Realizing Hukum

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Jun 1, 2004
by Sardar Moninder Singh

Learned Interpreters of Gurbani are unanimous on the theory that whole of Guru Granth Sahib ji is written as an answer to one question and that question is:

ਕਿਵ ਸਚਿਆਰਾ ਹੋਈਐ ਕਿਵ ਕੂੜੈ ਤੁਟੈ ਪਾਲਿ II – (1) Kiv Sachiara hoyea kiv koorae tuttae paal.
(How can I become a Sachiar – a God realized Being Within; how can I remove the obstacle of my non-realized state Within?)
This is a quest of every seeker who seeks to be in continuous state of Spiritual Bliss and this is eternal question that Nanak answers in a unique and a beautiful way.

Guru Nanak answer the question in next verse itself and says:
ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ II – (1) Hukum rajai chalna nanak likhyea naal.
(Living in confines of Hukum established by the Creator is the way to become Sachiar- a God realized being. Words like Bhae, Nao, Naye, Bhaana in Gurbani are mainly used for Hukum itself.)

Sikh Gurus were well aware that this one verse will not be sufficient for a Sikh like me to understand the magnanimity of this concept called ‘Living in Hukum’. That is why they have explained, elaborated and mentioned various aspects of Hukum at many places in Guru Granth Sahib Ji. But neither enough Sikh Parcharks explained this core concept of Sikhi to masses, in simple language nor they discussed it enough in comparison to the concepts of ‘Naam’ & ‘Simran’. Isn’t it strange that the Concept that Nanak presented as so critical to his Spirituality, has been discussed so little! Several books should have been written by now on this topic. Recently, I have come across the Interpretation of Jup Bani done by Dr. Karminder Singh from Sikhi Vichar Forum, Malaysia. These videos are available on and on their YouTube Channel. Running into many hours, he has given long discourse on HUKUM and its various facets while explaining Jup Bani. The fundamentals of Hukum, I learnt from this discourse are as follows:

1. Hukum refers to those cosmic laws – that govern the whole universe. These laws are in force at every level of existence be it physical, biological, chemical or psychological level.

2. Whereas Human beings are concerned, it works as ‘Law of Consequence’. It means that God has given us the freedom to do whatever we want but the relative Consequence is determined by Hukum and that consequence can be physical, materialistic, psychological or spiritual.

ਜੇਹਾ ਬੀਜੈ ਸੋ ਲੁਣੈ ਕਰਮਾ ਸੰਦੜਾ ਖੇਤੁ ॥ (134) Jeha Beejae so lunae karma Sandra khet.
ਬੀਜੈ ਸੋ ਲੁਣੇ ਜੋ ਖਟੇ ਸੋ ਖਾਇ ॥ (730) Jaisa beejae so lunae jo khate so khaye.

(As you sow, you shall you reap).
To exemplify, a person has the freedom to jump into the well. But Hukum will decide whether he dies or only breaks his bones and that depends upon the depth & surface of the well and whether someone comes to save him or not, among many other factors.

3. Hukum encompasses everything in the universe – every living & non-living being, water, fire, air, weather, except the Creator himself. What it means is that all these elements are governed by a set of laws. If we put a piece of paper in fire, it will burn it and doesn’t matter if that paper is from a waste or from a Holy Book. This is the Hukum for Fire. Sometimes, we as a Sikh, think that why water in Sirsa river didn’t recede when the Guru Gobind Singh ji and his family was passing through it? Why the hot sand didn’t cool down when it was poured into the head of Guru Arjun Dev Ji. This aspect of Hukum has been explained beautifully at various places in Gurbani.

ਵਿਚਿ ਪਵਣੁ ਵਹੈ ਸਦਵਾਉ ॥ ਭੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਚਲਹਿ ਲਖ ਦਰੀਆਉ ॥ ਭੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਅਗਨਿ ਕਢੈ ਵੇਗਾਰਿ ॥ ਭੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਧਰਤੀ ਦਬੀ ਭਾਰਿ ॥ (464) Bhae vich pawan vahae sadvao. Bhae vich chaleh lukh driyao. bhae vich agan kadae vegaar. Bhae vich dharti dabi bhaar.

[(ਭ = bhae = Hukum) Water, earth, fire, air etcetera is governed by specific Hukum(laws)]

These elements will react or work in accordance of those laws only. Like coming together of two hydrogen molecules and one Oxygen molecule makes the water. It cannot be the other way around. Likewise, anything we through into the atmosphere comes down to earth due to Hukum, again. We know this Hukum by the name of ‘Law of Gravity’. These elements will only and strictly adhere to their Hukum and then it doesn’t matter if a Spiritually elevated person comes into their contact or a morally corrupt one.

4. His Hukum is as permanent as the Creator is.
ਸਾਚਾ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਸਾਚੁ ਨਾਇ…………॥ – (2) Sacha Sahib saach naye.
(As Akal Purakh exists permanently, His Naye (Hukum) is permanent too.)
It implies that Akal Purakh never ever changes his Hukum, for anybody, under any circumstance. So, it doesn’t matter whether one indulge in abracadabra or sorcery, do chanting or meditation, organize prayers (ardaas) or take blessing (Ashirwad) from so called Godmen, Hukum will not change. Due to this principal itself, Guru Nanak’s spirituality doesn’t believe in Miracles because miracle itself means an event, that happens in contradiction to Laws of Nature (Hukum).

5. Creator himself is beyond his Hukum.
ਨਾਨਕ ਵਿਗਸੈ ਵੇਪਰਵਾਹੁ ॥ – (2) Nanak Vigsae Veparvah.
(Creator is beyond his Hukum) which means that the laws that apply to the whole creation, doesn’t apply to him as he is beyond birth and death. He is beyond the effect of time and change.

6. Hukum can be realized but it can’t be known or understood in its entirety.
ਕਥਨਾ ਕਥੀ ਆਵੈ ਤੋਟਿ ॥ ਕਥਿ ਕਥਿ ਕਥੀ ਕੋਟੀ ਕੋਟਿ ਕੋਟਿ ॥ (2) Kathna kathi na aavae tot, kath kath kathi koti kot kot.
(If uncountable people describe Hukum in innumerable ways, even then it can’t be described in totality.)

Actually, my interest in Hukum was ignited by the following verse of the Gurbani:

ਜਿਨੀ ਪਛਾਤਾ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਤਿਨੁ ਕਦੇ ਰੋਵਣਾ ॥ – (523) Jini pechattah hukum tin kade na rovana.
(Those who realize Hukum and live accordingly, they don’t fail in their spiritual journey)

After understanding what is Hukum, now the next obvious step was to realize it in day to day life. So that one can live in its confines, so that one can become Sachiar, so that one feels the everlasting spiritual bliss. To ‘live’ in hukum is to accept it without resistance when you realize it. This is what we call – ‘Tera Bhaana Meetha Laage’.

Having understood the above-mentioned basics of Hukum, the Hukum I have realized, from Gurbani, from my own experiences and from History, is as follows:

1. Birth, Death & Hukum

A. Whatever takes birth, dies too

– even if it is a dream, a thought, freedom, slavery, man, animal, plant, earth or sky. We all know but we often forget that everyone has to die. Be it our father, our mother, our brother, our sister, our child, our spouse or ourselves.

ਜੋ ਉਪਜੈ ਸੋ ਬਿਨਸਿ ਹੈ ਦੁਖੁ ਕਰਿ ਰੋਵੈ ਬਲਾਇ ॥ – (337) Jo upjae so binas hai, dukh kar rovae blaye.
(Whatever takes birth, dies too then why should I cry over it)

ਜੋ ਉਪਜੈ ਸੋ ਸਗਲ ਬਿਨਾਸੈ ਰਹਨੁ ਨ ਕੋਊ ਪਾਵੈ ॥ – (1231) Jo upjae so sagal binasae rehan na kou pavae.
(Whatever is produced, gets vanished. Nothing can stay forever) If we realize this important aspect of hukum consciously then it’ll help us stay calm whenever we lose our beloved one. We won’t blame Akal Purakh for it.

B. Nobody has got a definite life to live

- Humans can work to increase life expectancy of anything but we can’t be definite about the expiry date. Like a person can die at the age of 20 in a country with an average life expectancy of 80 years. We often blame it on God when someone dies at early age whereas this a part of Hukum. Better accept it.

C. Place of Birth and Hukum

- A child gets a birth in house of the richest man on earth and another child gets a birth in a prison camp. This is Hukum. Many people kept on blaming Akal Purakh throughout their life for the place of their birth. Cursing the creator won’t change anything. All the WHYs behind his Hukum can never be understood. So, it is better that whatever we have got in life, thank him and move on to better our life and of others.

2. Life Situations & Hukum

A. A modern day human being lives under lot of uncertainty due to terrorism, wars, heinous crimes, financial losses, diseases, natural calamities, sudden deaths and so on. We face situations which we had never thought of, even in wildest of our dreams. As and when such thing happens, the first thing we do is to start blaming the Creator. A handicap baby takes birth in somebody’s home or someone in family fell to critical illness. Sometimes it happens due to our own fault and it may be due to someone else’s fault. Most of the bigger problems of the world are because humanity is still a work in progress. Humans lived in forests, savannas and mountains like an animal for lakhs of years. Human beings have still not abandoned that Psyche of a wild tribal. We have not figured out yet, how to live with the credo of

‘Sarbat da Bhala’

– well-being for everyone. This situation creates problems for everyone. All this is part of Hukum. Whatever situation we are in, face it without complaint, take Guru’s wisdom and move on. If we recognize this aspect of Hukum then we will live with much more care and will work towards making this world a better place to live in.

B. Change is the only constant

– Change is a big aspect of Hukum. Except the creator, everything goes through the grind of change. Then be it our mind, our personality or our society. Weather and Situations never stay same. Understanding this facet of Hukum doesn’t depress us in difficult situations and doesn’t let us go overboard in good times.

ਰਵਿ ਚਲੈ ਨਿਸਿ ਸਸਿ ਚਲੈ ਤਾਰਿਕਾ ਲਖ ਪਲੋਇ ॥ ਮੁਕਾਮੁ ਓਹੀ ਏਕੁ ਹੈ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਸਚੁ ਬੁਗੋਇ ॥ – (64)
(All creation in the universe and life is in constant transformation as signified by the motion-governed stars, sun and moon and by the cyclic day and night. Nanak, realize that only the Creator who is in permanent existence is unchanging and constant.)

3. Fight against tyranny and Hukum

Tyranny and people who fight against it have existed in this world since ages. Sometimes, we feel sad when we see, listen or read about the difficult times, the people go through due to their fight against injustice. We often say that why that particular guy has to suffer so much whereas he was fighting for a humanitarian cause. But rather than feeling shocked, sad and anguished, one is better equipped if he/she understands this Hukum, before embarking on his journey, that a fight with oppressive forces may bring physical, societal, mental and financial difficulties in near future. It may result into getting boiled in hot water, sitting on red hot iron sheet, getting one’s head slayed, sacrificing whole family, getting hanged to death, facing legal or financial troubles.

Though it has another aspect to it also. Ignoring tyranny or becoming part of it may bring short term comforts but it will bring moral and spiritual bankruptcy for sure. So, don’t blame anyone. We have to take a call, make a choice and face the hukum accordingly.

4. Mental & Spiritual Hukum

A. Augun (Mental Weaknesses) & Hukum – Gurbani explains innumerable times that it is unhindered Desires, Anger, Greed, Attachment & Ego of a human being that are the biggest reasons behind mental agony and major hurdles in the path of Spiritual Bliss. These five elements are also called as Jum or Jumdoot – messenger of Spiritual death, in Gurbani. Thus, the major effort of a seeker should go in to handle these weaknesses with the help of Guru’s wisdom.

ਕ੍ਰੋਧਿ ਲੋਭਿ ਮਨੁ ਲੀਨਾII ਤੜਫਿ ਮੂਆ ਜਿਉ ਜਲ ਬਿਨੁ ਮੀਨਾ ॥ – (1143)
Kaam Krodh Lobh man leena, tadaf mua jeon jal bin meena.

(As a fish suffers without water, our mind suffers the same way due to Desires, Anger and Greed.)

B. Virtues and Hukum
To be one with God, we have to inculcate godly virtues in ourselves. This is the most important Hukum, Nanak has disclosed to humanity. Prayers, chanting of specific words, akhand paths, penance, visiting ‘holy’ places or any other ritual, will not get us there. That’s why our Gurus have clearly mentioned that:

ਨਾਨਕ ਕੈ ਘਰਿ ਕੇਵਲ ਨਾਮੁ ॥ – (1136) Nanak kae ghar kewal naam.
(Nanak can only give us the feed of Virtues)

Because this is the only way to be one with the God. Nanak is in the business of inculcating virtues of hard work, compassion, humility, creativity, fearlessness, politeness, contentment and much more, in us. He helps us to be without enmity and yet brave enough to stand in front of injustice; helps us to live a good life and yet rooted in Godly virtues. One important point to note here is that Sikhi considers Akal Purakh to be the only source of Virtues.

ਨਾਨਕ ਨਿਰਗੁਣਿ ਗੁਣੁ ਕਰੇ ਗੁਣਵੰਤਿਆ ਗੁਣੁ ਦੇ ॥ – (2) Nanak nirgun gun kare gunvanteyan gun de.
(As Akal Purakh is the source of virtues for virtuous, only he can provide the virtues to the non-virtuous.)
So, we are free to choose and Hukum will follow. Augun will take us away from the creator and virtues will bring us closer. Choose whatever you like. If we understand this hukum, then we can’t blame anybody for our spiritual agony.

ਦਦੈ ਦੋਸੁ ਨ ਦੇਊ ਕਿਸੈ ਦੋਸੁ ਕਰੰਮਾ ਆਪਣਿਆ ॥ – (433) Dudda dos na deun kise dos kruman apneyan.
(Don’t blame anyone for your suffering. Your deeds are responsible for it.)

C. Gratitude – One of the foremost & essential virtues that our Guru stressed upon is the Virtue of gratitude towards the Creator. Gratitude for the given life, for the well-being, for being a human, for miraculous products like water, air, fruits, vegetables, minerals, for the intellect, for the given virtues and all other gifts we can feel the gratitude for. Having an attitude of praise for Akal Purakh gets us into bliss zone called ‘Sohila’ as recorded in the Sohila Bani:

ਤੁਮ ਗਾਵਹੁ ਮੇਰੇ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਕਾ ਸੋਹਿਲਾ ॥ ਹਉ ਵਾਰੀ ਜਿਤੁ ਸੋਹਿਲੈ ਸਦਾ ਸੁਖੁ ਹੋਇਆ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ – 12 Tum gavoh mere nirbhau ka sohila, haun vaari jitt sohilae sda such hoeya.
(Sohila of the creator happens when internalization of his virtues and praises happen. Sing the Sohila, o my mind, of the fearless creator, to attain the eternal joy of Sohila.)

I hope that the examples given above will help in understanding the concept of Hukum. Actually, science works completely on the principle of hukum. Science, first understands various laws governing the nature and then based on those laws they invent various types of products and technologies. Airplane was invented by studying the flight of birds, combustion engine was designed by understanding the working of human body, sub-marines were designed by understanding the Hukum related to whales, bullet train’s exterior is inspired from the beak and body of bird named kingfisher. By understanding the hukum related to waves in our environment, the invention of telephone, internet has come into existence. In the same way, by understating the underlying hukum of plants, herbs and chemicals, various types of medicines are being developed. Almost 550 years back, Baba Nanak has given us the wisdom of realizing the hukum. Various countries and communities have ushered into the scientific revolution based on the hukum and today they are ruling the world. Ironically, Sikhs, who should have been the most scientific people on earth, are today one of the most ritualistic people here. Bowing their heads in front of fake godmen for getting more milk from buffaloes, for getting a child, for getting a visa, and for all the problems under the sun. Furthermore, they have found Akhand path, ardaas and langar as a panacea for every problem. Spiritual Elevation is not even on agenda of a common Sikh.

This creation is a game, we are the players and Nanak is our Coach who enlightens us with the rules of the game and specify the Do’s and Don’ts. Now it is up to us, whether we want to play this game of life keeping the rules in the mind or by ignoring them.

ਅਪਨਾ ਖੇਲੁ ਆਪਿ ਕਰਿ ਦੇਖੈ ਠਾਕੁਰਿ ਰਚਨੁ ਰਚਾਇਆ ॥ – (748) Apna khel aap kar dekhae thakur rachan rachayea.
(Akal Purakh is watching the game he himself created with his own set of rules.)

Moninder Singh

Realizing Hukm


May 19, 2018
Great post! I have a question that has been on my mind for a while. If everything is hukum why should we fight tyranny and injustice? Wouldn't that be a lack of acceptance of bhana? Couldn't the injustice someone suffers be hukum? I'm not looking to debate, just hoping for a resolution to this question so I can move forward.


May 9, 2006
This is a big one. It's a good, logical question, @RicktheSikh . People like me have been chewing on this one for a long time. The easiest direct answer to your question is to ask you, what if the struggle against the tyrant is hukam, too? What if standing up to correct injustice is also hukam? Not accepting the outcome of things outside of our control is a lack of acceptance of bhana. An injustice someone suffers is hukam just as much as that experience motivating them in other ways is hukam, too.

I hope you and other forum-goers will forgive me for reaching into Western philosophy to try and make Hukam more understandable. Keeping in mind the OP article's point "Hukum refers to those cosmic laws – that govern the whole universe." I offer the following taken from another website and hacked to pieces by me to make it easy for someone not interested in the rest of that website to understand. You'll get the gist when you read it and see how it might help explain Hukam. The original source is linked at the end of my post.

Chrysippus expanded Zeno’s original definition of a virtuous life, which was “life in agreement with nature” and wrote:

"living virtuously is equivalent to living in accordance with experience of the actual course of nature".

Since the “actual course of nature” is the activity of a divine and providential cosmos, Epictetus formulation, “act in imitation of God” makes sense. Moreover, it dovetails nicely with Epictetus instructions where he asserts we must not lead events with our will, but must follow fate closely instead. Everything outside our will is outside of our control; external events are “not up to us.” Therefore, we err when we allow ourselves to be led by desires and aversions. Such behavior represents our attempt to lead events (fate) rather than remain close to what actually occurs in nature. Epictetus warns us this leads to a troubled mind.

Therefore, when that fragment of the logos within us (human rationality) is in agreement with the logos that permeates the cosmos (cosmic rationality) we are able to agree with, love, and follow the providential unfolding of “the actual course of nature” closely. This is what Epictetus means when he declares we should “act in imitation of God”. When we follow events closely, assent to them as providential, and love them, we can share in Marcus’ expression of gratitude:

"Everything suits me that suits your designs, O my universe. Nothing is too early or too late for me that is in your own good time. All is fruit for me that your seasons bring, O nature. All proceeds from you, all subsists in you, and to you all things return." (Meditations 4.23)

When we imitate God (divine nature), we live in agreement with Nature and become “one mind with God” and will “never find fault with God or man again,” nor will we become victims of desires and aversions.

Because a Stoic considers the cosmos divine and providential, they agree to and love events as if they wanted them to happen the way they did, even those events others might consider tragic. This results from taking a cosmic view of events. Nevertheless, the Stoic does not sit idly by waiting for events to happen, quite the opposite. The Stoic has virtuous thought and intentions and acts to affect external events. However, the Stoic understands and accepts that some things are within in her control and other things are not; therefore, she acts with a ‘reserve clause’ ("fate permitting") and the realization that events might not turn out as intended. Regardless of the outcome, the Stoic loves it as an act of providence and follows it closely. This empowers the Stoic to remain in the present rather than getting caught up in regret over the past intention or worry about its future implications. The act of providence—the outcome—is outside of our control and it creates a new ‘present’ situation for the Stoic to begin the cycle with virtuous thoughts, intentions, acts, again.​

Original unadulterated version here.

I'd love to hear the sangat's comments on this, too.

Edit: I just want to emphasize that Hukam is its own concept and is not necessarily identical to what is being described above. But I believe there is a similarity that can help with understanding Hukam. I wish Narayanjot were here.
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May 19, 2018
"Everything suits me that suits your designs, O my universe. Nothing is too early or too late for me that is in your own good time. All is fruit for me that your seasons bring, O nature. All proceeds from you, all subsists in you, and to you all things return."(Meditations 4.23)
This almost sounds like bani! And the part about accepting the outcome of our actions as Divine will no matter what and never again finding fault with God or man sounds like chardi kala! So we accept what we cannot change and change what we can as seva. This makes sense to me. Thanks @Ishna!

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