Ever wondered, why the followers of the path of Guru Nanak Ji are called Sikhs? The word Sikh means a student. The word Guru means the spiritual Master, Teacher –whose light removes the darkness of spiritual ignorance. In that context the word Sikh makes sense, as our Guru has made us - the followers - students for life. But Sikhs don’t go to schools with classrooms, nor have a structured system of instructions, no formal examinations, where passing the examination implies understanding of what was taught, resulting in the promotion to next level. So, how does Guru’s education system work? 


Let us start with what it is like to be without the Guru in life? Guru Ji has provided the answer by saying:

ਗੁਰ ਬਿਨੁ ਘੋਰੁ ਅੰਧਾਰੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਮਝ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥

“Gur bin ghor a(n)dhaar guroo bin samajh na aavai.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1399)

Translation: Without the Guru, there is utter darkness; without the Guru, understanding does not come.

So, the light of understanding, which dispels darkness comes from the Guru. The transformation of the Sikh of the Guru becomes evident, when the blind chase (in darkness of ignorance) of material wealth becomes secondary in life, from being a sole objective in life:

ਕਬੀਰ ਗੁਰੁ ਲਾਗਾ ਤਬ ਜਾਨੀਐ ਮਿਟੈ ਮੋਹੁ ਤਨ ਤਾਪ ॥ ਹਰਖ ਸੋਗ ਦਾਝੈ ਨਹੀ ਤਬ ਹਰਿ ਆਪਹਿ ਆਪਿ ॥੧੮੯॥

“Kabir gur laagaa tab jaaneeaai miTai moh tan taap. Harakh sog dhaajhai nahee tab har aapeh aap. 189.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1374)

Translation: Kabir, one is known to have imbibed teachings of the Guru, when his bodily fever (of jealousy) and cravings of material acquisition are eradicated. He is not burned by (either the) pleasure or pain, and so he sees the Lord Himself everywhere. ||189||

Thus, Guru’s education that transforms the state of mind (above pleasures and pains, jealousy, and desires):

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਉਪਦੇਸੁ ਦੁਖੁ ਸੁਖੁ ਸਮ ਸਹਤਾ ॥

“Gurmukh upadhes dhukh sukh sam sahataa.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 131)

Translation: Through the Guru's Teachings, one can endure pain and pleasure alike.

This teaching is not in any academic curriculum. The educational institutes with their structured education can make us valued experts in a chosen field, a respected authority figure, but becoming impervious to both pleasures and pain is not imparted. It is for this reason Guru Ji extols us to get the education from the Guru in these words:


ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਮਤਿ ਤੂੰ ਲੇਹਿ ਇਆਨੇ ॥ ਭਗਤਿ ਬਿਨਾ ਬਹੁ ਡੂਬੇ ਸਿਆਨੇ ॥

“Gur kee mut too(n) leh iaane. Bhagat binaa bahu ddoobe siaane.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 288) 

Translation: Take the Guru's understanding, you are ignorant unlettered; without devotion, even the clever (worldly educated) have drowned (in the world ocean).

Thus, the role and function of the Guru becomes clear. The academic education does not teach us on how not to get drowned in the oceans of desires and greed. Guru’s education is going to change life’s direction from desires and consumptions to reining those in. The consequence is ego is reined in and humility is inculcated.  The walking on the Guru’s path is called as “Sikhee”, which Guru has defined as:  

ਸਿਖੀ ਸਿਖਿਆ ਗੁਰ ਵੀਚਾਰਿ ॥ ਨਦਰੀ ਕਰਮਿ ਲਘਾਏ ਪਾਰਿ ॥

“Sikhee sikhiaa gur veechaar. Nadharee karam laghaae paar.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 465)

Translation: (Those) imbibing the teachings of Guru’s thought process; the merciful (God) grants His Grace, ferries them across (the worldly ocean).

Where is Guru’s education imparted:

ਗੁਰੂ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਹੋਇ ਸੋਝੀ ਪਾਇਸੀ ॥ ਏਤੁ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਧੋਇ ਹਛਾ ਹੋਇਸੀ ॥

“Guru dhuaarai hoi sojhee paisee. Aet dhuaarai dhoi hachhaa hoisee.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 730)


Translation: Through the Gurdwara, the Guru's Gate, one obtains understanding. By being washed through this Gate, (mind) becomes pure.

Here, Guru Ji has shared how through the detergent of “Naam” the filth or dirt of mind is removed. The filth clinging to mind is pride, ego, greed, and desires, which has to be removed by imbibing humility. Coming to Guru’s door is becoming humble. Guru teaches us to shed ego in these words: 

“ਭੋਲਿਆ ਹਉਮੈ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਵਿਸਾਰਿ ॥ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰਿ ਬੀਚਾਰਿ ਮਨ ਗੁਣ ਵਿਚਿ ਗੁਣੁ ਲੈ ਸਾਰਿ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥”

“Bholiaa haumai surat visaar. Haumai maar beechaar mun gunn vich gunn lai saar. 1. Rahaau.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1168)


Translation: O ignorant one, forget your egotistical intellect. Subdue your ego and remember the one supreme virtue in your mind – (of living by Naam or Divine virtues). ||1||Pause||

One who has made humility his/her own nature, becomes blessed as:

ਕਰਿ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਜਿਸ ਕੈ ਹਿਰਦੈ ਗਰੀਬੀ ਬਸਾਵੈ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਈਹਾ ਮੁਕਤੁ ਆਗੈ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵੈ ॥੧॥

“Kar kirapaa jis kai hiradhai gareebee basaavai. Nanak ieehaa mukat aagai sukh paavai. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 278)

Translation: One whose heart is mercifully blessed with abiding humility, O Nanak, is liberated here, and obtains Divine peace hereafter (in God’s Court). ||1||

When Guru Ji has been given the reins, then the Sikh has relinquished ego, pride, desires, and ambitions. The feeling of having a master Guru who is all knowing, ushers in a kind of ego ceiling in the student that s/he is just the dust at the feet of the master. This leads to the cultivation of humility in the student, leading to serenity:

ਆਪਸ ਕਉ ਜੋ ਭਲਾ ਕਹਾਵੈ ॥ ਤਿਸਹਿ ਭਲਾਈ ਨਿਕਟਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥ ਸਰਬ ਕੀ ਰੇਨ ਜਾ ਕਾ ਮਨੁ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਤਾ ਕੀ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਸੋਇ ॥੩॥

“Aapas kau jo bhalaa kahaavai. Tiseh bhalaiee nikaT na aavai. Sarab kee ren jaa kaa mun hoi. Kahu nanak taa kee niramal soi. 3.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 278)


Translation: One who claims to be virtuous, virtue does not draw near him. One whose mind has become the dust of all - says Nanak, his pristine reputation spreads around. ||3||

Guru Ji tells us that every human being has yearning for state of ‘Sahaj’, un-rocked by the storms of life’s crisis, which is obtained from Guru. It is innate human nature with which one is born but forgot after birth by becoming attached to the world. That human longing can only be fulfilled through the Guru:  

ਸਹਜੈ ਨੋ ਸਭ ਲੋਚਦੀ ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ ਪਾਇਆ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥

“Sahajai no sabh lochadhee bin gur paiaa na jai.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 68)

Translation: Everyone longs to be in ‘Sahaj’ centered and balanced, but without the Guru, no one can.

It is only through ‘Sahaj’ that merger with divine takes place. The foundation of humility becomes the support the superstructure of ‘Sahaj’. The Guru’s teachings will inculcate ‘Sahaj’ where everything takes place effortlessly:

ਗੁਰ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਹਜੁ ਨ ਊਪਜੈ ਭਾਈ ਪੂਛਹੁ ਗਿਆਨੀਆ ਜਾਇ ॥

“Gur bin sahaj na uoopajai bhaiee poochhahu giaaneeaa jai.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 638)

Translation: Without the Guru, ‘Sahaj’ (celestial peace) is not produced, O Siblings of Destiny; go and ask the spiritual teachers about this.

The experience of ‘Sahaj’ is what the student of the Guru reaps by reining in the ego. Such a student like a sponge is constantly absorbing Guru’s teachings and incorporating them in life. Thus, the seeker in life, a Sikh – the student for life feels the awe of the Creator in creation, and sings His praises:

ਊੜੈ ਉਪਮਾ ਤਾ ਕੀ ਕੀਜੈ ਜਾ ਕਾ ਅੰਤੁ ਨ ਪਾਇਆ ॥

“UooRai upamaa taa kee keejai jaa kaa a(n)t na paiaa.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 432)

Translation: Ooraa: Sing the Praises of the One whose limit cannot be found.

Ooora is the first letter of Gurumukhi, and through that Guru Ji gives us the message of singing praises, employing acrostics. Then the Sikh writes this alone:

ਲਿਖੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਸਾਲਾਹ ਲਿਖੁ ਲਿਖੁ ਅੰਤੁ ਨ ਪਾਰਾਵਾਰੁ ॥੧॥

“Likh naam saalaeh likh likh a(n)t na paaraavaar. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 16)

Translation: Write the Praises of the Naam, the Creative power of the Lord; write over and over again that He has no end or limitation. ||1||

Guru Ji considers those hands beautiful which write the praises of the Almighty:

ਹਰਿ ਜਸੁ ਲਿਖਹਿ ਬੇਅੰਤ ਸੋਹਹਿ ਸੇ ਹਥਾ ॥

“Hur jus likheh beant soheh se hathaa.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 709)

Translation: Those hands, which write the Praises of the infinite Lord are beautiful.

When writing the praises, the Sikh is singing, listening, believing, and thus developing full faith in Almighty, simultaneously filling self with reverential love:

ਗਾਵੀਐ ਸੁਣੀਐ ਮਨਿ ਰਖੀਐ ਭਾਉ ॥

“Gaaveeaai suneeaai mun rakheeaai bhaau.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 2)

Translation: Sing, and listen, and let your mind be filled with love.

The Gurbani words become touchstones by which the life is lived leading to emancipation:

ਸੁਨਤ ਕਹਤ ਰਹਤ ਗਤਿ ਪਾਵਹੁ ॥

“Sunat kahat rahat gat paavahu.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 288)

Translation: Listening, speaking, and living it (experiencing Naam), emancipation is obtained.

As long as we live, we are doing all these three things in life – listening, talking, and living a life. But when we live the life incorporating Guru Ji’s teachings in all these three areas, there an inner transformation is initiated as words heard, utterings and actions are aligned. With its unlimited potential spanning the entire life, final outcome is merger of the Sikh in the Unlimited. The concept is that a Sikh, in complete humility subsumes to his/her Guru, the Master under whom s/he apprentices. The firm conviction of the Sikh in life is:

ਜੋ ਗੁਰੁ ਕਹੈ ਸੋਈ ਭਲ ਮਾਨਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਕਥਾ ਨਿਰਾਲੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

“Joe gur kahai soiee bhal maanahu har har kathaa niraalee. 1. Rahaau.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 667)

Translation: Whatever the Guru says, accept that as good; the sermon of the Lord, Har, Har, is unique and wonderful. ||1||Pause|| 

ਜੋ ਗੁਰੁ ਕਹੈ ਸੋਈ ਭਲ ਮੀਠਾ ਮਨ ਕੀ ਮਤਿ ਤਿਆਗਿ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

“Joe gur kahai soiee bhal meeThaa man kee mat tiaag. 1. Rahaau.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1339)

Translation: Whatever the Guru says is good and sweet to me. I have renounced the intellectual wisdom of my mind. ||1||Pause||

The self-motivated Sikh, ever enthusiastic, ever ready to improve self, thus keeps scaling up on the development ladder. The working environment in Guru’s school is different as the Sikh becomes his/her own critic, critically analyzing own actions to make improvements as well as the cheerleader. There is a great emphasis on learning in a group setting, which Guru Ji called ‘Sadh Sangat’. It acts as a nursery of the peers where a Sikh is always on the lookout for the areas of self-improvements. This nursery Guru Nanak Ji is called ‘Dharmsal’ a place to practice ‘Sikhee’ was started in Kartarpur in 1521. But today we have put it aside, enamored by the western style institutional education. Guru Ji saw great value in putting spiritually elevated next to laymen, to be a source of empowerment and model for emulation to those striving to grow. 

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Additionally, this type of setting provides for continuous feedback about what the Sikh knows, and areas to be worked upon. The Sikhs higher on the rungs of ladder of learning provide the mentoring, guidance, and direction to those striving at the lower rungs. In such a nurturing arrangement those on lower rungs can look up to those on upper rungs for counsel and support. There is a camaraderie amongst those Sikhs at a similar level. Thus, in this environment the mentor, and the mentee are both encouraged to flourish. This acts like a tight rope walk, but the other students provide the safety net in case of fall, and also act as a support group to prop again in case of a fall. In such nurturing environment the evil tendencies shall be purged out incorporating Guru Ji’s teachings: 

ਰਹਤ ਰਹਤ ਰਹਿ ਜਾਹਿ ਬਿਕਾਰਾ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਪੂਰੇ ਕੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਅਪਾਰਾ ॥

“Rahat rahat reh jaeh bikaaraa. Gur poore kai sabadh apaaraa.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 259)

Translation: The evil tendencies shall be slowly and steadily purged out, by the Shabad, the Incomparable Word of the Perfect Guru.

Thus, the collective psyche of the group is always ascending upwards in the spirit of ‘Chardi kala’. It is for this reason alone Guru Ji has compared the Sikh to a mythical white swan whose diet consists of pearls alone. The pearls represent the virtues as ‘Naam’. In contrast there are “Baglas” or herons. The herons are white like swans, but are opportunistic, plus having a hypocritical nature. So, when they close their eyes and become quiet, they are simply waiting for their prey of frogs and fishes. Guru Ji has described the scenario in these words:

ਹੰਸਾ ਹੀਰਾ ਮੋਤੀ ਚੁਗਣਾ ਡਡਾ ਭਾਲਣ ਜਾਵੈ ॥

“Hansaa heeraa motee chuganaa bag ddaddaa bhaalan jaavai.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 960)

Translation: The swans peck at the diamonds and pearls, while the heron chases after frogs.          

The approach of “learner for Life” is what Guru Ji has prescribed for the Sikhs. With this unique approach in life the formal education which ends upon completion of academic studies and graduating does not happens in the ‘Dharamsaal’ of the Guru. It is time to revive this model of a Sikh a student for life. As it is with the Guru Ji as mentor, guide, and a coach the spiritual progress of the Sikh takes place. The Sikh obtains the wealth of ‘Naam’ from the Guru:

ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਸਿਖ ਕਉ ਨਾਮ ਧਨੁ ਦੇਇ ॥

“Satigur sikh kau naam dhan dhei.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 286)

Translation: The True Guru gives His Sikh the wealth of the Naam.

The uniqueness of Guru’s education is the imparting ‘Naam’, which is not imparted in any other school or institution. This ‘Naam’ leads to merger with the Creator, ending cycles of reincarnations:

ਨਾਮ ਧਨਿ ਮੁਖ ਉਜਲੇ ਹੋਏ ਹਰਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਸਚੁ ਸੋਇ ॥੧॥

“Naam dhan mukh ujale hoe har paiaa sach soi. 1.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 600)

Translation: With the wealth of the Naam, their faces are radiant, and they attain the True Lord. ||1||

This happening of the radiance of Divine Light within took place through the teachings of the Guru: 

ਆਤਮ ਰਾਮ ਪਰਗਾਸੁ ਗੁਰ ਤੇ ਹੋਵੈ ॥

“Aatam raam paragaas gur te hovai.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 123)

Translation: The Divine Light of the Supreme Soul shines forth from the Guru.

When that radiance of Divine Light is experienced then the Sikh only utters in thankfulness:

ਐਸੇ ਗੁਰ ਕਉ ਬਲਿ ਬਲਿ ਜਾਈਐ ਆਪਿ ਮੁਕਤੁ ਮੋਹਿ ਤਾਰੈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
“Aise gur kao bal bal jaeeai aap mukat mohae tarai. 1. Rahao.” (SGGS, Pg. No. 1301)

Translation:  I am a sacrifice, a sacrifice to such a Guru; He Himself is liberated, and He carries me across as well. ||1||Pause|| 


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