Today Sikhs all over the world are celebrating the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of their religion. He was born in 1469, in the Punjab and from an early age exhibited signs of mysticism. One morning shortly after his thirtieth birthday he disappeared. His elder sister and husband, who had organised a search, found his clothes on the banks of a fast-moving stream. His boss, the governor of Lahore, had it dredged. No body was found. Three days later Nanak mysteriously reappeared safe and sound. He would not answer any questions as to where he had been. In fact he didn’t speak at all. For a whole day! Then he told everyone that he had been transported to God’s court where he was offered nectar in a cup.
God said to the young Nanak. “This is the cup of the adoration of God’s name. Drink it. I am with you. I bless you and raise you up. Whoever remembers you will enjoy my favour. Go, rejoice of my name and teach others to do so. I have bestowed the gift of my name upon you. Let this be your calling.”
It was the beginning of Sikhism, the fifth largest organised religion in the world, a faith based on the ideal of social reform and justice for all. There are many stories about Guru Nanak, both folk-accounts about his childhood as well as true-life fables from his adult years. They all tend to be short, with a moral at the end, perfect for school assemblies.
My favourite is the one about the flying carpet. It tells how Guru Nanak and two of his companions, the musicians Mardana and Bala travelled to the city of Sri Nagar in Kashmir. There they were received by the locals with joy and respect. Now in this city lived a learned man, Brahm Das, who had learnt to do feats of magic. He was very clever but also lonely because he had no one to share his life with.
‘People are making a lot of fuss about this guru,’ thought Brahm Das, ‘but I’m sure I am more impressive than him. I shall go to him when he is talking to the crowds and I’ll prove to be the grandest of the two.’
The brahmin got on his flying carpet and soared through the air to the main square, where Guru Nanak was talking to the crowds. But when he got there he could see people sitting around an empty space, he spotted two strangers he took to be the guru’s famous companions but, of Guru Nanak he could see no sign.
‘Where is he?’ he asked the people.
‘He’s there, talking to the children,’ replied an old woman, pointing to the empty space in the middle of the crowd.
Brahm Das peered again but still could not see Guru Nanak. The crowd thought this really funny and started laughing. And to make matters worse, the flying carpet wilted and the brahmin tumbled to the ground. He picked himself up and, red-faced, hurried back home.
The next morning, just as the sun was coming up, the brahmin hurried back to the square and there, sitting under a tree, was Guru Nanak. ‘Why could I not see you yesterday?’
‘You can’t see people in the dark, can you?’ replied Guru Nanak.
‘But it was mid-afternoon when I arrived at the square,’ said the brahmin. ‘The sun was shining.’
‘You swooped in a cloud of pride,’ answered Guru Nanak. ‘And pride is like darkness. It stops you from seeing the truth. You think you are special because you can fly but any bird can fly, any insect can. You have a lot of knowledge, you can do magic, but happiness and fulfilment lie in simple things.’
The brahmin learnt a big lesson that day. He stopped doing things to impress people, to gain respect from others, and started looking for joy in the simple things of life!
Perhaps it’s something we can all try do!
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