Mental Health Teachings Of Guru Nanak And Their Relevance Today


Guru Nanak (15 April 1469 AD – 22 September 1539 AD) the founder of Sikhism is first of ten Sikh Gurus. He travelled extensively for 25 years of his life teaching people the message of one God who dwells in every one of His creations and constitutes the eternal Truth. He set up a unique spiritual, social, and political platform based on equality, fraternal love, goodness, and virtues.

There are 974 Shabds of Guru Nanak in the Guru Granth Sahib, with some of the major being the Japji Sahib, the Asa Di Vaar and the Sidh-Ghost. They give answers to the religious and social problems of that time and even today. He rejected all the old beliefs, rituals and practices of that time and needs to be rejected even today. His teachings are universal for the humanity, which are as relevant today as they were at that time.

When Guru Nanak was born Moguls were ruling over majority Hindu population of India. Moslems being rulers considered themselves to be superior to Hindus. Hindus themselves were also divided among themselves based on their castes. All this was causing a lot of tension and stress with accompanying mental health problems in the society. First sermon of Guru Nanak in 1499 AD was: “No one is Hindu or Moslem. We all are children of one God, so are equal.” He declared brotherhood of mankind and fatherhood of God. Thus Guru Nanak laid the foundation of ‘Human Rights for All’ at that time. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948. Even today people are being tortured, massacred everywhere in the world because of their religion, caste, race, colour and gender.

When asked in Mecca by Hajjis is Hindu great or Moslem, Guru Nanak replied that neither Hindu nor Moslem is great. It is your deeds, which make you great, not the religion. Even today atrocities are being committed in the name of religion. Many are suffering from mental health issues because of this discrimination.

Majority of world religions had placed women in a secondary position to men. This had been a major cause of conflict, frustration and stress among women. Guru Nanak gave women social equality and religious freedom. He said, “Why call woman low who, give birth to kings and all.” Colorado in USA was the first state to adopt an amendment granting women the right to vote in 1893. Michigan, South Dakota, Oklahoma were last in 1918. Guru Nanak gave them equal rights in 1499. Even today women all over the world are considered second class citizen and are even paid less than a man for the same job. Still atrocities like rape, burning alive for dowry, are being committed on women.

Guru Nanak neither accepted other’s viewpoints forcibly nor forced His ideas onto others. He always reasoned and made others understand His viewpoint. He visited numerous places of Hindu and Moslem worships to explain and expose through His preaching, fruitlessness of their ritualistic practices. He went to Mecca with Hajjis dressed like them and slept with His feet towards Kaaba. When Qazi hit Him with his foot and asked why you infidel sleeping with your feet towards Kaaba? Guru Nanak told him to put His feet to the direction where Qazi thinks there is no God. Here He reasoned against their viewpoint that God is only in the direction of Kaaba. He used the same method when He discussed with Hindus at Hardwar, who were offering water towards sun in the east as oblations to their ancestors in heaven. He started throwing water in the direction of west towards his fields in Punjab. When asked by Hindus he replied that if Ganges water will reach your ancestors in heaven, why should my water not reach my fields in Punjab? Today again there is need to reason and not to force our ideas on to others. If all of us and more so world leaders adopt this, many of our conflicts and that of the world at large with accompanying mental health problems can be prevented and solved as well. This can be used at family level also. Our children want to reason about everything we do and we should explain rather forcing them. This can reduce the conflict between parents and children.

Guru Nanak was a great teacher. When He went to Mecca with Hajjis to teach them that God is not only in the direction of Kaaba, He dressed like them and talked in their language. He taught us the importance of culturally sensitive ways to deliver the services.

Guru Nanak lived by example. Whatever He preached, He lived by that. It teaches us that we should be role models for others. We should live the life we want others to live. That is true for parents and leaders in the society.

Guru Nanak taught us that we should give up our pride, ego, Haumai and be humble. He said that Haumai is a chronic disease. Most of the conflicts in the world today and at our homes are due to Haumai, ego. Ego bound individuals get stress and mental health problems and give stress and mental health problems to others. Learning to control ego, Haumai, by accepting humility as prescribed by Guru Nanak can directly improve the mental health of the individual and the community as well.

Guru Nanak founded and formalised the three pillars of Sikhism:

  1. Naam Japna: Constant remembrance followed by deep study & comprehension of God’s virtues. In real life to practice and tread on the path of  Dharam (righteousness)

  2. Kirat Karni: To earn living honestly, controlled by high spiritual, moral and social values.

  3. Vand Chakna: To share wealth with others in need. This spirit of sharing and giving is an important message from Guru Nanak.

Conclusion: If the human race is not divided on the basis of caste, creed, color, religion and gender and there is equality of all human beings; if we can give up ego, pride, haumai and be humble as taught by Guru Nanak, many of our problems can be prevented and resolved. We should respect other cultures and deliver services in culturally sensitive way as prescribed by Guru Nanak. If everyone practices these values, stress, wars and conflicts with their accompanying mental health problems like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression and Anxiety we are witnessing today could be prevented and even solved. These are a few of many teachings of Guru Nanak which are even relevant today. The need of the day is to enable these to reach mankind all over the world.

By Dr. Kala Singh


Dr. Kala Singh MBBS from Delhi University, India. He worked as Psychiatric Doctor in Africa, and then worked in Vancouver and Fraser Health Authority. He gives Sikh religious and spiritual counseling and psychotherapy to clients with stress and mental health problems. For more information he can be contacted at 604 327 5253.