|Guru Nanak Dev Ji|
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
Sat Nam Readers!
Guru has lit the brilliant light of spiritual wisdom, and the darkness of ignorance has been dispelled. M3 Ang 29
Sikhs have 11 Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev Ji through to the Guru Granth Sahib. Today’s blog will talk about Guru Nanak Dev Ji, our first Guru. It is my hope that my readers will learn something of our first guru and I beg forgiveness for any mistakes contained here.
On April 15th, 1469 Nanak was born in Nankana Sahib, a town which is now in the Pakistani part of Punjab. His father was Mehta Kalyan Das, a Hindu, his mother was Mata Tripta and he had an older sister, Nanaki, who he was always very close to. When he was born, there was something quite different about Nanak. First, the name given to him was neither Hindu nor Muslim to reflect the village pundit’s belief that Nanak was going to be very different. The pundit believed that Nanak would be loved and admired by both Hindus and Muslims.
During his youth, he was taught by first a Hindu teacher, who approached Mehta Kalyan Das Ji and told him that young Nanak had learned all that he was able to teach. Nanak had, at only 7 years old, explained the spiritual meaning behind each Panjabi letter to his teacher, surpassing anything that the teacher had left to teach him.
He was next brought to a Muslim teacher to continue his education. In this way the young Nanak learned about Hinduism and Islam, becoming well versed in the language, traditions and teachings of both faiths but he was neither.
In Hinduism, at the age of 9 years old it was tradition in Nanak’s village for boys to participate in a ceremony where they are given a janeu – a string which is said, if I understand it correctly, to guarantee rebirth into a higher caste and at the very least, not into a lower caste or into life as a woman. Nanak was brought before the pundit for this ceremony and refused the string. He asked the pundit to give him a string which would guarantee his character – make mercy the cotton, contentment the thread, self-control its not, truth its twist. The pundit was asked to find such a string as this for the soul, to guarantee his salvation, so that it would never break or fall loose on the ground. He also questioned why the janeu ceremony would not be granted to his sister, rejecting inequality between males and females.
Nanak’s father was not very happy that Nanak had rejected the janeu ceremony but this would not be the only time that his father was to be ired by his son’s behaviour. The time came when the teachers at the Muslim school had also taught Nanak all that they could. Nanak was still a young man and his father pondered what to do with him. Mehta Kalyan Das Ji gave Nanak some money and told him to become a trader. He was to take the money into town and invest that money into trading for profit. When Nanak arrived, he saw some hungry Sadhus (holy people). He used the money his father had given him to buy food and feed the Sadhus. He invested in the Sadhus in return for blessings, which he saw as a great investment.
Next Nanak’s father told him to tend cows. Some of the cows Nanak was charged with entered a neighbour’s field and consumed the neighbour’s crops. The neighbour became quite understandably upset but when he returned with Nanak to inspect the damage, the crops had been returned to their original state. Waheguru had protected the honour of his servant, Nanak.
To settle down Nanak, his father decided to marry him of at the age of 18. Though this age may seem young, 18 year old Panjabi men in the 1400s were adult and were already expected to be mature and responsible. Nanak rejected the agni – a part of a Hindu marriage ceremony in which the bride and groom walk around a fire. Instead he was married around a piece of paper. Nanak also rejected astrology as a basis for choosing his wife and for choosing an appropriate date for the wedding. The girl’s (Mata Salakhni) family determined that these rejections would bring dishonour upon their family and decided to kill him. They had a wall topple over on him in Mata Salakhni’s village. You can apparently still see the wall today. Nanak survived and the wedding happened.
Nanak and Mata Salakhni then had two children – Siri Chand and Lakshmi Das. His son Siri Chand, lived all the way through to the time of the 6th Guru and so would have known most of the Sikh Gurus in his lifetime. He was a yogi (a teacher of yoga or a person proficient in yoga) in his life and is an important person for a group called 3HO (the subject of later blogs).
Nanak settled into a job near his sister, Bebe Nanaki, as a storeman in Sultanpur Lodi. This was a very respectable job at the time. He was a very diligent employee until one day, when he became stuck on the word tera, which means 13 but sounds like the word for yours. As he counted goods for customers he would repeat tera tera tera, never getting past 13. Each time he said tera, Nanak would say “this belongs to you God” and would continue on to the next… tera, tera, tera… in this way, he gave away many, many goods. Waheguru again saved the honour of his servant. The store owner learns of this and comes to itemize the goods that were lost. They did an inventory and there was no loss. Waheguru is said to have saved Nanak’s honour because he was not being dishonest but instead was praising God.
In 1496, at the age of just 27 years old, Nanak went to the River Bein to have a bath. No one saw him again for at least three days. His clothes were still laid beside the river. It had been assumed in Sultanpur that Nanak’s life had been lost by drowning or other misfortune. Nanak came out of the river three days later. His first words equated to “There is no Hindu. There is no Muslim.” Sikhs take these words to mean that the ideology of the Hindus and Muslims were not real, only the people were real.
It was at this time, when he reappeared at the River Bein, that Nanak became our first guru – Guru Nanak Dev Ji. He had spent the three days in the presence of Waheguru, who became the Guru of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, giving him Amrit (baptism). He then committed to spreading the word and wisdom of Waheguru, committing to a life of humility and connection to Waheguru, singing the shabad of Waheguru everywhere he went.
Many things come of this:
– Despite some theories to the contrary, the Sikh religion was not man-made, but was the mandate Waheguru gave to our first Guru.
– We continue to sing shabad as Nanak did after his experience at the River Bein.
– Guru Nanak Dev Ji was not a prophet of Waheguru. He was satguru, a true guru or teacher, more he was a man without ego and had attained the perfection of Waheguru. He is the reflection of the light of Waheguru. He saw himself as a bard, a vessel through which the words of Waheguru passed.
– We, as Sikhs, respect other faiths and all people, but the words in our 11th Guru – the Guru Granth Sahib – are enough for us. So where the Vedas, the Quran or the Bible or the teachings of any other faith differ from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, we accept the words we were given by our Gurus and reject the rest. This because these words have come to us from Waheguru beginning from the time of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
The first Sikh (which means learner) was a woman, Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s sister, Bebe Nanaki. She was the first to recognize what had happened to her brother, his ascension to the Guruship.
From his ascension to the guruship, having been sent by Waheguru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji began to travel 28,000 kilometres in the four cardinal directions – north, east, south and west to the centres of Islam, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, leaving his family and his work for a period of some 21 years. He was on a mission to find Gurmukhs (enlightened ones), people who are connected to God and to spread the word of Waheguru.
During this time he came upon people at Haridwar who were in the river, throwing water toward the Sun. Guru Nanak Dev Ji went into the river and began to toss water in the opposite direction. When asked what he was going, he said that he was throwing water towards his fields in the Punjab because these people were throwing water toward their ancestors on the sun. The people gathered and said to him that his actions made no sense as the water would never reach his fields in the Punjab. His response was that it made more sense than what they were doing, as the Punjab and his fields were much closer than the Sun.
He also came upon a group of people who were singing songs of worship and lighting ‘enlightened’ candles. He sang a similar aarti but finished with with Naam, explaining that the light of the world is not contained in candles that are lit for worship but the light is instead inside of all of us – every one of us. Through the teachings of the Gurus, this light can come alive and shine forth, allowing one to live a good life:
Amongst all is the light. You are that light.
By this illumination, that light is radiant within all.
Through the Guru’s teachings, the light shines forth.
That which is pleasing to him is the lamp-lit worship service.
– Sohila, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Ang 13
When Guru Nanak Dev Ji comes to Mecca, he is lying on the ground when his is kicked. In Mecca, people sleep with their feet away from Kaa’ba, the House of God. Guru’s own feet were pointed toward Kaa’ba and thus he was kicked. Guru asked the man to move his feet to where God is not. The man picked up Guru’s feet and moved them away from the direction of Kaa’ba. It is said that the impossible occurred at that time in that wherever they moved the feet of the Guru, the Kaa’ba itself moved so that Guru’s feet remained pointed toward it. To this day, his wooden sandals are kept at Mecca.
When in his travels he came upon the city of Baghdad, he made a very loud sound, similar to but still different from the Muslim call to prayer. People in Baghdad came out to see what was going on. There he has a discussion with Pir Dastgir (pir is the word for prophet). Pir Dastgir tells Guru that there are seven heavens and seven hells in the Islamic faith. Guru says that there are millions, that the universe is too immense for any of us to truly imagine, it is truly beyond count. Pir Dastgir says this is sacrilege and Guru offers to prove it by taking a tour. Guru and the son of Pir Dastgir is said to have traveled through the universe to see that there are millions of planets and dimensions, beyond any person’s ability to count.
He comes upon Sumer mountain where he sees that the spiritual ones have fled to the mountains to leave behind a world they see as in bad condition. The yogis he meets there try to impress Guru by turning river water into jewels. Instead Guru says that there was no water in the river and is unimpressed by the presence of jewels there, resisting the attempts to these yogis to win Guru over to their views. Guru was also unimpressed that in dark times, these spiritual people removed themselves from the world and instead teaches us to remain within the world and provide help and support wherever we are able.
In Multan, Guruji was imprisoned for speaking his mind. While in prison, the Muslims realize that they have imprisoned a man of God and they free him. Guruji was our first Sikh political prisoner.
In Rawalpindi, Guruji and his fellow travelers come upon a man, Wali Khandari, who controls a fresh water spring. Because he has control over the distribution of fresh water, he demands that people worship him. One of Guruji’s followers travels to the spring on top of the mountain and refusing to worship this man, comes back down thirsty and empty handed. Guruji takes up a stick and pounds it into the ground leaving a new place for the spring to emerge and where it would be given for free.
Guruji then founds the City of Kartarpur on the banks of the River Ravi, the first of many cities throughout the Punjab which was founded by our Gurus (others include Chandigarh, Amritsar and Ludhiana). In all his travels he found no Gurmukhs and instead he sets up Sikh practices at Kartarpur. Kartarpur was a training ground for Gurmukhs. These practices included langar and prayer three times per day, which continue in today’s gurudwaras. Guruji established the first Amrit ceremony and established the equality of women and of all people without religious bias. Guruji abolished the caste system. Rather than enthroning himself as a spiritual king, he began farming and worked as hard as anyone, establishing the Sikh practice of honest labour.
There are many more stories of Guruji’s travels, including the reformation of a serial murderer. The death penalty plays no role in Sikhi, as we believe that all may be reformed through the words and teachings of the Gurus. Sikhs are thus taught to be forgiving.
Why did Guru Nanak Dev Ji come? We believe that the world was suffering, in pain and darkness and crying out at that time for change – some light in the darkness. Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the things he came to teach us was that light. Like the moon’s light is indirectly the light of the sun, so was Guru Nanak Dev Ji indirectly the light of Waheguru:
“The Dark Age of Kali Yuga is the knife, and the kings are butchers;
Righteousness has sprouted wings and flown away.
In this dark night of falsehood, the Moon of truth is not visible anywhere.” Ang 14
When Guru Nanak Dev Ji was nearing the end of his life, a Hindu devotee to the God Durga, named Bhai Lehna came to him. Bhai Lehna stayed and studied under Guruji. One day while walking in a field with his two sons and Bhai Lehna, Guruji came upon what appeared to be a corpse covered in a sheet. He asked his three companions who would eat the corpse. Guruji’s two sons refused but Bhai Lehna agreed. When Lehnaji lifted the sheet he found a tray of food, which he served to Guruji and his two sons, eating for himself what was leftover. Guruji, seeing that Lehna had truly learned the lessons of Waheguru, passed the guruship on to Lehna, who was renamed Angad, meaning a part of my body. Shortly after, on September 22, 1539, at 70 years of age, Guru Nanak Dev Ji passed at Kartarpur.
It is said that when Guru Nanak Dev Ji was dying, the Hindus in Kartarpur offered to cremate him while the Muslims offered to bury him. He told them to place flowers on each side of him, flowers from the Hindus on his right and flowers from the Muslims on his left. The ones that remained fresh come the next morning were to have their way – burial or cremation. A sheet was placed over the body of Guruji. The next morning, after Guruji had merged with God, the sheet remained but his body had gone. All of the flowers remained fresh. The Hindus collected their flowers and cremated them while the Muslims collected theirs and buried them.
During his time Guru Nanak Dev Ji taught us to treat one another with love and respect and to leave our egos to Waheguru so that we do not act in selfish and angry ways. Unfortunately, we seem to struggle often to follow these teachings but more on that in a later post.
To learn more of the first Guru, see the source below. Later posts will share what I’ve learned of the other Gurus, beginning next with Guru Angad Ji.
Sat Nam! I wish for all of you many blessings and only happiness.
Everything 13 – BasicsofSikhi TWGC videos on YouTube
Sikhs.org – http://www.sikhs.org/guru1.htm