The word ‘guru’ is derived from ‘gu’ which means darkness and ‘ru’ which means light. The guru is a teacher who replaces darkness with light. In spiritual life he is one who replaces spiritual ignorance with divine knowledge in the disciple. In this book I will use the term ‘guru’ to refer to Kabir, bearing in mind the above definition.
Guru Kabir was one of the most famous mystic saints that graced India. His teachings are equally important for people of all religions, because he preached impartially. In one of his famous couplets (sakhis), he stated: kabir khade bazar mein, sab ki chache khair; na kahu se dosti, na kahu se bair (Kabir stands in the open market place and wishes the welfare of all. He is neither a friend nor an enemy to anyone). He came to teach people the “true religion of the heart.” He wanted to turn people away from the empty ritualism of religion, and to show them the inner path that leads one to union with Divinity. In other words, he taught Self-realization and loving devotion to the formless Divine Power that dwells within. Though Self-realization has been taught in the Advaita Vedanta or Non-dualistic school of philosophy of India, Guru Kabir re-emphasized this teaching, along with loving devotion of great intensity and fervour. He thus taught and lived a combination of Gyan Yoga (Yoga of Spiritual Knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of loving Devotion), and Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action). And all of these were done in his inimitable way that stemmed from his own inner realization, and his identification with the Supreme Being. He stated: “lali meri lal ki, jit dekhun tit lal; lali dekhan mein gayi, mein bhi ho gayi lal” (I went in search of the beautiful colour of my beloved, and I saw that colour manifesting everywhere. As I searched for it, I found that I have been coloured in the same beautiful colour). (Please note the musical rhythm of the words in alliteration). Again, he stated: “tu tu karta tu bhaya, mujh mein rahi na hun; bari pheri bali gayi, jit dekhun tit tu” (Uttering Your name, I have become You, and I have no individuality or ego left in me. My coming and going vanished, as everywhere I see only You). Further, he stated: “hindu kahun toh hun nahin, musulman bhi nahin; panch tattva ki putala, giabi khele mahin” (I am neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, but a puppet made of five elements in which the Mysterious Being plays). His influence on the religious life of the people of India has been quite substantial.
Guru Kabir has been noteworthy in many spheres of spiritual activity:
i. He has been hailed as the father of Hindi poetry. Prior to him, scriptural teachings were generally in Sanskrit that was not understood by the people at large, but was confined to the priests and scholars. He conveyed the highest spiritual teachings in the spoken language of the people, so that everyone could understand them. For this reason, his songs and couplets are sung, often with great gusto, by people in India and abroad.
ii. He was the initiator of Sant Mat, or keeping the company of saintly people. He stated: “sant milan ko jaiye, taji mamta abhiman …” (Give up ego and humbly go to keep the company of saintly people). Now there are various branches of Sant Mat in various parts of the world.
iii. He was the founder of the Nirgun School of Bhakti. This is a loving devotion to a formless Supreme Being. In the book ‘Bhaktmal’ by Nabha Das there is a quotation that “Bhakti arose in Dravidland and Ramanand brought to the North, and Kabir spread it to other lands.” Prior to Guru Kabir’s time, the bhakti movement was called Sagun Bhakti, or devotion to the Supreme Being who takes physical forms.
iv. He introduced Sahaj Yoga or easy and natural union with God. This led to Sahaj Samadhi or realization of one’s unity with God. He thus sang: “santo! sahaj samadhi bhali.” (O my brother devotees! Easy, natural union with God is the best).
v. He strongly emphasized vegetarianism, so that one must not take the life of other living creatures, as their life is dear to them, as ours is to us. He stated: “jiv mat maro bapura, sab mein ekai pran; hatya kabahun na chhuti hai, kotin suno puran” (Do not kill any innocent life as the same life force pervades all. The sin of your actions will never leave you, even if you listen to millions of scriptures). Again, “jaise pir apan anga jana, taise sab jiv mein mana” (As you know pain in your own self, realize that other living beings feel pain in the same way).
vi. He laid great stress on realization of the Self or Soul, and that it is the manifestation of Divinity in all of us, and in all beings. This realization produces Enlightenment and freedom from the clutches of Maya. This theme will recur frequently in these poems.
It can thus be seen that Guru Kabir’s contribution to spiritual life has been quite substantial.
Guru Kabir’s Early Life
Guru Kabir’s parents are unknown. He was found as an infant by a young Muslim couple named Niru and Nima, at a small lake called Lahartara, about six kilometers outside Varanasi. They were weavers and they taught him weaving. There are many legends about his birth, but none is known to be authentic. One such popular legend is that the great saint, Swami Ramananda, blessed a Brahmin widow saying that she will be blessed with a son. Because of his spiritual accomplishments, his blessing came true and, since the lady was a widow, she abandoned the child. The Kabir Panth does not generally accept these legends. They quote the words of Guru Kabir, himself: “ab ham avigat se chali aye, koi bhed marm nahin paye; na ham janme garbh basera, balak hoi dikhlae …” (Now I have come from the Unconditioned; people do not know my secret. I did not dwell in the womb, but manifested as a baby…” Another famous couplet by a contemporary saint, Garib Dass, states: “gagan mandal se utare satguru sat kabir; jalaj mahin powdhan kiye, dou dinan ke pir” (Satguru Kabir descended from the Gagan Mandal (heavens). He came amidst the blooming lotuses as the pir of both religions – Hindus and Muslims). There is some justification in accepting this view, as he has, stated that this body is, indeed, very subtle and people have defiled it. He stated, “…jyon ki tyon dhar dini chadariya.” (I have returned the body in the condition that I received it). Since he was found among lotus flowers, just so, he departed from his life in a city called Magahar, leaving not a corpse, but a heap of lotus flowers. Although there were many of his disciples, and two notable kings – Vir Singh Baghail and Bijli Khan Pathan – all around the hut where he was, no one was able to find his body. On lifting the shroud, they found only a heap of lotus flowers. The Muslims buried half, and the Hindus cremated the other half and the two mausoleums are side by side at Magahar. Until now, research has failed to find evidence of his body.
Guru Kabir grew up in a Muslim home, but he did not accept the Muslim way of life, and he did not observe their rituals of circumcision and sacrifice of animals. Reference to these will be found in the various compositions contained in the Bijak. As he grew up, his mind was ever concentrated on God. Among the playmates he will keep uttering the name of God as Ram, which is a Hindu name for God. His Muslim playmates objected to this and complained to their parents. He would put on the sandal mark on his forehead and his Hindu playmates also objected, saying that he was a Muslim and cannot do so. His Hindu playmates objected to his using the Muslim name of God, or being a Muslim, and taking the Hindu name of God. They also teased him that he did not have a guru, thus whatever he uttered was unacceptable. He thus took Swami Ramanand as his guru. Being brought in a Muslim home, it appears quite unusual for him to accept a Hindu guru. But I feel that Guru Kabir had a clear vision of his mission in life, which was above religious confinement. He taught that the soul is divine and knows no religious boundaries. Since Swami Ramanand did not accept non-Hindus as disciples, Guru Kabir resorted to a stratagem. He lay on the steps that led to the Ganges where Swami Ramananda went in the early morning, while still dark, to have his bath. He thus accidentally stepped on Guru Kabir and, on realizing it, uttered the name of God as Ram, Ram. Guru Kabir then accepted this name of God as his Guru Mantra. As other disciples objected to their guru’s taking a low caste Muslim as his disciple, he summoned Kabir to find out if this was so. Guru Kabir then related the incident, and Swami Ramanand then accepted Guru Kabir, as he could not then go back on his word of giving the Name of God to the child. It has been said that it was through Guru Kabir’s influence that Swami Ramanand then accepted disciples of other religions. He was thus excommunicated from his religious order that originated with Ramanuja in South India.
As Guru Kabir grew up he continued his weaving, and he composed many bhajans (hymns), shabdas and sakhis. Since he had no formal education, he wrote nothing. He composed everything in his mind. He sang as he wove. Also, as he traveled to the market and other places, he sang his beautiful compositions. People gathered around him to listen to his singing and his preaching.
His Literary Style
Guru Kabir was a fearless preacher of pure spiritual doctrine. He had a piercing wit and a clarity of thought which others could not challenge. Whether he spoke to religious or temporal authorities, it did not matter to him. He insisted on teaching people the truth about spirituality, and the uselessness of empty formal rituals and practices. He was against all hypocrisy and caste distinctions. In the popular book called Kabir the Great Mystic, the author Isaac Ezekeil says: “Kabir’s songs seek nobody’s approbation. They seek no sanction, ask for no approval, search for no popularity, invite no commendation, crave no compliment. They stand independent of these considerations, and they constitute the most uninhibited literature, the freest of free writing ever produced by a saint.” Ezekeil also stated: “Banter, ridicule, sarcasm, wit and humour – these are the weapons he wields! Nor does he hesitate to hit straight-from-the-shoulder, hitting hard, ceaselessly and without stop, till the face of false piety and hypocrisy is battered out of shape and exposed to the view of the general public for general laughter.” Reverend Keay stated: “There is probably no Indian author whose verses are more on the lips of North India, than those of Kabir unless be it be Tulsidas.” Reverend Dr. W. Orr stated: “For sheer vigor of thought and rugged terseness of style, no bhakti writer can be brought into a comparison with him.” The reason for his forceful and fearless language is easily understood when we realize that priestcraft held sway. Religion was reduced to commercial activity for the priest to earn a living. They did not instruct people in the true religious way of life. They also scorned people of the lower castes who were forbidden from entering temples and reading the holy books. They were not given an education. The priests, themselves, committed evil actions and killing. They formulated elaborate rituals that did not mean anything to the average person. He observed this in both major religions of Hinduism and Islam. He felt that there was no place in spiritual life for such behavior, and he thus spoke out, often in confrontational and challenging language, to try to awaken the people to the realization of their errors. He was famous for his ulta bani or contrary sayings, and challenged the priests to see if they had the spiritual wisdom to supply the right answers.
Guru Kabir’s teachings are being taught in many schools and universities of India. Many people, even those not belonging to the Kabir Panth, are able to quote him freely. Many of his sakhis are quoted as popular wisdom in all parts of India and abroad. Many theses are written by university scholars on the life and works of Guru Kabir from a research standpoint. Other writers have written about Guru Kabir and his teachings out of a spiritual interest in his life and teachings.
Objectives of Guru Kabir
In the introduction to her book ‘A Weaver Named Kabir’ Charlotte Vaudeville stated, “Kabir is one of the best-known and most revered names in Indian tradition. From the Panjab to Bengal and from the Himalayan frontiers to South India, he has long been hailed by Hindus and Muslims alike as a great mystic and bold religious reformer….In Indian religious history, Kabir is unique: to the Hindus, he is a Vaishnava bhakta, to the Muslims a pir, to the Sikhs a bhagat, to the sectarian Kabir-panthis an avatar of the Supreme Being; to modern patriots, Kabir is the champion of Hindu-Muslim unity, to neo-vedantins a promoter of the Universal Religion or the Religion of Man…”
It is important to point out that Guru Kabir was not preaching against any religion, but against the hypocrisy being committed by people in the name of religion. Even now we are all aware of the wrong things religious people commit, even those belonging to the highest religious circles. On the positive side, his objectives can briefly be stated as:
1. To detach people from worldly bondage, Maya and passions born out of desires, and to attach them to God by attaining absolute freedom.
2. He used no scripture but taught from his own inner realization of Divinity, and his union with God. He wished all people to attain the same realization of unity with the Divine Being.
3. He taught fearlessness in spiritual life. He said: “chhodo apne tan ki asha, nirbhai ho gun gawo” (Give up dependence on the physical body and be fearless and sing the glories of God.” Again he stated, “kami krodhi lalchi, inse bhakti na hoi, bhakti kare koi surma, jat varan kul khoi” (Only the brave who can give up lust, anger and greed, and the pride of caste and clan can do devotion).
4. He taught purity in thought, word and deed, in order to attain God Realization. He said: “darshan karna chahiye, toh darpan malte rahiye; darpan mein lag gai kai, toh daras kahan se pai” (If you wish to see yourself, then you must clean the mirror again and again; if the mirror gathers dust then how can you see yourself?) If your heart is not pure, as a clean mirror, then how can you see your real Self reflected in your own being?
5. He taught to merge in God, as a drop merges in the ocean, and to lose your individual identity or ego. He said: “bund samana samund mein, janat hai sab koi; samund samana bund mein, jane birla koi” (When the drop merges in the ocean, all understand it; but when the ocean merges in the drop, people do not understand). God and the soul are ever merged, one in the other, and are of the same essence.
6. He taught universal and unconditional love for all people, and all of God’s creation. He said: “prem prem sab koi kahe, prem na chinhe koi; ath prahar bhija rahe, prem kahawai soi” (Everybody speaks of love, but scarcely do they understand it. If they are immersed in love twenty-four hours a day, then it can be said to be love).
7. He taught truth in thought, word and deed. He stated: “sanch barabar tap nahin, jhuth barabar pap; jako hridai sanch hai, take hridai ap” (There is no austerity greater than truth, and there is no sin greater than falsehood. In whose heart truth dwells, in that heart God dwells.)
Guru Kabir instructed all the people that they have come from the Eternal Abode and that is also their destination. Thus he sang: “amar lok se aye bande, phir amar pur jana hai‘ (O dear devotee! You have come from the Eternal Abode and that is where you have to return). But in order to return to that Eternal Abode, he taught that we have to be free from the clutches of maya, and the bondage imposed on us by our absorption in only worldly existence. Our life must be made truly spiritual to achieve the highest spiritual goal that our Divine Master has destined for us.
SATGURU KABIR’S PRECEPTS TO LIVE BY:
My Dearest Child:
Your human life is a precious gift. God has blessed you with it after countless other forms of life.
Use this rare gift wisely in service to humanity, recognizing God’s presence in the hearts of all beings.
Seek to know yourself–the reality of the soul–by seeking within yourself.
Believe in, and accept, Sat Purush as the Supreme Reality and He manifests Himself in Satguru Kabir to awaken the souls from illusion (Maya) to knowledge of the Self or Atma.
Atma and Parmatma are the same essence, just as water in a jar mixed with the water of the ocean is the same water.
Seek a qualified guru as your teacher and guide. Serve him/her with love and devotion, and follow his/her teachings and example.
Be disciplined in your thoughts, words and deeds that produce good karmas. Let your thoughts, words and deeds be harmonious.
Purify of the body, mind and environment. Kabir Saheb said to clean the evils of the mind just as you clean the dirt of the body.
Seek God within yourself through meditation. Give up ego and consciously surrender to God every day. Give up the idea of heaven and hell, but be close to Sat Purush.
Practice non-violence towards all creatures, including humans. The sin of killing will not leave you even if you listen to millions of scriptures.
Avoid alcohol, hashish, tobacco and illegal drugs that are harmful to you, your family and society. Let your diet be vegetarian.
Make it a habit to remember God in whatever you do, so that all your actions are righteous.
Develop the noble spiritual attributes of love, compassion, humility, forgiveness, charity, service and self-study.
Give up reliance in astrology, charms, amulets, and other superstitious beliefs. They are a hindrance to the soul’s progress.
Keep the company of sadhus and saintly people in satsangs as this will purify your life and character, and keep you on a spiritual path.
See equality in all people irrespective of race, religion, color, caste, creed, economic status, or other differences. Kabir Saheb taught that the spirit of God is the same in all.
Pleasure and pain are parts of life. Accept them, knowing that they depend on the law karma. Good karmas produce good effects. Bad karmas produce bad effects. God is love, and does not impose suffering on his children.
Live life in such a way that as old age, illness or disability occurs, or death approaches, you have no regrets, but have only the peace and bliss of God in your heart.
KABIR SAHEB’S BLESSINGS TO ALL
Dr. J. Das
Kabir Association of Canada