MAN or mana, from Skt. manas (mind or psyche), is one of the major operational concepts in Indian thought involved in the process of apprehending facts and reacting to situations and stimuli, as also the cause of bandh (bondage/attachment). 'Mind' is the nearest English rendering of 'man', though the two are not perfectly synonymous, Whereas 'mind' is a comprehensive term subsuming all mental functions, man has a narrower connotation in that its functions mainly relate to (i) the indrīs (sense organs and motor organs) and (ii) emotions, such as sukh (pleasure) and dukh (pain), hit (good) and ahit (bad), grief and anger.

         Numerous terms have, almost interchangeably, been used in gurbāṇī for man. These include chit (seat of consciousness), hirdā, hīā or hīarā (lit. the heart), jiā or jīo (lit. life principle), and mati (intellect). Chit seems to have a wider connotation embracing consciousness, awareness, perception, cognition, memory and thinking. Hirdā and its synonyms denote, in particular, the emotive states of the mind. Jīa or jīo, as in sahasai jīu malīṇu hai, doubt pollutes the mind (GG, 919), is symbolic of man. Mati (intellect, counsel) though considered distinct from man, as in tithai ghaṛīai surti mati mani budh (GG, 8), at times seems to denote man itself, as in mati vichi ratan javāhar māṇik (GG, 2). As a specific term, man refers to its initial contact with vishā (object), i.e. perception. In a given kriyā (act or process), man is called smriti at the level of recall, buddh (i) at the level of deliberation and decision, and driṛhtā in the moderation of the act or resoluteness.

         Two divergent views are found in the Indian philosophical thought regarding the nature of man (manas). One view considers it to be an evolute of the five elements (pañchbhūta), whereas the other holds it to be non-pañchbhūtik (non-material). Both these views find expression in gurbāṇī. The assertion ihu manu pañch tatu te janamā— this mind has evolved from the five material elements (GG, 415), alludes to its material origins. What it signifies, in reality, is that man comes into being only when pure consciousness or ātmā comes in contact with the material body. On the other hand, statements such as man tūṅ joti sarūp hai — O man, you are of the nature of light, i.e. consciousness (GG, 441), proclaim it to be non-pañchbhūtik. However, in essence, a statement of this nature only signifies that man does not come into being unless the material body is inhabited by conscious ātmā, which is the real kartā (doer) and bhogtā (experiencer). These two positions are only apparently antithetical. Man, in fact, is the joint product of sentient ātmā and the insentient body. It has also been looked upon as the yoking principle between ātmā and sharīr (physical body).

         Outward pursuit is the usual occupation of man. Through the five sense organs (giān indrīs) it receives impressions from the external world, and through the agency of the five organs of action (karma indrīs) it operates upon it. Thus, it is at once the perceiver of the environment as well as the inspirer and director of man's conscious activity. Impelled by its material source, the mind or man serves the ends of the physical body, protecting and nurturing it, and devising for its relishes (ras sarīr ke) and enjoyments (bhog). Yet, it is not entirely material in its make up. It is able to discriminate between good (hit) and bad (ahit) and so become its own critic. That is why man has been called karmā (the doer) as well as dharmā (the valuer) —ihu manu karmā, ihu manu dharmā (GG, 415).

         In its outward material pursuits, it is less conscious (giātā) and more ignorant (agiānī); less sentient (chetan) and more stupid (mūṛh); less discriminative (bibekī) and more stolid (jaṛ), and prone to be misled by illusion or sense of individuation (māyā). Over-brimming with egoism (haumai), it runs outwards to annex to itself things and relations in greedy pursuits. Shuffling continually between hopes (āsā) and desires (manasā), it is fickle and scattered. Tossed about by doubt (saṅsā) and delusion (bharam), it is restless (ashānt). Agitated by anxious concerns (chintā), it lives in continual fear and anxiety. Bounced by craving (rāg) and aversion (dvesh), it is inconstant and capricious. At times, it rises to the heavens; at times it sinks to the Hades : kabahū jīaṛā ūbhi chaṛatu hai kabahū jāi paiāle (GG, 876). The infinite series of mental activities (birtīs) spell its protean nature. Its counsel (manmat) is generally base and demeaning. Heeding it, one becomes a self-willed, self-opinionated and ego-centred individual (manmukh).

         If, however, under the gurū's instruction (gurmat), this mind, man, were to withdraw from its outward pursuit and become at home with itself, it will overcome all the disturbances caused by the external world, and it will merge with the mighty deep of the ātmā lying within it. It is thus that it discovers itself as pure consciousness, aware of nothing but its own self. It is only then that all ignorance is shed from man and it stands illumined by its own inner light. All conditioning disappears; all the fetters fall off. Man becomes conversant with its own renascent resplendence. Gurū Rām Dās likens the mind in its purity to the innocent baby residing in the township of the body (GG, 1191).

         Such withdrawal from without, this return home occurring at the gurū's bidding, makes one a God-centred or Guru-oriented (gurmukh) individual. Virtuous deeds performed under the direction of the spiritual mentor enable him to realize the true essence of the self.

         Evidently, a basic conflict inheres in man — that between its outward inclinations and its inward retreat and immersion in its own self. The former tendency is amorously passionate, furiously aggressive, covetously possessive, blindly infatuative, and proudly egoistic (characterized by the five base emotions, viz. lust, anger, greed, attachment and egotism). The feverishness of this pursuit causes the man to remain in continual turbulence and suffering in the kārmic whirl of birth and death.

         The path of deliverance as revealed by the Gurū is for the man to abandon its outward pursuits and immerse itself in blissful contemplation. "Quell the noise and experience beauty." The goal of all spiritual discipline is to attain this sublime quietude, controlling the mind's distractions. This is the state of the emancipated individual, the gurmukh or the jīvan-mukta, who freely moves between the realm of duty in the worldly life and realm of devotion to the spirit eternal. He is the one in tune with the Infinite.

         The ideal state of the mind (man) is that which leads to the dissolution of man, the death of man. But who would slay man? Man itself, says the Gurū, Nānak, man hī kau manu mārsī (GG, 1089). And this is the greatest ever victory, equalling victory over the whole world : mani jītai jagu jītu (GG, 6) —conquering the man (mind) amounts to conquering the world.


  1. Śabadārth Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib. Amritsar, 1964
  2. Jodh Siṅgh, Bhāī, Gurmati Nirṇaya. Lahore, 1932
  3. Talib, Gurbachan Singh, Japuji —The Immortal Sikh Prayer-chant. Delhi, 1977
  4. Avtar Singh, Ethics of Sikhs. Patiala, 1970
  5. Wazir Singh Philosophy of Sikh Religion. Delhi, 1981
  6. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
  7. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

Jaswant Siṅgh Nekī