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Sanyasin, grahastha, and sant-sipahi
— a Comparative Study —

N Muthumohan*

The creation of the Khalsa order by the Tenth Master, Guru Gobind Singh, on the Vaisakhi Day of the year 1699 meant the consolidation of the Sikh conception of man, that is the sant-sipahi. The ideal of sant-sipahi, as such, was worked out by all the Sikh Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh. In the first hymn of Japji the Guru raised the fundamental question of all Sikh thought, namely : How to become a sachiara ? Guru Nanak stressed this point all along in his search, that Truthful living is higher than the Truth itself. It becomes clear that the Guru was not in pursuit of yet another truth-claiming system of abstract philosophy, but he was in the process of making a new man, a concrete socio-historical being who would live and struggle for Truth. It is this ideal of sant-sipahi that figures in the hymns of the Sikh Gurus as sachiara, gurmukh and finally as sant-sipahi.

Shouldest thou seek to engage in the game of love,
Step into my street with thy head placed on thy palm.
While on to this stepping, ungrudgingly sacrifice your head
.” Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1412

It is with these glorious words of Guru Nanak, that the life of sant-sipahi starts in Indian history, and it reaches its monumental culmination when the Panj Pyare were selected by the test of the sword. As Professor Puran Singh mentions, “The creation of the Khalsa in India is the culmination of Guru Nanak’s genius, and the written character of his Word.... Gobind Singh is Guru Nanak; but he rides a splendid steed, arms himself with a quiver full of arrows and a mighty bow, has a sword hanging in his belt and a hawk perched on his hand and eyes that sparkle with joy and valour of the soul.” [Puran Singh, 1995 : 121, 114]

The present paper is a study of the Khalsa and its conception of sant-sipahi, comparing the latter with some other personality patterns suggested, and often glorified in Indian history. Special emphasis has been laid to trace the concept in relation to the ideals of sanyasin and grahastha.

The Three Personality Patterns
Three personality patterns are taken for the present study. They are the patterns of sanyasin or the renouncer, the grahastha or the family-man, and the sant-sipahi or the saint-soldier.

Chronologically, among the three mentioned above, the sanyasin is the earliest in Indian history. Possibly, the concept emerged out of the so-called non-Vedic schools, Jainism and Buddhism, but soon was assimilated by the Brahminic tradition, particularly by the Advaita-Vedantic and Yogic lines of thought. Often the renouncer-ideal is said to be the peak of Indian spirituality. The four asramas prescribed by the Brahminic philosophies culminate with the ideal of sanyasin, who reaches the transcendental stage of moksha. Sanyasin is said to be the inspiration of the earlier three stages of life. A modern sociologist maintains, “Renunciation is the best-known cultural ideal of the Hindu society.... Renunciation is undoubtedly a remarkable value orientation which permeates the world-view of even the worldly householder.” [T N Madan, 1987 : 1]

Indian civilization gained a precarious popularity during the modern period due to its sanyasin ideal. The westerners who got fed up with the modernist industrial culture, skipped across and contributed a lot to the popularity of the sanyasin ideal.

Another popular and comparatively stable model which lived through the entire medieval period is the pattern of grahastha. Grahastha means the patriarchal family life, a family of husband and wife, their children and parents, the male member being the leader of the family. Grahastha also figures as one of the four stages of life, and remains the most widespread pattern of living actual life. The above quoted sociologist mentions, “Grahastha bestows its distinctive character upon the everyday life of Hindus.” [T N Madan, 1987 : 1]

In the concrete conditions of Indian history, the idea of grahastha cannot be separated from its religious parallel — the Hindu Bhakti tradition on the one hand and the Hindu caste system on the other.

The third type of personality pattern one finds is in that of the sant-sipahi as the Sikh conception of the reality of man. Historically, the ideal of sant-sipahi belongs to the post-medieval period, leaving behind the ancient and medieval perceptions of man, and aims at a fresh look into the concept of man, his reality and his environment. The prefix ‘sant’ as such came from the late medieval popular interreligious tradition of the wandering saints who attempted to achieve, in their best variations, a nonsectarian or a least-sectarian universalism and brotherhood. The word ‘sipahi’ added to the term ‘sant’, and consequently changing the total meaning of the combined term, is completely a Sikh making which emerges out of the genius of the Sikh Gurus, their ideology and Sikh history.

The Personality Patterns and Their Ideological Basis
It is imperative to a study of this type to have a clear idea about the philosophical or theological backgrounds in which the respective personality patterns were worked out.

The ideal of sanyasin had the theoretical background of world-negation and transcendentalism (going beyond), and more specifically, a dualistic picture of reality. Dualism is the fundamental feature of Jainism, Samkhya (which forms the metaphysics of yoga) as well as the Advaita Vedanta. In Jainism it is the duality of jiva and ajiva, in Samkhya it is the duality of purusha and prakriti and in Advaita it is that of Brahman and maya. This is how some reputed authors of Indian philosophy characterise the theoretical basis of the idea of renouncing. “The distinguishing feature of Jainism, on the theoretical side, is its belief in the eternal and independent existence of spirit and matter, respectively called jiva and ajiva... The ultimate aim of life is conceived as casting off the limitations caused by the ajiva completely so that the soul may regain and reveal its true nature of omniscience (Kevala-Jnana).” [Hiriyanna, 1973 : 60-61] The same author explains the position of Samkhya, “Samkhya-yoga regards both matter and spirit as ultimately real... purusha and prakriti or spirit and nature are thus the two basic conceptions of the doctrine ... The ideal of life in this system is conceived as escape or aloofness (kaivalya) from prakriti.” [Hiriyanna, 1973 :107]. The worst form of dualism was proposed by Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, one of the dominant ideologies of Brahmanic Hinduism, “Truth, knowledge and infinitude is Brahman. Mutable, nonintelligent, finite and perishing is the world. Brahman is pure, attributeless, impartite and immutable. The world is a manifold of changing phenomena, fleeting events and finite things. Brahman is bliss. The universe is a vale of tears.” [T M P Mahadevan, 1976 : 227]. According to this perception and evaluation, Brahman is the only truth and the world is maya. By realising this, one reaches the Brahma-jnana. Thus discrimination and renunciation of the world become the only way to Brahman.

The theoretical background of the grahastha personality type is the Bhakti thought. The entire Bhakti thought is based upon the grahastha model in a religio-cosmic sense. God in Hindu Bhakti is perceived as the bridegroom, the male patriarchal head of the cosmic family, and the world which was negated as ajiva, prakriti and maya in the previous schools is taken as the bride, the female multiplicity. The union of male and female, God and the world, spirit and matter, etc., figures as the ideal situation whereas their separation is suffering or alienation, particularly to the female part. The Bhakti hymns of both Saivite and Vaisnavite denominations dedicate themselves primarily to the portrayal of the state of separation and seek to unite the opposites by means of bridal mysticism, premabhakti, madhurabhakti or virahabhakti. At this stage, it is true, one can find a lot of reciting of the theme of love in Bhakti literature. But one can also note that the love portrayed here is narrowed down by the patriarchal family values that existed during the very long medieval period of Indian history. The restricted love of the patriarchal family consistently resists to become universal and it precipitates into a limited and stable pattern. The stigma of mayaic nature of the created world still continues to be prevalent in the understructures of Hindu Bhakti and consequently, the love towards God refuses to be extended to God’s creation. The love of Bhakti is not expansive, neither is it dynamic, nor socialised. It is shut down within the domestic walls of the grahastha. The avtara and lila puranas of Radha-Krishna and Siva-Sakti only helped ritualise the already narrow love of Bhakti. The factor of Hindu caste system still rigorously cut down the potentialities of love in grahastha and Hindu Bhakti. We dare to say that the caste factor transformed the potential of love into its opposite. Instead of love one finds hatred, instead of universalism one finds compartmentalisation, divisions and caste sectarianism. The cosmic model of love of God and World, miserably fails in the Hindu Bhakti traditions.

And thus we pass over to the theoretical basis of the personality pattern of sant-sipahi.

The theoretical basis of the ideal of sant-sipahi is the religion and philosophy of the Sikh Gurus. Here the oneness of the holistic and dynamic reality and the principle of the unity of spirituality and earthly living (miri-piri) mark the beginning. Approximately, the term spirituality (piri aspect) one finds registered in the ‘sant’ while earthliness (miri aspect) is represented by the term sipahi. However, as the dialectics of spirituality and earthliness together give an integrated and mutually implying meaning to the term miri-piri, the singular term sant-sipahi too acquires a fresh and fluid meaning. The sant is sensitised to the social environment and the sipahi’s actions are spiritualised. Dr Kharak Singh in his exposition on the miri-piri system, identifies the values of the sant-sipahi Sikh, namely, the earth-awareness, socialisation, egalitarianism, resistance against injustice and oppression, and many other. (Kharak Singh, 1997: 138-139). These are the basic points of departure the Sikh anthropology makes from the earlier ones of sanyasin and grahastha. The noted author says, “The Sikh Gurus by their ideology and personal example and leadership created the work and sustenance habit in the Sikh society which since then has become its established feature.” Similarly, “Guru Nanak is the first man of God in India who introduced the concept of resistance against injustice as a moral value for a man of religion.” [Ibid] Thus, the reality of the social, massively enters into the core territory of Sikh metaphysics, as well as Sikh theory of man.

It is interesting to bring forth how Rudolf Otto, a German philosopher, evaluates Sankara’s concept of aloneness of Brahman and indicates the point of departure of a dynamic mysticism from the former. ”Sankara’s Brahman is Being and Spirit through and through, utterly opposed to all ‘deafness’ (jada) and all matter. But the question is asked : Is this Brahman a living God !” [Rudolf Otto, 1962 : 187] For Sankara, the coming forth of God and the world from the primeval oneness of Brahman is the Great ‘mistake’ of vidya. R Otto forwards another conception of God who becomes the root of a dynamic reality. Here, “God is, in Himself, a tremendous life movement. Out of undifferentiated unity He enters into the multiplicity of personal life and persons, in whom the world and therewith the multiplicity of the world is contained ... This God is in Himself a living process, not a static Being. He is activity, mighty self-positing, a procreation not under the compulsion of laws or blind impulse but in the creative of Sublime wonder.” Rudolf Otto calls this God as a “God boiling within with life.” “The profound unity reminds one of the paradoxical Mahayana doctrine ‘Nirvana is Samsara’. It is neither mystical quietism nor secular activity, but an identity of the deepest unity and the most vivid multiplicity and therefore of the most profound quiet and the most vital motion”, [Rudolf Otto, 1962 : 188, 189, 191] These famous words of Rudolf Otto are quoted here because they befittingly portray the concept of God and unity of sublimity and vitality characteristic of a dynamic mysticism of the Sikh type. This also marks the ideological basis of the sant-sipahi.

Ethical Content, Humanism and Social Activism of Sant-Sipahi
Sant-sipahi differs fundamentally from its counterparts sanyasin and grahastha in terms of ethical content, human concern and social activism.

Love did not figure as a major category of thought when the ideal of sanyasin emerged on the Indian scene. In a sense, love as attachment (bandhan) and as an earthly value was discarded by the sanyasin. It was through detachment and discrimination that the mukti of the soul was advocated. The ideal of grahastha along with the Bhakti tradition brought to the forefront the theme of love. However, as we have discussed earlier, it demonstrated and narrowed down the theme of love. In sant-sipahi, the theme of love liberates itself and becomes an expansive force. It becomes equivalent to the will to grow, to produce and reproduce and to give life. All virtues spring from it and it is increasingly inclusive and shall not stop until it loves the entire being. God is portrayed by the Sikh Gurus as the Deendayal, Kirpal (Merciful and Compassionate). The Tenth Guru declared, “I have no enmity with anyone.” As a Chinese philosopher says, “The principle of love is comparable to the root of a tree and the spring of water... Wherever love is in operation, the idea of righteousness becomes the reality... It is the will to grow like the seeds of peaches and apricots.” [Wing-Tsit Chan, 1966 : 202] The same metaphors of tree (ped), roots or spring and seeds are employed by the Guru to describe the nature of reality as love.

Love leads to socialisation of man. In Guru Nanak’s system, all the major moments of Being — God, the World, man, time, society and nature — are internally related as if they all emerge from one seed and grow into a multiplicity. There is no one moment alienated. Such an alienation is human or a result of individualism. A sanyasin, in that sense, is an alienated being. He is detached and loveless. He is a non-relational being. A sanyasin’s transcendentalism makes him asocial. The grahastha’s relation to society too is highly controversial. A grahastha in a Hindu society is related with his society through caste rules and many other values of auspiciousness, pollution, purity, Dharma, Karma, Purushartha, Prarabdha, etc., prescribed by the Varnadharma [T N Madan, 1987] The grahastha as a man-in-the-world is a man-in-the-caste-world.

Whereas the socialisation of man in Sikhism reaches its utmost height in the ideal of sant-sipahi. The themes of social concern and social change pervade the entire Sikh thought. The themes of plough and sword remain fundamental structures of Sikh thought and living. This is how Dr Balbir Singh characterises the social concern of the Gurus in his Madras lectures. “The Guru’s thoughts were like seeds that burst forth from the soil in which they were buried. His environment was the soil. His intense wish to better the lot of people was the seed... There was a social urgency in his thought.” [Dr Balbir Singh, 1971 : 418] Again he says, “In Guru Nanak’s Bhakti, the component of social reform was an integral part and that is why Sikhism ultimately emerged as a new dispensation with all vigour of a new faith.” [Ibid]

Similar discussions can be conducted regarding the ethical concern, social activism, etc., of the personality types of sanyasin, grahastha and the sant-sipahi. And such discussions will invariably show the profoundness of the concept of sant-sipahi. They will also show that the personality patterns of sanyasin or grahastha could not produce, or that they are highly inadequate to produce a successful culture or a shared system of communication, and, worst of all, such ideals even immanently lay hurdles in the path of the formation of a shared system of culture.

Conclusion : Sant-Sipahi — A Coincidentia Oppositiorum
Finally, one can say that the making of the concept of sant-sipahi contains a creative rapture in its structure. Stepping out of the traditional philosophy and theology, it aims at the grand synthesis of the otherwise incompatible opposites. The synthesis negates the absolute separate existences of the sant and the sipahi. It is interesting to take note of the mechanism of the integration of the moments of sant and sipahi in Sikh thought. It is not a mechanical adding up of the two, but the integration is achieved by transferring the two to a higher level. Both the spiritual and the earthly ends are intensified in the process of integrating the two. As a way of comparison, we can say that a sant is more universalistic than a sanyasin and a sipahi is more socialised and activistic than a grahastha. Thus, the synthesis is achieved at a deeper level by intensifying both sides of the binary. Ultimately, we get the ideal of sant-sipahi with intense religiosity, universalism, praxis-orientedness and sociality. Sant-sipahi is a personality pattern of universalistic-achievement type, as a modern sociologist names it. [Talcott Parsons, 1972 : 182] The objectives, goals and the vision of the sant-sipahi are universalistic and he knows how to realise them. The sant-sipahi is aimed at realising them. He considers that the achievement part of the goals is more valuable than the goals themselves, because his Guru has taught him that “Truthful living is higher than Truth.”


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