The Bhakti Movement: Rama Bhakti, Part 3


Kabir, the Weaver
Amber/Mughal, c. 1760

Sep 21, 2019 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Bhakti Movement's development in India.

Among Ramananda Swami's diksa disciples, the most famous is undoubtedly Kabir, known as a mystic poet in the Bhakti tradition. Kabir (1440-1518 A.D.) was brought up in a family of Muslim weavers at Varanasi. His adoptive parents, Niru and Nima, trained him in the weaver's trade.

Kabir is often depicted in weaving scenes, being famous for his devotional meditations while at the loom. In one of his poems, Kabir says that as he weaves, everywhere he sees the Holy Name of Rama in the cloth. There is a pastime in which his cloth is said to have apparently woven itself, and that Rama was actually doing the weaving on behalf of his devoted servant.

Being a Muslim who converted to Vaisnavism, Kabir was an important influence on both Muslims and Hindus of his day. He also had a profound influence on Nanaka Shah (Guu Nanak), founder of the Sikh religion. The Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh sastra, contains many of Kabir's poems.

Today, Kabir's devotional mood is carried on by the Kabir Panth, or 'Path of Kabir', a branch of the Sant Mat sect descending from Kabir. Its members, known as Kabir panthis, are said to number well over 9 million adherents, primarily in North and Central India.

Among the main tenets of Kabir's faith was a disdain for ritualistic forms of religion. Some believe that he was influenced in this regard by both Sikhs and Sufis, and he melded these influences together with those of the Srivaishnavas. Other scholars suggest that his poetry also contains traces of influences from the Nath yogis and Buddhist Tantrics.

Kabir, Selling his Cloth

Kabir remained a householder throughout his life, living in the area known today as Kabir Chaura in Varanasi. There, he espoused a Sahajiya form of Bhakti which, while based on some fundamental Vedic truths, set aside the Vedas in favour of a 'oneness' path to God. He accepted the concept of atman, focusing primarily on salvation by integrating jivatma and paramatma through worship of Rama by way of the 'guru within'. He rejected religious practices like deity worship as well as societal restrictions like caste. Like his guru Ramananda, this made him a common hero in the eyes of lower class citizens.

Kabir's poetry was composed in vernacular Hindi, into which he wove the dialects of Vraja, Avadhi, and Bhojpuri. More than 500 of his poems appear in Guru Granth Sahib. By comparing the devotional mood of these poems with the writings of his guru, Ramananda Swami, the flavor of this branch of the Rama Bhakta cult can be tasted and compared to the nectar-like writings of the Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas of his time which of course, we find much more attractive.

Following is a poem, the Shabad of Ramananda, which appears in Guru Granth Sahib:

Where should I go?
My home is filled with bliss.
My consciousness does not go out wandering.
My mind has become crippled.

One day, a desire welled up in my mind.
I ground up sandalwood, along with several fragrant oils.
I went to God's place, and worshipped Him there.
That God showed me the Guru, within my own mind.

Wherever I go, I find water and stones.
You are totally pervading and permeating in all.
I have searched through all the Vedas and the Puraanas.
I would go there, only if the Lord were not here.

I am a sacrifice to You, O my True Guru.
You have cut through all my confusion and doubt.
Ramanand's Lord and Master is the All-pervading Lord God.
The Word of the Guru's Shabad eradicates the karma of millions of past actions.

Ramananda often referred to the 'guru within', comparing 'Brahma in the temple' with the 'Brahma dwelling in the heart'. Likewise in the poem below, Kabir speaks of the guru in the heart:

He's that rascally kind of yogi
who has no sky or earth,
no hand, foot,
form or shape.
Where there's no market
he sets up shop,
weighs things
and keeps the accounts.
No deeds, no creeds,
no yogic powers,
not even a horn or gourd,
so how can he
go begging?

"I know you
and you know me
and I'm inside of you."

When there isn't a trace
of creation or destruction,
what do you meditate on?
That yogi built a house
brimful of Ram.
He has no healing herbs,
his root-of-life
is Ram.

He looks and looks
at the juggler's tricks,
the magician's sleight-of-hand --
Kabir says, saints, he's made it
to the King's land.


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