GURU NANAK: HIS ART AND THOUGHT
NANAK AND HIS POETRY
Guru Nanak is the World-Teacher. He is also the teacher of one single, poor man unknown to name or fame. With him thought begins anew. One with Truth, Nanak stands supreme, towering heaven high above his surroundings, centuries ahead of his age, and looking at regions of mind and soul beyond this planet. He stands in supreme solitude of thought and power. Before his presence, before his mind, all bow down their heads. He is the creator. "Whoso can come and sit before me on a carpet and say ‘I’ is my disciple !"
He allowed no traffic with falsehood or half-truth, or with any kind of superstition, or with hypocrisy. He spoke with the voice of the deliverer to the oppressors of the people, whether Hindu or Mussalman, whether prince or priest. He condemned the imposition on the people of Brahninical hypocrisy and priest-craft. He would not submit to a wrong system of education. He found both the Hindu and the Mohammedan faithless, misreading everything to suit their evil selves; and the teachers and preachers of the land deceiving and cheating the people.
He found the Krishna-worshippers dancing in open air
theatres in wild and sensual frenzy. "They dance, and as they kick,
the dirt, the dust of the streets settle on their heads. Ah, this singing
and dancing is illusion."
He saw the doings of the Jam with utter disgust; to him it was a limit of the degradation of the human mind in the name of the religion of non injury. The whole people were steeped in darkness. The soul of the people was dead. The immorality of the highest class was appalling; both the religion and the politics of the land were adapted to wolves, not men and women. Guru Nanak stood as one man against the hosts of darkness, unafraid of aught, blowing his horn of freedom, shaking all the old foundations of society. A new creation, a New Life! Except one, there is no parallel in the Indian history to the awakening that took its birth in the mind of Guru Nanak.
The following passages, taken from the writings of Guru Nanak, tell of the demoralization he found in the society of his time:
"They devour men alive, and yet they go and bow down to God in Namaz!
They wear the sacred thread who kill animals with the butcher’s knife.
And the Brahmans come to the houses of the slayers of beasts and blow their conches and beg bread!
And they, too, relish the butchery!
There is no Dharma in the country, there is no honour of blood or name.
They have the Tilak on their forehead, they wear an ochre coloured Dhoti; but the knife is hidden in their sleeves, and they let the blood of the people.
The Qazis wear blue robes of holiness, and receive the offerings of the people.
The Hindus share the loot, and worship their deities with the loot they have gotten.
They kill the innocent; they share the blood of the people they have half-killed.
And then they say, ‘Do not touch us, we shall be deified!’ They sit in a sacred square made of prescribed lines drawn by themselves, and say, ‘None is allowed to touch us, for our food would be soiled.’
They sit there, in their sanctified squares and forbid the touch of another’s hand, when what they drink is the people’s blood!
They levy taxes on the sacred cow and the holy Brahman without a thought; and think of crossing the sea of sin by being kind to the cowdung!
They have sandal-paste tilaks on their foreheads, and have Dhotis for covering their legs with piety, and in their hands they carry the rosaries, 0 God!
But they eat the crumbs of the Malechhas, and in privacy read the Quran to please their Masters !"
A devout Sikh told me, "Had I not found Guru Nanak, I would have sought the refuge of Buddha." Another man told me, "Guru Nanak was a born Buddha." In fact, there is a profound resemblance between the two. "Om! I take refuge in Buddha, I take refuge in Sangat, I take refuge in Truth." That is Budaha’s Mantram. "Om! I take refuge in the Guru. I take refuge in Truth;" is the Mantram of Guru Nanak. Buddha proclaimed a new civilization that took its birth in his mind. Guru Nanak too, bases his authority on none but himself. "So says Nanak, so says Nanak !" is the burden of his songs.
One day, they say, a huge and very hungry crowd gathered at Kartarpur. Guru Nanak asked Lehna to climb a thorny acacia and shake its branches. Lehna climbed the tree and the crowds stood below, and he shook the tree with joy as the Master had ordered. The sacred music of Nanak the Master, flowed in streams of song from the swaying branches of the Kikar, and all who heard were filled with the harmony. This Music of the Master, is it not written in our very souls!
Once, we are told, when Lehna and Nanak were alone, Lehna saw that the feet of the Master as he lay asleep were being pricked as if by thorns. Lehna was astonished; because the Master was apparently fast asleep, and Lehna was sitting by his side. But a shepherd who was a disciple, was passing through thorn bushes with his sheep, and was in deep communion with Nanak, so that the shepherd’s wounds from the thorns appeared on the feet of the Master. This too, is one of the parables that we treasure in our hearts.
Wherever he went, the hearts of the people were gladdened, and they began singing his Song of Silence, which is not written on paper, but on the hearts of his disciples; and there it still sings as of old.
Every disciple whom he chiselled in the image figure of "Dhyani Nanak" was a poem of his. The whole of his poetry, written in the soul to the longings of the people for freedom, for peace, was too deeply personal to be recorded on any printed page. Minds like Guru Nanak’s are lost in the beauty of Thought, Vision and Prophecy. Their very looks write letters on the dust of the earth, their silence singing, enters the hearts of the people and searches the inmost soul. Some write poems, some sing poems, but Guru Nanak made poets by his touch. When he touched the forehead of a disciple and gave him peace, he threw the creative spark which sets fire to the heart and the singing flame of beauty sprang into the void.
Many of my Sikh sisters, who lost their husbands in the prime of life, have told me that they have found in Nanak’s songs, more than all the world could give them. And I have sat at their feet and seen that the touch of their holy feet gave me peace of soul that I, poor gambler that I am, had lost for days. Whenever God grows less in me, I go and see them and find that they fill me with music.
In all lyric poetry there is a spirit of desire, and
a secret thirst. The highest song is full of the thirst for the divine.
It is all a longing and a desire. But there is no pain in the songs of
Nanak. It is sung to fill his disciples with the peace of God, when they
are faint and exhausted. It is the living fountain where hundreds quench
their thirst. Nanak pours the infinite of his soul into his song; which
is thence poured into the hearts of his disciples, which shares in the
The elements danced before Nanak and million-throated nature took up his hymns. The five rivers of the Punjab still sing his songs. The sky was his salver; the stars burnt as little lamps in his Temple.
There is a fragrance of roses as we name Nanak. While writing about him I have felt the shower of rose petals on these pages and the perfume of the Golden Temple all about me. When I was sitting in my room, miles away from the country of roses, and when the season of flowers passed, their fragrance was still there. Name "Nanak" and the Mystics Rose returns.
The hymn Japji is the burden of the whole Guru Granth.
The day of the disciples begins with Japji. The melody breaks forth
in our inner ears with the strain of the "First dawn of Creation."
Our eyes close, and as if in a dream, we stand listening to the music
that rings through eternity.
We are the children of Japji. Its music is our motherland. It comes to us with an intimacy as close as if it were born of the hidden seat within our soul.
The maker of this hymn is so filled with its beauty, that he himself,
the Master of its Music, is entranced with it.
Ever since its birth, every morning, in its chant we have the mingling of a myriad holy voices, the voices of the Disciples.
I feel at times that with Japji I am as one transported to the Land of Immortals. I am as one apart from the body, listening in wonder to a Voice reciting Japji.
In my reverie, I feel the singer has hands that touch my soul. Then I realize that Japji is the Word. With such visions, I do not feel lonely.
As we rise on the rhythm of Japji, where is distress or dust? We transcend the tiny speck of the visible present. We are more than men we ever were. The sacred rivers roll down through the soul of man in the music of Guru Nanak’s Dream. The trees arise as in prayer. The stars beam on the Dome of Japji, at another time they bejewel the minaret on the Palace of the King. The Sun and the Moon revolve around that Dome; Every speck of dust flies as a particle of gold, to write the Master’s Name in Japji. At its sound, we hear the dance of feet on the grassy meadows around us; and in our reverie we see no flowers in the fields but have dropped from the breeze-blown, flying shawls of the mystic dancers.
The wheel of Karma rolls on, and man unaided cannot gain his freedom.
But we rejoice when Japji tell us:
"The Heaven shall cover our shame with honour. By our own deeds, we have made this tabernacle, And by the light of His Glance we shall attain our Eternity."
Beyond Nirvana, Japji lights up for us the still Higher Realm of Mercy (Fazal) as the highest and the truest hope for man. It is beyond the physical, the Karam Khetra or the Realm of Action. It is beyond the Realm of Knowledge. It is deeper that the Realm of Ecstasy. Deeper than Ecstasy is His Grace and deeper still than the Realm of His Grace is the Abode of God in us. The Master’s Song goes from the old to the new. It rises higher and higher; till the soul passes into the heavenly region where there is no speech or knowledge but the Infinite reposes in the Infinite.
"Endless is thy Creation, We see nor Thy Near nor Thy far, Thou hast nor this nor that shore, We cannot touch Thy limits at any point." "Salute the Beginning-less Beginning, The colourless Purity, The Deathless Verity, The changing Permanence that changeth not through ages and ages."
"They say this Earth is borne on the Horns of the Bull. But there is Earth beyond earth, there are planets and planets beyond;
‘Heavy indeed,’ it is said, ‘is the load on the Horns of the Bull!’
But it is not the Bull—it is Dharma, born of the Heavenly Love
that bears the weight of Worlds."
When the world beats us and breaks us by the weight of its matter, we go to Japji. The sore melancholy of our heart and mind is made i~hole by Japji. The soot on our faces burns up, and they begin to glow like the burning roses.
In Guru Nanak’s poetry is a marvellous devotion to "the Infinite Being from which all comes, to which all goes." His poetry affirms nothing as to the mere idea of this Being, but is absolute in personal devotion to "The Beloved," and full of the perpetual music of His Praise. "As the fish knows not the nature of ocean, how wide and how vast, I know Thee not; but I touch Thee, I live in Thee, and I die if I am taken out of Thee."
To make the Universal will as our personal will, with all the joys and
delicious pain of human love is his intense passion.
His one song Japji marks him a Creator whose genius puts its seal on the ages. The simple architecture of the song is like that of the rock-hewn temples. They are the final forms of his ideas in the language he has chosen to speak. And he has rightly chosen to speak in his own mother tongue. Every particle of its marble-cut Word-Temple contains the design of the whole.
The language of Japji, though the common dialect of the people, has been raised by the Master to a new power, charged with the meanings he gave to it.
A HYMN OF NANAK
Thought is a miracle, what we see and hear is a miracle,
And love of knowledge, and peace of mind!
It is a miracle ~that we love one another,
Wind and water, fire and dust, are a miracle.
O Mother ! The arrow of His Kind Glance has wounded me!
But none sees my pain
Nor do I know more than my own pain.
My mind is a Temple of love,
My body a robe divine,
The sacred Nectar flows in the Temple.
The Word is my breath, and the Song is my blood!
Beloved, think of me!
0! The Unsensed, the Unknown that is visible and invisible!
Thou that art everywhere in every throb of life!
All temples of flesh are thine and under Thy shade,
Thou informest and inspirest and teachest,
I know no other but Thee,
I sing of Thee, as in me Thou sittest and singest.
O Love ! Thy seat is Eternity and great is Thy Name and Thy Glory.
Thou art Truth and Thou art Justice!
Thou art the Temple and the Deity of the Temple;
And thou art the worshipper!
The Beloved likes not the ventures of vanity,
And the Beloved cometh not home.
I fain would die a sacrifice at the feet of them that are informed of His Love!
I fain would be a slave of them that live inwardly in His hymn of Praise!
He loves the vestures dyed in Nam, in the madder dye of His Love,
When the dyer of Nam dyes the flesh-vestures of man, the colour is rich and pure,
The Brides whose garments are dyed gay rose of spiritual youth dwell in Him and He dwelleth in them!
I pray for the dust of the feet of the Brides! He maketh, He decorateth and He dyeth The Bride with the colour of soul, Himself!
He cometh to love and taketh the Bride to His Bosom! O Fond Bride ! Why art Thou seeking Him everywhere outside, when thy own heart is His Throne?
In thy own heart, He waits for thee!
GURU NANAK: HIS ART AND THOUGHT
O Vain Girl-Bride!
Thy quivering limbs, thy restless feet cannot speed thee to Him!
They that have entered the God-lock Union say, that the way is through loving Him and not loving ourselves, to think as
He thinketh, to will as He willeth, to do what He willeth!
If the Bride loves and foregoes self,
If the Bride thinks of His lotus feet who bestoweth lOve!
If the Bride gives away all her mind and soul in love,
And counts no other day but that one day when He looks at her with His beaming smile,
And the Bride, dyed in bliss of love, stands straight, proud, unafraid, undisturbed, unmoved, preoccupied day and night as His wedded one,
And she lives in deep simplicity of her new home, Himself; no more restless, no more seeking rest,
Then and there is attained the perfection of beauty, wisdom, and love; she needs nothing else!
I sicken at pleasure, the pain heals me,
I may not forget Thee!
Thou the Creator of me ! What Thou doest is done, what I do is all an undoing!
Thou art the dweller in Thy Creation, further than furthest is Thy limit, and~a still more art Thou!
Thou the magician livest in Thine own miracle; The life burns in Thee, and Thou burnest in the flame of life,
And the living and the non-living art Thou; None can breathe where Thou breathest and none know Thy thought.
All goes Thou makest it to go!
If palaces made of pearls, bedecked with rubies, stand before Thee;
If the walls and the floors are plastered with sandal, musk and agar
Take not Thine eyes from the Vision of Reality!
Forget not, 0 Disciple, the Name of thy Beloved!
When taken away from my Beloved,
My soul takes fire and is burnt down!
If Thy whole estate be made of jewels and gems,
And thy halls are full of all means of pleasure,
And there wait upon thee silver-limbed damsels with their ruby lips whispering words of love to thee,
Take not thine eyes off the Vision of Reality!
Forget not, 0 Disciple, the Name of thy Beloved!
If all magical powers are thine,
And thou canst become invisible and visible at thy will,
And crowds worship thee,
Take not thine eyes off the Vision of Reality!
Forget not, 0 Disciple, the Name of thy Beloved!
Even if thou art a Sultan,
And thy cohorts await thy command,
It is all vanity
Take not thy eyes off the Vision of Reality!
Forget not, 0 Disciple, the Name of thy Beloved!
O Jewel of my Heart!
I know no jeweller who could value Thee,
None who could teach me Thy worth!
Now Thou art mine!
All creations are in Thee!
And Thou art all creations’ Self!
Enough, I see Thee a hundred times a day shining so rare in me!
Thou art the Seer of Thyself, Thine own Price, Thine own Seller and Purchaser.
Yoked with this mind of mine, a wanderer and with this blood of ignorance so dense;
With these companions of mine, so blind and restless
—how can I attain Thy goodness!
0 Jewel of my heart! Teach me Thine own rarity.
And let me touch my mind and heart with Thy gleams!
For I touch Thee, and I live;
I touch Thee again, and I live more.
They have read and read, and they have loaded the bullockcarts of knowledge— They have loaded their camels and freighted their ships;
But where do they go?
Only one thing counts, all else is froth and foam of an emptied self!
What is the meaning of being His servant if still the fear of Him remains?
He is His servant who is not distinct from Him!
I know not what they call Love, when they still can think of another and search for him!
They love who having seen Him see none else,
Who do not complain nor think of complaining.
The good, and bad, is merely how we take it;
They love not, who live in counting the favours and frowns of love.
ALL IS WELL, IF I AM WITH HIM
He sows and He reaps, He makes and He keeps,
He sees His own glory; the raw and the ripe, all are His!
He who has come must also go.
Leave all things of man and nature and destiny alone!
Why should I forget my Beloved?
I must make or mar myself with my own hands;
All is welljf I am with Him!
If they bathe in a hundred waters, the dirt of sinconsciousness cannot be washed away thus: it remains;
But they have cast their dirt outside of themselves, who touch the silk of His Love within themselves!
They have realized the pure thought;
It is in the realization of their love that they laugh and weep;
They speak to us, or turn their backs, refusing to speak, as it pleaseth them
They reck of none and they heed nothing, The rich majestic minds that think of Reality!
All counting is for those who themselves count "me, thee—mine, thine"; and they must give full account of their own too.
His mill of judgement must roll and press oil as out of the oil-seeds!
Born of woman, nourished by woman, wedded to woman, why do they revile woman?
Love is born in the heart of woman,
And the woman starts life agoing, and the race!
Why revile her that gives birth to kings amongst men,
The beauty is born of woman, there is no beauty without woman!
None can be without a woman! Only that One alone is beyond sex, Those lips are the Ruby of Fortune that open to name That Great One!
Afraid of Him the winds blow, blow, blow,
Afraid of Him the rivers flow, flow, flow!
The fire burns, and the earth lies firm and low!
Afraid of Him, the Indra, the king of nature, ordains,
Afraid of Him is the law of Justice.
Afraid of Him the suns and the moons run and run!
On the path of millioft miles unending, the orbs go, go, go!
In His awe the Heavens arch;
And all gods, all Buddhas and adepts speak and think!
The millions of creatures are running to and fro:
On the forehead of all is written their destined course!
Above all laws, above all destiny is He:
The Subject, the Absolute!
THE TEMPLE OF BREAD: LANGAR
What is a home, but a hospitable feasting of children with bread and love and faith ? What is spiritual life in the temple~ of flesh, without a full meal first? The very first Temple made by Guru Nanak, therefore, was the temple of Bread, or Guru’s Langar. In one common Temple of Bread, the Bread of God was made free to the children of man. Let none be hungry where the spirit of God prevails. The Guru’s people and the Guru were one home and one family; but it was no Utopian idea, as of the democracy of labour; it was the democracy of Soul, so gloriously invoked in the temple of the human heart by the genius of the Guru. The sacrifice of selfishness was made for the gladness of soul that the act gave to the people who came round Guru Nanak. The soul of the people was so fully nourished and satisfied that they could not entertain feelings of difference and duality. We are not selfish when we are in the deep repose of a dewy slumber. We are never selfish when we are in love. The people came and laid their selfishness at his feet, arid begged a little of it for his service. To serve the devotees was serving the Master. This union was so spiritually cooperative that none knew if his own hands were his own or of the devotees of the Guru. The bodies and hearts and minds were mingling with each other and with those of the Master, by the magic of His presence amongst them. Here was a religion that made love and labour the common property of man.
Today no Sikh with a grain of that faith in him can possibly think that he owns the Bread. "Bread and water belong to the Guru." No man who is initiated into the Path of the Guru can own a home without being ready to share it with the Guru’s people.
The fruits of his labour belong also to them. Such was the Master’s
foreshadowing of the future; and in this lay all the difference between
him and the centuries of the purely Brahminical culture before him. "The
people are more than myself," says the Guru. "Religion is inspiration
of love. The Beloved is in His people and the service of God. And it is
through service that love is realised. The spark of love is found by chance
by some fortunate one in the company of His Saints and it is the reward
of those who have surrendered themselves, head and heart, to the Divine."
The Master chose out his family of God’s disciples; they served him and he served them. Real service of people is serving them with life, and the one who is alive can give life to others. So the Master says that the opportunity to serve God in humanity is His gift. They alone serve whom He gives the authority to do so.
Guru Nanak’s passion for farming is a true index of his creative mind. We must labour to create the grain to feed people with. All other needs that we have are secondary; there is only one physical distress, and that is hunger. We all must labour on the land and sweat for our bread. Guru Nanak chose finally the life of a farmer for himself. The gardening and farming are outward symbols of the genius of art. We see in his disciples a rare combination of labour and spiritual vision of a home-life and a cave-life; not in a spirit of compromise, but in the spirit of that sweet reconciliation with which the flying bird flaps both his wings for his balance in the blue sky. Guru Nanak poured song into the heart of labour; and his greatest men were farmers, or the help mates of the farmers—such as masons who made huts, carpenters who made ploughs, smiths who made tools, and weavers who made garments for the saints. The entrance to this spiritual humanity lay through a small lowly door where selfishness could not pass. If the people could not drop their selfishness of their own accord, then the Guru’s personality softly stole into theirs and helped them from within to drop it, without their knowledge.
Here do we find the Guru’s inspiration of love achieving all that we still dream of but cannot accomplish. Our disease is not wars and crimes, and sins; but the selfishness of man, a disease more of the soul than of the flesh. Its cure lies in the direction in which worked Nanak, and not in any material readjustment. We need more men with their sensual nature cast out by the Grace of God, through His Favour.
It is remarkable that all the Nine Followers of Nanak kept his central idea of spiritual humanity—its formation, its love, and its service as the chief passion of their daily life, till this idea of his is seen emerging in perfect clearness in the time of Guru Gobind Singh, as Khalsa.
NANAK GIVES NEW MEANINGS TO OLD WORDS, AS DID BUDDHA
Lest his words "Guru", "Sant", "Dhyanam".
etc., should be misunderstood in their old sense, he sings his now world-famous
Arti to dispel all doubt as to his meaning. He sings of Him round whose
Throne "wait a million prophets", "in the interval of Whose
one eyewink there are a million creations that come and go !" Nanak’s
word, "Guru" does not mean a m~n; "Burnt be the tongue
that calls him a man," says Arjun. "Hell is for those who call
me God; I am His Slave !" says Gobind Singh. In vain is all imaging
of man. "I do not know how to name Him. I only say ‘Master,
Guru, Han Han!’ He is immeasureable, how can I measure Him."
And no one else but Nanak is the Master, and he is the man.
"Guru Nanak" is a ten-fold, ten-figured personality, and the whole Sikh life as created and nurtured by the Ten Masters is the only key we have to the understanding of this word. Gobind Singh bluntly lays it down that the language of Guru Granth is to have no interpretation other than the life and art of Nanak himself. The interpreters of these teachings do not bridge the gulf that seems to lie between the language of Nanak and that of Gobind Singh; because they commit the mistake of not putting the Word of the Guru, or the Master, in its proper setting of Sikh life as manifested in His history, its birth and growth. The majesty of Guru Nanak’s diction, the crystal clearness, the self-restraint, the composure, even in the flood of ecstasy, show the difference between him and the Bhaktas of mediaeval India with their confused clamour of Prakrit and Urdu.
We see Nanak’s master-mind again when we find that he never preached, but only planted with his own hand the seedling of spiritual life in the soul of the disciple and watched it grow as a gardener watched plants. "The Guru put his hand on my forehead and made me an angel by his touch; all sin-consciousness was washed out of me and I now live in the beatific vision of the reality." The Guru sat in the heart of the disciple, consuming all sensual desire and leading the disciple, into perfect godhead. And when the disciple heard the voice of the Guru within himself, he caught it and went on, merely echoing and re-echoing the music of the Master’s Nam.
The Hari Mandir itself is a glimpse into Sikh history. The Temple is a centre of perpetual worship, as a human heart, bathed in waters of peace, eternally isolated from the fires of desire that burn outside. The Sikh life must through luminous self-renunciation first bathe in the nectar and then enter within. After this glorious entrance, it is a life of continuous inspiration. In Sikh history, whenever the flames of outer fire leapt towards the Sikh, his Master quenched it in the surrounding nectar, and plunged the Sikh again into deep peace of the inner life.