Teachings of Guru Nanak Dev: 550 Years

Stuti Malhotra | CPS Member | Speaking Tree, April 30, 2019

The year 2019, on the occasion of 550 years of Guru Nanak Dev’s birth, is a good time to remind ourselves of the revered master’s teachings. He spoke of one God, universal brotherhood, love, humility, simplicity, equality and tolerance. He did not restrict himself to one religion; he chose to embrace the good teachings of all faiths, that have universal applicability and validity for all times to come. Hence it was said, “Guru Nanak Shah Fakir /Hindu ka Guru, /Mussalman ka pir.”
Guru Nanak did not believe in division between people on the basis of caste, colour, religion and race. He saw only two kinds of people: Gurmukh, the God-oriented and Manmukh, those who are self-oriented. A Gurmukh devotes himself to God. He practises truth and works for the welfare of humankind. Whereas a Manmukh follows his own thinking and practises falsehood and selfishness.

Guru Nanak bestowed on Mardana, the title of ‘Bhai’ meaning ‘brother’. Bhai Mardana was a Muslim, and he was the disciple of Nanak Dev.

As mentioned in the Janamsakhi – which literally means ‘birth stories of Guru Nanak Dev’ – by the act of honouring Mardana, Guru Nanak demonstrated that neither caste, class, affluence, poverty nor religion were the criteria to follow Sikhism. All men are equal. The only prerequisite was to have faith in one God, purification of soul and dedication to God.

Guru Nanak gave us the following three pillars of Sikhism: Naam japna, Kirat karni and Vand chakhna.

Naam japna is to recite and repeat the name of God. When somebody recites the name of God, he is in communion with the Lord. In Sikhism, everything is connected with the name of God. One can take the Name while being in sangat – congregation of holy saints – or in private meditation. In both cases, one should not follow a ritual but with deep concentration recite the name of God. Contemplation in solitude is as important as being in sangat.

Kirat karni is earning one’s livelihood with honest labour. Kirat is central to the Sikh concept of seva, service. Janamsakhi tells us that the Guru preferred a coarse meal earned through hard labour than a sumptuous meal at a wealthy zamindar’s place.

Vand chakhna is best explained as ‘sharing is caring’. On one occasion, when Guru Nanak was with his two sons and Lehna (Guru Angad Dev), there was a corpse covered with cloth. He asked who will eat this, nobody responded, but Lehna, having full faith in his Master, accepted it and when he removed the cloth, he saw there was a tray full of sacred food, which he served to his master and ate the leftovers. On this, Guru Nanak said, “Lehna, you were blessed with sacred food because you shared it. Similarly, people should use wealth not only for themselves but share it with others. If one consumes it only for himself then it is like a corpse. But when we share it with others, it becomes sacred.” This constitutes the basis of langar, community kitchen, and dasvandh, sharing one-tenth of one’s earnings with the community.

When a person follows these three principles, he is well on his way to realising the potential and purpose of his life.

(The writer is a research scholar at Punjabi University, Patiala)