Sakhis of Guru Kabir
Kabir Saheb (1398 – 1518) was a very famous saint of India. His words, mostly sakhis (couplets) and SHABDAS (songs), are in the heart of every Indian who is familiar with Hindi. He was the first saint who taught the secret of the “Inner Sound” and “Light” in the language of the common people. Thus he became the founder of the SANT MAT (the path of saints). What he taught was not from the books, but from his own inner experience. He was the first saint who stood for religious unity and brotherhood amongst all people. In reality, he taught humanity as a religion.
Kabir Saheb was impartial. He was neither attached to, nor detached from, any religious group. He proclaimed: “I am neither Hindu nor Muslim, but this body is made of five gross elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether), and I am the Divine who is dwelling in it.”
He went neither to the temple nor to the mosque. If he had used temples to preach, the Muslims would have been left out because they could not go into the temple. And if he had chosen to preach in the mosque, the Hindus would have had to remain outside. He therefore chose the market place where everybody went without hesitation.
He told the people that he was neither an enemy nor friend to anyone, but that he wanted the welfare of everyone.
He taught the path of simple spiritual union with God. He said it was not necessary to practice austerity in the Himalayan caves. One could practice it at home by controlling his mind and senses.
He gave the essence of all the scriptures in simple sakhis, which are couplets with musical rhythm. His sakhis are so important that they are accepted as supreme testimony for profound spiritual truth.
The following sakhis are from the book “Kabir Sakhi – Spiritual Gems of Kabir” translated by Mahant Jagdish Das Shastri, edited by Dr. J. Das, and first published by the Kabir Association of Canada in 1987. It was republished by the Kabir Ashram, Jamnagar, Gujarat in 1995 and 2001.
Greatness of Guru
guru ko kije bandagi, koti koti paranam;
kit na jane bhring ko, guru karle ap saman.
Offer salutations and obeisances to the Guru millions of times.
Just as a wasp takes a worm into its nest and another wasp emerges, just so Guru makes the ordinary disciple as himself.
One has to offer obeisances to the Guru who takes the disciple on the path to God, and helps him in every way even though the disciple does not know it. The Guru imparts wisdom to him and makes him as knowledgeable as himself.
timir gaya ravi dekhate, kumati gayi guru gyan;
sumati gayi ati lobhate, bhakti gayi abhiman.
Darkness disappears when the sun arises, and ignorance goes away by the Guru’s wisdom.
Good intellect is lost because of greed, and devotion is lost because of ego.
Just as sunrise removes darkness from the world, knowledge given by the Guru removes ignorance from the heart. Similarly, greed abolishes wisdom, and the ego becomes an obstacle to devotion and God realization.
hari kirpa tab janiye, de manav awatar;
guru kirpa tab janiye, mukta kare sansar.
Know that it is the grace of God that gave you human birth.
But it is the grace of the Guru that liberates you from the cycle of birth and death.
In this human life you can obtain salvation; therefore thank God that you got a human life. But you are still a victim of rebirth, therefore thank the Guru whose grace frees you from the cycle of birth and death. This is the greatness of the Guru.
guru dhobi sis kapada, sabun sirjanhar;
surati sila par dhoiye, nikase jyoti apar.
Guru is like a washerman and the disciple is like cloth; God Himself is the soap.
O Guru! Please wash my thought waves on the stone of meditation, then the unlimited light will appear.
When the Guru gives the gift of God’s name to the disciple and the disciple recites it, his heart is cleansed. Thus, with the help and guidance of the Guru, the disciple reaches the destination that is God realization.
guru bin gyan na upaje, guru bin mil na moksh;
guru bin lakhe na satyako, guru bin mite na dosh.
Without the Guru no one obtains spiritual knowledge or achieves salvation.
Without the Guru no one can see Truth or have his doubts removed.
Importance of the Guru is mentioned in this sakhi. To achieve the higher stages on the spiritual path, and to succeed in the world, one needs the guidance of the Guru all the time to overcome obstacles on the spiritual path.
guru bichara kya kare, sikhahi mahi chuk;
bhawe tyon parmodhiye, bans bajaye phunk.
What can the poor Guru do if the disciple has faults?
He gives knowledge but it becomes useless, just as a broken flute does not produce music.
The disciple must have faith, courage, and patience on the path of God. He must try to accept discriminative spiritual knowledge from the Guru and keep it in his mind. If he does not, the Guru cannot be blamed, because the Guru can only guide, but the disciple has to walk himself.
ek shabda guru dev ka, taka anant bichar;
thake muni jan pandita, veda na pawe par.
The one word of Sat Guru gives limitless meanings.
Munis and pandits became exhausted trying to find its meaning. Vedas cannot fathom its depth.
The word of God given by Sat Guru is unfathomable. Only a humble devotee can get it. Munis and pandits, full of ego of their knowledge, cannot find it. Even the Vedas mention very little about it, and they cannot give you spiritual experience.
kabir khade bazar me, sabki chahe khair;
na kahu se dosti, na kahu se bair.
Kabir says: “I stand in a market place and I desire the welfare of all.
I am neither related to anyone, nor am I an enemy to any one.”
Kabir Saheb was above all religious conflicts, so he went neither to the temple, nor to the mosque. He chose the market place to preach, because people of all religions go there. Kabir Saheb preached the truth and wanted the spiritual welfare of all equally.
pachha pachhi ke karane, sab jag raha bhulan;
nirpachh hoi ke hari bhaje, soie sant sujan.
People are divided into various groups (religions) and thus the whole world is misguided.
Being impartial to the worldly groups (religions), one who performs the devotion to Almighty God is the true saint.
There are many religions in the world and people stick to their favourite religions. But a saint understands that all souls are the same, and that God is dwelling in every heart. The saint recognizes God in all, and remains impartial to the various religions.
chalti chakki dekh ke, diya kabira roi;
dou patan ke bichame, sabut bacha na koi.
Kabir says: “Looking at the millstones, I wept.
One who is caught between the two stones, never comes out safely.
The cycle of birth and death, and all other pairs of opposites (pleasure and pain, love and hate, virtue and sin) are like mill stones, and a person who is caught between them becomes figuratively crushed. Liberation is obtained by transcending the pairs of opposites.
silwant sabse bada, sab ratano ki khan;
tin lok ki sampada, rahi sil may an.
Whoever has good character is the greatest of all. He is the mine of all jewels.
The wealth of the three worlds is merged in good character.
Without good character all other qualities are useless. When a person loses his good character he loses everything. It is very difficult to remove the spots on the character. Therefore, we have to try to keep our character spotless, and perform devotion for God realization.
apa taje aw hari bhaje, nakh sikh taje vikar;
sab jiwan se nirbair rahe, sadhu mata hai sar.
Give up the pride of clan and caste and do devotion to God. Give up your faults (lust, anger, greed, etc.).
Don’t be an enemy to anyone. This is the basic principle of the saints.
Saints want the welfare of everyone and advise tolerant behaviour towards all. People, who are full of ego, easily develop enmity towards others. Saints are free of ego and enmity.
nindak niyare rakhiye, angan kuti chhawai;
binu pani bin sabuna, nirmal kare subhaw.
Keep your critic close to you; give him shelter in your courtyard.
Without soap and water he cleanses your character.
You get to know your faults if someone criticizes you, and you will have a chance to correct them. Listen to the criticism without annoyance, because the critic is not your enemy. He is helping you to clean the rubbish from your own life.
manus janam durlabh hai, mile na barambar;
pakka phal jo gir para, bahuri na lage dar.
Human birth is difficult to obtain, and you will not get it again and again.
When a ripe fruit falls, it does not re-attach to the branch.
In this world human life is the best in which you have the opportunity to do good deeds. It is difficult to get the same type of opportunity again and again. If you will not perform proper actions, your karmas will prevent you from getting this chance another time.
sain itana dijiye, jame kutum samai;
mai bhi bhukha na rahu, sadhu na bhukha jai.
God, please give me only that much which will maintain my family. I also will not remain hungry, nor will any sadhu go hungry.
In reality, there is no satisfaction without peace, and satisfaction does not come with material wealth, because the more we get the more we want. We require only enough for our daily needs. That is why the devotee is asking only for enough to maintain himself and his family, and to help others. Thus he remains contented and peaceful.
rukha sukha khaike, thanda pani pee;
dekh parai chupadi, mat lalchao jee.
Eat dry and simple food and drink cold water.
Do not look at the buttered bread of others and long for it.
You have to try to live simply and be satisfied. If you try to pursue the luxurious lives of others, you will not have peace in your life. Materialism does not bring peace in life. The more a person gets the more he wants. There is no end to greed.
kabir sab jag nirdhana, dhanwanta nahi koi;
dhanwanta soi janiye, ram nam dhan hoi.
Kabir says: “O brother! The whole world is poor. No one is rich.
Only he is rich who has the wealth of God’s name.”
In this world people think that the person who has material wealth is prosperous, but in reality all material things are perishable and cannot be recognized as true wealth. True wealth is the name of God that is Immortal. So the person who has the wealth of God’s name is really rich.
Words and Actions
kathani mithi khand si, karani vish ki loi;
kathani chhandi karani kare, vish ka amrit hoi.
Speaking is sweet like sugar, and actions are like poison to many.
If, instead of speaking of good, one does good actions, the poison will turn into nectar.
It is very important to speak politely, but if a person speaks politely and performs good actions, he will be able to bring peace and bliss to all. Polite speech and ignoble actions bring problems. In reality, actions are more important than words.
madhur vachan hai aushadhi, katuk vachan hai tir;
sravan dwar hwai sanchare, sale sakal sarir.
Sweet words are like good medicine, and harsh words are like arrows.
They enter through the doors of the ears, and give distress to the whole body.
We have to speak the truth but also politely, because many problems are created by misuse of words. Problems can often be solved if we use sweet, polite and proper words suitable to the occasion. Our words also reveal what we are.
mitha sabse boliye, sukh upaje chahu or;
basikaran yaha mantra hai, tajiye bachan kathor.
Speak sweetly and politely, and you will make everyone happy.
This is just like a charm. Give up harsh words.
When you speak sweetly and politely you make many people happy. Everyone likes to listen to sweet and polite words. They attract people towards you, and they create happiness for all. Harsh words are improper. They hurt people, and can turn them against you. Sweet words win friends.
kaga kako dhan hare, koyal kako deya;
mithe bachan sunai ke, jag apano kari leya.
Does a crow steal someone’s wealth, or does a nightingale give it?
The nightingale only “speaks” musical words and enchants the world.
Everyone likes to listen to sweet and musical words but not to harsh words. People love the nightingale because of its sweet song, but dislike the crow because of its raucous noise, though they are of the same colour.
awat gari ek hai, ulati hot anek;
kahe kabir na ulatiye, rahi ek ki ek.
A verbal abuse is one, but responding to it will make many.
Kabir says: “Do not respond to the abuse and it will remain one.”
When someone speaks abusive words to any person, and that person responds, the quarrel will grow more and more. If you want to prevent a quarrel, do not respond to words of abuse. Keep calm. Don’t indulge your tongue in uttering bad words.
jo toko kata bowai, tako bo tum phul;
toko phul ke phul hai, wako hai trisul.
When someone puts thorns on your path, you should put flowers on his.
At last, you will get flowers but he will get troubling thorns.
If someone does wrong towards a devotee, the devotee should still continue to respond lovingly towards the wrong doer. The devotee will get blessings, but the wrong doer will have to endure suffering. As you sow so you reap. Who shares love will get love. Who gives troubles will get troubles.
kal kare so aj kar, aj kare so ab;
palme parlay hoyagi, bahuri karega kab.
What you have to do tomorrow, do today; what you have to do today, do now.
Death can strike at the next moment; then what can you do?
The person who puts off till tomorrow what he should do today, will never really be successful in life. Laziness and procrastination cause loss of opportunities and failures. They destroy valuable life, and cause regrets instead. Promptness is a great virtue.
aj kahe hari kal bhajunga, kal kahe phir kal;
aj kal ke karat hi, awasar jasi chal.
Today you say that you will do devotion to God tomorrow, and tomorrow you will again say tomorrow.
Saying tomorrow and tomorrow, you lose the opportunity in this life.
We must do devotion to God now. It is not good to think of doing it when we get older. We may not reach old age, and if we did, we may not be able to do devotion due to disabilities. We will then have regrets.
aya hai so jayega, raja rank fakir;
koi singhasan charhi chale, koi bandhe jat janjir.
Who has come will go, whether he is king, pauper or fakir.
But one goes sitting on a throne, and another tied in chains.
Life in this world is very short; who is born will certainly die, even if he spends huge amounts of wealth to save his life. We must therefore do virtuous actions so that our departure will be safe and peaceful, and we will not go crying and regretting for our own actions.
ek din aisa hoyega, sab so pare bichhohu;
raja rana rao rank, sawadh kyon nahi hohu.
A day will come when you will be separated from everything.
Whether you are an emperor, king, landlord or pauper, why do you not awaken?
One has to depart from this world leaving everything behind. Why don’t you give up attachment to this material world, and do devotion to the Supreme Lord that will lead you to immortality. Kabir Saheb said to “detach” and “attach” – detach from this world and attach to God.
achhe din pachhe gaye, kiya na hari se het;
ab pachhtaye hot kya, jab chidiya chug gai khet.
All good days are gone, and you did not show love for God.
What will you do by regretting now when the birds have eaten up the grain of the farm?
You have to try to make the best use of your opportunity. If you are lazy, you will lose it and then have regrets. In the same way try to make time for devotion to God when you are healthy and strong. As old age and death approach, you can do nothing.
bin rakhware bahira, chidiyon khaya khet;
adha pradha ubare, cheti sake toh chet.
Without protection, the birds are eating up the grain of the farm.
Still, a little bit is remaining. Protect it if you can.
Oh man! Without protection from thieves (lust, anger, greed, etc.) and birds (desires), your farm of devotion to God is being plundered. What little remains protect it with the help of Satguru. Otherwise your life will be wasted in vain.
kachi kaya man athir, thir thir kam karant;
jyon jyon nar nidhadak phire, tyon tyon kal hasant.
The body is perishable like an unbaked clay pot, and the mind is restless.
Still, man delays in worldly actions unmindful of fear. Death looks at him and laughs.
People don’t care about their short life in the world. They don’t do devotion to God, but remain involved in worldly affairs, and get trapped by death. They want liberation but put themselves in bondage.
paw palak ki sudhi nahi, kare kal ka saj;
kal achanak marasi, jyon titar ko baj.
You do not know what will happen at the next moment, but you are preparing for the distant future.
Death will come suddenly, just as hawks pounce upon other birds.
People try to secure their future by collecting wealth through many proper or improper actions. They do not prepare themselves to overcome the cycle of birth and death. At last, death overtakes them, and they lose their opportunity to gain liberation.
kali kal tat kal hai, bura karo jini koi;
an bowai loha dahine, bowai su lunata hoi.
In this Iron Age, you get quick results for your actions, so do not commit evil.
Whatever you sow, that is what you will reap.
Every action has its equal and opposite reaction. If one does wrong, he does not have to wait long to get the results of his actions. A farmer who sows wheat or corn reaps the same. Therefore every one must try to sow good actions, to get good results.
mali awat dekhake, kaliyan kari pukar;
fule fule chun liye, kal hamari bari.
Seeing the gardener coming, the buds started to lament.
Today he plucks the blossoms, and tomorrow it will be our turn.
Every mature person knows that one day he has to leave this world. Everyone, without exception, goes through the same process. Death is like a gardener waiting to pluck the mature flowers. Therefore live wisely so that you do not have to lament later. Attain God realization and liberation in this life.
mati kahe kumbhar se, tu kya rundhe mohi;
ek din aisa ayega, mai rundhungi tohi.
The earth says to the potter: “Why are you kneading on me now?
One day will come when I will be kneading you”.
At death every person will have to mix with the earth. We must therefore not be proud of the body. We must be humble and kind, and try to learn from everything. We have to be careful about our actions because what we will sow that is what we shall reap. What you do to others will return to you.
kabir garva na kijiye, rank na hasiye koi;
ajahu naw samund me, na jane kya hoi
Kabir Saheb says: “Do not be proud (of your wealth) and do not laugh at any pauper.
Your boat is still in the ocean, and you do not know what will happen”.
People are very proud of their power and wealth, and some, unsympathetically, laugh at the poor. Kabir says that you are also in the “boat” of this world, and the same poverty can befall you. It is thus foolish to be proud, or to laugh at the less fortunate.
Where is God?
ghat ghat mera saiyan, suni sej na koi;
balihari ghat tasu ki, ja ghat paragat hoi.
My Lord is dwelling in each and every heart; not a single place is empty.
But that heart is great where God manifests His qualities.
Though God is omnipresent, and dwells in every heart, he is great who realizes God in his own heart, and demonstrates divine qualities. That is why people bow down to such a person with respect. Such a person becomes a saint.
kasturi kundali basai, mrig dhundhe ban mahi;
aise ghati ghati ram hi, duniya dekhai nahi.
Musk is in the navel of the musk deer, but the deer searches for its fragrance everywhere in the forest.
In the same way, God dwells in every heart, but people search for Him elsewhere, and do not find Him.
Though the bliss of God’s love is in the human heart, because of ignorance, people do not know it, and they search for bliss in worldly things. Instead of bliss, they get disappointment.
saheb teri sahibi, sab ghat rahi samai;
jyon mehendi ke pat me, lali lakhi na jai.
O Almighty! Your power dwells in every heart but is invisible.
It just as the red colour that resides in the green mehendi leaves and is invisible.
To get the red colour from the mehendi leaves, one has to grind them into a fine paste and apply it on the hands. When the paste dries and the hands are washed, the red colour appears. In the same way one has to grind (cleanse) his mind by meditation to realize God.
pawak rupi saiyan, sab ghat raha samai;
chit chakmak lage nahi, tate bujhi bujhi jai.
God is like fire dwelling in each and every heart.
But because the flint stone does not produce a spark in the heart, it does not give light.
It is well known that the light of God shines in every heart, but a person does not realize it, because without sparking of the flint stone it does not appear. The sparking is the yearning for God realization, and the flint stone is initiation by Sadguru.
lali mere lalaki, jit dekhu tit lal;
lali dekhan mai gaie, mai bhi ho gai lal.
The redness (illumination) of my Beloved (is everywhere); where ever I look there is only red.
When I went to see the redness, I also became red (illuminated).
When a devotee realizes God, he sees illumination of God all over the world. He also merges into God’s love in such a way that all the differences between him and God disappear. He turns into a part and parcel of God. He realizes (sees) only God and nothing else.
jin dhunda tin payiya, gahire pani paith;
mai bauri duban dari, rahi kinare baith.
Those who searched by diving into the deep water, found the treasure.
I foolishly feared drowning and remained sitting on the shore.
One who wants to get some pearls has to dive deeply into the ocean. The person who fears drowning will not get anything. In the same way, he who wants God realization has to dive deeply in meditation, and merge completely into God’s love.
herat herat he sakhi, rahya kabir herai;
bund samani samund me, so kat heri jai.
Kabir says: “Searching over and over, O my friend! I lost myself in Him.
Its as the drop that mixes with the ocean. Where can one search for it?”
Kabir Saheb says: “I went searching for God, but when I found Him, then I knew that I was in Him. There was no difference between Him and me. I merged in Him just as a drop mixes with the ocean, and then only the ocean remains”.
bund samani samund me, janat hai sab koi;
samund samana bund me, jane birala koi.
When a drop merges into the ocean, everyone understands it.
But when the ocean merges into the drop, seldom does one understand it.
It is very simple to understand that a devotee merges into God, but it is difficult to accept that God merges into a devotee. Reality is the union of God and devotee and all differences are lost. This state is rarely found. God dwells in the heart of a devotee as an ocean is of the same essence as a drop.
naina antar aaw tu, nain jhapi tohi leu;
na mai dekhu aur ko, na tohi dekhan deu.
O my Beloved! Come into my eyes. I will take you in and close them.
Then, I will not see anyone else, nor will I allow anyone else to see you.
Eyes are like doors, and images enter through them to the “heart”. The lover of God wants to realize His beauty in his heart. He prays: “O my Beloved! Please enter into my heart and I will close the “door”. I will then see you all the time”.
naino ki kari kothari, putali palang bichhai;
palako ki chik darike, piya ko liya rijhai.
Kabir Saheb says: “I made my eyes into a bridal room, and the pupils into a bridal bed.
I pulled down the curtains of the eyelids and pleased my Beloved.
The Beloved, God, is so unique that to please Him the devotee has to have a special love for Him. The devotee has to offer his or her devotion in the same way that a very faithful bride gives her love and devotion to her husband. Deep love exists between the devotee and God.
chali jo putali launki, thah sindhu ka len;
apuhi gali pani bhai, ulati kahe ko bain.
A doll of salt entered the ocean to find its depth.
It dissolved and turned into salty water. Who will return to tell the depth?
God is like an ocean. When a seeker wants to find His depth and enters into the region of God, he himself merges into God. Thus duality, which is necessary to give a report, does not exist. He can thus say nothing about His depth because that is indescribable.
jis marane se jag darai, mere man anand;
kab marihau kab paihau, puran parmanand.
The whole world fears death, but death will be full of bliss for me.
I am waiting for death that will merge me into absolute bliss.
The person whose preparation is not complete, has fear of death, but if he had prepared himself perfectly, he will have no fear. Perfect preparation is necessary to get the best result in the test of life. When one is prepared, then he longs for bliss in union with God.
akath kahani prem ki, kahat kahi na jai;
gunge keri sarkara, khaya aur muskai.
The story of God’s love is indescribable. No description is befitting.
Its experience is just like that of a dumb person tasting candy. He smiles but cannot describe it.
To describe the experience of God’s love is impossible. One can understand it only when he experiences it. No amount of description (as in scriptures) can make one experience something.
pothi parhi parhi jag muva, pandit bhaya na koi;
ekai akhar prem ka, parhe so pandit hoi.
Having read many scriptures, people died without realization.
One who reads only the one word “Love” becomes realized.
Knowledge of various scriptures cannot give a person realization. His pride of learning becomes an obstacle on the path of realization. Only a devotee who is humble, has a loving heart, and is dedicated, can achieve realization. God realization transcends the mind and intellect; scriptures don’t.
prem na badi nipje, prem na hat bikai;
raja parja jis ruche, sees deyi le jai.
Love is not grown in the field, and it is not sold in the market.
But a king or a pauper who likes it, offers his head to obtain it.
In the region of love there is no difference between a king and a pauper. Who wants to get love has to give up his ego first. All other wealth has no value in that region. Love is a spiritual and not a material thing.
prem gali ati sankari, tame dou na samai;
jab mai tha tab hari nahi, ab hari hai mai nahi.
The street of love is very narrow; two cannot pass through it at the same time.
When I was, there was no God; now there is God, but I am not.
To attain perfect love, one has to give up his ego, which is the biggest obstacle on the path of God’s love. When the ego disappears, God appears. As long as the ego is there, God will not show His presence. The devotee must give up his ego to realize God.
tu tu karata tu bhaya, mujhme rahi na hu;
bari pheri bali gaie, jit dekhu tit tu.
Oh God! By reciting your name all the time I merged in you, and my ego disappeared.
My troubles of transmigration disappeared. Now, wherever I look, I see you.
The recitation of God’s name leads the devotee to God. He reaches the state of union with God, and his cycle of rebirths disappears. It just as a drop of water that mixes with the ocean, and its separateness disappears.
premi dhundat mai phiru, premi na miliya koi;
premi ko premi mile, tab sab bish amrit hoi.
I wandered in search of a true lover but did not find any.
When a lover meets another lover, then all poison turns into nectar.
True lovers of God are rarely found, but when they come together they rejoice, and the nectar of love over-flows. This also helps other seekers to receive it, and then nothing remains as poison but only as nectar of love.
ram rasain prem ras, pivat adhik rasal;
kabir pivan durlabh hai, mange sis kalal.
The very powerful drug of God is nectar of love, which is very sweet.
But it is difficult to obtain, because the seller asks for your head as its price.
No one can enter the region of God with his head on his shoulder i.e. with his ego. Only the humble devotee can drink the nectar of God’s love. One has to surrender completely to God to become a perfect devotee and to meet Him.
piya chahe prem as, rakha chahe man;
dou khadga ek miyan me, dekha suna na kan.
One wants to drink the nectar of God’s love and also likes to keep his own pride.
I have never seen or heard that two swords are kept in one sheath.
It is not possible to drink the nectar of God’s love and still keep your pride, because pride will not allow you to merge into God’s love and “lose” your identity. Only when you surrender your ego, can you enjoy the nectar of God’s love.
kabir prem na chakhiya, chakhi na liya saw;
sune ghar ka pahuna, jyon awe tyon jaw.
Kabir says: “He who has not experienced the love of God, and has not tasted the nectar of love,
has lost his visit, just as a guest who comes to an empty house and departs.”
Kabir says that the purpose of life is to do devotion and to experience God’s love. If one does not perform devotion, he wastes his life. For that person the whole world is just like an empty house where his visit has no meaning, and from where he departs with regret and disappointment.
surati dhekuli lej lau, man nil dholan har;
kamal kuwa me premras, piwai barambar.
Meditation is the lever, love is the rope and the mind is the peron for drawing the water.
The thousand petalled lotus is the well, and Divine Love is the water. The devotee drinks that water again and again.
The place of the thousand petalled lotus, in meditation, is full of God’s love. The devotee thus meditates there ardently, and drinks the nectar of God’s love again and again.
naina nijhar laiya, rahat bahai nis jam;
papiha jyon piw piw kare, kabahu milahuge ram.
Tears flow from my eyes just as water falling from a water-wheel day and night.
I constantly call my Beloved like a papiha (an Indian bird which constantly calls “piw-piw”) “Oh, Lord, when will you come to me?”
The devotee has constant yearning for God and feels pangs of separation from Him. He cries and, without taking care of his body, waits for his Beloved Lord, and utters His name all the time.
ambar kunja kuraliya, garji bhare sab tal;
jin te govind bichhure, tin ke kaun hawal.
The cry of the kunja bird, separated from its mate, makes the clouds thunder and cry showers to fill many ponds.
If a mere bird suffers so much sorrow, how much more will not the devotee suffer who is separated from God?
The lamentable cries of the separated kunja bird make the clouds, figuratively and poetically, cry in showers. But the sorrow of separation of the devotee from God remains unmatched.
is tan ka diwa karau, bati melyu jiw;
lohi sincho tel jyon, kab mukh dekhu piw.
I make my body into a lamp and my breath into a wick.
I make my blood into oil in the lamp, and patiently wait to see my Lover’s face.
The soul is waiting to realize God and surrenders itself completely to God. When a lady is separated from her beloved, she waits patiently, with lamp in hand, so that she can see his face when he returns. In the same way a devotee waits for God realization using his body as the lamp.
hansi hansi kant na paiya, jin paya tin roi;
jo hansi hi hari mile, toh kaun dohagin hoi.
No one realizes his Beloved (God) by laughing (enjoying worldly pleasures). Those who realized God, did so only after feeling pangs of separation from Him.
If one can realize God while involved in worldly enjoyments, then who will remain unfortunate?
For the realization of God it is necessary to feel pangs of separation from Him. Without it, the person who is involved in the objects of senses, will not be able to become God realized.
bhakti nisaini muktiki, sant charhe sab dhai;
jin jin man alas kiya, janam janam pachhitai.
Devotion is the ladder of salvation. All saints climbed it with great love and effort.
Those who were lazy, remained repenting and regretting for many births.
The purpose of human birth is to get salvation. Therefore everyone should try to do devotion and make the best use of this life’s opportunity. Otherwise, one will repent, and he has to take many incarnations to get salvation.
pura saheb seiye, sab vidhi pura hoi;
ochhe neh lagay ke, mulahu awai khoi.
Do devotion to the Supreme Lord who is Absolute.
By devotion to the other deities you will lose your capital (this birth).
In business, people invest to make a profit. By unwise investment, they can lose their capital. In the same way, if a person does devotion to, or worships, other beings or deities, he can lose his life and get nothing. Mature judgment and spiritual discrimination are needed to ensure the right path.
kami krodhi lalachi, inase bhakti na hoi;
bhakti karai koi surama, jati varan kul khoi.
Lustful, angry, and greedy people cannot do devotion.
Only a brave person without pride for his clan or caste can do devotion.
The mind of lustful, angry and greedy people cannot be concentrated because of passions. Devotion requires concentration. There are five states of mind: insane, stupid, restless, concentrated and controlled. The first two can’t do devotion, the third has difficulty, the fourth can, and the fifth unites with God.
jab lagi bhakti sakamata, tab lagi nirphal seo;
kahai kabir ve kyon mile, nihkami nij deo.
As long as devotion is full of worldly desires, it is meaningless for realization.
Kabir says: “How can one realize the Supreme Lord who is above desires?”
Devotion with worldly desires cannot lead the devotee to God realization. Only the devotion with renunciation of desires can lead to such a realization. A person cannot serve two masters at the same time. If he wants to satisfy his sensual tastes, he will not be able to satisfy God.
jablag nata jati ka, tablag bhakti na hoi;
nata todai hari bhajai, bhakta kahawai soi.
As long as one has attachment and ego of caste and creed, he cannot do devotion.
When he gives up ego of caste and creed and performs devotion, then he becomes a true devotee.
As darkness and light cannot stay together, similarly, ego and devotion cannot stay together. That is why a person has to give up his ego (pride) of high caste, creed and dogma before God will accept him as a devotee.
jal jyoun pyara machhari, lobhi pyara dam;
mata pyara balaka, bhakti pyara ram.
Just as a fish loves water and a greedy person loves wealth,
or as a mother loves her child, just so God loves his devotee.
Only devotees can enter into the kingdom of God. God makes the devotee pure by his devotion. He loves the devotee just as the mother loves her child. But the devotee has to dedicate everything to God, as a child entrusts everything to his mother, before God will shower His grace on him.
bhagati dwar ati sankara, rai dasave bhag;
man toh maingal hwai raha, kaise awe jaya.
The door of devotion is very narrow, ten times smaller than the mustard seed.
When the mind is behaving like an intoxicated elephant, how can it pass through it?
On the path of devotion, humility is most important. There can be no devotion without humility. If the mind is occupied by ego, then it becomes like an intoxicated elephant, and it cannot walk on the very delicate path of devotion.
kabir seep samund ki, ratai piyas piyas;
aur bund ko na gahai, swati bund ki as.
A thirsty oyster in the ocean utters “thirst”, “thirst”, but does not want the ocean water.
Opening its mouth, it calls for the pure water drops falling from the sky.
The devotee does not want to be involved in the pleasure of worldly objects, because they can give pleasure initially but suffering in the end. He waits for the state of perfect bliss. We must rely on God alone, not on the world.
kabir dhani te sundari, jaya sadhu put;
ram sumari nirbhai bhaya, sab jag gaya niput.
Kabir says: “That lady is a great mother who bears a saint as a son.
He becomes fearless with the devotion of God. Compared to her the whole world is barren”.
When a saint takes birth in the world, he makes that clan great where he was born. He himself achieves greatness with the devotion of the Supreme, and his mother also achieves fame. He becomes free from the fear of the cycle of birth and death, and shares his fearlessness with others.
kabir kutta ram ka, mutiya mera nau;
gale ram ki jewari, jit khechai tit jau.
Kabir says: “I am the faithful dog of God. My name is Moti (pearl).
He put the collar of His name around my neck. Wherever He pulls, I follow”.
Kabir Saheb teaches the way of complete surrender for the devotee. Just as a loyal dog follows it’s master and accepts whatever his master gives him, similarly, the devotee follows the will of God, and does not worry about anything. God takes care of the devotee.
kabir tu kahe dare, sir par sirjan har;
hathi charhi kar doliye, kukar bhuke hajar.
Kabir says: “O soul! Why are you afraid? God is your protector.
If you are riding on an elephant, what harm can the barking dogs do?”
O devotee! Don’t be afraid of the comments of worldly people. They are just like barking dogs. Their noise will not harm you. Keep your patience. God is with you. You will reach the high state with the help of Satguru under God’s protection.
kabir sumiran sar hai, aur sakal janjal;
adi ant sab sodhiya, dutiya dekho kal.
Kabir says: “The recollection of God’s name is the essence of all essences, and other methods of devotion are just useless.
Searching from the beginning to the end, I discovered that other methods lead to trouble”.
The best way to do devotion is to recite God’s name. Though there are other methods, they start with trouble and lead to trouble. When the devotee wants to come out of them, he finds that he is already trapped in them.
tat tilak tihu lok me, satnam nij sar;
jan kabir mastak diya, shobha agam apar.
Saheb says: “The essence of God’s name which is “Sat Nam” is the greatest in the three worlds.
I place it on my forehead, and it gives me matchless beauty”.
People put on the mark of sandalwood paste on their foreheads, but Kabir Saheb says that, instead of putting the mark of sandalwood paste, one has to accept the greatness of God’s name on his head. It is the greatest of all, and it leads the devotee to salvation.
lene ko hari nam hai, dene ko annadan,
tarane ko adhinata, duban ko abhiman.
In this world the only thing to take is the name of God and the only thing to give is food.
The only thing to liberate us is humble devotion, and the only thing to drown us is egotism.
Only a humble person can walk on the path of devotion and get liberation from this worldly ocean. An egotistic person never gets liberation. If you want liberation, be humble. Devotion leads you to salvation and egotism to bondage.
dukh men sumiran sab karai, sukh me karai na koi;
jo sukh men sumiran karai, toh dukh kahe ko hoi.
All pray to God when they suffer, but not when they enjoy pleasures.
If they prayed to Him at the time of pleasure, why should they have to suffer?
By praying to God one can remove his sufferings. Sincere and unselfish prayer removes present sufferings, and prevents future ones. It is, therefore, better to pray at the time of pleasure also. God cannot be bribed.
mala toh kar me phire, jibh phire mukh mahi;
manuwa toh chahu dis phire, so toh sumiran nahi.
The rosary is moving in the hand, and the tongue is moving in the mouth.
And the mind is wandering all around. Certainly, that is not sumiran or recollection of God’s name.
Many people do sumiran or pray by moving beads of the rosary in their hands, and at the same time they talk of worldly things. Their mind remains restless. They move the rosary to make a show of their devotion. Real sumiran is recollection of God’s name, charged by the Guru, with the concentration of the mind.
mala pherat jug gaya, gaya na man ka pher;
karka manka dari de, manka manka pher.
Ages have gone while moving the rosary in the hand, but the roaming of the mind has not gone.
Therefore, give up the bead from your hand, and make your mind the bead and turn it with the name of God.
A rosary helps in sumiran for counting, but presence of mind is necessary. If the mind is not there, then movement of the rosary is useless. It is just like a chain moving on the wheel of a machine. For sumiran one has to make the rosary of his mind.
mala toh hai kath ki, usame dala sut;
mala bichari kya kare, japane wala kaput.
Rosary is made of wooden beads, which are strung on a thread.
What can the poor mala (rosary) do if the person using it is unworthy?
If someone moves a mala honestly for concentration of the mind, using God’s name with every bead, then the mala is useful, otherwise the mala made of sandalwood, or of glass, or of any other material, and thread, is useless. It depends on the person who is using it.
kabir suta kya kare, jagi na jape murai;
ek din aisa sowana, lambe paw pasari.
Kabir says: “O man! What are you doing sleeping in ignorance? Why don’t you wake up and recite the name of God?
One day you will have to sleep with your arms and legs outstretched, and you will never wake up”.
If a person does not recite the name of God, there is no difference between his waking and sleeping. The sleep of ignorance will lead him to bondage, and at last he will depart from the world regretfully.
katha kirtan kali vishai, bhowsagar ki naw;
kahe kabir jan taran ko, nahi awr upaw.
In this age, religious gathering and chanting of God’s name is the boat to cross the ocean.
Kabir Saheb says that there are no other means to liberation for the common people in this world.
In this age people do not have time to do austerity. They cannot pray to God all the time, so the best way for them is to gather together to pray and to chant God’s name. This is a simple path for them to obtain salvation.
sakalo durmati dur karu, achha janam banaw;
kag gawan gati chhadike, hansa gawan chali aw.
Oh brothers! Remove your wicked thoughts and make your life bright (good).
Give up the behaviour of crows, and come to me in the manner of swans.
Those who want to do devotion to God, must give up bad behaviour which is like that of crows (which eat carrion). Accept the path of discrimination as the mythological swan that drinks milk (good) and rejects water (evil).
pahale yaha man kag tha, karata jiwan ghat;
ab toh man hansa bhaya, moti chug chug khat.
At first the mind was just like a crow, and was involved in violent actions.
Now the mind became like a swan, and picks up and eats the pearls.
When my mind was involved in the fulfillment of desires, it was going in many wrong directions. But by the grace of Guru, my mind became pure. It gave up the desires of worldly pleasures and, being peaceful, now it eats the pearls of perfect bliss.
tan bohit man kag hai, lakh jojan udi jai;
kabahi dariya agam bahi, kabahi gagan samai.
The body is like a ship and the mind like a bird that can fly far away.
Sometimes it flies far away in the ocean, sometimes high in the sky, and in a moment returns to the ship (body).
The mind wanders (flies) far away, and in different directions. It becomes tired and returns to the body because it has no other resting place. When the mind is controlled, its energy can be used beneficially for spiritual growth.
man matang mane nahi, chale surati ke sath;
mahavat bichara kya kare, ankush nahi hath.
The mind is like an intoxicated elephant. It follows the thought waves all the time.
What can the poor elephant driver do, if he does not have a controlling hook in his hand?
As an elephant driver (mahout) needs a pointed iron hook to control the elephant all the time, just so a devotee must have the hook of discriminative spiritual knowledge to control the mind. The Guru gives that discriminative knowledge to the disciple.
man ke hare har hai, man ke jite jit;
parmatam ko paiye, manahi ke partit.
A person defeated by his mind is really defeated, and who conquers his mind is really victorious.
One can realize God with the firm faith of a conquered mind.
When the mind is under control, it will not follow sense objects, but will follow the path of God (the path of devotion), and this will lead the devotee to realization. With faith it will remove all sufferings. (Absolute peace comes through the controlled mind.)
dhire dhire re mana, dhire sab kuch hoi;
mali sinche sau ghada, ritu awe phal hoi.
O mind! Be patient. Everything comes with patience.
Although the gardener waters the plants hundreds of times, they bloom only when their season comes.
On the path of devotion we have to remain patient all the time. Hurry and speed disturb the mind’s equilibrium. Everything in this world takes time to be completed. Therefore don’t become impatient or discouraged.
mana ke mate na chaliye, man hai pakka dut;
le bore bhowdhar me, jaya hathse chhut.
Don’t follow the path of the mind. It is a perfect devil.
It will drown you in the miserable world by getting out of your control.
The mind, full of passions, leads a person to wrong actions. It is not good for a devotee to follow the mind. He has to try to control the mind by using discriminative knowledge given by his Guru. He can thus protect himself from drowning in the world of transmigration and misery.
darsan karana chahiye, toh darpan malate rahiye;
darpan me lag gaie kaie, toh daras kahan te paie.
If you want to see your face, you have to clean the mirror.
If there is dirt on the mirror, then how can you see your face?
For Self-realization it is very essential to clean the heart by removing all doubts that are just like dust on the mirror. For the realization of God within, the devotee must have firm faith and discriminative spiritual knowledge, to be free from the illusions of the mind.
hridaya bhitar arasi, mukh dekha nahi jai;
mukh to tabahi dekhiho, jab dilki dubidha jai.
There is a mirror in the heart, but you don’t see your face in it.
You will see your face only when you remove the doubts from the heart.
As long as doubts occupy your mind and heart, you cannot get realization. Doubts can be removed only by the discriminative knowledge of the Guru. The disciple has to ask the Guru to remove all his doubts, and to develop true faith in his heart.
kabir man nirmal bhaya, jaise ganga nir;
pichhe lage hari phire, kahat kabir kabir.
Kabir says: “When the mind becomes pure (calm and without doubts) just as the water of the upper Ganges is pure, then God follows the devotee at every step, calling his name – Kabir, Kabir.”
When the mind becomes free from all worldly desires and merges in God, then the devotee realizes God within himself. He then lives with God. Wherever he goes, God goes with him, because he does not feel separated from God.
yaha aisa sansar hai, jaisa semal phul;
din das ke vyouhar ko, jhute rangi na bhul.
The world is just like the flower of the semal (silk-cotton) tree.
Its pretty colour is for a few days. Don’t forget its deceiving nature.
The semal flower is very pretty and when the bird is attracted, expecting sweet nectar, it is disappointed, a it finds it filled with cotton. Remember the world is used for a short while. Don’t become absorbed in its false “colours”.
kajal keri kothari, taisa yaha sansar;
balihari wa das ki, paithi ke niksan har.
The world is like a coal cellar, and nobody comes out of it unsoiled.
Kabir says: “That devotee is great who comes out of it unsoiled”.
Whoever comes into the world becomes involved in the worldly desires, actions and passions, and gets his heart soiled. But whose heart is full of devotion to God remains clean, because the mask of devotion protects him.
mor tor ki jewari, bali bandha sansar;
kasi kanduwa sut kalit, dajhan barambar.
The world is tied with the rope of “mine” and “thine”, just like a goat going to be slaughtered.
The relationships torture like the sword grass, and the person burns in the fire of attachment.
Thoughts of mine and thine create the attachments for the person trapped in them. Then the soul wanders in the cycle of birth and death, and feels burning pain. Only non-attachment can give liberation to a person.
jihi ghar sadhu na pujiye, hari ki seva nahi;
te ghar marghat sarikhe, bhut basai tin mahi.
That house where a saint does not receive respect and hospitality, and where no one does devotion to God; that house is like a cremation ground, and only ghosts live there.
The duty of a householder is to serve the saints and to do devotion to the Supreme Lord. This makes his home holy and his heart pure. He thus washes out effects of bad actions, and gets the grace of God. The test of the greatness of a person is devotion to God.
deha dhare ka dand, sab kahu ko hoi;
gyani bhogai gyan se, murakh bhogai roi.
With the body, there is suffering for everyone.
A saint accepts that suffering with knowledge, but an ignorant person cries out with it.
When understanding develops about creation, and how the Law of Karma operates, it gives tolerance to physical suffering. This is the difference between a saint who understands and accepts, and the average person who does not, and thus suffers.
bairagi birkat bhala, girahi chitt udar;
dui chuka rita padai, taku war na par.
Kabir says: “A renunciate must live with detachment, and the householder must live with a generous heart.
If both give up these qualities it will be a limitless loss”.
This is the advice of Kabir Saheb for the renunciate and the householder to maintain the balance of living on the devotional path.
If a renunciate becomes attached and a householder becomes miserly, both will spoil devotion.
jaisa bhojan khaiye, taisa hi man hoi;
jaisa pani pijiye, taisi bani hoi.
The type of food you eat determines the type of mind you’ll have.
Similarly, the type of drink you take determines the type of words you’ll speak.
Because eating and drinking play a great part in human lives, every person has to be careful about them. Eating violent (killed) types of food produces a violent mind. Similarly, intoxicating drinks produce their own type of speech.
put piyaro pitah ko, gohari laga dhai;
lobh mithai hathi de, apan gaya bhulai.
The son (soul) wants to embrace the father (God) with love. He calls and runs towards his father.
But the father places some attractive sweets into his son’s hands, and hides himself.
The soul, because of its nature, loves God and wants to meet Him. On the path he faces temptations (sweets of worldly pleasures) that become obstacles for God realization. Therefore, a devotee must try to avoid those pleasures that distract him from the goal.
tum jani jano yaha geet hai, yaha nij brahm vichar;
keval kahi samujhaiya, atam gyan sar.
This is not a song as you think. This is knowledge of the Supreme dwelling in your self.
I only explain with words, but it is the essence of knowledge of the Supreme Being.
Kabir Saheb did not write songs for entertainment as many other poets did, but his poetry is full of wisdom of the Supreme Being. He explained that God and the Soul are one. Thus the knowledge of the Soul is knowledge of God.
kahata hun kahi jat hun, kahu bajawat dhol;
swasa khali jat hai, tin lok ka mol.
I am saying again and again, and with the beating of drums.
Your breaths, more valuable than the three worlds, are wasted in vain.
Kabir saheb says that the main purpose of life is to do devotion and get salvation, but people do not pay attention to his advice. He spoke loudly and instructed everyone to take the name of God, because the breath (life) is most valuable. There is salvation in life, but not in death.
Selections from the Bijak
jahiya janm mukta hata, tahiya hata na koi;
chhathi tumhari hown jaga, tu kahan chala bigoi.
O soul! Before birth you were free, and had no worldly bondage with a body;
Then your sixth sense (mind) arose; now where are you wandering as if lost?
Guru Kabir is here speaking of the soul prior to being born in this physical body. The soul is eternally free until it comes into the bondage of the body and the world. It begins to be preoccupied with satisfying all kinds of desires and seeking material pleasures. It forgets its original, pristine, state of existence. Once the mind arose as a sixth sense and an instrument to be used by the soul, it started to create all types of desires and passions. It has become entangled in the material pursuits of the world. It has become deluded, thinking that the evanescent material things are really the Reality. In fact, all material things are temporary, but the soul is eternal, as it is Divine in nature. The mind does not recognize this. It is thus that Guru Kabir is saying that the soul was free, but because of the mind and its delusions it has become trapped in the material world, and is wandering in a lost state. One has to return to a realization of the pristine and free nature of the soul.
shabd hamara tu shabd ka, suni mati jahu sarak;
jo chaho nij tatv ka, to shabdahi lehu parakh.
The Shabd (Word) is mine, and you are produced by Shabd; listen to it and do not shun it;
If you wish to realize your own Reality, then realize the Shabd.
Guru Kabir is stating that he has realized the Word, and states that we are all produced by the power of the Word. We must try to realize that Word and not try to avoid it. Everything in the universe proceeded from the Word of God. That Word also manifests as our own Reality which is the Divine Soul. He thus states that if you wish to know your own Reality, then you must realize the Shabd.
To realize the Shabd means that you have to enter into meditation with the mind absolutely still. Meditation is the only path to realization of your own true Self, which is the Word, manifesting within.
shabd harmara adi ka, shabdai paita jiw;
phul rahana ki tokari, ghore khaya ghiw.
My Word is from the beginning, and the soul resides in the Word;
The basket is for holding flowers, while the horse is eating up the ghee.
In the beginning was the Word (Shabd), and from the Word proceeded the Soul and then all material manifestations, including the human form. It is thus that Guru Kabir states that in the beginning there was the Word and the Soul resides in the Word. It is the Soul that animates the body and gives it consciousness and makes it ‘beautiful’. He compares the beautiful flowers that are kept in a basket. They are fragrant and beautiful to look at. Similarly, if through meditation you are able to realize your own soul, you will also realize the beauty of the soul, as it is an express of the Word.
In India, it is common to feed ghee (clarified butter) to the horses, when it is mixed up with other grains. Ghee is a delicacy in India. The horse eats the ghee with the grains, but does not know that the ghee is a delicacy prized by humans. Similarly, the person who is not awakened to reality of his own self, does not realize the greatness of his own soul.
Another explanation is that the clarified butter is contained in the milk that is being churned to produce it. The ghee is hidden in that milk but it is not seen, just so, the soul is hidden within the body, but the unrealized person does not perceived it.
shabd bina surati andhari, kaho kahan ko jai;
dwar na pawai shabd ka, phir-phir bhataka khai
Meditation without the Word is blind; tell me where can it lead you?
When meditation does not reach the door of the Word, then again and again it strays.
The Shabd (Word) is the origin of all manifestation. The Word is the power of God. In meditation we need to delve into the Word and experience it, personally. If this is not achieved, then meditation “abandons” the devotee, as his meditation wanders from subject to subject and ideas to ideas. To truly understand meditation one has to still the mind so that there is no distraction. Only then can the Word be experienced in the depth of one’s own consciousness. This realization of the Word gives stability in spiritual life, and removes all doubts.
shabd-shabd bahu antare, sar shabd mathi lijai;
kahahin kabir jahan sar shabd nahi, dhrig jiwan so jijai.
There is much difference between word and word, but churn the essence of the Word;
Kabir says where there is not the essence of the Word, then that life is cursed.
If we think of a word in ordinary usage, then every word has a different meaning. But when we think of the Word, then it is the essence of all words and it is the essence of our being. It is essential that we know this Word by churning it over and over in our mind, and then meditating on it, until we realize its essence. Guru Kabir is saying that where this essence of the Word is not realized then that life is, indeed, cursed. By this he means that a person who has not realized his own essential nature which is the Word dwelling within, then he wanders in the world of desires and passions and suffers. Tranquility and bliss is attained when one realizes the Word.
shabdai mara gir para, shabdai chhora raj;
jin-jin shabd vivekiya, tinka sarigow kaj.
Being struck by the Word, one falls down, and one can also give up the whole kingdom;
Whoever deeply considers the Word will have his life’s goals fulfilled.
Guru Kabir is again speaking of the Power of the Word. To fall down means that you have become humble when you realize the Word. On realizing the Word and its Divine significance, a king will often give up his kingdom. History tells us that many kings have given up their kingdom to follow a saint. One who really considers the Word deeply and has the meaning imprinted on his heart, will find that his life runs very smoothly. He is contented and peaceful. His life is full of harmony. Whatever he undertakes, he undertakes with a very positive attitude and will often have success, whereas others may fail. God is the source of all power and well being. The person who realizes the Word of God is truly the blessed one.
shabd hamara adi ka, pal-pal karahu yad;
ant phalegi manhali, upar ki sab bad.
My Word is from the very beginning; remember it at every moment;
It will bear inner fruit, while all other words are useless.
In this sakhi Guru Kabir is saying that the Word that he has realized is from the very beginning and was co-eternal with God. He exhorts us to remember this Word from moment to moment, for it is this Word that gives enlightenment. It allows us to realize our own eternal nature. If we meditate on the Word then it will bear fruit within us. That means that our own consciousness will be elevated and enlightened. All other words that we use and think upon are only external, and they will not lead us to the treasure which we seek in spiritual life. Realization of the Self is an inner journey, and all words used in languages are of no use.
jin jin sambal na kiyo, as pur patan pai;
jhali pare din athaye, sambal kiyo na jai.
Whoever, being in a perfect city, does not take provisions for the journey, will not be able to obtain provisions when darkness falls, and the day has ended.
People are prone to procrastination. This is especially true when it comes to a religious or spiritual life. Most people, especially, when they are young tend to put off practicing a spiritual life until they are older. In youth they are more interested in the pleasures of the world. For this reason we do not find too many young people who are committed to a spiritual life.
In the above sakhi Guru Kabir points this out in simple and beautiful language. Sambal is the food people take on a journey. The city has every kind of food stuff and it is wise to take provisions for the journey from the city. If one does not do so and night falls while he is on the way, it will be very difficult for him to get food. The ‘city’ Guru Kabir refers to is the body, and the darkness is old age, ignorance, impairment of the senses, and mental and physical illness. The ‘day’ refers to youth. If in youth we do not take “provisions” when we have a healthy body by which we can obtain the necessary spiritual ‘food’ for life’s journey, then how are we going to obtain them when we are disabled and are suffering. In this connection Guru Kabir pointed out jo kal karna hai aj kar le, jo aj karna hai so ab kar le. “What you plan to do tomorrow, do today; what you plan to do today, do now.” Let us not procrastinate any longer. You can easily train and shape a young and growing tree, but not a fully grown one.
yahan i sambal kari le, age vishyi bat;
swarg bisahan sab chale, jahan baniya na hat.
Make provisions for your life here; the next path is full of lust.
All are trying to buy heaven, but there is no trader and no shop for obtaining it.
Guru Kabir instructs us in this sakhi that we must make provisions for our spiritual welfare in this human life. This will not be possible in any other form of life. The next path to which he refers is that which is different from the human life, i.e. the path of animal life. No animal is capable of making provisions for its spiritual welfare, ie., to obtain liberation. This is possible only in the human form. The animal life is characterized by four qualities 1. eating; 2. sleeping; 3. mating (procreation) and 4. defending. As you can see, the animal is concerned only with its food, sleeping, procreating and defending itself and its young, and has no conception, whatsoever, about God and liberation. It is felt that animals are there only to enjoy or suffer the consequences of karmas, and they cannot do anything about it. In human life, however, everyone can do something about his or her life in order to make it better, and to achieve a spiritual goal.
Guru Kabir says that people everywhere are occupied in religious activities in trying to attain heaven – literally, to ‘buy’ heaven. But, unfortunately, there is no seller and no shop where one can go and obtain heaven. The various external religious practices, such as going to church, pilgrimages and rituals, etc. will not buy heaven. A fortunate devotee can “obtain” heaven if he obtains a spiritual master who can show him the ‘inner spiritual path’, through which he can “obtain” it.
jo janahu jiw apana, karhu jiw ko sar,
jiyara aisa pahuna, mile na duji bar.
If you think of your human life as your own, then take good care of it. Human life is such a guest that it rarely comes a second time.
This sakhi is similar to the last one. We value human life dearly and try to preserve it at all cost, but often we neglect its spiritual welfare. It is only in the human life that we can elevate ourselves from spiritual darkness to spiritual enlightenment. Thus, Guru Kabir tells us to take “good care” of it, i.e. to purify ourselves and live a virtuous life and meditate on God, the only Reality, and obtain salvation. Unless we live a virtuous life, it is possible to slip back into lower life forms, in order to suffer out the effects of karmas. It will not then be possible to live a spiritual life. Be spiritual now.
jo janahu jag jiwana, jo janahu so jiw,
pani pachawahu apana, pani mangi na piw.
He who understands the mystery of life in this world, understands the soul.
He should digest his own water and not ask to drink the same water again.
This sakhi deals with the progressive advancement of the soul towards God realization. The whole mystery of life is based on the Law of Karma (action and reaction) made possible when the soul attaches itself with intellect, mind, ego, body, etc., and the three gunas (qualities). Actions then determine what happens in our lives – the present one, and future lives. The mysteries are such things as Why did God “create” us? How does the soul exist in us? What happens to the soul at death? Why is there suffering in “innocent” children and people? All of life is a mystery until we understand the soul in relation to God on the one hand, and with the body and mind on the other. Along the way we have to perform actions which can either elevate or lower us spiritually. But since we would like to enjoy happiness or bliss, or obtain salvation, then our actions should be noble and righteous, so that we progress higher with each succeeding life. Guru Kabir uses water, figuratively, to mean karmas. If we “digest” our karmas, then they are finished and will not produce undesirable effects. As we progress higher we should not indulge in the same karmas as previously, or else we will stagnate. Thus he instructs us not to drink the same water again.
pani piyawat kya phiro, ghar ghar sayar bari,
trishawant jo hoiga, piwega jhakh mari.
O Poet! Why do you wander from house to house offering water to others?
He who is thirsty will helplessly come to you to drink.
In this sakhi Guru Kabir refers to the guru or priest as the poet, and the guru mantra or spiritual instruction as the water. He asks the guru, what need is there to go about offering spiritual instructions to others, who are not ready for them? Those who are ready for spiritual instruction will, themselves, search for it and come to the source where it is available, just as one who is thirsty will seek out water. This sakhi can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, there are many so called gurus who travel about initiating people, in order to gain disciples, and thus make a living. Many of these disciples are not true seekers after spiritual wisdom. Secondly, a guru should not initiate – give spiritual instruction to – those who do not know its value, and prefer to remain in spiritual darkness.
hansa moti bikaniya, kanchan thar bharai,
jo jako marm na janai, so tako kahh karai.
The soul is sold for a golden dish full of pearls.
What can he do with it who does not know its value.
It is well known that in the world the majority of people will pursue material wealth. There are rare ones who will pursue spiritual wealth. Pearls here represent spiritual wisdom, or spiritual teachings, given by a master to his disciple. That disciple, who has the gift of spiritual discrimination, will be able to make use of the teachings, but the disciple, lacking spiritual discrimination, will not be able to make use of the divine teachings given by his master. In this sakhi Guru Kabir is pointing out to us what we should already know, but which we seem to disregard. As an example he stated “Though the bee is far away it will come to the flower attracted by its fragrance. What can the poor frog do though it is right on the lotus”. The injunction here is that we must not seek material treasures which cannot give us ultimate happiness, freedom, and liberation. We must seek the spiritual wealth by using our discriminative intelligence and attain salvation.
hansa tu subarn barn, kya barnow mai tohi;
tariwar pai paheliho, tabai sarahown tohi.
O Soul! You are of wondrous golden color; how can I adequately describe you.
Having obtained the human body, if you depart stainless, then I will truly appreciate you.
The soul exists in all beings. And because it is Divine in nature, Guru Kabir describes it as having a wondrous golden color. Yet, it is very difficult to describe the Soul, as it is beyond the comprehension of our material senses and mind. The word tariwar means a tree, and paheli means a riddle. Tree here refers to the body and the riddle is the riddle of existence, i.e. the soul emanating from God and inhabiting a body. It is the duty of the soul to purify itself and become stainless, i.e. free from all evils, passions, violence, etc., and to realize its unity with God – its source. Guru Kabir makes the point that although the soul is Divine in nature, if it is occupied with evils and passions, and thus becomes stained then, judging from our human stand-point, it has debased itself and is not of much value. On the other hand, if the soul purifies itself, and departs from this body, it will unite with God. Such a soul is worthy of appreciation. It is our duty in this life to live righteously, humbly, free from passions and material entanglement and to realize our unity with God.
hansa tu toh sabal tha, haluki apni chal
ranga kuranga rangiya, tain kiya owr lagwar
O soul! You were strong and your conduct was graceful;
Now you are colored with evil colors, and have made others your lover.
In this sakhi Guru Kabir is comparing the soul before and after taking on the human body. At first the soul was pure as it was part of God and possessed Divine qualities and spiritual strength. The soul, however, on taking a human body and coming into the world, becomes “colored” with the various colors of the world i.e.. entangled with worldly activities and passions, such as greed, pride, insincerity, lust, anger, corruption etc. In the human form it has forgotten its own true nature and its relationship with God. It has fallen in love with ego and material pursuits. We must understand, though, that the soul is potentially Divine. Only when it has become associated with the human attributes that it has become “evil”. Life’s purpose is to realize the Divinity of the soul and thus become free from the “evil colors”.
hansa sarwar taji chale, dehi parigow sun
kahahi kabir pukarike, tehi dar tehi thun
The swan departed from the pond leaving it lifeless.
Kabir proclaims that it has returned to the same door and the same pillar.
In this sakhi Guru Kabir compares the swan to the soul and the pond to the body. Just as the swan flies away from the pond, just so the soul leaves the body which becomes a corpse. He states, however, that the soul has returned to the same door and the same pillar, which means that the soul did not obtain liberation and had to return to the same material world, assuming a body again. As long as the soul is bound by desires of the material world, it will keep on returning here until it can free itself through spiritual growth and obtain liberation.
hans baku dekha ek rang, charen hariyare tal
hans chhir te janiye, bakuhi dharenge kal
We see that the swan and the crane have the same color, and move about in the same pond;
The swan is known by testing with milk, and the crane is immediately revealed.
Both the swan and the crane may be white but their natures are different. If we judge by external appearance, then we will be misled. If milk is used as a test, the swan will drink the milk but the crane will reject it. Furthermore, the crane is known for stalking and pouncing on the fish, and swallowing it whole. The swan is used to symbolize spiritual nature and the soul, but the crane is used to symbolize evil. The swan figuratively separates the milk from the water and drinks it, indicating it uses its discriminative intellect. The crane shows no such discriminative intellect. The lesson from this sakhi is that there are both spiritual and non-spiritual people in the world. The spiritual ones are revealed by their righteous living, whereas the non-spiritual ones are revealed by their evil desires and passions.
kahe harini dubri, yahi hariyare tal,
lachh aheri ek mrig, ketik taron bhal.
Oh deer! Why are you so emaciated when this pond is full of lush green vegetation.
There are a hundred thousand hunters and one doe. How can she save her head?
In this sakhi Guru Kabir is describing the plight of the soul. Although the soul dwells in God’s presence, it is deprived of that beneficial knowledge because it is caught up in the innumerable problems of existence. The soul becomes as helpless as the doe which is surrounded by hunters. The hunters here are the desires, passions, ego, greed, anxieties, attachments, etc., which govern people’s lives. As long as one does not use his intellect wisely and control his mind and seek out ‘spiritual food’, and obtain liberation, he will be killed by the ‘hunters’.
tin lok bhow pinjara, pap punya bhow jal,
sakal jiw sawaj bhaye, ek aheri kal.
The three worlds are like a cage, and sin and virtue are like a net;
All the souls have become prey and the one hunter is kal.
The three worlds are spoken of as heaven, earth and hell. The souls are thought to be confined to these three spheres of existence. These three, however, are the creation of the mind and they thus become the cage which entrap the soul within. Popular religion will thus say there is no escape from these three, and that one can be in any of the three depending upon one’s spiritual attainment, or lack of it. From the point of view of the soul there is no need to create hell and heaven because is a continuum from the unspiritual to the higher spiritual level, and there is no clear dividing line which can state that a soul deserves to be in either hell or heaven.
Similarly, sin and virtue are like a net woven by the mind, and the latter becomes trapped in it, being buffeted from one side to the other. What is thought of as being sinful can really be thought of as error, due to inadequate knowledge or spiritual development. Thus the concept of sin can be dispensed with. However, since we live with these concepts, they serve as a net to trap us.
Kal is time and everything is subject to change, decay or death in time. This is why time is thought to be the one hunter from which nothing escapes. This is so only from our relative human stand point, but not from the eternal stand point of the soul. The soul, being Divine, is eternal and is beyond the scope of time, space and death.
The teaching of this sakhi is that if we live a Divine life, then we can dispense with the ideas of heaven, earth, hell, sin, virtue and time. As Guru Kabir has pointed out “No one has returned from the other side to tell us what it is like.”
lobhe janm gamaiya, papai khaya pun;
sadhi so adhi kahai, tapar mera khun.
Greed makes you waste your life, and evil actions nullify the good actions;
If you belittle a devotee than I am annoyed.
We all know that greed brings a lot of distress and will often get us into trouble. Contentment is definitely better than greed. Similarly, if you wish to reap the benefits of virtuous actions, then you must avoid evil actions. Evil thoughts and actions can never bring good. Similarly, good thoughts and actions can never bring evil. Guru Kabir is saying that devotees practice a righteous life, but there are many people who criticize the spiritual person. He states that he is annoyed or angry with those people who look down upon the devotees of God and either scorn or punish then. We need to have respect for the devotees, for they undergo a great deal of austerity and self control in order to maintain their spiritual status. Instead we should learn from them how to elevate our own lives.
adhi sakhi sir khari, jo niruwari jai;
kya pandit ki pothiya, rat diwas mili gai.
Half the time death is hanging on your head. Remove it if you can.
What use are the pandit’s books, which day and night sing of removing it?
Death is ever “standing” on our heads and we do not know at what time it will strike. We must thus always be prepared for death. The best way to be prepared for death is to free ourselves from the various entanglements in the world. We must free ourselves from the various passions of ego, greed, hate, prejudice, etc., and make our minds pure. Books will often describe in detail the benefit to be derived from spiritual life. They will talk about liberation from this world of bondage. People will read these books and feel that they have gained a great deal of knowledge, and are ready to face death. Guru Kabir is saying, on the other hand, that reading all these books only gives you book knowledge and will not prepare you in a practical way to be a spiritual person and to face death fearlessly. A person must develop into a spiritual being in all spheres of activities i.e. thought, word and deed. These, accompanied by purity of heart, will make him fit to enter into a knowledge of God. He then faces death fearlessly, realizing that death is only a transition to another life.
panch tatva ka putara, yukti rachi main kiw;
main tohi puchhow pandita, shabd bada ki jiw.
God made this body skilfully with the five elements and the body cried “I”, ” I”.
I ask you O Pandit! Is the Word greater or is the Soul?
Using the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, God made this body very skilfully. In the gyan gudri it is figuratively stated that God used the Word as the needle, Meditation as the thread, Knowledge as the stitch, and made this body in a marvellous way just as a quilt is made of various pieces of cloth. Without God this body can have no existence. Yet one becomes full of ego and utters “I”, “I”, taking credit for his existence and accomplishments. Guru Kabir put the pandit into a quandary by asking him whether the Word or the Soul is greater. All existences proceeded from the Word of God; also every Soul was contained in God and is co-eternal with God. In this case the Soul refers to man with a body of five elements which, must, of necessity, come into existence by the power of the Word. Thus it can be seen that the Word is greater than the Soul.
panch tatva ka putara, manush dhariya nawn;
ek kala ke bichhure, vikal hot sab thawn.
The body is made of five elements and is named human;
If deprived of one element, it becomes restless at every step.
The body is made of five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether. Being with the body have we been named ‘human’ i.e. who use the mind (man). If this body is deprived of one element e.g. air, then it becomes restless and dies. This indicates the fragility of the human body. There is no need to be engrossed in pride and ego.
Esoterically speaking, the one element Guru Kabir refers to here is knowledge of the Self. Without knowledge of the real Self which is God dwelling within, man does not achieve peace of mind – the peace that passeth all understanding. He is caught up in a merry-go-around of the material world, and is driven by cravings and passions which keep him in turmoil all his life. Every person desires peace of mind and happiness. These can be achieved only by that Supreme Knowledge which gives total freedom. That Supreme Knowledge is of the Self.
rangahi te rang upaje, sab rang dekha ek;
kown rang hai jiw ka, taka karahu vivek.
One color arises from another color, but basically all colors are one;
What is the color of the Soul? Try to understand the difference.
One color arises from another color as is well known. The primary colors – red, blue and green – can be mixed to produce a number of secondary colors and these secondary colors can be mixed to produce an endless variety of tertiary colors. Guru Kabir is using this analogy to state that the various forms that exist in the universe are derived from the same basic form, which is termed matter and which is unconscious. This unconscious matter exists in endless variety, but nevertheless, they remain gross matter and lifeless. He then asks the question about what color is the Soul. And he says that we must try to understand what is the difference between the soul and matter. Is the soul conscious, or unconscious? Is it physical, or non-physical? Is it reproducible as various colors, or various forms of matter, or is it non-reproducible and unitary? Does it have form, or is it formless? These and similar questions are implied in this question asked by Guru Kabir. Every person who is a true seeker of spiritual understanding must, at some point, try to understand what the Soul is, because by this understanding one understands one’s real Self.
jagrat rupi jiw hai, shabd sohaga set;
jard bund jal kukuhi, kahahi kabir koi dekh.
The soul’s nature is wakefulness and the Word purifies it as white borax purifies gold;
Kabir says that the body is like the wild hen produced from a pale drop. Hardly anyone understands it.
This sakhi expresses a profound metaphysical fact. The soul is non-material and derived from God. As such it is of the nature of consciousness and free from all defects. It is purity itself. But on coming into the world, occupying a body, it becomes tainted with worldly things and loses its original consciousness of itself and its source. The Word of God imparted by a spiritual teacher is like the white borax which is used to purify gold. Just as the gold becomes pure, just so the soul is made to realize its own purity. Guru Kabir uses the example of the body being formed from a pale drop which represents semen. The body develops after the semen fertilizes the ovum. The body by itself, devoid of the soul, is inert matter and it has no consciousness. With the soul it becomes a conscious being. However, if it does not seek the Word then it remains like the wild hen, not growing in wisdom and spirituality. The purpose of life is to realize what the soul is and its connection with God. Guru Kabir states that hardly do people understand this kind of knowledge.
panch tattv le ya tan kinha, so tan le kahi le dinha;
karmahi ke bas jiw kahat hai, karmahi ko jiw dinha.
The body is made of five elements. Getting the body, what have you done with it?
It is said that karmas control the soul and that the soul is given to perform karmas.
This body is made up of five gross elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether. These are not the chemical elements of chemistry, but are the solids, liquids, heat, air and space which composed the body. These are necessary for all material manifestation when they are combined in various proportions. The body is the gift of God which the soul acquires. God is the Giver. If the recipient does not use a gift properly, the giver becomes unhappy about it. Similarly, God would like to know that the recipient of the body uses that body properly. Thus Guru Kabir asked the question “What have you done with it?”
This sakhi touches upon the Law of Cause and Effect. It is the Law of Karma. Once the soul acquires the body, it begins to partake in various activities. These determine what the soul will do in the future. If a person performs karmas that will keep him entangled in the material world, then, after death, the soul must return in another body in order to reap its reward and punishments. It is impossible to live without performing actions, but all saints have taught that one must become detached from actions i.e. perform them without the motive of personal gain. This is a vast topic which cannot be fully explained here. But until the soul becomes free of karmas it cannot obtain salvation. It is in this way that karmas control the soul by making it be born over and over again in the cycle of birth and death.
panch tattv ke bhitare, gupt bastu asthan;
birla marm koi pai hain, guru ke shabd praman.
Inside the body of five elements is the place of a hidden thing.
Hardly does anyone know this secret. The guru’s word is the only authority.
The body is made of five gross elements but, of itself, is only matter, and therefore lifeless. The soul is imperceptible, but it animates the body and maintains life. We do not really know what the soul is. The importance of the guru is that he is able to teach you authoritatively what the soul is. He also instructs you how to proceed by delving inwards through introspection and meditation to obtain an understanding of the soul. Unless you understand and have a personal knowledge of what the soul is, and what is its relationship with God, you will remain on the fringes of religion and spiritual life. You must reach the core of spiritual life in order to obtain liberation. That core is that ‘hidden thing’ which resides within the body.
asunn takhat adi asana, pind jharokhe nur;
take dil me hown basa, saina liye hajur.
He who sits on the steadfast throne of realization, has light shinning from the window (heart) of his body;
I, with my army, dwell in the heart of such a devotee.
The devotee who is God realized is steadfast in his knowledge of God. He is thus said to be seated on a steadfast throne of realization. This means that he cannot be shaken from his knowledge of realization because he no longer has any doubts about himself, about God, and about God’s manifestation in the universe. He lives a spiritual life and manifests the qualities of God. He is thus said also to have light shining from his heart. This means that his life is illuminated by the Light of God. All the noble qualities of God shine forth from him. Guru Kabir is speaking as God Himself here, and He says that He dwells in the heart of such a devotee with His army. The army here refers to the qualities possessed by God. These qualities are knowledge, bliss, purity, love, forgiveness, harmony and other such qualities which we ascribe to God. All devotees aspire to attain such a state of God Realization, but that realization depends on the devotee’s sincerity, devotion and commitment to reaching such a goal. Once he obtains such a state, he becomes an illumined soul or a God realized soul.
hridia bhitar arasi, mukh dekha nahin jai;
mukh to tabahi dekhiho, jab dil ki dubidha jai.
The mirror is in your heart, but you cannot see your face in it;
You will see your face only when you remove all doubts from your heart.
The mirror is really the mind which reflects what you really are. Just as a dirty mirror cannot reflect a clear image, just so an impure mind cannot reflect what you truly are. When the mind is full of impure thoughts, passions, and various types of greed, attachments, etc., then it will not be able to see God who is the Real Being within as the Soul. The mind must be purified in order to see yourself, just as you clean the mirror to see your face clearly. Guru Kabir says “If you wish to see yourself in the mirror then you must keep it clean; if the mirror becomes dirty, how can you see yourself?” Spiritual life consists in systematically purifying the mind, thus freeing it from all impurities in thought, word and deed. This is the only way to realize God within yourself and obtain liberation.
gawn unche pahar par, ow mota ki bahh;
kabir as thakur seiye, ubariye jaki chhahh.
Kabir says that one should live on a high mountain and hold on to the arm of a strong person;
One should serve such a master under whose refuge one can get liberation.
Guru Kabir advises that one should live on a high mountain and hold on to the arm of a strong person. By the high mountain he refers to living in an elevated spiritual state, free from the material and mental bondages of the world. Just as one living on a high mountain escapes a flood, just so a person living in a spiritually high state will avoid being trapped by maya (illusion). The strong person refers to a guru, or spiritual teacher, who has the requisite knowledge and ability to help one to live in a high spiritual state. By taking refuge under such a master one can obtain liberation. The lotus is often used to symbolize such a spiritual state of living. Just as the lotus grows from the mud but itself remains pure and unsoiled, just so the devotee can live in the world but remain free from its turmoil and material, mental and emotional bondage. The alternative is to continue in this world of maya (illusion) and be subject to rebirths according to the Law of Karma.
jehi marag gaye pandita, tei gayi bahir;
unchi ghati ram ki, tehi chadhi rahai kabir.
The path followed by the pandits is also the same one followed by the worldly people;
But Ram’s abode is very high, and Kabir has climbed there.
In this sakhi Guru Kabir testifies to the fact that the pandits (priests) follow the same path, or way of life, as followed by the average worldly person. That means, in effect, that the priests are usually not much better than the average person who is pursuing the worldly life, and are living for the satisfaction of their desires and external pursuits. They are not truly seeking to attain liberation, or the realization of God who dwells within as the Conscious Spirit. They are often pre-occupied with their dogmas, rituals and rigidly controlled doctrines which do not give them freedom. Only a few people strive to realize God and those are the mystics. It is for this reason that the sakhi states that God’s abode is high (on a high mountain). It requires a great deal of self-discipline and effort to climb there. Kabir states that he has climbed that steep path and reached the abode of God.
ye kabir tain utari rahu, tero sambal paro na sath;
sambal ghate pagu thake, jiw birane hath.
Kabir says, “Come down from your high path as you have run out of supplies;
When you run out of supplies, and your feet are tired, you are at the mercy of others.”
In this sakhi Guru Kabir is instructing a devotee who wants to obtain liberation and is following a spiritual path, but who does not have adequate preparation, or faith and devotion in his heart. He, therefore, is short of adequate supplies, figuratively. When a person is traveling in a foreign country, and he runs out of supplies or funds, and he becomes tired, he is at the mercy of others. Similarly, when a devotee is traveling on the spiritual path and he has not prepared himself by developing the proper virtues of love, humility, kindness and contentment, and giving up the passions of lust, anger, greed, hate, etc., then he will find himself in a difficult position. Instead of attaining God Realization, he will find that he is at the mercy of kal (negative power). It is precisely this condition which prevailed in the lives of prominent television evangelists who have been scandalized by actions unbecoming of people in their positions in the church. The same applies to other people who want to be on a spiritual path but do not examine their behavior and clear their consciences, and are still hoping to attain liberation.
kabir ka ghar sikhar par, jahan silahali gail;
pawn na tike pipil ka, tahan khalkan ladai bail.
Kabir’s house is on the mountain top where the path is very slippery;
Where the ant’s legs cannot get a foot hold, there the people wish to go with loaded bullocks.
This sakhi deals with the spiritual height attained by saints. By the mountain top Kabir, figuratively, means the pinnacle of spiritual perfection which he attained and where he dwelt, meaning that he dwelt with God. The path to God is very slippery because most people cannot live a real and true spiritual life, in order to gain the illumination of God in this life. If an ant’s legs cannot gain a foot hold on such a path, then how can a bullock loaded with goods travel on that path? The load refers to pride, ego, and vanity along with other passions with which people fill their lives. These must be discarded if one wishes to travel on the path to God. We know that the ant can walk on almost any surface, yet it has trouble to walk on the path, figuratively, to God. The ant, however, belongs to the material world and lives by instinct and has no consciousness of Divinity. Thus the ant, in spite of its agility, cannot travel on the spiritual path. There are many people like the ant who have perfected themselves in many ways, but still have their hearts full of ego, and thus they also cannot reach God. Everywhere in his teachings Guru Kabir has instructed people how they have to travel in order to reach the “mountain top” where God dwells.
binu dekhe waha desh ki, bat kahe so kur;
apuhi khari khat hai, bechat phirai kapur.
Without experiencing that country (God Realization) whoever talks about it is foolish;
He, himself, eats bitter things and wanders about selling camphor.
There are many teachers and preachers of heaven and God, and spiritual life. Many of these same people are still victims of their own passions, cravings, selfishness, intolerance and greed. If we could read their minds what a shocking story their minds would tell! These people, nevertheless, preach from the pulpits of various denominations and religions and try to take other people to God. In this sakhi Guru Kabir states that such people are foolish. If they do not have God Realization within themselves, how can they impart that to others? They are themselves bound by their human frailties, yet they go about teaching others of righteousness. Thus Guru Kabir states that such people eat bitter things (cravings and passions) and wander about selling camphor which they do not possess. Elsewhere, Guru Kabir has stated that such people are like the blind leading the blind and they both fall into the well. We should rouse ourselves from our spiritual lethargy, throw our narrow conceptions and dogmas aside, and awaken to the light of God shining in all.
shabd shabd sab koi kahai, wo toh shabd videha;
jibhya par awai nahi, nirakhi parakhi kari leha.
All people say “shabd”, “shabd” (the Word), but that shabd is bodiless;
It does not come to the tongue; examine it and understand it.
People all over the world talk of the Word, the Word of God. The world was created from the Word. But do they really understand what the Word is? Guru Kabir says that this Word is bodiless and by talking of It, It does not become a part of one’s own being. He states that the Word does not come to the tongue, therefore when you utter the Word, you are not in fact, uttering the Word, but only a sound symbol of what the Word actually is. He tells us to examine it, and understand it.
The Word and God cannot be separated. Neither can the Word be separated from living beings. God and His Power, or the Word, are never separate. God manifests in all beings everywhere and it is that God Energy that produces and sustains life. God has no name and whatever terms we use to name God remain only our Word symbols for God. God can thus have as many names as we wish to ascribe to Him. Nevertheless, God remains God, unfathomable to our bodily senses. God can be examined and known only through an inner cleansing process to attain purity of the mind and heart, and to allow God to manifest within. God is in secret and He will be seen in secret. One must attain this through meditation. When one understands the Word, one becomes enlightened and free from the material bondage of the world.
parbat upar har bahai, ghoda chadhi basai gawn;
bin phul bhownra ras chahai, kahu birwa ko naun.
God consciousness flows on the mountain top and the horse (mind) climbs to dwell in that village;
The bee (soul) wishes to drink the nectar though there is no flower. What is the name of that tree (which produces the flower and nectar)?
This sakhi deals with the mystical concept of union with God. The mountain top refers to the summit, or void, as described in meditation. The horse is the mind which the yogi must control, so that he can climb to that summit and dwell in that village where God dwells. The bee is the soul which always longs to drink the nectar of God Realization, but how can there be nectar without the flower. Mystically, the tree is the body which produces the flower (which makes it possible to have the nectar of God union). In other words, the yogi, or devotee, starts with his body. He then uses his mind which he must control, so that the mind can rise to realize God consciousness in meditation. In that exalted state of meditation the soul which has been athirst for union with God, merges into that God consciousness and its sense of individuality disappears. The bondage which the soul had accumulated in the course of its worldly existence is immediately abolished, and the soul realizes liberation. The same idea and process has been expressed in various ways by all saints and saviours of the world. It is the only way in which to obtain liberation from the clutches of worldly existence. All people who adhere to a religion and aspire to liberation, must eventually go through this process to reach their desired goal.
chandan bas niwarahu, tujh karan ban katiya;
jiyat jiw jani marahu, muye sarv nipatiya.
O sandal wood! Give up your fragrance; because of your the forest is cut.
Do not destroy living beings. At death all will be destroyed.
In this sakhi Guru Kabir uses the figure of speech of personification. He uses the sandal wood to represent the human being. Because of the sandal wood people will cut down other trees in order to obtain the sandal wood for use. A human being, similarly, cuts down other lives either for food or for other reasons. The fragrance of the sandal wood represents the desires and passions of the human being. Because of the fragrance the sandal wood and other wood along with it are cut, just so, because of desires, man destroys other life. Guru Kabir, who teaches total non-violence towards other living beings, instructs that we should not kill living beings. Death will come soon enough and all living beings will be destroyed anyway. It is not in our hands to destroy what God has created and which we cannot create.
chandan sarp lapetiya, chandan kahh karai;
rom rom vish bhiniya, amrit kahan samai.
The snake wraps itself on the sandal wood tree. What can the sandal wood do?
When every hair of the body is soaked with poison, how can nectar get in?
In this sakhi Guru Kabir uses the snake to symbolize the passions and evils which people have, and the sandal wood tree to represent the human being. The sandal wood grows in the forest and often snakes will entwine themselves on the tree as occurs in any forest. The snake may be full of poison and the sandal wood is full of fragrance which people seek. Similarly, a person may be full of the passions of lust, greed, anger, ego, and vanity, etc., and his life may be colored by hate and intolerance. A person living this life really does not leave much room for love, beauty, harmony and righteousness to enter into his life. Just as a sandal wood is helpless in removing the snake from itself, just so, people caught up in these passions and negative feelings and behavior, have difficulty in extricating themselves through lack of self discipline and exertion of their will, and they become unwitting slaves to their own passions and desires and evil tendencies. This is not truly a human way of living. Every human being should realize his Divine origin, and live in such a way that the love, beauty and harmony of God manifest through him.
jyon modad samsan shil, sabai rup samsan,
kahahi kabir waha sawaj ki gati, tabki dekhi bhukan
Just as a crystalline stone reflects the colour and form of every object placed near it,
Just so the dog sees itself reflected and barks at it, says Kabir.
A crystalline or polished stone behaves like a mirror and will reflect any colour or form of an object placed in front of it. In this sakhi Kabir uses the crystalline stone to symbolize man’s mind and the dog is the man himself. Whatever the man is, that is what he will reflect in his mind. The saying “as a man thinketh so he is” carries the same meaning. People are full of various types of emotions, passions and feelings and they react to them by reflecting mentally, either anger, frustration, dejection, depression, or happiness, contentment, peace and love. Just as the dog seeing itself reflected and he barks at the reflection, just so, people react to the various emotional states by reflecting them in their mind.
In this sakhi Guru Kabir teaches that the dog foolishly barks at its own reflection, thinking that it is another dog. People should not be foolish like the dog and keep on reacting to their varied emotional states, passions and frustrations, etc. People should understand themselves and develop self-control, and maintain an equanimity of mind. This is very important for all of humanity, as it is the path to peace and happiness.
gahi tek chhorai nahi, jibh chonch jari jai;
aiso tapt angar hai, tahi chakor chabai.
Once you accept a vow do not give it up, even though the tongue and beak get burned.
Even though such heat is in burning charcoal, still the chakor eats it.
There is a popular legend in India with reference to the chakor (bird). On seeing the moon it becomes so enraptured that it forgets itself and even pecks at burning charcoal. Guru Kabir uses the example of this bird as adhering to its vow of adoring the moon that even if it gets scorched it does not give up its adoration. People should, similarly, make up their minds and stick to whatever decision they have arrived at. If they remain firm-minded, they will never turn back from their goal, in spite of difficult circumstances. Guru Kabir teaches that a person should have whole-hearted devotion and be prepared to undergo some austerities in order to achieve Self-realization. Life is not a bed of roses; it has thorns, but that should not prevent one from following a spiritual life.
chakor bharose chandra ke, niglai tapt angar,
kahai kabir dahai nahi, aisi bastu lagar.
The chakor, being reliant on the moon, eats burning charcoal;
Kabir says that he does not get burned – such being the attachment to a noble one.
In Hindu mythology there is a bird called the chakor. It longs to see the moon and on seeing it, the bird becomes entranced. In such a state it even pecks at burning embers but it does not get burned. It is similar to a person under hypnosis and given the suggestion that he will not feel pain or get burned with a flame. Guru Kabir uses the chakor bird to explain the type of relationship we must develop with God. If we become so attached to God and enraptured in Him, then we will not be burned by any of the troubles of this world. We will rise above the passions, doubts, intolerance and bigotry. We will develop contentment and happiness in life. We will take part in noble actions and keep noble company, and steadily grow in spiritual wisdom. What else is really important in life?
jhilmill jhagra jhulate, baki chhuti na kahu;
gorakh atke kalpur, kown kahawai sahu.
Everyone swings in the scintillating light of the world; no one can escape it.
Even Gorakh was trapped in the city of Kal (this world). Who then can be called noble?
This world is full of many very attractive things for people, here described as scintillating light. Just as a moth is drawn to a light and often is burned to death, just so many people are attracted to the things of this world which also, figuratively, scorch them to death. No one can escape it. Gorakhnath was a famous yogi who did a great deal of austerity. Even he was subject to mortal death like anyone else. If such a great yogi had to go through this world ending in death, then what can be said of the average person.
In yoga, the scintillating light can be seen in meditation, and it is a sign of being on the path, but yet, a long distance to go. Many yogis often end up arguing about the scintillating light, and be entangled in the same problem. This type of activity shows that one has not yet reached God Realization and, therefore, is still in bondage to this material world, and will end up in death without attaining liberation.
gorakh rasiya yog ke, muye na jari deha,
mas gali mati mili, karo manji deha.
Gorakh was very fond of Hatha Yoga and, when he was departing his life in Hatha Yoga, he instructed his disciples not to burn the body.
His flesh melted and mixed with the soil, in spite of his punishing it uselessly with the practice of Hatha Yoga.
Gorakhnath was a famous and an accomplished Hatha Yogi. He was able to purify his body through his practices. Because of his yogic powers he was able to practice his yoga and go into death. His body, nevertheless, melted and mixed with the earth like the body of anyone else. He did not achieve immortality of the body, in spite of his pride and Hatha Yogic achievement. Guru Kabir advises that mere physical training in yoga without, at the same time, training the mind in the highest spiritual attainment and obtaining God realization, then the mere physical practices of yoga are not, in the end, beneficial. You see, spiritual attainment is achieved through the mind and the spirit, and the body is merely the vehicle for its attainment. When one lavishes effort and time on the vehicle and not on the mind and the spirit, then one is doomed to failure.
ban te bhaga bihade para, karha apni ban;
bedan karha kaso kahai, ko karha ko jan.
According to his nature of running, the hare runs from the jungle and falls into a dreadful trap;
To whom shall the hare tell his trouble, and who will understand it.
This allegorical statement is used by Guru Kabir to explain the condition in which people find themselves according to their natures. The hare has a habit of running from one bush to another, and because of this habit he can fall into a trap from which he cannot escape. Just so people fall into the traps of materialism, illusion, doubts, passions, anxieties, depressions, religious and racial intolerance, pride and vanity, etc. People are engulfed in these because of their various natures, attitudes, knowledge and beliefs. Once each person is caught in his particular trap or set of traps, to whom can he tell his trouble as there will hardly be anyone who can understand his trouble from his own view point. Other people are also caught in their own traps, and escape to freedom becomes very difficult. Freedom can be obtained only by purifying one’s life and living nobly according to the highest spiritual ideals as taught by the great gurus and saviours of the world. If people follow their natural natures (inclinations) prompted by things of the material world, then it is difficult for them to obtain freedom.
bahut diwas te hindiya, sunya samadhi lagai;
karha para gadh me, duri para pachhitai.
Hatha Yogis, trying for many days to obtain samadhi in the depth of silence, do not find that state of bliss.
They repent, just as a rabbit which falls into a ditch and repents, being far away from its destination.
Unless God is firmly established in one’s heart and becomes a working and motivating power in that person’s life, he will not be able to obtain the bliss of union with God. There are many yogis who become adept in Hatha Yoga, and they long for union with God in the state called samadhi. But they do not obtain it because they are preoccupied with their yogic practices. They have, figuratively, fallen into a ditch or a hole from which they are not able to escape. It is the same as a rabbit which falls into a deep ditch and is not able to escape. The rabbit repents for its sorry state and for not reaching its destination. Just so, the Hatha yogi repents for not obtaining God union. External practices fail to give God realization. Becoming pure and humble allows God to motivate all actions. One has to be totally immersed in the Consciousness of God before one can obtain that bliss of union with Him.
kabir bharam na bhajiya, bahubidhi dhariya bhesh,
sai ke parchawate, antar rahi gai resh.
O Kabir! Man does not escape from doubts even when he assumes many outward forms;
Without realization of the Master in the heart, the stain of doubts remained.
People following certain religions will put on the external garb of that religion. Thus we find people wearing robes of different colours, sandal marks, caps, rosaries, crucifixes, turbans, sacred threads and garlands, or carry other symbols of their religious order. These external trappings do not cleanse the heart of these adherents. Their lives do not become pure and spiritual because of their adornments. Guru Kabir states that they are still full of doubts, and that they cannot fathom the divinity of the Master who resides within their own hearts. This teaching is so simple and yet people, even those who feel they are following a true religious path, find it difficult to understand what is a true spiritual life. Unless people awaken to the truth of spiritual life, they will continue in doubt and continually search for liberation.
binu dande jag dandiya, sorath pariya dand,
bat nihare lobhiya, gur te mithi khand.
People of this world suffer without being punished, just as the people of Sorath were.
They are greedy, seeing the attractions of the world, just as they like the sweeter sugar than molasses.
Sorath was the ancient name of the Gujarat state. At one time the government inflicted severe punishment on the people without any apparent wrong doing. Guru Kabir uses this incident to indicate that people in this world suffer punishments without actually being punished by anyone else. This is so because they bring punishment upon themselves according to their own actions in thought, word and deed. People feel that they are not doing anything wrong as far as they can see from a secular viewpoint. However, as long as they are not pure in heart and live a truly spiritual life, they will have to suffer the consequences of their own actions.
This world is full of many attractions which allure people. This illusory nature of worldly things is spoken of as maya. Maya has a great hold on the minds of people. They feel that it is sweeter than living a spiritual life and doing devotion to god. Guru Kabir compares this so called sweetness of maya to the sweetness of sugar which is preferred by the people to the molasses. Yet molasses is the forerunner of the sugar and is even more nutritious. Yet people prefer the sweetness of the empty calories of the sugar.
To the extent that people are allured by the evanescent attractions of the world, to that same extent they are depriving themselves from spiritual growth and eternal happiness.
malyagir ki bas me, briksh raha sab goy;
kahabe ko chandan bhaya, malyagir na hoy.
Living in the fragrance of the Malyagir, all the trees look like the sandal tree.
For name-sake they are called sandal, but they cannot be the real sandal wood trees.
The Malyagir is a mountain made famous by its sandal wood trees. People passing by the mountain get the fragrance of the sandal wood and would think that all the trees on the mountain are sandal wood trees. Thus even the trees which are not sandal wood would, in a manner of speaking, be called sandal wood trees. Although they have the fragrance of the sandal wood, they are not sandal wood themselves.
Guru Kabir is pointing out in this sakhi that people may associate with, or live among, saintly people or true devotees of God. That does not, however, make them true devotees of God. Although other people may deem them worthy of worship and may, in fact, do so, they still remain what they are unless they develop the true characteristics of a devotee of God. The trees on the Malyagir will often take on the fragrance of the sandal wood tree, but they are not themselves sandal wood. Their inner core continues to be that of the particular species of trees. Just so the inner core of people who associate with devotees need not be purified, nor reach an exalted state of spiritual realization. Their association with real devotees is only superficial.
malyagir ki bas men, bedha dhak palas,
bena kabahu na bedhiya, jug jug rahiya pas.
All the common trees like dhak and palas growing on the Maliyagir mountain become impregnated with the fragrance of sandalwood;
But the bamboo, though it grows among the sandal wood for ages, cannot be impregnated with the fragrance.
The Maliyagir is the famous mountain perfumed by the fragrance of sandal wood. All the common trees which have woody stems absorb the fragrance and, in turn, become like sandal wood themselves because of that fragrance. The bamboo, however, has a hollow stem and cannot take on the fragrance of the sandal wood. The lesson Guru Kabir wishes to impart in this sakhi is that we must be like the trees which can absorb the fragrance. In other words, we must be able to absorb spiritual teachings and grow in spiritual consciousness in order to purify our lives and attain liberation. If, however, we are hollow like the bamboo, then we will not be able to absorb the true spiritual teachings imparted to us by the guru and thus, we will not evolve in spiritual consciousness. We will remain entangled through karmas and maya, and will be subject to rebirths until we begin to absorb the Truth in spiritual life and obtain liberation.
chalte chalte pagu thaka, nagra raha now kosh;
bichahi men dera para, kahahu kown ko dosh.
By walking and walking my feet became tired, and the city of my destination is nine koshas away;
In the midst of the journey, I had to rest; tell me whose fault is it?
The walking referred to here is wandering from place to place in pilgrimage, or from religion to religion, or from one teaching to another, or performing one ritual after another, etc. One does not reach the destination. The destination is the city where God dwells. It is realized in meditation. This state is reached after crossing a long distance which, figuratively, are all the obstacles in the way, such as the mind, ego, passions and desires. While on the journey of this life one has to stop at a resting place which is, figuratively, death. The destination has not been reached. Guru Kabir asked Whose fault is it if you have not reached your destination. You have been wasting your time going in various alleys and byways, instead of following the highway, which lead straight to the eternal city of Self- realization and enlightenment.