HUKAM, Arabic hukm for command, order, decree, law, has acquired in Sikh usage a metaphysical shade connoting the Divine Law or Order, regulating the entire universe. Its importance in Sikh theology is indicated by its occurrence at the very beginning of the Ādi Granth (Gurū Granth Sāhib, the Sikh Scripture), in the first verse of the Japu. In the penultimate line of the stanza, Gurū Nānak puts the fundamental question of how enlightenment is to be gained:
How is Truth to be attained?
How is the veil of falsehood torn asunder?
In the final line of the stanza, he provides the answer:
Nānak, thus it is written:
Submit to the hukam,
Walk in its way.
In the next stanza, Gurū Nānak proceeds to explain the nature of hukam:
The hukam is far beyond our describing, though all that exists is its visible expression.
All life was created by hukam, and by hukam alone distinction comes to some.
Some are exalted by the hukam, some are abased;
Some must suffer while others find joy.
Some receive by the hukam blessing,
Others are from birth to birth rotated.
All come within the hukam, none beyond its authority.
They who comprehend the hukam, O Nānak,
Renounce their self-centred pride.
Several conclusions regarding the nature of hukam emerge from this description. The first is that just as Akāl Purakh (Person beyond Time) Himself is in his fullness beyond human comprehension, so too is the hukam, in its total range, more than the understanding of man can grasp. Secondly, however, it can be understood to a sufficient degree and this much at least a man can comprehend that hukam is the source of those differences and distinctions in men's condition which are seemingly beyond human control. It is the principle which determines different forms of created beings. It determines who will rank virtuous and who will be cast into the pit of vice, who will find happiness and who will suffer misery, who will obtain release and who to circuiting from birth to death to birth be decreed. Thirdly, all are subject to hukam; all are under its authority. Fourthly, understanding of this divine principle leads to the destruction of man's self-centred pride, the cause of his alienation from God and of his suffering. In stanza III of the Japu again hukum is set forth as the principle which regulates the cosmos in accordance with the divine intention:
The hukam of Him who exercises hukam directs the path ahead.
Forever is He rejoiced, declares Nānak, forever free from care.
This divine Order is manifested in a variety of ways. It is represented as the agent of creation:
By Thy hukam Thou didst create all forms
It determines the regular cycle of human existence:
My friend, (you who) trade (in the things of the world),
In the first watch of the night
(the first stage of the human life),
You are placed in the womb in accordance with the hukam
All are under it:
Speaking, seeing, moving, living, and dying -- all are transitory.
Thou, the True (Lord), having established the hukam,
Placed all under it (literally, in it)
And it gathers into a single principle the sum total of all God's activity:
(Of itself, i.e. apart from the hukam) the soul does not die.
And it neither sinks nor crosses over.
He who has been active (in creation) is still active.
In accordance with the hukam, we are born and we die.
Ahead and behind the hukam pervades all
This principle is most immediately perceptible in the laws governing the structure and functioning of the physical universe. It also regulates such dichotomies as udkarkh and ākarkh (expansion and contraction of manifest reality) and sañjog and vijog (unification and alienation of beings and events) . But hukam is not only constructive energy or a controlling power; it also signifies ethical discipline. In moral terms, it is the law of karma, the law of cause and effect. This is as much an aspect of the hukam principle as the regular movement of the physical universe. Indeed, it is a vital aspect, for on a number of occassions Gurū Nānak explicitly affirms the law as a given fact. The conclusion which must be drawn from this is that each individual should perform those deeds which will, in accordance with the law of karma, bring the supreme reward. The hukam is sure. The goal of human life is to know or understand hukam, to accept it and to mould one's life in conformity with it.
But hukam is beyond the reach of human comprehension. Knowledge of hukam is not an intellectual accomplishment, it is a spiritual achievement. Knowing hukam does not mean knowing its nature, scope and bounds. Knowing hukam is realizing the existence of such a principle. This is internal comprehension, not an external or physical perception. Even such a realization is possible only through the grace of God, and it can fall to the lot of him alone who has subordinated his will to the Will of the Gurū (God) .
Obedience to the hukam or bringing one's life in harmony with the principle of hukam is stressed, but realization of hukam is a mystical experience. It cannot be explained through the medium of human language. The realization of hukam is not merely the feeling of the existence of such a principle, but it is also the attainment of a blissful internal sight. With this inner light one can see or know the ethical path which one has to follow under hukam.
Man does have the necessary, measure of freedom to make a decision to live in conformity with the hukam. The capacity for him to exercise free will also permits him to live in discord with the hukam instead of in harmony with it. This faculty is obviously of critical importance, for the manner in which it is exercised brings either release or continued transmigration. Disharmony is the normal condition, but it does not lead to truth and its inevitable consequence is continued movement within the cycle of transmigration, with all the attendant sufferings of this condition. Submission, on the other hand, leads to union, the consequence whereof is freedom. He who recognizes the hukam perceives the truth, which makes men free; and he who has recognized it brings his life into conformity with it and ascends to that eternal union with Akāl-Purakh which transcends all expression.
Some other terms used in the Sikh Scripture in line with hukam are āgiā (Sanskrit ājñā), amar (Arabic amr), phurmān (Persian farmān), and rajā (Arabic razā and Punjabi bhāṇā) . These are, however, not identical with it. While amar and phurmān both mean command, they refer to a particular order, fiat or commandment rather than to a system like the divine Order signified by the Sikh concept of hukam. Āgiā, too, means command but it also stands for permission, a connotation not in accord with the firm nature of the hukam. Rajā and bhāṇā emanate from divine Will and Pleasure, but the translation of hukam as 'will' or 'pleasure' is unsuitable in the context of Gurū Nānak's usage, for it fails to convey his precise meaning and is liable to be equated with the Islamic doctrine of the Will of Allah. In the thought of Gurū Nānak the hukam signifies the divinely instituted and maintained principle governing the existence and movement of the universe. It controls the universe, physical and psychical, and governs everything within it. The principle is regular and constant, and to the extent that it can be comprehended, it functions according to a predictable pattern. This regularity and consistency distinguish it from the Muslim concept. In Islam the divine Will is at least unpledged whereas the hukam of Gurū Nānak's belief is definitely pledged and dependable. An apter translation of hukam would be "divine Order." The double meaning of the English word better reflects the range of meaning covered by hukam. The word "order' can mean both the regularity of a system and also a command. In Gurū Nānak's usage, hukam covers both of these meanings, though not exclusively one or the other as is the case with the translation.
The hukam is accordingly an all-embracing principle, the sum total of all divinely instituted laws; and it is a revelation of the nature of Akāl-Purakh. In this latter sense it is identical in meaning with śabda, the Word. The identity is of the same nature as that which links śabda with nām and gurū, with differing functions postulated only in order to bring out the fundamental truth with greater clarity. The creation is constituted and ordered by the hukam; and in this creation, physical and otherwise, the śabda is made manifest in order that the nām may be truly revealed. Understanding hukam means understanding God's Will and intention (bhāṇā or razā) , just as understanding the śabda helps to perceive the glories of the nām which lie manifested all around or hidden within the self. Herein is Akāl-Purakh revealed as single, as active, and as absolute; as Niraṅkār (the One without form), as Nirañjan (the One without blemish), as the eternal One beyond all that is transient and corruptible. By understanding the hukam and meditation upon nām through the śabda one annihilates one's haumai (self-centred pride) and finds the ultimate reward of harmony and peace.
The process is a gradual one, but discipline and persistence lead progressively upwards and the ultimate reward is absolute harmony and peace. With the disciple in the final stage of union (sach khaṇḍ) there is absolute fulfilment of the hukam.
As the hukam, so too the deed!
Summing up, hukam is that vital principle which creates, sustains and regulates the universe. All creatures get birth, live and die under the definitive order. Evil and virtue both are the creation of hukam. If one is good, it is because of the hukam; if somebody is bad that too is under the hukam. The hukam is the controlling authority of the Supreme Being who is true. His hukam as such is also true. The aim of life is to realize hukam and to abide by it. This realization is, finally, attained through the grace of God.
W. H. McLeod