Different Meanings of the word "Sant"
Some Gursikhs claim that the word "Sant" is used only for Guru Sahib and cannot be used for Gursikhs. On the other hand there are Gursikhs who claim that the word "Sant" cannot be used for Guru Sahib but is reserved for an accomplished Gurmukh only. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. The word Sant has been used in many meanings in Gurbani. It is used for at least the following meanings in Gurbani:
2. Guru Sahib - Singular
3. Guru Sahib - Plural
4. Bhagat Jan, Gursikh - Singular
5. Bhagats, Gursikhs - Plural
Depending on the pankiti and situation, this word comes in one of the above stated meanings.
The word "Sant" used for Vaheguru
Presented below are some Gurbani Pankitis, in which "Sant" has been used for Vaheguru.
ਭਾਗੁ ਹੋਆ ਗੁਰਿ ਸੰਤੁ ਮਿਲਾਇਆ ॥
ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਘਰ ਮਹਿ ਪਾਇਆ ॥
(Good Fortune sprouted, and my Guru enabled me to meet Sant-Roop Vaheguru. I met indestructible Vaheguru right within me.)
Please look at the spellings of ਗੁਰਿ and ਸੰਤੁ . Some translaters claim that here the word ਸੰਤੁ is used for Guru Sahib but if this had been the case, then ਸੰਤੁ too would have had a sihaari in the end as ਗੁਰਿ does. The Sihaari of ਗੁਰਿ gives the meaning of "ne". ਗੁਰੂ ਨੇ ਸੰਤ ਮਿਲਾਇਆ. To derive the meaning of "ne" the aunkad had to go but it is established here. So the meanings according to Gurbani Viyakaran can only be ਗੁਰੂ ਨੇ ਸੰਤ ਮਿਲਾਇਆ.
ਹਮਰੋ ਭਰਤਾ ਬਡੋ ਬਿਬੇਕੀ ਆਪੇ ਸੰਤੁ ਕਹਾਵੈ ॥
ਓਹੁ ਹਮਾਰੈ ਮਾਥੈ ਕਾਇਮੁ ਅਉਰੁ ਹਮਰੈ ਨਿਕਟਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥3॥
(My Husband (Master) is Great Bibeki (one who possesses all knowledge) and he himself is called a Sant. He is established on my forehead; for this reason Maya does not come near me).
The word ਭਰਤਾ in Gurbani is only used for Vaheguru (it means husband); so here the word "Sant" has to be for Vaheguru jee only.
The word "Sant" used for Guru Sahib ("Sant" as Singular Noun)
The word "Sant' has been used for Guru Sahib in a lot of places in Gurbani. Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh jee in his great book "Sant Pad Nirnai" has written that most of the times, when this word appears as singular noun, it is used for Guru Sahib. Presented below are some pankitis in which this word has been used for Guru Sahib:
ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਸੰਤੁ ਸਤਗੁਰੁ ਸਤ ਪੁਰਖਾ ਜੋ ਬੋਲੈ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਬਾਨੀ ॥
ਜੋ ਜੋ ਕਹੈ ਸੁਣੈ ਸੋ ਮੁਕਤਾ ਹਮ ਤਿਸ ਕੈ ਸਦ ਕੁਰਬਾਨੀ ॥1॥
Satguru is Vaheguru’s Sant, Eternal Purakh (person), and he speaks Baani describing Naam (Har Har Baani). Whoever utters and listens to this Baani get emancipated and I am sacrifice to such Satguru.
In the pankiti above, it is clear that the word Sant has been used for Guru Sahib.
ਗੁਰੁ ਸੰਤੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਸਗਲ ਇਛਾ ਪੁੰਨੀਆ ॥
When I met Guru-Sant, then I meditated on Vaheguru jee and all my wishes were fulfilled.
ਨਾਨਕ ਸੰਤੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਸਚੁ ਪਾਈਐ ਸਹਜ ਭਾਇ ਜਸੁ ਲੇਉ ॥1॥
When one meets Guru-Sant, then one attains the Truth (Vaheguru) and such individual effortlessly praises Him.
In the above pankiti, the golden and basic principle of Gurmat is presented - Only when one meets the True Guru, one attains the Truth (Vaheguru). So the word "Sant" here has to mean Guru Sahib.
The word "Sant" used for Guru Sahib ("Sant" as Plural Noun)
For the most part, when the word "Sant" appears as a plural noun, it is used for Gursikhs but in some cases even when this word is a plural noun, it can still mean Guru Sahib. In Indian languages, out of respect for seniors and elders, they are addressed as plural. As an example if some Gurmukh comes to our home, we would not say, "ਗੁਰਮੁਖ ਆਇਆ ਸੀ" but we would refer to them as plural and say "ਗੁਰਮੁਖ ਆਏ ਸੀ". Same way, many times in Gurbani, Vaheguru jee and Guru Sahib have been referred to as plural. Some examples of the word "Sant" used for Guru Sahib as plural noun are:
ਭੇਟਤ ਸੰਗਿ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਚਿਤਿ ਆਇਆ ॥
ਸੰਗਤਿ ਕਰਤ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਮਨਿ ਪਾਇਆ ॥
ਸੰਤਹ ਚਰਨ ਮਾਥਾ ਮੇਰੋ ਪਉਤ ॥
ਅਨਿਕ ਬਾਰ ਸੰਤਹ ਡੰਡਉਤ ॥1॥
(When I met them (Sant Guru jee), I remembered Vaheguru. By doing their sangat, I got Santokh (contentedness) in my heart. My forehead is on the Charan of Sants (Guru Sahib). I prostrate before Sants many times.)
ਪੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਸੰਤਨ ਪਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
(Drink Amrit, by the Kirpa of Sants).
The word Sant used for Gursikhs (Singular)
Most of the times when this word "Sant" appears as singular noun, it is used for Guru Sahib but there are some exceptions:
ਮਨਹੁ ਕਠੋਰੁ ਮਰੈ ਬਾਨਾਰਸਿ ਨਰਕੁ ਨ ਬਾਂਚਿਆ ਜਾਈ ॥
ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਸੰਤੁ ਮਰੈ ਹਾੜੰਬੈ ਤ ਸਗਲੀ ਸੈਨ ਤਰਾਈ ॥3॥
If one has a stone heart (heart without Bhagti), then even if he dies in Kashi Banaras (holy city for Hindus), he cannot escape hell. On the other hand if a Sant of Vaheguru dies in the cursed city of Hadamba (City cursed by Shiva; whoever dies here is reborn as a donkey), he not only is freed himself but also frees all his companions.
There is a belief in Hindus that whoever dies in the Shiva's city of Kanshi or Banaras, goes straight to heaven. For this reason, in olden days, many people in old age used to go and reside in this city. Some were too eager to die here and go to heaven and they used to commit suicide by having them cut by suicide-aid-professionals.
ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਕਰੇ ਜਿਸੁ ਪ੍ਰਾਨਪਤਿ ਦਾਤਾ ਸੋਈ ਸੰਤੁ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਵੈ ॥
ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਭਗਤਿ ਤਾ ਕਾ ਮਨੁ ਲੀਣਾ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਮਨਿ ਭਾਵੈ ॥2॥
On whom the master of Life Vaheguru does Kirpa (does mercy), only such Sant sings his praises. His mind is taken by Prema-Bhagti (Devotional worship) and Vaheguru’s loves such Bhagat with heart.
In the above pankiti, we clearly see that the word "Sant" is a singular but given the context in which this word has been used, it is more likely that here this word refers to a Gurmukh. The half-pankiti seems to be talking about a Gursikh Bhagat - ਸੋਈ ਸੰਤੁ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਵੈ (Only such Sant sings praises of Vaheguru)
The word Sant used for Gursikhs (Plural)
When the word "Sant" appears as a plural noun, then most of the times it is used for Gursikhs:
ਸੰਤ ਜਨਾ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਰੋਗੁ ਜਾਇ ॥
In the Sangat of Sant Jan, the disease of Ego is eliminated.
ਵਡਭਾਗੀ ਤੇ ਸੰਤ ਜਨ ਜਿਨ ਮਨਿ ਵੁਠਾ ਆਇ ॥
Such Sants are fortunate, in the hearts of whom, Vaheguru has appeared.
ਸੰਤ ਜੀਵਹਿ ਜਪਿ ਪ੍ਰਾਨ ਅਧਾਰਾ ॥
The Sants live chanting Vaheguru who is the support of their life.
Use of "Sant" for specific Bhagats
Many Gursikhs claim that the word "Sant" is never used for any specific individual in Gurbani. To refute their claims, presented below are some pankitis where the word "Sant" has been used for Bhagat Prahalad jee and Bhagat Kabir jee:
ਸੰਤ ਪ੍ਰਹਲਾਦ ਕੀ ਪੈਜ ਜਿਨਿ ਰਾਖੀ ਹਰਨਾਖਸੁ ਨਖ ਬਿਦਰਿਓ ॥3॥
Vaheguru kept the honour of Sant Prahlaad and killed Harnakash with his nails.
In the above pankiti, Siri Guru jee has called Bhagat Prahlaad jee a Sant.
ਕਿਆ ਅਪਰਾਧੁ ਸੰਤ ਹੈ ਕੀਨ੍ਾ ॥ ਬਾਂਧਿ ਪੋਟ ਕੁੰਚਰ ਕਉ ਦੀਨ੍ਾ ॥
ਕੁੰਚਰੁ ਪੋਟ ਲੈ ਲੈ ਨਮਸਕਾਰੈ ॥ ਬੂਝੀ ਨਹੀ ਕਾਜੀ ਅੰਧਿਆਰੈ ॥3॥
Bhagat Kabir jee referring to himself is saying, “What crime has Sant committed that he has been thrown before the mad elephant to be trampled and crushed. The elephant instead of trampling and crushing the Sant (Bhagat Kabir jee) started bowing his head hefore him but the blind (Stupid) Kazi (Muslim Religious Judge) still did not understand (realize that what he was doing was wrong).
In the above pankiti, Bhagat Kabir jee's intentions should not be misunderstood when he calls himself a Sant. He does not mean to call himself a Sant in an egoistic manner but Bhagat jee is simply and with surprise asking, "What crime has a (harmless) Sant done that he has been thrown in front of an elephant to be trampled?" Here Bhagat jee is not referring to him as Sant to show that he is a big Bhagat or something but Sant here should be understood as meaning "Faqir".
The word "Sant" or "Santan" in Gurbani has been used for Vaheguru, Guru Sahib and Gurmukh Bhagats. To say that this word should not be used for Gursikhs as it is reserved only for Guru Sahib does not seem to be a factual statement. We have seen in the examples above that in Gurbani, Bhagat Prahalaad jee and Bhagat Kabir jee have been referred to as Sants. Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh jee though never allowed anyone to use this adjective for him but he himself referred to many Gursikhs as Sants. Please read his book Ranglay Sajjan for more details. Bhai Sahib Vir Singh jee when writing about Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh jee referred to him as Sant Randhir Singh jee. Who can mind calling Sant Attar Singh jee Mastuanewale as Sant? If he cannot be called a Sant, then who can be?
Having said that, it is not a good idea to cheapen this word by calling every Tom or Harry a Sant. Perhaps, this title like "Bhai Sahib" should be bestowed by Siri Akal Takhat Sahib on selected Gurmukhs.
Baani is Agam Agaadh Bodh. May Guru Sahib forgive our mistakes while interpreting Gurbani.