Epitome of Humility: Guru Nanak Dev Ji

Humility: A Spiritual Journey – 3

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The Janamsakhis [Biographical Accounts] narrate an interesting incident from the early life of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. According to the legend, one morning in Sultanpur in year 1497 A. D., Guru Nanak Dev Ji went to river Bein to bathe as per his daily practice. He disappeared in the water for three days and nights without a trace. Speculations about his disappearance became the talk of the town. Guru Ji’s sister, Babae Nanaki Ji with her husband Bhai Jairam Ji, rushed to the river banks only to find Guru Ji’s clothes. There was no trace of him. So, they arranged for search parties to comb the area, and for divers to locate him. But the search did not yield anything. In the meantime, the Lord summoned Guru Ji in His Divine court. Guru Ji shared this fact in these words:

“Ddaaddee sachai mahal khasam bulaaiaa.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 150)

Meaning: My Lord and Master summoned me, His minstrel, to the True Mansion of His Presence.

There, Lord served Guru Ji nectar of Naam and asked him to carry out His mission. In Guru Ji words the mission was:

“Raat dhihai kai vaar dhurah furamaaiaa.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 150)

Meaning: To sing His Praises day and night, He gave me His Order, right from the start.

Guru Ji accepted the command and bowed in reverence. The Lord asked Guru Ji if he wanted anything to take with him for his mission. Guru Ji’s response was yes. Upon query as to what he wanted, Guru asked for Naam and humility. Bhai Gurdaas the original scribe of Adi Granth has captured this episode in the following words:

Baabaa paidhhaa sach khand nao nidhh naam gareebee paaee.” — (Bhai Gur Daas Vaar 1, Pauri 24)

Meaning: Baba reached the region of Truth where from he received Naam, the storehouse of nine treasures and humility.

Now in order to understand the above quote, we have to relate it to a very precious item or gem and its receptacle or container. Every precious item needs a receptacle for its safe keeping and its proper display. Even a precious diamond can glow and show its true brilliance only when it is studded; thus the stud becomes the receptacle for its proper display. So, Guru Ji obtained the most precious commodity of Naam and along with it, the proper receptacle of humility for its safe keeping. In the first quote above, we saw that Guru Ji called himself a minstrel, which is a true reflection of humility in Guru Ji. We have already discussed the definition of humility in detail in Chapter I; now let us briefly understand Naam. Naam has been succinctly defined by Guru Ji as:

“Aapeenhai aap saajiou aapeenhai rachiou naao.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 463)

Meaning: He (the Formless Absolute) created Himself (in the form of creation); He manifested His being (which is Naam) in His creation.

Thus, Naam is the energy or power that sustains the entire creation. Now let us come back to the incident for further details. It is said that in the ensuing conversation, Guru Ji addressed the Lord:

Kott kottee maeree aarajaa pavan peean apiaao. Chand sooraj dhue gufai n dhaekhaa supanai soun n thhaao. Bhee thaeree keemath naa pavai ho kaevadd aakhaa naao.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 14)

Meaning: If I could live for millions and millions of years, and if the air was my food and drink,
and if I lived in a cave and never saw either the sun or the moon, and if I never slept, even in dreams
still, I could not estimate Your Value. How can I describe the Greatness of Your Naam?

The beauty of these words lies in the fact that these are not mere words of praise, but they rather convey Guru Ji’s conviction of human insignificance. In fact, these words are a true expression of heart-felt, sincere humility. In addition, Guru Ji has also expressed the greatness of God. These words truly convey the attributes of God as they appeared to Guru Ji, and the efforts it would take to describe even a fraction of those attributes. Guru Ji felt overwhelmed by the greatness of the Creator. Along with it, he also expressed human being’s incapability to comprehend or to describe God’s creation.

Guru Ji in his own words has shared that he was commissioned by God to spread Naam. Guru Ji says:

“Hau dhaaddee vekaar kaarai laaeiaa.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 150)

Meaning: I was a minstrel, out of work, when the Lord took me into His service.

Guru Ji declared that he is a bard and that he belonged to low caste of “Dhaaddee”, out of work, but was commissioned by God in His mission. This again sums up Guru Ji’s humility. It was only after this encounter that Guru Ji decided to embark on his journeys to share the message of love and One Universal God. He convinced his parents and other family members on the importance of his mission and set out on the mission. Bhai Gurdaas has described the mission in these words:

“ChaRhiaa sodhaN dharat lukaae'ee.24.” (Bhai Gurdaas Vaar 1, Pauri 24)

Meaning: He set out on his mission to put humanity on the path to realization (of Supreme).

Guru Ji travelled to many places and countries to share his message. Wherever he interacted with the masses, there was always a challenging scenario, yet there was no confrontation. Instead, we see a befitting display of humility through his words and actions. Let us just touch upon a few to get the flavor of his humility.

Guru Ji’s first stop was Saidpur, now known as Eminabad in Pakistan. Here Guru Ji was invited to a community feast organized by Malik Bhago, a high government official of the town. But Guru Ji did not show up, which infuriated Malik Bhago as he felt put down and insulted. The next morning, the offended Malik Bhago visited Guru Ji with a loaded plate of food from the feast, and demanded an explanation for the snub of no show. Guru Ji smiled and replied, “So many holy men partook in the feast Braham Bhojan, and so does it matter if I did not come?” Malik Bhago replied, “Yes! It was a personal insult.” He then derided Guru Ji for staying with the low caste and sharing meals with them. Guru Ji did not say a word, instead got a loaf of flat bread from Bhai Lalo’s kitchen in his left hand and a buttered deep fried Mal Pura from Malik Bhago’s plate in his right hand. He squeezed both of them simultaneously, and drops of milk flowed from Bhai Lalo’s bread while drops of blood flowed from Mal Pura of Malik Bhago. The stunning spectacle shocked everyone. Guru Ji asked, “How could I agree to eat your food, full of blood?” Stunned Malik Bhago asked Guru Ji for an explanation. Guru Ji explained to Malik Bhago that his food had the blood of the poor, as it was not earned by honest means. When a true lover of God eats your food, they can feel the pain and the suffering of the exploited. Guru Ji added that we should remember that we are all children of God and should not oppress the poor. Guru Ji’s advice to him was that ill-gotten wealth would pollute the soul, and to remember God always in all his actions, so as to avoid polluting the soul.

Now let’s take a look at another incident from the life of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, specifically when he visited Sangaladeep, now known as Sri Lanka. When Guru Ji arrived in Jaffna, the Queen Rani Chandrakala was informed that a holy man by the name of Nanak was staying in the old gardens. She decided to send the most beautiful dancing girls to test Guru Ji. The dancing girls surrounded Guru Ji and tried to cast their magic spell on him. But Guru Ji started singing the praises of Lord. Guru Ji told the dancing girls to go away and not to distract him - in these words:

“Gaashhahu puthree raaj kuaar.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 1187)

Meaning: O princess, my daughter, run away from this place!

The words Guru Ji used to refer to the dancing girls - princesses and my daughters - reflect his humility. The dancing girls failed in their mission and returned back to the palace completely transformed. Guru Ji did not resort to any display of occult powers; still the dancing girls were transformed.

Now, the Queen informed King (Raja) Shib Nabh about the arrival of Guru Ji. Raja was informed that Guru Ji was here to meet him and was staying in the old garden. Raja was astonished and immediately headed in the direction of the old garden. Halfway, he stopped abruptly, removed his crown and jewels, and handed them over to his retinue. Then he asked his retinue to return to the palace and told them that he would be going alone.

When Raja Shib Nabh reached the spot where Guru Ji was camping, he bowed respectfully. After pleasantries, he started a barrage of questions regarding who is a true Yogi, Brahmin, Khatri, Karma etc. Then Raja asked how to come out of the cycle of births and deaths. Guru Ji’s answers (which are preserved in Guru Granth Sahib) revolved around One God-Ik Onkar. The Raja then asked how a person can get rid of death and birth. Guru Ji’s response (again preserved in Guru Granth Sahib) was to merge in Naam (discussed in Chapter II). The Raja was so impressed, that he wanted Guru Ji to come and stay in the royal palace. He even offered to carry Guru Ji on his shoulders. Guru Ji’s reply, in full humility, was that his place was amongst the people and not away from them. Still, the Raja persisted that Guru Ji should stay in the palace, but Guru Ji said no. The Raja willingly offered his kingdom, himself, and even his mind. Guru Ji asked him to give up; “I, me, my, mine.” The king was impressed and convinced and he promised to give up his ego. Guru asked him to build a Dharamsal (a place for congregation), where he would gladly stay. Dharamsal was quickly built and daily congregations started there where everyone came freely and enjoyed the divine music. Dharamsal was a place for spiritual discourses. At present such a place for the people of Sikh faith is known as Gurudwara. Then, Raja asked about what was the most appropriate thing for him to do? Guru Ji’s advice was:

“Mun raakan neeva.”

Meaning: Always keep mind humble.

Next let us look at another incident from a later part of Guru Ji’s life, after he settled in Kartarpur. In the early part of year 1539 A. D., there was a special mela (fair) of Shivratri at Achal Batala and Siddhas or Yogis assembled there in very large numbers. Guru Ji decided to visit there on that occasion. The Siddhas attracted masses by displaying their yogic powers and miracles. Guru Ji went to a corner and started singing hymns; many were attracted to it, and joined in. The sudden loss of hold over the masses frustrated the Siddhas, and their leader Charpat started a verbal assault on Guru Ji, by challenging him to have discussions with them. First, they demanded that Guru Ji greet them in these words:

“Sidh sabhaa kar aasaN baitte sant sabhaa jaikaaro.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 938)

Meaning: The Siddhas formed an assembly; sitting in their Yogic postures, they shouted, “Salute this gathering of Saints.”

Guru Ji responded to their request by greeting the Almighty One. The first introductory question fired by the Siddhas to Guru Ji was a frontal assault meant to put him down:

Kavan tumae kiaa naao tumaaraa koun maarag koun suaaou.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 938)

Meaning: Who are you? What is your name? What is your religion? What is your purpose?

The answer by Guru Ji was short and succinct:

Saach keho aradaas hamaaree hao sant janaa bal jaaou.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 938)

Meaning: I am a sacrifice to the humble Saints, who have taught me the path of true living.

Guru Ji’s short answer to their questions really baffled the Siddhas. He meant to say that his existence, his name, his religion and his purpose is the same as those of humble saints.

The Siddhas then addressed Guru Ji as “Balae” or kid, further attempting to undermine Guru Ji. They then asked about his hometown and asked him to further clarify the answers to their previous questions. Guru Ji’s response was totally non-confrontational, yet firm and resolute:

Ghatt ghatt bais nirantar raheeai chaalehi satgur bhaaeae. Sahajae aaeae hukam sidhhaaeae Nanak sadhaa rajaaeae. Aasan baisan thhir naaraaein aisee guramath paaeae. Gurmukh boojhai aap pashhaanai sachae sach samaaeae. — (SGGS, Pg. No. 938)

Meaning: I sit in continuous meditation of the One who dwells deep within every heart. That is my seat and my home. I walk in harmony with His Will. I came from the Celestial Lord God; I go wherever He orders me to go. I am Nanak, forever under the Command of His Will. I sit in the posture of the eternal, imperishable Lord. These are the Teachings I have received from the Guru. As Gurmukh, I have come to understand and realize myself; I merge in the Truest of the True.

This entire encounter was captured by Guru Ji later on after the event, in the form of the composition titled “Sidh Gosht”. The composition of “Sidh Gosht” has 73 stanzas. It contains 153 questions from the Siddhas and Guru Ji’s reply to them. The sheer number of questions, duration of the discussions and the depth of the questions, sheds light on the quality of this discussion. At the conclusion of this marathon discussion, the Siddhas bowed in reverence and accepted the preeminence of Guru Ji. Their original objective was to undermine Guru Ji; next their attempt was to enroll Guru Ji into their fold. Finally, they requested Guru Ji to show them some miracle. Guru Ji response was that, he has no miracles which can be performed, and that his miracle is Naam alone. It will be pertinent to understand that these Siddhas were intelligentsia of the nation, who were professors, and faculty of elite university of Nalanda; who had run to high mountains to escape attack of invaders.

This composition is a unique type of religious discourse in the world, and without a parallel in any other scripture. It is also additionally unique in format as well, in the form of questions and answers - where all the answers are in one place for serious seekers. It is also an interesting model on how to conduct oneself in a crucial debate, under adversarial and challenging circumstances, by stating one’s viewpoint amicably and listening to response with reverence. The outcome of this discussion has been aptly summed by Bhai Gurdaas Ji:

“Siddh bolan subh bachan dhhan Nanak taeree vaddee kamaaee.” — (Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 1.44)

Meaning: Now, speaking benign words, the Siddhas applauded the great achievement of Nanak.

From Acal Batala Guru Ji went to Multan and Uch. He had promised Pir Bahauddin of Multan and Pir Jalal-ud-din of Uch that he would visit them on their invitation. When he reached Multan the other pirs of this great center of the Sufis panicked, as they were afraid that Guru Nanak might establish his mission in the city, which had been their citadel for centuries. Guru Ji had camped at the site of Shams Tabrezi Darbaar. The Sufis had a very polite and a symbolic way of telling any such conscious intruder, that there was no place for him in their spiritual jurisdiction. Sometimes they would change the direction of their shoes, and place them facing in an outward direction as a signal for departure. They were concerned and worried that their influence and affluence will be affected by the presence of Guru Ji. They were in no way more cultured and respectful in their behavior than the fiery yogis of Achal Batala. They sent Kareem with a cup of milk full to the brim, indicating that in Multan there was no room for any more pirs (saints). The implication was Guru Ji should just simply leave that place quietly.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji understood the mystery, implication and intention of their symbolic gesture. Guru Nanak Dev Ji did not think of retaliation with an argument, fight, or the time honored recourse of teaching them a lesson with a counter punch. Guru Ji quietly took a fragrant jasmine flower from the garden of the Darbaar and placed it on the milk, and respectfully returned it; indicating that he had not come to occupy any of their places. He had come there not to dislodge them but to enhance them, like the jasmine flower which floats on the milk (see the image on the cover of this book for artistic rendition of this episode), and spread its fragrance. Like the flower floating over the milk, he would remain above all and not plant his roots there.

Soon, Pir Makhdoom Bahauddin came to see Guru Ji. He understood that his ego had been shattered by that symbolic gesture. Shah Sharaf, Abdul Kadar Tak, and Shau Suhagan followed him. Guru Ji welcomed each Pir and told Pir Makhdoom Bahauddin that although two swords cannot fit in one sheath, but two of us can sit together in one room. He was so delighted to meet Guru Ji that the other pirs were surprised at the devotion shown by him. He took pride in serving Baba Nanak with his own hands. He felt delighted to meet the man whom he deemed his best friend in life and death. Guru Ji pointed out to them that even if they deemed their actions as pious and pure as milk, they still lacked the four spiritual qualities of tolerance, magnanimity, fragrance and sweetness. Guru Ji further shared with them how a spiritual person always keeps room for others and is always accommodating in nature; just as the ocean has room for an ever-flowing river. When those assembled there asked Guru Ji for forgiveness, Guru sang the following words:

“Hum nahee changae buraa nahee koae. Pranavath naanak taarae soe.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 728)

Meaning: I am not good; no one is bad. Prays Nanak, He alone saves us!

Such was the humility in Guru Nanak Dev Ji, when the pirs of Multan and others assembled to acknowledge the greatness of Guru Ji, he did not deride their behavior or use the occasion to put them down. Instead, Guru Ji showed them keen regards and reverence and they became his best friends. They were in such awe; they offered Guru Ji any wish. Guru Ji’s response was that if you all are so magnanimous I would like to receive some humility. When Pir Bahauddin begged God for a small quantity of humility to be bestowed upon him, God told him that almost all of it was taken by Guru Nanak. Now, only a very minute quantity was left for distribution to the rest of mankind, which he can have. Pir was so enamored by Guru Ji that at times during his Namaz he would witness Guru Ji in front of his eyes. This was Guru Ji’s last preaching journey and he stayed in Multan for about four (4) months. Bhai Gurdaas has captured the return back from Multan in these words:

“Jaarat kar mulataan dee fir karataar puray no aaiaa.” — (Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 1.45)

Meaning: After the successful journey of Multan, Baba Nanak again turned towards Kartarpur.

Now, let us try to see the humility as reflected in Guru Ji’s sayings. In Pauri No. 17 and 18 of Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak Dev Ji discusses how countless recite, worship, admire, and practice yoga to attain union with God; then he compared those who do the opposite –sinners, thieves, murderers, liars, slanderers, etc. In the concluding line he says:

“Nanak neech kahai veechar. Vaari-aa naa jaavaa ayk vaar.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 4)

Meaning: Lowly Nanak holds this opinion; (that) I cannot even once be a sacrifice to You.

Guru Ji was so full of humility that when talking about the lower rung of people in the society, he puts himself as the lowly. In another instance, when Guru Ji was made prisoner by the invading forces of Babur in Saidpur he claimed himself to be an indentured slave of God. Let us read his words uttered to uplift the spirits of residents of Saidpur, being held prisoners:

“Mul khareedhee laalaa golaa maeraa naao subhaagaa.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 991)

Meaning: I am Your slave, Your bonded servant, and I go by the name of fortunate.

Now how many of us today would be willing to embrace, proclaim our own slavery and announce it to the world? It is something that is intentionally hidden both by perpetuator and the perpetuated, and is considered an inhuman practice. Guru Ji is not talking about that kind of manmade slavery, but rather the surrender to the Almighty and considering oneself as truly insignificant. So let us again refresh Guru Ji’s feelings in relation to others:

“Hum nahee changae buraa nahee koe. Pranavath nanak thaarae soe.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 728)

Meaning: I am not good; no one is bad. Prays Nanak, He (God) alone saves us (mortals)!

The meaning of the quote above, when read in context as a part of complete shabad (hymn) clarifies that the prerequisite of salvation is acquiring humility, and not treating others as inferior in any way. So, let us read Guru Ji’s another advice on this subject. Guru Ji says:

“Neechaaa andhar neech jaath neechee hoo ath neech. Nanak tin kai sang saathh vaddiaa sio kiaa rees. Jithai neech samaaleean thithhai nadhar thaeree bakhasees.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 15)

Meaning: Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low class, the very lowest of the low. Why should he try to compete with the (so called) great? In that place where the lowly are cared for, there the Blessings of Your Glance of Grace rains down.

Guru Ji sees no need to compete with the elite, affluent, or those belonging to a higher caste- he is happy with the lowliest. Guru Ji demonstrated this trait when he spurned the invitation of Malik Bhago, but invited himself to the poor abode of Lalo in Saidpur. In another quote, Guru Ji addressed the subject of supremacy of higher caste system as follows:

“Hau dhadhee kaa neech jaath hor utham jaath sadhaaeidhae.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 468)

Meaning:I am the Lord's minstrel, of low social status; others call themselves high caste.

By declaring himself as belonging to the low caste, Guru Ji exposes the hollowness and futility of claiming a higher caste or class, simply based on birth. Here, despite belonging to Khatri caste, which is considered upper class, Guru Ji had claimed himself to be minstrel, which society had labeled as a lower caste and had discriminated against. By doing so, he raised his voice against the caste system and simultaneously displayed true humility. It will be pertinent to conclude this Chapter with Guru Ji’s viewpoint on the subject of humility with a quote from Chapter I. Guru Ji says:

Mithath neevee naanakaa gun changiaaeeaa tat.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 560)

Meaning: In humility there is sweetness, O Nanak, (humility is) the essence of virtue and goodness.

In such a short sentence, Guru Ji has declared humility as the ultimate virtue. Guru Ji was bestowed humility by the Almighty, and then lived a life of humility and propagated it. Guru says about self as:

“Naa ham changae aakhe'eeh buraa na dhisai koae.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 1015)

Meaning: I am not to be counted amongst the good, and I see none who are bad.

In fact, Guru Ji finds everyone in adoration of God, and in admiration he humbly offered his head to them in these words:

“Nanak vechaaraa kiaa kahai. Sabh lok salaahe ekasai. Sir nanak lokaa paav hai.” — (SGGS, Pg. No. 1168)

Meaning: What can poor Nanak say? All people praise the One Lord. Nanak places his head on the feet of such people.

Let Guru Ji’s words become our inspiration to imbibe humility. When we start cultivating humility, it will be beginning of our own spiritual journey. In fact, when Guru Ji picked his successor, the quality of humility was a major criterion. As that is most attractive and appealing to the Supreme God and Guru Ji. Bhai Lehna, the successor thus demonstrated to us, how to please the master by humbling self. Guru Ji gave Bhai Lehna a new name of Angad, which means “part of the body” thus making clear, that his successor was part of his body and possessed same qualities.

Continued to Next Page 


More by :  Bhupinder Singh

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