Ardaas and Haumein
by Verpal Singh

[Reproduced from Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Jan-Mar 1999]

It is an oft-repeated statement that all religions advocate the same basic truths.  Obviously, this statement is true to some extent because we can isolate some principles which are common to all the religions of this world.  But more important is what is unique to a religion, because it is the uniqueness which sets it apart.  Ardaas  is one such feature of Sikhism, which sets Sikhism apart from other religious doctrines.

Ardaas is the prayer addressed to Almighty God.  The way it is addressed is unique to Sikhism.  A Roman Catholic attends Sunday mass because this is one of the ways which, the cleric tells him, can earn him some favour in God’s eyes.   A Muslim performs namaaz five times a day  because the Qazi tells him that it will make him more pious in Allah’s eyes.  The Hindus perform puja or go on pilgrimages so that they can please their gods and win their favour because that is what the Brahmin tells them.  The negative in this sort of prayer is that when the prayer is performed, only the selfish motive is kept in mind and is sought to be achieved irrespective of the harm this achievement might cause to others.  The prayer performer is concerned only with his own interests.  Compared to this, a Sikh performs Ardaas for a completely different purpose.  Although it can be said that he too performs Ardaas for selfish ends, but his selfish ends if achieved bring happiness for the whole creation. I shall explain presently.

When a Sikh prays to God, he prays for the strength to accept His Will.  Because everything happens according to His Will, so a  Sikh seeks the strength to accept what happens — these happenings can be floods or other natural calamities or some completely personal misfortune like losing a beloved one.  The Ardaas is performed for one’s own good, but this good comes not at the cost of someone else.  Sikhs pray for the well-being of the whole humanity, no not just the whole humanity but His whole creation.  Sarbat Da Bhala is what the Sikhs pray for.  And if the well-being of the whole creation is achieved then their well-being as part of the creation is assured.  Thus, the Sikhs work for the well-being of the whole creation so as to achieve their own well-being instead of working for the individual’s selfish ends at the cost of others, in the process endangering the whole creation, as we see happening at present.

But how to achieve this kind of selflessness ?  To achieve it, we need to rid ourselves of haumein.  In Guru Granth Sahib, ridding oneself of haumein is given prime importance in order to progress on the path of living a life in harmony with His Order.  What is this haumein?  To understand this we have to first understand what Galileo’s discovery achieved on the spiritual front.

Before Galileo came on the scene, we were living in a universe which had Earth at its centre, Sun to decorate the day sky and Moon and stars to decorate the night sky (as Old Testament says).  In this Earth-centric universe, everything in the sky was there to serve the Earth.  But Galileo changed all that when he said that it was the Sun around which the Earth moved, and not the Earth around which the Sun moved as the Church taught.  For speaking the truth, the Vatican threatened him and made him retract his statements and apologise.   But we have seen that once out, the truth cannot be suppressed and so the Earth lost its pre-eminence and we now know that it is but a speck in the whole scheme of things.

However, the discovery of Galileo achieved only half of the correction.  The Book of Genesis expostulated Earth-centric universe had another feature — in the centre of the earth, of the Earth-centric universe, sat man.  Book of Genesis was (and still is) interpreted as saying that everything we saw in the sky was there to serve the Earth and everything we saw on Earth was there to serve man.  Similar type of thinking was followed by Hinduism with polytheistic frills added on.  Galileo succeeded only in destroying the myth of the Earth-centric universe, but did not address himself to the man-centric universe, because while the former came into the domain of physics (the field of Galileo) the latter came into the domain of metaphysics. Much before Galileo’s time, the founding fathers of Sikhism had addressed the issue of the falseness of a man-centric universe where the man thinks that everything he sees is there to serve him.  The limit of this kind of thinking was reached when man started thinking that even other men were there to serve him.

Living in a world (rather universe) where each man thinks that everything is there to serve his purpose was called ‘haumein’ by the Sikh Gurus, and the Sikhs were told to rid themselves of this haumein — the mental set-up where we are concerned only with exploiting all that we see to our perceived benefit.

The Sikh Gurus tackled this at both levels. Pauri twenty-two of Japji states that there are innumerable worlds in this universe and counting them is impossible, because as we count them we run out of numerals.  Thus, the Gurus destroyed the Earth-centric universe in which everything revolved around earth’s happenings.  On the spiritual level, the Gurus showed the Sikh how to rid his mind of haumein and start living in a universe where God is at the centre of the whole creation and not man.  The Sikh was also made to realise that there is no duality between the material world and spiritual world.  Because the Earth-centric universe gives way to a God-centric one and the man-centric universe too gives way to a God-centric universe thus removing the artificial duality brought about by man’s  ignorance.  The material universe has been unravelled by the physicists to the whole world, but the spiritual aspect seems to be largely confined to the Sikhs only.  It is the duty of the Sikhs to unravel it to the whole world.  To do so lets first find out how living in a man-centric universe has affected  life on the Earth:

“…… civilized man has many problems to solve before a conclusive answer can be given — problems of adjusting to his scientific environment with its atomic weapons, mental  tensions and “exploding” populations.  In meeting his own problems, although man is pressed, he still has indefinite period of time.  But to the extent that he is unselfish and wise enough to be interested in other species than his own, the answer is clear.  Our civilization has been alarmingly destructive of wildlife.  A number of species have already been exterminated.  Wherever civilization comes, wildlife tends to disappear.  Surveying early air routes, I watched fence lines rush westward over prairies where antelope and buffalo had grazed.  All over the world I have listened to men telling how birds and animals dwindled in numbers and then disappeared as civilization progressed.  On every continent, and in almost every country, the crisis for wildlife is acute.  If present trends continue, extermination will be appalling and it can never be redressed… Man can stop the extermination of animals if he has desire to do so …”

This quote is from an article written by pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh published in Reader’s Digest of October 1964 (the Indian Edition).  The fact that more than thirty years have passed since only brings the statements made into starker relief.  Reading the above excerpt is enough to give us a glimpse of how living in a man-centric world has affected our world.  We have few years left before the forests disappear.  In some years the petroleum reserves will be exhausted.  We have exterminated hundreds of species of plants and animals and continue to exterminate more and more.  We have brought the natural balance of this planet to the brink of collapse.   All this has happened because we have not been able to identify the wrong in our behaviour.  And as long as we continue to live in a man-centric world — a world of haumein — we will not be able to correct our path.  Why will a man, living in a world where everything is there to benefit him, think twice before destroying some acres of rain-forests so as to build a bigger house, buy a bigger car and have a bigger bank balance?  Why will such a man think twice before exhausting the petroleum reserves?  Why stop and think before acting to destroy the mineral reserves of the planet?  Why will he care about the pollution caused by his money-spinning ventures?  What does he care about the misery he causes to other humans and animals?  After all, is not everything created by Him for his benefit?  Then why think before benefiting?

This sort of mental set-up built over centuries is not easy to dismantle.  To quote Mr. Lindbergh again : “Man can stop the extermination of animals if he has the desire to do so.  To what extent he has this desire will, I think, be the measure of his greatness — whether he places more value on his own material accomplishments or on God’s miracle of life……”

So the difference between living a constructive or a destructive life is who we conceive to be the centre — man or God?  Earlier God was thought to be a conception of man which obviously made man superior to God.  But it was only when the Sikh Gurus gave the “definition” of God that man realised for the first time his own position in His scheme of things.  In the man-centric world, God was there to strike down our enemies, or to forgive us for our sins; in short, God was a safety-valve which we used when there was no ray of hope left.   This god was definitely a creation of man.  As Xanophanes wrote in the 6th century B.C. :  “Aye, yes, and if oxen or lions had hands and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen and make their bodies in the images of their several kinds.  The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue-eyes and red hair …”

We accept in principle that God created everything, but at the same time, refuse to yield to Him.  We keep believing that everything He has created is for our benefit instead of creating everything including man to serve His own purpose — a purpose which will remain unknown to man.  By claiming that everything we see has been created by Him for our service, we reduce God to the level of Alladin’s genie which does everything to serve its master.  These delusions have led us to live a life totally in disharmony with  His Order, thus, bringing the Earth to the verge of annihilation.  What is the way out?  Usually, we seek a convenient way out which will keep our conscience in good humour.  For example, the ‘saint system’ of the Christians, the ‘reigning deity system’ of the Hindus and the ‘taveez system’ of the Muslims.  The Christians have various saints who answer prayers for various purposes. For example if someone has lost something then he should pray to St Anthony, and if he is going to be travelling then he should pray to St Christopher, etc.  The Hindus have about 330 million gods and goddesses to choose from and each family can have its own reigning deity to safeguard the interests of the family, often in conflict with reigning deities of other families.  The Muslims wear taveez containing something written on a piece of paper (usually an Ayat from Quran) and enclosed in a metal case which is put on a thread and tied around the upper-arm or around the neck in order to ward off some evil influence or to achieve some mundane desire.  Man has become a habitual seeker of short cuts in finding ways out of problems facing him.  Any statistician can explain how the system of saints, reigning deities, taveez, etc. works.  But it does not stop man from going on pilgrimages or attending mass regularly or performing namaaz five times daily so as to calm the pangs of his conscience.  Man will exploit his fellow beings and then go on pilgrimages or donate to some charity and feel that he committed no sin.  It is the best illustration of what happens in a man-centric world, the world governed by haumein.
What we need do to rid ourselves of this state of mind is to see the world as it really is.

Take a simple example of the conflicts present in the world of today.  The Jews of Israel have been tyrannizing the Palestinians because they are sure that their God approves of their actions.  The Iran-backed Muslim guerillas fighting the Israelis and bombing them are doing so, because they ‘know’ that their God approves of their actions.  The Hindus  pulled down the Babri mosque in 1992 in Ayodhya , because they were doing it for their god Ram, and all the Muslims they killed in the name of their religion, they did it because they ‘knew’ their god will reward them for doing so.  These things can happen only in a man-centric world, because in this sort of world, a man shares his interests, at the most, with his co-religionists or his country.  He is not concerned with the whole humanity or, much less, the whole creation.  We have to start thinking in terms of “whole creation” and not just our own individual interests.  Let us start with self-interest.  I have to survive in this world.  How should I go about achieving this survival?  I survive if my community survives.  My community survives if my country survives.  My country survives if my continent survives.  My continent survives if this world survives.  This world will survive if the natural balance remains intact.  And this balance will remain intact if I act in harmony with it.  I will have to learn about the role of each and everything around me to act in a manner which is in harmony with the established Order.  To learn about the role of others, I will need two abilities — compassion and empathy.  To develop these two abilities and to act in harmony, I will need to control my physical passions, my anger, my wants, my material attachments, and my egoistic pride.  So, I survive if humanity survives.  Humanity survives if life survives on this planet.  Life will survive if balance of nature remains intact.  And we come to the same thing again.  Wherever we may start we end up realising that without acting in harmony with His Order, we can not hope to  survive.  And by acting in harmony with His Order we achieve contentment and thus happiness.

This same rule we need to apply in our social relations too, so that social harmony may be achieved.  For example if my child is not getting a job in a man-centric mental set-up, I will use my contacts and get him/her a job.  But in a God-centric mental set-up, I will act to remove the causes because of which my child and all others like him/her are not getting jobs.  Once these causes are removed, my child will get a job as will others like him/her.  If I disapprove of prostitution then I will work for outlawing it, if I am having a man-centric mental make-up.  But if I have a God-centric mind-set, then I will try to remove the causes which push people into prostitution thus removing a cause of unhappiness from this world.

This is the difference between the two mind-sets.  In the man-centric mind-set, we try to stop the effect from taking place while doing little to stop its cause.  But in the God-centric mind-set, we work to remove the causes of unhappiness thus trying to better this world.  In the former case, we rely on the miracles which we think God capable of, while in the latter case, we rely on the miracles of the abilities given to us by God.  So, in the former case, when we pray to God we pray for our own interests only and do not hesitate in bribing God; “I will donate so much to such-and-such temple of yours”; “I will never do it again if you get me out this time”; “I promise to visit you every year if you help me this time”, etc., etc.  But in the latter case, when we pray, we pray for strength to fight the unhappiness and for strength to accept what happens in accordance with His Order; we pray to Him to thank Him for what He has given us and we pray for strength to fight those who act in disharmony with His Order.

This is the aim of Ardaas and it is achieved by ridding oneself of haumein.  Let us all work towards the ideal of Sarbat Da Bhala and make this world a God-centric world — the real ‘heaven’.


4 thoughts on “Concept of Prayer in Sikhism

  1. Haumein is a combination word — hau + mein. Both means “I am”. Combined word “haumein” means “I-am-ness” — or the state of mind of one who thinks the world (nay, the universe) revolves around one.

  2. Scriptures of Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) do promise on behalf of God bounties in the afterlife to those who will do His Will. Sikhism doesn’t promise any such bounties — for a Sikh, the goal of life is to feel what God expects of one in a given set of circumstances. The reward is not in material terms but in terms of contentment & satisfaction. Also, Sikhi differs from other religions in that there is no clergy to tell one what God’s Will is. An individual must realise His Will for oneself — for God’s Will is individual-specific and no one but God and the individual may know it. An obvious question is who is to know whether one is doing His Will or not? God always knows — and so does the individual 🙂

  3. Pingback: “Losing my religion. Why I recently walked away from Christianity.” « Sikh Centre’s Weblog

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