The four Varnas — the Kshatriya, Brahmins, Soodras and Vaishyas — are equal in
respect to the Upadesa (advice, religious instructions, teachings, Self-knowledge etc.).
Says Nanak, one who (from any of the four Varnas), by becoming the Gurmukh
(spiritual being), chants the Name of God, who permeates the hearts of each
and every being, is saved In this Kali Yuga (sggs 747).

In Sanskrit, literally, "Varna" denotes "color". But as color it does not refer to the color of the skin of people, but to the qualities or energies of human nature (i.e., mental color). Thus, it's also indicated to denote "kind", "type" or "select" (one's profession, etc.), and hence signifies qualities or characteristic of someone. Scholars indicate earlier reference to this word "Varna" can be found in Rig Veda, and in Zend Avesta (the ancient scriptures of Zoroastrianism). In Rig Veda, this word Varna is used in more than 20 places. Of these, most places the word is used in reference to various deities, and means luster, features or color. In the remaining places it is used in reference to human beings. In the Zend Avesta, this word is used specifically in the sense of Faith, choice of creed or belief. - Nowhere this word "Varna" can be found to have been used to indicate "caste" or Jaat-Paat.

In ancient India, the Vedic culture took into account the psychological nature of individuals through a human social order comprised of four Varnas - (1) Brahmins (priests, teachers, advisors, intellectuals, scholars etc.), (2) Kshatriyas (Kings, and warriors, military people, statesmen, administrators etc.), (3) Vaishyas (landowners, traders or business people etc.), and (4) Soodras (manual laborers or workers, craftsmen etc.). In ancient India, these social divisions were not based on birth but based on qualifications. Apparently, any given person may fit in more than one social class, but certainly that person's one occupational proclivity will predominate. Similarly, the Vedic system also divided human life into four spiritual stages (Varna Ashrama Dharma).

Originally, as mentioned earlier, "Varnas" were based on "quality and work", not "birth". This was the emphasis of the system. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the real emphasis and meaning of this diversity has been lost. In other words, with time this system of determining natural aptitude of people has degenerated into the caste system that we regrettably see in India nowadays. The so-called four castes - Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishyas, and Soodras or Dalits - thus came into being afterwards. In the caste system, people are classified according to "birth" as opposed to "quality and work". For example, if one is born into a Brahmin family, that person is automatically considered a Brahmin despite his or her qualifications or lack thereof. In other words, even if a person has qualifications or qualities that of a Soodra, but if that person happened to be born in a Brahmin family, then he or she is automatically considered a Brahmin! This has been the cause of not only unrest and civil strife in present India, but also the cause for religious conversions. In fact, within the major caste groups, there are many sub-castes.

Clearly, initially the so called four castes were nothing more than four general social divisions, classes, or groups of people, which strictly depended only on quality of the person - one is fit for a particular occupation according to one's qualifications, not according to the family into which one was born. In other words, Varna Dharma consisted of the occupation, duties and responsibilities one must fulfill as a member of his nation, community and family with religious and moral law. Therefore, these social divisions (Varna system) had nothing to do with the castes, race, creed, color etc., as these are understood today.

Baabaa Nanak's concept of God as professed in the Mool Mantra of the SGGS (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) was based on his firm conviction in the Unity of God ("one clan, One God"). During his time, in India, the lower castes as well as women were not entitled to benefit from spiritual enlightenment through reciting Mantras for meditation, reading scriptures, conducting religious ceremonies etc. It's true even today! His firm conviction in the Unity of God (unadulterated Non-duality) departed from old traditions, making everyone entitled to spiritual enlightenment (regardless of caste, creed, race or gender). Baabaa Nanak has reiterated the negation of duality and his unshakable belief and conviction in the Unity of God in various ways in his compositions throughout the SGGS.

Accordingly, the "Upadesa" (advice, religious instructions, teachings, message, Self-knowledge, etc.) of the SGGS is for all mankind to share, equally. It belongs to the members of all Varnas jointly ("Saajhaa"). However, due to narrow-mindedness or ignorance of the Gur-Shabad, Sikhs who have forgotten this important principle of Baabaa Nanak's Teachings impose limits on as to who can come to seek the spiritual wisdom of SGGS and who can't. But as per the Shabad-Guru, the spiritual wisdom of the SGGS is for all to share, regardless of one's predominate occupational inclinations or birth. Baabaa Nanak and the SGGS emphatically reject the practice of caste system (Jaat-Paat). Therefore, as Brahmins, to say who can read SGGS and who can do Kirtan or who can perform Ardaas (prayer) is sheer ignorance of the Gur-Shabad. After all, the purpose of all spiritual practices is to develop a mind filled with compassion and love for all (free from the dealings of Haume or ego).

  • ਖਤ੍ਰੀ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣ ਸੂਦ ਵੈਸ ਉਪਦੇਸੁ ਚਹੁ ਵਰਨਾ ਕਉ ਸਾਝਾ ॥ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪੈ ਉਧਰੈ ਸੋ ਕਲਿ ਮਹਿ ਘਟਿ ਘਟਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਮਾਝਾ ॥:The four Varna - the Kshatriya, Brahmins, Soodras and Vaishyas - are equal in respect to the Teaching (of the Gurbani...). O Nanak! Who (from any of the four Varnas), by becomimg the Gurmukh (follower of Truth...), understands the Naam (Gurbani, Shabad, Hukam...) is saved In "Kali" (saved from Bikaar: lust, anger, greed, etc.). (Such person sees Parmaatam) in the hearts of each and every being (sggs 747).
  • ਬੀਜ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਸਰਬ ਕੋ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥ ਚਹੁ ਵਰਨਾ ਮਹਿ ਜਪੈ ਕੋਊ ਨਾਮੁ ॥: Beej mantra sarab ko giaan. Chahu varanaa mahi japai ko-oo naam (sggs 274).
  • ਚਹੁ ਵਰਨਾ ਕਉ ਦੇ ਉਪਦੇਸੁ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਉਸੁ ਪੰਡਿਤ ਕਉ ਸਦਾ ਅਦੇਸੁ ॥: chahu varanaa kaou de oupades. Nanak ous pandit kaou sadaa ades (sggs 274).
  • ਜਾਤੀ ਦੈ ਕਿਆ ਹਥਿ ਸਚੁ ਪਰਖੀਐ ॥ ਮਹੁਰਾ ਹੋਵੈ ਹਥਿ ਮਰੀਐ ਚਖੀਐ ॥: Jaatee dai kiaa hath sach parkheeai. Mahuraa hovai hath mareeai chakheeai: What merits is in the caste? (At God's Door) True (Name) is assayed. Pride in one's caste is like poison - if one eats it he dies (sggs 142).
  • ਜਾਤਿ ਕਾ ਗਰਬੁ ਨ ਕਰਿ ਮੂਰਖ ਗਵਾਰਾ ॥: Jaat kaa garab na kar moorakh gavaaraa: Do not be proud of your caste, you ignorant fool! (sggs 1127).

Why do we think the "Upadesa" of the SGGS is stated to be "Saajhaa" (equally belonging to the entire human family)? Because, according to the Shabad-Guru, there is but One God, and He is the Father of all (i.e. "Saajhaa"). It implies that there is no such thing as separate God of Brahmins, separate God of Kshatriya, separate God of Vaishyas, separate God of Soodras or separate God of Sikhs. As indicated in the SGGS, the important thing is to remain "awake and aware" (from the sleep of Maya's intoxication or illusory effect of the worldly life) by applying the "ointment of spiritual wisdom" to one's eyes (i.e., perfect understanding of spiritual life style).

  • ਤੂੰ ਸਾਝਾ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਬਾਪੁ ਹਮਾਰਾ ॥: Toon saajhaa saahib baap hamaaraa: O Universal Lord, You are the Father of all (sggs 97).
  • ਚਹੁ ਵਰਨਾ ਵਿਚਿ ਜਾਗੈ ਕੋਇ ॥ ਜਮੈ ਕਾਲੈ ਤੇ ਛੂਟੈ ਸੋਇ ॥5॥ ਕਹਤ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਨੁ ਜਾਗੈ ਸੋਇ ॥ ਗਿਆਨ ਅੰਜਨੁ ਜਾ ਕੀ ਨੇਤ੍ਰੀ ਹੋਇ ॥੬॥੨॥: Chahu varanaa vich jaagai koi. Jamai kaalai te shhoottai soi ||5|| kahat Nanak jan jaagai soi. Ggiaan anjan jaa kee netree hoi ||6||2|| (sggs 352).
  • ਚਾਰੇ ਵਰਨ ਆਖੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਬਿੰਦ ਤੇ ਸਭ ਓਪਤਿ ਹੋਈ ॥: Chaare varan aakhai sabh koee. Braham bind te sabh oupat hoee (sggs 1128).

In the Mool Mantra, by placing the numerical figure"1" in the front, Baabaa Nanak made it clear that there is only One Power, One Consciousness (Non-duality). To believe in and limit as to who can come to seek the spiritual wisdom of the SGGS sets up a sense of duality in our consciousness; a sense that there is "Good" as well as there is "bad". The same life is found in every living or inanimate thing on earth. There is no other life; for, as the SGGS says, "From this One Light, the entire universe welled up."

  • ਏਕ ਨੂਰ ਤੇ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਕਉਨ ਭਲੇ ਕੋ ਮੰਦੇ ॥੧॥: Ek noor te sabh jagu upjiaa kaoun bhale ko mande ||1||: From this One Light, the entire universe has welled up. So who is good, and who is bad? ||1|| (sggs 1349).

So let's not fail Baabaa Nanak by imposing limits on as to who can read SGGS; who can perform Shabad-Kirtan; who can perform Ardaas and so on. Because this sort of narrow and self-centered thinking has been emphatically rejected by Baabaa Nanak and the Shabad-Guru (SGGS). Hence, such faulty thinking does not belong in the progressive Sikh-Thought. It no longer serves man, and it is questionable if it ever did. For this New Age, the SGGS is holistic and real. It's about equality, sharing, justice, Bhagti (devotion), Oneness, love, compassion, friendliness, and so on. So let's not hold on to the outdated beliefs out of fear that were rejected by Baabaa Nanak. The SGGS is for all seekers of Truth, not for few selected or privileged ones. The SGGS never was that way, and wasn't meant to be that way. After all, as Baabaa Nanak says, what matters in the "Daragah" (Kingdom of God, God's Court, God's Door, God's Presence etc.) is Naam, the Name of the Lord.

  • ਮੰਨੇ ਨਾਉ ਬਿਸੰਖ ਦਰਗਹ ਪਾਵਣਾ ॥: Manne naaou bisankh daragah paavanaa: One who believes in the Name of the Infinite Lord, attains God's Court (sggs 148).
  • ਜਾਤਿ ਅਜਾਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਿਨ ਧਿਆਇਆ ਤਿਨ ਪਰਮ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਪਾਇਆ ॥: Jaat ajaat Naam jin dhiaaiaa tin param padaarath paayaa: Of high caste, or low one, whosoever meditate on the Naam, he obtains the Supreme Substance (sggs 574).

— T. Singh