The Spiritual Master ©
Nanak appeared, in the tradition of loving devotion to God – Bhakti – as the point of spiritual light in the 15th century India which was plunging into darkness under the pressures of the invading rulers and her way of life faced extinction. Unlike Kabir, the parentage of Nanak is well established. Nanak was born into a Hindu Bedi family in 1469 A.D. in Talwandi, Panjab (now in Pakistan). His mother Tripta and father Mehta Kaliyan Das loved, Nanak Rai, their son a lot. He was their only male child born many years after his sister Nanaki. Both children had very loving relationship but the sister also saw something unique in her brother – devotional love that poured out of him. His father worked for the rulers as revenue collector. Nanak was educated in both Sanskrit and Persian languages to prepare him for life of the spirit and of work.
Nanak at about sixteen years of age was married to Sulakhani Devi. She was the daughter of Shri Mula, who was also a revenue collector like Nanak’s father. Nanak loved his wife and they had two sons, Sri Chand and Lakshmi Chand who were born three years apart. He lived as a grahstha – a householder - raising a family with love and contentment. The new relationship brought the responsibility of finding work to provide for his family. He had not successfully conducted various business ventures his father and relatives had helped him start as his mind was in a spiritual search. Finally, employment was arranged for him with Daulat Khan Lodhi, the Governor of Sultanpur, who asked him to manage his warehouse. He worked at his job honestly and diligently. Nanak did not become an ascetic. He lived in the world yet apart from it. He spent his free time in devotional singing/recitations that attracted the attention of people.
As per one legend, Nanak went for his morning bath in the river Kali Bain near the town. This was a different morning. Nanak dived into the river and disappeared. His friend Mardana thought that Nanak drowned and ran home crying. Rumors started to circulate and even included suicide for blunders committed at his job. However, Nanak went to the other shore and into the forest for uninterrupted meditation and obtained direct spiritual union with the Formless Divine. On the third day, he appeared in town to the relief of everyone. He was not the same person anymore. He was transformed, spiritually illumined, and with the visible radiance on his face - Nanak the person had become Nanak the Guru - the self realized person of divine spirit. The sentiments of reverence are beautifully captured in the words - sat guru Nanak pragatya, mitti dhund jag chanan hoia - the spiritual light shined through Guru Nanak and dispersed the clouds of ignorance and illumined the world.
He renounced his job and possessions and lived in seclusion in the company of his friend Mardana. He broke his silence with a very simple, yet profound, utterance of universality of humanity, “There is no Hindu and no Mussulman” (or by extension a Christian, or a Jew or a Sikh or a Buddhist). By implication, we are all children of immortal bliss, different in appearances but united in one spirit. We must learn that truth for peaceful coexistence.
Nanak was a seeker of the truth. At his sacred thread ceremony ritual - the traditional symbol of a spiritual rebirth - he remarked to the astonishment of those gathered that we should make the thread of moral values:
“Daya kapah, santokh soota, jat garhi, sat vatt.
Eh janaeu jiyo ka, hoi na pande ghat.
Na eh tootai, na mal lagai, na eh jale jayai.
Dhan su manas Nanaka jo gali chale pai. (SGGS p. 471).
“Let compassion be the cotton, contentment the strands, celibacy the knot and truth the weave of the thread. O Priest, give me the moral thread that will not wear out, or soil, or burn in the cremation fire. Says Nanak, people who live a moral life deserve full appreciation. They carry forward the results beyond death.”
Nanak’s comments are not just deep but very instructive and pragmatic. They are not just comments on Hindu rituals but rituals in all traditions that are performed without practicing their real meaning in life.
Guru Nanak founded the Sikh tradition. A Sikh (modified from shishya meaning a disciple in Sanskrit) means that the seeker has prepared to live a truthful life, has the will of self surrender, and has deep longing to receive inner awakening from the Guru. Therefore, the Guru is not just a teacher but who is self-realized and shines the spiritual light into the life of the disciple. The guru is the bridge in what I have called the Sikh (the Seeker)-Guru-God trinity.
Remarkably, Guru Nanak’s devotion to the Divine and love for humanity was vigorous and poured out naturally in his singing of spiritual message in the language of the common people for their benefit. He presented it through metaphors, similes, symbols, names and words familiar to them to provide spiritual solutions to everyday situations of life. During 1500 to 1520 A.D., he traveled first east to Assam, then south to Rameshwaram and Sri Lanka, north to Kashmir and Tibet and finally west to Iran and Iraq preaching universality and loving devotion to God. His writings became the basis for the Adi Granth – early scripture of the Sikhs.
Guru Nanak was troubled by social inequalities, disregard of ethical conduct, and breach of the God given human rights. He established very simple principles to guide life: Work to earn a living; Share your blessings with others and consciously remember the name of God in all aspects of your life. Spiritual life requires personal transformation with understanding. He began the tradition of Langar – the community kitchen for everyone to eat together in Pangat – sitting on the floor in rows irrespective of social status, and Sangat – the association of devoted people for spiritual experience. This was the beginning of a fully participatory and inclusive religion where social equality, humility, gratefulness, and brotherhood became the landmark principles to be lived in life. It was a departure from the monastic and ascetic institutions.
Guru Nanak presented the spiritual depth of his message through singing – a truly unique bhakti tradition. His soul poems (shabads) are addressed to nirguna Brahman (nirankar) who is beyond any limiting attributes. He is immanent and yet transcendent, formless yet contains all forms, immortal yet resides in the mortal being and merges opposites into perfection. At the personal level, Nanak’s love makes him the Satguru – the teacher in whom the divine truth lives, and the Sahib – the Master. His songs or the shabads are full of sincerity, peace, universality, surrender and devotional inspiration. They penetrate your very core and uplift you.
Nanak lived a great life preaching equality, tolerance, acceptance and respect for everything and everyone. It is the constant message in his writings and validates the unbroken continuity in spiritual traditions of India that go back more than five thousand years. The spiritual light (jyot) that shined in Guru Nanak became the illumination in each successive Guru just as one lit lamp lights the flame of the other lamps.