Overcoming Haumai

“ Applying the timeless, universal message of SGGS – in today’s world”



Overcoming Haumai

Dr. Inder Mohan Singh


Haumai is described in Gurbani as the biggest obstacle to spiritual progress. Haumai and Naam are declared as antagonists: haumai and Naam cannot dwell together in the heart at the same time. Haumai is often translated as ego. Pride or ahankar is the most common manifestation of haumai, however haumai is more than pride. In fact it is haumai that gives rise to the five vikars or sins, which include hankar (pride) besides kaam (lust), krodh (anger), lobh (greed) and moh(unhealthy attachment). We will look at what haumai is, the challenges it poses for the seeker on the path of Gurmat, and some ways to overcome haumai.

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Haumai deeragh rog hai – haumai is a terrible disease accsording to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

We will look at what haumai is, the challenges that haumai poses, and how we can try to treat and overcome this terrible disease of haumai.

Haumai appears thousands of times in the SGGS, as well as in many other related forms such as hau, mai meri, meri meri, aap, aapat, khudi (short examples)

It is shown as the biggest obstacle to spiritual growth. It is haumai that keeps us separated from our “mool”, our true reality which is Divine. We all have the spark of Divinity within us – man too jot swaroop hai. It is the wall of Haumai that keeps us apart from our True Reality.

In Kirtan sohila, Guruji tell us “saakat har ras sad na jania tin antar haumai kanda hai”

Haumai is like a thorn in the side which constantly bothers us and makes us unhappy. The only solution according to Gubani is to overcome haumai and get in tune with the Divine.

“Haumi jhagra payoy haumai jag muiya" The world is cought up in strife and conflict because of haumai— it is dying a spiritual death.

So what is haumai?

Haumai means I am. It is basically the sense of individual identity. It is often translated as ego, although narcissism or self-centeredness may be more accurate. When we think of haumai, we usually associate it with egotism – pride, arrogance or “hankar”.

That is the most obvious manifestation of Haumai – pride or hankar. However Gurbani shows us that it is more basic and has a far wider scoope than pride.

Gurbani tells us frequently about the five prime evils or thieves that constantly attack us and rob us from within – kaam, krodh, lobh moh and hankar or lust, anger, greed, unhealthy attachment and pride. Note that the five already include hankaar or pride.

Haumai appears separatly and it is in fact the basic underlying evil that gives rise to these five vikaars of kaam, krodh, lobh moh and hankar. So, clearly hankar, pride or egotism is but one of the manifestations of haumai. Haumai is broader and encompasses all five of them and it is in fact the underlying cause.

Haumai is characterized primarily by creating a boundary around the self and creating a sense of separateness – separateness between I and others — Between I and you, I and him or her, myself from God, and myself from all of God’s creation.

Haumai creates a sense of I versus “the other”, what in Punjabi we call opra and oprapan or apna versus paraya. Haumai not only separates us from other people but also from God’s creation or nature – it gives us the freedom – and justification – to exploit nature for our selfish purposes instead of appreciating His bounties and preserving and taking care of it. This too is an aspect of our Haumai. We see the envirnment as separate from us and don’t feel connected to it.

In conrast to this haumai consciousness, this sense of duality or dubidha, a spiritually enlightened person or Gurmukh sees Oneness and connectedness – Ik and ekta, all is One. He or she sees the One Waheguru pervading everything and every one.

This awesome sense of Oneness, of every thing and every one being connected, is reported by mystics of all spiritual disciplines, who have meditated or prayed for a long time and attained an advanced spiritual level. This experience has been referred to as the state of Unitive Consciousness. In this state the divisions of different religions also dissolves – they experience the One Divine Light in all.

Let us look at some of the ways in which haumai manifests itself in one’s behaviou. Haumai leads to pride, arrogance and vanity, what we usually think of as egotistical behavior. It also leads to self-centeredness, narcissism and selfishness. “I am so important, I care only for what is good for me.” Bullying and cruelty also flow from the arrogance and self-centeredness, as well as criticizing and putting down others.

Sadly, we can see every one of these characteristics in our top leadership today.

Haumai starts with the boundary around the I, but it is quickly extended to include”mine” – me and mine – mai meri. It starts with my toys, gets extended to my car, my home, my spouse …we often identify a person by the car he drives or the house he or she lives in, and you can even get yourself a “trophy wife”.

It was interesting for me to see the evolution of the concept of “mine” in my own grandchildren. My two year old grandson loves to play with his toys but he is not yet as possesive about them as his cousin who is a few months older. She is very emphatic about pointing to a toy, sometimes even one of his toys and declaring “mine!”. He is just starting to develop the idea of asserting his ownership and demanding to have his toys back.

Initially a baby doesn’t have the concept of I, it doesn’t even know its hands or feet, but goes on from there to developing the concept of mine. Of course it is all very innocent at that stage, but as we get older, the range of “mine” gets both extended and strengthened. We help to reinforce this process as we shower the child with toys and new clothes. As they grow older, they are bombarded with ads, TV shows and other messages encouraging them to ask for the latest “must have” toy or gadget. This process continues and gets intesified into adulthood. From toys we move on to cars, clothes, fancier gadgets and homes, and of course, money or wealth. The more you get, the more you want and greed sets in. You look at others who have something you don’t have or can’t afford and jealousy rears it’s head.

None of these possessions give us lasting satisfaction, so we keep lookiong for more. And of course eventually we depart from this world leaving it all behind.

It may seem counter-intuitive but haumai is not just about ego and arrogance, it can also lead to a lack of self esteem and feelings of inferiority. These feelings, too, are driven by the “I”. This kind of a “fragile ego” can lead to a sense of alienation and many kinds of destructive behavior. Some people, who grow up in broken famlies, join gangs and get in trouble, feel an internal lack and act out to overcome this. Many bullies in fact don’t feel good about themselves, so they compensate by a show of arragance and attacking others, especially those who they sense are weaker in some way.

These are all a result of haumai – driven by the “I” – “something is wrong with me, people don’t respect me, poor me”, victimization, alienation, they are all forms of haumai,as are feelings of hurt and resentment. It is all haumai because it is the I that is hurt, and resentful. Sometimes it gives some emotional satisfaction to carry that anger or hurt in your heart – you feel good about feeling bad – that too is haumai. If you want real peace and happiness, you have to ovrcome these kinds of feelings of anger, resentment or hurt. That is why forgiveness is so important on the spiritual path.

Another aspect of this fragile ego is a strong concern about “what will people, or the neighbors say or think of me?” A need to impress others comes from this. All of these reflect the sense of separation from others, instead of feeling connected and a seeing yourself as part of society.

Now we do need haumai, in moderation. We have been given this sense of I by Waheguru. We need it for survival and for society to function. We have to protect and take care of our body, we have to have some drive to be succesful in life and make a living. Bu we need it in moderation – it needs to be under our control and instead of it controlling us.

Haumai does not operate just at the level of an individual – it also appears at the level of a group or a community. It makes us think in terms of “my tribe, my country, my religion, my race” and so on. In place of drawing a boundary between I and the other, the boundary is between us and them.

There is no need for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Sadly, for some there already is a much stronger mental wall between “us Americans” and “them Mexicans” – the wall of racism and xenophobia.

This communal haumai, which creates the sense of separateness between us and them has been a very destructive force throughout human history. Archaeologists have found evidence of brual tribal masacres dating back to the stone age. Warfare has been a constant throughout history causing endless misery and death, and culminating in the two horrific world wars in the last century.

The “Us versus Them” attitude has justified the domination and exploitation of the weak by the strong. It led the European nations to colonize the rest of the world starting in the sixteenth century in order to enrich themselves at the expense of their colonial subjects. They claimed the right and duty to civilize the backword non-white natives for their own benefit – what was called the “white man’s burden”. And then there was the enslavment of the blacks in the United States which led to the civil war, and the contining problems of racism in America.

Gurbani tells us that haumai is a terrible disease (haumai deeragh rog hai) . It is the biggest obstacle to spiritual growth. The divine Light is within each of us (man too jot saroop hai) but the thick, hard wall of haumai keeps us separated from our Divine Reality.

ਧਨ ਪਿਰ ਕਾ ਇਕ ਹੀ ਸੰਗਿ ਵਾਸਾ ਵਿਚਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਭੀਤਿ ਕਰਾਰੀ ॥ [Guru Ram Das SGGS p. 1263]
The soul-bride and the Husband Lord live together as one within the self, but the hard wall of haumai has come between them.

Haumai, like everything else is given to us by God, but we also have the opportunity to move out of the darkness of haumai towards the Divine Light.

The primary solution to haumai is Naam simran – reflecting and meditating on His Name, getting in tune with the Divine. Gurbani also tells us that Naam and haumai are antagonists – both cannot dwell in the same heart, at the same time.

ਹਉਮੈ ਨਾਵੈ ਨਾਲਿ ਵਿਰੋਧੁ ਹੈ ਦੁਇ ਨ ਵਸਹਿ ਇਕ ਠਾਇ ॥ Guru Amar Das SGGS p. 560 l. 12
Haumai is opposed to the Name of the Lord; the two do not dwell in the same place.

So Naam is the ultimate solution, the strongest antidote for this terrible disease that is haumai.

The challenge, of course, is that haumai is also the biggest obstacle to Naam. To banish haumai from within, we need Naam, but haumai stands in the way.

So it has to be an iterative process, a step at a time. Grace plays a big part; it takes continued and dedicated effort or udam on our part, but we have to seek the Guru’s help at every step. [As soon as we think we are doing something on our own, that itself is an act of haumai that blocks our path.

We have to keep at it, and the Naam slowly dissolves the haumai.

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਸਲਾਹੀਐ ਹਉਮੈ ਨਿਵਰੀ ਭਾਹਿ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
The Gurmukh praises the Naam, and the fire of haumai is extinguished. ||1||Pause||

ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਸਦਾ ਧਿਆਈਐ ਮਲੁ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਢੈ ਧੋਇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
They meditate forever on the Lord, Har, Har, and they wash off the filth of haumai. ||1||Pause||

Gurbani, studying and followiing the Guru’s Word, is an important complement to Naam Simran. The two are closely related – even our ability to successfully practice Naam Simran is enabled by invoking Grace of the Satguru through the Divine Words of Gurbani. As we continue to practice and imbibe the teachings of Gurbani, there is a process of internal transformation that takes place, which weakens our haumai, and the related evils of kaam, krodh, lobh, moh, ahankar, and makes us more receptive to the power of the Divine Naam.

ਸਬਦਿ ਸੁਣੀਐ ਸਬਦਿ ਬੁਝੀਐ ਸਚਿ ਰਹੈ ਲਿਵ ਲਾਇ ॥ [SGGS M. 3, p.429 l.4]
ਸਬਦੇ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰੀਐ ਸਚੈ ਮਹਲਿ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਇ ॥੪॥
Listen to the Shabad, and understand the Shabad, and lovingly focus your consciousness on the True One.
Through the Shabad, conquer your haumai, and in the True Mansion of the Lord’s Presence, you shall find peace. ||4||

Naam Simran and the practice of Gurbani are the two basic tools of the path of spiritual growth, whereby we can overcome haumai and find oneness with the Divine. Let us look at some specific areas that help us in overcoming haumai as we move along this path.

Recognizing Hukam, seeing that everything is happening in His Will is a major help in overcoming haumai. The Gurmukh increasingly recognizing that whatever I did or accomplished was by His blessing.

In the second pauri of Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak tells us how everything is under His Hukam or command which is infinite, all emcompassing, and beyond description.

ਹੁਕਮੀ ਹੋਵਨਿ ਆਕਾਰ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਨ ਕਹਿਆ ਜਾਈ ॥   [Japji, Guru Nanak, SGGS p. 1
By His Command, bodies are created; His Command cannot be described.

ਹੁਕਮੀ ਹੋਵਨਿ ਜੀਅ ਹੁਕਮਿ ਮਿਲੈ ਵਡਿਆਈ ॥
By His Command, souls come into being; by His Command, glory and greatness are obtained.

ਹੁਕਮੀ ਉਤਮੁ ਨੀਚੁ ਹੁਕਮਿ ਲਿਖਿ ਦੁਖ ਸੁਖ ਪਾਈਅਹਿ ॥
By His Command, some are high and some are low; by His Written Command, pain and pleasure are obtained.

ਇਕਨਾ ਹੁਕਮੀ ਬਖਸੀਸ ਇਕਿ ਹੁਕਮੀ ਸਦਾ ਭਵਾਈਅਹਿ ॥
Some, by His Command, are blessed and forgiven; others, by His Command, wander aimlessly forever.

ਹੁਕਮੈ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਹੁਕਮ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥
Everyone is subject to His Command; no one is beyond His Command.

ਨਾਨਕ ਹੁਕਮੈ ਜੇ ਬੁਝੈ ਤ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਹੈ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥੨॥
O Nanak, one who understands His Command, does not speak in haumai. ||2||

The key message is in the last line, The one who reognizes and understands His Hukam does not speak in haumai. He sees that everything that is happening is in His Will. He accepts and surrenders to the Divine Will.

Some may think of acceptance or surrender to His Will as “Oh we cannot do anything about it” It is more an act of embracing all that happens as something wonderous, that is accordin to the Will of our loving all-knowing Father

Instead of me or mine, the Gurmukh thinks and says You or Yours. The haumai starts to disolve.

Seeing the Divine Light in all, recognizing God inside everyone, is a key factor in overcoming our own haumai, as we interact with others around us and treat them with respect, compassion and humility.

"Seeing God inside of every one" is the subject of the next talk by S. Gurumustuk Singh, which I am looking forward to hearing. So I won’t spend too much more time on this.

In this beautiful shabad by Guru Arjan Dev Ji, he shows us how to practice this “I see no stranger, I see no enemy ..” and ends the shabad with “sabh me rav rahia prabh rahia prabh eko" – I see the Divine Light in every one, and as I behold Him, I blossom forth with joy.

In the words of Namdev – sabh Gobind hai – see God pervading everything and everybody. All of creation, including all of us, are like beads strung on the string of His power, His Naam.

As the Gursikh, the spiritual seeker, progresses along the Gurmat path, there is a transformation from “haumai conciousness” to “naam conciousness” – from I and mine to Thee and Thine. The haumai gets progressively weaker, and the Gurmukh lives in tune with the Divine presence of Waheguru.

As Kabeer Ji says, “tu tu karta tu hua” — repeating, “You, You”, I have become like You. Nothing of me remains in myself . When the difference between myself and others is removed, then wherever I look, I see only You.

Another shabad by Kabeer – "mera mujh me kuchh nahin" – nothing is mine or within myself. Whatever there is, is Yours, O Lord. If I surrender to You what is already Yours, what do I lose? ||203||

The next slide shows visually this transformation from mai, mainu and mera to tu, tainu and tera; from I, me and mine to thou, thee and thine;

There is a beautiful sakhi about Guru Nanak Dev Ji. When he was young, he was given this job as the storekeeper in the granary owned by the local noble or nawab. Part of his job was to weigh the grain for the customers using a pair of weighing scales. He would weigh out the grain counting one, two, three .. as he weighed and doled it out. When he came to 13, which happens to be the word “tera” in Punjabi which also means yours or Thine, he would keep repeating it saying “tera, tera” each time. He would just get lost in the vision of it is all Wahegurutera hi tera.. Of course the lucky customer would receive a lot of extra grain.

It is said that after complaints about this, there was an audit, and miraculously, the auditor did not find any shortage in the grain.

Most of us who are trying to walk on the Gurmat path are somewhere between the left column or haumai conciousness and right column or naam conciousness. Hopefully, by His Kindness, His Grace we are blessed to make the effort or uddam to move at least a little bit in the right direction.


Dr. Inder M. Singh is the Chairman of Chardi Kalaa Foundation, and has served on the boards of several Sikh non-profit organizations including SALDEF and Sikh Foundation.

He is the Chairman of Lynx Software Technologies and was CEO until 2006. He founded Excelan, and served as its chairman, CEO and president. He was a co-founder of Kalpana, one of Cisco’s early acquisitions. Dr. Singh has served on the boards of several high-tech companies.. He holds Ph.D. and M.Phil. degrees in computer science from Yale University, an MSEE from Polytechnic Institute of New York, and B. Tech (Hons) in Electronics from IIT, Kharagpur.

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