Ruzbeh N. Bharucha
The first time I was made aware of Guru Nanak Saheb was when I was a young boy. I had returned for my Christmas vacations from my boarding school, Billimoria High School in Panchgani. The school had decided that Panchangi was way too cold during the winters and we were given a two month off, in the hope that we would now drive our families up the wall and let the teachers and staff recuperate.
We cousins used to live with our maternal grand-mother and on and off I would go to meet my parents and paternal grand-parents. I was very close to my dad’s father. For some reason He truly loved me and has come into my dreams, once even showing me an ancient Kundalini exercise, which I religiously followed for four days.
So I was walking along with my grand-father when we passed a building and he halted and said a prayer, touched my head, and we walked along. I asked him why had he halted, muttered or prayed at that spot.
“This is a Gurudwara. A place where Sikhs and those who follow the teachings of Guru Nanak come to pray.”
“And who is Guru Nanak?” I inquired, trying to trip a boy who was running too fast for his own wellbeing.
“Like Prophet Zarathushtra, He too was a Prophet who started the Sikh religion.”
“What’s a Prophet? Sounds like the fish we ate today….”
“We ate a pomfret.”
“Yes I love pomfrets. Do you know that my school has the worst cooks in all of the world. All of the world big papa. My school searches all of the world and finds these cooks. They are so bad that few days before I came home, we friends realized that certain plants growing in the valley tasted better than the food. Of course we all were next day sick, as dogs holding our stomachs. Any way what is a Prophet?”
“A Prophet is a good man who through prayers and His own goodness shows us all how to become one with God.”
“My cooks in school will never become one with God.”
“So Guru Nanak is the Prophet of Sikhs.”
“And He was a good man?”
“Yes. Like you. You are going to be a very good man my son.”
“No, you are a good man big papa. Everybody says wherever I am there has to be lot of trouble.”
“It is all the energy within you. It has to come out somewhere. When you are big, this energy will come out in a good way. I won’t be there with you then, but you will remember me.”
“Where are you going to go big papa. You will be here only.”
“No. I will be with Them. Anyway, the Prophets were good men who wanted to become the best of men who walked the earth and They were so much in love with God that eventually They did become the best of men. Try to become the best person on earth baba, even if you don’t succeed at least you will become a very very very good man and that is good enough.”
“I don’t think the Prophets would like the food in my school big papa.”
And both of us chuckled and we went about walking.
So this was my introduction to Guru Nanak Saheb.
It was after twenty odd years while writing my first book, The Last Marathon, where I was again reintroduced to Guru Nanak Saheb. I was researching on life after death and spirit communication. I would go to Vira Kheshvala who used to channel Avtar Meher Baba and Guru Nanak, who would come through calling Himself Ciam.
I always felt His Energy very soft, very meditative, full of love and always wanting one and all to focus on God, meditate and chant the Lord’s Name.
In fact the book opens with snaps of Baba Sai of Shirdi, Avatar Meher Baba and Guru Nanak Saheb. The book ends with a profile about Guru Nanak Saheb and His thoughts on meditation, mind over matter, the third eye, the art of giving, and many more topics.
After ten years I got married into a Sikh-Punjabi family; who pray and worship BABA NANAK. I wonder what my big papa would have to say about that.
The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Saheb, was born in the Gregorian year 1469. Though November 17th is considered by most as His day of birth; scholars, researchers and astrologers, are of the opinion that Nanak Saheb was actually born in April, date unknown, but the time was midnight. Researchers and scholars of Christianity too believe that though His birth is universally celebrated on December 25th, in reality Jesus The Christ, too was born in the month of April.
Guru Nanak or Satguru Nanak, Baba Nanak, Nanak Shah Faqir, Bhagat Nanak, Nanak Kalandar, it seems did not cry when He was born, but like Prophet Zarathushtra, smiled and laughed. I guess if you can smile and laugh when you are born, you certainly are cut off for Godhood, as life on Earth has little to smile or laugh about.
What I love about Nanak Saheb is the ‘no nonsense approach’ to spirituality. He did not care much about the customs followed by either the Hindus or Muslims during His time. He did not believe that God could be won over by formalities, bribes, rigidity, blind faith, or age old customs. He was against caste system, widows being forced onto the pyre, pilgrimages to get worldly favour and even book knowledge. His main aim was to preach Oneness. His entire life in the physical shell was spent in preaching Oneness and love for one and another and living each moment chanting the Name of God and loving God, whatever Name you wanted to call Him and Her. He believed in chanting the Name of The Lord. Being in prayer. Giving life your best. Sharing your wealth. Protecting the weak. Standing up to tyrants and always working towards the betterment of the world around you. He was against anything that stood for discrimination, Falsehood of all kinds, Hypocrisy and blind beliefs.
Once He saw some Sadhu offering water to the Sun. Nanak asked the man, why he did what he did. The man replied that he was offering water to his ancestors. Thus, every morning when the sun rose, he would look eastward to the Sun and offer water to his ancestors to quench their thirst. So Nanak nodded, faced west and offered water in the west direction. The Sadhu inquired why did he offer water in the opposite direction of the Sun. Nanak Saheb told him that his fields were in the west direction, so he watered his fields. When the Sadhu told Nanak how was that possible, Nanak Saheb told the chap, if you can offer water to your ancestors in the spirit world with the belief that the water could quench their thirst, why couldn’t he water his farms, which were just a little away from where they stood.
Nanak’s closest companion was a Muslim man, who was supposedly from the traditionally accepted ‘lower caste’. Nanak and Mardana since childhood would meditate together and then for decades They travelled the length and breath, not only in India, but innumerable countries, spreading the word of Oneness.
In fact it was with His Muslim friend that Nanak, one morning went to meditate and bathe beside Kali Bein or The Black River. Nanak entered the river, kept walking inside and then disappeared. For three days there was no sight of Nanak and His family and villagers feared that He had drowned. On the third day Nanak Saheb walked out of the water, declaring that there were no Hindus or Muslims, but all were One.
Though married with two sons, He along with Mardana left for Their spiritual journeys, and many scholars believe that it was this close friendship between Nanak and Mardana, and the best of both Their philosophies and religions, that shaped Sikhism.
Nanak always believed that God was One and that God had no form and also that God was as equally concerned about our spiritual growth as He was concerned about our worldly wellbeing. This went against everything ever taught by the prevalent religious teachers and teachings of those times. Like Baba Sai of Shirdi, often would tell one and all, that, “First I will give you what you want and when you are satisfied I will give you what I want you to receive, and that with an empty stomach nobody can reach God”. Similarly Baba Nanak too believed that God was interested in one’s spiritual and worldly wellbeing.
Nanak and Mardana for twenty five years travelled to many countries. Pilgrimages were made to places as diverse as Haridwar, Kurukshetra, Banaras, Kashi, Maya, Baghdad, Mecca, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Turkey, Burma and Tibet. He spoke and interacted with countless people. Patiently heard their philosophy and espoused His. He was truly loved by those who were true spiritual seekers and obviously He wasn’t taken to by those who spouted religious verses but were hollow from within.
Nanak was a firm believer of living life to the fullest and never as a recluse. That one should live in the world and still be detached from it. That family life is as important as that of a life of a monk or a sage. That it was important to seize each moment and give it your very best, always with the internal chanting or naam smaran and never ever forgetting your Lord and Master. That is why after His pilgrimages, the last eighteen years of His physical life, Nanak Saheb spent as a householder, along with His family.
Nanak after His twenty five years of pilgrimages, asked a wealthy devotee to donate large track of land where The Prophet built a town Kartarpur in Punjab on the banks of the river Ravi. His followers came from far and wide. The best part of it all was that His followers still remained Hindu or Muslim, or whichever religion they were born in, but they were also known as the Guru’s disciples, or Sikhs. A Sikh is the disciple of The Guru.
The beauty of Nanak Saheb was that the moment He returned for good from His pilgrimages, He spent the remaining eighteen years of His life cultivating land. He offered His morning and evening prayers, spent time in building His community, preaching and building various institutions, which propagated His teachings and His visions, where prayers, work, Oneness and community free meals were the back bone, but He was equal to all as a cultivator, often as a peasant who toiled on the land. So here you have a Man who played the role of a Prophet and a Peasant.
Nanak was very firm and big on the abolition of the caste system. Thus, He began the institution of langar, or community meal sharing. This took care of two important things dear to Nanak Saheb’s heart. First of all, the langar was open to one and all. There was no bar either to caste, creed, religion, financial status, men, women, children. All were welcome and this made sure that only those truly serious of Nanak’s philosophy of Oneness remained with Him. Those days the concept of untouchables was rampant, Nanak in one go made sure that those who thought that other human beings were untouchables had no place with Him, as the community meals were open to all. Nanak Saheb was big on sharing one’s wealth with those less financially fortunate and that there was no place for caste, creed or religious discrimination. These langars taught those close to Baba Nanak in one go, that one had to share wealth with the needy and one had to treat each and everybody as equal and as one’s very own. Nanak Saheb made it clear that His closest companion was Mardana, who initially was considered as a lower caste Muslim, and those who considered others as lower caste, or untouchables, had no place in Nanak’s world.
Not many people are aware that Nanak had a lower tolerance for bullshit or tyrants. He made it clear that if life had to be lived with dignity, one had to fight not only against the evil within oneself but also against the evil around one. If there was somebody who tried to harm one’s loved ones, friends, neighbours, one had to stand united to fight such outrage. The very revolutionary stature of the Sikhs, thus originated with Nanak, who felt it was important to live in communities, without caste, creed and discrimination but to also protect the interest and the wellbeing of one’s loved ones and the community at large. The Man was a Rock Star, in short.
At a time when women were being ill treated and looked down upon, Baba Nanak was very firm on woman rights and equality, telling one and all, that without a woman, a man cannot survive or thrive and thus, He gave tremendous respect and importance to women.
“From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come….” Spoke Nanak.
In fact Nanak was a Goddess worshipper. The very first lines of The Guru Granth Sahib is:
“The Primordial Mother came into Being by Herself, mysteriously,
and She created Three Deities: One was The Creator, One The Sustainer, and One The Destroyer.”
And the beautiful words: ‘Wherever I look I see the Lord pervading there in the union of Shiv and Shakti.’ (Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 21)
Unfortunately, His followers have forgotten The Goddess now. There’s a beautiful story where Bhai Lehna; who eventually was appointed by Guru Nanak as His successor to carry forward His work, was a staunch Maa Durga devotee. Once, Bhai in a vision, saw a woman dressed in a red attire serving Nanak. Bhai Lehna asked who She was and He was told that She was Goddess Durga and that She came once a week to do seva for the Guru. It was then that Bhai Lehna became Nanak Saheb’s staunchest disciple, who Nanak eventually called Guru Angad Dev. Bhai Lehna approached Nanak seven years before He took Samadhi and Nanak told Lehna who was till then a Maa Durga worshipper, that He had been waiting for Him.
Nanak tested his two sons and Bhai Lehna for a long time before He realised that blood was thicker than water, but nothing was thicker than the bonds of love, obedience and surrender. His final test of Bhai Lehna should make one understand the difference between a disciple and devotee. For a disciple the Guru’s word is the word of God and nothing else matters but the Guru.
One day Guru Nanak told His sons to eat a corpse who lay under a sheet. The sons refused even reprimanding Their Father that He had lost His senses. Guru Nanak then told Bhai Lehna, who bowed and asked from which side should He eat the corpse. From head first or feet and Nanak told Him from the middle. When Bhai Lehna removed the sheet there was no more a corpse but food. Bhai Lehna first offered the food to Nanak Saheb, then His two sons, and then what was left over, He ate. It was then that Nanak spoke: “Lehna, You were blessed with the sacred food because You could share it with others. If the people use the wealth bestowed on them by God for themselves alone or for treasuring it, it is like a corpse. But if they decide to share it with others, it becomes sacred food. You have known the secret. You are My image.” (Janamsakhi).
Nanak blessed Lehna with His Own hand (anga) and thus named Him Guru Angad. Then Nanak placed a coconut and some coins, applied saffron on Guru Angad’s forehead and told Guru Angad to occupy His seat. Thus, making it clear that Guru Angad would take Sikhism forward and also that Baba Nanak’s time to leave His physical body had arrived.
Before Guru Nanak Saheb took Samadhi, His followers, many who were Hindus and Muslims, asked Him, how should they proceed with the last rites. Nanak said: “Let the Hindus place flowers on My right and the Muslims on My left. Those whose flowers are found fresh in the morning, may have the disposal rights of My body.”
Nanak then drew a sheet over Himself and took Samadhi. Nanak Saheb was seventy years old in the body and took Samadhi on 22 September 1539.
The next morning there were only flowers. As usual nobody really understood Him. He was not the body. He was the Spirit within the body who had merged with The Eternal Spirit.
A few years later a flood washed away even the flowers, which His followers had begun to worship. Nanak had the last laugh. All His life He had preached that God is One and that He is Energy and that to worship anything else would be to stray from the true path. When He saw His followers again worshipping matter than Spirit, He smiled and made sure His last remains in the form of flowers too were washed away.
Sat Naam Wahe Guru
Ruzbeh N. Bharucha