Tenth of November 2011 marks the birthday anniversary of the Shri Guru Nanak 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. Here’s a look at the essential teachings of Guru Nanak Devji found in the famous Mool Mantar ~‘Ik-Onkar’ from his composition the “Japji Sahib”.
Guru Nanak 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 or a Prophet is a blessing to the disciple and becomes a message in itself. As the word (baani) of a Prophet becomes a scripture for the followers, so did the words of Guru Nanak Devji, the Adi Guru of the Sikh panth, got immortalized in the Shri Guru Granth Sahib – the scripture of the Guru’s followers.
Writing about Guru Nanak Devji, Swami Vivekananda wrote: “Guru Nanak was born in the sacred land of India. He gave a message of love and peace of 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 Nanak Devji’s birth anniversary, the Guru’s teachings need sincere listening to and contemplation upon, in order to commemorate the blessing of his birth - because a Guru is ultimately known for his teachings. A spiritual opportunity would be missed if the Guru’s words are not fully understood and just ritualistically chanted.
The origins of the Sikh tradition lie in the spiritual and social teachings of Guru Nanak Devji who taught that the union with God is through Guru’s grace and direct personal experience and he 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 Nanak 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 - The symbol of ‘Ik-Onkar’ is also an emblem for Sikhs and is found on Gurdwaras. The Mool mantra ‘Ik-Onkar’ is the first series of truth-affirmations and is considered the essence and basis of Sikh panth.
All 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 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 Onkar’ he remarks “Ik-Onkar 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-Onkar with the instruction ‘Jap’ at the end which means ‘repeat and contemplate’ is as:
Ik Onkar: The One, the Reality, Om
Sat Naam: Of Name ever True and Eternal
Kartaa Purakh: The Prime doer, the Creator
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 eacj word of Guru Nanak 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 Nanak Devji’s teachings be contemplated upon till we get the true import and a direct experience of his teachings.