News & Views




  I S C

  Research Project

  About Us




Guru Granth - Guru Khalsa Panth

Dr N Muthu Mohan*

Gurmukh, Sangat and Khalsa Panth
The present paper titled Gurmukh, Sangat and Khalsa Panth traces the way the Gurus propose to make a new congregation that is ethically pure and socially active and communicative. The paper may also probe into the pattern that is available in the Guru Granth Sahib as the structure or the general framework and the Khalsa founded by the Tenth Guru as the agency or carrier to realize the ideals envisaged. It has to be noted that the Gurus were not satisfied merely with giving a scripture to the Sikhs, by which a system of religio-normative prescriptions was awarded. The Gurus were interested more in an agency that would tirelessly work for achieving the goals set in the Sikh scripture. In a sense, the Guru Granth Sahib itself contains the idea of installing a new community of people to take up the message of the Gurus. The Sikh Scripture, in so many words, describes such an institution. It names it as the saadh sangat, a new collectivity of people voluntarily committed to the Sikh ideals. Indeed, the sangat is not an external supplement to the theoretically articulated principles of Sikhism. The new individual, gurmukh, cannot be formed without getting into the congregation of saadh sangat. The socialization of the individual is an inalienable part of the making of the gurmukh. In other words, gurmukh is possible only as an onto-social reality. Thus, there is an intimate and essential relationship between the Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru Panth. One initiates the other, one continues the other, one complements the other, one conditions the other and one perfects the other. Guru Granth Sahib is considered in the Sikh tradition as the Living Guru. This fact adds up to our understanding of relations between the Granth Sahib and Guru Panth. The relation between the Granth Sahib and Guru Panth continues to be as one of Guru and Disciple, making it a lively dialogue to respond to the fresh problems of every coming age.

Two aspects must be brought to focus regarding the importance of Guru Panth as comparative moments in the context of the known histories of religions:
1. The Gurus did not stop by proposing religious and normative values addressed to the individual. Addressing the individual and transforming the individual psyche is a tested method in the history of religions. This was the usual way followed during the medieval period. However, Sikhism goes beyond this routine.
2. Another religious routine in vogue in the medieval period was instituting the order of priesthood to carry out the religious message. The Sikh Gurus did not use this option either. They entrusted this responsibility to their Sikhs. Both these facts underline significance the Gurus attached to the Guru Panth. Maybe, Guru Panth is not a finished concept but it is a Long March towards perfection, not in an idealistic sense but in terms of going through the real problems the Panth encounters at every historical juncture.

The Sikh history during the Guru period moves from working out values for evolving a new personality (gurmukh) through linking the persons with a congregation (sangat) to consolidating the latter into a real socio-religious agency (Khalsa). Thus, there are at least three stages between the Guru Granth Sahib and the Khalsa. They are organically united. No one moment is more important than the other. They all are equally significant. They are conditioned by the collective genius of the Ten Gurus. The history of the Guru-period made the process inevitable and necessary. The history of the Guru-period is the most creative period in the above sense. We cannot avoid stating that the entire dialectics of the Guru-period contributed to the confirmation of the above said process, thus bringing into reality the formation of the Khalsa Order. The most interesting part of the story is that the consequent history of Sikhism has proved beyond doubt that only the complementary dialectics of Guru Granth and Khalsa Panth has successfully contributed to the development of Sikhism.

Thus, we have identified three stages in the process of achieving the Sikh ideals, namely :
1. The making of the gurmukh
2. The making of the sangat and
3. The making of the Khalsa.

These three aspects need to be studied elaborately.

The Making of the Gurmukh
The gurmukh is the new personality the Gurus wanted to create. A gurmukh is created, to put it plainly, out of the raw individual, the manmukh. In the Sikh understanding, a manmukh is haumain-oriented, that is, egocentric. The Sikh scripture unequivocally says that ego is the one that stands between the humans and God. Because of ego, one becomes alienated from God, and leaving behind ego, one becomes attuned with God.

Although addressing the individual to achieve the religious ideal is a traditional mode, the specific methodology of Guru Granth is that it brings to focus the social and cultural dimensions of the ego, and proposing to eliminate them to reach the ideal of gurmukh. Guru Granth does not stop at enumerating the five evils (kama, krodh, etc) that usually go with the ego. The uniqueness of Sikhism lies in identifying the social roots or dimensions of the five evils. Guru Granth Sahib concretizes the five evils in the specific historical conditions. Thus, haumain in Sikhism is associated with prides that hail out of power, status and wealth. This is where Sikhism very fundamentally diverges from the medieval religious paradigm.

One wielding royal authority from egoism acts;
Like the parrot bound in illusion of the trap is he too bound. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 408
From egoism and avarice arise caste arrogance,
Violent wrath and pride. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 430

Let us have a comparative perspective to make this point clear. The Saiva Siddhanta philosophy of medieval Tamilnadu, to compare with, indeed identifies aanava mala as the basic evil that distorts human existence. Aanava means ego. “The original spiritual dirt called aanava is the root dirt or mula mala… It is the innate, pre-cosmic defilement.”1 Postulating aanava more fundamental than any other, Saiva Siddhanta occupies a closer position with Sikhism. But, Saiva Siddhanta does not concretize the aanava in its historical context; it sees it as a thoroughly psychological phenomenon, thus its critique of ego remains within the traditional paradigm only. As a result, the elimination of ego in Saiva Siddhanta is thorough psychological as it could be expected from any other medieval thought system. When the critique of ego remains psychological, the person developed by that means remains purely religious. In other words, he/she fails to grow into social and his/her criticism too lags behind becoming social. In such a case, despite the genuineness of the attempt to overcome the ego, the person involved in the process continues to remain withdrawn from social commitments. This in retrospect creates a viewpoint in the person negative towards anything social, including social criticism. The genius of Sikhism is that it comes to identify haumain as the basic source of evil in all its socio-historical contexts, and consequently, the eradication of haumain too is socio-historical. To be more exact, the Sikh standpoint is both psychological and social, both inward and outward. It is transforming oneself as well as the environment that conditioned oneself. Guru Granth Sahib offers so many psychological means of eradicating ego as well as advices to eliminate the structures or formation of ego operating in society.

Naam smaran is the fundamental way shown by Guru Granth to liquidate ego on the psychological plane. By consistently remembering God and endlessly praising His greatness, one achieves religious humility.

The Lord’s Name utter while engaged in work and all tasks,
On the way and at riverbanks;
Thus, by the Master’s grace quaff Divine Amrita – Guru Granth Sahib, p 387

Medicine of the Name Divine have I taken,
Joyful is my heart, gone are sorrows,
All creation joyful has become,
As Nanak in mind on the Supreme Being has meditated. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 379

Voluntarily accepting the guidance of Guru and scrupulously following his teachings is another basic way of doing away with the ego.

The Master is the sole amrita-tree bearing amrita fruit. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 422

The Master is the Lord’s image
The Lord in the Master pervasive-
Between the two, Brother, no difference is. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 443

The institution of Guru in Sikhism embraces the broader meaning of the Word, the gurbani, the living Guru of Guru Granth Sahib.

Along with indicating the psychological means of overcoming the ego, Guru Granth Sahib addresses to the equally important social structures of ego. Casteism, institutions of power and wealth are the social sources of ego, according to Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru declares that he has nothing to do with the upper castes, rich and the powerful. He associates himself with the lowest of the lowly and speaks on their behalf.

Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low class,
the very lowest of the low.
Why should he try to compete with the great?
In that place where the lowly are cared for—there,
The Blessings of Your Glance of Grace rain down. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 29

The Guru picks up the values inflicted upon the most oppressed and deprived in a caste-ridden society, and transforms them into the values of the gurmukh. Values such as humility, servitude, devotion, sacrifice, submission, etc., are the values imposed upon the oppressed by the ruling classes during the ancient and medieval periods. Those same values undergo very interesting metamorphosis in the hands of the Gurus. The Guru makes those very values basic to his religious beginnings too, but with a fundamental difference. No more such values are to be adhered to in relation to the rich, power-hungry and casteist ruling classes, but they are to be followed more intensely in relation to the almighty God, the Akalpurakh. This trans-valuation contains a negation and an assertion. Devotion to God registers the protest of devotion to the earthly oppressors. Absolute devotion to God only, and not to anybody else, registers the refusal to submit to any earthly demands for submission. One can note the clear insistence of the Gurus on not surrendering to or fearing anyone else except God. It is advised to overcome the master-slave relations in earthly affairs with the help of utmost devotion to God.

There is another reason why the Guru transforms the values of the oppressed as the starting point of the values of the gurmukh. Acharya Hrudhayam, a 13th century Vaishnavite commentary of Tamilnadu renders an interesting explanation to why the Bhaktas preferred to be associated with the fourth varna. It states that ahanghara is the natural state of the first three varnas whereas humility or egolessness is the natural state of the fourth varna. The quoted work continues its discussion that to the one who is unaccustomed at all to service it is impossible to become devotee to God, and thus the servile classes of the society become naturally eligible to God’s service (Ibid, p 260).

The Making of the Sangat
The term and concept of sangat remind us to think about Buddhism. The term has travelled to Punjabi from Pali. The prehistory of Punjab tells us about the influence of Buddhism in this region. The North-west Indian city of Taxila hosted a famous Buddhist university and Sarvastivada, a Buddhist school of thought had originated from this part of the country. This historical fact tells us that not only the term sangha, but also the concept of sangha has travelled from Buddhism to Sikhism. (The Tamils too had a similar history. The Tamil language too retains so many Pali words. Tamilnadu has a Buddhist phase of its history. The ancient Tamil literature goes with the title of Sangam literature).

M N Shastri, a specialist in Buddhism tells us how Buddha brought into the history of religions a new idea, an idea of an organized and committed community among the scattered monks who used to follow a particular teacher but enjoying independent paths. “The sangha was power. The power did not lay in Buddha or in any of the bhiksus, prominent or insignificant, but it lay in the sangha as a body-corporate. The sangha was a great republic. The united voice of the members, and the unanimously passed laws were all supreme. It was in fact the ruling voice — the supreme controlling power — the great moral force of Buddha’s great religion”2 The quoted author considers that the most important of Buddha’s works was his sangha, the order of bhiksus. The author evidences that the immediate followers of the Buddha too considered that the sangha was the most important for the survival of Buddhism.

Soon after the death of Buddha, a Council was held under the presidency of Kasyapa who said: “Which shall we repeat first — the Vinaya, Sutra or Abhidharma?”

The bhiksus replied, “The Vinaya is the life of Buddhism. If Vinaya is properly defined, the religion of our Great Master will continue to exist. Let us therefore first define the Vinaya Pitaka.” Vinaya Pitaka is the treatise that lays the organizational foundations of Buddhist sangha.

This episode tells us about the significance of the sangha in the history of Buddhism. This could be very much true of the Sikh sangat too.

The path from gurmukh to sangat may be similar to the path travelled by a Buddhist monk to a sangha, with the basic difference that a gurmukh is not a monk. “A bhiksu is directed to live in a state of entire abstraction from the world. The door of the eye is to be kept shut… The true bhiksu is enjoined to renounce all carnal indulgences. There must be a complete annihilation of all affections.”3 By making the bhiksu, an ascetic as the elementary unit of the sangha, Buddhism limited itself from becoming a popular religion. Sikhism accepts that the gurmukh must be an enlightened being, but it does not offer the ideal of asceticism to its gurmukh. However, the idea of sangat as a form of collective work and collective living has found itself in Sikhism.

Another similarity between Buddhism and Sikhism too is striking. The Buddhist ideal of sangha emerges as an outcome of its theoretical principle of anatmavada and practical discipline of dissolving the individuality. The Sikh ideal of sangat too emerges as a counterweight to haumain and deconstruction of individuality and subjectivity. Emptying the individuality of its ego is a very old theme of Indian spirituality, may be, taking its origin from Buddhism. The Sakya Singha, Lord Buddha, advocated this ideal reaching the anatma state or Nirvana or Sunyata. The idea behind this ideal is that by achieving the state of Nothingness, one becomes everything. This dialectics of Nothing transforming into Everything, later travelled into the Bhakti tradition too, proposing absolute surrender as the way of reaching God. In western philosophy, Hegel operated with this dialectics. Karl Marx handled this theme by suggesting that the proletariats by having lost everything consequently achieve the entire world.

The most consistent articulation of the theme of Nothingness turning into Everything is found in Sikhism. We call it the most consistent, because the lowest of the low achieves not only the secular (Miri) successes but also, and above all, the spiritual (piri) successes. After all, an ultimate healthy social living cannot be constructed merely in terms of secular successes. Sikhism offers the integrated and organic ideal. Guru Nanak Dev asserts that by making yourself the lowest of the low you become everything. By the death of ego you go nearest to God. By dissolving the ego you reach the state of sahaja. By dying in life, your life becomes deathless and fearless of death. By dissolving the ego you become one with the society. Both psychological spontaneity and social responsibility are accomplished. Democratic culture within and without is attained. Oppressive structures operating in social body as well as in psychological level are both eradicated.

Guru Granth Sahib suggests in innumerable passages that associating oneself with the saadh sangat is the way to the making of gurmukh as well as to remain stable in the state of gurmukh. Sangat is the stable and enduring mode of gurmukh.

In the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy,
The True Name of the Lord comes to dwell in the mind.
Very fortunate are those, O Nanak,
Whose minds are filled with this love. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 101

In the Saadh Sangat, He dwells within the mind,
And one’s works are brought to perfect fruition. – Guru Granth Sahib, p 103

The Supreme Lord showers His Mercy,
And we find the saadh sangat, the Company of the Holy.
The more time we spend there,
The more we come to love the Lord.- Guru Granth Sahib, p 141

The Making of the Khalsa
The sangat develops into the Khalsa, that is the history of Sikhism during the Guru-period. This has a remarkable significance in the history of Sikhism. In order to understand the true meaning of the making of the Khalsa, one has to compare the Khalsa with the institutions of priesthood, on the one hand, as well as with the institution of monkhood, on the other. In Indian context, we know that the priesthood is typically associated with the Brahmanic ideology and later with the temple culture, and the monkhood is mostly associated with the Buddhists and the Tantric Siddhas. Historically the institution of priesthood had proved to be reactionary and bureaucratic whereas the institution of monkhood had miserably failed in its mission of following the middle path and slipped into a through asceticism.

Sikhism strikes a new path. With the historical experience of the decadence of priesthood (masands) from within and without (Brahmin purohitas), Sikhism steps into organizing the new mode of collectivity. The Gurus decide to empower the people, a mode although difficult, but truly democratic.

The dialectics of Nothingness turning into Everything has found an interesting development in the formation of the Khalsa. Let us look at the discussion of the French philosopher, Sartre on the theme of Nothingness in this regard. In the philosophy of Sartre, the concept of Nothingness is more fundamental than any other concept. For Sartre, Nothingness is the source of freedom, freedom as doing, and it is also the source of negation and revolution. Only after deeply experiencing the Nothingness of oneself, even by way of encountering one’s own death, the humans understand that they are determined by nothing and further, that they are ‘condemned to be free’. From this phase onwards, the humans start acting freely, consciously choosing their actions. Consciousness, freedom and action combine to make a fresh construction. It negates the established oppressive structures too. Thus, Nothingness becomes the source of the transforming activities freely chosen by the humans.4 The present discussion informs us that the Khalsa order is the reassertion of a total living as a body of free and conscious collective action. In the Sartrean philosophy, free action of the humans is almost equivalent to anarchic action. In Sikhism, the free and conscious action is always inspired by the divine.

Towards the end of the present paper, one can raise the question, what is the meaning of moving from the concept of sangat to the concept of Khalsa? There are fundamentals common both to the sangat and the Khalsa. However, the moment of praxis is stronger in the Khalsa than in the sangat. When the sangat was proposed by the Gurus as a new mode of congregation, stress was put on the moments of collectivism, internal equality and dissolving the ego as its basic principles. A contemplative psychological transformation too was presupposed here. But after achieving certain amount of maturity and encountering problems on the way to realize the Sikh ideals, the Tenth Guru intensifies the moment of activism and lessens the moments of contemplation and ritualism to establish the Khalsa Order.


Selected Bibliography

Acharya Hrudhayam. University of Madras. 2001.
Bhadra, Mrinal Kanti. A critical survey of Phenomenology and Existentialism. 1981.
Shastri, Manmatha Nath. Buddha: His Life, His Teachings, His Order. Delhi 1978.
Talib, Gurcharan Singh.(Tr.) Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Punjabi University, Patiala. 1988.
Vajravelu Mudaliar.K, Sivajnana Mapadiyam. Madurai Kamaraj University.1985.


ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2007, All rights reserved. Free Counters from SimpleCount.com