Business Ethics In Sikh Tradition

BUSINESS ETHICS IN SIKH TRADITION by Kuldeep SinghEx Chairperson, World Sikh Council – America Region

Director, Ohio Clinical Reference Laboratories, Toledo, Ohio
[This article by the author was written for the students of his class on Sikhism in the Oakland University, and distributed to them on 03/07/2002. For his lecture on that day, please read the article: An Evening at Oakland University]

Sikhism is the fifth largest and one of the youngest religions of the world with an estimated population of 25 million. Guru Nanak founded this new way of life, 500 years ago when the subjects were oppressed by the tyrant rulers of the time and the custodians of the two major religions of India – Hinduism and Islam, being highly corrupt, failed to provide any direction. Guru Nanak fulfilled the need of the hour by providing much needed spiritual leadership and direction to the people. He traveled extensively preaching human equality, oneness of God and to remove barriers between rich and poor, high and low castes, male and female. Sikhism sets very high moral standards for its adherents to follow and gives us a most ethical system. In a lecture delivered before the Quest Society of Kensington, England on May 12, 1910, an English Scholar – Mr. Max Arthur Macauliffe, who wrote six volumes on Sikh Religion, claimed:

” I am engaged here tonight in offering to your attention, a religion, which has God and Soul, which presents no mysteries and which embraces an ethical system, such as, has never been excelled, if indeed it has ever been equaled – I mean the Sikh Religion.”

Sikh Scriptures – Guru Granth Sahib is the character building ground of a Sikh in which are firmly rooted his/her ethical values to run the daily affairs. It emphasizes the importance of gun (virtues), and obviously disengaging from any known vices in the society.

” All the vices that we have are like chains around our neck. Virtues, however, are our real friends as they are the ones, which help us to cut the chains of all our vices. There is no recognition of these vices in the next world. It is better to throw these Guru-less creatures.” – Sorath Mahla Pehla, Ghar Pehla, Chaupadey, S.G.G.S. Page: 595

In the following hymn the need to develop virtues of contentment, humility and love in order to achieve Union with God Almighty are beautifully described:

“Let your mind be the farmer, and good deeds the farming; and let your body be the farm; your hard work be the water; Let the sweet remembrance of God Almighty be the seed; and contentment the furrowing and let humility be the fence. And by the Grace of God the seed will sprout and will give birth to devotional Love. Fortunate are those homes, where such a situation exists.” [Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Page 595]

Therefore, on the basis of the above-mentioned short discussion on virtues, I, as a Sikh businessperson, is duty bound to make sure that my business ethics do not conflict with the value system of my religion. ‘Truthfulness’ comes first in a long list of business ethics one should follow. According to our Scriptures:

” Truth, the Absolute Realty – God is the Highest of all Next in line comes the virtue of Truthful living.” – [Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Page 621]

As per Nicolai Hartman, ” Truthfulness is an agreement of one’s thought or convictions.” Our Gurus added another significant item to it and evolved a new definition and that is, ” One’s actions must support one’s words and convictions”. The Virtuous Actions. Wisdom, as a fundamental virtue plays a key role in the ethics of the Sikhs. The Guru says:

“Knowledge or wisdom or self examination is possible only when one has killed even the hidden ego within oneself.”

On similar lines, Mr. Nicolai Hartman, author of ‘Ethics” defines wisdom as recognition of “one’s own ethical non-being, failures and shortcomings.”

In Sikhism, a family life is preferred to the life of an ascetic. And the guidelines to run the family affairs are:

” One should earn one’s living by honest means, share one’s earnings with the needy and keep God Almighty – the Creator always in one’s mind – that is to be always thankful to Him.”

Guru Nanak refused a dinner invitation of a rich man – Malik Bhago, who sucked the blood of people to earn his wealth. The Great Guru preferred to dine an ordinary meal with a poor man – Bhai Lalo, who earned his bread by honest means. Apart from this, sharing of one’s earnings must be done with the spirit of responsibility towards our fellow human beings and not as a charity. Only God Almighty gives charity to all of us, we only share His Gifts. Service to humanity irrespective of their caste, creed, color, religion and nationality is the Sikh way to love people and enjoy the revelation of God. For example, in context with the present day business system, if, for some reason, we are forced to downsize our company and cut our workforce, we should bear in mind the principles of this rule. We should consider reducing the hours of our employees rather than terminating the services of a few.

This should be the basis of all the professions – farming, business, manufacturing, retailing, medicine, engineering or any other job. Any or all professions are good, if one takes the guidance from a True Guru and follows the moral standards and code of conduct as explained by the Guru. I quote from our Scriptures below:

” O Nanak! by following a true Guru – Guide, one understands the real secret of a balanced life Then, while leading a family life of a householder, earning one’s bread by honest means, one can get saved from vices.” (The actual bondage) [Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Page 522]

No profession is in any way a hindrance to our objective of reaching God or to have a complete Union with God as emphasized in our Scriptures – Guru Granth Sahib.

“When a devotee of God, Trilochan criticized another devotee, Namdev for spending his time doing work for living and not concentrating upon God’s Name, he replied: ” The principle of life should be to keep God’s Name always in your heart while honestly performing the duties of your profession. ” “ – Salok Kabeer jee, S.G.G.S. Page: 1375

The relationship between an employer and a employee should be:

The mission of an employee should be to do the job sincerely with an objective to serve the humanity and not to earn money to become rich and then claim superiority over others. On the other hand an employer is duty bound to treat every employee equally and fairly without taking undue advantage of some one’s weakness. Age and/or gender discrimination is against the fundamental tenets of Sikhism. To the people who criticize women, discriminate against women and/or call them evil, Guru Nanak gave the most befitting reply:

“Why treat a women unfairly from whom we are born; in whose womb we are shaped. To the woman we are engaged; to the woman we are married. The woman is our friend and fromwoman is the family. If one woman dies we seek another, through the woman are the bonds of the world.” – Asa ki Vaar Mahla Pehla, S.G.G.S. Page: 473

Ethics are more important than other things. Cheating, lying, black-marketing, profiteering, bribing are not approved by the Father of the Universe – God. God’s displeasure can not bring peace and happiness in our hearts though such unethical actions may bring more money, and give temperory satisfaction. Riches thus collected increase our ego, which is the real cause of all the problems in human beings. It acts like a thorn deep down in our heart that can produce nothing but discomfort and pain and is the biggest hindrance on the way to God. To deprive someone of his/her due share or wages is strongly disapproved in the Sikh Scriptures:

” To deprive someone of his/her due share is like eating pork (for a Muslim) and eating beef (for a Hindu). The Guru will stand by you, if you do not consume someone else’s share, which is deadly for you.” – Majh ki Vaar Mahla Pehla, S.G.G.S. Page: 141

Laws are made by governments for people, who do not have any ethics. ‘Minimum wage law’ is a good example of a law made by the government to prohibit people from taking undue advantage of the weaknesses of people, who are ready to work at any rate of pay below the minimum wages because of poverty, and to guarantee a minimum salary to people. If we were ethical, we didn’t need any such laws. For example, in Ohio there is no law to forbid physicians to bill for the laboratory procedures they do not perform in their offices. A number of physicians take undue advantage of the helplessness of the patients. They draw patient’s blood in their offices and order lab tests on them. This blood is sent to the medical laboratories.

The laboratories charge the physicians only a fraction of what was charged to the patient by the physician. A Physician gets a CBC done by the Laboratory @ $3.00 to $5.00 whereas the patient is charged @$15 to $20. The tubes in which the blood is drawn are supplied, salary of Technician is paid, and the reagent cost is borne by the laboratories, where the blood is tested. However, blood is drawn at the physician’s office for which the physician bills separately. What is missing here? Ethics! How would they justify the huge profits for which they did not work?

In fact the best trade or business in the words of our Guru is:

” The greatest business that will give you good name in the Court of God is your truthful dealing with absolute Truth – God.” – Gaurhi Sukhmani Mahla Panjvaan, S.G.G.S. Page: 293

Source: BUSINESS ETHICS IN SIKH TRADITION