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Gurmukh - Person or Process:
Siddh Gosht, Part VI
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 82






As we considered the idea of mukti or liberation, one aim was to contrast prevailing notions in religious thought with Guru Nanak’s teachings.

Historically, kingship and liberation (raj/mukti) were viewed as the ultimate twin goals for the secular and spiritual.

While gurbani dwells on mukti, it differs sharply from the siddhs, both in meaning and importance. What is interesting is that the idea of mukti is not associated with withdrawal, nor is it the ultimate prize.

Guru Arjan quite emphatically declares that he cares not for either kingship or liberation: “raj na chahoon mukṯā na chahoon / man preet charan kamlareh" - ' I desire not a kingdom, nor liberation, only L:ove.' [GGS:534]

A life in Sikhi is drenched in Love, inspired by the realization of the unity of all things.

Sikhi is often referred to as prem-bhakti or the way of devotion and love, as a way to contrast it with the way of jnana (knowledge) or karam (action) - the two other generally accepted spiritual paths traditionally on the subcontinent. This is not to suggest that knowledge and action have no role, but simply to suggest the primacy of Love.

Indeed, Love and God are synonymous in gurbani. God is prem-purakh (Love personified), prem-parayan (dedicated to Love), and has brought forth this creation as an act of Love: “tus ḏevėh kare pasāo" -  'Out of Love was this expanse created.' [GGS:463]

We will revert back to this subject in the weeks to come.


We will look at the contents of stanzas 26 - 42. With a few exceptions, these stanzas are devoted primarily to an exposition of gurmukh. In common Sikh parlance, the term is used to denote one who “faces the Guru” or is “Guru-facing,” implying a receiving of the Guru’s instruction.

In the interest of space, we reproduce stanzas 26 and 42 only:

Stanza 26
A manmukh makes mistakes and lives in death’s shadow
Looking into the home of another, he loses.
A manmukh is confused by doubt
and wanders in the wilderness
Straying away from the path,
he recites mantras at crematoriums,
Without reflecting on the shabad
he speaks obscenities
Nanak says, those who are immersed in Truth,
Attain a state of peace

Stanza 42
The gurmukh attains the pure naam
The gurmukh burns the ego with shabad
The gurmukh sings the praises of the Truth
Through the true naam the gurmukh is honored
Nanak says: The gurmukh is aware of the mysteries of the world


Cultivated speech, the pursuit of knowledge, contemplation, one-pointed focus, transformation and social activism - these are some of the qualities that Guru Nanak speaks of in describing a gurmukh.

It would be useful for us to examine ourselves to see how these qualities are reflected in our lives.

In stanza 39, Guru Nanak speaks of the mind-body complex: the body being the exchange where the trader mind trades in the commodity of Truth.

Are we pursuing the Truth?

Stanza 40 shows Guru Nanak’s genius in using existing mythology (in this case, the Ramayana) to deliver his message in a way that the common folk can understand. Lanka here represents the body, and Ravan denotes haumai that is killed by the gurmukh (Ram Chander) but not until he is instructed by the Guru (in this case,  Ravan’s brother, Vibhishan gives Ram Chander the secret).

I have always treated the term Gurmukh as a noun, signifying one who is Guru-facing or enlightened. Until a friend who takes gurbani vyakaran (grammar) quite seriously pointed out to me that the word 'gurmukh' in these stanzas appears with a “sihari” which renders it a preposition.

I had to fall back on my old copy of Fowler to take a refresher on what a preposition is - a word that links or shows a relationship between a noun and pronoun to another word in the sentence. "Above", "by" and "through" are some examples.

By this logic, Gurmukh becomes, “by facing the Guru,” or “by turning to the Guru.” Where 'Guru' is the noun and “by facing” or “by turning” are the prepositions.

The question then is: is 'gurmukh' a person or a process - as used in the Siddh Gosht?

The term Gurmukh without the “sihari” is rarely used in the Guru Granth Sahib - as far as I can tell. I could spot only a couple of

Viewing Gurmukh as a preposition would have some far reaching consequences in how we think of the term. It would suggest that Guru Nanak’s emphasis is on a process, not a person.

I have often heard that the word gurmukh as a noun is used only for Guru Nanak.

What do you think?

Consider that the word manmukh in stanza 26 that is being used as a contrast to gurmukh has a “sihari” as well - indicating that it too is a preposition.


May 23, 2012

Conversation about this article

1: Rose (U.S.A.), May 23, 2012, 11:53 AM.

Becoming a gurmukh is entirely an internal process. The changes occur all in the mind as we progress spiritually.

2: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), May 23, 2012, 5:49 PM.

The scholars need to chime in for this. As far as I can tell, meaning of 'gurmukh' changes with the context rather than the way it was written. Sometimes, the vowel (particularly the sihari) is used to terminate a word, to prevent confusion in reading and thus, we should not read too much into it. This does not mean that we ignore gurbani grammar but, in this case, the grammar is not much help. Meaning of 'gurmukh' varies, all the way from its literal meaning, Guru's face or Guru's mouth, to: God [GGS:250.12]; Guru [2.8]; Guru's teaching / Guru's word [2.8, 131.12]; someone who is like the Guru [131.12]; the process of becoming a gurmukh [131.13]; as a gurmukh [65.11]; for/to a gurmukh [39.5]; to its most common meaning in gurbani: one who follows the Guru (Guru-facing), as opposed to the manmukh who follows one's own mind [131.11, 11.16]. In my view, cultivated speech, the pursuit of knowledge, contemplation, one-pointed focus, transformation and social activism are, natural by-products. They are not the unique, and difficult-to-define, characteristics of a gurmukh.

3: Peejay Singh (Victoria, Brirish Columbia, Canada), May 24, 2012, 1:37 PM.

For additional explanation about transformation of a "manmukh" to a "gurmukh", one should listen to this kathaa delivered at the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara by Bhai Sarabjit Singh Dhunda.

4: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), May 24, 2012, 5:40 PM.

Gurshabad ... only the shabad, teachings of the Guru, is needed to become a gurmukh.

5: Prakash.Singh Bagga (Indore, India), May 25, 2012, 12:54 AM.

The word 'gurmukh' in Siddh Gosht is used either as a transitive noun or a verb. It refers to a person or persons if it is with a matra of aukad and without matra.

6: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 25, 2012, 8:58 AM.

'Gurmukh' is the divine way of life, walking in the path of the Lord: "hukam rajaee chalna" - remaining firmly committed to the divine hukam. For a Sikh, gurbani is also the true rehat, teaching us jeevan jaach.

7: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), May 26, 2012, 9:23 PM.

Guru Tegh Bahadar, GGS:219 -"Nanak kahat mukat panth ih gurmukh ho-ay tum paav-o". Here 'gurmukh' has the sihari vowel which means it is a process. It says, "be a gurmukh (person) as this path liberates you." The whole of Siddh Gosht and in general Guru Granth Sahib uses the word with a sihari to impress the process on us to be gurmukh.

8: Prakash Singh Bagga (Indore, India), May 31, 2012, 1:03 AM.

We learn from gurbani that Guru Nanak is the name for gurjot itself. So the word 'gurmukh' as a noun is for gurjot only.

9: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), June 03, 2012, 4:40 PM.

In my opinion, gurmukh is a path as well as a person. Most paths stress on controlling one's own self. But they are unable to overcome the haumai or seeing oneself as the doer. Gurbani successfully dethrones the haumai. Just as a dog running around pulling on the leash, unmindful of the master, walks alone. Similarly, a manmukh walks alone. Gurmukh lives, breathes and eats (saas-giraas) mindful of the Guru who is always with the Sikh. "so satgur piaraa merai naal hai" - "That beloved Guru is always with me" [GGS:588.2]. A gurmukh's haumai is dissolved in the love constantly fed by the higher Self, the Guru. A manmukh can only imagine the higher self but the gurmukh thrives in Guru's love and lets the Guru lead the way.

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