Guru Nanak: His Life and Teachings


Guru Nanak is not the sole monopoly of the Sikhs nor of India alone. He belongs to all mankind. He belongs to the world and the world belongs to Him. He bore witness to the Glory of one God, one brotherhood, one law, the law of human fellowship and Love. He came to reconcile all religions and all faiths. He came to harmonise all the scriptures of the world. He came to announce the ancient Truth in the common man’s language, the One Wisdom that is so eloquent in the teachings of all the prophets, the apostles, the sages and the seers; and to show that one flame of Love shone in all the temples and shrines and sacraments of man.

The Love of God and the Love of man were the very core of the message of Guru Nanak. We need to learn to serve the poor gently, quietly, unostentatiously, and to have reverence for all the Saints of the past. This ist the first great teaching of the Guru. When He went to Multan, the land of pirs and fakirs, the latter sent Him a bowl brimming over with milk, implying that the place was already full of saintly souls and there was hardly any room for more. Nanak, Who knew the implication in the offer made, just took a jasmine flower and placing it on the surface of the milk returned the bowl, meaning thereby that He would float as lightly as the flower and give fragrance to all of them. The True Saints, as a rule, have no quarrel with anybody. They talk gently and work quietly in the service of God and man.

He traveled far and wide unlike any other prophet who trod the earth before Him. He undertook four long and arduous journeys on foot, each extending over a number of years: one, to the north into and across the snow-capped Himalayas where He met the Lamas, the Sidhas and the Nahts, the Tibetans and the Chinese; the second, eastward into the modern states of United Provinces, Bengal and Burma; the third, to the South as far as Sangla Dwip or the modern Ceylon; and the forth, to the middle-east countries of Baluchistan, Afganistan, Persia, Arabia as far as Mecca, and Jerusalem, Turkistan, Egypt, Turkey; all these jouneys covering well nigh 30 years in times when there were no satisfactory communications and transport worth the name.

Guru Nanak’s teachings revolutionised people in diverse ways. His teachings are of great interest today as they were in His own time. The nascent Republic of India needs His inspiration in the task of rebuilding the nation on a sound footing, for India is still bristling with many problems and its freedom is yet far from complete.

Guru Nanak came at a crucial time in the history of India. The country, torn as it was by factional fights, was fast slipping into the hands of the Mughals. We get a glimpse of the chaotic conditions prevailing at the time from the words of no less an authority than the Guru Himself:

Kings are butchers. They treat their subjects with gruesome cruelty. The sense of duty has taken wings and vanished. Falsehood is rampant over the land as a thick veil of darkness, darkness darker than the darkest night, hiding the face of the moon of Truth.

The Hindus and the Muslims were bitterly opposed to one another. The very semblance of religion had degeneratet into formalism, and the spirit in man was stifled and suffocated by rites and rituals and by creeds and ceremonies. Too much importance was attached to the outer husk and shell at the cost of the kernel within. Casteism and untouchability were waxing like anything. The people were losing faith in themselves. The political and the social conditions in the country had reached the lowest ebb. The chaotic conditions could not be more chaotic. In the blessed name of religion, all kinds of atrocities were being perpetrated by those in power, swayed as they were by incontinence, greed, lust and immorality. Mistrust and hatred were the order of the day. Both the rulers and the ruled had lost alle sense of shame and decorum.

In such a dark hour of history, Nanak appeared to set the house in order and to shape the destiny of millions of Indians. He went about preaching in the name of God, asking nothing for himself, but anxious only to serve the people and save them from degradation and downright damnation.

Nanak saw the deep tragedy that was menacing the country. He saw the world caught in the pernicious web of suffering and woe. Moved by the piteous cries of the helpless and the afflicted people in their deep agony, He prayed for the Grace of God:

Oh Lord, the whole world is being consumed in the invisible flames of fire. Oh save the world in this hour of darkness. Raise all unto Thee. Raise them in whatever and however a way Thou mayest.

On coming in contact with Babar, the Mughal king requested the Guru to ask for some favour. He politely and yet firmly declined the offer saying:

Hear, oh King! Foolish would be the fakir who would beg of kings, for God is the only giver munificent beyond all measure;

significantly adding:

Nanak hungers for God alone and he asks for naught.

Babar had great respect for all men of piety. Once, when he came to know that Nanak had been put behind bars, he ordered His immediate release. On request from the king, the Guru gave His advice, called Nasihat Nama, in which He counseled the king to worship God everyday and to be just and kind to everyone. He told him that the Naam, the Sat Naam, the Holy Word of God or the Kalma, was a panacea for all ills of life, here and in the hereafter. It was Kalam-e-kadim, the most ancient song of God, singing in the heart of all, and could be heard only by the pure ones.

Be pure,

said the Guru,

and Truth would reveal itself to thee. Have Love of God uppermost in thy heart and hurt not the feelings of His creatures.

Once, this Great Soul, great in humility and Love of God, asked a school teacher:

Sir, what have you learned?

The school teacher replied:

I am proficient in all branches of knowledge. I have read the sacred lore of all the religions. I know quite a lot of everything.

Then Nanak humbly enquired of the school master what He had actually gained thereby.

In a passage of exquisite beauty and wisdom, Nanak sang of the secret of True Education:

Burn worldly thoughts and their ashes rub, and of these ashes make thine ink, and let the paper on which ye write, be the paper of faith; and write thou the Name of God.

When put to school, He told Gopal Pandhe, His teacher to

make the heart your pen, and with the ink of Love write again and again the Name of the Lord.

The current system of education in India ignores the vital injunction make the heart your pen, and make an ink of the worldly intellect. Worldly attainments, of whatever type, are not sufficient in themselves, if one does not know God. We need a system of education which includes in its curriculum the Eternal Values of life. We have instead a commercialised course of cramming books and texts-made-easy, just for securing diplomas and degrees and getting jobs. The number of schools, colleges and universities has increased in India and elsewhere but the moral fiber of the so-called educated people has not grown by a millimeter.

What does it profit a man if he gains possession of the whole world and loses his own soul?

Democracies have failed, but a democracy can live, survive and triumph when two conditions are fulfilled:

  1. When sectarianism and fanaticism perish; and

  2. when States bow in reverence to a superior law, the law of fellowship and human sympathy, and above all to the Infinite Whose Voice rings from end to end Children of the Earth, ye all are One!

Nanak came to proclaim this two-fold truth.

The real and lasting freedom cannot be achieved without faith in solidarity and freedom of humanity. How? By:

  1. Faith more than mere knowledge of books;

  2. Solidarity more than schemes of reform;

  3. Service of humanity more than anything else.

Guru Nanak found the basic remedy for true solidarity and the integration of man in the Love of God and in the Love and service of God in man. Once when He came out of a trance in the water, He explained:

There is no Hindu and no Musalman,

meaning thereby that there was no basic difference between the two.

God made man with the same privileges all the world over. All men are born equal. They come into the world in the same way after a fixed period of gestation. All men have the same outer and inner construction in the matter of limbs and various instruments and organs like hands and feet, lungs, liver and stomach and the like. Everyday the human machinery throws filth out of the body. One is first man and then takes on the outer badge of one or the other specific social order or formation in which he is born and brought up and these he accepts and adopts as his own – Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam or Christianity; Buddhism or Jainism, or any other 'ism' – and tries to solve the mystery of life, each in his own way.

A man is man first and man last, besides anything else in between. He belongs to Universal Religion of God with the hall mark of man based on birth and surroundings. The entire mankind consists of embodied beings like so many beads on the string of a rosary. All, being equal in the sight of God, enjoy God’s gifts equally and freely. None is high or low by birth alone. Further, he is soul, a conscious entity which enlivens the whole body. This soul, a drop of the Ocean of All-Consciousness, is of the same essence as that of God. As such we are all brothers and sisters in God, irrespective of our social badges. And then the same Power, the Naam or Word or Kalma, keeps in order the entirely disparate constituents of the body and then the soul; the one material and the other ethereal.

On account of this Controlling Power, we cannot run out of the wonderful house of the body in which we live, however hard we may try. The outgoing breath is pushed back and cannot remain outside for any length of time. Our body works as long as the Life-Principle runs in the body. This process goes on as long as the Controlling Power keeps the body and the Life-Principle together. When that is withdrawn, the spirit in us has perforce to leave the body. So the whole machinery of the body is being run by the indwelling spirit that we are.

If we could learn to withdraw at will from the body, while remaining in the body, we can then know the nature of our Real Self, the animating Life-Impulse in us. This has been the teachings of all the rishis and munis of yore and the spiritual teachers of the East and the West. It is all a matter of practical self-analysis. And it can be experienced directly and immediately with the active help and guidance of an Adept or a Master of Para Vidya or the knowledge of the beyond – the knowledge that lies beyond the senses, mind and intellect. It is a regular science of soul, knowing which, everything else becomes kown and nothing remains to be known. We can then become a master in our own house, able to direct it as we like.

The same Naam, the Sat Naam, the Word or the God-into-Expression-Power is keeping the whole creation under its control. When this is withdrawn, the result is dissolution or grand dissolution as the case may be.

This body is verily the temple of God in which we reside and in which God also dwells. The whole universe is the abode of God and God dwells therein. All this can be experienced at the level of the spirit with the Grace of a Competent Spiritual Guide or Mentor. As long as we do not perceive this Unity of man, physically, mentally and spiritually and by the same Controlling Power within all of us, there can be no True Integration and Solidarity of humankind.