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Talking Stick

Live In The World ... But Ply The True Trade:
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 78








We saw in our initial discussion on the Siddh Gosht that Guru Nanak’s mere appearance at their camp was enough to startle the mendicant siddhs. By all accounts, including their own, they lived in very remote, inaccessible areas.

Tradition also tells us that encounters with the siddhs also took place on Mount Sumer (Kailash), which sits 22,000 ft. above sea level. The journey for Guru Nanak must have been arduous. We are told that in preparation for his trip to Sumer, he wore leather footwear and headgear and wound a rope around him.

Not surprising that the siddhs should be surprised to see a visitor - which prompted the flurry of questions about his identity, but more importantly, the source of his strength - especially, spiritual - that brought him there.

The siddhs are believed to have asked Guru Nanak how the world below (an indication that they were at a very high altitude) was doing. Readers have rightly pointed out that Guru Nanak admonished the siddhs for having abandoned the world, which was direly in need of the presence of the learned and the wise.

This led to the siddhs arguing that it was not possible to live in the world and follow a spiritual path together and Guru Nanak's famous response, “Be like the lotus in water!” That is, one has to keep one’s mind fixed on Naam as one goes about one’s worldly affairs.


The tone of the dialogue between the siddhs and Guru Nanak shifts quite dramatically in stanza 6.

In the previous stanzas, we noticed that the siddhs were quite condescending, referring to Guru Nanak as a kid (bala).

In this stanza, Guru Nanak is being addressed as master (swami) and the questions are being phrased as prayers or petitions (ardas). Loharipa, one of the more prominent siddhs, asks the big question in an apologetic tone: “How is one to find the door of the Guru?”

In other words, how does one find enlightenment?

Guru Nanak’s response: “Once the wavering mind is anchored in Naam, Truth appears spontaneously and effortlessly.”

In an obvious attempt to show the superiority of their way, the siddh Loharipa sums up the philosophy and practice of his sect: “Removed from the cities and busy thoroughfares, we choose to live under the trees, subsisting on herbs and leaves; detached from the world, one attains enlightenment. Such is our wisdom. We bathe in sacred pools so that we can remove metaphysical filth. This is the way of yoga.”

Guru Nanak sums up his response, in stanza 8 -11, thus:

With mind attuned to Naam,
Live in the world. Without Naam, worldly hunger devours.
Desire not another's beauty or wealth.
The Lord has revealed to me the stores and cities,
I ply the true trade.
Steady the mind. Sleep and eat little,
This is the essence of Wisdom. (8)

Make your colors, your earrings and your patched coat
Your vision
Fix your Mind on the One
Who dwells amongst the twelve schools of yoga
And the six schools of philosophy,
Then suffering disappears.
Says Nanak, the gurmukh understands:
This is the way to union. (9)

Absorption in shabad be the posture (mudra) to adopt.
In this way:
Haumai is distanced,
Lust, anger and ego discarded.
Gur shabad becomes the guide.
Wear the pervasive One as your patched coat and bag,
And be ferried across the impassable ocean.
Discerning the words of the Lord, Truth is realized. (10)

Make the begging bowl the shifting of the mind,
The cap the five elements
The body the meditation mat,
The Mind, make it your loincloth.
Truth, contentment and self-discipline your companions
The Gurmukh dwells in Naam. (11)



This week we will focus on stanzas 6 – 11, which encapsulate the debate on the correct path.

In stanza 8, Guru Nanak makes quite a few points: regardless of where we live, the mind must be awake; we must not covet another’s belongings and we must practice moderation in sleep and diet.

What is interesting is that Guru Nanak does not choose to answer every question directly. His silence is just as important as his answers. For instance, he pays little heed to the siddh's preoccupation with what to eat or not to eat; to bathe at pilgrimages or not.


April 9, 2012

Conversation about this article

1: Prakash Singh Bagga (Indore, India), April 09, 2012, 11:52 AM.

Guru Nanak advocates only Naam. Let it be business that too is for Naam. In paras 8-11, we are taught how to get into Naam. There is nothing else but Naam.

2: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), April 09, 2012, 2:46 PM.

Japji Sahib: "bharee-ai mat paapaa kai sang/ oh dhopai naavai kai rang". That is, "when the mind gets defiled with sin, it is purified by the love of the Name (Naam)". Guru Nanak advised the siddhs that Naam is the elixir of life without which life is but wasted.

3: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), April 09, 2012, 6:39 PM.

The Sikh greeting, "Sat Sri Akaal", literally means "The Timeless One is Truth!" That is, what is true is true for eternity. Stanzas 8-11 are tips on how how to wean oneself from the illusion of maya (the material world). Maya is an illusion because all material things will eventually self-destruct. Attachment to maya takes you farther from truth. "Sat Naam" - The Name is Truth. God is truth. Meditation on truth is the path to achieving jeevan mukti.

4: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 09, 2012, 9:45 PM.

The translations were borrowed (and modified in places) from "The Socially Involved Renunciate," by Kamala Nayar and Jaswinder Singh Sandhu. The first 11 stanzas pretty much set the stage. Guru Nanak has very politely and gently communicated the essence of living: one has to ultimately live in one's head (mind); so regardless of where one is geographically, the mind must be awake (spiritually). The mind is awakened when it follows the Guru (shabad) and finds its anchor in Naam. In subsequent stanzas, we will pause and consider the "Guru".

5: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), April 10, 2012, 12:15 PM.

When I am looking for new tires, my attention gravitates to all the tire ads. Similarly, each participant naturally gravitates to personal preferences from gurbani. I am not any better. But Siddh Gosht, on the other hand, contains gurmat philosophy in a very condensed form. Its exposition is just as difficult as exposition of the Japji. (I was not here, otherwise you would have heard this from me during the discussion of Japji.) Each verse includes multiple clues and allusions that require pause. Each needs to be thoroughly understood before proceeding further. This can take months. What is the hurry?

6: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), April 10, 2012, 12:17 PM.

Our aim should not be matching gurmat with a few preferred parameters and avoiding other parameters. But we appear to do this in all our discussions everywhere. It is also difficult to discuss gurbani when our aim is not spiritual so I avoid spending the time that I do not really have. Where are the scholars? Just in case it helps, the 'first 11 verses' contain multiple, very important pointers. (For example, we skipped the purpose of Guru Nanak visiting the congregation of those adepts, hinted in the first verse. Later, he will reiterate this, why he [temporarily] became a mendicant himself.) So far we have skipped most of them. But we are ready to discuss the "Guru" already?

7: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 11, 2012, 5:48 AM.

Yuktanand ji's point in #5 about not rushing is well taken. But under the circumstances and in view of the structure of our forum, we have to adopt a certain cadence. As the convenor, I use my judgement on when and how to move the discussion. Needless to say, it is not always ideal.

8: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 11, 2012, 6:01 AM.

Yuktanand ji: Please allow me to reiterate our aim: "The Talking Stick is a new experiment on that aims to facilitate a melding of the minds through dialogue and conversation that is focused on the spiritual message of Sikhi." Our aim is very much spiritual development and growth through sangat.

9: Aryeh Leib (Israel), April 11, 2012, 7:10 AM.

Yuktanand ji, is there an online site where Gurbani is discussed in the expanded format you've mentioned?

10: V. Singh (U.S.A.), April 11, 2012, 12:49 PM.

I think Yuktanand ji is making very valid points. We often read spiritual texts like gurbani with a rigid mindset in order to find validation for our own small world view. Knowledge of truth is very rare and most of us confine ourselves to academic and scholarly discussions which are very limiting. Unless we are humble and totally submissive to the GurShabad, our own ego will rule and we will pick and choose, as Yuktanand ji has pointed out.

11: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), April 11, 2012, 8:39 PM.

Aryeh ji, I do not know of any ideal site. But we have come a long way from 20 years ago when information regarding Sikhi was scarce on the web. Ravinder Singh ji, you are doing an excellent job with this forum. This discussion format is an excellent experiment but, in my opinion, using the name of a bani as its title (The Japji, or Siddh Gosht I, Siddh Gosht II, etc.) gives the reader a false impression that the entire bani was discussed when in fact, we have chosen to discuss only a few items that had grabbed our attention.

12: Yuktanand Singh (U.S.A.), April 11, 2012, 8:41 PM.

All of us will be quick to admit that a thorough discussion of gurbani is impossible. But this does not absolve us from neglecting to be as thorough as possible. Since this is a chic site, it attracts many readers, making it compulsory that the readers are not mistaken. For this reason, I suggest that we name each discussion only by the topic rather than the bani that we have chosen to discuss. This way, I will not have to complain that several items were skipped during each discussion!

13: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), April 11, 2012, 11:21 PM.

Aryeh Leib ji, you can try On the top, click the gurbani link. They go into in-depth discussion of the topics.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 78"

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