Virtues in Sikhi
“as many are the vices, so many are the chains round one’s neck. One removes vice with virtue, for virtue is our only friend.”
Virtues in Sikhi
It is necessary for us to know the chief forms in which the moral life of the unified self ought to express itself:
Historically, an answer in this direction, from Pythagoras onwards, has been in terms of virtues.
The term virtue which earlier meant manliness has, however, come to be understood more generally as qualities of the moral person.
The modern ethical dialogue appears to have continued this usage with a slight increased emphasis on action, in that the virtues are the qualities of self as expressed in action.
It is in terms of virtues that the moral person expresses himself.
In different schools of Indian Philosophy a wide variety of terms are used to convey this ethical meaning:
Thus we see that in Nyāya, Vātsyāyana has used subha, while Patañjali has used yamas. Among the Jains punya and dharma convey almost the same meaning.
In some of the older Indian literature the term guṇa is also used to mean “good qualities, virtues, merits, excellences.”
It is this term guṇa along with others like sift (from the Arabic language) and sheel (which might have a reference to the Buddhist terminology, śīla in the meanings of good conduct) that are used in Sikhism to convey the equivalent meaning of virtues.
In Sikhism, gun is understood to mean virtues and good qualities of the self.
The contrary of gun in Sikhism is augun (evil quality) and contradictory is vingun (absence of gun).
Let us now examine views about guṇa in Sikhism. We may first briefly refer to the general characteristics and then take up the various virtues for detailed examination and analysis.
Virtues in general in Sikhism
The importance of the gun is emphasized in the Ādi Granth by all the Gurus. Guru Nānak says that
“as many are the vices, so many are the chains round one’s neck.
One removes vice with virtue, for virtue is our only friend.”
What is the definition of virtue in Sikhism? The statement from which we may infer this appears to have been offered by Guru Nānak in the next stanza when he says,
“Let your mind be the farmer and deeds the farming;
and let your body be the farm: water it with effort.
Let the spiritual word be the seed, and contentment the furrowing,
and let the fence be of humility.
If you do the deeds of love, the seed will sprout
and fortunate will then be your home.”
Now if we except, for the moment, the final object of virtue - the realization of the supreme ideal - we can see that by the use of the allegory “mind, the farmer and deeds, the farming” the virtues sought to be conveyed are what may be called “qualities exhibited in right conduct.”
Virtues mentioned in the above list, such as contentment, humility and love will be taken up later in this chapter. For the present the stress on the need to cultivate virtues may be mentioned.
Guru Nānak, in one of his compositions, declares categorically that “devotion without virtues is impossible.” This stress on morality is clearly noticeable throughout the teachings of the Gurus.
The Gurus also regard virtues as qualities essential to endear the self to the Divine. It is, as Guru Nānak says, “charming one’s love with the charm of virtue.”
It is in this sense that “furrowing and fence” would help in the sprouting of the spiritual seed. In the terminology we have been using so far it would lead to the realization of the real self, that is the state of Sachiāra.
The virtues, according to the Gurus, may be learnt and cultivated through social communication with the virtuous. This is brought out by Guru Nānak very well in one of his utterances - in which he says,
“In the society of the holy, one becomes holy, and one runs after virtues, forsaking his sins.”
At yet another place he remarks,
“If my friends are blessed with virtues, let us share some with them.
Yes, share we should the virtues with our friends and shed out sins.”
This notion of sharing virtues is in fact and in general, an aspect of sharing socially. It has vast implications, social as well as educational.
Should a man be virtuous, it may be asked, in order to be so noticed by others?
Should he get discouraged if his virtues attract no notice?
The Guru teaches that a person need not feel discouraged in his moral and spiritual endeavour if he feels that his virtues are not being appreciated. Guru Nānak says,
“Virtue is priceless, it cannot be bought at a stall,
and it is weighed where the weights are whole and virtue weighted its weight.”
This is meant to encourage the release of the strenuous mood in the individual. The person is assured of the great value of virtue even when it does not appear to be deservingly appreciated.
However, in spite of this emphasis on virtues, we do not find at any one place an exhaustive list of virtues or qualities involved in right conduct.
As is the case with much of the other similar literature, in the Ādi Granth, too, we come across the treatment of virtues here and there and in order to understand the complex meaning one has to refer to different passages at different places.
In the present article, those virtues which are held very high in the Ādi Granth, and receive support elsewhere also, have been brought together with their meanings.
The list here is representative of the qualities generally held to be indicative of moral excellence. It includes:
1. wisdom, 2. truthfulness, 3. temperance, 4. courage, 5. justice, 6. humility and 7. contentment.
The list is rather broad- based and embraces almost all of the moral virtues.
We will analyse the various aspects of the virtues as explained in Sikhism as well as direct our attention to the various historical developments which are reflected in an increased stress on some one aspect of a virtue.