The Concept of Chaṛhdī Kalā in Sikhism
by Baljit Singh Bagga
The Sikhs are a unique spirit-born people believing in Guru Nānak’s basic concepts of “Work, Worship and Charity” and “Gurmukh, Nām, Dāna, Ishnana.”
Nām refers to the Power, the Energy, the Universal Cosmic Life Force and the vibrant manifestation of God in creation.
Chaṛhdī Kalā indicates the elation or high spirits of Sikhism:
Chaṛhdī Kalā, meaning “the waxing mood” is an equivalence of a mind that never despairs, never admits defeat and refuses to be crushed by adversities.
It is the cherished ideal mood which the Gurus have preached and for which a Sikh daily prays in his Ardas (Prayer).
“Nānak nām chaṛhdī kalā, tere bhāṇe sarbatt dā bhalā.”
Nānak, may Your Name be exalted
and may all of mankind prosper according to your Will
Nām is the Power, the Energy that is always unlimited and never diminishes, no matter how much one partakes of it. In Gurbani Nām is also referred to as the Holy Life Force, as the Entity which is immanent and yet transcendent.
As the Guru Granth Sahib tells us,
“Says Nānak: Eternal is the foundation that the Guru has laid for my house and it becomes firmer with the passage of each day.” (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, pp.500-501).
Chaṛhdī Kalā is the superior and glorious state of mind in which there is no fear, jealousy or enmity and there is a constant celestial bliss of self-dignity, self-abundance and grandeur of soul.
Chaṛhdī Kalā is the indicator of a Sikh’s absolute faith in One Akal Purakh (Eternal Creator).
The five K’s of Khalsa, a gift from the Guru; are indicative of dignity and power:
They are outer indications of the inner spirit that knows of no reverse or disappointment; of that personality that is unconquerable in its hopes, of its spiritual radiance that is always a fountain of inspiration to others.
The life of the Spirit-born people imbibed in Nām makes the Khalsa noble, bold and free, self-less, flower-like and sun-like.
They represent moral influence, radiating peace, good-will, friendship, fellowship, life, and vigour.
They live in perpetual blossom like a flower with joy ever-lasting, and remain in a state of eternal bliss, not after death in some unknown region, but even now, here in this very life.
This is the central truth embodied in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the universal scripture of mankind capable of dispelling the mist of ignorance and prejudice and propagating the light of Truth:
This Truth is the metaphysical Reality, Beauty and Goodness that contributes to happiness.
Man must not run away from the worldly life:
The worlds of science and art co-exist and one can enjoy them by identifying himself with the Will of God and by complete and unconditional acceptance of the direction of the Divine Will, he attains to the highest summit of spiritual bliss.
This article will analyse the concept of Chaṛhdī Kalā and include the following aspects:
1. Basic principles of Sikhism regarding the Creation, the Creator and the object of human life.
2. Philosophy of optimism and doctrines of Nām Amrit.
3. Attributes of Sikh practising the principle of Bhana.
4. Sikh history: how Sikhs remained calm, contented, courageous, control- led, cheerful and in Chaṛhdī Kalā.
5. Sikh Ardas : aspects of feeling of humility, faith, self- surrender and universal optimism.
6. The discipline of Sikh gurus.
7. Dynamic transvaluation of materialism of modern times to impart comfort, peace of mind and happiness.
8. Society for Victory of God.
(1) Basic Principles of Sikhism
Now let us try to analyse how this state of Chaṛhdī Kalā or dynamic optimism is developed. To understand it we must review the basic principles of Sikhism:
Sikhism is the most modern religion and there are great differences between the ideals and objectives preached by Sikhism and those by other religions of the world:
Sikhism is original in character and the Sikh Gurus adopted in pursuance of their spiritual experience whatever they found practical, good and useful for humanity:
They rejected ritualism, formalism, parochialism and prejudices.
They worked out morality and spiritualism for the well-being of humanity as a whole.
Man has always had the mystical urge to know the unknown:
When and how this world was created? Who is the Creator? What is the form of Creator? What is the purpose of human life? What is life, death, transmigration, reincarnation?
Firstly, about the Creation, the Sikh Gurus have not given a definite theory but left the question open and offered some scientific concepts, e.g.,
“There are infinite skies and infinite underworlds:
Only He knows who created the Universe: (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 5)
There was darkness for countless years, there was
no earth or sky, no sun or moon, no day or night, only Divine Will prevailed. (Ibid., p. 1035)
From the Holy Creator has come air, from air water and with water are the three worlds created, and Divine Light in all beings is pervasive: (Ibid., p. 19)
“Even if I know I can’t describe it because He is ineffable” (Ibid., p. 2)
“God created His own Self and the Cosmic Life Force,
He then created the universe and pervaded Himself in it (Ibid., p. 463)
All beings are sustained by the Divine force and all continents and universes are also sustained by this universal Cosmic Force. (Ibid., p. 284)
In summary the theory of creation is that everything was created by Him and only He knows about it.
Secondly, about the Creator, Sikh Gurus have presented original principles which are an expression of their mystical experience and are expressed through poetic symbolism.
The basic logic of Sikh ism derives from the revelation and we have to see what that revelation is. A question was asked and the reply was:
You ask me what the mark of the Lord is! He is all Love, the rest He is ineffable. (Ibid., P.459)
Now God is Love and Love is a dynamic force, it has direction and it is the mother of all virtues. God has been called the ocean of virtues. To know God, we must become God-like by imbibing virtues and being in love with Him.
Thirdly, the question is about the objective of existence:
In Sikhism the world is real and values and virtues can be expressed in the world. Human life is the supreme state of creation.
Man has the capacity to apprehend the Divine, but his ego blocks his vision. The purpose of human life is to seek Him, the Ultimate Reality, and be re-united with Him.
You have obtained the privilege of human birth, now is our opportunity to meet God. (Ibid., p. 378)
Gurbani encourages us to look at the bright side of life rather than the dark side:
O, man, you have a spiritual spark, know thyself. (Ibid., p. 441)
The attainment of Sikh’s goal is Jīvanmukta (live-liberation) or achievement of union with God while still alive, and in the service of humanity.
(2) Philosophy of Optimism and Nām Amrit
It is not possible to deal in this short article with the major concepts of Sikhism with regard to God, Guru, Nām, Śabad, World, Maya, Haumai, Shubh Karam and Allied topics.
The entire Sikh philosophy can be divided into 5 attributes i.e.:
Seva, Sadāchāra, Sadh-sangat, Sangīt and Simran
(service, ethical conduct, company of the holy, hymn singing and remembrance of God or contemplation.)
While in union with God, the God-conscious lives constantly in eternal bliss:
Nām keeps the mind charged with spiritual strength, so Chaṛhdī Kalā is a charged state of mind which is in cosmic equilibrium (Sahej).
The combination of the attributes of a higher level of consciousness, perception, morality and spirituality creates a personality whose object is not physical enjoyment, but to do good deeds.
This is called the state of Sahej, Turīya, Super consciousness, Universal consciousness.
He lives in dynamic optimism, always seeking blessings for all mankind.
According to Guru Arjan this world is a garden, there are many shady trees yielding the fruits of “nectar Nām”. He, who receives the Nectar-fruit of Nām from the Guru, crosses the sea of Maya.
a. The world is a garden of flowers and fruits.
Goodness as an ideology will triumph ultimately.
b. There is development of man towards perfection.
There is evolutionary progress towards spirituality and perfection. This gives hope and optimism to man.
c. The presence of evil teaches us to choose the good by striving through suffering and achieving the Nectar, which is within the reach of all.
Again, Guru Nānak says that the motive force for the creation of man is unquestionably to change him from man to an angel or a Gurmukh and to give him the opportunity and capability of achieving perfection. Ibid., p. 462
Man’s body is subjected to the laws and limitations of the phenomenal world.
But spiritually we can be free and in tune with the Will of God.
(3) Principle of Bhana
The state of Sahej is achieved by following the “Divine Will.”
He who follows God and carries out His will with joy, comes not to harm or grief:
All his activities, duties and efforts are dedicated to God and at the time of crisis he feels that God is functioning through his body, mind, intellect and speech.
His consciousness is merged in the super-consciousness, He does whatever pleases God. (Ibid., p. 726)
According to Guru Arjan, the Gurmukh, who follows His Will possesses these characteristics, keeping him always in Chaṛhdī Kalā:
He acts imbued with the love of God.
Forever he abides with Lord.
He does everything with spontaneous cohesion.
He works according to the Creator’s vision.
To the devotee all the Lord does is sweet,
He merges in Lord, who is his Source.
Repository of joy, such is his unique force.
In honouring him, He-honours His own excellence.
For Nānak, God and His devotees are identical in essence.
(Ibid., p. 282)
(4) Sikh History and Chaṛhdī Kalā
The Sikh history is full of examples of the optimism (Chaṛhdī Kalā) of Sikhs under difficult circumstances. They remained calm, contented, courageous, cheerful, controlled and in full Chaṛhdī Kalā.
Those who lead an optimistic type of life are never afraid of hostilities, opposition and even death. They regard obstacles and hardships as the beauty of life and consider difficulties to be the secret of success and progress in life. As Sir Mohammad Iqbal said:
O’ Eagle, do not be afraid of the swift and hostile winds,
because they are there to make you fly even higher.
A Gurmukh always lives in high spirits and in an exalted state, leading a divine life.
Guru Nānak proclaims: “Liberation and supreme bliss come by contemplation and meditation. A God - directed person never faces defeat.” Ibid., p.942
(5) Sikh Daily Prayer or Ardās
Chaṛhdī Kalā has a direct relationship with the ceremonial Sikh prayer or Ardās:
The Sikh prays for a humble mind and sound intellect, victory of the Khalsa Panth, and the betterment of the humanity. The Sikh Ardās demands complete obedience to Divine Will.
To understand the feeling and objective of the prayer, let us consider a hymn from Gurbani:
“All that happens is in the Lord’s Will.
We would do (a thing) only if we could.
All that one wants to do, one cannot;
O Lord, keep me in Thy Will.
O’ my God, all Thy Beings are under Thy Sway.
We, Thy Creatures, are powerless:
So Bless us Thou as Thou Wiliest.”
Ibid., p. 736
This hymn represents an intense feeling of prayer which dis-closes three main aspects:
(a) Intense feeling of human helplessness, humility and ignorance.
(b) Deep faith in the greatness, strength, and gratuity and excellence of Lord,
(c) Intense yearning for his gratuity after submitting to His Will.
The entire approach and the faith of the seeker create a feeling of optimism.
(6) Discipline of Sikh Gurus
According to the Sikh Gurus, the first step towards God -realisation is self-realisation:
A self-realised person also known as a Gurmukh, Panch, Sachiar, Jīvanmukta or mystic, is a man who is above lust, anger, vanity, enmity, etc.
He has the virtues of truth, love, continence, sweetness, contentment, self-control, modesty, straight- forwardness; compassion, fearlessness, purity, moderation, faith, generosity and humility.
In Sikhism the reality of the world, the significance of poise and balance in life and the ethics of creative activism have been stressed.
There is equal stress on the physical and spiritual well-being of the individual and society and a balanced combination of knowledge, action and devotion.
A Gurmukh lives truthfully and has no ego. For in Sikhism truthful living is considered to be the highest virtue.
The consummation towards which the spiritual life of a Sikh moves after a steady discipline, contemplation and negation of self-hood is the consciousness of reality, living in the temporal world at the universal level, just as the lotus flower lives in a swampy pond.
As the lotus thrusts upward and does not drown in water,
as the duck swims and does not become wet while swimming,
so can we cross, safely and unaffectedly, the ocean of existence
by attuning our minds to the word of Guru
and repeating the holy Name of God (Ibid., p. 938)
(7) Dynamic Transvaluation and Ideal Person
Guru Nānak was a creator and an innovator whose incisive mind and revolutionary transvaluation of values made him a link between the past and future of human destiny.
He projected his wisdom into the stream of consciousness of other faiths.
He emphasized his ethics of Creative Enlightenment and Activism, in which he demanded that every enlightened person should cease to live for himself and work for the betterment of society.
The discipline enunciated by the Sikh Gurus is a universal discipline and requires the disciple to perform his worldly duties along with his spiritual responsibilities:
He has to remain alert on the three planes i.e. physical, mental and spiritual.
The Sikh Ethics in practice brings before us an ideal person thoroughly balanced in physical, mental and spiritual attributes:
In him we find a whole-life combination of action, knowledge and devotion (saint-soldier), which keep him in Chaṛhdī Kalā.
Guru Nānak says: “The Gurmukhs or Ideal Persons are always cheerful and in Chaṛhdī Kalā and moving forward.” Ibid., p. 2
(8) Society for Victory of God
Keeping in view the definition of Khalsa and the services rendered and sacrifices made by it for the cause of humanity, it can rightly be said that the Sikh is not a religious fanatic, but he is a seeker of truth and spiritual living.
It may be said that it is Guru Nānak who gave us the concept of “Khalsa” and a Sikh Society with a socio-religious role.
It is here that we can say that the foundation of a pure society was laid down by Guru Nānak. It reached its culmination in the form of Khalsa in 1699:
Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa, the brotherhood of the pure does not belong to one community but it belongs to the whole humanity.
It is in this context that the Sikhs in their daily prayer beseech the well-being of the whole humanity and hopefully desire that the Khalsa should live and work truthfully and optimistically.
Also since Khalsa is the army belonging to God, it has always to struggle and strive for the victory of righteousness and of God. This is a concept of the victory of virtue over evil.
Sikhism is a dynamic religion. Its objective is not only the spiritual development of the individual but also the progress and uplift of mankind as a whole.
Professor Arnold Toynbee called Sikh ism “a higher religion” because it aims at the creation of a new society.
Its belief in a moral, just and benevolent world- order makes it a forward-looking religion. It lays stress on an egalitarian and moral society.