It is said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. It was dark, moonless night, pitch black. One could hear no sound other than the singing of a child. The village was asleep, had been sleeping all night and a child had been singing in his room. The mother of the child was worried because the night was more than half over and the lamp in his room was still burning. She could hear his voice as he sang. She could restrain herself no longer and knocked at his door, “Go to sleep now, my son. The night is almost spent!” The child became silent. At that moment, from the darkness of the night, a sparrow called in a loud voice on a tree outside. “Listen mother, even the sparrow is calling for his beloved, how can I be silent then? I am in competition with that bird mother, as long as it keeps calling its beloved, I’ll keep singing. I can’t keep count of days and nights!” and the singing continued. The child was, whom later on the world came to know as, Baba Nanak. Nanak found peace, enlightenment by singing. Nanak’s quest is very unusual. Music is the path he chose at a very young age and he decorated his path with his songs.
Nanak has given just one mantra to humanity, ‘Ek Onkar Satnam’. Whatever else he said, or sang all his life, was the explanation of this mantra. The mantra was complete, nothing more was needed to say, nothing more could be said. But, for the world full of innocent souls, three words cannot solve the mystery, therefore, the language had to be used.
Nanak said, God is the creator but realize that He does not stand apart from his creation. He is absorbed and one with all that He has created. This is why Nanak never separated the sannyasin from the householder. If the creator was separate from his creation, then you would drop all worldly activities in order to seek Him, abandoning the shop, the office, the marketplace. Nanak did not give up his worldly duties till the very end. As soon as he returned from his travels he would go to work in the fields. All his life he ploughed the fields, he was a farmer, always lived as one. He named the village in which he settled, Kartarpur, which means the village of the creator.
God is the creator, but do not think He is separated form His creation. When man sculpts an idol and the idol is completed, the sculptor and the sculpture are no longer one; they are separate. And the sculpture will remain long after the sculptor is dead. If the image fractures, the sculptor is not also broken, because the two are separate. But there is no such distance between God and His creation.
What kind of relationship exists between God and His creation? It is like a dancer with his dance. When a dancer dances, can you separate the two? Can a dancer return home leaving the dance behind? If the dancer dies, the dance dies too. When the dance stops, the dancer is no longer a dancer. They are united. This is why since ancient times, Hindus have looked upon God as the dancer, “Nataraj.” In this symbol the dancer and the dance are one. The poet is no longer related to his poem, once it is finished. The sculptor is separated from his sculpture as soon as it is completed. A mother gives birth to a child, and they are separate; the father is always distinct from the child. But God is not distinct from His creation; He is contained in it. It would be more accurate to say: the creator is the creation, or the creator is nothing but creativity. Discarding all idea of separateness Nanak says there is no need to renounce or run away from the world. Wherever you are, He is. Nanak has given birth to a unique religion in which householder and sannyasin are one. He alone is entitled to call himself a Sikh who, being a householder is yet a sannyasin; who, being a sannyasin is still a householder.
You cannot become a Sikh merely by growing your hair or wearing a turban. It is difficult to be a Sikh. It is easy to be a householder or to be a sannyasin, but to be a Sikh you have to be both. You have to remain in the house – but as if you are not there, as if you are in the Himalayas. Keep running the shop, but maintain the remembrance of His name ever throbbing within; you can count your cash but take His name along with it.
Nanak had many small glimpses of God. The first occurred when Nanak was working in a grain shop, modikhana, where his job was to weigh wheat and other grains for the customers. One day as he measured, “One, two, three…” he reached the number thirteen. Now the number thirteen is ‘tera’ in the Punjabi language. “Tera” also means “yours.” When Nanak reached thirteen, tera, he lost all consciousness of the outside world because he was reminded of his beloved lord.
He would fill a measure and repeat “tera.” Again and again he filled it… “tera” – as if all numbers ended at tera. Tera became his mantra. The destination was reached; everything ended at tera for Nanak. People thought him mad and tried to stop him, but Nanak was in a different world altogether: “Tera! Tera! Tera!” He could not move past tera. There was nothing beyond it. There are really only two halting places; one is I and the other is you.
You start with I and I finish at you.
Nanak was a traveler. One of the very few who was loved everywhere he went. Muslims call him Peer Nanak and consider him as one of their own. There is a famous parable about Nanak being at Mecca and telling the mullahs to turn his feet towards the direction where there is no God. I have heard this story countless times but hearing it through a muslim’s perspective was a unique experience. During one of my recent journeys, few muslim travelers shared seat with me and the conversation started. There is an argument about Nanak being buried or burned after his death, it was the topic of discussion. Muslims considered him one of their own because of his dressing and his travels in the Middle East.
A strange fact is that travelers from Middle East have always traveled with armies and have looted India, Mughals, Tughlaqs, Lodis, Ghaznis, Ghanavis etc., but one man from India traveled Middle East with two of his disciples and left an ever lasting impression on them. Probably Nanak is the only non-Muslim to attain the designation of Peer. Later on Sikhs & Muslims fought wars on several grounds, some reasons can be justified, some cannot, but the fact remains that Nanak has stood the test of time as far as making a spiritual impact on the masses is concerned.
When Nanak reached the age of twelve, he was about to be initiated into Hinduism and received a sacred thread. It was an important ceremony. Many people were invited and a band was arranged. When the priest finished his incantations and was about to place the sacred thread on him, Nanak said, “Wait! What will happen by wearing this thread?”
The pundit said, “You become a dwija”, which is a member of the Hindu faith, literally a twice born.
Nanak asked, “Will the old really die and the new be born? If that is so, I am ready.” The pundit was concerned because he knew to the contrary, that nothing will happen, that was only an empty ceremony. Nanak asked, “What if this thread were to break?”
“You can always buy a new one from the market and throw away the old,” said the pundit.
“Then let this one go now,” said Nanak. “Anything that breaks by itself and is sold in the marketplace for a trifling amount, how can it help me to find God? How can man’s creation help to find God? For man’s performances are always petty and inferior.”
His father Kalu Mehta, was convinced the boy was a total-good-for-nothing. He had done his best to bring him round to do something, but had failed. When there was no other way, there was a last resort that came in handy in the villages – he was sent to graze the cattle. Nanak went quite happily to the pasture and was soon lost in his thoughts and meditation while the cattle destroyed the adjacent fields. The next day he had to be removed from this too! His father was now doubly convinced that the boy could do nothing and would amount to nothing.
Now it is an interesting fact that those people who have done most for the world are denied this world completely; those who are just the claimants of the other world are almost unable to do anything in this world. It is not that they are not capable, but their whole quality of being and doing is different. They become only a means, a medium through which many things can happen.
Nanak has glorified the guru to a great extent. All saints have sung the glory of the guru, placing him above the scriptures. If the guru says something that is not found in the Vedas, forget the Vedas, because the guru is the living scripture. There is a reason why saints have extolled and treasured the guru’s words so. First of all, the Vedas are also expressions of gurus; but these gurus are not present today. The words have lost the purity they had when they were first uttered, because those who collected them, of necessity, combined and mixed them with their own thoughts – this they could not help. Though it was not done on purpose, it is certain that it happened.
If I tell you something with instructions to repeat it to your neighbor, you are bound to lose something and add something to what I said. The mode of speaking will change. Even if you use exactly the words I used, your preferences and your emphasis will be different from mine. When you speak, your experience, your knowledge, your understanding will creep into the words.
I give you a flower, and you take it in your hand to give to someone from me, but the flower will have caught some of your smell. Just as the flower’s scent remains in your hands, the flower also picks up your scent. The flower is no longer the flower I gave you. If the flower has passed through a thousand hands, it will carry the scent of all those hands. And if the flower were to come back to me, I would never be able to recognize it as the same flower. The essence of the flower I knew would be lost by the touch of a thousand hands. It will not look the same as when I gave it, but will have fallen into pieces, its petals scattered here and there. People will have to stick on other petals to complete the flower before they bring it back to me.
The Vedas are the utterances of gurus. Those who have known have spoken. But now it is thousands and thousands of years since these words were spoken. Much has been deleted, much added. Therefore it is great good fortune to come across a living guru when the book has turned stale.
Another very interesting thing is: when you read a book, you interpret the words in your own way. It is you who reads and you who interprets, and your interpretation cannot be more than you; it cannot transcend your own understanding. You will attach your own meanings to the words. So the book cannot become your guru; you become guru to the book! You have not learned the scriptures, rather you begin to teach the scriptures; thus you find thousands of interpretations. Look at the Gita – how many commentaries there are! Whoever reads it takes his own meanings from it. Krishna is no longer here to censor by saying: ”Brother, this is not what I meant!” When Krishna spoke, he was definite about what he meant, but who is to say now what his intention was? Even Arjuna could not say, though he was the one to hear it; because whatever he says will have been changed by him.
The whole Gita has been written by Sanjay, who was no more than a news reporter of his day. It was his job to report on the battle being fought over one hundred miles away to Dhritrashtra, the blind king. He must have seen the whole thing on television. The deaf are listening and reporting to the blind! So the truth lies even further away. What Krishna said, even Arjuna could not have reported correctly, but only in the light of his own understanding. He could repeat only what he understood and not what Krishna actually said. And now we introduce Sanjay who is collecting the news. He is the reporter – the third person!
Then thousands of years elapse while we have all the commentators, each claiming to elucidate it out of his own understanding. By then each word acquires infinite meanings, and the Gita becomes meaningless. Whatever you put in has become a new edition.
Therefore Nanak, Kabir, and others have stressed one point – seek a living guru. The scriptures had all become stale and second hand, third hand, even at the time of these saints.
Religion is to lose on one side and gain on the other, and so problems arise. If you begin to seeGod in the customer, how will you fleece him? It will be difficult. If a pickpocket sees God in his victim, his hand will be paralyzed. How can you do evil? How will you be angry? How will you make enemies? That is exactly what happened with Jesus, he could not see the enemies or traitors, he could only see His will.
If you see Him in everything the structure of your life will begin to crumble from all sides. The house you have built stands against all He signifies, because you built it when you had forgotten Him. If now you begin to remember Him the house cannot remain.
All religions have become feeble because we have not the courage of the gambler, but stick to the mathematics of the businessman. Then it becomes very difficult to remember the mantra, which aims to change your life from its very roots; you will not be the same from even such a small mantra. It will start such a raging fire in your life that this life will disappear.
The mantra is only this : EK ONKAR SATNAM
That within, the master of all, is one. For your life to change, you need nothing more. You do not need to do Patanjali’s yoga asanas, nor have you to worry about the ten commandments of the Jews, nor concern yourself with the Gita or the Koran.
A small secret, such a tiny secret, to change your entire life! Through this secret Nanak attained and you can also.