Guru Nanak: His Spiritual Authority and Vision

By Prof. (Dr.) Balwant Singh Dhillon

Formerly Professor and Dean Faculty of Humanities and Religious Studies

Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar.

1. Issues at Stake

• Guru Nanak ( 1469-1539) flourished as a founder of new religion in the beginning of Sixteenth century.

• Late 18th and 19th century European orientalists looked upon Guru Nanak as a social reformer within the fold of Hinduism.

• For some he was a pacifist who offered synthesis of two mutually antagonistic traditions i.e. Hinduism and Islam.

• It puts Guru’s religion in the category of syncretic movement.

• Historically, he shared the socio-religious and cultural milieu with the Bhagats/Sants of medieval Bhagati tradition of those times.

• These factors have led some scholars to place him in the category of a Sant/Bhagat; they believe that his religion was a reworking of the Sant synthesis.

• It offered nothing new but preached in the continuity of Sant tradition of Northern India.

• Vaishanavism +Nathism+Sufism =Sant Tradition.

• However, there is no historically well defined Sant Tradition.

2 Issues that Require Attention

• His long travels (Udasis) in and outside India have been questioned to remark that perhaps Guru Nanak had never been out of Punjab.

• Some scholars believe that the Sikh Panth ( the group of Sikhs) originated with Guru Nanak but the doctrinal and institutional development of Sikhism cannot be attributed to him.

• All these remarks had put a question mark on Guru Nanak as original thinker and founder of a new religion.

• These misconceptions may be attributed to invalid, imprecise or fallacious perception of the spiritual authority of Guru Nanak.

• For correct appreciation of Guru Nanak’s mission one is required to look into his own writings which are preserved in its original form in the Sikh Scripture.

3 Guru Nanak on Religious Leadership

• No doubt Guru Nanak had appeared in the Bhagti milieu; how much he was indebted to the Sants can be gleaned from his Bani.

• Neither he refers to any Sant, Bhagat, Sufi in his Bani nor he has taken any one as his spiritual mentor.

• Rather he was highly critical of the contemporary religious leadership; about the Qazis, Brahmins and Nath-Jogis he had remarked:

ਕਾਦੀ ਕੂੜੁ ਬੋਲਿ ਮਲੁ ਖਾਇ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਜੀਆ ਘਾਇ॥ ਜੋਗੀ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਨ ਜਾਣੈ ਅੰਧੁ॥ ਤੀਨੇ ਓਜਾੜੇ ਕਾ ਬੰਧੁ॥(ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ, ੬੬੨).

• About Vaishnavites who were engaged in Sri Krishna and Sri Rama Bhagti, Guru Nanak remarks:

ਵਾਇਨਿ ਚੇਲੇ ਨਚਨਿ ਗੁਰ॥ ਪੈਰ ਹਲਾਇਨਿ ਫੇਰਨਿ ਸਿਰ ॥ ਉਡਿ ਉਡਿ ਰਾਵਾ ਝਾਟੈ ਪਾਇ॥ ਵੇਖੈ ਲੋਕੁ ਹਸੈ ਘਰਿ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਰੋਟੀਆ ਕਾਰਣਿ ਪੂਰਹਿ ਤਾਲ ॥ ਗਾਵਨਿ ਗੋਪੀਆ ਗਾਵਨਿ ਕਾਨ੍ਹ॥ ਗਾਵਨਿ ਸੀਤਾ ਰਾਜੇ ਰਾਮ॥ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰੁ ਸਚੁ ਨਾਮੁ॥ ਜਾ ਕਾ ਕੀਆ ਸਗਲ ਜਹਾਨੁ॥( ੪੬੫).

I. It was just an entertainment for the people.

II. And source of livelihood for the religious class.

4 Guru Nanak on the Sufis and Muslim Divines

• He found Sufi Pirs and Qazis full of ego and arrogance:

ਕਾਜੀ ਸੇਖ ਭੇਖ ਫਕੀਰਾ॥ ਵਡੇ ਕਹਾਵਹਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਤਨਿ ਪੀਰਾ॥ (੨੨੭).

• The Sufi Shaikhs who were assuring impossible to make possible:

ਕੁਲਹਾਂ ਦੇਂਦੇ ਬਾਵਲੇ ਲੈਂਦੇ ਵਡੇ ਨਿਲਜ॥ ਚੂਹਾ ਖਡ ਨ ਮਾਵਈ ਤਿਕਲਿ ਬੰਨੈ੍ ਛਜ ॥(੧੨੮੬) .

• Even some had converted their houses into a private religious shrines and some were roaming as Nath-Jogis. For them religion was a profession for livelihood:

ਗਿਆਨ ਵਿਹੂਣਾ ਗਾਵੈ ਗੀਤ॥ਭੁਖੇ ਮੁਲਾ ਘਰੇ ਮਸੀਤ॥ ਮੁਖਟੂ ਹੋਇ ਕੈ ਕੰਨ ਪੜਾਏ॥ਫਕਰੁ ਕਰੇ ਹੋਰੁ ਜਾਤਿ ਗਵਾਏ॥ ਗੁਰੁ ਪੀਰ ਸਦਾਏ ਮੰਗਣ ਜਾਇ॥ ਤਾ ਕਿ ਮੂਲਿ ਲਗੀਐ ਪਾਇ॥(੧੨੪੫).

• People were equally responsible because most of them were ignorant and spiritually dead; Just like dead bodies; no awareness of good and evil:

ਅੰਧੀ ਰਯਤਿ ਗਿਆਨ ਵਿਹੂਣੀ ਭਾਹਿ ਭਰੇ ਮੁਰਦਾਰੁ ॥( ੪੬੯).

• Guru Nanak testifies about his experience, and says I have searched and searched out, there is no way to get out of this age of ignorance:

ਕਲਿ ਕਾਤੀ ਰਾਜੇ ਕਾਸਾਈ ਧਰਮੁ ਪੰਖ ਕਰਿ ਉਡਰਿਆ ॥ ਕੂੜੁ ਅਮਾਵਸ ਸਚੁ ਚੰਦ੍ਰਮਾ ਦੀਸੈ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਹ ਚੜਿਆ ॥ ਹਉ ਭਾਲਿ ਵਿਕੁੰਨੀ ਹੋਈ ॥ ਆਧੇਰੈ ਰਾਹੁ ਨ ਕੋਈ॥(੧੪੫).

5 Authority of Guru Nanak

• On being questioned by the Siddhas he had replied, “Transcendental Lord, the Supreme Essence is the Guru that he had met” :

ਅਪਰੰਪਰ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਪਰਮੇਸਰੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰੁ ਮਿਲਿਆ ਸੋਈ ਜੀਉ ॥ (੫੯੯)

• He testifies that God has conferred upon him the role of Divine Minstrel whose chief avocation is to sing the glory of God:

ਹਉ ਢਾਢੀ ਵੇਕਾਰੁ ਕਾਰੈ ਲਾਇਆ ॥ ਰਾਤਿ ਦਿਹੈ ਕੈ ਵਾਰ ਧੁਰਹੁ ਫੁਰਮਾਇਆ ॥ ਢਾਢੀ ਸਚੈ ਮਹਲਿ ਖਸਮਿ ਬੁਲਾਇਆ॥… ਢਾਢੀ ਕਰੇ ਪਸਾਉ ਸਬਦੁ ਵਜਾਇਆ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਚੁ ਸਾਲਾਹਿ ਪੂਰਾ ਪਾਇਆ॥(150).

• He also calls himself a Divine Drummer:

ਤਬਲਬਾਜ ਬੀਚਾਰ ਸਬਦ ਸੁਣਾਇਆ ॥

• He reiterates, “Whatever the wisdom Lord reveals, So I speak. I am ignorant, have no power to speak. Whatever you like O God, so I express” :

ਤੂ ਸੁਲਤਾਨੁ ਕਹਾ ਹਉ ਮੀਆ ਤੇਰੀ ਕਵਨ ਵਡਾਈ॥ਜੋ ਤੂ ਦੇਹਿ ਸੁ ਕਹਾ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਮੈ ਮੂਰਖ ਕਹਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ॥...ਜੋ ਤੁਧੁ ਭਾਵੈ ਸੋਈ ਆਖਾ ਤਿਲੁ ਤੇਰੀ ਵਡਿਆਈ ॥(੭੯੫).

• No other authority other than the revealed Gurbani: ਅਖਰ ਲਿਖੇ ਸੇਈ ਗਾਵਾ ਅਵਰ ਨ ਜਾਣਾ ਬਾਣੀ॥(੧੧੭੧).

6 Uniqueness of Guru Nanak’s Religious Experience

• Guru Nanak’s Numinous experience was radically different than that of the Bhagats/Sants of Sant Tradition of medieval India.

• He stood in direct relationship with God. Addressed the people in the name of God; Invoked divine authority; claimed Divine sanction conferred upon his mission.

• Unique claim, it distinguishes him from the Bhagats of those times.

• Three variables to define and explain the nature of religious experience: Asceticism, Mysticism and Prophetic experience.

• Prophetic experience involves a sense that one is serving as a Divine agent to challenge the evil social order including the politics.

• Religious experience of Guru Nanak falls in the category of Prophetic experience; unlike ascetics or mystics neither did he preach withdrawal from the society nor accepted the social order as it was.

• Instead of compromising with the contemporary evil social order Guru Nanak’s mandate was to eradicate evil from all walks of life.

• Establishment of a fresh world order wedded to the higher values of equality, brotherhood, justice, goodwill, public propriety etc.

7 Guru Nanak's Doctrinal Expression • Any religion comprises three elements– Doctrinal, Sociological and Devotional Expression.

These three elements together make a religion.

• Theoretically speaking, Guru Nanak believed in Oneness of God.

• Guru’s first and foremost allegiance was to God alone.

• For him God, the Creator, is Common Father of Humankind.

• Exclusive claim over Divine revelation rejected.

• Did not believe in avtarvaad i.e. incarnation of God which was an epistemic departure from the Indian tradition;

He rejected idol worship.

• God responds to sincere supplications; No need of priestly class to invoke God;

A great effort to bring God nearer to the human beings.

• Guru Nanak’s God was the God of Truth, Justice; Righteousness, Protector of the poor and Destroyer of the tyrants; obviously Guru Nanak’s God is the God of down-trodden; it was a great solace for the oppressed.

• Oneness of God not only a dogma but a value that manifests in equality and solidarity.

It opened the way for freedom from slavery of animate and inanimate beings.

• Socially, the idea of Oneness of God, the Common Father was a great unifying/integrating force resulting in the spirit of co-existence.

8 World View and Ethical Concerns

• Guru Nanak’s God is Transcendental as well as Immanent, whole universe resonates with its Holy Presence.

• He is the Creator; the world created by Him is not unreal (Maya) but a reality with in its own limits.

• It is like a Dharamshala with a view to practice Dharma.

• Guru does not prescribe renunciation but recommends a detached life in the midst of worldly temptations.

• Internal as well as external purity has been stressed.

• For evolving a new social order, he propounded three Divine rules of " Kirat Karo ", " Naam Japo " and " Wand Chhako " which are antidote to the ills of humanity all over the world.

• Honest livelihood, selfless service to humankind and truthful living are essential features of Guru’s value system.

• Enmity to none, love to all underline his message.

9 Inter-Locking of Temporal with the Spiritual

• Guru Nanak does divide world and human personality into two mutually antagonistic domains of Deen and Duniya:

ਪਰਵਿਰਤਿ ਨਿਰਵਿਰਤਿ ਹਾਠਾ ਦੋਵੇ ਵਿਚ ਧਰਮ ਫਿਰੈ ਰੈਬਾਰਿਆ॥(੧੨੮੦)

• Temporal and the Spiritual are the two domains; Dharma, the higher values of truth, equity, equality, justice, Good-will are the guiding forces which keep balance between the two.

• Ultimate aim of human life is to live a life in God.

• Desired to develop an ideal personality (Sachiar) free from Haumai, internal as well as external contradictions of life.

• Mukti, i.e. Liberation/Salvation not only an individual accomplishment but a collective objective.

• It manifests in altruism, the welfare of society and mankind.

• Divinely inspired and Enlightened person- Gurmukh, Sachiar, Gursikh works for the liberation and well-being of all.

• Such a personality takes care of the Temporal and the Spiritual concerns in equal measures.

10 Guru Nanak’s Vision of Dharma

• Human beings are not made for Dharma rather Dharma has been conceived for the welfare of humanity.

• Doctrinally, it was a huge paradigm shift in the Indian spiritual tradition; before Guru Nanak, householders were not entitled to liberation;

It was nothing short of “ Guru made the Ganges flow upstream.”

• Along with God realization, Guru brought the human being and their welfare to the centre stage of his religion.

• It was an uncommon objective in the face of highly God centric vision of medieval India.

• Message: Uphold highest moral standards in public life.

• Do not indulge in discrimination against the others--socially, religiously, politically and culturally.

• Engage yourself in the selfless service of humankind.

11 Guru Nanak’s Social Order

• The idea and practice of segregation of society on caste, creed, color, ethnicity, nationality etc. norms discarded.

• Principle of common origin of humanity invoked.

• Equal rights granted to all including the women.

• All-inclusive approach embedded in truthful living, equality, brotherhood, selfless service and social justice adopted.

• Monopoly over Divine revelation rejected; idea of Chosen people stood rejected; there is no privileged class or caste.

• Multi-Cultural and pluralistic character of society accepted.

• Monopoly over profession under the caste system abolished. Restriction on profession removed; social mobility ensured.

• Congregational (Sangat) life style embedded in the values of Kirat Karo, Naam Japo, Wand Chhako and Sewa alleviated to the level of Divine worship which are essential ingredients for the establishment of a holy, healthy, happy and self-reliant society anywhere in the world.

12 Political Outlook of Guru Nanak

• He was highly critical of ruling class for its indulgence in corruption, injustice and moral degeneration.

• Guru Nanak was the only religious person in Medieval India who condemned Emperor Babur for his aggression on India. Such type of hard-hitting critique of despotic rulers puts him apart from the Bhagats and Sants of medieval India.

• Instead of dynastic/hereditary norms he stood for merit regarding succession to any office.

• Out rightly rejected restriction on the freedom of worship, and use of state power to patronize a particular religion.

• Asked the people to live a life of dignity and self respect.

• Desired them to utter Truth there and then without any fear.

• Sanctified death for the right/just cause. • Asked people to stand up for the cause of righteousness.

13 Devotional Expression

• After Udasis (long journeys) settled down at Kartarpur and gave final shape to his religion.

• Idol-worship, Ritualism, blind-faith, Hath-yoga practices, role of priestly class etc. stood rejected.

• Did not go to any others’ religious shrine but established a new religious centre known as Dharamsal.

• For Devotion to God did not use any other scriptures but used hymns composed by himself.

• Composed hymns ( Bani) in the vernacular and evolved Gurmukhi script to record them for posterity.

• Promoted Congregational mode of devotion wherein Kirtan in collective mode (Sangat) was performed

• Pattern of Daily Sikh prayer twice a day- early morning and in the evening established.

14 Guru Nanak:The Founder of Sikhism

• Mission was to bring about radical/systemic change in social order; an alternative model to replace the decadent social order.

• It was nothing short of social reconstruction.

• Propounded a new set of doctrines and to realize them new institutions.

• Established the Sikh religious centre- known as Dharamsal.

• Organized the Sikhs into congregational circles (Sangats).

• Started community kitchen (Langar) run by voluntary contribution and Seva, where all eat together without any distinction and discrimination.

• To carry forward his mission, established the institution of Guruship.

• Successor to Guruship was mystically identical with the “Spirit of Nanak”

• It established the Concept of Unity of Guruship which extended the spiritual authority of Guru Nanak to his Nine successors; Ten Gurus One Spirit.

• Got compiled his Bani into a Pothi; Foundation of the Sikh scripture laid.

• Through these ideals and institutions, he applied the pragmatic test to his religious experience which fructified in the form of a new religion, Sikhism.

• This type of institutional set up was altogether missing in the Sant tradition.

15 Conclusion

• Guru Nanak stood in special relationship with God.

• Derived his authority directly from God and was a mouth-piece of God.

• His mandate was to eradicate Evil and establish a fresh social order.

• His approach towards the World and Human life was holistic/allinclusive.

• No dichotomy between the Temporal and the Spiritual; both are for the welfare of humanity; objective, stand up in the cause of righteousness.

• Self-image of Guru Nanak and explanation of his mission is available in Sri Guru Granth Sahib which is very useful to understand the true nature of his mission.

• Globally because of the complexities of World politics, there is a dire need and space for Spiritually enlightened Civil society which ought to take up the cause of righteousness;

The followers of Guru Nanak may take the initiative to lead the world community in this noble cause.

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