Concepts of modern humanism developed in the west during the nineteenth and the twentieth century. These concepts are: Human Welfare, Human Rights, Human Dignity and Human Ethics. However, Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs, preached these principles about 400-500 years before the west became familiar with these. It will be no exaggeration to say that Guru Nanak laid the foundation of modern humanism. Universal Concern and Universal Welfare (Sarbat da Bhala) can be considered two fundamental pillars of Guru Nanak’s philosophy. Human welfare is a part of universal welfare because human beings are a part of Sarbat which includes all living organisms as well as non-living things. Guru Nanak preached that all of these are created from the same source. Therefore, we are all related to each other and are part of a family. Guru Nanak was a great advocate of human rights and was a great proponent of human dignity. He also preached that a fully awakened mind is the embodiment of Divine Light. Therefore, a completely enlightened person becomes God-like. The potential of a person to develop is unlimited. We should strive and struggle to realize potential. Guru Nanak preached that ethics are the foundation of the society. The word Dharam has many aspects but ethics are the main aspect of Dharam. Sri Guru Granth Sahib calls pure actions (Nirmal Karam) the highest state of Dharam. It means that ethics are the main aspect of Dharam. The Sikh philosophy like other eastern philosophies puts ethics above economics. However, capitalism puts economics above ethics. Therefore, capitalist philosophy cannot be truly humanistic philosophy.
Besides these four major aspects of modern humanism, Guru Nanak also advocated other aspects of modern humanism such as Human Equality, Human Equanimity, Human Self-study, Human Cognition, Human Environment and Human Brotherhood. The principle of Human Equality was very strongly promoted by Guru Nanak. This was based upon Guru Nanak’s concept of oneness. Guru Nanak preached that eternal truth or ultimate reality is one. The whole creation (universe) was created from this. Because all of us have been created from the same source, we are equal and are interrelated. Oneness is the central theme of Guru Nanak’s philosophy. Human Equanimity was also advocated by Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak emphasized the concept of living in harmony with nature. This can be achieved by living according to laws of nature or universal order (Hukam). Living this way a person can live in Sehaj which is a state of equipoise or a complete balance. Guru Nanak showed us the relationship between Sehaj and Anand (Bliss). A person who lives in complete harmony with nature will achieve Sehaj and Anand and will experience Vismad (Wondrous bliss). Guru Nanak also emphasized the importance of Self-study or introspection. A person should engage in soul searching or heart searching every day. Self-observation and self-analysis help us to understand and get connected to our true self. Human Cognition or self-realization is the state when we completely understand and get connected to our true self. This can also be called complete enlightenment (Atam Pargas). This is the highest state of human development. Guru Nanak was a strong advocate of Human Struggle. We should engage in Uddam (effort). Kirt Karo (engage in honest and productive work) is the first of the three fundamental principles of Sikhism. The other two being Naam Jappo (enlighten yourself spiritually) and Wand Chakko (sharing).
Guru Nanak’s concept of protecting our environment is unique and most rational. He said that water, air and earth are all related to us. Water is our father because it is through water that we are conceived, air is our guru (teacher) because it brings guru’s words to us and earth is our mother because things grow out of the earth. If we realize the fact that we are a part of nature and in nature things exist on the principles of interrelationship and interdependence then we cannot harm the environment because we are a part of the environment.
Guru Nanak gave us the concept of Universal Human Brotherhood and a true global community. Guru Nanak’s concept of Human Brotherhood was all inclusive from which nobody could be excluded.
Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday (Gurpurb) is taking place this year. I feel that to let the whole world know about the great contribution Guru Nanak made toward humanism and to spread his message of oneness, unity of mankind, love, tolerance, peaceful coexistence and universal brotherhood, Guru Nanak should be declared the greatest person of the second millennium.
Washington State Network for Human Rights