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Sikh Principles

Lobh (covetousness)

Lobh (covetousness)

In Guriabadratmikar, Bhai Kahan Singh renders lobh as the "desire to possess what belongs to others," though the propensity, as stated in the Adi Granth, seems to stretch beyond these meanings. Guru Arjan Dev refers to it thus, "0 lobh, thou has swayed even the best of men by thy waves. And men’s minds waver and wobble and run in all conceivable directions, to gather more and more ; thou halt respect neither for friendship, nor ideal nor father, nor mother, nor kindreds. Thou makes one do what one must not do, and to eat what is eaten not, and to build what cannot be built."’ Guru Nanak says, "The greedy mind is never at peace and out-goeth in all directions."2 Guru Arjan Dev points out that for the greedy, riches become the mainstay of life.° As to the social relations of the greedy persons Guru Amar Dass says that such a person is not trustworthy. The greedy is not loyal to anything else axcept his own riches, for which, he would deceive every one else in the end.”

The above descriptions of lobh and lobhi (greedy person) may give us some insight into the nature of this propensity, the behaviour pattern of the subject moved by it, as well as the psychological power which this spring of action may com¬mand over other activities.

Nature of Lobh

We have noticed that (1) in the above passage lobh is des-cribed as a wave which implies that the activity caused by this propensity is the product of something in the object of lobh as Well as the presence of some reciprocating tendency in man, the joint effect of which is that one attracts and the other has the inclination to be attracted. (2) It also seems to create a false perspective of value. One gives an overriding value to riches or money, which value it does not have from the Moral or spiritual point of view. Thus it topsy turvises the value scale. It is said to create a mirage-like illusion. It perpetuates a sense of unsatiation as it has been described as mrg trKna.-3 The self, under it, is shown as one who is in-, cessantly restless. The wavering and wobbling in all conceiv¬able directions incapacitates the individual from viewing the values in their proper perspective. (3) It may also be seen as a limiting factor and extremely individualistic in nature ; ex¬tremely egoistic and selfish. (4) The self under its sway pays no heed to one’s social and even family obligations, what to say of the humantarian, and one’s dealings may create social and personal difficulties. (5) We have already drawn attention to the fact that a greedy self is untrustworthy and devoid of social loyalties.

Psychological charge of this motive

The psychological strength of this propensity, according to Sikhism, can be gauged from the fact that it commands instan¬taneous movement towards its object. ("And whatever sharp¬ens his greed, he runneth after instantaneously")’.
Second, even those men who have attained some amount of perfection may be sometimes tempted by it, that is, they are required to be careful against it. This additional charac¬teristic, referred to in the passage, perhaps takes cognizance of the often witnessed facts of history as well as that of the Indian legendary tales wherein men, otherwise acclaimed as great in many spheres, succumbed to avariciousness.
The above description of this propensity has some remark¬able resemblance to the exposition of I. Butler in which he has contended that even though some propensities are lower in ethical scale they may yet command greater psychological power at any time and may in actuality surpass the ethically higher principles, such as conscience?

A reference to the various schools of Hindu Philosophy in regard to lobh reveals that Prasastapada does not mention it as a separate propensity. Vatsyayana of Nyaya mentions it but he traces it to one ultimate root, viz., delusion (moh) as he does in the case of kiim as well. According to him from delusion arise various passions and emotions characterised by attrac¬tion and repulsion. Greed is at this stage a motive along with mendacity and deceitfulness (Maya kaptata).’ We find that Guru Nanak also uses "kapti" with lobhi4 so as to stress the deceitfulness involved in the greedy self, which, in a way, is a pointer to the social impact of this propensity. Jayanta’s ren¬dition of !obit in the Hindu ethics is followed by Kahan Singh in Sikhism when he defines it as the desire to obtain a for-bidden thing, the slight difference being, that Kahan Singh adds "what belongs to others"’ and thereby brings out the emphasis more clearly on the anti-social element in lobh. Patanjali finds it as a co-motive along with the other sub-motives of human actions, viz., cruelty and mendacity and gives it the meanings of desire for the pleasure, which meanings as we have seen earlier, are accepted as a part of lobh, though it may be added here, that sometimes greedy person may be so engulfed by this propensity that all activity may be directed towards the attainment of the object without aiming at happi¬ness directly. This may cause restlessness. And it is this lack of rest or tranquillity caused by lobh which is stressed in the preceding passages cited from the Adi Granth. We have also seen that it is regarded in Sikhism as a separate propensity and not as part of any other motive as postulated by Patanjali. However, it is recognized in Sikhism that lobh may conjoin with other motives in the course of its operation.

This analysis and comparison show that the recognition of lobh as a spring of action is not something unique to the Sikh ethics but it is distinguished by its greater emphasis on the social aspect, since in Sikhism, it is stressed that lobh may motivate disregard for social loyalties and responsibilities. It is, therefore, termed as an evil act" The imperative as regards to covetousness in Sikhism, may be seen to have some remark-able similarity to the description of the various restraints by Vyas who includes the imperative to control avariciousness in his scheme of self-discipline. It is explained by a scholar of the Yoga that "aparigraha (absence of avariciousness) is the non-appropriation of things that do not belong to one and it is a consequence of one’s comprehension of the sin that consists in being attached to possessions, and of the harm produced by
the accumulation, preservation or destruction of possessions."’

It is pointed out by David Hume that "avarice, which, as it both deprives a man of all use of his riches, and checks hos¬pitality and every social enjoyment, is justly censured on a double account."

We have already noted the various references in Sikhism to the mental unsatiation, deceitfulness and untrustworthiness generated by lobh. This shows it to be an undesirable praxis. But all this, in turn, also points out that it is a psychological disposition and as such we may see the possibility of its being transformed. In its stress on the social aspect of avarice Sikh¬ism may be seen to have some similarity to the Christian view where one finds a commandment against it.

The great need for the moral control of covetousness may be conceded by all. We may even say that the regulation of avarice of man, and further of nations, is a necessity of personal and social survival.

Source: Ethics of the Sikhs: Avtar Singh

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