"What we hear and see can be thieves outside; what we feel and desire can be thieves inside. If the venerable head of the household does not realize this but sits determinedly in the central hall, the thieves will have become his family members." -- Hong Zicheng, Vegetable Roots Discourse as trans. by Robert Aitken
Five Thieves or Five Evilsor pancadokh or panj vikar as they are referred to in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, 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 in Punjabi are:
- kaam (Lust),
- krodh (Rage or uncontrolled anger),
- lobh (Greed),
- moh (Attachment or emotional attachment) and
- ahankar (ego)
Translated into English these words mean lust/addiction, wrath/rage/anger, materialistic greed, attachment/worldly infatuation and ego/pride respectively. The word 'evil' here may be understood to represent the connotation of Punjabi pap (sin), dokh (defect), or kilbikh (defilement).
These are called the 5 thieves because they each steal your self control of the other evils.
Message of the Sikh Gurus
SGGS warns us about these five thus:
“Within this body dwell the five thieves: sexual desire, anger, greed, emotional attachment and egotism.
They plunder the Nectar, but the self-willed manmukh does not realize it; no one hears his complaint.
The world is blind, and its dealings are blind as well; without the Guru, there is only pitch darkness.॥2॥” (WMOM p 600)
These evils are mentioned and condemned in some of the post-Buddhistic Upanisads such as the Prasna, Svetasvatara, Aitareya, Isa and Mundaka. The last-named text refers to 'the sages whose defilements have been destroyed' (ksinadosah), although it does not enumerate the 'defilements'.
Long before these later Upanisads, however, leaders of sramanic 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, Parsvanatha, Sakyamuni and Mahavira that one finds a detailed discussion of the nature and function of kama, krodha, lobha, moha and ahankara and many other kindred vices.
The Earlier concepts
The old Pali texts contain three lists of evils and factors which obstruct meditation and moral perfection. The list of five 'hindrances' (nivaranas) 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' (sanyojanas), which bind beings to sansara, 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.
"Hindrances" and "Defilements"
The first two in the list of five hindrances, viz. sensuous desire (kamacchanda) 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 (satkayadrsti), sensual passion (kamaraga), ill will, conceit (mana) and nescience (avidya), 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' (Pali kilesa, Punjabi kalesh and Skt. klesa), includes the following: greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), delusion (moha), conceit (mana), 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 (kama). This last evil is mentioned separately and repeatedly in the Buddhist scriptures in Pali 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, dosa (dvesa), and moha as the three roots of evil (akusala-mula). One of the standard Buddhist 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 (raga), ill will (pratigha), conceit (mana), nescience (avidya), false view (kudrsti), and sceptical doubt (vichikitsa).
Solution is Loving devotion
Loving devotion (bhagti, 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 Gurus stress the necessity of taking refuge in God. To this end, one must first renounce pride (man). 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 nam 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 abhiman. Guru Tegh Bahadur describes such a sage as one liberated while still alive and calls him an image of God on earth (GG, I426-27).
Another is Sadh Sangat and Guru
Another way of overcoming haumai and other evils is to keep the company of the saints (sant, sadh) who radiate virtuous qualities. One kills lust, wrath, greed and other depravities of the evil age (kali-kales) by taking refuge in the sangat, 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 (guru). He who would overcome the five evils must follow his teaching. The wisdom obtained from the preceptor is like a swift sword (kharagu karara) which cuts through confusion, infatuation, avarice and egoity (GG, 1087). One celebrates God's virtues through the favour of the sage (sant prasadi) and destroys lust, anger and insanity born of egoism (unmad).
In Guru Nanak's Sidh Gosti 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 'Guru-oriented person' (gurmukh) so central to the Sikh moral system.
A gurmukh is one who has turned his face towards the Guru, that is to say, a person who by practising what the Guru 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 Guru and ever remains in tune with the Supreme Reality.