AHANKAR (hankar as it is commonly pronounced in Punjabi) is a compound of Sanskrit aham (I) and kar (‘maker’) and means I-maker, i.e. what individuates the person as I. It stands for egotism, egoism, self conceit, self centredness, vanity or simply pride. Other synonyms used in the sacred texts of the Sikhs are man, abhiman, garab, guman, ahang, ahammeu, ahambudh, haumai and khudi. Pride is regarded as an undesirable trait in all ethical systems; it is counted among the seven deadly sins in the religious literature of the West.
Sikhism considers it not as a metaphysical myth as is done in Sankhya and Buddhism but as one of the five common human weaknesses or evils. Ahankar is vanity, elation or exultation arising from an exaggerated view of one\’s own merit. The merit may consist in real or presumed intellect, scholarship, physical strength or beauty, worldly rank and possessions or even spiritual accomplishments. Whatever the source, ahankar is counted a frailty. Says Guru Amar Das, “it is a deadly disease and the cause of the unending cycle of birth, death and rebirth” (GG, 592).
Again, “Pelf is like poison, for it engenders arrogance.None sunk in arrogance wins approval” (GG, 666). In another hymn, Guru Amar Das declares: “Egoity is the adversary of nam (absorption in God`s Name); the two cannot abide together” (GG, 560). Guru Arjan thus addresses ahankar personified: ” 0 thou, the cause of birth and death: 0 thou, the soul of sin: Thou for sakest friends and slowest enmities: Thou spreadest the net of illusion far and wide”(GG, 1358). Even virtues and pieties are rendered sterile if accompanied by ahankar, as says Guru Tegh Bahadur, Nanak IX: ” Pilgrimages, fasting and charities if they lead to guman (pride) go waste like the bath by an elephant (who after bathing besmears his body with dirt)” (GG, 1428).
Remedies suggested in Sikhism are humility and seva (self abnegating deeds of voluntary service). The two are complementary virtues. For Guru Arjan humility is a weapon against not only ahankar but all vikars or evil tendencies. Says he, “Humility is my mace, being the dust of the feet of all, my dagger. These weapons vanquish all vices” (GG, 628); Seva is a highly prized virtue in Sikhism. To quote Guru Arjan again: “I feel blest rendering service to God`s servants by drawing water for them (from the well), by swinging the fan over their heads (in holy congregation) and by grinding corn (for their meals).
State, territory and mundane offices are of little value” (GG, 8ll). Another remedy is to be aware of the insignificance and transience of man in the context of cosmic vastness. Kabir wonders at the vanity of men who pride themselves upon trifles. “Even kings mightier than Ravana,” he says, “perished in a twinkle”(GG, 1251) .Judicious self respect and a sense of honour should not however be mistaken for pride. Humility does not rule out the former. Says Guru Nanak: “If one loseth one’s honour, all that he eats is unclean” (GG, 142).
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