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The Word as Guru:
Siddh Gosht, Part VIII
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 84





We have spent several weeks exploring the various shades of meaning and manifestations of 'gurmukh' in gurbani: gurmukh - the process of being Guru-oriented;  gurmukh - the primordial Creator; and gurmukh - the gurmat ideal.

My hope was that the discussion would move away from the standard - albeit, correct - definitions and interpretations that were offered. For instance, it would have been interesting to paint a contemporary picture of a gurmukh with emphasis on community activism - a dimension of gurmukh life that we often overlook in favor of the more “naam jupping” image that we conjure up.

Both are important and constitute two sides of the same coin.

This week, lets proceed to stanzas 43 and 44 of the Siddh Gosht [GGS:938].

In these stanzas, the siddhs raise some more questions that evoke a response from Guru Nanak around Shabad Guru.

The siddhs, we find, are a noisy, argumentative lot, always trying to score “points” and wanting to have the last word - a trait that we often see even in modern-day seekers. In fact, a reader from Penang observed that we, on the Talking Stick forum, sometimes appeared as though we were vying for the best answer! I sincerely hope that we are not turning into modern-day siddhs.

In stanza 43 and 44, the siddhs - having heard Guru Nanak’s exposition on 'gurmukh' and the way of the Guru, raise the question: Who is your Guru?

Guru Nanak’s response: Shabad is the Guru.

The concept of Shabad Guru is perhaps the most central and foundational concept in Sikh doctrine and teaching.

In providing the expository framework for our discussion around this subject, I tread very carefully and expect our learned readers to chime in.

In gurbani, shabad is equated with hukam and naam, like synonymous terms but with differences that are subtle. Of the three
terms, only shabad is referred to as Guru (as far as I can tell) and it is shabad as Guru that we want to focus on this week.

'Shabad' derives from the Sanskrit 'sabd', and its etymology stands for speech, language, thought and communication. The concept of shabad as Word and Word being God is common to many major faith traditions - as the logos of the Greeks, the Word of the Bible, the kun of the Quran and the saraosha of Zoroaster.

In traditional religious thought on the subcontinent, four levels of speech (sound) have been classified and are alluded to in Sikh teachings as well. These are: vaikhari, madhyama, pasyanti, and para.

The first two classifications (vaikhari and madhyama) refer to everyday sound that we ordinarily receive through our ears and
articulate through speech - made possible by our tongue, palate, teeth and lips acting on air to create a resonant effect in the larynx.

On this continuum, the latter two, pasyanti and para, point to levels of sound where it is undifferentiated and resides as the subtlest of vibrations or waves that are inaudible to the physical ear. In gurbani, this is referred to as anāhaḏ naad or the unstruck sound, where sound dissolves into the great silence.

We can thus view shabad as a sound spectrum of increasing subtlety starting with its everyday expression as language and speech, stretching into incipient speech and eventually dissolving into the great silence.

Viewed another way, shabad permeates all creation and existed even before creation was manifest. This is a point that Guru Nanak makes to the siddhs. It is also the cause of all Creation as well as destruction.


In gurbani, shabad is at once God’s creative agency - creating and sustaining all creation (including us) on the one hand, and serving as a channel for communication between Creator and Creation.

Guru Nanak speaks of “shabad guru surat dhun chela” - Shabad is the Guru and the individual awareness (or consciousness) is the pupil (chela).

How do we translate this into our day-to-day life?

What is the interrelationship between naam, hukam and shabad?

Since shabad is sound and speech, how is it related to what we call bani?

Why can’t we hear the cosmic shabad?


June 19, 2012


Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 19, 2012, 5:32 PM.

"Naanak laykhai ik gal hor ha-umai jhakh-naa jhaakh" [GGS:46.15] - "O Nanak, only one thing is of any account, everything else is useless babbling and idle talk around the ego."

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), June 19, 2012, 7:05 PM.

The inter-relationship between Naam, Hukam and Shabad is a seamless one. Reading the shabad and singing the shabad are ONE! This is why the opening chapter of the Guru Granth - Japji Sahib - is generally not sung but read. It is both the foundation and the synopsis of the entire Guru Granth.

3: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), June 19, 2012, 10:48 PM.

I think naam is remembering God, hukam is accepting His will and shabad is the practice of the natural law. Practice is in the sense of reciting and becoming gurbani. Listening for the shabad within ourselves and recognizing it is all around us, we awaken ourselves to our true nature and become one with everything. I think this is liberation.

4: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 21, 2012, 10:05 AM.

Naam, hukam and shabad, all three are one and the same. In the context of a hukamnama, shabad is hukam. In the context of simran, shabad is naam and guru. In the context of gurmat vichaar, shabad is bani or gurbani.

5: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 22, 2012, 10:55 AM.

Spiritual wisdom as enshrined in shabad-gurbani Guru Granth Sahib avoids shenanigans like naad-sounds, body chakras, cosmic auras, etc. that relate to belong to siddhs, yogis, etc. There are 5867 shabads, yet there is no reference to such pseudo cosmic theories and concepts. Human birth is a divine gift from God that comes with full package; as the body grows and develops, assembly takes place in its own course, as God is within, everything that belongs to Him is also within, including His Grace. Divine grace will start happening from our own center once the obstacle of haumai is overcome. Thus it is up to inner development, so gurmat says go in and find it. In Japji, Guru Nanak has stressed upon sunniye and manniye to unfold the divine grace through inner development.

6: Manjit Singh Bara Pindia (Canada), June 24, 2012, 3:41 AM.

The existence of shabad naad should not be dismissed off hand. Naam shabad or amrit dhara is naad. We should not interpret naad as stream of sound only. Perhaps 'dhara' is a more suitable word. In some posts, in an earlier topic discussed last year, I translated dhara as naam channel/ baam stream, then it was misunderstood by many readers of the forum. So perhaps sticking to calling it just 'dhara' would have been better. I think everyone would agree with Sardar Mohan Singh ( post #5) when he says that every thing is inside and we should not look outside or in other places. He who searches outside is deluded by doubt. By Guru's grace, one who finds Him within himself also lives happily within and also outside of himself [GGS:102.4]. But how does that come inside of us? How does one feel the presence of that something? To answer that, perhaps the following lines from Gurbani which are next to the lines quoted above, may help. "Gently and slowly, like rain drops, comes down the dhara of amrit, the life giving substance. The mind absorbs it and reflects upon it (its shabad)- contemplates on it" [GGS:102.5]). I interpret that line as saying that we are kept alive by the amrit stream of the naam shabad. When the mind fails to receive it because of failure of a vital organ of the body, the body dies. This dhara is amrit, the life giving substance. It is the naam shabad. It is the hukam that falls within (the circle of) naam and conveyed by shabad in the form of a dhara or shower. (Naam is hukam plus shabad). However, the mind also creates its own dhara that emanates from one's haumai. Regarding the shabad that emanates from the mind, gurbani says: "Create from within yourself, the shabad dhara that is like the naam dhara. Then He (Akal Purakh) may cast His grace - karam nadar, upon those who are able to do this." [Japji:37, GGS:8,9]

7: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 24, 2012, 12:39 PM.

I agree with Manjit Singh ji (36) re the frame work of gurmat. In his Aarti, Guru Nanak refers to the "sound of the inner soul." This is a real gurmat messaqe, however, it requires a strong urge (kashish) by an individual.

8: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), June 25, 2012, 12:06 PM.

Re the cosmic shabad - Guru Nanak: "Truth is expressed in a myriad ways, by a myriad seers and sages. God reveals Himself in diverse ways through time" [GGS:357] Guru Arjan says at GGS:763: "I say but what He commands me to say ..."

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Siddh Gosht, Part VIII
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 84"

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