as the Moral Standard in Sikhism
by Avtar Singh
In order to know the moral standard in Sikhism, we shall have to understand the problem of morality, envisaged therein:
The problem is stated by Guru Nānak in his composition Japji, with which the Ādi Granth opens, and which is generally held to be a compendium of the basic principles of Sikhism.
The peculiarity of the human situation, according to Guru Nānak, lies in the fact that each person, in his empirical existence occupies himself with a narrow and limited view-point:
This narrow viewpoint, Guru Nānak identifies as Haumai (I-am-ness), a feeling of individuation indicated in a narrow or limited point of view.
The problem, for morality or, for that matter, for the whole of life, is how to widen or overcome this narrow or too limited point of view, centred in and around self-ness,
so that man may realise (hovie) the greater self or the real self.
In Japji, this real self is termed by Guru Nānak, Sachiāra, which is the apex of self-realization (kiv Sachiāra hovie), there by sat is being used by him as the principle of spiritual progress.
The full meaning of sat and Sachiāra will be explored a little later, and we may content ourselves here with merely taking Sachiāra to mean the ideal self.
The morally good person, according to this approach, would be one who rises higher and higher, and moves away from his narrow view-point (Haumai) of life and function and towards the larger or wide self, namely Sachiāra.
An act is good in so far it is conductive to this realization, the apex being the highest good.
The person on this journey of self-realization develops himself from various aspects:
These aspects are recognised to be 5, out of which 4 may be properly described as aspects of progress and the fifth and final may be considered the apex of self-realization.
Here we will merely enumerate them in order to highlight the point that development is a fundamental notion in Sikhism:
These aspects (called khands) are:
dharam khand, giān khand, saram khand, karam khand,
and the final, sach-khand which may be rendered respectively as
(1) the situation when socially determined duties are performed to the best of one's ability (dharam-khand) being the first stage towards the progress;
(2) the acquisition of wisdom or knowledge (giān khand), leading to the assimilation of wisdom;
(3) attainment of emotional harmony and unity of self, including aesthetics, realization (saram khand), and pointing to the next aspect;
(4) we find that the self is wider and larger in the sense that its actions are close to allcomprehensiveness, the aspect being marked by spiritual energy and strength of which the self is of them almost full.
Self here in karam khand would perhaps be better described as ‘self-less self’ for not an iota of consciousness of individuation or Haumai (I-am-ness) remains and he continues performing social and moral actions.
The person in his altruistic self takes up his service to mankind as a spiritual warrior or spiritual Hercules. He is then a fit self proceeding to the highest level of self-hood,
(5) namely, sach khand, which is the achievement of the self as a ‘universal point of view, universal aesthetic communion and universal will.’
Here is action (kar kar), here is consciousness (vekhe) and here is bliss (nihāla).
This is the highest good, Sachiāra to which man aspires. He is a complete person in the sense that he seeks good spontaneously (sehaj subhāe). The self has no consciousness of being different from others and this is reflected in its actions and functions.
All the descriptions of this final stage may be rather hazy and not comprehended clearly:
The difficulty is essentially of the level, as to the one who is marked by the characteristics of having a limited point of view,
the details of the universal point of view (which includes all the three aspects, cognitive, affective and conative) may not be comprehensible.
The prominent description of this khand is that of ceaseless activity (kar kar vekhe)' and harmony between will and action (jiv jiv hukam tive tiv kār).
It is the universal point of view, to which we have been referring so far and which, as Guru Nānak says, is difficult to describe (Nānak kathna kaḍra sār).
However, it may be said that the stage is marked by complete annihilation of ‘I’, of the individuality and realization of the personality in the sense of the real self, devoted to ceaseless effort to help others without thought of gain to self.
There are great implications in such a view of the moral problem and human function in relation to the ideal of self-realization. Guru Nānak seeks to elicit these implications and is followed by his successor Gurus in this direction.
Will in self-realization
But before we proceed further, we may clear another point. We have been so far calling the moral standard self-realization, but a pertinent question may be asked here:
Are we, in morality, concerned with the realization of the whole self in the sense of consciousness, affection and will, or are we concerned only with will?
The point for us to decide here would be whether in the self these distinctions of cognition, affection and conation can be made, not as parts or faculties but, as aspects.
And if the distinction is discernible, should we hold that self-realization in morality means the realization of the ideal will or universal will, which for morality would be the realization of the universal point of view.
The answer is plainly in the affirmative as a fact of moral consciousness.
We have already stated that morality is concerned with will, which we said is affirmed as a fact of moral consciousness.
Any theory, therefore, which can be termed ethical in the genuine sense, will have to concern itself with will,
though it may be conceded that realization is the realization of the whole self, and that cognition and affection are not be left outside this progressive realization.
But the acceptance of will is a necessary factor to decide whether or not any theory has a genuine place for morality:
It is this that makes Sikhism predominantly a genuine moral approach to self-realization, because the nature of will is considered to be one principal factor in deciding the state of self.
Manmukh is the self characterised by narrow egoistic will, as opposed to Gurmukh whose will is in harmony with the universal will, recognised to be good-will.
We may also refer here to a resolution of the problem of how to realize the self (kiv Sachiāra hovie) to which we had occasion earlier to refer as the Ideal:
The reference to the answer was not made there in as much as we were at that point primarily concerned with the question of the ideal-self.
Guru Nānak in reply to this fundamental question of how the self is to be realized
“Hukam razāi chalna Nānak Likhiā nāi”.
(Act according to the Universal Will which is written within one’s Self.)
Hukam is an imperative; it is ‘will’ and Guru Nānak imports this word into Sikhism from Islam (the term Hukam occurs many times in the Quran.)
This answer shows that the concern of Guru Nānak is with will, which he takes to be fundamental and an important criterion of self-realization.
The will issues in actions, and so we identify the Gurmukh or Sachiāra by his actions.
This answer establishes our earlier observation that the approach of the Gurus is predominantly moral.
But, does that mean, it may be asked, that the two other aspects, that of cognition and affection do not find a place in this programme of self-realization?
If that were the position, the Gurus could also be criticised for having taken only one aspect into consideration.
But we find that apart from this observation concerning Hukam (will) in the same composition, Japji, Guru Nānak takes up the two other aspects mut and bhau to refer to cognitive and affective realization.
This indicates that although for morality the will is the primary concern, and important from the point of view of realization,
in the ultimate analysis, self-realization is the characteristic of the whole self and the self is not poorer in the sense that nothing is left out.
It is in this synthesis, that Gurus seem to mark a departure from the traditional view that either pure knowledge (Giān) or devotion or aesthetic communion alone marks the ultimate realization.
It is this synthesis, perhaps, to which the Sikh scholar, Sher Singh, seems to be proceeding in Philosophy of Sikhism, when he remarks, “Guru makes a new synthesis. He takes up Advaitism as a philosophy with Giān in practical life.”
However, this synthesis is not brought out fully in the final analysis:
Sher Singh, in addition, takes recourse to “aesthetic feeling or communion.” Here he says, “The way to enter it lies in wismād, aesthetic feeling.”
And in spite of his understanding of Nām in terms of wismād (wonder) and conveyed through “aesthetic experience or communion”
the whole affair comes to appear as rather affective and fails to highlight the synthesis which he seems to have promised earlier in the passage referred to above.
The self so realized may be understood as poorer, in addition to the fact that even the clue ‘aesthetic’ chosen by him, in a way, does not fully bring out the stress on will and action (Hukam and kar).
The difficulty, which perhaps led to the neglect of will by scholars of Sikhism as the primary and necessary constituent of self-realization, could be that Hukam as universal will (or divine will) can be understood to operate in 2 ways:
It may be taken to operate as external to self as “Thou shalt do this...” as laid down in a series of commandments in scriptures:
In this sense the moral standard would not be in terms of Ideal and Good but in terms of external law (law known only through certain specific scriptures):
The moral theory would consequently be called authoritarianism. An act would be right if it conforms to the externally applied moral law.
Some passage of the Ādi Granth, when viewed in isolation, could be wrongly understood in this sense.
But in another and proper sense—in Sikhism—this Hukam or will may be understood to operate as internal to self. That this is the proper sense we will now attempt to establish.
But, before we take up the possibility of the text to support the view that Hukam or universal will is inborn in every self, and that in seeking to realize it, the person is not being directed externally but is proceeding towards self-realization, we may ask a question:
The question is whether the self has a spiritual constituent integral to it, which, in essence, is not different from the Hukam or the universal will, and, therefore, the realization of Hukam is no way different from self-realization.
However, it may be added here that the self which is fully-realized is different in quality from the self termed as Haumai (I-am-ness) by which the Gurus understood the narrow egoistic - self. It is in fact called death of Haumai.
The answer of the Gurus to the above question is that the spiritual constituent is within the self. It is in the self but it is not realized, setting thereby the problem for morality and the self to realize it more and in the process to be transformed more and more.
It is progress towards the ideal self which, in the language of Guru Nānak, is the real self (Sachiāra).
The Hukam therefore is not any external law applied to the self, but is integral to it or, to use the terminology of Guru Nānak, likhiā nāl (it is written within self).
But the very fact that we have called it universal will, indicates that it is not exhausted in any one particular self:
It is within self in the sense that self has to realize it from within but it is objective in the sense that it is the ideal which the self has to realize; and it, as universal, transcends his particularity.
The texts cited above also support our contention that this spiritual constituent, which is not different form Hukam, is internal to self.
This may make Sikhism different from any view which holds the universal will (or divine will) as some sort of externally applied moral law.
Hukam is declared by Guru Nānak to be “kehā nā jae” (which cannot be said or described). Therefore, no scripture can be said to state it completely.
It is something which every self has to realize existentially in every moment of its life and in its march towards the ideal. An act is good in so far as it is conductive to self-realization. It is bad in so far as it negates this purpose.
The moment we say that Hukam cannot be stated (Hukam kehā nā jae), the question arises, what is then the value and role of the Ādi Granth:
And this is an important question because if it does not contain a complete enumerative statement of Hukam, what is its function and role.
We raise a point which may help us in the understanding of this question:
Does a person need any guidance, we may ask? Or, what is the role of any education? What is the importance of showing general direction?
The scripture in Sikhism, the Ādi Granth, is called Guru and so were called its originators. Guru means a teacher or guide. And her precisely lies the value of scripture, the value of guidance to give the direction and initiate the person to self-realization.
It is the belief of the Sikhs that this help comes in abundance from the Ādi Granth and this conviction is based on the declarations of the Gurus themselves, as being themselves self-realized, they know the direction in which a self ought to proceed.
In this, the lives of the Gurus, just as lives of Jesus Christ, Lord Buddha, and Sikh Gurus, serve as moral examples.
And this is beautifully brought out in a verse of Śrīmad Bhagavad Gītā:
“Whatever action is performed by the great is copied by the laymen,
whatever standard is set by him is followed by them.”
We may infer here that in taking self-realization as the moral standard, Sikhism is in sympathy with the Advaita school of Śaṅkara,
though in its stress on will as an important constituent and clue for self-realization, it is nearer to Viśiṣṭādvaita of Rāmānuja.
But in the case of Rāmānuja, will is understood in terms of śāstric vidhi (scriptural prescription), and he prefers sacrificial ceremonial imperatives of the Mīmāṁsā, whereas one does not find such imperative (sacrificial and ceremonial) in the texts of the Ādi Granth.
In the rejection of rituals and ceremonials, Sikhism is nearer to Śaṅkara and Buddha.
Sikhism perhaps also shows some agreement with the theoretical contention in respect of dynamic will held by Gorakhnātha of Siddha school:
We find a full-length discourse of Guru Nānak with the followers of Siddhas called “Siddha Gosti” included in the Ādi Granth.
The reference to Islam has already been made.
We may also explain here that in understanding this universal will in spiritual nature, Sikhism is nearer to the Christian view, where this will is held to be the will of God.
It is also interesting to note that Guru Nānak does not write “God’s Hukam”
but the very fact that it is understood in a universal sense, it conveys the same meaning of spiritual or divine will without using the word God:
We have already referred to this notion, as used in Sikhism, that the term is Semitic in source. But we may also recall that Hukam operates as internal to self and has to be realized internally through gradual progress.
State of self necessary for self-realization
The analysis of Sat and Sachiāra will be taken up in a latter section, but presently we shall allude briefly to some of the implications of this view-point of self-realization:
What, we may ask, is the proper state of the self for self-realization:
Can an imperfect self undertake this moral progress while it is usually torn between various passions, unbalancing propensities, impulses and springs of action, is a question we should not forget to ask.
To what extent can any meaningful moral progress be made while the self is ceaselessly under the influence of opposing valences driving it in this or that direction is an important consideration.
Guru Nānak, as also other Gurus, show full awareness of this aspect of the moral problem:
These propensities and spring of action, which, according to the Gurus may hinder the progress, are 5, namely:
kām, krodh, lobh, moh and Ahaṅkāra which respectively mean,
“concupiscence, anger, avarice or covetousness, attachment and pride.”
These are called the “thieves and burglars” which continuously steal away all merit.
All these must be harnessed and regulated in terms of the Ideal, if the self is to proceed smoothly on its quest.
Does that mean that Guru Nānak advocates some course of body inflictions for regulating them? Or does he advocate complete renunciation and asceticism?
It is evident from one of his remarks that Guru Nānak recognises that, psychologically, complete suppression is difficult or perhaps impossible and, ethically, needless or undesirable.
He, thereby, seems to accept the empirical situation of the self, in the way it is constituted and which self is to proceed on to the moral journey not be violent injury to it but by taming it or regulating it.
Guru Nānak and other Gurus speak overwhelmingly against extreme austerities, fasting or asceticism.
On this way, namely in Sikhi, therefore, the unity of self is to be attained by harnessing and regulating this aspect of life.
The favourite teachings of Sikhism in this direction are expressed in the favourite phrase “live like a lotus, in the water but detached from it,” or sometimes we witness the counsel of moderation.
We also find Gurus advising the person to substitute virtues for kām, krodh, lobh moh, Ahaṅkāra, as springs of action because, thereby, while the action may be done, their moral bases, would be different.
This, then, is the view of the Guru about the unity of self which is so very necessary and essential for self-realization.
The nature of social relationship and social context in this Moral Standard as Self-Realization
What is to be the validity of social context in this scheme of morality?
—it is the next question we may touch upon.
Is self-realization to be attempted in the seclusion of a deep cave or in the calm serenity of abodes far away from the social situations and involvements?
Would not such a seclusion be of far greater value—in terms of self-realization- than to live in society of other selves and be continuously frustrated by them over one thing or another?
In society one may be touched and get depressed by doings and happenings which are neither under one’s control nor are of one’s choosing,
and, therefore, would it not be of more help for self-realization if one decides to get away from the social situations and commitments?
The answer of the Gurus is in the negative. Sikhism does not permit this ‘running away’ from the social. One must accept the social as the necessary and essential factor in self-realization.
The home, social, national and human partnership in this progress is sanctified, and authenticity of the social context is validated.
If all ‘selves’ have sprung from the same spiritual continuum, there is the need of accepting the society as a spiritual unity and not of looking down upon it as a hinderance.
The acceptance and fulfilment of social and human loyalties is accorded a positive recognition.
In respect of social relationship, Sikhism is more willing to accept and enforce the logical conclusion of such a standpoint than some of the traditional idealistic and theistic systems of India had been which laboured within the framework of caste system of social relationship.
We shall see that the spiritual hero seeking self-realization ought to recognize that his self is ultimately not separate or opposed to other selves.
It is self-realization but not that of the narrow egoistic self. The social service, altruism and equality of all men is a significant part of it..
Nature of values according to this standard
What, it may be asked now, is the nature of values in the sense of whether these are to be considered objective or subjective?
We have already said that self has to realize Hukam as internal to itself but, by virtue of its being universal, it transcends the subjectivity of this or that particular.
Sikhism, in line with its general spiritual standpoint, holds that values are objective in the sense that the self has to discover them.
It conceives them as inalienably subjective qualities of Ideal entity or self in which all of them are grounded.
The very notion of development (the concept of khands or aspects) points to the fact that the self has to discover the values.
The Ideal Self is called Purukh, which is the supreme Entity in which all the values are conserved. It is what we may call in the religion terminology, God. The expression most popular with the Gurus in respect of God is “Thou” (Tudh, Teti, Tun etc.).
Being primarily a religious approach, the stress on objectivity of values is so intensely and sincerely laid that the utterances have a reasonable chance of being misunderstood as a sort of authoritarianism.
But the stress is understandable because the Gurus are perhaps thereby signifying their disapproval of any declaration of “I” as the source of representation of values.
Whether “Aham Brahmāsmi” (I am Brahman) of Śaṅkara’s school was in their mind, one may never know.
The whole stress of Vaiṣṇava movement or devotionalism—to which Sikhism in some respects is generally declared to be nearer—is on the objectivity of values.
Here objectivity means objective, so far as we or our self is concerned, but these are subjective in terms of the source of their conservation, which source, as per statement above, transcends subjectivity of this or that self.
The very expression of ladhā (found) or khojat (searched) point to the fact of this objectivity.
Fundamental spirit necessary for the realization of the Ideal:
A necessary sequel to our view of the objectivity of values is in terms of the spirit in which the self is to proceed towards self-realization.
This spirit, according to Guru Nānak, ought to be that of utter humility, partly expressed by him through the Arabic term raza:
It is customary to render it in English as “to yield or surrender”. It is indeed indicative of the spirit of surrender but not passive surrender. It is more a spirit of dedication.
It is the surrender of ego (Haumai), the consciousness of individuation, or what we may say, the acceptance of insignificance of one’s egoistic view-point, which is so very necessary for the seeker of the universal point of view.
But we must add that this consciousness of insignificance or surrender is not to lead to any defeatism, complacency, fatalism or some other doctrine of inaction or morbidity.
The use of the terms chalna (walking) as well as raza amply provides against any such misinterpretation:
The self becomes increasingly aware that there is an element which always transcends its activity, an awareness that one is not the whole and sole doer and that brings to it both solace as well as humility.
The doctrine of Grace (prasād, nadar, karam, bhaṇa), which is an important part of Sikhism, is another step in the same direction:
In this its stand-point is somewhat similar to Christianity and Rāmānuja. The latter also uses the term prasād in similar meanings and this spirit is common to almost all the devotional schools in India.
The spirit is somewhat like the one portrayed by William James, in his essays on morality:
“There is but one unconditional commandment, which is that we should seek incessantly, with fear and trembling, so to vote and to act as to bring about the very largest total universe of good which we can see.”
And Guru Nānak says, “Without Thee I am not a copper, but if Thou art pleased with me I become priceless.”
It is spirit of dedication that may be seen in this declaration, which makes the whole progress deeply religious.
The meaning of ‘Sat’ and ‘Sachiāra’
What, it may be asked now, are the meanings of the terms Sat, Sach and Sachiāra, which we have been using without examining them, though we have some general idea about their usage by now?
It may be important to add here that these terms (sat and sach) are used for the Absolute, which is the objective good, and the term Sachiāra is used for the self which realizes itself in the sense that it realizes this ultimate good.
The moral standard, thus, may be seen as having been derived from the general notion of the Absolute.
Consequently, it is necessary for us first to briefly examine this nature of the Absolute in order to appreciate fully the meanings of Sachiāra as applied to the moral agent.
In order to arrive at some proper conclusion it may be submitted here that it is necessary to cite the prevalent and the past interpretations of this term, as well as some of the possibilities:
It is, as it appears from their writings, customary with the scholars of Sikhism, among whom we include both the Eastern as well as the Western, to interpret Sat, Sach and Sachiāra as True, Truth and True One, respectively.
Thus we find Ernest Trumpp—the first Western scholar to render the Ādi Granth into English—translating the opening verse of the Granth under reference, in which these terms occur, as “The true name (sat nām) is the creator, the spirit without fear, the spirit without enmity.”
And the question “kiv Sachiāra hovie?" (the question of ideal-self according to our contention so far) is rendered by him as “How does one become a man of truth (knowing the true one).”
The term Sat thus is interpreted by him as “True”.
This “True Name” of that the Absolute was “true in the beginning... is true, will be true” (Ad sach, jagad sach), however, is not acceptable to another Western scholar, Max Arthur Macauliffe, who came historically after him:
He takes passage under reference to mean “There is but One God whose name is true, the creator, devoid of fear and enmity”;
and the next lines he interprets as “The True one was in the beginning; the True one was in the primal age. The True one is (bhi) now also; O, Nānak, the True also shall be.”
Here Macauliffe pauses and thinks as to what was conveyed by the Gurus in this description. He feels that “this translation is unmeaning, for it is not doubted that God was true in all ages.”
What was in Macauliffe's mind when he described the interpretation as “unmeaning”? Were he contemplating to seek some other meaning of Sat and Sach? It will remain a difficult problem to divine the exact meaning in Macauliffe's mind.
But from what he quotes for comparison, namely an inscription from a Greek temple: “I am all that was and is, and will be,” we may infer that perhaps the alternative meanings in his mind were in terms of “being, or eternal existence.”
This may be seen as the right attempt to understand the meanings in terms of its usage in the Sanskrit language from which Sat is taken.
But right here, what is very significant for us is the pause and the remark of Macauliffe, about the translation being unmeaning:
It is a tell-tale pause which requires us not to hurry onwards but seek to understand what the Guru is trying to convey through this term Sat. However, this pause is not noticed by scholars who followed Macauliffe as we shall see.
For these scholars, Sat Nām, Sat and Sach very obviously meant True Name, Truth, or True respectively, and like Trumpp these scholars also seem to be engulfed by the same force of the habit of translating Sat Nām as True Name and Sat as True or Truth.
Thus whatever Macauliffe had contributed by his important pause and looking around does not appear to have been availed of, though,
to be fair, we must recognise that the scholars could have been influenced by the use of the term Sach in many other passages of the Ādi Granth,
where it does convey the sense of speaking the truth, which is in fact also recognised as a virtue of very high moral order.
This seems to have weighed too heavily with the scholars leading them to see it in the same meanings even when it is used to indicate the Absolute or as the ideal of self-realization.
We have examined the views of Ernest Trumpp and Max Arthur Macauliffe and it may be pertinent to refer to other interpretations in the same direction arrived at in recent times.
Gopal Singh, a recent translator of the Ādi Granth, takes sat to be satya and renders it as “literally meaning Truth” and further clarifies that “Truth, in the Sikh credo, is that verity which is eternal.”
Mohan Singh renders it as “Truth-existence”.
Sohan Singh takes it to means “The Real”:
He regards sat and sach as having identical meanings—a point which we have been assuming throughout the preceding discussion—and these meanings he holds to be “The Real”.
The author of Guru Granth Kosh in Punjabi takes it to be derived from Sanskrit sat in the sense of “existent” (hona).
Sodhi Teja Singh explains it in terms of “equally present in all things and at all times.”'
We may entertain the following possibilities:
It could be said that the term Sat here has the same meaning which Satya has in Bhāgavata Purāṇa, where the opening verse is:
“an adoration of the ultimate truth (parama satya)... The essential (svarūpa) definitive nature of God is said to be truth (satya).”
It could also be the case that Guru Nānak used this word in the sense in which Sattā is used in Pali language, namely, a living being, creature, a sentient and rational being, person. He could have tried to convey the same sense by modifying the sattā to sat.
But it may be argued that the two words are different and it may not also be necessary to understand it in terms of its usage in Pali, when it can be adequately understood in terms of its usage in Sanskrit from which this term has been adopted in Punjabi.
It may also be considered that perhaps Guru Nānak has used Sat in the sense of Sanskrit word Sattva, from which also he might have derived it. Sattva is understood in the sense of strength, firmness, energy, courage, self-command.
The Sat could thus also be related to the Vedic word Satvān meaning “a strong or valiant man, hero, warrior.”
Here while Sattva could be understood in the sense of the Absolute, Satvān could be understood in the sense of Sachiāra as a reference to the ideal self.
In this way, we can also understand the historical development of Sikhism with an emphasis on being a spiritual hero or a warrior.
But, while it does explain the historical development of the Sikhs, it cannot be accepted for the same reason which led to our non-acceptance of the last possibility, in terms of the difference in the two words.
But, nevertheless, the ideal of Sachiāra does seem to have been influenced by the sense in which Satvān is understood.
We may now mention the sense in which Sat is understood in Sanskrit language from which it is adopted in Sikhism:
Sat in Sanskrit (from the root as meaning “to be”) is understood in the sense of “real, actual, as anyone or anything ought to be, true good, right (tan na sat “That is not right” as used in Vedas).
It is also used in the sense of “Universal spirit, Brahma.'” It is in this sense of Universal Spirit, or Brahman, that it is used and understood by Vedanta school and the earlier literature.
Mani Singh, the scribe of the recension of the Ādi Granth dictated by the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, and quoted by Ernest Trumpp, also points in the similar direction when he says “Brahma sach...”.
According to him, thus, Sach means Brahmā, and Brahmā as we have seen earlier, means “Universal Spirit.” The concept of Sat, therefore, has the influence of Vedānta, where it is elaborated in great detail.
But in Vedānta the ultimately reality, or the universal spirit, is termed sat-cit-ānanda while in Sikhism it is termed Sat Nām Karta Purakh. This shows some independence of meanings as well. We will now attempt to examine this difference.
The absolute in Vedānta (sat cit ānanda or Satchidānanda) is literally understood as “Existence, Consciousness, Bliss.”
Now in Sikhism, while Sat is common with the Vedānta tradition, it adds Nām, which it has in common with Buddhism, to denote “consciousness.”
But then Sikhism adds further Kartā (Creative energy or Activity), Purakh (entity).
The Absolute is thus conceived in Sikhism as dynamic and is viewed functionally. This attribute of the creative activity has considerably influenced the ideal of self-realization.
This also marks its difference from the Sānkhya school of Indian Philosophy, because, in Sānkhya, the Puruṣa is considered inactive, as it is pure consciousness; but in Sikhism it is declared to be Kartā, the Creative energy, activity.
Coming back to the use of Sat we may see that the only appropriate course is to understand it in terms of its usage in Sanskrit (from where it is adopted)
as “Real, existent, good” and when it refers to the ideals or self it, likewise, would mean “as anyone or anything ought to be.”
But these meanings will have to be conjoined with Sat Nām Karta Purakh when a reference is made to the Absolute.
The Gurus, however, do not always use the full Sat Nām Karta Purukh to refer to the Absolute but many a time simply use symbol Sat or Nām for the same.
Therefore, even when Sat or Nām is used singly it ought to be understood in the sense of Sat Nām Karta Purukh unless it is specified in some other manner in some particular context, for example, when Sach is used in the sense of truthful.
And here we may refer to the earlier interpretations of Sat by the scholars of Sikhism as truth, against which Macauliffe raised some doubt as observed by us earlier.
The use of the term truth here may be objected to on two grounds:
First, that it may cause it to be confused with truthful. It is in this sense that Macauliffe seems to have objected to its use.
Second, which is more important, that it may fail to convey the dynamic aspect, which, to be sure, is an important keynote of Sikh ethics.
It is perhaps due to this inability of mere Sat as truth to convey this dynamic creativity that Guru Nānak prefers to use, Sat Nām Karta Purukh.
It would, therefore, be better not to fall into the error of calling it as true or truth.
And if it is absolutely necessary to use the term Truth to convey the idealistic groundings of the Absolute it would be necessary to make it clear that it is being understood in the sense of this dynamic existence, which, from the moral angle, is held to be the highest good or the absolutely perfect. It is this Absolute that is declared to be fearless (Nirbhau) and without enmity (Nirvair) by Guru Nānak.
Let us now come to Sachiāra which is the ideal self to be realized. In the light of preceding discussion a Sachiāra is “as any one ought to be”. It is the fully realized self.
But here we may be faced with a difficulty, that a self has to seek light from realized self (Sachiāra) but till it has not realized itself, it cannot be fully aware of that state of the realized self.
It is in view of this difficulty that another term Sikh (a student, a seeker) is used for the self while it is still choosing its actions in terms of their conduciveness to the realization of the state of Sachiāra.
The light at this stage comes to him from the Guru (teacher) who is a realized self.
But, even apart from this guidance, the principle of Sach does afford us some clue towards this realization.
In the first instance, Sach requires the realization of the unity of self.
Second, the notion of the creative activity of the Absolute affords us another clue, that actions are chosen in terms of their creative improvement of the self and in social relation Sach becomes a principle of equality, non-exploitation, love, altruism and unity.
The most important would be that of unity:
If everyone is a participant in the same Absolute manifestation of the same universal spirit then it is the only moral course open for the self to realize and reflect this, not through some mystic intuition only, but through its actions also.
It is this stress on actions idealized by the notion of Kartā - discussed in terms of Absolute—that provides the clue
that the state of Sachiāra is realized through continuous creative efforts for improvement, and again the realization is characterised by a ceaseless activity for helping others.
Thus a self, when torn between, various impulses, can neither realize the state of Sachiāra nor can one, who may claim such realization, but in actions may seek to escape social responsibilities and human loyalties towards its improvement, be termed Sachiāra.
The ideal of all the discipline is to realize the pervasiveness of universal spirit in all and this is to be realized not only through gradual expansion of consciousness, but is also to be effectively translated in the actions of the self. It is only then that we can understand Kartā (creative activity) attributed to the Absolute by Guru Nānak.
Guru Nānak says: “Truth is higher than everything else but true conduct is higher than even truth.” A realized self – Gurmukh - is, known by his altruistic activity.
In this the Gurmukh or Sachiāra is nearer to the Christian mystic. Just as Eckhart says, “What a man takes in contemplation he must pour out in love.”
In Sikhism the Guru says that brahma giāni — used as a synonym of Sachiāra—does no evil: (Braham giāni to kich burn no bhaya) or that “a truly educated person is overflowing with altruism” (vidya vīchari tan parupkāri).
Therefore, in spite of the difficulty that the self has to seek light from the realized self (Sachiāra), when it is not Sachiāra as yet, there are enough cues available to him for setting out on this moral journey of self-realization. And this light and cues he obtains from the notion of the Absolute or the Perfect.
The cue to this principle of progress is also provided by the negative aspect of this standard. This negative aspect is the progressive transformation of Haumai (ego) in the sense of its negation by progressive expansion.
In starting this negative aspect in very clear terms Guru Nānak seems to be following the general Indian tradition of negative description neti neti (not this, not this):
This aspect of the standard tells us what the moral progress is not, and according to it ‘my’ or ‘mine’ (which consciousness is immoral)-is gradually to be transformed into ‘we’
and then this ‘we’ has to be gradually expanded (vikās) to include the whole creation or existence, So that, it reaches ‘we-all’. This negative aspect clearly would not permit the self to make any concession or relaxation in its own favour.
In Sikhism, Guru Nānak integrates this aspect of the moral principles as a negative aspect of his general idealistic standpoint of self-realization. It is what Bradley may call ‘Self-realization through self-sacrifice.’
In Sikhism it is found along with the positive content of sach sehaj (unity of self) in terms of its relevance to the personal issues,
and in social context, as the awareness-and expression through actions—of the unity of humanity and existence as manifestation of sat.
Historically, in India, satya as truth largely superseded the Vedic notion of ṛita as the moral principle of righteousness during the Brāhmaṇas period, that is, the literature which followed Vedic period and preceded the Upaniṣads.
But though satya replaced ṛita, the negative form of the latter as anṛita established itself as opposite of truth (satya).'
This satya however, as a moral principle, is interpreted as speaking truth. The untruth is described as “a hole in the voice which can be filled by adding a syllable to a verse.”
However, when we come to Advaita Vedānta the stress is on sat as constituent of the Absolute Sat Cit Ānanda and Sikhism seems to have some similarity with Vedānta in this regard rather than with Brāhmaṇas literature.
Another reason for the adoption of this term in Sikhism could have been that in Islam (particularly among the Sufis) the ultimate reality is described as Haqq which, rendered into the English language, is ‘Truth’.
The Sikh Gurus might have found in this term an excellent meeting ground between the two great idealistic traditions of the world, namely, Hinduism and Islam,
and might have attempted to demonstrate the compatibility and similarity of views,
though the Gurus, as we have seen, did introduce variations, her and there, in accordance with their experience of reality as well as their concept of the principle of the moral and spiritual progress.