Guru Nanak’s concept of Practical Spirituality through Truthful living

Guru Nanak’s concept of Practical Spirituality through Truthful living

Brig S. Rawel Singh, Gurgaon, India

Brig S. Rawel Singh


Gurbani says humankind is dependent on wherewithal in the form of air, water and food for sustenance. Activities of creatures also guided by day, night, seasons in the cosmic system which is in complete harmony like components of a musical group. Guru Nanak uses this scientific model to guide on a spiritual path, which is logical as well as amiable. It kills the dichotomy of spiritual and secular lives being different as there are no dogmas, rituals or superstitions.

He finds no difference between basics of various faiths. The differences because preceptors of earlier religions did not put their teachings in writing. The scriptures were written by their followers who tried to glorify their founders and tried to show that God likes only their religion.

Whereas earlier scriptures glorify personalities, Guru Nanak calls himself ‘lowliest of the lowly’. He proclaims “O people there is none high, medium or low; we are people of One God in Divine sanctuary; let us not be divisive”.

He advocates giving up ego, practice humility for amity, and conduct ourselves by Naam which is the other name for Divine commands or the laws of nature.

Body of Paper

Guru Nanak’s concept of Practical Spirituality Through Truthful living

Spirituality is a broad term covering living by higher values. It covers ethics, peace, and tranquillity. Some people link it with religion, some people do not, thinking religion is only dogmas, superstations and rituals. However, dogmas do not form basics of any religion, and are later additions. It is also a fact that religion teaches ethics and religious organisations are always the first to provide succour to people in case of disasters natural or otherwise. Therefore, all religions in their pristine form are desirable to follow.

Gurbani says religion should make better human beings. We read in Sukhmani Sahib.

Sarab dharam mah-i sreyst dharam. Hark ko naam jap nirmal karam. M: 5, p 266. Of all the religious practices, the most sublime is to remember and conform to Naam or virtues and commands of the Almighty.

The fifth Guru says “Nanak key ghar keyval naam” M; 5, p 1136.

The house of Nanak, i.e. the Sikh faith, relies only on Naam.

Faith in dogmas, rituals or superstitions achieves nothing. Guru Nanak says in Japji Paurri 6.

Jeyti siratth upaaee veykha vin karma ki milai laee. In this universe, let me see if anyone can find God without working for it.

Basic meaning of Naam is name or identity. Naam has two forms in Gurbani.

The first is Divine virtues or attributes by which the Almighty is recognised. These are numerous and called Kirtam Naam, i.e. names based on attributes. Guru Nanak says:

Teyrey naam aneyka roop ananta kahan na jaahee terey gun keytey. M; 1, p 358. O Almighty, You have numerous names and countless forms; it is not possible to count Your virtues/attributes.

The second is Sat Naam, meaning eternal Naam or authority, i.e. Divine writ, Hukam, or laws of nature. Guru Sahib says:

Eyko Naam hukam hai Nanak satigur deeaa bujhaaey jeeo. M: 1, p 71 The One Naam is Hukam, commands or authority. The Almighty is the lone Supreme authority.

Guru Nanak has put these in the Mool Mantar, meaning the root mantra or formula as follows.

One Naam of the One Almighty.

1 OankaarOne God who is the beginning and indivisible.

Sat NaamGod, whose writ is inevitable.

This is to be kept in mind for compliance. The fourth Guru says:

Jap man satinaam sadaa satinaam. My mind, ever remember and comply with Divine writ/Hukam.

Kirtam Naam as numerous attributes of the Almighty.

Karta Purakhthe Creator who is all-pervasive.

Nirbhauwithout fear. The Creator made the laws of nature, pre-existed them and hence is not subject to them. These laws have not been in fear of, i.e. to suit anyone. The Creator is not answerable to anyone.

Guru Nanak elaborates on the Creator being Nirbhau.

Bhai vich pavan vahai sad vaau —- sagliaa bhau likhiaa sir leykh. Nanak nirbhau nirankaar sach eyk.

M: 1, p 464.

Every entity is in fear/obedience of the Creator, only the One Eternal Formless Creator is not. God is the highest authority.

Nirvairwithout enmity. Treats all equally.

Akal Mooratepitome of eternity, transcends time. Is Timeless and deathless.

Ajooniwithout life form. God is the Spirit.

Saibh’nSelf created, Self-existent. God cannot be installed as an idol.

Gurprasaad God, the Spirit, is formless and hence not found by the senses. IT is recognised with the true guru’s guidance.

Note: The pronoun IT has indicates the Almighty is not a person and is gender neutral.

Understanding of Divine virtues motivate to have vision of the Almighty. The latter comes by obedience, says Guru Nanak:

Teyrey gun gaavaa deyh bujhaaee; jaisey sach mah rahau rajaaee.

M: 1, p 795.

O Almighty, please give understanding of Your virtues and powers; so that I live by Your will/commands.

Khaana peenaa hasna sauna visar gaiaa hai marna. Khasam visaar khuaari keeni dhrig jeevan nahi rahna.

M: 1, p 1254.

People eat, drink, laugh and rest; but have forgotten death. It is shameful not to obey commands of the Master, who provides all the pleasures.

The true guru guides on the right path.

Nanak satgur bheyttiai poori hovai jugat. Hasandiaa kheylandiaa painandiaa khaavandiaa vichey hovey mukat.

M: 5, p 522.

One knows the perfect way of leading life by following the true guru’s guidance. Then one remains free of bondage while laughing, playing/enjoying, wearing good clothes and enjoying food.

The soul comes from the Spirit to give life to the body, and wishes to merge back after death of the body. It is given a role to play in life with duties associated with it. The human being comes with four potentials for their roles, namely:

Dharamdutifully perform the role in life.

Arthobtain and contribute to economic wellbeing, and development.

Kaamfulfilment of desires and aspirations.

If the soul is possessed by temptations in life connected with the above three, it loses its pristine form and cannot merge with the Spirit. This is overcome with the guru’s guidance to attain the fourth.

MokhFreedom from temptations.

Guru Nanak says

Satigur kai vas chaar padaarath. Teen samaaey eyk kritaarath.

M: 1, p 1345.

The four potentials are in hand of the true guru; if the three are controlled with his guidance, success in the fourth is obtained.

Guru Sahib says no other means work.

Manhatth budhi keyteeaa keytey beyd beechaar.

Many people act by own will; many perform rituals with ideas taken from the Vedas.

Keytey bandhan jeea key Gurmukhi mokh duaar.

There are numerous fetters for the mind. Emancipation is attained by following the guru.

Sachahu orai sabh ko upar sach aachaar.

One cannot reach the Eternal with these; above these is truthful conduct.

M: 1, p 62.

The fetters mentioned above are:

Karam dharam sabh bandhna paap pun sanbandh.

All religious rituals are fetters – which hold back from complying with Naam. They are based on superstitions good and bad deeds.

M: 3, p 551.


Here are practical examples from Gurbani on what is truthful living in all aspects of life. They are analogies for attaining union of the soul with the Spirit.

Question: Kiv Sachiaara hooeeai kiv koorrai tuttai paal. Japji Paurri 1.

How to demolish the wall of falsehood and be considered truthful to be accepted for union with the Spirit . – The wall of falsehood is Haumai or ego, i.e. acting by self-will.

Answer: Hukam rajaaee chalna nanak likhiaa naal. Japji Paurr 1, p 1

It is willing conformance to Hukam, Divine commands, the laws of nature, they are written on the conscience.


Ih kineyhi aasqi doojai lagai jaaey. Nanak aasaq kaaddheeai sad hi rahai samaaey.

It is not love if one gets attracted elsewhere. True love is forever- through thick and thin.

Changey changa kar maney mandai manda hoey. Aasaq ih na aakheeai ji leykha vartai soey . M: 2, p 474.

One who is happy in good times but not in adversity; one who is love for benefits, is not in true love.

Nanak gaali koorreeaa baajh preet karey. Tichar jaanai bhala kar jichar leyvai dey. M: 1, p 594.

Relationships without mutual affection are false. In these, one considers a relationship good only as long as s/he received benefits and the other gives.

Husband wife relationship.

Dhan pir ih na akkheeai bahan ikatthey hoey. Eyk jot duey moorti, dhan pir kaheeai soey.

Wife and husband are not those who live together. When the two bodies have one soul, i.e. are spiritually united, then they are truly husband and wife.

Dhan pir ka ik hi sang vaasa vich haumai bheet karaari. Gur poorai haumai bheet tori jan Nanak miley banvaari. M; 4, p 1262.

Wife and husband live together, but have a strong wall of ego between. When the true guru breaks this wall, then the wife meets the husband.

Note:This is an analogy for relationship between the soul and the Almighty .


Chaakar lagai chaakri jey chalai khasmai khasmai bhaaey. Hurmat tis no agli oh vajahu bhi doona khaaey. M: 1, p 474

One who takes an employment should act by the employer’s directions. Then s/he gets great regard, and higher compensation.

Ih kineyhi chaakri jit bhau khasam na jaaey.

Why take a job, – if one is not do it well -, and be afraid of the master?.

Nanak seyvak kaaddheeai jey seyti khasam samaaey. M: 2, 475

A good employee is one who merges his/her aim with that of the employer.


Jey rat lagai kaprrai jaama hoey pleet. If blood stains a garment, it becomes defiled.

Jo rat peevai maansa tin kiau nirmal cheet. M: 1. P 140.

How can those who drink human blood, i.e. exploit the gullible, be pure at heart? This applies to the clergy or employers who exploit simple people.

Interpersonal relations.

Jis andar taat praaee hovai tis da kadey na hovi bhalaa. M: 4, p 308.

No good happens to a person who has antipathy to others.

Jab dhaarai koee bairi meet. Tab lag nihchal naahi cheet . M: 4, 278.

As long as one treats some as friends and some as foes, i.e. gets into conflicts, until then the mind is not at peace.

Nanak phikey boleeai tan man phikaa hoey. Phiko phikaa sadeeai phikai phiki soey. M: 1, p 473

Says Guru Nanak: One who speaks arrogantly, his body and mind become insipid, i.e. she cannot enjoy peace.

Inter-religion relations.

When Guru Nanak looked around and found turmoil, he lamented:

Nanak duneeaa kaisi hoee; saalak mit na rahio koee. Bhaaee bandhi heyt chukaaiaa. Duneeaa kaaran-i deen gavaaiaa. M: 1, p 1410

How has the world become? There is no guide or friend left. Love between siblings and between relatives has gone. People have forsaken Divine commands for transitory material gains and pleasures.

He attributed it to people forgetting two universal truths. God, whose commands apply forever, and death, which is an inevitable event.

Kaal naahi jog naahi naahi sat ka ddhab. Thaanastt jag bhrastt hoey ddoobta iv jag. M:1, p 662.

People are not conscious of death, or God; no one follows the path of truth, i.e. people neglect obeying Hukam/Divine commands.

Places of worship have been corrupted; that is how the world is sinking in evil ways.

Gurbani and science.

People consider religion and science as two different and conflicting worlds. Their perception is that religion is only dogmas and superstitions while science is logical. A little thought would show that this is misplaced.

Science is study of natural phenomena, observing patterns in them and deducing laws of nature. The scientists give them names like law of gravity. Science does not make the laws; the Creator has made them and religion calls them Hukam or Divine commands. Science also does not believe to have found the ultimate truth about anything. Religion and science both believe that we can never know what all the Creator has made.

Religion or spiritualty is concerned with cosmology. The latter covers study of structure of the universe, how it came into being and the place of human beings in it.

Science has not been able to come to any conclusion on this. For example, there are wide variations in estimation of when the creation came into being, from thousands to billions of years. Guru Nanak says in Japji Paurri 21 that no one except the Creator can know when creation came into being. Everyone tries to be wiser than the other.

As for the process of creation, the scientists have been struggling. They have serially attributed it to accident, evolution and the Big Bang theory.

Guru Nanak gave the following logical sequence of creation five centuries back.

Aapeenai aap saajio aapeenai rachio naau; duee kudrat-i saajeeai kar-i aasan ddittho chaau. M: 1.p 463.

Initially, the Creator created the self, next made Naam/cosmic laws; then created the universe and fondly watches it, i.e. everything conforms to laws of nature.

This first stage created the galaxies, solar systems and planets, but not the creatures

The creatures need air, water and food for sustenance; these were provided for before the creatures came into being. This is how.

Saachey tey pavna bhaiaa, pavnai tey jal-u hoey jal tey tribhavan saajiaa ghatt-i ghatt-i jot-i samoey. M: 1, p 19.

From the Creator came air, and from air/gases formed water and the world was carved with water – and clay; the Divine Spirit is present in every being .

Fifth Nanak says

Pahlo dey tai’n rijak samaaha; pichhah-u dey tai’n jant-u upaahaa;

You first created the wherewithal and later the creature.

Tudh-u jeyvadd-u daataa avar-u na suaami lavai na koee laavniaa. M: 5, p 130.

There is none as great a benefactor as You; none comes near, o Master.

The creatures were created next.

Nanak jeea upaaeykai likh naavai dharam bahaaliaa; othai sachey hi sach nibrrai chun vakh kadhey jajmaaliaa. M: 1, p 463.

The creatures were created with their roles laid down; the metaphoric judge Dharam Rai is tasked to watch their deeds and make them accountable; in this system only those conforming to truth, i.e. Divine commands, withstand scrutiny, others fail, and cannot attain union with the Creator i.e. be at peace.

Regarding the place of humans in creation,

The Shabad in Raga Aasa, and Japji Paurri 27, starting withSodar teyra keyha,says the whole universe exists in harmony like components of a music group. There are musical instruments, their players and singers who perform as one composite group. It asks all creatures to conform to Hukam.

Japji Pauri 34 says that the earth with its creatures exists as part of the system and act accordingly:

Raati ruti thiti vaar; paun paani agni paataal; tis vich dharti thhap rakhi dharamsaal.

Days and nights, the lunar cycle, days of the week. Water, air, fire/energy and land. Having provided these, the Creator established the earth for the creatures to carry out their duties.

Tis vich jeea jugat key rang; tin key naam aneyk anant.

There are numerous life forms with their roles allotted.

The laws of nature govern all these provisions, and the creatures must conform to them.

How to identify the true guru

Noting that personalities, not fundamentals of religions are responsible for intra-faith conflicts, Gurbani does not glorify any person. It only glorifies the Formless Creator, the institution of the guru, the seekers, and the holy congregation. And, that conformance to Naam is the means to get peace. It does not glorify any personality.

The guru is not glorified as a person, but as an institution. Guru Nanak says about the guru. This is how the true guru is recognised.

Nanak satigur aisa jaaneeai jo sabhsai laey milaaey jeeo. M: 1, p 71.

The true guru is one who brings everyone together.

Jis miliai man hoey anand so satigur kaheeai. Man ki dubidha jaaey har param pad laheeai. M: 4, p 168.

The guru is one in whose company we experience bliss. Duality of the mind is dissolved, and the exalted state of Divine experience attained.

Guru Nanak calls himself the lowest amongst the lowly.

Neechaa andar neech jaat neechi hoo ati neech. Nanak tin kai sang saath vaddiaa sio kia rees. Jithat neech samaaleean tithai nadar teyri bakhsees.

I am the lowest amongst the lowly; I would rather be in their company and not imitate the high and rich. For, Divine grace is bestowed where the lowly are looked after.

About his faith, he says:

Ham nahi changey buraa nahi koey. Pranvat Nanak taarey soey. M: 1, p 728.

We are not good, and none is bad. Let us glorify the Almighty who alone can save us.

Humility is a great virtue and in eulogised in Gurbani for the spiritual experience.

God is present everywhere.

Guru Nanak also found that people thought God was present at some sacred place.The Hindus consider God resides at Jagannath Puri, literally meaning the town of God, and the Muslims at the Kaaba at Mecca considering it God’s abode. The Jews, Christians and Muslims call Jerusalemthe holy land, and fights over it are continuing even now.

Earlier scriptures show access to God was available to selected persons and at specific places. Many important places of Hindu worship like Amarnath and Badrinath are on mountains. Moses went to Mount Sinai to talk to God. Jesus went to Mount Olive to deliver his Sermon on the Mount and to pray. Prophet Muhammad received God’s messages through Jabraeel, also called Gabriel, in a cave on Mount Hira.

Guru Nanak emphasised that there is One Creator of the whole universe who is present everywhere and inside everyone. He teaches.

Man mandar tan veys kalandar ghatt hi teerath nhaava. Eyk sabad merey praan bast hai bahurr janam na aava.

The mind is the temple, the body the seeker. Teerath, the holy place for bath is within. I keep Divine Word/commands in my mind so as not to be reborn.

Agam agochar alakh apaara chinta karhu hamaari.

O Almighty, You are beyond reach of intellect/comprehension, not reached by the sensory organs, Formless and Infinite; You take care of us creatures.

Jal thal maheeal bharpur leena ghatt ghatt jot tumhaari. M: 1, p 795.

You are present in water, on/in land, in space; Your light/Spirit is present in every creature.


Andrahu jhootthey paij baahar dunee andar phail. Atth satth teerath jey nhaavai utrai naahi mail.

Those who have deceit within but display goodness outwardly. The dirt of vices cannot be removed, i.e. the mind is not purified even if one bathes at sixty-eight holy places.

Guru Nanak shows how to overcome these impediments.

Ghar hi mundh videys pir, nit jhoorey samaaley. Mildiaa ddhil na hovaee ji neat raas karey. M: 1, p 594.

The Almighty-husband is at home, i.e. within, but the soul-wife thinks he is away and feels sad thinking of the separation, i.e. the Almighty is within but one feels separated and thinks how to find within.

Says Guru Nanak. It takes no time to find if s/he transforms her intention, i.e. stops acting by self-will and obeys Divine commands.

The Sufi saint Bulhey Shah expresses this thus:

Jey rab jugle bhaudiaa milda ta milda gaaeeaa majheeaa. Jey rab paani dhotia milda ta milda magra machheeaa.

Bulhey Shah rab tina no milda, jinaa neeata hachheeaa.

If one could find God by wandering in jungles, then cows and buffalos would find. If one could find God by taking baths, then crocodiles and fish would find.

O Bulhey Shah, those with clean intention/mind i.e. free of ego, find God.

God’s message to humanity.

Pahla maran kabool jeevan ki chhadd aas; hohu sabhna ki reynuka tau aaau hamaarey paas. M: 5, p 1102.

First accept to die and give up hope to live, i.e. kill ego. Be humble to all, then you will come to me.

Sheikh Farid also conveys message from God.

Aap savaarey mai miley mai miliaa sukh hoey; Farida jey too meyra hoey rahey sabh jag teyra hoey. 95. Farid, p 1382.

You will find Me if you transform yourself; your search will end and you will be at peace once you find me. How?

If you be mine, the whole world will be your friends, o Farid.


People can be at peace individually and collectively by prising Divine virtues and obeying Divine commands.

Chhaati seetal man sukhi chhant gobind gun gaaey. Aisi kirpa karhu prabh Nanak daas dasaaey.

The chest is cooled, i.e. anxieties leave, and the mind is at peace, of one who sings and emulates virtues of the Almighty; O Almighty, please bestow grace that I be servant of Your servants, i.e. follow those who live in obedience to You. Make me humble.

M: 5, p 254.

About the author:

Born in in Dec 1932 in part of India now in Pakistan and moved to the Indian part in 1947.

Was selected for the Army in 1952. Commissioned as officer in June 1954.

Retired as Brigadier in December 1986.

Was general manager in Indian Telephone Industries Bangalore from 1986 to 1990.

Now devotes whole time to study of Gurbani. Has studied the Gita, Bible and the Quran.

Has written numerous articles on Sikhi and comparative religion which appeared on Sikhnet and are on his blog

His book on Understanding Japji Sahib both the digital and printed versions has been published by Amazon Kindle. It interprets Japji Sahib based on contents of Japji itself and also from Gurbani outside

Has translated Sri Guru Granth Sahib giving word-by-word meanings and underlying ideas together with transliteration. It is available on line at

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