This small piece of writing is simply inadequate to do any justice to the standing of Shri SatGuru Nanak Devji or his teachings. To get to know the life story of this great Guru and his teachings is a journey that helps recognise the trivialities of life and acquire the knowledge of our true divine nature which we seem to miss constantly.
Though not born into a Sikh family, I was fortunate to discover Guru Nanak Devji’s sublime teachings through a music album called ‘Ashram Bhajanavali’, which is a collection of devotional songs that formed part of the morning and evening prayers at Gandhiji’s ashrams. Of the many bhajans, there was Guru Nanak Devji’s song “Kaahe re ban khojan jaai…Sarab nivaasi sadaa alepaa tohi sang samaai” which caught my attention. Just reading the translation of this song, I got seriously educated on Guru Nanak Devji’s teachings and also about Sikh faith, which to me became much more than the dress code of the faithful. Even so the ‘langar’ that I enjoyed in the company of my Sikh friends at the Gurudwara certainly became sanctified.
The translation of this transforming song “Kaahe re ban khojan jaai’ goes “Why do you go looking for God in the forest? Although he is ever detached, he dwells everywhere. He even abides with you. Like the fragrance which remains in the flower, and like the reflection in the mirror, the Lord dwells deep within all. Therefore search for Him within your own heart, O brother. The Guru has imparted this wisdom: outside the body and inside the body, know that there is only the One Lord pervading everywhere. O servant Nanak, without realizing one’s own True Self, the moss of doubt i.e. ignorance of one's True Nature or Essential Being, etc.cannot be eradicated from the mind.”
Guru Nanak Devji taught the absolute unity of God; everything is God, and everything is dependent on the will of God. The Guru’s life story is full of saintly actions and divine events that teach us to lead a pure life, to be a ‘Sikh’, a sincere disciple and to receive the grace of the Guru for self-unfoldment. The word ‘Sikh’ means ‘disciple’ or student. The term "Sikh" has its origin in Sanskrit term ‘Sisya’ meaning "disciple, student" or ‘siksa’ meaning "instruction" according to the ‘The Illustrated History of the Sikhs’ by Khushwant Singh. The word ‘Sikh’ means ‘disciple’ and they are the disciples of God who follow the writings and teachings of the 10 Sikh Gurus.
The origins of Sikhism lie in the spiritual and social teachings of Guru Nanak Devji, which can be found in the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib, a vast collection of revelatory verses recorded in Gurmukhi. Guru Nanak Devji taught that the way to connect with the Supreme is not through the mind or through rituals, but through Guru’s grace and direct personal experience. Therefore, he emphasised meditation on the Name (Naam) and Presence of God.
Guru Nanak Devji has given a beautiful summary of his teachings in one of his hymns where he says: “Love the saints of every faith: Put away thy pride. Remember the essence of religion is meekness and sympathy, not fine clothes, not the Yogi’s garb and ashes, not the blowing of the horns, not the shaven head, not long prayers, not recitations and torturings, not the ascetic way, but a life of goodness and purity, amid the world’s temptations.”
Here are given some famous sayings of Guru Nanak Devji
• "There is but One God, His name is Truth, He is the Creator, He fears none, He is without hate, He never dies, He is beyond the cycle of births and death, He is self illuminated, He is realised by the kindness of the True Guru…" (Japji)
• Even Kings and emperors with heaps of wealth and vast dominion cannot compare with an ant filled with the love of God.
• God is one, but he has innumerable forms. He is the creator of all and He himself takes the human form.
• I am neither a child, a young man, nor an ancient; nor am I of any caste.
• I am not the born; how can there be either birth or death for me?
• I bow at His Feet constantly, and pray to Him, the Guru, the True Guru, has shown me the Way.
• Let no man in the world live in delusion. Without a Guru none can cross over to the other shore.
These sayings just give us a glimpse of his humility, his holiness, his message of universality and equality. The core teachings attributed to Guru Nanak are that there is only one God, and that all human beings can have direct access to divinity without empty rituals or priests. His most radical social teachings denounced the degenerated caste system and taught that everyone is equal, regardless of caste or gender.