The Concept of Gurmukh and Manmukh in Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Dr. Harpal Singh Pannu
Modern thinking does not believe that anybody can be entirely bad or entirely good. Everyone has some good points and some bad. A good person is one who repents after doing something bad and then tries to keep away from evil instincts. Being a worldly being, one is apt to be under the influence of passion, anger, greed, attachment and ego all the time, but because man’s background is spiritual he goes on striving to be spiritually self-sufficient. Material elements pull one down towards the earth but the flight of the spirit goes up towards the sky. Those who went on getting drawn towards the earth were called Manmukh (self-oriented, apostate) and those who showed their spirit at a higher plane came to be called Gurmukh (Guru-oriented, pious).
Some other words used in Gurbani for Gurmukh are sachiaar (truthful), bhagat (devotee), sewak (servant), mahapurakh (great person), aashaq (lover), gursikh (Guru’s follower), gyani (enlightened one), brahm gyani (endowed with divine knowledge), sadh (one who has purified himself), sant (saint), jan (a humble one), daas (slave), sura (the valiant), sohagan (blissfully wedded woman), mukat (liberated), panch (chosen one) and jiwan-mukat (who attains liberation during one’s lifetime). Though these words have different rays of light at first glance, actually their grandeur is the same. From these adjectives we can find virtues needed for the good of humanity. All these are virtues found in a person of good moral character. But when a person proves useful for social good, he seems to be endowed with divine virtues also and ‘has an access to the inaccessible.
Many learned people have defined Gurmukh as a person who is Guru-ward. The self-oriented one is led by his own will.’1 Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha also gives the same definition of Gurmukh 2 According to Prof. Gurbachan Singh Talib, a Gurmukh is a person who is treading the spiritual path having divine vision. 3
Guru Amar Das says:
Nanak Gurmukh janiai,
Ja kau aap karai pargaas. 4
Nanak, a Gurmukh is the one
Who is shown the light by Him.
Therefore a Gurmukh is an enlightened person who plays an active role in some social activities. Guru Nanak even calls such a person God.
Jinni atam chinia parmatam soyee. 5
Verily he is God Himself
who attains self-realization
The antonym of Gurmukh is Manmukh. In fact a Manmukh is the one who lacks virtues. Evil is not an independent thing by itself. As God has not created evil, the lack of virtue appears to be evil. If there is light, it is an independent power. Darkness has no existence of its own – absence of light is darkness. So what is important is light or lack of it – darkness is nothing by itself.
Truth is great. One who realizes it is also great but blessed is the one who keeps his conduct pure. Becoming truth himself is a much higher stage than knowing the truth. In the Siddhagoshta of Guru Nanak, while many other topics are discussed, the states of being Gurmukh and Manmukh have also been analyzed. A munukh (person) has to get into the cycle of births and deaths as he has lost all divine virtues. He gets caught into the trap which he lays for others.
One who attains a high state among jogis is called a siddha but in Gurmat (Sikh faith) the highest state is that of a Gurmukh. The difference between the two is because of the difference of perception between the two ‘ways’. The siddhas were atheists but the Gurmukh believes in an all-pervading God. The jogis regard miracles as the highest attainment but for Guru Nanak such powers are ‘avra saad’ (are of interest to others only – and not to godly ones) 6; are therefore of no consequence. Guru Amar Das says that if we learn the ways of the siddhas and control our senses, still ego would not end.
Mahadeo giyani vartai ghar aapnai
Tamas bahut hankara. 7 (SGGS, 559)
Mahadev with all the knowledge
Suffers from the evil of ego.
Bhai Gurdas writers about the siddha tradition:
Baba bolai nath ji sabad sunhu sach mukhahu alayee.
Bajahu sachai naam de hore karamaat asanthe nahi.
Bastar pehron agan kai baraf hamalai mandar chhayee.
Karo rasoyee saar di sagli dharti hakki jayee.
Toli dharat akaas doye pichhai chhabai tank charhayee.
Ehu bal rakha aap vich jis aakha tis paar karayee.
Satnam bin baadar chhayee. 8
Baba (Guru Nanak) tells the Siddhas that he listens to the word and recites the word.
‘Except this True Name, I have no other miracle.
If I were to wear the dress of fire and go to live in the mountains in the caves of snow and
make iron my food and I may have as much power as to push the earth forward or
weigh the earth and sky against some measure and I may have so much of energy in me that
whatever I may say should come true; all such powers, without His Name, are like the shadow of a cloud.
The field of action of a Gurmukh is society where his conduct is tested. He has to struggle in favour of truth and against evil while living in society. Guruji had told the siddhas that they had not renounced the world but run away from their responsibilities. Those who perpetuate the human race work very hard to earn a living to bring up their children. They also provide food to siddhas when they come to their door begging for food. ‘Those who provide food to you would go to hell according to you, and you, dependent on them, would attain liberation. How could that be?’
Gur pir sadaye mangan jaye.
Takai mool na lagai paye.
Ghaal khaye kichh hathahu deyi Nanak rahu pachhanai seyi. 9
They call themselves Gurus and Pirs, but go from door to door to beg.
Don’t touch their feet (in reverence).
Those who earn their living
By working hard and share
their earnings with the needy,
Know the true way, sayeth Nanak.
Guruji’s social system is that of saints. Virtuous people live together, recite His Name, work with their hands and share their earnings with each other. There is no discrimination based on caste or birth or sex. Rulers are the servants of the people and dispense justice. In such a society Gurmukhs lives not for themselves but for the welfare of all:
Gurmukh kot tetis udharai. 10
A Gurmukh is capable of liberating millions.
Gurmukh nibhai saprivaar. 11
A Gurmukh attains salvation along with his family.
Putra kalatra vichai gati payee. 12
Living in the family of sons and spouse a Gurmukh is liberated.
This world is a place for practising righteousness. One has to live in the world for a short while. Why should one not do good deeds before leaving? God dwells in this place of righteousness. Therefore it should be kept pure. Keeping oneself humble while living in society is a more difficult way than that of the jogis. Why not choose a path which is more difficult to tread?
Jaise jal mahi kamal niralam murgayee naisanai
Surat sabad bhavasagar tariai Nanak Naam vakhanai.
Just as the lotus remains unaffected though it lives in water and the water foul remains dry living in water;
in the same way, living in the world, we should recite His Name, fixing our mind thereon and get across the ocean of births.
To give a practical shape to all the principles enunciated by him, towards the last years of his life, he founded Kartarpur and ploughed fields, farmed, started the institution of langar (community kitchen) and continued writing and singing hymns. All this proves that – ‘galli jog na hoyee’ (One does not become a jogi simply by talking). It is good to run the kitchen after collecting money from the congregation, but feeding the needy out of his own earning is something which shows the way to do good.
When an allegation was made against Socrates that he insulted good people, he is reported to have said, ‘I went from place to place in quest of knowledge, presuming that the learned ones were wiser than me. But they were not wise; they were only making a show of their wisdom. I have no hesitation in insulting such people who were trying to prove themselves as virtuous but are not really so.’
The greatest cheat is the one who makes a show of being God. He may do evil in the garb of a pious man. When we see evil in preachers, priests and reciters of hymns, we talk a lot about it while ordinary people do have such defects in their conduct. The reason for this is that we have decided in our mind that such people are better than us and we have to learn from them. Referring to an instance here would be quite appropriate. A young girl was singing and dancing in a crowd. People were offering money and cutting jokes with her. A sadhu clad in ochre robes passed by. He flew into rage on seeing her shameless conduct. He stopped the dancing girl and asked her, ‘Who are you, girl?’ She said, ‘I am as I appear to you, holy man. Please tell me who are you?’
Ravinder G.B. Singh, Indian Philosophical Tradition and Guru Nanak, p. 100.
Bhai Kahan Singh, Gursbhabad Ratnakar Mahakosh.
Prof. Gurbachan Singh Talib, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, (SGGS) 735.
Bhai Gurdas, vaar l, pauri 43.
Siddhdagosht, SGGS, 942.
Dhanasri Mo.1, SGGS, 661.