KĀM (Skt. kāma), meaning desire, longing, concupiscence, sensuality or lasciviousness, is counted among the five cardinal sins or sinful propensities. In common usage, the term stands for passion for sexual pleasure and it is in this sense that it is considered an evil in Sikhism. In Brāhmaṇical literature kām is not always disdained. Kām as Kāmadeva is a god in the Hindu pantheon comparable to Eros of Greek mythology and Cupid of the Romans, and is as such not contradictory to spiritual life. Kām (gratification of desire) is in Hinduism one of the four, objectives (puruṣārthas) of human life, the other three being artha (acquirement of wealth), dharma (discharge of duty), and mokṣa (final emancipation). Jainism and Buddhism, which arose as protest movements against Brāhmaṇical ritualism and superstition, however looked upon kām with horror. For munis and śramaṇas of Jainism and Buddhism and for yogīs of the Sāṅkhya school, kām was to be deliberately suppressed to achieve ultimate release. As a result, they preached celibacy and asceticism.
The Gurūs rejected Brāhmaṇical superstition as well as self-mortifying austerities. Yet they recognized the four puruṣārthas, referred to in gurbāṇī as chār padāraths or the four human pursuits. However, in Sikhism kām is not unrestricted gratification of carnal desires, but an impulse which needs to be kept under check like other impulses and passions. Unrestrained propensity towards kām, especially sexual relationship outside the marital bond, is condemned in the strongest terms in Sikh codes of conduct as well as in the Scripture. It is a destructive evil and a deadly sin. To quote Gurū Arjan, Nānak V : "0 Kām, thou landest people in hell and makest them wander through many births, enticest all minds, swayest all the three worlds and undoest one's meditation, austerities and restraint. The pleasure is ephemeral and thou afflictest high and low alike" (GG, 1358). Gurū Tegh Bahādur, Nānak IX, says : "In the sinning heart reigns kām and the fickle mind breaks out of control. Kām castes its noose even upon yogīs, jaṅgams and sannyāsīs. Only those imbued with God's Name (fall not a prey to it) and are able to go across the ocean of existence" (GG, 1186). Bhāī Gurdās describes an ideal Sikh as one who is loyal to his wife and "regards all other women as mothers, sisters and daughters" (Vārāṅ, XXIX. 11). Gurū Gobind Siṅgh also said : "Love your own wedded wife ever so more, but do not go to another woman's bed even in a dream." Sikh codes of conduct strictly prohibit extramarital relations.
While prescribing self-control and restraint and not total annihilation of kām, the Gurūs suggested two ways of channelizing and sublimating it. On the one hand, they pronounced grihastha or married life to be the ideal one, and, on the other laid down love of God and absorption in His Name as the essential principle of spiritual discipline. Says Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, "Hear ye all, I proclaim here the truth : only they who love God find Him." The image of a devotee most common in Sikh Scripture is one of a wife deeply in love with her kant or husband presently separated from him, and waiting, craving, praying for a reunion with him. Such fervent devotion cannot but bridle the wayward passion in man. According to Gurū Arjan, a person who has cultivated the love of the Lord's feet would desire neither kingship, nor worldly power, nor even mukti or liberation (GG, 534).
L. M. Joshi