Political Philosophy of the Sikh Gurus
CONCEPT OF RULER
We have no authentic information as to how the State was born. Through inferences and generalization regarding the dim past on the basis of the slender evidence at our disposal, we can deduce that state existed in some form or the other wherever human beings lived together in large numbers. Various theories regarding its origin have been propounded from time to time such as 'The Divine Origin Theory', 'The Social Contract Theory', and 'The Force Theory'. 'The Patriarchal Theory', and 'The Matriarchal Theory'.
The oldest theory is the Divine Origin Theory. According to it the State is established and governed by God Himself or through His special representatives. The chief exponents of this theory in early times were the Jews. In the Old Testament there are many references supporting this fact. The Greeks and Romans regarded the State as only indirectly divine. This very theory later on made the rulers dictators. Man had to suffer much at their hands. However, all these theories are speculative in nature.
Almost the first type of State, which emerged from primitive conditions, was the Imperial State. The plateaus of Mexico and Peru produced the earliest form of the State. Then arose many more vast empires such as the Sumerian, the Assyrian, the Persian, the Egyptian, the Chinese etc. For the most part these were merely tax collecting and recruit-raising agencies. As soon as the ruling dynasty became weak, the powerful rivals established the authority. No individual liberty or true political progress was possible.
The second important stage was reached in Greece in the form of city-states. The Sparta city-state alone remained conservative and maintained a steady tradition of unbroken continuity in its government. In the other city-states the normal political evolution was from monarchy to aristocracy, from aristocracy to tyranny and from tyranny to democracy. It was in Greece where Plato, the great political philosopher, took birth in 427 BC. He was the first to have prescribed some qualifications for the rulers of those city-states. He did not think everyone to be fit to rule. For Plato the individual mind is divided into three elements-Reason, Spirit and Appetite. The lowest is 'Appetite' and the highest is 'Reason'. Reason is the rational element with its main function 'to think and to know'. For him the ruler must be from this category of mind. Plato was the first person to dream of the Philosopher King. According to Plato the foremost task of such a king was to deliver justice. He must be over and above the selfish interests. He must have the capacity to think reasonably and take right decisions. For this he must be properly educated.
In ancient India also such qualifications and duties of the ruler existed in some form or the other. Several terms like Rajadharma, Rajyasastra, Dandaniti, Nitisastra etc. indicate this. The terms like Rajadharma used by Manu, 'Duties of the Kings' and Rajyasastra-'Science of the State' require no explanation. Monarchy was the normal form of government. The term Dandaniti is also self-explanatory. These terms have occurred in the epic Mahabharta. Kautilya goes to the extent of declaring Danda as the real king, the real leader and the real protector-Arthasastra VII 17. The rules about the functions and duties of the king and welfare of the state were, therefore, naturally, called Dandaniti. In the Arthasastra of Kautilya it is written that the king must regard his own happiness as indissolubly connected with that of his subjects-I.19. Just as an expectant mother sacrifices her own desires and pleasures, lest they should be harmful to the child to be born, the king must sacrifice his own conveniences, inclinations and pleasures in order to be of the maximum help and service to his people- Agni Purana, 222.8. The body of the king is not meant for enjoyment and pleasures; he has to put up with great troubles and worries while carrying out the royal duty of protecting the subjects and fulfilling the dharma-Markandya Purana, 130-33. Happiness, it was believed, depended upon virtue and piety, and these could prosper only if the king himself set a proper example and standard. Under a good king, prosperity will prevail-Rg Veda, V.10.
From time to time in almost all the parts of the world various scholars and spiritual leaders put forward many valuable theories so that the State can become truly a welfare state. But very often the rulers have misused the state power. The rulers in history have often forgotten all such teachings of our great scholars and leaders.
While giving the ideas on Politics the Sikh Gurus had welfare state in their mind. They did not commend any particular form of the state unlike other political philosophers. They were more concerned with the qualifications and duties of the ruler. They took ruler as a general term for the premier of a state. The were not concerned with the prevailing forms such as monarchy, aristocracy or democracy etc. At the most what the Sikh Gurus talked of is the Ideocracy which is called Halemi Raj by the fifth Guru. Keeping the Ideocracy in their mind the Gurus prescribed certain qualifications and duties of the rulers.
In Sikhism the main goal of the human being is to be one with the Supreme Being. The fifth Guru says:
Thou hast obtained from God a human's body
Now alone is the time to Attain to thy Lord. A.G. p. 12
Each and every action of man should be such that takes him more and more near to this Goal. He should not do anything, which may lead him astray. The principal means to achieve this Goal is Nam-Simran and good actions. 'The Fifth Guru says in Sukhmani:
Of all religions, this one is the superb
That one Meditates on the Lord's Name
and does what is pure. A.G. p. 266
So the ruler, in Sikhism, should be one who creates such conditions for his subjects as well as for himself so that this goal is achieved easily. Not only that he should not become an obstacle in the path but also he should be helpful by creating a good and peaceful atmosphere in his kingdom so that his subjects find it easier to achieve their Goal.
Only such a person who has become one with God, who has conquered all weaknesses can be able to lead his subjects to the Goal. Only such a person is fit to be the ruler and deserves respect from the subjects because he, automatically, will be the just ruler. Guru Nanak himself prescribes such qualifications:
Only he should sit on the throne who is worthy of it
And who has realised the Guru's Word and
Silenced the Five desires. A.G., p. 1039
Such a king gets full respect everywhere. Nanak again writes:
To such throne everyone pays his obeisance, night and day.
This is the true glory that one earns,
by attuning to the Guru's Word. A.G., p. 1039
The third Guru also says:
That king alone must sit on the throne, who is worthy of it,
Yea, he, who Realises the (God's) Truth,
he (alone) is the worthy king. A.G., p. 1088
In Adi Granth, Janak has been used as a simile to an ideal ruler, Janak mean Jnani-one who has the true knowledge, as Bhatt Kal has explained in the Adi Granth:
He alone is Janaka, who hitches the chariot (of his mind)
to the state of Ever blessedness.
And gathers the Contentment,
and fills the Empty Vessel (of the heart).
Unutterable is the Story of the 'Eternal Abode' and
he alone is Blest with it, whom God Blesses,
O Blessed Guru Ram Das! such a kingship,
like Janaka's, becomes only Thee. A.G., p. 1398
According to Mahankosh (the Sikh encyclopaedia) edited by Kahan Singh Nabha, Janak was the king of Mithila. He was son of 'Mith', who in turn was son of 'Nim'. From this Janak, this name has been given to the descendent genealogy. The name of father-in-law of Lord Rama was Sirdhwaj who was the twentieth descendent of Raja Janak. According to Valmik Raja Janak was a great king. Raja Sirdhwaj, the twenty-first Janak, was a great saint-king.1 It is this Janak referred to in the Adi Granth. The fourth Guru says about Janak:
Janak too was attuned to the Lord's Name,
Blest by the Guru. A.G., p. 591
Both these qualities of Janak are a rare combination. It is because of these two qualities (of being saint and king) he is used as a model for an ideal king. Bhatt Kalsahar writes in the Adi Granth while addressing to the fourth Guru:
Through Thee, the benign rule of Janak
has again come to the world,
the age of truth has dawned. A.G., p. 1407
The fourth Guru writes about Janak:
And Janak, seated on his kingly throne,
anointed his forehead with the
Dust of the Feet of nine seers. A.G., p. 1309
Keeping this idea of an ideal ruler in mind, some qualifications and duties of the ruler can be deduced from Gurbani. The foremost quality of a ruler is that he/she should be a realised soul. Guru Nanak writes about it:
Only he should sit on the throne, who is worthy of it
And who has realised the Guru's word and
silenced the five desires. A.G., p. 1039
They should sit on the throne
who contemplate the Guru's Word;
And find the Essence of God.
O, such is the True Glory of those
who are associated with the Name of God. A.G., p. 1026
The third Guru writes:
That king alone must sit on the throne,
who is worthy of it Yea, he,
who Realises the (God's) Truth,
he (alone) is the worthy king. A.G., p. 1088
According to the Sikh Gurus, only such a person who has realised the Truth is qualified to be a ruler. He must have conquered the Five evils-lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. Only such a ruler can become selfless. Only a realised soul can truly understand the meaning of 'fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man'. For this he has to renounce worldly passions. The king should first subdue himself, and then seek to subdue his foes. The conquest of these, viz., the aggregate of five is regarded as the conquest of self. The king who has succeeded in subduing his senses is competent to resist his foes.-The Mahabharta (Anusasna Parva). Only the person who has realised the Soul can be truly just. The Third Guru says:
Who Himself is true, His Throne is True,
He delivers the True Justice. A.G., p. 949
In Sikhism, great stress is laid on Raj-yoga. Only a true Yogi can become a true ruler. Here Yogi means the person who has realised God through Nam Simran and good actions. In the Adi Granth the poet (Bhatt) Kalsahar describes the three personalities-Lord Bawan, Lord Rama and Lord Krishna- as Raja-Yogis. After that he gives this title to Guru Nanak. To quote him:
In the Satyuga too, you enjoyed the state of Rajyoga,
when you deceived Bali, becoming a dwarf,
whose form pleased you.
And in the Treta age too, when you were called
Rama of the Raghu clan,
And in the Duapar age too as Krishna,
when you Emancipated Kansa.
And blest Ugrasena with kingdom and
thy Devotees with the state of fearlessness,
In the Kali age you are called Nanak,
and Angad and Amardas.
Yea, eternal and moveless is thy rule, O Guru, for
such was the command of the Primeval Lord.
A.G., p. 1389
For the fourth Guru he writes that the third Guru has passed the throne of Raja Yoga to Guru Ramdas. To quote him:
Throne of Raj-Yoga, he passed on the Guru Ramdas.
A.G., p. 1399
So both the terms 'Raj-Yoga' and 'Janak-Raj' are synony- mous in the Adi Granth. And poet Kalsahar on page 1389 in the Adi Granth also explains these in the same meaning. Both the terms indicate that the ruler must have attained union with God. The person who has not conquered the weaknesses of common man is not at all fit to sit on the throne. The person who has conquered his weaknesses can never be defeated in any sphere. The ruler should consider himself as a servant to the Master and not master himself. He should take it for granted that he has to answer for his weaknesses to his Master. Guru Nanak writes:
From his mind he forsakes covetousness, avarice and evil,
In his fortress he proclaims the victory of his Monarch
and returns not vanquished ever.
He who calls himself the Lord's servant
and replies to Him in defiance.
He loses his wages and he is not seated on the throne.
A.G., p. 936
The ruler must be full of virtues. He should transcend greed, illusion and sin. He should practise chastity, charity and self-control. He must be manned by Truth. He should always be contented. Guru Nanak indicates all these qualities when he takes his body as fortress and mind as a king. He says:
In the strong fortress of the body with beauteous doors,
abides the mind king with his special assistants.
Whosoever is engrossed in falsehood and avarice,
he obtains not an abode in the Lord-Home.
Through greed and sin one regrets,
If the mortal seeks the Lord's protection,
then in this body village of king come and
abide the powerful truth, contentment,
chastity, charity and self-control.
Nanak, through the Guru's word
one easily meets with Lord,
the Life of the world and honour. A.G., p. 1037
At one place Bhagat Kabir hints at some other qualities which the ruler should possess while fighting the battle with the evil. He has put duality and the three qualities of Maya (illusion), woe and weal, worldly love, evil understanding, covetousness in the category of evil forces and the Divine love, Nam Simran (meditation), poise, truth, contentment, company of saints and grace of Lord as the forces of Godliness or Truth. Kabir has asked his king (mind) to use the forces of Godliness against the forces of evil and he will surely be victorious-A.G., pp. 1161-2.
The ruler should follow the path of Truth and Compassion. Namdev said this when he was tortured by the ruler of his time and when the latter came to know about his saintliness, begged for his pardon. To quote Namdev:
And the test there of is that
Hereafter you (king) will tread the path of
Truth and Compassion. A.G., p. 1166
Kabir asks the ruler to inculcate wisdom or Jnan and detachment or Vairag and he should stop his outgoing mind through meditation. He can inculcate such virtues only through NamSimran. Only such a person deserves to be a ruler. To quote Kabir:
He alone is a Sultan, the king, who aims with
the two arrows (of wisdom and Detachment),
And stops the outgoings of his mind,
And gathers the hosts (of virtue) abiding in the (mind's)
Sky, yea, the Tenth Door,
0, that Sultan alone is canopied (by God). A.G., p.1160
The ruler must consider himself as the servant to his subjects because God dwells in the subjects as well as in the ruler. Doing all his duties he must not forget the Name of the Lord. While enjoying the facilities, which he gets due to his status, it is tendency of the man to forget His Name. In such a case all these enjoyments will take him to serpent's birth. He will have to pay for his indulgence, as the fifth Guru says:
Dominion over other, vast estates and overlordship
and enjoyments of myriad kinds,
And beauteous gardens and the proud command that runs,
And indulgence in various kinds of colourful shows
(all these are vain);
For, if one remembers not the Lord in the heart,
one gets the life of a serpent. A.G., p. 70
He must not at all indulge in enjoying the riches, which he gets. It is of no use to amass riches and live in luxury. If by the use of force one becomes the ruler and issues decrees and while indulging in all these he forgets His Name, all these things and riches are worthless. He must be careful that while enjoying all these gifts of God he does not forget the Name of the Lord. Guru Nanak elaborates this in the very first hymn of Siri Raga in the Adi Granth. He says:
If my palace were raised of jewels
and inlaid with rubies, And
pleasantly plastered with musk and saffron,
and sandal paste,
Would then I lose myself and forget the Lord's Name?
Even if I were a king, a gatherer of armies,
and my seat were on a throne.
And I commanded people about and about,
And that would be vain, If I forget thee,
O my Loved Lord! A.G., p. 14
Duties of a Ruler
(1) Justice: According to Sikhism every one has to realise God sooner or later. One can only realise Him by adopting His qualities. As He is just God so the man has also to become just, especially the man who is ruling over others. He has to become as just as God does, only then he can find place near Him. So dispensing justice becomes the foremost duty of a ruler. If a ruler wants to purify himself he can't do so with water. For a ruler it is justice, which makes him pure as Guru Nanak says:
For the monarch through justice and for the learned by
dwelling on Truth (that the mind is cleansed).
A.G., p. 1240
The ruler should not become a thorn in the eyes of his subjects.
Even his Nam-Simran is acceptable only when he delivers justice to the subjects. Like this he can become a true ruler. The third Guru says:
Enjoy thou a griefless kingdom by practising Truth,
through the Guru's grace,
While sitting on the throne of truth administer justice
and this will unite thou with the True one.
A.G., p, 1087
Such a ruler who delivers full justice to his people needs not depend upon others for help. He becomes self-dependent. The fifth Guru says:
In whose court justice is ever administered
He is self-dependent and leans on none. A.G., p. 987
Only the government of such a just ruler is stable and he is respected everywhere and lives in history. Says Guru Nanak:
The sovereignty of the truthful king
is known in many ages to come,
Only he, whosoever, obeys such lord
becomes a noble in his court. A.G., p. 142
But if any ruler becomes corrupt in delivering justice to his subjects, he loses his right to be a ruler. Guru Nanak even goes to the extent that if the subjects obey the orders of such corrupt ruler, who has failed to deliver justice or who takes bribe for delivering justice, it is the fault more of the subjects than that of the ruler. It is just like the habit of a dog who obeys the just or unjust orders of his master only for a piece of bread. The Guru says:
If the king administers justice
only when his palm is greased,
Only in the name of God, none obeys.
Nanak says such men are men only in shape and name,
In deeds they are dogs, waiting for command
at his (ruler's) door. A.G., p. 350
Guru Nanak vehemently condemned corruption in the judicial system of his time. He equally condemned the corruption in this department in the name of God or scriptures, which was in practice in those days. The priests of Islam-the Kazis- used to take bribe and do injustice. If any person objected they used to quote the verses from the Holy Scriptures and misinterpreted those to suit their own interests. Guru Nanak writes:
Becoming a judge the Kazi sits to administer justice.
He tells the rosary and mutters God's Name;
Taking bribe, he does injustice.
If someone asks him, then he quotes and
reads out some aphorism. A.G., p. 951
In such a situation it becomes the duty of the ruler to ensure that there is no corruption in his department of judiciary. He himself should rise above such corrupt practices, deliver justice to his people and punish the guilty.
In Western school Plato was the first to talk of justice in the state. In the Republic he tells that society is to be concerned as a system of services in which every member both gives and receives. Justice is the bond, which holds a. society together, a harmonious union of individuals, each of whom has found his life work in accordance with his natural fitness and his training.
For St. Augustine State without justice is simply robbery writ large. Or in his words, Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies.2 And he cites the story of Alexander the Great and the pirate who had been captured by that Monarch. When the ruler asked the robber how he could have so much presumption as to dominate the sea and prey upon men the pirate replied What do you yourself mean by seizing the whole earth, not merely the sea? But because I do it with petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst you who do it with a great fleet are called emperor.3
In the Mahabharata Bhisma tells Yudhisthira about the latter's duty to deliver justice to his subjects, while telling him his overall duties He says, If the king fails to administer justice, he can neither have heaven nor fame. A king should, without doubt, look upon his subjects as his own children. In determining their disputes, however, he should not show compassion. For hearing the complaints and answers of disputants in judicial suits he should always appoint persons possessed of wisdom and knowledge of the affairs of the world, for the state really rests upon a proper administration of justice- Anusasna Parva.
In the Vedic literature justice is one of the fundamental aims of the state. The king or the head of the state was to be like god Varuna, the upholder of the law and order- the dhritavrata; he was to punish the wicked and help the virtuous. Religion was to be promoted, morality was to be encouraged and education was to be patronised-Chhandogya Upanisad, V. II. 5
Unhappiness, misery and pestilence among the subjects were attributed to failure in duty on the part of the king. When kings are unjust even sugar and salt lose their flavour-Jatakas, Vol.- III, p. 111. The popular notion on this subject is well illustrated by the Jatakas. The ox of a ploughman is struck accidentally by his plough-share; for this the king is to blame; a milkman is killed by a vicious cow, the blame is assigned to the same quarter; even a frog does not spare the king when it is bitten by hungry crows.--Jatakas, V.pp.101-7. Happiness, it was believed, depended upon virtue and piety and these could prosper only if the king set a proper example and standard. -Rg Veda, V. 10.
(2) Duty to Protect the Subjects: In the Mahabharata Bhisma is said to have told king Yudhisthira, Regarding those that are desirous of kingdom, there is no other eternal duty more obligatory than the protection of subjects. The protection the king grants to his subjects upholds the world. 'Manu the son of Prachetas sang these two verses respecting the duties of king. Listen to them with attention. 'These six persons should be avoided like a leaky boat on the sea, viz., a preceptor that does not speak, a priest that has not studied the scriptures, a king that does not grant protection, a wife that utters what is disagreeable, a cow-herd that likes to rove the village and a barber that is desirous of going to the wood'. Protection of the subjects, O Yudhisthira, is the very cheese of kingly duties. A divine Kavi Usanas of austere penance, the thousand eyed Indra, the Manu, the son of Prachetas, the divine Bharadwaja and the sage Gaurasivas, all devoted to Brahmanand, have composed Treatises on the duties of kings. All of them praise the duty to protection in respect of kings.- Anusasna Parva.
Yajnavalkya Smriti supports the above view. Narada regards the taxation as the king's pay for the protection of his people. No one ever makes a payment, says Apararka, without expecting a return; the taxes therefore, are paid only as a return for the protection expected from the king.-I. 366.
In the western school of thought Bertrand Russell suggests the idea of a modified state. The state, according to him, should perform the essential functions of preserving internal law and order and affording protection against foreign aggression and some other minor functions. He writes, I think that its (state's) powers ought to be very strictly limited to what is absolutely necessary. There is no way of limiting its powers except by means of groups which are zealous of their privileges and determined to preserve their autonomy even if this should involve resistance to laws decreed by the state, when these laws interfere in the internal affairs of a group in ways not warranted by the public interest.And a good community does not spring from the glory of the state, but from the unfettered development of the individuals.4
In Sikhism also it is the holy duty of the ruler to protect his subjects. It is his duty to keep the opposite elements together without harming each other. The fifth Guru illustrates with the examples of water and earth, fire and wood, which are kept together and due to the Ruler's control these do not harm each other. To quote him:
He has stringed the whole world with breath and
has kept the fire along with the wood.
He has kept the water and the earth together and
no one bears enmity with (or harms) each other.
A.G., p. 1235
Similarly the fourth Guru illustrates:
(In His kingdom) The earth and water abide
in one place and the fire is locked in wood.
The sheep and the lion, the Lord has kept in one place.
O man! contemplate thou on God and
shake thy doubt and dread. A.G., p. 735
Guru Nanak says that under His rule no enemy or suffering can ever harm us. To quote him:
The Rule is eternal it goes never
Yea, ever lasting is Thy Rule it stays forever. .
No adversary, no pain, can touch him,
nor sin contaminates. A.G., p. 567
As the servant of the Master has not to be afraid of anyone, similarly the subjects should not be afraid of any one. It is the ruler who has to ensure the security of his subjects. The fifth Guru says:
To whom can Thy servant now pay obeisance
When Thou, the king, Preservest his Honour.
A.G., p. 376
In an ideal state described by the fifth Guru, none can harm others because of the protection provided to everyone by the ruler. Everyone lives in perfect peace and enjoys life. All over there is courtesy, modesty and humbleness. He says:
The Merciful Master has now given the command.
No one now domineers and annoys another.
All abide in peace and this now has become a benign regime.
A.G., p. 74
The tenth Guru says that if the ruler protects his subjects then the latter need not worry about their protection, just as if anyone gets the shelter of a lion, one does not then need to be afraid of goats etc. Guru Gobind Singh writes in the Zafarnama, the epistle of victory, addressed to Aurangzeb:
And when the lion brave and bold
Doth shelter one from the nasty foe,
The timid goat, buffalo, dapple dear
can never near his sojourn dare go. V-17
(3) Duty to Protect the Subjects from Exploitation: It is a common tendency among men to exploit others at any opportune time. It is the rich who always exploit the poor. It is the duty of the ruler to protect his people from such exploitation. Guru Nanak called the rulers of his times, who exploited their subjects, as blood sucking kings and ferocious tigers who lick up the blood of the poor subjects and his courtiers dogs. When they will be called for settlement of their accounts, such rulers will be dishonoured for it. In a very scathing attack he writes:
The kings are like whores; the courtiers like dogs;
For they awaken those that sleep in God's peace.
The king's servants tear (the docile subjects)
with their nails,
And, like curs, lick up all the blood that they spill.
But, hark, where men are to be judged (at the Lord's Court)
Their noses will be chopped off, for,
God will trust them not. A.G., p. 1288
Amassing wealth by exploiting the subjects is bitterly condemned by the fifth Guru also. He says that God will give such wealth away to someone else one day. Such wealth takes the man astray. To quote him:
Becoming, a king, one has dominion over all,
And through oppression, one gathers riches
Gathers he the bagful, bit by bit, But God (in His Justice)
snatches it away and gives it to another.
A.G., p. 392
Sikhism condemns exploitation of the subjects through heavy taxation. Kabir condemns such rulers who realise more tax than is due. He says that at least he will not pay such undue tax. He says that the officials, who come to collect the tax, measure the land unlawfully and try to extract even more. But when he reports the matter to the higher authorities and checks his accounts then there stands nothing due. So he condemns the realisation as well as payment of undue taxes. To quote him:
In the fortress, the five are like the king's officials,
who make ever a fresh demand for Revenue.
But I am the Tenant of no one,
then why am I asked