Almost 550 years with Guru Nanak Dev Ji!

Universal and Timeless Message of Guru Nanak is as relevant to the world now, as it was in then


Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born in 1469 AD at Nanakana Sahib. As a child, he was both brilliant and philosophical. He was fond of the company of spiritual people and sought answers to purpose of life and constantly questioned the meaning of rituals. He emphasized a life of simplicity and righteousness. Philosophically, Guru Nanak looked at God as one and beyond any religious divisions.

Guru Nanank was a householder with two sons and also worked in various vocations as a young man and as a farmer in his later years. Around the age of 30 years, he undertook four lengthy journeys in different directions, which altogether lasted nearly 20 years. After the journeys, Guru Nanak settled down in Kartarpur around 1521 and spent time in meditation and farming and agriculture. In 1539, the physical body of Guru Nanak merged with the elements; both his Hindu and Muslim followers wanted to claim since his teachings were universal. In this travels, Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited many countries, some as far as Baghdad (Iraq), China, Tibet and Sri Lanka. He visited places of pilgrimages like Banaras, Bodh Gaya, Hardawar, Kurukshetra, Mathura, Mecca, Medina, Multan, Pak Pattan and various places in the Himalayas. Guru Nanak revered various saints, both from Hindu and Muslim religion, and collected their compositions which were later compiled in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.


The teachings of Guru Nanak were logical and easy to understand. His definition of God is most interesting and captured in Mool Mantra – One, True Name, Creator, Fearless, Without Vengeance, Beyond Time, Does not Incarnate, Selfexistent, Understood only by Grace. Once God is defined, Guru Nanak then proceeds to mention that the purpose of life is to become truthful for which one has to purify actions, listen and practice meditation. To attain this truthfulness, one has to purify the mind by sculpturing consciousness. Since mind is critical to understanding the self, divine knowledge plays an important role. According to Guru Nanak, Dharma is a product of compassion, supported by contentment. These two qualities play a pivotal role in religion. Guru Nanak preached that as you sow so shall you reap and therefore encouraged everybody to cultivate virtues. According to Guru Nanak, serving the needy and hungry is an important duty of society. Hence, the first langar or free kitchen was started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji around 1489.

On social issues, Guru Nanak emphasized equality of the complete human race, irrespective of caste, color, creed, gender or race. For Guru Nanak, the creation was from one God and therefore no one could claim to be superior or inferior. On the status of women, Guru Nanak clarified that “How can she be called inferior when Kings are born of her”. To the sages in the mountains, he urged them that if all good and pious people retire to mountains to meditate, how will the world improve. So, the message of Guru Nanak, as contained in various compositions, urged people to lead a householder’s life, work hard and then share something in charity. This message is encapsulated in Naam Japo, Kirat Karo, and Vand Chakko or Meditate, Earn Honestly, and Share with Others. He emphasized on dignity of labor, and observed that Truth is Highest Virtue but Truthful Living is still higher.

On environment, Guru Nanak guides that Earth has to be treated like Mother, water like Father, and Air like Guru. This message in the closing Salok of Japji is recited many times daily during meditation, individually and collectively. Therefore, one has to guard against any type of pollution to the environment. Sikhs therefore, explicitly seek the well-being of all, all the time and specifically in their daily formal prayers.

On economics and commerce, Guru Nanak emphasized literacy, gaining knowledge, healthy living, increased workforce, and encouraging investment. Again, emphasis was on ethics and truthful behavior.

To understand Dharma, God and Creation, Guru Nanak traces the progress of human mind through various stages or Khands like Dharam, Gian, Saram, Karam and Sach or progressive stages of Duty, Knowledge, Effort, Grace and Truthfulness. Japji Sahib asks that the effort to climb these stages be as follows - Let selfdiscipline be the workshop and let the goldsmith show patience in what he does, (dutifulness, Dharam Khand). Let the mind be the anvil which receives the tools of scriptural teachings (knowledge, Gian Khand), obedience to commands be the bellows, and heat be the remembrance; make love the crucible in which to put the nectar of Naam (melt the gold) and understand (mold) it with the Shabad (Effort, Saram Khand). This is done by those who receive Divine grace (Grace, Karam Khand), With this grace is attained vision of the Lord and happiness (Truth, God’s abode, Sach Khand).

Universal and Timeless Message: To summarize, the message of Guru Nanak is as relevant to the world now, as it was in the fifteenth century when it was delivered. The world continues to be divided in class and caste wars, and not only people but even countries are divided between rich and poor, haves- and havenots. There is widespread hunger, poverty, and deprivation on the planet. The discrimination between races and gender is equally strong though United Nations through its various organizations is making efforts to unite the world by voting against racism and apartheid. And, the World Bank as well as many other institutions, are making efforts to combat poverty and income inequalities. The women, universally, are not able to break the glass ceiling and continue to be discriminated in status and wages. The progress of science has established that the role of knowledge and cultivating virtues is important for human growth and development. Compassion and contentment, are necessary for sustainable growth on the planet. In absence of such virtues, aggressiveness and greed leads to distrust, conflict and wars while the planet gets exploited.

Way Forward – Spreading message outside Gurudwara

The message of Guru Nanak needs to be spread in the world in different languages and forums like United Nations. Guru Nanak, himself travelled for more than two decades, spreading the divine message, through creative ways, of harmonious living, between people, nations, religions and environment, in a class-less and caste-less society without any discrimination. In modern times, we also need to adopt the same simple approach. Unfortunately, the message of Guru Nanak has been confined only amongst the Punjabis, Sikhs, Sindhis and others in North India. The need is to spread the universal message of Guru Nanak to other parts of the world. Therefore, we all need to make efforts to share the message with the world outside of Gurudwara, through innovative strategies like documentaries, conferences, plays, discussions forums, food camps, music concerts.

The world inspired by Guru Nanak’s message will not suffer from exploitation, hunger, poverty and discrimination as it will be based on compassion, contentment and sharing, in view of the principle – “As we sow, so shall we reap.”


  • The author is thankful to Narinder Singh, Jagmohan Singh, Ghara Singh, Harpal Singh, Kamaljit Singh and Gurmeet Singh for inputs. Corresponding address – [email protected].
  • Japji is the best composition to understand philosophy of Guru Nanak. In this article, most of the references are from Japji.
  • “Through wisdom, one serves God, through wisdom one attains honor, through wisdom one realizes what one reads, through wisdom, charity comes to one’s mind. Says Nanak, this is the True Path, all else leads to Devil” (Guru Nanak, p.1245, Sri Guru Granth Sahib).
  • This rule has been stressed repeatedly. The soul knows that as one sows, so will one reap (Guru Nanak, p.1243, Sri Guru Granth Sahib)
  • Guru Nanak Dev Ji used all the capital he had to feed the hungry sadhus, and laid the foundation of free kitchen.
  • All creatures are noble, none are low – one maker has fashioned all of them (Guru Nanak, p. 62, Sri Guru Granth Sahib).
  • Guru Nanak, p.473, Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
  • Realization of Truth is above all else, but higher still is truthful living (Guru Nanak, p. 62, Sri Guru Granth Sahib).
  • The words ‘sarbat da bhalla’ imply “well-being of all” and are uttered after every formal prayer – individual or Collective.
  • Singh (2016) – Religion and Economic Growth -
  • By exploiting others, the mind becomes sick (Guru Nanak p. 140, Sri Guru Granth Sahib). To grab what belongs to another is bad (Guru Nanak, p. 141, Sri Guru Granth Sahib).
  • Translation and meanings from writings of Rawel Singh, plays, discussions forums, food camps, music concerts.

Prof. Charan Singh
*Formerly RBI Chair Professor of Economics, India Institute of Management, Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore - 560076, India
Email: [email protected]

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