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close-up of Rabab stringed instrument with calligraphy of the Sikh mool mantra on it

Nanakian: following in the spiritual footprints of Guru Nanak

The musical art we share is inseparable from the art of living. It is a practical way of engaging with experience and shaping it just as music is composed.

The technique is innately human: it is there to be discovered at any time by anyone who pays attention. It was perceived and unfolded in dazzling clarity and detail by Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs. He established its daily practice in an art now called Gurmat Sangeet.

Whatever we call the experience – Kirtan, Naad Yoga, Sikh music – the reality is the same. It is because Guru Nanak understood and communicated it so completely that we follow his school of thought, known as ‘Nanakian’.

The Nanakian approach is active in educating others for happier lives and a more harmonious world. Guru Nanak’s social circle included people from all faiths. He demonstrated a protocol of freedom, setting humanity an example of how to live consciously, renouncing rituals.

The Nanakian method creates balance between body, mind and soul. It has five first principles (set out in the ‘Japji’ of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib):

Hukam – natural discipline
Nature’s laws govern the behaviour of all things – the sun rising and setting, flowers blooming and dropping, the wind blowing. In the same way Guru Nanak encourages his students of life to ‘go with the flow’ of the nature of things, rather than against it: to adopt natural discipline. If we try to impose contradictory philosophical ideals or to establish separate identities beyond the influence of our true nature, it will only disrupt the harmony.

Gaviyai – expression
We can use sound to become capable of communicating from the inner to the outer world. Guru Nanak believes in sharing the deep, dark wisdom of life, using expression to project the most profound inner experience.

Suniyai – listening 
We rely heavily on listening, but it is also often one of the most neglected senses. We take it for granted and confuse it with hearing. Guru Nanak emphasises the importance of deepening our listening skills to gain knowledge of our inner nature - to sense that pain that cannot be expressed, and to become aware of sounds that are inaudible to the human ear.

Mannai – knowledge through experience 
Only when knowledge has been experienced do we view it as established fact. Guru Nanak trusts the power of experience. Belief cannot come from theory alone. To know is never enough: to believe something, one’s own experience must resonate with its truth.

Amul – action arising from belief
The conviction behind the action determines the destiny of the deed. Once we recognise and embrace our inner beauty as a known reality, it is possible to enter the realm of truth and allow ourselves to embody the higher self continuously as conscious and enlightened human beings.

Living in this way Guru Nanak inspired others to eradicate the darkness of ignorance with the light of education.