Phana or Bhana (Gurmukhi ਭਾਣਾ ), literally liking, pleasure, will, wish or approval, is one of the key-concepts in Sikh thought. In Sikhism, it refers specifically to God’s will and pleasure. Raza, an Arabic term popular in the context of various schools of Sufi thought, also appears frequently in the Sikh texts to express the concept of bhana.
According to this concept, the Divine Will is at the base of the entire cosmic existence. It was "His bhana", "His sweet will" which was instrumental in the world’s coming into being:
“Whenever He pleases He creates the expanse (of the world of time and space) and whenever He desires He (again) becomes the Formless One (all by Himself)” (GG. 294).
All our actions, our pain and pleasure, our worship, penance and self-discipline, metapsychosis and liberation, heaven and hell, are subject to bhana (GG. 963).
Bhana or Raza (pronounced: R'zaa), the Divine Will, expresses itself through Hukam, the Divine Law of nature. Bhana and Hukam are closely related and are often used synonymously. In the very first stanza of Japji, Guru Nanak uses hukam and raza as a compound term. There, is, however, a subtle difference between the two concepts.
Hukam is the Divine Law while bhana is the Divine Will. The latter is the source of and sanction behind the former; “Hukam is that which you desire” (GG, 17). Hukam is the medium and instrument of the expression and operation of bhana. The basic idea implicit in hukam is its imperative and unimpeachable nature to which man must submit, but such submission is again subject to His bhana. “When He desires He makes man to submit to hukum” (GG, 337)” “In His Will, the Lord makes man submit to His command” (GG, 1093).
The inexorable hukam having its source in bhana, it follows that the latter is equally, even more, inescapable and inevitable subject only to itself in the form of nadar (q.v.). It therefore becomes the duty of man to submit to the Divine Will willingly and gracefully. Submission to raza is thus inherent in the concept of bhana.
Bhana in the Sikh tradition yields primarily the meaning of Divine Will itself, though taking equal cognizance of the other meaning, viz. the attitude of submission on man’s part to the Will Divine. The latter itself arises out of God’s Will or Grace. In this sense, i.e. bhana as attitude of submission of itself, is defined in Gurbani as a great gift. As says Guru Arjan, “The truth is that there is no gift as great as bhana (submission to the Lords’ Will)”. (GG, 1093); says Guru Amar Das, “On whomsoever Thou bestoweth bhana, to him Thy Will is pleasing” (GG, 1064).
The Divine Will in the sense of inexorable ordinance or law of nature is intimately related to the problem of determinism versus free will. If nothing happens or can happen without the Divine Will, there would be no place for ethics and moral responsibility of man for his actions, good or bad, whereas the Sikh precept keeps reminding man to make the choice: to become acceptable at His portal or remain recalcitrant. Making a choice is a volitional act and pursuing it involves freedom of action.
Thus Sikhism positing active participation in life does recognize freedom of action, but “within the contingencies of his finitude.” In this context, the Sikh is required correctly to understand what pleases God, what is His pleasure (bhana). Concentrated attention to and meditation upon the Guru’s word helps him in such understanding. Guided by his understanding of bhana, the Sikh is not only free to act but is required to participate, “to battle on in open field with his mind fully in control” (GG, 931). He is supposed to quell his haumai (I-ness, ego), to dedicate his actions to the Lord’s Will and to surrender himself to His raza regards the outcome of his actions.
- 1. Balbir Singh, Foundations of Indian Philosophy. Delhi, 1971
- 2. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi. 1990
- 3. Jodh Singh, Gurmat Nirnaya. Lahore, 1932
Above adapted from article By Wazir Singh