The Prashanuttar rehitnama of Bhai Nand Lal is written in versed Punjabi and is composed of two parts. It was written in 1695 and is the only writing of Bhai Nand Lal in which the date of writing is suggested at the end. Interestingly, the Guru is not referred to as Singh, nor is there any mentioning of the Khalsa, which makes the document particularly interesting as it outlines the pre-khalsa rehit that the Sikhs were to follow.
The first part is short and makes up the daily rehit a Sikh is to follow, while the second and larger part is a philosophical discussion on the nature of the Guru. As a part of the rehit, the Guru says a Sikh is to have darshan of the Guru on a daily basis. After hearing this, Bhai Nand Lal asks how it is possible to see the Guru daily which then culminates in the Guru revealing his threefold nature as the Nirgun, Sargun and Gurshabad (the invisible, the visible and the devout Sikh). These three aspects of the Guru are elaborated in the various later Persian works of the poet such as the Ganjnâma and Joti Bigâs.
Overall, the document reveals a mystical understanding of the nature of the Guru that challenges the common perceptions that Sikhs have of the Guru today. For Bhai Nand Lal, the Guru is neither a prophet nor a spiritual guide. For Bhai Nand Lal, the Guru is a manifestation of divine attributes and Light that transcends the Guru Granth Sahib, creation and humanity at once.
Nirgun (The Invisible)
According to the Rehitnama, the first form of the Guru is of mystical nature. The Guru is the Light that transcends creation and permeates every heart and cell. The realisation and communion with this Light is the ultimate objective of the Sikh philosophy and is, according to the teachings, outside the scope of human language and expression. According to the teachings of the Gurus, it is impossible to intellectually understand this nature of the Guru. It is a mystical realisation that has to be experienced, not intellectually grasped. In the Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak writes that, describing the state of this experience is as hard as eating steel (ie. impossible). Gurbani elaborates further and discusses this understanding of the Divine, which places the concept of God outside of the Semitic understanding of a personal God. Guru Arjan, for instance, comments on this nature by writing that 'The Guru and the Transcendent are one and the same, pervading and permeating amongst all'. The Divine is not someone external to please, but rather something to merge with at a personal and spiritual level. As such, the first nature of the Guru is a Light that pervades creation.
Sargun (The Granth)
The second form of the Guru is the Granth. This is a well known notion amongst Sikhs of today, but Bhai Nand Lal takes the notion one step further by adding an element of intimacy between the Guru and the Granth itself. In the rehitnama, Guru Gobind Singh says that 'The person who wishes to converse with me should read the Granth and reflect on what it says. The person who wishes to hear my words should devoutly hear and reflect on the Granth. Acknowledge the Granth as my visible presence, and reject the notion that it is any other than me'.
In these words, the Guru is echoing the words of Guru Har Krishan who similarly, according to the Suraj Parkash, in Delhi said "The Granth is the Lord of all. He who wants to see me, let him with faith and love see the Granth. So will he shed all his sins. He who would wish to speak with the Guru, let him read the Granth with devotion. He who practises its' teachings will obtain all the four cherished objects of human life. In the Granth abides the Guru's spirit. Daily bow your head to it. So will you conquer your passions and attain liberation".
As these words reveal, an intimate relationship is to be acquired between the Sikh and the all pervasive, Guru via the Words enshrined in the Granth. As such, the Granth becomes a vehicle to establishing a relationship with the Eternal Word of the Satguru. In the Persian Joti Bigâs, praise is also given to the Shabad in a long eulogy of the unity of Gurus: 'Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Nanak are one and the same; Their words (shabad) and message are like pearls and diamonds. Their words are like precious jewels that have been tempered with Truth (Haqq Jalâ); Their words are like a diamond that has been blessed with the shine of Truth'.
Gurshabad (The Devout Sikh)
The third form of the Guru is the devout Sikh who 'day and night is immersed in the Sacred Words (Gurbani)'. The Guru once again establishes the notion of mystical union as the Sikh is to be immersed in the Words, whereto he becomes an ever-present manifestation of the Guru. The notion of the Sikhs and the sangat as a whole being, a manifestation of the Guru, is furthermore elaborated upon in the works of Bhai Nand Lal as well as Bhai Gurdas.
For Bhai Nand Lal, the Sangat does not merely consist of a group of individuals engaged in spiritual practices,- rather they become the very body of the Guru. This is expressed in his lengthy Persian composition Zindagînamâ, wherein a dozen paragraphs are dedicated to the Sangat alone whom he regards as the real Men of Truth (Mardân-e-Haqq) and the People of God (Mardân-e-Khudâsat). In his description of the Sangat, he regards them as men and women of high moral standards engaged in spiritual practices, rising above their base desires, producing literature and great eloquent speakers while they inspire others to the Truth.
The Guru of Bhai Nand Lal
So who is the Guru of Bhai Nand Lal? The writings of Bhai Nand Lal challenge common assumptions amongst the Sikhs of today. The Guru of Bhai Nand Lal is not a prophet who comes to impart humanity with a message and warn them against future punishment, he is not a perfect human being whose life is to be emulated nor is he a saintly guide or worldly king. For Bhai Nand Lal, the Guru is a manifestation of Light that permeates every single cell in the universe, with the historical Gurus being some out of many such manifestations. For Bhai Nand Lal therefore, the real aspiration is to merge with the Word of the Guru and to become one with this light. This understanding of the Guru might also explain the reason why Bhai Nand Lal did not write down the history of the Gurus but rather sought to praise their nature and the unity of God and creation.