22.05.2014 Spirituality

Kabir, Rumi's Heir

The wisdom of the great 15th Century Indian poet Kabir holds true for our life today, says Jeremy Ball

Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Rumi, who lived in what was Persia from 1207 to 1273, is without doubt the world's most famous and revered poet. Even in the English language and more than 700 years since his soul reunited with the divine, volumes of his poetry sell more than any others. It seems nowadays every funeral, wedding and blessing ceremony is perfumed, no longer with Shakespeare's sonnets or passages from the Bible, but with Rumi's sweet sacred prose.

When hearing or reciting Rumi's words, people universally proclaim them as inspired in the fullest meaning of the word. Rumi was a prince among men, tall, elegant and noble in character. Yet it was not until he met Shams of Tabriz, a tiger of person, dark and powerful in spirit, that he flowered into the great poet we know today.

Shams, whose name means Sun in Arabic, was a wandering mystic disguised as a merchant, who sought out Rumi in Konya, now in Turkey. Rumi instantly recognised Shams' depth of spirit and the cutting truth in this most mysterious of people. Rumi quickly became completely devoted to Shams as his disciple and, through this relationship and Rumi's surrender to it, Shams was able to blaze away the younger Rumi's ego. Shams created a clear mirror for the rays of the divine to shine through in Rumi's poetry, like a skilled diamond cutter creating a glittering gem from a shiny stone.

Almost 200 years later, another man destined to be a great poet of the soul, Kabir, was born in India. Less well known than Rumi, in the Western world at least, Kabir's students were to found a religion, which currently has more than nine million followers.

On reading Kabir's work, it appears as if the wildness and fervent ferocity of Shams and the regal majesty of Rumi have met in one being.

The details of Kabir's life are the subject of legend; what we do know is that he was born in Northern India in a time of great rivalry between Hindus and Muslims. It is believed he was born to a Hindu family but orphaned or given up and raised by a poor Muslim weaver. Both Hindus and Muslims claim him as their own, but for Kabir his loyalty is clear - seeing all as one. During a discussion with a visiting pilgrim, Kabir uttered these lines:

1. Brother, whence came two divine masters of the world? Who has led you astray? Allah, Rama, Karim, Keshava, Hari, Hazrat, are but names given.

2. Jewels and jewels are made of one gold bar; but in it is one nature only. In speech and hearing only, two are made: one Namaz another Puja,

3. He is Mahadeo, he Mohammad: Brahma is called Adam.

One is called Hindu, one Turk: both live on the one earth.

4. One reads the Vedas, another Khutbas: one is Maulvi, one is Pande. Each is called by a separate name; both are pots of the one clay.

Kabir carries the spiritual insight and divine connection of Rumi with the devastating cutting edge of Shams. Kabir lived for much of his life in what is now Varanasi, the city of great spiritual thinkers and universities on the banks of the great Ganges River. But coming from a humble caste and neither Hindu nor Muslim, nor aligning himself to any creed, he was a radical. Kabir pointed his gnarly finger at the naked emperor of the caste system and the pomposity, piety and conceit of much of the spiritual elite, as is clearly displayed in this piece of prose:

1. Pandits have gone astray reading and studying the

Vedas: they do not know the secret of their own selves.

2. Their evening and morning prayers, their six modes of worship: and many things like these they consider virtuous deeds.

3. They made the Gayatri to be recited in all four ages: go and ask them who has thus found salvation.

4. If touched by another you wash your body: but tell me, who is meaner than you?

5. These are your good deeds, yet you are consumed with pride: from such pride no one will derive any benefit.

6. He whose name is the breaker of pride: How can He tolerate your pride?

7. Sakhi: "They who give up pride of race and attachment and search for the word alone, Renouncing the shoot and seed of all desire, these men become freed from body and from space

Fourteen hundred odd years earlier, a young Nazarene was executed for similar comments against the religious and societal structures of his time. Yet India throughout her history has shown incredible freedom of thought and speech and Kabir took full advantage of this privilege.

The truly great beings of history - Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela plus many more who did not survive long enough to receive acclaim - have not used their insight, power of character and oratory skills to feather their own nests or simply guide others in a better life in the next world. Rather, they gave their all to rid society of its ills and injustice, because they knew that only once man is freed on all levels is he truly liberated. And only once every man, woman and child is liberated, is the task complete. They were driven by the true oneness of spirit.

Spiritual practices that offer no direct benefit or deep transformation are like plumping the pillows of your prison cell. Only true inner transformation leads, eventually, to liberation. It is through facing the shadows in oneself and one's society that this transformation takes place.

It is profane to pray to God for abundance while stepping over the starving bodies of the homeless. It is perverse to pray for good health while working for a company that profits from people ingesting unhealthy food.

Despite all Kabir's railing against the ills of the society and systems that trap a person's soul, like all true mystics his heart was completely focused on the divine and the company of others who sincerely live the same. In his work he comes back again and again to the true meaning of this earth walk:

1. You never kept the company and fellowship of sants (saints): thus with your own hand you have thrown away your life.

2. To-morrow you will not gain an abode like this: you have not known the companionship of sadhus.

3. Now you will have your abode in hell: because every day you remained in the company of the false.

4. Sakhi:-I have seen the departure of all, cries Kabir loudly.

If you would awake, awake: the robber is attacking in broad daylight.

Kabir's ardent urging is clear. Stand for no nonsense in your life, nor people who seek to put themselves above the other. Stand against societal rules that segregate the flock and, at the heart of it all, seek out the divine with all your heart in all sincerity and urgency, for that alone counts.

Poems of Kabir taken from The Bijak of Kabir Translated into English, by Rev. Ahmad Shah

Jeremy Ball

At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.

When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. jeremy@transformationaltours.com.au