Human Personality or the Ego
“Man, Thou art an image of Light, recognize thy essence,” is the fundamental conception of human personality in Sikhism.
Life and consciousness are found in various degrees in all the living beings, but so far as our present knowledge goes they are found in their most developed form in man:
“All other beings are for thy service. Thou art the Lord of this earth.”
The materialistic conception that life and consciousness slowly evolved out of lifeless matter is not accepted by the Sikh gurus:
“O my body, God endowed thee with light and then thou were born in this world.”
The ego has been put down as an instrument of creation. The supreme Spirit created the Ego (lit. “I-am-ness”) in order to bring into being the universe.
In reply to a question from a Yogin, “In what manner the universe was created?” - guru Nānak said: “The Ego causes the world to come into existence.”
This has been explained further by guru Nānak in Asa-di-var (ballad sung in Asa rāga):
“It is the ego that constitutes personality; all actions are based on the ego. The ego constitutes the fetters that make us wander in transmigration again and again.
Whence does this ego come? How can it be made to depart? It is the divine Will that ego comes and goes bound by its own actions.
The ego is a deep- rooted malady, but there is a remedy for it also. If God bestows His favour and the man practises the word of the guru. Saith Nānak, hear, O Servants of God, it is in this manner that this malady disappears.”
Briefly, the conception of the individual soul may be stated thus:
In the ocean of consciousness by an act of divine Will rise bubbles. These are the separate egos. They react to their different surroundings and develop different natures.
The act of creation of different egos has also been termed “viyoga,” i.e. the process of separation:
The emphasis on separate existence creates many problems. Men develop ideas of possession (lit. “This is mine”) and try to protect their own possessions from the depredations of others,
and thus the so-called “struggle for existence” begins; and so long as we look to bodies alone, this struggle gets more and more intensified:
“Actions based on the ego become nooses round our necks. We stick to ‘mine’ and put shackles round our feet.”
“Greed is the dark ceil of the jail and my vices constitute my fetters.” “O Nānak, there are as many chains round the neck of a man as are his vices.”
An action leaves an impression on our mental structure. When the same action is repeated, the impression deepens. By repeating the same action over and over again, the impressions change into habits which in due course define our tendencies.
Given a certain set of surroundings our tendencies drive us in particular directions and we become slaves to our habits. In this way our past karma influences our present actions.
Writes guru Nānak in Rāga Maru:
“Mind is the paper and our actions the ink. Virtue and vice are the two writings inscribed thereon. We are driven unto paths determined by our past karma, O God, there is no end to Thy virtues.
O mad man: Why do you not revolve this fact in your mind that by forgetting God all thy virtues rot. Night and Day have become nets in which you are being caught by the gharis (a ghari is measure of time, equivalent to twenty-four minutes] or time.
You are caught every day while you enjoy picking your food. Do you know, O fool, how you can become free?
Body has been turned a furnace, the mind is like iron in it and the five fires (lust, greed, anger, attachment and egoism) are consuming it. Your sins are adding fresh fuel, the mind is burning, gripped by the vice of anxiety.”
How to end this suffering?
The guru says this suffering is the result of our forgetting the fact that all egos are bubbles of the same ocean. The bodies are separate but the same light illumines all of them:
“Light fills all of them and that light is He. His illumination illumines all,” as soon as this fact dawns upon a man his life is changed.
In the last couplet of the above-quoted hymn, guru Nānak points the way out of the furnace:
“Mind that has been turned into dross can change into gold again if a man meets the guru, who has himself undergone that transformation. He puts the nectar of the name into his mouth and the fires in the body are extinguished.”
The guru does not emphasize the separateness of the egos, he emphasizes their unity:
“We are all the children of the self-same father.” “God created light first. All creatures are from him. From one light springs the whole universe, who is good and who is bad.”
Then begins the process of “saṁyoga,” i.e. uniting of the soul to its source; between “viyoga” (separation) and saṁyoga” (union) runs the whole gamut of life.