Guru Nanak: The Harbinger of Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Mankind
Sikhism prescribes inter-religious cooperation, but that cooperation has to be on the basis of the Fatherhood of God or the transcendent and for that end confronting the forces of injustice and oppression, as did the Gurus for period of over 200 years. They lay down that human salvation lies in accepting His fatherhood and seeking His grace to struggle against the so called evil or the imperfect forces of life.1
A remarkable feature of the Adi Granth is that it contains the writings of the religious teachers of Hinduism, Islam, etc. This is in consistency with the tradition of India which respects all religions and believes in the freedom of the human spirit. Indian spiritual tradition is not content with mere toleration. There can be no goodwill or fellowship when ‘we’ only tolerate each other. Lessing in his Nathan the wise rebuked the habit of condescending toleration. ‘We’ must appreciate other faiths, recognize that they offer rich spiritual experiences and encourage sacrificial living and inspire their followers to a noble way of life. The Sikh Gurus who compiled the Adi Granth had this noble quality of appreciation of whatever was valuable in other religious traditions.2 Sikh Gurus not only laid down a religious system which is universal in its character, but they have also taken clear steps both in their Bani and their lives to demonstrate that universalism and inter-religious cooperation should be an essential component of the spiritual life of man.3
Guru Nanak was born in 1469. He shuffled off his mortal coil in 1539, handing over his torch to Lehna, Guru Angad Dev, “the limb of his body, the breath of his being,” blended himself with his soul and became one with him in spirit. He ushered in new era in the history of mankind, appearing on the scene at a critical moment in Indian history when the ruling authority was tyrannical and religion had degenerated into ritualism and superstition. His life served as a beacon for his age.4 Guru Nanak appeared to elevate the spirit of religion and man. His object was to regenerate the suffering humanity from superstition, ritualism, casteism, persecution and social injustice. He wished to build a community of self respecting men and women, devoted to God, and to fill them with the sense of religious liberty, social equality, and brotherhood for all.5
The great Sikh theologian Bhai Gurdas beautifully explained the cause of birth of Divine spirit-Guru Nanak. He said, “The benefactor Lord listened to the cries (of humanity) and sent Guru Nanak to this world. He washed His feet, eulogized God and got his disciples drink the ambrosia of his feet. He preached in this Dark Age (Kalyug) that, saragun (Brahm) and nirgun (Parbrahm) are the same and identical. Dharma was now established on its four feet and all the four castes (through fraternal feeling) were converted into one caste (of humanity). Equating the poor with the prince, he spread the etiquette of humbly touching the feet. Inverse is the game of the beloved; he got the egotist high heads bowed to feet. Baba Nanak rescued this Dark Age (Kalyug) and recited ‘satnam’ mantra for one and all; Guru Nanak came to redeem the Kalyug.”6
Guru Nanak’s message of love and truth is of a universal nature; it is for all men whoever they be; it is for the whole world, for all human beings, where they be; and it is for all time, past, present and future. His message is spiritual in its essence, humanistic in its approach, social in its application and moral in its judgement. 7 He was citizen of the world. Finding how the people in all lands were groaning under the ills wrought by their fellowmen in power, he girded up his loins to carry, as far he could, his message of Love, Service, and Worship, of the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of man. Everywhere he taught all sections of the people to live and love as brothers.8
The prevailing conditions were that the religious places where high ideals were to be taught had turned into places of miseries. On all religious places, be the Hindu places of worship or the monasteries of Yogis or the religious places of Muslims, the so called protectors of religions and morality were ruthlessly trampling the poor people under their feet. 9 He said, “If the blind man be the leader, how shall he know the right way? Paltry is his understanding. He himself is cheated. How can his followers know the way? How can he walk on the right way and reach the Lord’s mansion? Blind is the intellect of the blind man. Without the Lord’s Name, one can see not anything and the blind one is drowned in worldly affairs.”10
Guru Nanak was well aware of socio-religious milieu of His period. He took notice of Aryan and Semitic religious traditions in depth. He addressed to Hindus and Muslims in general and to Qazi, Mullah, Brahmin, Jogi etc. in particular. He criticised Qazi, Brahmins and Yogis for not observing their respective religious path and observing empty rituals and religious formalism. Guru Nanak had very well understood that the prevailing disunity, tensions and conflicts in the society were due to the religious bigotry and prejudices. The so called and self styled custodians of Aryan and Semitic traditions had divided people in the name of religion to promote their own petty interests.
He observed that, “The Qazi tells lies and eats filth. The Brahman slays life and takes ablution. The blind Yogi knows not the way. Hence, all the three design for their annihilation.”11 He also said, “Everyone talks of the four cardinal boons, twenty seven Simirtis, six Shastras, and the leading pundits speak of them as well, Without the Guru none gets at their meaning and real significance. The wealth of salvation is obtained by the devotional service of god.” 12 To Him, “The Brahmans read books but understand not theirs real meaning.”13 Guru Nanak rejected rigorous Yogic exercises and mere show off of Jog symbols. He said, “Yoga is not in the patched coat, nor the Yoga is in staff, nor Yoga is in smearing the body with ashes. Yoga consists not in ear-rings, or in shaven head and Yoga is not even in blowing of horn.” 14 To Qazis, He said, “The Qazis, the Sheikhs, and Fakirs in religious garbs, all themselves great, but we to pride their bodies are in pain.” 15
Bhai Gurdas gave also a graphic picture of prevailing socio-religious conditions at the time of Guru Nanak. He said, “There are four castes of Hindus and four sects of Muslims in the world. The members of both religions are selfish, jealous, proud, bigoted and violent. The Hindus make pilgrimages to Hardwar and Banaras, the Muslims to the Kaba at Mecca. Circumcision is dear to the Muslims, sandal mark (tilak) and sacred thread to the Hindus. The Hindus invoke Ram, the Muslims, Rahim, but in reality there is only one God. Since they have both forgotten the Vedas and the Katebas, worldly greed and devil have led them astray. Truth is hidden from both; the Brahmins and Maulvis kill one another by their animosities. Neither sect shall find liberation from transmigration.” 16
To Guru Nanak the door of salvation for person belonging to any creed opens with the true understanding of eternal religion. He said,“Though he may be a Qazi, a Mulla or a Shaikh, though he may be a Yogi, a wandering sage or a hermit of ochre-coloured dress and. Though someone be a house-holder and the performer of religious rites, But without knowing the Lord, all are bound down and driven along by the Yama.”17
His good sense and fervid temper left him displeased with the corruptions of the vulgar faith, and dissatisfied with the indifference of the learned, or with the refuge which they sought in specious abstractions of philosophy.18 The Guru knew that his countrymen were weak, because they were not good. They had turned away from one God and had set up many gods and goddesses in His place. He taught that God was only one. He did not belong to the Hindus or the Muslims or the Christians, but to the whole of mankind. 19
The sacred thread, bathing-spots, paste-mark, etc., of Hindus, the earrings, ash-smearing and the other symbols of Yogis and Namaz, the circumcision and the Ramadan fasting of Muslim are all declared without the spiritual and moral life behind them to be mere shows, a sham. The exhortation is to cultivate through them (rather than by regarding them) the spiritual-moral life. 20
It was at this time that Guru Nanak felt called upon to proclaim the unifying message of the Oneness of the Eternal Formless God- the Self-existing Creator – one who was neither exclusively Brahma nor Rama of the Hindus nor Allah of the Muhammadans, but it was God of the entire universe of all mankind, and of all religions. This was a revolutionary idea which levelled down the distinctions of the ‘Chosen’ and neglected, the Moman and the Kafir and of the Brahman and the Shudra. To Guru Nanak it appeared as if the pure fountain of the religion of universal fatherhood of God and Common brotherhood of man had been muddied and the vision of oneness of humanity had been bedimmed misleading people into wrongful thinking. The one God had come to be replaced by innumerable gods and goddesses, often, represented by stone and wooden images. This had been the main cause of divisions and sub-divisions amongst the various people quarrelling among themselves and multiplying the differences which strained relations beyond redemption. 21
Guru Nanak’s religious thought is emphatically monotheistic. He believes in One God and none other. Equal emphasis on ‘one’ and ‘none other’ runs through the compositions of his successors as well. A large number of epithets are used for one and same God. Appropriately, the symbol of unity is the figure ‘1’ (ik) and ‘oankar’, a person who alone is eternal (satt) and who is active (karta). He is devoid of fear and enmity, he never dies and he is never born. He is self existant. These attributes of God in what is popularly called the mool mantar occur at many places in Gurbani, and underscore God’s transcendence. 22
Guru Nanak scrapped all divisions of mankind with one pithy utterance-“No Hindu, No Musalman.” He proclaimed the Oneness of all peoples, religions and cultures. This gave a new status to man as man and took away all rights of certain men, such as Brahmins or Kshatriyas. The proclamation was a new character of emancipation for man, set against himself. This utterance implied the unity of mankind and also that by birth all are equal as human. Mankind is indivisible.23 Guru Nanak is a emancipator of mankind. He gave a universal message based on the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. He is strong; he stood for equality. He is also remembered as ‘Samdarshi.’ He said, “Amongst all there is light and that light (art Thou). By His light, the light shines within all the souls.” 24
The Guru protested against social fragmentation and stratification which was symbolic of inner and outer slavery. His outcry against polytheism, ritualism and caste-consciousness was not destructive but constructive in spirit. He had remedies for social ills. He practised brotherhood, social commitment and compassion. His egalitarianism and respect for common man enabled him to show his care and concern for the lot and destiny of the masses. 25 He said, “He, who deems both the ways lead to one Lord, shall be emancipated. Fallen in the blasphemer’s hell, the utterer of lies shall burn to ashes. In the whole world the most sanctified are they who remain absorbed in truth. By eradicating his self-conceit, man is exonerated in Lord’s Court.” 26He advocated the idea of Fatherhood of God to inculcate and promote the sense of Brotherhood of mankind. He abolished man made inequalities and distinctions based on religion, caste, colour, class and race. He said, “From the One Lord all are born. The routes are two, but know that their Master is One. Under Guru’s instruction recognise His order.” 27 To Guru Nanak, God is a centre of this universe. He wanted to establish perfect relationship between micro cosmism (individual) and macro cosmism (Supreme Being). The departure from the centre is the root cause of disharmony, conflict and violent conflicts.
The model that Japu offers is close to the confederative relationship between the One and His multi-centre. If the Oneness is primary, the creative multiplicity originated and radiated from the Oneness also cannot be folded because God enjoys keeping this diversity under His kind glance. The diversity has to stay for the joy of God. 28 No centre can be abolished according to the pleasure of a human being, howsoever powerful he or she is. Each centre radiates the divine command, manifesting a dimension of higher life. Without the resonance of this Command, the music of life is incomplete. Disrupting this melodic setting is gross violation of the Higher Principle of life. All thought forcing the closure or abolition of the centres and emphasizing only Oneness is not conforming to the Creative Law, hence utterly hegemonic and pushy. 29 To Guru Nanak, true God creates the sense of unity, oneness and love among people. The True God paves the way for harmony in society. He said, “Nanak, deem that such is the True Guru who unites all with the Lord.”30 The Guru meant by his cry precisely that all distinctions based on creed are unacceptable in the eyes of God, the Creator of all; that all fanaticism and rancour born of religion is false. Men are brothers and equal as God made them; their actions alone will make any difference in His eyes. So, implicit in these words were the great and basic ideals of tolerance and equality; of religion as action and life and not mere ritual or formalities. 31
To Guru Nanak, the sense of superior and inferior is a result of lack of true understanding of religion. To Him, all are equal in the eyes of God. He said, “Call every one exalted, none appears to be base. The One Lord has fashioned the pots, and One Light is pervading in the three worlds.” 32 Nanak believed that God was sat (both truth and reality), as opposed to asat (falsehood) and mithya (illusion). He thus not only made God a spiritual concept but also based on principles of social behaviour of the concept. If God is Truth, to speak an untruth is to be ungodly. Untruthful conduct not only hurts one’s neighbour; it is also irreligious. A good Sikh therefore must not only believe that God is the only one, omnipotent, and Omniscient Reality, but also conduct himself in such a way towards his fellow beings that he does not harm them: for hurtful conduct like lying, cheating, fornication, trespass on a person or on his property, does not conform to the truth that is God.33
He spoke with the voice of the deliverer to the oppressors of the people, whether Hindu or Musalman, whether prince or priest. He condemned the imposition on the people of Brahminical hypocrisy and priest crafty. He would not submit to a wrong system of education. He found both the Hindu and the Mohammedan faithless, misreading everything to suit their evil selves; and the teachers and preachers of the land deceiving and cheating the people.34
His chief aim was to condemn the form which had substituted for the worship of True Lord. His main concern was not to pull down the old institution and build up entirely novel structure on the ruins of the old. He provided his contemporaries with a new viewpoint which could enable them to find the fundamental truth. In its immediate effect, his reform was religious, social and moral and in its intensity, it was moderate, mild, slow and steady, peaceful and pacifying. 35
He made an effort to show the true path of harmony, brotherhood and salvation to the member of every religious community. He denounced the theocratic state of his time. He absolutely rejected the idea of homogenisation. He believed in unity in diversity. To achieve this end, He advocated that one should have sufficient understanding his own religious beliefs. When person has true understanding of his own religion he find himself close to the Almighty and His creation. This led to everlasting peace and prosperity and reduced mutual dissension in the world. He said, “He alone is a Yogi, who knows the way to God. By Guru’s grace, he recognises but One Lord. He alone is a Qazi, who turns away from the world, and who, by Guru’s grace, remains dead in life. He alone is a Brahman, who reflects upon the Lord. He saves Himself and saves all his generations as well.”36 Guru Nanak felt that a person who has proper knowledge of Vedas should be called Brahmin. He said, “He alone is a Brahman, who reflects upon the Lord.” 37 He said, “Thy way of union with the Lord is the way of Divine Knowledge. With the Brahmans the way is through the Vedas.” 38
Guru Nanak in His Divine hymns amply addressed to Yoga tradition in India. He rejuvenated the true form of Yoga while criticising prevalent superficial yogic systems. He gave novel and higher meaning to yoga symbols. He said, “Make contentment thy ear-rings, modesty thy begging bowl and wallet and the Lord’s meditation thy ashes. Let thought of death be thy patched coat, chastity like that of a virgin’s body, thy life’s department and faith in God thy staff. Make the brother hood with all, the highest sect of yogic order and deem the conquering of self the conquest of the world.”39
He urged the Muhammadans to follow the path shown to them by Prophet Muhammad. He said, “To be called first, he ought to deem sweet the religion of the Lord’s devotees and have his pride of pelf effaced as rasped with a scarpered a Muslim is difficult. If one be really so then he may get himself called a Muslim. Becoming the true disciple of the faith of the Prophet let him put aside the illusion of death and life. He should heartily submit to the Lord’s will, worship the Creator and efface his self-conceit. Therefore if he is merciful to all the sentient beings, O’ Nanak ! then, alone he shall be called a Musalman.”40 He also said, “Then alone thou art a Mullah or then alone art a Qazi, if thou know the name of God.”41
To Guru Nanak, true Muslim should, “Make mercy thy mosque, faith thy prayer-mat what is just and lawful, thy Quran, modesty thy circumcision and civility thy fast. So shall thou be a Moslem. Make right conduct thy Mecca, truth thy spiritual guide and pious deeds thy creed and prayer. Rosary is that, what is pleasing to Him. Thus the Lord shall preserve thy honour, O’ Nanak.”42 He also said, “There are five prayers, five times for prayers, and the five have five names. The first is truthfulness; second the honest earning and third charity in God’s Name. The fourth is pure intent and mind and the fifth the Lord’s admiration and praise. Repeat thou the creed of good deeds and then call thyself a Moslem.”43
His mission was not aimed at the reformation of a particular class or sect. Nor were his travels confined to the Punjab – the Land of the Five Rivers. Despite hardships, he practically travelled across the whole of the Indian subcontinent and even visited places beyond its frontiers. His visits were limited not only to the Hindu places of worship, like Hardawar and Banaras, but he went to famous places of Muslim pilgrimage like the holy Mecca, Medina and Baghdad also. 44 It is no doubt that Nanak acted like a good physician. He reached his patients in the form of a friend, consoled them in their distress, applied anodyne on their bruises and made wonderful cures. Founders of other religions drove all the cattle with the same rod, but he treated every one according to his habits and circumstances. 45
Guru Nanak advocated mutual respect and accommodation among different faiths. He preached not just tolerance, but genuine respect for other faiths, even while following one’s own. It is surprising that people listened to him, although the people of India, in his times, were divided into two water-tight compartments of Islam and Hinduism. He was recognised by both the communities, was universally referred to as guru by the Hindus and a pir by the Muslims.46 The basis of the uniqueness of his message lies, therefore not in the synthesis of the two warring creeds, but in giving a new depth and dimension to the basic concepts of both, while denouncing their outer manifestations in each case.47
Guru Nanak never saw a man as Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Brahmin, Kastriya, Vaisya or Sudra. He saw man as Jiva who has come to earth to earn goodness through complete surrender before God, and through service of humanity.48 Nanak offered a doctrinal synthesis which answered the challenge of Islam and at the same time aimed at the very foundations of the top-heavy Brahanical social structure. By emphasising individualism already present in Hindu tradition, he raised human dignity into force which transcended other-worldly values, made excessive ritualism unnecessary, consecrated daily labor, and denied the validity of the caste system itself. 49
His concept of Supreme Being was of a universal, all-embracing, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-merciful and ever-kind Father-God. He regarded all prophets and avatars, all rishis and munis, all sidhs and sadhs, all budhs and naths, all pirs and sheikhs as His creation, executing His commission. All people, therefore, irrespective of their caste, creed, colour, clime, and sex, were united in being the creation of one and the same Father-God. He equated the low caste Sudra with high caste Brahmin and the subject non-Muslim with ruling Muslim. He wanted social harmony to replace social rivalry and haltered and social unity to take place of social disunity.50 Whilst acknowledging the distinctive beliefs and nature of each, stressed the fact that in the eyes of the divine being all are equal, and that appreciation of this central truth was important if humanity was to surmount the barriers that divide people.51
Guru Nanak is remembered as a world teacher and Divine spirit. To Him, unity of God and unity of mankind is intimately related. The essence of His teachings lies in His universal and eternal message of unity, love and peace. His teachings will continue to remain relevant. He did not ever wish that one should give up his sacred beliefs to follow His teachings rather He sought that every person should have firm faith in his religious beliefs because to Him all religion are one in their spirit and ultimate goal is to merge with Supreme Being. Therefore, He advocates the spirit of Fatherhood of God which has sufficient potential to create the sense of Brotherhood of Mankind and to promote everlasting peace in the world facing numerous challenges in the 21st century.
1. Daljeet Singh, Essentials Of Sikhism, Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2004. p. 281.
2. S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Relgions, New Delhi: Vision Books, 1979. p. 180
3. Daljeet Singh. Op. cit. p. 273.
4. J. J. Karam. “Guru Nanak and His Message,” Perspectives on Guru Nanak. Ed. Harbans Singh. Patiala: Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, 1990. p. 313.
5. Hari Ram Gupta, History of Sikhs, Vol. I, New Delhi: Munshiram Manohar Lal Pvt. Ltd., 2008. p . 73.
6. Jodh Singh, Varan Bhai Gurdas, Vol. 1, New Delhi: Vision And Venture, 1998. p. 53.
7. Dewan Singh. Guru Nanak’s Message in Jap Ji, Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1991. p. 12.
8. Kartar Singh, Guru Nanak Dev. Ludhiana, Lahor Book Shop, 1969. p. 306.
9. Sahib Singh, Guru Nanak Dev and His Teachings, Amritsar: Lok Sahit Prakashan, 2002. p. 42.
10. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, M: 1, p. 767. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
11. Ibid. M: 1, p. 662. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
12. Ibid. M: 1, p. 154. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
13. Ibid. M: 1, p.56. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
14. Ibid. M: 1, p. 730. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
15. Ibid. M: 1, p. 227. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
16. Jodh Singh. Op. cit. p. 51.
17. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, M: 1, p. 1169. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
18. J. D. Cunningham, History of The Sikhs. Vol. 1 . Amritsar: Satvic Media Pvt. Ltd., 2005, pp. 35-36.
19. Teja Singh, Highroads of Sikh History, Patiala, Directorate of Planning and Development, Punjabi University, 1985. p. 6.
20. Gurbachan Singh Talib, “A study of Guru Nanak’s Teaching in Relation to The Indian Spiritual tradition.” Perspectives on Guru Nanak, Ed. Harbans Singh. Patiala: Publicattion Bureau, Punjabi University, 1990. p. 240.
21. Ganda Singh, “Guru Nanak’s Visit to West Asian Countries.” Punjab History Conference Proceedings, Patiala: Punjabi University, 1970. p. 188.
22. J. S. Grewal, A Study of Guru Granth Sahib, Amritsar, Singh Brother, 2009, p. 69.
23. Taran Singh, “The Sermon at Sultanpur”, Perspectives on Guru Nanak, Ed. Harbans Singh, Patiala: Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, 1990. pp. 484-485.
24. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, M: 1, p. 13. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
25. Gobind Singh Mansukhani. “The Poetry of Guru Nanak.” Essential Postulates of Sikhism. Ed. Balkar Singh, Patiala: Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, 1988. p. 5.
26. SriGuru Granth Sahib, M: 1, p. 142. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
27. Ibid. M: 1, p. 223. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
28. Gurbhagat Singh, Guru Nanak Dev’s Japuji Meditation for Futuristic World. Delhi: Ambe Books, 1999. p. 36.
29. Ibid. pp.26-27.
30. Guru Granth Sahib. M: 1, p. 72. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
31. Gurbachan Singh Talib. Guru Nanak His Personality and Vision. Delhi: Gurdas Kapur and Sons, Pvt. Ltd, 1969.p. 15.
32. SriGuru Granth Sahib. M: 1, p. 62. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
33. Khushwant Singh. A History of The Sikhs. Vol. I. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.p. 37.
34. Puran Singh. The Book of Ten Master. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2008. p. 137.
35. Hari Ram Gupta. Op. cit. p. 99.
36. Guru Granth Sahib. M: 1, p. 662. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
37. Ibid. M: 1, p. 662. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
38. Ibid. M: 1, p. 1353. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
39. Ibid. M: 1, p. 6. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
40. Ibid. M: 1, p. 141. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
41. Ibid. M: 1, p. 24. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
42. Ibid. M: 1, p.140. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
43. Ibid. M: 1, p. 141. (Translation by Manmohan Singh)
44. Sudarshan Singh. Sikh Religion Democratic Ideals and Institutions. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2009. p. 44.
45. Thakur Singh. Life and Teachings of Gurua Nanak. Amritsar: Wazir-i-Hind Press, 1906. pp. 101-102.
46. Kharak Singh. Guru Nanak A Prophet With A Difference. Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University, 2007. p. 146 .
47. Gopal Singh. “Sikhism: Its Unique Contribution to Human Civilization.” Sikh Religion And Human Civilization. Ed. Jodh Singh. Patiala: Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, 1999.
48. Jodh Singh. The Religious Philosophy of Guru Nanak. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1999. p. 246.
49. Marian W. Smith. “Synthesis and Other Processes in Sikhism.” American Anthropologist Vol. 50. No. 3 (1948). p. 458
50. Fauja Singh. “Development of Sikhism Under Sikh Gurus.” Sikhism. Ed. Fauja Singh et. all. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1969. p. 4.
51. Patwant Singh. The Sikhs. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 1999.p. 18.
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