As a child growing up, I heard sakhi after sakhi of Guru Nanak Sahib’s life – from his childhood, to his travels, to the odd conversations with various holy men – but for whatever reason, I connected with none of it. However, at the same time I was developing an interest in social justice and became fascinated with the life and works of activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela. I wasn’t interested in Sikh history…I was interested in revolutionaries. But when I was finally able to connect the two and learned about “Guru Nanak The Revolutionary”, it all made sense…and I was hooked! To this day, there is not a shabad I hear from Guru Sahib’s baani that doesn’t challenge me to rebel.
Rebel against caste discrimination
Rebel against gender inequality
Rebel against the oppressors of minorities
Rebel against empty ritual
Rebel against the inner enemies that keep us disconnected from Him (kaam, krodh, lobh, mob, ahankar)
Every way in which society was designed to suppress an individual, to limit their potential, to leave them powerless, Guru Sahib found a way to take the common man or woman – uplift them, empower them, and enable them with a connection to the Supreme, so they could ultimately challenge that very establishment that suppressed them.
This is Guru Nanak the revolutionary…and it’s the Guru Nanak I know.
But this time of year, the anniversary of his birth, is always unsettling for me.
When I look around, I see a celebration – not of Guru Nanak the revolutionary, but a caricature of him…a portly pacifist who’s become the symbol of “inclusivity.” An old wise man who’s teachings have been replaced with our own anecdotes and opinions. The image below making its way around the internet is symbolic of this.
Where did this quotation come from?
Is this the same Guru that said Hukam Rajaee Chalna, Nanak Likhia Naal (O Nanak, it is written that you shall obey the Hukam of His command, and walk the way of His will)
Is this the same Guru that said Bin Satgur Kinai Na Paeeo Bin Satgur Kinai Na Paeea (Without the true guru, no one has obtained Him; without the true Guru, no one has obtained him)
Is this the same Guru that said Jo Tau Prem Khelan Ka Chao, Sir Dhar Thali Gali Meri Aou (If you desire to play this game of love with Me, then step on to my path with your head in hand)
Humble The Poet said it best this week,
This #gurpurb let’s practice some independent thought, and not digest a quote simply because it’s cute & someone put it beside an artist rendition of what Baba Nanak might have looked like. I don’t know who put those words together, but they weren’t Baba Nanak.
Refuting this quotation doesn’t take away from Sikhi’s universal message or seeing the “one-ness” in all of humanity. But if there is one clear message I get from Guru Sahib’s baani, it is to follow your Guru and live his teachings…and we don’t need to hide from that.
So for this year’s gurpurab, let us not water down Guru Sahib’s message to the lowest common denominator, just so we can be festive and feel good about ourselves, let’s instead take an opportunity to awaken the Guru Nanak inside ourselves….to learn and reflect, to question and challenge, and to fearlessly stand with those who are marginalized, the same way Guru Sahib did and with the same humility and divinity in which he did it. Perhaps this is the best birthday gift we can offer…
This post was inspired by Jaswant Zafar’s beautiful poem titled “Nanak.” Never has something that sounded so beautiful felt like such a hard slap to the face. Take a listen and spend the 4 minutes…you’ll be glad you did.