FIVE EVILS or pañcadokh or pañj vikār as they are referred to in Sikh Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, are, according to Sikhism, the five major weaknesses of the human personality at variance with its spiritual essence. The common evils far exceed in number, but a group of five of them came to be identified because of the obstruction they are believed to cause in man's pursuit of the moral and spiritual path. The group of five evils comprises kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, and ahaṅkāra (kām, karodh, lobh, moh and haṅkār, in Punjabi) ; translated into English these words mean lust, wrath, greed, attachment and egoity, respectively. The word 'evil' here may be understood to represent the connotation of Punjabi pāp (sin), dokh (defect), or kilbikh (defilement).

         The number five (pañj, pañca) is traditional and has been used in a variety of contexts. One comes across repeated references to pentads in philosophy, religion, ethics, mythology and history of India. The god Śiva has five faces, hence his name Pañcānana; the Buddha analysed human personality into five aggregates (pañca- skandha) and laid down five moral precepts (pañcasīla); the Upanisads speak of the five fires (pañcāgni) and five sheaths or wrappers investing the self (pañcakoṣah); Jainism has its five vows (pañcavratas), and the Yoga system its five abstentions (yamas) and five observations (niyamas) ; five are the organs of sense, five the organs of action, five the objects of sense, five the gross and subtle elements (pañca mahābhūta or pañca tattva). There are also the traditions of five mākārās of Tāntric Yoga, five kakārs of later Sikhism and of the first five members of the Khālsā community and so on. The list of pentads (pañcaka) can be lengthened. However, theologically, no special significance attaches to the number five in the group of evils except that these five human failures are believed to constitute strong hindrances to spiritual progress.

         The early Vedic literature bears no reference to the concept of 'five evils'; the terms moha, kāma, krodha and aham do occur in the Vedic texts, but they are not enumerated as a series of evils. Moreover, these words do not seem to have any significant relation to ethical and soteriological ideas in the Vedic age. It was the ascetic sages of non-Vedic tradition, the munis and śramaṇas who propounded the philosophy of renunciation and the methods of sense-control. The impact of their ideas and practices was felt by the Upaniṣadic teachers. Thus the Upaniṣads, though they do not condemn kāma or desire, are aware of the evils like rāga or passion, avidyā or nescience, moha or delusion, and ahaṅkāra or egoity. These evils are mentioned and condemned in some of the post-Buddhistic Upaniṣads such as the Praśna, Śvetaśvatara, Aitareya, Īśa and Muṇḍaka. The last named text refers to the sages whose defilements have been destroyed (kṣīṇadoṣah), although it does not enumerate the 'defilements'.

         Long before these later Upaniṣads, however, leaders of śramaṇic philosophers had expounded soteriological techniques in which eradication of all evils and imperfections was considered sine qua non for ultimate release. It is in the teachings of Kapilamuni, Pārśvanātha, Śākyamuni and Mahāvīra that one finds a detailed discussion of the nature and function of kāma, krodha, lobha, moha and ahaṅkāra and many other kindred vices.

         The old Pālī texts contain three lists of evils and factors which obstruct meditation and moral perfection. The list of five 'hindrances' (nivaraṇas) consists of sensuous desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and sceptical doubt. These hindrances blind man's mental vision and make concentration difficult. The list of ten 'fetters' (saṅyojanas), which bind beings to saṅsāra, comprises the following : belief in a permanent individuality, sceptical doubt, belief in the efficacy of mere moral observances and rituals, sensual passion, ill will, desire for existence in the material world, desire for existence in the immaterial world, conceit, restlessness and nescience.

         The first two in the list of five hindrances, viz. sensuous desire (kāmacchanda) and ill will or malice are the same as the first two in the list of five evils mentioned in the Sikh canon. Likewise, belief in a permanent individuality (satkāyadṛṣṭi), sensual passion (kāmarāga), ill-will, conceit (māna) and nescience (avidyā), included in the Buddhist list of ten fetters, are comparable to egoity, lust, wrath, pride and delusion or attachment of Sikh enumeration.

         The third Buddhist list of ten 'defilements' (Pālī kilesa, Punjabi kalesh and Skt. kleśa), includes the following : greed (lobha), hatred (doṣa), delusion (moha), conceit (māna), false views, sceptical doubt, sloth, distraction, shamelessness and recklessness. In this list, again, the first four defilements are nearly identical with those included in the list of 'five evils' minus lust (kāma). This last evil is mentioned separately and repeatedly in the Buddhist scriptures in Pālī as well as in Sanskrit. Similarly wrath ( krodha) is mentioned separately as a powerful enemy of holy life. Early Buddhist sources describe the triad of lobha, doṣa (dveṣa), and moha as the three roots of evil (akuśalā-mūla) . One of the standard Buddhits words for evil is klesa which may be translated as 'defilement' or depravity. A list of six defilements is found in some Buddhist-Sanskrit sources and includes passion (rāga), ill-will (pratigha), conceit (māna), nescience (avidyā), false view (kudṛṣṭi), and sceptical doubt (vichikitsā).

         The Jaina sources also contain details concerning evils and defilements. All the five evils of the Sikh list are found repeatedly mentioned in the sacred literature of Jainism. The Āvaśyakasūtra has a list of eighteen sins which includes among others wrath (krodha), conceit, delusion (māyā), greed, and ill will. The standard Jaina term for evil is 'dirt' or passion' (kaṣāya). The Daśavaikālikasūtra states that four kaṣāyas, viz. wrath, conceit, delusion and greed cause rebirth. The Uttarādhyayanasūtra mentions moha, tṛṣṇā (synonym of kāma) and lobha as the sources of sorrow.

         The Yogasūtra (II. 3) has a list of five defilements or hindrances called pañca-kleśah. These are nescience (avidyā), egoity (asmitā), passion (rāga ), ill will (dveṣa) and the will to live (abhiniveśa) . It should be pointed out here that avidyā equals moha; asmitā is identical with ahaṅkāra; rāga is similar to kāma; dveṣa is not different from krodha; and abhiniveśa belongs to the category of lobha understood as continuous desire for existence in saṅsār.

         The Bhagavad-gītā mentions all the five evils although they are not enumerated as forming a pentad. The text mentions kāma as desire or wish and at one point it is identified with krodha. Besides kāma and krodha, the Bhagavad-gītā mentions passion (rāga), ill will, attachment, delusion, egoity, greed, conceit and nescience (ajñāna), and employs terms such as pāpa, doṣa and kalmaṣa for impurities or defilements. In one verse hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, wrath, harsh speech and nescience are described as demoniac qualities. Medieval Buddhist, Jainist, and Brāhmaṇical authors of religious and philosophical works continued to discuss the meaning, nature and methods of eradicating the five and more evils. The Tāntric adepts (siddhas) recommended rather radical techniques of combating the evil psychological forces, especially through the method of 'conquering passions through passions'. Reference may be made here to Tulasīdāsa who, in a series of quadriparti verses (chaupaīs) in his Rāmacharita mānasa, acknowledges the universality of kāma, krodha, lobha, moha, māna and tṛṣṇā which afflict not only men but also the gods.

         There is no philosophical or theological explication of the five evils, collectively or individually, in Sikh Scripture, but man is repeatedly warned against them. They have been called diseases or maladies which afflict human beings with disastrous effects. The evil pentad is however mentioned at numerous places in the Holy Book. In at least five instances the list consists of the following: kām, krodha, lobh, moh and abhimān or ahaṅkār. At one place instead of moh and abhimān we have mad and nindā. Here the word mad may be interpreted in the sense of 'intoxication born of egoity'. The word nindā means slander. In two of the seven instances cited here the members of the evil pentad are called 'five thieves' (pañch-chor). In a hymn by Kabīr the list has trishnā (craving), kām, krodh, mad and matsar as the five evils. The word trishnā (Skt. tṛṣṇā) means craving or desire, while the word matsar means jealousy. Often the five evils are referred to as 'the five' (pañch) or 'all the five' (sāre pañch). At places the five organs of sense (jñānendriyas) are also often referred to as 'the five'.

         One, two, three or four of the five cardinal evils are repeatedly mentioned almost throughout the body of the Sikh canon. The triad kām, krodh and lobh finds as frequent a mention as the triad kām, krodh and ahaṅkār or moh, lobh and ahaṅkār. Among the five evils the one that is condemned more than the others is ahaṅkār. When only two of the five are mentioned, the pair consists either of kām and krodh, or of moh and gumān, or of lobh and moh; when a group of four out of the five evils is cited, it usually consists of the first four, kām, krodh, lobh and moh. Since the Sikh canon is a composite text containing the religious poetry not only of the Gurūs but also of several saints and Sūfīs from various regions, synonyms, occasionally from different languages, occur. Thus lobh is also called lālach; mān is called garab (Skt. garva) and gumān; moh is also called bharam (Skt. bhrama).

         A word of most frequent occurrence is haumai. It is perhaps derived from aham, 'I' or egoity, the essential element of ego; haṅkār, ahaṅkār are its semantic cognates. The word mān is employed in a double sense; sometimes it is clearly used in the sense of 'honour' or 'respect'. In most cases, however, it is synonymous with abhimān.

         Although it is permissible to identify haumai with ahaṅkār, the fact that haumai is not included in the evil pentad and yet comes in for the strongest censure in the Scripture would lead to the conclusion that it is regarded as a major evil in addition to those forming the pentad. It may be added that haumai or egoity, self-centredness, the personality system, the belief in one's individual existence, is the basis of all the other evils. From this standpoint, ahaṅkār may be reckoned as an offshoot of haumai. The assertion or affirmation of 'I' runs counter to the affirmation of 'Thou'; the consciousness of 'self-existence' or one's own existence' (sva-bhāva or ātma-bhāva) is diametrically opposed to the consciousness of God's existence. In a system in which the sole reality of God (ik oṅkār) is the first principle, there can be no room for the reality of an 'individual existence' or 'one's own existence' apart from or along with the existence of God. To say that God alone is the reality means that there is no other reality that belongs to someone else, and that there is no someone else who can claim an independent reality of his own. The truth is that there is no truth in haumai.

         Nevertheless, this unreal reality, this false truth---haumai --- apparently exists. It is unreal and false from the standpoint of God who is the only absolute Reality; it is real and true from the standpoint of the fettered creatures coursing in saṅsār. These creatures have assumed a reality of their own; every fettered being is seemingly convinced of its own existence; this conviction flourishes in its ignorance of God's reality. There can be no such thing as co-existence of God and not-God; Reality and falsity cannot co exist as cannot light and darkness. Therefore, where there is awareness of God's reality there is absence of one's own reality, and vice versa; where there is awareness of one's own existence or haumai, there is absence of the awareness of God's existence. The Scripture says : "haumai jāi tā kant samāi --- God is realized only when one eradicates egoity" (GG, 750); literally, ' (one) merges into (one's) Lord only when (her/his) egoity has disappeared'.

         The five evils, lust, wrath, greed, attachment and egoity, flourish on the soil of the belief in one's individualized existence. By destroying the doctrine of one's own existence or the belief in one's individual reality, the sages (sant, sādh) cancel in one stroke, as it were, the entire catalogue of evils. Desire, anger, avarice, infatuation, egoism, passion, jealousy, hypocrisy, pride, deception, falsehood, violence, doubt, and nescience and other forms of depravity listed in the Gurū Granth Sāhib do not affect him who has overcome his own self and found his essence in God's reality. Liberation (mukti, mokh) means the extinction of all the evils headed by haumai.

         The Sikh canon also points to the way of extinguishing evils of all kinds. It is acknowledged that the five evils afflict all beings in saṅsār and that it is difficult to control them. Yet the possibility of conquering them is not ruled out in the theological framework of Sikhism; the moral training of a Sikh is in fact directed towards controlling the senses and eradicating the evils. The seeker of liberation has first to liberate himself of the yoke of the pentad. No headway can be made towards God-realization without discarding the cardinal evils. Kabīr says, "He alone cherishes the Lord's feet who is rid of desire, wrath, greed and attachment --- kāmu krodhu lobhu mohu bibarjit haripadu chīnai soi (GG, 1123).

         Loving devotion (bhagatī, bhakti) to God is, according to Sikhism, the way to ultimate release. One can love God only when one has annihilated self-love; this means that the devotee must be humble and surrender himself fully unto God. The Gurūs stress the necessity of taking refuge in God. To this end, one must first renounce pride (mān). Constant awareness of God (simran) is the panacea for all ills. He who enshrines the Lord's lotus feet in his heart destroys sins of many existences. Devotion to God eradicates the evils in an instant and purifies the body (GG, 245). The destruction of evils may be viewed both as a cause and consequence of the practice of nām simran. Awareness of God's presence comes only when lust, wrath, avarice, attachment and egoity have departed from the devotee; when the devotee lives in constant awareness of God, the evils touch him not. Such a person is unaffected by pleasure and pain, for he has freed himself from evils such as lobh, moh and abhimān. Gurū Tegh Bahādur describes such a sage as one liberated while still alive and calls him an image of God on earth (GG, 1426-27) .

         Another way of overcoming haumai and other evils is to keep the company of the saints. (sant, sādh) who radiate virtuous qualities. One kills lust, wrath, greed and other depravities of the evil age (kali kales) by taking refuge in the saṅgat, the holy fellowship. It is by discarding the most powerful of evils, egoity, that one can get admission to this sacred society. Egoity ceases as one takes to the company of the holy (GG, 271). A third method of overcoming the evils is to submit oneself to the instruction of the spiritual preceptor (gurū). He who would overcome the five evils must follow his teaching. The wisdom obtained from the preceptor is like a swift sword (khaṛagu karārā) which cuts through confusion, infatuation, avarice and egoity (GG, 1087) . One celebrates God's virtues through the favour of the sage (sant prasādi) and destroys lust, anger and insanity born of egoism (unmād). In Gurū Nānak's Sidh Gosṭi it is stated that without the preceptor one's efforts bear no fruit. The importance of living up to the instruction of the holy preceptor can be judged from the concept of the 'Gurū-oriented person' (gurmukh) so central to the Sikh moral system. A gurmukh is one who has turned his face towards the Gurū, that is to say, a person who by practising what the Gurū teaches has freed himself from the depravities and lives in the Divine presence. He achieves this position by conquering the evils under the guidance of the Gurū and ever remains in tune with the Supreme Reality.



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  2. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
  3. Nirbhai Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Delhi, 1990
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  5. Teja Singh, Essays in Sikhism. Lahore, 1941
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  7. Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970

L. M. Joshi