Guru Nanak on education
December 30, 20196 Minutes

We are always advised to read books to learn new things. It opens our minds to different perspectives and makes us realize how much more we still have to learn. However, books alone do not store all the knowledge in the world. They show you the world through the eyes of the author. Knowledge, on the other hand, is what one learns through one’s life experiences. Knowledge is not necessarily bookish while education is. One needs to know the difference between acquiring education and knowledge. That’s wisdom and this is where we all need a Guru.

A ‘Guru’ is a teacher who dispels the darkness of ignorance and leads one towards the light of knowledge and rational thinking. Guru Nanak was a true guru as he educated people with his divine knowledge and urged them to apply logic. He believed that education was the manifestation of perfection already present in man. The purpose of education was to free the mind from ignorance, false beliefs, vices, and prejudices. In all his Udasis (spiritual journeys), he imparted wisdom based on common sense and logic.

ਵਿਦਿਆ ਵੀਚਾਰੀ ਤਾਂ ਪਰਉਪਕਾਰੀ

vidhiaa veechaaree thaa(n) paroupakaaree

Contemplate and reflect upon education, and you will become a benefactor to others.

Guru Nanak disapproved of practicing a tradition or ritual that defied logic and was based on superstition. This is evident during his visit to Haridwar where while others were offering water to the rising sun to honor their ancestors, Guru Nanak offered in the opposite direction. When the priests asked the reason, he answered that he was offering water to his fields in Punjab. The priests looked in disbelief since his fields were hundreds of miles away. Guru Nanak reasoned with them stating that when the water can’t reach his fields, which are just a hundred miles away, how can it reach their ancestors who are in the other world. He thus used common logic to dismiss superstitious beliefs.

Guru Nanak believed that a true teacher is one who can come down to the level of his students. Wherever he went during his travels, he talked to the people in their language and their idiom. He addressed not only the physical concerns of man; he reached out to the innermost self of his pupils. Music is the language of the soul and he made music the vehicle of his thoughts. His soulful rendering of Gurbani in different measures of classical music brought about an inner rhythm and peace and made an immediate effect on his pupils, and their personalities underwent a total metamorphosis.

A beautiful example of this is the story of Sajjan Thug. Sajjan Thug used to run an inn. However, his ulterior motives were to rob anyone who took shelter. When Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana visited his inn to rest for a night, he greeted them nicely, but his intentions remained the same. He decided to rob them in the middle of the night. Guru Nanak started singing a shabad that explained the importance of inner virtues and why outward behavior does not matter when one has bad intentions. Upon hearing the entire shabad, Sajjan Thug realized his folly, left his life of dishonesty, and started to lead an honest life.

We will have several experiences in life that’ll teach us invaluable lessons. Lessons that formal education may not give us. These lessons become a part of the gamut of knowledge we acquire. And they help shape us in becoming what we’re destined to be. Nevertheless, formal education is crucial, as well. It teaches us the concepts of the world around us and prepares us to comprehend what life and the world has to offer. We must, however, not rely solely on education as gospel truth. It is our reasoning and rational thinking that keeps our learning curve up. Both education and knowledge should help us find purpose and direction so that we can become a benefactor to others.