Remembering Guru Nanak essential teachings


Fourth of November 2017 marks the birthday anniversary of the Shri Guru Nānak Devji (1469 – 1539 CE) and is known as GURPURAB. This day is one of the most auspicious days to those who follow his teachings. On this day the words (baani) and the life of the first Guru of Sikhs is contemplated upon. This day is also celebrated as Kartik Purnima and Festival of Lights in Thailand. Here isa look at the essential teachings of Guru Nanak Devji found in the famous Mool Mantar ~‘Ik-Onkār’ from his composition the “Japji Sahib”. 


Guru Nānak Devji was born to Mehta Kalyan Das Bedi and Tripta Devi in 1469, in the village of Talwandi also known as Nankana Sahib. This village is near Lahore in present day Pakistan.


The life of a Guru is a blessing to the disciples and becomes a message in itself. As the word (baani) of a Guru becomes a scripture for the followers, so also the words of Guru Nānak Devji, got immortalized in the Shri Guru Granth Sahib – the scripture of the Guru’s followers. 


Speaking about Guru Nānak Devji, Swami Vivekananda wrote: “Guru Nānak was born in the sacred land of India. He gave a message of love and peace to the whole world and preached the same through his teachings. He was full of affection for everyone and his arms were always outstretched as if to embrace the whole world...” 


On an auspicious day like Guru Nānak Devji’s birth anniversary, the Guru’s teachings need sincere listening to and contemplation upon. That would be one of the genuine ways to commemorate the blessing of a Guru’s birth. 


Ultimately Guru is known for his teachings. Submission and adherence to a Guru’s words is the cornerstone of a disciple’s spiritual practice. A spiritual opportunity would be missed if the Guru’s words are not fully understood and just ritualistically chanted. 


There seems to be a diminutive gain in the customary chanting of Guru’s words without understanding the deeper meaning and context of those words. Repeating mantras and affirmations like ‘Om’, ‘Ik Onkār’ and at the same time understanding why the great Guru used the word ‘Ik” or ‘Onkār’ can be quite revealing and significant. The suggestive lexicon of symbolic words like ‘Onkar’, ‘Hari’, ‘Maya’ etc used by the Gurus of Sikh panth, though rooted in the archaic wisdom traditions of India, are said to only confirm a transcendental reality which is beyond any dogma or mainstream theology. Their words have deep experiential meaning and are said to be discovered mainly through reflection, contemplation and mediation and not by rote repetition.


The origins of the Sikh tradition lie in the spiritual and social teachings of Guru Nānak Devji who taught that the union with God is through Guru’s grace and direct personal experience. Guru Nanak Devji emphasized meditation on the God’s name (Naam), to live with an inner awakening of God and an outer service by righteous means. 


The Shri Guru Granth Sahib, the scripture of the Guru’s followers, has 5894 hymns of which 976 hymns (17%) are composed by Guru Nānak Devji. Of the many teachings through his hymns, the “Japji” revered as the ‘Japji Sahib’ appears at the very beginning of the Shri Guru Granth Sahib.


The “Japji Sahib” is recited every morning by the Sikh-faithful and is considered as a concise summary of his teachings. The compilation of Japji Sahib consists of the famous Mool mantra -

”Ik Onkār” translated in Hindi as ‘Ek Omkār’, an opening shloka verse, a set of 38 hymns and a final closing shloka. The symbol of ‘Ik-Onkār’ is also an emblem for Sikhs and is found on Gurdwaras. The Mool mantra ‘Ik-Onkār’ is the first series of truth-affirmations and is considered the essence and basis of Sikh panth.


Religious scriptures in the East have “Mool mantras” which hold the essence of the entire scripture. Explaining the concept of ‘Mool mantra’, the Vedanta teacher Swami Swaroopananda from the Chinmaya Mission says: “In the term mool mantra, mool means ‘root’. Every tree has roots without which it cannot exist. The tree is sustained and nourished through these roots. They constitute the very foundation of the tree from which it grows and expands. In the same way, mool mantra means ‘that mantra in which lies the very essence of the Scripture’, the entire Scripture being an elaboration, expansion or explanation of that mantra”. 


Explaining about the mool mantra for Sikhs, in his book ‘Ik Onkār’ he remarks “Just as Om is considered to be the mool mantra of the Vedas and the name Shri Ram the essence of the “Ramayan”, so too “Ik-Onkār Sat-Naam Kartaa-Purakh Nirbhau Nirvair Akaal-Moorat Ajuni Saibangh Gurparsaad” is considered to be the mool mantra of the “Granth Sahib”. Revealing and expounding on the Truth enshrined in this mantra is the entire “Japji Sahib”, and the elaboration of the “Japji Sahib” is the entire “Granth Sahib”.


The translation of the Mool Mantra ~ Ik-Onkār with the instruction ‘Jap’ at the end which means ‘repeat and contemplate’ is as:


Ik Onkār:  The One, the Reality, Om

Sat Naam:  Of Name ever True and Eternal

Kartaa Purakh:  The Prime doer, the Creator

Nirbhau:  Fearless

Nirvair:  Without enmity

Akaal Moorat:  Of Eternal Form

Ajuni:  Without birth, Uncaused

Saibangh:  Self-existent and Self-illuminating

Gurparsaad:  Known by the Grace of the Enlightened Teacher


Jap:  Constantly repeat (This word is not part of the mool mantra, but can be taken as the instruction of the Teacher to constantly repeat and contemplate on the mantra).


Many commentaries are written expounding the meaning of each word of Guru Nānak Devji’s Mool mantra. Later in the Shri Guru Granth Sahib , the importance of this mool mantra is re-emphasized as “a-ukhadh mantar mool man aykai man bisvaas parabh dhaari-aa“ meaning “The Mool Mantra, the Root Mantra, is the only cure for the mind; I have installed faith in God in my mind.” - SGGS -675(1).


May Guru Nānak Devji’s teachings be contemplated upon till we get the true import and a direct experience of his teachings.




Author - The author would not like to share his name so used my name.


Also read

1. Travel to Nankana Sahib, birthplace of Guru Nanak 

2. History of Sikhs 

3. Unbreakable Hindu Sikh bond 

4. Pictures of Hari Mandir Amritsar 

5. Festival of Lights in Thailand 

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