In this deeply inequitable culture with masses deprived of basic rights, Guru Nanak challenged every idea and action that maintained this status quo. Guru Nanak started the institution of langar as a revolutionary act of creating a space where people from all backgrounds regardless of caste, ethnic background, age, gender, status will sit on the ground and partake in meals prepared by the community itself. Kings and the poorest members of the community have partaken in meals at langars prepared in Sikh gatherings and Gurudwaras (Sikh houses of worship).
Men, women, and children have actively been part of preparing and serving meals at langars from the 15th century to present day, serving fellow members of the human family regardless of whatever biases and stereotypes broader society has put in place in its constructed lived narrative.
Guru Nanak created a physical space to break down these barriers for people of all backgrounds to come together to listen, recite, and analyze poetic words espousing the universal energy that is present in every speck of creation. How does one realize and feel the presence of this energy? This is the foundational question of most spiritual traditions.
Guru Nanak, in his travels across thousands of miles, questioned all contradictory philosophies, dictates and traditions. Guru Nanak did not say his was the only path to salvation. He posed questions at the apparent contradictions. He created a space for questioning the status quo. Seeking the truth was the ultimate goal. Sikh Gurus and many who have followed in their footsteps have given their lives to defend this right towards freedom of ideas, access to equal rights, and equitable distribution of resources.
For educators and students, the big takeaways from Guru Nanak’s revolution are:
1. Know and acknowledge your entire history.
2. Ask questions and poke at every assumption in current practices in society.
3. Own your strengths and mistakes.
4. Create new vocabulary, tools, and narratives as part of the learning and unlearning processes in our education.
5. Remember learning happens not only in schools but in every space we inhabit throughout our lifetime.
6. Express love and kindness to all, especially those you disagree with. You still have a lot in common with every human being. Being disagreeable is one of them.
7. Make being a better version of yourself a daily practice and meditation.
8. Acknowledge your privilege. Everything you have access to, from rights to resources, are they accessible equally to everyone?
9. It is ok to be wrong. The faster you admit this the quicker you are on your way to learning.
10. Is America a great nation? This is the wrong question to ask. What is greatness to begin with? Who gets to define it and how? Is America committing these acts of greatness in its policies and practices today and pledging to do even better? These are the measures for a nation and its people.