Sikh Duties | Raza & Rehat


Sikh Duties | Raza & Rehat

1. Introduction

The notion of obligation, in Sikhism, reveals 2 stages of its development, neither of which, however, is independent of each other;

rather the second and later stage in the development is an attempt at an elaboration of the first, with some additions inspired by the genius of the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh.

It may not be possible to affirm that all these elaborations as contained in various Rehatnāmas are directly traceable to him

yet, chronologically at least, these rules, in the form of Rehatnāmas, must have become current after the inauguration of the Khalsa, the present institutionalised form of Sikhism, in the year 1699.

A general principle of duties appeared first in Sikhism in the teachings of Guru Nānak and some of the prominent personal and social duties, relating the person to the organisation, evolved gradually later. We may follow the same scheme in the present article.

2.  General principle of duties - Raza

We may observe that persons are born in different socio-geographical environments, take up different vocations and live in varied family groups. This indicates a vast expanse of possibilities in terms of life situations.

Now, it may be conceded that if one were to compile a detailed list of duties, which would cater to all the life situations, the list so prepared may, apart from remaining imperfect, also involve the difficulties and problems associated with casuistry.

It is perhaps these factors which led Guru Nānak to lay down the general principle of the duties of the situations which could be applicable to all life situations:

The general principle, so laid down by Guru Nānak, enjoins that

“whatever be the duties, entailed by one’s station, these ought to be performed to the best of one’s ability till one may move to the next station, and then perform duties of the next station.”

whatever be the duties, entailed by one’s station, these ought to be performed to the best of one’s ability till one may move to the next station, and then perform duties of the next station.

Guru Nānak

This notion of the duties of the stations is laid down in Sikhism by the tenet of raza.

The scholars of Sikhism have generally not paid attention to the interpretation of this notion though it contains an important principle of the Sikh ethics and also reflects the great vision of the Guru.

The scholars have generally rendered raza as resignation or surrender to God’s will.

This interpretation appears to lay undue emphasis on passivism, or even fatalism, in addition to its failure to bring out the distinguishing mark of the principle denoted by raza.

Guru Nānak has laid down that one ought to realize the universal will in raza.

What is raza? It is a vital question. Is it passive surrender to the universal will or is it active appropriation of the universal will as integral to the self? The answers to these questions depend upon the analysis of the notion itself.

The term raza in Sikhism is a borrowed one. It was in use by the Sufis (Muslim mystic saints) with whom Sikhism has some doctrinal as well as historical affinity.

The significance and meaning of the term raza are given in detail by Abul Hassan Ali, son of Usman Hujviri. According to him, the word raza can be used as meaning a station as well as a state.

Raza, according to Hujviri, is understood in 2 senses:

raza of God with human beings which means the divine reward for man’s endeavour in doing good and the raza of human beings with God which consists in their submission and service to God.

Man’s raza depends upon God’s satisfaction with him.

Raza is considered to be higher than renunciation (sannyāsa) as the former is the result of love for God and the latter that of indifference to worldly enjoyments.

It is further explained about station and state that the former means

“stationing on the way leading towards God, and fulfilling the duties connected with that station until the seeker is able and is fit to proceed to the next station.

State or hāl is not attained by self-discipline, but is a gift from God. Thus, the former is connected with human action and the latter with divine mercy.”

Guru Nānak, who moved among the Sufis and the followers of Islam, might have learnt the use of this term from them.

While applying this principle of raza to Sikhism, we may remember that the socio-economic context of the householder only is accorded merit.

Thus station and its duties, as understood in Sikh ethics, ought to be interpreted in terms of obligations connected with the social situations of the person on his journey towards the realization of the ideal.

The principle of raza as applied to ethics, clearly reveals that the person who does not perform the duties of his station to the best of his ability is morally inferior. A conscious recognition of duties as such, as well as their performance, is in fact the realization of hukam in raza.

It may, however, be only too proper to add here that the social situation is not to be understood in the narrow terms of conforming to the ethos of one’s own communal or social group because the ethics suggested by the Gurus was to transcend beyond narrow sectarian considerations.

We may, consequently, conclude that the moral notion denoted by raza indicates the general principle of duties as applicable to all life situations, whether actual or possible.

However, in Sikhism, apart from the above general principle of obligation enjoined by raza we also come across some other imperatives or duties. The duties enjoined are both general as well as organisational.