Guru Nanak Sahib describes devotion to the eternal IkOankar (the Divine) as the ultimate duty of all castes and classes of people. Those who praise and adopt the virtues of IkOankar thus, through this inculcation, become the embodiment of IkOankar.
jog sabdaṅ   giān sabdaṅ   bed sabdaṅ   ta brāhmaṇah.
khyatrī sabdaṅ   sūr sabdaṅ   sūdra sabdaṅ   parā kritah.
sarab sabdaṅ   ta ek sabdaṅ   je ko jānasi bheu.
nānak ko dāsu hai   soī niranjan deu.3.
-Guru Granth Sahib 1353
Literal Translation
Interpretive Transcreation
Poetical Dimension
In the third salok, Guru Nanak uses the prevalent framework of the Hindu caste system to describe the duties associated with different social strata. In Indic culture, it is believed that the duty of a Yogi is to acquire knowledge, while the duty of the Brahmin is to read and recite the Vedas. The duty of a Kshatriya is to follow the instruction of bravery, while the duty of a Shudra is to serve others. We all live our own disciplines and religions, and schools of thought. We all are told what our duties are based on the categories we have been sorted into. But, the Guru says, if someone wants to figure out this mystery, there is only one Wisdom for all people, one instruction for all people, and one duty for all people, regardless of these categories. The Guru is actively rejecting these divisions based on perceived differences, including spiritual capacity.

The Guru says that the being who understands this mystery, that these categories are useless, and that there is only one duty of all duties is the one to which the Guru is devoted. Those who have understood this mystery are described as niranjan, or filth-free, without the blemish of Maya or attachment to the material and to our relationships. This is a direct subversion of Brahmanical ideas of purity and the superiority derived from that perceived purity. This is where the upper castes’ pride comes from, so the Guru addresses it directly. Guru Nanak identifies with the oppressed “low-caste” serving Shudras by saying that the Guru serves those who understand the mystery, emphasizing that service is the duty of those who have eliminated their pride and understood that all people have access to the same Wisdom, the same instruction.

We continue to create these hierarchies in our own contexts, usually rooted in perceived ideas of purity or adherence. Guru Nanak’s message breaks the pride that causes us to divide ourselves in this way by clearly stating that there is only one message for all. If we really want to understand this mystery, that there is only one Wisdom for everyone, then we cannot continue to be full of pride. Understanding this mystery requires us to dismantle our pride and rid ourselves of our superiority complexes. To tell the people in Benares that there is only one principle — one “religion” for everyone, one way, one wisdom — is a huge disruption on the part of the Guru. Everyone is selling their way and trying to say it is the best way. There is a privilege, ego, and supremacism baked into this thinking. But if we are able to move out of this way of thinking, we will be able to understand that the Divine, the cause of all causes, the doer, is all-pervasive and accessible to all. We will understand that the greatest “duty” is to become the devotee of that One through living in devotion and through our behaviors. Are we willing to give up the benefits we reap, the power we hold through the continued existence of these hierarchies? Are we ready to become those who serve instead of those who are served?