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5. Ahaṅkāra (pride) | Five Evils | Sikhi

5. Ahaṅkāra (pride)

Ahaṅkāra (pride), is another of the springs of action:

If one takes into consideration all the references to it in the Sikh scripture and allied literature, it would be easily seen that Ahaṅkāra is considered to be a greater evil than the other propensities.

But before we commence our examination of this propensity it may be necessary to state that this meaning of Ahaṅkāra as pride is different from Ahaṅkāra in the sense of the principle of individuation as understood in the Saṅkhyā school of Indian Philosophy:

The term which more appropriately conveys this principle of individuation in Sikhism is Haumai. So Ahaṅkāra is Saṅkhyā somewhat corresponds to Haumai in Sikhism.

Presently however, we are examining a psychological propensity and not a metaphysical category as it is used in Saṅkhyā.

Ahaṅkāra may arise from one’s possession of beauty or power.

Another cause for the rise of this propensity could be that the individual becomes proud of his acts of charity or of some religious merit attained by him through pilgrimages.

It is in this sense that “riches of the world which give rise to pride are called poison” because, thereby, “one is drowned and loses real honour.”

At another place, Guru Arjan Dev says,

“O pride the cause of our coming and going in the world,

O soul of sin, thou estranges friends, confirms enmities and makes men spread out the net of illusion far and wide, and tires men by keeping ever on the round, and making them experience now pleasure, now pain.

And men walk through the utter wilderness of doubt:
thou afflicts men with incurable maladies.” /sggs p.1358/

These passages give us an understanding of the nature of this propensity, and behaviour pattern of the agent under it as well as the intensity of its psychological charge. .

Nature of pride

The distinguishing mark of pride appears to be that it is secondary in the sense that it, in itself, is effect of factors such as possession of riches, acts of philanthropy or the performance of scriptural duties.

These may give an individual the feeling that he has some superiority over others and then this feeling may become a tendency in him to treat others as inferior to his own self.

This would estrange him from humanity at large.

Kabīr says in this connection: “Thou thinks thyself to be great by tiny little deeds; but they who look upon others as small through words, thoughts, or deeds are cast in hell.

Pride, as pointed out in this passage may be reflected in word, thought and deed.

The intellectuals may easily fall a prey to it. As Kant says about himself,

There was a time when I despised the masses who know nothing Rousseau has set me right. This blind prejudice disappears. I learn to honour men...

However, it may be called secondary only in the sense of its origin and not in respect of its importance or its capacity to give rise to some particular types of action.

From another view this tendency may appear to become a source-tendency and, therefore, primary in relation to these later tendencies like hatred, etc.

Second, the man may, under its influence, treat even his friends as strangers, that is, he may refuse to acknowledge his relationship or fulfil his social obligations.

Though, at times one may perform even heroic deeds for feeding one’s pride, but the Guru holds such actions in low estimation. He says, “heroes are not they who die of ego...”. (sggs p.1089)

In the same passage he cites the Vedas to support this view. He says:
But God loves not pride, the Vedas proclaim this truth.

Third, pride is of no avail in winning over enemies,

rather it accentuates the enmity and jealousy already existent between individuals, since a proud man may be scorned, shunned or feared but not loved and respected in any real sense.

Fourth, this propensity blinds the individual to the underlying unity of mankind and of existence and, therefore, it will divert him from the realization of the ideal of spiritual unity.

This propensity, therefore, has been accorded a negative value and Sikhs are enjoined to eschew it. Bhai Gurdas, the scribe of the first recension of the Ādi Granth, says, “a Sikh loses pride and takes to good deals.

Behaviour of the agent under pride

We find from the passages quoted earlier, that the person under the influence of pride remains restless and is exhausted in his attempt to fulfil the heavy demands of this propensity.

The proud person is called blind or suffering from false notion:

This refers to those actions of a person which seem to be based on considerations of his difference from others and which actions would, consequently, again be directed towards the furtherance of those differences. Thus the person would continuously be moving in a vicious circle.

This also brings to light that the actions would be directed towards the self. And this self- directedness would be continued through words, thoughts and deeds.

Also, pride does not always lead one to pleasure but on may also experience pain under it. The behaviour pattern informed by it must therefore, be something like spreading-out and shrinking-in.

Psychological power of pride

Psychologically speaking pride seems to have sway over the sentiment of friendship but it appears to acquire some reinforcement in the case of already existent enmity towards someone.

Second, the possibilities of sway and intensity of sway in pride would, relatively speaking, increase with the achievements of the person and may be a continuous source of danger to the intellectuals and others in this regard.

Some comparative references

In respect to Ahaṅkāra Sikh ethics seems to differ generally from the various schools of Indian philosophy, except in the case of Vidyanaranyaswami of the Vedanta school, who recognises this propensity and mentions it by the name of darpa in his treatment of motives in Jīvan-mukti-viveka.

In the teachings of Hatha Yoga special attention is given to the eradication of pride. According to this school, “there is no friend higher than knowledge and no greater enemy than Ahaṅkāra."

Sikhism also has a striking resemblance to Christianity in this regard:

Dietrich Von Hildebrand points out that

the Gospels, St. Augustine and the whole Christian theology and philosophy consider pride to be the deepest and the most fundamental root of moral evil.

He quotes St. Augustine to support it. St. Augustine remarks:
The head and origin of all evil is pride which reigns without flesh in the devil.

In Sikhism, the pride of achievement is treated as evil. Guru Arjan Dev says that one who has pride of dominion, or of beauty, or wealth is an evil person.

It is held that even the pride of good deeds is evil and if a man does good deeds under pride all his toil has gone to waste.

Similarly, the deeds done with the motive of being held high by others are called “acts which goodness touches not.” In all these texts, we may notice the keenness of the Gurus to ensure that pride is overcome.

Bhai Nand Lal, the court-poet of Guru Gobind Singh, has laid special stress on the need to overcome self-glorification.

The author of Gurpratāpsurya reports Guru Rāmdās as having said that the first requisite for a Sikh was to shed the pride of the mind.

Pride is the outcome of the failure of the individual to see the inter-relatedness of life and existence as a whole.

It is the psychological narcissism fraught with dangerous potentialities, both for the self as well as the social, and is absolutely incompatible with the realization of the Spiritual.

Pride, therefore, may be seen as an immoral propensity.