Kabir was a fifteenth century North Indian mystic poet. I've called him a "patron saint of spiritual independence." Like Steve Martin, he was a wild and crazy guy.
Yet you wouldn't know that from how some faiths, such as Sikhism and Sant Mat, try to tame Kabir and confine him within a religious tradition. In a recent post I said:
But Sant Mat, in its modern form, lacks the sort of pin that punctures the dualistic, self-righteous, dogmatic bubble. ("Modern," because the 15th century Kabir, who is held up as a Sant Mat saint, did a great job of pinpricking in his more iconoclastic poetry.)
After writing that I dug out my favorite Kabir book, "The Bijak of Kabir." (If you want a copy, get a used one; I don't know why the current printing by another publisher is so expensive.)
Here's what Kabir says the experience of truth is not:
There's no creation or creator there,
no gross or fine, no wind or fire,
no sun, moon, earth or water,
no radiant form, no time there,
no word, no flesh, no faith,
no cause and effect, nor any thought
of the Veda. No Hari or Brahma,
no Shiva or Shakti, no pilgrimage
and no rituals. No mother, father
or guru there...
Kabir didn't want sycophants.
I've burned my own house down,
the torch is in my hand.
Now I'll burn down the house of anyone
who wants to follow me.
If you think you understand Kabir, you don't.
It's a heavy confusion.
Veda, Koran, holiness, hell --
who's man? who's woman?
A clay pot shot with air and sperm.
When the pot falls apart, what do you call it?
Numskull! You've missed the point.
Kabir and religion; oil and water. No mixing.
The fearful things that everyone fears,
I don't fear.
I'm not confused about sin and purity,
heaven and hell.
Kabir says, seekers, listen:
Wherever you are
is the entry point.
Pretty damn simple.
Remembering the empty, the easy,
a light broke out.
I offer myself to a being
based on nothing.
On that day neither air nor water.
On that day creation -- who gave birth?
On that day neither womb nor root.
On that day neither knowledge nor Veda,
on that day neither sound nor sorrow,
on that day neither body nor house,
no earthly place, no sky or space.
On that day no teacher, no one to teach,
no difficult path, in or out of reach.
Of the sourceless state, what to say?
No town, nowhere to stay;
seen without a trace;
what do you call that place?
An absolutely wonderful post Brian. Thanks Brian. And thanks Kabir.
Posted by: tAo | December 11, 2008 at 04:28 PM
Posted by: Sita | December 12, 2008 at 02:33 AM
This blog should be retitled "The Hijaking Of Kabir" as Brian hand picks a few passages to justify his viewpoint.
Posted by: Joe | December 12, 2008 at 07:29 AM
My feelings on this I have expounded on before. Religion is a good place to start but for most there comes a time for the wilderness (figuratively speaking). One starts with a need to find form and leaves it eventually for formlessness.
There are probably those who can stay with the form and maybe grow that way. Some, however, will have a reason that causes them to be thrust out on their own to experience new ideas and things, and to put into practice what they thought they knew in their safe cocoon.
Yes, having read what others say about this whole topic, I know mine is not a popular belief (wouldn't be for those still in the religion I left). Religions prosper because it's not. I also recognize we all need different things and if something is working, you won't feel depressed by it or desperate to find something more. You will go with the flow and it will feel right to you and good. I also think that what I believe today might change in the future and I am free to do that. It's one of the things that makes writing a blog, a book, or any statement seem risky, but it also leads to a tremendous feeling of exhilaration and freedom because we live in a universe full of mystery and beauty. It's a place I think we will never stop finding new things. I suppose that would be more uncomfortable if one wanted their answers in boxes. I don't personally think it works that way.
At risk of rising the ire of some, I also don't think there are a list of steps that automatically lead us to a place of enlightenment, of knowing, or even of growth. I think it is different for each of us what we need and that's what is so bad about religions. Most provide boxes and a system that worked for someone somewhere, maybe even many people, and they now tell us it'll work for us.
Someday I might be in a religion again. I grew up without one with the feeling of god with me and most especially strong when out in nature. I spent my middle years deeply engrossed in trying to understand that being with me and in a religion and experiencing all it offered (what I called god stayed with me); then I left it again (but not that spiritual connection). Some would call me fallen away today and worry about my soul. I say I didn't leave 'it' because 'it' never was the religion but religion and what I learned there taught me a lot. I like the community part of religion but spiritual growth had to come first for me and I am following how I see that as happening-- for me.
Posted by: Rain | December 12, 2008 at 08:32 AM
Dear Joe - I think you have confused the RS publications on Kabir with Brian's blog?
Have you ever studied mystical writings NOT published by RS orgs?
*Read the Bijak directly yourself*
You'll find it is almost all entirely in accord with what Brian has selected, whilst hardly resembling the RS icon at all in any verse.
Kabir is, imo, far, far removed from the picture RS groups have painted.
As with numerous other mystics from the past.
Posted by: manjit | December 12, 2008 at 08:41 AM
Joe, I agree with Manjit (not surprisingly). The book I took the quotations from describes the several sides of Kabir. There is his more traditional bhakti side, where he talks (or is reported to talk; his teachings were oral) about devotion to the guru, etc.
But there also is his wild iconoclastic side, which I believe is the "real" Kabir -- and which needs to be kept in mind when reading his more traditional poems.
The way I see those two sides relating, in the Bijak of Kabir book, is that he seems to see a guru as someone who offers up a direct mind-blowing pointing toward reality.
But that reality isn't anything that's in the hands of the guru, because there's no guru, no disciple, no inner, no outer. None of those dualisms.
Yes, I focused on one of Kabir's themes. He has many. But if you read Bijak of Kabir you'll see that the tone I took in my blog posts about Kabir is right in line with how a Kabir scholar sees him. She isn't a religious person with a dogmatic ax to grind. So I trust the author's take on Kabir.
Posted by: Brian | December 12, 2008 at 10:25 AM
But you said: "If you think you understand Kabir, you don't."
Robert Paul Howard
Posted by: Robert Paul Howard | December 12, 2008 at 11:46 AM
"Biographics should show people in their undershirts. Goethe had his weaknesses, and Calvin was often cruel. Considerations of this kind reveal the true greatness of a man. This way of looking at things is better than false hero worship." C.G.Jung 1946
I think this observation applies to a great many of the historically "enlightened" humans - which is probably why so many of them were burned, poisoned, crucified, or killed by many creative means. Ironically, many sheep will claim belief in the more benign teachings but very few will accept the full human for all he/she was.
Incidently - does anyone here know if the word "human" truely originate from Hu and Man as in God-Man? I thought I read it somewhere in the RS literature, or on one of the tapes, that it is from sanskrit but haven't found another source to back that reference. Just curious.
Posted by: Jayme | December 12, 2008 at 06:44 PM
Robert, good point. But since the theme of my post was that Kabir can't be understood, I think an understanding that he can't be understood more or less cancels out to equal nothing.
And that's the place Kabir wants us to live: nowhere land.
Posted by: Brian | December 12, 2008 at 09:01 PM
What you have is translation from old hindi. And in English phrases dont always have same multiple meanings that they have in hindi. Me who had studied kabir before in hindi literature before knowing anything about rssb , can clearly understand what he is saying. I am sorry brian but all what you have said is pointless.
Posted by: Goku | November 01, 2014 at 08:28 AM
Goku, you're welcome to your opinion. Which is all that it is, opinion. Here's the first paragraph of the Acknowledgements section in "The Bijak of Kabir."
Sure sounds to me like this is a reliable translation. What's pointless is you implying that all the Kabir experts mentioned below don't know as much as you about Kabir.
"First to acknowledge is my cotranslator, Shukdev Singh, who guided me inch by inch through the tangle and obscurity of Kabir's medieval Hindi.
Then the leaders and monks of Kabir Chaura Temple in Varnasi, especially Mahant Amrit Das, administrative head Ganga Sharan Das Shastri, and Sant Vivek Das. They published an early selection of translations, helped interpret many passages, and chanted Kabir's works.
Dr. Yugeshvar of Kashi Vidyapith and Dada Sitaram gave valuable commentaries on poems. Dr. Hazariprasad Dvivedi shared his vast knowledge of Kabir and the tradition. Thakur Jaydev Singh shed light on upside-down language. Dr. Veer Bhadra Mishra gave friendship and assistance more than can me measured."
Posted by: Brian Hines | November 01, 2014 at 08:48 AM