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The Art Of Dialogue:
Siddh Gosht - Part IV
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 80






The central concern in the Siddh Gosht - as in all gurbani - is how to live life. The notion of renouncing the world and casting one's worldly responsibilties aside in search of liberation (mukti) is the sub-text that runs alongside this fundamental question.

Renunciation, as a alluring ideal, is not just an Eastern distraction delved in by Buddhists, Jains and Hindus. Various versions of priesthood and monkhood are practised by Christians, Jews and Muslims as well.

Guru Nanak’s return from his udaasis and eventual settling down at Kartarpur demonstrates his ideal - living a life of piety in the midst of worldly affairs.


We notice a shift in stanza’s 19-25, the focus of our discussion this week. Gone is the initial condescension with which the siddhs addressed Guru Nanak. Now they are peppering Guru Nanak with questions.

Let's consider them as they appear in the text. In the interest of space, I have reproduced stanzas 19 - 22 only. Our objective this week is to reflect on the form of dialogue employed by Guru Nanak to covey his message.

Stanza 25 is a good stopping point because a new theme starts with stanza 26.


How did you turn your life around?
To what is your mind connected?
How did you still your aspirations and desires?
How did you discover the light deep within you?
How does one chew iron without teeth?
O Nanak, give us your true opinion? (19)

Guru Nanak:
Born to the Satguru my wandering ceased
To the unstruck melody is my mind connected
Gurmukhs find the Light deep within
By transcending duality one eats iron
Say Nanak, the liberated one liberates others. (20)

In the beginning, where did emptiness (sunn) reside?
What are the markers of knowledge and
Who is the indweller of all hearts?
How to dodge the staff of death, how to remain fearless?
How to stay in sehaj and contentment,
How to diffuse the poison of our passions?

The Guru’s shabad cuts the root of all poison - haumai!
Guides us to our real home.
Nanak is a slave to such a one who sees the creator in all creation. (21)

Where did we come from and where are we going?
Where will we merge?
Whoever knows the answer is Guru
How does one uncover the essence of the ineffable?
How does the gurmukh experience devotional love?
O Nanak tell us your wisdom.

Through Hukam we come and go, and we merge.
Through the Guru, Truth is learned and through the sabad,
One’s state and measure are understood (22)


For almost 30 years, Nanak travelled incessantly across India, to Tibet, southwards to Sri Lanka, and all the way west to Baghdad and Mecca. He met people of all religions - in their homes and in their places of worship, at their work-stations, in the village square, the street corner, the bazaar, or, as in the case of the siddhs, in their distant and secluded settings.

Whether it was at Hardwar, showing the pilgrims the futility of offering water to ancestors or at Mecca, asking the qazi to move his legs to point where God was not, Nanak's logic was irrefutable and his sincerity and unbounded love enough to melt any opposition.

How was Guru Nanak able to engage everyone, from the simple labourer to the wealthy trader, from the pauper to the Emperor, from the highly sophisticated orthodoxy to the yogic practitioner?

His genius lay in his unique gift of dialogue, a rare art that calls for embracing the one you disagree with and standing in his shoes.

William Isaacs, Director of MIT’s Dialogue Project and author of Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, points out that “dialogue is often the missing-link that frees people to take a quantum leap in vision and action,” adding, “if everybody got the idea that there is a different way to talk and think together, the seed of a very new kind of interaction could begin to sprout.”

Let's examine Guru Nanak’s dialogue style.

What stands out is Guru Nanak’s ability to listen. Note that most of the Siddh Gosht consists of questions directed at him. Too often we come to a conversation well prepared and armed - to talk, not to listen. We are already prepared in what we want to say and are simply waiting for the right moment to push it forward.

The ability to listen requires an open mind where all assumptions and biases have been dropped. If our minds remain insular and walled, they prevent anything fresh to seep in.

We tend to debate, not dialogue and therein lies the difference.

Debating is destructive, the Guru tells us. (GGS:1255)

Guru Nanak asserts that he is on a quest to find gurmukhs who can transcend the bounds of their denominational faiths, individuals who can exceed the margins of their inherited belief system.

Guru Nanak does not criticize, nor does he question the sincerity and commitment of the siddhs to their beliefs. He transforms - not through dogma or debate or the angry waiving of scripture, or the formalized lecture of a teacher-pupil setting - but by simply causing others to review and re-visit their own beliefs.

Good and healthy dialogue is possible only when the relationship of power is shifted. Guru Nanak does not engage from a position of superiority, of “I know best!” In a healthy dialogue, like in the Siddh Gosht, it is difficult to say who is leading and who is following. Only on equal partnership is a breakthrough possible.

But in our daily affairs, we are always role-playing - I am the father, the husband or wife, the boss, the employee, what have you - and therefore inhibiting a fruitful dialogue.

What are your thoughts on this?


April 30, 2012

Conversation about this article

1: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), April 30, 2012, 1:11 PM.

Ravinder ji, I see that we all agree now that the Siddh Gosht was not a confrontational discourse. Gurbani is useful to everyone, at all stages, even in non-spiritual situations. All discussions are thus useful and they must be encouraged. But the aim of gurbani is to transform the Sikh into someone who is just like the Guru. This is the culmination of the process that we call Sikhi. A true gurmukh represents the Guru. This is why Guru Nanak coined the terms 'Sikh' and 'Gurmukh'. Thus, discussing Siddh Gosht is almost like discussing "How can a Sikh be like the Guru?" Proper responses require a quantum leap from the routine topics. This can appear as confrontational, or as a disagreement. I may be wrong but the only way to avoid it would be to accept a mediocre version of gurmat, but I learn from these exchanges.

2: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), April 30, 2012, 1:16 PM.

I hope this is not taken as one-upping: The premise of Siddh Gosht is Guru Nanak's aim of spreading the spiritual message to the masses, as opposed to the Siddh method of hiding from those who may not be ready for it. Guru Nanak's method is, thus, practice of 'shabad-surt' (along with some other essentials) while continuing to live as a householder. Society can, then, absorb and adopt the spiritual part according to its own hunger and thirst. This makes 'salvation' available to the masses instead of a chosen few. It is true that much work needs to be done in the society, in many areas, but being true towards Waheguru comes first. Inner success is the foundation of outer success. We can continue to discuss 'how to live in the world' as long as we do not lose sight of Guru Nanak's intent.

3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), April 30, 2012, 4:14 PM.

Great topic.

4: Prakash Singh Bagga (Indore, India), May 01, 2012, 12:27 AM.

I totally agree with Yuktanand Singh ji. It is exactly what gurbani says: "guru sikh sikh guru eko gur updes chalae" [GGS:440].

5: Simon (London, United Kingdom), May 01, 2012, 5:52 AM.

Guru Nanak not only engaged in dialogue with people at all levels of society, he engaged people at the core of their religious establishments. Can you imagine anyone going to Mecca these days as a non-Muslim? Only wish he had made it to the Vatican. No religion has a monopoly on God and Nanak's message that gurbani as a guide is for the whole of humanity, irrespective of religious beliefs was a breath of fresh air for the inquisitive mind, which is why he never engaged in religious debates but went to the core of their belief system and revealed "The Truth". Everyone wants to know how to achieve such a state of enlightenment, spirituality being the key. Nanak's vision that if you can change the core belief system, by getting people to look inside, it does not matter which religion you are with, your focus will change to the true message of that religion. Yes, we can look at various "techniques" on how best to communicate, we are now living in a corporate world, where day to day decisions/ discussions/ dialogue are based on the "shackles" of bureaucracy, banking and corporate directives and any suggestion that we are free to act is a myth, any dialogue without compassion, without ego is worthless. Nanak went a step further: no fear, no ego, no lust, no greed and no attachment. As Yuktanand Singh rightly says, "Inner success is the foundation of outer success". One further note: we are looking at the beginning of the 16th century, a time when education, travel, etc. were limited across the world. How did that impact on the engagement of Guru Nanak with the people?

6: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.), May 01, 2012, 9:05 AM.

Simon said it right. Guru Nanak engaged people of every religion, along with their religious leadership, at the core of their religious establishment. It was true with Hindu leaders in Hardwar, and with the siddhs, and with the Islamic leaders in Mecca. "Mecca di Gosht" covers one example, and so do other documents currently being discussed in the adjoining column, "A Man of God Sans Religion". We do not know much about his dialogues with the Buddhists at Gaya but Nanak was there to engage them as well, as he did the Brahmins in Hardwar and Kurkshetra. His message was indeed for the whole humanity. We do injustice to it by protecting it with walls around it.

7: Prakash Singh Bagga (Indore, India), May 01, 2012, 9:20 AM.

Guru Nanak showed a new way of realizing and meeting Prabhu through the Guru-Gurbani, wherein there is a costant focus on Shabad/ Satguru and Naam ... all in simple, understandable language.

8: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), May 01, 2012, 10:39 AM.

It struck me this morning: One theme stands out from all these questions quoted above. The siddhs had felt that it was impossible to live in society and to achieve an inner state that can be achieved only in solitude, away from the society. Guru Nanak explained how a gurmukh not only attains such a state, but can do much more. A gurmukh also helps others in society attain it. This was a game changer.

9: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), May 01, 2012, 10:50 AM.

Guru Nanak in Raag Aasa: "suraj aiko rut anaik Nanak karte kai kaite vais". That is, "Just as there is one sun and many seasons, similarly there is one GOD who manifests Himself in diversity." All religions come from the One divine source. It is in the process of transmission and practice that they vary in their content.

10: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A. ), May 01, 2012, 5:01 PM.

Yuktanand ji: No question about it - becoming a Gurmukh or "Guru-like" is the summum bonum of a Sikh life. It it is also the central theme in Siddh Gosht. As we traverse the "spritscape" of Siddh Gosht, it would be equally desirable to pause on the form and structure of the text as well - hence this topic on dialogue. There is a symbiosis between the inner and the outer worlds. This is not to skirt around the central concern of how to become a Gurmukh. We will revert back to the content in the coming weeks.

11: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), May 03, 2012, 9:09 AM.

An artist looks at the art, a poet at the poetry. I marvel your ability to examine and enjoy gurbani from various tilts. As for the dialogue, the platform - as you have said earlier - was set in the opening stanzas. I will avoid discussing the message in those stanzas, but Guru Nanak arrived with humility. The siddhs were intrigued by the superior spiritual state of Guru Nanak, someone who was not from their group. Neither side rejected the other. They discussed their differences.

12: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), May 03, 2012, 9:12 AM.

It is intriguing that even though some of these individuals were perfectly emancipated souls, none of the siddhs qualified to be the gurmukh that Guru Nanak was seeking, because 'gurmukh', just like 'Guru', is an honor deserved only by rare individuals. This indicates that 'gurmukh' is a different breed. We Sikhs casually label ordinary learned or pious Sikhs as gurmukhs. Such an outlook keeps us spiritually stagnant. Sikh spiritual scholars have felt that Guru Nanak had found only one Gurmukh. Guru Gobind Singh found only five. Today, we do not feel the need to search for one. We have gurbani. We are better than Guru Nanak! (As if Guru Nanak did not have gurbani!) Sorry, I keep gravitating to the 'tires' so I will be quiet and let the conversation proceed as intended.

13: Prakash.Singh Bagga (Indore, India), May 03, 2012, 10:46 AM.

Our search within gurbani should be for what delineates a 'gurmukh'.

14: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), May 03, 2012, 12:38 PM.

Thanks, Yuktanand ji, for initiating the dialogue on Gurmukh because that is where we are headed - next week. With your help, and that of others, I expect we will be taking a deep immersion.

15: Andrea Dean (Australia), October 18, 2017, 11:35 PM.

I'd like to reference the artwork (two people in dialogue) do you know the artist? Title?

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Siddh Gosht - Part IV
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 80"

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