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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies,
2007, All rights reserved.