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History of Sikhism
Sikh practices

1a. Simran
1b. Seva

2. Three Pillars
2a. Naam Japo
2b. Kirat Karni
2c. Wand kay Shako

3. Five Evils
3a. Kam
3b. Krodh
3c. Lobh
3d. Moh
3e. Ahankar

4. Five Virtues
4a. Sat
4b. Santokh
4c. Daya
4d. Nimrata
4e. Pyare

Articles on Sikhism

Daya (usually spelt "daia" in Punjabi ਦਇਆ ), is from Sanskrit "Daya" meaning to sympathize with, to have pity on, and stands for compassion, sympathy and mercy. It means ‘suffering in the suffering of all beings’.

It is deeper and more positive in sentiment than what is usually meant by the word sympathy. Daya, cognitively, observes alien pain; affectively, it gets touched by it and moves with affectionate responses for the sufferer; and cognitively it moves one to act mercifully, pityingly, with kindness and forgiveness. Daya is opposite to hinsa (violence). One instilled with daya “chooses to die himself rather than cause others to die” says Guru Nanak (GG, 356).

In Gurmukhi, Daya ( ਦਇਆ ) translates to compassion or mercy and is a most important quality for a Sikh. It is a necessary quality needed to become compliant to the teaching of the Guru Granth. Mercy and compassion must become an integral part of a Sikh's mind set. The devotee of the Sikh Gurus must keep compassion at the forefront of his or her mind and this virtue must accompany the Sikh at all times.

Daya is a divine quality and a moral virtue highly prized in most religious traditions. In the Sikh Scripture, mahadaial (super compassionate), daiapati (lord of compassion), daial dev (merciful god), karima, rahima (the merciful one), etc., have been used as attributive names of God (GG, 249, 991, 1027, 727). In Sikh ethics, too, daya is inter alia, a basic moral requirement, a moral vow. “Keep your heart content and cherish compassion for all beings; this way alone can your holy vow be fulfilled” (GG 299).

Detailed analysis

The other four qualities given prominence by the Sikh Gurus and what should be part of every Sikh's "arsenal of virtues" are: Truth (Sat), Contentment (Santokh), Humility (Nimrata) and Love (Pyare). These five qualities are essential to a Sikh and it is their duty to meditate and recite the Gurbani so that these virtues become a part of their personality.

The importance of Daya can be seen from the following Shabads from SGGS:

ਨਿਰਦਇਆ ਨਹੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਉਜਾਲਾ ॥ ਬੂਡਤ ਬੂਡੇ ਸਰਬ ਜੰਜਾਲਾ ॥੪॥
Nirḝa­i­ĝ nahī joṯ ujĝlĝ. Būdaṯ būdė sarab janjĝlĝ.(4)
You have no compassion; the Lord’s Light does not shine in you.

You are drowned, drowned in worldly entanglements.(4)

It is clear from the Shabad above that if you do not have Compassion, then you will not by blessed by the Lord. You will not achieve any progress in your spiritual development and you will drown in Worldly Entanglements or Maya. It is mandatory to not ignore tragedies that take place in the world but to face them head-on and do whatever is possible within ones means. As a Sikh you must feel the pain and suffering of other people involved in any tragedy. These days, in addition to natural disasters, we have all too much violence and destruction inspired by mankind. Most of this crazy action is the result of peoples lack of understanding and due to a complete loss of compassion for humanity. The Devil runs the mind of these people. Let’s learn from Gurbani as only then can we make sense of the world.

At the human level, one can comprehend the feelings of another’s anguish, but as a theological doctrine it is to risk allowing suffering in God’s life. This has often caused much controversy in theological circles. God does not suffer in the sense of pain from evil as evil, but may suffer compassion (daya) as bearing the pain of others to relieve them (of pain as also of evil). That is why at the time of Babar’s invasion of India, Guru Nanak, when he witnessed the suffering of people, complained to God:

Eti mar pai kurlane tain ki dardu na aia

So much agony were they put through So much anguish did they suffer— Were you not, O God, moved to compassion?

(GG, 360)

The Guru, in the image of God, is also daial purakh (compassionate being) and bakhasand (forgiver)—GG, 681.

Daya is a virtue of the mind. In Indian thought, virtues are classified into (1) those of the body: dana (charity), paritrana (succouring those in distress), paricharana (social service); (2) those of speech: satya (veracity), hitovachana (beneficial speech), priyavachana (sweet speech), svadhyaya (reciting of Scriptures) and (3) those of the mind which, besides daya, also include aparigraha (unworldliness) and sraddha (reverence and piety).

In Japji sahib, the most important Bani for the Sikhs, Maharaj says:

ਧੌਲੁ ਧਰਮੁ ਦਇਆ ਕਾ ਪੂਤੁ ॥ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਥਾਪਿ ਰਖਿਆ ਜਿਨਿ ਸੂਤਿ ॥
Ḏẖoul ḏẖaram ḏaiā kā pūṯ. Sanṯokẖ thāp rakẖiā jin sūṯ.
Dharma, the mystical bull, is the son of compassion;

which patiently holds the earth in its place.

meaning that Dharma or Religion is the son of Compassion. Putting it another way: There would be no religion if there was no compassion. This highlights how important this quality is and that it is a central quality, one which religion cannot function without. So make no mistake, and make sure that as a Sikh, this virtue is always in your mind and that you analyse your feelings and actions whenever you seen any injustice or suffering taking place. If your heart is not moved seeing the starving in Africa, or the sufferings of the victims of terrorist bombing, then you have much intra-inspection to do to move forward in Sikhi.

More Gurbani

ਸੋ ਕਤ ਜਾਨੈ ਪੀਰ ਪਰਾਈ ॥ ਜਾ ਕੈ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਦਰਦ੝ ਨ ਪਾਈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
So kaṯ jĝnai pīr parĝ▫ī. Jĝ kai anṯar ḝaraḝ na pĝ▫ī. ॥1॥ rahĝ▫o.
How can anyone know the pain of another,

if there is no compassion and sympathy within? ॥1॥Pause॥

ਕਾਇਆ ਰਤਿ ਬਹ੝ ਰੂਪ ਰਚਾਹੀ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕਉ ਦਇਆ ਸ੝ਪਨੈ ਭੀ ਨਾਹੀ ॥੨॥
Kĝ▫i▫ĝ raṯ baho rūp racẖĝhī. Ŧin ka▫o ḝa▫i▫ĝ supnai bẖī nĝhī. ॥੨॥
Those who love their bodies and try different looks,

do not feel compassion, even in dreams. ॥2॥

Truth, contentment, compassion, Dharmic faith and purity - I have received these from the Teachings of the Saints.

Says Nanak, one who realizes this in his mind, achieves total understanding.(2,4,90)

If you desire to achieve total understanding, then make sure you practise Truth, contentment, compassion, Dharmic faith and purity at all times. That is the message of the Gurus!

In Sikh thought daya is considered the highest virtue:

Athsathi tirath sagal punn jia daia parvanu

The merit of pilgrimages to the sixty-eight holy places, and that of other virtues besides, do not equal having compassion for other living beings.

(GG, 136)
Daya, in fact, is considered to be Truth in action:

sachu ta paru janiai ja sikh sachi lei; daia janai jia ki kichhu punnu danu karei Truth dawns when truthful counsel is accepted, Seeking familiarity with compassion one gives away virtuous charity.

(GG, 468)
Daya is, in reality, true action or action par excellence (karni sar)

as are truth and contentment, the other two high virtues

(GG, 51)

See also

Five Virtues
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Sat Santokh Daya Nimrata Pyare
(Truth) (Contentment) (Compassion) (Humility) (Love)


  • 1. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
  • 2. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
  • 3. Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970.

Above adapted from article By J. S. Neki

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