Guru Nanak is one of the great figures in the spiritual history of the world. Not only did his teachings give rise to a new religion, but that religion—Sikhism—is noteworthy because of the depth of its teachings and its genuine wish to live peacefully with those of other faiths; there is no agenda to criticise, condemn or convert. The depth is grounded in the conviction that God is the essential reality in the universe and is present and discoverable in all human beings. The universal outlook is inspired by Nanak’s realisation that Truth transcends differences of sect and creed, and that what matters most is our inner communion with the Divine.
Nanak was born in 1469, in a small village in the Punjab, not far from Lahore. He died in 1539, so that the last twenty years of his life coincided, in Europe, with the Reformation. As regards the details of that life, we have no reliably factual biography but a collection of stories aimed at imparting moral or spiritual lessons rather than historical facts. And so we find him as a boy of nine causing amazement by the things he told his schoolteacher about God, prompting the teacher to regard him not just a special boy, but as a divine incarnation. His great illuminating experience, some years later, is said to have happened when he was taking his purifying bath in the local river. Evidently he submerged himself in the water and was not seen again until three days later! Thus most of the stories contain an element of the incredible, which devotees may be at home with, but which historians ignore.
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