It was on this day 612 years ago that Sant Kabir was born in India in 1398 AD. He lived for 120 years during which our India saw the beginning of Bhakti Movement.
Kabir was one of India's leading spiritual saints who lived in the northern part of India in the holy city of Benares. He is widely renowned for his couplets and songs that connect life and spirituality in a simple yet powerful way. Kabir's genius has been in that he has inspired the scholars/poets like Rabindranath Tagore and the common masses. His words were in a universal language that, literally and figuratively, broke down barriers to experiencing the divine.
He was born to a Hindu woman, even though he was raised by a Muslim family and he was a disciple of a Hindu Guru, Ramananda. The child was found in one of the ghats of Ganga in Kasi. A Musim couple – Neeru and Neema – happened to find the child and thus became his foster parents. Muslims tend to emphasize his Muslim upbringing and his initiation into the Sufi traditions. Kabir though married, never had any physical relationship with his wife. Kabir's songs show that he was influenced very much by the Kundalini practices. Sikh and Shabad-based traditions say that the essence of Kabir's practice was based on tuning in to the internal sounds.
Kabir was quite unimpressed and even irreverent to the dogmas of organized religion and society. His essence was far more subtle, pervasive, unconstrained and universal – in short, beyond the boundaries laid down by religious, sectarian and social traditions.
A weaver by profession, Kabir ranks among the world's greatest poets. Back homein India, he is perhaps the most quoted author. The Holy Guru Granth Sahib of Sikh Religion contains over 500 verses by Kabir. The Sikh community holds Kabir in the same reverence as the other ten Gurus.
Kabir openly criticized all sects and gave a new direction to the Indian philosophy. This is due to his straight forward approach that has a universal appeal. It is for this reason that Kabir is held in high esteem all over the world
Inspite of the simplicity of Kabir's poetry, it is hard to translate.
The hall mark of Kabir's poetry is that he conveys in his two line poems (Doha), what others may not be able to do in many pages.
One of his dohas is given hereunder:
Kabira Teri Jhompri Gal Katiyan Ke Paas
Jo Karenge So Bharenge Tu Kyon Bhayo Udaas
O Kabir! Your Hut Is Next to the Butchers' Bay
Why Do You Feel sorrow? They will pay for their actions.
When Kabir lived, the society was too much ritualistic oriented. Religious heads aggressively promoted the ideas of purity and righteousness. Kabir was largely unimpressed and irreverent to these external rules and regulations. Through his life and teachings he emphasized the importance of internal purity.
Being a weaver of lower caste, Kabir lived in an area close to the butcher's shop. Kabir gave his religious teachings sitting in what the "pundits" (of higher caste) considered an "unholy" place; for which they criticized him. Kabir, while not countering the criticism directly, via this Doha, took the discussion on this matter to a totally different level. In his humble way, Kabir teaches us here the idea of detachment. In spiritual texts this concept is likened to the existence of the Lotus - a beautiful flower that grows in swampy and dirty ponds and rises above it.
Here Kabir tells us to live in the world and focus on our own journey and not worry about the good, bad or ugly going on around us. According to him the world and its ways will take care of itself, that's not our job - we should focus our attention only on the real reason of coming to the world, to find out who we truly are.
We remember here the saying of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna that having come to the orchard we are supposed to eat the mangoes not counting the branches and leaves of the trees.
Another beauty of Kabir's poetry is that he picks up situations that surround our daily lives. Thus, even today, Kabir's poetry is relevant and helpful in guiding and regulating our lives, in both social and spiritual context.
The following example is an apt illustration:
Looking at the grinding stones,
In the duel of wheels,
Nothing stays intact.
Kabir's uniqueness and ingenuity is that he communicates his message through the use of easy-to-understand metaphors, drawing inspiration from day-to-day life. Whether it is comparing God to a weaver, body to a cloth, Guru to a washerman, ignorance to a crow, cosmic experience to the ocean, senses to the deer, humility and steadfastness to the tree, grace and beauty of solitude and completeness to a swan, longing for God to the longing of a newly-wed bride, he is able to establish a very vivid and instantaneous channel of communication with his audience. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why Kabir's followers and admirers come from a wide array of backgrounds.
However, Kabir's true mysticism becomes apparent only when one starts living the words. The authenticity of Kabir's words is rooted in the depth of his own experience that has a seed-like latent quality to it. That is, through one's care and nurturing, Kabir's words have the potential to flower into a variety of experiences that are not immediately obvious in the first engagement.
Here, in this doha, it is one thing to intellectually understand the meaning of
"Chalti Chaaki Dekh Kar Diya Kabira Roye,
Dui Pataan Ke Beech Mein Saabat Bacha Na Koi",
but totally a different thing to experience the truth of that statement. What is obvious in Kabir's words is often suggestive, but what's veiled is significant. Kabir himself describes this mystical instruction as – "Gunge Ki Sain Jin Jani Un Mani" (Those who recognized the indication of the mute, found the truth).
It is clear from his songs and teachings that he was a very observant and thoughtful person, who questioned everything that was taught or presented to him. It is likely that he spent considerable time observing nature, as his teachings also draw inspiration and learning from the trees, animals, birds and the ocean. Long-standing traditions of Kabir in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh indicate that either Kabir or his leading disciples travelled to those parts, and his popularity drew seekers from these parts to come and learn from him and later returned to establish a following in their native areas.
Kabir was distinguished from other "gurus" in his inner conviction and in his trust for his own self and experience. He seems to have questioned and challenged all scriptural teachings, traditions and rituals, until he himself was able to validate their truth. This, however, should not be taken to imply that he rejected all teachings and practices. To the contrary, given his familiarity with, and his use of stories/teachings from, a variety of traditions, he appears to have openly embraced and accepted any path that could be validated by his own experience. Perhaps, this is why it is so difficult to typecast Kabir into this or that faith or tradition. Sometimes, he was this, sometimes he was that and at other times he was neither this nor that!
Kabir was courageous enough to speak his truth. From his work, we know that he was quite critical of hypocrisy especially among religious leaders. Even though we cannot ascertain whether he was tolerant of genuine devotees who worshipped physical forms of God, we can be reasonably confident that his own spiritual path was focused more on an internal form of devotion to God and Guru – terms that he often used interchangeably to convey the cosmic force.
In essence, the core of Kabir's life and teachings are based on honesty, truth, conviction and simplicity, renewed continuously by inner experience and propelled by an unceasing detachment from the web of physical and mental realities.
Kabir tried to bridge the gap among various castes and religious sects. Even though Kabir showed a healthy disregard for conventional boundaries of society and organized religion, his intrinsic pursuit was rooted in spirituality and spirituality alone. In the process of conveying the innate spirituality of all of creation, Kabir, in all likelihood, had to deal with and overcome prevalent parochial barriers.
Kabir's life was deeply ingrained in spirituality, and in the process of conveying his teachings he probably used poetry and metaphors. Therefore, his magnificent contribution to Hindi literature is only secondary and, indeed, a testimony to the fundamental spiritual message of his teachings.
Finally, Kabir did not use the name "Ram" to imply the deity, Rama. Rather, to Kabir, Ram is a symbolic representation of the inner sound or experience. Similarly, it is unlikely that Kabir used any reference to Krishna or any of the other Hindu gods, as his practices were primarily inwardly directed. The use of the signature line "Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho…" in his songs shows his feeling of brotherly love towards all the people on the earth. Sometimes one gets the feeling that the conversational teachings of Kabir, are actually a dialog between Kabir, the Master and Kabir, the disciple, inside of him. Despite his open criticism of dogmas and sects, Kabir is very embracing of every seeker and includes himself in that category. It's a bond of friendship that Kabir extends to everybody by his simple calling – "Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho…" In this simple way he affirms the intrinsic divinity in each of us and opens up an intimate and direct channel of communication with each one of us.
Even now Sant Kabir is calling all of us with his motherly voice -"Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho" and I wish that all of us keep our ears and hearts wide open to him.