Guru Nanak Dev – The Independent Philosopher & His ‘Religion’


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Being born in the north of India, near Punjab, since my childhood, I started getting acquainted with one of most revered saints and ‘religious’ leaders of the north India and the world, Guru Nanak Dev. As he was described to me, I saw him as a founder of a religion, a religion called Sikhism. The white flowing beard, the thick moustache, a short turban on his head, the depiction of Guru Nanak in Sobha Singh’s paintings seemed very justified, because the Guru invented the Sikh religion.

But natural I saw him through that very lens. Recorded in a scripture called Guru Granth Sahib, his words and verses, seemed to be coloured into the colour of a religion. I even thought that he was the one who laid down the foundation of the religious rituals that his followers, the Sikhs perform today. In that sense, I had a disliking towards him, as I felt that he founded a new religion, just like a previous one, that is Hinduism, which he criticised for being a blind faith because of its false ritualistic design. I used to judge him by what his followers do, or let’s say, what those people do who claim to be his followers.

It wasn’t until I crossed my teens, that I started to read his words impartially. And lo, he was against all kinds of rituals. His reason was that rituals distract people, and so they cannot find God. Now finding God in Guru Nanak’s words is something totally different. His finding God might as well mean ‘becoming God’. Sounds weird right? Here’s the thing. Guru Nanak Dev was a non-dualist. He had an idea of total singularity, where apart from one formless, timeless, all-pervading entity (God), nothing else exists. Hence there is no question of a me being different from God. When I say ‘me’, I mean my actual nature, which also, according to him, is formless, timeless, all-pervading.

Guru Nanak clearly emphasised that God is not situated anywhere else, but within one’s own self. So if one knows one’s self, one knows God. There is no difference, he says, between the self and God. Clearly, if there is no difference between the self and God, what is the need of any ritual? And also what is the need of following any religion? It is an internal quest, which needs a space not crowded by symbols and rituals.

Now when it comes to God, there are passages where Guru Nanak tells that God is of the nature of void. This is strangely interesting. He then goes on saying that the whole world, the whole universe is born of void and shall merge back into the void. According to him, the apparent world is temporary and shaky. So while suggesting a way to meditate, he tells to take the support of void, to stabilise one’s mind . If thought creatively, what can be more stable than void?

Preaching the unity of one’s self and God, Guru Nanak actually knew what the word Yoga and the Yogic philosophy stood for. Yoga is not about twisting and turning one’s body, but ‘uniting’ (Yoga literally means union) with the immortal nature inside of one’s self, which is nothing but God. The role of a Guru was to make his disciple realise this very nature of his own self.

This not-so-popular side of Guru Nanak Dev makes me feel that he was too uncomplicated to create a religious institution. And there is a reason why this side of him is not-so-popular, it is because usually people cannot digest the idea that God is just a realisation away, that God is their real nature, immortal and all-pervading. It is way too straight. It seems to me that Guru Nanak Dev’s ideas can be rightly valued only if he is seen as an independent philosopher and a mystic, which I think he actually was.

Following are some of Guru Nanak Dev’s words –


ਜਿਨੀ ਆਤਮੁ ਚੀਨਿਆ ਪਰਮਾਤਮੁ ਸੋਈ ।
ਏਕੋ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਬਿਰਖੁ ਹੈ ਫਲੁ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਹੋਈ ।।


ਸੁੰਨ ਨਿਰੰਤਰਿ ਦੀਜੈ ਬੰਧੁ ॥ ਉਡੈ ਨ ਹੰਸਾ ਪੜੈ ਨ ਕੰਧੁ ॥ ਸਹਜ ਗੁਫਾ ਘਰੁ ਜਾਣੈ ਸਾਚਾ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਾਚੇ ਭਾਵੈ ਸਾਚਾ ॥


ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸੁੰਨੰ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਸੁੰਨੰ ਤ੍ਰਿਭਵਣ ਸੁੰਨ ਮਸੁੰਨੰ ॥ ਚਉਥੇ ਸੁੰਨੈ ਜੋ ਨਰੁ ਜਾਣੈ ਤਾ ਕਉ ਪਾਪੁ ਨ ਪੁੰਨੰ ॥ ਘਟਿ ਘਟਿ ਸੁੰਨ ਕਾ ਜਾਣੈ ਭੇਉ ॥ ਆਦਿ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨ ਦੇਉ ॥ ਜੋ ਜਨੁ ਨਾਮ ਨਿਰੰਜਨ ਰਾਤਾ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਸੋਈ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਬਿਧਾਤਾ ॥


ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਨ ਊਪਜੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਮੈਲੁ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਸੋਹੰ ਆਪੁ ਪਛਾਣੀਐ ਸਬਦਿ ਭੇਦਿ ਪਤੀਆਇ ॥


ਪੰਚ ਤਤੁ ਮਿਲਿ ਕਾਇਆ ਕੀਨੀ ॥ ਤਿਸ ਮਹਿ ਰਾਮ ਰਤਨੁ ਲੈ ਚੀਨੀ ॥ ਆਤਮ ਰਾਮੁ ਰਾਮੁ ਹੈ ਆਤਮ ਹਰਿ ਪਾਈਐ ਸਬਦਿ ਵੀਚਾਰਾ ਹੇ ॥


ਸੁੰਨਹੁ ਖਾਣੀ ਸੁੰਨਹੁ ਬਾਣੀ ॥ ਸੁੰਨਹੁ ਉਪਜੀ ਸੁੰਨਿ ਸਮਾਣੀ ॥


ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਆਪੁ ਪਛਾਣੈ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਜੈਸੇ ਅਵਿਨਾਸੀ