He proclaimed the divine as ‘Ik Onkaar’. He preached that there are no Hindus and no Muslims. He debunked the caste system and spoke of an exalted status for women, heralding a new chapter in India. He was Guru Nanak – a true mystic and a true reformer, the first of the ten gurus in the Sikh tradition.
Guru Nanak was born at Talwandi Rai Bhoeki (now Nankana Sahib in Pakistan) in 1469 CE. Traditionally the full moon day of the Indian month of Kartika (Kartika Purnima) is celebrated as his birthday.
Preaching in the language of the masses, he gave messages on life that were simple yet profound and the path he propagated was easy yet difficult. Equality formed the cornerstone of his preaching.
His conception of the divine is encapsulated in the lofty ‘Mool Mantar’ and the Guru Granth Sahib opens with this timeless composition of Guru Nanak - ‘Ik Onkaar Satnaam Kartaa Purakh Nirbhau Nirvair Akaal Moorat Ajooni Saibhang Gurparsaad’.
Loosely translated– Ik Onkaar - God is One and permeates the universe (the oneness cannot be emphasized enough – the number one is used), Satnaam - God’s name is the Eternal Truth, Kartaa Purakh - God is the Sole Creator
Nirbhau - God has no fear, Nirvair - God is free from malice and has no enemies, Akaal Moorat - God is timeless and formless, Ajooni - God was (is) not born, Saibhang - God is self-existent – not created (swayambhu in Sanskrit), Gurprasad - God can be attained with the grace of the teacher, Mool Mantar in the handwriting of Guru Arjan Dev
He prescribed the path of: 'Naam japana', 'Krit karna', 'Wand chakhna'. This means — be aware of the presence of 'Ik Onkar' at all time and chant and meditate God’s name. Be honest and hardworking as you earn your living and lead your life. Be generous, caring and gracious – share what you have with those who need it. This is the essence of 'Sewa'. He exhorted the masses not to covet other people's wealth (par dhan) and not to speak ill of others (par ninda).
Guru Nanak contextualized human beings’ relation to the divine, our fellow human beings and to our own self in his beautiful aphorism – ‘Naam, Daan, Ishnaan’. Naam and Daan (giving) are self-explanatory. Ishnaan (Snaana or Bathing) signifies purity – purity of the soul and thought and cleanliness – physical, social and environmental. Ishnaan becomes particularly relevant in contemporary India where cleanliness seems to be the most dispensable virtue as we struggle for a clean nation.
Guru Nanak’s teachings on life and living, like his vision of the divine are true across barriers of time and applicable to one and all notwithstanding narrow walls erected by human beings. May they continue to illuminate and enlighten.