1. Kām (concupiscence) | Five Evils | Sikhi

1. Kām (concupiscence)

Kām, as a disposition, is criticised by the Gurus in Sikhism but the word kām is used by them very often without delineating its meanings. However, generally speaking, the Gurus use kām in the sense of an unbalancing propensity.

Guru Nānak says,

And kām is the adviser... and subjects are blind and like the dead they dance to the tune,” of kām and other propensities such as covetousness, etc.

The notion of kām as an unbalancing propensity is older than Sikhism:

It is used in the Sanskrit language in a variety of meanings, so much so, that, according to an Indian scholar, kāma suffers in the Sanskrit literature from a profuse, popular and indefinite usage.

In the Amar kośa one finds 18 synonyms for kām at one place and 6 at another.

Kām, in old literature, is understood as:

(1) an energy (kām śakti) motivating and energising all our activities,
(2) the process of desiring itself (kām cheśta) and
(3) the object of desire or ambition (kāman or mana).

We may thus use it for desire in general.
But it is also used for the sexual urge or concupiscence in a particular sense.

In Sikhism one notices both these meanings given to it but usually it is used in the special sense of concupiscence or lust.

The reference to this propensity as such is found in the utterances of all the Gurus but we find some detailed reference to it by Guru Arjan Dev, the 5th Guru:

In a passage of the Ādi Granth he has this to say,

“O kām, thou land men in hell, and make them wander through myriad wombs, and cheat all minds, sways all the three worlds and vanquishes all one’s austerities, meditation and culture.

Thou, whose pleasure is illusory, thou that makes one unsteady and poor [weak] and punishes the high and low alike.”

We find Guru Arjan Dev referring to it in some detail in two other passages also, apart from the general reference to it throughout the Ādi Granth. He says,

“The elephant is lured by kām to his enslavement and he goes as he is led by another. And the deer is lured to death by the sweet melodies of music.

Seeing his family, the man is enticed away by the sense of possessiveness and the love of māyā. And then one becomes a part of it and owns it, but it for sure leaves him in the end.”

This passage seems to conjoin the general meanings of desire as well as the special meanings of lust by the use of the analogy of the elephant.

We may refer to yet another passage in which this stress on the special sense is brought out more clearly, before we take up its analysis. It is said by Guru Arjan Dev that

the man of lust is satisfied not with any number of women and breaks into others’ homes. He sins and then regrets; so he withers away by sorrow.

Elsewhere also, the same Guru has said that “some feed eyes on the beauty of others’ women, hid from the world’s eyes, yea, if these be their deeds, they come to grief.

The last two passages seem to refer to the feeling of guilt involved in this deviant response of the person under the influence of lust.

The language of these passages is terse and the use of the symbols and the analogies seeks to convey more than what meets the superficial eye.

The elephant (kunchar) and deer (mg) are understood in India as symbols of kām.

Nature of Kām

The nature of kām, as understood in Sikhism, can be stated briefly:

It seems to go beyond Greek’s sense of mere intemperance though it appears to have some resemblance with it in the sense of licentiousness.

The special stress seems to be on the need to escape from being overpowered by it. We may conclude the following from the passages cited above:

(1) Kām blinds the individual to higher values.
The person seems to lose the power of discrimination.

(2) Kām as a response of the person may be generalized. The habit of promiscuity may lead to generalized deviant sex response. The person is not satisfied with any one object of lust. 

(3) The satisfactions from kām are relatively short lived, though, as a propensity, it is fairly permanent.

(4) All individuals, in whatever position they are, may be affected by it.

One is reminded of the Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (2.3.6) where it is said that kām has an irresistible urge and even the sages of yore were led astray by sexual passion and were constrained to commit sin.

(5) The psychological propulsion which this motive commands may make the individual oblivious even to his own self-preservation.

(6) One who is enticed by it becomes weak an unsteady in one’s rational judgement.

(7) It has a great capacity and possibility of robbing the mind of its supreme authority.

(8) It is a complex propensity and may be operative in collaboration with other motives or propensities.

This analysis reveals some unique features of kām as a propensity:

Usually it is examined merely from the affective aspect, but in the Sikh ethics all the 3 aspects, namely, its adverse effect on affective, cognitive and conative are examined.

From the affective aspect under cruelty generated by it, the self may be blinded to tender feelings. As to the cognitive aspect it may blind the perception of moral values. And conatively speaking it may even lead to actions of self-destruction.

The second feature, which also comes to light, is the recognition of both the increase and the inhibition of action affected by this propensity;

that is to say, certain activities are accentuated under it (i.e. intensity of feeling and intensity of effort) and some are hampered or even suspended and stopped (such as reflective activity or feeling of self­-preservation).

Guru Tegh Bahadur views lust conjointly with a mercurial mind and holds that it keeps a person always restless.

It is perhaps because all these would lead to the moral degradation of the self that St. Augustine had said, “Justly is man ashamed of this  lust, and justly are those members (whom lust moves) called shameful.”

And Dorothea Krook has pointed out that

St. Augustine’s account of concupiscence is at once a peculiarly representative and peculiarly definitive statement of the Christian view.”

We may thus notice a sort of similarity in the ethical evaluation of this propensity in Christianity and Sikhism.

Among the Hindu schools of Indian Philosophy also, kām, as a propensity, is recognised:

According to Praśastapāda of Vaiśeṣikā, it is “sexual craving” though he says that sexual craving, when particularised, may mean “longing for happiness in heaven.”

Vātsyāyana of Nyāya, however, does not state kām as a separate drive for action but traces passions and emotions to one root, viz., moh (delusion)’ though be deriving it from delusion, its moral evaluation is indicated.

Jayanta in Nyāya Manjari also traces it to delusion the latter being a sort of disorder of reason.

In jīvan-mukti-viveka of Vidyāraṇya Svāmī of the Vedanta School,

vāsanās (tendencies) constitute the source of the emotions and the passions which are unreflective and spontaneous.

Kām is included in desire for carnal pleasures (deh vāsanā) and it is declared to be inauspicious tendency (ašubh-vāsana). These evil tendencies are further declared to be cause of birth and participation in the world.

The views of Buddhism are well known on the subject.
Edward J. Thomas relates an incident from the life of Buddha:

According to this scholar Buddha thought that

“when the fire of passions is extinguished, the heart is happy;
when the fire of hate, the fire of stupidity are extinguished, it is happy;

with the extinction of pride, false views, and all the depravities and pains,
it is what is called nibuttam that, is, happy.”

A somewhat extreme position appears to have been taken by Jainism in this regard, where complete abstinence of sexual indulgence is regarded as a high ideal:

In Jainism abrahmacarya that is, “unchastity, indulgence in sexual intercourse mentally or physically” is considered as one of the 18 demerits or vicious acts.

We have already referred to the fact that this propensity seems to be criticised in Sikhism as a learnt sentiment and not wholly as a biological one.

The analysis of kām in Sikhism, thereafter, may be understood as pointing to a propensity which may attain a dimension, morally and spiritually harmful, in terms of the characteristics already noticed by us.

Sikhism, however, does not go to the extreme of declaring all normal sexual relationships as immoral. This conclusion is also reinforced from the direction of the Gurus to lead a life of the householder, as well as from their own lives.

The Sikh Rehat Maryādā (code of conduct) seeks to channelise this propensity into normal martial sex consummations.

The Gurus themselves were married and had maintained families.

The only conclusion, therefore, which can satisfactorily explain their treatment of this propensity is that the heightened passionate sensualism, which may overpower all the activities of the self, is evaluated as moral sickness and evil.

In regard to the sex impulse a scholar has pointed to a possibility in a different context when it may result in

a domination of the emotions, perceptions and social incorporation of the person” and “the whole environment and most bodily feelings become sexualized.

Guru Nānak has also pointed out that “the lover of women is lured by lust... the man of passions is lured by another’s wife and he engages himself in strife.

It is thus the lasciviousness which is disapproved of and not the consummation of relationships within the martial bonds. This seems to be a special connotation of kām.

The sex response, when it is transformed and fortified through loyalty, purity of mind and marriage, is held to be desirable in Sikhism.

A psychologist, advising a wholesome attitude towards sex, maintains that

most important of all is adoption by the adolescent of a pattern of values in which sex gratification plays a role, but not the dominant role.

In Sikhism the Gurus advise the seeker to sublimate and regulate various propensities and responses in terms of the various moral virtues which we shall examine later.