Featured Teacher - Featured Teacher: Kabir


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The bhakti path winds in a delicate way.
On this path there is no asking and no not asking.
The ego simply disappears the moment you touch
him.
The joy of looking for him is so immense that you
just dive in,
and coast around like a fish in the water.
If anyone needs a head, the lover leaps up to offer
his.
– Kabir

Kabir (c. 1440 – c. 1518) was a mystic poet and saint of India, whose writings have greatly influenced the Bhakti movement. The name Kabir comes from Arabic al-Kabīr which means “The Great” – the 37th name of God in Islam.

Kabir’s legacy is today carried forward by the Kabir Panth (“Path of Kabir”), a religious community that recognizes him as its founder and is one of the Sant Mat sects. Its members, known as Kabir panthis, are estimated to be around 9.6 million. They are spread over north and central India, as well as dispersed with the Indian diaspora across the world.

The ideological messages in Kabir’s legends appealed to the poor and oppressed. David Lorenzen describes primary purpose of his legends as a “protest against social discrimination and economic exploitation”.

His greatest work is the Bijak (the “Seedling”), an idea of the fundamental one. This collection of poems elucidates Kabir’s universal view of spirituality. Though his vocabulary is replete with Hindu spiritual concepts, such as Brahman, karma and reincarnation, he vehemently opposed dogmas, both in Hinduism and in Islam. His Hindi was a vernacular, straightforward kind, much like his philosophies. He often advocated leaving aside the Qur’an and Vedas and simply following Sahaja path, or the Simple/Natural Way to oneness in God. He believed in the Vedantic concept of atman, but unlike earlier orthodox Vedantins, he spurned the Hindu societal caste system and Murti-pujan (idol worship), showing clear belief in both bhakti and Sufi ideas.

Kabir composed his poetry in a pithy and earthy style, replete with surprise and inventive imagery. His poems resonate with praise for the true guru who reveals the divine through direct experience, and denounce more usual ways of attempting god-union such as chanting, austerities, etc. Kabir, being illiterate, expressed his poems orally in vernacular Hindi, borrowing from various dialects including Avadhi, Braj, and Bhojpuri. His verses often began with some strongly worded insult to get the attention of passers-by. Kabir has enjoyed a revival of popularity over the past half century as arguably the most accessible and understandable of the Indian saints.

Many legends abound about the birth, life and death of Kabir. His birth itself is shrouded in mystery, some say he was the son of a Brahman widow, others that he was of virgin birth, what is known though is that he was brought up in a family of muslim weavers. He was never formally educated and was almost completely illiterate. According to legend, the only word that he ever learned how to write was “Rama“.

Legend says that he relinquished his body when he was about 120 years old. There is a famous legend about his death; When he died, his Hindu and Muslim followers started fighting about the last rites. When they lifted the cloth covering his body, they found flowers instead. The Muslim followers buried their half and the Hindu cremated thier half. In Maghar, his tomb and samadhi still stand side by side.

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