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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh



The Kirat Culture of Guru Nanak Dev Ji

Jaswant Singh Aman

All the Sikh Guru Sahiban did a great service to the humanity by giving it the Sikh way of life. Today, when life styles have undergone a change towards selfishness, it seems necessary to revisit this way of life about which historian Nihar Ranjan Ray had to say, “After centuries, Guru Nanak gave the Indians a thoughtful ideal of balanced way of life”. This way of life conceded that man does not live for next life only, present life is equally important to him. Commenting on Sikh theology, the famous historian Duncan Greenless says “Sikh thought takes a deep interest in human life. Man has to gain a lot from the present life and he cannot be persuaded to exchange his present life with the life in the next world.”

Guru Nanak Dev ji based this way of life on his three point programme: Kirat karna (honest earning), Naam japna (recite God’s name) and Vand chakna (share food with others). Here, we will focus on Kirat only. As stated above one of the pillars of this way of life is Kirat. What is Kirat? It is loosely translated as labour. But this word does not convey the true essence of the concept Kirat. The meaning goes much beyond mere manual labor; it includes honesty with it; further it includes a feeling of general good and eschews selfishness. Full essence of the Kirat concept can only be grasped by understanding gurbani and the life of the Sikh Gurus!

It needs to be remembered that these three points have to be referred to in the same sequence. Kirat always comes first. Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki says, “One who has not worked how he can know what he is capable of” (Gurmat Manovigyan: J.S. Neki) To work is neither an aspersion nor a curse. Remaining idle is both. Self esteem is the outcome of hard work:

ਘਾਲਿ ਖਾਇ ਕਿਛੁ ਹਥਹੁ ਦੇਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਰਾਹੁ ਪਛਾਣਹਿ ਸੇਇ ॥
Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1245

It is obvious that even charity is fruitful only if it comes out of honest earning. In terms of modern management science “without self-esteem one cannot achieve much”.

Remembering the lord Almighty is at the centre of Sikh theology. This is called Naam japna. It is through Naam that one is going to meet Almighty which is the sole objective of this life:

ਭਈ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਦੇਹੁਰੀਆ ॥ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਮਿਲਣ ਕੀ ਇਹ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਰੀਆ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 12

But the priority is given to Kirat. The foundation of Naam is Kirat. Free seekers and thieves cannot be lovers of God, or those who go round begging:

 ਘਰਿ ਘਰਿ ਮਾਗੈ ਜਗੁ ਪਰਬੋਧੈ ਮਨਿ ਅੰਧੈ ਪਤਿ ਹਾਰੀ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p.1012

The economic system of Guru Nanak is based on Kirat culture, that is, ikrq krnI and vMf Ckxw. This Kirat culture is against all types of biases and exploitation. Guru Nanak vehemently opposed the way of life adopted by Brahmins and Jogis during those days:

ਗਿਆਨ ਵਿਹੂਣਾ ਗਾਵੈ ਗੀਤ ॥ ਭੁਖੇ ਮੁਲਾਂ ਘਰੇ ਮਸੀਤਿ ॥ 
 ਮਖਟੂ ਹੋਇ ਕੈ ਕੰਨ ਪੜਾਏ ॥ ਫਕਰੁ ਕਰੇ ਹੋਰੁ ਜਾਤਿ ਗਵਾਏ ॥ 
 ਗੁਰੁ ਪੀਰੁ ਸਦਾਏ ਮੰਗਣ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਤਾ ਕੈ ਮੂਲਿ ਨ ਲਗੀਐ ਪਾਇ 
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1245


 ਜੋਗੀ ਬੈਸਿ ਰਹਹੁ ਦੁਬਿਧਾ ਦੁਖੁ ਭਾਗੈ ॥ 
 ਘਰਿ ਘਰਿ ਮਾਗਤ ਲਾਜ ਨ ਲਾਗੈ ॥
– Guru Granth SAhib, p. 903

Kirat (honest earning) and Keerat (praising the God) are the central points of Sikh theology.

What is Keerat? It is singing paeans of Almighty, remembering and reciting his name. This is what is known as Naam japna. In Punjabi language they are written as ikrq and  kIrq There is difference of only one symbol “sihari” And “bihari” i.e., ‘I’ and ‘ee’. But this is an important difference. In Punjabi language, sihari as in ikrq comes before bihari as in kIrq! Likewise Kirat takes precedence over Keerat. This is amply demonstrated from the lives of Gurus. Guru Nanak Dev ji grazed cattle in his childhood, worked at a grocery store (modikhana) in his youth and practised agriculture in his fields at the fag end of his life. It is painfully surprising, therefore, to see the disciples of such a Guru shunning working with their hands! How can they believe in “eat drink and be merry” culture of consumerism? Bhagat Kabir says:

ਨਾਮਾ ਕਹੈ ਤਿਲੋਚਨਾ ਮੁਖ ਤੇ ਰਾਮੁ ਸੰਮਾਲਿ ॥ 
 ਹਾਥ ਪਾਉ ਕਰਿ ਕਾਮੁ ਸਭੁ ਚੀਤੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨੁ ਨਾਲਿ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1375

“Work with hands and recite with mind” is the fulcrum of Sikh philosophy and the Gurus amply demonstrated that these are not merely bookish concepts but are very much practicable ideas. Alas. ‘Kirat’ has gone out of our lives so completely that even ladies are not willing to do the domestic work. While one can appreciate the predicament of the working ladies, even non-working women have abandoned the domestic work’. From where will the child learn ‘Kirat’/dignity of labour?

Vand shakna (sharing food) is the inseparable part of this Kirat culture. We all remember the sakhi of Malik Bhago and Bhai Lalo. The boldness with which Guru Nanak raised his voice against repression and exploitation of the poor and have-nots is difficult to find elsewhere. No doubt that spirituality is at the center of Sikh theology but spirituality cannot be attained by remaining idle and exploiting others. Guru Nanak challenged the life style of Malik Bhagos of the time thus:

 ਜੇ ਰਤੁ ਲਗੈ ਕਪੜੈ ਜਾਮਾ ਹੋਇ ਪਲੀਤੁ ॥ 
 ਜੋ ਰਤੁ ਪੀਵਹਿ ਮਾਣਸਾ ਤਿਨ ਕਿਉ ਨਿਰਮਲੁ ਚੀਤੁ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p . 140


ਹਕੁ ਪਰਾਇਆ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਉਸੁ ਸੂਅਰ ਉਸੁ ਗਾਇ ॥ 
 ਗੁਰੁ ਪੀਰੁ ਹਾਮਾ ਤਾ ਭਰੇ ਜਾ ਮੁਰਦਾਰੁ ਨ ਖਾਇ ॥ 
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 141

The message of Kirat as laid down by the Guru Sahib exhorts one to earn with honesty and hard work; working with own hands (dsW nMhUAW dI) as they say. Exhorting the trader to indulge in ethical trade he says:

ਵਾਪਾਰੀ ਵਣਜਾਰਿਆ ਆਏ ਵਜਹੁ ਲਿਖਾਇ ॥ 
 ਕਾਰ ਕਮਾਵਿਹ ਸਚ ਕੀ ਲਾਹਾ ਮਿਲੈ ਰਜਾਇ ॥
 ਪੂੰਜੀ ਸਾਚੀ ਗੁਰੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਨਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਤਿਲੁ ਨ ਤਮਾਇ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 59

Centralization of wealth is the anti thesis of Kirat culture Guru Nanak motivates individuals to improve their economic condition by personal endeavor and hard work:

 ਉਦਮੁ ਕਰੇਦਿਆ ਜੀਉ ਤੂੰ ਕਮਾਵਦਿਆ ਸੁਖ ਭੁੰਚੁ ॥ 
 ਧਿਆਇਦਿਆ ਤੂੰ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਮਿਲੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਉਤਰੀ ਚਿੰਤ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 522

but at the same time this endeavor has to be based on ‘sukrit’e.g.

ਸੁਕ੍ਰਿਤ ਮਨਸਾ ਗੁਰ ਉਪਦੇਸੀ ਜਾਗਤ ਹੀ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਨਿਆ ॥
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 485

Sikh Kirat culture believes that economic affluence, although necessary for comfortable life, is not the soul determining factor for happiness. We can observe the correctness of this view by just looking around us. Guru Ji opposed the centralization of wealth in a few hands thus:

ਇਸੁ ਜਰ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਘਣੀ ਵਿਗੁਤੀ ਇਨਿ ਜਰ ਘਣੀ ਖੁਆਈ ॥ 
 ਪਾਪਾ ਬਾਝਹੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਨਾਹੀ ਮੁਇਆ ਸਾਥਿ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥      
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 417

It is evident that Guru Nanak’s Kirat culture is based on ethical practices in which manual labor enjoys high place and hypocrisy and idleness is cursed even if it is in the name of religion. Money earned by corrupt means has no place here and the desire to centralize wealth in few hands is considered futile. Kirat culture also condemns display of wealth and its use for own welfare only. Taking out daswandh from the hard earned money and using it for the welfare of have-nots and downtrodden is the integral part of Kirat culture. It should be remembered that Guru Nanak’s Kirat culture implies “garib da munh guru di golak” which can also be termed as “spiritual socialism” Let us seek pleasures and blessings of the Guru by re-linking Naam Japna with Kirat.


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