HAUMAI is a term which recurs frequently in the Gurū Granth Sāhib 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 Gurū Amar Dās, 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 pāiā malu lāgī dūjai bhāi; malu haumai dhotī kivai na utarai je sau tīrath nāi - 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 Gurū Amar Dās again, "Haumai and remembrance of God's Name are at variance with each other. The two will not live in the same abode -- haumai nāvai nāli virodhu hai dui na vasahi ik ṭhāi" (GG, 560). Haumai, declares Gurū Rām Dās is "man antari rogu" -- an inner disease within the human man (psyche) which afflicts the obstinate manmukh (ego-centred 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 Gurū Nānak, 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 Gurū Rām Dās, having identified haumai as an inner disease, proceeds to name the infallible antidote: "Man antari haumai rogu hai bhrami bhūle manmukh durajanā / Nānak rogu gavāi mili satigur sādhū sajanā -- the disease is overcome, Nānak, as one meets the true Gurū in company with the truly devout" (GG, 301). Kabīr 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 Gurū 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 Gurū, 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 unregenerate 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 Gurū Granth Sāhib 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 hauṅ, being a verb, in the first person, and maī (ṅ), the equivalent of 'I' in Khaṛī Bolī 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 ahaṅkāra 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 Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh of Nābhā. In his Gurmat Mārtaṇḍ, Kāhn Siṅgh lists haumai and haṅkār as a single category, adding to them other closely related terms such as abhimān, khudī and gumān. Their choice implies, however, an exact identity, and whereas this does occasionally seem to apply to the Gurū Granth Sāhib 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 garab and haṅkār are 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' (ahaṅkāra) is reiterated in Gurbāṇī as the most insidious of the Five Evils and haumai, being its origin, is therefore a malignant and deep-seated 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,' 'self-centredness'. The conclusion which seems most appropriate is that haumai is not precisely translatable. One must therefore seek to understand these terms in their Gurū Granth Sāhib context. In this manner we may hope to understand the Gurū's concept of the human man and the disease of haumai to which it is subject.
W. H. McLeod