As we celebrate the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth, the founder of the Sikh faith, his message is as relevant today – if not more so – as it was centuries ago.
Guru Nanak was born in a society sharply divided, based on religion, caste, and gender. Those labeled “upper caste” grossly mistreated and abused those labeled “lower caste.” Interreligious oppression choked society, and women were treated as inferior, subservient to men. Religious leaders and the priestly class exploited people’s devotion to God and misguided them for their own selfish reasons.
Guru Nanak received Divine revelation and founded Sikhism as a newly revealed religion – the word ‘Guru’ in this context relates to one being the messenger of God. Guru Nanak’s message relates to many important aspects of today’s society, including love and caring for one another, service to humanity and helping those in need, justice for all, taking a stand against the oppression of any segment of society, and freedom of expression and practice of one’s religious beliefs.
One of Guru Nanak’s fundamental messages is the oneness of all humanity. He spoke emphatically against the notion of inequality and the resulting mistreatment of one segment of society by another. He emphasized that there is only One God who has created the entire universe, including human beings. He gave us the message of Ik-Onkar, which is the very first word in the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib (GGS), and means there is only One, universal Creator who has created all of us.
Guru Nanak emphasized that all humans, being children of the same One Creator or One Divine, are divinely interconnected. The same Divine, or God, permeates all of us, and we are all an integral part of the same Divine. As a natural consequence, no one is superior or inferior to anyone else, whether it is in the context of gender, religion, caste, or anything else. As translated from the GGS: ‘First, God Created light, all humanity has been Created by the same Divine; all have been Created out of the same light, how could one be good and another bad.’