I was reading this article on the concept of "Gurus" in various religions, and the following quotation regarding Sikhism caught my attention:

On the importance of guru, Nanak says: "Let no man in the world live in delusion. Without a Guru none can cross over to the other shore."

I am having difficulty understanding the meaning of this quotation, and I would like to find out its meaning. I have read the phrase "Without a Guru" elsewhere numerous times, and I'm curious about its meaning in this context. It sounds like this quotation is related to the philosophy of knowing god or otherwise the philosophy of religion, however I am unsure as to what exactly is being said and how it should be interpreted. What does this line suggest about Gurus and their importance?


The quotation is from Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism—a monotheistic religion originating in the 15th century as an offshoot of Hinduism and Islam.

Guru Nanak was a mystic, which, in a religious context, is one who advocates the practice of pursuing and has the knowledge to themselves achieve a personal relationship (or "one-ness") with God. Mysticism concerns aspects of reality that lie beyond normal human perception, including experiencing the presence of and communion with God. As such, Guru Nanak naturally emphasized solitary meditation.

The specific quotation you've found simply reflects Guru Nanak's view that it is not possible to realize either God or one's self without the aid of a "guru", or experienced religious guide. Breaking it down piece by piece…

Let no man in the world live in delusion.

You should not be fooled into thinking something else than that which I'm about to say. The following point concerns an essential truth, and no one should allow themselves to be misguided into believing something different.

Without a Guru none can cross over to the other shore.

You need the aid of a guru (an experienced religious guide/teacher/master) who can teach and guide you. Without such a person, you nor anyone else will be able to achieve salvation or a relationship with God.

Basically, to put it in vulgar terms, Guru Nanak is saying that you've got to have a guru, or else you're going to be screwed (i.e., not be able to fulfill their ultimate religious destiny in the afterlife).
(I'm not an expert on Sikh beliefs regarding the afterlife. My research indicates that they believe in reincarnation, as opposed to a heavenly paradise. So in that context, the quotation probably means that you will be unable to be reborn.)

The teachings of Guru Nanaka live on in the Sikh religion. Just before his death in 1539, he appointed one of his followers as his successor, entrusted with carrying out the principles he had elucidated. These principles and responsibilities were them passed down through a long line of Sikhi gurus. Followers of Sikhism believe that all subsequent gurus possess the divinity and religious authority of Guru Nanak, and therefore guide one to both self and God.

  • Ok, but how do we know and who will be this 'guru' person? – user103241 May 2 '12 at 1:49
  • @user103241: See the last paragraph. Guru Nanak took care of that for his followers. – Cody Gray May 2 '12 at 1:50
  • For the doubt cited in answer, Sikh Gurus iterated that the heavenly paradise as well as hell is right here based on your karma in all your previous and current life. In other words, you reap what you sow. And only by practicing meditation, serving others and eventually by Guru/God's blessing, you break the cycle of karma as well as reincarnation, making a final union with the omnipresent God, which is where everything originated from, completing the cycle of evolution of soul. – Gurpartap Singh Feb 3 '13 at 23:09

I'm an Indian and a Hindu and have read many Indian spiritual texts. With this context, I too would like to interpret the quote piece by piece:

Let no man in the world live in delusion.

This part probably refers to the Indian concept of Maaya - that the material world and its desires constitute a delusion that we should overcome, in order to find enlightenment and peace. I'd guess you would find that very word in the untranslated quote.

Without a Guru none can cross over to the other shore.

The other shore refers to enlightenment and Union with God. In the religious circles of India, there is a concept of finding the perfect Guru for oneself and following his lead in conducting your life. He is supposed to understand you completely and guide you in the right path in a way that would best suit your mental setup. As for the question of how one finds the Guru, the most common answer is that "your Guru appears by himself when you are ready for him". One is supposed to cleanse one's mind by rigorous self-discipline and devotion to God; when one has done so to the best of his abilities, the mind is ready to understand the Guru and his instructions, and so the universe conspires to make the Guru appear.

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