The Bhakti movement in northern India, which had been gathering strength ever since the time of Ramanda, got another ardent bhakta in Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak was preceded by an evolution of ideas and he followed the path blazed by his illustrious predecessors. He founded a new religion which has survived as a permanent element in the Indian society.
Guru Nanak, sharing to the full the eclectic spirit of his time, sought for a creed capable of expressing Hindu and Muslim devotion alike. He used both Hindu and Muslim nomenclatures for God, Rama, Govinda; Hari, Murari, Rab and Rahim. He wanted to demolish the wall that stood in the way of the two communities and unite them.
The social teachings of Guru Nanak were basically a reaffirmation of the ethical ideas common to the medieval monotheistic religious doctrine of human equality. He held that it was sheer folly to think in terms of caste.
A man was to be honoured for his devotion to God and not for his social position. He says. "God knows man's virtues and inquires not his caste; in the next world there is no caste." Guru Nanak started free community kitchens called Guru ka langar.
His followers, irrespective of their caste, were persuaded to eat together. It was meant to inculcate the feeling of equality and brotherhood among his followers. Guru Nanak did not believe in the doctrine of chhut (theological contamination) which had compartmentalised society.
He conceived of God as Nirakara (formless). He discarded the worship of images and repudiated idolatry. Being a man of deep and strong conviction, he defined explicitly the ethics, norms and usages of public life.
He resented the survival of superstitions which seemed to be a mark of cultural backwardness. He educated people to distinguish superstitions from religious values. The superstitions and formalism of both Hindustan and Islam were condemned.
Unlike Kabir, Nanak was a well-educated man. He had studied Persian and Hindi, besides his mother- tongue Punjabi. He travelled all over India and also to some countries of Central Asia including Arabia, and came in contant with men of diverse professions, pursuits and creeds. He wrote inspiring poems ana songs which were collected in a book form subsequently published as the Adi Grantha. He was recognized as a Guru, and died at Kartarpur in 1538.
Nanak was a revolutionary religious reformer. He proclaimed that there is no distinction between man and man, and all were born equal in the eyes of God. He felt that the real cause of the misery of the people was their disunity born of diversity of belief.
He considered education essential for the attainment of true and complete life. True education helps the soul to unfold itself like a lotus of countless petals.
The universalism of his message and reasonableness of his precepts brought about a moral renaissance in India. He preached to the high and the low without any distinction of caste, creed or colour.
Guru Nanak was a monist and his monotheism, unlike that of some other bhaktas, was undiluted. He did not believe in the incarnation of God. He regarded himself as the prophet of God who had come from the divine Court.
He taught that there is one God in the world and no other and that Nanak, the caliph (son) of God, speaks truth. Nanak looks upon God as one Lord and the commander of all. The universe is His domain and from His brilliance everything is brilliant. All is illumined by the light of His appearance.
Nanak says that devotion cannot exist without virtue. Truth is no doubt great but greater is truthful living. The qualities which one should cultiwate assiduously are humility, charity, forgiveness and sweet words.
Remembrance of god is the primary duties of a seeker of truth remember the name of God and give up everything else. Simran is the practice of devotion to God. He (God) is high and worthy of worship.
God is not outside but within every individual. He that pervades the universe also dwells in the body. Speak the truth, and then you would realize God within you. Nanak believed in God as the omnipotent reality, but maintained that the separate individuality of the human soul could attain union with him through love and devotion.
Nanak's mission was to reform the Hindus religion on the basis of unity of the Godhead and to bring about friendly relations between the Hindus and Muslims.