Five Evils

Five Evils

Five evils or five thieves (panchadosh or panj vikar) as they are referred to in Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, are, according to Sikhism, the five major weaknesses of the human personality at variance with its spiritual essence. The common evils far exceed in number, but a group of five of them came to be identified because of the obstruction they are believed to cause in man's pursuit of the moral and spiritual path. The group of five evils comprises Kam (Lust), Krodh (Rage), Lobh (Greed), Moh (Attachment) and Ahankar (ego) in Punjabi; translated into English these words mean lust/addiction, wrath/rage/anger, materialistic greed, attachment/worldly infatuation and ego/pride respectively. The word 'evil' here may be understood to represent the connotation of Punjabi pap (sin), dokh (defect), or kilbikh (defilement).

It is the primary aim of the practising Sikh to subdue the actions of these five inner evils and render them useless. The actions of one's mind should be above, beyond and without interference from these five inner urges or sins. It's a Sikh's duty to not base their life subject to these five passions of the human heart. To live a life in devotion to the Almighty Waheguru in positive Spirits (Chardikala) and in His Mercy (Hukam). To remember God in Naam Simran, engaged in Community Service (Sewa) and to practise the Five Virtues. By taking these positive steps, the Five Evils are overcome and rendered ineffective. By adopting this daily routine and discipline the person's actions become pure (Nirmal) and rewarding to the soul and the negativity of the person is removed.

Insignificance of the Number 5

Although some Sikhs regard the number five as special — because of its presence in earlier Indian mythology and philosophy, such as the five rivers of the Punjab (which is where it derives its name); the five faces of Shiva; the five aggregates of human personality (panca-skandha) and five moral precepts (pancasila) analyzed by the Buddha; the five vows of Jainism (pancavrates); the five fires (pancagni) and five koshas (sheaths or wrappers) investing the self (pancakosah) spoken of by the Upanisads; the five abstentions (yamas) and five observations (niyamas) of Yoga; the five senses; and the five gross and subtle elements (panca mahabhuta or panca tattva); and even the Five Ks in Sikhism — Sikh theology actually attaches no significance to the numeral itself. On the contrary, the Sikh teachings forbid the belief in superstition, and advise that the one who seeks the path to God must believe only in the naam (that is, God). Thus, a belief that the numeral five is significant, according to the Sikh theology, would be to become ensnared by the five evils themselves (specifically attachment — an inability to seek the truth because of ones belief in illusory constructs).

History of Five Evils

The early Vedic literature bears no reference to the concept of 'five evils'; the terms moha, kama, krodha and aham do occur in the Vedic texts, but they are not enumerated as a series of evils. Moreover, these words do not seem to have any significant relation to ethical and soteriological ideas in the Vedic age. It was the ascetic sages of non-Vedic tradition, the munis and sramanas who propounded the philosophy of renunciation and the methods of sense-control. The impact of their ideas and practices was felt by the Upanisadic teachers. Thus the Upanisads, though they do not condemn kama or desire, are aware of the evils like raga or passion, avidya or nescience, moha or delusion, and ahankara or egoity. These evils are mentioned and condemned in some of the post-Buddhistic Upanisads such as the Prasna, Svetasvatara, Aitareya, Isa and Mundaka. The last-named text refers to 'the sages whose defilements have been destroyed' (ksinadosah), although it does not enumerate the 'defilements'.

Long before these later Upanisads, however, leaders of sramanic philosophers had expounded soteriological techniques in which eradication of all evils and imperfections was considered sine qua non for ultimate release. It is in the teachings of Kapilamuni, Parsvanatha, Sakyamuni and Mahavira that one finds a detailed discussion of the nature and function of kama, krodha, lobha, moha and ahankara and many other kindred vices.

The old Pali texts contain three lists of evils and factors which obstruct meditation and moral perfection. The list of five 'hindrances' (nivaranas) consists of sensuous desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and sceptical doubt. These hindrances blind man's mental vision and make concentration difficult. The list of ten 'fetters' (sanyojanas), which bind beings to sansara, comprises the following: belief in a permanent individuality, sceptical doubt, belief in the efficacy of mere moral observances and rituals, sensual passion, ill will, desire for existence in the material world, desire for existence in the immaterial world, conceit, restlessness and nescience.

Buddhist Concept

The first two in the list of five hindrances, viz. sensuous desire (kamacchanda) and ill will or malice are the same as the first two in the list of five evils mentioned in the Sikh canon. Likewise, belief in a permanent individuality (satkayadrsti), sensual passion (kamaraga), ill will, conceit (mana) and nescience (avidya), included in the Buddhist list of ten fetters, are comparable to egoity, lust, wrath, pride and delusion or attachment of Sikh enumeration.

The third Buddhist list of ten 'defilements' (Pali kilesa, Punjabi kalesh and Skt. klesa), includes the following: greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), delusion (moha), conceit (mana), false views, sceptical doubt, sloth, distraction, shamelessness and recklessness. In this list, again, the first four defilements are nearly identical with those included in the list of' ‘five evils' minus lust (kama). This last evil is mentioned separately and repeatedly in the Buddhist scriptures in Pali as well as in Sanskrit. Similarly wrath (krodha) is mentioned separately as a powerful enemy of holy life. Early Buddhist sources describe the triad of lobha, dosa (dvesa), and moha as the three roots of evil (akusala-mula). One of the standard Buddhist words for evil is klesa which may be translated as 'defilement' or ‘depravity’. A list of six defilements is found in some Buddhist Sanskrit sources and includes passion (raga), ill will (pratigha), conceit (mana), nescience (avidya), false view (kudrsti), and sceptical doubt (vichikitsa).

Jainism Concept

The Jaina sources also contain details concerning evils and defilements. All the five evils of the Sikh list are found repeatedly mentioned in the sacred literature of Jainism. The Avasyakasutra has a list of eighteen sins which includes among others wrath (krodha), conceit, delusion (maya), greed, and ill will. The standard Jaina term for evil is 'dirt' or 'passion' (kasaya). The Dasavaikalikasutra states that four kasayas, viz. wrath, conceit, delusion and greed, cause rebirth. The Uttaradhyayanasutra mentions moha, trsna (synonym of kama) and lobha as the sources of sorrow.

The Yogasutra (II. 3) has a list of five defilements or hindrances called panca-klesah. These are nescience (avidya), egoity (asmita), passion (raga), ill will (dvesa) and the will to live (abhinivesa). It should be pointed out here that avidya equals moha; asmita is identical with ahankara; raga is similar to kama; dvesa is not different from krodha; and abhinivesa belongs to the category of lobha understood as continuous desire for existence in sansar.

Bhagavagita Concept

The Bhagavadgita mentions all the five evils although they are not enumerated as forming a pentad. The text mentions kama as desire or wish and at one point it is identified with krodha. Besides kama and krodha the Bhagavadgita mentions passion (raga), ill will, attachment, delusion, egoity, greed, conceit and nescience (ajnana), and employs terms such as papa, dosa and kalmasa for impurities or defilements. In one verse hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, wrath, harsh speech and nescience are described as demoniac qualities. Medieval Buddhist, Jainist, and Brahmanical authors of religious and philosophical works continued to discuss the meaning, nature and methods of eradicating the five and more evils. The Tantric adepts (siddhas) recommended rather radical techniques of combating the evil psychological forces, especially through the method of 'conquering passions through passions'. Reference may be made here to Tulasidasa who, in a series of quadriparti verses (chaupais) in his Ramacharitamanasa, acknowledges the universality of kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mana and trsna which afflict not only men but also the gods.

The Five Inner Thieves

There is no philosophical or theological explication of the five evils, collectively or individually, in Sikh Scripture, but man is repeatedly warned against them. They have been called diseases or maladies which afflict human beings with disastrous effects. The evil pentad is however mentioned at numerous places in the Holy Book. In at least five instances the list consists of the following: kam, krodh, lobh, moh and abhiman or ahankar. At one place instead of moh and abhiman we have "mad" and "ninda". Here the word "mad" may be interpreted in the sense of 'intoxication born of egoity'. The word ninda means slander. In two of the seven instances cited here the members of the evil pentad are called 'five thieves' (panch-chor). In a hymn by Kabir the list has trishna (craving), kam, krodh, mad and matsar as the five evils. The word trishna (Skt. trsna) means craving or desire, while the word matsar means jealousy. Often the five evils are referred to as 'the five' (panch) or 'al1 the five' (sare panch). At places the five organs of sense (jnanendriyas) are also often referred to as 'the five'.

One, two, three or four of the five cardinal evils are repeatedly mentioned almost throughout the body of the Sikh canon. The triad kam, krodh and lobh finds as frequent a mention as the triad kam, krodh and ahankar or moh, lobh and ahankar. Among the five evils the one that is condemned more than the others is ahankar. When only two of the five are mentioned, the pair consists either of kam and krodh, or of moh and "guman", or of lobh and moh; when a group of four out of the five evils is cited, it usually consists of the first four, kam, krodh, lobh and moh. Since the Sikh canon is a composite text containing the religious poetry not only of the Gurus but also of several saints and Sufis from various regions, synonyms, occasionally from different languages, occur. Thus lobh is also called lalach; man is called garab (Sanskrit garva) and guman; moh is also called bharam (Skt. bhrama). A word of most frequent occurrence is haumai. It is perhaps derived from aham, 'I' or egoity, the essential element of ego; hankar, ahankar are its semantic cognates. The word man is employed in a double sense; sometimes it is clearly used in the sense of 'honour' or 'respect'. In most cases, however, it is synonymous with "abhiman".

Is Haumai (Ego) is Worst Evil

Although it is permissible to identify "haumai" with "ahankar", the fact that "haumai" is not included in the evil pentad and yet comes in for the strongest censure in the Scripture would lead to the conclusion that it is regarded as a major evil in addition to those forming the pentad. It may be added that haumai or egoity, self-centredness, the personality system, the belief in one's individual existence, is the basis of all the other evils. From this standpoint, ahankar may be reckoned as an offshoot of haumai. The assertion or affirmation of 'I' runs counter to the affirmation of 'Thou'; the consciousness of 'self existence' or 'one's own existence' (sva-bhava or atma-bhava) is diametrically opposed to the consciousness of God's existence. In a system in which the sole reality of God (ik onkar) is the first principle, there can be no room for the reality of an 'individual existence' or 'one's own existence' apart from or along with the existence of God. To say that God alone is the reality means that there is no other reality that belongs to someone else, and that there is no someone else who can claim an independent reality of his own. The truth is that there is no truth in haumai.

Nevertheless, this unreal reality, this false truth—haumai—apparently exists. It is unreal and false from the standpoint of God who is the only absolute Reality; it is real and true from the standpoint of the fettered creatures coursing in sansar. These creatures have assumed a reality of their own; every fettered being is seemingly convinced of its own existence; this conviction flourishes in its ignorance of God's reality. There can be no such thing as co-existence of God and not-God; Reality and falsity cannot co-exist as cannot light and darkness. Therefore, where there is awareness of God's reality there is absence of one's own reality, and vice versa; where there is awareness of one's own existence or haumai, there is absence of the awareness of God's existence. The Scripture says: "Haumai jai ta kant samai—God is realized only when one eradicates egoity" (GG, 750); literally, '(one) merges into (one's) Lord only when (her/his) egoity has disappeared'.

The five evils, lust, wrath, greed, attachment and egoity, flourish on the soil of the belief in one's individualized existence. By destroying the doctrine of one's own existence or the belief in one's individual reality, the sages (sant, sadh) cancel in one stroke, as it were, the entire catalogue of evils. Desire, anger, avarice, infatuation, egoism, passion, jealousy, hypocrisy, pride, deception, falsehood, violence, doubt, and nescience and other forms of depravity listed in the Guru Granth Sahib do not affect him who has overcome his own self and found his essence in God's reality. Liberation (mukti, mokh) means the extinction of all the evils headed by haumai.

The Sikh canon also points to the way of extinguishing evils of all kinds. It is acknowledged that the five evils afflict all beings in sansar and that it is difficult to control them. Yet the possibility of conquering them is not ruled out in the theological framework of Sikhism; the moral training of a Sikh is in fact directed towards controlling the senses and eradicating the evils. The seeker of liberation has first to liberate himself of the yoke of the pentad. No headway can be made towards God-realization without discarding the cardinal evils. Kabir says, "He alone cherishes the Lord's feet who is rid of desire, wrath, greed and attachment—kamu krodhu lobhu mohu bibarjit haripadu chinai soi (GG, 1123).

Devotion and Sadh Sangat

Loving devotion (bhagti, bhakti) to God is, according to Sikhism, the way to ultimate release. One can love God only when one has annihilated self-love; this means that the devotee must be humble and surrender himself fully unto God. The Gurus stress the necessity of taking refuge in God. To this end, one must first renounce pride (man). Constant awareness of God (simran) is the panacea for all ills. He who enshrines the Lord's lotus feet in his heart destroys sins of many existences. Devotion to God eradicates the evils in an instant and purifies the body (GG, 245). The destruction of evils may be viewed both as a cause and consequence of the practice of nam simran. Awareness of God's presence comes only when lust, wrath, avarice, attachment and egoity have departed from the devotee; when the devotee lives in constant awareness of God, the evils touch him not. Such a person is unaffected by pleasure and pain, for he has freed himself from evils such as lobh, moh and abhiman. Guru Tegh Bahadur describes such a sage as one liberated while still alive and calls him an image of God on earth (GG, I426-27).

Another way of overcoming "haumai" and other evils is to keep the company of the saints (sant) or Sadh Sangat (holy congregation) who both radiate virtuous qualities. One kills lust, wrath, greed and other depravities of the evil age (kali-kales) by taking refuge in the sangat, the holy fellowship. It is by discarding the most powerful of evils, egoity, that one can get admission to this sacred society. Egoity ceases as one takes to the company of the holy (GG, 271). A third method of overcoming the evils is to submit oneself to the instruction of the spiritual preceptor (guru). He who would overcome the five evils must follow his teaching. The wisdom obtained from the preceptor is like a swift sword (kharagu karara) which cuts through confusion, infatuation, avarice and egoity (GG, 1087). One celebrates God's virtues through the favour of the sage (sant prasadi) and destroys lust, anger and insanity born of egoism (unmad). In Guru Nanak's Sidh Gosti it is stated that without the preceptor one's efforts bear no fruit. The importance of living up to the instruction of the holy preceptor can be judged from the concept of the 'Guru-oriented person' (gurmukh) so central to the Sikh moral system. A gurmukh is one who has turned his face towards the Guru, that is to say, a person who by practising what the Guru teaches has freed himself from the depravities and lives in the Divine presence. He achieves this position by conquering the evils under the guidance of the Guru and ever remains in tune with the Supreme Reality.

See also Ahankar, Kam, Krodh, Lobh and Moh.


# Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmati Nirnaya. Lahore, 1932
# Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
# Nirbhai Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Delhi, 1990
# Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
# Teja Singh Essays in Sikhism. Lahore, 1941
# Wazir Singh, Philosophy of Sikh Religion. Delhi, 1981
# Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970

Above adapted from article By L. M. Joshi

* [ Concepts In Sikhism - Edited by Dr. Surinder Singh Sodhi]

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