Guru Nanak - Bringer of Unity

A tribute on the Gurpurab by Rawel Singh

Sometime ago during a discussion with a Hindu Brahmin and a Muslim Maulvi, I gave a synopsis of Guru Nanak's Japji Sahib, the first composition in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

As soon as I finished, the Maulvi exclaimed "But this is Islam." Such is the universal appeal of Guru Nanak's teachings. The Guru walked the earth from 1469 to 1539 CE.

The Guru received so much acceptance that people cried out:

"Nanak Shah fakir; Hindu ka Guru Musalmaan ka pir."

Guru Nanak is the king of sages;
The Guru of the Hindu and the spiritual guide of the Muslim.

A highly respected Muslim poet and philosopher Alaama (meaning the learned) Iqbal said:

"Phir uthi aakhir  sadaa toheed ki Punjabsay;
Hind ko ik marday kaamal nay jagaaia khwaab say."

Then an affirmation of unity of God arose from the Punjab;
and India was awakened from slumber by an accomplished man.

These are the voices of people of other faiths about Guru Nanak. One wonders if Iqbal had read the following verse of the fifth Guru because there is so much resemblance:

ਬਲਿਓ ਚਰਾਗੁ ਅੰਧ੍ਯ੍ਯਾਰ ਮਹਿ ਸਭ ਕਲਿਉਧਰੀ ਇਕ ਨਾਮ ਧਰਮ ॥
ਪ੍ਰਗਟੁ ਸਗਲ ਹਰਿ ਭਵਨ ਮਹਿ ਜਨੁ ਨਾਨਕੁਗੁਰੁ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ॥੯॥ ੫  ੧੩੮੭
In darkness of ignorance was lit a lamp that saved humanity by walking the path of one God;
Guru Nanak, the servant of the Lord, and the Lord Itself, illumined every mind. 9. M:5, p 1387).

Guru Nanak never said he was any superior to any one; he identified himself with the lowly and called himself the lowliest of the lowly:

ਨੀਚਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਨੀਚੀ ਹੂ ਅਤਿ ਨੀਚੁ॥
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਤਿਨ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਾਥਿ ਵਡਿਆ ਸਿਉ ਕਿਆ ਰੀਸ ॥
ਜਿਥੈ ਨੀਚ ਸਮਾਲੀਅਨਿ ਤਿਥੈ ਨਦਰਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਖਸੀਸ॥੪॥੩॥  ੧  ੧੫

I belong to the lowly among all; nay I am the lowliest,
I would rather be in their company than envy the high;
O Lord You bestow Your grace where the lowly are looked after (M: 1, p 15).

He translated his words into action. When the Mughal forces attacked India and caused untold misery to the people in 1520 CE, he went amongst them. He even questioned God as he castigated the Lodis who were then ruling India but failed to protect the people:

ਏਤੀ ਮਾਰ ਪਈ ਕਰਲਾਣੇ ਤੈਂ ਕੀ ਦਰਦੁ ਨ ਆਇਆ॥੧॥
ਕਰਤਾ ਤੂੰ ਸਭਨਾ ਕਾ ਸੋਈ ॥
ਜੇ ਸਕਤਾ ਸਕਤੇ ਕਉ ਮਾਰੇ ਤਾ ਮਨਿ ਰੋਸੁ ਨ ਹੋਈ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਸਕਤਾ ਸੀਹੁ ਮਾਰੇ ਪੈ ਵਗੈ ਖਸਮੈ ਸਾ ਪੁਰਸਾਈ॥
ਰਤਨ ਵਿਗਾੜਿ ਵਿਗੋਏ ਕੁਤਂ​‍ੀ ਮੁਇਆ ਸਾਰ ਨ ਕਾਈ॥੧  ੩੬੦

O Creator didn't You feel the pain when the people suffered so much?
After all they are Your people and You belong to them;
If a powerful force attacks another powerful one there is no complaint. Pause.
But if a powerful lion attacks a herd it is the responsibility of their master to protect them;
These (Lodi) dogs exploited this jewel-like land; they will not receive solace even after death (M: 1, p 360).

For his words Guru Nanak was imprisoned and made to do hard labor but he never retracted. He said of the rulers:

ਕਲਿ ਕਾਤੀ ਰਾਜੇ ਕਾਸਾਈ ਧਰਮੁ ਪੰਖ ਕਰਿ ਉਡਰਿਆ ॥
ਅਮਾਵਸ ਸਚੁ ਚੰਦ੍ਰਮਾ ਦੀਸੈ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਹਚੜਿਆ ॥
ਭਾਲਿ ਵਿਕੁੰਨੀ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਆਧੇਰੈ ਰਾਹੁ ਨ ਕੋਈ ॥
ਵਿਚਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਰਿ ਦੁਖੁ ਰੋਈ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਕਿਨਿ ਬਿਧਿ ਗਤਿ ਹੋਈ ॥੧॥  ੧  ੧੪੫

This is the dark age of the dagger;
The rulers act as butchers, law has taken wings and fled;
Falsehood prevails; there is utter darkness as on a moonless night
It does not appear that the the moon of truth will ever rise;
Not knowing where the world is leading I have become exasperated in search of the path;
This suffering is due to the state of ego all round; it makes me sad;
What is the way out of this? (M: 1, p 145).

As he looked around he wondered:

ਨਾਨਕ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਕੈਸੀ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਸਾਲਕੁਮਿਤੁ ਨ ਰਹਿਓ ਕੋਈ ॥
ਭਾਈ ਬੰਧੀ ਹੇਤੁ ਚੁਕਾਇਆ ॥ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਦੀਨੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥੫॥

What has happened to this world?
There is no one to guide nor to give company;
Love amongst brothers and relatives has disappeared;
For personal benefits all values have been given up
(M: 1. p 1410).

Guru Nanak prayed to the Almighty and was given the mission to guide the people on the spiritual path. He says:

ਹਉ ਢਾਢੀ ਵੇਕਾਰੁ ਕਾਰੈ ਲਾਇਆ ॥ ਰਾਤਿਦਿਹੈ ਕੈ ਵਾਰ ਧੁਰਹੁ ਫੁਰਮਾਇਆ ॥
ਢਾਢੀ ਸਚੈ ਮਹਲਿ ਖਸਮਿ ਬੁਲਾਇਆ ॥ ਸਚੀ ਸਿਫਤਿ ਸਾਲਾਹ ਕਪੜਾ ਪਾਇਆ ॥
ਸਚਾ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਭੋਜਨੁ ਆਇਆ ॥ ਗੁਰਮਤੀ ਖਾਧਾ ਰਜਿ ਤਿਨਿਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਇਆ ॥
ਢਾਢੀ ਕਰੇ ਪਸਾਉ ਸਬਦੁ ਵਜਾਇਆ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਚੁ ਸਾਲਾਹਿ ਪੂਰਾਪਾਇਆ ॥੨੭॥

I was doing nothing and was put on the job;
I was directed to be at it day and night;
This happened when I was called by the Master to His mansion;
My robe was to be imbibing  Divine virtues;
My food was to be the Nectar of virtues of Naam;
Partaking of it, as advised by God, brings satisfaction and peace;
Singing the virtues of the One I now tell the world;
This is the way to be with the eternal Master (M: 1, p 150).

There were at that time two major religious groups in India - Hindu and Muslim and there was deep distrust between them. This caused turmoil in both the religious and social fields. The famous bard Bhai Gurdas describes the situation:

ਚਾਰਿਵਰਨਿ ਚਾਰਿ ਮਜਹਬਾਂ ਜਗਿ ਵਿਚਿ ਹਿੰਦੂ ਮੁਸਲਮਾਣੇ ।
ਖੁਦੀਬਖੀਲਿ ਤਕਬਰੀ ਖਿੰਚੋਤਾਣਿ ਕਰੇਨਿ ਧਿੰਙਾਣੇ ।
ਗੰਗਬਨਾਰਸਿ ਹਿੰਦੂਆਂ ਮਕਾ ਕਾਬਾ ਮੁਸਲਮਾਣੇ ।
ਸੁੰਨਤਿਮੁਸਲਮਾਣ ਦੀ ਤਿਲਕ ਜੰਞੂ ਹਿੰਦੂ ਲੋਭਾਣੇ ।
ਰਾਮਰਹੀਮ ਕਹਾਇੰਦੇ ਇਕੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਦੁਇ ਰਾਹੁ ਭੁਲਾਣੇ ।
ਬੇਦਕਤੇਬ ਭੁਲਾਇਕੈ ਮੋਹੇ ਲਾਲਚ ਦੁਨੀ ਸੈਤਾਣੇ ।
ਸਚੁਕਿਨਾਰੇ ਰਹਿ ਗਿਆ ਖਹਿ ਮਰਦੇ ਬਾਮ੍ਹਣਿ ਮਉਲਾਣੇ ।
ਸਿਰੋ ਨਮਿਟੇ ਆਵਣਿ ਜਾਣੇ ॥੨੧॥

The Hindus had divided themselves into four Varnas or castes, so had the Muslims.
Ego, jealousy, vanity, strife and use of force were rampant;
The Hindus revered the Ganga river and Benares, the Muslims Kaaba at Mecca;
A Muslim was known by circumcision and a Hindu by his sacred thread;
God is Ram for Hindus and Rahim for Muslims. One path divided into two in delusion.
Forgetting their scriptures they are guided by greed and the devil;
Thus putting the truth aside the Hindu Brahmin and Muslim Maulana fight to death;
They will never be able to escape cycles of death and rebirth (Vaar 1, Pauri21).

Guru Nanak was motivated to spread the Divine message and stated the principle:

ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਐਸਾ ਜਾਣੀਐ ਜੋ ਸਭਸੈ ਲਏ ਮਿਲਾਇਜੀਉ ॥੧੦॥   ੧  ੭੨

A true guru is one who brings people together (M: 1, p 72).

A problem in religions is that their leaders teach about their own faith but do little to reach out to other faiths. However Guru Nanak thought interaction with other faiths was necessary. He therefore decided to visit their centers of pilgrimage and exchange views with their leaders.

He visited both Hindu and Muslim centers. Within India he traveled to places as far as the Himalayas in the North, Ceylon (the present Sri Lanka) in the South, Jaganath Puri in the East. He also visited Nanking in China, Baghdad in Iraq and Meccain Saudi Arabia.There are interesting episodes connected with these visits through which he taught many people, sometimes giving his interpretation of rituals he observed and at times bringing out their futility. A few examples:

When he visited Hardwar the sacred pilgrimage center of th eHindus, he saw people throwing water upwards to the sun in the Eastern sky for their departed forefathers. In order to convey the futility of this, Guru Nanak started throwing water to the West. When asked for his strange behavior he told them he was sending water to his parched fields in the Punjab.The pilgrims there mocked him saying how could water travel that far? He asked them whether it is easier to send water to some place on the earth or to send it to the sun?

He visited the Yogis who had moved to the Himalayas in search of peace of mind. They asked him how the land of their birth was. He told them that since devoted people like them had moved to the mountains, there was no one to guide the people. They were impressed and tried to get him into their ascetic fold. He told them salvation lies in coming down from the mountain and living a householder’s life, maintaining one's spirituality while doing one's duties to the family and society.

When he visited the Muslim pilgrim center of Mecca he slept with his feet towards the Kaaba the holiest shrine believed to be God's abode. The attendant kicked him and castigated him for pointing his feet towards the house of God. Guru Nanak told him "I am very tired; please be so kind as to turn my feet in the direction where God is not." The man did not know what to say.

Music is not part of the Muslim religious tradition. When Guru Nanak visited Baghdad in Iraq he sat outside the town and started singing hymns. The qazi was furious when he found out about it but when he heard the music he found it so soothing that he bowed to the Guru.

Guru Nanak asked people to come out of their shells and realize that there is one God of all. Differences based on religion or castes were man-made.  He said:

ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਹੈ ਸੋਇ॥ ਤਿਸ ਦੈ ਚਾਨਣਿ ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਚਾਨਣੁ ਹੋਇ॥
ਗੁਰ ਸਾਖੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਪਰਗਟੁ ਹੋਇ॥  ਜੋ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਵੈ ਸੁ ਆਰਤੀ ਹੋਇ ॥੩॥ ੧  ੧੩

There is the same light (Spirit) in all;
With this light all minds are illuminated;
And that is facilitated by the Guru's teachings;
Such worship is done by those with whom God is pleased (M: 1, p 13).

If this advice of the Guru is truly followed then all differences based on religion, region or caste will vanish.

His message was to walk on the highway of righteous living rather than engage in ritualism:

ਮਨਹਠ ਬੁਧੀ ਕੇਤੀਆ ਕੇਤੇ ਬੇਦ ਬੀਚਾਰ॥
ਕੇਤੇ ਬੰਧਨ ਜੀਅ ਕੇ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਮੋਖ ਦੁਆਰ॥
ਸਚਹੁ ਓਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਉਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ  ਆਚਾਰੁ॥੫॥   ੧  ੬੨

Some people engage in hard and long austerities, others use scriptural knowledge to get into arguments;
All these keep the mind in bondage; release from these is possible through the Guru's teachings;
Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living (M: 1, p 62).

He advised people to live in kindness to each other, avoiding vice and mutual conflict. This is possible if we realize that God is ever within us and watching:

ਬਦਫੈਲੀ ਗੈਬਾਨਾ ਖਸਮੁ ਨ ਜਾਣਈ ॥ ਸੋ ਕਹੀਐ ਦੇਵਾਨਾ ਆਪੁ ਨ ਪਛਾਣਈ ॥
ਕਲਹਿ ਬੁਰੀ ਸੰਸਾਰਿ ਵਾਦੇ ਖਪੀਐ ॥ ਵਿਣੁਨਾਵੈ ਵੇਕਾਰਿ ਭਰਮੇ ਪਚੀਐ ॥
ਰਾਹ ਦੋਵੈ ਇਕੁ ਜਾਣੈ ਸੋਈ ਸਿਝਸੀ ॥ ਕੁਫਰਗੋਅ ਕੁਫਰਾਣੈ ਪਇਆ ਦਝਸੀ ॥
ਸਭ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਸੁਬਹਾਨੁ ਸਚਿ ਸਮਾਈਐ ॥ ਸਿਝੈਦਰਿ ਦੀਵਾਨਿ ਆਪੁ ਗਵਾਈਐ ॥੯॥੧  ੧੪੨

A person commits vices hiding them from others but he does not realize the Master is with everyone;
It is madness not to know thyself (One Light in All);
Getting into conflict is evil and getting into arguments is a waste of time;
Evil is caused by the delusion that one is separate from God.
There are two paths (of God and evil) and one who follows the path of God succeeds;
One who deviates and travels the path of evil suffers;
Let us celebrate this beautiful world, and doing so merge with the eternal Truth;
This is possible by obliterating the ego which holds us back from the gate of God by it's illusion of separateness. 9. (M: 1, p 142).

Let us celebrate today and every day that we are the Sikhs of such a Guru; one who teaches righteousness, compassion and kindness to all.


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