Inter-Faith Dialogue: From the Pen of Bhai Vir Singh - Sikh Research Institute

Inter-Faith Dialogue: From the Pen of Bhai Vir Singh

Translated from Punjabi by Inni Kaur


A giant in Punjabi Literature, Bhai Vir Singh (1872 – 1957) is celebrated as ‘The Sixth River of Punjab’. He was a mystic, poet, novelist, essayist, exegete, historian, editor, publisher and a journalist. He was the leading figure in the Singh Sabha Movement, the dynamic Sikh renaissance in the late 19th – early 20th century Punjab. The following passage, inspired by Guru Nanak’s “Siddh Gosht” (Dialogue with the Siddh Mendicants), is translated from Bhai Vir Singh’s book, “Guru Nanak Chamatkar.”


Mount Kailash shivers in awe.


Nanak the Master has set foot.


Its residents, the Siddhs, are shocked.


Siddhs: “Which power has brought you up to this sacred mountain? Who do you worship?”


Master: “I worship the One Eternal Creator, the source of all power.”


Siddhs: “What is your name?”


Master: “Nanak is my name.”


Siddhs: “You are not a siddh, nor do you look like a sadhu (renunciate). You seem to be a family man. If you are hoping to attain salvation by coming to this sacred mountain, then you have chosen a wrong path.”


Master: “Salvation is only possible when one is truly humble. If one thinks highly of one’s self, one remains in ego. Where there is ego, there can be no salvation.”


The Siddhs realize this is no ordinary traveler. Their tone changes!


Siddhs: “Dear Nanak, tell us what is happening in the world below?”


Master: “Truth is the moon. Falsehood is darkness. Right now, the world is in darkness. The moon is not visible. Religion has vanished from earth. Evil has become the order of the day.”


Siddhs: “Is there no one to stop this evil?”


Master: “The ones who call themselves siddhs (’The Knowledgeable Ones’) are hiding in the mountains. Who then is left to guide the world?”


Siddhs: “Our disciples are in the world. They go from house to house spreading our teachings.”


Master: “Your disciples themselves are without religion. They only know how to rub ash on their bodies and beg for food. There is no one capable to show the true path to the people. There is no consideration for right or wrong. No one is following their religion faithfully. Everyone is running after greed.”


Siddhs: “Are the rulers not looking after the welfare and rights of their people?”


Master: “The rulers have become the source of suffering. Fear has made the people weak and hypocritical. They have become powerless. Their mindset has become that of slaves.”


Siddhs: “What about the priests? Are they not helping the people?”


Master: “The priests enact theatrical performances from mythology. Their disciples play music and the priests dance. It has become quite a show. They go from house to house collecting money and distributing good luck charms for people to wear. Such has become the condition of the priests.”


Siddhs: “What about the Mughal rulers? Are the mullahs not dispensing justice?”


Master: “The mullahs have become corrupt. They take bribes and deny the people their rights. There is no justice left. Love for money has become paramount.”


Siddhs: “Nanak, are you a householder or are you ‘in renunciation‘?”


Master: “Define a householder and someone ‘in renunciation?’”


Siddhs: “We consider a family man absorbed in worldly affairs and desires as a householder. ‘In renunciation’ is one who has left his home and family and is detached from worldly matters and longings.”


Master: “In your path, can a family man remain detached from worldly desires?”


Siddhs: “Absolutely not! It’s impossible.”


Master: “Your interpretation of householder and a person ‘in renunciation’ is incorrect.”


Siddhs: “Why don’t you tell us the correct meaning?”


Master: “A householder is one who lives in this world with his mind detached from worldly desires. He earns honestly and shares his wealth. A person ‘in renunciation’ is one who is immersed in the love of the Divine and desires nothing else. So, whether a person lives with his family or leaves his family, it is of no consequence. Renunciation is detaching the mind from worldly desires and not renouncing family. Therefore, there is no difference between a householder and a person ‘in renunciation?’ Both can remain detached from worldly desires.”


Siddhs: “It seems you have not completely understood what I meant. Can a person be a householder and be ‘in renunciation’ at the same time?”


Master: “Detachment from worldly desires has to be of the mind. It is not necessary for the body to renounce home and family. A householder is considered ‘in renunciation’ while living with his family if his mind is detached from worldly desires.”


Siddhs: “Are you saying that the scriptures are untrue and all those who have renounced the world are wrong?”


Master: “Untrue is one’s own mind or one’s own behavior. A true renunciate is one who has mastered control over the five senses and is detached from worldly desires.”


Siddhs: “We renounce the world to keep away from worldly attachments. We practice yoga to control our body passions. How do you control the mind and body?”


Master: “When Naam immerses ones consciousness, the passions of one’s body instinctively become controlled. Naam is Divine Love. Naam is the anchor of life. Sadh sangat – ‘congregation of the godly’ — also helps in controlling the mind.”


Siddhs: “We ask our disciples to stay silent for long periods of times. In your path is remembrance of the Divine done by the tongue? Or, do you ask your disciples to keep their lips shut and remember silently or is there another way?”


Master: “I ask them not to waste their time in idle gossip. They must speak when it is necessary. They should perform their worldly chores while reciting and meditating. When recitation becomes natural, the bliss experienced will stop them from unnecessary talking.”


Siddhs: “Through yoga we can reach the Tenth Door and then the mind goes into soonya. Your disciples practice recitation while living in the world. How can they reach this extraordinary high state of soonya?”


Master: “According to your way, soonya is emptiness; a state of thoughtlessness. It is non-living. However, the ‘tenth door’ is a living spark that is all-pervading. Like the reflection of light on water glows the water, in the same way our tenth door emits light. When the mind becomes crystal clear through Naam, this spark ignites and illuminates our being. We don’t go into a state of thoughtlessness on reaching the tenth door. Reaching the tenth door is reaching the living spark within us.”


Siddhs: “Through our practice of hatth yoga, we are able to live for hundreds of years. How do you win over the span of life?”


Master: “When consciousness is permeated in Naam, one experiences an awakening. An awakened person is living in the presence of the Divine. Past or future become meaningless. The present moment becomes the past and future moment. The person immersed in Naam is in all the moments, past, present and future, thus winning over time. The body is only a dress. What is the advantage of prolonging life by controlling breath? In soonya, you are neither enjoying the body nor the consciousness. What is the benefit of living a lengthy life in unconsciousness?”


Siddhs: “We ask our disciples to rub ash on their bodies, the moment they renounce the world, so that they look ugly, think of themselves as ugly and therefore they kill their ego and remain in humility. How do you teach humility?”


Master: “We share with the disciples the ideals of service. Recite Naam with your tongue; remember the Divine in your mind; do good deeds; and perform seva with your hands. When seva flows effortlessly, ego disappears and the disciple sees the light of the Divine in all and is in essence serving the Divine. This is true humility.”


Siddhs: “We play music by blowing the conch trumpet and that music helps our minds concentrate. What do your disciples do?”


Master: “The mind may concentrate by the blowing of the trumpet. But blowing the trumpet morning, evening and night, may be very helpful when one wanders the streets begging for food. Our devotees earn food by working honestly. They do not beg. They live their lives in Hukam. As far as the mind is concerned, we too sing praises of the Divine with music. You may call this as our blowing of the trumpet.”


Siddhs: “Do you have a special way of overcoming anger?”


Master: “Anger arises when one’s ego gets bruised. When someone goes against our wishes or if something is not done the way we want it done we get angry. To control anger we must learn to control the mind, because the mind is the instrument of ego. To overcome anger one must remain in a state of forgiveness. When a mistake is made, it is better to forgive. If it is repeated, reason with the person with patience while remaining in a state of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a virtue; while anger is a fire that burns. When forgiveness becomes a state of mind, anger disappears.”


Siddhs: “Do you have a special place of pilgrimage, where sins can be washed away?


Master: “Naam is our place of pilgrimage. Naam is the bath; Naam washes everything.”


Siddhs: “We worship Shiv and other gods. Whom do you worship?”


Master: “The abode of the Divine is within the body. It is a living force, not a stone idol. Divine love can be experienced when grace is bestowed.”


Siddhs: “How can one be truly detached while living in the family?”


Master: “By living like a lotus. A lotus dwells in muddy waters, yet is unaffected by its surroundings. Similarly, a person immersed in Naam lives in the world yet is unaffected by its happenings.”


Siddhs: “How is pain ended? How does one merge in truth?”


Master: “When Naam enters consciousness, pain ends. Without Naam, one wanders endlessly. To merge in truth, conquer the ego, still the mind, treasure truth, become truth-oriented and overcome the fear of death.?



The seekers, siddhs, disciples, all seek Thee. 

They seek Naam and Thy vision. 

It is all Thy play, which gurmukhs understand. 

Says Nanak: Throughout the ages, 

There is no one else besides Thee.” [GGS:946]



[The translator serves on the Board of The Sikh Research Institute. She is also the author of a children’s book series, “Journey with the Gurus” –]

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