2. Lobh (covetousness) | Five Evils | Sikhi

2. Lobh (covetousness)

In Gurśabadratnākar, Bhai Kahan Singh renders lobh as the “desire to possess what belongs to others,” though the propensity, as stated in the Ādi Granth, seems to stretch beyond these meanings.

Guru Arjan Dev refers to it thus,

“O lobh thou has swayed even the best of men by thy waves.

And men’s minds waver and wobble and run in all conceivable directions, to gather more and more; thou hast respect neither for friendship, nor, ideal nor father, nor mother, nor kindred.

Thou makes one do what one must not do, and to eat what is eaten not, and to build what cannot be built.”

Guru Nānak says, “The greedy mind is never at peace and runs in all directions.”

Guru Arjan Dev points out that for the greedy, riches become the main goal of life.

As to the social relations of the greedy persons Guru Amar Dās says that such a person is not trustworthy. The greedy is not loyal to anything else except his own riches, for which, he would deceive everyone else in the end.

The above descriptions of lobh and lobhi (greedy person) may give us some insight into the nature of this propensity, the behaviour pattern of the subject moved by it, as well as the psychological power which this spring of action may command over other activities.

Nature of Lobh

We have noticed that

(1) in the above passage lobh is described as a wave which implies that the activity caused by this propensity is the product of something in the object of lobh

as well as the presence of some reciprocating tendency in man, the joint effect of which is that one attracts and the other has the inclination to be attracted.

(2) It also seems to create a false perspective of value:

One gives an overriding value to riches or money, which value it does not have from the moral or spiritual point of view. Thus it overturns the value scale.

It is said to create a mirage-like illusion. It perpetuates a sense of unsatiation as it has been described as mṛig tṛiṣṇā.

The self, under it, is shown as one who is incessantly restless:

The wavering and wobbling in all conceivable directions incapacities the individual from viewing the values in their proper perspective.

(3) It may also be seen as a limiting factor and extremely individualistic in nature; extremely egoistic and selfish.

(4) The self under its sway pays no heed to one’s social and even family obligations, what to say of the humanitarian, and one’s dealings may create social and personal difficulties.

(5) We have already drawn attention to the fact that a greedy self is untrustworthy and devoid of social loyalties.

Psychological charge of this motive

The psychological strength of this propensity, according to Sikhism, can be gauged from the fact that it commands instantaneous movement towards its object:

(“And whatever sharpens his greed, he runs after instantaneously”).

Second, even those men who have attained some amount of perfection may be sometimes tempted by it, that is, they are required to be careful against it.

This additional characteristic, referred to in the passage, perhaps takes cognizance of the often witnessed facts of history as well as that of the Indian legendary tales wherein men, otherwise acclaimed as great in many spheres, succumbed to avariciousness.

A reference to the various schools of Hindu Philosophy in regard to lobh reveals that

- Praśastapāda does not mention it as a separate propensity.

- Vātsyāyana of Nyāya mentions it but he traces it to one ultimate root, viz., delusion (moh) as he does in the case of kām as well:

According to him from delusion arise various passions and emotions characterised by attraction and repulsion. Greed is at this stage a motive along with mendacity and deceitfulness (māyā kaptāta).

We find that Guru Nānak also uses “kapti” with lobhi  so as to stress the deceitfulness involved in the greedy self, which, in a way, is a pointer to the social impact of this propensity.

Jayanta’s rendition of lobh in the Hindu ethics is as the desire to obtain a forbidden thing, the slight difference being, that Kahan Singh adds “what belongs to others” and thereby brings out the emphasis more clearly on the anti­social element in lobh.

Patañjali finds it as a co-motive along with the other sub-motives of human actions, viz., cruelty and mendacity and gives it the meanings of desire for the pleasure,

which meanings as we have seen earlier, are accepted as a part of lobh,

though it may be added here, that sometimes greedy person may be so engulfed by this propensity that all activity may be directed towards the attainment of the object without aiming at happiness directly.

This may cause restlessness. And it is this lack of rest or tranquillity caused by lobh which is stressed in the preceding passages cited from the Ādi Granth.

We have also seen that it is regarded in Sikhism as a separate propensity and not as part of any other motive as postulated by Patañjali. However, it is recognized in Sikhism that lobh may conjoin with other motives in the course of its operation.

This analysis and comparison show that the recognition of lobh as a spring of action is not something unique to the Sikh ethics

but it is distinguished by its greater emphasis on the social aspect, since in Sikhism, it is stressed that lobh may motive disregard for social loyalties and responsibilities:

It is, therefore, termed as an evil act.

The imperative as regards to covetousness in Sikhism, may be seen to have some remarkable similarity to the description of the various restraints by Vyāsa who includes the imperative to control avariciousness in his scheme of self-discipline.

It is explained by a scholar of the Yoga that “aparigraha (absence of avariciousness) is the non-­appropriation of things that do not belong to one

and it is a consequence of one’s comprehension of the sin that consists in being attached to possessions, and of the harm produced by the accumulation, preservation or destruction of possessions.”

It is pointed out by David Hume that

avarice, which, as it both deprives a man of all use of his riches, and checks hospitality and every social enjoyment, is justly censured on a double account.

We have already noted the various references in Sikhism to the mental unsatiation, deceitfulness and untrustworthiness generated by lobh. This shows it to be an undesirable praxis.

But all this, in turn, also points out that it is a psychological disposition and as such we may see the possibility of its being transformed.

In its stress on the social aspect of avarice Sikhism may be seen to have some similarity to the Christian view where one finds a commandment against it.

The great need for the moral control of covetousness may be conceded by all.

We may even say that the regulation of avarice of man, and further of nations, is a necessity of personal and social survival.