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Hukam - "Divine Will"

Hukam is a Gurmukhi word derived from the Persian "hukm", meaning command or order. The word is commonly used to refer to the Shabd (hymn) that is read after the Ardas prayer is said in the presence of the Sikh holy scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This first Shabd that is read is called the Hukamnama or just Hukam for short.

However, Hukam is also important as a basic concept in Sikhi; the adherents of this faith believe in the "Hukam of the Lord" - Guru Nanak, the founder Guru says, "How can one become pure?; how can the veil of illusion be torn away? O Nanak, walk in His Hukam; it is written in your destiny (1)" (SGGS p 1). So walk your life in his Hukam!

Now, what exactly does this word Hukam mean in our daily life?

"The Divine Will"

In Sikhism, this Punjabi word literally means "divine will". A Sikh accepts that everything in the Universe happens according to the Will of an all powerful God, who is referred to as Waheguru. It is by the command of Waheguru that we are born and we die. Without His command ".... even a leaf on the tree would not move" is a common saying in Punjabi. In the Sikh Scripture, the founder of the religion, Guru Nanak says:

Japji Sahib Stanza 20
O Nanak, by the Hukam of God's Command, we come and go in reincarnation. ((20))

The whole of the Universe is subject to the Hukam of the Creator God. Nothing ever happens without the Will of Waheguru. This is accepted as one of the primary concepts of Sikhism. For the Sikh, the acceptance of His Hukam is a concept that needs to be learnt and understood. Guru Nanak at the very beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scriptures of the Sikhs asks:

SGGS page 1 paragraph 1
ਕਿਵ ਸਚਿਆਰਾ ਹੋਈਝ ਕਿਵ ਕੂੜੈ ਤ੝ਟੈ ਪਾਲਿ ॥

How does one become truthful? How can falsehood be discarded?

And the answer and reply follows on the next line:

SGGS page 1 paragraph 1
ਹ੝ਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥੧॥

By following the Hukam, Says Nanak, by accepting the Hukam, which is written along with everyone! ((1))

Hukam and Free will

What is free will? Free will is the ability of a person to make choices free from any kind of constraint or restriction; the ability to do what one wants or to act as one desires without any inhibitions or barriers! To a mad person this is a licence to destroy the world but to a rational person it may mean a time to exercise control and rationality. However, despite this ability of a person to act in a responsible manner, the freedom of choice is a real option in life.

Shall I get up at 6 in the morning or 10; this is a real choice that all of us have. We have the ability to exercise a freedom of choice in this option. These type of options in life allow us to exercise our "free will" to act in a certain way. The exercise of these options leads us to our Karams or deeds. If we exercise the "correct options" the result is "good" karams and if we make "bad" choices, that leads to "negative" karams.

Gurbani tells us that living in harmony with the "Divine Will" or "Hukam" brings everlasting peace. Now, this does not imply that a Sikh does not have his or her own "Free-Will". Of course, we all have our own free will; but this "free will" has serious limitations. We cannot determine many important aspects in our lives? For example, we cannot determine when, where and to which parents we are to be born; we cannot control the time of our birth or death or with any certainty the state of our health. All these events and issues are outside our control or subject to "our will" or our control.

Living in harmony with His Hukam

According to Sikhism, man is an action being, a Karma Yogi, "a being of action and deeds", who has to overcome his daily hurdles and difficulties with understanding, wisdom and refined concious choices. The efforts and actions of the individual should be the result of determined and objective decisions and not, as a result of manmat or 'mind and sense'-controlled reactions. He must work altruistically, for mankind and nature, and not be purely self-centred.

Sikhs believe that all these aspects of our lives and many many more aspects of our lives are determined by Hukam; when we are born, who our parents will be, who our brothers and sisters will be; or will we have brothers or sisters? Will we be born male or female? In good health or not; where will our birth take place - in the poorest part of Africa or in a rich western country? And this is just the start. After birth, as children, there are many things which are beyond our control; even as adults much in life is beyond our control.

The Guru Granth Sahib tells us that we need to recognise this aspect of life; and that if one does understand this important concept, then many difficulties in life can be avoided. The Guru says: "Coming and going is by the Hukam of His Command; realizing His Hukam, I shall merge in Him. (1)(Pause)" (SGGS p 1103). So only by realising the concept of Hukam can one understand the laws of nature and stand a chance to merge with the Lord.

To live in harmony with Hukam is to align or re-align ones conduct and to realise what is God's Will; to understand His message; the message of Nature; the laws of the Universe. The bottom line is that the Sikh must bring his will in line with the Will of God or Hukam.

What is God's Hukam?

What is God's Hukam? The Sikh Scriptures outline the ways in which one can bring their own thinking in line with the Hukam. Engaging in the service of God's creation is the best way of working in harmony with the Divine Will. Further, by remembering Waheguru one becomes aware of "God's desires" and "Divine essence" within the person is realised. By following these "Divine Values" that benefit His Creation, one ends the cycle of Karma and Transmigration.

SGGS Page 92, Line 5
Recognizing the Hukam of His Command, you shall meet with your Lord and Master. ((1)(Second. Pause))

By submission to God's Hukam (Will), a sense of humility and self-negation is achieved – further one regards himself as an instrument of His Will. He realizes that whatever comes from Him is for his own good. Every misery that he faces is a sort of mercy. He is full of gratitude and prayer for all he has done. Those who have no regard for the Hukam, suffer in pain:

SGGS Page 85, Line 7
One who does not know the Hukam of the Lord's Command cries out in terrible pain.

The only antidote for egoism and vanity is complete surrender to His Will. Only by conquering the self, can one enter the realm of God's Grace.

Other Meaning:, 'Hukam' also refers to a passage from Guru Granth Sahib, selected by randomly opening the Sikh scripture during a daily ceremony. The passage is considered by Sikhs as the divine "command of the Guru" for the day. Hukam's are taken as guidance in specific situations/answer to questions etc.

Detailed study

  • 1. The Idea of the Supreme Being (God): Sikhism is a Theistic religion, and totally rejects all reasoning which may attempt to prove that the universe is an automatic machine, or that it is a continuation of atoms which are self-created and self-perpetuating.
  • 2. Self Created. According to the Sikh belief, God is self-created and all that exists, has emanated from Him. As to any speculations about the origin of God or the creation of the universe by Him, no mythological or any other explanation is offered. Man’s intellect cannot penetrate the Divine mystery, and hence all that man can attempt is to feel or realize the existence of God through intuition or spiritual experience, called "anubhava" in Indian philosophy.
  • 3. Beyond Logic and Endlessly True. Logic or any other kind of reasoning can neither prove nor deny the existence of God, for against one kind of reasoning another can be advanced. Hence for man it is to try to realize the existence of God in a spirit of humility, and to engage in prayer and devotion, so that he may become one with the Supreme Reality, that is God. Guru Nanak says in Japji (Stanza 16):
By One Word the whole vastness of the universe was created.

Resulting in millions of streams of existence.

Japji Sahib Stanza 16

Again, in stanza 21 it is said:

The Yogi knows not the day and date of creation. Nor any one the month and season. The creator of the universe alone knows this secret.
Japji Sahib Stanza 21
  • 4. Eternal God is believed in Sikhism to be eternal—that is, God is without beginning and without end. All else that is visible, had a beginning and will end. Even the sun and the moon, the stars, the earth—all will end.
  • 5. Vedic Gods The gods, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra — and the thousands of others are are not worshiped by Sikhs. God alone is Timeless (Akal). Akal is one of the key-concepts in Sikh spiritual thought. While this term is from Sanskrit , consisting of ‘a’ (negative prefix) and Kal (time), the particular spiritual and philosophical signification which belongs to it in Sikh thought is original with Sikh philosophy.
  • 6. One GOD Eternal. Sikhism is astrictly monotheistic religion. This means that God is believed to be the one and sole Reality in the cosmos, and no god or goddess or power like Satan or Ahirman or any other has reality such as God’s. God alone is worthy of worship, and the highest goal of existence (mukti or liberation) can come only through Devotion to God alone. For Sikhs worship of anything or anyone else is false and seen as a waste of the precious gift of the human life.
  • 7. Monism Besides its monotheism, Sikhism also emphasizes another philosophical idea, which is known as monism. Monism is the belief that everything that our senses apprehend is only appearance; that God is the sole Reality. Forms being subject to Time, shall pass away. God’s Reality alone is eternal and abiding.
  • 8. Man of GOD Hence behind the shows of things, the spiritual vision is always aware of the reality of God. According to this philosophy, the differences created by man’s limited thinking which result in selfishness, egoism and hate are meaningless. Since nothing exists except God; the man of God sees in all beings the reality of God. A few texts from the Holy Guru Granth Sahib will illustrate this point:
That which is inside man, the same is outside him;

nothing else exists; By divine prompting look upon all existence as one and undifferentiated; the same light penetrates all existence.

(Sorath M.I.II—bage 599)

The Divine (like the lotus) is in the water; yet untouched by it:

Its light penetrates this water entire;

None is near, and none far; I find it ever near, and chant its praises. Nothing else exists inside or outside (man); All happens as He wills it; Listen Pharthari: This is what Nanak says after contemplation.

(Asa M. I Ashtpadiyan I—page 411)
What should the yogi have to fear?

Trees, plants, and all that is inside and outside, is He Himself.

(Gauri Ashtpadiyan M.I. 7 - page 223)
  • 9. Differences are owing to man’s ignorance of the Supreme Truth, and to the influence on him of Maya (illusion). Through prayer and devotion and Divine aid the illusion created by Maya is lifted, and then man views the Reality of the universe as one, leaving no scope for hatred, avarice or egoism.

Conception of the Supreme Being

The conception of the Supreme Reality, i.e. God is fixed in Mul Mantra (The Basic Creed) of the Sikh faith, which stands at the head of the Guru Granth Sahib and is considered to be the opening of the holy text of Japuji. Mul Mantra is chanted and written on all solemn occasions when Divine blessing is sought to be invoked in any undertaking. In its original form it reads: Ek Onkar, Satnam, Karta-Purakh, Nirbhau, Nirvair, Akal Murati, Ajuni, Saibhang, Guru Prasadi. Translated into English, this means: The One Supreme Being; Eternal Holy Reality; The Creator; Without Fear; Without Rancour; Timeless Form; Unborn; Self-Existent; Realized Through Divine Grace. The various elements in the above creed on careful study will yield the true significance of the Sikh belief and its idea of God. The first veer-phrase Ek Oankar contains two terms: Ek (One) and Oankar (The Supreme Being). Oankar comes from the Upanishad and is an extended form of Om, which is the holiest of all names of God. In the Guru Granth Sahib Om is also used—once by Guru Nanak and twice by Guru Arjan Dev. Oankar is the Eternal Reality, above gods and goddesses and is holy and self-existent. To it, in order to emphasize the idea of the sole Reality of God, Guru Nanak has added the numeral 1, which in several Indian languages is pronounced as EK. This EK Oankar is the transcendental, unattributed Absolute. In other words, it is that which is above all Existence, has no attributes, since these will limit its absoluteness and Eternity. In Sukhmani (xxiii.6) it is said:

Whenever he wills, He creates the vast universe; As He wills He is again EK Oankar.

Ek Onkar here as elsewhere implies that Reality which is above and beyond all other existence. The next phrase, Satnam contains two terms. Sat (Satya) is both Real and Holy. Naam is a spiritual idea, which stands for the Essence, the Absolute Reality. It is not merely the name as is commonly believed, but that for which the name of God stands, that is, the Divine Essence. Karta Purakh: Karta is Kartar (Creator). The universe is fashioned by God and not by any deity. He is the Kartar, which is one of the commonly emphasized terms for God in Sikh belief. Purakh is the same Purusha (Male, this Mighty Eternal Creator). Purusha has come from the Rig Veda into Indian philosophy, and is one of the holiest words, as implying the Eternal Creator. Nirbhau (without fear) and Nirvair (without rancour) are two negative attributes, implying God’s absoluteness. Not being subject to any other being, and not being subject to need. He is fearless. Since He is the creator of all existence, He is without hate. He is all love, all benevolence. Hence in Sikh teaching, God is referred to again and again as Father, implying His love and care for all creation.

Akal, as said earlier, is Timeless, Eternal. This term is characteristically Sikh. In numerous Sikh phrases this term occurs. Akal is as unmistakably the Sikh name for God, as Allah in the Muslim tradition.

Ajuni implies that God is not subject to birth and death. Hence the Incarnations of God who are worshipped in various religions in India and outside, are not God, for God is unborn. He is not subject to the physical process of having a father and a mother. Related to this is Saibhang. This is a popular form of Sanskrit Swyambhu (Self Existent).

The last phrase, Guru Prasadi implies that God’s knowledge or realization can come to man neither through reasoning or learning nor through ritual performances like pilgrimages, fasting and keeping sacred days. None of the attempts in the ritual practice of religion will help His realization. Through devotion and prayer God’s grace (kindness, mercy) may be aroused and through that alone may He be realized. This is the great mystery of mysteries, which no man can understand. Grace comes mysteriously and in ways unexpected. Only prayer and devotion from the depth of the heart may draw it on man. For grace (prasad) other terms employed by the holy Gurus are mehar (love), karam (bounty), nadar (glance of compassion), daya (compassion), kirpa (kindness). So, this last phrase is essential in the enunciation of the basic idea of the Sikh faith.

God Without Fear

In the teaching of Sikhism God is conceived as being without form (nirankar/nirakar). In accordance with this faith, Guru Nanak is known as Nirankari (Believer in the Formless). No image or idol or any figurine can represent God, or be worshipped as God. All existence is God’s visible form, but no part of it is a substitute for God. God is also Nirguna (unattributed) as said earlier. This means that he is not subject to the ‘three qualities’ of ignorance (tamas), passion (rajas), and reasoning intellect (sattva as is all creation or Maya in the different stages of its evolution). God is eternally perfect. Man’s ideal must also be to rise above the three qualities of Maya and enter into the divine state of attributelessness through prayer and devotion. In the state of devotion or bhakti, God is also believed to have certain noble qualities, such as love, compassion, fatherly concern for all creation and the upholding of the moral law in universe. It is through such qualities that He comes close to humanity and becomes ‘the Beloved of His devotees’ (Bhakta vatsala). To love He yields, but no other persuasion.

Man loves Him for the principle of Goodness and Righteousness that is in Him. He is mighty and is constantly intervening in the concerns of the universe by destroying evil. Thus arrogant tyrants such as Ravana, Duryodhana and certain demons in Indian religious history, are destroyed by God’s might operating through certain God-inspired heroes. This belief is also shared by certain other great religions. So, God must be understood to be full of universal love, but also that Might which destroys evil and tyranny. The moral law cannot be defied by man with impunity. Guru Nanak in the hymns on Babar’s invasion points out how the rulers were humiliated at the hands of Babar’s soldiery, which became the instrument of divine justice.

In expressing the idea of God, Guru Nanak and his successors in the holy office of Guruship have employed some other terms which stand for the Absolute Reality. The most commonly used in this respect is Brahm. To give further emphasis to the idea of His transcendental character, this name is used as Par-Brahm (the Brahm beyond human thought). Guru is made to signify the human Preceptor as well as God, from whom all enlightenment and realization proceeds. Guru is also used in the extended compound form as Gurudev—the Lord Enlightened. Satguru (the holy master) is another term used for God. Thakur, Sahib, Swami (all three mean lord, master) are frequently used. From the current Indian phraseology Parmeshwar (the Supreme Lord) is taken. Prabhu (Lord) always stands for God. Often the epithet Sacha (true, holy, eternal) is used as a noun substantive to designate God. Pritam (Beloved), Piyara (Loved One) frequently occur in Gurubani as substantives to designate the idea of God.

Above adapted from article By Gurbachan Singh Talib

More Gurbani

The following link will list all the lines in the Guru Granth Sahib with the word 'Hukam' or (Gurmukhi: ਹ੝ਕਮ): ਹ੝ਕਮ

See also

External links