foot falls back,
and sixty, old age comes on.
At seventy he loses his intellect and
t eighty he cannot perform his duties.
At ninety his seat is on the cot and
being weak he absolutely understands not what strength is. A.G. p. 138
The body of man is composed of five elements: earth (dharti), air (pawan), water (pani), fire (agni) and space (akash). The ninth Guru says:
Of the five elements, O wise ones, is our body forged.
A.G., p. 1426
But at more subtle level man is composed of spirit, mind and body. When we refer to a man it does not mean that the man is the body. It is not mind also. Then the question arises, where lies the man or 'I'? Guru Nanak asks the question what dies at the time of death. Does man die? To quote Guru Nanak:
The air, the water and the fire unite to create the body.
Which plays (to the tune of) thy ever restless intellect.
The body is but the dust; the breath is but the wind;
Who then, O wise one, ever dies?
The death, verily, is of the Strife, of Ego, in the mind.
Dies not Seer within thee-the undying Self. A.G., p. 152
The above text makes it clear that man is composed of three things: body, mind and spirit (soul). The body is gross, mind is subtle and spirit or soul is the essence, due to which both, body and mind are functioning. Bhagat Kabir tells about such composition:
Within the house (of the body)
is the house (of mind) and within it
Is the great house (of soul). A.G., p. 970
The great house (Param Kothi) described by Kabir is part of God Himself:
Says Kabir, this soul is the Lord's offspring.
It is stable like the ink which can be
erased not from the paper. A.G., p. 871
Similarly the fifth Guru says:
Our soul is the image of the Transcendent God.
Neither is this soul old nor young,
Neither dies nor it goes,
For, since the beginningless time, it is merged in its self.
A.G., p. 868
So it becomes clear that till soul remains in the body, the latter and the mind function, when it goes to its Source (God) the body ceases to function. Soul is the motivating force in the body. This soul is transferred from body to body after death and it carries samskars with it.
(3) Nature of Man
What is the nature of man? This question has been asked since ages. Many a philosopher has answered this question in different manners. For Greek Philosophers, man is a rational being.
For Socrates man is essentially good. It is only ignorance or lack of knowledge or lack of education that man cannot see the goodness and does evil. The view that moral goodness is knowledge based on the assumption that all men are searching implicitly for the good, which, once they see it, they will embrace. Men cannot truly see the good and then do the evil. Contrariwise, failure to act righteously is due to ignorance of what is right.6 For this reason Socrates stresses on moral education of man.
For Plato there are three categories of human mind. Out of these one is developed if proper education is given accordingly. He assumes that human mind has these three categories: Reason, Spirit and Appetite. Reason is the foremost category of mind. This category produces the ruling class with all rational knowledge. The second category, i.e. Spirit produces military class and the third one produces the peasantly class.
Aristotle is also of the view that man or soul is essentially rational. But it needs proper education. In the Ethics he says, The rational, aspect of the soul, by contrast with the irrational, is conscious and deliberate. It is developed to its full potentialities only under purposeful direction and discipline. Man in addition to being vegetative and appetitive- characteristics which he shares in some measure with all vegetables and animals-is also rational.
By nature, Augustine holds in the City of God, man is made for society and harmony. To be fully itself, an individual soul will subject the irrational to the rational, the fleshly appetites to the beatific vision. At the same time, its perfect union with God will remain its equally perfect and harmonious concord with other souls. For him human nature consists of dual character. One is that of body and second is of soul. The former is based on appetitive and possessive impulses of man's lower nature. This state is not permanent. This is due to the result of original sin i.e., disobedience of the Angels. When this state will pass away the character of soul, which consists of pious deeds, will start. These are two stages in human nature.
Machiavelli's description of human nature is quite negative. For him man is self-centred, aggressive, stupid and irrational. The times and human affairs are constantly changing, whereas men do not alter their ideas and their way of life.The wise man should command the stars and the Fates. But since there are no such wise to be found, man having, in the first place, shortness of sight, and secondly, being unable to rule his nature, it follows that Fortune changes, and thus governs men and subjects them to her yoke.7
According to the Leviathan of Hobbes, man is essentially selfish, contentious, quarrelsome, mean, wicked, non-altruistic, non-rational, impulsive and self-centred.
Locke's approach is quite humanistic in character. Instead of maintaining that man is merely an animal, Locke holds that man is moral and a social animal. For him human beings are good, social, moral and rational. They are equal also, morally speaking. They are endowed with innate and indefeasible rights of life, liberty and property.8
For Rousseau man ought to be free, independent, and solitary (because this is the best life for him); but that the conventions and customs of society, the various regulations and restrictions, which political and economic institutions involve, enslave him and cause him fall from his original and blessed state of the freedom.- Social Contract. For Burke human wants demand rights, which must not be denied.
Kant is of the opinion, Man's will is good not because, the consequences which flow from it arc good, nor because it is capable of attaining the end which it seeks, but it is good in itself, or because it wills the good.9T.H. Green and Herbert Spencer hold the view that man has inherent instinct of rights for which he has given birth to state to protect those. For Spencer there are two fundamental laws of human nature-Law of free energy of faculty and the law of equal freedom. Both of these must be allowed to operate.
Biblical concept is that man was created as an image of God- Genesis 2: 26. So it indicates that man is a moral creature with intellect, capacity for feeling and a will. In Islam, Allah created the man with His own hands (Koran 38:75) and in a most noble image. To quote the Koran:
We moulded man into a most noble image. 95:4
In Islam man is essentially good because, the Koran holds, Allah's own spirit He induced in man. Allah, while addressing Satan, says:
When I have fashioned him (man)
and breathed of my spirit into him.
Kneel down and prostrate yourselves before him. 15:29
It also holds that little knowledge is given to the spirit.10 Therefore, it is prone to evil. Joseph says:
Not that I am free from sin
man's soul is prone to evil. 12:53
The man has been given free wilt to choose whatever path he likes and will be judged and given reward accordingly. To quote the Koran:
It (soul) shall be requited for whatever good and
whatever evil it has done. 2:286
Many other revered writers from various angles have described the nature of man in Sikhism; here we shall deal only with the aspect that is concerned with Political Science. In Sikhism man is essentially good; he is like God. Kabir points out that man (soul) is the part of the Supreme Soul or God. Says Kabir:
This Soul is of the same essence as is God,
And abides ever, as does the indelible ink on paper.
A.G., p. 871
As explained in the above couplet man is like God. As God is infinitely good similarly is the man. But due to Maya and Haumai man goes astray. The term Haumai consists of two words Hau and Mai, which means 'I am'. Ordinarily it is translated as ego. But ego has some positive sense also, whereas this haumai is totally negative. Since there is no exact equivalent of haumai in English we may translate it as 'I-am-ness'. Ordinarily man takes birth due to haumai only (though this is not in the case of realised souls)11 This haumai is like chains due to which man has to take birth. This haumai travels with the soul of man from the previous birth in which he has not tried to renounce it and always has been in its grip. This travels with the soul in the form of Samskars. This haumai becomes the cause of births and deaths again and again. Guru Nanak tells:
In Haumai one comes; in haumai one goes. A.G., p. 466
The second Guru describes the phenomenon as:
The trammel of haumai is this that man again and again,
enters into existences. A.G., p. 466
Actually God abides by the man but it is the haumai, which acts as a wall between the two. Hence the true relation and effect of the former on the latter diminish. The fourth Guru takes God (Supreme Soul) as Groom and man (soul) as a bride while describing it:
The bride and Groom abide together.
But between the two is the stonewall of I-am-ness.
A.G., p. 1263
The second is Maya. Maya is one of the basic concepts of Hinduism. But in Sikhism Maya has been taken in a totally different way. The Gurus have studied Maya from various angles. From one angle it is the desire of material possession. Man is attracted by material and wealth and thus is taken astray. The third Guru says:
The man of riches is blind and deaf,
For he hearkens not to the Word,
his mind being filled with the noise (of riches).
A.G., p. 313
This Maya (riches) is such, which invariably involves the exploitation of the poor. Guru Nanak writes:
Many, O many, have been consumed
and wasted away by their riches,
Which one gathers not without sinning,
nor carries along when dead. A.G., p. 417
Maya from another angle is attachment with the worldly relations. Man gets involved in the worldly attractions and forgets to attain his final Goal for which he has been sent to this world. The third is that the whole universe or creation is maya. This means that this world is transitory and one should not have any attachment to it. The fifth Guru beautifully explains maya in the Sukhmani:
All thy love of Maya is surely the love of illusion
For the (sense-pleasures) pass of forsooth.
Why, O why, thou lovest the passing shade of the tree,
For, it goeth soon and thou comest to grief.
All that seems, passes away;
Why then this thy love of Darkness?
He, who loves a wayfarer,
What is it that he gets from him
who comes only to pass away. A.G., p. 268
Man is thus illusioned and goes astray. He has to get rid of Haumai and Maya. But, for this he has to pray to God and with His grace and personal efforts he can get rid of the two. He becomes a complete man and man in original form. The third Guru asks man to recognise his true self after getting rid of his shackles:
O my mind, thou art the spark (embodiment) of the Divine
Light; know thy Essence. A.G., p. 441
When he recognises his true self, the fifth Guru calls him Brahmajnani. Such a man becomes one with God. He comes in his original form. So his nature also becomes like God. Though he does not become God he becomes 'Godlike'. Even at the stage of Guru Nanak, man does not become God. Bhai Gurdas, the first Sikh theologian, explains it beautifully when he describes Guru Nanak as 'Akal Rup' (Var 1: 35). He calls Guru Nanak not God but the image of God. Actually soul is part of God and it is in His Image. The fifth Guru says:
And our soul is the image of the Transcendent God.
A.G., p. 868
Such a man becomes totally fearless. Again:
He, who meditates on the Fearless One, loses all his fear. A.G., p. 293
Essentially man is free by nature. It is only due to Haumai and Maya that he gets into chains. He has got freedom of will or actions, though not unlimited. Man is free to choose good or bad. This becomes clear when the Gurus repeatedly advise man to follow the right path. The fifth Guru says that man comes on this earth to gain something i.e., union with God but instead of aspiring for this he starts doing bad deeds and thus wastes his life-A.G., p. 43. Sheikh Farid warns that man will have to answer for his deeds to God-A.G., p. 1379. Logically speaking, one is answerable only when one has free will.
But at the same time man cannot have a total free will. Some of the checks on free will are in the form of some social ethics. Only a person who meditates on God and observes such ethical norms and does pious deeds is a true man or a religionist. According to the fifth Guru:
Of all religions, this one is the best:
That one Meditates on the Lord's Name
and does what is Holy. A.G., p. 266
According to Sikh thought man is not complete without observing ethics. Without observing ethical norms, Nam Simran is of no consequence. In Japuji, Guru Nanak says:
Without observing good qualities not true devotion can be.
In Sikh thought ethics and morality form part of man's duties. Fulfilling his duties he becomes free. A complete man is always aware of his duties. Freedom of actions becomes his right.
About human freedom Rousseau observes, Man is born free but everywhere in chains. To explain it from the Sikh angle we can say that man when born is essentially free but gets into chains due to haumai and maya. Only after the True Realisation he can achieve real freedom.
(4) Man and Society
At the time of the birth of Guru Nanak, man had developed a conflict with his milieu. Unable to face the world he was virtually running away from the society. The persons, who tended to be spiritual, were renouncing the world, living in forests and hilltops.
Genuine religious feeling and morality gave way to hypocrisy, empty ritualism, ceremonialism and fanaticism. Guru Nanak thus explains the situation:
Righteousness and the sense of shame have hid
themselves and falsehood walks abroad. A.G., p. 722
Priestly class, both of Hinduism and that of Islam, was exploiting the situation. The Guru points to the hypocrisy of the Brahmin, the Hindu priest:
They tax the cow and the Brahmin and
with the cow-dung they hope to save themselves!
They wear dhoti, the frontal-mark and the rosary (like
the Hindu), but they eat the barbarian's (Muslim's) grain.
Within, they worship (their idols), (outside),
they read Quran, and observe the Code of the Turks.
Shed thy Deceit and Hypocrisy, 0 Brahmin,
For, it is through the Lord's Name that one swims across. A.G., p. 471
The Muslim priest or Kazi was no better. He too wore the cloak of religiosity. He tended to be religious but was misusing his judicial power to make money. Guru Nanak tells:
Becoming a Judge, he (Kazi) sits to administer justice.
He tells rosary and mutters God's Name.
Taking bribe, he does injustice.
If some one asks him, then he quotes and
reads out some aphorism. A.G., p. 951
Guru Nanak tells about both Hindus and Muslims:
The man-eaters (Muslim) say the (Five) prayers!
And they who wield the knife wear the sacred thread!
And in their homes do the Brahmins
blow the couch (for prayer),
But, they too relish the same tastes.
False is their stock, False their trade.
Yea, they all fill their bellies through Falsehood.
The sense of shame and honour from them is far removed.
A.G., p. 471
Others, whether Hindus or Muslims, are but praters.
A.G., p. 952
Not only this but both the Hindus and the Muslims were fighting with each other. The Hindus called the Muslims as Malechhas or the barbarians and the latter called the former as Kafirs or the infidels. Bhai Gurdas tells that both were fighting each other, leaving aside the truth- Var 1: 2. The Muslims, being a ruling class had the upper hand. The Muslim rulers destroyed the Hindu temples and built mosques thereon-1: 20.
The Hindu society was badly divided into four castes and many sub-castes. The low caste Sudras were ill-treated by the other three castes. Position of women was no better. Purdah and Sati systems were in practice.
It was in this milieu that Guru Nanak came to the scene. He condemned the policy of renunciation. He preached to live pious and social life. According to him one must not run away from this world. Running away to forests is no solution to the sufferings and problems. He criticised the Siddhas who were somewhat spiritual people but had run away to the hilltops. Bhai Gurdas tells in his Vars that Guru Nanak condemned their policy of renunciation. He asked them to go to the world and work for reforming the society-Var 1: 29. The fifth Guru thus preaches:
He who, night an