HAUMAI is a term which recurs frequently in the Guru Granth Sahib in reference to the spiritual state of those who .have not discovered the way of liberation and peace. Literally, the word means `I am`, implying egoism reckoned as a spiritual and moral disease. It is, says Guru Amar Das, a filth which clings to man, a polluting presence which torments its victims while resisting all attempts on their part to wash it away: “jagi haumai mailu dukhu paid malu Idgi dujai bhdi; malu haumai dholi kivai na utaraije sou firath ndi in this world the filth of haumai, the clinging dirt of worldly affection, bring suffering.
The foulness of haumai will not be removed, though one may bathe at a hundred places of pilgrimage” (GG, 39). It would not let its victims turn to God for, says Guru Amar Das again, “Haumai and remembrance of God`s Name are at variance with each other. The two will not live in the same abode haumai ndvai nali virodhu hai dm na vasahi ik thai” (GG, 560). Haumai, declares Guru Ram Das is “man antari rogu” an inner disease within the human man (psyche) which afflicts the obstinate manmukh (egocentred man). In the man is the canker of haumai, the source of confusion and apathy in the self willed and the base (GG, 301).
It is, according to Guru Nanak, an ever present condition, dominating the whole of a man`s life as it lays hold of him: “In haumai he comes and in haumai he goes; in haumai he is born and in haumai he dies; … in haumai he pays regard, sometimes to virtue and sometimes to vice…” (GG, 466). There is, however, a remedy and Guru Ram Das, having identified haumai as an inner disease, proceeds to name the infallible antidote: “Man antari haumai rogu hai bhrami bhule manmukh durajand / Ndnak rogu gavdi mili satigur sddhu sajand the disease is overcome, Nanak, as one meets the true Guru in company with the truly devout” (GG, 301). Kabir describes the result: “Mere words achieve nothing; One finds inner peace only as haumai flees” (GG, 325).
Haumai is thus a spiritual disease, a condition which dominates the man or psyche of the manmukh. From it flow all the ignorance, selfishness and depravity which mark people dwelling in sequestration from the Guru and God. To overcome its fatal effects, the manmukh must become a gurmukh, turning his affections away from his man (mind) and fastening them instead upon the Guru, i.e. God. Those who do this by regular disciplined meditation on the Divine Name and by singing His praises in fellowship with the devout purge themselves of the evil which chains them to the wheel of suffering. Liberated from its bonds, they find that peace and total tranquillity which endure forever.
The fundamental importance of the concept of haumai in Sikh teaching is easily understood when one observes with what frequency the word occurs in Scripture and what emphasis it receives. It is also relatively easy to understand the general sense in which the word is used i.e. to designate the primary affliction of un regenerate mankind. Finding an English translation is, however, much more difficult; no precise equivalent in fact exists. What seems accessible though is a cluster of approximate terms which may communicate an understanding of haumai. Although it appears in the Guru Granth Sahib as a single word, haumai was in fact formed by juxtaposing two words, a verb and a noun.
Its two syllables are made up of haun, being a verb, in the first person, and mai (n), the equivalent of `I` in Khari Boll and Punjabi.The result might therefore be translated as `I am`. This immediately suggests `ego` as an appropriate translation, one which certainly comes as close to a literal rendering as English will provide. Many writers have, for this reason, used `ego` when translating haumai into English. This is, however, open to two objections. The first is that `ego` has already been appropriated as a translation for the distinctively different Sanskrit word ahankdra which is merely descriptive and not qualitative.
The second is that the word has become progressively less precise in English usage and may now be employed in at least three different senses, none of which truly corresponds to haumai.A stronger possiblity is pride, the word which was used by Max Arthur Macauliffe as a translation and which obviously met with the approval of Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha. In his Gurmal Mdrtand, Kahn Singh lists haunai nd hankdr^s a single category, adding to them other closely related terms such as abhimdn, khudi and gumdn. Their choice implies, however, an exact identity, and whereas this does occasionally seem to apply to the Guru Granth Sahib usage of both words, the relationship normally appears to be one of intimate cause and effect rather than precise correspondence.
Whereas haumai describes the basic affliction of the manmukh, words such as garabsind hankdrsire characteristically used to designate pride as an inevitable result rather than as the actual seat of the problem.It must, however, be remembered that `pride` (ahankara) is reiterated in Gurbani as the most insidious of the Five Evils and haumai, being its origin, is therefore a malignant and deepseated spiritual and moral disease. Considered in this way, the connotation of the term becomes clearer, though its rendering as `egoism` and even `pride`, in default of a more precise term, has to remain.
Other possibilities include `self willed obstinacy,` `selfcentredness`. The conclusion which seems most appropriate is that haumai is not precisely translatable. One must therefore seek to underst and these terms in their Guru Granth Sahib context. In this manner we may hope to understand the Guru`s concept of the human man and the disease of haumai to which it is subject.
1. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 19-14
2. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
3. Nirbhai Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Delhi, 1990
4. Kahn Singh, Bhai, Gurmat Martand. Amritsar, 1962
5. Pratap Singh, Giani, Gurmati Philasphi. Amritsar, 1971