The Tree of Knowledge
Kabir was a Universal Man who refused to be labelled a Hindu or a Muslim. Nor did he tolerate attempts by any community to appropriate God for itself and to claim to be His only spokesman. He expressed what he believed to be the truth without mincing words, in his rustic language — direct, blunt and full of vigour. In the process he made enemies among the Pandits and the Mullas but he won the admiration of ordinary village folk — tillers, pot makers, weavers, fishermen, and the like.
Kabir was born in 1389 AD at Varanasi in North India. According to legend he was born to a Brahmin widow and abandoned by the hapless mother. The child was found by a Muslim couple, Niru and Nimma, who belonged to the Julaha or weaver community. Growing up in the foster parents’ house he imbibed knowledge of the Islamic faith and ethics. In his youth, Kabir had the renowned saint Ramanand, a great exponent of the Bhakti cult, as his preceptor, and this enabled him to imbibe equally the principles and ethics of Sanatan Dharma deeply and extensively.
By his innate talent, Kabir was able to bring about a synthesis of the two great faiths, taking the best of both. He also took note of the weak points of both faiths and through his songs and dohas tried to help restore understanding and tolerance between the two communities instead of engaging in feuds over inessential points of detail relating to their respective faiths and differences of caste, creed, colour, language, etc., which Kabir considered irrelevant. He succeeded in great measure in neutralizing the misunderstandings between them by focusing their attention on the fundamental principles enunciated by the two faiths, through love and devotion to the Lord, love of fellowmen, compassion towards all and the moral precepts of good and noble living which are identical in both cases.
Kabir had no formal schooling. He preferred to remain illiterate, content with learning the two letters which make the name of his Supreme God, Raama. He gained his deep insight and wisdom from the book of life. His marvellous sense of music lent charm to his poems and dohas which flowed from his lips as exquisite poetry. Kabir firmly proclaimed the oneness of humanity as all men are created by the same Almighty Father and are made of the same five elements. The following couplets go to establish this:
Same is the semen, skin, urine
Same is the blood and bone
From single source we all are born
How one is Sudra the other Brahman?
Says Kabir, all are born as human
That is what we all know
The cunning deceptor has devised
the castes high and low.
We all hail from that far off land
And reach here on earth
Touched by the winds that blow here
Each pursues his different path.
Kabir has been acknowledged as one of the greatest poets who have given the minutest details of the whole history of human thought. The poet does not write but utters, and his speech scores much above the authority of all scholarship of written thought. In short Kabir was “not of an age, but for all time.” Going through the rich store of his dohas, scholars have been struck by the depth and sweep of his insight and deep concern for the well-being of humanity. As such it would be extremely difficult to hazard a synthesis of his message, so wide, so penetrating and so all-pervasive is it.
One of his significant messages is that man has been created in the image of god, the soul in him (Jivatma) being a part of the Supreme Soul (Paramatma). Man must, therefore, cleanse his mind and heart, as that is the abode of God. He should not expect God to reside in an unclean house. He should also shed all doubts of his mind. The following couplets make this abundantly clear:
Musk is in the navel of deer
But he seeks it in the thicket
So God dwells in every creature
Alas! Man sees Him not in his own heart.
As oil in the oil seed
As in Whet-stone fire
So within you is your Sire
Wake up and see Him there
If you want to see the face
You must keep the mirror clean
But if the mirror is kept unclean
You cannot see the face therein
You have the mirror in your heart
But the face you cannot find
You can see the visage there
If you dispel the doubts of mind
According to Kabir the ultimate aim of man is to realise the Supreme Soul (God) or in other words to attain salvation, and he can succeed in this if he cleanses his mind, abandons anger, pride, lust, attachment and ego, loves his fellowmen and makes earnest efforts to realise Him. These are clearly reflected in the following couplets:
I have cleansed my mind,
Pure as Ganges water.
The Lord now runs after me I find;
Calling Kabir, Kabir.
You work and produce;
Feed yourself and others too.
No religion is of greater value,
Than love of beings around you.
If your pride you cannot forsake,
What use discarding attachment.
Pride doth the sage unmake;
It eats up all, sinner and saint.
Kabir laid great stress on purity of the mind. After purifying his mind, man then becomes as simple as a child. And then God Himself runs after him and fulfils all his ambitions including salvation. He considered purity even more rewarding than devotion. He declared and warned in unmistakable terms that human life is not granted again and again. It is a rare prize won by good conduct and single-minded devotion to the Creator and complete surrender to Him. Man has the chance to pave the way for the soul in him (Jivatma) to unite in the Supreme Soul (Paramatma) by his own efforts in this life or to slide back into the birth-death cycle by pursuing the wrong track. He must beware and follow the right path for his own salvation in his mind, words and deeds (Manasa, Karmana, Vacha). There is no time for him to lose in indolence or to indulge in evil deeds. For no one knows when he would be smothered by death.
The following couplets clearly establish the love and sympathy that Kabir cherished in his heart for the welfare of humanity and the depth of his grief at the sorrows suffered by men. That is why he poured out his heart in innumerable songs and couplets to be easily understood and grasped by the common man for his own benefit —
I am devoted to the One alone.
I am with every one
All are mine and I am with all.
Alien to me there is none.
I weep on seeing.
The grind-stone at work.
For not a grain comes out whole.
From this grinding trap.
Source: ‘Select Kabir Dohas’ by G.N.Das
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