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Talking With The Yogis
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 77





The Siddh Gosht, or a "Dialogue with the Siddh Mendicants", which is recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib (938-), is a 73-stanza long text consisting of Guru Nanak’s dialogue with the Nath Yogis - an influential Hindu sect consisting primarily of followers of Gorakhnath.

I draw your attention to the Siddh Gosht because, like the Japji Sahib, it offers the quintessence of Guru Nanak’s teachings. Yet, its exposition remains meager in comparison. Where there are hundreds of translations and commentaries of the Japji, one is hard pressed to find much by way of an analysis of the Siddh Gosht.

The Socially Involved Renunciate by Jaswinder Singh Sandhu and Kamala Nayar, published in 2007 and reviewed on, is indeed a worthy study of the Siddh Gosht - despite some limitations. I am aware that Dr. Jodh Singh, Professor of Sikhism at Punjabi University (Patiala) wrote his dissertation on the Siddh Gosht, but I have not read it.

Perhaps the language of the Siddh Gosht is daunting and its philosophical concepts dense and forbidding.

In order to appreciate the contrast that Guru Nanak draws between Yogic philosophy and his own teachings, one would have to understand the underpinnings of yogic philosophy.

That, however, should not stop us.

Over the course of several weeks, let's together reflect on the Siddh Gost - not by examining each line, but rather by pausing at certain stanzas that reflect a theme or subject.

This week let's touch on the central idea or topic of discussion in the Siddh Gosht.

It is outlined in Stanza 1.

Guru Nanak, having offered his salutations to the True One, fires the opening salvo by addressing the siddhs thus:

Why wander around?
[When] only the Truth can purify.
Without the true Shabad, no one can be rendered free (mukt) (1)

Why wander around?

This statement of Guru Nanak points to the central issue, not only of the Siddh Gosht, but also of all religious discourse and is expressed in this text by Charpat, one of the siddhs, when he poses the question to Guru Nanak:

The World is like an impassable ocean,
How does one ferry across it? (4)

Guru Nanak’s response is to be in the world but not of it:

As the lotus flower and the water-fowl
Live in water but float above it,
So does the mind cross this transitory world
When connected to the Shabad.
Abiding in Naam
One remains detached in the world of attachments. (4)

The historical context of Guru Nanak’s meeting with the siddhs need not detain us here: whether the meeting with the siddhs occurred at Achal Batala or Sumer or Gorakhmata is for historians to establish; whether a specific sect of the yogis was present or whether (as has been suggested) the dialogue was simply used as a literary mechanism by Guru Nanak is not the focus of our discussion here.


This week we will focus on Stanza 1 and 4, cited above.

Let's dwell on Guru Nanak’s answer to Charpat, on the fundamental questions: how to find freedom (mukti), how to live in the world?

Guru Nanak clearly rejects renunciation of the world. But what kind of involvement in the world is he advocating?

Looking forward to our learned members for their insight.

CAVEAT: Please try to give us your own thoughts, experiences and interpretations, instead of quoting further passages from gurbani.


April 3, 2012

Conversation about this article

1: Ravinder Singh  (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 03, 2012, 9:41 AM.

What strikes me in reading this text is the use of dialogue, which carries lessons for us. Consider Guru Nanak's salutation which is to the True One. The siddhs are somewhat taken aback at this unconventional greeting. Then Guru Nanak throws the gauntlet: "Why wander around?" This clearly startles (and perhaps irritates) the siddhs who start questioning Guru Nanak with a string of rapid fire questions about his identity. Who are you? Where do you live? Where is your seat? The answers are even more unconventional and one that I love: Guru Nanak does not refer to his given name, nor does he trace a spiritual lineage; instead, he speaks of dwelling with the One; of abiding by Hukam. A similar incident occurred when Guru Nanak traveled to the Middle East dressed in both Hindu and Muslim garb. When questioned, he is said to have responded, "I am but of the five elements!" There is a lesson for us in how we think of ourselves, refer to ourselves and relate to others. The "I" word coagulates haumai. Food for thought.

2: V. Singh (U.S.A.), April 03, 2012, 11:57 AM.

I think it is dangerous to imply that Guru Nanak rejected any philosophy or tried to push his own teachings in his dialogue with the yogis. My understanding is that he spoke from a higher plane of truth. The wandering of the mind is not only of the Siddhs but for those of us who live in the real world as well. Most of us are content with this wandering mind and delude ourselves with rigid thoughts. In this case we run the danger of trying to enforce the idea that Guru Nanak was here to reject or agree with others. My limited understanding and reading of great passages like the Sidhh Gosht have led me to think that truth can only be through detachment, irrespective of the path we are put on. There are times we have no choice when we have no control on who we are or what we are born as. The circumstances of our life situations are challenges that can lead the wandering mind astray. The main weakness of the mind is the delusion of "I am right, and you are wrong", whether it may be politics, or religious interpretation. I feel that the Sidhhs who were renunciates appreciated Guru Nanak's words as they understood to a greater degree what he was saying as opposed to the rest of us who are content on treating Guru Nanak's words as strict instructions on how we and others should lead our lives, rather then search for truth through the humility of Naam.

3: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 03, 2012, 12:47 PM.

Excellent observations, V. Singh ji. I hope I did not give the impression that Guru Nanak was adopting a confrontational "I am right" attitude. As a matter of fact, one of the things that stands out is the poiliteness and courtesy during the exchange. Guru Nanak's first response to Charpat in Stanza 4 is in the vein of "What can I tell someone who is already there!" Please continue to share your insights. Your observation led me to think about the first paurri in Japji where Guru Nanak lists all the prevailing religious practices and suggests that neither one is going to lead you to the Truth. Conventionally, we see that as "rejection" but is it? Perhaps Guru Nanak is talking about detachment, regardless of the path (as you have suggested).

4: R. Singh (Canada), April 03, 2012, 1:05 PM.

Yogic path or religion dominated the era. It had come a long way from being mere inquirers seeking answers, to constantly running from the world, yet taking and sustaining and interacting with the very world they renounced. It is this contradiction Guru Nanak pointed out: if learned people run away from the world, then who was going to help the suffering humanity? "anjan mahe niranjan rahaea jog jugat iv paayeae", was his message. One cannot reform society without constructive criticism and dialogue. Yogis taking off to the forest or the hills to hide did not help the fragmented society in the grips of exploitation of meaningless rituals and under the thumbs of religious charlatans of all types. The way Guru Nanak did it suddenly made sense.

5: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), April 03, 2012, 3:13 PM.

My understanding is that Guru Nanak was criticizing the yogis for having renounced the world. It was selfish of such enlightened people not to use their wisdom to help make the world a better place. This is why Sikhs wear the kirpan. We are supposed to live as a part of society, and stand against injustice.

6: R. Singh (Canada), April 03, 2012, 3:49 PM.

I would think Guru Nanak had various interactions with yogis on his sojourns, not just once. Controversies are just a fad these days.

7: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), April 03, 2012, 4:36 PM.

Whatever Guru Nanak says is 'controversial' because it is the Truth. The clergy in every faith quickly learn to cheat their flock - he therefore taught Sikhs to by-pass the clergy and the so-called god-men, to deal directly with God!

8: Gurdev Singh Bir (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 03, 2012, 10:49 PM.

The key word here being "I" (haumai) is what Guru Nanak wants to detoxify in all of us. Running to the hills also has the subtlety of haumai playing out as, "I am enlightened and on a higher plane, hence I do not have to interact with the common or 'unenlightened' humanity". The yogis should have been with the 'ignorant' masses to help them rid themselves of their egos and, as V. Singh ji correctly mentioned, the wandering of the mind, instead of being this elitist or privileged yogic society.

9: Avtar Singh (United Kingdom), April 04, 2012, 7:52 AM.

From my limited knowledge and experience of Guru Nanak's teachings, V. Singh ji's observations are spot on; it is the mind that one has to conquer by detaching from this world and attaching it to the inner Naam.

10: V. Singh (U.S.A.), April 04, 2012, 11:13 AM.

I have learned over a long period of time that it is better to keep quiet and listen more, as at times the desire for praise of one's minimal knowledge outweighs the acceptance of the ignorance that exists in all of us. :) I also feel that at times when we read great spiritual scriptures such as the Siddh Gosht verses, we tend to do so from a perspective of our own real world outlook. As a result, we read a meaning that we want to read rather then understanding the underlying meaning. I am as guilty as charged on this. The message of living as a detached soul, while being part of society, is in many spiritual teachings of the world. The same underlying message can be found in the Gita and the Dhammapada. Unfortunately, religious politics and resentment takes precedence and we try to play one interpretation against another without absorbing the divine truth that is being presented to us. Unless we rid ourselves of resentment towards other groups or individuals, we cannot really grow. We then tend to view great souls like Guru Nanak as mere "social reformers" rather then messengers of truth. We interpret his words as teachings that criticize and condemn others rather then enlighten. As a result we misuse gurbani in order to slander others and view them as small and ignorant. The agenda of the clan becomes one of aggressive propaganda rather then love. Until we accept that divine hukam within all and accept that this is just a play in which we have no control, we will cycle in this endless ocean of maya, chasing mundane issues like identity, politics and religion. This is the root danger of fanaticism, whether religious or nationalistic, that has haunted human civilization since its beginnings.

11: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), April 04, 2012, 1:50 PM.

There are no ifs and buts about it: Guru Nanak rejected religious rituals, and yes, at the time, they were Hindu or Muslim rituals. It is not good enough to say, either that all rituals are good as long as you are detached, etc., or, at the other extreme, introduce our own rituals to replace the old ones. That's what the Siddh Gosht says, not that everyone is good and lovely, etc., etc. We can't become weak-kneed desis in our haste to be politically correct and 'nice' to everybody.

12: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), April 04, 2012, 2:36 PM.

V. Singh ji: I could not have said it better (#10). A Zen master advocating the virtues of silence and attentiveness is reported to have said, "Open mouth. Trouble already!" And yet we continue to put our proverbial foot in our mouth. I have rarely met an individual who truly listens. We are so full of ourselves (yours truly included!)

13: Prakash Singh Bagga (Indore, India), April 05, 2012, 6:38 AM.

Guru Nanak states here that liberation is obtained only by bathing in Naam (that is, as opposed to bathing in 'holy' rivers), and this Naam is only obtained from SatGuru - that is, the True One!

14: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texass, U.S.A.), April 06, 2012, 9:12 AM.

V. Singh ji, you said it very well. As Ravinder ji commented, you will find support for your views in general.

15: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), April 06, 2012, 10:10 AM.

It is the faulty perception of the external objects which are visible to the eye that appear to be the only reality. The real life principle remains hidden and unperceived. All this constitutes 'ignorance'. It is the ego which is responsible for this deep rooted ill.

16: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.), April 06, 2012, 10:21 AM.

The Siddh Gosht is a document of a dialogue in the form of questions and answers between a group of siddh yogis and Guru Nanak. I counted over one hundred distinct questions that Guru Nanak has answered therein. For example, the siddhs, led by Gorakh Nath, asked Guru Nanak what was the name of Nanak's religion. Guru answered: Gurmat. When the siddh asked what made Guru Nanak's religion distinct from those already prevalent, the answer was: the doctrine of Shabad. When asked when was Nanak's religion established, they were told it's origin goes back to the origin of the human race. Thus Guru Nanak established Shabad and Sangat - later to be known as the Guru Granth and the Sikh congregation - as a basis or a unit of his Panth that defines us Sikhs today. The theological meanings of the Guru Nanak - Siddh dialogue was further extrapolated upon by Bhai Gurdas that we must read to understand the Siddh Gosht.

17: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 06, 2012, 12:32 PM.

Guru Nanak visited Sumer to speak with the Naath yogis who left home or family and ran away from social responsibilities to pursue their idea of religion. None of the yogis was divine or perfect; rather all were still struggling to meet Akal Purakh, and in the middle of this they started misleading the public in the name of Akal Purakh by performing their skills of karaamats (tricks) along with yoga. The Siddh Gosht focuses on how to unite with the Creator, and does not dwell on the rituals, superstitions and shenanigans of the yogis. Guru Nanak composed the Sddh Gosht at Kartarpur after another meeting with these yogis at Achal Batala. Our Gurus have done their best to pass on the divine message to the Sikhs; however, having divided our attention, often we miss what Guru wants from Sikhs. Most of the time is wasted in navel gazing instead of living out Guru Nanak's message.

18: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 08, 2012, 8:52 PM.

Here in yhe opening stanza, Guru Manak applauds the assembly in which the seekers become stable and pray to the eternal and infinite Akal Purakh; and offer sacrifice to Him in utter humility. Nanak says that the Teacher merely shows the way to the Lord, and thus the glory is attained. In the 4th stanza, citing the example of the lotus, Guru Nanak reminds us that a lotus is born in dirt (rasatal, in Punjabi - mud+water) and remains above it throughout its life-span. Same as a human is born amidst the impurities (maya) of the world, but needs to rise above it all. The essence is: those who are able to conquer their desires and live above temptations and distractions, although surrounded by them, will find that Akal Purakh resides within them.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 77"

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