Guru Nanak’s guide to leading a virtuous life

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Guru Nanak’s guide to leading a virtuous life

Sunday, 17 November 2019 | Excerpt

Guru Nanak’s guide to leading a virtuous life

Guru Nanak’s spiritual beliefs and practices were profoundly transformational and cut across the lines of religion, writes Daler Aashna Deol in her book, A Gift of Grace. The world celebrated the 550th birth anniversary of the first Sikh guru on November 12. An excerpt:

Guru Nanak divides our spiritual path into five distinct stages: moral living and rightful actions, search for divine knowledge, spiritual unfoldment, divine grace, and the final entry into the realm of Eternal Truth. Each stage is unique and vital. These stages appear as part of a sequence, and it is not possible for us to bypass any of these steps. For example, moral living is a precondition for the search of divine knowledge. A person who leads a morally decadent life will inevitably see no need to search for experiences of any kind, let alone spiritual knowledge. Also, our spirit cannot unfold unless we have accumulated sufficient spiritual energy during the first two stages. Any movement from this point onward is possible only when we receive divine grace, which is not our right but a ‘reward’ for good deeds. Leading a virtuous life is the very foundation of our spiritual quest. To go any further on the spiritual path, we need to make truthful and moral living an essential part of our life. It is only through such living that we make ourselves worthy of God’s compassion and grace.

Growing up in a world where money can buy more comforts than it was possible at any other time in human history, how can we agree on a set of values and behaviours that would provide a reliable guide to a virtuous life? We need to acknowledge that there are some things which are moral, ethical, doable, and right under any circumstances. We may have a difference of opinion on whether it is moral to charge interest. But there should be no controversy on things like violence, falsehood, and exploitation of the poor and helpless. We need to identify some core values based on themes that cut across societal and cultural boundaries. The seven core values, based on Guru Nanak’s teachings, are:

Non-violence Avoiding violence that hurts the innocent, kills, or insults (in the form of rape or other degrading actions) the victim, mass killings of innocent people in a war or a political conflict.

Truth Letting reality appear in its purest form, separating facts from opinions, not using falsehood of any kind to deceive other people, treating honest living as a sacred obligation.

Love Showing sympathy and compassion for a victim of oppression, having a sense of justice, keeping a charitable spirit, sharing one’s wealth and good fortune with the poor and the needy.

Virtue The pursuit of highest personal morality in one’s daily life, respecting the honour and integrity of one’s partner, taking responsibility for one’s children, catering to their material, emotional, and intellectual needs, caring for the needs of elders in the family.

Communitarianism Being a good citizen, participating in electoral processes, raising voice against misdeeds of those in authority, using public office for public good, protecting the natural environment, giving one’s employer a fair share of one’s time, talent, and ability.

Equality Treating all people as equal despite differences of colour, race, gender, or ethnic origins, respecting cultural and spiritual traditions of other people.

Theism Having faith in the unbounded love, mercy, and compassion of the Creator for all things and all beings. It is not an attempt to define a new morality. It has not been easy for moral philosophers, who have struggled with these issues over the ages.

We can look at various opinions, or what our belief system has to say about these matters, but, in the end, we need to have an objective look at how we are coping with difficult moral and ethical choices in our life. This freedom for self-evaluation is not a blank cheque, meaning whatever serves our needs or purposes is acceptable. We need to cultivate, in the words of Albert Einstein, a moral attitude in and towards life based on the totality of our being-body, mind, and soul. Not doing this selfevaluation in a seriously mindful way would indicate our reluctance to follow a spiritual path.

A Gift of Grace: The Essence of Guru Nanak’s Spirituality, written by Daler Aashna Deol is published by Niyogi Books

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