GURU NANAK's MESSAGE
(a) Message of peace
Guru Nanak was a man of peace and conciliation. When he and his companion Mardana sang divine music on the outskirts of Baghdad, where music was banned, he faced an explosive situation. The local Muslims led by Pir Dastagir came with sticks and stones to teach him a lesson. The Guru asked them to calm down and listen to his point of view first. He made them understand that music in itself, was not bad or evil. it all depended on the content and wording of the verses. If it dealt with erotic theme: ,it could rouse the lower passions of man and that was the type of music which was banned. But if the words only contained the praises of God, it was good and blessed, for sacred music, nourishes the soul of man. He declared:
“Devotional music is like a priceless jewel, it gives spiritual bliss and many other blessings! (AG, 893)
“Whoever recites or listens to sacred music, will have
Their evil inclinations and sorrow ended.” (AG, 1300)
Then Guru Nanak sang a divine hymn. The hearts of the Muslims were at once filled with peace and joy. Those who had come to chastise the Guru, sought his blessings before dispersing.
According to Guru Nanak, another source of peace is in the service to God’s creation. In selfless service, one illustrates the “presence of God’, within the individual. There is the story of a Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh, called Bhai Kanhaiya who served water to friend and foe alike on the battle-field. When questioned as to why he served water to enemy soldiers, he replied: “Sir, I see God in all men. How can I refuse to serve water to the Lord!” Guru Gobind Singh was pleased with his answer and blessed him.
(b) Universal Brotherhood.
Guru Nanak rejected the caste system and the division of any people on bases of religion, birth, power or wealth. He realised the Divine presence in all people and so valued every human being. No person need be lost for ever. Even the worst sinner, if he repented and turned to God, would be forgiven. As all mankind was of the one family, all forms of discrimination—social, political, ethnic, racial and religious should be ended. Today however, in spite of the charter of Fundamental Rights of UNO, discrimination still persists in many countries. A truly religious man should be recognisable through the practice of equality and impartiality in all relations with others. Guru Nanak says:
“Religion consists not only in words,
He who looks on all men his equal, is religious.”
The idea of brotherhood implies giving to those in need and helping the helpless. Altruism is a basic human duty, but it must be organised to do the maximum good for the greatest number. That is why the Gurus introduced the system of Daswand—the 1/10th (tithes) for charitable and religious projects, Such organised charity can bridge the gulf between rich and poor. Similarly, langar (Free Kitchen) was started to ensure that no one coming to the Guru’s house left hungry. Such Kitchens are also started in places of famine, flood or other calamity to relieve distress and suffering. In modern states most of these functions have been taken over by Governments.
The idea of a universal brotherhood was carried to its logical conclusion by Guru Nanak in collecting the hymns of Hindu and Muslim saints for incorporation in his Pot hi (hymn-book). This volume in its manuscript-form was given by Guru Nanak to his successor, and by his successor, to his successor Guru. Guru Amardas compiled another volume called Mohan-Pothi, which contained all the hymns of the first three Gurus and of some Indian saints This formed the basis of the Sikh Scripture compiled by Guru Arjan Dev.
(c) His Moral Values
Guru Nanak did not write any Code of Rules or Discipline, as such his teachings and discussions with various persons in his life crystalised into the norms of human behaviour which he expected of his Sikhs. Such norms are not based on commandments, but on advice, their violation does not constitute a religious offence with specific penalty or penance. He believed in the general goodness of men and women and thought they should exercise discretion and behave like rational human beings. Some of these norms or guide-lines of conduct are ‘mentioned below.
(i) “None is a stranger, no one is an enemy”
Guru Nanak gave his advice to any one who wanted guidance. Sometimes, his own behaviour illustrated this way of thinking. He did not mind if a wicked man came to him for help. Some times he himself, would volunteer to guide him. On his way to Kamrup (Assam), the Guru came across a group of sorceresses had who kidnapped Mardana and kept him as a captive. The Guru approached the leader of the group named Nurshah. She tried her black magic on Guru Nanak and it failed, Then it dawned upon her that the visitor could only be a holy man. She begged his forgiveness for detaining Mardana. The Guru told her to give up her magic and be of service to all the people in her neighourhood. He said to her “Be a queen of mercy and not of magic; fulfill your divine mission by sowing in the hearts of all boys and girls, the seeds of virtue and then teach them by your own example that courage and truth are rooted in every being.” There are many other stories which illustrate the above saying.
(ii) We reap as we sow
In terms of human action, the above dictum is known as the law of Karma. What we are today is the outcome of past actions; our present actions will determine our future. Guru Nanak asked his followers to be vigilant about their words and deeds, because they all produce results; their futures depend on what they do in the present. All their actions are recorded by God’s agents, and there is no escape from their consequences. Initially they did have a choice of action: of sowing whatever seed they liked, but once done, they would not be able to change the results of that action. For this, the world is referred to as Karam-Bhoomi—the realm of action. Whatever we do, we should first think of its probable consequences. Hence a need for good and noble action. Guru Nanak says:
“Men do not become saints or sinners merely by calling themselves so;
They carry the record of their own acts within themselves.”
“Those who practise Truth and perform service, will obtain their reward;
When their hair grows white, they will still shine without using any cosmetics.”
It may be noted that all actions of frequent repetition leave their impression on one’s character. A man doing evil deeds continuously will become of bad character. His evil actions will deprive him of peace of mind, for he will carry a burden of fear and guilt-complex, even if he escapes punishment in a court of law. However, according to Sikh credo, any punishment for bad words or deeds may be mitigated through prayer and the grace of God.
(iii) The proud must fall
Ego or self-conceit is the root of pride. Some worthless people have an extra-ordinary sense of self importance; they ill-treat and insult others. Such conduct, not only alienates them from their own fellow-men, but also merits divine disapproval. Egoistic acts are chains round the neck of a conceited person. Sooner or later, such a person is always found out; then his company is shunned and complained about. Guru Nanak preached humility, particularly to the rich, the mighty and the violent. He told Rulers to remember that their reign is only temporary, that they should not brag of their power or wealth, for God could turn a king into a pauper instantly. When Babar came to visit Guru Nanak and Mardana in prison at Eminabad, the Guru questioned the invader about his atrocities Why was the innocent villagers rounded up and compelled to grind wheat on hand-powered grinding stones? At this time Mardana was actually grinding corn, his right hand turning the handle of the grinding mill and his left hand dropping grain into mill-hole. Flies were constantly settling on Mardana’s face, with the result that he had frequently to free his right hand from the handle, to wave the flies off. The Guru told Babar that as a king he should order the flies to keep away from Mardana’s face. Babar was non-plussed. How could he order the flies to keep away form Mardana? The Guru told him, “If you cannot control flies, how can you rule over men”. Babar’s pride vanished as he thought over the Guru’s words. The Guru reminded him of the former Lodi ruler and his present plight. Babar then set all his prisoners free and sought the Guru’s pardon for his high-handedness and cruelty.
Another story tells how Guru Nanak cured a land-lord of his pride. As mentioned earlier ,the Guru wanted to buy some land to establish a new village for his followers. The land that he selected belonged to Karoria— a proud and arrogant Zamindar (land-lord), who decided in his own mind that he wouldnt sell the land tó the Guru, for he might lose popularity and states, as a big land-lord. When he went to visit the Guru about this transaction, he met with an accident on the way. Karoria saw this as a punishment from God for his intended refusal to sell the land to the Guru; so he changed his mind and gave the land to the Guru. There the city of Kartarpur was built. Readers may find many other stories from Guru Nanak’s life.”
(iv) “Truth is higher than every thing, but higher still is truthful living.” (AG, 62)
Knowledge of “The Truth” is not enough on its own. We talk big, but our actions are small and selfish. Guru Nanak declared:
“We are good in talk, but evil in deed.” (AG, 85)
He wanted his followers to be Truthful in thought, word and deed. He knew the difficulties that lay in the way of The Truth and salvation; he said:
“Truth is the remedy for all ills….
Nanak seeks the blessing of the Truthful.” (AG, 467)
Examples of truthful living are set by saints and holy men. From their lives, the disciple can draw inspiration. Without a virtuous life, no one can reach their spiritual goal. The highest of all virtues is “devotion to God and a love for His creation.”
It is essential that in pursuing of a life of truth, the means’ employed should be equally good. Many people have the right goal, but they try to reach it by the wrong means. According to Guru Nanak,, the right means alone, make the attainment of a goal worth-while. That is why, he laid so much emphasis on inner purity and refinement of character; these can bring joy and bliss to the heart.
(v) Earn your living
All of us try to earn our living, one way or the other. Guru Nanak, emphasised “honest labour” or the use of fair and right means for earning one’s living. Some people live on crime, some on the exploitation of others, and others by begging and parasitism. Some who devoted themselves to so-called holy or spiritual pursuits, like ascetics, mendicants, sanyasis, and yogis were criticised by the Guru for neglecting this duty of earning their own living.
Guru Nanak set his example by working as a store-keeper and later as a farmer. Whatever he earned was partly spent on his family and partly, on supplying the needs of the poor and helpless. He established a colony of workers at Kartarpur where work and worship were combined to promote simple living and high thinking. Apart from working, the Guru exhorted his disciples to set aside some part of the earnings for charitable and welfare project, to show a concern for the community.
(vi) He who conquers his mind, may conquer the world. (AG, 6)
The mind controls the motivation and functioning of the body. The mind’s powers are manifold-comprehension, analysis, synthesis, memory etc. The mind is the originator of good and bad actions. Guru Nanak says:
“What the mind says, the will performs.
The mind is our director of good and evil.”
Generally, the mind is dominated by selfish aims. The Guru says:
“Duality and evil thoughts dominate the mind;
it is only through the Guru’s instruction, and
By meditating on the Guru’s Word, that these arc overcome.”
If the mind becomes the slave of passion and wealth, it will end up condoning evil action. If the mind is disciplined, it can remain in a state of equilibrium and peace. Controlling the mind is a difficult task. With great effort, the mind can be brought in contact with the Guru’s Word for its illumination. The Guru’s Word gives right direction and guidance to the mind and so enables itto gain stability and exaltation. In this way only can the mind become free of illusion and desire.
The conquest of the mind also eliminates the ego. Then one can accept ‘God’s Will’ as being the guiding force in life. Like a child, a devotee surrenders himself to his heavenly Father and is prepared to follow him, in every way. He has a feeling that he is in the right hands and cannot go wrong. ‘The conquest of the world’ does not mean the domination or exploitation of other people, it indicates a successful and progressive life. Seif-realisation is possible only through self-discipline and control over one’s own mind.
(vii) True prayer is devotion to God
There are different ways of coming to salvation (Moksha), as for example, the Way of Action (Karma Marg), the Way of Knowledge (Gian Marg), the Way of Mind-control and Self-search (Raja-Yoga Marg) and the Way of Devotion (Bhakti Marg). Guru Nanak recommended the last, but with a difference. While the Hindu Bhagats practised the worship of idols, as symbols of god, Guru Nanak emphasised the worship of a Formless God (Nirgun Bhakti). This is also called Sahj Marg or Nam Marg. In the Sikh credo, the recognition of Nam takes the form of Kirtan (hymn-singing) and Simran (meditation).
Many people question the need for worship and prayer. The purpose of prayer is to offer thanks to God for all His Blessings. It is also a way to ask for His blessing and for obtaining inner peace. Simran is the practice of realising God’s presence, by keeping Him ever in mind, with love and devotion, by remembering and reciting His excellences. It must not be lip-repetition only or a display of piety by rosary or other symbol. The Guru says:
“Everybody says ‘Ram, Ram!,’ but by only saying ‘Ram,’ one doest not become holy, Only when the Holy Name is imbued in the mind, can one come to real bliss.”
To remember God’s qualities is the purpose of meditation. By frequent or constant reflection on His qualities, man may acquire these qualities in himself. As one thinks, so one becomes. The Guru says: “Man ultimately becomes like the one he is devoted to”—Jaisa seway taisa hoi. Guru Nanak clarifies meditation as under:
“First the Guru teaches the disciple to repeat God’s Name;
This practice eliminates his ego.Then he practises meditation on the Divine attributes and intones God’s Name;
This intonation with love, brings about an association with the super-self;
In this state, a Gurmukh needs no yogic exercise for inspiration;
Only vivid perception of God’s proximity can procure this fulfilment;
Nanak says, that this is the way for a Gurmukh to become omniscient!” (AG, 946)
(viii) God is everywhere
To Guru Nanak, God was no concept or a hypothesis, but reality.He realised the presence of God in every thing and in every place. He says:
“Wherever I look, Thou art there;
Thy worth cannot be estimated or described;
Those who can describe Thee are already absorbed in Thee;
No one knows the extent of Thy Being!”
Guru Nanak explained that there is a divine spark or light, in man; if man can discover it, he will do nothing which may be displeasing or unacceptable to God. He says:
“In all things is His Light, it is from His light, that all things find light.
He is always present and watchful; nowhere is He absent.”
God pervades all places and yet is Transcendental. God when “Absolute”, is called Nirgun; when we think only 0 His qualities, He is Sargun (Attribute-ful)~ God is both in and above the universe1 We can only know of Him, as much as He allows us to know.
Saintly persons realise the existence of God through His creation. Some one must be responsible for this creation. He is the Creator and His presence is embedded within His own manifestations. The Guru says that he cannot be seen by ‘physical eyes.’ The eyes which can find His presence, are only those of devotion and enlightenment. People worship God in temples, caves and forests, but His Abode is also within man’s body itself. God is in every human being; it is one’s ego which forms a curtain between God and man. As soon as the wall of the Ego is emolished, God can be seen face to face. Guru Nanak says:
He fills all spaces, O Nanak, I carry Him in my heart;
His Light fills all the worlds.
In every being the endless One and the True One is present;
You can join Him by subduing your own self”
If man were to realise that God is present everywhere and is watching im, he would not do any evil. His faithful devotees hold their communion with Him in the inmost recesses of their hearts.
ix) Respect for woman
One of Guru Nanak’s main teachings was that men and women are equal before one another and before God. Society respects man; it must give equal respect to woman. Guru Nanak rejected the traditional domination of males and pleaded for female justice. The latter look after he family, specially children; they are the pivot of the family and their education must have the same priority as that of men. For this reason, the Guru opened the doors of his Dharmasal and the Path-shala to women. He complained of Hindu cruelties to widows; why compel her into con-cremation (Sati) when her husband died? Why not test her courage to live without her husband?
Another way in which Guru Nanak raised the status of woman was he idealising married life. The Guru idolised the love of a wife for her husband and regarded it as the model for a devotee’s love for God. He rote of the chaste wife’s love and obedience to her husband in terms of divine love as under:
Do whatever your Lord bids you;
apply any perfumes, surrender yourself, body and soul, to him.
art is there?
Thus speak the happy wives, 0 Sister, by such means the Lord’s love is won!”
“We are the Lord’s brides, We bedeck ourselves for His pleasure.
But if we are overtly proud of our beauty, Our bridal robes will be of no avail.” (AG, 62)
Guru Nanak’s message was directed to all women.” His teachings of virtue and truth were as well received by women, as by men. Congregations in those days, as today, were mixed. Women attended the Dharamsal and joined in hymn-singing. Guru Nanak addressed them as sisters. Here are a couple of quotations:
“Hear, O far-sighted woman! words of deep and sublime importance:
Examine the commodity first, and then trade in it.” (AG, 1410) “Come, 0 sisters, let us embrace as bosom-friends! Let us recall our stories of the Omnipotent Bridegroom!” (AG, 17)
In short, Guru Nanak affirmed the dignity and worth of woman and treated her as the equal of man in every way.