AHAṄKĀR (haṅkār as it is commonly pronounced in Punjabi) is a compound of Sanskrit aham ('I') and kār ('maker') and means I-maker, i. e. what individuates the person as 'I'. It stands for egotism, egoism, self-conceit, self-centeredness, vanity or simply pride. Other synonyms used in the sacred texts of the Sikhs are mān, abhimān, garab, gumān, ahaṅg, ahammeu, ahambudh, haumaiandkhudī. 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 Sāṅkhya and Buddhism but as one of the five common human weaknesses or evils. Ahaṅkār 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, ahaṅkār is counted a frailty. Says Gurū Amar Dās, "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, Gurū Amar Dās declares: "Egoity is the adversary of nām (absorption in God's Name); the two cannot abide together" (GG, 560). Gurū Arjan thus addresses ahaṅkār personified : " O thou, the cause of birth and death: O thou, the soul of sin: Thou forsakest friends and sowest enmities: Thou spreadest the net of illusion far and wide” (GG, 1358). Even virtues and pieties are rendered sterile if accompanied by ahaṅkār, as says Gurū Tegh Bahādur, Nānak IX : "Pilgrimages, fasting and charities if they lead to gumān (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 sevā (self abnegating deeds of voluntary service). The two are complementary virtues. For Gurū Arjan humility is a weapon against not only ahaṅkār but all vikārs 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): Sevā is a highly prized virtue in Sikhism. To quote Gurū 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, 811). Another remedy is to be aware of the insignificance and transience of man in the context of cosmic vastness. Kabīr wonders at the vanity of men who pride themselves upon trifles. "Even kings mightier than Rāvaṇa, " 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 Gurū Nānak : "If one loseth one's honour, all that he eats is unclean" (GG, 142).
L. M. Joshi